Port of Port Angeles candidates discuss employee-commission relations at forum

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– What should be the relationship between Port of Port Angeles commissioners and their employees?

That was the main focus of a forum with the three primary election candidates for the District 1 seat on the port commission, which covers Sequim and the Dungeness Valley, on Friday morning at the Sunrise Rotary Club’s meeting at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the Aug. 6 primary will advance to a countywide vote in the Nov. 5 general election.

“We need to have a lot of communication to get a focus on what we want to accomplish,” said Colleen McAleer, 45, candidate and Port of Port Angeles director of business development for the past 20 months.

McAleer said concerns from the port’s nine-member staff often were disregarded by Jeff Robb, the former executive director who resigned June 24, citing health reasons, and was given a new post as environmental director.

Incumbent Commissioner Paul McHugh, 56, said commissioners should not have to get involved in the agency’s regular business.

“I have no contact at all with the employees,” McHugh said. “We as commissioners need to stay out of daily operations.”

McHugh voted to approve Robb’s new job.

Robb has said senior staff members were going around him to talk to commissioners instead of having him relay their concerns to board members.

“That’s part of the issue, when they are going around and not following protocol,” Robb said in an interview earlier this month.

“It’s not accurate that I was not being responsive,” he added.

Robb, 59, who turns 60 in November, also announced at the June 24 meeting that he will resign his new position in July 2014, when he becomes eligible for full state retirement benefits.

His new post pays the same as his former one: $138,000 a year. Commissioners approved the contract 2-1, with Commission President Jim Hallett voting against it.

Challenger Del DelaBarre, 75, owner of an events company, said his opponents’ differing views are proof the agency’s organizational structure is flawed.

“That structure is vital to success,” DelaBarre said. “And it’s broken at the port.”

He said McAleer broke the chain of command by going to commissioners instead of speaking through Robb.

Because her concerns were not being passed on to commissioners, McAleer said, she had to go above Robb’s authority.

“I was in the military for 10 years. I know what a chain of command is,” she said.

“We all deserve better than what has been happening.”

McHugh said McAleer created conflict by going to commissioners about concerns she had about the fairness of leases signed with port tenants.

“You can be absolutely convinced that I will not be the one that’s in the middle of conflict,” McHugh said.

More commissioners?

Port commissioners were chastised last week by the Washington Coalition for Open Government, which said the commission’s decision to appoint Robb to a newly created post after his resignation was made without sufficient public process.

McAleer said increasing the commission from three members to five would allow staff to voice concerns to commissioners without having to do so in a public forum.

“There is no law against having staff and commissioner work sessions in public,” DelaBarre said.

“If we could involve the public as much as they are involved now, we wouldn’t have had these damn problems in the first place.”

McHugh said three commissioners are sufficient, though five could provide an opportunity to solidify representation from West End communities.

The port currently is seeking a new director.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 27. 2013 6:27PM
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