Frivolously flit

A Port commissioner's defense of the free lunch.

IN A RECENT OPINION piece for the Eastside Journal, Port commissioner and millionaire businessman Clare Nordquist revealed that "A perception exists, at least in the minds of a few, that Port of Seattle commissioners frivolously flit around the world at taxpayer expense, sampling the best of the sights, sounds and experiences the world has to offer with little or no other purpose in mind."

We'll have to assume we're the "few," since no one else has written about the freshman commissioner's penchant for globetrotting on the public's dime—a record $47,326 worth in 16 months (see "Fear of flying coach," 8/12). And though we didn't say his long-distance commissioning had little or no purpose, we'll have to agree with the expert on the subject: His 49 nights and 58 days on the road averaged just under $800 a day in expenses. And taxpayers didn't get even a lousy T-shirt out of it.

Without telling Journal readers how much he spent on such trips, Nordquist offers a novel defense for taking them (the trips, not the readers). As a high-tech venture capitalist and corporate executive, Nordquist figures his yearly global business flights averaged around 150,000 miles, or the equivalent of 30 round trips annually between Seattle and New York. Such vast experience at traveling privately, he reasons, should give "the taxpayers assurance that I did not seek the commission position in order to travel." Why, he's already "been there, done that," he says. Apparently he missed the point that now he's being there and doing that on us.

Nordquist also defended the trips as learning experiences, resulting in "a better performing commissioner." His busy schedule reflected that, he says. Two trips to the United Kingdom, for example, were marked by making "contacts . . . [watching] formal presentations . . . and evenings filled with official dinners." Busy, busy. It was more of the same in Amsterdam, talking, meeting, having "dinner with the US ambassador to the Netherlands and the hierarchy of KLM and Northwest Airlines representatives." Ditto in Rotterdam and China: Meet meet, eat eat. Then there were those study missions to Washington, DC, and Sydney, where he . . . studied.

"There you have it," wrote Nordquist, who is up for election in November (he's raised $70,000 in fat cat donations to tromp on his token opposition, the Socialist Worker Party's Charles Rayson). Worldly interfacing is a "necessary and important component of Port business," Nordquist says, and he's simply applying his longtime business "axiom—know your customers—to the Port."

A "few" people might think that in these Gatesian times of global teleconferencing, he could get to know some of his customers in ways cheaper than, say, that $10,000 "study" mission to Australia. And if as he says he flew a million business miles every six or so years, you'd think he'd already have bumped into a customer or two hundred.

We're not buying the excuse. If you're going to gouge us, make a case. Failing that, try to be at least as up front as the Port's fire chief. When Tom Barrett took his $1,000-a-day "business" jaunt to play golf in Japan last year at Port expense, he forthrightly called it a "familiarization trip." Get it? Apparently he hadn't played golf before.

 
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