Top officials with the Port of Oakland have got some serious explaining to do and we sure wish they would begin doing so.
A news report from KTVU has uncovered some seriously questionable expenses run up by one of its top officials, Maritime Director James Kwon.
So far, the station has found that in 2008 Kwon charged $4,500 for a dinner at a high-end strip club in Houston (even worse, the officials from companies that were supposedly being entertained say they have no record of being there); nearly $500 spent at a barber shop in Taipei; more than $300 for golf shoes; more than $1,000 for wine; thousands spent at a restaurant and massage parlor in China; and various golf outings that cost more than $1,000 a pop.
We strongly suspect that there will be more to come.
In fairness, all of these expenses were incurred before the port had an established policy about reimbursements and before the current administration was in charge. But the response from those top officials has been less than stellar.
In fact, it has been anemic and downright disappointing.
We had come to believe that this group was trying to clean up the heretofore free-spending port by adding reasoned frugality to spending and renegotiating unsustainable labor contracts.
In short, we had seen them as the reformers. Unfortunately, they have hardly acted as such. Instead, it appears they have circled the wagons.
First, there was a rare special meeting Friday that was closed to the public on questionable grounds; then the port refused to hand over copies of an audit of credit cards, also on questionable grounds; then top officials sought the advice of the area's best outside crisis counselor and then apparently chose to ignore it; and Port Director Omar Benjamin has dodged television cameras and issued "no comment" statements.
Not exactly the kind of leadership position we would expect from reformers.
Instead of exhibiting the siege mentality, we need transparency and honest explanation from port officials.
Some people have tried to explain the foreign expenses with the dismissive, "well, that's just the way they do business in China."
That may well be the standard there, but that is not the way officials from an American, publicly supported port should operate. It is patently wrong and unacceptable.
From where we sit, it appears that port officials are making the same tragic mistake made by many public organizations in crisis: listening to the lawyers. The port may reasonably fear litigation down the road, if it handles the issue incorrectly. We understand that; however, that is a matter for a future court.
Meanwhile, the court of public opinion is a current court and hear ye, hear ye, that court is now in session.