Despite the Seattle Times's second plea in a week—i.e., "Would everyone pleeeeeease ignore the Port of Seattle CEO taking a highly suspicious second job that pays him nearly a quarter million dollars a year!?!!"—it appears that several port commissioners are sticking their fingers in their ears and telling the Seattle Times to shove it.
We're hearing today that commissioners intend to introduce a resolution at tomorrow's meeting to further scrutinize the CEO's side job that many say presents a potential conflict of interest. Sources say the resolution would (1) seek independent, non-port-affiliated lawyers to inspect the CEO's employment arrangement, and (2) ask an auditor or ethics expert to review the situation.
Support comes in part from Commissioner Gael Tarleton, who told Port CEO Tay Yoshitani two weeks ago that he either needs to quit his $360,000-a-year job at the port or resign his job on the board of Expeditors International, a global shipping logistic firm that moves product through the Port of Seattle. Like Tarleton, Port Commissioner Rob Holland has given a similar ultimatum, and commission colleague John Creighton has led the charge for an independent legal review.
The commissioners have limited power, though.
As sources explain, calling outright for Yoshitani to resign could trigger a retaliatory lawsuit. If his second job is found kosher—and Yoshitani kicks up enough dust—he could walk away with a lucrative settlement while keeping his second job. Then Seattle would be stuck with an ugly bill and without a port CEO who, according to many people keeping score, has otherwise kept the port efficient, accountable, and profitable.
For his part, Yoshitani said last week that a lawsuit is "an option."
This wouldn't be the first time Yoshitani left a top port job with a pocketful of cash. As executive director of the Port of Oakland, Yoshtani resigned and managed to walk away with a six-month severance package in 2004. But this time around, Yoshitani won't be at the meeting, folks tell us. We're hearing he's in DC.
Port lawyers have defended the arrangement for his second job, which was approved by three-fifths of the board in 2011 (Tarleton and Creighton voted against it), while several state lawmakers have blasted Yoshitani's apparent conflict of interest and called for action.
If a resolution does come before the commission, a couple questions: Would any audits be conveniently timed around the election, when Tarleton is positioning in a race for the state house against fellow Democrat Noel Frame? And if there is an independent counsel, who will it be?