Port of Walla Walla terminates auditor/treasurer

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WALLA WALLA - Port of Walla Walla commissioners have fired the agency's auditor/treasurer because of "performance issues" that created errors and have cost the public agency extra money.

In a May 27 closed session, the Port's three commissioners decided to replace Auditor/Treasurer Anna Christen, who had served two years in the position. The decision was announced that night when the regular meeting reconvened at 10:41 p.m., according to minutes of the Port meeting.

Commission President Mike Fredrickson emphasized Friday the "issues" were not the result of illegal activity. He said the decision was due to "poor performance." He offered no other specific details.

An attempt to reach Christen for comment by telephone was not successful Saturday.

Christen came to the position in the third quarter of 2008, succeeding Jackie Hardesty, who retired after 20 years on the job.

Commissioners authorized a severance package for Christen of two weeks' salary, six months of medical premium coverage, 25 percent of sick-leave cash out and all accrued vacation leave.

Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said Friday the staffing change was driven by the commissioners.

"When Anna came in I thought she did a fairly reasonable job," he said.

Kuntz acknowledged some errors on Christen's part but characterized them as "minor."

He said Christen wanted to make changes in how the Port conducts its accounting.

"The bottom line is that she didn't fit in very well," he said. "It was not a good fit between Anna and the remainder of the staff."

Under the Port's organizational chart the auditor/treasure is one of two administrative employees who answers directly to the Port Commission. That person also answers directly to the executive director, the other administrative employee who reports to the commissioners.

The auditor/treasurer oversees the internal accounting for the agency, which has a revised 2010 budget of about $11.7 million.

The Port of Walla Walla also contracts with accounting firm LeMaster Daniels for the agency's annual financial statements.

In supplemental budgets adopted for the Port and Walla Walla Regional Airport in early May, commissioners approved $14,000 for outside accounting assistance on top of LeMaster Daniels' regular contracts. Fredrickson said that work includes adjustments to W2s.

The Walla Walla Regional Airport's budget also shows $33,376, which reportedly has been used for additional part-time accounting staff.

Fredrickson said the Port has reached out to local accounting firms for a possible successor to Christen. At least one interview has already taken place, Kuntz said. He said depending on candidate experience the position starts around $60,000 per year.

Port officials have said they want to find a certified public accountant for the position. That was a goal they'd also expressed when they sought to replace Hardesty.

"That wasn't done, and it appears that it needs to be done," Fredrickson said.

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