INDIANOLA — Eric B. Cookson, a civilian command duty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard and retired active-duty senior chief petty officer, was appointed Wednesday to the Indianola Port Commission, District 2.
Cookson was appointed by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, which stepped in to fill the vacancy after two of three port commissioners resigned. He will serve until Nov. 26, when results of the Nov. 5 election are certified and the winner sworn in. That will be Cookson or write-in candidate Matthew Smith, an architect.
The next Port Commission meeting is Sept. 10, 7 p.m. in the Indianola Clubhouse, Henderson said. Cookson and Henderson will open an application period for the District 3 vacancy, and then focus their attention on the Indianola dock.
According to Henderson: Within the “next several weeks,” engineers will bore into pilings to determine how much creosote they contain, and will conduct other tests to determine the structural integrity of the pilings. He expects a plan for improvement of the dock would be completed within a month of those tests.
With cross bracing, strapping and restrictions on foot traffic, Henderson said he believes the dock could be reopened before the more significant improvements are made.
Cookson was one of three applicants for appointment to the Port Commission. The others: Susan Hancock, a community volunteer active with Faith LiNK, which coordinates free community meals throughout the county; and Susan Henry, an independent real estate broker. Hancock and Henry are also on the port’s advisory committee on the Indianola dock.
The three met Henderson and County Commissioner Rob Gelder Aug. 29 in a Q&A session that was open to the public. Henderson and Gelder asked them what characteristics and qualities they felt were important to be commissioner; their vision for the port district; why they wanted to be a port commissioner; what changes they wanted to bring to the port district; and what background, experience and training they’d bring to the job.
Gelder took information from the Q&A session to the County Commission, which met in executive session Wednesday morning.
“It really boiled down to skill sets — who had the background, who could move the port forward,” Gelder said Wednesday of Cookson’s appointment. Noting that Cookson is a candidate in the Nov. 5 election, Gelder said the commission “stepped back” and asked who would be the best appointee if the election was not in November. “We looked at Eric as having the expertise and background and demeanor. He’s down to earth and he approaches things in an intelligent, calm manner.”
Cookson’s consideration for appointment raised concerns from Smith.
Smith said he decided not to apply for appointment after talking to Henderson about a North Kitsap Herald editorial that stated a candidate in the Nov. 5 election should not be appointed lest he or she gain an unfair advantage on Election Day. He said he agreed and thought Henderson did too. But the decision to apply for the appointment was Cookson’s.
Gelder said the appointment doesn’t necessarily work to Cookson’s advantage in the election. “He could make or break it,” Gelder said. “If he doesn’t do a good job, Indianola is a small enough community that voters could make a different choice.”
Cookson, 50, has advanced degrees in leadership and management from City University in Seattle. He works for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Joint Harbor Operations Center; he retired from Coast Guard active duty in 2007.
In a Herald interview for a candidate profile, Cookson said he wants to complete the process of determining the extent of the repairs that are necessary for the dock, and determine how it’s going to be paid for. He doesn’t believe the property tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot will generate enough revenue for those improvements. Additional money may have to come from grants and/or a bond issue and donations.
He doesn’t believe in a short-term fix. “I would not like to see us exert energy and money on something that we’re going to have to turn around and redo,” he said. “I want to make the dock a place where people want to go and take evening walks, and fish and swim, and that we will have for the next several generations, and not end up with no pier or one that is dangerous to use.” He said the dock “has been swaying since I was a kid. It’s never not swayed.”
Cookson said that, “in hindsight,” the commission should have done more to engage residents in the process that led to the dock’s closure, so that residents understood the information that led the commission to make the decision it did.
Henry, the advisory committee member, said she thinks highly of Cookson. She looks forward to the port district healing the wounds caused by the dock’s closure.
“I think it will be fine,” she said. “Hopefully, next week will bring some movement forward in the process. I think it’s going to take some time [for the district to heal], because it’s been sort of fractured.”