Just 2 people speak at Port of Olympia redistricting public hearing

Port of Olympia/Courtesy

One of the driving forces behind expanding the Port of Olympia and Thurston County commissions to five members from three was to have better countywide representation on both boards.

But at Tuesday’s port redistricting public hearing, one might have asked: Where were all the people who want to be represented?

That’s because just two people spoke at the public hearing intended to get feedback on the proposed districts. And one of those speakers was former port commissioner Bill McGregor, who spoke in support of the process.

“I’m glad to see it happen and I’m glad to see it pass,” he said, noting that it was another historic moment for a port district that turned 100 this year.

A Tumwater resident also spoke via Zoom, saying she supports increasing the number of commissioners.

Why the poor turnout? It was cold, wet and windy on Tuesday, which may have kept some attendees at home. And although Port Proposition 1 was approved by Thurston County voters, it barely passed with 51 percent approval.

Port Commissioner Amy Evans Harding said after the meeting that redistricting is extremely technical and not easily understood.

“That was the feedback I got (from constituents), so people didn’t have feedback,” she said.

The port and county commissions currently are served by three representatives from three districts. But now those three districts have been carved up to create Districts 4 and 5. District 4 covers a wide swath of southwest Thurston County that includes the communities of Rainier, Tenino and Bucoda. District 5 is an Idaho-shaped area that runs north from about Yelm Highway to Johnson Point.

After the public hearing, the commissioners shared comments and asked questions.

Evans Harding wanted to know what a port commissioner can and cannot do during election season. The new commissioners will be elected in 2023.

Legal counsel Rick Hughes said an elected official does not give up their right to participate in the political process, so long as they make clear they are speaking for themselves and not the port. A port commissioner also is not allowed to use a public facility to promote a political belief, he said.

All three commissioners could meet at a campaign-related event and not violate the Open Public Meetings Act, so long as they did not discuss or conduct port business, Hughes said.

Commissioner Bob Iyall said he heard from south county residents who were pleased that they could be in one district.

Evans Harding added she was glad the port chose to move forward with expanding the commission, and that they did it in conjunction with the county commission, but she was still concerned that the redistricting process had started before the Nov. 8 general election.

The port commission is set to adopt the proposed districts on Dec. 12.