Councilman Hankins passes away
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:41 PM
"Rex Hankins, a feisty Oak Harbor councilman who championed growth management, died at his daughter's house in Everett on Saturday from complications arising from surgery for lung cancer. He was 73 years old. While he was an influential man in city politics, many people knew Hankins from city sidewalks and street corners. He was famous for his daily walks around town, where he said he could feel the pulse of the city and drew people into conversation with his easy-going manner. Hankins was, as his close friend Gene Coleman puts it, a special breed of cat. Hankins was elected to the Oak Harbor City Council twice, but he was the only candidate who never put up a yard sign and barely ran a campaign. He said people knew who he was and knew what he stood for, and if they didn't like what he did they wouldn't vote for him. On the council, Hankins never seemed afraid to say what was on his mind, which put him at the center of many controversies. But he always made a point of not making personal attacks. Though he was a self-described conservative, Hankins wasn't afraid to stand up to big business or development. As a councilman, he tried to keep Wal-Mart from building at its present site because he argued that it would cause traffic jams on the highway and drive small businesses out. He was very concerned about the future of the city, his friend Jerry Jones said. He didn't want to see the sprawl or wasted resources he'd seen elsewhere. Recently, Hankins was the lone councilmember who voted against annexing the so-called Hackney land into the city. The land has a county development moratorium for illegal logging, which he argued shouldn't be forgiven for the sake of development. Councilman Paul Brewer, who described Hankins as his confidant, said that Hankins' tireless attention to detail on city agendas, especially in planning and development, was extraordinary. He kept everyone on their toes, Brewer said. He was quite a reader. Hankins spent endless hours at the Comprehensive Plan Task Force and many other meetings, taking in information. He kept his own copy of the municipal codes and read it like a novel. He was accused of being anti-growth, but Hankins denied it and said he was just pro-planning. His passion for planning and growth management came from California, where he worked for Hewlett-Packard and saw unplanned, haphazard development destroy the environment, mar the landscape and skyrocket the cost of living for everyone. Hankins first step into Oak Harbor politics came when he joined Coleman in the campaign against creating a port district in the city. After the port was defeated in a landslide vote, the group morphed into the Taxpayers For Responsible Government, a city watchdog group that supports the idea that developers, not city taxpayers, should pay for development. Hankins resigned from TRG after he was elected, but remained friends with many of the members. We wanted planning to be slow and meticulous, Coleman said. He wanted to make sure it was done right. Hankins left his fingerprints on the city's Comp Plan, a guide to development for the next 20 years. He fought to have city government more open to the public. He and former councilman Larry Eaton spearheaded the effort to have council meetings broadcast on TV. But while publicly Hankins dedicated himself to things like water, sewers and zoning, his friends remember him as an honest man with a strong wit, a proud father of two adult children, a consummate gentleman and a religious man. He always said he was never afraid to die because he knew where he was going, Brewer said."