Oak Harbor mayor, transit board spar at tense meeting

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson

The leadership of Island Transit continued down a bumpy road this week.

The embattled board of directors held a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a leadership transition after Executive Director Martha Rose quit last Friday.

The board formed a subcommittee to interview temporary replacements, but delayed moving forward with finding a permanent director.

Rose left the agency amidst financial problems that led to  employee lay offs and route cuts.

The board didn’t allow the public to speak during the meeting, angering many in the crowd. During previous meetings Coupeville Councilman Bob Clay, chairman of the board, allowed freewheeling discussions between the audience and board members.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley chastised board members during the tense meeting for what he characterized as negligence in their oversight of the agency.

The Oak Harbor City Council recently appointed him to the board until the end of the year because Councilman Jim Campbell, a transit board member, is on an extended vacation.

“We have a board that hasn’t done their due diligence and hasn’t done their duties as board members, period,” he told board members.

Dudley was largely shut down, however. He moved to hold an executive session to fire or take disciplinary action against acting financial manager Sandra Kuykendall for writing a scathing letter to the editor [see page 6 of The Record] critical of him and others.

The rest of the board refused.

Kuykendall is a contract employee and her contract ends at the end of the month; Dudley said later that he didn’t know that.

Dudley also tried to discuss financial information, specifically the fact that Island Transit delayed payments to its insurance provider, the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool. He claimed that board members were unaware of it.

Clay and Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, board member, shot him down again, saying that the issue was not on the agenda. Price Johnson added the board was aware that Island Transit worked with the insurance pool to delay and break up payments for 2014 because of cash flow problems. She noted that Oak Harbor had a representative on the board and she was sorry if the information didn’t get passed along to the mayor.

Clay pointed out that the board has two more meetings over the next month to discuss other issues, but the special meeting was dedicated to transition planning. He also questioned Dudley’s motivation in attacking board members.

“You are bound and determined to derail Island Transit,” he said, “but I’m not going to let you.”

Dudley countered that the board members were the ones who derailed the agency by not doing their jobs.

“Thank you for your support, sir,” Clay said.

The board appointed Island County Commissioner Aubrey Vaughan and Clay to the committee being charged with finding and interviewing candidates for the temporary director position; Clay is acting director until a replacement is named.

Dudley criticized that decision. He said delegating responsibility was what led to the financial problems in the first place.

Dudley also hammered the board for not moving forward with finding a permanent replacement. Price Johnson asked him whether he had anything to contribute in the way of ideas.

“You don’t have to just throw grenades from the end of the table,” she said.

Dudley suggested finding a firm to identify candidates. The others agreed, but nobody suggested anything specific or made a motion to get the process rolling.

After the tense meeting, Dudley told the Whidbey News Group that Island Transit board members were unaware that Rose and Kuykendall got the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool to also defer payments in 2015.

“Bob Clay told me he knew nothing about it,” he said.

Dudley said he contacted the insurance pool and obtained minutes from a July 3 meeting of the executive committee about Island Transit’s request for additional time to pay the $440,000 bill. The committee agreed that Island Transit can make the payment, normally due at the beginning of the year, in October.

Island Transit board minutes state that Rose, during the July 3 meeting, said that she was planning service reductions and the layoffs of 11 employees.

Rose and the board, however, didn’t alert the public to route cuts and employee layoffs until the end of July. A total of 24 employees were laid off.

Dudley also complained that Rose drove an Island Transit-owned vehicle home after resigning on Sept. 19. She was reportedly seen driving it over the weekend.

It was inappropriate and creates a liability for Island Transit, he said. Rose was known for immediately escorting people out of the building after firing them, said Dudley.

Rose had use of a Island Transit vehicle as part of her compensation, Clay explained, adding she was allowed to drive home and return the next morning to drop off the car and clear out her office.

That, said Clay, was done under supervision.

“Scott is picking over an instance that has no substance,” he said.

Clay said Dudley fancies himself as the “lone ranger.”

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why someone would want to be such an obstructionist and to point fingers,” he said.

“It is destructive. It’s just not the kind of person I am.”