By Mike Lednovich
The Ocean Highway and Port Authority had to do an about-face on the termination of Port Director David Kaufman Wednesday after Kaufman’s attorney notified the district it could face possible litigation for his firing. The reversal added another $40,000 more to Kaufman’s termination package.
On Oct. 3, OHPA voted to give Kaufman 60 days’ notice with pay – about $20,000 in salary – not to renew his contract as port director for 2023-24. Kaufman’s contract contained a provision that automatically renewed his position as port director for another year on Sept. 30 unless OHPA provided him a letter of 60 days of notice not to renew. OHPA had sent no letter and took no vote to terminate Kaufman prior to Sept. 30.
Kaufman objected to OHPA’s Oct. 3 decision and his attorney subsequently notified OHPA of potential legal action regarding enforcement of the contract that stated in addition to 60 days’ notice, Kaufman would also receive 16 weeks – about $40,000 – in severance.
OHPA Attorney Patrick Krechowski said the district had received a letter from Kaufman’s attorney stating “they may seek recourse (about the contract) through litigation.”
Vice Chair Miriam Hill, as she did in Oct. 3, maintained that Kaufman was given verbal notice his contract would not be renewed at several OHPA meetings during discussions of the district’s budget. She asked why OHPA was reconsidering Kaufman’s termination terms.
“We didn’t do it properly (terminate Kaufman) and we violated his contract,” OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood said in making a motion to rescind the district’s Oct. 3 vote. “The contract says written notice. We did not provide him (Kaufman) written notice.”
Fullwood said OHPA had two options available.”We can either keep him on for a full year or we provide the 60-day notice and 16 weeks of severance,” Fullwood said.
Commissioner Ray Nelson supported correcting OHPA’s failure to properly meet the conditions of Kaufman’s contract.
“Things slip through the cracks and people make mistakes,” Nelson said. “I think we need to do the right thing and pay David the 16 weeks. Let’s give him what we owe him and be done with this.”
Kaufman’s position was paid for by the American Rescue Plan Act funds enacted during the COVID-19 crisis. Port Accountant Pierre Laporte said Kaufman’s $60,000 settlement was eligible to be paid for with remaining ARPA funding.
Hill asked why OHPA would rescind its previous action as “though it never happened. Why would we do that?”
“Because we did it illegally. It wasn’t right to do it that way. It’s a violation of the contract,” Fullwood replied. He said OHPA could not afford the legal bills associated with defending another lawsuit.