Monday, June 1, 2015

Port Commissioner Interviews Underway

Mystery envelope does not contain dinner coupon (supposedly)

By Janine Unsoeld

Port of Olympia commissioners Bill McGregor and George Barner interviewed four out of eight applicants today who have applied for appointment to Position #3 previously held by Commissioner Sue Gunn, who resigned for health reasons. Several members of the public and applicants were in attendance for the interviews.

E.J. Zita, Dick Pust, Bob Jones, and Michelle Morris answered six topical questions in separate, 40 minute interviews. Each were then handed an envelope containing a mystery question posed by Commissioner Bill McGregor.  Applicants then went to a room to answer the question in written form, and returned the envelope to Port staff member Jeri Sevier.

An explanation of the process, which had to be clarified, stated that the envelopes will be opened all at the same time and the answers will be posted on the port’s website at the conclusion of the interviews. Commissioners McGregor and Barner will not see the answers before the public.

When asked by Little Hollywood during a break, Commissioner Barner said he didn’t know what the question was, and didn’t think to ask the applicants any additional questions that he hadn’t already asked. Commissioner McGregor said the same question was in each envelope.

Port of Olympia citizen advisory committee member Richard Wolfe said he was shocked by the procedure, and questioned the process due to the issue of transparency.

Four more applicants, Lawrence Goodman, Fredrick Finn, Jerry Farmer, and George Sharp, will be interviewed tomorrow.

While most applicants reiterated what they submitted in their applications, fresh perspectives and opinions were revealed in the interviews. Several said that the tour of the port properties by staff was very helpful to their understanding of port operations.

Applicant E.J. Zita, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College with a Ph.D. in physics, teaches climate change issues, lives on a farm near port property by the airport in unincorporated Thurston County. As a member of the port’s New Market real estate development advisory committee and a longtime experience as a board member of her neighborhood association, Zita said she has appreciated getting to know Port staff,. She looks forward to helping the port work toward goals of smart development.

She discussed ways to create new economic development opportunities, such as the creation of a food hub, and defined what that meant. As a member of the Thurston County Agriculture Committee that reports to the Thurston County commissioners, Zita was well versed, saying that expanded farmer’s market centers on port property could include a certified industrial kitchen, and packaging and distribution areas that would allow farmers to add value to the products, and expand the area’s employment base with permanent jobs.

“There are a lot of food groups who want this….” she said.

Only applicant Michelle Morris, who owns a boat moored in Swantown Marina, asked the commissioners questions of her own in her final remarks, asking them what their priorities are in the next few months and if they felt like port business has been put on hold.

They replied that they have yet to revise and update the port’s State Environmental Policy Act process, and that the strategic plan process was also running behind schedule.

Morris said that her goal, as someone who did not file to run for election to the position, was to provide a smooth transition.

“The public needs to have a greater awareness about what you’re doing because it’s fascinating,” she concluded.

Above: Longtime radio announcer Dick Pust, an applicant for Port Commissioner Position #3, answers questions from Commissioners McGregor, left, and Barner. Pust was an announcer at KGY Radio from 1959 to 2011 and is now a morning talk show host at KXXO. He said the Port of Olympia has been a part of his life for almost as long as he could remember, and still gets a thrill when he sees the ships arrive and depart Budd Inlet. Voicing strong opinions in support of the hydraulic fracking industry and maintenance of Capitol Lake, Pust said his greatest strength is that he knows the people and history of Thurston County and would be open and respectful of many viewpoints.

Bob Jones, another applicant, has extensive military and local community experience. Serving over 21 years of active duty retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Jones says he brings his experience in logistics support operations to the port position. His private business as a consultant in the defense contracting industry deals with various agencies of the State of Washington and the federal government. He has also served in several community leadership positions, including the Thurston County Economic Development Council, several local chambers of commerce, and the Olympia Coalition of Neighborhood Association. 

Jones is currently the city’s military liaison to Joint Base Lewis McChord and a member of the Governor’s Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee.  Jones said he is a strong advocate for green energy, environmental stewardship, sustainable economic growth, family wage jobs, port transparency and public involvement.   

“I know the Port of Olympia has challenges, and I would look forward to sorting those out….” Jones clearly placed trust with the port’s executive director and staff, but said he would be an active participant in providing guidance and assistance. 

“I’ve always had positions in my life that required vision…I don’t need to necessarily see it to believe it, I need to believe in it to actually see it,” Jones said.

Calling himself a consensus builder, Jones said he can bring people together, and proposed solid ideas to the commissioners to increase public involvement, saying he’s used to bringing groups together. 

“…It could be called ‘The Port of Olympia Conversation’….Sorting out those issues…I’d start with a conversation and it will be a groundswell for expanding the groups to build consensus….”

Upon being given his envelope with the final mystery question, McGregor gave him his instructions for its use. 

Jones responded dryly, “Is this my dinner ticket?” The public will never know, but while the audience chuckled, he was assured it was not. 

Applicants E.J. Zita, Jerry Farmer, Bob Jones, and Larry Goodman have filed to run for the Position #3 commissioner position.