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Port of Kennewick commissioner pays back money

Port of Kennewick Commissioner David W. Hanson wrote a check Tuesday to the port for $1,171.

Admitting he made mistakes, Hanson said at Tuesday's commission meeting that he would not challenge the findings of a consultant hired to see if he improperly billed the port for professional services.

But Hanson said he did not "entirely agree with all of the findings."

The commission reviewed the nine-page document during a 40-minute closed-door session, then announced plans to send a copy of the report to the state auditor for review.

The report by Susanne J. Thomas of the Seattle law firm of K&L Gates summarized the work of Lenore Romney, a certified fraud examiner.

Romney documented $1,171 in overpayments, which involved mileage and cellphone charges Hanson incurred as a public utilities lobbyist between 2006 and 2010.

She spent more than four months reviewing records from the port, the Benton and Chelan public utilities, the Washington Public Utilities Association and the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Thomas concluded that Romney found no evidence of "any intentional misconduct or scheme of misrepresentation by Commissioner Hanson."

But the review showed that Hanson had done work for multiple clients "simultaneously or contemporaneously," making it difficult to allocate the proper travel expenses.

Thomas cautioned the port about having proper documentation for all claims.

"(I) recommend that the port continue to evaluate its practices ... that reflect the port's commitment to being a transparent and responsible public agency," Thomas wrote.

In addition to recommending Hanson refund the overpayments, Thomas said the report should be forwarded promptly to the state auditor.

"However, (I note) no finding of illegal activity, or intentional misconduct regarding the financial allegations," Thomas wrote.

Hanson had a written statement prepared for Tuesday's meeting, which he read before handing over his personal check.

"I am very pleased to have this portion of the investigation concluded with the findings of no fraudulent wrongdoing on my part," he said.

Hanson said he was willing eight months ago to get the state auditor involved.

"There were mistakes made by myself and the port to about equal amounts each. I am sorry to see that there was no consideration given for expenses incurred by myself that I did not bill for and other allowed reimbursements that I did not ask for," he said.

Hanson contends half of the overpayments were the fault of port staff.

He said he would like better accountability all around in the future, including a practice to identify what reimbursements are for with each check that is issued.

Romney's investigation uncovered "material and irreconcilable differences" between Hanson and some port employees.

One issue was that Hanson attempted to interfere with the investigation, which he denied to the investigator.

"The polar nature of these allegations and denials made the investigation more complicated, costly, and time and resource consuming," Thomas noted. She added that Romney was not able to determine who was the most credible.

"It is up to the port commissioners to determine whether to expend additional resources to (resolve the allegations and denials)," Thomas said in her report.

Commissioner Skip Novakovich said there was nothing the commission intends to pursue at this time.

"All we want to do is satisfy the citizen's complaint," he said.

Hanson said the past nine months had created "a heck of a lot of stress in my life."

Novakovich said the port will hold the reimbursement check until after the state completes its review.

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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