Jim Knight, confronted with growing criticism of his management of the Port of Astoria, has resigned as executive director.

The Port Commission on Tuesday unanimously accepted his resignation and both sides agreed to release all claims against each another, assuring Knight will not sue the agency after his departure.

Jim Knight

The Port of Astoria Commission on Tuesday approved the resignation of Jim Knight, the executive director since 2014.

The Port will pay Knight $221,000, including $145,400 for alleged emotional distress, $33,600 for economic damages and $42,000 for his attorney fees. The agency will cover six months of health benefits for Knight, who is also eligible for the Public Employees Retirement System.

Knight left the Port’s offices with his personal attorney shortly before the commission meeting and could not be reached for comment. His resignation comes a week after a majority of the Port Commission publicly lost confidence in his leadership and indicated he could be fired.

Commissioners installed Will Isom, the Port’s finance director, as interim executive director. Frank Spence, the commission’s president, said Isom does not want the position permanently. The commission will discuss the search for a new executive director at a July 2 meeting.

“In my opinion, nobody knows the operations of an organization better than the finance director,” Spence said of Isom’s appointment. “Will’s in a perfect spot to assume these duties and responsibilities.”

The Port Commission initially backed Knight against relentless criticism from some commissioners about his performance. But various missteps and independent assessments about the Port’s direction undermined his standing.

Matt McGrath, the Port’s former operations director who resigned in April, described Knight as incompetent, dishonest and incapable of managing the agency in observations shared with commissioners.

Current and former Port tenants, such as Life Flight Network and Kiwi’s Water Taxi, complained about his conduct and honesty. A jury in a lawsuit the Port lost over the operation of the Astoria Riverwalk Inn found Knight made fraudulent statements, while a judge found his testimony “not particularly credible.”

Knight faced particular criticism from Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, who has claimed Knight defrauded the Port, broke bylaws and should have been fired.

Hunsinger, who was defeated in the May election by challenger Scott McClaine, made public Knight’s return of a $1.5 million state infrastructure grant without telling the Port Commission after the agency unsuccessfully attempted to secure federal storm damage money for a $660,000 local match.

Hunsinger continually questioned Knight’s claim that tenants would pay for half of a new $2 million stormwater treatment system on Pier 3, for which he never laid out a cost-sharing plan.

Hunsinger, phoning into the meeting from Alaska on Tuesday, attempted to comment but was ignored by fellow Port commissioners. They approved the separation and appointment of Isom without Hunsinger’s vote being registered.

Reached by phone afterward, Hunsinger said he does not support any separation agreement or release of claims against Knight.

Knight came to the Port in 2014 from Washington’s Port of Olympia, where he was director of the marine terminal. He was the Port’s fifth director since Jack Crider resigned in 2012 to take a job as CEO of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District in California.

Herb Florer, the former deputy director, filled in after Crider left before resigning. Hank Bynaker, who came in 2012 from a private port facility in Tacoma, Washington, lasted fewer than 14 months before resigning. Michael Weston, the former director of business development and operations at the Port, took over as interim director between Bynaker and Knight before signing a separation agreement with the Port and later becoming city manager in King City.

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

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