Oak Harbor council moves to secure $1 million Island County grant

Oak Harbor City Councilman Scott Dudley restates allegations that fellow Councilman Bob Severns (center) should have recused himself from votes concerning SE Pioneer Way while Councilman Rick Almberg listens.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor City Councilman Scott Dudley restates allegations that fellow Councilman Bob Severns (center) should have recused himself from votes concerning SE Pioneer Way while Councilman Rick Almberg listens.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

The Oak Harbor City Council has taken its final steps to secure a $1 million county grant for the SE Pioneer Way project but the fate of the funding remains uncertain.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 7, the council approved an agreement drafted by county officials that formalizes the Island County commissioners’ 2007 decision to award the city a Rural County Economic Development fund grant in the form of $1 million.

Late last month, City Councilman Scott Dudley and a small entourage of property owners and business leaders approached the commissioners in a public meeting with concerns about the improvement plan, which proposes to turn SE Pioneer Way into a one-way street.

They claimed the commissioners approved the grant based on an application that specified a two-way street design. Dudley urged the board to take a stand on the issue, and if necessary, rescind the grant. The money has not actually been awarded, as conditions specify that the city pay for the work first then be reimbursed.

The appearance of the SE Pioneer agreement on the council’s September agenda led to some speculation that this was a last-minute attempt by city officials to secure the county grant funding for the project. However, that appears not to be the case as it was scheduled as an agenda item in early August, nearly three weeks before Dudley made his request before the commissioners.

Dudley made it clear Tuesday evening he was still against the project. He maintained that a one-way is not what was pitched to the county three years ago. He also spent several minutes reading a letter from marketing and community branding specialist Roger Brooks.

Brooks is the author of the Windjammer Plan, the guiding document for the street project. In his letter, he asserted that a one-way is not appropriate for the downtown area and could do more harm than good.

Dudley also furthered allegations that City Councilman Bob Severns should not have voted on the project because he is a partner in a limited liability corporation that owns property on Bayshore Drive. Citing case law, he claimed Severns’ decision not to recuse himself could put the city in a difficult spot.

“In this case I think we’re liable and I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets overturned,” he said.

Severns did ask several questions about the contract. Other than asking the rest of the council whether they believed his position on Whidbey Island Bank’s board of directors presented a conflict, he did not respond to Dudley’s comments.

Neither did anyone else on the council. In fact, with the exception of Dudley, every council member supported the agreement with a “yes” vote. The proposal passed 6-1.

But the council’s decision is no guarantee that the city will get the money. The county commissioners still need to sign the agreement and none have given any clear indication that they are discounting Dudley’s claims outright. Commissioner Angie Homola told Dudley in an email that the board had requested a copy of the original grant application to determine whether “the current proposal meets the requirements of the award.”

The issue was brought up to the Island County Council of Governments late last month as it is the body that recommends projects deemed worthy of economic development grants. Although there was substantial agreement that the decisions of elected bodies in their own jurisdictions must be recognized, the board has the final say.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson confirmed that she had not yet seen a copy of the agreement adopted by the city council, nor has the board discussed Dudley’s concerns since the council of governments meeting. Consequently, she does not yet have a position on the issue.

“I don’t have a stance yet,” Price Johnson said.

But with the city council’s recent action the matter will have to be addressed soon, she said.

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