After launching an external investigation into a possible conflict of interest violation by Port of Centralia Commissioner Peter Lahmann, third-party attorneys looking into the matter found no legal wrongdoing.
Haggard & Ganson LLP, the third-party law firm out of Bothell that handled the investigation, issued an 11-page report, noting while it found no legal wrongdoing, it recommended the port amend its ethics code.
The investigation began after Port of Centralia Auditor Amy Graber raised concerns in a memo mainly about Lahmann’s requests to utilize apprenticeship programs in port construction projects, which were made in four different port meetings going back to February 2021. Lahmann currently serves as the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) apprenticeship program specialist.
“There is insufficient evidence that Commissioner Lahmann violated the port ethics code. I do not have evidence that he dishonestly represented his own opinions as the Port's official position; made unauthorized promises; obligated the Port to a course of action that was counter to official policy; caused an OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act) violation; or made statements that were detrimental to the Port's litigation position,” Attorney Kathleen Haggard said in the report.
Haggard went on to say Lahmann’s conduct could still cause problems even if it doesn’t violate the port’s ethics code.
“When he represents himself, or allows others to represent him, as a port commissioner at public appearances, this blurs lines, creates distrust and discord among the staff and other commissioners, and calls into question Lahmann's commitment to the collaborative process,” Haggard said.
She believed this issue was problematic as Lahmann had failed to disclose appearances to the port in the past and because he disagreed with other commissioners on policy matters.
Additionally, Haggard said in general there was tension and disruption within the port stemming not only from its own commissioners and employees, but outside sources as well.
She brought up a Facebook group, Centralia Citizens for an Open and Honest Port, and how it is often critical of how the port conducts business while being supportive of Lahmann.
The group, now a little over a year old, is at 768 members and frequently calls for more transparency from the port in its business dealings, access to port documents and real estate listings and more accessible public meetings using Zoom. Additionally, the group has raised concerns over port construction projects and budget issues.
Haggard also noted that union leaders and community members routinely attend port meetings and vocally support Lahmann and call out “perceived wrongdoing by the port.”
Haggard then recommended making six amendments to the port’s ethics code including:
• A requirement to keep the port from incurring Open Public Meetings Act liability by having commissioners give the port commission and administration advanced notice of intent to attend other public events and not attending those events if doing so would create a quorum. As the port only has three commissioners, any time one is not present, a quorum exists.
• A requirement for port commissioners to state when they are giving their own opinion and not speaking on behalf of the port.
• A prohibition on promises not supported by official port policy.
• The creation of “prescribed talking points for high-risk matters, such as ongoing litigation.”
• A requirement to maintain reasonable decorum and refrain from attacking staff.
• The creation of formal committee and liaison assignments for commissioners who remain reasonably free to participate in non-port activities.
Haggard recommended these changes to try to help the commissioners work better as a collaborative body. Haggard ended the report by saying “voluntary cooperation with the above-listed guidelines could be a good place to start.”
In a statement released by Port of Centralia Commissioner Kyle Markstrom, he sought to assure the community and stakeholders that allegations of ethics violations are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated “to ensure the public’s trust in our operations.”
He believes Lahmann’s actions still had the possibility of creating the appearance of impropriety and stated that public servants should ensure their actions are beyond reproach and uphold the highest ethical standards.
“Moving forward, we will take the findings of the investigation seriously and work towards strengthening our ethical framework,” Markstrom said in the statement. “The port commission remains committed to promoting transparency, fostering trust within the community and upholding the values that underpin our operations.”
In a news release sent to The Chronicle, Port of Centralia Executive Director Kyle Heaton stated, “While the investigation concluded that there was not enough evidence to refer this matter further, Commissioner Lahmann’s actions were very close to, if not over, the line. Going forward, the port will consider new ethics rules to ensure that no commissioner can use their position for their own personal advantage.”
In Haggard’s report, though, she added that Lahmann “receives no bonus or additional compensation for connecting workers with apprenticeship opportunities” in his work with the WDVA apprenticeship program.
Lahmann was contacted for comment but could not respond before press deadline due to other work constraints. His response will be published by The Chronicle at a later date.
Additionally, the WDVA opened up its own, separate investigation into Lahmann’s work as the WDVA apprenticeship program coordinator when the port launched its own.
The Chronicle reached out to the WDVA for comment on its investigation but did not receive a response before press deadline.
Port of Centralia Commissioner Julie Shaffley was also contacted for comment but did not respond before press deadline.
According to Markstrom, the total cost of the port’s third-party investigation was $10,237.
To read Markstrom’s full statement, Haggard & Ganson LLP’s investigation report and Graber’s memo that prompted the investigation, visit https://portofcentralia.com/documents-center/newsletters/ and look in the “more information” box.