Port employee resigns due to ‘toxic’ work environment

A former Port of Coupeville employee said she resigned this month because the working environment between staff and commissioners became so toxic and hostile that she was concerned for her health.

A former Port of Coupeville employee said she resigned this month because the working environment between staff and commissioners became so toxic and hostile that she was concerned for her health.

And while she’s stepped away from Greenbank Farm professionally, Kristi O’Donnell says she will still be involved in ensuring the farm is around for years to come.

“When our brains get overworked with stress our bodies go into fight or flight,” O’Donnell said. “(The port) turned into an alpha male, cortisol-driven war structure which did not allow for problem solving, management or creativity.”

O’Donnell, who served as the port’s events coordinator since March, turned in her resignation in late September. Her last day working for the port was Oct. 7.

Challenging year

“I hate that she resigned,” said Commissioner John Mishasek. “I wish she hadn’t been able to walk away.”

O’Donnell’s resignation came right before commissioners William Bell and Mishasek voted on Sept. 29 to terminate Executive Director Forrest Rambo.

“I could see it coming,” O’Donnell said. “I think he was backed into a corner and it became a game of cat and mouse.”

Bell and Mishasek said their reasoning for the termination was based on Rambo’s lack of organization and financial mismanagement. Comissioner Mike Diamanti resigned in response to the action.

This year the commission started holding meetings more frequently, at least twice a month, and meetings started running longer and longer. The Sept. 14 meeting lasted nearly six hours.

Rambo said it was difficult to get tasks completed in a timely manner because there wasn’t enough staff.

“It’s really been a challenge operating as a startup business,” O’Donnell said. “People don’t realize that. It took five months to get a computer.”

O’Donnell attributes most of the problems going on with the port to the stress everyone was under.

“There was a backlog of things,” she said. “Forrest was under stress early on. I can see why any mistakes he made were understandable because of the stress he was under. There have been challenging road blocks thrown out in front of the director from day one.”

Building community

In her months as events coordinator, O’Donnell organized such events as First Fridays at the Farm, music events and fundraisers. Last month she brought back the Loganberry Festival as a 20-year-anniversary celebration of the farm.

“We felt it was important to do some community events to get people back to the farm,” O’Donnell said. “We saw tremendous results. This was without a budget. People were coming to the farm, events were happening.”

One of the ongoing frustrations both Bell and Mishasek expressed was a lack of information. Bell said he’d asked several times for a budget for the Loganberry Festival.

“I still don’t know how much it cost the port,” he said.

Early on, commissioners requested a form be filled out for each event to show revenue, expenses and staff time.

“Money is still coming in from the Loganberry Festival,” O’Donnell said. “I know one of the sticking points was I didn’t get all of my reports in. I didn’t have time. We cannot cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i.’”

From her projections, O’Donnell said, the revenue and expenses were coming out pretty even for the festival, not including her staff time.

Focus on the farm

“This organization thrives best in a structure.” O’Donnell said. “Things just collapsed because people couldn’t step away. I think the whole thing was stalemated.”

O’Donnell said she suggested outside mediation to the board.

“I had recommended a third party counselor for reconciliation between the district and community,” O’Donnell said. “Instead, now we have seen the past has repeated. There are things that need to be taken care of and we need to get out of the spiral of blame. I asked several times if there were tools. They need counseling.”

Mishasek said he would like to sit down and conduct an exit interview with O’Donnell. She said he reached out to her privately by email after her resignation.

“I was prepared to do an exit interview,” she said. “I wanted to do it in a public meeting with everyone present.”

The board’s regular meeting was scheduled for Wednesday. O’Donnell said she’s decided not to go because she didn’t want to put herself back into that environment.

“I have to watch my health,” she said. “I will always be an advocate for the farm. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to this beautiful place. I think it’s now time for our community to assess the situation and come up with some alternative to present so we can help the farm. It’s a beautiful place and it deserves our love and attention.”

Tenants at the farm and other community members are holding a Friends of Greenbank Farm meeting 2 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the farm.

“We feel like when we elect someone we can trust them and let them run it,” O’Donnell said. “I think it’s more important at this stage to save the farm. I’ve been involved with the farm since 1995 and it’s the farm that’s the important part.”