City finally complies with law

Almost exactly one year after controversy first erupted over Oak Harbor’s standing committee  policies, the city council has unanimously approved changes that bring the meeting rules into compliance with the state’s open public meeting rules.

From now on, three-member standing committee meetings must be advertised with a “special” notice if four or more council members are planning to attend, thereby constituting a quorum. Should a council member show up unannounced, the meeting must immediately adjourn until it can be properly noticed.

The city has a total of four standing committee meetings with three council members assigned to each.

The changes were approved Tuesday, March 1, at the city council’s regular monthly meeting. While the vote was unanimous, at least one council member felt that the proposal did not go far enough to address the issue.

“We were wrong,”  Oak Harbor Councilman Scott Dudley said. “We owe the citizens of Oak Harbor an apology.”

Following controversy over a March 2010 meeting in which a quorum of council members attended, the city council adopted rule changes in June that made the meetings the same as regular city council meetings.

The policy change effectively allowed the city to dodge state laws that require irregular meetings attended by a quorum of elected officials — in this case four or more — to be advertised with a special meeting notice. The purpose is to make sure the public knows when its leaders are meeting and potentially discussing and acting on business.

The state Office of the Attorney General would later issue an official opinion that such a policy does not comply with the Open Public Meetings Act.

Dudley appeared to be alone in his objections, however. Not only did no one voice support for a public apology, some even questioned the authenticity of his concerns as Dudley announced that day that he will be making a run at the mayor’s seat in the November general election.

“Sounds like a campaign speech to me,” City Councilman Rick Almberg retorted.

The issue has been “beaten to death” and it’s time to put the issue to rest, he said. The rest of the council appeared to agree as a motion to approve the changes was quickly made and approved.

Marcia Van Dyke, publisher of the Whidbey News-Times, differed when asked about the council’s action after the meeting.

“This is a victory for the public and open government,” she said. “The city should have acted much sooner on concerns expressed by this newspaper and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.”



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