Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fishburn Enters Race for Olympia Port Commissioner

Above: Bill Fishburn is running for Port of Olympia Commissioner, District 2, to unseat incumbent Bill McGregor. Fishburn, 47, of Rainier, is a project management consultant and active community member with the Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound and other nonprofit organizations. He made his announcement in front of a group active with port issues on Sunday night in downtown Olympia.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Bill Fishburn, 47, of Rainier, has formally announced that he is challenging Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor for his District 2 seat.  

He made the announcement in front of a group of community members active with port issues at a meeting on Sunday night in downtown OlympiaAbout 35 people were in attendance.

According to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, McGregor has raised $24,600 to date for his reelection campaign.The filing deadline for the position is May 19.

For Fishburn, the decision to run wasn’t rocket science, but luckily, he is a rocket scientist, having received his bachelor of science in aeronautics and astronautics engineering from the University of Washington, and his master of science in mechanical engineering from University of California, Berkeley.

Employed for 21 years with the Intel corporation in a variety of capacities, Fishburn was a senior technical program manager in DuPont until he was downsized out of his job during a recent restructure. 

While at Intel, he earned a division recognition award for creating two new processes that saved the division an estimated two million in time and resources.

Unemployed since October 2016, he recently decided to go into business for himself as a consultant.

His business, Six Pennies Consulting, now consults on project management, human resources, team development issues, executive coaching and the performance management of employees.

Appearing a little nervous in front of the group, Fishburn readily acknowledged that he has a lot to learn. He took questions for well over an hour, which turned into an educational listening and learning session about current port issues. 

He says many people don't know that the Port of Olympia serves all of Thurston County.

“I want to strengthen the idea that led the people of Thurston County to create a public port in the first place: exploring new, forward looking, pioneering ways of developing our economy for the good for the county's residents.

The Port runs four distinct businesses - not just the marine terminal, but the airport, Swantown Marina and Boatworks, and several large properties around the county. Three of these operate at a deficit. To put it another way, if you live in Thurston County, more than five million dollars of your taxes are supporting three money-losing ventures every year.

When I learned that, I realized the Port is not providing value to the community, it's taking value from the community. That appears unethical, and I want to change that....I want the Port to be fiscally responsible. I want it to be an ethical asset, he told the group.

“As I look at the Port of Olympia, a port depending on fossil fuels as a revenue source, a port clinging to an industry of years gone by...I know there are new ways to responsibly use our tax dollars, new ways to drive a 21st century economy, and new ways to better reflect our values,” he said.

When asked, he said that it was time for the port to recognize that the Port's decisions have impacts far beyond our county borders, and he would revisit controversial cargo and business contracts, such as the port's acceptance of ceramic proppants.

Bev Bassett, an articulate, active watcher of port activities for the past three years, says she is supporting Fishburn and will be volunteering for his campaign as a field organizer.

“The better I know Bill, the more enthusiastic I am about him. He demonstrates a fast learning curve and his values shine through. He talks about fiscal responsibility, integrity, and environmental stewardship, as if they are rooted in his world view. That's refreshing. His high level science and project management skills make him a perfect fit for reshaping the Port of Olympia in ways that will take us into the future of global warming so that our basic needs can better be met by our shared community resource — the 1,650 publicly owned acres that are the Port of Olympia,” said Bassett. 

Port Commissioner E.J. Zita, who is running for re-election to her seat, was in the audience, and said she has endorsed Fishburn.  

“I'm getting to know him and I think he's a great guy. I think he'd be a great colleague. He's clearly responsive to the needs of the port and the people, and he values fiducial responsibility and accountability. He values transparency and openness, he's listening to the people, he values economic stewardship and he's a smart businessman. He knows that we have to look at both the costs and the benefits square in the face in order to make ends meet, and we have a responsibility to the people to do better, said Zita, after the meeting.

Above: Bruce Fortune, left, shares some of his questions and concerns with Port of Olympia candidate Bill Fishburn on Sunday night in downtown Olympia.

Little Hollywood Interview

Little Hollywood tagged along with Fishburn for a portion of his busy Saturday, starting at the Olympia Timberland Library down to the Olympia Farmer's Market, asking him questions about his life, why he is running for the position, and his thoughts about a variety of port and community concerns.

Fishburn came straight from the March for Science rally at the state Capitol Building to speak to participants of a writing workshop conducted by Kathleen Alcala at the Olympia Timberland Library. 

Fishburn is president of the Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound, and the event was cosponsored by the organization. He began representing Intel as a member of the Roundtable in 2008, providing support for the group’s annual Latinx Youth Summit. 

The summit rotates throughout the five counties at regional two and four year colleges. 

Partnering with about 15 federal, state, and local entities, including nonprofits, business, and government, school districts, and the regional Timberland Regional Library, the summit held late November at The Evergreen State College gathered 496 students, the most ever in its 14 year history.

The Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound is also involved with civil and immigration rights, educating the Latinx community about what they can expect from law enforcement and other officials.

Fishburn is also a board member of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington.

He is married to his wife of 26 years, and has two biological sons and an adopted nephew, all in their 20s. He lived in Lacey from 1996 to 2003, and has lived in Rainier since 2003.

Little Hollywood: Why and how did you come to the decision to run for port commissioner?

Fishburn: One of the things that attracted me to running for port commissioner was that I live in rural Thurston County and pay my taxes, but I didn’t know, like many of my neighbors, that our taxes are going to pay for this port.

I’m a Bernie-crat. I was getting frustrated with our national candidates during the presidential election process, and the state’s superdelegate and primary process. Then, after Trump won the election, I couldn’t sleep for two weeks. During that time, I just kept getting more and more vocal and started looking for a progressive group that I could get involved with. I found the Thurston County Progressives and members of that group encouraged me to run for port commissioner.

Asked about the port’s involvement with its continued acceptance of ceramic proppants and other controversial cargo, Fishburn questioned the Port’s stance that the Federal Shipping Law of 1984 determines the port's acceptance of any and all cargo.

Fishburn: The thing that’s interesting to me about the port that I’ve heard is that cargos are amoral, and I don’t know if I agree with that.

I think that every business decision has some sort of base in morality, whether that’s a religious basis or a secular basis, and we have to look at more than just how many dollars something is going to produce. We have to look at whether it’s the right decision for our community and the values of our community. Those values define what morality means for our community.

Based on my research, it seems pretty obvious to me that the community is being ignored on specific cargos such as fracking proppants and military cargo. These seem to me to be cargo the community clearly does not want transported through their yards and neighborhoods but they are being ignored. I just have to ask myself, why is that?

LH: Do you agree with this stance, that the port must accept ceramic proppants and any other cargo?

Fishburn: There’s a lot of room for interpretation in that ‘safe and legal’ language.

LH: So what should the port be doing? 

Fishburn: Do I have an alternative cargo? No, but we can find alternative sources of income. The port seems to be holding onto a lot of 20th century cargo concepts and opportunities. We could be looking at alternative energy products. 

In Washington State, ports are pretty powerful entities and if we want to start looking forward to 21st century energy concepts or job opportunities, we have to look at clean energy.

I think a huge opportunity that the port is missing out on right now is solar electric farms. They’ve got the land to do it, it sounds like. There’s open space at the airport that could be leveraged, and there could be some discussion with the FAA on how that interferes or follows under guidelines and rules.

LH: Is your background at Intel helpful for finding these alternatives?

Fishburn: One thing project management skills have brought me, and you learn this early on in becoming a project management professional, is that in order to have a successful project together, you have to bring all the stakeholders into your project and have a discussion about how your project is going to proceed, what those deliverables are, and how those deliverables will be executed and delivered.

When you do that, you get this broad perspective of opinions, views and expertise. If you don’t bring all those views to bear, you end up with a project that can very easily fail. At Intel, we didn’t like our projects to fail.

LH: Longshoremen and their families rely on port business and are in regular attendance at port meetings. They, in particular, will want to know whether or not you support the marine terminal.

Fishburn: I support job creation and concepts that look to a vibrant economic future for Thurston County. If the marine terminal meets those criteria, then I’m in support of it.

I’m a third generation union family. I was told my grandpa started a steelworker local in Spokane. He used to work for Kaiser Aluminum and a magnesium plant. My uncle was an executive for years with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (in Spokane), and Dad worked for 28 years as a member of the IBEW as an electrician for Burlington Northern.

So, it’s a tough position. The Longshoremen have a strong union and have done a great job at creating livable wages for themselves, but if you read the Port’s current mission, it’s all about making money, and from what I’ve seen on the finance side of the marine terminal, it doesn’t look like it's making money. Three out of four port businesses are losing money.

LH: Last November's citizen rail blockade of a train that carried ceramic proppants from the port put the tenuous relationship between the city and the port on full display. The relationship appears to be quite dysfunctional, and the Port and the city seem to work in separate bubbles. 

The community is very interested in sea level rise issues, and now the City of Olympia, Port of Olympia, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance will be collaborating on roles and plans. 

How do you think the Port should work with the City of Olympia?

Fishburn: I attended one port meeting, and I was so surprised by the language used at the meeting. It was so exclusionary! I heard language like ‘the port makes its own decisions,’ and I thought, wow, this is an entity whose front door is Olympia, and this is how they talk? I live in a rural area and if I had that kind of attitude about my neighbor across the street, we wouldn’t get anything done.

If you can’t build a coalition, you are going to have a short lived project, whether it’s for sea level rise, or any other project. It’s going to be late, over cost, or out of scope.

LH: Do you believe in climate change and the impacts of sea level rise?

Fishburn: I absolutely believe in climate change. Deniers deny science. Our lives revolve around science.

Asked about the role of the port’s executive director, Fishburn says the lack of transparency about how decisions are being made bothers him.

Fishburn: I’ve never met the executive director, but the way that I believe that these entities should relate, based on my nonprofit experience, is that you have a board of directors - the commissioners, in this case - and you have an executive director and staff. The executive director is beholden to the commissioners, not the other way around. He’s their employee. Sometimes, by the nuances I’m picking up, the commissioners are reporting to the director, and that seems backward.

LH: The port recently changed its policy of not transcribing citizen comments into the meeting minutes. Now just the person’s name is listed, with no context of what they said. Commissioner McGregor says that anyone who wants to know what was said can just go to the video. Are you interested in revisiting the issue of how meeting minutes are transcribed?

Fishburn: To have access to information 100 percent of the time, you have to have access to technology, and not everyone does, and not everyone learns the same way. If we truly want to be an inclusive community, we’d make those minutes available in a variety of ways to as many people as possible. I know someone who has a hard time hearing. She’s 90 years old. She’s supposed to watch a video or come to meetings? That’s excluding her from the conversation.

LH: On to a couple of other random port issues, how would you have voted regarding the recent fuel dock expenditure and construction? The fuel dock was approved by two out of three commissioners knowing it would lose one million dollars over the life of the fuel dock and cost over three million in permits and studies.

Fishburn: It could have been a private enterprise that could have met the same regulations. It’s another business endeavor based on aspirational finances. Typically, fuels have very low profit margins and based on the cost, it’s going to take a long time to earn back the money on a fuel pump. I question the fiscal responsibility of that decision.

LH: The port recently entered into five year option to lease the port's property to developer Walker John and his company, Urban Olympia LLC, located on State and Cherry Street near East Bay Drive in downtown Olympia.The property is near the mouth of Moxlie Creek, a stream that begins in Watershed Park and is now buried underground, and piped to East Bay and Budd Inlet. Many favor shoreline restoration of the area and are concerned about past contamination issues at that site. What is your position on that decision? 

Fishburn: I don't agree that the only option is to allow a developer to come along and develop the property.

LH: Are you in support of removal of the Fifth Avenue dam on the Deschutes River and Budd Inlet?

Fishburn: I am. We’re not the only port at the mouth of a river in Washington State. Thurston County is at the crossroads between the Cascades and the Olympics. There’s no reason that the natural beauty of our region can’t be better utilized to bring tourism through those crossroads as a gateway to other beautiful parts of Washington State.

Above: Bill Fishburn buys a bunch of radishes from a vendor at the Olympia Farmer’s Market, which sits on port property. “I love the Farmer’s Market. If I had time, I’d have a stall for my barbeque sauce. Fishburn said his dad developed a special family barbeque recipe after going to Oklahoma for summer camp with the Marine Corps.

As operations manager of the Intel DuPont Community Garden since 2009, Fishburn oversaw the production of 8,000 to 13,000 pounds of produce per year for five years for food banks in Pierce and Thurston counties. 

He also set the strategic direction and governance for the organization involving more than 80 gardeners.

A quick stop at the Olympia Farmer’s Market led Fishburn to ask questions about the relationship between the Port and the Market. 

“I’m not seeing the connection between local food producers and their relationship to the Port. One of the concepts of creating a food hub is connecting local agricultural workers, community farmers, and food producers. Is the Market producing revenue for the port? With all the commerce going on here, we should be shipping this around the world....”

Fishburn, who is Hispanic and speaks Spanish, was asked if his experiences in Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and other countries could be an asset to the position.

“Absolutely. Working in different countries, I learned an appreciation for other cultures. In India, I learned that you can’t be told yes if you don’t ask. There, they aren’t shy about asking for something they need, so it’s like an iceberg – watch what you see on the surface, but see below that surface, and you’ll gain an appreciation for other perspectives.

LH: What do you do for fun?

Fishburn: I brew beer, I have a granddaughter who will be 4 next month, and I like to bow hunt.

LH: Tell me about bow hunting.

Fishburn: It’s a little more ethical than rifle hunting and here’s why: you are on the ground, face to face with your quarry. I’ve taken three animals with my bow, and they died every bit as fast as they would have with gunshot. The longest shot I took was with a 25 yard shot, so that, to me, is a challenge, when you are on the same footing as the animals you are hunting. That, to me, is more ethical than if you are shooting something from a quarter of a mile away, or a half mile away.

LH: What kind of beer?

Fishburn: All kinds. I love IPAs. Those are my absolute favorite. I make a great oatmeal stout. I’ve won a couple of awards with it and it’s a fun beer to make....I made it past the first round of a national homebrew competition with an Imperial IPA, which is huge, because it’s a competition with over 700 other beers, potentially, and the two biggest categories are IPA and Double IPA. I took third, I think. I should know this. I’m trying to start a brewery.

LH: So, is this in Rainier?

Fishburn: Yes, we’re in the Thurston County Agritourism Overlay District that provides zoning advantages to food producers, craft distilleries and craft breweries. The Agritourism Overlay District provides recommendations to people who want to start something like that. It’s intended for 10 acres and over. 

My property is just on five acres. If they waive me in, the idea is to put a brewery that will produce about 1,200 to 1,500 barrels of beer a year. For me, it goes back to supporting the local economy with local business.

For more information about the Port of Olympia, go to the Port of Olympia at or Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.