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
Thu, Mar 12, 2015, 1:06 pm // John ServaisAdd your thoughts and remembrances. Robyn du Pre` was a stalwart and true environmental advocate for Bellingham and Whatcom County. She died this week.
9 comments; last on Mar 23, 2015
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 11:43 am // Wendy HarrisThe public needs to support city council and request that a waterfront habitat assessment include terrestrial species and habitat connectivity.
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 10:13 am // John ServaisThe old empty Reid Boiler Works industrial building in Fairhaven burned to the ground Saturday night.
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
Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 8:36 pm // John ServaisBeach reconstruction is done at Boulevard Park on the Bellingham waterfront. Paths along shore are again open - and it looks good.
6 comments; last on Nov 01, 2013
Tue, Oct 08, 2013, 3:22 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city staff considers the overwater walkway a done deal before official approval or resolution of treaty right conflicts
4 comments; last on Oct 16, 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.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 7:29 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney examines Sen. Ericksen's legislative methods
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
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 9:42 pm // John ServaisWendy Harris writes about the proposed $8 million concrete bridge along the Bellingham waterfront - using Greenways funds to build.
3 comments; last on Mar 20, 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.
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
Mon, Jul 23, 2012, 7:05 pm // John ServaisWhere a planning staff desire for view corridors in the Fairhaven plan yields a view corridor that does nothing for views.
1 comments; last on Jul 25, 2012
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
Tue, Aug 09, 2011, 5:44 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley interviews Clayton Petree about his view of Downtown Bellingham
6 comments; last on Aug 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
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
Wed, Dec 15, 2010, 10:07 pm // Guest writerWendy Harris writes about a multi million dollar planned city of Bellingham project.
9 comments; last on Dec 18, 2010
Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 9:42 pm // Kamalla Rose KaurMaybe NOAA knows the truth about our waterfront. Our Port of Bellingham pretends it is not toxic. But it is criminally toxic.
2 comments; last on Mar 16, 2010
Wed, Nov 25, 2009, 9:00 am // Ham Hayes
I’ve been to Los Angeles many times. I even remember the Red and Yellow electric street cars that served the city from after World War II until…
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
Sun, Apr 26, 2009, 12:19 pm // John ServaisDan Pike's guest editorial in Sunday's Herald is a direct result of an article on NwCitizen earlier this week. Indeed, on Wednesday, after the article had only been…
3 comments; last on May 21, 2009
Sat, Mar 21, 2009, 10:19 am // John ServaisWe local taxpayers have contributed $20 million of our own tax dollars to AIG's executives. Remember? A couple years ago the Port bought an insurance policy from AIG…
3 comments; last on Mar 23, 2009
Fri, Jan 02, 2009, 7:23 pm // John ServaisComing to our Fairhaven waterfront - this magnificent floating drydock. The above aerial photo is of the Fairhaven Shipyard with the new drydock placed as a computer image…
1 comments; last on Jan 03, 2009
Wed, Jun 25, 2008, 5:20 pm // John ServaisTired of looking at a photo of geese when you check here? So am I. We have nine writers for this site but it has been rather slack…
10 comments; last on Aug 04, 2008
Fri, Feb 22, 2008, 1:24 pm // Ham HayesTBL, or Triple Bottom Line, is a nifty concept that says we want to be evaluating and measuring projects on the basis not only of economic, but environmental…
5 comments; last on Feb 25, 2008
Sat, Feb 02, 2008, 4:55 pm // Tip JohnsonWhen Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are prepared, more than one development model might be evaluated. But a no-action alternative is always required as a baseline reference. Convention
Tue, Jul 17, 2007, 5:33 pm // Site ManagementIt is not bad enough that the city council schedules the public hearing on our future Shoreline Master Plan for the middle of July - a plan many…
Thu, Jul 12, 2007, 5:59 pm // Site ManagementThe Herald does not even follow its own mandates. On Sunday, the editorial said the candidates "...must address 6 big issues." Must. Then they sent out their own…
Mon, Jul 09, 2007, 6:17 pm // Site ManagementThe Herald ran an ad for the State Department of Ecology informing us of the web site where we could find the Draft Consent Decree for our waterfront…
Thu, May 10, 2007, 4:51 pm // Tip JohnsonIn a Bellingham Herald article dated May 4, Interim Mayor Tim Douglas "said it's
Thu, Apr 26, 2007, 12:02 pm // Tip JohnsonWhy the Log Pond cap won't work
An article in a recent Bellingham Business Journal detailed the debate over whether the toxic muck in the Whatcom Waterway ought to…
Mon, Apr 23, 2007, 4:24 pm // Tip JohnsonIndependent media? Freedom of the press? Peoples friend, tyrants foe? It was a good idea while it lasted, educating the electorate and forming a mainstay of our democracy.…
Wed, Apr 18, 2007, 4:49 pm // Tip JohnsonAccording to the Bellingham Herald, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has recently approved leaving tons of mercury buried in Bellingham Bay. The documents are not yet…
Wed, Apr 18, 2007, 4:34 pm // Tip JohnsonNew Whatcom Redevelopment Project - The City and Port of Bellingham will hold public information a meeting. Bellingham Cruise Terminal. 355 Harris Ave., Bellingham. WA Times: 6:00 PM.
Thu, Jan 25, 2007, 6:18 pm // John ServaisToday's Bellingham Herald editorial invites an answer. The editorial is good in that it reflects on past bad practices, like allowing GP to dump mercury into Bellingham Bay,…
Mon, Dec 11, 2006, 3:32 pm // Tip JohnsonOne of the more momentous public hearings in Bellingham's history appears to be ready to pass with more than the ordinary confusion. We wrote about some of the…
Thu, Nov 30, 2006, 2:56 pm // John ServaisNotice:
Relative to the last post:
Ecology has rescheduled the public meeting for:
December 7th, 6:30 p.m. ñ 8:30 p.m., Bellingham Cruise Terminal, 355 Harris Avenue, Bell
Mon, Nov 27, 2006, 6:15 pm // Tip Johnsonor I lied (sort of!)
In the previous post I complained that the biggest rip-off in Whatcom County history was happening without even being discussed or making it into…
Sun, Nov 26, 2006, 5:21 pm // Tip JohnsonThe good? We are no longer spewing forty+ pounds of mercury vapor every day into the local atmosphere. We are no longer dumping 20 to 40 tons of…
Mon, Mar 01, 2004, 8:20 pm // John ServaisIf WWU gets their way, $20 million in state taxes will be spent on jack-hammering out good roads and building new ones a hundred yards away. No increase…
Wed, Aug 27, 2003, 4:57 pm // John ServaisGinny Benton, seeking her third term as commissioner, stated this evening at the Rome Grange that she will not respond to the "mud slinging" being done against her.…
Mon, May 12, 2003, 7:08 pm // John ServaisWaterfront Futures for Bellingham - nothing here. This is one of those processes t
Thu, May 01, 2003, 7:40 pm // John ServaisElections this fall could bring positive change to Whatcom County and Bellingham. In particular, we need a new Mayor and we need a new Port Commissioner. The challenge…
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