Commissioners failed to provide needed support | In Our Opinion

The Port of Coupeville seems to be right back where it was last summer with another surprise vote causing uproar at Greenbank Farm, which is run by the elected port commissioners.

This time around the players are slightly different, but the machinations are familiar: Commissioners plotting behind the scenes to get what they want.

In this instance, commissioners John Mishasek and William Bell claim they decided on terminating Executive Director Forrest Rambo for different reasons but came to the conclusion at the same time.

For Mishasek, it had to do with organization and transparency. For Bell, it was solely due to financial mismanagement.

Yet a tenant at the farm went on the record saying that Mishasek told him a week prior that the two were working on taking control of the port. Mishasek denies the conversation and Bell denies any plotting between the two. Bell said he was surprised, but not unhappy, to see Mishasek at a Sept. 29 meeting with a typed motion terminating Rambo.

An email Mishasek sent to other board members shows that he broke the public meetings law previously by discussing port business with a quorum outside of a public meeting.

Things weren’t running perfectly with Rambo as the director. He himself admits that some things weren’t getting done. He repeatedly told commissioners in meetings that they were understaffed but he feels they ignored him and focused on finding fault.

Rambo claims the real reason he was fired was because he was a whistleblower. He was concerned that a tenant at the port-owned Coupeville Wharf was also working as part-time harbormaster, making $40,000 a year and allegedly refusing to answer to anyone. He told the board that a tenant working for the port seemed like a conflict of interest.

Emails show that the harbormaster claimed she was being harassed because Rambo questioned her about what days she was working. At least one commissioner took her complaints seriously.

Commissioner Mike Diamanti quit the board in protest of Rambo’s firing. Events coordinator Kristi O’Donnell felt she had to resign to protect her health from the tension within the organization.

While the two remaining commissioners point fingers, they have yet to acknowledge their sizable role in the dysfunction. Rather than hold six-hour meetings and waffle back and forth on things like the structure of meeting minutes, the commissioners should have listened to its staff and created a basic needs list. Perhaps a consultant could have helped Rambo and the board work together.

Much of the trouble can also be traced back to last year when two previous commissioners made a surprise move to separate from the management group that had been running the farm. The commissioners had some good reasons for doing so, perhaps, but the secretive way they went about doing so left behind a sense of distrust that persists today.

One of the most important things the commissioners need to do to fix the problems is to bring their decisionmaking out of the shadows and let the public see and understand what’s happening within the public entity.