Citing a state whistleblower law, a former executive director of the Port of Coupeville is taking steps towards suing the district for wrongful termination.
Oak Harbor attorney Chris Skinner sent a tort claim to the port district Friday on behalf of Forrest Rambo seeking nearly $120,000 in damages. A tort claim has to be filed before a lawsuit can be.
Rambo alleges he was fired because he questioned the legality of the port’s harbormaster also being a paying tenant of the port-owned Coupeville Wharf.
“(Rambo) attempted to determine, through the port’s legal counsel and through other resources and inquiries, whether the harbormaster has a conflict of interest serving as a salaried port employee while simultaneously operating — and working regular hours — at her private gift shop business,” documents sent by Skinner said.
Rambo was fired by the port in September 2016 in a 2-1 vote by the board. He had served less than one year of his three-year contract.
Commissioners John Mishasek and William Bell voted against then board president Mike Diamanti.
Diamanti later resigned from the board.
Rambo alleges his termination was an act of retaliation in response to his “continuous efforts” to get an answer out the port’s attorney.
“In executive session, I said, ‘if we’re not going to get a response, I’m going to go to the state and file a whistle blower complaint,’” Rambo said. “At the next meeting, after an executive session, they fired me.”
After voting to fire Rambo, Mishasek said his decision came down to Rambo’s lack of organization and attention to detail. Bell said his decision was based on financial concerns.
Mishasek did not return requests for comment on the lawsuit, and Bell said he will “no longer entertain conversations about Rambo’s termination.”
Jan Marc Jouas, interim executive director for the port, confirmed that the port received the tort claim Friday and hadn’t yet had an opportunity to discuss the claim with the port attorney.
Rambo is seeking damages in the amount of $119,500.
“It cost me to take this job,” Rambo said. “I had to live on the island. I put my house up for sale. I had to buy a car.”
“I spent my first six weeks renting a place.”
A damages breakdown includes moving expenses, increased housing expenses, lost wages, unpaid vacation time and attorney fees.
After he was terminated, Rambo said the port didn’t pay him three weeks worth of vacation he was owed and used the pay as leverage to get him to sign a disclaimer saying he wouldn’t sue the port.
“I think the damages are realistic and represent the costs it took to come here as well as the lost future earnings,” Rambo said.
“I did everything in good faith to come here and do this job.”