Opinion

Port can’t ignore problem away | In Our Opinion

Poulsbo port commissioners appeared to be getting along well at their meeting last week. For that, we are glad.

But an issue still waits to be resolved. And the issue won’t go away just because it’s ignored.

Last week, we outlined why – or rather, pointed out state law that outlines why – Commissioner Arnie Bockus must resign and allow the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners to appoint someone to Position 2. (To those who think we’re picking on Bockus, we remind you that we endorsed him in the Nov. 8 general election.)

The unresolved issue is that on Dec. 1 Tony DeCarlo appointed Bockus to a commission vacancy while Bockus was still in office. With one of three positions vacant and Bockus recusing himself, DeCarlo was the only commissioner eligible to vote. But state law, RCW 42.12.070, says, “If less than two members of a governing body remain in office, the county legislative authority of the county … shall appoint a qualified person or persons to the governing body until the governing body has two members.” DeCarlo could have waited until the first meeting in January, when Jim Rutledge took office, but he didn’t.

Then, to reaffirm the appointment, DeCarlo and Bockus voted Dec. 28 for the appointment. Bockus’ vote to appoint himself was a conflict of interest. The state Supreme Court in 1909 recognized the common law doctrine “as old as the law itself” that one should not judge his or her own cause. Clearly, it was wrong for Bockus to vote to appoint himself to office, particularly one that pays $100 per meeting.

Bockus’ appointment lacks legitimacy, and that won’t change just because the commission ignores it and doesn’t address the issue. Bockus should resign and allow the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners to appoint a new port commissioner, because it has been more than 90 days since Position 2 became vacant. Or, with the consent of the state Attorney General’s office, the port commission could accept Bockus’ resignation, accept applications again, and vote anew. (The position has not been vacant for more than 90 days, it was just filled improperly.)

Port districts and port commissions are serious business. Port commissioners are empowered by state law to set objectives, policies and overall direction for the port district. They wield considerable authority: They can exercise the right of eminent domain, levy and collect assessments on property within the district without voter approval to provide services to the public, and issue bonds and impose excess levies for specific purposes. Port commissioners make decisions that affect the economy and environmental quality.

The appointment needs to be redone in order to legitimize it and restore public trust in the appointment process. Do it right. And do it now.

 

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