Port of Seattle commissioners changed policy Tuesday to address widespread concern caused by the former CEO’s actions.
The port commission met for the first time Tuesday since commissioners unanimously accepted CEO Ted Fick’s resignation at a special meeting last week.
Fick had approached port officials in spring 2015 about a change to the port’s code of conduct to allow senior managers to accept occasional gifts. After the policy change, Fick accepted more than $1,000 worth of tickets for sporting events and travel.
Commissioners on Tuesday voted to dial back that change, now allowing workers to occasionally accept food and beverages when at engagements strictly related to port business. When food and beverage cost exceeds $50, workers must document the gift and cannot accept meals of that value more than four times per year from a single client.
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Commissioners also insisted they be informed on future code of conduct changes. In addition, workplace policy violations against the CEO are to be reported to the Port of Seattle commission president, who will have the authority to refer an investigation to an outside party.
“It was appalling to me that the CEO made a unilateral exemption for senior managers” to allow gifts, said commissioner Courtney Gregoire. “That is no longer going to be the way things are done. We are all treated equally.”
The commission also heard from the State Auditor’s Office, which questioned $4.7 million in payments to 642 non-union workers during a 2015 audit of port policies and procedures, called an accountability audit. Commissioners and staff defended that payment at Tuesday’s meeting, saying it was the right thing to do for employees and for the taxpayers.
The payments, approved in December 2015, came at a time of low unemployment and turmoil within the Port of Seattle, just months after the organization joined the Port of Tacoma in the now-formed Northwest Seaport Alliance. Workers also were moving from a 37.5-hour workweek to a 40-hour workweek for the first time since at least the 1980s.
Employees with the auditor’s office said the payments were against two sections of the state constitution that forbid a gift of public funds. The one-time payment also was not connected to performance, a sticking point for the government accountability watchdog agency.
Port of Seattle general counsel Craig Watson said he analyzed the payments before the commission approved them and consulted an outside attorney. Both found the payments legal, he said.
The Seattle port commission hired Fick, a Tacoma native, more than two years ago on a unanimous vote at a salary of $350,000 per year.
Last month, the port commission placed Fick on paid leave while undergoing his performance review. Fick offered his resignation last week, which commissioners unanimously approved. The commission then appointed Chief Operating Officer Dave Soike to serve as interim CEO.
Fick’s performance review documents show port commissioners didn’t like how Fick changed port policy to allow him and senior managers to accept gifts, allegedly steered business toward his father’s company, a possible sexual harassment complaint, and how he handled a DUI against him last year, according to The Seattle Times.
Port commissioners also said they didn’t know Fick had given himself a $24,500 raise. Fick, in comments sent to The Seattle Times, said that after commissioners asked pointed questions about his pay raise, he said they should have surmised when approving the pay increase for non-union employees in 2015 that it included him, because he doesn’t belong to a union.
Fick’s resignation letter said he had “come to the realization that my talents and strengths are better suited to the private sector, where I plan to return.”
Fick previously worked in the manufacturing and industrial sector, starting at his family owned business in Tacoma, Fick Foundry Co., according to News Tribune archives.
The News Tribune archives, The Seattle Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.