Port of Friday Harbor director search update

The former Port of Friday Harbor executive director’s tenure is now water “under the docks.”

“He had a tough time here, right or wrong. There was a lot of pressure put on him and I thought we owed him something for that,” Port of Friday Harbor Commissioner Greg Hertel told The Journal.

At the March 22 port meeting, commissioners agreed to give former director Ted Fitzgerald the five vacation days he accrued in his roughly six months of employment, as well as six months of COBRA health insurance to continue coverage.

Hertel told The Journal he proposed the settlement agreement, not Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald resigned on January 11, about two months after his controversial elimination of the port marina facilities manager position, last held by Joe Wheeler.

Fitzgerald and port commissioners attest the position was eliminated due to budget cuts, but Wheeler and his supporters shared different views at many port meetings. Wheeler accused Fitzgerald of being friends with a port project contractor, which led to Wheeler’s dismissal and Fitzgerald’s placement as manager of the project. In a Journal guest column, Fitzgerald wrote that Wheeler was replaced after threatening a contract worker, which Wheeler denies. The facilities manager position 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.

In March, port commissioners hired consultant Larry Boone from Skagit County for $10,000, with food and travel expenses not exceeding $2,000, to review executive director applicants.

“He’s helped recruit executive directors at several ports in Washington,” said Phyllis Johnson, acting port director.

To receive a larger candidate pool, Hertel said the director’s maximum salary was raised to $140,000, depending on experience. Fitzgerald earned a $100,000 salary and the current minimum salary amount is $95,000.

On May 2, a panel of what Johnson called “independent thinking” citizens, selected by the port, will interview top candidates. That afternoon, a public open house to meet the candidates will be held at the San Juan Island Yacht Club.

The next day, commissioners will interview candidates in a closed session and make their decision at a public meeting, tentatively set for May 10.

A consultant was not used to hire Fitzgerald, due to cost, nor was public input gathered. Commissioners filled the position within about three months.