Port of Port Angeles commissioner candidates Colleen McAleer and Michael Cobb chat Wednesday night with participants at a Clallam County Democrats forum. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Candidates diverge on direction: Port of Port Angeles incumbent, challenger discuss issues at forum

PORT ANGELES — Sequim-area Port of Port Angeles commissioner candidates Michael Cobb and Colleen McAleer charted different courses on the importance of recreational boating at a forum this week.

“It is important, but our primary mission is to help our economy,” McAleer, the Sequim-area District 1 incumbent completing her first four-year term, said Wednesday night at a forum hosted by Clallam County Democrats in Port Angeles before the Nov. 7 general election.

“What motivates me is the poor and the young people who don’t have jobs,” she said during the nearly hourlong question-and-answer session.

“Recreational boating is terrific, and it’s part of our quality of life, but that parks and rec piece is not as important to me.

“It may not be entirely popular, but those are where my drivers sit.”

The port operates John Wayne Marina in Sequim and the Port Angeles Boat Haven in Port Angeles Harbor.

“It’s my understanding that the port’s priority to support recreational boating is not a priority,” Cobb said.

He urged the city of Port Angeles and the port to provide more boating opportunities along the city’s waterfront.

“Recreational boating is a very important part of the community, and it makes the community attractive,” Cobb said.

“I’d like to see opportunities for people to do rowing, those types of things, that bring those people close to the center of town.”

McAleer and Cobb also diverged on how involved the port should be in reviewing the business plans of potential tenants of port property.

The port manages 97 property leases on about 1,000 acres of publicly owned port property countywide, the bulk of which is in Port Angeles.

“We have no right to ask a tenant or a customer for their business plan, because we are a public entity,” McAleer said.

If the port does have a business plan, “it becomes public information, so they won’t give it to us,” she said.

“We don’t have the authority or the ability to investigate the viability of a potential tenant.”

McAleer said she “personally spearheaded” the effort to gain $7.1 million received by the port from federal, state and private sources, and played a role in making a port tenant of Airborne Environmental Control Systems, which moved from Joyce and which she said “will create hundreds of jobs over time.”

If the port is generating that kind of money, “it’s incumbent on the people that are bringing that money to the table to put businesses here that they know what the heck the business is doing,” Cobb said.

“You can’t be hands-off,” he said. “You have to be realistic and ask some questions.

“You can’t be all thing to all people.

“But the soundness of the business plan, I think, is really essential.”

Asked about bringing commercial passenger service back to the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport, McAleer said the port has talked to 14 companies without success.

“The answer is going to lie probably with flights that connect with Everett rather than Paine Field,” McAleer said.

Cobb is “not particularly thrilled” about the prospect of flying to Paine Field, then connecting to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he said.

He suggested more float planes to serve Port Angeles might be a solution but that any plan “has to involve profitability” for the carrier.

Cobb, 74, a senior sail-training instructor for the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, has a master’s in business administration from Seattle University.

A Sequim resident for four years, Cobb said he was a senior lender at First Interstate Bank in Oregon, was a division manager for Omark Industries, started the contract manufacturing company Cobb & Associates of Seattle and was a managing partner at Cobb-Michael LLC, also of Seattle.

“I know how businesses start, I know how businesses are successful, I know that makes them more successful,” Cobb said.

McAleer, 50, is president of the Seattle-based Washington Business Alliance.

She touted her participation in the port’s $12 million cleanup of the former KPly plywood mill site, which was accomplished with state money and funds from companies that polluted the site.

McAleer, holder of a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a certified commercial investment manager, said Thursday she had “goofed” at the forum by saying no public funds were spent on the cleanup, saying she meant to say no local public funds were used.

McAleer, a Sequim resident for 15 years, was the port’s director of business development in 2013 when she filed a whistleblower complaint against then-Executive Director Jeff Robb that led to an investigation and his subsequent resignation.

She filed for port commissioner in 2013 the same day she filed her whistleblower complaint “to my boss, about my boss,” she said at the forum Wednesday, adding that she was part of a “remarkable turnaround” at the port.

That included having leases based on market rates instead of being based on a “culture” centered on “the executives’ decisions” that led to lease rates being randomly set.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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