City strives for more open meetings

Oak Harbor decision makers are looking at several options that could radically change the way city council standing committees meet, one of which includes combining all four into a single monthly meeting.

That was one of three possibilities discussed Tuesday at the city council’s first meeting of the year. It was also the first meeting chaired by Scott Dudley, the newly elected mayor and former city councilman.

Honoring promises he and other candidates made while on the campaign trail, Dudley asked the council to consider televising and changing the times and locations of standing committee meetings to make them more assessable to the public.

“We have three different times for four different meetings,” said Dudley, adding that they also take place at three different locations.

Oak Harbor’s four standing committees include Public Works and Utilities, Public Safety, Government Services and Finance. They serve to inform city council members about issues and projects before they are voted on.

Currently, two begin at 7 a.m., one at 8 a.m., and the fourth starts at 3:30 p.m. Also, they are variously held at the Public Works building on NE 16th Avenue, the fire department on E. Whidbey Avenue and at City Hall on SE Barrington Drive.

Although the topic started as a discussion about televising the meetings and standardizing their times and locations, City Councilman Jim Campbell suggested they go one step further by reverting to an older format of having just one meeting a month at City Hall.

“It would be more opportune (for the public to attend) just like it’s more opportune to go to a 6 p.m. council meeting,” Campbell said.

Under that scenario, all seven council members would be more easily able to participate in the discussions held at the four separate meetings.

Right now, all but Paggao, who is mayor pro-tem, serve on just two committees; each group has three total members.

Campbell’s proposal did not receive much traction.

City Councilwoman Beth Munns said standing committee meetings often take two hours and having all four at one time would mean some pretty late nights. She also worried that cramming everything into one meeting might hamper productivity.

“We’d never get anything done,” Munns said.

Although Campbell argued that it has worked successfully in the past, City Councilmen Danny Paggao and Bob Severns said they shared Munns’ concern about the potential for eight-hour meetings.

Severns did say he was open to the idea of taping, however.

“I think that would be a good move on our part,” Severns said.

The impact to city staff was also discussed. Munns said having just one potentially long meeting a month would be hard on staff because it would mean they would be getting home late.

Paggao added that the current times and locations were established largely because it was more convenient for city employees. They have busy schedules and having meetings at the start of their day and near their offices is less of a disruption.

“I know they are hardworking people,” he said.

In the end, the city council agreed it would be good to get the prospective of staff at each standing committee before making any decisions. That would also allow time for additional proposals, such as having two meetings a month, to be drafted for consideration.

Dudley concluded by saying that he has no desire to see standing committees go away and does not support having just one meeting a month. However, he said changes are needed to make the meetings more accessible and having them all at City Hall would go a long way toward meeting that goal.

“I think you’ll find that everyone will applaud you for doing that,” Dudley said.

The issue is expected to come back for further review and possible action at the first meeting in February.


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