Longtime Woodland Port Commissioner Jerry Peterson hopes to build on past successes if re-elected to the post in November. Challenger John “JJ” Burke says it’s past time for a change.
Burke started attending port meetings as part of his duties as a member of the Woodland City Council, saying he became more and more intrigued with the port’s business and decided to seek a seat on the port commission instead of re-election to the council.
He also found some concerns.
First, Burke thinks there’s a potential conflict of interest on the port board. Port Commissioner Dale Boon is manager at the Consolidated Diking District No. 2, where Peterson’s son is a commissioner. Burke says Matt Peterson is Boon’s boss and that leads to a conflict when Boon and Jerry Peterson deal with port projects.
“When you’ve got someone working with someone else’s family member it’s not in our best interests,” Burke said.
Jerry Peterson points out his son is just one of three elected commissioners and not Boon’s sole employer. He also said the port and diking district have very little interaction and he sees no conflict of interest.
“There’s no conflict,” he said. “I don’t see how there could be.”
Burke also disagrees with a disputed sale of port land that lead to a lawsuit filed by Columbia River Carbonates in 2012. The case was dismissed, but the company has appealed, saying port commissioners sold land to a local RV park for pennies on the dollar, and did so without proper public notice. Fliers about the conflict were sent out during the primary election by company owner Joerg Bleeck, saying Peterson needed to be defeated.
Peterson stands by the sale, saying two appraisals were done and that no one questioned the decision until after the fact. He said the port’s attorney also has assured commissioners that no laws were broken.
“Yeah, I suppose, we could have got more money for it, but nobody spoke until after it was done,” Peterson said. “(The) commissioners acted on what we’d been informed on. ... I feel comfortable with it.”
Burke says he doesn’t have all the details about the disputed sale, but he does have questions.
“I probably would have looked at it a different way,” Burke said. He said averaging two appraisals and determining a middle ground price would appear to be a better move.
Both men said they’d like to see the port grow.
Burke wants to bring in large employers, including a possible grain terminal. He’d also like to see more development in the Woodland Bottoms. “We’ve got the property, let’s do something with it,” he said.
Peterson wants to attract family-wage jobs, but said he leaves the specifics of how to do that to port staff. He’d also like to protect farmland in the Bottoms.
Burke said he’s bringing his 12 years of City Council experience to the port race. “I’m here for the citizens, everybody knows that,” he said. “And it’s time we make a change at the port instead of the status quo.”
Peterson says things are going well at the port and he’d like that to continue. He’s proud that the port collects less than half of the taxes it could and wants to make the port completely self-sufficient. He says his 55 years running his farm also gives him a solid background in the business world.
Peterson hasn’t campaigned, saying he figures most voters know him after 30 years in his post.
“I’ll let the people decide,” he said.
- Age: 73
- Occupation: Farmer
- Education: Woodland High School graduate
- Personal: Married with five grown children
- Political and civic experience: 30 years as Port of Woodland commissioner, member of Woodland Grange and Farm Bureau of Washington and more than 45 years of church activities.
John “JJ” Burke
- Age: 61
- Occupation: Executive Director, Woodland Chamber of Commerce
- Education: GED, Clark College
- Personal: Married with two grown children
- Political and civic experience: 12 years on Woodland City Council; Woodland Historical Society President, Woodland Planters Days Committee President, Woodland Grange No. 178 Master, Woodland Downtown Revitalization Committee Secretary, Woodland Moose Lodge.