An Oak Harbor City Council member resolved an apparent conflict of interest or violation of campaign laws by paying the entrance fee for the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Fourth of July parade after the event.
The chamber gave out free spots in the procession to city council members as well as the mayor and other politicians.
Most participants just waved to the crowd and showed their civic pride, but Councilmember Joel Servatius also brought his dark-blue-and-yellow campaign signs.
Servatius is running for re-election this year.
In general, nonprofits are not supposed to support political candidates’ campaigns indirectly or directly, although federal law is more lenient with trade groups such as chambers of commerce. Prohibitions may cover everything from paying for a candidate’s campaign materials to allowing the use of office stationery, according to state and federal campaign laws.
Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vicki Graham said she did not know Servatius had brought his campaign signs until he passed the viewing stand.
“The Chamber is taking the appropriate actions internally,” Graham wrote in an email about the organization’s response.
Servatius, who is also on the chamber’s executive board, later said he paid the entrance fee.
As a member of the council, he has voted to give the chamber large sums of money from the city’s lodging taxes. Elected officials are supposed to recuse themselves if they could gain financially from an action or are financially tied to an entity, which could include a parade entry fee.
Shane Hoffmire, who is running against Servatius in the Novembe relection for his city council seat, had tough words for his opponent.
“I am concerned with the lack of judgment and questionable decision making,” Hoffmire said in an email. “I believe him to be out of touch with the needs of our community. Further, putting ones own needs in front of those we seek to represent is not morally right.”
It is not the first time that a political candidate’s presence in a parade has caused controversy. Former Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell asked his assistant to secure him a spot in the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce Memorial Day parade in 2008. He violated a state law that prohibits elected public officials from using their office for their election campaigns.
McDowell admitted his mistake and apologized.
Servatius briefly said in an email that he had paid the fee but didn’t respond to followup questions.