Community meets Port of Bellingham director candidates

BELLINGHAM - About 75 people came to the Bellingham Cruise Terminal Monday, Oct. 29, to meet the three finalists for the executive director position at the Port of Bellingham.

Jonathan Daniels, executive director at the Port of Oswego, N.Y., touted his background in managing port facilities there and at ports in Bangor, Maine, where he had experience with a large airport, and in Baton Rouge, La., where the port operates 17 miles of public railroad.

He said he would work hard to revive cargo shipments at Bellingham's deep-water terminal, citing possible opportunities in wind turbine components and organic corn.

He also pledged to be involved in the community. He has been active in United Way fundraising in Oswego and would expect to continue that if he gets the opportunity to move here.

William Panos, public works and port director for the city of West Sacramento, Calif., said he had extensive private sector experience before switching to a career in public service. He said he worked for TRW Inc. in aerospace, defense and automotive enterprises, and said that gives him an understanding of what corporations are looking for when they seek sites for new facilities.

Panos also said his work with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection gives him some expertise in industrial cleanup projects - a major concern for the Port of Bellingham, where extensive cleanup work is needed along the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill site on the waterfront.

Panos said he has been impressed with the quality of the port staff and their positive attitude about their employer.

"It's rare to have a place that you work feel like a family," Panos said.

Les Reardanz, a former assistant Bellingham city attorney who served as the city's waterfront development manager, is now chief administrative officer at the Port of Everett.

Reardanz said he's excited to see a more collaborative spirit between different levels of local government in Whatcom County, as elected leaders look for ways to stimulate the economy.

"I believe in collaborative and servant leadership," Reardanz said. "I believe in what has been called the 'three Ts:' teamwork, transparency and trust. If you lose one of those Ts, the organization can't function effectively."

Port Commission President Scott Walker said he and his two fellow commissioners would interview the finalists Tuesday, Oct. 30, as would other community leaders. Commissioners may be ready to select a candidate as early as Wednesday, Walker said, but port staffers say it is likely that commissioners won't announce that selection until their next regular meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Port CFO Rob Fix has served as interim executive director since the April 2012 departure of Charlie Sheldon. The salary range for the position is $130,000 to $155,000.