About Doug Karlberg

Doug has been a fisherman for over four decades, working out of Bellingham and Alaska. He focuses his civic energy on Port of Bellingham - on their policies and practices. He has run for Port Commissioner.

By: Doug Karlberg (1)

Doug Karlberg Writes Against Robbins

Doug Karlberg, a savvy and informed fisherman and client of the Port of Bellingham, counters Servais’ article favoring Robbins with his harsh assessment of Robbins and the Port.

Doug Karlberg, a savvy and informed fisherman and client of the Port of Bellingham, counters Servais’ article favoring Robbins with his harsh assessment of Robbins and the Port.


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.

About Doug Karlberg

Citizen Journalist • Belingham • Member since Apr 08, 2008

Doug has been a fisherman for over four decades, working out of Bellingham and Alaska. He focuses his civic energy on Port of Bellingham - on their policies and practices. [...]

Dianne Foster

Oct 27, 2017

Thanks, Doug!  The only place I disagree is that Ken Bell has integrity - he has a history of dishonest practices in his “recycle” business,  and doesn’t seem to care about pollution,  which is number one concern of mine,  especially given my recent diagnosis of leukemia, and my home proximity to the port; only a few blocks uphill.


John Kole

Oct 28, 2017

        I take exception to the Karlberg characterization of Commissioner Robbins. Dan Robbins is a good friend of mine and I have known him and done business with him for many years. The Karlsberg article certainly shows a very skewed presentation and a putative maligning of Dan’s contribution to Bellingham during his business life, social activities ( Lions Club, Score Chapter Counseling, etc.  and his term as port commissioner.                                                          

      I don’t know Doug Karlberg, with the exception he did not win his port seat in the primary election. I find it sad that he has chosen to go the low road to express his opinions.



Nancy McCloskey

Oct 30, 2017

I feel compelled to comment on Doug Karlberg’s comments in reference to Commissioner Robbins.   He suggest that we need officials who keep the public’s interest and trust above and political parties and special interests.

He is correct. We need leadership, commitment, and trust. I believe we have those qualities in Commissiner Dan Robbins and I encourage you to vote to re-elect him as Port Commissioner.

Karlberg stated a major part of the Port’s responsibility is eonomic development.  Since Commissioner Robbins has been in office over 500 new jobs have been established. In my oppinion, that is an enormous fete!  How many jobs have been created in the past 50 years?  People die or retire, they don’t, can’t change jobs because there are none!

Kalrberg erroneously suggestd that the PORT is respnsible for raising wages accross the county. The Port does not control business’s wages, but it can control the companies that choose to settle and hire individuals within the county, which can affect wages.

There have been numerous opportunities offered that have been met with opposition over the past few years.  There is a subtle qualifier as far as potential employment.  It must meet very strict environmental requirements, and often even if the EPA says GO, the residents PROTEST (is it NYMBY, or purely an environmental concern?). I’m pretty sure someone will object to Commissioner McAuley (and candidate Shepard’s) suggestion for Bio-fuel….burning wood chips… that has to create air pollution that some may objet to even if it provides jobs in Kendall… How many people in Kendall want to work?  If they do, maybe they will make a proposal for Bio Fuel??? If not, they must be happy as it is.

Mr. Karlberg also suggested that he objected to Commissioner Robbins reluctance to support later evening Port meetings. After the meeting times were changed in 2015, the attendance of such has been negligable, if not less than when meetings were held during the working day. (Contact the Port for actual numbers). Why would we have employees work overtime?  It’s your tax dollar. Meetings are available 24/7 on YOUTUBE if you are interested. How much more transparency is necessary? Commissioner’s phone and email numbers are availble on line.

The question about changing the Commission from 3 to 5 may have merit as Commissioner Robbins indicated with hesitation.  There is a plus and a minus as he indicated. Currently, no Commissiner can speak to another without it being a quorum. There is value in conversation, but .... there are issues with that as Commissioner Robbins stated at the forum held at WWU.

Mr. Karlberg is dismayed with bipartison politics and indicated that Commissioner Briscoe is solidly independent.  If that is so, why did he run as a Democrat? My summation is that Commissioner Briscoe has an agenda.  It is for the fishermen.  After he was elected, he requested the Port make several impovements to the Blaine Port by May. Those requests were neither in the budget nor approved by EPA or the Army Core of Engineering. At that point, he had no idea of the chain of command required to do anything and had no clue what is required to do such.  It is possible that he could be the President of the Port Commission while being absent fishing for 3-4-5 months of the year.  Telephone communication is possible but what about his attendance at sub committee meetings? Is his representation important?  If not, why do we need 3 Commissiners?  Would 2 or 1 be adequate?

Mr. Karlberg obviously has an agenda.  It is for the fishermen.  Fishing is one entity for the Port, but not the only enity. Vote for common sense and the biggest bang for your tax dollar.


Paul Burrill

Oct 30, 2017

Doug, while I wholeheartedly agree with your endorsement of Ken Bell, I don’t share the same opinion of Commissioner Robbins. Twisting the incumbent’s words in order to promote your candidate is sad, misleading, and borders on defamation. As a Southside resident, boat owner, active commercial fisherman of 27 years, and current Port tenant/business owner, my vote is for the man who has shown Whatcom county that he takes his job seriously by never missing a meeting. The list of Commissioner Robbins’ accomplishments is long as can be seen on his website http://www.votedanrobbins.com. Just to name a few, he signed the largest environmental cleanup in Port history, voted in support of Itek Energy’s 48 thousand sq ft solar panel manufacturing plant, and also voted for the construction of All-American marine boat manufacturing facility with 65 high paying jobs.

The factor in this race is not age, but rather experience and proven track record.
Integrity, intelligence and energy? Yes, both Dan Robbins and Ken Bell embody all three.


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Doug Karlberg Writes Against Robbins

By Doug KarlbergOn Oct 26, 2017

Doug Karlberg, a savvy and informed fisherman and client of the Port of Bellingham, counters Servais’ article favoring Robbins with his harsh assessment of Robbins and the Port.

4 comments, most recent 5 years ago