Secret Pay Raise, Improper Gifts: Inside Port of Seattle CEO's Abrupt Departure

The CEO of the Port of Seattle secretly gave himself a $24,500 raise, improperly accepted travel gifts and sports tickets from port customers and apparently steered port business to his father's company before leaving, officials revealed Feb. 3. There also were reports of a potential sexual-harassment complaint on top of an ongoing DUI case against him.

Port officials said Feb. 2 they had accepted the resignation of Ted Fick but provided few details at that time. Now, Port Commission Chairman Tom Albro revealed Feb. 3 that the commission had suspended Fick and ordered him to leave the office last week, apparently while the board decided on his fate.

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The suspension came as a result of a performance review, made public Feb. 3, that showed for the first time why the commission had begun losing trust in Fick.

Fick had proposed, and the commission approved, to give all nonunion employees a 7% lump-sum payment in December 2015. But Fick didn't tell the commission approving the raise that he also would be taking the extra pay — equal to $24,500, in addition to his $350,000 salary.

In addition, officials grew worried after Fick — a veteran of the private sector making his first foray into government work — had approached port officials in the spring of 2015 to relax requirements banning gifts to senior port officials. The port ultimately carved out an exemption for occasional gifts to senior managers when tickets and other event attendance was related to official duties but did not tell the commission about the change.

Fick then reported gifts worth $1,100 over the next year for attending three Mariners games, a University of Washington football game, a Sounders game and round-trip Clipper cruise tickets to Victoria, British Columbia.

The port's consultant and legal team concluded most, if not all, of the tickets violated the port's code of ethics.

A few commissioners noted some of the groups giving the gifts had direct dealings with the port. The UW football tickets, for instance, were gifted by a senior vice president of Alaska Air Group — the largest carrier at the airport, which the port oversees. Fick watched the Huskies game from Alaska's corporate suite.

Clipper, which gave Fick the cruise tickets, is also a tenant of the port. In another case, the port's dental insurance provider gave Fick Mariners tickets, while other baseball gifts were given by a King County Council member.

"Notwithstanding this pattern of violations of the code of ethics, there have been no consequences to you. This is unacceptable to the commission," the port's consultant conducting a performance review wrote to Fick on Jan. 23.

What's more, Fick later asked an employee about a product his father's company was selling that would help ease the removal of bolts. Some employees at the port interpreted the question as a mandate from the CEO to buy the product, and they did purchase it for $324 using port funds. The port's lawyers called this inappropriate.

The report noted that port officials were concerned that this action, like the secret pay raise and the tickets, also brought no consequences for Fick.

After the findings were presented to the commission, the board told Fick to go on leave last week, Albro said. He resigned Feb. 1.

At the same time, executives and commission members conducting an internal review of Fick's job last month found "a dramatic drop" in confidence in Fick's integrity.

Fick also was charged with DUI last April.

"The commission is not as concerned as much [with] Ted's DUI as it was about his thinking on how to deal with the issue ... It took a lot of commission effort to convince him that he needed to tell his staff and make a public statement right away," one unidentified commissioner wrote in the performance review.

The report also makes mention of "what appears to be a sexual harassment complaint" but does not explain further. Another section of the review says Fick requested the phone number of a woman working at a third-party vendor catering a port event, which made her "very uncomfortable." Port officials declined further comment.

"Truthfully, his behavior is completely unacceptable and has caused me to lose trust in him," one commissioner wrote.

And it alludes to Fick's insistence on joining a for-profit board, even though his predecessor was heavily criticized for doing the same thing and all five commissioners told him not to. Fick still accepted the $25,000-a-year gig for a New York trucking business. He also held an equity stake worth $250,000 in the company, which he initially didn't disclose.

It also mentions that Fick wasn't engaged at all on the controversy over a potential NBA arena in Sodo, which could affect port operations, even though it was a major priority for the port.

Another executive wrote: "He doesn't always walk the talk. He is ethical and doesn't cross the line — but sometimes doesn't appreciate that standing close to the line is less acceptable for a public agency leader in the eyes of many."

Neither Fick nor his attorney have commented on his departure, other than to say he is returning to the private sector.