Judge clears Kennewick port commissioner of misconduct in Vista Field land sale

An independent judge cleared Kennewick Port Commissioner Don Barnes of misconduct in a case that roiled the port for more than two years.

Judge Paris K. Kallas overturned the findings of an earlier investigation by an outside attorney.

Barnes, the board’s current chair, appealed the results of the investigation into his conduct concerning the private sale of land near the port’s 103-acre Vista Field redevelopment project in 2019.

Kallas heard arguments in a public forum Dec. 4. She issued her 15-page decision on Dec. 31.

“(T)he Complaint against Commissioner Barnes is unsubstantiated in its entirety and no sanctions shall be applied,” Kallas concluded.

Barnes said it is time to move forward from a case that had been a “major distraction.” Fees cost the port more than $100,000.

The case arose from a dispute that arose in early 2019 when port staff asked the commission to waive the port’s right to buy back land it had sold to Jerry Ivy in 2004. The port held the right to repurchase the Ivy property if he did not develop it within 18 months, which he did not.

Barnes wanted more information about a site, noting it borders the ambitious Vista Field redevelopment site. He eventually backed down and agreed to waive the buyback clause.

Ivy sold the five-acre site at North Kellogg Street and West Rio Grande Street to Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic for $1.8 million.

Construction is proceeding on Yakima Valley’s $20 million Miramar Clinic.

The ill will sparked by the debate prompted an anonymous complaint, which Commissioner Skip Novakovich later admitted he wrote.

The port hired Tara Parker, an outside attorney, to investigate Novakovich’s allegations.

Parker concluded that Barnes and fellow Commissioner Tom Moak both violated port rules. Barnes was faulted for contacting a consultant and the State Auditor’s Office about the land sale and that he exhibited “hostility” to the port’s CEO, Tim Arntzen.

The port’s attorney recommended formal public censure and completion of training for Barnes. Moak accepted his separate punishment and was subsequently re-elected to office.

Barnes appealed.

During the Dec. 4 hearing, his attorney said the commissioner acted in his role as an elected leader.

“These are elected officials. They get to get information,” attorney Joel Comfort told the judge.

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