Oak Harbor candidates field queries at voters' forum

Oak Harbor City Council candidate Mel Vance answers a question at the League of Women Voters
Oak Harbor City Council candidate Mel Vance answers a question at the League of Women Voters' forum Tuesday night. His opponents are Gerry Oliver, left, and Scott Dudley at right.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times

The League of Women Voters candidate forum kept relatively cool last night despite yesterday's record-breaking temperatures.

The July 28 forum kicked-off with opening remarks by Oak Harbor City Council candidates Scott Dudley, Gerry Oliver and Mel Vance, followed by a casual audience Q and A.

Of the approximately 30 people in attendance only seven stepped up to the microphone.

Wayne Locke posed several of the harder-hitting questions to the candidates.

"I don't consider the City Council an entry level position," he said. "What have you done to prepare yourself for a position on the City Council?

Gerry Oliver, whose election platform rests squarely on youth advocacy and recreation, said he spoke with Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace and City Finance Director Doug Merriman to get a handle on city issues in addition to attending a couple of recent city council meetings. He's also reached out to his neighbors by "knocking on doors."

Mel Vance, the self-described alternative, independently-minded candidate, told Locke that he's attended nearly every City Council meeting over the last two years.

As far as community understanding, Vance said he sits on the board of directors for two nonprofit organizations, has experience with management and heavy equipment, in addition to a wealth of local knowledge.

"I grew up here," he said. "Because of my background, I bring a unique perspective."

Scott Dudley, the only "non-native" candidate, took to his feet for every answer.

"When I first moved here six years ago I started watching Channel 10 for the entertainment value; to see the workings and non-working of the council," he said, drawing a bout of knowing laughter from the sparsely-attended forum.

With a more serious tone, Dudley added that he's attended council meetings over the last several months and met with department heads to prepare for the job.

Patti Carter, former owner of Pony Mailing & Business Center - a bygone downtown business - and a 32-year resident of Oak Harbor, wanted to know how the candidates plan to create a vital community.

"When you take a look at Oak Harbor and what Oak Harbor could offer, you'll see a plan here pretty soon that'll change the look and feel of downtown," Dudley said, adding that marina upgrades and plans for a pier or boardwalk are also in the mix and could increase spending at local stores.

But when it comes to forking over cash for the projects' undoubtedly hefty price tag, Dudley could only add that payment of such lofty projects "are another chapter to come."

Vance said the city has pumped millions of dollars into downtown development while businesses struggle to stay afloat along Midway Boulevard.

"Those businesses generate every bit as much tax revenue as downtown," he said. "The money should be spread around and we should recruit light industrial business."

Oliver countered that government should play no role in supporting business downtown or elsewhere.

"It's not up to the government whether a business fails or succeeds," he said.

Carter felt satisfied, for the most part, with the candidates' responses.

"It's like pitching," she said. "They don't know what we're going to thrown at them. I think they did the best they could."

The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November. Voters have already received their primary election ballots in the mail. They most be postmarked no later than election day, Aug. 18, to be counted.

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