Sunday, March 15, 2015

Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn Resigns for Health Reasons; Petition for Replacement Begins

Above: Aerial of the Port of Olympia marine property and the Olympia Farmer's Market, which sits on Port property, as seen here in December 2014. Under the blue tarps is a shipment of ceramic proppants, used in hydraulic fracturing operations in the North Dakota Bakken Oil Formation. This is just one issue that greets an incoming port commissioner who will replace Commissioner Sue Gunn. Last March, Gunn cast the lone dissenting vote against seeking bids for construction of a warehouse for the shipments.

By Janine Unsoeld

In a letter to the community on March 13, Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn resigned for health reasons. Her full letter is reprinted, below, in its entirety.
Little Hollywood reached out to Commissioner Gunn twice since late February and wishes her a full recovery.
Questions from Little Hollywood to Port of Olympia staff on February 18 about Gunn’s absence such as, “Should a replacement be appointed until she (Gunn) comes back?” and “What would be the process for this?” never received a response.
Paul Pickett, 58, Olympia, an environmental engineer who works for the State of Washington and teaches classes at The Evergreen State College, was considering a run for the Port against Commissioner George Barner, but recently decided against it, due to the recent, unexpected resignation of Commissioner Sue Gunn.
“Members of the community had approached me about running for the Port against George Barner and now Joe Downing. Their goal was to have another Commissioner with a vision of the Port similar to Sue Gunn’s.  I saw this potential race as a contest between “business as usual” and a different vision of a Port planning for a 21st century where our community and world is rapidly changing.
“Unfortunately, Sue’s health forced her resignation. That leaves our community in limbo regarding what happens next. Without the certainty that I would be working with Sue should I be so fortunate as to win the seat, I’ve decided to end my planning for a possible campaign.
“The community should monitor the next steps closely. Many questions remain. Who will step up to apply for the vacant position? Will George Barner and Bill McGregor agree on the candidate to fill the seat? If they don’t, who would the County Commissioners pick? And who will file in May to run for election to fill the final two years of that position?
“There are discussions roaring through community networks about this situation. We shall see how it shakes out,” says Pickett.
Petition to Port
One person who decided to make her voice known is Sherri Goulet, who is circulating an informal petition requesting that Port Commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor appoint someone who shares the values and vision of Gunn and her supporters. 
“We have about 10 days to gather as many signers as possible. I am beyond sad to lose Commissioner Gunn at the Port,” says petition organizer Sherri Goulet, Olympia.
“Since we don’t have a Move On type petition vehicle online and since we have a very short time frame, we’re doing it the old fashioned way.  If people email me that they wish to be included on the list of signatories, then they are included.  It’s not a formal petition that will be used in a legal fashion; it’s a statement of the facts, expressing support for Commissioner Gunn with a request that voters be included in the selection process for her replacement. The petition was created with a group process.  We did our best to convey the facts with perhaps a little editorializing included. Signatures will be solicited through Friday, March 20, and will be presented at the Port meeting on March 23,” says Goulet.
Those who would like to be added to the petition can email her at  
“Send me an email saying that you wish your name to be on the petition and pass this petition on to those you know who care about the environment, transparency in government and judicious use of taxpayer funds, and be thinking about a replacement for Sue—someone in District 3 who would be willing to run for her position,” says Goulet.
The petition reads:
Port Commissioner Sue Gunn was elected by the voters of Thurston County in November, 2013, beginning her term in January, 2014.  She’s been a strong advocate for an environmentally responsible port and has worked diligently to improve the Port’s relationship with the public, increase transparency, make the budget more comprehensible to all, apply Port funds more equitably across the county, support the Farmers Market and agriculture in Thurston County and see that a thorough analysis accompanies any decisions.  These are the issues she campaigned and won on, and she has been doing what she promised.
Currently Commissioner Gunn is recovering from open heart surgery.  In what appeared to many to be an effort to remove Sue Gunn from the Port Commission, Commissioner McGregor refused to excuse her from the February 27, 2015 Port meeting, saying she’d been absent “long enough.”  The failure to excuse a Commissioner from a meeting is a procedural maneuver that started a clock on a presumed 60-day deadline for Sue Gunn to return or be eliminated from the Commission.
Commissioner McGregor’s action was surprising, as there had been no direct communication with her from the Port.  In addition, this procedure was not invoked with the extended absence of Commissioner Barner several years ago.  This unprecedented maneuver occurred just when Commissioner Gunn had begun to recover from a series of health events following her surgery.  We denounce this act as not only lacking compassion, but also as undoubtedly causing increased stress to Commissioner Gunn.
The idea that one Commissioner attempted to undo the results of a democratic election is appalling.  Commissioner McGregor’s action undermines the voters’ will.  Although Commissioner Gunn has now announced her resignation, a personal choice driven by her health, Commissioner McGregor’s action remains unacceptable to us.
We strongly request that Commissioners Barner and McGregor involve the supporters of Sue Gunn in choosing an appointee who represents the views and values of the voters who put Commissioner Gunn in office.
Gunn’s Letter to the Community
Port Commissioner Gunn’s full statement, in her open letter to the voters of Thurston County distributed on Friday, March 13, is as follows:
Thank you for electing me over a year ago to the Commission of the Port of Olympia.  During that time, I have tried to serve your interests by working to make the Port an economic engine for all of Thurston County and to improve the transparency of Port operations and finances.
I have also worked to uncover faulty logic that has supported fiscally unwise decisions that would require taxpayers to subsidize expensive projects.  One example is the proposed construction of a fuel dock that would negatively impact existing local businesses that sell fuel, such as Boston Harbor Marina and Zittles without a return on investment for the taxpayers.
Environmental sustainability has been a high priority for me.  Importing fracking sand headed for the infamous Bakken oil field has been a primary concern.  With your help, we were able to force the Port to do the appropriate environmental studies prior to attempting to expand that operation and run more rail cars through Olympia.
In an effort to have your voices heard, I have been a strong proponent of strategic planning with extensive outreach into the community.  This type of outreach has not been done since 1996 and is long overdue at this public institution.  Strategic planning is the path to new economic development endeavors by the Port, such as supporting agriculture.  I have also endeavored to create new oversight committees, one for the Marine Terminal and one for the Airport, to improve relationships between these enterprises and the community.
I regret to inform you that I have decided to resign from my position on the Commission effective April 1, 2015, to allow myself the time I need to heal from recent heart surgery and associated complications.  There has been considerable pressure on me from the Port, and from one of the Commissioners, to return rapidly, which is not conducive to the extensive healing needed.  It’s necessary to take the time required to recover from this complex medical event.

If these ideas resonate with you, my hope is that you, the voters, will continue to articulate these priorities to the Port and insist that thorough analysis and accurate reporting accompany all Port decisions and that the Port find new, sustainable economic opportunities in the county.

Thank you for your past support and for all the good wishes I have received since undergoing my surgery.


Sue Gunn

For more information about the Port of Olympia and the absence of Commissioner Gunn, go to Little Hollywood, and view Port of Olympia meetings, particularly March 9, at:

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