It seems like almost everyone was surprised at the speed at which Oak Harbor government moved, and not for the usual reasons. It took just one meeting for a public survey about the “Angel de la Creatividad” sculpture to come to fruition, and few if any are pleased with the results.
City council members and staff discussed the origins of the survey during last Wednesday’s workshop meeting.
The survey came under fire for how fast it was created, its wording, how it was distributed and for the validity of its results. Questions about its origins have come up in multiple city council and arts commission meetings because it was not requested by the arts commission, despite being about public art.
City Archaeolgist Gideon Cauffman was handed the project after other staff left the city earlier this year. He presented an update on the project to city council during a meeting May 18 and asked the council members if they would like staff to conduct a public survey. The 37-foot-tall sculpture, offered to Oak Harbor as a gift, has been a hot-button issue for months and has taken over much of the social media conversation.
Councilmember Jeffrey Mack was the only one at the time to respond to Cauffman’s question, saying the survey was something he thought his constituents would want and he supported it.
Mack asked for a question to determine a person’s residency to be added to the survey after Cauffman’s report that many public comments submitted to the city had come from people outside of Oak Harbor.
Most of the public comments shown during Wednesday’s meeting were critical of the sculpture. Several people criticized the survey itself, and Arts Commission Chairperson Therese Kingsbury wrote that she felt “betrayed” that it was even created without her group’s input.
Councilmember Joel Servatius said that although he appreciated the “expediency at which the survey was created,” he was surprised it was sent out so quickly. He also questioned why the city has not moved forward with accepting the sculpture despite recommendations from both the park board and the arts commission for its acceptance and placement.
Tara Hizon said she wasn’t sure that all of the comments were necessary for making a decision, and would vote to accept the sculpture.
“If something is constructive and it’s relevant then that I think that can be taken into account,” Hizon said. “If it’s just ‘I don’t like it because art is subjective’ or ‘I would rather have something else,’ — that’s not especially relevant to this particular project because they’re not mutually exclusive.”
Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns said she thought the city should accept it despite the social media outcry.
“I’m sorry, but elected officials shouldn’t take Facebook as a way to make a decision,” Munns said. “it just stirs the pot and I’m not ever sure people really mean what they say in their comments.”
Erica Wasinger asked what the media monitoring tool called Zencity has said about the public’s opinion of the sculpture. Public Information Officer Sabrina Combs didn’t have recent data with her, but said they generally picked up on the negative perception of the art piece online.
City council members voted to spend $15,000 of CARES Act money for a one-year subscription to the service. When they voted to buy the Zencity subscription, Hizon described it as “a dream come true.”
Since then the reports have been criticized as artificially negative and not representative of city residents.
Zencity is not a poll nor a survey. It watches forms of media — which in Oak Harbor is almost exclusively Facebook comments — and uses its own algorithms to judge whether a comment is negative or positive. It will also track trends and give advice to city officials.
For example, a Zencity report from earlier in the year picked up on the commenters’ preference for a windmill and that the sculpture was “the latest example of the city not listening to local input.”
Wasinger said she felt the council should listen to the Zencity reports because they felt it was important enough to spend $15,000 on it. She also became the second council member to say she would not vote to accept the sculpture. Mack previously said he would not accept it.
Council members voted to discuss the final placement of the sculpture at their Aug. 4 meeting.