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Originally published March 12, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Page modified March 12, 2013 at 9:28 PM

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Seattle Port Commission approves big pay increase

Port of Seattle commissioners voted Tuesday to raise their salaries by $36,000 a year, becoming the only salaried port commission on the West Coast.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Port of Seattle commissioners voted Tuesday to raise their pay by $36,000 a year, becoming the only salaried port commission on the West Coast.

No one commented before or after the vote by only three commissioners, one of whom is stepping down Friday.

Instead of $500 a month, commissioners elected this November or later will be eligible for $3,500 a month. They also can collect $12,500 a year in per diem, as they do now.

Their salaries will be tied to state legislators’ salaries, which are set by a citizens commission.

Commission President Tom Albro proposed the increase as a way to attract more people to the five-member body and make it feasible for people who have to work for a living to serve.

Albro, who is up for re-election this year, will not take the increase. None of the current commissioners are eligible for the pay raise until they are re-elected.

There was no shortage of interest in the open commission seat in January after Gael Tarleton, who was elected to the Legislature, resigned. Nearly 30 applicants sought the seat. Courtney Gregoire was selected last week and will join the panel Friday.

Albro and Commissioners John Creighton and Rob Holland voted in favor of the increase Tuesday. Holland is stepping down Friday.

Commissioner Bill Bryant was out of town and didn’t vote, but had made it clear he opposed the increase.

“I’m spending my time working on issues that generate jobs, not giving myself a raise,” he said recently. He opposed the proposal on its first reading last week.

Creighton worked alongside former Commissioner Lloyd Hara in 2008 to try to raise commissioners’ salaries and provide them with staff. That effort failed.

Last week, Creighton said higher salaries will make the commission more reflective of the community.

“The Port Commission has long been dominated by rich old white men and individuals whose employers financially benefit from their position on the commission,” he said in a statement, calling it a “good government measure.”

“We think it’s great that everyone at our Port should get paid a living wage,” said Sage Wilson, a spokesman for Working Washington, a coalition of labor and community groups that has been advocating for low-wage workers at Sea-Tac airport.

Wilson said the commissioners’ salary vote is “a sideshow” and that the real issue is low-wage workers who can’t vote to give themselves a raise.

Creighton is an attorney, as is Gregoire. Albro and Bryant own their own businesses. Bryant has estimated that being commission president requires about 25 hours a week.

Only one public commenter at last week’s meeting opposed the salary, which is set to match that of part-time state legislators.

“Equating yourself with the state Legislature is absolutely outrageous,” said M.C. Halvorsen. “The state Legislature is responsible for the whole state. They pass laws that are binding on the state. You people supervise one port.”

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter

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