Council may probe city

The Dillard’s Addition sewer controversy took an interesting turn last week when the Oak Harbor City Council became amenable to calling for an independent investigation into the legalities surrounding the municipality’s grinder pump quagmire.

Councilman Larry Eaton, fed up with what he felt was a history of poor communication on the part of the city, moved to launch an investigation.

“We have to reinstate trust and confidence among the people of Oak Harbor in this council,” he said.

Visibly perturbed Dillard’s Addition residents pulled no punches Tuesday as they lambasted the council for, among other perceived illegalities or improprieties, failing to notify all of the residents of the city’s proposed grinder pump ordinance up for approval at the meeting.

“I would like to know why I did not receive a copy of this proposal in the mail from the city as others have,” said resident Duane Dillard. City Administrator Paul Schmidt was unsure why some residents were left in the dark.

Resident Emma Young suggested that the incomplete mailings could legally negate any decision the council made Tuesday. She criticized what she believed was a coerced, truncated legal process.

“Fear and blackmail do not produce good legislative policy,” she said.

Dissent also boiled up among Dillard’s Addition residents in October when, after a public hearing rife with heated testimony, the council voted to purchase the sewer system for $125,000 from developer Robert Anderson, providing him reimbursement and simultaneously placating the majority of the residents who did not want to pay to connect to the system.

Young, echoing other residents’ sentiments, called the October public hearing a “sham,” nothing more than a calculated formality. The decision, she implied, had been made prior to the hearing.

“You were indulging us,” she said.

Councilwoman Sue Karahalios took exception to the accusation, stating that she wrote the motion during the open meeting.

“It was not orchestrated,” she said. Eaton verbally agreed.

The controversy began last April when the City Council approved an application for a preliminary latecomer’s agreement submitted by Anderson under the name Granite Parks Holdings Company, LLC. The document allowed the developer to install a low-pressure, grinder pump sewer system for the entire neighborhood without first notifying the residents of the system to which they would ultimately be required to connect. That marked the first communication breakdown.

The majority of the approximately 30 homeowners in the shoreline development were incensed not only because of the lack of notification but were also displeased with the system chosen without their input.

The ordinance proposed Tuesday would require residents to hook into the grinder pump system within five years rather than the current 60-day requirement. Responding to the collective chagrin of the Dillard’s residents, council members proposed extending the time requirements out to 10 or even 15 years. The timeline, however, was not the issue for the residents.

“At the last council meeting I approached the council and asked them to call for an independent investigation of the Dillard Addition sewer issue,” Dillard said. “I waited for some comment from the council since, during the seven-month ordeal, council people had made comments that something illegal may have taken place, and also, that an investigation may be needed to determine what had actually taken place. Unfortunately, no council people that evening cared to call for such an action.”

Dillard made the same recommendation Tuesday, asking the council to “bravely step forward and call for an investigation.”

“After all, it did cost the taxpayers $124,000-plus to pay off Mr. Rob Anderson and Granite Park Holdings of Nevada, so the city wouldn’t get sued.”

Just when it appeared the council was leaning toward approving the proposed ordinance with an additional five or 10 years tacked on the timeline, Eaton, doing his best Enola Gay impression, dropped a bomb. Giving council voice to the residents’ appeals, he called for a separate, independent investigation to ascertain exactly what when down.

Brewer concurred, favoring Eaton’s motion rather than passing on a “bad ordinance” to the next council.

“I think we have to have a motion and put this to bed,” he said.

After even further council debate about what an investigation would entail, Karahalios convinced the members that setting a protocol and establishing a solid framework for the investigation plans would be necessary before voting on “cloudy” and “nebulous” motion.

“As the motion stands, it is scattered, it is unframed,” she said.

The council finally voted to revisit the issue at the Dec. 18 meeting after the investigation’s scope and specifics could be ironed out.

Karahalios further moved to have the proposed ordinance held over until issues like the timeframe and exclusion of state and federal standards were adequately addressed.

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