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Oak Harbor City Council hopefuls trimmed to four

Political hopeful William (Skip) Pohtilla speaks with Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell after a special meeting Monday. Four finalists were selected for position 5 on the council. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Political hopeful William (Skip) Pohtilla speaks with Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell after a special meeting Monday. Four finalists were selected for position 5 on the council.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Chosen in secret, four candidates have been selected as finalists for an open seat on the Oak Harbor City Council.

They include Richard Devlin, James Reynolds, Jeff Wallin and Joel Servatius. Each is now a possible appointment for position 5, the spot recently vacated by Scott Dudley when he was elected mayor.

The decision was made Monday during a special meeting at City Hall. The council retired to executive session, which is closed to the public, to discuss the qualifications of eight applicants. They emerged about 30 minutes later and announced that a consensus had been reached.

“The council has made a unanimous decision for a shortlist of candidates,” Councilman Danny Paggao told the crowd as the council emerged from behind closed doors.

Although the council did not appoint a replacement, which is expressly prohibited in executive session, just selecting four finalists may have been a violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act.

Tim Ford, assistant attorney general for government accountability, said case law maintains that “final action” must be made in open public session, referring to the precedent setting ruling of Miller vs. Tacoma.

In that case, a poll was taken in executive session concerning candidates for employment. The court found that while the law expressly mandates that final action hiring of an applicant for employment be taken in open session, it does not mean that the governing body may take preliminary votes that eliminate candidates from consideration.

“You can’t imply other actions under (the statute) is what the court is saying,” Ford said.

As for the candidates selected, Devlin is well known in the community and a veteran educator with 30 years’ experience as a high school principal. He currently works as a  clinical supervisor for student teachers with the Washington Governors University and is a ranking member of several community groups, including Navy League and the Rotary Club.

Reynolds recently completed a 30-year career with the Navy, serving in a variety of roles that ranged from curriculum development supervisor to an executive advisor. He is now a work and family life consultant for the same service.

Wallin, also well known in Oak Harbor, has served on the Oak Harbor Planning Commission since 2010 and is the vice president for a local general contracting firm he has been with for more than 20 years.

Finally, Servatius is a financial advisor who has been self-employed for the past 16 years. He has been member of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s board since 2001 and is the current president and a coach of the Whidbey Wild Cat Wrestling Club.

Per state law, the council is empowered to appoint a replacement to fill out the remaining two years of Dudley’s four-year term. The successful candidate will serve until 2012 before having to run for reelection to retain the seat.

The process to fill the vacancy began in early January when, following a lengthy discussion about the need for an open and public process, the council agreed upon a schedule that would see the position filled by Feb. 21.

Since then, a total of 10 candidates submitted applications. Aside from the four finalists, they include Michelle Mae Dowell, Larry Eaton, Ron Apgar, William (Skip) Pohtilla, Raynette Parks and Ana Maria Schlecht.

Dowell and Parks, whose provided addresses were outside city limits, were immediately disqualified as potential candidates.

Although the council in January agreed upon a set schedule and to form the shortlist together as opposed to charging the task to a smaller committee, it was clear Monday that there was uncertainty about how the finalists would be selected.

Lacking any recommendations from city staff or Mayor Dudley, Paggao suggested a point system based on candidates’ written responses to seven questions included in their application packets.

However, the idea saw little support.

Newly elected Councilwoman Tara Hizon said she preferred to discuss the matter behind closed doors so that the desired qualifications of individual council members could be discussed and prioritized. That might avoid any arbitrary decision making, she said.

Councilman Jim Campbell supported the proposal, saying he was worried about evaluating and making decisions in a public forum because “those not selected could be terribly embarrassed.”

“I think it would be wise for us to do this kind of thing in executive session,” Campbell said.

A subsequent motion by Councilman Rick Almberg to conduct the matter in private saw unanimous support.

According to the previously approved schedule, the shortlist will be formally announced at the council’s next meeting, Feb. 7, with a decision to follow two weeks later, Feb. 21. State law mandates that any candidate interviews or final action be conducted in public.

 

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