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Oak Harbor admits open meetings law violated, will make amends

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley speaks with new City Attorney Bill Hawkins and interim City Administrator Steve Powers before a special meeting Monday. Hawkins confirmed Wednesday that the selection of four finalists in a closed session during the meeting violated the state
Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley speaks with new City Attorney Bill Hawkins and interim City Administrator Steve Powers before a special meeting Monday. Hawkins confirmed Wednesday that the selection of four finalists in a closed session during the meeting violated the state's Open Public Meetings Act. The entire process is now expected to be redone.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

The Oak Harbor City Council's selection of four finalists for an open council seat was a violation of the state's Open Public Meetings Act and the entire process will be re-conducted, according to City Attorney Bill Hawkins.

"I'm going to take responsibility for this," said Hawkins, in an interview Wednesday morning.

"We started out evaluating qualifications and ended up backing into the very thing we were trying to avoid," he said.

In a special meeting Monday, the council retired to executive session, which is closed to the public, to review the qualifications of candidates interested in the position formerly held by Mayor Scott Dudley.

However, the body went further by whittling down the number of applicants to four finalists. City Councilman Danny Paggao announced after the closed session that the council had reached its decision unanimously and the meeting ended without a vote or discussion.

State law says final action for appointing a replacement can only be done in open session. No appointment was made, but case law makes clear that no voting whatsoever can be taken out of view of the public, even if its just to develop a shortlist.

Hawkins said he could not go into details about what happened in the secret session but did confirm that a consensus had been reached.

"In essence, they conducted a straw poll," he said.

The city attorney said he would recommend that the entire process be redone at the council's next meeting, Feb. 6. That includes the evaluation of candidate qualifications and the selection of finalists. And this time, all of it should be done in open session, he said.

"We made a mistake, we're going to fix it," Hawkins said.

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