Oak Harbor Chamber puts candidates on the grill

Oak Harbor City Council candidate Rick Almberg speaks during the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s political forum Thursday. Sitting at right is mayoral candidate Scott Dudley.  - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor City Council candidate Rick Almberg speaks during the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s political forum Thursday. Sitting at right is mayoral candidate Scott Dudley.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Along with salad and soup, Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce members got to chew on political barbs and character innuendos at the groups’ candidate forum Thursday.

Held at the Elks Lodge, the lunch-time meeting offered Oak Harbor City Council and mayoral candidates a chance to speak to the business community about their plans and hopes for political office.

Most candidates stuck to the issues, rehashing familiar topics that ranged from SE Pioneer Way and open government to the needs and benefits of long-planned-for infrastructure projects.

However, with the Nov. 8 election day so close at hand and ballots already mailed, it’s no surprise that a few were feeling a little feisty and couldn’t resist a jab or two at their opponents. Causing the most stir, perhaps, were comments made by Rick Almberg, the incumbent running for Position 3 on the city council.

Heavily implying a lack of honesty on behalf of other candidates, though he didn’t get into specifics or even say who he was talking about, Almberg stressed that strong and healthy government can only be created if voters have all the information they need to make a good choice.

“It starts with honesty from each one of us,” said Almberg, referring to personal resumes and accomplishments.

Naturally, challenger Mel Vance assumed Almberg was talking about him.

“I’m about as honest as you can be,” Vance responded.

Firing back, Vance said he has a long record of consistency when “others” have not. Like Almberg, he didn’t dive into specifics or say who he was talking about.

Political newcomer Tara Hizon didn’t pull any punches either. Running for Position 1 on the city council, Hizon was quick to go on the offensive against her opponent, Paul Brewer, concerning his ideas on job creation.

Brewer, who spoke first, said he hopes to attract new businesses and industries to town by offering incentives, such as allowing them to pay development and impact fees over time rather than all at once.

Although Brewer didn’t say anything about Hizon, she said it was odd to hear her opponent criticizing impact and development fees. She claimed many were adopted while he was a sitting city council member.

Brewer, who served three past terms prior to 2007, said after the meeting that he could not validate her claim. Some may have been approved while he was in office, but he said he can’t remember if he voted to support them. But even if he had, he said today’s tough economy changes things and warrants another look.

Chamber member Chad Neil said he was glad he was able to attend the forum. This is an election that people are passionate about and it was nice to hear from the candidates directly. However, he said he wishes the candidates would focus more on the issues ahead and less on each other. The back and forth bickering is getting tiring, he said.

“We can disagree without personal feelings getting involved,” Neil said.

While he’s not sure yet who he’ll vote for, especially concerning the city council races, Neil said he is leaning toward mayoral incumbent Jim Slowik over challenger Scott Dudley. Neil said he’s happy that so many needed public works projects have been accomplished in the past four years.

Kathy Jones, a former chairwoman of the Island County Republican Party and a downtown business owner, said she also is leaning toward Slowik, as well as the incumbents, even though she was an outspoken opponent of a one-way street.

“I still think it (a two-way) is better for commerce,” Jones said.

But you can’t agree on everything and she isn’t holding a grudge. Jones said she’s more happy the project was finally completed after being planned for so long. However, she believes the business community is divided and that it will be a close race.


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