“Sometimes paranoia is just having all the facts,” William S. Burroughs wrote. For public entities — good, bad and tight-lipped — even facts can be elusive. It’s why transparency and external oversight are fundamental.
In March, Port of Everett Director John Mohr announced his retirement after 16 years and a long career in port administration. The three-member Port Commission promptly hired Jensen and Cooper, a Bellevue-based executive search firm, to find the next director.
In the end, after a “nationwide search” according to a POE release, the commission tapped an insider, the port’s deputy executive director, Les Reardanz. The unnamed competition was sufficiently qualified, we’re told, and that any one of the anonymous finalists would have been a fine fit.
“This was a case where if folks had drawn a name out of a hat, practically, it would have been good for the community,” Commissioner Glen Bachman told The Herald.
The other finalists hailed from out of state, Lisa Lefeber, the port’s public affairs director, wrote in an email. Mohr’s salary was $161,000. Reardanz’s employment contract hasn’t been finalized, so his salary won’t be determined until early October.
Reardanz appears more than qualified. According to his bio, he worked as the municipal legal adviser for the city of Bellingham (he has a law degree) before coming to the port three years ago. Reardanz also was the project manager for the city’s Waterfront District Development, which is a joint effort with the Port of Bellingham. Like Port Commissioner Troy McClelland, he has a distinguished naval record and serves as a captain in the naval reserve.
Barely a year into his deputy position, Reardanz was one of three finalists for the job of executive director at the Port of Bellingham. Unlike the POE, the Port of Bellingham not only revealed the names of its finalists but held a public reception to introduce them to the community.
Herein lies the transparency bugaboo: Executive director searches are exempt from the Public Records Act, and Everett had the right to proceed as it did. But not knowing feeds a real or perceived culture of insiderism, or perhaps paranoia.
“We didn’t disclose the names during the process because all candidates were employed,” Lefeber said in her email. “So, it was definitely a job-security reason.” Disclosure didn’t hurt Reardanz when he sought the Bellingham post in 2012, however.
Port districts were conceived as a progressive reform to break up concentrated private interests. We forget this at our (taxpaying) peril. Insist on transparency.