Voters are on the sidelines as the port fills a vacant seat

Troy McClelland resigned from the Port of Everett commission too late for an election before 2019.

Troy McClelland

EVERETT — Voters will have to wait more than two years before choosing someone to fill a vacant seat on the Port of Everett commission.

Meantime, Commissioners Tom Stiger and Glen Bachman will appoint an interim commissioner to stay on the job until November 2019. The port already has started soliciting people to apply.

In the next two years, the port likely will make key decisions that could shape the future of Everett’s waterfront, including whether to purchase the environmentally contaminated Kimberly-Clark property. Those decisions could affect thousands of jobs and involve millions of tax dollars.

So why aren’t voters getting a say on the post sooner? Former Commissioner Troy McClelland resigned from the three-member panel in August, too late for the position to appear on the primary and general election ballots.

McClelland stopped attending almost every meeting in person starting in April, when his company moved him to a job in Massachusetts.

Had he resigned then, the choice would have been decided at the ballot box this year rather than by two port commissioners.

“This was a relatively fluid situation and Commissioner McClelland made decisions as things came about,” said Brad Cattle, the port’s lawyer. “I don’t think people are going to be overly critical with it.”

McClelland’s job was an interim position, Cattle said. McClelland had been working for industrial laser maker Synrad in Mukilteo but was moved to the parent company, Novanta.

McClelland, who didn’t respond to messages relayed through the port, continued to participate in meetings via telephone. He still has a house in Everett and is still registered to vote in Snohomish County, Cattle said.

When his family moved to Massachusetts in August, McClelland resigned from the port commission, said Lisa Lefeber, the port’s spokeswoman.

State law requires districts such as the Port of Everett to wait until the next regularly scheduled election for the public agency before filling vacant seats.

The port holds regular elections every other odd year — such as this fall, in 2019 and in 2021. The statutes on filling a vacancy don’t spell out an option for a special election.

So should McClelland have resigned earlier?

The window for McClelland to resign and for the seat to be put on the ballot was narrow. The deadline to put the seat on the August primary ballot was May 14. That’s just weeks after McClelland left for Massachusetts.

In previous years, the timing to put a vacant seat on the ballot was later in the year, said Garth Fell, the county’s election manager. The state has since moved the primary to August and set the date in May for vacant seats to appear on the ballot.

When former port Commissioner Connie Niva resigned in June 2009, it was too late to get the race on the primary ballot. Instead, the race was decided in the general election with the highest vote-getter receiving the nod. Mark Wolken won in a field of five candidates.

Although the commission situation is atypical, lengthy appointments are not unprecedented.

For example, Republican John Koster, of Arlington, resigned as a state representative Aug. 31, and on Wednesday a person will be chosen to fill the seat in the 39th Legislative District.

That person will serve through at least November 2018 — which is the next regularly scheduled general election — or longer, should they run for the office and win.

In 2013, Aaron Reardon chose to quit as Snohomish County executive May 31. Because it was after the filing period, his appointed successor, John Lovick, did not have to appear on a ballot until the following year.

Cattle said that McClelland could have remained on the port commission even today, since he is keeping his house in the county and remains a voter here. He said that McClelland is one of the most honorable men he has known.

“I think he has been a tremendous commissioner and I’m pleased he has served as long as he has served and, frankly, I wish he could have served longer,” Cattle said.

Port of Everett commissioners oversee an $89 million budget with more than 100 employees not including the Longshoremen. Port commissioners are paid based on the number of meetings attended and duties performed, with a maximum compensation of $14,000 a year.

Last week, the port invited people to apply for the vacant position, the district for which covers downtown Everett and Hat Island. Applicants have until Oct. 16 to apply for the seat through the port’s website. The Port Commission will hold a special meeting Oct. 24 including an executive session to review candidates.

Interviews will be conducted for selected individuals Oct. 30. The two remaining commissioners are expected to choose McClelland’s replacement Nov. 2, five days before the general election.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this article.

Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; jdavis@heraldnet.com; @HBJNews.

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