Indianola residents need to end the era of reactionary politics in their port district. Residents will never be able to communicate with each other on port issues without consistent involvement and engagement. Without that consistent involvement and engagement, there will be nothing but mistrust and an inability to work through controversial issues together.
We are sorry that Judith Frank resigned from the Indianola Port Commission District 2. We are sorry to learn of the sophomoric and, sometimes, intimidating behavior of some residents that led her to resign.
The Indianola Port District has a problem, evidenced by its election history. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms. Since the late 1990s, only two commissioners, Jeff Henderson and John R. Jacobsen, have served a complete term.
Two of three commissioners, including Frank, were appointed to the commission to fill vacancies. Henderson, District 1, was originally appointed to the commission in 2003, then elected to his first full term in 2005. Joan Wald, appointed to fill a vacant District 3 position, chose not to run for election this year.
Henderson ran unopposed in 2011, receiving 525 votes. Jacobsen ran unopposed for reelection to the District 2 position in 2009, receiving 532 votes, but resigned in 2012 because of health reasons. Robert Kinnaird ran unopposed for the District 3 position in 2007, receiving 495 votes, but resigned in July 2011.
Henderson ran unopposed for the District 1 position in 2005, receiving 489 votes. Kinnaird ran unopposed for the District 3 position, receiving 465 votes for the two years remaining in the term.
Jacobsen ran unopposed for the District 2 position in 2003, receiving 390 votes. G. Bud Merrill ran unopposed for the District 3 position in 2001, receiving 387 votes; he later died in office. Scott Irving Morgan ran unopposed for the District 1 position in 1999, receiving 421 votes, but resigned in 2003 because he moved out of the port district.
The succession of unopposed candidacies is a symptom of a larger problem: Not enough people feel commission service is worth it. After this latest debacle, it’s easy to see why.
Fortunately, for the first time in at least 15 years, there are contested races for port commissioner in the Nov. 5 general election: In District 2, Eric Cookson and write-in candidate Matthew Smith; in District 3, John Lane and Patrick Hatchel.
Three points we need to make:
One, the Indianola Port Commission can appoint a successor to Frank, to serve until Jan. 1 when the new commissioner takes office. If the commission does appoint someone, the appointee should not, out of fairness, be Cookson or Smith.
Two, the League of Women Voters should be recruited to host a candidate forum; the League can ensure the forum is civil and productive.
Three, though the port district is small, the Indianola Port District has immense power. Under state law, it has the authority to acquire and lease property, engage in economic development, improve land for commercial and industrial use, and establish local improvement districts. Ports can invest in park and recreation facilities; roads and streets that serve port facilities; acquire, maintain and operate passenger-carrying vessels; and promote tourism.
For the sake of the Port of Indianola — and harmony in the community — residents owe it to themselves to become engaged, informed and involved in their port district.