Council pauses video decision

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council decided to pass on the decision of whether to videotape and broadcast workshops or other committee meetings.

By a four-to-two vote at last Wednesday’s meeting, the council chose to table any action until the second meeting in January, when there will be a new mayor and three new council members.

That didn’t go down well with Councilman Paul Brewer, who made open government and videotaping extra meetings a highlight of his losing mayoral campaign. He became angry and insisted on making a statement, even though Mayor Patty Cohen and his fellow council members told him it wasn’t allowed after a vote.

Cohen called a five-minute recess because Brewer wouldn’t stop talking, but it didn’t prevent him from saying his piece.

“The citizens have lost their ability to have their voices heard,” he said. As the other council members walked away, he apparently addressed Councilwoman Sheilah Crider for an unclear reason, saying, “Sheilah, I’m not going away, don’t worry.”

Councilman Larry Eaton, who is also leaving office at the end of the year, originally introduced the issue of videotaping and broadcasting meetings beyond the regular council meetings. Many people have pointed out that often the bulk of the discussion on an issue occurs during workshops and committee meetings, which aren’t usually taped.

Eaton and Brewer voted against the motion to table.

In the campaign before the Nov. 6 election, three of the winning candidates — council candidates Beth Munns, Jim Palmer and mayoral candidate Jim Slowik — spoke in favor of videotaping, but with caveats mainly about the cost. Rick Almberg, who won a council seat, wasn’t eager about the idea.

According to estimates from City Administrator Paul Schmidt, it would cost an extra $2,130 a year to videotape one additional workshop — specifically, the economic development meeting — each month. He also introduced the idea of streaming the video onto the city’s Web site, as some other cities do.

In a related vote, the City Council also decided to let the new council make a decision on whether to do away with their monthly economic development meetings. Crider introduced the idea at the last meeting, pointing out that the workshop is infrequently used to discuss actual economic development issues.

Councilman Eric Gerber spoke at length about the importance of the economic development meetings. He said the original idea that led to the Windjammer Plan for redeveloping downtown and the waterfront started at one of those meetings.

The council voted four-to-two to delay a decision on discontinuing the economic development meeting until the first meeting in February.

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