Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver plans to introduce a resolution in January proposing that the commission be expanded from three members to five.
“An organization such as ours needs to have a variety of opinions,” Oliver said Thursday in an interview about the proposal.
Oliver said the commission’s current setup prevents conversations between two commissioners away from a formal meeting. Such a conversation would be a violation of the state Open Meetings Act.
“We cannot have any conversation,” Oliver said, “other than to exchange pleasantries if we meet on the street.”
The wording of the resolution has not been settled, Oliver said. While there are three methods for increasing the size, Oliver said he’ll likely seek approval of a resolution to send the matter to port district voters to decide on a ballot.
He suggested the port’s approach to a possible oil terminal might have unfolded differently under a five-member commission.
“What might have happened with the oil terminal if we’d said, ‘Let’s study this a little bit,’ ” Oliver said, outlining a scenario in which two commissioners could have traveled together to research the issue and returned to the full commission to report their findings.
Commissioners discussed the possibility of five members during a work session at their regular meeting Tuesday.
The workshop was held as a follow-up to Oliver raising the issue in January. Oliver also brought up the issue in 2009. Oliver’s term ends next year. First elected in 2007, he said he will not seek re-election.
Now, the three commissioners run at-large in a general election for six-year terms; they run in districtwide elections only in primaries in which there is more than one candidate.
Commissioner Don Orange said in an interview Thursday that he was open to the idea of two more commissioners, but only if those commissioners served at-large and three commissioners continued serving nearly equally sized geographic districts. Orange said communications on the board might improve with five board members.
“I’ve only developed this perspective since I started here,” said Orange, who was elected in 2017 and who said he has been impressed with the port staff since his arrival.
Commissioner Eric LaBrant, elected in 2015, said he has not heard a compelling reason to expand the commission. LaBrant said the current setup ensures transparency to the public about official port business.
“You could potentially have five members with things being discussed outside of a meeting,” LaBrant said. “As a port, we definitely want to be as transparent as we can, and I think that (five members) could be a step back for transparency.
At their workshop Tuesday, commissioners were told that of the 75 port districts in the state, 70 of them have a three-member commission. The ports of Seattle and Tacoma are among the five with five members. The three other ports to have five commissioners — Anacortes, Orcas and Edmonds — are all smaller than Vancouver.
The cost of the three-member board — for salaries, per diem, benefits, conferences and other expenses — is $212,871. For a five-member board, that would increase to $463,452.
In addition to port commissioners adopting a resolution proposing to voters an increase in the number of commissioners, voters could also petition for the increase by submitting signatures from at least 10 percent of voters in the port district to the Clark County Auditor. Also, under state law, an expanded port commission is presented to voters if the district’s population reaches 500,000 or more.