State DOT secretary reprimands ferries manager

SEATTLE — State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson reprimanded the operations director of the ferry system, saying he disrespected her in an email and phone conversation in June.

Peterson formally reprimanded Steve Rodgers, 42, who is on paid administrative leave, in early July, The Seattle Times reported Wednesday after obtaining the disciplinary letter and a personnel file through a public records request.

The incident between Peterson and Rodgers followed the state’s unsuccessful attempt to recruit a new ferries director to replace David Moseley, who retired in April.

In a June 17 email, Peterson told the entire Washington State Ferries staff she was reopening the hiring process. Capt. George Capacci, the interim director, had just withdrawn from consideration, while Peterson chose not to hire the other finalist, former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg.

Rodgers replied to Peterson by email: “Considering the union pressure and influence in Olympia they have I doubt this is entirely true.”

Rodgers was “belligerent, challenging and unprofessional” in an email and phone call when he complained to her that union pressure had influenced her decision, Peterson said in her reprimand letter.

The “union pressure” remark by Rodgers in his email is likely a reference to a widely circulated letter to Peterson signed by five ferry captains that blamed Capacci for recent problems, such as downplaying the now-fixed issue of boats designed with a slight lean. The captains urged Peterson to choose Ladenburg.

Capacci had said he pulled out of consideration because of personal reasons.

Peterson’s reprimand to Rodgers concluded with several directives, such as, “Support efforts of creating a positive work environment” and “Refrain from emotionally reacting, and instead react with strategy and calmness.”

A second search for a new ferries director is underway, and there are three finalists, department spokesman Lars Erickson said.

“I respectfully disagree with the reprimand, but my hope is to move forward in a collaborative effort to find solutions to the many complicated issues facing WSF,” Rodgers told the newspaper.

Rodgers had drawn high praise from Moseley, who rated him “above standards” in evaluations.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, has said the lack of an operations director may have contributed to mishaps this summer, such as boat breakdowns and loading the wrong number of passengers.

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