Today's Must Read: Times Business Columnist Slams Port of Seattle

By Josh Feit August 29, 2012

Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton should have added his angry signature to the harsh letter that state legislators sent to the Port of Seattle last Friday.

Raising conflict of interest concerns about Port CEO Tay Yoshitani's side gig as a board member for shipping logistics company Expeditors International, thirteen state legislators, headed up by government appropriations chair Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11, Tukwila), sent a later to all five Port commissioners, writing: "It appears to the public that Mr. Yoshitani may directly and personally benefit by giving Expeditors’ customers a competitive advantage over other Port of Seattle customers, and as Port CEO he has the power to prioritize his personal profit over the public mission of the taxpayer-supported Port of Seattle."

After Port Commissioner Tom Albro dismissed the concerns yesterday afternoon, Talton jumped in this morning, slamming the Port for being publicly tone deaf.

It's a must read.

Not only does Talton say Albro's response "doesn't pass the smell test," he goes on to put Albro's oblivious response—the deal "was  reviewed by the port's general counsel to ensure compliance with the port's Code of Conduct" —in the context of the Port's record lately: losing business to Tacoma, belligerence over the arena proposal, and its callous handling of contract truckers.

Talton writes:
What are the port leaders, and specifically Yoshitani, a smart and capable man, thinking? The seaport has just suffered the loss of a major portion of its container business, with the move of the Grand Alliance to Tacoma. In the dispute over the horrid conditions facing drayage truck drivers, a shameful example of the exploitation of "independent contractors," the port came off as insensitive and out of touch. Meanwhile, the Century Agenda, while a fine aspirational document, still lacks specifics about how the seaport will face growing competitive threats. Among them: the wider Panama Canal, Prince Rupert and Tacoma. Amid all this, the port chose a very public battle against the proposed Sonics arena, as if it's an "either/or" choice, rather than working constructively behind the scenes to ensure improved infrastructure and protection of industrial zoning. These challenges wouldn't seem to leave much "on his own time" time for Yoshitani to be moonlighting.

It would be harsh to wonder if Yoshitani sees disarray and dysfunction at his employer and has decided to cash in while he can. But people are wondering just that. It's time for the port to remember, as it parses "conflicts of interest," that it serves the public interest.

As we noted in Fizz, we have a message in to Hudgins seeking a response to Albro.

UDATE: Hudgins told me:
I appreciate that the Port Commissioners took our concerns seriously, and explained the process to us concerning how the Port of Seattle CEO was allowed to take a position as a director for one of the Ports major customers while maintaining his full time tax payer supported position.  My concern still exists that this appears to be a conflict of interest and that it is often important to go above and beyond the law in order to ensure public confidence in the Port of Seattle operations.  I hope that the Commissioners continue to watch this issue, and perhaps have a public hearing to see if the public thinks it appears to be a conflict of interest.  I am happy to have my confidence reinforced by the fact that both legislators and commissioners want the Port of Seattle to continue as a vibrant economic engine responsible for many jobs in our region.
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