(Editor’s note: Since the publishing of this letter, Melissa Alspaugh has retracted any and all support for Joe Wheeler in The Port of Friday Harbor firing/restructuring issue.)
By Melissa Alspaugh
A Port of Friday Harbor commission meeting was held on Feb. 8, where there were ongoing comments in opposition to Joe Wheeler’s unwarranted dismissal as facilities manager. The most powerful argument for Wheeler’s reinstatement came from a collective statement read on behalf of the entire port maintenance crew.
The maintenance crew recently sought the protection of a union due to what was described as a “very uncomfortable workplace” and that morale “didn’t just drop, it fell off the table.” This was the direct effect of Wheeler being fired. The statement paints a dismal picture of the work environment, expressing “It was a guess to what you would be doing that day and fear that you’d be asked to leave permanently before the days end.” Although “there was a sense of relief in our department” when the executive director resigned, it seems that morale has not yet recovered completely and the crew is left without proper direction.
The managerial responsibilities of the eliminated position have been delegated out, however “the big picture for the maintenance still seems to be lacking.” Under Wheeler, the port was described as a “great place to work.” Wheeler was depicted as being organized, adaptive, able to prioritize, a good communicator, a supportive manager and always had the port’s best interest in mind. His ability to plan ahead “saved time” and ensured that the maintenance team “were all on the same game plan”.
It was stressed that the state of the port has diminished since Wheeler was dismissed. There is now legitimate concern that the port will fall behind in scheduled maintenance just before the biggest money making season of the year. Decidedly, “summer is coming soon and there are going to be some things not up to past standards.” This has the potential to be severely detrimental, not just for safety reasons, but for the reputation of the port in the eyes of its customers. The entire maintenance crew has called for Wheeler to be reinstated.
Thirty-year tenant Bill Robinson seems to be in agreeance and stated “there are ongoing projects that have been extended or delayed…,” and has asked for Joe Wheeler to be reinstated. When all of the egos and animosities on both sides are forgiven, we can see that there is a way forward. No more he said/she said, but a move towards everyone’s priority, which is taking care of the port we all love. Both commissioners and those fighting for Wheeler can agree that we are all tired. What happened to our port? How did we get to this point? Are we so consumed by negativity that it fogs our ability to think rationally and treat each other with compassion? Everyone involved is hurting. The port’s future balances on restoring proper maintenance and creating an environment conducive to success so that we may welcome a new executive director. Reinstate Wheeler.