A letter I received this morning from Pearse Edwards at the Port Of Seattle in reply to my letter to the Port Commissioners yesterday. And my reply (cc’ed to the Commissioners) follows.
> JC –
> Good morning. Commissioner Steinbrueck asked me to respond to your e-mail relating to the Port’s engagement on the impact study authorized in the 2018 legislative session. During the past legislative session, the Port maintained a neutral position on the budget proviso sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall to study Sea-Tac airport impacts on area communities. This meant that we neither supported or opposed the legislation. Neutrality did not mean that we would not engage in the formation of the bill. Like any other agency in Washington state, we work with legislators and their staff and the executive branch to shape public policy. In this instance we asked Rep. Orwall to consider certain changes to the language in the budget proviso. She agreed to some of our requests and rejected others. The compromise language was addressed in a letter from the House and Senate Budget chairs to the state Department of Commerce, the agency responsible for carrying out the study.
> This summer, at the invitation of the state Department of Commerce the Port joined the working group being established to contribute to the study. At the meeting you refer to, the Port’s representative, Eric ffitch (our State Government Relations manager) sought to incorporate the language that Rep. Orwall had agreed to, and that the Legislature had asked Commerce to incorporate. All that we did and continue to do relating to our engagement on this piece of legislation has been above board and proper. The Commission was regularly informed of the development of the study, including the changes requested and those accepted, over the course of the legislative session.
> We view our participation in the working group as an opportunity to be collaborative, just as we are trying to do in other studies and via the StART community group.
> Thank you for your continued engagement with the Port on these and other important matters.
> Pearse Edwards
> Acting Sr. Director Public Affairs
> Director Government Relations
> Port of Seattle
> Office – 206-787-4894
> Cell – 206-953-9324
And now my reply:
Thank you for your courteous reply. I want you to know that I fully appreciate that your people have an obligation to defend the Port’s interests. However, without getting all hi-falootin’, the Port Commission also has a duty to be good stewards of the environment and to treat their neighbours (that would be us) fairly. It says so right on the first page of the job description for Port Commissioner. So I’ll cut right to it…
Your reply glosses over some details and distorts others to the point of having no resemblance of the events you describe. The Commissioners should not read it and think, “Well, problem solved. Just another misunderstanding from those pesky residents.”
First off, my understanding is that Representative Orwall acceded to changes in the language of the Budget Proviso only because of a direct threat from your lobbyist to ask the Governor to veto the bill. That is not what I would call taking a neutral position on this bill. Your reply to me distorts that interaction to the point of being simply false.
Secondly, it may not have been illegal, but it was decidedly unethical for your people to even be in the room with the Dept. Of Commerce (DOC) during meetings to hammer out implementation. The bill has already passed, it says nothing about your participation in its implementation, so your representatives have no business being in the room continuing to lobby for changes. Those meetings should be only for the representatives of the participating communities. The fact that the DOC and our city reps did not show you the door is another kettle of fish that I will take up with them, but that does not excuse your representatives’ unethical behaviour.
Third, you are contradicting replies I’ve received from Commissioners Gregoire, Steinbrueck and Calkins. They all say that they had no knowledge of your lobbying efforts on behalf of this bill. So now we have a “he said, she said” which, if you’ll forgive me, is quite typical for the Port. You say they were kept in the loop. And they can reply, “Oh yeah, now I remember, I’m so busy I forget details like this.” It is all chalked up to being just another misunderstanding.
And finally, regardless of “who knew what, when” the Port’s behaviour in this matter was simply wrong and unfair to the airport communities. That bill was written (and paid for) by us, the residents of the airport communities. You and your commission know full well that it was intentionally structured so as to exclude any influence by the Port Of Seattle. That knowledge should have told you and your lobbyist to respect that and make no efforts to influence its language or implementation. That would have been the ethical and proper thing to do.
As I wrote yesterday, what should happen is this: Instruct your representatives to relegate themselves to exactly the same status as the public: they may audit these meetings, but they should not be allowed to interact with any of the participants with regard to this law. They should accede to our demand to have their changes removed and the original language of the law reinstated in full. And finally, they should be instructed to make no further attempts to alter the process in any way, either at these meetings or in any other context. And again, I ask that the commission immediately take the above action to preserve the independence of our impact study.
I recognise that your reply is most likely merely a necessary formality, but every once in a while one can hope that you can do the fair and decent thing. At bottom, the ongoing problem for the Port (and us) is the intrinsic conflict of interest between your mission statement and the Port’s obligations to its neighbours and the environment. I can’t think of a single instance, not one, where the Port has put the interests of the communities ahead of the region’s desires for growth and economic development. It would go a long way towards repairing the completely broken trust between us if your commission would do the right thing in this particular instance.