PORT TOWNSEND — The executive director’s response to a photograph of a former Port of Port Townsend Boat Haven tenant at a meeting has prompted port commissioners to direct port attorney Frank Chmelik to draft a letter of rebuke to both the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association and the Northwest Maritime Center for the commissioners’ review and signature this week.
Executive Director Sam Gibboney described the former tenant’s action as assault when the two were arguing at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November. Gibboney and Yard Manager Terry Kyle had visited the booth of the port tenant and Port Townsend Marine Trades Association (PTMTA) member.
An image of the tenant, who has since left the port’s moorage, was shown as part of a presentation that included several other photos at the July 12 marine trades association-sponsored meeting at the Northwest Maritime Center.
Gibboney said she was shocked to see the photo and felt it had been posted intentionally to escalate an already tense relationship between the organizations and the port.
The former tenant, who has not been reached for comment, is not identified in this story and has not been accused of a crime.
“I reported the incident immediately to the port’s human resources director and informed the commissioners,” Gibboney said this week. “I reported the incident to the Seattle Police Department in January.”
According to Seattle Police Detective Patrick Michaud, a report was filed Feb. 2 in the west precinct by “Martha Gibboney” who said she and a port tenant were “having a disagreement over fees and costs” and that she was touched inappropriately.
“She believed his actions to be part of an attempt to be physically intimidating,” the report said.
On Dec. 13, the commissioners voted unanimously to evict the tenant from his moorage at Boat Haven. He left the port voluntarily and the eviction wasn’t executed. The commissioners kept the incident private, not releasing any details to the public and referring all questions to the port attorney.
“At an arranged meeting, he admitted the offense and apologized,” Gibboney said.
Gibboney and all three port commissioners — Steve Tucker, Pete Hanke and Bill Putney — as well as 300 people, including members of the PTMTA, elected local and state officials, stakeholders and community members, attended the July 12 meeting.
Portraits of the port’s maritime tradesmen by professional photographer, port tenant and PTMTA member Bill Curtsinger provided a backdrop to the dais. There was also a slide show of additional photos presented prior to the meeting.
The former tenant’s image was displayed on the wall and was included in the slide presentation.
“I was shocked to see among the photos illustrating the port work by marine tradespeople a photo of the man who hasn’t been a moorage tenant since December,” Gibboney said.
“I didn’t know her story,” said Curtsinger, who assembled the display. “I had no idea. I was not aware of any reason as to why a photograph of him should not have been included in our presentation.”
After returning to public session after an executive session last Wednesday, commissioners voted unanimously to send a message to the PTMTA and the Northwest Maritime Center expressing their dismay over the decision to show the tenant’s image.
“I would like to let them know officially, on the record, we are not happy about our employees feeling like they are under attack,” said Tucker. “This has created a hostile work environment.”
Said Putney: “I don’t know if that created a hostile work environment, but my concern — I’m a third of the commission — is that we really, really, really feel strongly that we want to see a much higher level of discourse and a much higher level of respect. We try very hard to give that respect to the public, and we expect that from the public.
“I don’t want to see us descend into public attacks ever again in this chamber, and port employees or people who work at the port feel intimidated or accosted. ”
Hanke said Gibboney knows a lot of people are upset with her and she feels unsafe.
“That,” he said, “is the definition of a hostile work environment.
“People have to feel safe at the port. We at the commission feel that the demonstration by the tenant and then the subsequent presentation of his picture in front of Sam, our employees don’t feel safe. We really believe that, we aren’t just saying that.
“We’re free to have discourse,” Hanke continued. “We don’t like this, we don’t like that. It’s another thing to get personal about it.
“I think we’ve crossed the line.”
Upon learning of Gibboney’s reaction, PTMTA Chairman Chris Sanok sent a letter of apology.
“We did not mean to cause her any distress and did not want to create a hostile work environment,” Sanok said. “We regret it is causing a distraction to the port and to the marine trades in Port Townsend.
“In my letter, I apologized. In our defense, all proceedings have been confidential. People have asked what happened to him, what he was accused of doing. He has been silent about the accusation and the eviction, so it’s difficult to know what the community sanctions against him should be.”
Jake Beattie, Northwest Maritime Center executive director, said he was surprised to learn that he would be contacted.
“All we did was offer the venue, and I acted as host,” Beattie said. “We had no role in the program. I have no idea what this is all about.”
The next meeting of the port commissioners is today at 5:30 p.m. at 333 Benedict St.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]