Incumbent turned out of Port Angeles port seat says no regrets

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Incumbent Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Paul McHugh has no regrets about decisions he made that likely led to his crushing defeat in Tuesday's three-person primary election.

The longtime Sequim-area elected official won't return to his seat on the commission in January.

Port Director of Business Development Colleen McAleer and event-services company co-owner Del DelaBarre garnered more votes than he did, winning the right to advance to the Nov. 5 general election while McHugh, a retired real estate broker, serves out his term through December.

Debated contract

McHugh said Thursday he remains convinced he made the right decision to vote, along with Commissioner John Calhoun, in favor of former Port Executive Director Jeff Robb's much-debated new contract.

Robb resigned June 24 and was immediately rehired to a position with less responsibility at the same salary until he retires in July 2014.

“I am convinced, and I remain convinced, that it was the right thing and in the best interest of the community and the port,” McHugh said.

Still, McHugh was not surprised at the primary results, which as of Tuesday's ballot count garnered him just 15.68 percent support, or 906 votes.

McAleer gained 3,498 votes, or 59.76 percent, and DelaBarre received 1,449 votes, or 24.76 percent.

Public's interest

“Because of the circumstances surrounding Jeff Robb's resignation and the new position, the only thing our constituents seemed to be interested in was just that . . . particular matter,” McHugh said.

“I suspect that much of people's consideration of my candidacy and of returning me to the office of port commissioner may have turned on that.”

A report on the internal workings of the port that focused on McAleer's whistle-blower complaint on port leases did not help McHugh's re-election efforts either, he said.

The report, by Port Angeles lawyer Donna Knifsend, concluded there were no violations of state law.

But it also said employees were highly critical of Robb and concluded Robb, who now works out of the port's John Wayne Marina, had created the “hostile work environment” that he had claimed existed against him.

“Once your staff is against you, you might as well figure out your exit strategy,” McHugh said, quoting “a wise old city manager.”

McHugh said he would not have done anything differently regarding his campaign, either.

Declined contributions

He declined campaign contributions, and he would do so again given a chance to redo the primary, he said.

McAleer had raised $16,540 as of Thursday, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records.

“I did not want to get into that,” he said of campaign fundraising.

“I wanted to do my job as port commissioner.”

McHugh also said he felt hamstrung in his campaign by McAleer's June 27 letter to port lawyer Dave Neupert, which focused on comments McHugh made to the Peninsula Daily News and the Sequim Gazette.

McAleer alleged that those comments constituted “retaliation” for her whistle-blower complaint.

They included McHugh's assertions that “we have some issues with our senior staff,” that “others have to take responsibility for the position we're in.”

Knifsend said in a July 20 report that “retaliation has not occurred at this time.”

But McHugh is “very restricted to this day” about what he can say regarding McAleer, he said.

“I don't want to subject myself or the port to liability.”

McAleer said Thursday that she still believes the statements were “retaliatory in nature” but that she will not challenge Knifsend's conclusion.

“She's the attorney, and if she determines it wasn't [retaliation] based on our policy, I have to accept that.”

McAleer, who earns $82,131 as a port employee, would earn up to $13,992 a year as a port commissioner.

If elected, she said she might open her own business.

She will quit her port job in January whether she wins or loses in November, she said.

McHugh political career

McHugh, an elected official since 1994, was elected twice to the Sequim City Council and twice to the board of Clallam County Park and Recreation District No. 1, which runs the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center.

Tuesday's primary was his first election loss, and he does not know whether he will run for public office again.

“I never viewed it as a political career,” he said.

“I viewed it as a public service, a public duty.

“I felt I had something to contribute, and I wanted to give something back.”

McHugh's most immediate plans?

Lots of skiing next winter with his wife, Rochelle, he said.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 08. 2013 10:49PM
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