By Paul Gottlieb, August 10. 2013, Peninsula Daily News
Should Port of Port Angeles commissioners serve four-year terms instead of six-year terms?
Voters throughout Clallam County could be asked that question in the Nov. 5 general election — and their answer could have an impact on the countywide general election port commission race between Colleen McAleer and Del DelaBarre.
Longtime community activist Norma Turner has help from four dozen volunteers who are gathering names on a petition to put a measure on the ballot that would shorten port commissioners’ terms from six years to four years, she said Friday.
If enough signatures are gathered and if the measure is then approved in November, whoever wins the port commission election for Paul McHugh’s seat — McAleer or DelaBarre — would serve four years, not six.
It would not have an impact on sitting Commissioners John Calhoun, whose term is up in 2015, and Jim Hallett, whose term is up in 2017, but they or their successors would serve four years in subsequent elections.
A ballot proposition to reduce the term of office of port commissioners from six years to four years is allowed under RCW 53.12.175.
It must be approved by a simple majority.
According to state law, Turner needs 2,700 signatures — a total equal to 10 percent of the vote in the 2011 election — by Sept. 2 to be successful.
“For me, this is simply saying, ‘Let’s put it on the ballot and discuss it,’” Turner said.
“It’s about creating an opportunity to discuss what the pros and cons are of six versus four [years], and the public will decide whether they think four or six is better.”
Turner believes the change would make port commissioners more accountable and the port “more responsive,” she said.
“If you come back to the public every four years instead of every six, then you have four years of what’s going on to talk about instead of six.
“People’s memories are short.”
Turner did not know how many signatures were collected as of Friday but said the effort appeared to be gaining steam.
She began collecting signatures Aug. 3 at Joyce Daze, where 90 percent of those asked signed the petition, she said.
On Tuesday, 14 of 18 of those who attended the Port Angeles Business Association weekly breakfast meeting put their names on the petition, she said.
And the petitions may be available at Republican and Democratic Party booths at the Clallam County Fair from Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 18, Turner said.
Blank petitions are available at Port Book and News, 104 E. First St., Port Angeles, and at Kenneth Hays Architect, 120 W. Bell St., Sequim.
“We are finding this enormously high acceptance rate, so it is really easy to get names on the petition,” Turner said.
“They are like, ‘Yes, it’s returning to basic democracy; yes, I can vote for change.’”
Turner said she will attend Monday’s port commission meeting to discuss the petition during the public comment period.
The meeting is at 9:30 a.m. in the meeting room of the port administration building, 338 W. First St. in Port Angeles.
State law mandates that commissioners in port districts with countywide populations of 100,000 or more must serve four-year terms.
But for districts in counties with populations under 100,000, such as Clallam and Jefferson counties, port commissioners can serve four- or six-year terms.
Unlike Port of Port Angeles commissioners, Port of Port Townsend commissioners serve four-year terms.
Members of all school boards, city councils and boards of county commissioners in Clallam and Jefferson counties also serve four years unless they are completing unexpired terms.
Commissioners and board members who oversee all fire, water, cemetery, hospital and public utility districts in both counties serve six years unless they are filling unexpired terms.
Turner points to state law regarding larger port districts to buttress her belief that the Port of Port Angeles should follow the same model.
“Larger port districts are four years,” she said. “Their issues are just as complex.”
Under state law, port commissioners also can put a measure on the ballot seeking shorter terms in office.
McHugh, Hallett and Calhoun were varied in their opinions on Turner’s petition.
Hallett and Calhoun favored further discussion, they said Friday.
“I actually think it may be a good idea,” Calhoun said of shorter terms.
Said Hallett: “I need to educate myself more on the upsides and downsides of this.”
McHugh, who lost in Tuesday’s Sequim-area District 1 primary election, will finish his two-year term at the end of December.
Calhoun and Hallet appointed him to fill county Commissioner Jim McEntire’s unexpired term.
McHugh said he is against shortening port commissioner terms and opposes putting Turner’s measure on the ballot, citing the “turmoil” over former Port Executive Director Jeff Robb’s new contract with the port.
Robb resigned June 24 and was immediately rehired to a position with fewer responsibilities at the same salary until he retires in July 2014.
The June 24 agreement was preceded by an internal port report that was highly critical of Robb’s administration and a lease-related whistle-blower complaint by Port Director of Business Development Colleen McAleer.
“There’s too much turmoil and too much change taking place at the port, so no, I don’t think this is the right time to add more complications,” McHugh said.
McAleer and event-services company co-owner Del DelaBarre, the two candidates for McHugh’s seat who survived the primary and are headed for the general election, both signed the petition.
But they differed on port commissioners serving shorter terms.
“Any public discussion about the port, I welcome, and this would provide that opportunity,” McAleer said Friday.
“I do not support shorter terms — but I am still listening to opinions on that — the reason being that commissioners don’t come to the position with a wealth of knowledge about all of the different business lines, and it takes a long time for them to become subject-matter experts.”
But DelaBarre said he would support even three-year terms for port commissioners.
“The port is so close to the community, and to the voters, that a six-year term is too long,” he said.
“The commissioners need to be more responsive and responsible to the community.”
A six-year term “institutionalizes a position,” DelaBarre added.
Turner said the vigorous public response to Robb’s new contract made it a good time to put the question to voters.
“The port does not usually get that much discussion, and this is an opportunity to get people interested in what’s going on,” she said.
“You have to do change when people are ready to do change.
“I wouldn’t tie it so much to the controversy but that people are aware of the port.”