Port of Port Angeles Candidates Square off on Issues

By Paul Gottlieb, September 3, 2013, Peninsula Daily News

Del DelaBarre cast Colleen McAleer as part of the problem at the Port of Port Angeles, while McAleer said it’s time to move forward Tuesday when the port commissioner candidates squared off in their first general election forum.

The candidates, who face each other on the Nov. 5 ballot, also expressed different views on cutting down trees at city-owned Lincoln Park to improve aircraft approaches.

DelaBarre said a range of solutions should be examined, while McAleer said she favored tree-cutting as the least-expensive alternative.

McAleer, 46, port director of business development, and DelaBarre, 75, co-owner of an event services company, appeared before more than two dozen attendees at the Port Angeles Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting.

The two are running for Position 1, the Sequim-area commissioner’s seat held by Paul McHugh, who did not advance past the Aug. 6 primary.

McAleer’s whistle-blower complaint, in which she said there were inconsistencies in port leases, led to an internal report earlier this summer by Port Angeles lawyer Donna Knifsend.

Knifsend found no illegalities but described some port employees’ deep dissatisfaction with then-Executive Director Jeff Robb.

Robb resigned June 24. He was given the lesser job of port director of environmental affairs with a salary of $138,000, the same amount he had made as executive director.

McAleer on Tuesday described the move as a “settlement.”

Most questions Tuesday revolved around Robb’s departure and its aftermath, including a May 15 email exchange between McAleer and then-port board of commissioners President Jim Hallett.

Hallett was replaced as board president Aug. 26 by McHugh and Commissioner John Calhoun before Hallet’s term as president expired because of “revelations” that McHugh said showed Hallett did not speak for the board.

DelaBarre seized on the controversy from the outset of Tuesday’s hourlong forum.

He criticized McAleer for reportedly saying the emails between her and Hallett were “not a big deal” and suggested her whistle-blower complaint was “self-serving.”

“The process used violated every good-management practice, both public and private,” DelaBarre said.

“We have to think seriously about how we re-establish lost public trust.”

McAleer filed her whistle-blower complaint and filed for port commissioner on the same day, May 16, the day after the email exchange.

DelaBarre questioned whether McAleer would provide new leadership.

“Is that a new leadership role, or is that a key factor in the chaos that we are facing at the port now?” he asked, calling the leasing issue a “smokescreen” motivated by a desire to fire Robb.

DelaBarre added that the circumstances surrounding Robb’s resignation and rehiring was “a situation so poorly handled by everyone involved that there wasn’t a single winner in it.”

McAleer said she would have retained a mediator to negotiate a solution to issues surrounding Robb.

She acknowledged her motivation to file the whistle-blower complaint has been questioned but added she will take a $70,000 pay cut if she wins.

She has said she would quit her job at the port if she is elected.

Things “desperately” needed to change at the port, she said.

“I decided I was going to be the one on the staff to make a stand,” she said Tuesday. “I’m glad I did it.”

McAleer added that Knifsend said “there’s lots of work to be done” on leases, one of which was $1 a month, and made 12 recommendations.

“The point I really want you to understand is where we were in April and May compared to where we are today,” McAleer said.

“It’s like night and day. The sky is open, and we are moving forward in a way this community deserves.

“We need to put this behind us.”

Asked about the Lincoln Park trees, DelaBarre said the problem was “somewhat process-oriented.”

If elected, he would ask the port executive director “to sit down with the city and try to look at what the individual objectives are,” he said.

“The issue is, do we want a safe airport that we can use to encourage more transportation and better air service or not?” DelaBarre added.

“If the answer is yes, to make it safe and [Federal Aviation Administration]-approved, we have to remove the trees or extend the runway.

“There is more than one solution here.”

McAleer said money is the issue.

“Every other option is many, many, many times more expensive,” she said.

“It’s non-negotiable, in my view, that those trees need to come down.”

Both gave qualified support to expanding the number of port commissioners from three to five, a proposal that will be on the general election ballot.

The move would cost taxpayers $38,400 a year for each new position in compensation, benefits, payroll taxes and travel and election costs, port Director of Finance Karen Goschen said last week.

McAleer and DelaBarre said the West End would be guaranteed better representation with five commissioners.

But McAleer questioned whether the cost would be worth it.

“I would be happy to support whatever the voters want,” she said.

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