The president of the Seattle Port Commission said the commissioners voted themselves a hefty pay raise on Tuesday so they will be better able to carry out their mission, which is to develop trade and manufacturing and “grow economic opportunity” for King County.
The commissioners elevated their salaries from $500 a month to $3,500 a month. They will also continue to collect the $12,500 a year they had been paid as per diem for attending commission meetings.
Tom Albro, Seattle Port Commission president, said Wednesday the commissioners do not intend to hire a staff or to act in competition with the paid port staff in running the day-to-day operations of the port.
Albro said Executive Director Tay Yoshitani is an experienced manager of port operations, while the commissioners provide a political voice for the port in Washington state’s most populous county. “We each play to our strengths,” he said.
Seattle’s port commission is already quite different from most harbor commissions across the country. In most ports, commissioners are appointed. The positions involve primarily attending regular meetings, and the commissions have no taxing authority.
Commissioners in Washington state are elected by voters in their port district. The work can be considered at least a half-time job, Albro said. There are 75 port districts in the state, many of which have no seaport.
In the case of Seattle, the state’s largest seaport, commissioners run countywide. It costs about $300,000 to run an effective campaign for port commissioner, he said.
Port districts in Washington state are considered to be economic development agencies. They have direct power of taxation, which is why commissioners are elected by the voters, Albro said. Port of Seattle commissioners run for office in a county of 2 million residents with 1.1 million voters, he said.
Therefore, the harbor commissioners must spend a good deal of time directly engaging voters on issues involving land use, transportation and the environment, while the port staff is busy running the commercial operations of the Port of Seattle.
The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators on the West Coast, expressed concern that the port commission’s next step would be to hire a staff and become more involved in running the daily operations of the port.
That is not the intention of the commission, Albro said. The Port of Seattle already has 1,800 staff members. “We, therefore, have a staff of 1,800,” he said. The port staff will continue to focus on commercial operations at the port, and the commission will focus on urban and industrial land use issues, freight mobility and similar programs that involve engagement with the voters, he said.