Mayor Wright focuses on workplace culture

Next week, the mayor will reach his hundredth day in office.

On the walls of Oak Harbor Mayor Ronnie Wright’s office hang colorful paintings from local artists Tiffany Scribner, Leslie Stoner and Sandy Byres. Atop shelves sit model ships, disco balls, books on fine art from around the world, flowers, plants, a plastic stegosaurus and a portrait of Ronald Reagan with the quote, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Wright purchased the decor himself, getting rid of the tan colors and bulky furniture of before. The idea is to create a cultured, worldly environment, based on his travels in the military, while promoting local artists and businesses. It mirrors his vision for the city, he said, taking Oak Harbor in a lighter, more positive direction.

Next week, the mayor will reach his hundredth day in office. So far, his time has been filled by meetings with city, county and Navy departments and attending local events and state and national conferences.

The mayor position is designated as a part-time job, but this really isn’t the case, he said. It’s not even a 9-5, it’s all the time. As owner of Pacific Grace Tax & Accounting in the heart of tax season, he’s had to strategize to avoid working until 4 a.m. When he does have moments where he’s not working, he’s spending time with his family and his two French bulldogs and two Chihuahuas.

The most prominent change since Wright took over as mayor has been the culture shift in the workplace, he said.

“I’m engaging with our staff (so) that they have a very positive and rewarding work environment to come to every day,” he said. “That’s been one of my biggest champions or missions in my role as mayor.”

Wright has made sure to meet with each department and learn the names of staff. He wants to be seen as a coworker and not just a figurehead.

This isn’t a superficial change, he said, but a procedural one. They have new systems for tracking capital projects and tying them to council goals. As a leadership team, they review matrices weekly.

“I think that people are feeling like we’re hearing them, we’re listening,” he said. “If there are concerns or there’s input that they want to have, I don’t know how much of that was going on in the past. It’s just a different style of leadership, and it’s more collaborative and inclusive, and that’s what I’m all about.”

The results of this won’t be superficial either. Opening the lines of communication with county officials and state legislators is the best way to bring the most back to the Oak Harbor economy, he said.

Wright learns something every time he visits a new department.

“I’m not an engineer. I’m not a public works person. I’m not our planning department,” he said. “What they do, those things are way above me. I rely on their expertise.”

The mayor puts his energy toward removing hurdles to their projects and making them work within a timeline that brings the best result. That mission isn’t so different from owning an accounting firm or managing in the IRS.

What is different, he said, is politics. Working in government diverges from running a business in terms of the personal dynamics.

“Sometimes you have to be the bigger person and take the high road, even when it’s hard to do so,” he said.

Overall, it’s exceptionally positive, he said, and he’s proud of the leadership changes he’s made since he’s taken office, both in style and personnel. Wright terminated the fire chief and the city administrator and filled them with interim positions. In a month, he said, he plans on bringing the interim city administrator, Sabrina Combs, to council for a permanent change.

“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “I have complete faith in her abilities and who she is. Our leadership team loves the way she communicates with them and how she works with them. I’m excited to see council confirm her in that position permanently.”

Last month, the mayor, along with other city staff, traveled to Washington DC for the National League of Cities conference and to meet with lawmakers, Pentagon officials and the members of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The greatest harvest from the trip was identifying funding opportunities, Wright said. Legislators are very receptive to Oak Harbor’s goals.

Among the topics of discussion were the need for marina dredging, a marina feasibility study, the new recreation center, an arts center and the wastewater treatment plant. The goal is to have the wastewater treatment plant running this year, he said, because that will lower utility rates for all Oak Harbor residents.

The biggest misconception of city government is what staff are capable of and how quickly they can do it, he said. There are a lot more hurdles than other sectors.

“I want to buy a computer in my accounting firm,” he said. “I go online, I find what I want and I buy it. I want to do the same thing (for the City of Oak Harbor). There’s an entire different process you have to go through. You have to go out for bids. You have to make sure that we don’t have a contract with someone that requires us to use a certain vendor.”

Wright’s favorite part of the job is meeting people in the community and representing them as mayor, he said, which is a lot more rewarding than accounting.

Now, at the 100-day mark, Wright is working toward his certification in municipal leadership and looks forward to continuing to meet with and hear the concerns of the people of Oak Harbor.

“There’s still a lot to learn,” he said. “I’m not naive to that.”

Oak Harbor Mayor Ronnie Wright will soon reach his 100th day in office. (Photo by Luisa Loi)

Oak Harbor Mayor Ronnie Wright will soon reach his 100th day in office. (Photo by Luisa Loi)