By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Paul McHugh squared off with challengers Colleen McAleer, the port’s director of business development, and Del DelaBarre, owner of an event services company, during the two-hour Clallam County League of Women Voters candidate forum at the Sequim Transit Center.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 6 primary for voters only in port District 1 — mainly the Sequim-Dungeness Valley area and Miller Peninsula — will advance to the countywide general election in November.
The League of Women Voters opened Sunday’s forum before an audience of about 100 with a question about last Monday’s resignation and rehiring of Jeff Robb, the former port executive director, to a lesser role at the same salary.
DelaBarre attacked both of his election opponents for what he saw was having a part in the controversy.
“In my experience, it is rare that you can face an issue handled so poorly that no one involved is a winner — they are all losers,” DelaBarre said.
DelaBarre, 75, a retired engineer, said the entire culture of the port agency needs to be remade.
“The bottom line here is that the port’s a mess. When I entered the race, I understood that,” he said.
“The thing I didn’t know was just how bad the organizational structure was.”
DelaBarre accused McAleer, 45, of trying to bypass the chain of command.
“It is just plain stupid,” he said.
DelaBarre also took umbrage with McHugh’s repeated assertion that the funds used to pay Robb’s salary are not public funds because they don’t come from tax revenues.
“To us as citizens, it doesn’t matter if it is revenue from airport or tax money; it is public money,” DelaBarre said.
McHugh, 56, a former member of the Sequim City Council and Clallam County Planning Commission, has served on the port board since January 2012, filling out the unexpired term of current Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who resigned to take the county position.
He defended his comments regarding the nature of the funds used to pay Robb.
The funds are taken from property leases and similar funds; tax funds pay for capital projects, he said.
McHugh criticized a suggestion from McAleer that the port should go “all in” on pushing the Composites Corridor, a regional plan to promote composites manufacturing in Clallam County.
“It’s too much of a risk,” he said, but also noted that the Composites Corridor is a high priority for the port
McAleer served 10 years in the Army as an intelligence officer, then returned to her hometown of Sequim to become a real estate agent before being hired at the port 19 months ago.
“I know what we need to do to provide economic prosperity,” McAleer said.
She pointed out that the county’s average annual wage is about $30,000 and that the county has 10 percent unemployment that needs immediate resuscitation.
“All economies are local economies,” she said. “We can’t wait for D.C. and state governments to do this for us.”
Regarding the Robb controversy, McAleer said, “ I would have liked to see the normal process occur.”
“We should have taken our time to select the best person for the job.”
The candidates also fielded questions on the Lincoln Park trees issue.
All agreed that the trees must come down to allow for the full runway at port-owned William R. Fairchild International Airport to be used.
Ballots for the all-mail Aug. 6 primary election will be mailed July 17.
The Peninsula Daily News’ voter guide for the primary will be published July 19.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.