Port commissioners pour water on Gunn proposal

Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn has proposed eliminating the port’s citizens advisory committee and replacing it with two new community advisory councils: one focused on the airport, the other on the marine terminal.

Gunn made her proposal at the commission’s study session on Thursday, saying she picked the two port divisions because they generate the most revenue, as well as the most interest and concern in the community.

She said her proposal was an effort to improve public engagement with the port.

“This has a goodwill, public relations, open communications value to this,” she said.

But after outlining her ideas for the advisory groups, she quickly found herself on the defensive as fellow commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor pounced, defending the citizens advisory committee and questioning Gunn’s ideas.

The discussion finally boiled over, leading to an angry moment between Barner and Gunn.

“I feel totally unheard, but that’s OK,” Gunn said at one point in frustration.

Here’s how the proposed advisory councils would work:

• The airport advisory council would be led by airport director Rudy Rudolph, with representation from the city of Tumwater (the airport is in Tumwater), three airport tenants and/or users, and three community members, including an at-large resident.

• The marine terminal advisory council would be led by marine terminal director Jim Knight, with representation from the city of Olympia, three marine terminal tenants and/or users, and three community members, including an at-large resident.

Other ideas: council members would serve two-year terms, meetings would be held quarterly, and the councils would communicate to the commission through the directors unless another process was agreed to.

Barner’s reaction was swift, saying the proposal would amount to “citizens volunteering to run the port.”

“I don’t buy that at all,” he said.

He also defended the citizens advisory committee, saying they have made commitments of time, energy and knowledge.

“They’ve gotten themselves up to speed on port issues,” Barner said.

Gunn interjected that nothing would preclude members of the citizens advisory committee from joining the advisory councils.

“This is a soft touch that has public and political benefit for the port,” she said.

McGregor, too, defended the citizens advisory committee.

“I support keeping them together,” he said, pointing out that it already has representation from those throughout the county.

McGregor, though, was open to the idea of creating temporary Ad Hoc committees to address certain port issues, as well as continuing a series of public meetings called “Port 101,” which allowed residents to learn more about various port operations.

“They’ve done a good job and I just don’t see kicking them to the side,” he said about the citizens advisory committee.

Gunn countered that the advisory councils would serve the same purpose as the “Port 101” meetings by briefing members on the operations of the airport and marine terminal, but with the chance to provide feedback.

In frustration, Gunn suggested that maybe the port wants to keep the public in the dark, but Barner responded strongly to that comment.

“We’re not keeping them in the dark; we’re at an open public meeting!” he said.

She finally felt compelled to quote former Saturday Night Live comedian Gilda Radner.

“Never mind,” she told the commission.