Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Oak Tree Preserve Case: Commissioners Hear Appeal; Romero Recuses Herself

Above: The Thurston County Commissioners held a hearing today at 4:30 p.m. at the Courthouse about the proposed Oak Tree Preserve housing development. The case before the commissioners is an appeal of a decision by a hearing examiner who approved the development's preliminary plat.

By Janine Unsoeld

The Thurston County Commissioners heard brief oral arguments from both sides of the proposed Oak Tree Preserve land use case in a hearing this evening that lasted just slightly over an hour. A standing room crowd flowed out into the hallway.

The case before the commissioners is an appeal of the May 5 decision by Thurston County hearing examiner Sharon Rice, who approved the preliminary plat for a massive housing development in Lacey’s urban growth area.

The proposed development on Marvin Road is partially bordered by the Burlington Northern Railroad and would subdivide 258.5 acres into 1,037 single family homes and remove 36 out of 76 acres of Oregon white oak habitat. Oregon white oak is a state-protected priority habitat.

The appellants claim the project, as currently planned, is in violation of the county’s critical areas ordinance. They want the case sent back to the hearing examiner so that additional evidence may be added to evaluate the functions and value of white oak habitat and, if any of the acreage can be saved, what mitigations should be used.

In a land use case that is constantly charting new territory, Commissioner Sandra Romero recused herself from the case after the developer’s attorney took issue with her disclosures that she has had ex parte communications with citizens within her district. 

The Oak Tree Preserve property is located in Romero’s district. In her opening comments, Romero stated that she had met with citizens over five years ago, in February 2010, regarding traffic concerns and the development proposal for that location at that time. A second interaction was in October 2014, again, with citizens concerned about traffic issues, and the third was when a citizen recently emailed her wanting to discuss the current case. That individual was told she could not discuss the case.

Romero also said that she attends, almost every year, the Black Hills Audubon Society annual dinner, which is a fundraiser. She said she does not believe she’s been to a Blacks Hills Audubon Society meeting. The Black Hills Audubon Society is one of the appellants of the current case before the commissioners.

Romero said that she did not believe that any of these interactions would interfere with her ability to make an impartial decision in the case. 

Commissioners Bud Blake and Cathy Wolfe each stated that they have not had any ex parte communications, and each stated that they plan to make site visits to the Oak Tree Preserve property.

The applicant’s attorney asked Romero to recuse herself from the case.

Elizabeth Petrich, prosecuting attorney for the county, said that in her opinion, there was no technical violation of the appearance of fairness doctrine since all Romero’s communications with citizens occurred before the appeal was submitted. 

Petrich said that if Romero did choose to recuse herself, she should stay in the room and hear the case due to a rule called the “doctrine of necessity” - if in the case of a lack of a quorum on the commission or there’s a split vote in the decision, then Romero can cast a vote.

Romero said that she did not want to delay the hearing and recused herself from the case.

“I kind of anticipated that this might happen and even though I don’t like it, I’m going to recuse myself and I just think it’s a sad state of affairs when a commissioner can’t meet with constituency even though you don’t even have any inkling that there’s going to be an appeal, so, but…to move forward, it’s in the best interest to recuse myself,” said Romero.

Giving something to each side in quick form, Commissioner Blake made three motions on the procedural issues before the commissioners, all seconded by Wolfe, that:  1) denied the appellants request to add county planning manager Mike Kain’s August 26, 2013 email to the record; 2) denied the project applicant’s request to strike from the record the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) comment letter of June 2, 2015; and 3) allows both parties to submit new evidence establishing or disputing wildlife observation information submitted by Curtis Wambach, a biologist for the developer.

The commissioners gave the developer a deadline of June 24, 5:00 p.m. to submit a declaration by Wambach. The commissioners gave the appellants a deadline of June 25, 5:00 p.m. to respond to the developer’s information, if they file any.

County Email to Oak Tree Preserve Developers

The recently discovered August 23, 2013 email from Mike Kain, county planning manager, to Kevin O’Brien of Oak Tree Preserve, clearly informs O’Brien and others of Fish and Wildlife’s position, as well as the county’s, early on in the process:

“The preliminary recommendation of WDFW is that all oaks in all areas except in area 4 be saved….” The email describes exceptions and mitigation for the loss of oaks in that area and for roads.

Indicating that something went awry in the relationship between the county and WDFW between 2013 and the present, the email continues:

“…The WDFW recommendation will be the County’s recommendation to the Hearing Examiner. After review, WDFW could not recommend saving just the best 50% or 67% of the oaks. WDFW believes the entire linear oak grove formed by areas 1A, 1B, 2 and 3 is valuable habitat and should be preserved. The County Code also lists avoidance as the first priority in the protection of critical habitat. In this case, it is clear that avoidance of critical habitat is possible. This is a preliminary recommendation by WDFW, and therefore also of the County….”

Appellant Argument

Liz Lyman spoke for the appellants, who were not represented by an attorney.

“The appellants are not asking you to deny the project or to change the examiner's findings and conclusions. Why are we asking a remand? Because the record on which the hearing examiner based her decision is incomplete and inaccurate; your 2009 Critical Areas Ordinance on important habitats requires the developer to submit a wildlife study and to determine the impacts of the development on the wildlife habitat - the developer has not done this. It only looked at two species, the Western gray squirrel and Mazama pocket gopher….the developer submitted a habitat management plan that is incomplete and misuses science to evaluate its mitigation measures. The developer then concludes erroneously that there will be no net loss of the oak habitat's ecological function.”  

She detailed the appellants concerns for each of her points.

Regarding the methodology of how the oaks were graded based on their condition, Lyman said, “The developer claims that its habitat management plan preserves the best oak stands. This simply isn't true. Is cutting down the second best quality oak stand and leaving behind a two acre residential park that's fated to die - is this what you believe your critical areas ordinance means by protecting and preserving critical wildlife habitat,  or by avoiding and minimizing impacts?”

In conclusion, Lyman said, in part, “….Remanding gives the citizens of this county some assurance that the county's decision on what is preserved and what is removed of this largest remaining oak habitat in Thurston County will be based on fact, and not fiction….”

Applicant’s Argument

In his remarks, the developer’s attorney, Patrick Mullaney, discussed issues of balance, rationality, and fairness.  He said that this case has been unpredictable for his client and that the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has “waffled all over the place as to what it wanted in oak habitat preservation.”

He said that by agreeing to a 55% set aside of oak habitat, which he said is far more than any other plat that has been approved under the 2009 version of the Critical Area Ordinance, the developer “foregoes the development of 131 lots with a cost of $3.2 million, so it has made a substantial commitment to environmental mitigation.”  He said 100% oak habitat preservation, at a loss of 323 lots, would cost the developer $8 million, rendering the project unfeasible.

He cited several federal land use court cases to support his arguments about the “rational relationship between mitigation and a specific impact to the proposed development.”

Lastly, he said, “If there’s any bad actor in this case, it’s the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, because they had years to look at this habitat management plan....”

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is not an appellant in this case.

In her rebuttal, Lyman responded, in part, that Mr. Mullaney always conflates the appellant’s position with the WDFW’s position, and the appellants aren’t asking for 100% preservation of the oak habitat.

When Commissioner Blake asked a follow up question about the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s position, and whether they are using 100% as a part of the appellant’s position, she clarified WDFW’s position, saying they would like 100% preservation, except for unavoidable impacts.

“….Basically, the position in our critical areas ordinance is the same….Yes, there is mitigation sequencing…but avoidance has a special place in the ordinance ….so obviously when you’re building roads and houses, you’re going to have impacts.”

When Commissioner Blake again asked the same question, Lyman responded, “I’m not sure that’s really relevant to us. Basically, our position is that nobody has the answer because there’s no information about that (due to the lack of a wildlife habitat study) , so, quite frankly, WDFW doesn’t have that answer either….”

The commissioners said that they will issue a written decision on the case by July 8.

For several past articles about the Oak Tree Preserve land use case, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com  and use the search button to type in key words.

Above: After today's hearing, interested folks crowd around a projected image of the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development in Lacey's urban growth area.

Friday, June 19, 2015

County Commissioners to Hear Proposed Oak Tree Preserve Development Case

By Janine Unsoeld

The Thurston County Commissioners will discuss the merits of a citizen appeal of the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development at a hearing open to the public on Tuesday, June 23, 4:30 p.m., Building 1, Room 280, at the Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Olympia. 

The Oak Tree Preserve plat appeal hearing follows the commissioner’s regularly scheduled commissioner’s meeting. Only those who are party to the case - the developer and those who appealed the hearing examiner’s approval of the project – may speak at the hearing.  Each party’s argument will be limited to 15 minutes.

Although the county is a party of record, it is unclear to Little Hollywood if the county is considered to be a party to the appeal. A joint motion issued by the county and the developer in early June seems to further blur the line between the county’s role and the developer’s goals and objectives.

A group of Thurston County citizens and the Black Hills Audubon Society are challenging Thurston County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice’s approval in April of the proposed Oak Tree development in the City of Lacey’s urban growth area of Thurston County. The group says that the subdivision plan would destroy a vital wildlife habitat and is in violation of the county’s critical area ordinance.

The proposed development on Marvin Road is bordered by the Burlington Northern Railroad and the McAllister Park and Evergreen Estates subdivisions in unincorporated Lacey, and would subdivide 258.5 acres into 1,037 single family homes, said to be the largest in the county’s history. 

The development site is home to the largest remaining Oregon white oak habitat in Thurston County.  Oregon white oak is a state-protected priority habitat.  The proposed development would destroy almost half of the 79 acres of Oregon white oak woodlands on the site.

Thurston County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice decided in favor of the preliminary plat and the Thurston County Resource Stewardship Department staff supports the hearing examiner's decision. The decision was appealed in May by citizens Bonnie and Bob Self, Donald and Liz Lyman, Lisa Carroll, Bill Koopman, Liz Kohlenberg and the Black Hills Audubon Society.

The appeal contends that the subdivision plan violates Thurston County’s critical areas ordinance and that it should be remanded to the hearing examiner. The group argues that the subdivision’s preliminary plat:

1)      Does not include the required study of wildlife that is associated with oak woodlands, even though the county ordinance says protection of wildlife is the most important function of the priority habitat.  The developer’s expert admitted in her testimony that a wildlife study was not done, and said: “It was my understanding that a wildlife study was not required at that time.”

2)      Misuses science to conclude that the habitat function of the woodlands will be the same after development as before – even when the development destroys almost half the woodlands, bisects what remains with a road, and surrounds it with a dense housing development. State law requires the use of best available science in development regulations – and this was not best available science.

Late Breaking News

The appellants, who include two former county planning commissioners and several retired scientists, have asked that the project be remanded back to the hearing examiner.

Today, the appellants filed a document in support of its earlier motion that asks the county commissioners to allow new evidence that the appellants discovered after the hearing examiner closed the record. That motion is being opposed by both the developer's attorney and the Thurston County Resource Stewardship Department’s counsel, Rick Peters.

In a June 3 response to the appeal, Peters claimed that Thurston County code does not allow the record to be supplemented, that the appellants do not have standing to challenge the hearing examiner's decision, and that part of the appeal should be denied and/or dismissed on procedural or substantive grounds.

“No argument provided by appellants should invalidate the findings and conclusions of the hearing examiner,” says the letter by Peters.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is not a party to the Lyman appeal, but in a June 2 letter to the commissioners, habitat biologist and environmental planner Theresa Nation said the department concurs with the appellant’s analysis of the errors in the evaluation of impacts to oak woodlands.

“We agree that the assessment of the impacts to oak woodlands was flawed and inconsistent with best available science. We agree that an accurate assessment of the impacts and adequate mitigation measures are necessary….” wrote Nation.

“….In support of Governor Inslee’s Results Washington initiative, WDFW tracks and reports the status of oak woodlands statewide. The Results Washington goal is to lose no more than 31 acres of oak woodlands annually throughout all of Puget Sound. This one proposal would cause losses well beyond the annual sound-wide goal,” wrote Nation. She went on to say that the appellants in this case have requested a reasonable solution to the serious issues brought forth in their case.

County-Developer File Joint Motion

A joint motion filed on June 8 by the county Resource Stewardship Department and the development applicant, Oak Tree Preserve, LLC, asks the commissioners to strike from the record the June 2 letter from Nation, which is posted on the county’s website. The motion says that the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is not a party to the appeal, and should be considered as new evidence.

However, the county's appeal process, outlined in a notice dated May 20, specifically allows all parties of record, not just the parties to the appeal, to respond to the appeal by the deadline of June 3.

Theresa Nation, representing the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, is among those listed on the county's master list of parties of record.

The joint motion by the county and Oak Tree Preserve to strike WSDFW’s response to the appeal raises questions and it could be considered odd that the county and the developer would issue the joint motion.

Although the public cannot speak at Tuesday’s hearing, witnesses to the hearing can learn about the land-use case first-hand by observing the local process.

“The fate of these oak woodlands, the wildlife and the quality of life in Thurston County hangs in the balance,” said Liz Lyman in an interview today.

Full Disclosure: Janine Unsoeld is listed as a party of record for providing testimony at the March hearing on behalf of the board of the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH). She nor SPEECH is a party to the appeal.

For more information about the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development, including pictures of the site, see several stories at Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type key words into the search button.

For Thurston County’s information about the case, go to http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/hearing/hearings/oak-tree-preserve/otp.htm

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Morris Sworn In as Port Commissioner

By Janine Unsoeld

Above: Michelle Morris is congratulated this morning by Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall after swearing her into office as a Port of Olympia Commissioner.

Morris is a principal in Sound Resource Management Group, Inc., Olympia. Previously she served as executive director of Sustainable South Sound, founder/director of Thurston County Critical Areas Ordinance Coalition, founder/director of Concerned Citizens of Thurston County and information analyst/global code of conduct for Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Finance and a Masters in Environmental Studies from The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Morris said this morning that she will attend the port’s work session meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 18.

Port of Olympia staff member Jeri Sevier said Morris’ official email address is expected to be set up by the end of the day, and will be michellem@portolympia.com

For more information about the Port of Olympia, go to www.portolympia.com or see other articles about the port at Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Port of Olympia Commissioners Appoint Michelle Morris

Above: Michelle Morris was appointed this evening to Port of Olympia Commissioner Position #3. She will serve for about five months. Morris is not running for election to the position and said in her application that her goal is to provide a smooth transition from the vacancy left by former commissioner Sue Gunn. She says she will continue Gunn's conversations about agriculture, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.

By Janine Unsoeld

Port of Olympia commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor tonight appointed Michelle Morris to fill commissioner position #3, formerly held by Sue Gunn.

“Thank you very much…I’m honored,” said Morris, who was present at tonight's port meeting. The publicly noticed meeting was held tonight rather than a usual Monday evening due to scheduling difficulties.

Morris said she will be sworn in at the Thurston County’s Auditor’s Office tomorrow afternoon. She will hold the position from June 11 to November 24, when the general election is formally certified. Morris is not one of the applicants running for election to the position.

Outside the meeting room, as well wishers congratulated her, Morris said, “I’m thrilled that they expedited this process instead of letting it drag on. I’m really excited to get business moving forward…I have a lot of homework to do!”

Her first meeting is expected to be Monday, June 22, unless she can attend a port work session meeting on Thursday, June 18.

An executive session of the commissioners started at 4:00 p.m. tonight at which Commissioners Barner and McGregor discussed the applicant’s resumes, responses to questions, and qualifications.

Barner said he was very impressed with E.J. Zita’s application, responses to questions and interview, but said it would be inappropriate to choose someone who is committed to running for election to the position.

McGregor agreed, and after saying that he was impressed with the quality of each candidate, recommended Fred Finn to fill the position.

Barner disagreed. Calling former commissioner Sue Gunn an intelligent and bright woman, Barner said he felt sensitive to the issues that have been raised by the public, and said that the position ought to be filled by a woman.

“I’m seriously interested in affirming the actions of the voters of District #3 in electing Commissioner Gunn….The issue of diversity is real, and new to this board of commissioners, but one that was said loud and clear by the electorate when they elected her to this position….” said Barner, who then promptly made a motion to appoint Michelle Morris.

McGregor quickly agreed, and seconded Barner’s motion, saying he did not want to see the decision go to the Thurston County commissioners. 

Both welcomed Morris to the position, with Barner adding that he has served the last three years with Morris on Thurston County’s solid waste advisory committee and appreciates her thoughtfulness in that capacity. McGregor earlier noted her financial and small business experience as assets for filling the position.

George Sharp, Dick Pust, and Fred Finn were in attendance at tonight’s meeting, and quickly congratulated her on her appointment. 

Port of Olympia Commission meetings are held at 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. Work sessions are held 2:30 p.m. Thursday before the fourth Monday of each month. All meetings are held at Tumwater Town Center, 7241 Cleanwater Drive SW, Tumwater. 

For more information, go to www.portolympia.com.

In other port news, a public meeting on the master planning process for development of its real estate in Tumwater will be held Thursday, June 11th, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., at the Comfort Inn, 1620 74th Avenue SW, Tumwater.

The master plan will guide future growth within the New Market Industrial Campus and Tumwater Town Center. Questions that will be discussed at the meeting: How the properties' physical and environmental characteristics will influence development and what unique economic opportunities the New Market Industrial Campus and Tumwater Town Center Port districts offer the Thurston region.

The two districts total over 500 acres which may be developed for commercial, industrial or other uses.

For past articles about the Port of Olympia, including the process to fill Position #3, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and use the search button to type in key words.

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.

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.