Port chief imposes a 6-month ban on contributions

Port of Seattle chief Mic Dinsmore imposed a six-month ban yesterday on thousands of dollars in contributions the Port makes to community organizations and activities.

The moratorium follows a Dec. 2 state auditor's report that found the Port lacked authority to make some contributions, misbooked others and failed to show that many were in line with the Port's mission.

The audit report cited $18,000 donated to the Housing Partnership, a housing organization on which former Port Commissioner Paige Miller serves as a board member.

"Other local governments have the authority to provide services such as education, health and housing which are beneficial to the poor," the audit report said. "However, such services are outside of those authorized by the legislature for Washington state ports."

Miller said the Port had a legitimate role to play in supporting the Housing Partnership, which works on affordable-housing policy, and had given it about $10,000 a year since around 1998.

The Port is deeply involved in promoting economic development, she said, and housing costs "affect the attractiveness of our region in competing for business."

She said the audit also reflects a shift by the Auditor's Office. "They have a new, more conservative interpretation about the Port's authority. Therefore a number of things that the Port has done in the past were flagged in this report."

The report cited $300,000 the Port paid to sponsor the Pacific Rim Sports Summit. The Port misbooked the sponsorship as a contract, when no contract was signed, and didn't get the money back when the event was canceled, the audit said. The Port is trying to recover the money.

The report also cited $5,000 given to the Seattle School District to sponsor a basketball tournament, $3,000 to the Bellevue Boys & Girls Club, $2,000 to the Salmon Homecoming Alliance for its annual celebration and $2,000 to the National Wildlife Federation to sponsor a habitat fair in Tukwila.

Dinsmore, in a memo to staff yesterday, said the Port has "supported many activities with organizations that we believed to be closely aligned with our mission."

But over the next six months, he said, the Port will come up with sponsorship criteria and a "centralized process for reviewing requests."

The ban won't apply to payments already committed and those tied to the Port's business will be reviewed to see if they should be exempt.

Dinsmore issued the memo the day he and Dan Thomas, the Port's chief financial officer, met with state Auditor Brian Sonntag to discuss the audit.

The audit also highlighted two instances where employees in the aviation-maintenance division used Port credit cards to make $11,200 in personal purchases.

Thomas said the Port discovered the credit-card abuses itself and reported them to the auditor. One worker was criminally prosecuted, the other was suspended, and the number of Port credit cards in the division was cut to two from as many as eight, Thomas said.

The audit also found the Port failed to account for $95,000 in credit-card receipts. Thomas said the Port now has receipts for all but $500 of the purchases.

Separately, the commission swore in new members John Creighton and Lloyd Hara and elected long-term incumbent Patricia Davis as president. It also named a wading pool at the Bell Harbor Convention Center for former Commissioner Miller, who worked to change the original design.

Alwyn Scott: 206-464-3329 or ascott@seattletimes.com