Port Commissioners Educated on State’s Hosting Policy

By Megan Stephenson, August 16, 2013, North Kitsap Herald

A few months after formalizing the promotional hosting policy, the Port of Poulsbo Board of Commissioners were scolded about their spending capabilities.

At the June 6 board meeting, port accountant Carol Tripp brought forth some reimbursement issues regarding the port’s promotional hosting policy. In accordance with state law, commissioners are prohibited from making promotional expenditures without commission approval.

However, according to port document, personal reimbursement to Commissioner Stephen Swann was invoiced by the City of Poulsbo regarding funds for the inaugural visit of the American Cruise Line in May.

According to port documents, Swann personally paid for two bands to perform at the Waterfront Park for the cruise ship’s first visit, and a gift certificate for Marlene Smaaladen from Sogno di Vino for her help.

The port was given a “credit” for up to $1,000 by the Poulsbo Marketing Coalition for expenses related to the ship’s visits, according to port documents. On Port of Poulsbo letterhead, Swann submitted a $325 reimbursement for his expenditures to the City of Poulsbo, which handles funds for the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association and its marketing coalition.

However, the city reimbursed the port for $466.80 — including both the fuel used for the city’s police boat, and Swann’s $325.

For the sake of the accountability, Tripp initiated the discussion at the June 6 meeting.

Because there was no prior authorization recorded in the minutes, it seemed Swann’s expenditures and reimbursement request violated the state’s promotional hosting policy law (RCW 53.36.140).

This caused a problem; Tripp said promotional hosting will be one of the focus areas for the new auditor.

Carol Ehlinger is the new audit manager for Team Port Orchard, Public Facility Districts, Public Development Authorities, Large Cities and Counties, Ports and Transits.

Tripp was also concerned that the gift to Smaaladen, for her service as concierge to the cruise passengers, was made with public funds, a violation of the state Constitution Article 8 section 7.

According to the June 6 meeting minutes, the board asked Tripp to speak to the City of Poulsbo to see what procedure should be taken to rectify the problem.

Poulsbo Finance Director Deb Booher said the port issued a check back to the city in the amount owned to Swann, and the City issued a check to Swann on behalf of HDPA. Booher said no port dollars were spent, but Swann should have billed the coalition instead of going through the port.

The Port of Kingston does not have a promotional hosting policy. Any expenditures by port commissioners, for travel expenses or for conferences, are written into the annual budget, according to business manager Scott Coulter. Kingston Port Commissioner Walt Elliot said promotional hosting “doesn’t fit our business model.”

The Port of Bremerton’s promotional hosting policy states “industrial development, trade promotion and promotional hosting” are annually submitted as a part of the port’s budget.

According to port documents, Swann said any “reckless or intentional violation” of the law was “unfounded.” His claim for reimbursement was to the City for marketing coalition funds, not port funds.

“I was not aware the City would confuse the reimbursement request by sending a check to the Port,” Swann wrote in a letter to the other commissioners, included in the June 20 meeting minutes.

Swann said he’s glad the Port of Poulsbo updated its policy earlier this year, because the port has not done much in supporting the port district in recent years. He has other ideas to promote the port, such as making the multi-purpose room on E dock more available to the community.

“My view is more expansive,” of promotional capabilities, Swann said. “I see [the port] as a facility to be used by nonprofits … extending to civic clubs and associations. I’m trying to make us more participants in the community … as a whole.”

The port is audited every two years for accountability and finances. Poulsbo Port will be audited later this year. Tripp said the Port of Poulsbo has had clean audits since 1998, meaning no findings of wrongdoing.

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