Oak Harbor city councilman’s confrontation turns into political row
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
June 23, 2012 · Updated 5:18 AM
A group of people interested in Oak Harbor city politics are abuzz over rumors concerning Councilman Joel Servatius’ alleged angry encounter with a businessman last month.
A resident spoke at a recent council meeting about his concerns about the councilman’s actions and an alleged abuse of power. A political website based on North Whidbey featured a story about the incident — without even trying to contact the councilman for his side — and is calling for a recall effort against Servatius.
Yet Servatius says the rumors and the blog misrepresent the facts and that he and his wife were actually the victims of the out-of-control businessman. He feels that allies of Mayor Scott Dudley have manufactured the controversy “to create a diversion from the havoc the mayor is manifesting.”
Steve Pogacsas owns Island Treasures, a new thrift shop on Ault Field Road. He explained in an interview that he’s had trouble with drivers leaving their cars parked in his parking lot for days on end, so he’s been vigilant about preventing people from doing so.
On May 11, Pogacsas thought that Servatius’ wife was parking her car in his lot and leaving in a vehicle with her husband, who had just pulled up. In fact, he was handing her a coffee.
Pogacsas said he called out to the woman, telling her she couldn’t park there. When she ignored him, he called out again that he would have the car towed and she responded that she was just getting her coffee.
Pogacsas claimed that Servatius got out of his vehicle, “stormed across the parking lot” and screamed in his face.
“He was yelling, ‘I’ll leave it here all day if I want to and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it,’” Pogacsas said.
Pogacsas claimed Servatius backed off, but then approached him again, calling him “stupid” and using foul words. He said Servatius’ wife finally got him to leave and they drove away.
Pogacsas said he had never seen Servatius before; he didn’t know he was a councilman and Servatius never said anything about being on the council.
“I didn’t know who this guy was from Adam,” he said. “I was just trying to say you can’t park here. He just snapped.”
Servatius tells a much different story. He explained that he was dropping off a decaf peppermint latte to his wife, who works on base. He said Pagacsas started swearing at his wife.
“It was pretty clear that this man was enraged about the parking thing, and I had concerns he was about to get violent. I told him I was not about to get into an altercation with him and risk a lawsuit, even though he was doing everything possible to incite me,” Servatius wrote in an email to the Whidbey News-Times, which was also copied to Oak Harbor attorney Christon Skinner.
Servatius said he was concerned about the man’s volatility, so he encouraged him to call the sheriff’s office “with the hope that this would simmer him down.” Servatius said he never used any profanity, but is was the business owner who was “throwing every expletive in the book that he could at my wife and I.” Likewise, Servatius said he never said anything about being a councilman.
Pagacsas said he had written down Servatius’ license plate number and did call the sheriff’s office. He had a deputy issue a “trespass admonishment” against Servatius, which means Servatius is prohibited from returning to the business or parking lot.
As Island County Sheriff Mark Brown explained, the trespass admonishment isn’t based on any investigation. Any business owner can have someone “trespassed” and it doesn’t mean a deputy felt it was justified.
“There was no crime,” Brown said.
Pagacsas said Servatius also didn’t let the incident go, but called the sheriff and a local towing company immediately to see if the businessman could legally prevent him from parking there and tow away his car. He said Servatius even checked on his business license.
Pagacsas claimed the deputy who responded warned him that Servatius was a councilman and advised him to drop the matter.
Servatius admits that he did call Sheriff Brown to inquire about the legalities of towing and to voice his concerns about the man’s aggressive behavior.
Brown said Servatius was very polite during the phone call and didn’t sound upset. He said he advised the councilman that the businessman did, in fact, have the right to control the property and have vehicles towed.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.