It’s not clear what the four wharves trustees who voted Tuesday for a rule change giving the board more power over its chairman were hoping to accomplish, and what they seem to have been after would not be an improvement.
The change, which Galveston’s Wharves Board of Trustees approved in a 4-3 vote, allows a simple majority to remove board officers — the chairman, vice chairman or secretary — for any reason or for no reason at all.
Despite assurances to the contrary, the change obviously was aimed at Chairman Ted O’Rourke, who’s been in open conflict with Port Director Rodger Rees for weeks over various steps and missteps.
None of the rationale trustees Harry Maxwell and Richard DeVries, who sponsored the change, offered was very convincing.
DeVries said he would propose removing an officer facing criminal charges or for trying to undermine a position held by a majority of the board.
The first of those is just odd. If a chairman is accused of a serious crime, the city council, which appoints wharves trustees, might be justified in removing him from the board altogether, rather than from a mostly honorary leadership post.
The second reason is worrisome. What the four trustees seem to be advocating for is a board that speaks with one voice, determined by the majority, on all issues whether the individual members all agree with that position or not.
That’s a strange vision for a board appointed to govern a publicly owned organization.
It’s also a pipe dream.
Anybody who thinks O’Rourke can be muzzled with the threat of losing a chairmanship hasn’t been paying attention for the past 20 or so years, and probably should Google Lyndon Johnson’s famous quote about J. Edgar Hoover.
And there’s a deeper problem here in that the trustees seem to be extremely concerned about O’Rourke’s criticisms, but completely unconcerned about what he’s been criticizing.
The editors have agreed and disagreed with O’Rourke on various issues over the years. We’ve seen enough this time to agree he has some valid criticisms, and he’s not alone.
Either by design or by accident, Rees put a torpedo in an effort Mayor Jim Yarbrough was leading, and the trustees had approved by majority vote, to pursue a bill giving the port “parity” with every other port in the state — in particular, the power to influence and veto harbor pilot rate increase requests.
Yarbrough is politician enough not to burn the barn down over that, but we’re convinced he was pretty well annoyed about it.
Rees attempted to withhold documents to which Trustee Elizabeth Beeton had an absolute right. He assured the board one day he’d produce those, and the next day asked the Texas Attorney General for permission to withhold them.
The director executed a contract worth $64,000 without informing the board when the board’s rules forbid him from spending more than $50,000 without board approval.
These actions did more than undermine the board’s public message. They undermined the board’s actual authority over its chief executive, the exercise of which is the only reason the Wharves Board of Trustees exists.
We have no doubt that Rees has done good things at the port and that this conflict with O’Rourke is counterproductive. We urge the two to patch things up, as they said Tuesday they would attempt to do.
But if the board majority wants to take its chairman to task, it must take its director as well.
• Michael A. Smith