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Originally published August 29, 2012 at 9:16 PM | Page modified August 30, 2012 at 10:34 AM

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Port CEO pressed to choose between job, directorship

Several port commissioners are urging Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani to chose between his port job and his seat on the board of Expeditors International.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani faced mounting pressure Wednesday to either give up his board position at global logistics company Expeditors International or quit his $367,000-a-year port job.

Port Commission President Gael Tarleton said she had asked Yoshitani to step down from the Seattle-based Expeditors board, but he told her he intended to keep both jobs.

"I said to him, 'This is not something that is going away,' " Tarleton said in an interview.

In addition, Commissioner Rob Holland said he had a meeting Tuesday with Yoshitani and told him he'd have to choose.

"I'll tell you what I told him: He needs to make a choice between either-or," Holland said. "There's a perception problem with the public."

Tarleton and Holland's statements put them at odds with Commissioner Tom Albro, who in a letter to a group of legislators this week said that Yoshitani's dual role had been vetted by the Port's top lawyer, who did not find any impermissible conflict of interest.

The 13 lawmakers had asked commissioners to take a closer look at Yoshitani's role with Expeditors for any conflicts or ethical concerns.

Earlier this month, Expeditors announced it had appointed Yoshitani to its nine-person board. The company pays directors a $30,000-a-year retainer, $1,000 each day they attend board meetings or do other company work, and gives them $200,000 in restricted stock each year.

Yoshitani's current employment agreement, which runs through June 2014, specifically allows him to serve on the board of a company or other private entity, so long as he does so on his own time and the port's general counsel determines the board membership "would not create or appear to create a conflict of interest, or is contrary to any other provision of the Port's Code of Ethics for Employees."

Tarleton, who voted against that agreement, said in a statement that "in addition to the indefensible compensation issues, the appearance of conflict of interest doesn't sit well with me."

Tarleton said she has received more than 1,000 emails from people concerned about Yoshitani's outside post.

"I just said, 'You have to understand that the people of this city, county, state will not ever tolerate this, and it's not just about you,' " she said.

Tarleton said she is setting up a meeting for next week for the commissioners to discuss their options. One likely topic: What would it cost to actually force out Yoshitani, should it come to that.

His salary is one of the highest in the nation for a port executive, and that, Holland said, means he should serve the public first.

"I asked him to make a choice," he said.

Expeditors is one of the leading freight forwarders and logistics managers in the world. It acts much like a travel agent for cargo — helping its customers choose routes and carriers, brokering cargo space on ships and planes, and helping freight shipments clear customs, among other services.

The company does business with airlines and shipping lines, not directly with ports. But the close relationship between what Expeditors does and the port's business — getting shipping lines to carry cargo to and from its Elliott Bay facilities — has made many people uneasy.

Commissioner John Creighton, who originally said he was "supportive" of Yoshitani's relationship with Expeditors, was considerably less enthusiastic in a Facebook posting Wednesday.

"I'm not really happy about it, but Expeditors is not a tenant of the port nor are they a shipping company, they are a package expeditor," he wrote. "Whether there's an appearance of impropriety or it's not politically expedient is unfortunately something the contractual language (in Yoshitani's employment agreement) doesn't cover."

The commission, he added, "basically left it up to the CEO's judgment, and if we want to push back on it, we risk breach of contract and a large payout."

Tarleton, who is running for a state House seat, said that if elected she would introduce legislation to bar public officials from serving on for-profit boards for pay.

"We have to stop doing things that harm public trust in government," she said.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com.

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