The Port of Olympia commission, known recently for its intense discussions regarding military cargo, charted a new course on Thursday after agreeing to hire a consultant to help improve communications between the commission, executive director and port staff.
The team-building idea was pitched by Commissioner Joe Downing during a special work session.
“We have to find ways to work together,” said Downing, who has been on the job for 10 months and acknowledged there have been “rough patches,” although he didn’t identify them.
“I feel the rough patches keep us from building momentum on getting things done at the port,” he said.
Commissioners Bill McGregor and E.J. Zita reacted warmly to his idea and goals, with some minor suggestions to the overall plan.
“I just want to see the commission, as it relates to the public, staff and to each other, improve and build cohesiveness, openness and trust,” McGregor said.
“We had a rough meeting a few weeks ago and I appreciate this coming from you,” Zita said of Downing and his idea.
A few weeks ago, port emails came to light that showed staff discussing potential military cargo. At the meeting following the email disclosure, Zita said she felt betrayed by Executive Director Ed Galligan because she had repeatedly asked him for information regarding the cargo. Galligan was absent from that meeting.
Downing and McGregor also shared their displeasure with Zita about meetings she had organized to talk about potential military cargo. McGregor accused her of reaching out to people already opposed to military cargo, while Downing said she had been complicit in getting the public off on the wrong track about the cargo.
But none of that was evident on Thursday. After Downing made his proposal, the commission seemed pleased with a renewed effort to improve their relationship.
Several potential consultants were mentioned — Margaret Norton-Arnold of Seattle, the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County, The Athena Group of Olympia, and Doug Mah & Associates of Olympia.
Norton-Arnold recently facilitated a port listening session on military cargo, while the Athena Group recently took part in a meeting organized by the Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound and the city of Lacey to discuss race, racism and the role of law enforcement.
Zita suggested they stick to a local consultant to minimize costs and support a local business.
McGregor added that someone local would “understand our community better than an outsider would.”
Audience member Bev Bassett of Olympia, who frequently attends port meetings, suggested the commission consider the Dispute Resolution Center. She said she and her housemate used the Dispute Resolution Center, which helped them develop a two-page plan of action to overcome some issues.
“I won’t say we have lived happily ever after, but we have referred to it and we use that agreement to get along,” she said.
There were some minor suggestions to Downing’s proposal. One part of it reads, “before we involve the community.”
Zita asked that it be removed.
“I don’t want to put up any barriers to our openness and transparency,” she said.