We agree with the advice Trustee Todd Sullivan offered his colleagues on the wharves board last week after an especially heated discussion about authority, who has it and who doesn’t.
Sullivan suggested members of the board that governs the Port of Galveston should in 2018 relearn the practice of following a chain of command.
We agree that’s a good policy just in general and we are fairly certain the law also requires such adherence.
Sullivan was attempting to quell rancor among board members upset about two recent instances when their colleagues may have overstepped their authority to act without board approval.
There’s not really a “may have” that we can see in the first instance. Board Chairman Ted O’Rourke clearly did overstep his authority when he presented a letter at an Oct. 19 meeting of the Board of Pilot Commissioners. The letter, on port letterhead, called for a change that would give the port representation on the pilot board, which would require legislative action.
The trouble was, the rest of the wharves board apparently had no idea the letter existed, much less had approved it with a vote as should have happened before it became public.
It’s certainly legitimate to ask whether the port and the larger maritime community wouldn’t benefit with some seats on the controversial pilot board. But the wharves chairman should not have acted in such a seemingly official way without board approval and several board members were justifiably angry about the whole affair.
Then on Monday, wharves Vice Chairman Albert Shannon questioned high legal invoices for the months of September and October.
September’s legal invoice was about $24,000 and October’s was about $21,000 while November’s invoice was only $121, Shannon said.
Trustee Elizabeth Beeton said she might be partly to blame.
“I suggested that we should find what other ports’ arrangements with cruise lines are and those contracts should be open records and we could request them,” Beeton said. “The intention was to get background and then our attorney ran with it.”
The open records search resulted in at least 31 hours billed for $7,000, Shannon said.
Beeton apologized for requesting the information directly from the port’s attorney, Anthony Brown, without informing interim Port Director Peter Simons and said she would bring it before the board in the future.
We’re concerned about this because it’s unclear who exactly authorized the port’s attorney to incur that public expense. It wasn’t the board and it apparently wasn’t the port director, so who was it? Is an aside by a single board member enough to set the meter running? If so, that’s wrong.
Also, while there are many things in life for which it’s necessary and proper to pay an attorney $255 an hour, the filing of public information requests is not among them.
Sullivan offered a simple solution to the problem.
“This year, I think we became desensitized to the chain of command because we are going through so many changes,” Sullivan said. “Many board members got used to going directly to Tony. Come the new year, let’s let the chain of command come back. If you have an issue with the port director himself, go to Tony. Otherwise, the port director needs to be involved.”
The board should make that a New Year’s resolution.
• Michael A. Smith