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Port critic demands commissioners repay legal fees
In the latest chapter of a squabble that has lasted for several months, a Greenbank resident is asking that commissioners for the Port of Coupeville repay legal costs associated with an incident that took place in February.
Rick Abraham, who was a volunteer for the Greenbank Farm, said in a letter addressed to commissioners Benye Weber and Marshall Bronson, that they should “repay the public funds that were spent and wasted as the result of false accusations you made at the Port’s Feb. 13 public meeting.”
Those comment stemmed from an incident that took place the day before when Abraham managed to enter the Port of Coupeville office through an adjoining business. The Port office was closed at the time and the doors were locked.
Bronson noticed Abraham in the locked office and both he and Weber criticized his actions at the conclusion of the February meeting.
Bronson is currently out of the state and Weber said she wouldn’t comment on the letter.
Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim Patton said that, because the letter was addressed to both commissioners, the issue will probably come up during an upcoming meeting 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 8 at the Coupeville Public Library.
Abraham described the accusations Weber and Bronson made nearly three months ago as “reckless,” according to the letter.
He wanted to know how much money the port has spent on legal fees and executive director hours dealing with the comments the two remaining commissioners made.
“I think the public has a right to know what they’re paying for,” Abraham said in a Monday afternoon interview.
Patton said he is checking whether an itemized invoice is privileged information.
One thing is certain, the port spent more money than budgeted on legal fees during 2013. The port normally budgets $3,000 a year for legal fees. Once the May monthly meeting happens the Port of Coupeville will have paid $13,740 in legal fees to the Port’s attorney, Dale Roundy. The Port of Coupeville spent $4,860 in February, $3,030 in April and $5,850 in May.
In 2012, the Port paid $870 in legal fees and hadn’t paid any legal fees from 2009-2011.
Patton said the bulk of those legal fees stem from a contract issue concerning the lease the Port has with the Greenbank Farm Management Group and a contract with what was then known as the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.
The state agency awarded the Greenbank Farm $1.5 million that was used to fund, among other things, a new building at the farm. One of the provisions in the contract stated the management group had to “hold and use” the facility for 10 years from the date of occupancy.
That 10-year date is reached in June, 2015, which was one year after the management group’s lease with the Port of Coupeville would expire. The commissioners for the Port of Coupeville last month adjusted the management group’s lease to terminate the same time it meets the requirements of the state contract.
Patton said the Port also paid legal fees concerning a letter a former volunteer, Georgia Gardner, wrote concerning the financial practices of the Greenbank Farm Management Group in the fall of 2012.
Both Abraham and Gardner were members of a volunteer committee tasked with developing recommendations about how the Greenbank Farm should be operated after the management group’s lease expires. Former port commissioner Laura Blankenship named Abraham and Gardner to the volunteer committee, which presented its recommendations in January.
Gardner ended up resigning from the volunteer group in the fall of 2012. Blankenship resigned from the port commission last month after serving 15 months of a six-year term.
Port of Coupeville and Greenbank Farm leaders will continue their work on developing a plan for the farm operations once the lease expires.
Farm officials want the port commissioners to extend the date of the management services agreement, which costs the Port of Coupeville $49,950, to June 2015.