After months of deliberation, the Port of Olympia commission spent just four minutes Monday discussing an updated version of the code of conduct policy, and then unanimously approved it.
The speed with which the commission approved the updated version might be a reflection of the new commission and its two newest members — Joe Downing and E.J. Zita — and their willingness to work together.
All three commissioners, including longtime commissioner Bill McGregor, praised the work done on the issue.
“I want to thank them for their input,” said McGregor about Downing and Zita. “We have a better product.”
The journey to Monday night’s decision actually began in 2013, when former commissioners George Barner and Jeff Davis, plus McGregor, created the original code of conduct policy. The code was viewed as a set of guiding principles for the commission, requiring, for example, that commissioners come prepared for meetings. It also spelled out actions the commission could take if one member failed to abide by the policy, including a letter of censure.
But the policy wasn’t formally adopted by the commission. Instead, it was framed and hung on port property.
Because the policy wass’t adopted, former interim port commissioner Michelle Morris raised the issue at a port work session in September 2015, suggesting that the commission take that next step.
But former commissioner Barner was against the idea, saying that additional step was unnecessary.
The code of conduct policy was adopted in November on a 2-1 vote — McGregor and Morris voted for it, Barner against it — but not before a new line of criticism emerged about the policy.
Some in the audience at that meeting took issue with language in Article 5 of the policy. At the time, it read, “We (the commission) recognize this fiduciary responsibility to the port as a whole is greater than any loyalty a commissioner may have as an elected official.”
For some, that was cause for alarm.
“The public interest is a sovereign fiduciary interest which cannot be subordinated to the interest of a public agency,” Olympia resident Bev Bassett said at that meeting.
So new language was inserted into Article 5 that Commissioner Zita said “prioritizes our responsibility to the people and public resources that the port is stewarding.”
Bassett, who frequently attends port meetings, welcomed the changes.
“It makes the people primary over the port business,” she said.
She also shared some written comments from Denis Langhans of Olympia, who could not attend Monday’s meeting. Langhans, too, often attends port meetings.
“It reverses the perversion of port over people,” said Langhans about the amended code of conduct policy.