Port of Port Angeles commissioners hope to finalize a contract with Geoff James for the port executive director position soon. Photo by Paul Gottlieb/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Port of Port Angeles commissioners hope to finalize a contract with Geoff James for the port executive director position soon. Photo by Paul Gottlieb/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Port of Port Angeles picks new executive director

Port of Port Angeles commissioners selected former NATO officer Geoff James as the tax district’s new executive director following an executive session Tuesday.

Port board President Steven Burke, who, like other commissioners and port staff, hailed James for his leadership qualities, said he hopes a contract will be negotiated with 52-year-old Poulsbo resident by next week. The salary range is $144,000 to $170,000.

Burke and Commissioners Colleen McAleer and Connie Beauvais voted unanimously to select James.

James, who has no port or municipal-government job experience, will succeed Karen Goschen, who will stay on at the port as a consultant.

“I’m excited,” James after the meeting. “There’s a lot of hats to wear.

“It’s diverse, but I don’t think it’s going to be an insurmountable challenge. Of course, everything’s going to be a challenge, just to be able to take it piece-by-piece and pull it together, but I look forward to the opportunity and that challenge.”

James has been in the Navy for 34 years and is a former submarine executive officer who has been stationed at submarine Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

Most recently, he was branch chief for current operations to the international military staff at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The Sacramento, Calif., native said his NATO job entailed working with governments and political entities. In that capacity, he advised and developed military advice for 30 nations.

He focused on “that working back and forth, understanding their concerns, their priorities, and being able to put it all together,” he said.

James, a former commanding officer for the Trident submarine training facility at Bangor, said after the commissioners’ meeting that he and his wife, Mardi, returned from Belgium last week and are having land cleared for a new house in the Palo Alto Road area east of Sequim.

James is on terminal leave from the Navy and retires Sept. 1, he said.

The port has an $8.4 million operating budget, 50 employees and eight business lines James would oversee.

Commissioners held about a 90-minute executive session before executive search facilitator Jeannie Beckett of Gig Harbor began the executive director item on the agenda, outlining the qualifications laid out by commissioners for Goschen’s successor.

James was among three finalists, two of whom had extensive port or economic development experience. Beckett said half of all the 27 applicants had port or maritime experience while 35 percent had business development experience.

Qualifications sought by the commissioners included extensive economic or business development knowledge with strong knowledge of negotiating leases and contracts and a demonstrated track record of fostering economic activity and growth, as well as “demonstrated entrepreneurial experience” and an ability to collaborate with stakeholders.

Leadership was among the qualifications, and that’s what commissioners focused much of their attention on, also saying that James will be hiring a business development director to coordinate and develop the port’s eight business lines, including marinas and its airport in Port Angeles.

“It would be nice if there was a perfect person,” Beauvais said. “There’s just not enough hours in the day to do what one would want to accomplish.”

She acknowledged other finalists Caleb McMahon and Justin Poulsen had more business development experience.

“I’m looking for that person that could best lead the port, a good leader,” Beauvais said.

McAleer predicted James would be a strong leader for the port and the community.

“But I think it’s going to be a really tough first two years,” she said.

James will “have to be putting in a lot of hours to understand the process,” she said.

“If we are able to take the skills sets that exist and Jeff’s skill sets and marry that up with a strong business development person very quickly, then I think this could be a win-win all around.”

In a later interview, McAleer, who, like Burke, is running for reelection, described “a big business development gap” at the port.

“So I am supportive of hiring Jeff as long as we hire a very strong business development person quickly,” she said.

Burke said in a later interview that the port has needed an overall business development director.

The port is currently advertising for a maritime business development director.

“Any time you hire at any level, you hire and look at strengths and weaknesses and develop other areas around that,” he said.

“You’re never gong to find that all-encompassing person that can do everything.”

He acknowledged James’ lack of port experience during the meeting.

“Does he have port experience? No. Does he have leadership? He has it in spades. Because we have good port staff and because we have Karen that’s going to be around for a couple of years, that does affect what we are looking for.

“Would I look for someone that just had really good leadership experience if we had a different scenario? Yes, probably.

“But this is the scenario we have, and I think we take advantage of that.”

Port Deputy Executive Director John Nutter said in an interview that the port senior staff of about 10 employees met with all three candidates and did not make a recommendation, nor did they express objections. James’ lack of port experience did not come up, Nutter said.

“His overall leadership capabilities were so apparent,” Nutter said.

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