Port of Tacoma

Port of Tacoma CEO nets $30,000 for double duties with alliance, port

John Wolfe, CEO of Port of Tacoma, talks in his office in 2014 about the partnership with the Port of Seattle.
John Wolfe, CEO of Port of Tacoma, talks in his office in 2014 about the partnership with the Port of Seattle. Staff file, 2014

Northwest Seaport Alliance CEO John Wolfe will take home an extra $30,000 for his additional role as the Port of Tacoma CEO.

The Port of Tacoma commission voted 3-1 to approve the compensation for his work in the past year. Since that time, Wolfe has worked under a contract with the Northwest Seaport Alliance — a relatively new marriage between the ports of Tacoma and Seattle’s container shipping business — for $300,000 per year.

The commission gave him good marks across the board, including for planning, finances and juggling a busy schedule.

“You effectively managed Port of Tacoma staff angst, stress and workload resulting from the alliance development,” commission president Connie Bacon said in a statement she read to a nearly empty room at the Fabulich Center on the Tacoma Tideflats.

“I think John has done an outstanding job and, in fact, I’m quite impressed,” said Commissioner Don Johnson, who at one time was the CEO for Tacoma Simpson Kraft, now known as WestRock.

Commissioner Don Meyer voted against the payment.

“Even though I know we’ve made good strides, I’m having difficulty answering the question, ‘Are we better off now than we were a year ago?’ ” Meyer said. “The reality is, I don’t think it’s the basis of extraordinary performance.”

Bacon defended the payment.

“He’s been paid nothing to be the CEO of the Port of Tacoma since August,” she said.

Wolfe said after the meeting that he and other employees spend more than 60 hours a week working for the Northwest Seaport Alliance and the Port of Tacoma.

“This is not a 40-hour-a-week job,” Wolfe said. The time at work varies with travel and his other duties, he said.

In his self-evaluation, Wolfe said, “This has been one of the most challenging years I have experienced in my 10-year period here at the Port of Tacoma.

“Given the significant turmoil within the international container industry, combined with the beginning of the NW Seaport Alliance and the challenges brought on by the methanol lease, the organization has come through a year that stretched our collective capabilities,” he wrote.

The methanol project, promoted by Northwest Innovation Works and backed by the Chinese government, was reviled by many community members. For weeks this year, the company did not answer port commissioners’ questions, leading them to withdraw support for the venture. In the end, the company canceled its lease with the port.

Wolfe did not know offhand how many workers have dual roles at both agencies like he does.

Currently, each home port splits the cost of staff members who work for both agencies. In the coming months, Wolfe said, he will meet with human resources to bump the compensation of those staff members.

The port’s commissioners are elected by voters in Pierce County.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports