By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Robb's $138,000-a-year salary as a port environmental affairs director — the same salary he earned as executive director — is “far beyond” the salaries of the three other agency directors, including the previously top-paid position of finance director held by Karen Goschen, who earns $84,134 a year, Hairell said Tuesday.
“It doesn't comply with our current pay structure. It just doesn't fall within our current compensation program,” she said.
In addition, in accepting Robb's resignation as executive director Monday and immediately voting 2-1 to name him to the new position, commissioners are allowing him to work entirely out of his Sequim home rather than out of port offices in Port Angeles.
That option is not afforded to any other port employee, Hairell said.
According to the port employee handbook, “position openings will normally be posted or communicated to employees of the port and will normally be advertised in at least one local publication.”
The new position was not advertised, nor does it have a job description, nor was it budgeted in the port's 2013 spending plan.
Port Commissioner John Calhoun said Monday that Robb would work in the same administrative areas on environmental remediation that he has worked on for more than a year and that technical environmental issues would be handled by others.
Robb, 59, said he was resigning from the port's top administrative position because of serious health issues that his wife, Laura, said in an interview were stress-related.
Calhoun said the port will be without an executive director for about two weeks and that Hairell would continue to handle port personnel issues.
“We can conduct business without an executive director” for that period of time, Calhoun said.
But until a new director is hired, any port expenditures of $5,000 or more can be approved only by the board in a special meeting, commission President Jim Hallett said.
Robb cited “serious health issues” Monday in a statement he read at a packed commissioners' meeting before Commissioners Paul McHugh and Calhoun voted for the new contract, and Hallett voted against it.
Robb, who first became a port employee in 1984, said he would retire from the port in July 2014.
That will give him 30 years of government service and make him eligible for state retirement benefits.
The new contract is a one-year pact compared with the three-year agreement he had as executive director and under which he received a 12 percent pay increase in January.
“We have agreed that I will continue at the port as director of environmental affairs,” Robb said in his statement, referring to marine-trades development, harborwide cleanup and remediation of the former Peninsula Plywood mill site.
Robb did not return calls for comment on the agreement.
“His main performance in those areas has been leading the coalition of potentially liable parties [for harbor cleanup], organizing the legal resources, keeping the commissioners informed of our liabilities and our opportunities, that kind of thing,” Calhoun said.
But the port commissioners never decided in open session to create the position or set a salary for that position, Hallett said.
A special meeting to hold a two-hour executive session — from which the public is excluded — to review the performance of a public employee was held June 19, which led to the port agenda item Monday during which Robb read his resignation statement.
Hallett would not divulge whether the new position or the salary was discussed in the closed session, saying it was privileged information that is protected from disclosure.
Calhoun said Tuesday that the new contract came about as a result of negotiations with Robb “about his change in status.”
“We did not make any decisions in executive session,” Calhoun said.
“The contract that we signed was individually distributed to commissioners by counsel [lawyer Dave Neupert], and we responded individually to our counsel,” Calhoun said.
“Then Jim [Hallett] brought up the contract for consideration at the meeting.”
But Hallett said Tuesday he is “baffled” by Robb's saying there is an agreement between Robb and the board. “I never consented to any of this,” he said.
“Who's cutting the deal with whom?” Hallett asked.
“The way this whole thing came about it is wrong.”
The contract “was designed totally to get someone to 30 years,” Hallett added, saying he might have considered a position more in line with Robb's experience, such as aviation and marinas manager, an open position that recently was filled, though the pay would have been less.
Monday's meeting included comments from a dozen speakers, including former Port Commissioner Dick Foster, who called Robb's contract “a sweetheart deal,” and former Port Executive Director Chris Anderson, who called it “a severance package.”
McHugh said after the meeting that he felt “sadness and disappointment at the theater that took place at the commissioners' meeting that was orchestrated by Commissioner Hallett.
“There's a tremendous amount of dysfunction in the board, and there is within our senior staff as well,” he added.
“It seemed pretty clear to me [at Monday's meeting] that this was not about a new position, but it seemed to be about making sure Jeff should not remain with the port,” McHugh said, describing it as a “roast of Jeff Robb.”
“I'm sorry Paul feels that way,” Hallett responded, adding that he recently told some people they should come to the Monday meeting if they had concerns about Robb.
“Why worry if people come to a meeting?” Hallett said.
“What difference does it make?”
Neupert, Calhoun and McHugh did not return calls Tuesday for further comment about Robb's new contract.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.