Allegations of corruption raised over Port of Olympia contracts

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Issues of corruption and nepotism were raised during the Port of Olympia commission meeting on Mon., Nov. 22 following allegations that a former high-ranking staff member used their position for their own benefit.

In the public comment, resident Denis Langhans asked the commission not to extend the contract for Port Computing Inc. (PCI). Langhans alleged that there was a substantial conflict of interest since the firm was owned by a relative of a former port staff.

“I think the extension of this contract reveals a lack of governance and management control,” Langhans said. He added that the contract “appears to be a product of a substantial conflict of interest.” He also accused the Port of “public corruption [which] includes...nepotism, that is public officials using public money or granting contracts to friends and family.”

PCI is a third-party provider for computer services which includes hardware and software support. Initially, the firm entered into a contract with the port in January 2013. Since then, the contract had been repeatedly renewed. The existing agreement is set to expire by the end of 2021.

Once approved, the extension would cover until March 2022. The extension is meant to provide the necessary support for staff as the port prepares a new “competitive” bidding for these services. In addition, the firm would also help the staff during a transition period once of if a new vendor is selected. 

Port Commissioner Bill McGregor addressed Langhans’ concern. He explained that PCI has undergone three independent investigations regarding accusations of conflict of interest. McGregor assured that the allegations remain unfounded. “I want to tell you that it has been looked at three different times, investigated three different times, and found to be no basis,” McGregor concluded.

“I didn’t know there were three,” Commissioner E.J. Zita said. On the contrary, the commissioner said that she was aware of only one investigation. Zita said, “that is not how I read that investigation. The investigators said they were not making any conclusions.” Zita claimed that a major issue with the investigation is that one of the parties refused to tell the truth. “We need to get to the bottom of this,” she added.

Another conflict of interest was alleged

Aside from the existing PCI contract, Zita also mentioned another potential conflict of interest with the incoming Port Commissioner Amy Evans. She claimed that since Evans had brokered the deal with Panattoni over the lease of the New Market Industrial Campus, she is expected to earn a commission from the deal.

As a candidate, Amy Evans announced on Oct. 20, 2021 at the Thurston County Chamber’s monthly lunch forum, that she would forgo any commissions related to the Panattoni relationship, should she be elected to the Port Commission.

During the discussion, Commission Chair Joe Downing also called a point of order. He went on to ask the Port’s legal counsel, VaLiesha Brown whether Zita’s statement might place the Port in legal jeopardy. “I would not allow a commissioner besmirching the reputation of a citizen of this county, never mind they’re a future port commissioner,” Downing said.

Brown also warned about potential legal action against non-factual statements. However, Zita asserted that she was only stating the facts. 

Comments

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  • BillMcGregor

    This is NOT the kind of journalistic reporting I was expecting from the Jolt. Sensationalizing Headlines that have no merit. Why did you not at least do a records request on the PCI issue so that you get it right. Comm. Zita would not know about the other 2 investigations as she was not on the commission those 2 times.

    As far as the Amy Evans commission - did you bother to check this out with Ms. Evans??. Facts are Facts but sometimes they get manipulated to facilitate a certain agenda.

    Disappointed that you chose not to check out the issues to see if they are issues before reporting!

    Bill McGregor

    Wednesday, November 24 Report this

  • Esther

    I am grateful to JOLT for reporting this story. Those who have been following the Port are well aware of the lack of transparency and conflicts of interest in their operations. Ms. Evans is a real estate agent and must recuse herself from any decisions about real estate to avoid violating Appearance of Fairness laws. Their former attorney, Heather Burgess, represents development interests and the Chamber of Commerce, which is in partnership with the City of Olympia, the Port and the other local jurisdictions in a Shared Legislative Agenda lobbying the state legislature.

    Wednesday, November 24 Report this

  • DStusser

    Commissioner McGregor: We published our story the day after your last meeting and reported events that happened at that meeting. Our obligation is to report the facts available to us. These facts included objections by both a local resident and another commissioner. I believe we quoted them accurately. We follow up, when we can, with investigative reporting.

    Regarding Amy Evans' commission, there was no need for any fact-checking. I was in the room at the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce's forum when she stated that she would forgo commissions on the Panattoni deal if elected. What more are you looking for?

    Are you suggesting The JOLT seeks to "facilitate a certain agenda"? Our agenda -- our mission -- is to nourish the civic lives of Thurston County residents and grow community capacity by publishing accurate, relevant and entertaining stories that help people become better informed and more involved in local issues, events and activities.

    Does that agenda differ from your interests?

    Wednesday, November 24 Report this

  • BillMcGregor

    Mr. Stusser, I would think that if erroneous statements are made in public, and comment on that not only from the one making the that statement but another that brings to the attention that it has been investigated 2 other times, the reporter would verify ALL the facts not just inflammatory statements thrown out to be picked up as "truth". This type of hyper reporting is one of the reasons there is such mistrust in the media. What ever happened to unbiased reporting of ALL the facts. I hope you check it out and do a followup - being in a hurry to publish a story to perhaps beat other media to the story is not factual reporting - it does show what was said but not the facts! . Allegations over corruption are very serious charges and not to be taken lightly.

    Wednesday, November 24 Report this

  • Madeline_Bishop

    Thank you JOLT. I am also a frequent observer of the Port meetings. Many times questions are not answered. Downing rudely interrupts yelling 'Point Of Order'. I appreciate your accurate reporting of the events as they happened.

    Wednesday, November 24 Report this

  • ejpoleii

    The best thing to happen would be if the Port was disbanded and its assets sold off to the highest bidder. Then that burden subsidizing this white elephant would be lifted from the county taxpayers.

    Thursday, November 25 Report this