One Question for Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton

By Josh Feit August 29, 2012

Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton has been tough on Port CEO Tay Yoshitani. She was only commissioner to vote twice against giving Yoshitani a raise; she voted, in March of last year, against the contract that eventually allowed Yoshitani to take the now controversial board position at global shipping logistics company Expeditors International; and on August 14, she raised concerns about the Expeditors deal.

Here's what she said at that meeting:
Emails and phone calls from members of the public that I have received ... have expressed their dismay and concern at the compensation package the CEO will receive for joining the board of a local for-profit company. State law does permit public officials to hold these posts. I have voted against this employment contract because I don’t believe public officials should serve on for-profit boards, but that said, the CEO is in full compliance with the terms of his employment contract, and as with any contract continued compliance will be monitored through audits.

After the Port allowed Yoshitani to join Expeditors International, a crew of state legislators accused Tarleton and her colleagues of overlooking a gross conflict of interest—or at least the appearance of one.

To make matters worse, yesterday, Tarleton's colleague, Port Commissioner Tom Albro, dismissed the concerns, responding to the legislators with a letter informing them that everything was kosher. That is: Port legal counsel—who work for Yoshitani, by the way—vetted the move.

Today, we asked Tarleton, who's running for the state legislature, if she thought the commissioners had screwed up.

But since that's kind of a softball (see her longer statement below), we took the liberty of asking a second question: Given that the commissioners already approved Yoshitani's move, would she ask Yoshitani to give up his board seat at Expeditors International?

She said she already had ... and more.

Here's her answer:
Yesterday I asked the CEO to step down from the board. Today I’m asking my fellow commissioners to join me in asking him to choose: step down from the board or step down from the Port.

In fact, she was already working on a statement when we called.

Here it is in full:
I strongly disagree with some of my fellow commissioners on the recent issue of our Port CEO serving on a private, for-profit board while also pulling one of the largest public employee salaries in our state.  Aside from the indefensible compensation issues, the appearance of conflict of interest doesn’t sit well with me. I am outraged by these recent events, as I detailed at our August 14th Port Commission meeting.  On the record, I had previously voted against giving the CEO an employment contract that allowed this to happen.  I have twice voted against a pay raise for our Port CEO; because, in a recession when most people are struggling to find work, it isn’t right to give CEOs outrageous salary increases.  And the legislators who have flagged their concern are right:  this too is wrong.  Yesterday I asked the CEO to step down from the board. Today I’m asking my fellow commissioners to join me in asking him to choose: step down from the board or step down from the Port.  The people of King County want their elected officials to do what’s best for the public. So do I.

But unfortunately, state law is silent about this. It’s all-too-common to find high-level public servants in our state walking the halls of corporate America and sitting in boardrooms.  We need to change this situation.  If I’m elected to serve in the state legislature, I will introduce a bill to prohibit public officials from serving on for-profit boards for compensation. We have to stop doing things that harm public trust in government.

I know this position may not make me popular with my fellow commissioners.  I am grateful to the legislators for flagging this and to the hundreds of constituents who have contacted me because I stood alone at our August 14th meeting and their voices have added strength to my opinion on this matter.

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