Two Port of Kennewick commissioners face sanctions after an internal investigation concluded they violated port rules during a contentious debate.
Port of Kennewick attorney Lucinda Luke intends to recommend two formal public censures for Commissioner Don Barnes and a public reprimand for Commissioner Tom Moak at a special meeting Tuesday.
The meeting is at 2 p.m. at the Tri-Cities Business & Visitor Center office at Vista Field in Kennewick because the usual Clover Island meeting room is being renovated.
Barnes told the Herald he could not comment before Tuesday’s meeting. Moak could not be reached.
The commission’s third member, Commissioner Skip Novakovich, is not a subject of the investigation, which was released Monday.
The three-person board sets policy for the port’s economic development and other initiatives, such as the redevelopment of Vista Field and wine-related projects on Columbia Drive near the cable bridge.
Port officials commissioned the investigation by Tara L. Parker of the Seattle law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace after receiving complaints about Barnes’ and Moak’s conduct last winter.
At the time, the board was debating if it should interfere with the sale of some privately-owned land next to Vista Field — the area in the heart of Kennewick where it wants to develop a high-end 103-acre, arts-oriented urban village.
The investigation suggests the debate became heated behind closed doors.
The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic had a $1.8 million deal to buy five acres at North Kellogg Street and West Rio Grande Street from Floyd Ivy.
The nonprofit intends to build a $20 million clinic at the site, which is next to the now-closed air field and new Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
The port originally sold the land to Ivy but retained buyback rights. It had to release those rights before the clinic deal could close.
Barnes and Moak were both reluctant to agree. Although the port lacked the money to buy back the land, the two felt it could be reincorporated into the Vista Field development plan.
The board ultimately voted to release their rights to the property.
The controversy led to a four-page list of complaints filed by an anonymous citizen against the two commissioners on March 25. The list included other allegations that the private investigator ultimately said she could not substantiate.
They ranged from claims that the two commissioners talked about port business privately, a violation of the state public meetings act, to claims their treatment of Tim Arntzen, the port’s chief executive officer, violated state discrimination laws.
Barnes and Moak denied during their private meetings with the investigator that they mistreated staff members and other allegations.
But Parker concluded three of the claims had merit and filed a report with the port’s attorney. Parker’s findings were:
- Barnes violated port rules and policies when he called DPZ, a design consultant working on the Vista Field project, and when he asked the State Auditor’s Office about port business instead of going through their port director, Arntzen. Doing so potentially interfered with the port’s relationship with the consultant and drew unnecessary attention from the state auditor.
- Barnes created a hostile work environment for Arntzen when he accused him of fraud and withholding information about the Ivy property at Vista Field. Barnes reportedly became hostile to Arntzen when Arntzen refused to lie about the buyback deal.
- Moak violated port rules requiring civil and respectful treatment of others by reportedly yelling, “I blame you,” at Arntzen during a Feb. 19 executive session and threatening to fire him.
If the recommended sanctions are approved, Barnes would be the subject of a formal public censure resolution on each of the two charges.
He would be required to undergo training on the roles and responsibilities of a port commissioner, port rules and policies, hostile work environment behaviors and professional communication skills.
He also would be required to be a cooperative participant in team-building activities and trainings with Arntzen and the port staff.
Moak faces a verbal reprimand, which would be included in the commission’s meeting missions.
He would be required to complete training on professional communications and port commission rules and policies, at his own expense.
He too would be required to be a cooperative participant in team building activities and training with Arntzen and the port staff. The sanctions would be published in the Tri-City Herald.
Under board rules, Barnes and Moak have the right to appeal the sanctions.
Moak, the board’s president this year, is running for re-election to his District 2 seat against challenger VJ Meadows.
Barnes, who represents District 1, was elected to a six-year seat in 2015.