The former second-in-command at the Port of Astoria described Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, as incompetent, dishonest and incapable of managing the agency.

Matt McGrath, who worked at the Port for five years before resigning as director of operations in April, shared a letter with his observations about Knight and other documents with the Port Commission after his departure.

Matt McGrath

Matt McGrath

McGrath painted a picture of Knight as an unresponsive, disinterested leader with a bad memory who undermines his staff’s attempts to repair the Port’s operations and reputation. He claimed to have brought his concerns to Knight multiple times over his tenure, but to no avail.

“The executive director’s disregard, disrespect, dishonesty and incompetence have destroyed much of what staff and I have been building and rebuilding,” he wrote in the letter. “As my name and reputation are important to me, I ultimately felt compelled to leave a position with good pay and benefits so that I could not only maintain my good name and reputation but also do what was best for the Port.”

Jim Knight

Jim Knight

Knight declined to comment on McGrath’s accusations.

Knight denied a public records request by The Astorian for the letter and documents. The newspaper appealed to District Attorney Ron Brown, who ruled the correspondence should be publicly released by June 3, when Knight is expected to be presented with the accusations in executive session.

The Astorian, in the meantime, obtained the letter and documents from a source who requested confidentiality.

Frank Spence, the president of the Port Commission, also declined to comment, claiming the material is confidential.

McGrath’s damaging assessment of Knight’s performance provides some vindication to critics of the executive director’s leadership ability. Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, in particular, has accused Knight of violating Port policy and overstepping his authority and has repeatedly said he should be fired.

Hunsinger, 74, was defeated in Tuesday’s election by challenger Scott McClaine and his term ends in July.

“It might have cost me the election, but I was going to be 78 by the time I was done,” he said.

Chinook Building

McGrath detailed several examples of what he sees as Knight’s mismanagement of important matters, from the Port’s pursuit of federal disaster relief money to the resolution of a lawsuit over the operation of the Astoria Riverwalk Inn.

McGrath claims Knight violated Port policy and overstepped his authority in back-room negotiations with local developer Chester Trabucco and his company, Marina Village LLC, on a lease for the Chinook Building next to the West Mooring Basin.

The Port Commission approved a lease with Marina Village in September 2017 for more than $6,300 a month. McGrath claims Trabucco began underpaying by about $2,000 a month after striking a “gentleman’s agreement” with Knight to base rent on receipts rather than the original terms. Neither staff nor the Port Commission were notified of the change, McGrath wrote to the Port Commission.

“I have also mentioned to you previously that I don’t want to touch the Marina Village, LLC/Chinook Building issue because it is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” he wrote to Knight in February.

Trabucco has said the rents on the Chinook Building were adjusted when he terminated the lease following a three-month due diligence period, during which he found more than $500,000 in upgrades needed to the building. The developer claims he acted as a pass-through after the termination, collecting rents on behalf of the Port and paying the $4,800 monthly rent to the Port, while waiting for Knight to act on a term sheet he delivered.

Trabucco was relieved of his role at the Chinook Building in October. He has expressed frustration at the lack of responsiveness from Knight, along with the Port’s intent to sell the Chinook Building in a package with the adjacent Riverwalk Inn and former Seafare Restaurant without considering his term sheet.

Tacit endorsement

McGrath also took aim at the Port Commission, which oversees Knight.

“Sadly, my observation is that the commission tacitly endorses the executive director’s dishonesty, incompetence and inability to complete a task,” he wrote.

Days after a jury found Knight had made fraudulent statements to a suitor for the Riverwalk Inn, the Port Commission voted 3-2 to extend Knight’s contract for three years, giving him a pay package of more than $200,000 annually, including benefits. The contract includes two one-year extension options that could take Knight through 2022.

Spence, Commissioner James Campbell and Commissioner Robert Stevens voted for the extension. Hunsinger and Commissioner Dirk Rohne voted against the move. Rohne wanted a rolling contract subject to annual performance reviews.

While he didn’t always agree with Hunsinger’s tactics, Rohne shared many of his concerns about Knight’s management. Rohne also referred to the conclusions of an ad-hoc finance committee, which found the Port is in a dire financial situation and needs to build credibility with other governments and the public.

“I was hoping we could have an investigation, and a third party could talk with other staff, see if the accusations made by McGrath are systemic,” Rohne said.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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