By Paul Gottlieb, August 4, 2013, Peninsula Daily News
Ken O’Hollaren says he is looking ahead to the future, not behind at the past, as he starts his new, though temporary, job today as interim executive director of the Port of Port Angeles.
The 58-year-old Longview resident is filling the position for an estimated six to nine months until commissioners hire a permanent director.
O’Hollaren is replacing Jeff Robb, who resigned June 24 and was immediately rehired as director of environmental affairs, for the same pay of $138,000 annually, amid a flurry of public criticism and a chastising letter from the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
In addition, the state Auditor’s Office also will begin an accountability audit of port compliance with open meetings laws and hiring practices by September — it was scheduled for 2014 — over concerns surrounding the circumstances of Robb’s change in status at the port.
“I fully appreciate the distractions within the port commission and the organization today,” O’Hollaren said last week. “It would be nice today to have that set aside and be able to refocus on the work plan ahead.”
His first task in his new position: “I’m very much looking forward to getting acquainted with everyone.”
O’Hollaren said he will begin a review of port-related lease issues that led to a recent whistle-blower complaint by port Director of Business Development Colleen McAleer, who is also running for port commissioner, “so a direction can be had on addressing those issues.”
O’Hollaren already has acquainted himself with the complaint and the circumstances surrounding Robb’s resignation, he said.
“I’d rather not comment on any one individual and their situation,” O’Hollaren said of Robb’s resignation. “We will devote our full attention to getting up to speed on port matters.
O’Hollaren said he will make about the same $11,500 monthly salary as Robb did, though his contract is being handled through the Seattle executive search firm Waldron.
O’Hollaren was the longest-serving port director in Washington when he retired from the Port of Longview in December after 24 years as the top administrator.
O’Hollaren said he met Robb, who has said he will retire in July 2014, “a few times” during the four years that Robb, a longtime port employee, was executive director, meeting him at state Ports Association events.
Robb will work under O’Hollaren’s supervision.
But, unlike other employees, Robb is the only non-union port employee who can be terminated only for cause, or malfeasance, instead of “at will” by O’Hollaren, and the only one with a contract signed by the commissioners.
Robb works out of the John Wayne Marina in Sequim instead of the port administrative building.
“It sounds like that determination has been made, and we’ll just go from there,” O’Hollaren said.
O’Hollaren had his share of controversy in Longview, where his December retirement announcement came at a time of turmoil for the port but also following major growth and expansion, according to The Daily News of Longview.
During his tenure, the port grew from 178 acres to 830 acres and set three consecutive revenue-year records from 2008-2011.
During his final six months at Longview, he and the port were in the middle of a labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the $200 million EGT grain terminal.
“The question of Longshore personnel involvement in the facility was very much an open question,” he said.
“Clearly, a lot of controversy and hard feelings developed out of that in a lot of directions, but the facility today is a huge success for the port,” O’Hollaren added.
“World wars start from misunderstandings,” he said. “My over-arching concern here is to make sure all parties are being listened to and communicated with.”
O’Hollaren is a native of West Linn, Ore., a Portland-area suburb.
His mother worked for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, a maritime trade union established in 1875.
“My real introduction to the industry was my mother,” he said. “I kind of grew up around the industry.”
O’Hollaren’s wife, Denise, 52, is a Cowlitz County Superior Court clerk.
They have been married 28 years and have two grown children.
O’Hollaren said he will commute to Longview on weekends.