OAK HARBOR — The two key people in Oak Harbor’s legal department resigned from their positions on the same day, citing a “compromised working relationship” with members of city administration.
City Attorney Grant Weed, who has worked with Oak Harbor for almost a decade, sent a letter on Sept. 21 to Mayor Bob Severns and City Council members of his intent to terminate his contract with the city early. Before his notice, Weed and the city had agreed on Aug. 4 to extend his contract to the end of the year.
“I have made the difficult decision to provide this notice primarily because I am no longer able to be effective legal counsel given the compromised working relationship with the City Administrator, Blaine Oborn and HR Director, Emma House,” Weed explained in his letter.
He offered to help find his replacement. His last day will be Nov. 19 unless there is a desire to terminate the relationship sooner.
Anna Thompson, the city’s senior assistant city attorney and public records officer, resigned the same day. Thompson has worked for the city for eight years. She said her reasons for leaving were similar to what Weed expressed in his letter, also citing a “compromised working relationship” with staff in administration.
“I wasn’t able to be heard and be listened to and that’s my job. If I’m not listened to, they effectively don’t want me,” Thompson said, adding that she enjoyed working with the rest of city staff and considers many of them good friends. She will be working at the Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office after she leaves Oak Harbor.
Several city council members were surprised by the news during a workshop meeting on Sept. 22.
“I’m shocked, and I don’t quite know what to make of it,” Councilmember Jeffrey Mack said after the meeting.
Councilmember Joel Servatius said he was concerned about the resignations and called for an executive session to discuss the issue be added to the next meeting agenda. He made the rare request to limit the meeting to council members only, meaning he didn’t want Severns or Oborn to attend.
The state Open Public Meetings Act allows executive sessions, which are closed to the public, under limited circumstances, including litigation or potential litigation, complaints against a public official or employee, and the performance of a public employee. No decision can be made in executive session, not even casual agreements.
Councilmember Jim Woessner said in an interview afterward that he was also concerned but wasn’t sure if Weed’s resignation was representative of a trend or an outlier.
“It’s another resignation, and I think we have to understand totally what’s going on — if this is just another one, or if this is something indicative of what we’re hearing from the other staff members who left,” Woessner said.
Severns acknowledged there were several facets as to why Weed decided to leave early, but was tight-lipped.
“There’s a lot of reasons, probably, but I don’t think I should go into any of those,” the mayor said in an interview.
Thompson wasn’t the first staff member to raise concerns about the city administration.
Former Public Works Director Cathy Rosen and former City Engineer Joe Stowell filed a hostile work environment lawsuit last year against the city that accused Severns, Oborn and House of unethical or unprofessional behavior.
The city has seen significant staff turnover in the last two years. The directors of the finance, development services, public works, parks, city attorney and streets, maintenance and facilities departments have all changed since late 2019. Many of those who departed had served the city for decades. Staff from engineering, building permitting and the police department have also left.
The amount of staff turnover has caught the City Council’s attention. Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns announced last fall that the council would issue a staff morale survey, but she said it has not yet been distributed.
Woessner said he had heard from a few former employees but that he was not sure if there was a common theme to complaints. He said he wanted council members to look into the matter.
“I don’t know if I’ve heard consistent criticism as of yet,” Woessner said. “I think it currently deserves some investigation. And I think Mr. Weed’s resignation has brought that to light.”