OH City Council votes no confidence in city administrator

— Created October 13, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Oak Harbor City Administrator Blaine Oborn remains on the job, following a vote of no confidence by the City Council at last week’s regular meeting, and it appears the city’s mayor is in no rush to let him go.

Council members met in executive session for approximately two hours at last week’s meeting. Upon the council’s return, Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns made a lengthy motion to give Oborn a vote of no confidence.

Munns cited several reasons in her motion, including a high number of resignations by city employees since Oborn began working for the city in July, 2018.

“While not all separations from employment may be attributed to Mr. Oborn, the numbers represent about 65 percent of the entire workforce of the city of Oak Harbor,” said Munns. “Such a mass exodus is alarming and unprecedented and demonstrates a serious retention concern, gross negligence and mismanagement of the city’s human resources.”

Other examples included city staff bringing workplace issues to council members rather than administration, ineffective leadership that has led to low workplace morale, trying to take control of the city’s Arts Commission meetings, an inability to answer questions or make presentations at city council meetings, poor working relationships leading to the resignation of the city attorney and assistant city attorney and concern that Oborn has been negligent in communicating with the City Council.

“Key information which is essential for informed decision=making has been omitted, withheld, or mischaracterized,” Munns said. “One recent example is the street access issued for the Harbor Heights property. The city administrator authorized traffic consultant work for an access alternative that the City Council did not authorize and does not favor. This left the city engineer, in the public eye, to accept the blame.”

In the end, four council members – Jeff Mack, Joel Servatius, Beth Munns and Erica Wasinger – voted in favor of the motion, finding “the city administrator has failed the city council.” Two city council members were absent from the meeting, and one member abstained from voting.

“While I do share a lot of the Council’s concerns, I object to the action because I am afraid it will do more harm than good,” said council member Tara Hizon. “And since I object to the action, I am going to abstain.”

In a written response to questions from Whidbey Weekly, Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns, who did not attend the executive session, said the vote of no confidence “is a gesture by City Council to express their perceived dissatisfaction with City Administrator Oborn.”

In a nutshell, according to the city’s municipal code (Section 2.05.010) the city administrator’s office is filled by appointment of the mayor and confirmed by the city council and serves at the pleasure of the mayor.

When council members who were present at the Oct. 5 meeting were asked what they hoped to accomplish with the motion, only Munns responded.

“I think it’s best to say, my motion is the statement,” she wrote in an email to Whidbey Weekly.

“This situation is unfortunate and a distraction for our staff and the community,” Severns said. ” My next steps are to have additional conversations with City Councilmembers individually about what they require from the City Administrator and staff in the future. It appears based on the list of items they presented in their motion that they would like to see immediate changes made. However, I concur with Councilmember Hizon’s comments and feel that immediate action may do more harm than good. From my experience as a business owner, I feel that we need to provide staff with an opportunity to make the modifications being requested from leadership before taking any action.”

Severns said he doesn’t believe this is the proper time to terminate the city administrator, when the city is trying to hire other key positions, such as a public works director and a city attorney.

“As the Mayor of the City of Oak Harbor, I am the Chief Executive Officer, and the City Council is a legislative body with the ability to provide oversight on City matters,” Severns wrote. “However, it is up to myself and the staff to decide on the day-to-day actions. City Council is more than welcome to request updates on specific topics for future City Council meetings to guide myself, the City Administrator, and staff on what they want to know more about. In fact, Council’s requests for information may help their constituents learn more about City programs and projects as well.

“I would prefer to focus on continuing conversations with City Council and staff to find solutions to concerns and then communicating their concerns to my leadership team and City Administrator Oborn to identify solutions,” Severns continued. “Going forward for the City of Oak Harbor means working together, by coming together to solve issues, prioritize needs, and supporting this community in these challenging times. I hope our City Council is ready to join me.”

The next scheduled meeting of the Oak Harbor City Council is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.