Port of Kennewick increases CEO spending authority, despite Pasco concerns

Port of Kennewick board President Don Barnes (right) presents a “Friend of the Port” award to CBC President Rich Cummins on Tuesday.
Port of Kennewick board President Don Barnes (right) presents a “Friend of the Port” award to CBC President Rich Cummins on Tuesday. Tri-City Herald

Port of Kennewick commissioners agreed Tuesday to give more authority to the port’s chief executive officer, despite concerns of public perception in the wake of embezzlement scandals in Pasco.

The list of changes in the delegation of authority to CEO Tim Arntzen gives him the ability to approve some service contracts up to $200,000 without board approval. The previous limit was $50,000.

Ed Frost of Kennewick, himself a former Ben Franklin Transit interim general manager, told the board that while Arntzen is honest and a good CEO, they need to be cautious.

“If there’s some kind of misuse with that money, you guys are going to be held accountable,” Frost said.

Commissioner Skip Novakovich then moved to set the limit at $100,000, which board President Don Barnes initially agreed with. Novakovich referenced Michael Goins, executive director of the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, who faces a first-degree theft charge for allegedly embezzling at least $90,000 from the nonprofit downtown organization.

Novakovich also brought up Dennis Huston, a former Franklin County public works official who is in prison for embezzling $2.8 million from the county over two decades.

“I think there could be a lot of negative public perception involved, which is not good for the port,” Novakovich said.

Novakovich changed his mind after Arntzen told him he believed the public would understand the need for the adjustments.

Commissioner Tom Moak added that the port had internal controls to prevent theft.

“The two incidents with fraudulent activity involved covering things up,” Moak said. “It wasn’t how much delegation they had.”

Examples that the changes would allow include allowing the port to hire an architectural firm and get the project moving faster, finance director Tammy Fine said.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners presented “Friend of the Port” awards to Columbia Basin College President Rich Cummins and downtown Kennewick residents Dara and John Foster.

Cummins was chairman of the Vista Vision Task Force, a group of more than 50 people who spent a year gathering information from the public on the redevelopment of Vista Field. The Fosters bought basalt benches for the Clover Island boat launch scenic viewpoint.

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543, @GeoffFolsom