Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani received a strong performance evaluation from the Port Commission Tuesday, but said he wouldn't accept a 4 percent raise to his $334,000 salary because of the continuing economic downturn.

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Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani received a strong performance evaluation from the Port Commission on Tuesday, but said he wouldn’t accept a 4 percent raise to his $334,000 salary.

The commission gave Yoshitani an “outstanding” rating on his 2009 performance evaluation — a step that in normal financial times would have entitled him to a raise.

But the reality of a continuing economic slump collided with commissioners’ high praise for the executive, and Commission Chairman Bill Bryant pulled a vote on the pay raise at Yoshitani’s request.

“Even though the Port of Seattle did quite well in the year 2009 and we’re doing quite well in 2010 thus far, we all know that there are signs that cause us to be very cautious going forward,” Yoshitani said.

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“Therefore I have decided to once again decline any salary increase for 2010 and I will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep this port as competitive as possible, to help protect and defend the 200,000-plus jobs that rely on our continued success.”

Yoshitani’s performance review, written by Commissioner Tom Albro based on input from the commission, called his work last year “superlative.” After the meeting, Albro said it was “a testament to his character and leadership” that the CEO declined a possible raise.

But with rising public concern about pay and benefits for public employees, it wasn’t clear how many of the five Port commissioners would have voted for the raise.

Yoshitani’s glowing performance review passed with four yes votes. Even though it was clear there wouldn’t be a vote on the raise, Commissioner John Creighton abstained from the performance-review vote.

He said Yoshitani had done excellent work, but cautioned, “Until we are assured this state’s economy is back on a stable footing, I could not support a pay increase at this time.”

Commissioner Gael Tarleton also praised Yoshitani but said she believes there should be a cap on salaries of top-ranking public officials.

Yoshitani’s evaluation credited his “extraordinary leadership” with steering the Port through the recession in strong financial condition.

He cut expenses last year by more than 11 percent, maintained the Port’s strong credit ratings, recruited three new container shipping lines, obtained financing for an airport rental car facility, and recovered all but $9 million of the Port’s $101 million investment in the Eastside Rail Corridor, the report said.

Even without a raise, Yoshitani, who was hired in 2007, earns far more than Gov. Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, all of whom are paid under $200,000.

His pay has been dwarfed, however, by University of Washington President Mark Emmert, who receives $620,000 in base pay and is leaving for a higher-paying job as president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Among those who opposed the proposed raise was Howard Greenwich, research director of Puget Sound Sage, a group that advocates for family-wage jobs and affordable housing.

“I can’t say I talked to anybody who wasn’t outraged and found it preposterous at this time, particularly with every other top public official turning down cost-of-living adjustments and salary raises,” he said.

Greenwich said container-truck drivers at the Port “are making poverty-level incomes, struggling to make ends meet, while Port officials like the CEO are benefiting with enormous public salaries.”

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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