The public expects elected and appointed officials “to do the right thing.” But what exactly does that mean? Even if someone can’t always articulate what it means, most residents will recognize the “right thing” if they see it.

At its next meeting, the Port of Galveston is reviewing its policy on where to conduct meetings — at city hall or at the port.

While the original change to city hall was implemented to engage the public and enhance transparency and accountability, the port has more significant transparency and governance issues than the location of its meetings.

While some trustees and staff argue that meetings should be held at the port because of the immediate access to port records, the public can believe this argument or chuckle at the absurdity.

This particular argument always brings forth a chuckle, as the staff will not give trustees records even if asked for the documents in advance — much less on the day of the meeting. The public never sees a large portion of the discussed contracts and documents as the materials aren’t posted online.

Take the last port meeting on Sept. 5. The finance committee previously asked for the bank depository bids to review before casting a vote. Did the board receive the records before casting a vote?

Absolutely not.

What’s the right thing — for a fiduciary trustee in this scenario? Vote with blind faith, or tell the port staff to hand over the public bid records so trustees can make informed choices?

Similarly, records weren’t posted on a legislative consulting contract. Trustee Elizabeth Beeton questioned the nonstandard clause in the contract that appeared to call for automatic, two-year renewals in perpetuity.

According to the discussion, there was no legislative agenda approved by trustees, review by the port attorney, approval by the board — even though the value with renewals would be over $50,000, or reports on legislative progress.

Would “doing the right thing” allow these type of breaches of public accountability and required public votes?

Doing the right thing, starts with a clear understanding of the separation of duties between the board who sets policy and has oversight responsibilities, and the port director who implements that policy, manages day-to-day operations and presents plans that require board approval before committing to a specific course of action.

It starts with the understanding that government documents are the people’s records, and trustees are authorized to see all documents to legitimately uphold their duties and oath of public office. Otherwise, just hire a port director and abolish the board as it has become superfluous.

Both the master plan and land use (e.g. Del Monte) is being decided by omission. The master plan hasn’t included trustees or the community in the designated policy workshops as outlined in the bid proposal approved by the board.

Yes, I think the port has way bigger transparency and oversight problems than where to hold its meetings, and it’s interesting, if somewhat painful, to watch.

Charlotte O’Rourke, a former port trustee, lives in Galveston.

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