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

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(4) comments

Don Schlessinger

" 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."----EXACTLY!

David Schuler

I see this rules change as the Credible Threat that might result in all these titanic egos playing nicer with one another.

Bill Cochrane

I agree with Michael Smith. But let’s call it what it is. It appears that Maxwell and DeVries don’t have the backbone to stand up against obvious issues and problems that Rees has caused. Instead they want to shoot the messenger. O’Rourke is a lot of things, but a lawyer he is not. A banker he is not. A CPA he is not. What O’Rourke is, and has always been, is a normal, everyday common sense guy that cares deeply about the Port and Wharves. Maybe a little too much. But is too much really a bad thing. No one seems to mind the questions and concerns of Beeton? She’s a bulldog in her own right. As far as I’ve heard O’Rourke hasn’t made any remarks about Rees that started out “The Board”. O’Rourke sees a wrong and simply states it, mistakenly thinking that the other board members will take their heads out of the sand and support him, but they can’t rise to the occasion. I think having a chairman that will never be asleep at the wheel is good for the Board and Galveston. If other members of the board don’t want oversight then they should resign and let someone else step up.

Miceal O'Laochdha

There is no need for the Board as a whole to "muzzle O'Rourke", or for worries that only majority positions can be publicized. What is likely to ease the abrasive situation between the Chairman and other Trustees is clarity on when he (or any other Trustee) is speaking for themselves personally vs. when they are making a public statement of an official Board position. The newspaper reporters and editors can and should play a role, along with individual Trustees, in ensuring this differentiation is clear in print. The Board needs to resolve this concern and focus on their $270k+ employee because it is no longer clear who answers to whom. The relentless public praise the Port Director has enjoyed since arrival on the Island may be having unintended consequences.

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