Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Port of Seattle needs new leadership

"The way I characterize the Port Commission today's treading water."

- Gael Tarleton, candidate for Port Commissioner (listen to interview)

On April 18th, the Seattle Post Intelligencer ran a front page article by reporter Kristin Millares Bolt which revealed that Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis had signed a document to extend the $339,841 salary and benefits of ex-CEO Mic Dinsmore for up to one year past his departure from the port.

Three other commissioners - John Creighton, Alec Fisken, and Lloyd Hara - told the P-I they had no memory of a discussion about a possible severance package, which supposedly occurred in executive session - according to Davis.

Dinsmore tried to collect his unauthorized severance package in early March, but the new Port CEO, Tay Yoshitani, had doubts, and no payment was made. Last week, Dinsmore announced he wouldn't seek the money and the Port Commission voted not to approve any severance package for him the following day.

Notes released by the Port of Seattle, however, indicate that Commissioner Bob Edwards was also involved in laying the groundwork for the sweetheart deal:
...According to Dinsmore, it was then-Commission President Edwards who in January brought up Dinsmore's retirement package and explained how Dinsmore, who retired of his own accord, would receive 40 weeks of salary based on an "HR 10" policy meant to compensate employees who had been fired or whose jobs had been eliminated.

"Bob, as outgoing president presented what we discussed and agreed upon," related the undated notes, which Dinsmore said in an interview with the Seattle P-I were taken after a closed-door commission meeting on Jan. 10.
Edwards, however, says he doesn't remember having reached any agreement or even discussing the matter when the notes were taken at a June meeting - and Dinsmore isn't happy that Edwards hasn't backed him up:
Dinsmore, who received Edwards' unfailing support since he joined the commission in 1999, doesn't appreciate the sudden about-face.

"I am not going to get into a debate with one, two, three, four or five commissioners about what took place in their memory," Dinsmore said [...]
Our thirteenth podcast (released yesterday) includes an interview with a Gael Tarleton, who is leading the charge to change the way the Port of Seattle does business. (Jack Block, Jr. is also in the race, running on a similar platform). Gael's campaign has made accountability an important theme:
"It's clear from the weekend's Seattle Times coverage of the ongoing Port Scandal that now Bob Edwards was involved in the packing of Mic Dinsmore's golden parachute. It's time for the Port Commission to call for a full investigation from an outside, independent group, not from an internally-appointed pool of potential friends and cronies. Only then will the trust of citizens be restored and will we be able to get back to the business of moving trucks, planes and ships."
The severance flap, which has touched off a fresh round of media and blog coverage, is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga of scandals and controversies at the Port, each reinforcing the conclusion that the Port is desperately in need of fresh blood and new leadership.

Dinsmore's tenure, as I have stated in our podcast, has been characterized by bad decision making, wasteful spending, poor management, and ethical lapses. For example, the no-bid contracts given to Columbia Hospitality in the 1990s, or Dinsmore's significant involvement in the 2005 commissioner elections, or the badly handled controversy over plastic Christmas trees last December, or the use of property tax dollars to pay for equipment belonging to Cruise Terminals of America.

While Dinsmore has left the Port of Seattle, his two loyal sidekicks, Pat Davis and Bob Edwards, remain on the Commission. Davis unfortunately doesn't have to face King County voters this year, but Edwards does. If Gael Tarleton and Alec Fisken (the other commissioner standing for reelection) are victorious this autumn, the Commission will have a 3-2 progressive majority.

We're committed to helping both candidates cross the finish line first. That may be a challenge, but it's also a tremendous opportunity to bring responsible leadership back to the Port Commission - one that we must take advantage of.

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