PORT TOWNSEND — Port of Port Townsend officials will change the way the port provides credits to a port commissioner after investigating a complaint.
Melinda Bryden wrote a letter of complaint to the port and told commissioners at a public meeting Wednesday that Commissioner Pete Hanke’s business, Puget Sound Express, was improperly credited a little more than $2,000 for passenger boarding fees and short-term parking fees and that he benefited from his elected position.
Port Attorney Frank Chmelik said he and port Auditor Abigail Berg had conducted a thorough investigation of the allegations against Hanke and found there was no wrongdoing on the part of the commissioner.
But Chmelik said port staff should not have credited the Puget Sound Express account. Instead a check should have been written so that the matter would go to the commission for approval. Credits are an accounting procedure not reviewed by the commission.
Hanke is the president of his family’s business, Puget Sound Express (PSE), a passenger ferry and whale watch operation based at Point Hudson. He also is a private pilot who has flown out of Jefferson County International Airport since 1998. A two-term incumbent, he represents district 3 on the commission.
Bryden, a district 2 resident, complained about a credit of $1,332.60 of passenger boarding fees for the 2018 season and an October credit of $996.26 for short-term parking fees for May and June.
Hanke said this was “not the forum to defend myself.”
“I have not gained at all from being a port commissioner at any time that I am aware of,” he added.
Interim Director Jim Pivarnik said he gives credits all the time for various things and “unfortunately one of them was to Pete [Hanke]. The credit was earned, but it is the perception.”
In an interview after the meeting, Pivarnik said that transparency is very important and that he should have taken the refund back to the commissioners. He said it was his error.
“Our attorney Frank Chmelik and Abigail [Berg, the port auditor] did a pretty thorough investigation,” he said. “They went through every email and document and found no wrongdoing.
“When I came in, I made sure we are treating everyone fairly,” Pivarnik continued. “No one gets a sweetheart deal here. Commissioner Hanke has never come to me asking for a favor. Never. [Bryden’s] accusations are false.”
Chmelik said he represents most of the ports in the state and it is not unusual that port commissioners are often boat owners or have some business or personal relationship to the port they serve.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]