Opinion

Editorial: Ferry panel is expendable

Times are tough. Do we have to fight Gov. Chris Gregoire on every little point as she tries to trim the state budget?

An example is her idea to eliminate approximately 150 state boards and committees of various types, including ferry advisory committees. The North Sound committee covers Whidbey Island’s two ferry routes. From what we can garner from the Web, the committees were established in the 1960s so the ferry system could collect public input from its widely spread service areas.

Committees are made up of volunteers appointed by local jurisdictions, but they do come at a cost to the state. Meetings must be announced, ferry employees must attend, agendas must be followed, minutes kept, and other rules followed. Add it all up, and the state spends thousands of dollars annually servicing all the ferry committees, and employees spend a lot of regularly scheduled time away from their desks, where in theory they could be more productive. The overtime and travel pay the committees require must be considerable.

Do we really need these officially-appointed committees? Their bureaucratic nature may actually deter from their effectiveness. Committee members must be screened by elected officials, suspected loose cannons thrown out, and relatively boring, responsible, people appointed. Everyone acts professionally and respectfully, and few waves are generated. That’s good for ferry boats, but not for ferry users.

The most effective ferry group in the island’s history dissolved some years ago, but in its heyday the Whidbey Island Transportation Association got a lot done, including the building of the Mukilteo terminal and providing passenger-only service during ferry worker strikes. They had a few wild-eyed members, just enough to worry the stuffed shirts from Coleman Dock when they ventured here to hear what the heathen islanders had to say. The atmosphere was less respectful but more heated, interesting and productive.

Considering the economic times, Whidbey Island could do without its officially-appointed ferry advisory committee. In its place a new, wholly-independent group should form, selecting its own leaders, members and meeting places, and setting its own agenda. Their voices would definitely be heard through the media, their elected representatives, and at Coleman Dock, which is always responsive when public opinion starts to smolder and threatens to break out into an open insurrection.

The governor had a good idea. Get rid of all these official boards, committees and commissions and let the people figure out how to make their influence felt without the help of state money. History shows that it works better that way, anyway.

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