Voters to pick between business owner, community advocate for city council

Two former Island County commissioner candidates vie for a seat on Oak Harbor City Council.

Two people who ran for Island County commissioner and lost last year have thrown their hat in the ring for a seat on Oak Harbor City Council.

Dan Evans, a local business owner and former Oak Harbor Main Street Association board president, is running against Fe Mischo, a community advocate and worker at Spin Cafe. They are running to replace Erica Wasinger who is not seeking re-election.

The two differed on their ideas for using the $6.5 million of American Rescue Plan funding from the federal government. Mischo said that she wants the city to invest in transitional housing. She suggested the city could buy small houses from a company called Pallet Shelters, like the city of Everett has, to give people homes to help them get on their feet.

“This is really going to help people to get out of the weather and work with the county and other services,” Mischo said.

Evans focused on generating revenue with the federal funds, suggesting grants to small businesses or a large community concert that could generate funds.

“This money should not be used to pay for pet projects that would have no tangible benefit to our community,” he wrote.

On the topic of affordable housing, Mischo said the city needs more developers who will create affordable housing.

“We don’t need the $500,000-$700,000 homes here,” she said.

She criticized Evans for his ties to a local real estate developer, Scott Thompson, who has several high-profile ventures in the city. His most controversial project, a large housing development called Wright’s Crossing, was blocked by county leaders because the urban growth area couldn’t legally be expanded to accommodate the project. Thompson lost five appeals.

In the county commissioner race last year, Thompson was Evans’s top financial supporter.

“If you take money from a developer, especially a developer who is pricing us out, I don’t feel that you have the best intention for our whole community — I think it’s just a select few,” Mischo said.

Mayor Bob Severns endorsed Mischo over Evans, citing concerns about candidates who are influenced by developers who want to bend the rules.

She also criticized Evans for his role in preventing a large apartment building from coming to the downtown area that would have earmarked 20% of its units for veterans. The Low Income Housing Institute received approval from the city council for its project in 2018, but the Oak Harbor Main Street Association objected to it and brought it to a court battle while Evans was its director. Main Street ultimately won and the project was abandoned.

Mischo suggested giving property tax holidays to developments with 20% set aside for low-income to attract affordable housing.

Evans said the city already has a plan in place for affordable housing and that the city council should push the mayor and city staff to implement it.

“We need to have strong leadership that will mend the relationships between City Council, the Mayor’s Office and City Staff to get these plans in action,” Evans wrote in an email.

He did not mince words about his unhappiness with city leadership and vowed to make changes if elected, especially in regards to recent turnover among staff. He said he supported council members’ decision to issue a vote of no confidence in City Administrator Blaine Oborn.

“The City Council must hold the Mayor and City Administrator accountable. It is time for the political drama to end and we start getting the people’s work done,” he wrote. One of the reasons he is running, he said, is “due to the lack of leadership and accountability” at the city.

Mischo said she was not familiar with the issues going on at city hall but that she would want to hear from employees about morale.

She said she was running because she felt like the city council maintains the “status quo” even though it means they do not represent everyone in Oak Harbor.

“We are a very diverse city, but I don’t feel like those voices are being invited or welcomed to the table,” she explained.