Port bylaws address officials’ behavior

Commissioner John Spencer says he hopes 'creating some ground rules' will help Port leaders avoid acting inappropriately in future

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The Port of Camas-Washougal has adopted a set of bylaws that one commissioner hopes will set the tone for a more respectful commission in the future.

“There have been a number of incidents over the past five years where I felt commissioners acted inappropriately, myself included when I got into an argument with (former Commissioner) Bill Ward,” Port Commissioner John Spencer told the Post-Record. “I hoped that by creating some ground rules, we could help avoid some problems, or at least have a platform for correcting them when they arise.”

Spencer has been pushing for the new bylaws since the fall of 2019, when he first approached the Port’s chief executive officer, David Ripp, about the possibility of creating the new rules to guide commissioners’ expectations.

Port leaders reviewed the bylaws in mid-November and adopted them at their Dec. 3 commission meeting.

“The bulk of the document is … mundane,” Spencer said. “Most of it really just puts a lot of existing rules into one place. There are just a few sentences mixed in that speak to my concerns.”

The bylaws “shall constitute the rules governing the transaction of business by the duly elected port commission,” according to the Port’s report on the issue. They cover a variety of topics related to commission governance, including duties and responsibilities, organization, officer duties, meetings, order of business, motions, resolutions and minutes.

Article IV, Section 7 states that “any member of the commission, including the presiding officer, shall have the right to question any individual, including members of the staff, on matters germane to the issue properly before the commission for discussion. Such questioning shall be undertaken with decorum and respect.”

Article V, Section 5 states that “all lawful discussions during executive sessions shall be kept confidential. Commissioners may not divulge the content of executive sessions beyond a citation to the subsection of Revised Code of Washington 42.30.110 or other applicable law under which the session is conducted to anyone not present and or not qualified to attend the executive session.”

“These are obviously in response to issues that we’ve had in the past,” Spencer said during the Nov. 18 meeting.

When asked by the Post-Record to elaborate, Spencer said that he’d “rather not point fingers beyond saying that these issues have arisen in the past.”

“(The) ground rules and expectations about how we should be behaving (are) not so much for our current commission, but for future commissions, when you’re guaranteed to have some commissioner who’s a bit rogue, who’s going to be disruptive in some way,” Spencer said during the meeting. “In the end, there’s not a lot we can do. We can’t force John Spencer to actually behave himself; short of voter recall, you’re kind of stuck with me and my personality. But what I wanted to do was at least put down some expectations.”

Port Commissioner Larry Keister agreed that the bylaws are needed, and thanked Spencer for his efforts.

“I’m glad that (John) brought it up because when I read through this, I feel that we follow the rules very closely, but it’s always a good idea to review it,” Keister said during the Nov. 18 meeting. “We run our meetings the best we possibly can. We’re very fortunate that our community participates in our meetings. We have respect for them, and fortunately they have respect for us. But it’s good to have an opportunity to review what the rules are from time to time.”

Commissioner Cassi Marshall agreed with Keister, adding that the bylaws will be a great help to newly elected officials.

“I think (the bylaws are) great,” Marshall said during the Nov. 18 meeting. “(They present a) really nice, succinct overview of how it all works. There’s some great language in here. I think it speaks to some really good things about transparency and the public meetings acts and all of that, and it’s always good to have a reminder (of those things). I think we should give it a try for this year and review it and see if we have any feedback after that.”