5 Port Commissioners Initiative Now Circulating

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It is time to expand to 5 Port commissioners, so several of us have started an initiative campaign to bring this to all Whatcom County voters. We need 6,915 valid signatures - 10% of the number of people who voted last November. The county prosecutor's office has approved the ballot title, the auditor has given her advice, and the petitions were printed yesterday, Friday.

Petitions might be at the Farmer's Market today for signing, or for anyone to take one and get more signatures. This is a county-wide effort as the Port of Bellingham is county wide - taxing all of us and providing services to all of us. We will have the petitions at pickup points as quickly as we can. If you can help, please contact Hue Beattie at 360-739-6602, or Tip Johnson at 360-255-1200, or me at 360-920-8223. NWCitizen will continue to update info on our efforts.

Why increase from 3 to 5 commissioners? Simply put - to get better decision making. The debacle with Scott Walker and Jim Jorgensen over firing port director Charlie Sheldon for no apparent reason and in an underhanded weekend process is only the last - and best known - absurd action. Successful corporations have boards of directors of 5 or more members. Our councils are 7 members. Three is a cozy group that can be dominated by one bullying person. With 5, we get better representation, more accountability to the voters, and better decision making.

Cost? The commissioners get about a quarter of the compensation that several top level port employees receive. Two more commissioners will not cost any more than one top level employee. And over the past 20 years the port has added about 15 employees - for a total today of over 90. With better decision making, we might expect the port to be more efficiently run. We want savings.

Time is important. If we turn in the petitions with at least 8,000 signatures by June 5, the issue can be included on the August ballot. And state law says the new commissioners can be elected at the next general election - which is November. If we fail to get enough signatures by early June, it will go on the November ballot and we will have to wait a year - until November 2013 - to elect two new commissioners. This would saddle us with Walker dominating the decision making at the port for another year and a half.

Option: The commissioners can vote to put the issue on the ballot, but they have refused repeatedly for almost 20 years. They like their power. Former Bellingham mayor Ken Hertz has an excellent letter in today's Herald on this issue and he urges us to go for 5 commissioners. But the only way the commissioners might put it on the ballot is if they see we will get enough signatures on the petition. It's all political maneuvering. All the more reason for us to go for the initiative.

Details. The two new commissioners will be at-large, meaning every two years, anyone from anywhere in the county can run for commissioner. This will make the port more accountable to voters. If we are able to elect two more commissioners this November, they will take office at the regular port commission meeting on Tuesday, December 4, 2012. We need that.

So - we have 5 weeks to get over 8,000 signatures, because some signatures on petitions are always invalid. We can do it. We need many of us to take just one petition and get 20 signatures. We will have some people at the Farmer's Market and other public events with petitions. We will post information here on NWCitizen of the progress.

Please note - even if you take a petition and only get a few signatures this will help. Many petitions with 5 to 10 signatures add up. We need all who want this reform of our port commission to help. None of us want to spend summer weekends at a super market getting signatures. Let's all work to get this done in the month of May and then we can vote for it in the August primary.

You can download a PDF file of the petition here and print your own. BUT you must print it on 11 x 17 paper and on both sides, (the legally required size is 11 x 14 - and we can trim it before submitting.) Any other size will be invalid, even a small deviation, so we recommend you pick up the preprinted petitions. But if you have a large format printer and want to print your own, it is legal and you can.

A little background and thanks. In 1994, partly because of the KAP scandal when the Port of Bellingham lost about $4 million dollars, our state representative, Harriet Spanel got legislation passed in Olympia allowing ports to increase to 5 commissioners. Her bill also reduced the terms from 6 to 4 years for many commissions, including ours. Over the years, we made efforts to increase the number from 3 to 5, but with no luck. With this very public mess the two commissioners have created, we think and hope the time is right. The governing state law is at RCW 53.12 if you want to read it.

We need registered voters throughout Whatcom County to sign the petition quickly so we can get this on the August ballot and hopefully elect two more commissioners in November.

It is up to you - and all of us. One of the first things we will ask the expanded commission to do is change the name to the Port of Whatcom, because it taxes all property owners in the county.

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About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Doug Starcher

Apr 28, 2012

Well, it looks like those of us who favor an increase to 5 commissioners are in good company. Former Mayor Ken Hertz has an excellent letter in the Herald today (April 28) detailing his efforts to get the Port Commissioners to initate the this move on their own. Interestingly Michael and Jim made themselves available to meet, Scott was “unavailable”.

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