PORT ANGELES — Jeff Robb resigned his job as Port of Port Angeles executive director Monday because of “serious health issues.”
Then the longtime port administrator was immediately hired to fill a newly created position of port director of environmental affairs — at the same $138,000 annual salary he had been getting to head the public-development agency.
The three port commissioners voted 2-1 to approve Robb’s new one-year contract — with board President Jim Hallett dissenting — after Hallett and several in the audience of more than 60 criticized the move.
Among the critics was former port Commissioner Dick Foster, who called Robb’s new contract “a sweetheart deal.”
Robb’s wife, Laura, said in a brief interview Monday that Robb has “stress issues.”
Robb, 59, of Sequim said he intends to retire in July 2014.
He will be eligible then for state retirement benefits for serving for 30 years in government.
Robb’s new contract, which ends July 31, 2014, replaces a three-year contract that began in January and included a 12 percent pay raise.
He will fill an environmental director position that does not have an official job description, according to port Human Resources Director Holly Hairell.
It never was posted as a job opening by the port.
According to the new contract, Robb, who has a two-year Associate of Arts degree from Peninsula College, will have duties that include “natural resource damage assessments, Model Toxics Control Act issues, Port Angeles Harbor sediment investigation and remediation, marine trades area remediation and KPly site remediation.”
KPly was a former tenant of port-owned property that housed a plywood mill that was razed earlier this year following resurrection of the Peninsula Plywood name.
Robb will be able to work at home to fulfill his new duties, which begin in earnest July 8 when he returns from sick leave and annual leave that begin this week.
Robb did not return a call for comment after Monday’s commissioners meeting.
“Jeff needs sick leave to begin to try to get his health back into shape,” said Port Commissioner John Calhoun, who with Commissioner Paul McHugh voted for the contract.
Port commissioners also hired the Seattle office of Waldron, a national executive recruiting firm, at a cost of about $30,000 to find first an interim executive director within the next two weeks and then a permanent one later on.
Monday’s meeting agenda item was raised as a result of a special meeting last Wednesday during which an executive session was held “to review the performance of a public employee,” according to the meeting notice.
Monday’s consideration of Robb’s contract came about as a result of the special meeting, Hallett said in an earlier interview.
Former Port Executive Director Chris Anderson was one of a dozen speakers at Monday’s meeting.
“This is a severance package that allows Jeff to get to 30 years,” Anderson said.
“Let’s just be honest and transparent with the public,” she said, adding the board made a mistake by giving Robb the three-year contract.
Ex-Commissioner Foster called the contract “a good-old-boy deal.”
Robb is hired by the commissioners and is directly responsible to them.
In his former three-year contract, if the commissioners fired Robb for acts that were not criminal or the result of gross negligence or insubordination, he was eligible for six months’ severance pay, or $69,000.
In his new contract, he is an at-will employee who will serve at the pleasure of the new executive director, who will be able to fire him “at will” and without severance pay.
Robb began working at the port in 1984 as a project engineer and public works manager. He also is the former airport and marinas manager.
In a half-page prepared statement he read to the commissioners at the meeting’s outset, Robb said he was resigning because of health issues.
“I have had a number of serious health issues for a number of months that have not improved with time,” Robb said.
“The port has been my family for the majority of my professional career, and I have given it my best, each day, each year and each decade,” Robb said.
Hallett questioned why the port would pay Robb the same salary for having fewer responsibilities than as executive director.
“We should post this position,” Hallett said. “We need to be seeking the best-qualified candidate.”
“I am in favor of the motion [for a new contract],” Calhoun said, adding he had “nothing else” to say.
McHugh thanked Robb for “his many years of service” and said he looks forward to working with Robb in “his new and critical role.”
In addition, audience member Dan Morrison, organizer of sprint-boat races in Port Angeles whose group purchased 113 acres from the port to hold the events, said Robb’s “integrity is totally intact.”
But audience member Cory Armstrong, vice president and production manager of Armstrong Marine Co., a Port Angeles boat builder, questioned why the commissioners had to take action Monday on Robb.
“If health is affecting his current employment, how is he about to necessarily carry out his future contract?” Armstrong said, urging the board to wait on the new pact.
Former Port Finance Director Bill James said the contract would cost the port more than $200,000 when health care, retirement and other benefits are included.