By Mark Edward Nero
In a unanimous vote, the Port of Seattle Commission on Feb. 7 approved a motion strengthening the transparency and accountability elements in the port’s Code of Ethics and Workplace Conduct.
The Commission amended the code of conduct to require that any changes to the code be made in consultation with the Port of Seattle Commission.
The Commission amended the “Exceptions to $50 Limit on Gifts” to its pre-April 2015 status by eliminating an exception for the cost of admission to a performance or event where attendance by the senior manager is related to the performance of official duties.
The Commission also added an accountability measure. When potential conflicts of interest, reported concerns, or alleged violations of the Port’s Workplace Responsibility policies pertain to the CEO, the Port shall report those matters to the President of the Commission. The President of the Commission shall have the discretion to refer such matters to an outside party.
The changes were made in the wake of the resignation of former port head Ted Fick, who resigned Feb. 1, about two-and-a-half years into a three-year contract.
His resignation came the same day that Washington State Auditor’s Office publicly disclosed that it has challenged a one-time payment that the Port of Seattle made to about 640 exempt employees in December 2015 at Fick’s behest, saying that the lump-sum $4.7 million in one-time retention bonuses, which was approved in December 2015, was illegal since it wasn’t tied to merit or performance goals.
The Port Commission responded to the Auditor’s Office findings on Feb. 7, releasing a statement declaring that the port had “a legitimate business rationale” for making the payment, and that it was appropriate as a business need, due in part to concerns raised by employees after Seattle joined with the Port of Tacoma to form the Northwest Seaport Alliance joint maritime operating agreement.
“In response to employee concerns, the port determined that a one-time payment, versus more costly permanent wage increases, was the best option to achieve our business rationale of retaining our highly-skilled and experienced workforce while limiting the financial impact,” the port stated.