BELLINGHAM - On a 2-1 vote, Port of Bellingham commissioners have decided to stick to their regular afternoon meetings, resisting calls for evening sessions that might attract more public participation.
Port Commission President Mike McAuley cast the lone vote in favor of evening sessions. Dan Robbins and Jim Jorgensen voted to stick with the longstanding schedule of 3 p.m. meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
At the Tuesday, Jan. 21, meeting, Robbins acknowledged that when he was running for his first term last fall, he had promised to "entertain" switching to evening meetings. But he said he had studied the matter and was convinced that the afternoon meetings are best.
Robbins said the only group of people who seem wholeheartedly in favor of evening meetings are community activists who want to testify regularly. Robbins said he had gotten four emails to that effect in the past couple of weeks.
He contended that the activists are far outnumbered by other groups who prefer keeping the meetings in the afternoon. Representatives of companies doing business with the port would prefer to address commissioners during regular business hours, as would most port tenants, Robbins said.
He also noted that the port sometimes hires consultants and attorneys from Seattle who drive to Bellingham for port meetings. If those meetings were to end at 10 p.m., some of those people would charge the port for overnight expenses rather than drive back to Seattle late at night, Robbins said.
Day meetings also are more convenient for port employees and elderly people who prefer not to drive at night, Robbins said.
Robbins rattled off a long list of other port districts in the state, including Seattle, that hold commission meetings during the daytime.
On occasions when the port commission confronts an issue that attracts a lot of public interest, special meetings could be scheduled to get public input, as has been done in the past, Robbins said.
"There were a lot of waterfront meetings that were held at night, and I'm in favor of that," Robbins said.
McAuley said the commission should be focused on making meeting participation more convenient for members of the public.
Commercial fisherman Doug Karlberg, a frequent commenter at port meetings, was among those who tried to convince a majority of commissioners to change the meeting schedule.
"The middle of the day is not a good time," Karlberg said. "Evening meetings are there for the public. ... If you made some more time available for the public that is not in the middle of the work day, that would be showing respect for the public."