Uncertainty continues at the Port of Olympia. The port’s newest commissioner, Sue Gunn, has resigned for health reasons less than two years after winning a four-year term in 2013. Her departure, announced late last week, throws her position open to an appointment process this spring.
An election follows in the fall.
Gunn had open-heart surgery last Dec. 18 and made a tactical decision to put her health ahead of the timetable that at least one other commissioner set for her return to port work.
There are lots of lessons here. As we’ve noted before, the port leadership and Commissioner Bill McGregor could have handled this more humanely – perhaps by communicating earlier with Gunn who was sometimes at odds with the powers that be.
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Dissent does not appear very welcome at the Port of Olympia, which has the admittedly tough role of operating an industrial concern in the heart of a city of environmentalists.
Gunn, a scientist and environmentalist with budget expertise, demanded better accountability for port spending. Gunn also won passage of a resolution last year – Commissioner George Barner joined her in favor; McGregor was opposed – that expressed deep concern about the dangers of shipping crude oil by rail through South Sound.
That resolution, which also urged the Grays Harbor port to reconsider siting three oil terminals near Hoquiam, drew a letter of censure from other regional ports, but plenty of support from local environmentalists.
Gunn noted in her letter announcing her resignation to the community that she had also been able to require environmental studies before the port could expand its shipments of oil-fracking materials to the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.
Her short tenure – and departure – followed a pattern set by past dissenters.
Typically they fight uphill for a few years – whether for public disclosure, as Paul Telford did in the 2000s, or for an end to subsidies and a spotlight on travel expenses, as Sam Bradley did many years before that. Eventually the critic leaves. Worn down in some cases.
One hopes the port’s remaining two commissioners act quickly to fill the vacancy. After all, having only two members available during Gunn’s absence was the reason McGregor gave for refusing to excuse Gunn’s repeated absences after mid-February. She had been absent since late November from port meetings.
What if, McGregor asked, he or Barner were not available? There would not be a quorum available to cast votes.
Candidates to replace Gunn have not yet stepped forward. Whoever is appointed must either run for re-election in November or step aside for candidates who do run. Filing week for candidates starts May 15.
If two or fewer candidates file to run, there won’t be a primary, Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall says; if three or more run, the primary will be Aug. 4 – with the top two vote getters advancing.
This is a chance for the port to win some public trust by conducting an open, inclusive process. Ideally that would lead the two commissioners to choose a replacement who shares Gunn’s political point of view.