The Port of Olympia postponed until next month a deeper discussion about proposed changes to public testimony at its meetings after some pointed remarks were raised at a work session this week.
Olympia residents Beverly Bassett and Denis Langhans, both of whom frequently attend the meetings and question port operations, were concerned Thursday that the proposed changes to public comment were too restrictive.
“The port is seeking to limit people’s speech,” said Bassett.
Langhans added that he understands the need for ground rules, but he doesn’t want to see the commission prevent “issue-oriented, data-driven” comments about the port.
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“Civility should not kill content,” he said.
Based on the meeting feedback, Heather Burgess, the port’s legal counsel, suggested that the commission take up the matter next month. That meeting is set for Sept. 17.
The commission ran out of time Thursday because it spent most of its 2.5-hour work session on proposed changes to the state Environmental Policy Act as it relates to the port.
The commenting policy discussion was the last thing on the agenda, even though Bassett and Langhans spoke at the beginning of the meeting.
This was the second time, albeit briefly, that the commission has discussed proposed public comment changes at a work session. Peter Overton, a resident, testified in April about what he viewed as the lack of civility and decorum at port meetings. He suggested the commission establish a set of guidelines for public testimony.
Overton has since become a member of the port’s citizens advisory committee, a volunteer body similar to a planning commission that tackles port issues and provides feedback to the commission.
Commissioner George Barner acknowledged Thursday that he found it difficult to embrace some of the proposed changes. He appeared to take issue with the following proposal:
“The president (of the commission) may, at his or her sole discretion, decline to provide a commenter in costume the opportunity to provide public comment if the commenter costume is of a nature that could endanger the safety or well-being of those at the meeting by allowing concealment of a weapon.”
Barner read aloud his concerns at the end of Thursday’s meeting:
“Our critics come armed with signs and posters, and they dress symbolically, as, for instance, Gandhi or the Grim Reaper,” he said. “It may seem over the top for some, but these are expressions of politics that aren’t grounded in threatening imagery.”
Also on Thursday:
▪ The Port of Olympia could host another tribal canoe journey after port officials made their pitch to the Nisqually tribe for their 2016 journey. The port hosted the Squaxin Island tribe canoe journey in 2012, in which a number of tribes from the Northwest and British Columbia landed at the NorthPoint area of port property.
▪ The regularly scheduled commission meeting for Monday, which was set to be held in Bucoda, has been canceled for lack of an agenda.