Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Port of Olympia Interviews Complete – Decision May Be Determined June 10

Above: Fred Finn interviewed today for appointment to the Port of Olympia commission.

Commissioner McGregor reveals mystery envelope question

By Janine Unsoeld

Port of Olympia commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor interviewed the four remaining applicants today for position #3. The selected person will hold the position until the November election is certified.

Larry Goodman, Fred Finn, Jerry Farmer and George Sharp each answered the same six questions posed yesterday to E.J. Zita, Dick Pust, Bob Jones and Michelle Morris. Each were then handed an envelope containing a mystery question posed by Commissioner McGregor and given instructions to answer the question in another room. Their reactions varied depending on whether or not they arrived early, or attended yesterday’s interview session.

Quick-witted Jerry Farmer, who arrived just before his interview and did not attend yesterday’s session, quipped, “It’s not a take home test?”

The commissioners hope to arrive at a decision in public at their port meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 10, 5:30 p.m. at Tumwater Town Center, 7241 Cleanwater Drive SW.  If they can’t arrive at a decision, the decision will be bumped to the Thurston County commissioners, who will have until September 28 to make their decision.

“After that, if they can’t make a decision, it goes to the Governor, then by that time we’ll have an election and it’ll all be over,” joked Commissioner McGregor.

Mystery Question Revealed

Speculation abounded as to the question in the mystery envelope. Outside after the meeting, Commissioner McGregor revealed the question to Rolf Boone of The Olympian and Little Hollywood

The question was: “In your opinion, what is the future of Capitol Lake?”

In the sometimes free-wheeling verbal interview process, Commissioner Barner led some applicants into a conversation about that subject while others offered their opinion on the issue without being asked. Some perceived the question to be a trap, and refused to fall into it, since the question of Capitol Lake’s future is not up to the Port Commission to decide. Barner said yesterday that he didn’t know the question posed by Commissioner McGregor.

The process for revealing applicant’s answers to the question was further clarified today. The handwritten answers will be scanned and placed on the Port’s website, www.portolympia.com, sometime on Wednesday, said port public information officer Kathleen White. When asked, penmanship, spelling, and grammar will apparently not be graded.

Today’s Interviews

Most of the eight candidates are well known to the commissioners, and some have served on boards with the commissioners due to the overlapping nature of our civic minded and active South Sound community.

Like yesterday, all the applicants interviewed today possessed strong and varied skill sets, and each offered articulate, compelling stories of their deep rooted personal and professional involvement in the South Sound.

Larry Goodman has lived in Olympia since 1967.  From that year through 1996, he served as the director of field services, state board activities and negotiations for the Washington Federation of State Employees. This role, as well as his other director-level positions and his 30 plus years of community service makes him a strong candidate, he says. Goodman said that he values participation in the community, being a representative of the working people and would exercise great fiscal responsibility as a commissioner.

Saying he was impressed with the port's materials, Goodman said, “The port has an enormous responsibility for the welfare of this community in so many areas – that’s what makes it a challenge and piques my interest...I'd listen a lot, and prepare myself for a full term....

Fred Finn has lived within the district for 27 years and has an extensive background in public service, including elective office, law, real estate development, contract and union negotiations, business and environmental experience.  Finn, a state representative from the 35th Legislative District from 2008 – 2012, said that the committees upon which he served all routinely examined issues directly impacting ports and their responsibilities. He is currently commissioner of the Washington State Lottery and a board member of the Washington State Ethics Board.

In his final remarks, Finn said that he is looking forward to the port’s economic benefit study, which is designed to calculate how much the community benefits directly and indirectly from port activities. He expressed concern about the methodology of the study, as did other applicants, and said he looked forward to that process.

Jerry Farmer is co-owner of 94.5 Roxy Radio. He arrived in Olympia in 1972 from California to help Dave Wilson start Dirty Dave’s Pizza Parlor. He said his experience as a popular announcer and master of ceremonies for charity auctions and events, from chambers of commerce to community non-profits, helps him be well versed in our community's connections. Farmer has long been involved with Thurston Community Television, and hosted a comedy show called “Funny Guy on the Prowl.” He is currently a business representative on the Thurston Regional Planning Council’s Transportation Policy Board.

Asked by Barner, “Why do you want to serve on the Port of Olympia commission?” Farmer responded:

“….To me, the port position seems like a great way to help the community and by that, I mean to help guide it to invest in the infrastructure that can create jobs - good paying jobs so families can spend money at local businesses like the farmer’s market, contribute to local charities, get the most out of our great recreational facilities and quite frankly, have the money to pay taxes to support and preserve our fantastic parks…ultimately making our quality of life that much better….Literally, the port is a way to help all those boats rise together.”

Farmer remembered the condition the port's marina area property used to be when he moved here and compared it to the way it is now. 

Frankly, I'm amazed. It used to be a cesspool...it was absolutely the most woe-be-gone section of town...legacy pollution, dilapidated buildings...it wasn't a very nice place, and since that time, it's become the gem of the South Sound...and sometimes those things get lost in the controversy over the port....

George Sharp served most recently as executive director of the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB), forging strong relationships with regional city, county, and port staff and elected officials.  He recently left that position to pursue his own community and economic development consulting business. Prior to his four year VCB stint, he worked for the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development in a variety of marketing, public relations, and tourism development positions.

Sharp offered several specific ideas for the Port to better communicate the port’s story to the community, including the creation of a television/web based series about port staff and their professional roles and responsibilities.

Sharp expressed support for several of the port’s current programs and said he’d like to be part of the commission to help explore several questions: “What do we do really well and what could we do better? What should we stop doing? What should we start doing because of new technologies? Who else should we be partnering with? What resources do we need to be successful? What are the fiscal impacts of the decisions we are making?”

He urged the commissioners to tap community expertise for best practices. “We don’t have to be the brainchild but know the world class leaders in our own community.”

Two-Step Process

The applicants who are not running for election to the position will serve roughly five months, until the November election is certified. Four applicants, E.J. Zita, Jerry Farmer, Bob Jones, and Larry Goodman are running for election to the position, the other four are not.

The applicants who are not running for election to the position explained why they wanted to be considered for the position.

Michelle Morris wrote in her application, “My goal is to provide a smooth transition from the vacancy left by Dr. Gunn’s resignation to the next office holder chosen by the voters. I will provide stability, exercise fiscal responsibility and make every effort to restore the public’s trust and demonstrate that public participation in their port is valued.”

Fred Finn wrote in his application: “It is my intent to remove the perceived advantage incumbency may have in the election. My not seeking election should not be considered any less a commitment to the Port and its vital functions.”

Dick Pust wrote in his application: “By not running for office, I can devote full attention to being a good Port commissioner and not be distracted by a campaign. Voters, meanwhile, will have plenty of time to get to know the candidates and make their selections during the primary and general elections. And, all candidates will have the opportunity to run as equals without having to run against an incumbent, who all too often, has an advantage.”

Commissioners are paid a $500 a month stipend and paid $114 a meeting up to 96 meetings a year, not to exceed $16,944. Commissioners and their dependents also receive health care benefits.

Both commissioners remarked that the decision will be difficult.

“This isn’t going to be easy,” said Barner.

Above: Larry Goodman, left, port staff Jeri Sevier, and Commissioner Bill McGregor chat before today's interviews.