By Mike Lednovich
“A contract is a contract,” Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commissioner Mike Cole declared at Tuesday’s emergency meeting to discuss terminated Port Executive Director David Kaufman.
And according to Kaufman’s OHPA contract, the commission was required to give Kaufman 60 days’ notice that it would not renew his position on Sept. 30. Although the port authority removed the port director’s salary from its 2023-24 budget, it never notified Kaufman by letter 60 days prior to the contract’s expiration on Sept. 30.
The oversight means Kaufman’s contract automatically renewed for 2023-24 and that error will now cost OHPA $20,769 in additional salary to give Kaufman the required 60 days’ notice.
“You never formally voted not to renew the contract. OHPA never sent a letter of the 60-day notice,” OHPA attorney Patrick Krechowski told port commissioners. “The 60 days’ notice is with pay.”
The meeting included several contentious exchanges between Kaufman and Vice Chair Miriam Hill.
“That’s why we have written contracts and written notice to avoid these types of confusion and ambiguities,” Kaufman said.
Hill, who is an attorney, maintained that Kaufman was given proper verbal notice during previous OHPA meetings when the port director’s salary was being discussed and eventually OHPA decided the salary be removed from the district’s upcoming budget.
“You think it isn’t unethical for you to sit quietly and not say anything when discussions (about your position) happen? You think it’s ethical for you to sit there (at previous meetings) silently and then agree verbally when it benefits you?” Hill said.
Kaufman shot back, “This is not a question of ethics and I hope you’re not questioning my ethics.” Kaufman told OHPA commissioners that during previous meetings his contract funding under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was introduced by port accountant Pierre Laporte, who said there was enough funding through the end of 2024 to pay the port director’s salary.
“Those were conversations that were not agendaed. Questions came up in the context of other conversations (over funding and the budget),” Kaufman said. “In those conversations, certainly without having my contract in front of me (at those meetings), I didn’t have the opportunity to think about the contract. I was in no way waiving any rights or privileges under the terms of my contract.”
At one point during the meeting. Hill proposed paying Kaufman $10,000 for two weeks of work in order to transition his work to others at OHPA.
That was met with opposition by Commissioner Cole and Chairman Danny Fullwood.
“Let it go. We don’t need any more legal bills,” Cole said, implying that Kaufman would file a lawsuit against OHPA if that was done.
Fullwood agreed stating “We’ve been sued enough. I don’t want to get into another lawsuit.”