‘Dysfunctional’ Relationship Led to Port of Port Angeles Actions

By Paul Gottlieb, June 26, 2013, Peninsula Daily News

A “dysfunctional” relationship between former Port of Port Angeles Executive Director Jeff Robb and the port’s senior staff led to his resignation Monday, Port Commissioner John Calhoun said Wednesday.

That broken-down relationship also led to Robb’s new contract’s continuing on for a year as the port’s environmental affairs director at the same $138,000 salary he had earned as executive director, Calhoun said.

Robb, 59, cited “serious health issues” when announcing his resignation at Monday’s port commission meeting and his plans to retire in July 2014.

Now the longtime port employee — who has one year until he qualifies for state retirement benefits — is filling a newly created environmental affairs position that was not advertised or budgeted and does not have a job description.

It also pays “far above” the salaries of the port’s other three directors.

The highest of the port directors’ salaries is the $84,134 that Finance Director Karen Goschen makes, port Human Resources Manager Holly Hairell said.

According to port commission President Jim Hallett, who voted against the new contract, neither creating the position nor the position’s salary was decided in public session before Robb announced his resignation.

Hallett also denied Robb’s assertion that Hallett “agreed” that Robb would take the new position.

Robb — who, according to his wife, Laura, has stress-related health issues — did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

He is on leave until July 8. The port will have an interim executive director by then, Calhoun said.

Robb’s new contract was criticized by many among the dozen speakers at Monday’s port meeting, including former Port Commissioner Dick Foster, who called it “a sweetheart deal” intended to let Robb retire with “a fat salary.”

The relationship between Robb and port employees has deteriorated since January, when commissioners unanimously gave Robb a 12 percent pay increase and his now-discarded three-year contract, Calhoun said.

“Over the last six months, there’s been a really deteriorating condition at the port among senior staff and the executive director to the point where it became really dysfunctional and impossible for Jeff to continue, in my opinion, as the executive director,” Calhoun said.

“A number of personnel situations occurred, and staff became very frustrated with the status quo, as well as Jeff became very frustrated, and I think they all agreed that they just couldn’t continue that way,” he added.

“Staff people expressed to me that they didn’t think Jeff was informing the commission about issues that staff members felt strongly about,” Calhoun said.

“I think they just got to the point where they would no longer take direction from Jeff, and Jeff was frustrated with that situation, and he wasn’t able to provide the leadership that might have been able to resolve that issue.

“This is a way forward that we found was a way to settle that unacceptable situation,” he said.

“You could think of this in terms of a settlement package.”

Hallett said Wednesday he was still concerned about Robb’s new contract.

“I am asking, how did we get to this point?” he said.

“Why was it not in the budget? Why was it not posted?”

Robb will be allowed to work at home but will “work routinely at his office at the port building” at the direction of the new executive director, Calhoun said.

Robb can be fired only “for cause,” such as gross negligence, or may resign with 30 days’ notice.

He also waives all claims against the port, including claims for damages, additional compensation or benefits related to his employment with the port.

His new contract has no severance package.

At Monday’s port meeting, former port airport and marina manager Doug Sandau referred to his May 15 letter to Calhoun, in which he said current port commission policy does not provide a way to address “unlawful or unfair practices without threat of intimidation.”

Sandau said issues he raised were being reviewed by an investigator hired to look into employee concerns and who had interviewed Sandau at the end of May.

“Why the rush for the commissioners to get a new contract under way when this was still in the wings and hadn’t been completed?” Sandau asked.

Port Commissioner Paul McHugh, who with Calhoun voted in favor of the contract, said Wednesday that some members of Robb’s current and previous staffs were not giving Robb “the benefit of the doubt when they probably should have.”

McHugh also said there has been an investigation of a whistle-blower complaint made by a port employee.

“The commissioners have received the report. We’ve discussed it,” McHugh said, refusing to discuss the specifics of the complaint.

“The findings of the investigator were that it did not warrant any action on behalf of the commissioners,” he said.

“It’s not at all related to issues at the [Monday commissioners’] meeting.”

Sandau also refers in the letter to a call that port Director of Business Development Colleen McAleer, who is running in the Aug. 6 primary for McHugh’s position, made to Calhoun in which she expressed her concerns.

McAleer said Wednesday that those concerns “had to do with leases and inequitable rates and other issues where I felt there wasn’t transparency as required by the master policy, and I felt there was, in my view, favoritism.”

Her primary concern “was a waste of funds,” she said.

She took her concerns to Calhoun after unsuccessfully trying to address them directly with Robb, she said.

Calhoun said she spoke with him for 45 minutes about the relationship between staff and Robb, and she said she needed direct access to the commissioners “to pursue issues that she didn’t feel the executive director was addressing to her satisfaction.”

Calhoun would not comment on what those issues were.

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