Community displays outpouring of support for city staffer Debbie Harger

Published on Fri, Jul 31, 2009 by Tara Nelson

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After an overwhelming show of support Monday, Blaine City Council passed a resolution in show of support for city staffer Debbie Harger following accusations that she was given her position by dating a fellow staffer.
The accusations were made by city council candidate John George, who is running for the council’s at-large position currently held by Charlie Hawkins.

George, 51, is a Blaine resident and the owner of Ladies Diamond Poker Club, which was registered as a new business by the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office in April 2009.

More than 30 people attended the meeting, some stood lining up in the hallway to get their chance to speak.
Several speakers received a loud applause from the audience as they characterized George’s accusations as “heinous,” “underhanded” and “deeply distasteful.”
Others questioned his business ethics.

Former Blaine City Council member and business owner Ken Ely said he was “appalled” at George’s willingness to destroy Harger’s career and would place himself in public opposition to his candidacy.

“I would regard it as immoral,” he said. “Character assassinations  are not something we value in the Blaine community. Democracy works best when it is played as a gentleman’s game.”

Blaine resident Lois Franco agreed. Franco said she was “dismayed” and called the remarks “blatant mental, emotional and sexual abuse” and “an unwarranted attack on her personal and professional reputation” as well as the repulations of Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic and community development director Terry Galvin.

“The Tomsics, Galvins and Hargers of the world work hard for their communities and, we believe, do try to do their jobs well,” she said.

Blaine resident and Pacific Building Center owner Pam Christianson called the remarks “inexcusable” and said Harger has worked “harder than anyone” to promote Blaine and its tourism from her efforts to organize the Wings Over Water birding festival to the Saturday gardener’s market downtown.

She went on to question the integrity of his character and mentioned George’s arrest record for domestic violence.
Court records obtained through the city of Blaine indicate George was arrested for two charges of interfering with the reporting of domestic assault in the fourth degree as well as two no-contact order violations in October of 2003. All four charges were later dismissed.

George, who had announced earlier he would attend the meeting, was not present. He also did not respond to emails asking for comment.

Harger stood at the the end of the meeting and gave a tearful thank you to her supporters that elicited a standing ovation.

“This is why I work hard for Blaine,” she said. “I love this town.”

Caroll Solomon, who manages the Blaine Visitor Center said she has worked with Debbie for 10 years agreed with Ely’s remarks.

“I’m very proud of her,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for her. I’m not going to say a single word about the gentleman in question.”

Some, such as Blaine resident Trevor Hoskins, questioned George’s lack of volunteer service in the Blaine community.

“I don’t know what Mr. George has done so far to assist our city, but I know he has written to the city to criticize the choice of Marine Drive for the location of the new wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “This was a very easy thing for him to do because he didn’t take the time to find out how and why the decision was made. He ignored the fact that a citizen’s committee spent a great deal of time evaluating almost 20 options before deciding to go with the Marine Drive option.

Christine Negm questioned his business ethics. “We have very high standards in Blaine for our city council,” she said. “They are smart, hardworking and intelligent. It’s puzzling to me that a person who claims to be a business person would choose to alienate himself. He obviously doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications. “

Responding to allegations and a news broadcast on a local radio station, city manager Gary Tomsic called the attacks “hurtful” and accusations that the city bypassed fair hiring practices in favor of giving Harger a job were untrue.

“The simple answer to this accusation is that we are not required to advertise the position of tourism and marketing coordinator because she had already been performing the duties for a number of years prior to making it a full-time position,” Tomsic said in a written statement rebutting George’s accusations. “This was not a new job, it was a restructuring and expansion of duties and responsibilities, most of which she was already performing.”

Tomsic said Harger was originally hired at the city in 1999 as an office technician and marketing assistant to former interim-manager Crystal Rich before either himself or Terry Galvin were employees.

In February 2000, Rich left her position leaving Harger to assume some of the duties of marketing, promotion and interface with the downtown business community.

Harger continued to perform both jobs for several years while reporting to Galvin, he said.

In 2003, when Blaine experienced a period of “significant growth,” Tomsic explained the planning department was overrun with development applications. This coincided with the city’s stepped-up efforts to aggressively implement its tourism and marketing program.

“These work pressures caused us to do two things,” Tomsic wrote. “First, we hired a full-time secretary for the planning office. Second, we asked Harger to take on the oversight of the Visitor Center and she became the events coordinator for all activities that involved the city. These responsibilities were natural extensions of the job she was originally hired to perform.”

Tomsic added that her relationship with Galvin “does not, nor has it ever, violated the city’s policies on such matters.”

“We were very cognizant of the potential for conflict and took action to make sure it did not happen,” he wrote. “I would also point out that prior to their involvement, we had at least two other couples in our employment who started relationships who have ultimately  resulted in marriage. Those couples did not violate the city’s policy either and it has not been a problem.”