Pam's Gonna Save Port Townsend

Pam Petranek is running for Port Commissioner, District 1, a four-year seat currently held by Steve Tucker, who is not running for re-election. Pam's opponent, Chuck Fauls, works for the Port in a customer-service role.

The Port Commissioner's roles are outlined in the state laws at this link: CLICK!
Basically, they go to meetings and make decisions about the Port.

Pam is running because she cares about the future of the marine trades, upon which Port Townsend's economy largely relies. She is on the board of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association (PTMTA) and is a fisherman and sailing teacher. Pam and her partner Rick Oltman operate Cape Cleare Salmon, and she's known for delivering salmon on a bicycle with a long trailer, pedaling to farmers' markets and restaurants, locally and on Whidbey Island. 

Pam grew up in the Seattle area and earned a teaching certificate at Western Washington University, landing her first job teaching Special Education in Aberdeen. She's proud of having created a "super-amazingly effective" peer-tutoring program there, in which students who struggled to stay on task were paired with a peer mentor to help them stay on track throughout the school day.

She also learned to sail the first year after college, buying a boat and teaching herself, then joining sailboat races. "I had to learn how to stop and start my boat before I could race," she said. For the next 10 years, she "climbed the ladder of sailboat racing." Sailing the small catamarans called Hobie Cats, Pam began winning local and regional competitions, thencompeted in the nationals against the top 100 sailors in the world, including the Hobie brothers, the sons of the boat's creator. There were no other women skippers at the nationals.  People suggested she compete in a womens' division, but she wanted to be in the open division; and she came in 13th place at that national regatta. "What I learned is there is a difference in the muscles of men and women," she said, describing competitors' enormous, muscled arms. "I learned to use my legs, to compensate."

Her success in racing sailing reveals Pam's disciplined, resolute approach. "The only difference between being a winner and not being a winner is the amount of time I spent out there," she said. She takes the same tack in her approach to learning about the management of the Port of Port Townsend. "I've gone to more meetings than anybody else," she said. "I'm not smarter, I just read more, I've showed up more. I've used my time to do that."

While I was talking to Pam about this, on a Thursday morning at Sunrise Coffee, marine trades workers were coming in for their morning cup, and one stopped to talk with Pam. "What can I do to help you get elected?" Todd Oestriche said. They spoke briefly about Paul Stoffer, a shipwright who was recently injured in a fall. "He's not a cowboy, at all," said the man in the Moss Bay Boatworks sweatshirt. A "cowboy" is someone who takes unnecessary risks; Paul isn't one. "He's really safe." Apparently a plank slipped, causing a fall of about 7 feet, and Paul broke several bones and fractured his skull. He's recovering at Harborview Medical Center. 

Returning to our conversation, Pam said, "I'm not really good at thinking off the top of my head, so I do a lot of research. I listen a lot, read a lot, organize it into writing." She's one of those people who is just incredibly nice. "I really like learning," she said simply, "and being around other people."

Pam moved to Port Townsend in 2006, and taught in the Port Townsend School District as a substitute, preferring PE, music, and art classes. "I just wanted to have fun," she said, "and I could bring elements of sailing and the maritime culture." She also began teaching womens' sailing in Port Townsend aboard her boat, Lucky; local sailor Kaci Cronkhite helped her get started, advising Pam to get a captain's license.

A few years ago, Pam got a call from the school district asking if she could be the music teacher at Grant Street Elementary, just three days before the start of the new school year. Her boat was hauled out for maintenance, and she was also scheduled to present at the upcoming Wooden Boat Festival, but in spite of being busy, she accepted, and taught the kindergarten through fifth grade. She got a CD of sea shanteys, teaching them to sing those old songs of life at sea. Some friends at Fiddle Tunes and local banjo picker David Theilk, helped her put together a square-dance program, too. She learned to be a square-dance caller, and organized a midwinter square dance for the kids and their parents. "I believe in body movement, moving your body to help your brain," she said. "That's why I ride my bike every day." 

She was offered a more long-term position teaching at Grant Street, but chose instead to focus on teaching sailing to women. "It was kind of like in the classroom ... you get to know a person, and you find out what their fears are and you help them get over their fears," she said. "I saw it really rationally." She believes in shadowing as a teaching tool, like the kids in Aberdeen who "shadowed" their peers as tutors and helpers. When Pam taught sailing, she had her students shadow her, watch what she was doing and then try it themselves. As she talked about shadowing, Pam recalled sailing offshore and being on watch one night when winds of 40-plus knots made the tiller difficult to hold. She and the woman she was on watch with decided to hold the tiller together, each person holding the tiller with one hand, and steadying themselves on the boat with their other hands. "It was amazingly comforting," Pam said, to share that work of holding the helm through the windy night watch.

Pam paused in her story to place her hands on the big table where we were sitting at Sunrise Coffee. "It was at this table, a few years ago, at aPTMTA  meeting. Leif Erickson, who was the PTMTA Chair and a former Port commissioner, was saying there was so little interest in the PTMTA, they were going to dissolve it. I just knew we couldn't let the marine trades association go, so I said, 'I'll be on the board, if someone will help me.'" They went around the circle, asking everybody, "will you do it? And why not?" until Christian Gruye said she'd do it. "So I did it," Pam said. She joined the PTMTA board. And since then, "I just, one by one by one, got other people involved."

When the District 1 Commissioner seat opened up, the PTMTA said "we need to find somebody," Pam said they used the same format of going around the circle pointing at each person in turn and saying, "Will you do it? And why not?" Both Pam and Robert D'Arcy (shipwright, captain, educator, and co-chair of the Schooner Martha Foundation) said, "I can do it if you can help." They said, "I'll hold the helm with you."

Pam looked into the possibility of sharing the position with Robert, looking in the rules and asking Betty Johnson at the Courthouse. "She was so wonderful to talk to," Pam said. But Johnson said that job-sharing of that elected position had never been done before, and it was "'beyond her responsibilities,'" Pam quoted. "So one of us had to make a commitment." But, she recalls saying to Robert, "job-shadow me anyway." Pam is more comfortable as part of a team. "We think alike, but he's a lot more articulate," she said. "I'll do all the research, I’ll do all the putting-together." So Pam is the one running – with strong support from the PTMTA.

"I couldn't do it if I was one of those people that thought I knew everything," Pam said. The position of Port Commissioner "is nothing that I had ever aspired to, and I still don't really wantto do it, but I feel like it's really necessary, and I feel like I've done the things I need to do to be really qualified. And I'm surrounded by all these more qualified people. I so understand that it's not about me at all. I just need to put it together and show up." She looked around the coffee shop, the site of that long-ago meeting where the PTMTA was saved from dissolution, and she said, "I'm serving them. I get to hang out with them. It's really fun. It's like being in a gifted classroom."

Pam has taken all her social and free time and chosen instead to go to meetings and to learn. "I never, ever, ever, ever read anything for pleasure," she said. "I just don't have time to." She loves to read, but "everything has to be directed toward this goal." She said she used to be "anti-meetings." She hated meetings, in past years of teacher meetings would go but be "totally checked out, never saying anything so the meeting would go by faster." But now, she said, "I'm actually enjoying meetings." 

A few days prior, she'd gone to a meeting to listen to the four finalists for Port Townsend City Manager. There were no chairs, just four tables; "you could walk up and talk to each finalist." Then the finalists each gave a short talk, and after that, most of the meeting was just the attendees and finalists all walking around talking and mingling. "I loved the meeting like that," Pam said. "You can observe behavior." This way, "everybody has a say. And everybody likes to talk." People were standing around, including City Councilors and Mayor Deb Stinson, "and I got to walk up to them and tell them who I liked," whereas "if everybody was sitting down, and one person were talking, you have to all listen." In this "mingling" style of meeting, if you got bored, you could just wander over to a different cluster of people and see what they were talking about. "I wonder if a lot of people are like that, where they're just terribly bored," Pam said. She liked the citizen engagement of this style of meeting, the physical activity, and the change from the usual style of meetings which so frequently involve just passive listening.

Pam said she talked to City Councilor David Faber afterwards, and he had told her that what catalyzed his decision was the last few minutes of that meeting. "I was standing outside, and so was Pete Langley, and John, one of the candidates," Pam said. Faber had looked back, he told her, and had seen that just one candidate was still there. "He did more research and knew more about our community than the other three candidates," Pam said. "That's a huge skill, I think. Research." And when Rick Oltman had suggested to this candidate that he go to the Jefferson County Historical Society to learn more about Port Townsend, John "whipped out his notebook and wrote it down. He didn't just say 'ok.' He wrote it down."

This is a thing teachers do too, Pam said, showing her small notebook of reminders. 

"You can be a regular, normal person and be an elected," Pam said. (She doesn't use the term "elected official." She sometimes says "elected person.") She is a fan of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, suggesting I listen to her Address to the Union. "You don't have to have this perfect life to do it," Pam said again of being elected. "In fact, maybe it's better if you don't have a ton of free time, if you have to prioritize, and have more of a laser-like focus." Also, when you're working at something like delivering salmon, "you are exposed to a lot of different people."

Pam recently started working even more hours, doing more salmon deliveries for Cape Cleare, which is a lot of hours, combined with the job of campaigning, but she likes those added hours of work. "What I thought would be a disadvantage, isn't; I get to be out in the general public all the time. I get to be in front of the community." She said also, "I kind of want to change the look and the dynamic of being an elected person. ... If you look at Jacinda Adern, she talks about breaking the traditional ways of presenting and engaging with the public. Everything from your wardrobe to the 'how do we meet' thing." The Bellingham Port Commission has fewer meetings in the summer months; one of the commissioners there is a commercial fisherman. "Do we have to think a certain way?" Pam muses. "Can't we take care of each other and do things in a different way that works better? ... This meeting thing is wonderful, and it's also a huge hindrance."

She talked about citizen-advisory committees for a moment, saying, "I want to see ways where there's less this hierarchy and more inclusiveness. Inclusive of people that want to be included. Not cherry-picked people, one from each category. ... We have way too much talent in our community to have it be just about one person."

Pam goes to marine trades meetings once a week; they are held at Gwendolyn Tracy's canvas shop above the Blue Moose Cafe. "There's a big table and we stand around it," Pam said. "For two hours. We all stand." Pam appreciates those who come to the meetings, "that regular showing up. Not just showing up when there's a crisis, but the regular paying attention and building relationship, even when things are quiet."

On Pam's website,, under the tab "Issues," her platform is explained in several sections: 
Rebuild Public Trust with Informed Public Debate; 
Financial Accountability and Sound Business Practices; 
Retain, Support, and Expand Existing Marine Trades and Small Business; 
Affordable Community Access to Facilities, Services, and Shorelines;
Environmental Stewardship of Land, Sea, and Air;
Directing Our Port's Executive Director

The latter outlines the job description for Executive Director, which is seen by many as unclear. "The executive director has way too much control over each commissioner, because he can talk to them separately, but they can’t take all their separate stuff and talk about it together," Pam said. "The workshops could do that, but they're having fewer workshops.  There's something in Robert's Rules about making a motion to open the floor for discussion, "but it's rarely used for substantive discussion,” she said. (Robert's Rules of Order are the standard practices for government meetings.)  
"They often make the decision quite quickly; like with the budget." There's "a ton" of different things to be looked at, but the commission will often just touch on one or two points before the vote.
Basically, the commission should have, or use, more time to talk to each other, rather than each being unduly influenced by their individual conversations with the executive director. "It's like three different countries." 

According to their website,, "The Mission of the Port of Port Townsend is to serve the citizens of Jefferson County by responsibly maintaining and developing property and facilities to promote sustainable economic growth, to provide community access to Port facilities and services, and to protect and maintain our community resources and maritime heritage.”
The Port is comprised of diverse facilities, including:
·     Marinas at Boat Haven, Pt. Hudson, & Quilcene
·     Marine trades industrial areas in Port Townsend at Boat Haven & Pt. Hudson
·     Jefferson County International Airport
·     An RV park at Point Hudson
·     Boat launches at several sites around eastern Jefferson County
·     Union Wharf and City Dock in downtown Port Townsend

If you're involved in marine trades, the maritime community, or otherwise care about the direction the Port is headed, check out Pam's website,

The Primary Election is on August 6, 2019.  
The General Election is November 5, which will include the Port Commissioner District 1 seat.

Wednesday, July 10,  will be the next Port Commission meeting, with a public workshop at 9:30 a.m. and a regular business meeting at 1 p.m., at the Commission offices on Benedict Street, near the boat launch. The meetings can be quite lively of pretty dull, there's usually free coffee, and you can sit in a padded chair and watch the wheels of government turning. Pam will probably be there, too.