News Port Watch
posted by April 27 at 13:00 PMon
Among other weird things coming to light about the Port lately, I noticed that every one of their twice-a-month public meetings is preceded by a closed door executive session.
As someone who covered city hall for years where executive sessions came up only for special circumstances like confidential real estate discussions or personnel matters, the Port’s practice strikes me as curious.
Executive sessions before every public meeting? What are they talking about in there? Are they scripting the upcoming public meeting?
I brought this to the attention of Port Commissioner John Creighton this morning. (I ran into Creighton last night at a Municipal League shindig, and he gave me his card telling me to call if I ever had questions about the Port.)
Creighton, elected from the moderate right over super liberal Lawrence Malloy in 2005, told me this morning: “It’s the way the Port has been doing things for years. And I think it bears looking into.”
State law enumerates when it’s appropriate to have executive sessions. So, I took his advice and started looking into it. With him.
I asked Creighton if if these regular meetings actually fit the bill as described by state law. He acknowledged that a recent meeting about real estate had “devolved into a political discussion” and two commissioners, including himself, questioned whether or not this aspect of the meeting was appropriate. Creighton, in fact, says he brought it to the attention of Port legal staff, and they told him the Commission was advised to “reel it back in.”
Obviously, with so many regular “executive sessions,” the Commission is getting lackadaisical about following the rules. Given the $420 million Port’s taxing authority—$68 million in property taxes—this is red flag situation.
I also talked to Creighton about the recent scandal. (It came to light last week that Port Commissioner Pat Davis signed a memo without the consent of her fellow Commissioners authorizing a hefty retirement package for former Port CEO Mic Dinsmore.)
In particular, I asked Creighton about the point I Slogged yesterday: Pat Davis’s alibi is problematic on its face. She says her lone signature authorizing the Dinsmore severance is kosher because the deal had been discussed by the Commission in executive session. But those types of discussions are supposed to be public.
(I asked the Port’s legal staff about this yesterday as well, and they say only “final action” on compensation packages for individuals need to be done in public.)
The legal staff is correct about the language, but I’m not sure it clears Davis. It seems to me a final action had already been taken: Davis signed a memo authorizing the payment to Dinsmore. It only came to light, according to sources at the Port, when an HR person brought it to the attention of the new Port CEO, Tay Yoshitani, before presumably trying to make good on Dinsmore’s “severance.”
Creighton seems to agree with me. He told me: “Whatever happened in Executive session, that memo should have never been signed without a Commission vote in public.”
As for why the Commissioners didn’t call for Pat Davis’s resignation? Well, there had been a rumor that new Port CEO Tay Yoshitani had threatened to quit if the Commission didn’t defuse the scandal. Creighton closed in on confirming that rumor. He told me this morning: “We have a new director. He doesn’t want a squabbling commission. He didn’t want to hold his head in his hands and head back to Baltimore.” (Yoshitani was the Director of the Maryland Port Administration in the late 90s.)