The city mayor was appointed in an unconventional manner

Sabrina Combs is Oak Harbor’s new city administrator, but the appointment process was a bit unusual.

The Oak Harbor City Council approved Mayor Ronnie Wright’s nomination of Combs by a 4-3 majority, with some council members expressing concerns about the process. Combs has served as interim city administrator since the mayor fired the former administrator.

Additionally, the council added unusual language to the motion to confirm Combs as city administrator after going into executive session to discuss potential disputes. Council members then said they could not discuss potential legal proceedings.

Throughout the entire process, Wright remained unwavering in his support of Combs.

“In my 20 years of leadership experience, I have only met one person who had the communication skills that Sabrina demonstrates every day,” Wright said at the board meeting. “Communication is essential in leadership and I have all my confidence in Sabrina. He has my full support for this position once it becomes available.”

The board’s decision came after a last-minute agenda change when “employees” requested that the employment contract be postponed until after the executive session.

After the Board meeting, “immediately after the position becomes available” was added to the motion to appoint Combs. Council members also declined to discuss what the language means or why the position is not currently available.

The process was frustrating and unconventional, council member Shane Hoffmire said in an interview. Following the firing of former City Administrator Blaine Oborn, Combs was considered for the position of deputy city administrator, whose responsibilities were described at a February workshop. Later, when it turned out that the city statute required a mayor, he was appointed temporary city manager.

Hoffmire said the council was kept out of information for much of this case.

“I knew we had a long learning curve ahead of us, and I’m a little worried it might hit us,” he said.

Hoffmire wasn’t the only one who voted against the decision to appoint Combs. Council members Jim Woessner and Bryan Stucky agreed, saying they didn’t have enough information to make a call.

This position was never made available for public viewing and the council was unable to evaluate the process. As with nominations to leadership positions at other levels of government, the legislative body must approve the nominee.

Woessner said he likes the idea of ​​promoting from within and expressed his appreciation for Combs’ competence. But he said there is a reason the council plays a role in the decision-making process.

“Part of this process is that the council will be the next party, the oversight party, to make sure we’re doing what’s best for the citizens of Oak Harbor,” he said. “This is our job every day, and the reality is I don’t know if I have all the information I need to be able to say that I have overseen this decision and I can make it.”

While Combs has great qualities, without an open interview there is no way to know if he is the best person for the job, Stucky said.

“There are people in our city who work in our city and live in our city who have doctorates in public administration, have been administrators in other cities and have decades of experience,” he said. “I don’t think there will be anything wrong with us waiting two or three months for a thorough search.”

He later added that “to do less would be a disservice to the city.”

Combs holds a master’s degree in strategic communications and first joined Oak Harbor as the city’s public information officer in 2020. Last year, then-Mayor Bob Severns promoted her to executive services administrator.

“I’m incredibly frustrated with this process,” Hoffmire said, “the fact that it was the deputy city administrator, well, no, no, no, we can’t do that, he’s the interim city administrator, and we’re here looking during the employment contract, but then at the opening you heard, “Well, we are asked to confirm this when the position becomes available.” What else will we learn after the fact? First of all, it is unfair to the employee. This is absolutely not the case.”

Additionally, Combs’ previous and “emergency” position has already been filled, he said.

The other councilors did not agree with this. When Police Chief Tony Slowik was confirmed in December, no one at the time mentioned concerns about not disclosing the position to the public, council member Eric Marshall said.

“I don’t know where this suddenly came from,” he said. “I am truly surprised and truly disappointed that we would take this position with such an excellent candidate.”

Stucky then suggested conducting a full search for police chief candidates, he said. Moreover, due to the highest personnel position in the city, the decision requires even deeper consideration.

The open application requirement is a policy decision that the council should make at another meeting, said Mayor Pro Tem Tara Hizon.

“If we want to promote from within for one position, but for another position we find we need more information, that is arbitrary,” she said. “From the point of view of where we are sitting, it is completely arbitrary and I suspect it could land us in hot water.”

Hizon appreciates Combs’ “unconventionality,” she said, and council member Christopher Wiegenstein agreed.

“Maybe 30 years of experience is not what the city needs,” he said. “We do not know. Historically, in the world we tend to hire people with lots of experience and we use lots of old ways.

Skipping the search for a candidate is profitable for the city, he added.

After the vote, Woessner, Hoffmire and Stucky congratulated Combs and noted that she was a good candidate for the role.