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Mahan defends e-mail recruiting SEED supporters

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting of the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Bill Mahan sent an e-mail to local officials and citizens asking supporters of the port’s Sustainable Energy and Economic Development(SEED) project to attend and voice their support.

“We need your help; at every Port Commission meeting we have a dedicated group of people that want to kill the SEED project,” Mahan wrote in the e-mail. “I am requesting that any of you that can make the meeting tomorrow to please do so. When there is no one to provide a balance to those that wish to kill the project, it puts the commissioners that support the project in a difficult position.”

Several citizens did speak in favor of the project at the April 14 meeting, however, beforehand David Rhine of Rocky Point, who said he read about the e-mail in the Kitsap Business Journal, criticized Mahan’s actions as not being transparent.

“This apparent lack of transparency seems to completely contradict what Ms. Kincer said about being open and transparent (last month),” Rhine said, describing the e-mail from Mahan as an attempt to “rally the troops to come to this event in a one-sided approach,” adding that the notice should have been sent out to everyone instead of via “private e-mail to a select group of people. You are elected to represent all the members of this district, not that select group.”

Commissioner Mahan responded by stating that he did not believe his actions represented a lack of transparency.

“I am an elected official, and I have the ability to do the things that I feel are necessary to promote the things that we are doing,” Mahan said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had six months of listening to one side of the story, and I sent an e-mail to people that were interested in this project and said (you’d) better come out because we’re only hearing one side of the story and we need a balance.”

Mahan said that was all he did and he was sorry if Rhine was offended by it, but he made “no apologies for that and I’d do it again. I think anything I can do to get people at this meeting no matter who or what they represent, the information we get allows us to make a much better decision than if they’re not here.

“It was a completely open deal,” he continued. “As you can see, people who are opposed to the project received the e-mail just as well as those who are in favor of it.”

• Also Tuesday at a study session prior to the board’s business meeting, interim Chief Executive Officer Tim Thomson suggested that the board “revisit and modify” the way it responds to questions from the public during its business meetings.

“The port has been somewhat inconsistent in how we respond to questions (during meetings,” Thomson said, explaining that the board’s current approach is to post answers to questions on the port’s website following the meeting.

Thomson said this was not an ideal process since “it is not always clear after the fact” if the question was understood or answered properly, and “it is not always the best use of staff time” to be responding to questions in such a manner.

As an alternative, Thomson suggested Tuesday that questions posed by citizens be answered as they are asked, whether by the commissioners or a staff member.

“That way the answer is more timely and is more consistent with the spirit and intent of the port’s Community Outreach/Public Participation Policy,” he said, explaining that if no one is able to answer the question satisfactorily at the meeting, the interested party can leave their contact information with administrative assistant Ginger Waye for follow-up.

Thomson said the board “pretty much agreed to approach questions this way” for future meetings.

Bremerton resident Kathleen Seamans said she appreciated Thomson’s comments and agreed that citizen questions should be answered as they are asked.

“In the past, I had felt hostility in the way our questions were put off,” Seamans said.

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