PORT TOWNSEND — A tense relationship between the Port of Port Townsend and tenants, the marine trades and the community reached a tipping point last week as port commissioners followed through with a letter of rebuke to the Marine Trades Association and the Northwest Maritime Center.
The letter references an incident relating to the port’s executive director and encourages the groups to “raise the level of discourse above these personal attacks.”
Steve Tucker, commission president, signed the document and hand-delivered it to Pam Petranek, a member of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association board, and to Jake Beattie, executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center, admonishing the two organizations and expressing a “strong objection to incidents of inappropriate behavior, including verbal, and written attacks on the integrity and veracity of our executive director.”
The document can be read in full at https://tinyurl.com/PDNportltr.
Port Executive Director Sam Gibboney told commissioners in November and Seattle police in February that a moorage tenant attacked her last fall at a trade show in Seattle.
According to the letter, the situation was further aggravated when a photo of the marine tradesperson appeared during the Economic Impact Study of Jefferson County Marine Trades presentation July 12 at which Gibboney was present.
She said the photo had been posted intentionally to intimidate her.
In the letter, Tucker said, “Though the port did not make any type of public announcement regarding these events, it is a well-founded belief that the incident was common knowledge among the working community of the port.”
Tucker called the photograph “inappropriate” and said it had “created a hostile work environment.”
“To be clear, we welcome strong community input, criticism of the work performance of commissioners or staff, comments about what we do, suggestions on how we can improve, and complaints about what we have done.
“However, this cannot devolve into personal verbal attacks or other unacceptable conduct directed at our staff.”
The letter also stated that the port “has been working to resolve long-standing lease issues necessary to help put the port on a sound financial footing while also supporting vibrant marines trades.”
When reached by phone Tuesday, Beattie said he had no comment on the content of the letter.
Chris Sanok, president of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association, was “grateful for the commissioners’ acknowledgment of my letter of apology sent the previous week [July 16] with respect to the port’s complaint about the photograph at the presentation.
“What we don’t apologize for is holding elected officials and public employees accountable,” Sanok said. “The first three paragraphs of the commissioner’s letter are a rebuke for verbal and written comments offered by the public on the ‘veracity of our executive director.’
“Intentionally or not, over and over again, the executive director and her staff have said things that were not true. For example, Director Gibboney told the commissioners that she had prepared the draft lease policy by taking language from other municipal lease policies with the intention of reflecting industry standards. She specifically mentioned the lease policies of City of Anacortes, Port of Skagit and the Port of Camas/Washougal.
“None of these three lease policies use CPI+1 as an annual escalator. They all use CPI.
“Director Gibboney could not name a single port in all of Washington state that has a lease policy that uses CPI+1.
“Also, Director Gibboney’s claim that it is not Port staff’s responsibility to maintain an accurate rent roll of Port properties is astounding. Her claim that 44 percent of the rent roll was incomplete or incorrect … also is astounding.
“These and other false statements had the potential to materially affect commission decisions regarding actions of vital importance to the marine trades. Many of these came in the context of the executive director’s reluctance to update the rental market rate study.
“When a public official says something untrue, it is not an ‘attack’ or ‘inappropriate behavior’ for citizens and stakeholders to draw attention to the falsehood,” Sanok said.
Gibboney was not available to comment on the allegations.
Speaking on behalf of the commissioners and the executive director, Communications Manager Kimberly Matej responded to Sanok’s allegations Thursday, saying that the Port “values and respects public input and response.”
“We do not have expectations that this — or any — conversation ends without some sort of critical look at statements that suggest inaccuracy of information provided by the port or its representatives,” Matej continued. “This is one of the essential ways we can improve the effectiveness of the Port, through listening, serving and involving.
“Mr. Sanok’s comments are beneficial for an effective democracy, and his attention to detail and desire to seek clarity is respected.”
Matej said the port is planning to offer a workshop for its staff to address a safe workplace environment and diversity training.
The next business meeting of the port will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Matej said the agenda will include leasing policies and practices, and commission discussion regarding the formulation of an ad-hoc committee on leasing policy.
“This committee will serve in an advisory role to the commission as they work through details of a draft leasing policy which will be brought forward to commission for action. The intent of appointing the ad-hoc committee is to elicit critical feedback and comments. It will provide an opportunity to have an organic discussion among staff, tenants, businesses and community members.
“This ad-hoc committee represents one of the first steps in working toward moving forward to build a mutually respectable and transparent relationship between the port and the communities it serves.”
The next public workshop is scheduled for Aug. 22 at 3 p.m. Port meetings are held at the commission building at 333 Benedict St.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]