More than an oak tree fell victim to Oak Harbor's saw | Publisher's Column

It wasn’t just the mighty oak tree that was lost this weekend in Oak Harbor.

A good deal of trust in Oak Harbor city government also fell victim to the city’s chain saw this weekend.

At 7 a.m. Sunday, those chain saws were firing up at the exact moment someone with Mayor Scott Dudley’s administration was pressing the “send” button for a press release to the Whidbey News-Times.

That in itself is an alarmingly calculated effort to subvert public notification and keep the public in the dark.

To his credit, Dudley owns the decision to keep the tree-cutting a secret. However, his stated rationale for keeping the plan secret is as rotten as Dudley claims the old oak was.

Dudley claims his intent was to lessen the city’s exposure to a potential lawsuit if the tree would have caused injury or damage.

If that’s the kind of flimsy excuse for keeping the city’s activities secret, then Oak Harbor’s citizens have a lot more to be worried about than just this oak tree.

Even though Dudley said he was heeding attorney advice, acting City Attorney Grant Weed says he didn’t advise the city to keep the tree-cutting plans a secret.

Open government expert Michele Earl Hubbard questions whether it was even proper to hold an executive session at all.

“Seems like, if there was really harm, they needed to rope it off and warn people, not hide in closed meetings with a lawyer to discuss how if it fell on someone that they could be sued,” said Earl-Hubbard, an attorney with Allied Law Group.

“Anytime agencies use reasons like this to avoid disclosing information to the public, and make decisions in secret, I see a huge red flag.

“And the public probably should too,” said Earl-Hubbard.

Councilman Rick Almberg says he is also bothered by the secrecy but felt muzzled because the matter was revealed to the council in executive session.

Even though Dudley ran on a promise of transparency in government, Almberg said, “We’ve had more executive session under this mayor than we had under (previous  mayor Jim) Slowik’s entire term.”

One thing is becoming crystal clear — Dudley has little to no regard for public opinion, nor the spirit of open government.

This isn’t the kind of leadership Oak Harbor deserves.


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