John Calhoun is the new president of the board of commissioners of the Port of Port Angeles.
He was elected to replace Commissioner Jim Hallett following a surprise move by Commissioner Paul McHugh during the commission’s regular meeting Monday, Aug. 26.
McHugh introduced two suggestions as the commission meeting was otherwise coming to a close.
He called first for a new election for port officers “to serve out the remainder of 2013.” He then asked for a vote on revising the current contract with Jeff Robb, the Port’s former executive director and now Director of Environmental Affairs, “to include executive officer responsibilities.”
Robb cited health issues as the reason for his resignation from his position as executive director.
Calhoun said an employee revolt also played into Robb’s decision.
McHugh’s comments seem to catch Calhoun by surprise, but Calhoun was quick to nix the idea of returning Robb to the executive position. “I don’t think I can support any actions to expand Jeff’s responsibilities, except under the direction of the executive director,” he said. “Any return to executive responsibilities for Jeff is just not in the cards. You can talk about what’s just, but I can’t support the action.”
But Calhoun did express his support for a switch in leadership. “I do have some concerns about the president (Hallett) continuing to enjoy the trust and support of the majority of the commission to lead and to carry out the duties of the president of the commission.”
He said Hallett had taken certain actions he had disagreed with. “Not to extend this too much, but maintaining respectful working relationships with key people — the executive director or fellow commissioners — is an essential role of the chair.” He said over the previous few months those relations had broken down.
Calhoun added, “The other concern is whether or not you have been able to restrain your activities within the duties of the president as they’re outlined in our bylaws, which are really quite simple.”
Calhoun has in the past criticized Hallett for taking on the authority reserved for the commission as a whole or the executive director.
“I am concerned whether as chairman of the commission you’re as effective as we would like because of the fallout from all this issue.”
McHugh was more direct, saying, “You’re pursuing your own agenda.”
Hallett was nonplussed, saying, “It’s real clear that anybody that speaks for the commission speaks at the pleasure of the commissioners. If you want to change who chairs the meetings, it’s your prerogative.”
The three commissioners voted unanimously to have Hallett and Calhoun change titles, with Hallett the new secretary-treasurer.
On the ballot
The commission also voted unanimously to place two measures on the fall ballot. If approved by voters, the first would change the number of commissioners from three to five and the second would shorten the terms in office from six years to four.
The commissioner elected this fall will serve six years; the commissioner elected in 2014 would serve four.
Earlier in the meeting the commissioners heard from Norma Turner, a Port Angeles activist, who is spearheading a petition to put the shorter term on the ballot. She said the petition would almost certainly have the appropriate number of signatures to ensure it’s on the ballot, but added that the process is labor-intensive. She said the commissioners would provide “ a gift to the county auditor’s office” if they would vote to put it on the ballot.
The commissioners also held an extensive discussion with Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, regarding the pros and cons of the two measures.
Hallett said while he was reserving judgment on the issues, “I’m in favor of having the discussion.” He added that if the commission placed the questions on the ballot, they would be responsible for ensuring that “we provide clear and compelling reasons for and against this, so we have a healthy and open dialogue about this.”
“I would support this only if we’re committed to working with those in the community to have a healthy dialogue.”
McHugh said he originally wasn’t in favor of increasing the number of commissioners, but that he has changed his mind. “I’ve come to support it and I think it’s in the best interest of the public to have more members. It will cost more, but I think it’s more important to ensure the various interests within our complex district believe they have a voice.”
Calhoun said his concern was to ensure the less-populated western portion of Clallam County continues to have full representation. If that can be assured, he likely would support it, he said.
He also agreed the Port needs to support a thorough public discussion on the issues.