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Elections 2013: Port of Port Angeles


The commissioners have in recent months been engaged in a highly public internal feud. What will you do to reduce the friction and ensure a better working relationship among the commissioners?

Del DelaBarre

Much of the problem with the Commission is directly related to the lack of organizational integrity. The formal roles and responsibilities of the commissioners, executive director and senior staff were severely contorted.

Beginning in March, after the audit, a series of very bad decisions with terrible results created a dysfunctional organization and chaotic working environment. I have said during the campaign, the most critical decision the Commission will make for the next decade is the selection of the best executive director available.

That new ED must set a professional standard for the staff and develop a long-term agenda for improving staff performance and evaluation. Companion to this selection must be a strong mandate from the commission to build a cohesive, well-structured team – no matter what it takes.

The Commission must adhere to its role and refrain from direct involvement in operational management.

My business leadership, intergovernmental affairs experience and a willingness to build sensible issue-based partnerships will allow me to reach consensus with the commissioners who will remain in place after this election. I have always stressed the importance of understanding the other person's perspective and of being "mission driven" and civil in disagreements.

There is going to be the need for some "healing" and reconciliation within the Port organization. There is no advantage to the Port or to the citizens of Clallam County in continuing this apparent agenda of tawdry, behind-the-scenes conspiracies and public power plays. We can do better and the public deserves better.

Colleen McAleer

 

The characterization of "highly public internal feud" overstates the recent differences of opinion among commission members. This tone serves neither the parties involved nor the public good.

I have no problem with divergent opinions. They should be presented thoughtfully and respectfully, based on considered knowledge of relevant facts and addressed in a transparent, public forum. This is difficult when nearly all information made available to commissioners is funneled through the judgment of one employee, the executive director. The rigid communication system the Port has employed in the past requires one employee to be all-knowing and able to consider all perspectives of the public, commission, businesses and other employees for every decision.

This is unrealistic and impractical. It also provides an opportunity for information to be filtered and concealed, which can lead to uninformed decisions by the commissioners, who are ultimately responsible for the activities and policies of the Port.

In contrast the chain of command employed by the military always offers open door policies to commanders to ensure a full understanding of every situation when making critical decisions.

Since the passage of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act, enacted in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacles, public and private corporations are held to a higher standard of accountability. Greater oversight, implemented through internal controls and checks and balances, is required to ensure the Port Commission receives the information it needs to function properly. This oversight is in the public's best interests and by law cannot be delegated away. No longer can a Board claim innocence due to a lack of knowledge, relying solely on past clean financial and accountability audits and a full reliance on one person, the executive director.

Implementing these federally mandated oversight systems does not equate to interfering in Port operations, which is clearly staff's purview.

To enable a high-functioning commission, education to the Sarbanes-Oxley standards of accountability is paramount. I would advocate that commissioners and Port directors attend courses through the Washington State Auditor's Office and the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

As Commissioner, I will place the highest priority on promoting a civil, respectful and open tone at all events. New policies dictating this process is crucial. I will expect to be fully briefed on all matters affected by Port policy with a greater reliance on workshops, and I will bring my full attention and extensive knowledge to all issues that come before the Commission.



Do you believe the leases the Port of Port Angeles signs with its tenants should be standardized, or is there room for flexibility in terms?


Del DelaBarre

 

The commissioners and the new, permanent executive director should immediately review the leasing structure and procedures at the Port. Is the lack of uniformity a function of carelessness and staff ineffectiveness or more a result of favoritism and “good old boy” relationships? My guess is that there is some of both at play here.
A professional analysis of what makes sense in the multilevel, complicated leasing structure at the Port should result in a set of definitions and parameters that will standardize leasing policy. Type of lease used also needs to be considered. “Triple Net” leases when possible tend to maintain a degree of standardization. Inherently contained in these policies, areas of flexibility need to be identified and procedures developed to make sure flexibility is based upon consistent criteria. Potential for job creation, expansion of support services and the improvement of general economic development environment are examples of potential criteria for consideration of flexibility in terms.
Because of long term commitments, it will probably take years to come to some sort of consistency across the board, but we need to start now. I have learned over the years that the tougher, unapproachable problems do not go away just because you ignore them. They only get worse. It is time to take this problem in hand. The Port’s reputation and liability exposure demand it.

Colleen McAleer

 

The question is framed as an either-or question and presumes there are only two choices: standardized leases or leases with flexible terms. I believe the answer is a judicious mixture of the two, creating a standard framework within which unique situations are addressed. Industry-standard forms allow flexibility of choices with amendments for unusual circumstances not addressed in the standard series of contracts.

I believe it is important to establish a set of standard policy-based guidelines for Port leases. These would include an acceptable rate (fair market value) and an acceptable deviation from the rate based on the overall value a business brings to the community (jobs and wages).

Additionally, the commission should provide direction on how often leases should be reviewed by the commission and how often the lease rate should increase. Note these policies would be guidelines, not standards, thus allowing for flexibility in lease negotiations. But currently no direction or guidelines exist. This lack of oversight by the commission has allowed leases in some cases that are well over the fair market rental rate, and others that are at $1 per month without any increase in rent for decades. Rental income represents about 25 percent of the Port’s total revenue.

The commission must address lease policy to create a standard of equitable treatment for businesses and meet its fiduciary obligation to the public.
 
Additionally, I would advocate for our Port Commission to set guidelines for rates, annual increases and incentives, as other Ports have done. Variations would be allowed, but would be reviewed by the commissioners on a case-by-case basis. Having guidelines ensures a level playing field and creates a policy framework to evaluate unique situations in a reasonable manner.

A judicious combination of general principles and individual considerations is not as easy as insisting on rigid adherence to one policy, or simply shooting from the hip at random with no basis in process.

It is the responsibility of the Port commissioners to conduct business in a way that elevates the highest good of the public trust and also exemplifies the highest principles of integrity and good business judgment. Applying an either-or approach to the Port's leases accomplishes neither.


Should the number of commissioners be expanded?

Del DelaBarre

 

In terms of governance I do not believe it makes much difference between three or five commissioners. However in terms of representation, I favor five commissioners. Since the district representation is based upon population the current “West End" commissioner represents the more rural areas of the western-most part of Clallam County and a sizable portion of Port Angeles.

The interests of the rural and urban areas do not always match. For this reason expanding the number of commissioners to five seems appropriate.

The cost of this expansion must be taken into account and balanced against the better representation. When all factors are considered, I believe the expansion is worth the cost.

Colleen McAleer

I have given this much thought as there are costs and benefits to be made on both sides of the question. On the one hand, more commissioners would mean more expense for the Port and a more lengthy process of coming to agreement. On the other hand, it would ensure better representation for the western parts of the county, and it would mean that two commissioners could use each other as a sounding board to clarify their thoughts or to better understand their differences without violating the Open Meetings Act.

It could also add to the diversity of thought on the Commission, resulting in healthier exchanges during decision processes, and possibly better decision-making. I am leaning toward expanding the number of commissioners to five and reapportioning the districts.

The addition of two new commissioners will cost the Port about $90,000 annually based on election costs, salary, per diem and medical benefits. If those two new commissioners spend the time necessary to become fully educated about the port and have insights and expertise to further the mission of the port, then the cost of the election and commissioner pay is a well spent to obtain additional ambassadors acting on behalf of our community.

The critical issue is electing commissioners that have extensive knowledge about a wide variety of issues: nuances of laws affecting the Port, businesses the Port supports, the economic impact of the businesses in our community, and the operations of the Port. The issue of number of Port commissioners in our county is not nearly as vital as electing highly qualified individuals to serve.

Should the length of a commissioner's term be revised?

Del DelaBarre

 

Yes. The current situation of the Port losing public trust and credibility is a serious problem the Port must address directly. In my opinion six year terms are too long for local elected officials. I believe shorter terms will foster improved accountability and responsiveness to the public interests required for local governance.

The commissioners are responsible for policy and oversight and must rely upon the executive director and senior staff to handle the day-to-day management and operational direction. To provide policy and oversight does not require an extensive or lengthy time of service with the Port; it requires knowledge of good business practices, an understanding of the responsibilities and goals of the Port; a commitment to uphold a high standard with regard to public involvement and transparency; and the willingness to make the tough decisions for the overall good of our whole community.

Colleen McAleer

Because both length of term and number of commissioners is being addressed in this election we could end up with a very unfortunate scenario. In my opinion what we don’t want is a reduced four-year term and the number of commissioners remaining at three. That would create a scenario in 2018, and every election four years thereafter, two out of three commissioners being newly elected and thus potentially a completely new direction for the Port.

The Port spends extensive funds on capital infrastructure projects which require permitting, engineering, open bidding and finally construction. That process can easily span more than four years especially for projects in the marinas and the marine terminals. We need to ensure capital expenditures, when started are completed, or we will be wasting funds zigzagging from one priority to another.

After much consideration and debate I have decided to personally vote to keep the term to six years. The complexity of the Port's business makes it difficult to have a term shorter than six years. It takes a lot of study to get up to speed and gain a full understanding of the operations, policies, laws and regulations affecting Port activities, and to understand the consequences to our community of various strategies and planning directives. Even though we are a small port, it is more complex than many larger ports because we have several different business lines and eight operating units (marine terminal, log yard, two marinas, boat yard, two airports, and a series of rental properties).

According to many past Port of Port Angeles commissioners it is a very steep learning curve of about two years for an incoming commissioner. The offset to that argument is the public’s ability to more frequently “vote out” a commissioner that isn’t performing in the public’s best interest.

Again, public involvement in the process of elections at our Port, such as we have this year, will likely ensure we have highly qualified candidates to serve and thus a need to “vote them out” won’t be needed.

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