A Perspective on Port Politics

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Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm  //  John Servais

A typical triumvirate. Thanks to the Miracle Players of Rome.

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.

George Dyson  //  Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 3:14 pm

The Russians have a name for this—Troika—perfected during the Soviet years.


Dick Conoboy  //  Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 6:27 pm

Yes, George, and reminiscent of the troika now put to use quite effectively in the Eurozone: the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.  We all know how wonderfully that is working out, especially for Fuhrerin Merkel and her lapdog Hollande.


Penny Tillson  //  Tue, Apr 07, 2015, 10:59 am

  Apparently Port Commissioners provide entertainment in other cities as well as Bellingham. While researching the “answers to no one” aspect of Port commissioning, I found coverage of a Seattle meeting. A project there has citizens attending meetings and emoting enough to prompt a Commissioner to respond with a plea and a prop.

  “Co-president Stephanie Bowman is asking the crowd to ‘be respectful’ and she is asking anyone interested in singing (apparently she got advance word of this) to do it as a group. She has her rubber chicken again, which will be used as a signal if things need to get back into control. Really.”

Source: West Seattle Blog…
Copyright 2005-2015
March 10, 2015 meeting
 
Penny Tillson


A Perspective on Port Politics

Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm  //  John Servais

The 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

Doug Ericksen’s Tax Lien

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6 comments; last on Nov 11, 2014


Stay the Frack Out of Our Forearc

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Part 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking

3 comments; last on May 14, 2014

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6 comments; last on Jun 21, 2014

SweenyPolitics:  Fleetwood files against Ericksen

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 8:20 am  //  John Servais

Riley posted this morning that Seth Fleetwood has decided to challenge Doug Ericksen for state senate in the 42nd District.

1 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014

Gary Jensen Not Running for State Senate

Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 1:30 pm  //  John Servais

Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen has decided not to file for the 42nd state Senate seat currently held by Doug Ericksen.

5 comments; last on Dec 24, 2013

Sen. Doug Ericksen Co-opts rather than Cooperate

Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 7:29 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley Sweeney examines Sen. Ericksen's legislative methods

0 comments

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Fri, May 24, 2013, 1:18 am  //  Guest writer

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4 comments; last on May 26, 2013

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Sun, May 05, 2013, 3:45 pm  //  John Servais

Help fund a scientific study looking for links between diesel locomotives, coal trains and unhealthy air.

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Tue, Feb 26, 2013, 7:39 am  //  Riley Sweeney

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Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 4:01 pm  //  John Servais

Riley Sweeney has posted a great video clip of Sen. Doug Ericksen flouting rules and legal procedures at a Senate hearing in Olympia.

0 comments

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Tue, Oct 02, 2012, 9:22 am  //  Riley Sweeney

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Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 8:52 pm  //  John Servais

An illegal serial Port Commission meeting should be investigated by the State Auditor, and two commissioners should be made accountable for their actions.

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0 comments

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0 comments

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Wed, Mar 30, 2011, 10:44 am  //  Guest writer

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0 comments

Uneducated and misinformed

Thu, Mar 29, 2007, 4:09 pm  //  John Servais

Rick Larsen's attitude towards those citizens who are against the war in Iraq is exposed. In the case against Ellen Murphy by US Rep. Rick Larsen and the…

0 comments

Ellen Murphy update; by Sharon Crozier

Sun, Mar 11, 2007, 5:16 pm  //  Site Management

Congressman Rick Larsen has (so far) successfully avoided the process server who is waiting to hand him a subpoena to appear in the trial of war protester Ellen…

0 comments

Larsen: a cold political operator

Sun, Mar 04, 2007, 5:31 pm  //  Site Management

Ellen Murphy is now allowed to enter the Federal Building in Bellingham. With the court dismissal of the Oct. 20 trespass charge, the lifetime ban on entering the…

0 comments

Kafka and the Wizard of Oz

Thu, Feb 15, 2007, 5:45 pm  //  Site Management

City of Bellingham prosecutor was forced to dismiss the October 20, 2006 trespassing charge against Ellen Murphy in Municipal Court today. Ellen will still stand trial on Tuesday,…

0 comments

Doth she protesteth too much?

Tue, Feb 06, 2007, 6:09 pm  //  Site Management

Ellen Murphy has the courage to practice classic civil protest - to publicly bring her questions about the Iraq war to Rick Larsen, our US Congress Representative. And…

0 comments

Welcome to Rick Larsen . . .

Tue, Jan 16, 2007, 6:46 pm  //  John Servais

. . . welcome to the correct side of the Iraq war issue. Rick spoke yesterday at Bellingham city hall and, according to the Bellingham Herald, he switched…

0 comments

Escalation announced tonight

Wed, Jan 10, 2007, 5:49 pm  //  John Servais

In his speech tonight, Bush gave no specific time lines for expected results. The first words from news commentators referred to six months for results. But Bush can…

0 comments

Let them vote on it?

Sun, Nov 19, 2006, 5:03 am  //  Tip Johnson

Zetta Bracher, President of the local Democratic Women's Club, has an idea for getting consensus on our "new direction" in Iraq.

When it became apparent that there were no…

0 comments

Voting recommendations for the Primary Election

Fri, Sep 08, 2006, 7:57 pm  //  Site Management

Mail your ballot before Tuesday, Sept 19 (or by 5 pm that day if you want to take a chance).

Mary Kay Becker
- re-elect her as a judge…

0 comments

True conservatives may stay home

Sun, May 21, 2006, 8:03 pm  //  Site Management

from the polls this November. And let the Democrats take over Congress. My wishful thinking? Not at all. Rather the wish and hope of Richard Viguerie, one of…

0 comments

Mark Wilson is running for US Senator

Sat, Nov 05, 2005, 4:21 pm  //  Site Management

- as a Democrat and against Maria Cantwell. His website is www.votemark.org and it will be posted in the column to the right in

0 comments

Larsen feels no need to be accountable

Mon, Apr 25, 2005, 6:13 pm  //  Site Management

Apparently my name is on Larsen's black list. He has replied to some others on his vote for the bankruptcy bill - but only, as he writes, because…

0 comments

 

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