Editorial: Be open, move forward

It’s unfortunate that a controversy cast a shadow over the Oak Harbor City Council’s unanimous decision to name Bob Severns to the seat vacated by Sheilah Crider, who was appointed Island County auditor. A well-respected and long-time member of the community, Severns is a great fit for the new council as it tries to move forward without the ugliness that bogged down the body in the past. It’s time for former councilman Paul Brewer and his supporters to stand aside and let go of conspiracy theories, at least for the time being, and allow the new city leaders to have their chance to do things the right way.

Under the leadership of Mayor Jim Slowik, the council members ultimately made the right decision by not retreating into a closed-door, executive session to discuss the three candidates for the seats during the March 18 meeting. After interviewing the three men, the council deliberated about the candidates in front of the public, allowing residents valuable insight into why their elected leaders felt Severns is the best man for the job.

But the controversy that clouded the meeting last week would never have happened if it wasn’t for previous executive sessions held by the council and a standing committee made up of three councilmen. In fact, the dispute was a perfect example of why elected officials should refrain from adjourning behind closed doors unless absolutely necessary — even when they legally can do so.

Councilman Danny Paggao claimed that during an executive session earlier this month the council member added a criterion that would have excluded any candidate who ran in the last election. If true, that would have appeared to be an unfair tactic to exclude Brewer, the only candidate in a list of nine who would fit the criteria. At least two other candidates dispute Paggao’s account. But that didn’t persuade Brewer, who was upset and accused the council members of acting unethically by secretly adding a criterion. Local attorney Christon Skinner unnecessarily escalated things by jumping into the fray and claiming that Paggao’s comments were engineered by Brewer.

Even if Brewer is right about the secret criterion — which seems unlikely — he really doesn’t have much to complain about. It truly wasn’t any single criteria that prevented him from being considered. Slowik gave the council members a chance, in open session, to add any of the nine candidates to the list of names to be considered. After Brewer spoke last Tuesday, any council member could have made a motion to consider him. Even Paggao, Brewer’s friend and supporter, remained silent. Perhaps the elected officials would have considered Brewer if he had acted in a professional manner and made a case for his inclusion — which would have been easy given his service to the community — instead of throwing a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way.

During last fall’s election season, Slowik and the successful council candidates campaigned on the promise of ending the bickering and other antics that caused gridlock in city government. That doesn’t mean becoming a “rubberstamp council,” as Brewer claimed, but asking questions and discussing issues without being accusatory. Slowik and others also pledged to make government more open to the public. They’ve had a little bit of a rocky start, but they’re headed in the right direction.

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