Port mess exposes a lack of oversight

The latest Port controversy might seem like small potatoes compared with previous scandals. But it raises questions about the judgment both of its resigned CEO and the commissioners who hired him.

Are ports more prone to scandals than other complex human organizations? I doubt it, when the competition includes banks, pro sports and the Pentagon. But when they happen, they grab popular attention, even in technopolis Seattle.

In the iconic 1954 film “On the Waterfront,” the character Father Barry, played by Karl Malden, put it this way:

“You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making love of a buck — the cushy job — more important than the love of man!”

Is that why Port of Seattle commissioners finally gave CEO Ted Fick a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville?

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According to reporting from my colleague Mike Rosenberg, Port commissioners claim Fick surprised them by taking the 7 percent bonus they approved for hundreds of salaried Port employees (in his case, translating to a $24,500 bump on top of his annual $350,000 salary). Also, commissioners said he improperly accepted gifts from Port customers. He took a job on a private, for-profit board. The commission also said he was apparently steering business to his father’s company. Then there was the DUI.

Fick was further damaged by the state auditor’s pronouncing that $4.7 million in raises given out to Port employees were illegal.

Fick, who resigned early this month after going on leave during a performance review, has denied any wrongdoing.

This is pretty tame stuff compared to how badly things can go wrong at ports.

The storied Red Hook Marine Terminal in Brooklyn, whose corruption and connection with organized crime inspired “On the Waterfront,” is pretty clean now. Yet in 2009, an investigation found widespread lawbreaking by the supposed port…

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