Our Views: Preserving Ethical Vigilance: Protecting Whistleblowers' Vital Contributions


 A Port of Centralia whistleblower is being attacked for stepping forward, and that’s wrong.  An employee of the port had a positive impression of Commissioner Peter Lahmann, but over time the whistleblower came to believe that he crossed over ethical boundaries to use his elected position to press port tenant businesses to benefit his employer.  

She meticulously documented instances where Lahmann would exploit his port commissioner credentials to garner preferential treatment or schedule meetings with port tenants under the guise of port-related affairs, when in reality, they pertained to the apprenticeship programs advocated by his full-time employer — an illustrative example among several.

The port’s management, hearing these reports, took the right step and called in an independent investigator. The Chronicle also learned that his full-time employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs, is conducting its own internal investigation on him. Our reporting staff did ask what it was regarding, but because it was an ongoing investigation, the VA declined to provide a comment.  The port’s investigation determined no laws were broken, but Lahmann’s behavior raised serious ethical questions. Specifically, the report concluded this regarding potential ethical breaches and the evident blurring of professional boundaries.

"Commissioner Lahmann's conduct can still create problems even if it does not violate the ethics code,” the investigators wrote. “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. This is especially true because Lahmann does not always disclose his appearances, and he often disagrees with his colleagues on policy matters."

Now, the whistleblower is under attack by Lahmann’s supporters. In raising this issue, she voiced her concerns to the organization's executive director; she emphasized the gravity of the situation, prompting the director to adopt an impartial approach by engaging an external investigator. The allegations raised were not criminal but rather centered on significant ethical concerns. During a conversation we had with this employee, The Chronicle inquired about the matter, to which she opined that reestablishing trust with any organization proves to take great time and effort. Any potential fracture in community trust should be thoroughly investigated. The gravity of the allegations and the commissioner's prior statements left no alternative but to pursue an external investigation.

The Chronicle probed whether she harbored concerns of reprisal from the commissioner's supporters, to which she affirmed such anxieties. Disturbingly, a faction of vehement individuals has resorted to inappropriate and vitriolic remarks, including calls for her dismissal and the unwarranted exposure of her personal information on social media platforms. 

Additionally, The Chronicle editorial board queried whether she would choose the same path if faced with a similar situation in the future, to which her response was unequivocal: a resounding affirmation. She emphasized the paramountcy of maintaining the integrity of the Port of Centralia, an obligation she upholds with unwavering dedication. 

Although a small minority harbors ill intentions, aiming to besmirch the port's reputation, most community members have expressed their overwhelming support, offering gratitude and encouragement.

It will come as no surprise that people in the newspaper business value whistleblowers. Not every claim made by a whistleblower is valid. But the independent investigation here shows that this one raised a legitimate concern. Attacking anyone who comes forward with ethical or criminal concerns regarding an elected official is unacceptable. 

Instead of attacking a public employee who brings forward ethical concerns, citizens should say “thank you.” The community thanks you for your courage and for listening to your ethical antenna.