By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Well, sort of.
That's how Port of Port Angeles commission President Jim Hallett opened the half-hour special port meeting Friday, held in the meeting room at the port administrative office with no commissioners actually present.
Instead, Hallett and Commissioners Paul McHugh and John Calhoun participated via speaker phone from three separate locations, each receiving the $104 per diem allowed under state law.
It was convened to take care of administrative matters because the port lacks an executive director following Jeff Robb's resignation Wednesday.
Hallett began the meeting, as is customary, by leading off with the Pledge of Allegiance, though he said he did not have an American flag.
During the meeting, Hallett, an investment adviser, was at his office in Port Angeles a half-mile from the meeting room, while Calhoun was traveling, port Human Resources Manager Holly Hairell said.
Hallett did not return calls later Friday for comment about the meeting.
McHugh was at his summer home on Lake Sutherland west of Port Angeles, where he had a paper replica of the flag that had been distributed in Friday's Peninsula Daily News that he acknowledged during the pledge, he said later.
He could not attend the meeting because he had made plans to be with friends, he said.
The speaker phone sat near where McHugh normally would sit, with staff leaning toward the device as they gave their reports.
As port executive director, Robb simply would have approved the state Department of Ecology grant contract amendment and the reduction in property insurance coverage that the commissioners unanimously approved Friday in absentia.
Commissioners have said they expect to hire an interim director by their July 8 regular meeting, but until then, they must approve any expenditures over $5,000.
McHugh said Friday in a phone interview after the meeting that the executive search firm Waldron of Seattle has submitted the names of two candidates for interim director.
Waldron already had a list of candidates to draw from, Hairell said.
Neither interim-director candidate is local, McHugh said.
“I think we will be in a position to make a decision on [July 8],” he said.
The commissioners have not set a time limit for hiring a permanent executive director.
Waldron's search for an executive director will cost up to $50,000, Hairell said.
After Robb resigned at Wednesday's commissioners' meeting, the commissioners immediately hired him on a 2-1 vote to fill the newly created, unadvertised position of environmental affairs director at the same $138,000 salary Robb earned as executive director.
Hallett voted against Robb's new contract, which expires in July 2014, when Robb qualifies for state retirement benefits.
Port Finance Director Karen Goschen said the two action-items on Friday's agenda were time-sensitive.
The Ecology grant contract amendment had to be acted upon because no state budget had been approved as of Friday morning for the 2013-2014 biennium.
Also, the port's property insurance had to be renewed by Friday so the port could take advantage of lower port-group rates for the policy period that begins Monday.
“Typically, I would just discuss [insurance renewal] with the executive director,” Goschen said into the speaker phone.
“Since we don't have one, that is why I am bringing it forward.”
The number of insurers offering earthquake coverage in property insurance policies has diminished since the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Goschen said.
“There is limited availability to apply to keep the same coverage of $50 million,” she said.
Commissioners agreed to reduce the port's property insurance coverage after facing a 26 percent hike in the insurance premium.
The port has been paying $189,105 for $50 million in coverage but faced a $50,000 increase in the premium to $239,746.
The commissioners agreed to reduce the coverage to $25 million, with the port paying a premium of $189,746.
The policy covers a probable actual maximum loss — according to the insurance broker's computer model — of $8.5 million in port property from an earthquake and tsunami, Goschen said.
The entire portfolio of port property is valued between $85 million to $90 million, Goschen said.
“The port's assets are spread out, so it's not likely that all assets would be impacted” by an earthquake and tsunami, Goschen said.
But an estimated maximum $8.5 million in losses “does not seem very plausible,” McHugh said, suggesting that the commission could wait until a new port director can further research the issue.
There are eight other ports in the insurance pool, Goschen said.
“They looked at the epicenter of where the earthquake would occur in the Cascadia Fault,” Goschen said.
“There were certain ports that were exposed to much higher risk than the Port of Port Angeles.”
Calhoun expressed concerns similar to McHugh's.
“The $25 million level we are talking about, in my view, gives us the adequate margin,” Calhoun said.
Commissioners also unanimously voted to suspend a $2 million Ecology grant for demolition and cleanup-related abatement at the port's former Peninsula Plywood mill site.
The issue became moot Friday afternoon when Ecology notified the port that the amendment was unnecessary in light of Gov. Jay Inslee's intention to sign the budget.
McHugh said Friday after the meeting that he is anxious to hire an interim director.
“It's in our interest to make that decision sooner rather than later,” he said.
“We also can't afford to have telephone meetings or special meetings of the commissioners that the executive director is properly assigned to deal with,” he said.
“We don't want you to have to listen to these voices floating around the commission room all the time.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.