By Rep. Mia Gregerson/For the Reporter
Our civics and our democracy depend on the principles of transparency and accountability. One of our government institutions, the Port of Seattle, consistently receives low marks for failing to meet our basic expectations of oversight in a government agency. As citizens, we need the tools to bring more trust and accountability by electing commissioners that represent us. This is not a small step. This should not be delayed.
This should be done now.
The latest headlines report that the port’s CEO, Ted Fick, abruptly resigned after a disturbing state auditor’s report that found more than $4 million in improper payments to port employees – including a sizeable payment to Fick himself.
This controversy is simply the latest demonstration that the time has come to reform the port’s leadership structure.
Controversy at the port doesn’t just affect port employees, it also harms working people struggling to provide for their families. For example, it took years of lawsuits and a supreme court ruling before the port commissioners would implement the $15 minimum wage initiative that the voters of SeaTac approved. In another example of the port not being responsive to constituents, cab drivers are in Olympia this session trying to get a legislative fix for a problem that should have been dealt with during their negotiation with the port.
I believe that if there had been commissioners who were better connected and communicated more directly with their constituents, we would have had faster outcomes. And constituents would have had a local commissioner to speak with instead of going downtown or to Olympia to testify in a formal public meeting.
This is at one of the fastest growing airports in the country. Why do we continue to perpetuate low income, subsistence wage jobs?
A new CEO won’t be enough. The port’s history is full of recurring examples of dysfunctional leadership, conflict between commissioners and administrative staff, and a tendency of the commission to remain aloof from the public and the community the pays for and is supposed to be served by the port.
Our port is important not just for people who fly out of Sea-Tac, but for all of the businesses, workers and consumers who rely on the goods shipped in and out of the docks throughout King County. They deserve better.
We need a port that works for all of us, not just insiders at the top.
Currently, the Port Commission has five members. They are selected by voters using an at-large voting system. All of the commissioners live in Seattle. It’s not a governing body that reflects all of the constituents of King County who pay for the port’s operations through property taxes.
The at-large system has major deficits in regards to accountability, transparency, and responsiveness.
It’s time for more democracy on the Port of Seattle Commission.
I am proposing House Bill 1999 to expand the commission from five to nine members and require district-based elections, modeled on the structure of the King County Council.
This reform gives voters from all corners of King County representation that is accountable and responsive to the taxpayers from each district. It gives citizens a representative to call. It will increase the diversity of the Port Commission and bolster participation by residents and taxpayers.
It forces accountability and transparency because commissioners live in the same communities with their constituents, so it’s easier for voters to meet locally with their commissioner.
Let’s ensure a closer link between voters and their commissioners. Please join this effort to provide more accountability, transparency and constituency service from the Port of Seattle. If you support this idea, please contact your lawmakers by calling 800-562-6000 and tell them to vote yes on HB 1999.
Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, represents the 33rd district, including SeaTac, Normandy Park, Des Moines and parts of Kent, Burien, Renton and unincorporated King County.