THE BOYS AT Fishermen's Terminal like to imagine what they could do with the $126,000 that Port of Seattle commissioners and executive director Mic Dinsmore spent globe-trotting last year.
For that matter, even the $70 that commissioner Clare Nordquist doled out for "snacks" on a jaunt to Paris and Frankfurt could replace a rotten plank or two at the deteriorated Interbay docks.
"You know, almost anything could help out," says Port critic Pete Knutson, a leader in the drive to preserve and repair the historic terminal for fishers, which soon will be home to yachts as well.
"We didn't have a usable crane last year after Dock 7 collapsed because of rot. They could have moved it to another area for a few thousand dollars."
That's about what Dinsmore spent on "miscellaneous" in 2001 ($2,800) as he jetted around the U.S., Asia, and Europe, burning up $70,000 on 21 trips, according to Port figures released last week.
The $190,000-a-year exec Dinsmore was on the road at least 75 days last year, including an 11-day, $11,000 trade mission trip to Stockholm, where his hotel tab averaged $400 per day.
The commission's top jet-setter, Clare Nordquist, took five trips at a cost of $19,000. Now in his second term, he has racked up more than $80,000 in travel costs since his 1998 appointment (during his first 16 months in office, he globe-trotted to a freshman travel record of $47,000 while denying he "frivolously flit around" at taxpayer expense.)
Nordquist takes over where 28-year Commissioner Jack Block leaves off. Defeated in November by reformer Lawrence Molloy, Block is considered the all-time record holder for Port travel junkets (more than $130,000 in the last decade alone). Alas, he finished dead last in the commissioner travel sweeps in his final year, which ended Dec. 31, taking just three trips for $6,000. Altogether, the five commissioners spent $56,000 on travel last year—the trips being an unwritten perk of the part-time commission jobs that pay $6,000 a year (plus $8,400 in per diem expenses).
What did Dinsmore and the commissioners do on their working vacations besides eat $15,000 worth of meals?
According to the Port, Dinsmore often confers with government officials, makes customer calls, and holds trade meetings. Commissioners, for example, gather "every two years to exchange ideas" in Japan, according to travel descriptions. In London, they sometimes "raise awareness of Seattle as a travel destination." Elsewhere, they regularly "discuss labor issues," "build relationships," and study a lot of "practices."
It's a tough job, but someone has to do it, the Port says.
Almost exclusively, "Port commissioners travel to conduct business with Port customers and with other public agencies and officials," says spokesperson Mick Shultz. He adds that "the Port does the utmost to save money on travel."
But the agency that runs Sea-Tac Airport can't seem to find a deal on airline tickets. The Port paid $7,000 for Nordquist to fly to Frankfurt and Paris, for example, and one of Dinsmore's European airfares was $6,000.
Do the travel experts at the Port read the Sunday travel pages or shop online?
"The commissioners and Mic Dinsmore often must depart on short notice, and depart and arrive at a specific time to accommodate meeting schedules," says Shultz. "It is more cost-effective to purchase fully refundable tickets than to purchase less expensive tickets and be forced to absorb the cost if the trip is canceled or the schedule changes."
He says the Port, by law, can't accept reduced-fare tickets as special favors from the airlines, which it regulates at Sea-Tac. But a little planning might help.
Nordquist, for example, flew to Pasco last June to attend a meeting in the Tri-Cities. His airfare was $353—for a ticket bought one day earlier, although the business summit had been long planned.
Shultz says that's a standard one-day rate. He checked with Expedia.com recently and found one-day tickets ranging up to $503.
But Dinsmore found one even more costly at the last minute: He attended the same meeting as Nordquist, and his one-day ticket went for $514.
If he could have stayed the night, he'd have saved $204 ($235 flight on Thriftyfares.com, $75 a night at the Yakima Holiday Inn Express).
That's a drop in the Port's budget bucket, of course. But not to Pete Knutson. "These guys, they try to pass themselves off to fishermen as penny-pinchers," he says. "But for them the sky is, literally, the limit."
Commissioner: Clare Nordquist
Spending: five trips, $19,008
Biggest tab: European trip, $9,108
Commissioner: Bob Edwards
Spending: six trips, $13,890
Biggest tab: Far East trip, $7,415
Commissioner: Paige Miller
Spending: seven trips, $8,684
Biggest tab: Stockholm trip, $4,234
Commissioner: Pat Davis
Spending: three trips, $8,216
Biggest tab: Vietnam trip, $4,728
Commissioner: Jack Block
Spending: three trips, $6,280
Biggest tab: Montreal trip, $4,657
Executive director: Mic Dinsmore
Spending: 21 trips, $70,096*
Biggest tab: Stockholm trip, $11,213
* includes $5,762 for "Promo Hosting" and $2,802 for "Misc."