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July 30, 2007

Interview with Gael Tarleton, Candidate for Port Commission

“Together, we can change the way the Seattle Port does business.” That is Gael Tarleton’s tagline for her campaign for Port Commissioner.  Very appropriate.  If ever there were an organization that needed to change the way it does business, it is the Seattle Port.

When I interviewed Gael, whom I’ve already been supporting, I was struck by how much her run for the Position 2 seat, currently held by Bob Edwards, is about helping the people of King County understand what the Port does, how it spends our money, how it benefits the region and how we can have input into all that.  She wants to build a Port community and she wants the voters to be part of that.

Hey, I think we need more of that on all our publicly elected councils, boards and commissions!

In response to my question about why she had decided to run for the Port position rather then for a city council seat, Gael gave me two answers.  She said that the Port holds the keys to a lot of the region’s economic viability, one.  Then, she said that the people need to understand how and what the Port does and have a voice in that as well, two.

As a candidate, Gael wants to make sure the voters get an informed view of the Port.  If elected, she wants to continue to educate the people of King County on decisions the Port makes and needs to make.  And, she wants to make sure the Port runs in a completely transparent way.  Transparency is the principle that she started her campaign with, prior even to the public disclosure about the $300,000 golden parachute that Port Commissioners Pat Davis and Bob Edwards tried to provide for former Chief Executive Officer, Mic Dinsmore.

Simplifying complex issues has been Gael’s role through several different jobs.  It’s clear it’s one she relishes.  And, I for one, would like to see someone with a focus on transparency and simplifying complex issues, both aimed at changing the way the Port does business, join the Port as a Commissioner.  I’m not alone.  Gael has a huge number of individuals and organizations who have endorsed her, as you can see at her website.

The full interview is over the fold.

Interview with Gael Tarleton, candidate for Port Commission, Position #2

Q: We already talked about why you wanted to run for this position rather than another.  Now, I’d like to know what it’s been like on the campaign trail.  The Port has not exactly been on the top of the list of what voters pay attention to.

GT:  Yes, the Port Commission has been a real mystery to this community.  A voter asked me recently, “How do you think you can bring the public’s voice back to the Port when most of the people don’t even think they have a voice or understand that they pay for the workings of the Port through their property taxes?”

That’s a fair question.  How do you hold a group of people accountable if you don’t even know what they are supposed to be doing for you?

It makes me realize how important it is for someone like me to be on this particular public commission. The Port’s mission is to serve economic goals and provide community benefits.  People need to know how that happens.  There needs to be a dialog about those goals and benefits between the Commission and the community.

Q: So, what about the controversy about the Port that has most caught  people’s attention - that golden parachute for Mic Dunsmore?  What’s your picture of how that all came down?

GT:  My job as an analyst is to connect the dots.  One of the things I connect is that Bob Edwards and Pat Davis are the longest serving members of the commission and as such, knew exactly what they were talking about when they were discussing a $300,000 golden parachute under what was called the H.R. 10 Policy.  As the only two members of the Audit Committee, Edwards and Davis would have had ample opportunity to have those discussions in private.

Judge Carroll’s released his findings in July.  He said, “It would be unprecedented to use the H.R 10 policy in this manner.”  He also said, “It would be understandable that new members of the commission, who were not familiar with the H.R. 10 Policy, would not understand.  Fisken wasn’t present.  Hara and Creighton were brand new.

In January, 2006, Bob Edwards was the presiding president of the Port Commission. 
Lloyd Hara, a new member of the Commission, suggested that there be an Audit Committee and assumed that he would be selected to be on the committee, given his background as an auditor.  He was not asked to be on the committee.  Jon Creighton was asked but chose not to be a part of that committee so it consisted of only Edwards and Davis.

That audit committee has the authority to meet in public but did not.

Q:  Is that what brought you into the campaign?

GT:  No.  I came in prior to the public knowledge of that “gift” to Mic Dunsmore. 

I started this campaign in early February, before the $300,000 golden parachute was on the agenda.  But I came in because of the lack of transparency in the Port Commission meetings, which is the reason the golden parachute was even possible.  It was a gross violation of public trust.  People didn’t often know what that golden parachute was about, but they knew it was wrong.

This is what public scrutiny should be about.

Q:  How else does the Commission need to be more transparent?

GT:   There are a number of ways of doing business that would make the Commission more transparent, educate the public and move us toward a Port community all at once.

I want the Commission to go out into the communities of King County and hear their thoughts on what the community benefits should be.  I want to establish a series of public meetings that explain what the Port Commission does.  We can talk about the tax levy, and how the decision is reached about how the tax levy is used, and what the current debt obligations are that we need to repay using that tax levy money. 

I really want the public to understand the process the Commission uses to determine how their tax dollars are used. People should know what percentage of the total budget is related to money that comes in from the tax levy.  The annual financial budget is published but it is difficult to understand what it’s about.

But that’s just the beginning.  Once you create a culture of transparency, you will begin to bring trust back to the institution and look toward the future.  You can get onto protecting the working poor, discussing the kinds of jobs we want to create, working with tenants and labor unions and businesses, sustain existing jobs, and bring in new ones.  We can insure that we have a really diversified, working Port – the airport, shipping, cruise lines.  We can focus on all the businesses that keep fishing, tourism, and shipping going.  It means we have to invest in certain kinds of businesses.

None of this will be possible if we destroy our environment or fail to make the Port safe.  None of it will work if we don’t have the transportation networks that the Port runs on.

Q:  You’ve mentioned a Port community.  What do you mean by that?

GT: Port communities have a very real impact on the quality of life of the citizens.  There is a real increased vitality in cities that are on the water and are real ports.   We all have a stake in this.  My goal is to help people understand that.

Q: What kind of support have you been getting?

GT:  I have wrapped up a huge number of endorsements.  Thirteen of the LD’s in the county have endorsed me; many, many elected officials; the Washington Conservation Voters;  the Alki Foundation; Progressive Majority; the Sierra Club and many more.   It’s been pretty much everyone except Labor and they are constrained because one of the other folks running for the position (Jack Block) comes from Labor.  I have told Labor that my door will always be open.

Q:  There’s been some controversy about a company you used to work for, SAIC, (Science Applications International Corporation).  What was that about?

GT:  I used to work at SAIC, which does a lot of work in port security technology, and I solicited contributions from friends and family, including friends at SAIC.  Ten former or current employees have contributed money. 

I understand the potential for conflict of interest and will recuse myself from any decisions.  The transparency that I want to bring to the Port – with open discussion of all contracts - will ensure that nothing untoward happens in this situation as well as other situations. 

One of the problems with Executive sessions that are not made public is that the public has no way to find out what they are talking about, including with contracts.  If there is a conflict of interest, we have no idea.  I will not contribute to that sense of secrecy.  I will use the open meetings to tell people when I have to recuse myself. 

This is how you build a culture of accountability.

(Note: Here is the link to the Seattle Weekly article that discusses this issue.)

Thank you.

Posted by Lynn Allen on July 30, 2007 at 08:44 AM in Interviews, The Politics of Business | Permalink


Good story Lynn. Thanks for sticking to the issues that really matter...like getting the Port of Seattle back on track and building a transparent agency. I think Gael is a fantastic candidate!

Posted by: Janey79 | Jul 31, 2007 10:16:51 AM

Nice story Lynn! I am glad people are paying more attention to the port races this year. I feel like I have been harping on it for years. Gael seems like a great candidate. If she makes it through the primary, I will totally back her.

Posted by: SamIam | Jul 31, 2007 3:33:19 PM

Looks like The Stranger agrees with you Lynn!


Posted by: SamIam | Aug 1, 2007 3:24:09 PM

Thanks for pointing that out. It is a good piece on the Port overall and a clear picture of why it make such sense to support both Tarleton and Fisken.

Posted by: Lynn | Aug 1, 2007 9:35:54 PM

Thanks for this post. I have been trying to decide who to vote for in this race, as there are a few strong candidates, but I think you just made up my mind!

Posted by: TiredVoter | Aug 2, 2007 6:03:06 PM

I met Gael this spring at Camp Wellstone, named in memory of progressive Wisconsin Senator Paul Wellstone. Gael is definitely the progressive candidate in this race. Her opponent Jack Block, Jr., is opposed to saving the 162 Lora Lake Apartments in Burien for subsidized housing, in his role as Burien Councilmember, although he doesn't want to admit it. All of us who care about people, not just "deals" at the Port, will vote for Gael. She and Alec Fisken will make a great team, with help from Lloyd Hara.

Posted by: Sarajane46th | Aug 3, 2007 1:35:41 PM

Paul was from Minnesota, not Wisconsin.

I'm hearing conflicting reports on where Jack stands on Lora Lake.

The only thing I find concerning about Gael is that she doesn't agree with rolling back the corporate subsidizing tax. At least she thinks the tax revenue should be devoted to capital projects instead of operating expenses.

Posted by: Chad Lupkes | Aug 4, 2007 10:28:20 AM

I remember hearing from Gael that she wanted the tax subsidy to be subject to a public vote every 6 years or something. Can someone verify?

Posted by: SamIam | Aug 5, 2007 8:21:43 AM

SamIam - yes. That is true. Gael wants the tax subsidy to come for a public vote and then wants those tax dollars only spent on infrastructure and capital investments.

Posted by: Jason B | Aug 5, 2007 8:42:38 AM

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