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.
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