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Why Vote for Five Port Commissioners

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Harriet Spanel and Ken Hertz wrote this in support of 5 port commissioners.


At this November election, voters in Whatcom County will make a decision on whether the Port of Bellingham Commission should expand from the current three commissioners to five commissioners.

The Port Commissioners have received public requests expressing the importance and need for additional commissioners for the past several years. In addition, at Port Commission meetings this spring, the Commissioners heard significant public testimony in support of increasing the number of commissioners. As a result, this summer the Commission adopted the resolution proposing to place this issue on the November ballot.

Our county’s population has increased substantially since the port was established in 1920 by a vote of the people of Whatcom County. The Commissioners major responsibilities include setting Port policy, determining the budget, and approving large leases, contracts, and agreements for the Port. The expanded growth of our county, addition of the G-P waterfront redevelopment, along with the complexities of today’s community, and other increased scope of duties warrants additional representation.

The Port has significant economic development responsibilities throughout Whatcom County which include: Bellingham International Airport (the 3rd busiest in Washington next to Sea-Tac and Spokane), 2064 marina slips, over 100 employees, a $25 million operating budget, $20 million range in capital costs, an asset value of $382 million and are now, along with the city of Bellingham, responsible for one of the largest waterfront redevelopment projects in the Northwest. In addition to these responsibilities, the Board oversees existing harbors, terminals, parks and trails, and industrial parks.

With five commissioners there can be a wider representation of our county citizens for ideas and community values. Broader public discussion of and more perspectives on the issues can contribute to better decisions.

Nearly all publicly elected government bodies using our tax dollars and making major decisions have at least five members and many have seven, including the county council, our city councils, school boards and the conservation district. It has been suggested that the cost of two more commissioners will be too much. Adding two commissioners will have a minimal cost of less than ¼ of 1% of the Port’s annual capital and operating budget – a small price for more transparency, democracy and a more representative government.

Port Proposition No.1 to increase the number of Port Commissioners from 3 to 5 Commissioners was requested by and is supported by many citizens in the County.

Join us in voting YES for this change on November 6.

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Comments by Readers

Clayton Petree

Oct 02, 2012

Good article, although it looks pretty much the same as the “for” statement.  I’m inclined to vote “yes” because right now two commissioners cannot even meet for coffee to discuss their thoughts on whatever the issue is of the day.  At the meeting I attended, there was discussion about having at large positions which would be a huge turn-off to me.  According to the voting guide, it says there will be 5 districts created, which is key to me.


Tip Johnson

Oct 02, 2012

You can see Port of Bellingham Proposition 1 on the ballot, here:

Might as well bone up on the rest of the ballot, too!

Yes, it turns out that two commissioners asked two different prongs of petitioners to consider having the Port sponsor the ballot measure.  That measure asked to increase the commission by the addition of two at-large poitions.

After agreeing to sponsor and adopting the petition’s language verbatim, they later reversed themselves and eliminated the at-large position.  That’s because state law requires redistricting to create five districts absent voter specification for at-large positions.

The petition had intended to increase the accessibility of the commission by assuring an open seat is available to any county resident at least every two years.  By switching to the district approach, that opportunity is available only every four years - affording no increase in accessibility.

That was a pretty big bait and switch, and it’s noteworthy that their adoption of the petition was according to an advertised agenda item, but that their reversal was done without public notice.  It underscores the need to add two commissioners because out of five, the chance of having an honest one increases dramatically.

Also, political scientists and game theorists have studied the issue in detail.  Within limits, a larger commission will provide better public oversight and produce better policy outcomes for the public.  That’s a proven fact.


Clayton Petree

Oct 05, 2012

There’s a survey on the Herald’s main page about this issue - and they let you see the results so far.  Of 1,635 “votes”, the results so far are 51% stay with 3, 42% move to 5, and 7% move to 7.  I suspect the 7 people will vote for 5 so it looks like a very close race, at least on the survey…

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