As outgoing Port of Astoria Chief Executive Officer Hank Bynaker finished his last day on the job Wednesday evening, the Port Commission discussed how to properly cut ties with him.
Most the seats at the meeting were occupied by Port constituents, tenants, committee members and other interested parties.
“Please accept this letter as formal notification that I am resigning my position as chief executive officer, Port of Astoria, effective Friday, Sept. 20, 2013,” read Bynaker’s letter of resignation, dated Monday.
After hearing about the resignation Tuesday morning, Commission President James Campbell asked Bynaker – without approaching the other members of the Port Commission – if he would be amenable to leaving Tuesday with two weeks of severance pay.
“It seems to me we may be on the hook for three months of severance pay if we terminate him before his date,” said Commissioner Jack Bland, who along with Ric Gerttula commented that they weren’t privy to the suggestion by Campbell.
Campbell, who communicated through a conference call from Nevada, said he asked if Bynaker was interested in the proposal, seeking to eventually bring it to a vote of the Port Commission.
Mike Weston, the Port’s director of business development and operations, eventually called Ronald Guerra, a partner in the Port’s law firm Jordan Ramis and a specialist on labor issues, to clear things up. Guerra said termination, according to Section 9 of Bynaker’s contract, could mean the Port’s liability for three months of severance pay and medical benefits, totaling more than $30,000.
If he resigned, said Guerra, the Port Commission has the right to accept the resignation, terminate his employment and pay him through Sept. 20.
“We have chosen to essentially sit him at home during this time, but we’re paying him as if he was at work,” said Guerra of the option.
Nearly an hour into the meeting, the Port Commission voted 3-2 to accept Bynaker’s resignation, with Gerttula and Bland voting no and Bill Hunsinger, Stephen Fulton and Campbell voting yes.
They then voted unanimously to pay him through Sept. 20, although he will not be working.
Bland recommended that the Port name Herb Florer interim director, a position he held between when Executive Director Jack Crider left and Bynaker was hired. Bland and Gerttula voted yes on the motion, and Hunsinger, Campbell and Fulton voted no.
Campbell then recommended that Weston be named interim director, to which all commissioners voted yes.
During the public comment period, former Commissioner Dan Hess sarcastically congratulated members of the Port Commission on driving Bynaker from the job, adding that Bynaker was outstanding in negotiations to restart Pacific Coast Seafood.
North Tongue Point
“I think it’s worthy of recognition that Hank has done some important and creative things in his 14 months here,” said Bland, unveiling a list of Bynaker’s accomplishments he thought should be noted.
Bynaker said Tuesday that he asked Campbell to stay at the Port through the end of the business day Wednesday because there was an important matter he needed to finish. Bland revealed it at the meeting as a memorandum of understanding signed Wednesday with an undisclosed party that could help take the Port out of its $350,000-a-year North Tongue Point lease, which has often been cited as a money loser.
“Watching him work through this negotiation, I was very impressed,” said Gerttula about the memorandum to leave Tongue Point. “He did a hell of a job. He didn’t let it lapse. He stayed on it like a bulldog.”
Bland also praised Bynaker’s quick reaction to help Pacific Coast Seafood restart 11 days after its devastating plant fire, the incentive-based tariffs he negotiated to increase Westerlund Log Handler’s exports, the Bornstein and Da Yang Seafoods proposals on Pier 2 and lowering the Port’s costs by $26,000 in contract negotiations with International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Hunsinger and Fulton both said they’ve never seen an agreement with Westerlund. Weston said there was a verbal agreement, but that he’d try to make sure there’s a written agreement by the Port’s next regular meeting Sept. 24.
Pier 2 leases
Two times in a row, the Port Commission has come out with a stalemate on whether to move forward on proposals by Da Yang and Bornstein to expand their operations on Pier 2 in exchange for their helping pay for improvements. The Port received a $1 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation in August 2012 to improve the southeastern portion of Pier 2. It’s started work, but it underestimated the cost and is now trying to make up a several thousand-dollar overage with its own funds, potentially with the seafood processors’ help.
“I’m trying to work out the best deal for the Port,” said Fulton, who has abstained in the last two votes on the issue, causing ties.
A main issue is whether Bornstein and Da Yang will be responsible for structural maintenance on their leased portions of Pier 2. There are concerns that the money the Port makes on the leases won’t cover proper maintenance on the pier from operations.
“I think it’s important that we see if we can shift the maintenance responsibilities on that pier to the (lessees),” said Weston, adding that he thinks the Port should move forward with the proposals. He said he’s hoping to get the leases back by Sept. 24.
In other news:
• Weston said that by the Sept. 24 regular meeting, he’d also try to have a firmer agreement on the potential collateral swap for Bornstein’s former location at the foot of Seventh Street, where River Barrel Brewing is looking to locate.
• Lori Durheim, a regular Port meeting attendee, said she thinks Weston is a good interim choice who does everything, down to running out of meetings to pump fuel into jets at the airport.
• Hunsinger and Fulton said the Port is still in need of members for the Port’s Budget Committee. Interested parties can contact the Port at 503-741-3300.
• Frank Allen, the main organizer behind the proposed ship dismantling operation, Blue Ocean Environmental, said that the Port in finding a replacement CEO needs to get a pro-business executive. He added that it needs to be taking advantage of easy business opportunities locally, such as selling guts and heads from its fish-cleaning station for pet food and bait, extracting precious metals from dredge spoils in the river and shipping sand to other needy locales.