May 16, 2018 Sandy Robson
NWNW Admin’s Note: I am adding links to video clips of the 5/15 Port of Bellingham Commission meeting where the material discussed in this post of Sandy’s took place. Watching the video can help reader’s have a clearer sense of how it was that public process was overridden. – Dena Jensen
Link to the public comment by Alexander Dixon, owner of Summers End Music and Arts Gathering followed by some discussion by the Port Commissioners: https://youtu.be/lTVGowsFA9w?t=41s
Link to the Commission discussion and vote on the Summers End Music and Arts Gathering Event: https://youtu.be/lTVGowsFA9w?t=1h2m3s
May 16, 2018 Sandy Robson
This post is related to Bellingham Port Commissioner Michael Shepard’s Facebook post he made today, May 16, on his “Michael Shepard Port of Bellingham Commissioner” Facebook page, and the same post he made on the Riveters Collective Facebook group page. In his post, he said: “As an elected official I strive to bring transparency and accountability to Port operations, and my decision making process. I welcome your feedback anytime.” Well, here’s some feedback.
The Port of Bellingham Commission voted on an issue at its May 15, 2018 meeting last evening, even though that issue was not even listed on its agenda (screenshot photos attached) for that meeting. The issue I’m reverting to that was voted on at last night’s Port Commission meeting was “a motion to close Zuanich Point Park for a private event on August 17.”
More specifically, the issue was whether the Port should approve a music festival event (“Summers End”) on August 17, 2018, at Zuanich Point Park, which would result in closing off the entire park from the general public unless people were to pay an admission fee to the event. The event will be all day and through the evening. This issue was only first brought in front of the Port Commission during a presentation by events person, Tiffany DeSimone, at its May 1, 2018 meeting. At that May 1 meeting, she said there are two private music concert events that have been proposed to the Port, one in August and one in September. Those two events would mean closing off the entire park to the public unless people pay an admission fee.
Here’s how things went down at last night’s meeting according to the video recording of the meeting. There was a public comment period during which one person there testified on the Zuanich Point Park issue, and he just happened to be the person/promoter wanting to put on the August 17 Summers End music festival event. He showed up to the commission meeting and testified, then the commission said they would discuss it a bit later on in the meeting last night. After items on the agenda were addressed then eventually there was some discussion by the commissioners on the possible closure of Zuanich Point Park for the August 17 Summers End music concert event issue.
The commissioners noted there was great public interest about the issue, and even though the Port staff recommended the commissioners wait to vote until the next meeting, commissioners Bell and Shepard pushed for a vote, Commissioner Bell adding that he would be fine with “taking the heat” for the decision to vote.
Commissioner Briscoe said he would not vote on the Zuanich Point Park music event issue/item if it was being voted on at last night’s meeting, adding that if they were going to vote on it, he would abstain.
Commissioner Shepard said that he didn’t think the vote would be any different if they were to wait two weeks for the next Port Commission meeting to then vote.
Commissioner Briscoe reminded the other commissioners that there was a process they need to follow and Commissioner Bell seemed to possibly consider for a few moments, proposing a public hearing on the issue, but then decided to then call for a vote on the issue right then.
Commissioner Briscoe said because the vote was called for, he then decided to vote “No” because he expected that proper protocol would be followed.
Commissioner Shepard voted “Yes,” supporting the event. Commissioner Bell voted “Yes,” and he told the Summers End promoter there in the audience who had testified earlier, that he could now promote the event.
I would like to know if the Port commissioners and/or the Port events person, Ms. DeSimone, contacted the promoter of the Summers End music event to alert him that there might be a vote on the issue at last night’s Commission meeting.
Was it simply a coincidence that he showed up at that meeting to give public comment, or did someone representing the Port somehow give him advance notice that there may be a vote? If so, then why wasn’t the public provided equal notice?
The improper vote process on this particular issue at last night’s Port Commission meeting was reminiscent of when the conservative member majority on the Charter Review Commission rammed through District-Only voting in February 2015, during a Charter Review Commission meeting with almost no public discussion. There was discussion at subsequent meetings, but that was after the vote had already been cast. Ken Bell who is presently a Port Commissioner, was one of those conservative Charter Review commissioners back in 2015, so it’s not surprising to see the way he conducted himself as a Port Commissioner on this music concert event issue and vote.
While I’m not surprised that Commissioner Bell acted in such an undemocratic manner in regards to the Zuanich Point Park closure for a music event issue during last night’s Port Commission meeting, I am surprised that Commissioner Shepard also acted in an undemocratic manner on this particular issue. At least Port Commissioner Bobby Briscoe was not a willing participant as were Commissioners Bell and Shepard were in their having rushed this vote without providing proper notice to the public.
I had sent a May 15 email yesterday to the Port commissioners on the issue of possibly closing Zuanich Point Park for music concert events, and specifically addressed the music festival proposed for September 1, 2018, Labor Day weekend, because I had found out some information yesterday morning about that event from the Port event person, Ms. DeSimone.
I received a response from Port Executive Director Rob Fix, to whom I did not send my initial email that I had sent to the commissioners. I have attached screenshot photos of my email communications on this issue and of the email replies I received from Mr. Fix. So far, as of the time I’m posting this post, I have not received a response from any of the Port commissioners.
I have also attached the screenshot photos which accompanied my initial May 15 email to the Port commissioners — I had to take two separate photos of my initial May 15 email because it was too long to fit in a single photo.
While some people may be in support of closing off the general public from an entire public park for such music events, I am not, and no matter how people feel about the issue, I hope they can step back away from their desire for a music festival that would result in closing an entire public park for a private event requiring an admission fee, and at least look at Commissioner Bell’s and Commissioner Shepard’s utter disrespect for public process. In my opinion, no one should be okay with that.
This whole thing was anything but transparent even though Commissioner Shepard talked about striving for transparency in his Facebook post. I don’t expect to agree on every vote Port commissioners cast, but I do expect that they would champion the idea of an open and proper public process. I never expected this from him.