Long Beach city officials on Tuesday released a series of internal documents that revealed an escalating behind-the-scenes conflict with their longtime Queen Mary inspector that culminated last week with the termination of his contract.
In a series of letters, beginning on October 23, the city accused Edward Pribonic of breaching the confidentiality provisions of his contract during media interviews and of refusing to respond to city questions on these and other matters.
The documents disclose that Pribonic has hired an attorney, who has demanded that the city retract the allegations, which he says are false and defamatory.
“I have simply done my job consistently and honestly for many years and will not be made a scapegoat for this effort,” Pribonic said in a statement to the Post late Tuesday, his first comments on the growing controversy.
The dispute between the city and Pribonic has significantly heated up recently, as his monthly inspection reports have become increasingly critical of the ship’s condition and what he has characterized as the operator’s lack of responsiveness. In one report obtained by the Post this summer, Pribonic said the historic ship “has never been in worse condition” and that it soon could be “unsalvageable.”
The city’s release of correspondence on Tuesday was apparently intended to counter any perceptions that Pribonic’s contract of more than 25 years as the Queen Mary’s inspector was ended because of his critical reports and their fallout for ship operator Urban Commons.
According to the newly-released documents, city officials informed Pribonic that he had violated the terms of his contract when he spoke to the Post and Press-Telegram this year regarding his inspections without first getting approval from the city.
In the Oct. 23 letter, Long Beach Economic Development Director John Keisler said Pribonic provided “privileged and confidential information” to the Press-Telegram and noted that the inspector was quoted in Post and Press-Telegram articles that month. The letter did not detail the alleged breach.
The city also accused Pribonic of undertaking new inspections aboard the historic ship after being directed not to do so.
“The healthy working relationship we have established over the last few years depends on an honest, transparent, and collaborative effort,” Keisler wrote. “Your recent actions in violation of [the contract agreement] have created a level of tension and distrust between parties—city, operator, and maintenance staff on the ship.”
In response, Pribonic’s lawyer fired back, accusing Keisler of making false accusations against the inspector and of damaging his reputation. In a letter to the city, Pribonic’s lawyer Philip Kaufler, argued that the inspector did not provide any information to media outlets that would have violated his contract.
“Mr. Keisler’s letter deliberately sets out false and defamatory allegations of breach of confidentiality which is damaging to Mr. Pribonic’s reputation and good standing,” he wrote. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”
The dispute culminated with a termination letter from Long Beach City Attorney Charlie Parkin dated Dec. 23 rejecting Pribonic’s allegations of defamatory statements and stating that his contract with the city will end on Jan. 8.
City officials have said they grew frustrated when Pribonic declined to provide details on broad statements, such as calling the ship “unsalvageable.”
After the release of the documents on Tuesday, Keisler said Pribonic raised important questions in his inspections that required more information.
“Although the city made multiple requests, Mr. Pribonic, through his legal counsel, declined to provide clarifying information,” Keisler said.
Pribonic maintains that he was never asked to provide any clarifying details on his reports.
“Although I have performed nearly 400 inspections and performed dozens of other engineering related tasks for the city regarding the Queen Mary and other city properties, not a single city representative has questioned the accuracy, the language, or the detail of the reports,” he said.
The first public hint of the city’s dissatisfaction with its inspector came in November when officials announced they had hired Long Beach-based engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol to review Pribonic’s more recent inspection reports for best practices.
In its report to the city, also released for the first time on Tuesday, Moffatt & Nichol made several recommendations for improving the monthly Queen Mary inspection process with a new tracking and reporting system.
The recommendations included formalizing the reporting process by referring to industry-standard building codes and establishing a custom defect rating system for the ship to “help remove subjectivity when discussing issues.”
The report also recommended a tracking system to monitor specific projects or issues and a system to prioritize repairs.
Keisler on Tuesday said the firm will develop a professional system for Queen Mary inspections that can be used by new engineering consultants. The city plans to open up bids for the job next month.
He said the city is committed to keeping its regular inspections.
“Moffatt & Nichol will continue to assist the city with monthly inspections while the new inspection process, tracking and reporting systems are implemented,” he said. “The city will continue to make the results of these ongoing reports available to the public as they are finalized.”
For his part, Pribonic said there was nothing wrong with his reports and that “Mr. Keisler and the city seem to have been very perturbed that I was reporting too much, at which point, the reports were withheld and the campaign against me began.”
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