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Two Commissioners Demanded Charlie Resign

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First to make two points about yesterday's post. And then more on to the meeting this afternoon.

1. Charlie Sheldon did submit his letter of resignation to the port yesterday, Monday, as reported here. Many - including the Herald and Weekly - questioned that fact. Today in open port meeting, this was confirmed. One port person expressed surprise that the news was posted almost at the very time the letter was submitted. What was considered today, Tuesday, was a separation agreement, not his resignation.

2. Two commissioners demanded Charlie's resignation at a meeting last Friday, March 30. Scott Walker was able to convince Jim Jorgensen to join him in asking Charlie to resign. I was in error yesterday in writing that Charlie resigned with only one commissioner, Scott Walker, wanting him to resign. With two, they had a controlling majority of the commission. Charlie did not resign based on his own decision, but upon a legal demand by the Port of Bellingham. Charlie had no choice but to resign.

Mike McAuley showed courage at the meeting, standing up to the two other commissioners and doing everything he could to set the record straight, and to request Jim change his mind and vote with Mike to delay voting on the separation agreement. Mike tried to delay any vote - and use the next couple weeks to let things cool off and maybe resolve the issues and keep Charlie as executive director. Jim was set in his path and offered little in the way of explanation for his voting to oust Charlie.

The port meeting was tense and packed with business owners who spoke strongly in favor of keeping Charlie as executive director. In a rare public comment not fully in support of the commissioners, Bellingham Cold Storage President Doug Thomas even spoke, noting Charlie had provided the best working relationship Thomas had ever experienced. BCS was formed in the 1940s and is one of the largest tenants of port property.

Other speakers were Dan Pike, Buck Meloy, Ann-Marie Faiola, Hue Beattie, John Watts, Robin Dexter, John Blethen, John Munson, Mark Lowery - and more. A most impressive group of speakers and all speaking in support of Charlie. Some were very critical of Scott Walker. Not one person spoke in support of Walker and letting Charlie go. The passion and depth of feeling of all the speakers was something rare for me to watch - and I've watched them for decades.

Commissioner Mike McAuley tried everything in the book to explain to the public why Charlie should not be terminated. And he virtually pleaded with commissioner Jim Jorgensen to change his mind and support keeping Charlie. Mike tried to delay the vote for a couple weeks so the commission could reconsider their action. All to no avail.

After the meeting there was strong talk of a recall of Scott Walker. And also of expanding the commission from 3 to 5 members. For now, what I think would be best is for Scott Walker's closest friends and supporters to urge him to resign. For the sake of the community. Many probably think this will go away soon. I don't think so, and if Scott insists on staying in office, then the next 21 months will be very politically volatile in Whatcom County. But Scott has his heels dug in.

Overall, the fix was in. Quiet, behind the scenes arrangements had been made - and without the involvement of Mike McAuley. I have talked with a number of people close to the situation - and all are concerned about any leaked information leading back to them. And some information needs to be checked further. But I intend to write soon about how this may all have come down.

What can we do now? Well, writing the commission is useless. Jim and Scott displayed a stoney indifference to public opinion. Indeed, Jim Jorgensen lectured the audience of successful business owners about how he understood the inside workings of the port and they had no understanding of how the port worked. Scott simply never addressed the audience. They were merely in front of him and of no consequence. He seem insulated from any public outrage.

What can we do? I think best if we do not forget our sense of loss. Our town seems unable to accept good fortune and great people who can help Bellingham become more. We just tossed Bob Ferris out, and now Charlie Sheldon. We will not find another outstanding person willing to come here to face our grinding, neurotic process only to be tossed back south. We, as a town, do not seem able to handle success.

What can we do when our elected officials act contrary to all that is best for our community and instead act with stubborn and ignoble purposes? Well, that is a good question.

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

Michael McAuley

Apr 03, 2012

John, thanks for helping ensure our governing bodies get or stay transparent.  You certainly do titillate the reader! 

After today’s debate I wrote a letter to Port staff.

http://mikeattheport.blogspot.com/2012/04/message-to-port-staff.html

When we commissioners get criticized for screw-ups we know it comes with the territory.  When staff are criticized or suffer for our shortcomings it’s a little unfair, hence the letter to staff. 

What happened today was not fun.  I will tell you, I love a good debate.  I actually had fun putting my speech together today, but when it came time to deliver, that may have been the hardest thing I’ve done. 

Good government is really hard. The easy road here was to accept Charlie’s resignation, say a few words and move on. It was his resignation, after all, we couldn’t exactly force him to stay.

I couldn’t go with that.  I don’t need any further back slaps, I just need to know that people are paying attention and helping us choose a good course. We have clearly shown we are not infallible. 

So, again, thanks John for keeping an eye on things.  I know someday you are gonna roast me for a boneheaded thing I am sure to do and that’s OK. 

And to all who read here, let us know when you see us getting it wrong.  Conversely, I like good beer, so if I get it right don’t be shy, let’s grab one. 

Mike McAuley

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Todd Granger

Apr 04, 2012

Could it be, Walker is Right?

Quite a few ED’s have thought, they walk on water.

And a few get to fly with the Eagle too!

http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/2008/01/department-of-justice-opens-criminal.html

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John Servais

Apr 04, 2012

Got anything, Todd?  Your post is empty and the post at your link does not reference Charlie.  And is three years old.  So, you got anything?  Your post remains, but you are pushing the free speech limits.  If you have something, then post it.  Don’t smear.  Want to retract it?

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Todd Granger

Apr 05, 2012

The post is empty by the “mutual agreement” that Charlie accepted in relationship to his original contract.

http://media.bellinghamherald.com/static/images/downloads/JaredPaben/Sheldonresign.pdf

So if I “smear” Walker and Jorgensen, it’s fine and dandy, as the accepted model of local NW Citizen speech?

 

 

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Anne-Marie Faiola

Apr 05, 2012

The thing that has been most puzzling to me about this is: why the rush? Why was it necessary to push this through on a weekend? It’s easy to figure out what Charlie was doing Friday and Saturday. His actions and presence were visible to anyone working on or around the tragic fire. He met with bereaved family members, worked on the clean up and recovery efforts and generally did what you’d expect an active, engaged Director to do. What’s not easy to put together is what happened between executive session on Friday and Charlie Sheldon being forced to resign. There are rumors out there; the most prevalent that you will read or hear about is that 2 or more staff members went to Jim Jorgensen’s house on the weekend and urged him to join with Walker to force Charlie to resign.

That still doesn’t explain the rush though. If Jim Jorgensen’s assertion in the public meeting that ‘Senior Staffers’ were unhappy was meant to speak for the entire staff, then it would have been okay to hold off on the decision for a couple weeks. Good decisions stand the test of time and scrutiny.

Additionally troubling to me is the timing: this was many staffer’s spring break week with their families and they are away (also, the reporter for the Herald that normally covers the Port, John Stark, is out this week).

Again, why the rush? It’s okay to say “Hey, we have a problem. Let’s work this out/let’s take corrective action.” But that’s not what happened. The Port isn’t some small business that doesn’t have a ripple effect. Their decisions matter to all of Whatcom County. Bellingham and its future deserve better than this kind of quickie execution.

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David Camp

Apr 06, 2012

My question is fiscal - how much did the Port pay to hire Mr. Sheldon (external headhunter fees and internal time)? And how much did it cost to get rid of him (direct costs: severance, legal fees, outplacement, etc.; and indirect costs such as disruptions to normal operations)? And finally, how much will it cost to replace him - probably at least as much as it cost to hire Mr. Sheldon?

I would be very surprised if the sum of the above costs is less than a quarter million.

Was Mr. Sheldon’s secret sin (since no one is saying why exactly he was fired - and yes, being asked to resign is just that) so heinous it justified spending so much public money to get rid of him? And if it really was mostly a power struggle, how does spending this much money over an ego clash represent prudent stewardship of public funds?

The POrt Commissioners owe us answers to these questions, IMHO.

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