Publisher note: Doug intended this as a comment below my article in favor of Robbins, but this deserves to be an article on its own. - John Servais
The largest problem facing our country, in my opinion, is distrust in government. We do not have to wait for leadership in Washington DC or Olympia. In fact, I think we can rebuild this essential trust right here locally, but we must have elected officials who always keep the public’s interest and trust above special interests and political parties. Always and every time. In about 2004, a professional survey was done, and the Port of Bellingham’s popularity with the public was lower than a clam in the mud. The Port had lost the public trust.
Port commissioners are critically important. We have not seen a fully functioning port for decades. We decide who runs the port, but most folks are too busy with their lives to really get informed. Most folks go down to the waterfront and see the docks and boats and see what their port does, but this is only half their mission. The other half of their mission is economic development.
This morning, 80,000 people will go to work in Whatcom County at what they call “private sector jobs.” One of our port’s critical roles is to raise wages across the county. How is the port doing? According to virtually every economist that has studied Whatcom County’s economy, we get an F, and this has been consistent for over a decade now while our port lost the focus of bettering our lives economically.
See Bellingham Herald article: Wages in Bellingham remain below the state average. Why is that so?
If you have not had a raise for long time even though you put in an honest day’s work, then that is a failure of the port to get their job done. It is that simple. Our port commissioners have had their heads in the clouds over this waterfront redevelopment in Bellingham for so long that they have forgotten what their real mission is. Our port commissioners fell in love with real estate development. You cannot find real estate development anywhere in the port mission statement.
The port has been slowly turning around, and this election gives us a chance to get the port re-focused on what they are supposed to do: create family wage jobs for us. The port is not a private organization, but a public organization that is supposed to be taking care of us, because we have provided every single penny the port has. For 97 years, we have been sending our tax dollars to the port. Now, there are going to be luxury condos for sale on Bellingham’s waterfront.
Can you afford one of these condos? Wouldn’t you rather have a pay raise instead of a luxury condo which most of us will never be able to afford? If we elect Shepard and Bell, this will be the youngest Port Commission in history, and maybe more importantly this will be the first Port Commission in history where all commissioners are still working. This presents a chance to re-focus the port on raising our wages, instead of luxury condos. Commissioner Robbins has had four years and the port still does not have an economic development strategy. There is no excuse for this.
I crafted a question on economic development at the League of Women Voters forum and asked or submitted that fundamental and revealing question to all four candidates. “Describe the most effective economic strategy, from anywhere in the world, that works to raise wages and you would support. When could we implement that strategy, and when could we expect to see dollars in our wallets?” Only one candidate could formulate an intelligent answer, and that was candidate Bell. The Port of Bellingham, after being in business for 97 years, does not have an economic development strategy. If you want more of this economic performance, re-elect Commissioner Robbins. No way around it, Robbins has had four years and this is what we get. You can watch the question and answers to this on the League of Women’s Voters forum on Youtube for yourself. Minutes 10.18 to 15.05. This five minute clip will give you a picture of Robbins as complacent, while the younger Shepard says we have a lot of work to do.
There is a bonus inclusion where Robbins, when asked about having five commissioners, responds that with five commissioners he could do the port’s business behind closed doors. Robbins also voted against evening meetings where the public could participate. He said evening meetings would bring out the activists. Robbins, after four years, still does not understand that the port is owned by the public and is not his private sandbox. Those “activists” are the shareholders of the Port of Bellingham, i.e. you and me.
Here is Robbins proposing his willingness to collect commissioner votes behind closed doors. I am not even sure that what Robbins is proposing is legal.
The previous commissioners took us down a path where we let a polluter off the hook and placed responsibility for the cleanup on the backs of Whatcom County taxpayers. All for a yacht harbor that they now admit we cannot afford, nor do we need. Robbins is endorsed by former port commissioners and port staff. He is all about bringing back the previous commissioners and staff who got us in this mess. Look at this list of endorsements for more expensive yacht harbors and luxury condos. Scott Walker, Doug Smith, Mike Stoner, Lydia Bennett, Dan Stahl. This is back to the future.
The famous Warren Buffet said:
“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
This is my biggest problem with Robbins. I have seen Robbins simply not be truthful on three different occasions. This is troubling. Robbins did not support early evening meetings so that the public could attend meetings, and now he is proposing five commissioners so he can collect votes behind closed doors. Why would the public even attend these meetings, when the decision has been made beforehand and their testimony cannot affect the outcome of the vote?
Additionally, Robbins’ whispering campaign against his opponent in 2013, Renata Kowalczyk, was beyond the pale. Robbins personally confronted me with unsubstantiated claims of Renata being a communist. This was Robbins nasty side being revealed. Renata escaped communism, had a funny name, and spoke with a slight accent, and Robbins unfairly tried to exploit her foreign-born status. I found it tacky and a low blow. As an old white male being challenged by a smart woman, Renata spooked Robbins. She was an extremely well educated woman, an accounting major with an MBA from Columbia. Riley Sweeney posted on Robbins in January 2015.
The reason 2013 port candidate Renata left town, was because she could not find a job here, which is a re-occurring theme. Renata left for Wall Street and they hired this smart woman immediately. She got married, and is buying a home here in Bellingham. Renata loves Whatcom County, and will be back.
Finally, I am dismayed by the partisan politics. We really do not need divisiveness at the port. Commissioner Briscoe is solidly independent, but because it only takes two commissioners to control the port, if we elect two Democrats or two Republicans we are opening the door to party bickering. This county is already deeply divided and I do not wish to open this door to either party. We need the focus on making our lives better, which is the sole purpose of government.
This limits the best choices for the Port of Bellingham to Ken Bell and Michael Shepard. Please join me in voting for Bell and Shepard.
Commissioner Briscoe may not attend all meetings. Many meetings are just not productive, although they do get paid to attend these meetings. I know Commissioner Briscoe well, and he knows more about ports than all the candidates combined, except maybe Ken Bell. Let me give you one example. During the $30 million cleanup, a port tenant called Commissioner Briscoe and told him that the engineer had placed a piling wrong according to the blueprint and the pile driving equipment was going to leave. Briscoe jumped in his truck and drove to the harbor and verified that the piling had been placed in the wrong spot. If the pile driving equipment left town, the bill for eventually replacing it would jump from a few thousand to tens of thousands, and time was of the essence.
He got everybody together, took them to the harbor and pointed out the obvious error. The piling was replaced cheaply and the decision took hours instead of days (more meetings and forms.) This quick action by Commissioner Briscoe saved the taxpayer thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Ultimately, we want commissioners who make good decisions on the big issues. Commissioner Briscoe is solid on another missing value at the port. Commissioner Briscoe genuinely puts the citizens of Whatcom County first and foremost. And that is a rare commodity. We do not need more meetings at the port. We need fewer meetings, better decisions, and more action.