This is the last of three stories about the candidates for the Port of Astoria Commission. The election is May 21.

 

Candidates in the race for Port of Astoria Commission Position 5, being vacated by long-serving Dan Hess, bring a variety of business experience from marine services and engineering to hoteliering.

Ric Gerttula, a nationwide consultant in the marine transportation and environmental services industry, Mark Mead, a Clatsop County engineer and surveyor, and Brad Smithart, a hotelier in Astoria, square off in the May 21 special election.

“I think the Port is perceived by outside interests as not really having a goal to achieve,” said Gerttula, owner of PR Marine Support Services, about the Port’s need to improve its perception locally, nationally and internationally. “Nothing seems to get accomplished.

He said the Port of Gray’s Harbor, Wash., is a good example of a commission and staff who have worked together, amassed political clout in the community and been immensely successful. “They’re the poster child for how to operate a port.

Gerttula, a fourth-generation Clatsop County resident whose family hails from Brownsmead, said he’s had numerous dealings in Port matters throughout the country, along with various federal, state and local regulatory agencies.

Realistic budget achievement, evaluating nonperforming segments of the agency’s operations and recommending strategies, including potentially leaving some current operations, he said, are some of his main goals if elected.

Mead, who moved to the North Coast in 1984 to become city engineer in Seaside, said his main goals if elected include trying to get the Port on track to repairing and improving its infrastructure and attracting more small businesses. He added that his experience as an engineer and a small business owner – co-owner of Cascade Yacht Works LLC with his son – can help with both.

“Seaside was in the process of rebuilding at the time, so I worked on that there,” said Mead about making strategic investments to improve the city’s core.

“That’s going to be a tough one ... taking the limited funds they have, improve facilities and attract new tenants,” he added about the Port’s situation. “With Seaside, we went through some creative financing to make improvements, and the improvements we made brought in more businesses.”

‘Come together’

Smithart had traveled to the North Coast from when he was a child, but moved to Astoria about three years ago to become a general manager of a hotel. Smithart’s ownership group, Hospitality Masters, was chosen in March 2012 to operate the former Red Lion on Port property.

“I’ve got a desire for the city, the county and the Port to come together again and work for the beautification of the riverfront,” he said about his reason for running. He added that, along with purchasing North Tongue Point from the Washington Group, he’d like to see a more detailed action plan regarding the Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton and more communication with the county and city, including more use of urban renewal funds coming from transient room taxes.

In terms of the relationship between the Port Commission and staff, all candidates pointed to a hierarchy where the commission gives the staff direction but lets them manage those under them and perform their jobs without micromanagement.

– “A commissioner should never be speaking to a staff member on how they should or shouldn’t be doing their job,” said Smithart. “You don’t want commissioners chastising employees at a meeting. You don’t want commissioners chastising each other.”

On the main issues and priorities facing the Port, he said the agency, whose No. 1 priority should be fixing Pier 2, has a number of derelict buildings, including the former restaurant overlooking the marina near his hotel, that could be put back online to earn revenue.

“First and foremost, get the budget under control and do proper ‘due diligence’ in all projects,” said Gerttula, adding that every spare dime should be put into maintenance. “Pier 2 on a statewide basis is an embarrassing example of this lack of attention to detail.”

 –He said that instead of offering tenants breaks on rent in exchange for improvements to their leased property, the Port should strive to have a facility that’s already good to go for incoming customers.

All candidates said the Port should focus on bringing in and retaining the smaller tenants, while upgrading its infrastructure to attract new ones.

“The current mindset is you ‘build all these things and they will come,’” said Gerttula about all the big proposals coming across the Port, adding that it should focus on “singles” and “doubles,” and that the home runs will come on their own.

“It takes a lot of work to bring in one customer employing 250 people, but you can recreate that with 10 small businesses,” said Mead, adding that maintenance is a key to getting them to come.

When it comes to Tongue Point, both Smithart and Mead said the Port should buy the facility, Mead adding that small businesses brought onto the upland could generate a lot of revenue for the Port.

“I don’t think they should buy it unless there’s a customer that would make it feasible for the constituents of Clatsop County,” said Gerttula, adding that he was brought in as a consultant when the Port looked at entering Tongue Point four years ago. He added that he recommended the Port not get involved in any inclusive agreement, as there was no potential customers at the time.

“The people of Clatsop County deserve to at least break even,” said Gerttula about the facility, adding that the Port should work collaboratively with Washington Group to make Tongue Point successful.

None of the candidates have set up committees for their election with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, meaning they haven’t exceeded the $750 spending limit beyond which they are required to do so.

 

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