Editorial: When in doubt, shut them out

The Washington State Auditor’s Office recently completed its annual audit of the city of Oak Harbor. What the state came up with was discussed at two unannounced meetings one day in November. What was said we don’t know because our reporter, who represents the public, was told to leave before the audit findings were revealed to city officials.

An official with the state said cities handle routine audit reports differently. Some hear them in public sessions while others, like Oak Harbor, hold closed sessions. Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik preferred to keep the public out, saying the information was private, meant to give city representatives a chance to comment on possible audit findings before the public report is released, perhaps later this month.

Slowik has come under fire in the past for making it impossible or at least difficult for the public to attend certain city meetings. The Whidbey News-Times, with an assist from State Rep. Barb Bailey, was able to ask for an official Washington State Attorney General’s opinion on several issues regarding Oak Harbor’s abuse (as we see it) of the state Open Public Meetings Act.

While awaiting this decision, Mayor Slowik could have brushed up the Open Public Meetings Act, which was approved by the people of this state and requires open meetings except in certain specific cases involving personnel, legal and real estate issues. Instead, he reverted to form and chose secrecy.

In the audit case, publicly paid state officials studied how publicly paid city officials are spending the public’s money. How could any issue be more public than that? The mayor had a chance to show that openness is important to him, but once again he shut the doors on the public.

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