State agency: Port of Seattle unlawfully gifted $4.7 million in public funds to hundreds of employees

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Ted Fick (Photo: Port of Seattle)

SEATTLE — The Port of Seattle unlawfully gifted $4.7 million in public funds to 642 Port employees last year, the draft findings of a State Auditor’s investigation allege.

The news was first reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal Thursday night and later confirmed by Kathleen Cooper, the assistant director of communications for the State Auditor’s Office.

An investigation by the Auditor’s Office found in its draft findings that the Port of Seattle’s $4.7 million in payouts violated the state Constitution as an unlawful gifting of public funds, Cooper said.

The news comes as the Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick announced his resignation Thursday. He had been placed on administrative leave last week. The State Auditor’s Office declined to say whether Fick’s resignation was related to the payouts.

According to the Business Journal, state auditors came across the payments, made last year to 642 salaried port employees, during a regularly scheduled accountability audit at the Port. Cooper said they briefed Port of Seattle executives about their draft findings on Wednesday and recommended that the Port conduct a legal review. Cooper said the Port of Seattle has until Tuesday to respond to the draft findings.

“Two sources familiar with the matter” said commissioners approved the payouts after Fick proposed them last year, the Business Journal said.

Cooper said the payments were unlawful because they were not tied to specific job goal or performance requirements and that’s why they’re considered an inappropriate gifting of public funds.

Port of Seattle Chief Operating Officer Dave Soike will serve as interim CEO of the Port now that Fick has stepped down.