The Hearing Examiner reviews and interprets land use regulations, conducts hearings, makes decisions and recommendations on land use applications, hears administrative appeals on permits, decisions or determinations made by city officials, and reviews and hears other matters as provided for in the Oak Harbor Municipal Code and other ordinances.
The City Council created the hearing examiner system in May 2004 to ensure that fair and impartial decisions are made on project permits that are quasi-judicial in manner and administrative decisions by city departments. Additionally, the Hearing Examiner provides judgment on code enforcement actions.
The Hearing Examiner serves as a city official on quasi-judicial matters. Quasi-judicial generally relates to a specific site, might involve a public hearing, usually affects specific parties and includes evidence for or against the proposal. These types of decisions are different than legislative actions, such as adopting new zoning ordinances, which tend to affect a much wider area and involve many more people. (Note: planning matters involving legislative action go through the City Planning Commission and require City Council approval.)
The Hearing Examiner serves in a role similar to that of a judge. The Hearing Examiner ensures that parties receive proper due process; and issues final decisions on some land use applications and makes recommendations to the City Council on others. In the case of code enforcement hearings, the Hearing Examiner determines whether a violation occurred and if so what monetary penalties are accessed.
The Public's Role in Quasi-Judicial Actions
Anyone interested in the outcome of the project approval process has a right to be heard. You can present oral and/or provide written testimony for or against the proposal. Public testimony ensures that a complete record is available for a decision. When providing testimony, it is very important to present facts, as they are the foundation for issuing a decision. The decision must meet the legal criteria, which comes from applying the city's ordinances and state statutes. If the legal criteria are satisfied, the decision must be to approve, even if popular opinion is contrary. If the criteria are not satisfied, the decision must be to deny.
Types of Hearings
Hearing on Land Use Application
The City can hold only one open record hearing on a land use application involving a quasi-judicial decision (Chapter 36.70B RCW). The purpose of the hearing is to give the public an opportunity to present evidence to be included in the official record. Participation by everyone with an interest is highly encouraged. The official record becomes the source for making the final decision.
Administrative Appeal Hearing
When a person, who is a party of record, disputes a decision by a city department, they can appeal the decision to the Hearing Examiner as a means for a timely and fair resolution to their dispute. Appeal hearings are generally closed record and limited to the parties of record so the opportunity for public comment is limited.
Code Enforcement Hearing
Code enforcement actions involve nuisances and life safety issues. Code enforcement hearings are similar to traffic court and are not open to public testimony.
Prohibited Ex Parte Contacts
Because the Hearing Examiner hearings are quasi-judicial, all persons are prohibited from contacting the examiner outside the public hearing for the purpose of influencing a decision. Any contacts made, must be publicly disclosed at the hearing. Similarly, contacting a member of the City Council for the purpose of influencing a decision on a quasi-judicial action before them can lead to disqualifying that council member from the decision. If a person believes that ex parte communications have occurred, it should promptly be brought to the attention of the affected official.
For further information about the City of Oak Harbor's Hearing Examiner please see Oak Harbor's Municipal Code Chapter 18.40.