Well, the die is cast.
No discussion, no debate, no hesitation. The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay board of directors chose, Wednesday evening, to endorse the Community Enhancement Plan.
That plan is the blueprint for dealing with the millions of dollars expected to befall our region if and when the Jordan Cove Energy Project’s liquefied natural gas export plant becomes reality. And odds are looking good that it will.
The plan puts in the hands of a chosen few where those millions of dollars will be spent. Only a couple of nonprofit corporations will make those decisions, and who will be members of those nonprofit boards remains a question.
So far, three individuals — John Whitty, Bill Lansing and Joanne Verger — have been hand-picked by the Port and the other crafters of the plan as charter members of the South Coast Community Foundation, one of the nonprofit entities.
Of those three, just one, in our opinion, is prepared to undergo the rigors of what lies ahead for this board. The other two, while well-known for their decades of service and dedication to the community, we fear do not hold an innate dedication to the democratic process or the willingness to endure what will certainly be the increased level of legitimate public scrutiny.
Mr. Whitty intends to resign from the board soon after it becomes operative, he told The World recently. Why? Because he doesn’t want to endure the critical debate that has already been focused on the proposal. He bristled when we used the term “aristocracy” in describing an initial notion that board members would appoint each other. (Since then the draft plan has been changed to have the city councils and county commissioners choose board members.)
Mr. Lansing is certainly a pillar in our community. But when we were first presented the outline of this plan three months ago, Mr. Lansing said of the foundation and the way it would be run: “Sometimes the public process just gets in the way.” He has since deflected further discussion with our editorial board or our reporters about the plan.
The one member we have the most confidence in is Ms. Verger — a seasoned, respected politician who is well-regarded as a champion of the democratic public process and openness in government. Personally, she is approachable, open to ideas and a believer in having diverse voices around a discussion table.
We find it interesting that the former politician seems the most open to debate and compromise — “being in the fish bowl,” as she describes it. Which makes us wonder: where are our current elected officials in all this? Where are the city council members, the mayors, the county commissioners? No public declarations? No guidance? No statements of leadership?
It seems that those who are steering this ship now are not the people we chose as leaders, but the hired public servants instead.
Which leads us to ask if our highest elected leader, Gov. John Kitzhaber, truly has the interests of the South Coast in mind. His office has so far dragged its feet in responding to our questions about how this plan would impact state education funding, especially in light of the Gain Share issues currently plaguing Washington County, which we discussed last week.
Apparently he would just as soon leave the South Coast to the ire of the Legislature when the Jordan Cove windfall we may reap begins to sap the state treasury, and other legislators across the state — from Medford to Portland, from Astoria to Ontario — attempt to wrest control from our own elected officials in making decisions on our South Coast money.