Opinion

What other executive sessions is the mayor planning? | In Our Opinion

Why should anyone be concerned about their government leaders meeting behind closed doors?

According to Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley, even the potential that someone “might” sue the city is reason enough to call an executive session.

Using that litmus test, virtually any city action should be taken in secret if it could possibly perhaps maybe cause someone litigious to consider suing the city.

In the days following the felling of the 330-year-old oak at the post office, not one specific threat of pending litigation has been cited. There was no reasonable belief that anyone would sue.

The suggestion that Dudley was protecting the city and its residents by holding closed-door meetings doesn’t jive with the spirit of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

Clearly, the mayor understood the great public interest in the iconic Garry oak, but his actions indicate that he didn’t care about that.  Instead, he summoned the City Council into closed session a couple of weeks before the tree was felled, floated the idea that someone could sue if they found out and effectively corralled council members into an oath of secrecy.

According to the state Attorney General’s office, the act does not allow government agencies to take “action” during closed session, which includes “a collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote.

It appears that Dudley tried to get around this by deciding to chop the tree as an “administrative action” and then telling the council members about his decision in an executive session. While the council didn’t make a decision behind closed doors, the public trust was broken.

It’s also doubtful that such a closed-door meeting is appropriate under the “potential litigation” section of the act. The law requires the council to believe they are “likely to become a party” to a lawsuit to hold such a meeting, which is questionable when the liability is purely theoretical.

It’s up to citizens to demand that their government leaders conduct the people’s business within the public eye. It’s also up to the members of the council to speak up if they believe the executive session privilege is being improperly used.

Meanwhile, we have to wonder what other weekend surprises might be up the sleeve of our “Executive Session Mayor?” Tearing down the iconic windmill at Windjammer Park? Towing off that “attractive nuisance,” the Flinstone car? Perhaps bulldozing Smith Park’s remaining oak stand?

The old post office Garry oak is gone. Let it be a wake-up call for citizens to become more actively involved in their government, and demand that decisions involving the community actually involve the community.

 

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