By Paul Gottlieb, February 19, 2014, Peninsula Daily News
Negotiations are progressing quickly between Port of Port Angeles attorney Simon Barnhart and a mystery candidate for executive director.
A commissioners’ decision is possible by or at the next regular meeting Tuesday.
“I think we are pretty close to negotiating the terms of the contract, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we conclude that sometime this week,” Commissioner John Calhoun said Tuesday.
Calhoun said he spoke with Barnhart late last week for an update on the negotiations.
“Simon related what the remaining issues were on the terms of the contract to me, and it seemed like more than half of them had been resolved, at least in my mind, successfully,” Calhoun said.
“There are one or two points left that he’s still working on.”
Commission President Jim Hallett gave a presentation on port operations to about 30 people at the Port Angeles Business Association weekly breakfast meeting earlier Tuesday.
“Sometimes, it makes sense to have a roll-out to a bunch of people,” he told the group.
“At other times, it makes sense to do things different ways,” he added.
“Your elected representative will make decisions in terms of contract and compensation, and all that has to be done in a public setting and voted on in a public setting,” Hallett said.
“We will not cut some deal behind the scenes.”
Commissioners have refused to name the candidate or say whether the person’s name was submitted by the Seattle executive-search firm Waldron, which has a maximum $45,000 contract with the port to find suitable applicants for the $114,056- to $154,310-a-year position.
They also have refused to say whether the person is male or female, or a port employee.
They did not advertise for the position and do not plan to have a public meeting or meetings where taxpayers can ask the person questions and relay issues of community concern related to the port’s top administrative position.
Hallett indicated at a Jan. 27 port meeting that the person was from out of town.
“We want to see if that candidate is willing to come here,” Hallett said.
Calhoun said Tuesday that commissioners individually interviewed the person.
The person would replace on a permanent basis Jeff Robb, who resigned as executive director in June citing health reasons.
He was hired the same day to the unadvertised, new position of port director of environmental affairs at the same $138,000 salary he earned as executive director but without personnel responsibilities.
Robb quit after the release of an investigative report by Port Angeles lawyer Donna Knifsend in which employees were critical of Robb’s tenure and in which Robb threatened to sue if port commissioners fired him.
Commissioners subsequently hired Ken O’Hollaren of Longview as interim executive director after conducting public interviews with him and two other candidates.
In public interest
“Given the facts and circumstances, this particular approach we are taking is in the public interest,” Hallett said later Tuesday.
“I don’t know why this is such a big deal. There are multiple ways to go out to hire folks.
“Everyone knows we’ve been looking for a director for a long time,” Hallett added.
“Getting the right candidate is the goal, period.
“That’s why it’s in the public interest.”
At the Feb. 11 port commissioners’ meeting, longtime community activist Norma Turner criticized the process commissioners took in deciding to negotiate with the candidate, saying she was “profoundly disappointed.”
She was referring to an hourlong executive session commissioners held Jan. 27, after which they returned to open session and immediately authorized Barnhart to negotiate the contract.
Barnhart at the Feb. 11 meeting said commissioners acted legally.
But Turner said commissioners cannot reach consensus during an executive session and simply return to open session to offer someone a contract.
Decision without public
“There had to be some decision made in that executive session about who that individual was [in order] to come out and say you are going to offer a contract,” she said, decrying the lack of “public process” in the candidate’s selection.
“I actually had hoped you would become open and transparent,” she added.
“I think you want to hear what the public wants.”
Hallett responded: “All this still has to be completed in public.”
Commissioners meet at 9 a.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of the month in the meeting room of the port administrative building, 338 W. First St.