Costs at the Port of Brookings Harbor related to former port Manager Gary Dehlinger’s termination continue to rise even though the four commissioners who voted to fire him have been recalled or resigned.
Former Commissioners Jan Barbas and Angi Christian were recalled and former Commissioners Roger Thompson and Andy Martin resigned.
As of April 4, the port had spent $68,266 on Dehlinger’s severance package, legal costs and administrative costs related to his absence.
The port is paying Interim Manager Kathy Lindley Hall $3,000 a month and has agreed to pay the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) a consulting fee of $50 per hour up to $6,000 and possibly an additional $1,500 in expenses for help finding and hiring a new port manager.
Although legal fees were broken out in a special report on expenses related to the termination, monthly finance reports show a jump in legal charges after Dehlinger’s termination and after he filed suit in county court in February.
For instance, average monthly legal costs over three months prior to Dehlinger’s termination –– September, October and November –– were $1,550.
Three months of legal costs after the termination averaged $5,070 per month
Dehlinger also filed a federal lawsuit in May and the port has changed legal counsel and paid to transfer legal responsibility from Stebbins and Coffey to Martha Rice of Black and Rice LLC. Current reports do not reflect up-to-date billing from Rice or the cost of changing counsel.
Dehlinger’s federal suit requests a jury trial and damages of at least $2.2 million.
The suit, against the Port of Brookings Harbor, former Commissioners Thompson, Barbas and Christian, claims economic and personal damages and demands Dehlinger’s reinstatement.
Barbas, Christian and Thompson are being sued as representatives of the port. All have declined comment citing the pending litigation.
The earlier suit, filed in Curry County Circuit Court, claims violations of Oregon State Public Meetings Law against Christian, Barbas, Thompson and Martin individually and against the commissioners as a governing body. The suit asks the court to void the board’s decision to terminate Dehlinger and asks the court to have the port cover legal costs and unspecified damages.
In controversial votes, the board fired Dehlinger in January. It then reinstated and placed him on paid administrative leave before firing him again after an open hearing March 12.
Commissioner Roy Davis, who voted against firing Dehlinger in both instances, was not named in either suit. Martin was dropped from the federal suit because he did not vote to fire Dehlinger after the open hearing, according to Dehlinger’s attorney, Loren Collins.
Meanwhile, the recall vote is not expected to be certified until today. Actual costs for the ballot question won’t be available until after certification, but county officials estimate it will have cost taxpayers an estimated $20,000.
Add Hall’s salary for May and June, likely SDAO costs, recall costs and continued legal costs –– Stebbins and Coffey billed $1,889.23 in April –– and Dehlinger’s termination could cost the the port more than $100,000 –– before either of the cases goes to trial.
The figures do not include complete legal costs for April and May, and legal costs related to the suits could be covered by the SDAO through liability insurance.
The Pilot was unable to confirm with the SDAO if it would cover the port’s legal fees or judgements against it through their liability insurance.
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org .