We Need A Professional

The airport communities need to establish a direct, formal relationship with the Commissioners of the Port Of Seattle. This should be accomplished either voluntarily or by statue and then executed by a dedicated professional. In short we need a professional airport advocate.

The airport communities need this because our current system of communication, which has always been the only formal system of communication, has never been successful at providing fruitful negotiations.

We use the term ‘dedicated’ in both primary senses of the word: First as a person who’s sole mission is to advocate for our interests with the Port Of Seattle (and other legislators). This person must have the skills and knowledge about airport operations and the Port in order to be effective and that is a full-time job.

But we also use ‘dedicated’ in the other sense: a person who is on a mission to create a completely new frame-work for dealings with the Port. Essentially, this person must create their position and a way of working with the Port that has not existed.

No more committees

The current tool-set, far from enabling us, is what holds us back. It creates the appearance of engagement, but in reality it locks us in a perpetual cycle of busy-work that never accomplishes anything because it is completely separate from the actual decision-making process.

Unfortunately, activists continue to work within the same frame that the Port provides (eg. voting, Highline Forum, StART) which has never achieved good results. And by ‘never’ we don’t mean just in the past few years, we mean since the communities first began to protest against each airport expansion. This is a cycle of repeated failures over a fifty year period that we don’t appreciate because we tend to only focus on now.

But committees are terribly seductive. They bring out the ‘public spirit’ in people. Many people love a chance to contribute. But in the end? The Port just keeps on building.

What is needed is a fundamentally different relationship and just as importantly, a new culture.

A different culture

We need to work to create a different culture at the Port. The process is two-fold:

  • Groom new Commission candidates who will see the value in this new relationship. These efforts must start long before they are elected.
  • Then after they are elected, communicate with them regularly through our advocate as a counterbalance to what they hear from the corporation.

The Port is a BIG government that acts like a small government. Big governments accommodate lobbyists. In fact, ethical lobbyists are absolutely essential to the proper functioning of government because legislators can’t get the information they need without them.

Small governments, not so much. The Port never hears us because we have no lobbying. We only interact with them through these stupid ’round tables’. Real people never make decisions that way. They do it one on one.

We never have influence because we never get enough face time with the commissioners to educate them on even the most basic facts. It is reasonable to believe that if they had a good working knowledge of the issues, they would be much more likely to decide issues more to our liking. In other words, they currently have no easy way to get the knowledge they lack. And a lack of knowledge makes it easier for them to make choices that negatively effect us.

And that is the problem and always has been the problem.

A commissioner can meet with a ’round table’ once a month, but then they meet with department heads like a *Stan or an Arlyn or a Liz every week and do whatever those people recommend. We never get in their ear enough to have any impact on decision making.

We can spend the next decade hoping for relief from far away with the FAA (assuming there are even enough votes to do anything) or we can work on getting some direct attention in the here and now.

We need to groom candidates to expect to listen to us one on one (like a State Rep or Senator) and then lobbying power to directly influence their thinking week to week.

It’s old testament

We have to accept that every current commissioner is a lost cause. They are like the Israelites who left Egypt but could never give up their old mindset (see Numbers 14). You cannot change their point of view. We often pick on Commissioner Felleman about this because he is by far the most sensitive of the current lot. He’s a fucking marine biologist after all! If he doesn’t prioritize airport communities over commerce, no one can. And he doesn’t. He follows the standard Port line: growth above all. But he sure does love Orcas! As we’ve noted so many times, this is quintessentially Seattle: we want to save the whales and get free next-day shipping. They know all that jazz about ‘global warming’, but they won’t act.

We must work to see that the next generation of Port Commissioners are different.

Reform is hard

One way to think about it is like the reform programs at numerous police departments. These organizations keep creating the same problems over and over for the communities they serve because new hires come into the organization, get indoctrinated and the cycle of bad behavior continues from one generation to the next.

What this implies is that it may take legislation or court order to guarantee that any advocate can do her job. She may need that boost in order for the new relationship to take root. But, like police department reforms, this state of affairs should only be temporary. Everyone benefits from such an imposition being as brief as possible. We’re not looking for a permanent state of conflict. We’re looking for the healthy give and take we should have had all along.

The engagement is off

This professional advocate will establish a new relationship, one based on constant negotiation, not ‘engagement’. The ‘e’ word should be excised from everyone’s vocabulary. We’re not interested in engagement, we’re interested in gaining the things we want. The word ‘engagement’ always smacked of touchy-feely sharing and learning. Who cares about sharing and learning? We’re not in a personal growth seminar! We have goals to achieve, like every healthy business relationship. And we’re decades behind schedule. So our mind set needs to change just as much as that of the Port.


As we’ve noted time and again, the Port Commissioners are part-timers. They all come to the job with a pro-growth mentality and low-information about our needs. This is a dangerous combination. The long-term cycle of ‘engagement’ has only made it easy for Port Commissioners to avoid our pain and suffering.

Instead, we need a direct line to them through a professional advocate, just as happens in all normal large government relationships. It may require help from legislation or court order to kick-start such a relationship but we must establish a new culture at the Port. And as the Port’s oversight, the Commissioners are the key.

By having direct access to the Commission, our advocate can have far greater influence than any previous method of ‘engagement’. The advocate’s task is not to engage, but to carry out an ongoing negotiation for the set of asks that the airport communities deserve.

*Stan Shepherd is Manager Of Noise Programs

One Reply to “We Need A Professional”

  1. all true but action must follow talk and education must be stressed
    throughout the airport and its environs . Most of us do not even think of how to change the system and accept the status quo…
    Maybe a ballot initiative.?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *