Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scandal Results in Oakland Port Management Shakeup

The Oakland Board of Port Commissioners has placed Executive Director Omar Benjamin on administrative leave in the wake of allegations that one of his top aides spent thousands of dollars in public money at a Texas strip club.

Benjamin, who has headed the port since 2007, was suspended with pay, and port Director of Aviation Deborah Ale Flint named acting executive director, effective Oct. 18. Flint in turn ordered Director of Maritime James Kwon to return from overseas business travel and placed him on administrative leave with pay on Oct. 19.

Kwon is alleged to have spent $4,500 entertaining shipping executives at strip club in Houston, Texas called Treasures in 2008 during a business conference.

In addition to suspending Kwon, Ale Flint made multiple other shifts in management assignments, including giving Deputy Executive Director Jean Banker the additional role of acting director of maritime; making Aviation Planning & Development Manager Kristi McKenney the acting director of aviation; and giving Associate Aviation Project Manager Hugh Johnson the additional role of acting aviation planning and development manager.

“I am taking these actions to ensure that our 24/7 operations continue to meet our customers’ needs,” Ale Flint explained. “These actions are also critical so that the port can continue being the economic engine of the region that it is.”

According to an Oct. 19 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the port is also looking at the possibility that there may have been “hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenditures by higher-ups going back several years.”

The port says it has retained the law firm of Arnold & Porter to assist the board in an ongoing investigation of allegations of improper expenditures.

“We continue to take this situation very seriously,” Board President Gilda Gonzales said. “Holding those responsible accountable is our highest priority.”