Port of Kingston sued for wrongful termination

Christine Conners alleges she was fired after challenging port manager on public records compliance

KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston’s former port assistant and public records officer is suing the port and its former executive director, alleging she was fired after she objected to instructions to delay responses to public records requests.

In her lawsuit, filed on April 7 in Kitsap County Superior Court, Christine Conners claims then-port executive director David Malone instructed her to “stretch out as far as possible” responses to residents Beth Brewster and Tania Issa’s requests for public records, and to redact contents of documents if there was any reference to the port’s attorney.

Brewster and Issa have submitted more than 200 requests for port records, in an effort to prove their allegations that port officials had acted in a discriminatory and retaliatory manner.

Brewster contends her business, Kingston Adventures, was evicted from the Port of Kingston’s small-watercraft storage facility and a floating dock because she publicly criticized port management practices. She also alleges her business was treated differently than other businesses at the marina because it is operated by a woman.

Brewster dropped a federal discrimination lawsuit, and Kingston Adventures’ eviction was upheld by a state appeals court. She and the port have agreed to stay any further legal action pending the completion of mediation, which according to court records is scheduled to be completed by April 30.

Issa is suing the port, alleging port officials violated the state Open Public Records Act by failing to produce records in accordance with the law. In its response, the port admits numerous allegations, but claims “the Port acted in good faith in all of its responses to Plaintiff’s multiple Public Records Act requests.” Trial has not yet been scheduled.

Conners claims she asked the port’s attorney about Malone’s “engage in wholesale redactions” and was advised by the attorney “she was correct and he was not.”

The port’s attorney, Carrie Eastman, would not comment on the record on April 13. Calls were left for Malone on his home phone.

Conners also alleges Malone used his personal laptop for port business “and other practices that made her job of public records response more difficult, as she could not access such personal accounts and devices and had no way of verifying whether the  commissioners and the executive director were complying with disclosure obligation.”

According to her lawsuit, Conners received an oral warning on Aug. 25, 2015 from Malone for alleged tardiness and violation of the port dress code. She claims she was fired by Malone on Sept. 8, 2015 “without warning or a pre-termination hearing, in violation of Port policy.”

Malone resigned a month later after almost two years on the job, writing that he hoped “that by my departure, the Port, port staff, port commissioners and the community in general will be able to move forward instead of continuing to be dragged down a senseless path by hatred.”

Jim Pivarnik, deputy director of the Port of Port Townsend, was hired recently as the Port of Kingston’s new executive director. He is scheduled to begin by the end of April.

Pivarnik accepts port contract
Jim Pivarnik said April 6 he has accepted the contract prepared by the Port of Kingston’s attorney.

The Port Commission was to meet in a special public session on April 11 to go through the formality of approving the contract.

Pivarnik’s departure means that Port of Port Townsend is now having to look for a new deputy director as well as a new port director.

Pivarnik said he had been at Port Townsend for 16 years and the outgoing port director had been there for 17 years.

“It’s time they got some new blood,” he said. “Change is a good thing.”