Friday, July 24, 2009

Port: Populist Instrument or Bete Noir?

'Bete Noir: (from the French, meaning "dark beast") is used to refer to an object or abstract idea that is particularly disliked or avoided'

A current Crosscut article on the Port of Everett inspired this blog, because of some local similarities and ironies.

This brief excerpt demonstrates the point:

Emotions circle back to the story's bete noire, the Everett Port Commission. Port districts were conceived as populist instruments to break up concentrated capital. Give the waterfront to the people not the fat cats, the argument went. Legislators passed the Port District Act in 1911 and Everett organized its port in 1918. Over the decades, however, most port districts have embraced a credo that holds sacred economic and real estate development. Historic preservation is not a statutory priority.

"Ports have a very slim mission," Commissioner Connie Niva said. "It's not quality of life but to serve as an economic engine." The Collins Building, she noted, "sits on the site where we're building a boat yard," and is not connected to Everett Maritime, the North Marina development company that filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on May 20. Niva emphasized the port's record of environmental stewardship. "We're the cleanest and the greenest," she said.

Does it sound like Commissioner Niva might also have difficulty in understanding the concept of TBL? [Triple Bottom Line]
If so, she's certainly not by herself!
When you think about it, its not easy to accommodate a significant broadening of scope in any undertaking with a succinct mission statement and a limited budget.
Of course, it is not impossible but usually does require time - plus a change in attitude from those in charge.
That is the core problem with the Port of Bellingham.

And POB's situation may be considerably different from Everett's in several ways, including the sheer size & scope of the Waterfront Redevelopment anticipated, the relatively lesser size/budget of POB, and its partnership with the City of Bellingham -which has its own limits on funding, plus a much broader mission which does specifically and inherently include quality of life and environmental issues.
It would be simpler if the City were not so 'encumbered', but it is, as it should be.
And, because of its partnership with the City, the Port of Bellingham is also likewise 'encumbered'.

The understanding of that reality is important for whoever will assume new leadership roles at the Port.
On that score, new candidates have a clear advantage, particularly those who have also been active in our community for years.
By that criteria, John Blethen, the District 1 candidate, is clearly the best choice.
Blethen has been an amazing asset to our community for decades, as an enthusiastic volunteer and successful businessman.
His volunteerism reflects his caring for Bellingham and has gone well beyond that expected of any citizen, or two, or three.
It also reflects how in tune he is with the values of the people who have lived here, live here now, and will live here tomorrow.
That is exactly the kind of energy and long-term caring that the Port Commission needs so badly.

Mike McAuley, the District 2 candidate, has similar promise, although his tenure and volunteerism can't match Blethen's [no one does], he has a similar vision and commitment to do the right thing by this community.
McAuley's energy, progressive ideas and integrity make him well qualified to help turn the Port's attitude and management style into a better fit for what Bellingham needs in the long term.

Both Scott Walker, District 1, and Doug Smith, District 2, have done some good work at the Port, in fact both shared responsibility for initiating the Waterfront Redevelopment Project that has become the centerpiece of effort and attention here.
But, this is a long-term effort, a relay and not a sprint, which requires teamwork over many years.

After 18 and 16 years, respectively, these incumbents have already run their legs of the race, and it is time for them to pass the baton to fresher teammates.
They have elected not to do this willingly, but to leave that decision to will of the voters, which is OK, but also reinforces the impression that they are stuck on old ideas and the advantage of incumbency.

But, I hope citizens will understand that this election is really about the citizens themselves, and their offspring and the very future of Bellingham as a place that not only provides economic development (jobs) but also the other two legs of that 3-legged stool that defines TBL [Triple Bottom Line]; quality of life and environment.

Those last two legs are important enough to be clearly stated, not just implied.
Especially in a true partnership with a vital City whose sole motivation in partnering was to maintain -and enhance- that vitality!
That is, if we are to consider our Port as more of a populist instrument than a bete noir....