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April 24, 2007

No Fireworks at Port Commission Meeting

I have been increasingly interested in what occurs at the Port of Seattle.  The little I've understood has indicated that a huge amount of money goes in and out of the Port every year and that there has been little public or media oversight.  Alec Fisken, in his interview with me last week, indicated he thinks that there is no excuse for the large tax subsidies that the Port receives from King County property taxes.  There have been questions of wastage, extravagance and mismanagement on the part of the prior CEO. 

With the recent debacle concerning Pat Davis' attempted sweet side deal with the previous CEO, Mic Dinsmore, it seemed like an interesting day to get a sense of how the commission works in person.  So I went down to the airport and sat in on a regularly scheduled Port Commission meeting.  I'm glad I went.  I came away with a sense that there is once again grown-up supervision at the Port.  I think our job in the public is to make certain that we pay attention to the Port elections so that we can maintain a responsible focus and support the people who will be consistently thinking about the public's welfare. 

John Creighton, Board President, chaired the meeting.  It began on time.  After a brief introduction and a moment of silence for a longshoreman who had died on the job, Creighton brought the CEO severance issues that would be of interest to the public to the beginning of the meeting.  He also opened up the mike to the public.  Good signs all.

They began with the issue at the forefront of media attention: three items related to the CEO severance issue. 

First there was a motion brought forth by Commissioner Bob Edwards that there would be no additional severance pay for Mr. Dinsmore.  This motion passed unanimously. 

Secondly, Commissioner Hara asked to have the Port Board of Ethics authorize an independent organization to investigate the preparation and handling of the Oct. 10, 2006 memo in question.  He asked that the Commission instruct the Board to take all steps required for the investigation and to have that report completed in 60 days.  Commissioner Davis noted that she authorized the review.  Another unanimous vote.

The third motion was brought up by Tay Yoshitani, the new CEO and then moved by Commissioner Alec Fisken.   Mr. Yoshitani suggested that the "no recordings" policy for Executive Sessions be changed.  He suggested that the meetings be electronically recorded, for Port use only.  These recordings would not be available for the public.  Mr. Yoshitani said he thought that, had this system been in effect previously, it would have prevented a lot of the recent problems. 

Lloyd Hara said that he was pleased that Mr. Yoshitani brought this proposed change to the attention of the Board.  He indicated that he thought we were moving into a different era with the new CEO and some changes to the way the Port does business. 

The motions were clearly made to present a unified front to the public.  Whatever differences the Board had internally, they weren't sharing them publicly.  Unless of course, you count the pinched look on Commissioner Davis' face during this discussion.  The investigation may uncover some malfeasance later but for now, no fireworks.

There were several other issues on the agenda.  Like almost every other media person, I left shortly after these motions had been passed. 

Note: Ron K., writing a comment on one of shoephone's posts on the Port recently, pointed out two articles by Dean Paton in the latest issue of Washington CEO.  The first, entitled "Finding Safe Harbor: The Port’s New Pilot Confronts a Legacy of Inefficiency and Pollution" focuses on the Port as a whole.  The article deals with the mismanagement of the Port's real estate efforts, air pollution concerns, and the need to turn the Port around so that it can take advantage of increasing Seattle's percentage of the booming trade with Asia.  In it, Alec Fisken is quoted saying that Seattle is “the worst-managed seaport in North America.”  There is also a companion piece entitled "Maverick Alec Fisken Takes On The Port" profiling Fisken and his well-deserved reputation as a champion for good management and transparency.  Both are quite good for anyone wanting a good overview of the state of the Port.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 24, 2007 at 02:31 PM in The Politics of Business | Permalink

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