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Port commissioner critical of SEED, interim CEO

Port of Bremerton Commissioner Larry Stokes on Friday vented his frustration over a published report that retired port CEO Ken Attebery would be earning $150 an hour as a consultant on the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project.

He also vowed to wage a spirited fight if his fellow commissioners, Bill Mahan and Cheryl Kincer, attempted to appoint Attebery to the newly created position of SEED director.

“As a rule, I try not to make too many waves,” said Stokes, who represents South Kitsap on the board. “But if they try to hire him as the person who’s going to run the incubator, there are going to be waves. I can promise you that.”

The port’s interim CEO, Tim Thomson, said the port is currently requesting qualifications and proposals from those interested in the incubator director position, but he declined to comment on whether Attebery was a candidate for the position.

During a study session on Jan. 27, the port commissioners discussed retaining Attebery, who retired at the end of the year from his $120,520-a-year CEO post, as a consultant on the SEED project, and it was subsequently reported he would be compensated at $150 an hour.

That figure, Stokes said, isn’t accurate.

“First of all, it’s only $100 an hour,” he said. “And we only agreed on the rate he’d be paid if he’s needed to work on some specific project where we need his expertise. He has been given some duties, but I don’t know if he’s accepted them yet.”

A story in the Jan. 30 issue of the Independent (“Port hoping to revitalize SEED project in 2009”) stated that, “The first item on the (board’s) list is tasking Ken Attebery, the port’s former chief executive officer who is now working as a $150-an-hour consultant, with ‘activating’ the Kitsap SEED nonprofit organization, which the port created last fall.”

Stokes said that isn’t the case, and the confusion was the fault of Thomson, who misspoke.

“The reporter wasn’t wrong. (Thomson) was,” Stokes said. “I got off the phone with the port not five minutes ago, and I was hot about it. If the acting CEO doesn’t even know the details of a contract before he goes off and reports it to the newspapers, there’s something seriously wrong here.”

Thomson later confirmed he had misspoke and Attebery’s consultant fee would be $100 an hour.

As for the SEED manager position, Attebery, a longtime state employee, is currently receiving an annual pension that amounts to 60 percent of his ending salary, or $72,312, Stokes said.

Consequently, he objects to the idea of paying Attebery an additional salary on top of his pension and consulting fees.

“It’s double-dipping, that’s what it is,” Stokes said. “The taxpayers elected us with the expectation we’d spend their money on projects that made a return on their investment, not find ways to pay it out to our friends.”

Stokes was equally blunt in his assessment of the SEED project as a whole.

“It’s a bunch of crap,” he said. “It’s all pie in the sky. You don’t build something and hope people will lease it. The people who support SEED keep trying to make it sound like this is a business decision, but it’s not. You could never get away with operating like this in the private sector.”

SEED, envisioned as an incubator for “green technology” companies, has been on the drawing board for several years but has no firm tenants yet. The project last year was awarded a $2.58 million federal grant that came with the proviso that the port had to match the amount.

The commissioners voted to fund the match by selling general obligation bonds.

“I voted against that budget,” Stokes said, “but there are three commissioners on the board and I got outvoted. In a democracy, that can happen.”

Stokes said instead of spending more money on SEED, he’d prefer the port concentrate on existing problems.

“We’ve got a 24,000-square-foot building over there that’s been vacant for over a year,” he said. “It’s costing the taxpayers $22,000 for every month nobody’s leasing it. Just for starters, if you’re going to go ahead with SEED anyway, why not put it there instead of building a whole new building for it?

“I’ve about had it with those people over there,” Stokes said. “I’m really frustrated. But I made a commitment to try and bring a little common sense to the port commission, and that’s what I’m going to try and do. If that means I have to fight, so be it.

“The port needs to operate the same way you and I operate,” he added. “If we invest our money, we need to see some return. Those are my thoughts and I’m not going to bend from that.”

Independent reporter Justine Frederiksen contributed to this report.

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