THE PORT OF PORTLAND has been in the news a lot this year.
First, the once-bustling port bled jobs and money when Korean shipping giant Hanjin pulled its business from Terminal 6, saying it's too expensive. Then the port came under fire for pushing the city to tweak zoning along the Columbia River, a decision that would allow Pembina Pipeline Corporation to build a giant propane storage and shipping facility there ["Pushing for a Pipeline," News, April 15]. Most recently, the port quietly and successfully lobbied in Salem for special permission to continue dumping contaminated river muck onto West Hayden Island ["To the Island Go the Spoils," News, May 13].
These issues raised public concern from labor organizations, environmental groups, and community members, with many Portlanders claiming the port is putting profit in front of environmental sustainability.
Now Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, has had enough. He says port leadership—made up of a nine-member Port Commission and nine extremely well-paid administrative directors—are out of touch and continually at odds with community members. And he contends port leaders don't care about the blue-collar workers they claim to be looking out for.
"When the port rails about the loss of blue-collar jobs, I would argue they're the number one threat," Sallinger says. "With each failed initiative, rather than do an internal review, the port seems to double down in pursuit of the next one."
Sallinger says it's time for major reform within the shadowy—and often publicly invisible—Port of Portland administration.
"The great irony at the port is that it likes to portray itself as looking out for blue-collar workers, when those are some of the highest paid white-collar positions of any public agency," he says.
Port Director Bill Wyatt earns $394,440 a year. Together, he and his eight fellow administrators' salaries total just over $2.3 million.
Wyatt's on the way out. In 2014, he announced he'll retire within three to five years. Curtis Robinhold, chief of staff to former Governor John Kitzhaber, currently holds the deputy director position and is the port's heir apparent, which Sallinger calls "outrageous."
"There is no agency in this state that calls out more for a transparent and inclusive public hiring process," he says. "This transition is really an opportunity for the port to stop and take a look at what has been a remarkable string of conflicts and failures. This shouldn't be an insider decision."
Sallinger also takes issue with commission appointments. Port commissioners serve four-year terms, are appointed by the governor, and can be reappointed.
"There has never been a discussion of having representation from neighborhood associations or social and environmental justice groups," he says. "That could happen now and within the existing framework of how the commission is set up."
Port spokesman Steve Johnson says the commission's mission is to promote industrial and economic development by providing sufficient cargo and air passenger service to the region.
"The commission is a diverse group of individuals who have brought leadership to a wide range of issues, including, but not limited to, labor relations and environmental sustainability," he says.
He's partly right: Commissioner Bruce Holte, whose term is up at the end of this month, is president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 8. Commissioner Tom Chamberlain is president of the Oregon chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
But of the other commissioners—whose day jobs run the gamut from Nike's general counsel, to vice president of Columbia Sportswear, to CEO of a company that makes environmentally friendly chemicals—none are directly representative of neighborhood groups, social justice groups, or environmental justice leagues.
Four of the commissioners' terms are ending within the next year, and Johnson said he "anticipate(s) having four new commissioners." Chris Pair, a press secretary for Governor Kate Brown, said he couldn't name potential candidates now, and that a news release would go out when they're appointed.
Sallinger contends the corporation-affiliated commissioners make decisions that line up with business interests, not Portlanders' needs and ideals. He says they should be replaced with an elected or locally appointed commission.
Models exist for the type of system Sallinger wants.
Seattle's five port commissioners—currently under fire for allowing Shell to make Seattle its Arctic drilling homeport—are elected by King County voters. Many other large port cities, such as Boston, San Diego, and Los Angeles, have their commissioners appointed by the mayor or city council.
Pair declined to answer directly when asked if the governor would consider appointing interim community representation to the commission or shifting to an election process, but says that the port "represent(s) the values Oregonians hold highest in the midst of an increasingly interdependent world."
Sallinger, of course, disagrees.
"There is a real lack of introspection at the port, which has been repeatedly at odds with community values," he says. "It's time for a much more balanced port organization where we have representation of neighborhood associations and environmental and social justice groups."