Editorial Board, October 8, 2013, Tri-City Herald
Few entities have a greater effect on the future of the Mid-Columbia than the Port of Kennewick.
Ports are always drivers of economic development, but the Port of Kennewick is poised to shape some large portions in the heart of the city as it redevelops Vista Field, the Columbia Drive corridor and waterfront and the former Tri-City Raceway property near Red Mountain.
Leadership will make all the difference in whether these projects become jewels of our region or nice tries that missed the mark.
That makes this election for Port of Kennewick commissioners all the more important.
One great thing for the residents of the port district is the quality of candidates vying for the two seats. You really can’t go wrong with this field of experienced and proven leaders: a former city council member, a former county commissioner, a former port director and an incumbent port commissioner.
Barnes vs. Givens, District 1
Of the candidates running for port commissioner, Don Barnes clearly has the least experience in public office. He’s a relative newcomer, having been appointed to fill a vacant seat on the board in May 2012 from a large field of very qualified folks. Barnes has 30 years of experience in commercial real estate.
His opponent, John Givens, has a vast rsum of banking and port experience. Givens served as a port commissioner in Clarkston for years before joining the Port of Kennewick as its executive director. He left that position after seven years in 2003 under challenging circumstances to re-emerge as a prominent banker in the community and a leader with the Kennewick Public Facilities District.
There’s no question Givens is the candidate with the most experience when it comes to the workings of a port. He’s been on both sides of the equation and had many accomplishments as a board member and a director.
Barnes is the newbie, but he already successfully weathered some big storms as a commissioner, most notably the controversial decision to close Vista Field as an airport for the chance to redevelop the prime real estate into something that serves more of the community and our economy.
What worries us is how Givens would be received by port staff as a commissioner. He used to be the boss there, and while not many current staffers worked for him back then, the current port director was hired by Givens and was his assistant. Rehashing the reasons for Givens’ departure from the port won’t do much good because much of the controversy was more rumor than proven fact, but we see a big problem in him being able to be an effective commissioner, given the history.
That said, Barnes is proving to be a great commissioner in his own right. He is reasoned and calm and willing to listen. He has worked hard and raised a lot of money in his fight for re-election, proving he takes the work and the role seriously. We like that he absorbs new information like a sponge.
In our mind, Barnes is the best pick for the job. He’s building his own experience at the port, and sometimes it’s refreshing to add a new player to the mix. While Givens brings a wealth of experience, we think in this case his past with the Port of Kennewick brings more baggage than benefit.
Moak vs. Bowman, District 2
Tom Moak served on the Kennewick City Council for 12 years, including a year as the city’s mayor. He has 30 years experience as a public librarian and manager. His heart is in the revitalization of downtown Kennewick, tourism and economic development.
Leo Bowman served 16 years as a Benton County Commissioner before opting for retirement last year. Bowman owned his own business for 32 years, and his focus on economic development dovetails with the port’s primary objective.
The two candidates bring a vast and diverse cache of experience to the race. Moak obviously is well versed in the workings of the city, something that will be crucial as the port forges ahead with two huge projects in the city limits. Bowman has spent a great deal of time on transportation issues, and has regional and national contacts that would surely come in handy as a port commissioner.
Both men have a proven history, in office as well as in organizations like Kiwanis and other forms of service.
Neither has experience at a port, and the decision between the two highly qualified candidates really comes down to which type of experience will translate best to the task ahead, that of a city councilman or of a county commissioner.
Our gut tells us that Moak’s history with the city and his passion for seeing Kennewick thrive will best serve the Port of Kennewick during the next four years.