Editorial: People can make it happen

Why can’t we get anything done?

That question haunts Mayor Patty Cohen and the Oak Harbor City Council as we head into another election year. The mayor is blaming the council for lack of progress, while members of the council blame the mayor for lack of leadership.

In simple terms, the mayor looks like the guilty party. Mayors are elected to lead and if the council doesn’t follow then she’s not doing a good job of leading. But it’s more complicated than that with the seven members of the council often pointing in disparate directions. As has been said, it’s like trying to herd cats.

The city has listed $90 million worth of projects that need to be done to make Oak Harbor a more vibrant, prosperous city. A few attractive directional signs have been posted around town, but aside from that there’s been nothing concrete to show for all these years of talking.

The city pier linking downtown to the water was once the city’s top priority. But Cohen never pushed it with enthusiasm and the project has languished. Volunteers, however, have worked diligently on the pier, obtaining most of the necessary permits and even some federal planning dollars. And three of the council members still list the pier as their top priority. Since this project is furthest along and has the most council support, it should be the first thing done. A better job of lobbying Congress and the Legislature might have produced substantial funding by now, so the mayor can fairly be criticized in that regard. Council members should vote the pier number one and task the mayor and one another with twisting the appropriate arms and setting budget priorities until it is done.

The pier isn’t the most important project, but others will take more time. Get rid of the ugly and stinky waterfront sewer plant! That’s number one when it comes to improving Windjammer Park and making the city a desirable visitor destination. Then extend Bayshore Drive. With a beautiful park in front, considerable retail and residential construction and the taxes they generate will soon follow.

The mayor’s top priority, Highway 20 widening, is a matter of getting the state to do what has to be done. Again, lobbying the Legislature seems to be a weak point. Perhaps heavily Republican Oak Harbor needs to learn to speak Democratese? Or at least make better use of the one former Democratic House member on the city council.

The marina is more of a self-help project. Harbormaster Mack Funk last week sketched out a solid plan for improving the marina in phases, using existing revenue bonding authority to start the expansion. He has boatloads of able people willing to help, so marina improvements shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as advertised. Learn more Thursday night, May 17, at 7 p.m. at a meeting Funk is hosting at the Yacht Club.

We should not forget that the mayor has succeeded in the city’s paramount priority, which is keeping the Navy happy and committed to Whidbey Island. The base’s future has seldom looked so rosy, and Cohen deserves part of the credit.

It’s good that the debate over priorities has erupted before the election season formally kicks off. People need to organize, run for office, bring some new energy and skills to city government. The filing period for the mayoral position and city council seats is the first week of June. Get involved and help make something happen.