Commissioner Stephanie Bowman
Commissioner Stephanie Bowman Port of Seattle

Multiple sources say Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman, who is currently up for re-election, created hostile working conditions within the Port.

Internal emails given to The Stranger paint a picture of a tense environment, in which Bowman repeatedly clashed with staffers, leading to a request for conflict resolution that Bowman refused. According to the emails, addressing issues required intervention from multiple parties, including the Port’s General Counsel and HR Director. Sources say that the months-long ordeal constituted a significant drain on time while leaving employees feeling discouraged and unsupported in their jobs.

When reached for comment, Bowman declined to provide further details, writing that “this situation was resolved amicably.” But not everyone agrees.

It’s difficult to piece together the precise nature of the conflict from the emails, as they do not provide the full context of the situation and feature so many redacted names that it’s impossible to say how many people were involved. Multiple people with knowledge of the situation declined to speak on the record. But from the available information, it’s clear that morale has suffered.

Last April the commissioner clashed with an employee over email support and printed material. The employee claimed Bowman expressed dissatisfaction with the way staff performed duties such as organizing her email inbox and drafting responses to her constituents. The person added that Bowman made requests of staff that were conflicting, unclear, or difficult to fulfill. “It has been incredibly challenging to support Commissioner Bowman...I often feel as though I am being gaslighted,” this person wrote in an email documenting the exchange.

The conflict led Bowman to issue what the employee considered a threat to their employment, writing, “[Bowman] said that she has been fighting to make sure that people at the Port stay employed and everybody needs to step up and be problem solvers, that there will be people who may not still have a job next year when [Port Executive] Steve [Metruck] decides that cuts will need to be made.”

In another email, an employee — whose name is redacted, and may or may not be the same person who wrote the prior email — asked for conflict resolution with Bowman, noting that some of the commissioner's public statements regarding staffing put the person’s "professional reputation in jeopardy."

On another email thread, an employee said there had been a request for conflict mediation, but that Bowman “was not interested in doing so.”

Timestamps on email threads indicate that conflicts with Bowman required action by numerous Port staffers over a period of months, starting around April of 2020 and continuing through at least December of that year. Various workarounds, such as reassigned duties, were attempted as a means to minimize friction, but in September of 2020 a staffer noted, “The current work around is not working well for our office.” A separate employee on the Sept. email thread agreed: “We need to get past this. The current situation is a burden for all of us.”

It’s unclear from the emails what resolution was ultimately put in place — if any. People with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that there’s currently an uneasy truce within the Port, following a review and some reassignments. But, multiple people told The Stranger, morale has suffered.

Bowman was dismissive of a staff proposal in a September 2021 interview with the Stranger Election Control Board. The SECB asked the commissioner about a recent controversial proposal — an airport parking garage that would have destroyed a local park — and she blamed Port staff for bringing the project forward. “This is a staff recommendation,” Bowman told the SECB. “Staff can propose any sort of project.”

Bowman’s challenger, Hamdi Mohamed, responded by noting there is “this culture of blaming … staff at the Port, and as a commissioner I actually hope to change that.”

“I’m not criticizing staff,” Bowman replied. “It was a staff proposal. Not all staff proposals are great. That’s not a criticism.”

She added, “We don’t all get it right. I’m an elected official that will admit when I’m wrong.”

After the emails came to light several weeks later, Bowman downplayed the conflict. “This was a single request for conflict resolution,” she wrote to The Stranger via email. “The issue was resolved to the satisfaction of both of us and we maintain a positive professional and personal relationship.” She did not admit to having done anything wrong.