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Commissioner E.J. Zita continues push for transparency at port

The Port of Olympia commission during its special work session on Thursday agreed to produce a verbatim transcript of the commission’s Sept. 26 meeting after Commissioner E.J. Zita felt the original meeting minutes weren’t accurate.
The Port of Olympia commission during its special work session on Thursday agreed to produce a verbatim transcript of the commission’s Sept. 26 meeting after Commissioner E.J. Zita felt the original meeting minutes weren’t accurate. rboone@theolympian.com

The Port of Olympia commission Thursday agreed to reproduce a verbatim transcript of a contentious public meeting in September after Commissioner E.J. Zita, in response to resident concerns, took issue with the accuracy of the original meeting minutes.

Commissioners Bill McGregor and Joe Downing initially contended that summaries of public meetings should be sufficient because residents can watch videos of the meetings. But eventually they were swayed after port staff and the port’s legal counsel pointed out the difficulty in summarizing public comment because it can produce a “different inference in meaning.”

“In a summary format, that’s the risk,” said Heather Burgess, the port’s legal counsel.

The commission agreed Thursday to simply list who speaks during public comment, rather than attempt to summarize the comments.

The port commission meeting in question took place Sept. 26, the second of two fiery meetings in which some residents were angered by email disclosures that showed internal port discussions about military cargo — much to the surprise of Zita, who had been requesting that kind of information. Many comments on Sept. 26 were critical of Executive Director Ed Galligan, but some defended him.

Some residents were disappointed in the resulting minutes from that meeting.

“There was a pattern of missing information, and there were a lot of public comments that were critical of the executive director that did not show up,” Zita said. “The public was not happy about that and there were those who felt comments were censored. We don’t want to be in that position.”

McGregor took issue with her use of the word “censor,” saying the port is not censoring anything because residents can watch videos of the meetings.

“When I saw the minutes, I noticed that 16 people spoke critically (during the public comment portion of the meeting) and one spoke in favor,” Zita said. “The one who spoke in favor had extensive comments represented and those who shared concerns were brief — about a sentence each.”

Downing reminded the commission about a resolution that guides the port on recording meeting minutes.

“The minutes must contain motions, actions and a summary of the discussion,” he said.

He questioned whether Zita had an ulterior motive in seeking detailed meeting minutes.

“What is the hidden meaning behind trying to get this public comment exactly represented? Is this going to be used down the road? Where are we going with this?”

Zita said she had no hidden agenda.

“Sixteen of 17 people who spoke before us made specific and concrete statements,” she said. “Their perspective deserves representation. It’s a matter of accuracy and fairness.”

Port employee Linda Shilley, who records the minutes, defended herself Thursday, saying she does not record name-calling, derogatory remarks or remarks that have no value. She said that the executive director has nothing to do with production of the minutes.

Port HR Manager Jeri Sevier defended Shilley, explaining that she used to be in charge of meeting minutes.

“It’s very difficult to summarize,” Sevier said. “It takes a real talent to put it all together to make sense.”

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