Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight received a three-year contract extension and a pay raise Tuesday after a 3-2 vote by the Port Commission.
Commissioners Frank Spence, James Campbell and Robert Stevens voted to extend Knight’s contract. Commissioner Bill Hunsinger vocally opposed the extension and said Knight should resign or be fired. Although supportive of Knight, Commissioner Dirk Rohne preferred a rolling contract subject to annual performance reviews.
Knight started at the Port in October 2014 on a three-year contract. His new contract, negotiated by Spence, starts in November at a base salary of $168,375 — a 4 percent increase over his current salary — and runs three years. After the initial term, the contract includes two one-year extension options that would take Knight through 2022.
The contract extension comes days after a $4 million verdict against the Port for breach of contract and fraud in a lawsuit brought by Param Hotel Corp. over operation of the Astoria Riverwalk Inn. A jury found that Knight knowingly made false representations and misled Param in the Portland company’s failed negotiations to assume the remaining lease of troubled former hotel operator Brad Smithart.
Knight had an individual fraud claim brought by Param against him dismissed, but the verdict included nearly $3.8 million in damages for fraud against the Port.
‘Back in line’
“I think Jim’s been very busy getting this thing back in line,” Campbell said.
After running through the many ways he thinks Knight has improved the Port, Campbell made the motion to extend the executive director’s contract.
Thinking back to his time with the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners and Clatsop Community College Board, the agency’s leaders did not have multiyear contracts, Rohne said. He instead preferred a rolling contract of an indefinite time period, considered each year after a performance review by the Port Commission.
“I feel very strongly about that,” Rohne said. “As a … board member from the general public, this is, I believe, our responsibility to keep tabs on our sole employee, which is the manager of the Port.”
Hunsinger went through his own reasons why Knight’s performance did not warrant a contract extension. Despite being advised by Spence, the commission’s president, not to talk about the Riverwalk Inn lawsuit on instructions from Port counsel, Hunsinger went into the verdict form showing where the jury had found Knight culpable and claimed he had broken his contract with the Port.
“I will fight this thing to the end, because Jim Knight does not deserve to be there,” Hunsinger said, pointing at the executive director’s seat.
Stevens gave Knight credit for hiring the right staff to put the Port on better financial footing. He called Rohne’s proposal a double-edged sword that while providing accountability, could also suggest the agency changes directors.
Spence, a former city manager, said he saw chaos and instability during his three years on the Port Budget Committee and sought stability in his campaign for a seat on the Port Commission. The CEO of any organization needs to feel confident in the backing of the governing board and in their contract, Spence said.