Bellingham Port Commissioner Scott Walker motioned for the port to ask Executive Director Charlie Sheldon to resign. His motion came at the end of the regularly scheduled commission meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The motion failed with commissioners Jim Jorgensen and Mike McAuley voting against asking for the resignation.
Charlie was hired almost exactly a year ago after two extensive searches by port commissioners. He was championed for hiring by Scott Walker and the other two commissioners joined in voting to hire him. Charlie has been well received by all who work with him in the community and, until Tuesday, it was generally accepted that his work was well liked by the commissioners. Indeed, it was Scott objecting last year to the executive choice by Mike and Jim of another candidate which led to the port starting their search a second time and hiring Charlie. All three commissioners voted for him.
Scott was vague on the reasons he wanted Charlie gone. He said Charlie was not moving the port in the correct direction, he didn't like the way Charlie was handling Port staffing decisions. Scott also talked about how the Port staff is organized but was not specific, although it is generally known that Scott would like several port employees terminated. During the past year, Scott has often mentioned how much he liked former port executive director Jim Darling.
Several port watchers feel Scott is clinging to the waterfront development plan that predates the financial crisis of 2008. That plan has a heavy emphasis on expensive waterfront condominiums. Charlie has been openly encouraging the plan be evaluated in light of current economic conditions. Most local political observers know the older waterfront plan was a collaborative work by Jim Darling and Scott Walker.
Last week, Charlie was criticized by Bellingham mayor Dan Pike in a campaign speech regarding the waterfront. Dan Pike and Scott Walker are seen as close partners on the waterfront plan for condominiums and a new pleasure boat marina.
Port commissioner and president of the commission Mike McAuley had his own take on the issue. He suggested Charlie is perhaps just not doing things the way Scott Walker wants them done. Mike quoted Charlie as saying, "I work for all three of you commissioners." Scott is now completing his 20th year as port commissioner, having been elected in 1991. Jim Jorgensen was elected eight years ago in 2003 and is now running for his third term. Scott has for many years been the dominant member of the commission, with Doug Smith and Jim Jorgensen routinely voting with him on port issues.
In 2009 Mike McAuley was elected to a four year commissioner term. With Mike's election, things began to shift. Mike went against Scott over rent charges for commercial fishing boats last year. It resulted in Jim joining Mike to give a break to commercial fishing boats. This was a reversal of a 21 year trend, led by Scott, of generally higher costs for fishers.