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April 19, 2007

Interview with Alec Fisken, Seattle Port Commissioner

Monday and sex scandals are so easy for us to get our hands around.  We love them.  Larger issues – like systematic misuse of the public’s money or outright undermining of the rule of law, not so much. 

PI reporter Kristen Millares Bolt has been all over a likely inappropriate “sweet deal” that Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis seemingly gave now retired Seattle Port CEO Mic Dinsmore.  Shoephone here at Evergreen Politics has been following this closely.  Today I talked with port commissioner Alec Fisken about the deal and also about the larger issues at the Port that it points to. 

First, let’s take a look at what has just been uncovered.  From a PI article yesterday morning, we get the deal that Davis gave long-time pal Dinsmore:

As part of his retirement package, former Port Chief Executive Mic Dinsmore will receive an annual pension of about $107,000, according to a rough port calculation in October.

Before he retired, Dinsmore received a $339,841 annual salary.


In question is a severance agreement OK'd by Commissioner Pat Davis in a memo that would extend Dinsmore's annual salary for up to a year past his retirement date.

Davis did not have the authority to make that deal and three of the other four commissioners dispute her allegation that the deal was made by all of them in executive session.

In talking about the implications of the deal, Alec Fisken, one of the three commissioners who disputes Davis’ picture of the deal, said today in the interview:

The thing for me that is frustrating is that the Port does these huge deals. The reality is that we have not been spending the public’s money wisely.  We waste tens of millions of dollars annually.  I have been saying, “Look, we’re not taking proper care of the public’s money.”

This incident is about a couple hundred thousand and it is very clearly wrong.   It is difficult for people to get their hands around the larger issues.  Sometimes it takes an issue like this that is easily understandable for people to see the bigger picture.

Follow me over the fold for the entire interview.  It's worth it.

Interview with Alec Fisken, Seattle Port Commissioner

Q: The PI has an article this morning that is pretty damning.  Two executive sessions took place last year where there are no notes, no staffers and three of the commissioners don’t have any recollection that the meeting occurred.  Comments?

AF: It is pretty clear there was no formal approval of this salary deal.  There was an executive session but no formal approval.  No one has claimed there was a formal deal.

It is just baffling as to why she went forward.  Why would she write a letter knowing it was not formally approved?  Why would Mic accept a letter knowing it was not formally approved? If they were brand new, it would be one thing but they have both been here a long time.

Q:  What’s the remedy?  What comes next?

AF: I’m hoping that my colleagues will get together and come up with a common statement, perhaps as early as today.  The good thing is we have a new CEO (Tay Yoshitani) and new commissioners.  I think we have new people taking it seriously.  I think we will be more and more careful about accountability and complying with the law.

I think we will rediscover the integrity of the port.  15 years is too long to do that kind of job. I think things have gotten a little sloppy.

Q: Anything you can say about what is happening behind the scenes right now?

AF: No, there isn’t.  We cannot meet except in a formal, announced meeting.  The next meeting is next Tuesday.  I’ve discussed with Lloyd Hara about whether we could all sign a letter on this.  He may be working on such a letter.  If he is, I hope it comes out soon.  We can’t legally sit down and talk about it except in a formal meeting.

Lloyd and John (Creighton, Chair of the Port Commission) are trying to do it right, which is great.

I would imagine that Mic will just drop the issue.

Q: What does this incident say about the culture of the Port and the manner in which it operates?  Some of us have had some serious questions about that culture in the past, possibly including you.

AF: It has been Lloyd’s perception that the commissioners have not always been part of the real decision-making process.  He has worked hard to get the commissioners involved.  This is just another example of the old problems that have faced us in doing so.  People have been making decisions that are not in strict accordance with the state’s rules.  The commission was not fully involved in this.

Hopefully there is change coming.  All the signs are that the new CEO, Tay Yoshitani, will be able to run this thing properly.  He has lots of experience.

Q: How might this issue impact elections in the fall? (Fisken is being challenged by Bill Bryant.)

AF: Well, my opponent’s primary supporter is Pat Davis.  It can’t  be helpful to his campaign.  I have a reputation as being a regenade, someone who has tried to point out what is wrong.  It may be helpful to me because clearly this was wrong.  But it’s always hard to tell how things will play out months from now. 

Q: There is speculation that Pat Davis may be forced to step down.  What do you think about that?

AF: There is no mechanism for forcing someone out so I don’t know how this plays out.  At this point it is just speculation.

Alright.  On that note, I’ll let you get back to work.  Thank you.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 19, 2007 at 10:02 AM in Interviews, The Politics of Business | Permalink


As far as force-outs go, there is a recall process - Josh Feit at The Stranger already dubs this the folow-up story -- but's that's heavy lifting.

However, Commissioners' duties are extensively ambassadorial -- meeting and greeting persons of influence with our trading partners, public and private, here and abroad. It's hard to picture Commissioner Davis functioning in that role under the existing cloud.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Apr 19, 2007 10:43:35 AM

I serve on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit. There's nothing sinister about executive sessions, and it's almost always the case that there are no minutes and that all persons other than those directly involved in the discussion are excluded.

However, as Alec indirectly points out, it is also the case that nothing substantive can be decided in executive session. Any motions and any votes must be held in public session. Which, it is clear, did not happen and *will* not happen.

What I'd like to know is whether Dinsmore was invited to participate in the executive session during which they discussed this astonishingly-sweetheart deal. In my organization, the Executive Director is often part of the discussion in executive sessions, but most certainly *not* when we're talking about *his* compensation.

PS. Applying RIF provisions when the guy chose to resign his position voluntarily? On what (non-Bushian) planet??? A golden parachute is not "severance".

Posted by: N in Seattle | Apr 19, 2007 10:58:56 AM

Davis indicates Dinsmore was present.

Not surprising, considering Dinsmore's performance in open PUBLIC Commission meeting where he lambasted Commissioners Hara and Fisken for opposing a double-digit percentage increase in his compensation on his way out the door. Dinsmore "settled" for a 6-percenter (which gets compounded into his lifetime stream of pension payments, and scale for subordinate executives, and starting pay for new hires).

Don't know if there's video of that incident, I'm pretty sure audio is archived on the Port website.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Apr 19, 2007 11:47:30 AM

Looks like Dinsmore's scolding of Fisken and Hara was 2006-10-24 or thereabouts. It's in the P-I.

... Perhaps most telling about the culture of the Port of Seattle was the way in which its senior commissioners and chief executive handled dissent on the vote, which turned acrimonious as Dinsmore insulted and lambasted those commissioners who did not support it.

Dinsmore said he was "disappointed" in Commissioner Alec Fisken, who voted against the raise. Fisken combs through the minutiae of port financials -- and often questions Dinsmore's characterization of port operations. ...

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Apr 19, 2007 5:58:52 PM

Audio here - almost 3 hrs - haven't time to rvu and clip any, but from spot checks it sounds pretty juicy
Your tax dollars at work!

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Apr 19, 2007 6:06:44 PM

Lynn - fantastic job. It's great that Fisken was so willing to speak openly with you. I do think this situation will snowball, especially with the upcoming election.

Posted by: shoephone | Apr 19, 2007 7:34:34 PM

Time to find the grown-ups. If I had to say now, I'd guess that is going to be the mood of the voters in the next couple years.

Alec and Lloyd are the grown-ups in the port. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are the grown-ups in Washington. Just time to brush the folks who never grew up and figured out what integrity is, to move out of the way.

Posted by: Lynn | Apr 19, 2007 10:24:56 PM

FYI, the following link will take you to a signup form for Commissioner Lloyd Hara's email newletter, which may provide a better read on Port developments than all 20-some PR staff.


Alec Fisken has a Port Watch blog:
in addition to his campaign site:
(not sure if everything is built out and lashed up yet)

Note also, Port Commission meetings are streamable on the Port website, and rebroadcast on County TV (Ch 22 or 78/80 depending on your cable provider). Next regular meeting is Tuesday, and there's an increasing schedule of public meetings and outreach events.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Apr 21, 2007 9:45:24 AM

At some point accountability has a role in all of this. As a citizen of this beautiful and caring community, accountability's role is paramount for an organization like the Port of Seattle, which represents US around the globe.

What role will accountability have with the known racist managers, police officers, employees and culture that has flourished during Dinsmore's reign as "CEO"?

What role will accountability have with the safety of the traveling public, the air and noise safety of the Burien and Des Moines communities, the safety of the airline employees working on the airfield, the safety of the FAA air traffic controllers whose tower is inappropriately located, and the safety of those pilots flying plane loads of passengers, who has mistaken Taxiway A as a runway?

What role will accountability have with those retired port employees whose benefits were cut, while Dinsmore enjoyed yet another raise? What role will accountability have to ensure protection for whistleblowers? What role will accountability have to eradicate the bullying and threats by upper managers to those employees who challenge decisions that are not representative of the citizens of our wonderful community?

What role will accountability have for the commissioners to maintain accountability when it is not an election year?

Posted by: Chase | Apr 29, 2007 12:40:49 PM

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