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Local News: Port of Astoria’s commission hires Will Isom as permanent exec director

An in-depth look at the Port of Astoria’s commission meeting this week, where they hired interim executive director Will Isom as permanent director

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By Joanne Rideout

The Port of Astoria commission held their regular meeting Tuesday, and took a significant step toward more stability for the historically troubled agency. The commission voted unanimously to offer their interim executive director, Will Isom, the job on a permanent basis.

Isom took over as interim director for the port when the previous director, Jim Knight, resigned in June. For the past four years he’s been the port’s finance director. Going forward, he’ll be the port’s permanent executive director.

The port’s offer of employment came after the commission conducted a performance review for Isom through SDAO, Special Districts Association of Oregon. The port is designated as a “special district” by the state, and SDAO assists special districts with information, training, and support.

SDAO Consulting Administrator George Dunkel addressed the commission, saying Isom’s evaluation, which included peer input, was commendable.

Commission president Dirk Rohne said the commission had already seen the evaluation during executive session but wanted to share the news publicly.

Dirk Rohne: “I felt it was important for the public to know that after five months of being on the job that a thorough evaluation was undertaken of our acting executive director, for everyone’s benefit.”

Isom will meet with the SDAO and commissioners this month to determine the terms of his contract. Commissioner Jim Campbell said Isom’s record as finance director was also remarkable.

Jim Campbell: “For the last two years, Will has turned in a perfect audit, when the auditors from the state come in, by law, and audit the books, we had no discrepancies whatsoever.”

The port has been in the news frequently in recent years relating to economic instability and management issues that had put its working and financial relationship with the state of Oregon in serious jeopardy. The port enlisted the help of consultant Mary McArthur, executive director of ColPac, the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, to help the port create a strategic plan that would get the agency back in good graces with the state and allow it to once again seek state funding. Isom’s hiring as permanent director will further cement the port’s good faith attempts to move past its previous difficulties.

In other meeting business, the commission voted to change port bylaws to allow the commission to meet at a later time that would be easier for the public to attend. As of January, the port will hold one meeting per month, with the option to hold a second meeting as needed. The regular meeting will be held at 5:30pm instead of the current 4 pm meeting time. The first meeting at the new time of 5:30 will happen on Jan. 7.

While the port offices have moved back to their old digs on Gateway Ave., commission meetings will continue on the second floor of the Pier 1 blue building until further notice.

Director of Operations Matt McGrath addressed the commission regarding a new contract for cruise marketer Bruce Connor, who came under fire earlier this year in an ethics complaint related to his work attracting cruise ship business to the port.

In September, an investigation by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission charged Conner with seven violations of public disclosure law, for improper use of confidential information, using his official position for financial gain, and not disclosing conflicts of interest.

McGrath said Connor’s new contract clearly delineates what he is permitted and not permitted to do in his capacity as cruise marketer, and said Connor is in close contact with the port, and was avoiding any situations where he could be considered to be personally benefiting from his actions on behalf of the agency. McGrath said the contract contained a provision that would allow the port to cancel the contract with 30 days notice.

In other business, Will Isom told the commission that he would be meeting this week with representatives from Astoria Forest Products, the log handler that has been a port tenant shipping logs overseas.

At the port’s previous meeting in November, held at the Seaside Library, Astoria Forest products staff appealed to the port to help them maintain solvency in the face of crippling federal tariffs that have halted log shipments at the port for the foreseeable future.

I’m Joanne Rideout reporting.