Late last week, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that a recall effort against Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis could proceed as planned. The unanimous ruling, which found that there was evidence of official malfeasance in Davis’s secret 2006 guarantee of a lucrative golden parachute to retiring Port CEO Mic Dinsmore, was pretty unequivocal:
“We can infer from the record that Comm. Davis understood her duties as Port Commissioner and the legal necessity of voting in public session before potentially obligating the Port in any monetary agreement, and, for purposes of recall, intentionally acted outside the scope of these duties by signing an agreement with Dinsmore.”
But the issue here isn’t just the contract for Dinsmore. For decades, the Port of Seattle, secure in its separate taxing authority for King County, has been the most corrupt and arrogant public agency in the state, which is saying something. The cronyism, back-scratching, sweetheart deals, and corporate welfare know almost no bounds. And during each of her 22 years on the Commission, Davis has championed that cronyism and staunchly resisted any efforts at accountability and reform. (It was also her initiative that brought the WTO ministerial to Seattle in 1999, a brainchild that alone should disqualify her from further public service.) For years, Pat Davis has exemplified everything wrong at the Port.
After last week’s court ruling, Davis immediately announced that she wouldn’t seek re-election when her term expires at the end of 2009. But she should still be recalled before then, for several reasons.
First, she can still do a lot of damage (and cost taxpayers a lot of money) if left in a position of power for another 16 months.
Second, Davis deserves to pay some price for her malfeasance — not simply to have a nice retirement party while her fellow commissioners name a wading pool after her. Or give her own secret golden parachute.
Third, even after a scathing performance audit by State Auditor Brian Sonntag — and an ongoing criminal investigation — the Port has been dismissive, defensive, and bitterly resistant to meaningful changes in its cronyist culture. In that context, get a load of this quote from fellow Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton — who ran on a reform platform last year, despite questions about her own corporate conflicts of interest — in arguing against the recall effort. Davis and Tarleton, it turns out, are working together to “implement” some of Sonntag’s demanded reforms. In other words, now that the fox has eaten every hen and destroyed the henhouse, she is standing, hammer and nails in paw, and undoubtably hungry again, ready to build the new henhouse. And, according to Tarleton:
“If we did not have her [Davis’s] knowledge about how things did not work in a transparent and open way in the past, we would not have been able to make many of the most important revisions to the delegation of authority,”
Words. Fail. Me.
Fourth, beyond making sure Davis can do no more damage, as Tarleton and the response to the performance amply demonstrate, Davis is scarcely the whole problem at the Port. And that audit barely scratched the surface: it only looked at the Third Runway project. It did not examine other airport projects, anything in the marine division (where SSA and other corporate contractors have bankrolled many a Port Commissioner campaign), or the Port’s lucrative waterfront real estate development projects. And the audit wasn’t looking for fraud (though it found plenty anyway).
What all this suggests is that there’s an ingrained, corrupt culture at the Port of Seattle that needs to be uprooted. The staff, commissioners, and CEO must all be held accountable. Recalling Pat Davis demonstrates that there’s a price to be paid for betraying the public trust — and maybe, just maybe, some of the other foxes at the Port will either change their own behavior, or get turned out themselves, if the precedent of recalling Davis moves forward.
The public has had enough of this nonsense. It’s time to fight back. Petitions to recall Pat Davis are available here.