Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Risky Business: Olympia Port Commission vs City of Olympia

Above: Part meeting, part trial, the Port of Olympia Commission met on Monday night with a capacity crowd present. The tenuous relationship between the City of Olympia and the Port of Olympia and county-wide community members involves risky business, and no dispute resolution seems to be in sight.

By Janine Gates

- Port tables discussion of City of Olympia’s hydraulic fracking, Standing Rock resolutions, meeting discussions with City

- 2017 Budget Passes, Downing sought to censure Zita for her role, conduct in rail blockade citing Little Hollywood, The Olympian news sources; McGregor refuses to vote for censure

- McGregor gives statement about Port's Role in Rail Blockade Raid, City of Olympia’s Chief Roberts’ statement 

Like a Thanksgiving family gathering gone bad, it was a Port of Olympia meeting that finally ended, after four hours and fifteen minutes of contentious, downright cringe-worthy, bickering behavior.

Much like the City of Olympia's council meeting last Tuesday night, the meeting room was nearly filled to capacity, and many wanted to speak or at least hear more information about the rail blockade of a Union Pacific train that ended November 18. 

The train, filled with ceramic proppants, was set to leave the Port of Olympia under contract with Rainbow Ceramics on November 11, but was forced to return to the port when protesters blocked the tracks. 

It was the first Port of Olympia meeting held after the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement raid on the camp, and like the council meeting, specific details were absent.

The 48 page agenda dramatically shape-shifted at the outset, with Commissioner Joe Downing dispensing with a discussion of the City of Olympia’s 2014 resolution concerning the oil-by-rail industry, hydraulic fracturing, and oil exports, and its October 2016 resolution in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

Commissioners were also scheduled to discuss the details of a possible meeting with the city.

“(We need) to determine, what the city does, if anything, about Chief Roberts' statement. We need to know where the city stands on protecting individual's private property rights and businesses that operate within the city's jurisdiction before we meet with them. It may also make sense that the city initiate a meeting with the port since they mentioned the port in their 2014 anti-fracking oil-by-rail resolution, and one of their employees spoke publicly and negatively about the Port,” said Downing. 

The motion to change the agenda was seconded by Commissioner Bill McGregor.

Downing said he was open to a meeting with the city through established channels, which would be between Olympia city manager Steve Hall and port executive director Ed Galligan.

“So far, we have not heard that from the city or conditions for that meeting,” said Downing. 

Commissioner E. J. Zita said that no decisions were to be made that evening about the cargo shipments, and discussion should proceed. 

McGregor suggested waiting until a work session in January to discuss it again. That suggestion was met with some snickers from the audience. 

Zita wanted to extend public comment to the amount of time it would have taken to have that discussion.

“The Washington Public Ports Association...encourages us to allow as much public comment as the people ask for....We clearly have some damage control to do…by taking the Washington Public Ports' advice, we would be taking a step in the right direction....I think they are giving good advice,” said Zita.

Downing responded that he took exception to the phrase “damage control,” saying, “The port is hurting as well...both sides have taken hits.”

Extending public comment to accommodate speakers was denied, but speakers were given more chances to speak that evening. 

Former Olympia city councilmember T.J. Johnson was one of the first to speak at public comment. Now a farmer, Johnson said that Downing's previous comments that protesters should 'move on to the next issue' was ridiculous. 

In response to McGregor's desire to wait until January to speak with the city about future shipments of ceramic proppants, Johnson said, “...Climate change is the issue. Fossil fuel extraction is the issue. The Arctic is 30 degrees warmer than has ever been recorded in history...scientists this week talk about 19 critical tipping points that were just exceeded in terms of climate change. The idea that people are protesting because they just need an issue to protest, no, this is the issue today, tomorrow, and in January, when you get around to your tabled resolutions, and for the next 100 years.... 

Susan McRae also spoke passionately about the shipments.

“The Nuremberg Trials were clear: when facing a great wrong, each individual is responsible for doing the right thing and working to prevent the injustice.  This is why I am here this evening. I consider the Port’s complicity with the fossil fuel industry a form of genocide. Our earth as we know it is being destroyed by global climate disruption....

“The available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that fracking is incredibly harmful. The citizens of Olympia know this.  The citizens of Olympia do not want the Port to be facilitating fracking in any form.

Several longshoremen spoke: Dwayne Napolean commented that everything on the docks is controversial by somebody's standards, Michael Blocker said that his wages come from the cargo, not the taxpayers, and Richard Korn said he moved here in the late 80s as a young Evergreen State College student against logging. 

The Port has given me a great standard of living, benefits, my children are happy and healthy and have healthcare...I owe that to the port....The port makes it a much nicer place to live in Thurston County.... said Korn.

Above:  Protesters who participated in the blockade, and bystanders who came downtown to help, assist with cleaning up the aftermath of the blockade, while law enforcement continued to guard the tracks on Friday afternoon, November 18.

Downing Seeks To Censure Zita

Yes, the port passed their 2017 budget and capital investment plan with substantial public comment, with the marine terminal revenue and operations still being the most unstable. 

The port continues to operate at a loss in the millions while taxing homeowners nearly $40 on a $230,000 home. Commissioner McGregor said that while he too hopes the port would be off the tax rolls, that it won't happen in his lifetime. 

Then, accusations of misconduct were leveled by Port Commissioner Joe Downing against Port Commissioner E.J. Zita in what amounted to a spontaneous trial.

Downing sought to formally censure Zita on three alleged infractions: talking to the press or public about information learned in executive session, speaking poorly of port staff, and misrepresenting herself as a port liaison in the rail blockade situation without authority.

Downing said Zita violated the port’s 2008 resolution regarding ethical standards, and two articles of its 2015 code of conduct, on integrity and respect. He also added an alleged violation to RCW 42.23.070 under Prohibited Acts, which states that no municipal officer may disclose confidential information gained by reason of the officer’s position.

To support the merits of his case, Downing used excerpts of stories from Little Hollywood and The Olympian, dated November 15, 16 and 17, which were placed on the viewing screen for the public. He proceeded to pummel her for well over an hour.

Zita capably defended herself, pro se, on each point, saying that the information she learned about a possible raid on the camp was not learned in executive session, that port executive director Ed Galligan had, in fact, called her and told her that the camp may be broken up on Thursday. She said she did not know that this was confidential information.

“We should all share concern for public peace and safety. Your way is to keep secrets. My way is to…not keep secrets,” Zita responded to Downing.

Downing continued with his charges, citing a paragraph in a story posted by Little Hollywood on November 15, “Olympia Rail Protesters Given Notice to Vacate, Port Commissioners Respond,” to accuse Zita of speaking poorly of Galligan.

The paragraph he cited, quoting Zita, states, “Port commissioners are responsible for setting port policy, and the executive director is responsible for carrying out the policy. While the executive director may have played a key role in securing the Rainbow Ceramics contract to move fracking proppants through the Port, future decisions on this matter rest with commissioners.”

Zita responded that the statement was neither accusatory nor inflammatory toward Galligan.

“What are our policies on accepting cargo? We haven’t finished that conversation…This is part of a conversation that we have yet to finish…and it’s our job to do that….” she said.

Downing said he sees it as a pattern of belittling the executive director. Zita denied the charge.

Finally, Downing accused Zita of misrepresenting her authority as a liaison of the port in speaking with the protesters. In response, she presented a string of emails dated November 16 – 23 between her and Galligan.

The emails explain the roles she and City of Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones played as liaisons in order to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation.

Her email to Galligan dated November 17 clearly states, “All involved understand that none of the participants are authorized to make decisions on behalf of their groups – Olympia Stand, the City, or the Port.” (Bolded and underlines are in the original email.)

Commissioner McGregor seconded the motion, “so we can get to public comment.” His second required the public comment, as the censure would be an action item. Weigh in they did - nearly 20 speakers. More than one said that Downing’s accusations were a “witch hunt,” and “embarrassing,” and demonstrated a lack of civility.

Many longshoremen spoke in support of Downing and congratulated him for protecting the marine terminal interests and their jobs.

Kelly Atkinson, senior vice president of Talon Marine Services of Seattle, said he represents the ships and vessels and in all his 20 years of coming to Olympia for business, has never seen a meeting like this. He questioned Commissioner Zita and whether she supported the marina division of the Port, saying she spoke in political doublespeak.

Earlier in the evening, Atkinson complimented the port, saying that crews felt safe and welcome in Olympia. He said that 25 vessels came to port, and crew members spent between $10,000 - $12,000 per port of call, dispersed through various channels, including food provisions and Capital Mall, generating about $300,000 a year into the community.

In Zita's defense, Franz Kilmer-Shoultz said that he was one of the protesters at the camp for nine hours a day, and said it was not Commissioner Zita who alerted protesters that a raid was imminent, but that it was, in fact, a city councilmember who told him.

The evening was so dramatic that Downing’s wife, Myra, felt compelled to step up to defend her husband.

Finally, McGregor said that while this has been a difficult discussion, he commended Downing for bringing up his frustration that the port has not been operating as a body of unity.

Instead of voting to censure Zita, McGregor recused himself, and suggested that all three of them be given a verbal warning.

“Let the healing begin,” he said, in part.

Downing said he felt he got his message across, and that the port needs to run more smoothly.

More public comment by a healthy mix of witnesses to the rail blockade raid, community members, longshoremen, and local economic development representatives ensued. For some, it was their first time at a port meeting, and they used a wide range of adjectives to describe the evening.

McGregor Clarifies Port Role in Rail Blockade

Capping off the evening, McGregor had a few words of his own about City of Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts' comments to city council last Tuesday, and clarified the Port's role in the raid on the blockade.

Roberts’ statement was transcribed by Little Hollywood and published in a November 23 article here: http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2016/11/olympia-police-chief-denounces-port-of.html

McGregor said that Roberts took an oath of office on the responsibility of police chief and has a legal obligation to respond to those who violate the law. He said he was not going to second guess the appropriateness of the response, and commended officers for enduring taunts and intimidation tactics used by the protesters.

...While we were involved early on in the planning of the removal (of the protesters), the planning changed dramatically due to sensitive information being disclosed to the newspaper earlier in that week by Commissioner Zita. In a follow up meeting, Port staff and/or commissioners were then excluded and were not part of nor privy to the planned action, date, time, etc. of law enforcement plans that were put into motion....

An email from Commissioner Zita to Galligan on November 23 and copied to City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby and city manager Steve Hall indicates that when Zita walked in on the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement meeting held at port offices on Thursday, November 17, the port's security lead was at the center of the head table. 

Zita says that after she noted the presence of the port security lead, he was then also escorted out.

For more photos and information about the Port of Olympia, the rail blockade of a Union Pacific train, the City of Olympia, Police Chief Ronnie Roberts' statement about the Port of Olympia and ceramic proppants, go to Little Hollywood, https://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and use the search button to type in key words.

Above: There are more ceramic proppants at the Port of Olympia. Photo taken of the Port of Olympia on November 22, 2016.