Mayor Crystal Dingler reflects on her first months in office

Four months into your job, how’s it going, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler?

“I think it’s going just fine,” the rookie mayor answered, from her office at city hall last week. “I think it’s getting better. In the beginning, I had no clue the bajilliion things there are.

“I’ve got used to the pace … I’m trying to work on projects — meeting with other mayors, meeting with the Port of Grays Harbor — things that are ‘mayoral,’ rather than paper shuffling.” She chuckled. “There is a lot of paper shuffling.”

Dingler is also the city’s public works director. “Acting,” she stressed, with a smile. “From my point of view, it’s administrative. I’m really pleased to have the Public Works Advisory Board — I’m no public works director.”

Last year, then-Mayor Garland French assumed the duties of the public works director, made vacant by Ken Lanfear’s retirement.

One important difference is that French was doing this under the mayor’s then-salary of $99,600.

In February of 2011, the city council changed the mayor’s job from 2012 onward to a part-time position, paying $12,000 per year. The idea at the time was to use the remainder of the former salary of the position to pay for a city administrator, who would serve as the day-to-day manager of the city.

Dingler was paid $8,300 for her first month of service, as she took office at the end of 2011 and assumed the then-mayor’s salary; as of January 2012 she is being paid $1,000 per month.

Or, based on the hours she has been putting in, about $5 per hour.

When she was interviewed by the North Coast News upon winning the election, Dingler said she expected to work full time as she started the position, then gradually transition into part-time hours.

Now, she says, she is working “about 50 hours a week.”

Can she foresee a time when she will go part time?

“No,” she answered firmly, with a bit of a grimace.

The possibility of hiring a city administrator now seems distant, at best, considering Ocean Shores’ financial position.

“I’m trying to make sure I have a home life,” said the mayor, who is married to Dean Dingler. “It could be consuming, and that’s not healthy. And I don’t want to reach a point where I feel martyred …

“I’ve always been a person who extends hours to meet the job.

“And a lot of it is really interesting and fun,” she added, then laughed. “But not all of it.”

The public reaches out to her every day. “I hear from lots of people on very diverse issues,” she said. “I get phone calls and emails every day.”

Though Dingler is concerned about the city’s dwindled General Fund balance, she says “we’ve kind of leveled off.”

How does she feel about the city’s financial shape? “I feel confident,” she answered. “But we’ll do whatever we need to do, if we feel we need to make cuts.”

A few more questions from the North Coast News, and Mayor Dingler’s answers:

NCN: Were you surprised by the volume and emotion of reactions to the camping issues?  

Crystal Dingler: Although property rights are one of the cornerstones of American values, I was surprised at the strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

NCN: Have you found people have misunderstood the role of the mayor?  

CD: Yes, people often seemed to forget that my powers are executive and the council’s are legislative.   As mayor, I advise the council how issues may adversely impact the city. I have not yet, however, voted to break a tie or used my veto power.

NCN: Was it difficult playing “the referee” at the council meeting when many spoke on the camping issue?

CD: I actually thought people behaved extremely well. After I identified the rules for speaking before the council, almost everyone spoke in a reasoned and respectful manner. 

NCN: Have people been generally supportive, and if so, has that helped you get through some of the tougher days?  

CD: Most people, even when they disagree, are very supportive. A kind word goes a long way. I sincerely thank those who take a moment to say how much they appreciate the council’s and my service.

NCN: What are some of your favorite things about being the mayor of Ocean Shores?  

CD: Interacting with people is probably the best part of my job. I like getting out and answering questions, and understanding what’s on people’s minds. In a way, every area of city life is part of my responsibility.  Although challenging, that can also be rewarding.