OURPORT was formed nearly a year ago by a small group of local business owners who were opposed to the City of Ketchikan’s plan to lease and transfer management of the downtown cruise ship docks to a private company for a term of 30 years. Last winter, over 400 citizens and dozens of additional business owners signed petitions supporting OURPORT’s opposition to the city’s plan. The petitions and much more information about the city’s Request for Proposals (“RFP”) can be reviewed on the internet at ourport.org.
Three proposals were submitted to the city last January. Just as the city was about to undertake a proposal selection process that was originally intended to be complete by June, the COVID-19 pandemic began to change everything. The selection process slowed down when the health crisis took priority. Still, the city has continued to pursue its goal of privatizing our public docks. Although the Ketchikan City Council has already rejected one of the three proposals (without explanation); unless they abandon the plan altogether, they will select one of the two remaining proposals in the coming weeks.
We believe the city’s port management decisions are just as consequential to the community now as they would have been had the pandemic never occurred. The pandemic has affected the cruise industry to an extent none of us would have imagined six months ago. No one knows how long it will take for the industry to fully recover. Have conditions changed in ways that better justify privatization of the port now than before the pandemic? Reasonable people can disagree about this; but, we can all agree that the general public has a stake in the outcome and that more citizens should weigh in based on the best available information. That information is available only in the proposals themselves. Without it, any debate is full of assumptions and more philosophical than realistic.
Unfortunately, the city has chosen not to make the proposals available to the public and all the City Council’s deliberations have been held in executive session. Yes, by the end of this month both of the two remaining proposers will have given generalized public presentations but without divulging all the numbers and details in their proposals. Bottom line numbers, projections, and the fine print should be of interest to all of us. Only about a dozen people in our entire community have been able to review the details in both proposals. Seven of these people are members of the current City Council and they’re not talking, but acting more like oligarchs than representatives of the public at large.
The City Council’s plan is to make their final decision in executive session and only after their decision is made will they be bound to release to the public all the information on which they based their votes. There was a time not that long ago when this town took pride in open meetings, expected public records to be readily accessible and council members appreciated and looked forward to informed public comment before they made big decisions. What happened? Do these council members really have enough expertise in cruise industry and port economics that we should all just accept their decision in advance on blind faith? We should not.
The City of Ketchikan’s municipal election will be held on Oct. 6. The candidate filing period is still open until Aug. 25. More candidates who recognize the importance of this decision should be encouraged to run. Incumbents seeking re-election should be expected to plainly state before the election whether they intend to accept one of the proposals and, if so, which one it is and fully explain their rationale. After all, they’re among the very few who have been able to read and reflect on the proposals for many months now.
In addition, the entire council should vote to make the actual, complete proposals available to the public well in advance of the election so new candidates also can state their positions from an informed perspective. It is the only fair way to enable voters to decide who they want to represent them in making a decision which will affect our economy for the next 30 years.
Mike Holman, Chris Parks, Mary Wanzer, Kay Andrew, Charles Freeman and Wally Kubley are long-time residents of Ketchikan.