By Rolf Boone, May 21, 2013, The Olympian
Kevin Ferguson, the Port of Olympia’s former finance director, has sued the port and executive director Ed Galligan, alleging wrongful termination and retaliation against him in violation of state whistleblower laws.
The suit, filed May 13 in Thurston County Superior Court, seeks a range of damages, “including past and future compensatory, economic, noneconomic, general and emotional distress damages.”
The port does not comment on lawsuits, the spokeswoman for the Port Said Monday.
Ferguson’s Bellevue-based attorney, Victoria Vreeland, issued a short statement through her legal clerk Monday.
“Now that the matter is before the court, we will pursue the matter in the civil justice system to seek a fair and just outcome,” she said.
In his suit, Ferguson outlines how he was hired by the port in February 2009 – after a period in which the port had no finance director for about eight months – then grew into his role, receiving a performance review with high marks, a pay raise, commissioner approval and additional duties, such as being placed in charge of the “real estate portion of the marketing/business development department.”
Along the way, though, Ferguson alleges “he observed and discovered a variety of matters which adversely impacted the financial status of the port and which he reasonably believed to constitute mismanagement, waste or violations of law.”
When Galligan failed to take action, Ferguson alleges, he took his concerns to two of the three port commissioners. After Galligan learned of the meeting, Ferguson alleges he was “belittled and berated” and instructed “not to talk with any commissioners unless it involves fraud or gross negligence.”
In a follow up meeting, Galligan and Ferguson were able to settle their differences, a meeting in which Ferguson said he was committed to the port’s mission and capped it with a congratulatory handshake.
Later, though, Ferguson said he felt compelled to outline some of his concerns about the port in an email to port commissioner Jeff Davis.
Among Ferguson’s allegations:
• Nepotism in the award of the port’s information technology contract to the brother-in-law of Galligan’s former secretary and the port’s human resources manager.
• Waste of port funds in paying an excessive amount of $10,000 per month to maintain the IT system.
• Award of the IT contract to an entity that had a statutory two-year ban from public work due to previously operating without a license.
Following that, Ferguson alleges, Galligan appeared with a performance review correction notice, including a comment from Galligan that said Ferguson was “quite possibly the single most rude, egotistical and arrogant employee, I have ever had the displeasure of working with.”
Ferguson countered by sharing his concerns about the port with the full port commission.
Then, Ferguson alleges, Galligan began treating him with “increasing and escalating disdain, isolation, and in an extremely demeaning manner.”
Ferguson later shared how he was being treated with the commission, and also sought the advice and opinion of the state Auditor’s Office.
The port’s own legal counsel looked into Ferguson’s concerns, too, but found no violations; Ferguson says that his allegations were never investigated.
He also recommended to Galligan that the IT contract be suspended until it was determined whether the contract was legal and a requested investigation completed.
Ferguson said no response came from the recommendation.
On November 4, 2011, Ferguson was fired by Galligan and escorted from the premises by security.
Ferguson was replaced by current finance director Jeff Smith, who previously worked at the Port of Vancouver and Port of Tacoma.