State Auditor’s Office to Review Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Actions on Resignation, Rehiring

By Paul Gottlieb, July 6, 2013, Peninsula Daily News

The state Auditor’s Office will review the circumstances surrounding former Port of Port Angeles Executive Director Jeff Robb’s June 24 resignation and subsequent rehiring as director of environmental affairs.

The review of port hiring and public meeting practices — part of an accountability audit that will look at the port’s compliance with port, state and federal rules and regulations — was scheduled to begin in 2014, Auditor’s Office spokesman Matt Miller said last week.

Instead, part of the audit will begin by Sept. 1 over concerns with port compliance with the state Open Public Meetings Act and port commissioners voting 2-1 to rehire Robb to a lower-level position at the same $138,000 executive director’s salary without advertising, having a job description or budgeting for the newly created position, Miller said.

“You want to make sure decisions of this magnitude are made in the light of day,” Miller said.

Recent reports on the commissioners’ action in Peninsula Daily News and an unidentified citizen’s complaint — the person is not employed by the port — are prompting the review, he said.

“Concerns have been brought forward that will be looked at,” he said.

Commissioners met in executive session June 19 to discuss Robb’s job performance.

The public is excluded from executive sessions, which are not recorded and in which, according to state law, no decisions can be made.

In Robb’s one-page statement at the June 24 port commissioners meeting, he said that he and commissioners “have agreed that I will continue at the port as director of environmental affairs” and that he will resign in July 2014, which will make him eligible for full state retirement benefits.

The commissioners had not reached an agreement in public session at the time Robb read his statement, nor had they ever discussed, in public, creating the environmental affairs director position and giving it to Robb, according to commission President Jim Hallett.

The job also was not posted, conflicting with port policy that port jobs “will normally be posted or communicated to employees of the port and will normally be advertised.”

After Robb’s statement at the June 24 meeting, a dozen citizens criticized the move before commissioners voted 2-1 to approve Robb’s new, one-year contract.

Commissioners John Calhoun and Paul McHugh cast favorable votes, while Hallett voted no.

McHugh said Wednesday he is “confident” that the commissioners met the requirements of the state Open Public Meetings Act in the process that led up to the June 24 vote.

“The decision we made publicly and the conversations we had that took place in executive session in relation to Jeff’s contract with the port were all done with our attorney [Dave Neupert] present,” McHugh said.

Said Calhoun: “If they need to move up the schedule, that’s fine.”

Hallett could not be reached for comment on the state agency’s review of the port commission’s actions.

Calhoun said Robb informed commissioners at the June 19 executive session that “[Robb] didn’t think he could continue” as executive director because escalating, stress-related health issues and conflicts with the port’s senior staff.

Robb “laid out his situation to us that he felt he was in a position where he couldn’t continue as executive director because of the conflict with the staff and so forth,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun and Robb communicated via email on June 20, a day after the executive session, and on June 21 according to email records of the decision provided to Peninsula Daily News under a state Public Records Act request.

Those emails show Calhoun and Robb appear to have reached an understanding about Robb’s future before he was awarded the contract June 24, when Calhoun and McHugh said little about what was behind their decision.

Neupert said in an email last week that more public records surrounding Robb’s resignation, the creation of the environmental affairs director position and the setting of Robb’s new salary may be released to Peninsula Daily News that require additional review and the creation of an exemption-redaction log, but did not specify a target date.

According to the records that were released, on June 20, Calhoun provided Robb with the final edited version of a draft Robb wrote and which Robb would read, word for word, at the June 24 meeting.

The statement included the following:

“The commission has asked me to help with the transition to the next executive director by continuing to oversee three major environmental projects: marine trades area, K-Ply redevelopment and harborwide cleanup,” Robb said.

“We have agreed that I will continue at the port as director of environmental affairs to facilitate transition of this important work.”

The statement “strikes a good balance that will be accepted by the full commission and the public,” Calhoun says in the June 20 email.

“I look forward to my next chapter in my career at the port,” Robb responds June 21.

Calhoun said Friday it was erroneous for Robb’s statement to have said an agreement was reached.

“It was a mistake to use the word ‘agreed’ because that was premature, and I just didn’t think about it,” Calhoun said Friday.

McHugh said that no agreements were struck between Robb and the commission until the June 24 meeting.

“I had not agreed to anything,” McHugh said.

“I believe [Robb] misspoke.”

At the June 19 executive session — and without Robb present — Calhoun did propose the contract that commissioners approved June 24, Calhoun said.

It puts Robb’s salary at 64 percent higher than the next-highest-paid port director, Finance Director Karen Goschen, who earns $84,134 a year, and Robb will not be managing other employees as he did as executive director.

Calhoun said Friday it would have cost more than $138,000 to hire consultants to manage the environmental contracts, regulatory work and attorneys that Robb was engaged in as executive director.

As part of that contract, Robb is allowed to resign with 30 days notice, but can be fired only for gross negligence or other egregious reasons.

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