Letter, Petition Rip Port of Port Angeles Over Rehiring

By Arwyn Rice, July 25, 2013, Peninsula Daily News

Port of Port Angeles commissioners received a letter this week from a state open government group chastising the commission and offering training on open government laws.

They also were presented with a petition to remove Jeff Robb, former port executive director, from his current position as port environmental director.

The letter from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, signed by coalition President Toby Nixon, called the commission to task for creating a position for and rehiring Robb after he resigned without public notice or advertising the position.

“WCOG has been advised that recent actions by the Port of Port Angeles Commission threaten to undermine public trust and confidence, because they create the appearance that controversial decisions were made in private,” said the letter, dated July 22.

“According to press reports and port commission minutes, controversial decisions were made in private,” Nixon wrote.

Nixon cited concerns about a letter written by Robb to the commission stating Robb’s intent to resign his position “effective immediately,” and the meeting minutes, which indicate Robb said, “[W]e have agreed that I will continue at the port as director of environmental affairs.”

Port Commissioners Jim Hallett, John Calhoun and Paul McHugh said negotiations were made regarding Robb’s change in status but that no agreements were made during the executive session.

“The contract that we signed was individually distributed to commissioners by counsel [lawyer Dave Neupert], and we responded individually to our counsel,” Calhoun said in June.

“Then Jim [Hallett] brought up the contract for consideration at the meeting.”

On June 24, commissioners voted two to one to give Robb the job of director of environmental affairs, with Hallett dissenting.

Nixon is a member of the Kirkland City Council and served as a state representative from 2002-2006, when he was a member of the committee responsible for overseeing Washington’s open government and election laws.

The letter was read into the record during the public comment session of Monday’s commission meeting by Norma Turner of Port Angeles, who also presented to the commission a petition with about 400 signatures.

The petition says: “We, the undersigned residents of Clallam County, demand that the Port of Port Angeles Commission rescind their appointment of the recently resigned executive director to his new position as environmental director because the position was never advertised, it is not in the budget, it has no job description and this action was illegally decided upon in secret and in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 42.30, Revised Code of Washington.”

The signatures represented the first installment of the petition, which is still being circulated in parking lots around the county, Turner said.

“My favorite pastor, the late Charlie Mays, used to say that if you wanted to know what was going on, just stand around and listen to the conversations in the parking lot,” Turner said.

“He was right. So today, I bring you a reflection of the parking lot conversations in our county,” she said.

Turner said the number of people willing to sign the petition was notable: about 70 percent of the area residents who are approached for signatures, compared with a typical petition, which gets about a 40 percent response rate.

“The parking lot out there is boiling over,” she said.

Turner has worked with Toby Nixon’s sister, Shirley Nixon, an attorney and an open government advocate, on several projects in the past.

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