Port of Tacoma commissioners approved a measure this week that requires leases to be discussed at two meetings instead of the current one — unless commissioners vote to waive the second hearing.
In the summer the policy change proposal, which called for three public meetings before lease approval, was lauded by residents as a welcome change amid a perceived lack of transparency surrounding a now-failed venture to build a methanol plant on the Tacoma Tideflats.
At its Tuesday meeting, commissioners opted instead for two public meetings as the new default for all lease approvals. The port commission previously was able to approve leases after the first reading, which it often did.
Commissioners, however, can still opt to approve leases on the first reading in certain circumstances. Port of Tacoma Commission President Dick Marzano said for less significant leases, such as office tenants, he would not request a second public meeting if other commissioners didn’t think it was necessary.
Marzano said after the meeting that as long as he is commission president, the port would not blindside the public by approving a major lease on the day it is introduced in a public meeting.
“I will not allow a motion of any kind to move forward that, in my mind, has at least the slightest bit of significance on the same day,” he said. “… We did not want to hinder or hold up future commissions” by enacting the original three-meeting proposal.
Tuesday’s vote changed a section of the port’s master policy agreement, which grants the port’s CEO authority to complete tasks on behalf of the commission.
“It’s making sure not only is the commission and staff, but the public is well aware of anything of any significance,” Marzano said Wednesday.
Claudia Riedener, a founder of a group that formed to protest the methanol plant called RedLine Tacoma, expressed cautious optimism at the summer transparency proposal. Thursday she said she remembers then-Port Commissioner President Connie Bacon making the original proposal, saying, “We hear you.”
“I don’t feel like they are being trustworthy, and are making promises when the public is there,” she said after learning of the port’s vote. Riedener did not attend the Tuesday meeting. “If you work you cannot make a lunch meeting. It excludes much of the regular working public or people without transportation.”
Port commissioners also voted Tuesday to require a commission vote before lawsuits are filed.
Last summer, the port announced it was joining a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of a ballot measure brought forward by methanol plant opponents. Marzano said Tuesday that the commission discussed the lawsuit in executive session before it was filed.
During the next public meeting that June, commissioner Don Meyer said he wanted to have a public conversation before authorizing a lawsuit and re-evaluate whether the port CEO could initiate lawsuits without commission approval.
“It’s a matter that’s troublesome to me,” Meyer said in June. “It should be an up-front conversation, not after-the-fact.”
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Marzano also ordered staff to produce a section on the website where citizens can see the answers to questions they ask during the public comment section of the meeting. Port staff don’t always have the answer immediately, he said.