Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Seattle Port Payments Challenged by State Auditor

By Mark Edward Nero

The Washington State Auditor’s Office has challenged a one-time payment that the Port of Seattle made to exempt employees in December 2015 at the behest of recently-resigned CEO Ted Fick.

The Port Commission authorized the payment to address widespread negative reactions following a series of large-scale organizational changes, moving to a common performance review date and increasing the standard work week from 37.5 hours to 40 hours.

The Auditor’s Office revealed its finding during a regularly scheduled accountability audit on Feb. 1. The audit is still in progress.

“We believe that the one-time payment achieved the intended effect of supporting employee retention and addressing employee concerns,” Port Commission President Tom Albro said in a statement provided to Pacific Maritime Magazine Online. “We have conveyed to the State Auditor’s Office our belief that the port has a strong legal basis for taking this action.”

“We respect the State Auditor’s Office’s process and accountability to the public, and are working collaboratively with them to expedite completion and public release of the audit with all of the facts and circumstances and the port’s full response.,” Albro said.

Albro also addressed the recent administrative leave and subsequent resignation of ex-port CEO Tom Fick, who departed the port Feb. 1.

Albro said the Port Commission had raised multiple personnel issues with Fick during a recent performance review, but that he wasn’t placed on administrative leave as a result of the audit.

The performance review, an electronic version of which was provided to Pacific Maritime, praised his leadership in some areas, but gave him low marks in the areas of CEO-Port Commission relations and integrity.

In the review, one of the five commissioners said that Fick “needs to internalize that leading a public agency is living in a fish bowl,” and another commented on Fick’s April 2016 arrest on charges of driving under the influence.

“The Commission is not as concerned as much as Ted’s DUI as it was about his thinking on how to deal with the issue… It took a lot of Commission effort to convince him that he needed to tell his staff and make a public statement right away,” the unidentified Commissioner said.