My publisher likes to make fun of me when I get excited about picayune political upheavals like the current mess at the Port of Seattle. When I told him the Pat Davis/Mic Dinsmore $340,000 golden-parachute scandal was about to turn the powerful port upside down, he laughed: "Can you stand it!? Remember the last time the port was turned upside down? We were rolling on E and making out under a conference-room table with the lead singer from the Lashes at the port's downtown office, and we thought it just couldn't get any better than this! But it has!"

Hardee-har. But, indeed, it has. With a $500 million budget, a $68 million levy, control over the airport, and a massive impact on our $4.1 billion maritime economy (generating 200,000 jobs overall and $12 billion in affiliated business revenues), the port deserves serious attention from the public. The P-I broke the news last week that Port Commissioner Pat Davis had signed a memo, without the consent of her fellow commissioners, authorizing the off-the-hook retirement package for former port CEO Mic Dinsmore. Thanks to this tasty scandal, the camera is finally on this strangely unaccountable public agency.

Closed Executive Sessions

First of all, the scandal has focused my lens on the port commission's penchant for executive sessions. Executive sessions by definition are closed to the public. According to Davis—but not according to fellow commissioners—Dinsmore's retirement package was okayed in two executive sessions last year.

As someone who covered city hall, where executive sessions come up only for special circumstances such as confidential real-estate discussions, I thought the port's practice of holding executive sessions before every public meeting seemed curious. Indeed, even Sound Transit has only held two executive sessions this year, while holding eight public board meetings.

I asked Port Commissioner John Creighton if the port's regular closed meetings met the standards for executive sessions laid out in state law. He acknowledged that a recent meeting about real estate had "devolved into a political discussion" (a no-no) and he questioned whether this aspect of the meeting was appropriate. Creighton says he brought his questions to port legal staff, and they advised the commission to "reel it back in."

I'll say. It seems likely that, with so many regular executive sessions, the commission is getting lackadaisical about following the rules. What are they talking about in there? Authorizing Dinsmore's payout in executive session, for example, would be illegal.

The Ethics Board

Second, the scandal has zoomed in on the port's ethics board—a five-member board of appointed volunteers who investigate ethics complaints against the port. This board, which currently has two vacancies, is appointed by port commissioners and/or the port CEO; that means the current trio was appointed by Dinsmore and/or commissioners like Davis. That's the first problem—appointees investigating their appointers. The second problem? The findings of the board's investigation will be presented in a closed executive session. That's a pretty metaphor.

This Year's Port Election

The third thing the scandal has brought into focus is this year's port elections—which typically get as much attention as a Seattle Weekly fashion guide. Raising the profile of the elections is a good thing because it ups the ante for change at the port.

One candidate, Gael Tarleton, a former analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, came out swinging this week. "It's time for the port commission to call for a full investigation from an outside, independent group, not from an internally appointed pool of potential friends and cronies," she said in an atypically charged statement from a port commission candidate. Right on. Tarleton is challenging status quo Commissioner Bob Edwards, who has been linked to the controversial Davis/Dinsmore arrangement. Reformist Commissioner Alec Fisken, the other commissioner up for reelection this year, has not been implicated in the scandal. recommended