Embattled ex-Port of Port Angeles director to retire today

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Jeff Robb, Port of Port Angeles environmental affairs director, retires today after spending half his life working for the public development agency.

It will be a quiet departure for the Sequim native, who drew controversy in 2013 over a whistleblower complaint that effectively derailed his career as the port's executive director.

The unadvertised, unbudgeted environmental affairs director position that port commissioners hired Robb to 13 months ago will not be filled despite budgeted funding through 2014, port Executive Director Ken O'Hollaren said this week.

Instead, the money will stay in the general fund, with Robb's duties absorbed by other port employees who won't receive raises for taking on the extra responsibilities, O'Hollaren said.

Robb, 60, declined this week to be interviewed about his departure.

No farewell party

Port officials said there will be no farewell party at the port administrative building, no plaque presentation at a port commissioners' meeting, no public acknowledgement of Robb's 30 years of public service.

“There is nothing planned, as far as I am aware of,” O'Hollaren said.

That was confirmed Wednesday by port Deputy Executive Director Karen Goschen.

“It's up to the commission and executive director if they want to do any kind of public recognition when an employee leaves, and the executive director has not planned anything, and the commission has not planned anything,” Goschen said.

Robb began working for the port as a project engineer in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was president, and was director of aviation and marinas when commissioners hired him as executive director in 2009.

Under his new contract as environmental affairs director last year, Robb oversaw “natural resource damage assessments, Model Toxics Control Act issues, Port Angeles Harbor sediment investigation and remediation, marine trades area remediation and KPly site remediation.”

The whistleblower complaint, which was related to port leasing policies, was filed May 16, 2013, by Colleen McAleer, the current port commissioner who at the time was the port director of business development.

A subsequent internal investigation by Port Angeles attorney Donna Knifsend determined that state law had not been violated but that employee morale was in shambles.

'Health issues'

Citing “serious health issues” that a family member said later were stress-related, Robb resigned June 24, 2013, from the $138,000-a-year position, announcing the move at a port commission meeting.

“The port has been my family for the majority of my professional career, and I have given it my best, each day, each year and each decade,” Robb said then in a statement.

At the same meeting, commissioners hired him on a 2-1 vote, with Jim Hallett dissenting, to the environmental affairs director position.

He was hired at the same executive director salary but without the budgetary and personnel responsibilities of an executive director.

The job lacked an official port job description and was never advertised or posted.

Critics of the move included former port Commissioner Dick Foster, who called it “a sweetheart deal” intended to let Robb retire with “a fat salary.”

Full state benefits

Signing the contract allowed him to retire today with eligibility for state retirement benefits as a 60-year-old with 30 years of public employment.

If he starts drawing benefits immediately, he will receive about $56,400 to $64,800 annually, Goschen said.

If waits until 65, when he is eligible for full benefits, he will receive about $81,000 a year, she said.

After 29 years, he would have earned about $46,500 annually.

“By making those 30 years, he's able to get that higher amount,” Goschen said.

Commissioner John Calhoun said four days after approving the contract that the agreement also allowed the port to avoid any possible litigation.

“The salary was part of all other elements of the settlement,” Calhoun told the Peninsula Daily News at the time.

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

Last modified: July 31. 2014 6:50AM
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