By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Colleen McAleer, Port of Port Angeles director of business development and commissioner candidate, told a business audience Monday that she’s the one whose complaint launched an investigation leading to the resignation of Executive Director Jeff Robb — and Robb’s immediate rehiring in a lesser role.
McAleer, 45, a 20-month employee of the port, told a Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce audience of 100 that she thought that most people already had figured out her role in a complaint regarding the Port of Port Angeles’ dysfunctional management.
She was part of a candidate forum that also included her primary election opponents, incumbent Commissioner Paul McHugh, 56, and fellow challenger Del DelaBarre, 75, owner of an events company.
The three candidates are competing for the District 1 port commission seat representing the Sequim-Dungeness Valley and Miller Peninsula, in which the Aug. 6 all-mail primary will be conducted.
The top two vote-getters will vie in the Nov. 5 election, which will be decided throughout Clallam County.
McAleer’s redacted complaint and subsequent responding reports from a contracted lawyer hired to investigate, were revealed to the Peninsula Daily News in a freedom of information request and now appear on the newspaper’s website at http://tinyurl.com/pdn-portdocs.
“This was a leadership issue, not a staff issue,” McAleer said Monday.
McAleer said there were 55 month-to-month leases at the port — an excessive number, she said — and that while typically lease prices increase 1 to 3 percent each year, depending on inflation, there were nine that had not seen a price increase in the past 6-10 years, 14 had gone without an increase in 10-20 years, and 12 that had been paying the same rate for 20-39 years.
After bringing the issue to Robb, McAleer said she saw little improvement in the situation, though the number of month-to-month leases has currently dropped to 41.
“A lot of staff members at the port tried to implement the best management practices,” she said. “It was impossible to get it done.
In response, McHugh noted that the initial report generated said that neither Robb nor the port commission violated any state laws or the port’s own master policy, which was put into practice by Robb’s predecessor.
However, port commissioners and the staff should own up to their own roles in the difficulties that led to the port’s current dilemma, he said.
McHugh shifted the forum subject to job creation and the port’s role in bringing jobs to Clallam County and the North Olympic Peninsula.
“What you can expect from me is fiscal responsibility,” he told the chamber members.
The port expects to return $2 million from port profits into the general fund in the current fiscal year, he said.
“That’s not from taxpayers, but from our tenants,” he said.
The port is a development and economic promoter, and as such should be focused on partnerships, all three candidates agreed.
But they disagreed on the details of whether current partnerships are sufficient, and the degree and nature of those partnerships.
“Jobs are the most important thing the port does,” DelaBarre said.
However, in the past two years there has been little actual job creation attributable to port actions, he said.
McHugh responded: “I see economic development as a marathon, not a sprint.”
Both McHugh and McAleer pointed out work that the port has done in the past two years, including developing partnerships with technology companies, including Boeing, as well as governmental support at the state and federal level.
DelaBarre replied that he doesn’t see what the port is doing as a complete job, and that the partnerships need to be solidified, and for the port to be ready to take advantage of opportunities the port has missed out on because the partnerships have not been formalized.
“The port needs to develop strategies, then stick to those strategies,” DelaBarre said.
All three candidates agreed that the port’s current top priority is to find an effective replacement for Robb, and that the final selection should take place after one of the three commissioner candidates are selected in the November election.
Profiles and additional comments from each of the three candidates in a question-and-answer segment are included in the PDN’s Primary Election Voter Guide, which will appear Friday, about a day after voters receive their all-mail ballots.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.