Port commission needs to chill

When E.J. Zita and Joe Downing were elected to the Olympia Port Commission last fall, we had hoped they could bring sharper scrutiny of port decisions and actions and also be a voice for transparency.

That hasn’t changed. A year into Zita’s two-year unexpired term and Downing’s four-year term, the duo are certainly stirring the pot.

Unfortunately, recent dust-ups between the three commission members over port cargo have boiled over a bit more than necessary.

The tension between Zita and Downing has been particularly sharp. But Zita has the higher road in insisting on transparency; Downing could learn from her.

Things got so bad during Monday night’s five-hour marathon port meeting that the third commissioner, Bill McGregor, spoke up and asked for more civil discourse.

“All three of us are part of the problem,” McGregor said.

He’s right — up to a point. It’s up to each commissioner to find ways to share and question ideas in ways that don’t attack the other person.

And yet, this is not solely a commissioners’ problem. There is a larger community problem to solve — namely disagreement over cargo shipments that include military gear and special sands used in the controversial oil and natural-gas extraction technique called fracking.

We think it can be solved with patience and a little skill-building. Commissioners were on the right track recently when they requested proposals from third-party experts who could help the commissioners communicate better and work together more constructively.

It was fair and reasonable to not hire the preferred consultant, Doug Mah and Associates, when it came to light Mah has a personal friendship with Downing. The port should and must try to operate free of any appearance of a conflict of interest.

But that should not be the end of it. We encourage the port to find someone else who can help bring the civility McGregor asked for.

Without it there is little hope that commissioners will find agreement on the divisive issues our community faces.