Oak Harbor City Council should always opt for openness | Editorial

Bob Severns has been an excellent member of the Oak Harbor City Council but he slipped up on the controversial vote last year to make portions of SE Pioneer Way a one-way street: He failed to mention a possible financial benefit to himself.

Severns is part owner of a commercial building on Bayshore Avenue that will see a significant increase in vehicular traffic when drivers are forced to use it after the switch to one-way. The building isn’t used by any businesses that would directly benefit from increased traffic, but that could change in the future.

Severns wondered about a possible conflict of interest before casting his vote for the one-way street, so he consulted with City Attorney Margery Hite. She gave him a legal opinion that it was OK to participate in the vote, so he did not recuse himself.

However, Severns answers to a higher authority than the city attorney: That would be the public he serves. The electorate needs to know that their elected representatives are working for them, not for their self interest. Severns didn’t necessarily have to recuse himself, but he should have publicly acknowledged his financial interest in the building on Bayshore before voting. That way speculation would never have erupted about his motives.

Councilman Rick Almberg should have done the same thing. He has a relative who owns property on Pioneer Way. He should have publicly stated that fact before voting, just to be on the safe side.

Perhaps the city attorney is correct that there was no conflict of interest issue to worry about. But both councilmen should have been more open about their interests before casting their votes. When in doubt, let it out. It’s just common sense for those who ultimately answer to the people and not to an attorney.

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