Executive Director Ted Fitzgerald of the Port of Friday Harbor resigned this week, two months after his controversial elimination of a position. Fitzgerald worked at the port for about six months.
“We enjoyed working with Ted and are grateful to him for what he accomplished in his short tenure here,” said port commissioners in a press release.
Port commissioners delivered the news at a special meeting on Friday, Jan. 13 that lasted about 15 minutes. Fitzgerald did not tell commissioners why he resigned.
Port Auditor Phyllis Johnson will act as interim director until a permanent replacement is selected. Commissioner Mike Ahrenius said the hiring process would “not be rushed” and a workshop to involve staff in the hiring decision will be scheduled.
Commissioner Hertel told The Journal, the process could also involve a recruiter.
“It will be a much more open process,” said Hertel. “Last time, we were kind of rushed, and the commissioners did everything.”
Hertel said it took three months to hire Fitzgerald, who was the previous port director of Brookings Harbor, Oregon.
When asked if they would reinstate Joe Wheeler’s position as facility maintenance manager, commissioners said it was unlikely.
“The position was eliminated for a reason,” said Ahrenius. “It was a budgetary move.”
Commissioner President Barbara Marrett added that there are no upcoming large projects at the port, so the position, which managed those, was not needed. Hertel said the new director will look to combine the facilities operations of the port and the Friday Harbor Airport, which it also runs, to improve efficiency.
Hertel told The Journal that Fitzgerald’s lawyer notified the port’s attorney of his resignation on Jan. 11. Fitzgerald did not attend the regularly scheduled port meeting that day and commissioners did not discuss the resignation at the meeting. Fitzgerald’s resignation took effect immediately and commissioners had no previous insight of the departure.
Rick Carr, a liveaboard at the port, asked commissioners if they will be more involved in the hiring and firing of staff from now on.
“It is the executive director’s job to hire and fire staff, but we will make sure that the new director communicates with us before making those decisions,” said Marrett.
When Carr asked if commissioners felt the position elimination was the right decision, Ahrenius replied, “we’re sticking to it.”
Dozens of islanders have asked Wheeler to be reinstated at port meetings, as well as in The Journal’s letters to the editor.
The marina facilities manager oversaw marina maintenance and special projects, including the $7 million Spring Street Landing building, which finished construction in October. The position had existed for about 30 years.
Fitzgerald was hired by the port commission to replace Marilyn O’Conner, who retired last summer as port director, after working at the port for 31 years.
It was Fitzgerald’s fourth month at the port when he eliminated Wheeler’s position. In the port commissioners’ op-ed to The Journal, published on Dec. 12, they said the marina facilities manager’s duties on special projects were the same as those Fitzgerald had done at his previous job. The change, they said, allowed the delayed Spring Street Landing project to move quickly.
Wheeler previously told The Journal that after he was terminated, Fitzgerald asked for his key and escorted him to clean out his locker. Wheeler said he was never told about budget cuts or the need to eliminate a position until the day he was let go, even though he was a manager.
“This resignation is the best thing for the port,” said Wheeler, “but my position is necessary.”