Port Exec Director calls meeting to order following heated exchange between Downing and Zita

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“I ask not to be interrupted,” Zita said.

Tension rose between the two commissioners during the Port of Olympia Commission meeting yesterday.

Port of Olympia Executive Director Sam Gibboney called the meeting to order following a heated exchange between Port Commissioners Joe Downing and E.J. Zita. 

Inter-local agreement with Panattoni 

While discussing other business matters, Zita brought up Downing's letter to the editor which was published on April 25, 2021 in The Olympian. The letter talked about the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) between the Port of Olympia and Panattoni Development Company, a California-based developer, in their intent to lease a 200-acre property in Tumwater.

According to Zita, the Port staff had agreed to provide her with the documents regarding the ILA by July 12. However, Zita complained that staff later informed her that they cannot grant her request. “I am concerned that all these documents are not made available to all port commissioners and they should be,” she said.

Downing confirmed that he knew about Zita’s request. He explained that the staff cannot provide the documents since the ILA still did not exist. “It’s not even a draft. So, in other words, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss potential agreements when staff is working on that and it's not been formulated yet,” Downing explained. “I’m not sure if there is a document to give you,” he added.

Zita clapped back, “My response to Commissioner Downing, you said it was inappropriate to discuss this document… and yet you did discuss it with the public without the commission’s knowledge or approval in your April letter to the editor.” She continued, “you have access to these draft documents and you have public discussions.” Zita stressed that all commissioners should have access to the ILA documents.

The port’s executive director cut off the commissioner as she called a point to order. Gibboney claimed that there is nothing wrong with Downing’s letter since it was a part of the “chair’s prerogative.” The executive director also added that the issue should be discussed during an executive session. “It’s inappropriate to continue this discussion in an open session,” she said.

However, Zita was having none of it and gave a timeout sign, “I ask not to be interrupted,” she said.

Downing then rejected the executive director’s call to order. He also denied ever seeing a draft of the ILA. Instead, the commission chair said that he based his discussion on a letter that Gibboney sent to TumwaterCity Administrator John Doan.

Deschutes Estuary EIS

Following the heated exchange, Downing also brought up the Capitol Lake-Deschutes Estuary Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which detailed three options for the future of Capitol Lake – Deschutes Estuary.

Later in the meeting the commissioners discussed who might be the best person to write a letter about the port’s sentiments regarding the EIS.

Downing also used the opportunity to reprimand his fellow commissioners. “Our personal statements should not be different dramatically from the expressions of the port’s interest,” he said. He continued, “however, there’s one commissioner here that is quite talkative on Facebook and so a lot of ideas are put forward that are not necessarily port ideas, and there is no way to control the port commissioner’s private lives.”

The chair suggested that commissioners should share their inputs with the executive director instead of making it public.

Commissioner Zita claimed that Downing had previously shared his support for one of the alternatives for Capitol Lake. “We have done this as individuals, and not as port commissioners, so we have different perspectives,” Zita said.

“Well, I am flattered that you are following my personal life, Commissioner Zita,” Downing responded. However, the commissioner denied that he had spoken publicly about supporting any of the three alternatives.

Eventually, the board agreed to let the staff draft a letter for the Capitol Lake-Deschutes Estuary EIS and include the commissioners’ concerns regarding the issue.

Photo Caption: Port of Olympia Executive Director Sam Gibboney called the meeting to order during the Port’s revised commission meeting on Monday, July 26, 2020 following a heated exchange between Commissioners Joe Downing and E.J Zita over a discussion about an inter-Local agreement related to the lease of 200 acres of port property in Tumwater.

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