Editorial: City Council’s integrity put at risk

Oak Harbor’s city administration is making the council look foolish, and the seven-member independent body should waste no time restoring its good reputation.

The issue stems from a subcommittee meeting of three council members to which the mayor invited the entire city council. This constituted a breach of the Open Public Meetings Act, which requires notification in advance of all council meetings. Councilman Jim Campbell refused to go, realizing it was against the law; but six council members attended.

It also violated the public trust, as few knew the full council with its decision-making powers would be present at the subcommittee meeting, called to discuss emotional Pioneer Way improvement issues.

The illegality of the meeting was strongly hinted at by a highly-placed expert in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. While he can’t issue rulings, he can point out changes that should be made.

The city administration’s reaction was odd, to say the least. It could have pledged that all future subcommittee meetings would only be comprised of the three subcommittee members. But it didn’t. Instead, it decided to advertise all future subcommittee meetings as full council meetings. That way, the mayor can continue to invite any additional council members he wants without worrying about violating the Open Public Meetings Act.

Meanwhile, the public is left to attend seven, rather than two, council meetings each month. The subcommittee committees can happen any time of the day, as early as 7 a.m., and in diverse places. No citizen could possibly keep up with them all. In addition, none of those extra committees will be televised, as are the two regular council meetings.

This present policy is inane, a blatant attempt to disregard the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act. The mayor admits no wrongdoing and thinks the issue is minor, one the city can get around to after more important issues are tackled, such as nude dancing.

It’s amazing that the city’s legal staff could prepare five binders of legal precedent showing why nude dancing must be allowed in the city, but didn’t bother to come up with even a legal brief on why the Open Public Meetings Act should faithfully be followed in detail.

As a result of this, may of the council members look foolish. It’s time they take over and restore the people’s trust in city government. They should do it next week, even before nude dancing is discussed.

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