ANYONE who endures the rigors of an election or public service understands the concept of the “straight-face test.” Sadly, one of our most highly paid and regarded public servants has just failed that test.
The Port of Seattle’s chief executive, Tay Yoshitani, should not be allowed to keep that job while also serving as a board member of Expeditors International, a freight-expediting company, at a salary of $230,000 in cash and stock. Public officials have one master: the public.
Public officials who compromise this relationship by serving two masters inevitably breach the public trust because their allegiance is divided. The Seattle Times editorial board is on the wrong side of this issue. [“No conflict for Port CEO,” Opinion, Sept. 11.]
Whether you are a member of Congress, a state lawmaker, a university president or the Port of Seattle chief executive, your duty is to safeguard the public’s trust and dollars. When the CEO also works for a transportation company, at a generous salary, he risks both a real conflict of interest and, equally important, the appearance of a conflict.
The public has no way of knowing what secrets are traded behind the closed doors of corporate boardrooms. That’s why the public and several lawmakers are understandably outraged by the Port CEO’s deal with Expeditors International. It doesn’t pass the “straight-face test”.
While nothing in state law now prohibits the specific arrangement the Port CEO seeks, state laws broadly address ethics in public service. Laws on the books prohibit all state officers and employees from being compensated by private entities they regulate for at least one year after leaving public service. If those laws don’t apply to the Port CEO, there is only one remedy: Change the law to ensure that all public servants play by the same rules.
I am working with other state lawmakers to draft legislation that would explicitly prohibit public officials from serving on private corporate boards that do business with their agencies. When you get one paycheck from one group, it’s clear who you represent. When you get paychecks from two groups, we will never know.
It’s ironic that Yoshitani — who now earns more than President Obama under this arrangement — has chosen to pad his retirement. He was hired to help reform and rehabilitate the Port’s public image following the uproar over former Port Chief Executive Mic Dinsmore’s famously excessive compensation. Here we go again — same story, different executive.
Yoshitani has not only compromised the public’s trust with the Port, he has compromised the Port’s trust with this region’s Port-reliant businesses.
A former attorney for the Port underlined the problem at the Port Commission’s hearing last week. A spot for the Port CEO on one private corporation’s board creates an obligation to advise that corporation, using information gleaned from his experience in dealing with all of the Port’s clients and tenants. It allows the appearance that the corporation will get sweetheart deals or insider information.
In the long term, we can help restore the public’s trust in government by outlawing this conflict of interest by state law. In the short term, the Port chief executive can eliminate this conflict of interest and set an example for other public executives to follow. By stepping down from Expeditors International, Yoshitani steps up to the public’s trust and integrity.
State Sen. Adam Kline, D-37th District, is a member of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and chairs the Judiciary Committee.