Rolf Boone, March 10, 2015, The Olympian
The clock continues to tick on Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn’s tenure as a port commissioner after the commission failed to excuse her absence from Monday’s meeting.
Once again, Commissioner George Barner made a motion to excuse Gunn from the meeting, but it failed to advance because Commissioner Bill McGregor did not second the motion.
And once again McGregor explained his reasoning.
“Should one of the remaining commissioners have a need to be absent, the approval process would be halted for lack of a quorum,” he said.
He also took issue with those who referred to him as mean-spirited at a previous meeting.
“I think they should realize that it is simply a move to begin a process to ensure that the citizens of the community, who elected us to serve them, are being served as expected,” he said. “That’s my statement, and I’m sticking to it.”
Gunn, the newest of the three commissioners, underwent open-heart surgery Dec. 18. She expected to return within two months, according to a letter from Gunn that Commissioner Barner read aloud Monday night.
But that did not happen because she experienced some complications, including the need to be hospitalized again for four days.
But she also said in her letter that she anticipates returning to her role as commissioner March 31.
“I request my absence until that time continue to be excused,” Gunn wrote in her letter.
Gunn received a letter from the port in February, although the contents of the letter aren’t clear. The Olympian has filed a public records request.
McGregor explained that Gunn was excused from Nov. 24 to Feb. 16.
But the excused absences stopped on Feb. 17, although inadvertently, according to Commissioner Barner.
Barner said he forgot to make a motion to excuse Gunn at port meetings Feb. 17 and Feb. 19, then remembered to do so Feb. 23, but the motion failed for lack of support.
Under state law, if Gunn’s absences are not excused for 60 days, the port can begin the process to appoint a new commissioner.
McGregor said the 60-day period ends April 18. He also said during the meeting, after the port’s legal counsel looked into it, that medical leave laws “generally do not apply to elected public officials.”
Before the commission responded to the audience, they got an earful from several residents who testified in support of Gunn.
“I urge you to be patient and compassionate,” former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs told the commission.
One woman, who left soon after her testimony, used much stronger language, saying the whole thing “smacks of politics, dirty politics.” She also called it “disgusting” and told the commission, “It’ll come back to you.”
Others said that Gunn would never treat the other commissioners that way.
“The port needs to carry on and do its business,” said Tim Knittle of Olympia.
But two speakers also offered solutions.
Richard Korn of Olympia, a longshoreman at the port, suggested using an alternate to fill in for a vacant commissioner.
Nancy Baker-Krofft of Salem, Oregon, asked whether Gunn could participate in meetings by phone. “Why hasn’t that been tried?”
Port Executive Director Ed Galligan asked to make a statement after his name was mentioned during public comment, including whether he had reached out to Gunn.
“I find it very regrettable that people have made assumptions and allegations that I have not called Commissioner Gunn, or that I disagree with her,” he said. “It is my position to implement the policies that the commission directs.”