Six commissioners agree to postpone five-member ballot measure

Port of Olympia and Board of County Commissioners met in a special joint meeting last week


Port of Olympia Commissioners joined with Thurston County’s Board of County Commissioners last Thu., July 22, for a special meeting to discuss when to propose to voters increasing the size of each board to five members.

After a lengthy discussion, the Port of Olympia Commissioners agreed to move the five-member ballot measure to November 2022 instead of having it at the end of the year. Prior to the meeting, some port commissioners had preferred to bring this to voters this November. See related story.

Based on the state constitution, once a county’s population reaches 300,000, which is expected in 2022, a county can increase the number of commissioners or port commissioners from three to five.

Once the public approves to increase the board membership, the commission will redraw the boundaries to create five districts. The election for the new port commissioners would be scheduled at the next election cycle.

In the discussion on July 22, Commissioner Joe Downing explained why he wanted to rush to approve the five-member ballot resolution. He shared that if they failed to hold a ballot resolution for this year, the next set of port commissioners may simply abandon the idea to expand the commission.

However, county commissioners and staff have expressed their concern regarding the timing of the ballot proposition. County Commissioner Gary Edwards warned, “I really do think it's a push...if we rush this, I think we are more inclined to fail. So that’s my concern, that we are in such a big hurry, but we do it.”

Instead, Edwards stressed that it is best for the port to wait to refer the issue to voters until the county actually reaches the 300,000 population threshold.

In addition, Edwards also referred to a letter sent by Sen. Sam Hunt. In a statement, the senator believed that the move will only result in voter confusion since a ballot measure this year would coincide with the November 2021 elections of two of the three current seats on the Port’s Commission.

By the end of the meeting, all six commissioners agreed to postpone the ballot proposition beyond this year. 

To ensure that the five-member ballot measure will take place, Port of Olympia Executive Director Sam Gibboney suggested creating a joint “Resolution of Intent” which will be signed by the six commissioners from the port and the county. The resolution will include the timeline for its adoption as well as an intent to collaborate with the county.

This will allow the county to finish its redistricting process while at the same time, it will also ensure that the next set of port commissioners will push through to expand the board membership.

“I’m happy,” Downing shared.


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