George Barner’s two-term tenure on the Port of Olympia commission came to an end Monday night after his last commission meeting. He will be replaced by Joe Downing, a former port advisory committee member who defeated him in the general election.
Barner, 73, was first elected to the commission in 2008. He was probably best known for his role as a Thurston County commissioner from 1977 to 1992. Seeking a third term in November, he was defeated by Downing by about 7,785 votes.
Barner received thanks for his service from fellow Commissioner Bill McGregor; Keith Bausch, president of the longshore local that serves the port; and the newest commissioner, E.J. Zita.
“I worked on your campaign when you first got elected and I’m really going to miss you here,” said Zita, who was attending her first commission meeting. “I’m going to miss you on the commission, but we’re going to stay in touch.”
“I definitely consider him a friend and I thank him for his service to the port and community,” McGregor said of Barner.
Barner also received praise from those in the audience.
Olympia resident Denis Langhans, who acknowledged that he and Barner didn’t always agree, still had words of praise for him.
“What really struck me about you is that you’ve had a real sense of the public interest,” said Langhans, citing Barner’s “courageous stand on the oil trains.”
In 2014, Barner, along with former Commissioner Sue Gunn, approved a resolution that expressed “the deep concerns of the Port of Olympia about the threat to life, safety, the environment and economic development” posed by oil trains transporting North Dakota Bakken crude oil through Thurston County.
The resolution went on to request that the Port of Grays Harbor reconsider siting three oil terminals there and that the city of Hoquiam not approve construction of the terminals.
“You have always been ready and willing to listen to all points of view and to change your mind after reconsidering a position you had taken,” said Bev Bassett, another Olympia resident in the audience.
Barner said it was his pleasure to serve on the commission and that he was glad to represent the people of Thurston County.
Barner said he plans to stay active, possibly lobbying on different causes, such as the threat posed by climate change, or to try and get Sound Transit commuter rail extended to Thurston County. He also may run for elected office again.
“I’ll think about it,” he said. “I’m not going to say yes or no.”