The Port of Olympia commission had one of its liveliest work sessions in months Thursday when Commissioner E.J. Zita raised concerns about the chain of command at the port and its Executive Director Ed Galligan.
Galligan, who typically attends the work sessions, was on vacation Thursday, said Finance Director Jeff Smith, who filled in for him.
The meeting began with Zita wanting to discuss what the commission learned from Monday’s community session on possible military cargo at the port.
But Thursday’s meeting quickly became much more than that as Zita repeatedly asserted her concerns and defended them, while commissioners Bill McGregor and Joe Downing shared their own concerns. At times the hourlong discussion was tense and argumentative, and passionate and conciliatory.
“The primary issue is the chain of command and the honesty of the Port of Olympia,” Zita said. “We have to figure out what to do about that.”
Zita framed her concerns around the responsibilities of the commission and the executive director as outlined by the Washington Public Ports Association. Among them: Commissioners are to ask for information and the executive director is directed to seek out and deliver information to the commissioners.
Zita argued that based on recently disclosed Port of Olympia emails, the executive director had not met that standard.
She started by referring to an email the commission received on March 29 from Galligan, which explained that military cargo could come to the port in May or September.
After that, she said she asked Galligan weekly for updates on military cargo, but received no specific information. Zita eventually held her own sessions with the public about military cargo shipments, which had sparked a 2007 protest at the port thatresulted in multiple arrests and generated legal costs for the port.
It was during one of Zita’s community sessions that former Olympia City Councilman T.J. Johnson, citing a conversation with Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones, announced that military cargo was coming to the port in September. “It’s a done deal,” Johnson said at the time.
Zita followed up with Galligan about Johnson’s claim, but again didn’t receive specific information. Later, publicly requested emails showed that a specific week in September — the week of the 16th to the 23rd — had been discussed for military cargo.
“In fact, he did know,” said Zita about Galligan at Thursday’s meeting. “He did know and he withheld that information from me and the public. It is our duty as commissioners to represent the truth to the public. This is a betrayal of trust to the commission and to the public.”
Commissioners Downing and McGregor countered Zita’s comments along several fronts.
Downing said the commission didn’t need to get into the weeds on every issue. He also said she was “complicit in getting the public off on the wrong track” about military cargo.
“I won’t say one bad word about this port in public,” he said. “It’s our port. If you’re not getting answers from (port staff) then we handle that internally. We are a public/private organization, and if the organization is ill, we take care of it internally.”
McGregor questioned Zita’s use of the word “public,” saying she hadn’t reached out to everyone for her listening sessions, but instead only those “opposed to military cargo to stir the pot.”
Zita countered that her two meetings were open to everyone and they attracted a crosssection of the community.
“I met with people of all perspectives,” she said.
Downing announced that he supports the military.
“The way I feel lately, we really need the military, and I’m not going to not support the military in my capacity as a commissioner. Boom, I said it.”
Downing also proposed an idea that might win support from the commission. Rather than creating a resolution about cargo at the marine terminal — an idea that was pitched and scrapped Thursday — Downing suggested a news release to the public, which would explain the arrival date of the military cargo, a statement about the cargo from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and places where demonstrators, for or against, could gather.
Zita welcomed the idea.
“This is a great first step,” she said.