Editorial: Fill vacancies in public view

The new city of Oak Harbor administration is off to a shaky start with how it fills vacancies on the City Council. The public is needlessly being left in the dark for too much of the process.

Mayor Jim Slowik and the new council added another layer to the vetting process, farming out the nine council applicants to a standing committee of three council members. This committee was given the task of screening the applicants and making a recommendation to the full council. Just about the first thing the committee did was go into closed “executive session” to discuss the merits of the applicants. Then they refused to divulge which three candidates they will recommend.

The council would be wise at this early stage to remove the executive session option from committees. Since they can’t decide anything, all it will lead to is mischief. And as a result of this executive session, the public will never know the reasoning behind whatever recommendation comes out of the committee. This is an elected position, so go ahead and discuss the merits of the applicants in public. It’s a substitute for a public election process, so discussion belongs in public. Committee members must simply refrain from making slanderous comments about the applicants, which shouldn’t be too high a bar to clear.

Such concerns aside, the fact is that this important decision should not have been ceded to a committee, which should be tasked with the minutiae of city government. The full council should conduct the process, interviewing each applicant in public, before the television camera. Only after this public interview process should the council consider an executive session, and the decision to meet in private while legal, should not be made automatically. Try to keep the debate fully public. If a council member needs to air an issue that might be slanderous, then keep the private session focused and brief. People who apply for a public elected position expect their qualifications to be discussed in public. That, after all, is the whole point of our democratic process.

It’s not too late to do things right. The Oak Harbor City Council should interview all candidates for the vacant seat in public, and then decide who’s best. It doesn’t need the advice and confusion provided by a standing committee.

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