2021 Port of Olympia Commissioner District 3 Candidate Profiles


Editor’s Note: Commissioner District 3 is the largest of the three commissioner districts, but that’s due to the fact that Capitol Forest takes up about half of it. It’s on the west end of Thurston County and includes the cities of Tumwater and Bucoda, a sliver of Tenino, the western half of Olympia, and a bit of the Chehalis Indian Reservation in the southwest corner.


The Port of Olympia, a sprawling public enterprise that’s been besieged by controversy and is millions of dollars in debt, will have two new commissioners in 2022.

The decision by Commissioner E.J. Zita (Port District 3) to not seek re-election had been expected. Commissioner Bill McGregor’s (Port District 2) announcement that he did not wish another term was a bit of a surprise. But voters now have a chance to make a substantial change in the Port’s leadership and priorities.

Three candidates are in the Aug. 3 primary election for District 3: Lawyer Melissa Denton, real estate agent Amy Evans and solar power entrepreneur Joel Hansen. The League of Women Voters District 3 candidate debate may be viewed here.

Nisqually Tribal business CEO Bob Iyall and political campaign manager Jesse Simmons will meet in the general election for the District 2 seat. They did not appear before the League because they are not in primary race.

In the primary, candidates for Port Commission run by district; they run countywide in the Nov. 2 general election. Commissioners serve four-year terms and importantly, appoint its executive director, who carries out the port’s policies, objectives and budget priorities and supervises the port’s day-to-day operations. 

The races have yet to garner much public attention, despite the contentiousness and controversy at the Port over the past four years over its accountability and transparency, the types of cargo it accepts and ships, the handling of protests on its properties, its financial position, and most recently, a lease with a private developer for 200 acres of its property in Tumwater. 

To pay for operations, the port levies property taxes in all of Thurston County. Its bond indebtedness is long-standing and often criticized. It operates a seaport/marine terminal, a marina, the Olympia Regional Airport in Tumwater, and owns substantial amounts of real estate in Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey. 

Tribune Candidate Questionnaire Responses for Olympia Port Commission, District 3

Melissa Denton

Occupation: Family law practitioner

Raised: $12,553. Find a full list of contributors here

Spent: $9,581

Campaign information, including endorsements: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia Port Commission? 

I want to be a Port of Olympia Commissioner because I want to use the skills and knowledge that I have worked hard to develop over 30 years as a business owner, lawyer, volunteer, and involved citizen to better my community. I find my work as a lawyer very satisfying because helping people and solving problems gives me joy. So becoming a Port Commissioner and helping our community flourish with environmentally responsible economic development for all people in Thurston County would be very fulfilling. That’s why I want the job.

What does a Port Commission member do? 

I’ve been attending the Port Commission meetings this year. I’ve operated businesses for over 30 years in Thurston County. I’ve contributed to the leadership of many volunteer organizations and have worked in the State government and Tumwater’s planning commission. These experiences give me an idea of what the Port Commissioners do (and I’ve interviewed two of the current Commissioners, too.) Port Commissioners attend meetings with each other and with other community entities regarding the Port’s business and regarding the economic development of Thurston County. Commissioners need to work with Port staff to understand and carry out the duty of setting the direction and goals of the Port to pursue the mission of economic development of Thurston County. In addition, the Commissioners represent the public, inform our public, and answer to the public about the Port’s activities. They work part-time, about 10-15 hours a week that they get paid for, but I expect to work a lot more unpaid hours to develop my expertise and communicate with our community. 

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected? 

I was recruited to run to become a judge as long as 28 years ago. That is not a job I want to do (though I have served as a pro tem Court Commissioner, making it clear I don’t want the job.) If I wanted to be a professional politician, I could start by seeking office in less challenging races. However, that is not my goal. The only two elected positions that I am interested in are County Commissioner and Port Commissioner. Part of this is because my personality is more suited to an executive officer position. I love working with people and getting things done, but I don’t see myself as a legislator, which a friend said she was suited for as the youngest of six children because she was always testing which way the wind was blowing. Although I would have been very effective as a County Commissioner, I am even more excited about becoming a Port Commissioner. The mission of economic development of Thurston County appeals to me greatly to help many people. I’m a renaissance person with many interests and a “big picture” approach to problems, while I like to rely on experts to advise on the details (and I’m picky about which experts.) Being a Port Commissioner will work well with my life where I can still mentor in my law firm and with the volunteer organizations that I help now while learning zillions of things and using my leadership and cooperative skills to make our Port much better for the eight years that I hope to stay in the position.

What sets you apart from your competition? 

My depth and breadth of experience, education, and insight make me far more qualified than my opponents for this position. I do not have a personal agenda to carry out when I become a Port Commissioner with a powerful interest group dominating my attention. I don’t have conflicts of interest. I’m not using this position or this race as a stepping stone to other political ambitions. 

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue if elected? Be as specific as possible. 

Economic development for Thurston County is my issue, and it is the Port’s mission. I care about many issues and have opinions on them, but I am willing to listen to all legitimately offered opinions and ideas. My hummingbird symbol represents, in part, my ability to back up, as the hummingbird is the only bird able to do that maneuver. I fervently believe that building up the economic well-being of all people of Thurston County in an environmentally sustainable way is the path to greater joy, security, and freedom for us all. 

1. Good paying jobs becoming available to those who have traditionally been marginalized can and should be a specific focus for the Port. 

2. Bringing broadband internet to our rural neighbors in Thurston County would immensely lift their quality of life and employment options. 

3. Constant improvement of how our deepwater port and our airport keep workers safe, reduce negative impacts on the environment, and connect Thurston County to the larger world is achievable with the right focus, which I shall bring to the job.

What is one thing the existing Port Commission has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently? 

The existing Port Commission hired an excellent Executive Director for the Port. One cannot over-emphasize how important having the right employee in leadership is.

My different approach will be a matter of very skilled communication and coordination. As a divorce lawyer for 30+ years, I’ve learned to cooperate and look for the underlying reasons for why folks say they want a particular action or outcome. So many times, solutions lie in understanding where folks are coming from and helping them understand the impact of their position on others. I expect and intend to influence an atmosphere of cordial, kind, sincere, and respectful relationships and outreach.

On a scale of 1-10, how important is ensuring the Port’s work is transparent to the public that elects you? Please explain why you feel that way and, if it is important, how you would ensure transparency. 

My answer to this depends on what you mean by transparency. As I said in my prior answers, open and honest communication with the public is essential. Operating in an entirely glass house with no opportunity to try out lousy ideas or make any mistakes is a path to misery and failure. We need a five-person Port Commission so that Commissioners can work together for the good of our community. The open meetings act currently prevents Commissioners from discussing any Port business unless it is in an open public meeting, which is horribly inefficient and unwise. Our laws have good mechanisms to help with transparency. My innate honesty and sincere intention to communicate thoroughly and effectively with the public who elected me will help ensure transparency if I am elected.

What is the role of the Port in conjunction with Thurston County Emergency Management, in planning and preparing for disasters, such as earthquakes? 

Our Port has a vital role in the case of a disaster in our area, whether a natural disaster or manmade. We have an airport and a seaport, with giant warehouses. I understand that plans are already in place for the possibility that I-5 is cut off from Thurston County, where we could receive supplies via our Marine Terminal. Our airport would also potentially be a vital resource at such a time. I do not have specific knowledge of plans laid out by the Thurston County Emergency Management system and the Port, but I expect to learn more about them.

Amy Evans

Occupation: Real estate broker

Raised: $31,486. Evans has limited contributions to her campaign to $250 each in the primary election and to $250 each should she make it to the general election. As of press time, she had 105 individual contributions of $250. Find a full list of contributors here.

Spent: $6,615

Campaign information including endorsements: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia Port Commission?

To serve my community by bringing people together to create collaborative action, because I believe with collaboration, more is possible. 

By creating collaborative action, we can efficiently utilize Port resources and do more environmental and public good. 

What does a Port Commission member do?

Manage the budget, Executive Director, and the rules of the Port Commission.  This requires listening to the community and collaborating with fellow Commissioners.

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected?

My friend, Chris Richardson, was running for the position and he, unexpectedly, passed away. Given my experience with the Port, I was excited about the opportunity to serve.

What sets you apart from your competition?

A true track record of collaboration and creating solutions that represent diverse stakeholders.  Additionally, my business and non-profit experience make me uniquely suited to bridge the public-private mission of the Port of Olympia.

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? Be as specific as possible.

Utilizing Port resources efficiently and then using the resources generated for public and environmental good.

  • I would engage diverse stakeholders to forge a path for a profitable maritime Port. This would require taking an inventory of where we have been, mistakes that have been made, and opportunities for the future.  
  • I would create a clear direction for the management and utilization of Port real estate resources. By creating clear direction, we would increase market demand for Port property, which will generate additional revenue.  
  • With the resources generated by efficiently managing Port resources, I would create additional projects for environmental stewardship, such as a long-term management plan for Capitol Lake/Deschutes Estuary, and public good, such as interactive exhibits for adults and children on Port property. 

What is one thing the existing Port Commission has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

The Port Commission supported the Vision 2050 process which gathered public input to determine the future direction of the Port. This was a big undertaking and gives us a good guide for what the community wants of its Port.

The Port Commission has not demonstrated broad collaboration, which has led to more time spent on conflicts and less time spent creating action to benefit the community.  

On a scale of 1-10, how important is ensuring the Port’s work is transparent to the public that elects you? Please explain why you feel that way and if it is important, how you would ensure transparency.

One of the biggest complaints of the Port I have heard through my campaign is a lack of transparency. Whether this is perceived or real, there is work to be done, and to create collaborative action you need buy-in from the community. By creating a more transparent process you can build trust and a path forward. I would ensure transparency by working with the Executive Director to create better communication out to community members regarding initiatives that are being taken and creating processes for receiving feedback and listening to community members. The groups I have met through my campaign already have given me a good place to start with building bridges for transparency and communication.  

What is the role of the Port in conjunction with Thurston County Emergency Management, in planning and preparing for disasters, such as earthquakes?

As we continue to prepare for the impacts of climate change and more extreme weather patterns, the Port is uniquely positioned to serve as a public-private bridge for emergency preparedness. 

Joel Hansen

Occupation: Solar energy entrepreneur

Raised: $21,665. Find a full list of contributors here.

Spent: $16,608

Campaign information including endorsements: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia Port Commission?

I believe that the Port can be a leader in realizing the future that we all want for Thurston County. An economic future that includes local value-added agricultural products, clean green energy, climate friendly technologies, and the living wage jobs those businesses provide. A future that includes restoring our watersheds, cleaning up legacy pollution, and taking bold action on our climate emergency.  And finally, a future where barriers are removed so that all residents of Thurston County have equitable opportunities to live, work, and recreate in our community. 

What does a Port Commission member do?

The Port Commission sets policies and priorities for the Port, adopts a budget to support those policies and priorities, and hires an Executive Director to carry out the policies and priorities.

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected?

In consultation with community members and elected leaders, I was encouraged to run for this position. I believe my work history and my volunteer experience has prepared me well to serve as a Port of Olympia Commissioner. 

What sets you apart from your competition?

Experience and vision.

I currently serve on the Port of Olympia Citizens Advisory Committee and Tumwater Planning Commission; therefore, I understand the Port of Olympia and how the Port relates to its jurisdictional partners in Thurston County. I have also served as an Associate Supervisor for the Thurston Conservation District, and on the City of Olympias Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. I have worked for 20+ years in finance and business development helping Thurston County businesses expand and grow their markets across the US and around the world, so I know how to execute the mission of the Port which is “Connecting Thurston County to the World by Air, Land, and Sea.” 

Additionally, I feel that my platform sets me apart from my opponents in that my campaign is built on a vision of environmental solutions and bringing policies forward relating to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. 

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? Be as specific as possible.

The issue I am most passionate about is the environmental legacy we are leaving behind for future generations. 

 The first action I would take would be signing on to the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan and joining with Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and Thurston County on the steering committee. 

 I will advocate for the restoration of the Deschutes Estuary, and bring together all the affected parties to create a plan for managing the realities of that restoration. 

 I will push for a regional approach to restoration of Budd Inlet and South Salish Sea, including the cleanup of legacy pollution. 

What is one thing the existing Port Commission has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

The Port provides a positive economic impact for Thurston County including living wage jobs, I intend to build on that foundation and increase that impact as well as the number of jobs created.

I would work more closely with the other jurisdictions in Thurston County to develop shared plans for economic development, environmental restoration, and equity, diversity, and inclusion.

On a scale of 1-10, how important is ensuring the Port’s work is transparent to the public that elects you? Please explain why you feel that way and if it is important, how you would ensure transparency.

10 on a scale of 1-10.  It is of paramount importance that the work of the Port, or any public institution, is transparent to the public. 

The Port is spending residents’ tax dollars to advance goals of economic development and environmental restoration. Ultimately the Commissioners are responsible to residents.

Some examples of where we can improve on transparency would include responsiveness to Public Disclosure Requests, as well as ensuring that we are working to better inform residents and taxpayers about accounting practices at the Port. 

What is the role of the Port in conjunction with Thurston County Emergency Management, in planning and preparing for disasters, such as earthquakes?

In conjunction with federal, state, and regional authorities, the Port participates in planning and training operations. The Port stores and maintains equipment and supplies that may be needed in the event of natural disasters. Additionally, the Port serves as an important link to the region and the world for receiving emergency cargo for Thurston County.  

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By Mindy Chambers

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