Thursday, December 05, 2013

Get Ready To Be Taxed For Every Mile You Drive

Road usage charge options and tolling being discussed at Washington State Transportation Commission hearings Dec. 10 and 11

Transportation revenue options are a focus of the Washington State Transportation Commission’s meeting next week in Olympia. The commission is completing an evaluation of the business case for ways to replace the gas tax with a road usage charge system (Read: Vehicle Miles Driven TAX). What this means is you will be charged to drive on roads you've already bought and paid for.

 Commissioners also will hear a SR 520 tolling update and discuss the future Interstate 405 express toll lanes.

The meeting will start at 9 a.m. each day, Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 10 and 11, at the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. SE, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. The meeting is open to the public and persons wishing to speak to the commission may do so during the public comment period scheduled at the end of each day.

Tuesday’s agenda begins with a continuation of discussions regarding the I-405 express toll lanes rates and policies. The project is currently under construction between Bellevue and Lynnwood and is expected to open in 2015. It is the first phase of a planned 40-mile-long express toll lane system that will ultimately run from Lynnwood to Renton on I-405 and connect to the existing State Route 167 HOT lanes. Local officials representing the I-405 and SR 167 corridor presented their recommendations to the commission in November. 

The commission will host a public input process in early 2014 as they work towards setting the toll rates and policies for the express toll lanes by spring 2014. Unless you want to pay to drive on the roads you already own, make it a point to attend these hearings and make your voice heard.

Tuesday afternoon, staff from the Oregon Department of Transportation will brief the commission on the passage and implementation of Oregon’s new road usage charge legislation. Following this, the commission will consider recommendations developed by a broad-based steering committee for the next steps of Washington’s Road Usage Charge Assessment which has been in progress for over a year. The legislatively directed assessment has looked at the feasibility and the business case for a possible road usage charge system in Washington State that could replace the gas tax in the future. The commission will submit its final report and recommendations to the Legislature in January 2014. 

On Wednesday, Washington State Department of Transportation staff will brief the commission regarding tolling operations, including financial, traffic and revenue updates for the SR 520 Bridge and Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The commission also will receive a briefing on the Results Washington program and WSDOT’s implementation of Lean management.

For more information about the commission and complete meeting agendas, visit:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Local Republicans shoot themselves in the foot... again

I’ve written many times over the years in the Business Journal that it’s my belief there isn’t a way for the Kitsap County Republican Party to shoot itself in the foot that it hasn’t thought of, but that I have great confidence in its ability to invent new ones. And once again, they haven’t let me down. The most recent blunder came when the party mailed out a campaign piece in South Kitsap endorsing Democrats over its own Republican incumbents in the recent election. Yes, you read that correctly. 

You have to feel sorry for local party chair Chris Tibbs, who is being undermined by his own people — people’s whose personal agenda is more important than the good of the party, or in this case, the good of Port Orchard.

The first time I met Tibbs, he was running for county commissioner in Central Kitsap, and like many of the Republicans recruited to run for office here, I found him to be uninformed about basic issues any candidate seeking the commissioner’s seat should have known. Afterwards, the Republican Party elected him chair, and as I’ve gotten to know him, have come to realize he’s really not a bad guy at all. He also keenly understands what must happen for the party to succeed in drawing electable candidates into its fold — the main thing it’s failed miserably at for almost two decades under its former ultra conservative leadership. 

Tibbs understands the infighting between the conservative and moderate factions in the party has to stop or it will just be business as usual — no one running for anything who is close enough to the center to actually win a local election in a decidedly liberal county, and a party that’s been marginalized into near obscurity by its own actions. Tibbs has made it his goal to turn that around and is building on a number of small successes. However, situations like what happened in South Kitsap negate any progress he makes.

Although the election has been decided, there's an ongoing battle in Port Orchard for the hearts and minds of voters. There were two issues combined on the ballot — Proposition 1 — the change from a second-class city to a code city, and changing from the strong mayor form of government to a council/city manager form — plus four City Council seats up for grabs.

As Mayor, I brought both these issues forward, separately, in 2010. The Council passed the code city change — it doesn’t require a vote of the people — but later rescinded it, caving in to political pressure brought about by a bogus petition worded to scare low-information voters into signing, and would have cost the city about $30,000 to have on the ballot. That petition was engineered by one of the very same people behind the Republican mailer endorsing Democrats — Gil Michael, who is also referred to by many as Mayor Tim Matthes’ puppetmaster.

A second-class city must have a planning commission of three to 12 members. A code city must have a planning agency — which can be a planning department, a person, staff or body, rather than a planning commission. The Port Orchard Planning Commission is Michael’s base of power. Had Proposition 1 passed, his power base would have dissolved — which in my opinion would be a good thing for Port Orchard.

It’s no secret in Port Orchard that Michael would like to control City Hall — and to some extent already does. He hand-picks slates of candidates he can control every election. His choices this time — whose names appeared on that mailer — were Eric Gonnason and Bek Ashby. Fred Chang, who was unopposed, was already aligned with Michael and the mayor.

Since Michael is the Republican PCO for that area — and Chang the Democratic PCO for the same area — am I the only one who finds it unusual that incumbent Republican Jerry Childs was not endorsed, but his challenger, Gonnason, a newcomer surrounded by residence issues, was?

A source of the Business Journal met with Gonnason and confronted him with proof about his lack of residence, and some other issues before the election, Gonnason openly admitted he had been personally recruited by Matthes during a meeting in the Mayor's office to challenge Childs, and that Matthes made a call from the Mayor's office phone at City Hall to Michael, to introduce him. He further said the plan was for Gonnason to challenge Childs, Jeff Braden to challenge Rob Putuansuu, Ashby to win the open seat vacated by longtime council member Carloyn Powers, and for Chang to run unopposed. Combined with the mayor he already controls, Michael would own the four votes needed to control City Hall with an iron fist.

Somewhere they got their wires crossed because Gonnason and Braden both filed against Childs. Braden dropped out, but too late to avoid the city paying for a runoff election. The end result is that Michael now controls Ashby and Chang — and to some extent Putuansuu, who fears Michael because the plan was to run an opponent against him.

Oh yeah, Michael also opposed Proposition 1, for which the flyer recommended a “No” vote on as well. Since that would also eliminate his puppet mayor along with the Planning Commission, I can’t say I’m surprised. This is clearly a case of Michael's personal agenda trumping what’s best for not only the city, but the local Republican Party as well. Meanwhile, Chris Tibbs is one of the most frustrated people I know. Personally I think it’s time for state party chair Susan Hutchinson to step in and clean up this mess. The question is, will she?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reefer Madness... AKA The State's Pot Bureaucracy

Watching the state birth an entire bureaucracy for dealing with legalized marijuana has been a little like watching a late-season Mariners game — you know it’s going to be a meaningless comedy of errors. There’s no chance of making the playoffs, because the game is being played primarily with rookies and guys who started the season in the minors, along with a few end-of-their-career veterans.

I recently attended a meeting, where the speaker was Clallam County District Court Judge Rick Porter, discussing the state’s impending (it’s not yet legal) legalization, proposed enforcement, taxation, and marketing of reefer. The judge was a pretty entertaining speaker, and made a lot of his more serious points using humor.

However, the one point he made that really isn’t too funny when you think about it, yet elicited the biggest chuckle from the audience because no one was at all surprised, was this: By the time the state taxes pot at the grower level, the processor lever, and again at the retail level, the cost will be just about twice the current illegal street price. This was supposed to be a gold mine for the state, and it’s spending millions of our tax dollars creating the bureaucracy to oversee it. Personally, I believe those supposed business geniuses down there in Olympia could figure out how to lose money selling whiskey in a whorehouse.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hauge's vendetta — $338,000 and climbing

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hague recently filed yet another lawsuit against embattled Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club (KRRC) Executive Director Marcus Carter. This is a civil suit against Carter personally, not against the KRRC. 

Carter has beaten Hauge in court three different times, without the benefit of a lawyer. When Hauge couldn’t win that way, he resorted to using the land-use code to try and shut down KRRC — which is still in litigation. Now this. Am I the only one who believes that Hauge is using our tax dollars to finance what amounts to a personal vendetta against Carter?

We filed a public records request asking just how much of our money Hauge has spent pursuing this personal vendetta. The total had exceeded $338,000! That’s prior to the land-use action — which went to Superior Count and is on appeal — and the most recent civil suit. At this point, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it’s topped a half a million dollars.

This is unconscionable! There are so many other, more pressing needs that money should have been spent on — more deputies on the street; the meth problem; helping the homeless; supporting food banks; recreation for kids. The list goes on.

If you believe it’s time the taxpayers stopped financing Hauge’s personal vendetta and for the county commissioners to rein him in, call your commissioner today — 360-337-7146.

Enough is enough

Monday, September 09, 2013

An Open Letter To Mayor Tim Matthes...

If you live in the City of Port Orchard, by now you may have received a copy of the Mayor's Report on the Bethel Corridor. What appears below is a copy of an email I have sent to him about the contents. It is SO fraught with inaccuracies and either ignorant misinformation, or intentional lies — I'm not sure which, but either way, the citizens aren't being told the truth.

Dear Mayor Matthes,

As you are probably more well aware than almost anyone, since leaving office, I have refrained from publicly commenting on your administration, or what passes for leadership and/or management at City Hall. However, I read your report to the citizens on the Bethel Corridor with great interest, and feel that I can no longer quietly sit by as the citizens of our City are deluged with what appears on the surface to be intentional misinformation. Therefore, I would like to point out some general inaccuracies in the report, and offer some unsolicited insight on moving forward.

You state in the report that, "When discussions were happening regarding the Bethel Corridor annexation, it was touted that the annexation would bring in a lot of revenue. What was never discussed was the costs to provide service and what the impact would be to the City."

This is patently untrue. It was actually publicly discussed at great length at several Finance Committee meetings, at several City Council meetings, and in public hearings. For you to tell the citizens of our City that such a significant cost was "never discussed" is little more than either a blatant lie — or the words of someone completely uninformed about the entire annexation process for Bethel, and how the City went about it.

The fact the City would incur costs for Bethel several months prior to any revenue being generated, was not only known by the Finance Committee and City Council, but planned for financially as well. As Mayor, you should be aware of that, and if you aren't, perhaps you should sit down with the City Treasurer and have him explain the process that was agreed upon and where the funding came from to you.

Also known, anticipated, and planned for were the increased costs for law enforcement, and the two additional officers that would need to be hired and outfitted. Former Police Chief Al Townsend found grant money to cover part of that cost for, if memory services me correctly, a three-year period, on a diminishing schedule. The balance of the cost was to be paid from the anticipated $1.3 million in additional sales and property tax revenue generated by the annexation. It was also anticipated that the Court would see an increased workload, and that cost was budgeted for as well.

Other items you should be aware of include the fact that to reduce the cost of right-of-way acquisition, former Development Director James Weaver authored a plan that would require developers to cede the necessary right-of-way to the City as a condition of being granted a permit to develop, as well as either installing or reimbursing the City for any necessary public works infrastructure such as water and sewer lines to service their projects.

You are correct in stating that the planned revenue generated by the annexation that the City had anticipated holding in reserve, isn't nearly enough to construct the project in any kind of timely fashion. However, I'm surprised to learn that you didn't know that was never the plan either. What was planned, was to use that as match money for state and federal transportation grants, where it could be leveraged on either a dollar-for-dollar or one dollar for every two in grant money. A dollar-for-dollar match effectively cuts the cost of the project in half, and a two for one match by 2/3. The City also has the bonding capacity to offset any shortfall in match money, with debt service coming from future revenues already being generated from the Bethel Corridor.

Has the City begun pursuing any such state or federal money yet? If not, I would suggest you get busy, as these processes take an extraordinary amount of time. There are annual funding cycles, and these are the only times during which grant applications are considered. If you miss one, it's another year before you can apply. I would also suggest you engage the City's lobbyist — if the City in fact still has a lobbyist — in pursuing this money, as it is available, but awarded on a highly competitive basis.

As I found, the lobbyist we used did an excellent job of securing money for the DeKalb Pier restoration — finding $700,000 in state Capital Budget money for a cost to the City of only $25,000, as well as the money they found for the Pedestrian Pathway, and other projects you've recently cut ribbons on as if they were your own ideas. Although you were adamantly opposed to the City hiring that — or any other lobbyist — in retrospect, you have to admit, they provided an excellent Return on Investment. That same firm also provides lobbying services at the federal level, and there are other similar resources available to you. I'd be happy to point you in the right direction should you care to ask. Also, perhaps you should establish relationships with our elected state representatives, as they tell me, the City has been MIA in Olympia since you've taken over. Perhaps you should reach out to our new Congressman as well.

It's truly a shame you refused to take the time to meet with me during the transitional period for more that the 12 minutes we did. As you're aware, we only met then because Mr. Jacoby insisted upon it. Had you done so, I would have gladly passed all this information — and much more — on to you. During that meeting, as you may recall, you asked me only 2 questions — both concerning the establishment of a Parks Commission. Finally, considering all the documented inaccuracies in this report, I would strongly suggest you rescind it, and re-issue a corrected report that states the actual facts, so the citizens of our City have accurate information. It will go a long way towards re-establishing some level of credibility.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Lessons from Starnsville — AKA Detroit

I’m not surprised the City of Detroit recently declared bankruptcy. The last time I was there about a year and a half ago for an automotive-related event, I was shocked at the 8-lane downtown streets — with no traffic on them. Downtown Detroit, all around the Renaissance Center and Cobo Hall was a virtual ghost town at noon on a Wednesday.

Detroit has always been the "Model City" for big-government. Since 1962, every single Detroit mayor has been a Democrat. It has the dubious distinction of being the place where if a big-government bad idea failed anywhere in America, it usually failed first in Detroit.

Detroit has an income tax that’s the third-highest of any big city in America. Is it any wonder two thirds of the population has moved out?

While Detroit’s automakers got billions from Obama in federal bailouts, in the case of GM, it was at the expense of stockholders and creditors. The main beneficiary of the bailout was the United Auto Workers union (UAW) and its pension fund — not the company itself. As part of the bailout, we taxpayers bought 17 percent of GM and handed it over to the UAW. Meanwhile, many stockholders who depended on dividends for retirement income saw their entire life savings wiped out. Many of the creditors were small Detroit-area businesses that went bankrupt because of GM’s government takeover. Where was the government bailout for those folks?

According to the Detroit News the City has 47 unions, and in 2011 employed just about twice as many people per capita as cities with comparable populations — including a “horseshoer” — even though it has no horses. Makes you wonder if Obama will bail out the city as well, since the UAW was the chief beneficiary of his original largesse.

Egotistical politicians believe they know what’s best for all of us, but refuse to understand their power doesn’t include changing the laws of economics — coupled with the fact too many of them are clueless about what those laws actually are. Constant government meddling, high minimum wages, easy to obtain welfare (Detroit has a huge radical Muslim population that has turned exploiting welfare into a science), coupled with bureaucratic, featherbedding union rules, are simply not the formula for success. But just like here in Washington, as long as unions support their re-election, those politicians turn a blind eye to the ongoing damage being done.

Meanwhile, a county judge wants to stop the bankruptcy on the grounds that Michigan state law forbids Detroit to cut government services. However, that judge has offered no plan for how Detroit is actually going to continue paying for those unsustainable public-sector pensions and support its bloated workforce. 

Democratic politicians have micromanaged the city into bankruptcy, and yet continue failing to address the root causes. As usual, those very “we know what’s best for you” politicians believe more of the same is the answer. They're proposing new taxpayer-funded stadiums, transportation mega-projects and other expensive "solutions." And if you criticize them, Democratic politicians like former Mayor Coleman Young will publicly call you a racist and a bigot. Young has been quoted as saying, “To attack Detroit is to attack black.” That tends to shut critics up, as they don’t want be condemned by the leftist lamestream media for simply speaking the truth.

I read where a member of Great Britain’s Parliament once compared Detroit to the fictional city of Starnesville in Ayn Rand’s prophetic 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged — an auto manufacturing city that became a ghost town after drifting into socialism. In Atlas Shrugged, Starnesville’s demise is the first clue the entire society is heading for collapse.

There is a huge lesson in Detroit for Washington State — if anyone is actually paying attention. Detroit is Starnesville. Meanwhile, Seattle’s buffoon Mayor Mike McGinn is trying to dictate private sector wage rates to gain a union re-election endorsement. He's threatened to use land-use rules to hold up construction of a Whole Foods grocery store — for no other reason than they’re non-union — unless they agree to pay union scale. That’s nothing more than a case of blatant Detroit-style Democratic Party abuse of political power in action.

Insulated from serious criticism by the lamestream media, as well as economic reality, buffoons like McGinn — and many of the Democrats in our state Legislature — fail to understand that the laws of economics still apply. If Democratic, Detroit-style thinking goes unchecked — and companies like Boeing continue to expand outside of Washington because of its onerous business climate that legislative Democrats seem determined to make worse — eventually Seattle will become Starnesville West. And as goes Seattle, so goes our state.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Inslee Talking Out of Both Sides of His Mouth

Governor Jay Inslee’s recent veto of ESHB 1652 demonstrated both his allegiance to the special interests that helped finance his election (Read: Teacher’s Union), and exposed his own hypocrisy as well. The bill would have deferred the payment of Impact Fees on construction until closing, instead of at the time of permitting as the law currently dictates.

The bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support, passing the House with 73 votes, the senate with 34, and back to the house with 83 votes in concurrence. It was a good bill that would have been an immense help to small and moderate-sized homebuilders and their suppliers, by easing the cash outlay required to begin construction. Local Impact Fees — which cover schools, roads, parks, etc. — vary, averaging around $2,500 per house, but are much higher in other parts of the state. 
School districts have 10 years from the time it's collected to spend Impact Fee money, so the period between permitting and payment — essentially the time required to build a home, which averages somewhere between 60 and 90 days — is negligible to them in the overall scheme of things, but critically important to small builders. 
Inslee stated all through his election campaign he would do whatever was necessary to help small business and spur the construction industry because it’s such a huge contributor to our state’s economy. Yet when he had the chance, he caved in to the greedy teachers union. Pathetic…

Sunday, April 14, 2013

No, I Will NOT Be A Candidate For The Port Commission

For the past couple of months, I keep being asked if I intend to run for the Port of Bremerton Commission seat currently held by Larry Stokes. 

The answer is an unequivocal NO. 

That rumor has been circulating for awhile now, and by now I've been asked more times than I can remember if it's true of not. It is not.

How it got started, I'm not really sure, but I've been told by numerous people that Stokes — who if he is elected will be 80 at the end of this next term — has made the statement he will run again just so I can't win that seat. I think that's more than a bit presumptuous on his part, but Larry Stokes is what he is...

I think the genesis of the rumor could be in the fact I've written several Business Journal columns on what I consider to be less than stellar management, and irresponsible stewardship of the public's money by the Port, and it appears paranoia has kicked in on the part of a number of people there. 

I will continue to comment editorially on the Port, but have absolutely NO interest in being a Port Commissioner. I've had my time in the sun where politics is concerned. I've said before that I have no intention of running for public office again — and I don't. I hope that puts this to rest, and that Stokes will step aside, some qualified people will step forward, be elected, and straighten out the huge, money-losing mess the Port of Bremerton has become.

Late Night Ferries Will NOT Save Downtown Port Orchard

Since leaving office as Port Orchard’s mayor at the end of 2011, I’ve made it a point to not publicly comment on the city’s politics — or what passes for management these days at City Hall. However, the recent push to establish late-night foot ferry service between downtown Port Orchard and Bremerton is a misguided non-solution to a much larger problem than backers want to admit.

The main driver is South Kitsap businessman Don Ryan, president of the Port Orchard Bay Street Association. He’s a used car dealer, who also owns a hair salon and a downtown bar. In addition, he’s promoting the proposed indoor farmer’s market, which he’s convinced people will jumpstart Bay Street, the town’s main drag — which now has more empty storefronts than occupied ones.

In our view, Ryan’s grasping at straws. He blames Kitsap Transit’s cut in evening service for downtown’s decline. That’s a red herring. Kitsap Transit didn't cut the service — Horluck Transportation did, which later sold the ferry service to Kitsap Transit. Why did they cut the service way back when Bay Street was booming? Because not enough people rode it for it to pencil. That alone proves people won’t take an evening ferry from Bremerton to come eat and drink in downtown Port Orchard — or vice versa. Aside from Ryan’s bar and Moondogs, or dinner at Amy’s on The Bay, there isn’t much to do downtown anymore — day or night — and not a lot else open after 7 p.m. except bail bond offices and tattoo parlors. What few storefronts that are still occupied on Bay Street aren’t the kind of establishments that do business at night, so downtown is basically closed.

Port Orchard would be better served spending that money restoring the funding to the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau — which produced a tremendous bang for the buck by actually drawing people downtown — both day and night — until the furtive politics surrounding the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee — which is run by Councilman Fred Chang for what seems primarily to be for the benefit of his political backers — slashed its funding in favor of squandering money on self-serving ideas like Ryan’s.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Transportation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Recently, a group of more than 40 mayors — including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee and to legislative leaders urging them to pass an 8-cent gas tax increase, claiming more than $3 billion is needed to maintain roadways and bridges over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) will seek a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, although at 37.5 cents per gallon, ours is already among the highest in the nation. The proposed hike will reportedly be a part of a much larger transportation revenue package.

I’ve had some past dealings with Clibborn, and have found her to be a pragmatic, moderate, business-friendly Democrat for the most part, so I was somewhat surprised to see her bring this forward.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D-Medina), said last month he would support a gas-tax hike, however, any increase will face stiff resistance in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans — and two Democrats — Tom, and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch).

What’s so ironic about these recent proposals is that they are the direct result of the Law of Unintended Consequences at work.

Congress mandated our cars will get better gas mileage via what’s known as the CAFE Standards. Being good stewards of the earth, literally hundreds of thousands of people bought high gas mileage hybrid cars. Wanting to do the right thing for our environment, they voluntarily paid an extra multi-thousand dollar premium for them — which generated a substantial about of additional, one-time sales tax revenue. That money went into the general fund — not the gas tax fund.

The unintended consequence is the combination of hybrids, and higher gas mileage cars complying with the CAFÉ Standards, reduce the amount of fuel being bought on an ongoing basis, which reduces the amount of gas tax dollars collected, hence the shortage of revenue to maintain and build roads, fund the ferries, etc.

Still more unintended consequences of the move by the ruling class elite to get us out of our cars and on to mass transit, is that fewer cars will be bought. New and used car sales are the single largest generator of sales tax revenue for our cities and counties. Reducing the amount of car sales will negatively impact not only the state’s general fund, which will increase the deficits we’ve gotten used to facing, but also reduce gas tax revenues even more. Meanwhile, cities, counties, and the state itself, will still require money to maintain their existing roads. Where will those dollars come from?

And then there are the increased tax subsidies that will be required to operate mass transit, since fare box revenue doesn’t even come close to meeting operating costs, maintenance, etc. The ferries are a perfect example.

Higher gas taxes — as well as increasing other taxes — will also take money directly out of the economy that would otherwise be spent on things that generate the sales tax revenue that our cities and counties run on — another unintended consequence.

But if all else fails, the Puget Sound Regional Council has a plan. Its Transportation 2040 Plan ( recommends imposing a Vehicle Miles Driven Tax (VMT) - taxing you for EVERY mile you drive. This is in addition to tolling I-5, I-90, I-405, and I-82, as well as adding HOT Lanes (Read: Toll) to many state highways, including Highways 3 and 16 - just as they’ve already done on Highway 167. They’re not proposing to build new lanes, just make you pay to drive in the ones you’ve already bought and paid for.

Isn’t anyone actually thinking through the unintended consequences of things like the CAFE Standards and mass transit before their knee-jerk cave-in to the politically correct elite and their vision of transportation Utopia?

The fly in the ointment for a gas or VMD tax to be passed into law, is it will require either a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, or a vote of the people.

Thank you Tim Eyman.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Is the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight running the Port of Bremerton?

Is it just me, or does the Port of Bremerton remind anyone else of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight? For years, I’ve said that there isn’t a way for the local Republicans to shoot themselves in the foot they hadn’t thought of, but that I have great confidence in their ability to invent new ones. I’m beginning to think the Port of Bremerton falls into that exact same category.

Beginning with the stealth tax that built the money-losing Bremerton Marina, to its latest insult to the people paying the bills — an arrogant refusal to honor a Public Records Request — it’s no wonder the public has zero confidence in the Port’s current management.

When the Port hired former Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman as its CEO, it looked like the beginning of a new era, where forward thinking would finally prevail. Bozeman’s resignation as Mayor and hiring as CEO seemed to me at the time to be a stroke of genius on someone’s part.

Bozeman was facing re-election, which I believe he would have won handily in spite of naysayers about the infamous tunnel, but would have faced four years with an economy that had tanked and brought downtown redevelopment — his personal passion — to a halt. In spite of his critics, I believe Bozeman is a true leader — a big picture guy with extraordinary vision. While no one will accuse him of being detail oriented, he knows how to get things done, and surrounds himself with people who understand visionary thinking and know how to handle details that turn vision into reality.

With the voters angry at the Port over the tax to build the marina, and because of the economy, no projected money on the horizon for the City to move downtown redevelopment forward, the move to the Port appeared to be a win/win.

However, until Bozeman arrived, no one really understood just how furtively mismanaged the Port had been. It was sitting on a huge empty building it was ill-advised to build in the first place, costing taxpayers more than $20,000 a month, and eventually leased at significantly less than local market rates just to stem some of the bleeding. It was losing money on both marinas, the airport, and had empty buildings at the Olympic View Industrial Park.

For two years, Bozeman was forbidden by his bosses — the Port Commissioners — to spend any money on new initiatives. In one discussion we had, he said what the Port really needs is an experienced entrepreneur running it, and Commissioners willing to invest money to make money. Bozeman retired at the end of his contract, and in my view, the Port lost a tremendous opportunity to fix its problems because the Commissioners are obsessed with not spending any money.

When the Commissioners tapped second in command, Tim Thomson, to take over as CEO, I believed it was another misstep. I’ve known Tim for about 20 years. He’s a really nice guy, a good administrator, but the wrong guy for the job. He’s retired military, with no real entrepreneurial experience. He’s used to taking orders — and not challenging them. So standing up to strong, irascible personalities like Commissioner Larry Stokes — a financial conservative, as is Commissioner, Axel Strakeljahn — just isn’t in his DNA. He’s a guy caught between a rock and hard place.

The Port’s recent proposal to turn the money-losing Bremerton Marina over to private enterprise seemed to me to be one of their rare good ideas. However, the Port’s insistence the private operator keep the Port’s current level of unionized staffing, coupled with the expectation the Port would make a profit on the private operation, made this a non-starter.

If there was a profit to be made, why didn’t the Port just make the changes necessary to do so? Also, it seems to me, just getting out from under losing $1,000+ a day would improve the Port’s bottom line even if it didn’t make a nickel off the private operation.

In an attempt to learn more about exactly how the Port expected to pull this miracle off, I submitted a public-documents request for copies of the two responses to the Port’s RFP — submitted by Marsh Andersen LLC and its principal owner, Robert Wise of Bainbridge Island, and Marinas International Inc. of Dallas. Rachel Pritchett of the Kitsap Sun also submitted the same request, the same day.

Business Journal Editor Tim Kelly, had previously been led to believe that both Wise and Marinas International would be interested in not just managing, but actually purchasing the marina that cost taxpayers $34 million to build, if it were to be made available, and if the numbers involved to strike a deal worked for them.

Any information about a sale would be exempted by law from the Public Records request, and the Port would not have to release those parts of the documents. However, a sale was not what the RFP called for, so the proposals should have been released.

However, the Port's management didn’t see it that way. So Rachel agreed to contact Tim Ford, the state’s assistant attorney general for government accountability, and share his opinion with me. I also copied Ford on my own communications with the Port. Ford said the proposals are public, and suggested asking for supporting legal citation, if the port refused our requests.

Rachel and I both received an email from the port stating that, “public release of (request for proposal) responses prior to port commission action could result in private gain or public loss by disclosing critical private proprietary terms, conditions and values that may be used in future negotiations with the port.” There was no supporting legal citation, and reading the proposals, it became abundantly clear that just isn’t the truth. While not an outright denial, it strongly indicates a determined unwillingness to share public information.

To his credit, Port Commissioner Roger Zabinski strongly supported immediately releasing the documents and lobbied for the Port to do so, but was overruled.

In the end, the Port rejected both proposals. So while the Port complied with the letter of the Public Disclosure law, it certainly didn't hesitate to violate the spirit of it — an action arrogantly reminiscent of the stealth tax.