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Friday, April 27, 2007

Port Watch

posted by on April 27 at 13:00 PM

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.)

RSS icon Comments


She did a lot more than singe it (I think "sign" is what you want).

I like the way you're holding their feet to the fire on this one, Josh. We can't have half a billion dollars in the hands of these nitwits without some kind of accountability.

Posted by Fnarf | April 27, 2007 1:08 PM

fix your post's html, you have an unclosed bold/strong tag that is effing up the rest of slog.

Posted by boldy mcbolderson | April 27, 2007 1:11 PM

Clos your bold tag.

Posted by john | April 27, 2007 1:24 PM

Close your bold tag.

Posted by john | April 27, 2007 1:24 PM

Axis Bold!

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 27, 2007 1:32 PM

She already dribbled, now she's stuck on her pivot foot, Josh.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | April 27, 2007 2:09 PM

If only we had tossed that arrogant Davis bitch 2 years ago.
I miss Jack Jolley.

Posted by calvin | April 27, 2007 3:11 PM

Josh, this type of executive session stuff happens pretty much all the time in all jurisdictions in every state in America.

How do you propose to go about proving what takes place in these meetings is "kosher" if nobody in those secret sessions will speak to you to admit what's going on.

It seems to me that even if some of them appreciate Open Public Meetings law, they all seem to think that no matter WHAT happens in said meetings, they have to keep it quiet.

It's really unfortunate. Public business should be done in public, as far as I'm concerned, and I try to work with people on a daily basis about this.

I think there are generally some misconceptions about the state's Open Public Meetings act that government attorneys often push on leaders - or leaders merely want to play it safe, for whatever reason.

Posted by Sam | April 27, 2007 3:12 PM

From: "Public Law Ethics Primer For Government Lawyers"

By: the Washington State Municipal Attorneys Association


B. Additional Considerations.

1. Change of Subject. What should counsel do when, in executive session, the discussion wanders away from the topic for which the executive session was convened?...What is the attorney's ethical duty...? The attorney should warn the public body that it is authorized to conduct an executive session for certain limited purposes, and if it wishes to proceed with other matters, the public meeting should reconvene."

Josh you say: 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.”

Does this mean no one from the Legal staff attends the executive sessions? Or that Creighton missed the one where they were told to "reel it in"?

BTW - why don't you name this (these?) mysterious "Port's legal staff" you mention?

Posted by jeffuppy | April 27, 2007 7:04 PM

Uh... (don't think I'm defending Pat Davis here, I'm just stating the facts) Pat was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the WTO to town back in the day. You know, city torn apart, flash-bangs and tear-gas, Reichert with a photo-op chasing down looters, anarchists from Eugene actually getting press, fat cats in suits from South Africa just trying to make a few million (dis)honest bucks here and there, cost Mayor Schell his job, the whole reason why Nickels is in office... and you sad sacs all re-elected Pat. Twice, I think. I'm just sayin'.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | April 27, 2007 9:29 PM

Hello everyone, wanna be part of some kind of community, possible here? anyone here?

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