Interim Director Deborah Ale Flint on Thursday assured citizens, employees, public officials and industry partners that the Port of Oakland would get to the bottom of the of the fraud scandal swirling around the port administration, shore up its financial controls and ensure uninterrupted service at the maritime port and Oakland International Airport.
Two weeks ago, the board of commissioners suspended Executive Director Omar Benjamin after local news outlets reported allegations that Maritime Director James Kwon had submitted inflated reimbursement forms for travel expenses that covered entertainment at a Houston strip club and personal items like golf shoes. The board installed Flint as acting port chief and she subsequently suspended Kwon.
Both Kwon and Benjamin will continue to receive their salaries while the internal investigation by the law firm Arnold & Porter continues.
“I am as disappointed as you are at the allegations of improper expenditures,” Flint wrote in a message to the public. “I take these allegations seriously, and assure you that we are acting as swiftly and thoroughly as possible to address them.”
The port will continue to strengthen its policies and procedures ensure port funds are protected, she added.
Despite the alleged missteps, the Port of Oakland has secured its financial situation by recently refinancing about $1.3 billion in debt, which will result in $60 million in net present value savings through 2020 and is continuing to negotiate with three unions on multiyear labor agreements, she said. Talks with the Service Employees International Union, whose workers provide janitorial services, are at an impasse.
Last week, the port also received an allocation of the first $65.8 million in state funding for the $500 million first phase of the Oakland Army Base redevelopment into an intermodal yard. On Tuesday, the port published bid documents for the project.
“We are intent to restore the trust of our partners and stakeholders, and each other within the port. The port’s commitment to this community, its business and labor partners, and its employees is unwavering,” Flint said.
“I have no doubt that we will emerge from this time as an even better and stronger organization,” she concluded. – Eric Kulisch