New report says McHugh did not ‘retaliate’

A new “supplemental fact-finding report” produced by Port Angeles attorney Donna Knifsend concludes that Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Paul McHugh did not retaliate against Colleen McAleer for her May 16 whistleblower report.


The original whistleblower report, which also was investigated by Knifsend, included charges of incompetence against then-Port Director Jeff Robb.


In a June 27 letter to Port of Port Angeles attorney Dave Neupert, McAleer, the Port’s director of business development, provided a blistering account of what she called an obvious act of retaliation against her by McHugh.


At press time, both McHugh and McAleer are candidates for the seat McHugh now holds on the Port commission.


In her letter, McAleer said McHugh’s comments to local newspapers regarding the whistleblower report, and the follow-up investigative report, constituted “RETALIATION.”


She cited several examples of McHugh’s quoted comments, including, “I think we have some issues with our senior staff as well.”


McHugh did not refer to McAleer by name or job title.


She also took Neupert to task, saying, “It is my understanding that my name has already been leaked in regard to the whistleblower complaint. Since I have not approved the release of my name in the whistleblower complaint, I’m asking you directly, did you release my name to anyone?”


“As you know, I never authorized the disclosure of my name.”


McAleer confirmed her identity at a candidates debate on July 15.


Prior to her announcement she was assumed by many to be the whistleblower because the investigative report produced by Knifsend regarding the complaint stated it was filed by a Port employee who also was a candidate for the commission. The report was released by Neupert following a Public Records Act request.


Lawyer taken to task

McAleer also criticized Neupert for the conclusion found in the investigator’s report that Robb had met the requirements of the Port’s Master Policy regarding the proper notice of lease deficiencies.


“Commissioner McHugh is quoted in today’s (Peninsula Daily News) article as saying, ‘There has also been an investigation of a whistleblower complaint made by a Port employee …. The Commissioners have received the report. The findings of the investigator were that it did not warrant any action on behalf to the commissioners.’”


McAleer provided an extensive argument to the contrary and concluded by asking Neupert to “immediately clarify your basis of conclusion …”


“Alternatively, if after your review of this letter you determine your conclusion should be different, then I would like that determination in writing immediately. I also request you inform Commissioner McHugh of that revised determination.


“My second concern is that in view of the fact that we do not currently have an Executive Director, there are several issues pending that could result in liability to the Port.”


She then provided an extensive list of “potential claims” against the Port for issues arising from leases held by the Port.


Investigating the charges

In an interview with Knifsend, McAleer said McHugh’s statements in the article portrayed her as the cause of the problems at the Port.


McAleer, said Knifsend, said “some of the people that she has to deal with were ‘shunning’ her.”

Knifsend said additional information provided by McAleer “did not provide any factual basis to support retaliation based on the statements in the article.”


She noted that “Colleen provided other information, including ‘later’ events that apparently concerned her as possible aspects of retaliation.”


Knifsend said she followed up, but found nothing that “rises to the level of any change in terms or conditions of employment.”


In the end, she concluded that McAleer had provided no hard evidence of retaliation.


She added, “The fact that Colleen is running against Commissioner McHugh for his seat on the commission opens her to ridicule and statements that come with the First Amendment and campaigning.”


McAleer has since said that she was surprised her letter resulted in a formal, public investigation and added that she believed it was likely unnecessary. She said Port policy regarding retaliatory actions requires an employee to both specify the alleged retaliatory action and and specify the relief requested.


She said she requested no relief.


She added that she believed her concerns were analyzed in the light of outdated criteria.


McHugh said he had no comment at this time regarding the charges of retaliation, but added that he believed the whistleblower investigation was revealed to the public by former Port airport and marina manager Doug Sandau: “He was the one who was quoted in the newspaper that he was interviewed by an investigator.”


McHugh said he had discussed the investigator’s report in the press, but added that he never released the name of the whistleblower. He further noted that his comments did not reference an individual. “Colleen provided her name,” he said.


To date, no accounting has been released by the Port regarding the expenditures on investigations by Knifsend. One document released by the Port shows she was provided a $6,300 retainer fee and is paid $225 an hour.


 Reach Mark Couhig at
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