Public should decide size of port commission

When Everett port commissioners declined in July to put a commission expansion proposal on the ballot, it was a good example of why the voters should decide this issue.

To recap: In 2005, citizens asked the commission to put the issue on the ballot. The commission voted no. An effort to gather initiative signatures failed for lack of time.

In April of this year, citizens again asked that the question be put on the ballot. The proposal was to increase the commission from three members to five; reduce the terms from six years to four; and have two members of the five voted at large, keeping the three existing districts intact.

The citizens’ request would have required the commission to vote for the ballot issue by May 27 so potential candidates could file for office starting June 2, even though voters wouldn’t decide on expansion until August. If the expansion issue passed, the two new commissioners would be selected in the November election.

Commission President Connie Niva objected to the timeline, saying it was rushing potential candidates to file within five days of a May 27 decision. New commissioner Michael Hoffmann, who supported an expanded commission during his 2007 campaign, agreed. Fair enough. Hoffmann told Port Gardner neighborhood leader David Macranenas, who was pushing the proposal: “I fully intend to vote for this. But we need to give ample opportunity to the people who are not represented.”

Niva said that a meeting in June would give more residents a chance to comment.

Since citizens were asking the commission, for a second time, to simply allow voters to address this issue, it appeared the commissioners were simply being thorough. They wanted expansion voted on first, then an election of two more commissioners, if warranted. Wrong.

“We don’t want you to sandbag this thing,” Mascarenas told the commission. But that’s exactly what it did.

More citizens did comment at the June meeting. Only one spoke against the idea. Port Executive Director John Mohr said it would cost roughly $100,000 to put the proposal on the ballot; no one questioned this reasonable amount.

Then, at its July meeting, the three commissioners voted down the proposal. Niva said it was too expensive and there didn’t appear to be enough interest. Hoffmann said he didn’t like the idea of five commissioners in a small district. Their reasoning was not compelling.

This proposal has enough support to warrant a full public debate of its pros and cons — the kind a ballot measure forces. It shouldn’t stay buried.

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