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Port commission rejects lobbyist contract increase

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Aug. 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
August 18, 2011 4:40 pm

Port of Tacoma commissioners, concerned about sending the wrong signals during difficult times at the port, today tabled a proposal that would have raised the pay for its Olympia lobbyist by nearly 29 percent.

Several commission members said the lobbyist, Lisa Thatcher, was performing her job well, but such an increase was out-of-step with the port’s financial realities.

The port has seen its mainstream business, container imports, fall steeply since the recesssion began. The port’s projections call for nearly flat growth over the next few years.

“I have real difficulty any time we’re talking about a 29 percent increase in this economic climate,” said commissioner Don Meyer.

Meyer said he’s been pleased with the way Thatcher has represented the port in Olympia and elsewhere but such a big increase would be unfair to other port workers who seen minimal or no increases in compensation this year.

“No matter how I think of it, I can’t get to a 29 percent increase,” he said.

Port officials said they had sought proposal from three lobbying firms, and Thatcher emerged as the winner. She has represented the port since 2007.

The proposed increase from the present retainer of $4,345 monthly to the proposed $5,600 per month retainer was reached as a product of negotiation, said Sean Eagan, the port’s governmental affairs manager.

Thatcher’s retainer hasn’t been increased since 2007, Eagan said, and it remains below the amount the Port of Seattle pays its lobbyist ($6,500) monthly and the amount the City of Tacoma expends for its Olympia representative ($6,120) a month.

Commission President Connie Bacon said that while she too believes Thatcher does good work, so does Port of Tacoma Chief Executive John Wolfe. Wolfe agreed to forgo a raise this year even though the commission gave him high marks on his evaluation.

Commission members voted 4-1 to table the new contract proposal. Commissioner Dick Marzano voted against tabling the proposal. Marzano said he was concerned that Thatcher would cut back her work for the port in favor of clients willing to pay her more.

Commission members asked Wolfe to renegotiate the proposed contract to a more modest increase before bringing it back to the commission for approval. Commission members gave Wolfe authority to extend Thatcher’s existing contract beyond its present Aug. 31 expiration while new negotiations were being carried on.

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