County Commission revises Port Authority governing body

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With a 3-0 vote, the Lincoln County Commission on Wednesday approved a resolution to restructure the board that governs the Lincoln County Port Authority in Libby.

The approval of Resolution 999 dissolved the previous nine-person governing body and replaced it with a new board to comprise the three county commissioners and two yet-to-be-chosen people.

The decision followed a series of public discussions the Commission began at its Nov. 29 meeting. On that day, referring to a Nov. 9 meeting about redeveloping the 400-acre Port Authority site and ongoing concerns from residents and potential entrepreneurs, the Commission signaled it was time to restructure how the Port Authority is managed to improve the site’s viability.

Lincoln County in 2003 created the Port Authority to develop the commercial and industrial site now known as Kootenai Business Park, which the county acquired after Stimson Lumber Company left it in 2002. The Port Authority was set up to be governed by a nine-member volunteer board whose members the Commission would appoint for five-year terms. (Due to a vacancy, the board had eight people when it was dissolved.)

Wednesday’s decision also followed discussions between the Commission and the Lincoln County Attorney’s Office about the county’s authority to dissolve the Port Authority and the county’s rights, responsibilities and obligations should it decide to do so.

However, throughout its discussions the Commission has asserted it was not seeking to dissolve the Port Authority, only to restructure its governance, and Resolution 999 underscores this by otherwise upholding the provisions of Resolution 609 that established the Port Authority in 2003.

The three county commissioners have also stressed their belief that the structure of the Port Authority board — and not the people who served on it — was the primary issue holding back the site’s development.

“It’s an organizational design and behavioral issue, not a fault issue,” said Commissioner Mark Peck, who was quick to acknowledge that “a lot of positive things” have happened at the site.

The board’s size and the infrequency of its meetings — first quarterly, then monthly — were cited as issues that hampered timely decision making. Under the new structure, Peck pointed out, the Commission, which regularly meets weekly on Wednesday, will “have a standing agenda item” to discuss Port Authority items.

The restructuring will also allow the Port Authority — whose two-person staff of Tina Oliphant and Brett McCully remains — to have access to other county services it previously couldn’t use, Peck said.

The Commission has also pointed to the site’s existing and potential liabilities as cause for concern for the county. Commissioner Jerry Bennett, who had been serving as the Commission’s representative on the Port Authority board, said that after reviewing the county’s responsibilities to the Port Authority the entire Commission wanted a “more hands on” role in its governance in order to protect the county’s taxpayers.

Though Resolution 999 calls for the formation of a five-member board — the minimum size mandated by state statutes — County Administrator Darren Coldwell indicated the bylaws would allow for up to four members in addition to the three commissioners if the new board wants to go in that direction.

After passing Resolution 999, Peck said they would immediately seek applicants for the two at-large openings on the new board and invited previous board members to apply.

In a follow-up email, Coldwell said the Commissioners “will wait until there is a full five-member board to act on any new business” concerning the Port Authority.

“I don’t believe there is anything so pressing that can’t wait a couple of weeks,” he wrote.

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