Port officials OK panel on boxed totem

The OlympianJanuary 19, 2014 

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Aug. 26, 2003.

OLYMPIA - A six-member panel will advise the Port of Olympia on what to do with a 36-foot Salish welcome pole that was carved in part by a man convicted in a murder-for-hire scheme.

After some haggling, the three port commissioners Monday approved forming the panel to help devise a solution for the $66,000 American Indian pole that the port has been unable to sell.

The panel initially was to contain four people, but commissioners agreed Monday to add two people, one of whom was a friend of Joanne Jirovec, the South Sound woman killed in the murder scheme.

James Snell, who said he was at Jirovec's home the night she was killed, will be on the panel.

Commissioner Bob Van Schoorl said he was reluctant to include anyone close to Jirovec or her family because he wanted an impartial panel.

"I express my reservations that this is going to once again get bogged down in emotional issues," Van Schoorl said.

But Commissioner Paul Telford argued that the port is selling the pole because Jirovec's friends and family don't want the pole displayed in South Sound, so it shouldn't discount their feelings now.

"I don't see any downside to including one out of six people that has some emotional attachment to the issue," Telford said.

Five years ago, the port hired Doug Tobin, a Squaxin Island tribal member and artisan, to carve the pole. In the 1980s, Tobin was sentenced to eight years in prison for aiding in Jirovec's murder.

Snell told commissioners he would represent the victim and be fair in his judgments.

"I just hope Mr. Snell comes to the table with an open mind as the other five members," Van Schoorl said.

James Haseltine, who was formerly with the state arts commission, also was added.

Other members are:

· Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

· Ralph Munro, former Secretary of State.

· Marianne Partlow, artist and arts advocate.

· Les Purce, president of The Evergreen State College.

John Brecheen, who last year spoke against the pole being displayed locally, said his feelings are unchanged.

"My objection is just as strong, if not stronger, today than it was then," Brecheen said. "This pole should not be placed in this community."

The panel should talk to everyone involved with the pole, including the artists, Jirovec's family and former Commissioner Jeff Dickison, who came up with the idea for the pole, port executive director Nick Handy said.

"The pole is owned by the people of this community, and I don't think they have the whole story of everything that happened in the carving of the pole," Handy said.

For instance, even though the port formed the contract with Tobin, he did relatively little of the work, Handy said.

A Seattle artist designed the pole, and artisan Ed Charles did at least 85 percent of the carving, Handy said.

In other matters, commissioners approved an insurance settlement of more than $1 million for the fire-damaged Genoas on the Bay restaurant.

Genoas has been closed since Nov. 7, when a small dessert torch ignited a blaze.

The port now will look at repairing the restaurant's water-rotted foundation.

What's next

Port of Olympia commissioners will meet at 5:30 p.m., Sept. 8 at TCTV Studio, 440 Yauger Way N.W. For more information, call 360-528-8000.

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