Rolf Boone, March 5, 2015, The Olympian
Port of Olympia Commissioner Sue Gunn, who has been on medical leave since December, suddenly finds her role as commissioner on the clock after the commission declined to excuse her absence, inadvertently or by choice.
Under state law, if Gunn’s lack of attendance is not excused by the commission for 60 continuous days, her position on the commission can be vacated and the port can begin the appointment process, the port’s legal counsel, Heather Burgess, said Wednesday. The first time the commission did not excuse her absence was Feb. 17.
The 60-day period ends April 17.
Gunn has been notified by letter and she responded with her own letter, stating that she plans to return by the end of March, Burgess said.
Gunn, who had open-heart surgery in December, could not be reached Wednesday.
The situation with Gunn and the port commission came to light at the Feb. 23 commission meeting.
Commissioner George Barner made a motion to excuse her from that meeting, but Commissioner Bill McGregor chose not to second the motion and it failed.
“I’m not in favor of continuing to excuse her at this point,” McGregor said.
A member of the public responded sharply to McGregor’s decision.
“This is the most mean-spirited thing I’ve ever heard in a public meeting,” Olympia resident Paul Pickett said, pointing out that Gunn is recovering from open-heart surgery.
“You don’t have enough compassion to let it play out or pick up the phone yourself? I hope you talk to her because she fully intends to return,” he said.
McGregor said he did not intend to be mean-spirited, but if the three-member commission should lose another commissioner, then “no port business can be conducted.”
“I wish her all the best, but we need to do something,” he said.
After his motion failed, Barner acknowledged during the meeting that he had forgotten to make a similar motion at port meetings on Feb. 17 and Feb. 19.
The Feb. 17 meeting was a joint meeting with the port’s citizen advisory committee, and the Feb. 19 meeting was a commission work session.
On Wednesday, Barner, who is president of the commission, said it was his mistake, but he also said he doesn’t recall receiving a reminder about whether to make the motion to excuse Gunn.
Barner added that he was surprised that McGregor didn’t second his motion on Feb. 23.
He hopes Gunn is on the mend, he said.
“I’m hoping and expecting to see her at the end of the month,” Barner said.
The two commissioners will have to decide whether to excuse Gunn at their next commission meeting, which is set for 5:30 p.m. March 9 at Tumwater Town Center, 7241 Cleanwater Drive SW, Tumwater.