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Candidates clash on Port of Olympia code of conduct for commissioners

Challenger Joe Downing (left) and Port of Olympia District 1 incumbent George Barner answer questions from the audience during the October 7th meeting of the Gateway Rotary Club at O'Blarney's Irish Pub in Olympia.
Challenger Joe Downing (left) and Port of Olympia District 1 incumbent George Barner answer questions from the audience during the October 7th meeting of the Gateway Rotary Club at O'Blarney's Irish Pub in Olympia. Staff photographer

Port of Olympia commissioner George Barner on Wednesday defended his opinion on a code of conduct policy for the commission, saying he supports a code but doesn’t feel it needs to be officially adopted by resolution.

Barner made his remarks during a candidate forum for the port’s District 1 candidates before the Gateway Rotary Wednesday morning. Barner is seeking a third term on the commission. His challenger is Joe Downing, a former member of the port’s citizen advisory committee and a senior financial examiner for the state.

The candidates mostly fielded questions from Rotary members, but near the end of the forum, each candidate had the chance to ask their own question. Downing went first, asking Barner about a recent port commission work session in which Barner stated his reluctance to officially adopt the code of conduct policy.

Barner clarified that he supports the code of conduct policy but not by resolution.

“We are adults,” he said about the commission. “We know how to operate and manage ourselves and collaborate and work with everyone.”

The code of conduct policy was created by port commissioner Bill McGregor, former commissioner Jeff Davis, and Barner in 2013. It was then framed and hung on port property.

But the port’s legal counsel, Heather Burgess, said during a recent port work session that the code of conduct policy is not enforceable without the resolution. At that work session, commissioners McGregor and Michelle Morris expressed support for a resolution.

When Barner had the chance to pose a question to Downing on Wednesday, he asked whether Downing supports the transportation of crude oil through the county.

“I’m not going to get in the middle of interstate commerce as a port commissioner,” Downing said, but he pointed out that he does care about the dangers that volatile crude could pose to the area.

“They need to look at rail cars to make sure they are very, very safe,” he said.

Barner does not support the transportation of crude oil through the county and passed a resolution to that effect with former commissioner Sue Gunn last year. Commissioner McGregor voted against it.

The rest of Wednesday’s forum was spent discussing the future of the port’s marine terminal and its lackluster pace of business. Both candidates believe the port needs to diversify its cargo. Downing thinks shipping cargo to Alaska could be a good fit — and one that wouldn’t be subject to currency fluctuations — while Barner reiterated his support for the port’s longshore workers and recently hired marine terminal director Len Faucher.

Downing has a commanding fundraising lead over Barner, according to state Public Disclosure Commission data, with his total approaching $30,000. His top cash contributor is former port citizens advisory committee member Clydia Cuykendall.

Barner has raised about $8,000. His top donor is the Thurston Lewis Mason Labor Council.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

rboone@theolympian.com

@rolf_boone

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