Harbormaster complaints come to surface

Allegations of rude behavior on the part of Langley harbormaster Ben Reams got his contract terminated in October, but he may yet remain in his position with the city.

While Langley Mayor Neil Colburn stands behind the city’s decision to terminate that contract, he is at the same time offering Reams’ a new one that he believes could right alleged past wrongs.

In an interview Thursday, Colburn spoke about the harbormaster position after more than 500 pages documenting Reams’ performance and history in the Langley Boat Harbor were turned over to The South Whidbey Record through a public disclosure request. Provided in the documentation are several complaints about Reams by visitors to the Langley Boat Harbor, complaints Colburn said he could not previously discuss because of legal personnel issues.

Yet despite the allegations, a revised contract for the harbormaster position through the end of 2005 was offered to Reams on Friday morning. Reams’ current contract was terminated in August and initially targeted January as his last month in the harbor. The termination date was later extended to April.

Colburn defended his October decision to not terminate Reams’ contract. He said multiple letters of complaint were something he could not ignore. Over a dozen complaints about behavior alleged to be rude and unprofessional on Reams’ part were documented by the city since 2000.

“I felt it was something I had to deal with,” he said. “How many times can you put up with that?”

On July 8, Colburn sent a letter to Reams advising him of the concerns he had about his job performance as the harbormaster. In the letter, he wrote that Reams’ knowledge of the harbor was an asset to the city, but noted that his on-the-job performance must be changed if he wished to retain his job. Colburn told Reams that all contact with the public must be friendly, helpful and gracious at all times.

Colburn also stated in the letter that Reams was not authorized to approve terms or conditions for payment or to assign permanent slips other than in the manner specified by city ordinances and regulations.

He went on further to admonish Reams for criticizing the Langley Boat Harbor master plan, harbor improvements, or individuals involved with this planning while acting in the capacity of harbormaster.

While the allegations concerning Reams’ behavior are serious in nature, Colburn said the city had also received many sincere letters thanking Reams for his outstanding service, prior to the start last fall of “Campaign to Save Our Harbormaster.” The campaign, run by a part-time Langley resident, has worked at encouraging harbor users to send positive letters of support for Reams to City Hall for the purpose of encouraging the city to keep him employed.

Despite the large amount of positive letters expressing praise for Reams’ kindness and cooperation over the years, Colburn said letters of complaint alleging poor attitude, foul language and poor treatment could not be overlooked.

“There’s no call for that — not when they represent the city” Colburn said. “We shouldn’t be getting any bad letters at all.”

Testimonials sully Reams’ record

In an interview this week, Mill Creek resident Lori Stadlman said an incident in May prompted her and her husband, Gary, to write a letter about complaining about Reams. They sailed into Langley Harbor over the Easter holiday weekend, and did some repairs on their boat while moored in the harbor. Stadlman said she and her husband borrowed six screws from Reams, promising to return them when they came back to Langley.

When they returned several weeks later, on Memorial Day weekend, Stadlman said they were mooring their boat when they were accosted by Reams. In her letter to the city, she said Reams yelled the following: “You (expletive) stole screws from me.” She said Reams continued to yell, something observed by other boaters on the dock.

Even after they returned the screws, Stadlman said Reams’ belligerent and obnoxious behavior continued.

“Anytime he had a chance, he was just mean to us,” she said. “He was like that to us the whole weekend.”

The Stadlmans, who belong to the Everett Yacht Club, said they cannot recommend that other boaters visit Langley. She said Langley was a particular favorite destination in winter months because of the quick 20-minute trip from Everett. Now they and other members of the yacht club choose to go to Oak Harbor, Edmonds and Elliot Bay instead.

“We just decided we didn’t need it,” Stadlman said. “Around the boating community he’s known to be quite an obnoxious person.”

Marysville resident Doug Copelin also said he would not return to Langley Harbor after witnessing Reams’ rude behavior toward other boaters. Copelin said he did not feel this way when he met Reams over four years ago. The first time he and his wife, Jo, visited Langley, he was impressed by Reams’ expertise and professionalism in helping them maneuver their boat into a tight position in the small harbor. He said Reams’ was cordial, and had even had hot dogs and soda on their boat with the couple and their friends afterwards.

“Ben has been accommodating getting us in on our boat,” Copelin said. “On the other hand I’ve seen him play games with people too.”

He said witnessing the poor treatment to visitors of Langley showed him Reams’ negative side. He said he will not return to the harbor until Reams changed.

“I’d certainly like to go back there, but I’ve just got a bitter taste in my mouth now,” he said.

Other letters of complaint submitted to the city included examples of rude or sarcastic interaction, disrespectful and insulting comments to owners of Bayliner or trailer boats and assertions of unprofessional presentation of an employee of a public entity. A few others complained Reams had touched, untied, moved or boarded their vessels without their permission, both while they were on their boat or shopping or dining downtown Langley.

City demands more ccountability

In a July 8 letter to Reams, Colburn told Reams he would be required to meet with him or city administrator Walt Blackford on the first and third Wednesdays of each month starting in August. He said the meetings would facilitate regular communication between the harbormaster and the mayor’s office, provide an opportunity for discussion about the marina and future improvements being considered and to discuss marina regulations.

Colburn said Reams’ did not show up for many of the required meetings, nor did he attend public meetings or hearings addressing proposed plans for a Langley Boat Harbor expansion. Colburn said his presence and expertise was missed.

“We want Ben to be part of the process and we need to be able to communicate with him,” he said. “How can we get the person who knows the most about it to show up?”

Colburn said the city has issued Reams a revised contract that would retain him until the end of 2005 or to the date the harbor is transferred to the port scheduled for January 2006, whichever occurs first. He must decide whether to accept that contract by Tuesday.

The biggest revision in the harbormaster contract concerns accountability, Colburn said. Any future harbormaster contracts will specify the harbormaster is to report to the city’s public works department once a month. Reams has the first option at that contract.

“We’re offering him the contract first,” Colburn said. “We want him to be a part of the boat harbor for as long as he wants to be in the boat harbor.”

Colburn said a great amount of time, energy and expense has been spent by the Campaign to Save Our Harbormaster to inaccurately portray the city. He said his good-faith efforts to reach a solution with Reams were exhausted before he made the decision to not renew his current contract.

Colburn did move the scheduled contract end date from from January to April, which will allow Reams to take care of personal responsibilities and make arrangements before the contract ended. Originally Reams’ 90-day notice would have ended the contract in January after it was given in October.

“I cannot emphasize enough that this was not personal,” he said.

A letter from Reams’ to Colburn, dated Oct. 26, 2004, Reams reiterated the conditions set forth in his current contract with the city.

“Regardless of my scheduled departure, you have my personal word that I will treat every visitor to the marina in a friendly and courteous manner so that it reflects positively upon the city. I have listened in good faith to your wishes for the public to be properly served, and the marina to be professionally operated and maintained, and I will continue to do so in the best possible manner so that I may leave my 18 years in the employ of the city with good standing and cheerful memories.”

Joe Whisenand, a resident of Greely, Colo., and the creator of the Campaign to Save Our Harbormaster campaign refused to comment about the new contract or about the findings of a public disclosure request he made on behalf of the campaign. He said the campaign believes there is no question Reams’ has fulfilled his contractual obligations, and said his competency should not be questioned.

“Our single purpose has always been solely and partially to help Ben keep his job,” he said.

When contacted this week, Reams declined to comment on the issue.

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