Harbor commissioner apologizes

March 07, 2007 12:00 am

By Tom Hubka

Wescom Wire Service

BROOKINGS – Under fire following several controversial decisions, a Port of Brookings Harbor commissioner offered a public apology Tuesday while two others chastised the port director's manner of asking a popular restaurant to move.

"I'd like to offer a public apology if I have offended anyone," said Commissioner Sue Gold, reading a prepared statement during Tuesday's special port meeting. "I would never offend anyone purposely."

Gold and fellow commissioner Loren Griffith represented the commission last week when they met to negotiate new fees with organizers of three festivals: the Southern Oregon Kite Festival, Slam‘n Salmon Ocean Derby and the Festival of the Arts.

Several festival officials called their experiences with the commissioners and port Executive Director Dave Scott "unacceptable" and threatened to cancel the events.

Gold said Tuesday she was sorry if she had offended.

Gold also called for the process of setting fees to proceed "logically, rationally and calmly," adding the festivals play a critical role in supporting the port's retail businesses throughout the year.

"Both sides ... seem unwilling to budge," she said, noting the fees the port had proposed were not very different from the fees the festivals had proposed. "It would be very foolish to step over dollars to pick up pennies."

Gold also offered suggestions for each festival, noting Griffith's business, Ocean Suites, had pledged a $200 sponsorship to help the various festivals put on by Oasis Shelter Home Inc.

Griffith, also reading a statement, likened the port to a candy store with the commissioners being "sugar daddies."

"You want us to borrow money to subsidize your event, and 40 percent of you are for profit," he said, adding the port must secure money from another source because of this.

"For the port to borrow money and give it away to subsidize costs is, in my mind, not only fiscally irresponsible, but is morally wrong," he said.

All the festivals make money, and, depending on the event, give their proceeds to various groups. Griffith said.

Rarely, he said, do festivals choose to donate back to the port.

"It appears to the recipients of these donations that you, the individuals that sponsor these events, are making these contributions," he said. "That is self-aggrandizement at the expense of the port, its 16,000 taxpayers and to 3.6 million Oregonians to whom we owe $7.5 million."

After reading his statement, Griffith left the discussion, saying the commission knew how he would vote and that remaining for discussion would not be helpful.

During a public comment portion, Cynthia Voortman, a co-owner of the Book Dock and official for the Chetco Merchants, said the Oasis festival officials shouldn't have to pay a fee and that it was irresponsible to have a port commissioner sponsor the event.

"It's as though you're biting the hand that is trying to feed you," she said.

After Griffith's departure, Commissioner Kathy Lindley called on Peggy

Freeman, former chairperson of the Southern Oregon Kite Festival, to

apologize after saying the port commissioners were not professional in her

festival fee meeting.

Lindley said she listened to the recordings of the Monday meetings and

disagreed with Freeman that port officials acted inappropriately.

The tapes of the meetings are public documents and are available at the Port

of Brookings Harbor office at 16408 Lower Harbor Road.

Lindley also made an apology for not being aware of the situation with

Fely's Cafe. Lindley said she found out Fely Johnson had been asked to leave

when a resident called her.

Scott, she said, had not informed her about the letter sent to Johnson

asking for her to leave.

"I resent hearing about action that has been taken by this commission by a

community member," she said. "I apologize to you for not knowing what was

going on. I also thank the members of the community for giving me a

heads-up."

Commissioner Lloyd Whaley voiced similar concerns over an apparent lack of

communication between him and Scott.

"We knew nothing about this letter," Whaley said. "Mr. Scott continually

does this. He should have been out a year ago.

"(The letter) should have been brought to the commission, right or wrong.

It's supposed to come to us and to the public. We are the public," he said.

Whaley also berated the Curry Coastal Pilot for articles it published last

week, saying it did not handle the festival fee and Fely's Cafe situations

fairly.

"The paper didn't ask both sides," he said. "They just print their trash

because it is around election time."

Whaley is up for reelection to the commission this May. Challenger Jim

Relaford filed his candidacy for the position earlier this month.

Lindley indicated Fely's Cafe was being singled out and that other

businesses in the port were behind in rent.

Scott said four port businesses had already been contacted about paying

their back rent and that he was acting on a commission order to collect rent

from businesses who were behind.

"The biggest problem with Fely's is the potential that the port has for

being in noncompliance with a federal regulation," he said. "If you are in

noncompliance, you jeopardize your other federal funding."

The port's federal funding isn't the only dollar source at stake, he added.

If the state of Oregon has too many instances of noncompliance, it could lose its federal funding as well.

The meeting Tuesday was originally called to initiate the process of finding

Scott's replacement after he went public earlier this month with his intention to resign no later than June.

The commission conducted a conference call with Greg Baker, executive director of the Special Districts Association of Oregon, to discuss how the port will utilize SDAO's services in searching for a new executive

director.

Baker said the new director's salary would be between $75,000 and $110,000 for a port the size of the Port of Brookings Harbor, adding SDAO's cost of conducting the search would be around $3,000, covering travel and out-of-pocket expenses.

An SDAO member would be coming to the port next week to hold a workshop with the commission, Baker said.

"We'd all agree upon the personal characteristics, skills and what you want this person to actually work on," he said.

Griffith supported holding the workshop, saying the decision to hire a new director would be the most important one the port will make this year and perhaps the decade.

"I personally think it would be a good thing to take this route," Gold said in agreement. "I think if we take an extra five or 10 days, it will be well worth it."

When asked if he would like to add anything to the discussion, Baker said he hoped the commission would be in agreement with its goals and actions.

"We're not looking for any controversy," he said.