A Perspective on Port PoliticsPermalink +
Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm // John Servais
A bit of perspective on this action by the Port of Bellingham, the entity that has just sold the finest portion of our waterfront for pennies on the dollar to a foreign company of dubious reputation.
Port commissioner Dan Robbins performed with distinction during a rowdy port meeting last Tuesday. While commissioner Jim Jorgensen picked an argument with members of the audience, and commissioner Mike McAuley stooped to chastising citizens for thinking they had a right to speak out and complain, Robbins cooly did his best to run the two meetings in an orderly manner. (Yes, technically, it was one meeting.) When a speaker talked past the three-minute bell, if they were making sense, Robbins allowed them to continue.
So a tip of the hat to Robbins. Of course, as the commissioner who engineered this deal, he knew full well that he had Jorgensen’s vote in his pocket and no matter what people said the deal was going to be approved. McAuley is unpredictable.
That said, Mike McAuley was right in stating that the port does not need to listen to citizens nor hold hearings. McAuley is an offensive and arrogant guy, but he is correct. Ports in Washington state have almost unlimited power. They were set up that way by an amendment to our state constitution in 1911 and the concept is supported by our state laws. The intention a hundred years ago was to create independent business-like government agencies - called ports - that would be almost beyond the reach of politics. Commissioners are elected for six year terms and only one government agency - the state auditor - has any oversight of them.
The Washington state attorney general cannot investigate nor counter any port commission. Unlike cities and counties in Washington state, ports do not have to hold public hearings, do not need second readings on bills and do not need to notify the public of what they intend to do.
For instance, the Port of Bellingham could issue a 24 hour notice of a port commission meeting. At that meeting, they could decide most anything they wanted to do - like spend $10 million to extend the airport runway. They could vote and gavel the meeting over in 5 minutes. Done and legal.
Why was it set up this way? Because a hundred years ago our state wanted port agencies to build infrastructure like docks, railroad sidings, dredged harbors and waterside facilities for fishing, shipping and commerce. They wanted ports to be beyond the reach of normal politics and citizens getting in the way of what port commissioners might want to do. Today, that power is actually hurting communities as ports spend on frivolous projects and make bone-headed capital decisions without the benefit of input by the community.
About 25 years ago, then State Senator Harriet Spanel, working with port reformers across the state, got state laws changed to allow some modernizing of port laws. I was one of those who went to Olympia and testified for the changes. The new laws allowed local initiatives to reduce terms from six to four years, and to increase the size of a port commission from three to five members. These were meant to bring ports closer to citizens - closer to voters and the public they are supposed to serve. We in Whatcom County did succeed is changing the terms from six to four years.
What we need to do next is increase to five port commissioners - and we need those two additional commissioner seats to be at-large so anyone from anywhere in the county can run in every port election. We need five heads looking at decisions. There is no corporate board today that has three board members because a triumvirate is always controlled by one. How? The most aggressive member only has to influence the weakest of the other two and that is it. Once increased to five commissioners, the mix of personalities requires consensus of at least three with the other two only needing to pick off one to change the vote. This creates meaningful dialog.
To improve decision-making at the port, we have to do a better job electing good people - and we need to have more than three commissioners. Often, we think we are electing the good candidate but they turn out to be - shall we say - not up to the job. We need more commissioners on the commission so that one election "mistake" on our part will not screw things up - such as firing an outstanding executive director like Charlie Sheldon or selling off our birthright like the current commission just did. With five commissioners, one bad commissioner will have far less ability to cause damage.
I’ve packed a lot of information about ports into this article. Some of you readers also have expertise on these issues and I hope you either comment in support of what I have posted, or correct, clarify or disagree with any statements of mine. The goal here is to inform our fellow citizens of the facts, of common sense perspectives and of what we all can do to improve our local politics. Politics should not be a dirty word, as it is how we govern ourselves - or not.
Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm // John ServaisThe port's latest bone-headed deal calls for the good citizens of Whatcom County to consider the options...unless we're enjoying our Groundhog Day.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2015
Wed, Apr 01, 2015, 12:20 am // John ServaisPort of Bellingham today sold out our public waterfront to a foreign shell company formed 6 days ago. Sold it cheap and with a screwy arrangement.
32 comments; last on Apr 05, 2015
Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 1:31 pm // John ServaisThe Horizon Lines ship - the many year resident of the Port of Bellingham - broke loose this morning due to failure of some system. A few photos.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2014
Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 3:19 pm // Guest writerDo we actually need to say that we, as citizens, want accurate information from government officials?
1 comments; last on Jan 14, 2014
Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 4:56 pm // Wendy HarrisA Port of Bellingham internal memo tries, but fails, to justify changes in cost estimates for alternative marina sites.
5 comments; last on Dec 22, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 1:33 pm // Wendy HarrisLocal activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process
2 comments; last on Dec 08, 2013
Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 12:58 pm // John ServaisThe Political Junkie has posted a 3 minute video showing Bellingham City Council members explaining their idiocy for all of us to watch.
2 comments; last on Dec 06, 2013
Wed, Dec 04, 2013, 11:53 am // John ServaisBellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham finalize the waterfront plan. In his weekly Gristle, Tim Johnson blasts the corrupt public process.
4 comments; last on Dec 05, 2013
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 10:01 pm // Wendy HarrisIf the port can not construct the airport safely, should it be entrusted with dangerous waterfront cleanup work?
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 11:21 am // Riley SweeneyRiley crunches the numbers on Renata and McAuley's races to find answers
2 comments; last on Nov 13, 2013
Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 9:21 pm // John ServaisWith lots of outside county money flowing in to our local races, this election is weird. But real - and we county residents have spoken.
11 comments; last on Nov 09, 2013
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 8:07 pm // John ServaisKen Bell has my vote over Mike McAuley for port commissioner. And Renata Kowalczyk has it over Dan Robbins.
8 comments; last on Oct 30, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 6:40 am // Riley SweeneyRiley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County
11 comments; last on Oct 03, 2013
Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 6:05 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city and port have not addressed wildlife impacts from waterfront development and this should be done before a waterfront plan is enacted.
Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 7:08 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines who is donating to which candidates
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 7:29 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney examines Sen. Ericksen's legislative methods
Fri, May 17, 2013, 5:44 pm // John ServaisTuesday morning and nothing in today's Bellingham Herald. Nor online. We provide the basics to fill in this latest omission by our "daily" newspaper.
9 comments; last on May 23, 2013
Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 9:59 pm // Wendy HarrisThe City Planning Department has included a technical document in the waterfront proposal without disclosing important impacts.
1 comments; last on Mar 30, 2013
Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 10:40 pm // Wendy HarrisAn "Updated Preferred Alternative" reduces the number of waterfront jobs and expands the boundary of the waterfront district.
Sun, Nov 04, 2012, 10:21 am // Paul deArmondThe Whatcom county Voters’ Pamphlet containing misleading and untrue statements by unregistered, unaccountable and anonymous front groups.
3 comments; last on Nov 06, 2012
Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 8:29 am // Riley SweeneyHere's your shot at fame and glory as a political pundit
4 comments; last on Nov 02, 2012
Tue, Oct 02, 2012, 12:07 am // Guest writerHarriet Spanel and Ken Hertz on why we should vote YES to increase the Port of Bellingham to 5 commissioners.
3 comments; last on Oct 05, 2012
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 9:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop
Sat, Aug 04, 2012, 12:18 am // John ServaisGraphics projected on building each night in effort to bring attention to threatened building
3 comments; last on Aug 11, 2012
Wed, Jun 27, 2012, 1:46 pm // John ServaisA special - short notice - Port of Bellingham Commission meeting on Thursday, June 28 starting at 8:30 a.m.
6 comments; last on Jul 03, 2012
Sun, Jun 17, 2012, 9:52 am // Paul deArmondPort Commissioner Scott Walker and attorney Frank Chmelik get caught ballot-rigging again
20 comments; last on Jun 21, 2012
Mon, Jun 04, 2012, 5:51 pm // John ServaisPort Commissioners plan to change their Port Expansion resolution on Tuesday - based on advice from port attorney Chmelik. No notice of this item on the agenda.
6 comments; last on Jun 05, 2012
Wed, May 16, 2012, 4:15 pm // John ServaisIn today's Cascadia Weekly, Tim Johnson analyses the Port Commissioner meeting and the shenanigans of Walker and Chmelik.
Mon, May 14, 2012, 6:07 pm // John ServaisPort Commissioners McAuley and Jorgensen voted to put on November ballot the question of expanding commission from 3 to 5 members.
5 comments; last on May 15, 2012
Wed, May 09, 2012, 6:11 am // John ServaisToday's Cascadia Weekly rips the Port staff on changed waterfront plans and sees 5 commissioners as possible solution to poor decision making.
2 comments; last on May 10, 2012
Thu, May 03, 2012, 9:23 pm // John ServaisThe Joe Show had John Servais on the air for a full hour on Thursday - and we link to the pod cast.
3 comments; last on May 05, 2012
Tue, May 01, 2012, 10:24 am // John ServaisBellingham Port Reform has a Facebook page, courtesy of Tip Johnson.
1 comments; last on May 02, 2012
Tue, May 01, 2012, 9:34 am // John ServaisPort of Bellingham signed lease a month ago to hoopla and now the boat builder is exiting for Anacortes.
11 comments; last on May 08, 2012
Mon, Apr 30, 2012, 10:54 pm // John ServaisSeveral people will be urging the Port of Bellingham commissioners to place the question of expanding to 5 commissioners on the ballot.
Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 10:09 am // John ServaisA county wide initiative will allow voters to decide whether to expand the Port of Bellingham commission from 3 to 5 commissioners.
1 comments; last on Apr 28, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 9:25 am // John ServaisToday's Bellingham Herald carries an article from Sheldon, with facts, falsehoods and his perspective on his forced resignation as Executive Director of the Port of Bellingham.
Wed, Apr 18, 2012, 12:28 pm // John ServaisA 26 minute video of the port commissioners explaining their positions on the firing of executive director Charlie Sheldon is posted.
7 comments; last on Apr 19, 2012
Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 12:51 pm // John ServaisAt 3 p.m. today - Tuesday, April 17 - the Port of Bellingham meets. Let's attend and support rehiring Charlie Sheldon.
3 comments; last on Apr 18, 2012
Fri, Apr 13, 2012, 5:47 pm // John ServaisFriday update: Herald reports Jim Jorgensen could change his mind on firing of Port of Bellingham Executive Director Charlie Sheldon
3 comments; last on Apr 17, 2012
Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 8:52 pm // John ServaisAn illegal serial Port Commission meeting should be investigated by the State Auditor, and two commissioners should be made accountable for their actions.
5 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Thu, Apr 05, 2012, 4:00 pm // John ServaisAn Online petition has been posted where citizens can sign on to request the Port Commissioners revote on Charlie Sheldon's termination.
5 comments; last on Apr 06, 2012
Wed, Apr 04, 2012, 3:16 pm // John ServaisState law allows us to pass an initiative and increase the number of port commissioners from three to five. Thanks to Harriet Spanel.
4 comments; last on Apr 05, 2012
Tue, Apr 03, 2012, 6:25 pm // John ServaisPort Commissioner Mike McAuley did everything he could do to change Jim Jorgensen's mind. Jim and Scott Walker forced Charlie Sheldon out.
6 comments; last on Apr 06, 2012
Mon, Apr 02, 2012, 12:35 pm // John ServaisThis morning, Charlie Sheldon, unexpectedly resigned as Executive Director of the Port of Bellingham.
10 comments; last on Apr 03, 2012
Tue, Jan 31, 2012, 9:36 am // Paul deArmondPort Commissioner Scott Walker and attorney Frank Chmelik get caught ballot-rigging again
Wed, Nov 09, 2011, 10:31 am // John ServaisWill close races shift to the other candidate? Just how many ballots are left to count? When will we know for sure?
1 comments; last on Nov 09, 2011
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 9:16 pm // John ServaisCharlie Sheldon shifts Port staff to help economic development of private business and to support needed infrastructure.
4 comments; last on Oct 23, 2011
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 1:13 am // John ServaisBellingham Port Commissioner Scott Walker motioned for the port to ask Executive Director Charlie Sheldon to resign.
5 comments; last on Oct 20, 2011
Thu, Sep 08, 2011, 10:37 am // Riley SweeneyLook at the title, it spells it out.
6 comments; last on Sep 12, 2011
Thu, Jun 23, 2011, 8:30 am // Wendy HarrisTime is running out for public comment on the Port's proposal to use toxic waste as a cap at waterfront re-development site.
5 comments; last on Jul 02, 2011
Wed, Jun 01, 2011, 5:32 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Mark Flanders' call to action for June 1 flash mob at coal port meeting
7 comments; last on Jun 09, 2011
Fri, Mar 25, 2011, 5:00 am // John ServaisCoal trains will probably pass Lynden on their way from Sumas to Cherry Point, after coming across on the Canadian rail roads.
16 comments; last on Aug 14, 2011
Thu, Feb 17, 2011, 7:30 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Doug Karlberg follows up with report from Tuesday's Port Commission meeting
7 comments; last on Feb 20, 2011
Mon, Feb 14, 2011, 7:35 pm // Guest writerWhy the price of moorage matters to all Whatcom County. A guest article by Doug Karlberg.
5 comments; last on Jun 30, 2011
Fri, Jul 16, 2010, 3:30 pm // John ServaisIn a surprise development, the Port of Bellingham is starting over again in their search for an executive director. Position now vacant for over a year.
1 comments; last on Jul 18, 2010
Wed, Apr 21, 2010, 6:29 pm // John ServaisBellingham Herald reporting is skewed to foster desired opinions and hide facts
4 comments; last on Apr 23, 2010
Tue, Jan 05, 2010, 1:17 am // Tip JohnsonPort of Bellingham in the news
Wed, Nov 25, 2009, 1:25 pm // Tip Johnson
Paul de Armond's recent article about Leonard Zeskind's new book, "Blood and Poli
3 comments; last on Nov 29, 2009
Tue, Nov 24, 2009, 6:12 am // John ServaisSeems like the offices of Frank Chmelik, the attorney for the Port of Bellingham, are becoming our defacto Port offices. Instead of conferences and meetings at the Port,…
2 comments; last on Nov 25, 2009
Thu, Nov 05, 2009, 5:21 pm // John ServaisHow to make heads or tails of the election results. Bill Knutzen and Ken Mann with the highest margins of the County Council winners. Mike McAuley, a newcomer…
20 comments; last on Nov 12, 2009
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