Twelve top executives will return the bonuses, the port announced days after the full list of executive payouts became public.
A dozen top Port of Seattle executives who received large bonuses under a program the state auditor has deemed illegal will pay back the money, officials said Thursday.
The decision comes more than a year after the bonuses were doled out but follows the first public disclosure of the executive payouts earlier this week.
The Port in December 2015 approved a one-time 7 percent bonus to all nonunion employees, with about 650 people getting a total of $4.8 million. Earlier this month, the state auditor said the bonuses violated two parts of the state constitution because the money wasn’t tied to any performance standards or goals.
On Tuesday, The Seattle Times reviewed a newly released list of all employees who received the money and reported that about $3 million went to people with “manager” or “director” in their job title.
The biggest bonuses went to members of the Port’s executive leadership team, which was in charge of rolling out the payouts and defending them under the audit.
In an email to employees Thursday, Commission Chair Tom Albro cited the Times article and said that the commission didn’t know when it approved the bonuses that Port executives would be receiving the money. He said he didn’t intend for the top managers to get bonuses.
He pointed the blame at then-CEO Ted Fick, who has since resigned under a cloud of controversy, for not revealing the full details of the bonuses.
Interim CEO David Soike said in a separate email to employees that executives outside of Fick weren’t consulted on the plan and didn’t know the elected commission overseeing the Port didn’t intend top managers to get the money.
“Had that point been clear, none of the (executive leadership team) members would have accepted the payments,” Soike said.
Soike said that in all, 11 current executives will return the money, including himself. They received about $160,000 total in funds paid partially through taxpayer money.
The executives returning the money received between $12,400 and $16,300 each on top of salaries ranging from $177,000 to $233,000. They include the chief legal counsel and human resources director, who were in charge of defending the payouts against the audit, and the chief financial officer who oversees the Port’s finances and auditing.
Separately, Fick has offered to return his bonus. He got the biggest payout, a $24,500 lump sum on top of his $350,000 salary.
“We share your interest in ensuring the public can have trust moving forward in the public service ethic of the Port’s executive leaders,” Soike wrote to employees.
Despite the commission’s assertion that it was Fick’s fault for not alerting them to the executive payouts, the commissioners themselves did not ask any questions about who specifically would be receiving the money during the public meeting in which they unanimously approved the bonuses. At the time, Fick told commissioners in an email that “all” nonunion employees would get the money.
The commissioners found out Fick himself had received the bonus in a closed-door performance meeting in February 2016, and did not act or comment publicly on the other executives receiving the money until the information became public this week.
Fick said Thursday that several members of his executive team “participated in the design and eligibility” of the bonus program.
Commissioners are still negotiating an exit package with the former CEO, who says he will ensure the agreement includes repayment of his own bonus. Emails show Fick first told commissioners in December he would repay the bonus, when the audit was ongoing, but hadn’t revealed his offer until now.
In addition, one other former executive who has since retired is apparently not repaying his $17,800 bonus.
The Port says it still supports the bulk of the bonus program, which was meant to help frustrated nonunion employees whose schedules had been increased from 37.5 to 40 hours per week, similar to the schedule union workers already had.
Before this week, the Port had previously said only that nonunion employees got the money, without divulging who or how much. The payouts were meant to attract and retain employees, the port has said.
The auditor plans to follow up on any potential reforms at the end of this year, and the Attorney General’s Office said it will review the audit for any potential prosecution.