Port of Coupeville commissioners consider switching to at-large positions

Commissioners are considering changing the way future commissioners will be selected.

Commissioners for the Port of Coupeville are considering changing the way future commissioners will be selected.

In a meeting last week, port commissioners discussed eliminating individual districts and moving to a structure in which all commissioners would represent the port “at large.” The port is currently divided into three districts.

Board president John Mishasek, commissioner for the second district, advocated in favor of changing to an at-large structure. He said that Port of Illahee commissioners in Kitsap County reported an increase in the quantity and quality of candidates for the board after making a similar change.

Mishasek said that the current three Port of Coupeville commissioners are all doing a wonderful job, but the port hasn’t always enjoyed such high-quality board members in the past, and he fears it might not in the future, either.

“We are really cooking with gas right now,” he said. “I would like it to stay that way long after we’re all gone.”

Eliminating the district residency requirement would allow anyone living anywhere within the port boundaries to run for any seat. Mishasek said he hopes this would open up the board to more engaged and qualified individuals who might not be able to throw their hats in the ring under the current restrictions.

Commissioner John Callahan, who represents the third district, countered that eliminating the districts would not necessarily guarantee higher quality candidates. He said he thinks the port should focus instead on outreach and engaging the public with the port’s mission and projects as a means of generating more interest in running for the board.

Callahan added that having one board member from each district ensures that the interests of all areas of the port are represented.

“I favor each district having its own voice on our commission,” he said. “I think there are issues that affect one district that don’t affect another, and to be able to have somebody represent that viewpoint on a commission, I think is very valuable.”

Under the Revised Code of Washington, a port district cannot eliminate commissioner districts without voter approval. To make this change, port commissioners must pass a resolution proposing the elimination of commissioner districts. The proposition would then appear on the ballot.

The commissioners did not take formal action at their Feb. 22 meeting, agreeing to continue the discussion at a later date. Port Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos said he would contact the Municipal Research and Services Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting local government bodies in Washington state, for more information about the process.