Two men seeking separate Oak Harbor City Council positions have garnered scrutiny for running uniquely interconnected campaigns supported by a high-profile developer.
Their opponents, on the other hand, have focused their campaigns on representing a broader range of residents.
Michael Crawford and Jeffrey Mack placed their campaign signs together, handed out each other’s literature, referenced each other during voter forums and appeared together on a Youtube video.
Their biggest contributor — at $1,000 each — is Tri-Son Investments of Las Vegas, Nev., which is run by developer Scott Thompson, the man behind the proposed Wright’s Crossing housing development. Both candidates echoed the message at forums that development is the key to success for the city and that city government needs to stop being an obstacle.
Several community members, including a councilman, have written letters to the editor of the Whidbey News-Times cautioning voters to look at who’s helping to finance their campaigns.
Crawford and Mack were not interviewed by the News-Times. Crawford canceled a scheduled interview with the newspaper, and Mack failed to return phone calls in the last month.
IN A LETTER to the News-Times, Crawford defends himself and Mack, as well as Thompson. He wrote that Thompson has “put his money where his mouth is” and continues to invest in the city.
“Trying to make the connection with Tri-son having substantial influence in mine or Jeff Mack’s campaign, is like saying Chevron must have influence too because I choose to by (sic) fuel at the station on the corner of Midway Blvd and SR20,” he wrote.
“Chevron operates in almost all 50 states. But since they’re not based here in Oak Harbor, should I not buy their fuel?” Crawford asked.
Councilwoman Tara Hizon, who is facing Crawford in the election, and Joseph Busig, who is facing Mack, chose to do “mini reporting,” which means they will receive less than $5,000 in contributions and are thus exempt from reporting.
All of the candidates agree that the city needs growth and development, but they disagree on how it should be managed.
DURING A forum, Mack said the city’s urban growth area needs to be expanded, which was the point of contention in the Wright’s Crossing proposal. The county sets the state-mandated Urban Growth Area, and county commissioners declined to consider an expansion of the UGA, which is an area earmarked future annexation in which development can take place at city density.
“We’re at the point where we need to build, build, build,” Mack said.
Crawford said construction of housing will help the economy, broaden the tax base and improve the city’s streets and utilities.
Hizon said a push for growth can be a good thing, but that “unfettered development is not the answer” and neither is sprawl. She is concerned about the strain on the city’s infrastructure, including city streets that are deteriorating.
Busig said the focus should be on workforce housing and finding ways to reduce rent. He said he wants to represent working class and young people, who have long — or always — been underrepresented in city government. He wants to make sure those groups aren’t left behind as the city grows.
Busig said he was upset to read on Mack’s website that he believes low-income housing is very important but “needs to placed be in the proper location.” Busig, a college student, said he lives with his mother, who works two jobs, in low-income housing. Many of his neighbors are enlisted members of the military, he said, and the idea that they need to be in their proper place is insulting.
“It hurts me to hear that,” he said. “It kind of strikes a personal nerve with me. Does that mean that I have less worth?”
HIZON IS seeking her third term in office. She said a lot was achieved during her time in office, but a lot more remains to be done. Much of her tenure has been dominated by construction of the city’s new sewage treatment plant as well as controversies surrounding former mayor Scott Dudley.
“I feel like we’re finally getting to a place where we are really looking at long-range planning,” she said, pointing to the city’s recent purchase of property for a future park as an example of long-term thinking. The school district owns the Fort Nugent Park property and will someday build on it, so the city needs an alternative.
On the council, Hizon came up with the idea for publishing council meetings online and the plans for installing security in Windjammer Park. She was certified in advanced municipal leadership by the Association of Washington Cities.
Hizon said the biggest difference between her and her opponent is in the approach to leadership.
“Mr. Crawford appears to be long on complaints, but short on practical solutions,” she said. “In fact, most of what I’ve seen and heard are assumptions based on inaccurate information.”
HIZON WAS critical of Crawford at a forum, saying he didn’t seem to understand how the city budget is partly segregated into funds that can’t be used for other purposes. At another forum, Crawford inaccurately said that the city was only going to get 1 percent of the money raised from a proposed sales tax increase to fund street repairs, a measure that’s on the ballot.
“It’s pretty clear that he either hasn’t educated himself or doesn’t understand the basis mechanism of city government or municipal finances,” she said.
Crawford, on the other hand, was critical of Hizon for missing meetings. She admits she wasn’t able to go to some council workshops because she has a job, but that she watched them online. The workshops have been moved to 5 p.m. because of this issue, she said, and shouldn’t be a problem in the future.
Crawford also faulted both Hizon and Busig for focusing on government-funded housing as a way to ease the housing shortage. Some is necessary, he wrote, but it also removes housing from the property tax base. He referred to the controversial low-income housing project downtown as “a blight.”
BUSIG SAID he listens to people and will represent them well. He’s knocked on hundreds of doors and learned a lot about how people are struggling. Many are having trouble finding housing, child care and transportation. People feel apart from city government. If he wins, he plans on continuing to doorbell.
“I’ve never in my life had an elected official come to my door and ask me what issues are important to me,” he said.
He said he will “amplify the voices of the underrepresented, the disenfranchised and the disaffected,” while his opponent has different priorities.
“He’s part of the older generation who have a different outlook, which is fine, but it’s more of the same,” he said. “It’s status quo and he’s not inclusive in his vision.”