Port attorney critical to protecting public trust

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.” — Revised Code of Washington, 42.56.030, also known as the Washington Public Records Act.

The new year brings with it, we hope, a continuation of efforts to rebuild public trust and heal wounds at the Port of Kingston.

For only the second time in the port’s history, the commission has a female majority. Laura Gronvoll, who succeeded Walt Elliott as commissioner, is believed to be only the fifth woman elected to the port commission in the port district’s 98-year history.

And in 2017, Port Executive Director Jim Pivarnik and his staff made great advances in making the port more transparent and responsive to public requests for information. The port district has also taken ownership for some of its past mistakes, settling one public records lawsuit and approaching settlement of another.

Candidates for port attorney answered questions on Dec. 12 related to economic development and transparency. It would have been a good time to review past events, and how the prospective attorney would ensure the port district doesn’t repeat those mistakes.

To recap: The port was sued separately by two port residents who had filed public records requests, in an effort to collect information they felt would prove that port officials had acted in a discriminatory and retaliatory way. Under the leadership of Pivarnik’s predecessor, the port failed to respond to those public records requests as required by law.

The dispute that led to the public records requests and lawsuits could have been resolved had the port commission at the time showed some leadership in managing its port manager and staff. And the port commission was obligated to act when it learned public records requests were not being responded to as required by law. As Pivarnik proved after he joined the port, the public records requests could have been honored as required. All it took was good management and leadership.

Port commissioners and staff members certainly understand the authority of the port they lead: to engage in economic development. But all is for nought if the port fails to follow the law, and fails to maintain a positive public relationship worthy of trust.

The port staff has made advances toward that. The work must continue. And a good port attorney is critical to that effort.