McCarthy showered with thanks, gifts in final council meeting

Debbie Mahler smiles as Mayor Fred McCarthy swings the gavel to conclude the Dec. 21 city council meeting

A host of supporters, grateful residents and business owners thanked Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy for his service and leadership during the final city council meeting of the year Monday night.

Even a small cadre of carolers popped into the council chambers just prior to the meeting’s start to sing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

McCarthy used the gavel for the penultimate and final swings, opening and closing the council meeting Dec. 21.

“It gives me great pleasure to do this for the last time,” he said as he knocked the gavel onto the wood pad before him.

Included in the crowd were Orca Network founders Susan Berta and Howard Garrett, Langley merchant Fred Lundahl, and Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. All thanked McCarthy for his work for the city and Whidbey Island since being appointed in February 2013.

During public comment, Berta gave a lengthy address thanking McCarthy. The mayor, who decided to not seek re-election in November, worked with the Langley Main Street Association and Orca Network to help found the Langley Whale Center. In addition, McCarthy worked with Orca Network and city residents to petition the Department of Natural Resources to revoke the land access permits to tidelands around Whidbey used for commercial harvesting of sand/ghost shrimp.

Berta teared up and paused as she choked through high-running emotions as she spoke to McCarthy. She presented him a lifetime family membership to the Orca Network and a certificate denoting the “key to our hearts,” a play on McCarthy’s initiative to create awards for excellence. After a brief hug between Berta and McCarthy, Garrett and Lundahl emerged from an office adjacent the council room dressed as a ghost shrimp and a gray whale, thanking the mayor as well.

“This is a very special gift,” McCarthy said.

“Helicopter pilots aren’t supposed to cry,” he added.

McCarthy came to the city after a long career in education. He retired as superintendent of the South Whidbey School District in 2011. A veteran who served as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, McCarthy later served as the executive director of the Veterans Resource Center of Whidbey Island.

When the mayor’s position became available via appointment, he applied among a group of four other candidates. Two of those applicants, Bruce Allen and Thomas Gill, serve on the city council. Former councilman Hal Seligson also applied for the job. Thus, McCarthy was selected by only two council members — Councilwoman Rene Neff and Councilman Jim Sundberg — as three councilmen applied for the position.

McCarthy has since garnered unanimous support among the council. He continued the economic development focus set as a priority by the council, convening monthly meetings of work sectors — arts, hospitality, schools, manufacturing — to hear what was working, what needed attention and provide networking opportunities.

“This town has been well served by all of these folks,” Price Johnson said.

The mayor also found himself in the middle of several controversies during his two-and-a-half-year term. His pursuit of a funicular to connect the marina and downtown better (which was in the city’s comprehensive plan and discussed at length under previous administrations) was McCarthy’s first foray into major criticism. Residents blamed him and the city council for trying to rush the project through; McCarthy later called for a public meeting about the project options and then halted any decision until a new administration took over.

Residents also criticized city hall’s indecision on addressing rabbit populations. Earlier this month, the city, Island County Fairgrounds manager, and a South Whidbey School District representative agreed with the newly formed Langley Rabbit Society to a pilot project of flushing out rabbits from a private home and relocating them to see how successful it is. Meanwhile, the informal rabbit committee will look at a possible rabbit sanctuary designation for a widespread relocation program.

Most recently a pair of personnel battles over a former police officer and the former planning director dragged the city into negotiations and even some depositions. The departure of the planning director was dealt with through a separation agreement and severance, but the former officer’s suit against the city will have to be addressed under mayor-elect Tim Callison next year.