'. . . I need to make a change at the top': Emails show how Port of Port Angeles controversy began

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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Port commissioner's email letter to port employee

From: Jim Hallett
To: Colleen McAleer
Date: 05/15/2013 14:51

As you now see clearly (not that you didn't already know), I do not have the one more vote I need to make a change at the top.

Unfortunately, it will take someone of courage (like you) to file a complaint of “hostile work environment” to get one commissioner to wake up and have the integrity to act.

With all the info I have and with all the staff and employee and public input I have received (but cannot disclose unless the folks who talked to me permit me to speak up on their behalf) it is painfully obvious no one should be forced to wait until Jeff retires. That response from Calhoun is very disappointing. We do not need to discuss the other commissioner.

I would be willing to file the whistleblower complaint myself if I had a few more details. And you know I will back you or any employee who believes they have been harmed by the Director and are willing to go “on the record.”

There is risk involved to me, but I can deal with that.

The “commission” did not say that all issues must go through the Executive Director.

No employee is barred from speaking to a commissioner, especially if the employee's concerns relate to the Director.

I can provide you more documentation as to comments made about female employees by the Director. I previously raised this issue with the Port attorney; but coming from me, he said, is hearsay. To carry any weight, complaints must be made in writing and/or the employee must be willing to speak up.

I am not an attorney (thankfully), but I cannot see any reason why you just cannot file for office.

Deal with any issue of “permission” after the fact. You do not give up your rights as a citizen.

I slept maybe three hours last night. This whole “thing” makes me physically ill.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

We will stay on this path and see this through.

Jim Hallett
EDITOR'S NOTE: Additional email conversations (Adobe Flash required): http://issuu.com/PeninsulaDailyNews/docs/halletmcaller-portemails?e=1313114/4584642

PORT ANGELES — Jim Hallett, president of the Port of Port Angeles Board of Commissioners, was so disturbed by former port Executive Director Jeff Robb's behavior that he emailed port Director of Business Development Colleen McAleer that he wanted “to make a change at the top.”

Hallett told McAleer, who is now running for port commissioner, that he was frustrated he couldn't get at least one of the other two commissioners to take action.

“I would be willing to file the whistleblower complaint myself if I had a few more details,” he said in the May 15 email.

“And you know I will back you [McAleer] or any employee who believes they have been harmed by the Director and are willing to go 'on the record.' There is risk involved to me, but I can deal with that,” the email said.

Hallett added that he “can provide [McAleer] with more documentation as to comments made about female employees by the Director.”

After quoting 19th-century rancher-philosopher M.H. McKee about integrity, he concluded, “We will stay on this path and see this through.”

The next day, on May 16, McAleer filed her own whistle-blower complaint. That same day, she filed as a candidate for port commissioner.

Interviewed Friday, Hallett denied working with McAleer to get rid of Robb.

“I did not collude with anyone on anything,” Hallett said.

“My comments [about 'a change at the top'] had nothing to do with changing jobs; it had to do with changing the culture there.

“That does not necessarily mean a change in getting somebody terminated.

“It's a change in the way people treat each other, a change in the way people conduct themselves, a change in the way we treat tenants, clients, the public, each other.”

Following a closed-door meeting by the commissioners, Robb, 59, resigned as executive director June 24, citing “serious health issues.”

He then was rehired by the commissioners to a one-year contract as director of environmental affairs, a newly created position, at the same executive-director annual salary of $138,000 — a change in roles that Hallett voted against; the other two commissioners, John Calhoun and Paul McHugh, voted yes.

Robb 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.

Hallett addressed his email, sent from his Port Angeles financial advisory business, Hallett Advisors, only to McAleer, not marking in anyone else.

He said he was responding to an email McAleer sent him May 15 on her personal email account.

McAleer also denied she and Hallett had worked together to remove Robb.

“My issue was always about the lack of policy and taxpayer dollars not being responsibly managed and leases that were not equitable and month-to-month leases that had not been increased in up to 39 years,” she said Friday.

“I chose not to deal with personality issues.”

McAleer's whistle-blower complaint alleged Robb was not responding to concerns that she had that the port was breaking the law.

Robb also made inappropriate comments about women, McAleer said in her May 15 email to Hallett.

When she read Hallett's reference about “a change at the top,” she said, “I assumed it meant to move [Robb] to a new position or terminate him.”

Hallett also encouraged McAleer to run for commissioner even though port regulations at the time required employees to seek the permission of the port executive director to run for political office.

McAleer successfully challenged the policy as unconstitutional. She is now running against Sequim businessman Del DelaBarre on the Nov. 5 ballot for a seat on the port board. McHugh was defeated in the Aug. 6 primary election.

Port Angeles lawyer Donna Knifsend conducted an investigation of McAleer's whistle-blower complaint, determining there were no violations of law but that Robb had created a hostile work environment among port employees.

She also had concluded in her investigation that McAleer had not led a group effort to have Robb fired and that Hallett “was not interfering with or orchestrating empowerment for senior staff to take action against the executive director.”

Calhoun said he would not develop a relationship with a staff member as close as Hallett's appears to be with McAleer.

“I call it sort of the cardinal protocol of how commissioners relate to staff,” Calhoun said.

“We have an executive director clearly to separate the commissioners from the day-to-day operations of the port.”

Hallett also said his role is separate from that of port employees: “We are not getting into each other's domain.”

Hallett's email, first reported last week in the Sequim Gazette weekly newspaper, and McAleer's email were obtained Friday by the Peninsula Daily News under a public records request.

Hallett said Friday he wrote his May 15 email after he had met in executive session with Calhoun and McHugh.

They discussed an angry incident during which Robb allegedly told former airport and marina manager Doug Sandau “to go f--- himself,” Hallett said.

It occurred during an argument at the end of April or early May, and employees and their spouses complained about it, Hallett said.

Calhoun and McHugh “didn't think it was enough of an issue,” Hallett said.

“I am the only one who seems to feel that kind of behavior is unacceptable.”

Sandau could not be reached for comment Friday.

Robb said Friday he had no comment, noting that he had been asked by the commissioners not to comment on the circumstances surrounding his resignation.

McHugh did not return a call for comment Friday.

Calhoun said Friday it was more appropriate for Robb to apologize to Sandau and to those who witnessed the event, and to promise that the behavior would not be repeated — all of which Robb did.

“We gave Jeff the clear indication that it was inappropriate and not tolerable,” Calhoun said. “He had a chance to correct it.”

McAleer's email to Hallett consists of notes of a conversation she had with Calhoun during which she expresses concerns about Robb.

“Jeff said to men (Doug) in the office (who will sign documents affirming it) that 'oh, geeze, the women are talking, you know that can only mean trouble' and 'I need to take that call in the marine terminal building with you Mike, there's too much estrogen over here at the [administration] building,'” McAleer said.

In his conversation with McAleer, Calhoun told her she should consider resigning if she wasn't happy.

“I told her if she was in that situation at work and her relationship with the director was so intolerable, then she should resign,” Calhoun said Friday.

“She didn't claim in that phone call that there was any mismanagement or mischief or wrongdoing.

“That came later in the complaint.

“She was just expressing to me her frustration with Jeff not agreeing with her on how to proceed with property management and business development.

“She was not getting the answers she wanted from Jeff.”

On the issue of collusion, Calhoun said Hallett never suggested in any executive session that Robb should be terminated.

Still, “it was clear that [Hallett's] relationship with Robb had deteriorated to the point where they weren't speaking to each other,” Calhoun said.

That relationship began its downward spiral after the Sandau incident, said Hallett, who several months earlier, in January, voted for a 12 percent raise and a new three-year contract for Robb.

The controversy at the port also has prompted a local ballot measure campaign to reduce the port commissioner's term of office from six years to four years.

In addition, the state Auditor's Office said it will conduct an audit beginning by September of the circumstances surrounding Robb's resignation to determine whether they complied with state and federal laws and port policies.

Former Port of Longview Executive Director Ken O'Hollaren has been hired as interim executive director of the port.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 25. 2013 12:39PM
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