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Fresh face takes on volatile experience in Oak Harbor City Council race
One has youth, a fresh perspective and polished passion on her side. The other, experience, determination and a grizzly fire all his own.
But only one person can fill Position 1 on the Oak Harbor City Council and voters this November will have to decide between Tara Hizon, a 33-year-old small business owner, and the twice-her age, successful solid waste manager and retired Navy master chief, Paul Brewer.
Despite all the wide-swinging speculation about who will come out ahead, it truly is anybody’s guess just which way voters will swing.
City council seats are non-partisan elected positions that carry a four-year term. Council members are paid a monthly salary of $596 monthly, can be reimbursed for up to $650 per year for travel expenses and are eligible for a medical package.
Of the seven positions on the council, three are up for election this year. Position 1, the seat sought by Hizon and Brewer, is currently occupied by Jim Palmer. He is not seeking reelection for personal reasons.
Brewer, who retired from the Navy after a 30-year career, is currently the solid waste manager for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He served three consecutive terms on the council, a total of 12 years, before losing a 2007 bid for mayor to Jim Slowik.
The no-nonsense retired master chief is hoping for a comeback in city politics largely because he’s unhappy with what’s happened during the four years he’s been away.
“I thinks it’s been a disaster,” Brewer said.
He points to Pioneer Way and the decision to make the street a one-way despite loud protest from merhants, the later discovery of Native American remains, and disputes concerning open government and transparency.
Hizon, a technical writer for her own home business who also waits tables to make ends meet, has no prior experience in elected office but has long been involved in the community. She is perhaps best known for her work at Whidbey Playhouse, where she serves on the organization’s board of directors.
Unlike Brewer, Hizon is not so disappointed with the current administration, though she has a list of things she’d like to change. Rather, Hizon said Palmer’s vacant seat was an opportunity to serve in public office, which is something she’s long considered.
“It just felt right,” Hizon said.
Hizon said she was happy the Pioneer Way project moved forward after so many years of just talk. She views the controversy over the city council’s decision to turn the street into a one-way as breakdown in communication rather than elected officials not listening to the public.
Although the candidates seem to be polar opposites and have sparred at recent political forums, they share many of their opinions and long term goals, whether they like it or not.
Both want to improve communication by taping standing committee meetings. It’s been one of Brewer’s primary campaign issues from day one. Hizon began talking about the issue only more recently, but is proposing the use of web-based technologies like YouTube.
“That’s probably one of the first things I would propose,” Hizon said.
Brewer wants to take it step further by standardizing standing committee meeting times and having them all located at City Hall. He is also advocating to have regular city council meetings start later and for agendas to be set at the end of each meeting.
Hizon said she is willing to explore standardizing the times and locations of standing committee meetings but isn’t sold on the idea. Hizon also wants to live stream city council meetings on the internet.
Both candidates support greater government accountability. Brewer says it’s been seriously lacking, citing mistakes on the Pioneer Way project. They are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars yet no one has yet lost his or her job, he said.
Hizon has said several times in past months that there is a difference between a mistake and negligence and that the latter deserves termination. She’s also voiced criticism of the recent city review of the Pioneer Way project and why state warnings about a nearby archaeological site went unheeded. She said the review should have been conducted by a third party, rather than the city administrator.
Finally, both candidates are equally determined not to see the wastewater treatment plant located at Windjammer Park. Brewer said it should be at Crescent Harbor and Hizon, who is still undecided, says the city waterfront should be a last resort.
The candidates’ views do break when it comes to economic development, though again they share similarities. Brewer has visions of a new big-box store in town and making the city more attractive to new businesses with incentives, such as allowing development fees to be paid over time.
Hizon talks about a “thriving, bustling” town that’s a destination for tourists. The building blocks are here, but “the city has really failed to exploit that we are a waterfront community,” she said.
She and Brewer both say better partnerships with the chamber of commerce could help pave the way to achieving their goals.
Interestingly, the candidates also have new ideas about how to solve the standoff between the Element Nightclub and Bayshore residents, a problem that has perplexed the current city council for years.
Brewer said the issue could be addressed with cameras that would record parking lot activities. The feed would go directly to the police station so there would be no debate about just what’s going on down there.
Hizon, who has met with Police Chief Rick Wallace to get up to speed on the issue, suggests a workshop with all the parties. Meeting informally, rather than in a city council meeting, may spark a more open dialogue, which could result in new ideas or solutions.
While it’s clear both candidates have similar feelings on a range of topics, each says they are the best person for the job. Brewer says his experience and passion, a trait that has in the past escalated to outright anger and landed him in hot water, gives him the edge.
“I’ll bring the passion back and ask the tough questions,” Brewer said. “I don’t care who the mayor is.”
Despite being criticized as such, Hizon said she’s no “rubber-stamper” and that anyone who thinks so hasn’t met her. However, she said she’s not a hot-head either, and would advocate her ideas “calmly and competently.” Also, she offers diversity that she says is needed on the city council.
“It’s new, it’s fresh, and it’s forward thinking,” Hizon said.