Tag: Port of Seattle Commission

Rules Change Would Mandate In-Person Council Meetings; Port Candidate Was Sued for Alleged Role in Ponzi Scheme

1. City Councilmember Sara Nelson has proposed changes to council rules that would require all members to attend council meetings in person except in a limited list of circumstances, such as: If a council member has an infectious disease, if the meeting is at night or off-site, or if they are taking care of a sick family member or friend. Nelson’s proposed rule change would also require members who attend a meeting remotely to turn their video on during votes.

During a meeting of the council’s governance committee last week, Nelson said she appreciated the convenience of remote meetings but worried that they violated the spirit of the state Open Public Meetings Act. “Witnessing one’s representative or the governing body on screen is is not the same as seeing them in person, watching interactions among members, being able to share a glance or a smile with someone at the dais, and maybe even interact before the meeting,” Nelson said.

Remote attendance also discourages people from coming to see council meetings in public, Nelson added, “because why would somebody schlep all the way to City Hall when they could just watch a meeting on on Seattle Channel and then make a make public comment by phone?”

Committee chair Debora Juarez, who is immunocompromised and has attended council meetings remotely for most of the pandemic, said she agreed that in-person meetings are ideal but noted that exposure to COVID is still a safety issue, especially for people who are at higher risk of serious illness. “As a matter [of] principle, I don’t think that I can physically make eight people physically come to work every day and physically show up on the dais,” Juarez said. “I’m going to have to appeal to their judgment and defer to them.”

Juarez also noted that remote attendance has made life easier for council members with young children to balance their kids’ needs with their obligations as public officials, and has made public comment accessible to a more diverse group of voices, including people who are disabled, those with jobs they can’t leave in the middle of the day, and people who don’t want the hassle and expense of paying to park or using public transit to get downtown.

A work group that considered the proposed rule changes, including another rule (backed by Juarez) that would restrict public comment in council committees to items on the agenda, kept Nelson’s proposal on the table but did not include it in the underlying legislation, meaning Nelson would need to convince her colleagues to put the language in the bill. The committee rejected outright a separate proposal that would have required the Seattle Channel to broadcast the faces of people who comment remotely.

2. The campaign website for Jesse Tam, a former banker who’s running for the Port of Seattle Commission seat currently held by Fred Felleman, touts Tam’s financial and banking experience, noting that he “successfully organized and launched the first international private banking practice in the State of Washington” and “provided services for his banking clients between the Pacific Rim and many European nations” before “departing from the banking industry” for a new career in real estate.

In an email to PubliCola, Tam called the lawsuit a “frivolous civil lawsuit that was filed by a foreign unknown organization” and noted that it was dismissed with prejudice. The terms of the settlement are still confidential.

That description omits the incident that preceded Tam’s departure from banking: A massive lawsuit, filed on behalf 4,200 Indonesian investors, alleging that the bank Tam founded, Regal Financial Bank, helped promote a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded clients of up to $600 million. The investors sued Tam and his bank for $175 million for their alleged involvement in the scheme. Tam’s bank settled for an undisclosed amount, and Tam has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

In an email to PubliCola, Tam called the lawsuit a “frivolous civil lawsuit that was filed by a foreign unknown organization” and noted that it was dismissed with prejudice. The terms of the settlement are still confidential.

According to a report from the Seattle P-I in 2009, Tam founded Regal Financial Bank in 2001, aided by money from a firm called Dressel Investments, which won over clients, many of them new to investing, by promising incredible returns of 24 to 28 percent. But “during the six years that followed, nearly all of the at least $300 million taken in by the company was used to repay other investors,” the P-I reported—a classic Ponzi scheme.

The lawsuit claimed that Tam “had full and complete knowledge” of the Ponzi scheme, traveled to Indonesia with a Dressel partner, and used the money Dressel took in from these investors to start his bank in 2001. “Dressel continued to be an important client at the bank until 2006, when the alleged Ponzi scheme began to collapse,” Northwest Asian Weekly reported in 2011.

Tam left the bank in 2009 and says his departure came “during the midst of the global financial crisis and had no association with the lawsuit. Regal Financial Bank was merged with Northwest Bank in Seattle in January of 2015 and it is currently operating in downtown Seattle,” he said. Tam currently runs an financial management consulting firm.