The Port of Galveston probably needs a new strategy in its efforts to bring clarity to the issue of fog delays, how those are affecting the island’s lucrative cruise business and whether harbor pilots are using delays punitively against shippers who have complained about a substantial rate increase.
The Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port, has for months attempted to open a dialogue with the Board of Pilot Commissioners, which has a little regulatory power over the Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association, which, as a state-sanctioned monopoly, has considerable power over how smoothly vessels come and go from local ports.
Some of the early efforts were awkwardly done, and we criticized wharves board Chairman Ted O’Rourke for that. The pilot board declined O’Rourke’s overture because there appeared to be disagreement among wharves trustees about the need or desire for a meeting, as one commissioner explained it, anyway.
The most recent attempt to set a meeting with the pilot commissioners, however, was done correctly. The wharves board by unanimous vote directed the port’s executive director to draft a letter seeking a joint meeting of the two bodies.
The response to that invitation, issued this week, is interesting for a couple of reasons.
The first is that it made clear that the commission isn’t going to meet in joint session with the wharves board; not without some external encouragement anyway.
Meanwhile, the rationale for rejecting the invitation was an interesting example of hokum. Commission Chairman Kenneth Koncaba implied in a rejection letter that a joint meeting might inherently violate the Texas Open Meetings Act. There are definitely many ways to violate that act, but there also are clear ways to legally conduct joint meetings; governmental bodies do so all the time.
An interesting aside is the pilot commission apparently somehow considered the port’s invitation, decided to reject it and drafted and delivered a letter to that effect — which is deliberation and action by definition — without having: posted the issue on an agenda; held a properly posted public meeting; discussed the matter in that public meeting; voted in public about what to do.
We argue that was a violation of the Open Meetings Act, just as O’Rourke erred in issuing a letter to the commission without his board’s approval.
Some might disagree with that, but the letter certainly doesn’t show a fealty to the act’s legal nuance intense enough to explain an out-of-hand rejection of the port’s invitation.
A better explanation is that the commission and the pilots would rather not talk about fog delays in a forum they can’t tightly control.
In rejecting the port’s invitation, the commission invited the wharves board to send a person to the commission’s next meeting to discuss the fog delays and other issues.
We agree with wharves Trustee Elizabeth Beeton that the port should accept that offer.
At the same time, it should begin shifting this argument to Austin, where the power exists to reform both the commission and the pilots association.
How hard could it be, in state run by politicians who think local bag, tree and taxi ordinances unfairly impede free enterprise, to get a few lawmakers interested in talking about how a state-sanctioned monopoly may be throttling the flow of goods and services along the Texas coast?
• Michael A. Smith