Oak Harbor council OK's contract with EnviroIssues on 4-3 vote

Oak Harbor resident Helen Chatfield-Weeks, one of several people to voice concern about the cost of a contract with a Seattle based consulting firm at Tuesday
Oak Harbor resident Helen Chatfield-Weeks, one of several people to voice concern about the cost of a contract with a Seattle based consulting firm at Tuesday's Oak Harbor City Council meeting, offers to do the work for $5. Reacting to the suggestion, from the left, are council members Scott Dudley, Bob Severns, Rick Almberg and Jim Palmer.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

To help mitigate the impacts of the Pioneer Way improvement project, the Oak Harbor City Council has conditionally approved a $60,098 contract with a Seattle based consulting firm.

After nearly two hours of discussion Tuesday evening, the council agreed in a four to three vote to approve the proposed contract with EnviroIssues on the basis that it not include certain marketing elements in the original proposal. Those duties will instead be handled by the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. While it is hoped that will save some money, an exact amount won't be known until the marketing firm agrees to the condition.

The decision was made following a barrage of concerns from the public. Of the six people that spoke, most complained that the cost of the contract was just too high.

"$60,000 for marketing, and making sure there is input, that's not brain surgery, it's really not," said Gerry Oliver, an Oak Harbor realtor. "Speaking as a citizen, I just think that's just wasteful spending."

"It seems like talk is getting a lot more expensive than it needs to be," seconded Fred Henninger, an Oak Harbor resident.

Helen Chatfield-Weeks, another regular at city council meetings, also voiced concern.

"I was here when you first started talking about this and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'I'll do it for $4 or $5,'" Chatfield-Weeks said.

Mayor Jim Slowik and city staff began looking at firms that could ease the impact of the Pioneer Way improvement project on local businesses several months ago. The council was set to discuss a $90,994 contract with EnviroIssues on April 6, but the issue was tabled for lack of information. To expedite the process, Slowik signed a contract with the consulting firm for about $30,000 the next day. The mayor had the spending authority to approve the smaller sum, but the remainder of the project had to go before the council for approval.

The council discussed the contract at its May 18 meeting but it didn't pass, as only five of the seven members were present. The contract required a "yes" vote from a majority of the council and it failed 3-2.

During Tuesday night's meeting, both Slowik and Development Services Director Steve Powers made it clear they still support the move. Slowik argued that EnviroIssues is well qualified and that this "is the best effort that the city can do" for Pioneer Way businesses, while Powers said this is a necessary step if the appropriate information and coordination is to take place.

However, several council members made it equally clear they did not support the proposal. Jim Campbell suggested the job be given to Rhonda Severns, the wife of City Council member Bob Severns and a Public Works employee. Rhonda Severns was not present and Bob Severns declined to comment on the proposal. He did say however that EnviroIssue's contract only covers work during the design stage. Once construction begins in January, it's likely the council will be looking at another contract with the consulting firm.

"My guess is it will the same kind of dollars we're looking at now," Bob Severns said.

City Council member Scott Dudley was also against the proposal. After reading a letter from a Pioneer Way business owner into the record that criticized members of the council who support the contract, Dudley questioned why they should be considering an expensive contract when some of the services could be handled by the chamber of commerce. Director Jill Johnson was in attendance and confirmed that they could handle some of the marketing services included in the EnviroIssues contract.

"I can tell you our marketing plan will be better than theirs because we know the town," Johnson said.

Her testimony was enough to convince City Council members Danny Paggao, Rick Almberg, Beth Munns and Jim Palmer to approve a conditional contract with EnviroIssues. If the consulting firm does not agree to allow the chamber to handle some of the marketing duties and reduce its service fee, the contract will not be signed.

Dudley, Severns, and Campbell all voted against the proposal.

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