Thursday, May 3, 2012

Petition Drive Launched to Expand Bellingham Port Commission

In the wake of the under-pressure resignation last month of the Port of Bellingham’s executive director, a group of Whatcom County, Washington residents have launched a petition drive to change the makeup of the port’s three-member port commission.

During the commission’s May 1 meeting, several organizers of a petition drive addressed the commission, saying they’re seeking to have the port commission expanded from three members to five.

The rationale, they said, is to help prevent situations like the one that happened April 3, when executive director Charlie Sheldon submitted his resignation, which became effective at the end of that month. Sheldon’s resignation came six months after commissioner Scott Walker had called for his ouster; Walker was upset that Sheldon had authorized the port’s aviation director to take a trip to a conference in the Caribbean without informing the board first.

Although the board voted 2-1 against Walker’s motion at the time, the damage had been done, and Walker and Sheldon’s professional relationship deteriorated in subsequent months. Sheldon’s resignation and a severance package for him were accepted on a 2-1 April 3 vote by the board, despite vocal support for Sheldon at the time by numerous port stakeholders, including former Mayor Dan Pike, commercial fishermen and labor activists.

During the commission’s May 1 business meeting, the petitioners said that more members of the commission are needed in order to make better decisions. They requested that the commission ask the Whatcom County auditor to place a measure regarding the number of commissioners on the August ballot.

The request is expected to be discussed during the commission’s next public meeting, scheduled for Mon., May 14.