Port Executive Director Charlie Sheldon announced today a reorganization of staff assignments at the Port of Bellingham. The press release from Carolyn Casey came out this afternoon. It dramatically reorients port staff from working to enhance port revenue toward working to enhance private business and industrial development. It includes a new focus on providing transportation facilities for the community and local business.
This reorganization is no doubt connected to the attempted firing of Charlie by Port Commissioner Scott Walker at yesterday's port meeting. As one who follows the port, this attempted firing and staff reorg says something very clearly: Scott Walker has lost his 20 year strangle hold on the port's policy of seeking revenues for itself at the expense of private local business. In 1991, I encouraged Scott to run for commissioner and worked as part of his campaign committee. It was disappointing to see, within a couple years, that we were 180 degrees apart on the basic mission of the port.
Scott Walker felt that port assets - marinas, airport, docks, etc - were assets owned by the citizens of Whatcom County and the port had the mandate to maximize the return on those assets, that the port should maximize its profits. I hold that the port exists to provide infrastructure for development and use by private business, that the port does the things that are not profitable but are necessary for commerce and industry. As such, the port is ideally self supporting but can use local taxes to improve local infrastructure.
With Charlie's reorganization, there is a stated turn toward helping local business thrive and bringing new businesses to Whatcom County. We can expect to see the port get more involved with the efforts of the Northwest Economic Council. We will hopefully see a new attitude toward private efforts to do business on our waterfront. And many of the existing industries and businesses on the waterfront should get more support from the port - and end decades of seeking maximum rental fees from every port tenant that becomes profitable.
All in all, good news. Let's hope Jim Jorgensen is reelected as port commissioner, and that he and commissioner Mike McAuley continue to move the port toward supporting our local economy instead of exploiting it. About time.