PORT TOWNSEND — The Port of Port Townsend will have a new executive director on April 1.
Eron Berg, who has worked as the city supervisor/attorney for Sedro-Woolley since 2007, accepted the position Thursday.
“I’m looking forward to getting over there and getting started,” he said.
Commissioners voted 2-1 during a special session Wednesday to offer Berg the job. His starting salary will be $155,000 per year, interim executive director Jim Pivarnik said.
Pivarnik, who served for 15 years as the port’s deputy director before he left to manage the Port of Kingston, returned in October 2018 to serve as interim director in Port Townsend.
Berg will work alongside Pivarnik until Pivarnik retires June 30.
“It’s a very interesting opportunity in the port world and a little different than the city world,” Berg said. “The second piece of it is, my wife and I have had an interest in moving to Port Townsend for some time.
“It’s a pretty limited opportunity, so the combination of those two is perfect,” he said. “It’s kind of magic.”
Following a 90-minute executive session Wednesday, the three commissioners debated between Berg and Andy Haub, who served most recently as the water resources director for Olympia and retired last April after he worked for the city for 28 years.
The other two finalists were State Patrol Capt. Travis Matheson and Anthony Warfield, the facilities manager for the Port of Tacoma.
Commissioners Bill Putney and Pete Hanke voted for Berg, and commissioner Pam Petranek, who was leaning toward Haub, cast the dissenting vote because she wanted to bring both in for another round of interviews.
“I have a very clear picture in my mind about who the executive director should be, and it has really been over the past nine years of watching the Port of Port Townsend operate and two years as a port commissioner and a year as president that I have some very strong, clear ideas of who I wanted as the next executive director,” Putney said.
Putney outlined several criteria, including an understanding of a working relationship with an elected board.
In addition to his job with Sedro-Woolley, Berg is an elected commissioner of the three-member Skagit Public Utility District, which supplies water to 65,000 residents and businesses.
“That’s critical because the understanding of that dynamic and how that works is what makes or breaks the operation,” Putney said.
Putney also wanted someone who had the credentials to join a peer group that includes other community leaders like Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley and Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro.
“The person who has been on both sides of that, the elected board and executive dynamic, was Eron,” Putney said. “The person who’s really reached outside the box, who has done those things, is Eron.”
Petranek, the newest member of the commission, focused on the port’s assets and sea level rise, and she said that’s where Haub excels.
“I think about who we are,” she said. “I think about the decades, the generations that have built what we have. I think about how the port’s assets are mainly close to sea. I think about the recognition we have gotten locally, from further away, from Alaska for what we do here.
“I think about how our school system has based its curriculum around the place that we live.”
She said Haub recently was invited to speak by the city of Port Townsend based on his expertise on stormwater, a subject he’s been studying since 1991.
“Shouldn’t we be stormwater experts?” Petranek asked. “Can’t we lead the city in protecting its assets? Couldn’t we lead the county in protecting its water?”
Hanke said the ability to listen to the public also is important.
“If you don’t feel like you’re not being heard, that’s a problem, and I, as a citizen, completely agree,” he said. “We should feel confident that whoever it is we want to talk to is going to hear us. They may not respond the way they want to, but at least we know we’re being heard.”
Voters’ recent passage of the port’s $16.8 million Industrial Development District levy also was a big topic for commissioners as they interviewed candidates.
“We are really looking for someone who has been in the trenches, inventive and has the ability to leverage the money we’re all going to be putting into that IDD pot,” Hanke said. “We really need to make $30 million out of that $15 million.
“Eron was the more inventive. He had the more concise answers and projects he had been involved with,” Hanke added.
Berg said he looks forward to addressing “pretty significant challenges that can be solved.”
“When you get right down to it, I love the idea of being part of the team to help solve some of these infrastructure challenges,” he said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].