By Tad Sooter, December 2, 2014, Kitsap Sun
Port of Bremerton Commission President Roger Zabinski apologized to fellow commissioners last week, on the heels of a contentious Nov. 24 meeting in which he accused them of violating the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Zabinski took a few moments at the commission’s Nov. 25 meeting to apologize to Commissioners Larry Stokes and Axel Strakeljahn. He said his behavior at the previous day’s meeting was not appropriate.
“I apologize to both of you and to the public,” Zabinski said, adding he has one year remaining on his term and wants it to be constructive.
Stokes and Strakeljahn did not respond to the apology.
The Nov. 24 special meeting was scheduled so the commission could finalize its 2015 budget. The proceeding became heated when Zabinski accused Stokes and Strakeljahn of discussing a change to the budget with staff outside of an open meeting. He claimed an email port CEO Jim Rothlin sent to the three commissioners seeking input on a budget change constituted a “serial meeting,” and suggested Stokes and Strakeljahn had reached an agreement in private. The two commissioners angrily rebuffed Zabinski’s accusations, and Rothlin disagreed with Zabinski’s version of events.
Zabinski went on to claim Stokes and previous commissioners had a long history of Open Public Meetings Act violations, citing several examples of what he considered misconduct.
Zabinski had reached out to state officials to discuss his concerns with the email before the Nov. 24 meeting. Carol Ehlinger, audit manager for the Auditor’s Office, said she spoke to Zabinski by phone and agreed to visit the port in January to answer questions about public meetings law.
Ehlinger said that the visit is intended simply to provide guidance and that her office is not conducting any official inquiry based on Zabinski’s claims. Ehlinger said it’s possible the emails cited by Zabinski will be reviewed next spring as part of a scheduled audit of port operations, but any review would be within the scope of a regular audit.
Zabinski also had called Nancy Krier, the state’s open government assistant attorney general. Krier said she sent a letter to Rothlin and the port commissioners Nov. 5 with general guidelines on what constitutes a serial email meeting. Krier said she hadn’t seen the specific emails Zabinski was referring to and was not making any formal inquiry.
The port commission’s final meeting this year is Dec. 16.