Port Angeles and the greater Clallam County is in store for some dramatic changes in the coming year. Soon we will see the departure of Port Angeles Mayor, Dan Di Guilio, County Commissioner Jim McEntire and, in early spring, Port Angeles chief of police, Terry Gallaher will retire. Add to this departing list the long-time director of the Chamber of commerce and the short-term executive director of the Port of Port Angeles, Ken O’Halloren who leaves the port for “the private sector” as of December 31st.
Normally all this “leadership” leaving the field in such a short time would send shivers of concern and instability throughout the community. With this bunch, not so much.
Commissioner McEntire was ousted by political newcomer, Mark Ozias who will be sworn in in January. McEntire assures us he will not likely be running for office again. Perhaps he will become the new executive director at the Port after delivering to them one million dollars of taxpayer money for their ill-fated composites recycling venture.
Port Angeles chief of police Terry Gallaher is set to retire in April of 2016 and Russ Veneema, longtime director of the chamber of commerce, will leave the chamber at the end of the year.
While it is unusual for so many to leave such cushy jobs in such a small space of time it heralds an opportunity for great change in the coming months. The local economy has been stagnant for quite some time with no relief in sight. New personnel is certain. Will new personnel mean new leadership to lead us out of the doldrums? That is another question.
For too many years the line of succession has been pretty standard. When one local good ole boy leaves the stage another local good ole boy replaces them. For too long we have gone to the same well expecting different results. Instead the well is often deplete of leadership and yields the same old same old.
With the amount of money paid to these individuals we should have world class leadership. We can afford to go on the national stage and recruit real leadership and maybe even reformers. The salaries reflected in these departures means we can compete for the best and brightest to fill these important positions.
It will take some powerful leadership and community pressure to convince the local power brokers to go on the national market to recruit new leadership. More likely the local power-brokers will attempt to foist upon us more of the good ole boys who have kept the local economy in shambles while the wider world recovers.
It is incumbent upon the taxpayers to express their desire for a national search for replacements of these retirees. We need a clean break from the past. If we keep on doing what we’ve always done we will get more of the same, empty storefronts, high unemployment, rampant drug use, high crime rate, more homelessness, more high-school dropouts, and an overall malaise as the new normal.
Presently the Port of Port Angeles is charged with being the economic driver of the local economy. The Port is a hundred million dollar corporation yet it cannot turn a profit nor manage its business without tapping the taxpayers with tax increases year after year.
For far too long the Port has kowtowed to local timber interests, not realizing that timber is not the driver of this economy any more–and will never be again.
However, a few timber interests still rule the local economy. Last year a report surfaced at the Economic Development Council showing that timber exports were up 300 percent while timber related jobs are down 75 percent. Much of this is due to automation in the timber industry but as a driver of the local economy it is unsustainable. The timber interests have taken over the local airport and, with the complicity of the Port, control the most valuable property on the waterfront piling mountains of cut trees all over the land that could be used to locate more profitable marine trades.
One should ask where is the market for all these trees if they are piling up on the waterfront and making the airport look like one huge sawmill. Timber prices world-wide are at an all time low. How long will these mountains of cut trees clog our waterfront and our airport? If they cannot sell them why are they harvesting them? When they do sell them they are shipped off to Asia to build concrete forms for their growing economy.
Moreover, the tourist trade is crippled by the sight of all those dead trees. Most of the tourist who visit this area come to commune with nature. How can it surprise anyone if tourists who come here to hug the trees are put off by in-your-face mountains of dead trees. No wonder they do not stick around town long enough to support the local merchants. They will move along to support communities that share their love of nature.
With regard to the search for a new chief of police. In the past few years Port Angeles has become awash in Heroin. You cannot walk any beach or trail without the danger of stepping on a discarded syringe. Even downtown in the alleys and behind businesses you can find used syringes laying on the ground. Middle school children are recruited to clean up dirty syringes from the beaches and trails. Without proper training any of these kids could stick themselves and catch whatever horrible diseases that come with the drug culture. We are sacrificing our innocents to the dearth of leadership.
Instead of going after these merchants of death local law enforcement spends its considerable time and budget going after medical marijuana growers, attempting to seize a half-million dollar property under the guise of civil asset forfeiture laws.
Speaking of sacrificing our innocents. It is no secret that our best and brightest students must leave town upon graduation to find gainful employment. Can a new and proactive chief of police solve this problem? Only if the entire community is involved and makes it a priority.
For a decade the Port Angeles city council has fed the giant maw of the local chamber of commerce. Four and a half million dollars of lodging tax money has been delivered to the chamber in hopes they would deliver illusive tourists. During that time not one local lodging establishment has enjoyed even 50 percent occupancy rate. By contract the city is supposed to audit the chamber’s spending quarterly. That means 40 audits should be on file at the city. Not one exists.
For the first time in a decade the city council has gone outside the chamber for its marketing contract. Still, they hobble this venture by inserting the local mouthpiece for the port as a condition for the award of the city’s new marketing contract.
We have before us one bright shining moment to correct our trajectory and fulfill the promise of prosperity for our little jewel by the sea. For this brief moment we must all stand together and demand the best and the brightest for our future. If we fail this time it may be a long long time before such a moment presents itself again.