By Rob Ollikainen, October 15, 2013, Peninsula Daily News
Colleen McAleer told a community forum that she has mixed feelings about a ballot proposition to cut a Port of Port Angeles commissioner’s term from six to four years.
McAleer and Del DelaBarre, her opponent in the race for port commissioner in the all-mail Nov. 5 general election, debated term lengths and other issues at a Peninsula Daily News forum at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Training Center on Monday night.
“I’ve gone back and forth on this and I really am not personally in favor or against a six- or a four-year term,” said McAleer, the port’s director of business development.
“The advantage, certainly, of a four-year term is you have sooner call-back of that elected official.”
DelaBarre, co-owner of an event services company, said: “I’m in favor of a shorter term, very simply.”
“I would even prefer a three-year term,” he added.
DelaBarre, 75, and McAleer, 46, are running for Position 1, the Sequim-area commissioner’s seat now held by Paul McHugh, who did not advance past the Aug. 6 primary.
McAleer has said she will quit her job if elected.
Ballots for the general election are being mailed to voters today.
McAleer said the port has a “very complicated port structure” with eight different business lines.
“It takes a long time for a commissioner to fully understand all the nuances of port operations,” she said.
“Because of that, there’s the advantage of a six-year term. However, I do think all in all that I’m slightly geared towards a four-year term.”
A crowd of about 50 attended the hour-long question-and-answer session moderated by PDN Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb.
The forum was modeled after news interview programs such as “Meet the Press.”
Gottlieb asked candidates to comment on a June 29 report that said the port is “dysfunctional on several levels.”
The internal report, which was prompted by McAleer’s whistleblower complaint about inconsistencies in port leases, found no illegalities but led to the June 24 resignation of then-Executive Director Jeff Robb.
Robb was given the lesser job of port director of environmental affairs with the same $138,000 salary.
“During that period, the port completely lost public support and public trust,” DelaBarre said.
“I don’t like saying it, but my opponent was at the center of the principle problem associated with that period,” he continued.
“That’s very unfortunate because we should be talking about the incredible future that we have as a port, not rehashing very, very bad decisions that were made.”
To restore public trust, DeleBarre said he would work to find the “very best executive director we can find.”
“I also think that we need public involvement,” he added.
DeleBarre said he would push for more education to examine the roles and responsibilities of commissioners and staff in the levels of government.
“Right now, those distinctions are not very clear,” he said.
To restore public trust, McAleer said “it’s imperative that we act as transparently as possible.”
“There are a lot of decisions that the port commission has to make and the executive staff has to make at the port that are not necessarily black-and-white answers,” she said.
“They are very often gray.”
McAleer recommended more public workshops and suggested that port commissioners and staff attend courses on the Open Public Meetings Act.
McAleer said the port has “turned the corner already” by hiring qualified senior staff and an “exceptional” interim executive director in Ken O’Hollaren.
“I am a big believer in transparency and being an exceptional steward of our public dollars,” she said.
“That’s why I took the stand that I did. I believe the fact that I did that shows and proves that I would be an exceptional steward for this public organization.”
Commenting on another ballot proposition, DeleBarre said he would “lean toward supporting five (port) commissioners instead of three” for greater West End representation.
He said the port’s western district is both rural and urban with about a quarter of Port Angeles sharing the district with the West End and its robust timber industry.
“It definitely does split this interest,” DeleBarre said.
“So in that regard, five is probably better because then we could have a true westside commissioner and the remainder would be primarily urban.”
McAleer said five port commissioners would be “a bit better, but there are definite downsides to that.”
“It will likely be about $90,000 annually to have two more commissioners,” she said.
“If those two commissioners are acting as very active ambassadors for our community, they could do a lot of good. It is definitely a slippery slope.”
DelaBarre reiterated past statements of support for the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, federal legislation that would designate 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness.
“We are not going to lose a single job,” DeleBarre said. “In fact, we are going to expand jobs because of tourism. I am not anti-timber. I am pro-economic growth to the county.”
McAleer opposes the Wild Olympics legislation.
“Anything that further restricts our ability to have companies being able to harvest the timberlands is not anything I can support,” she said.
McAleer said a modified Northwest Forest Plan would be a “different option.”
“I’m hopeful that we can come up with a good plan — a great plan — for our community, but I don’t believe Wild Olympics is it.”