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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gael Tarleton: Restoring trust at the Port of Seattle begins with greater transparency

Editor's Note: Two weeks ago, the Port of Seattle disclosed that an independent investigation of its construction management practices led by former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay had uncovered nearly a dozen instances where Port employees committed civil fraud. The report's findings, due to be presented to the Port Commission today, come as no surprise to longtime Port watchdogs, who have long suspected that there was willful lawbreaking going on under ex-CEO Mic Dinsmore.

In this special guest post, reform-minded Commissioner Gael Tarleton - first elected to the Port's legislative body a year ago - reflects on what needs to happen if the Port of Seattle is to regain the trust of the community it serves.

No wonder the people of King County are fed up and just want to "throw the bums out" at the Port of Seattle.

Most people hear only what’s in the news - the papers, the blogs, the radio, and television. And what’s in the news about the Port of Seattle can be summed up briefly: Endless scandal. Wasted money. No accountability.

Sadly, corruption isn't a problem found only inside the Beltway or in Chicago.

President-elect Obama says that federal stimulus money will only go to those public works projects that are shovel ready.

Well, my shovel’s pretty ready - I’ve been using it non-stop since the day I took office eleven months ago.

And there’s more to come - the Department of Justice investigation into criminal misconduct of individuals and companies associated with the Port could leave another mountain of rubble to clear.

Government employees manipulating contracts to dole out public money to their buddies? Elected officials rewarding former fifteen year CEO Mic Dinsmore with raises year after year as ethics and tax dollars evaporated?

Enough is enough. This wasn't just a "get it done at any cost" culture.

It’s much worse than that.

It’s about flagrant, conscious disregard for the laws and ethical standards that are the hallmarks of great institutions.

The internal rot at the Port of Seattle means this institution is at risk of crumbling from within. Restoring public trust is going to take a lot more than a new policy. The only thing that's going to save the Port is if the people of King County know everything that's going on here.

Since that’s a pretty daunting task - no one pays attention until the house is falling down - the jury’s still out on the future of the Port. But for those who are watching - it’s your Port. And you get the last word.

Have a suggestion or an idea to share with Commissioner Tarleton about improving the Port of Seattle? Please leave a comment in the thread.


Blogger Diogenes said...

Bold words, Commissioner Tarleton. Too bad you and the Commission are not backing them up with decisive and appropriate action.

Let's see, your deputy CEO, general counsel, airport director, deputy airport director, chief engineer, chief of airport construction, and contract administration chief--the entire top management team--all conspired to deceive the commission about a major contract award. Your bold action? Slaps on the wrist for these senior managers and you fire the poor working stiff who carried out their fraudulent orders.

Oh wait, you said that these frauds were the same as parking tickets. So you fired the poor stiff who followed senior managers' orders about where to park the Port's $125 million car.

You think the 3rd runway contract notification was an isolated incident rather than the normal way these senior managers were routinely dealing with the Commission?

And you are now going to continue working with these senior managers? You are going to continue to follow the legal advice of a general counsel who was complicit in committing fraud?

Can the rest of us get some of what you guys are smoking during those executive sessions?

On the upside, your actions are a terrific incentive program: Port employees will now try extra hard to get promoted to senior management positions so that they too can commit fraud with no fear of penalty.

Keep up those reform efforts.

December 16, 2008 8:33 AM  
Blogger prudence74 said...

Word to the wise to the NPI: If you want to promote "progressive" or "reformist" candidates and officeholders, you might actually want to check that their actions, not just their words, are progressive and reformist.

Word to the wise to candidates and officeholders: this is a small town and word gets around, so don't expect to say one thing to the maritime business cronies/Friends of Mic and another thing to labor, greens and other progressives, and not be called out on it. Parking tickets? Jaywalking??

December 17, 2008 8:43 AM  
Blogger Gael said...

Come to public meetings and talk to enviros, labor, and community groups that show up all the time - you might just be surprised. Guess who employs the labor guys? That would be all those small businesses in Ballard, Duwamish, maritime industrial center, and Fisherman's Terminal. How is it against progressive values to support the small businesses that are the creators of family-wage jobs?

Why am I committed to reforming the port? Because when it works right for the people of King County, this port will be the job creation engine for hundreds of thousands of family-wage jobs coming out of this recession.

After 11 months as a part-time Commissioner (the will of the people) who works 35 hrs a week at the job and with nearly 30 years of work experience (15 years in public service) as an intelligence research analyst and expert at performing on and managing federal government contracts, I know that reforms are needed at many levels. It's all I've been doing with fellow Commissioners for this past year. The contracting policies and entire contracting organization have been completely changed - when we spend public money, we spend it in public. I serve on the Audit Committee (monthly public meetings for the first time ever), and over two years internal audits have recovered over a million dollars in public money owed to the port. Dozens of new companies are competing on open bids for port projects, and open competition saves taxpayer dollars. Those records are now out in public. I started a truck working group with many community groups to talk about saving trucker jobs while working toward having clean trucks. But if you could run for Port Commissioner and win, and have a chance to get 3 votes needed from Commissioners you don't know and only meet with jointly in public sessions, what would be the top reforms you'd go for first?

Since I was never a portwatcher or tracker - knew nobody at the port and had no ties to any port companies or labor unions - I went with McKay's investigation, its facts, and what the evidence supported. It's pretty clear that many of you out there won't be satisfied with any reforms at the Port unless the former CEO is held accountable. But this commission and CEO can't do that because Dinsmore's been gone for two years (before my time). I'll be leading the effort through the Commission Audit Committee to start auditing current and former contractors who didn't cooperate or only partially cooperated with the investigation, as the unanimous Commission motion requires. Those meetings are all held in public. Come join us.

I don't know if you've ever worked in government, Diogenes. It's unusual for government employees to be disciplined or punished to this extent, and even more rare that it happens in public. The effect is the exact opposite of what you predict.

Before this commission, not too many commissioners have committed to a sustained reform agenda at the port. The first two who tried weren't re-elected. Was it because they didn't reform fast enough? Or because they couldn't reform anything as the lone voice? It's curious...will the progressives conclude that the only standard of "reformer" is the one who first conducts a scorched-earth strategy and then tries to rebuild from the ashes? If you apply that standard - to the port or to the Obama administration - we're going to be left without government. And that is exactly what the anti-government/anti-tax mantra is all about.

I don't know about you, but I want a government that works for the people. And my approach to reform might be different than what you would pursue (if you've ever been in government) or what my colleagues are thinking.

When you all duke it out and decide what you require from a real progressive that passes all your checkpoints (Progressive Majority already imposes demanding interviews and checks credentials), let your candidates know the deal. And get ready yourself to run for office. Many of our best progressives are taking the plunge and becoming public servants now. Haven't you been working all these years to change your government? Now's your chance.


December 17, 2008 10:12 PM  
Blogger rand'm said...

It is unfortunate that Tarleton has jumped on the bandwagon claiming graft and corruption. The endless audits did NOT show Port employee profited by their actions. By removing the former good ol' boy CEO, they cleaned up 99% of that type of problem. His type of leadership was sadly business as usual for generations, more accepted in private companies. Now, the-times-they-are-a-changing. The new CEO, simply by virtue of leading a more ethical example will start changing the culture, showing that the good-old-boy network is no longer accepted. There are lots of great people working at the Port. Commissioner, let your organization move forward, out of the dark times. Start finding the good stories in the Port and lead with a carrot instead of continuing to beat a dead horse with a stick.

December 18, 2008 10:55 AM  
Blogger Oldtimer said...

Commissioner Tarleton is right to continue leading the charge of reform.

The new CEO is a breath of fresh air, but the old CEO's influence remains in the legacy culture and senior lieutenants left over from the Dinsmore era. The continued presence of Pat Davis reinforces the port bureaucracy's worst tendencies and resistance to change.

I agree with the last poster that there are good, ethical people at the port, but disagree in that the work of the Commission in reforming the port is far from finished.

December 18, 2008 6:11 PM  
Blogger G. said...

I'm actually greatly offended by Gael Tarleton's "throw the baby out with the bathwater" attitude. Commissioner Tarleton makes it sound like everyone who works at the Port is an unethical or incompetent swindler - with the possible exception of herself. With such an attitude being expressed by one of the Port "leaders", it is no wonder that morale in the organization is at an all time low. Leadership starts at the top.

December 30, 2008 2:45 PM  

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