Final Analysis: The Year in Review

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Even if it means we have to watch more TV commercials starring football players who can’t act — paging Mr. Lynch, Mr. Marshawn Lynch — the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory last February defined 2014 in the Puget Sound region, so you’ll get no complaints here.

Three days after the Seahawks made the Denver Broncos look utterly coltish in the Jersey Meadowlands, hundreds of thousands of Seattle fans met at the intersection of Elation and Euphoria to celebrate something that has happened in only 18 other cities. Super Bowl supremacy has a way of galvanizing a community and inducing its citizens to blithely ignore a lot of things they might otherwise gripe about. For instance, who among us even remembers Bertha? You know, the broken tunnel-boring machine that took the whole year off? Save for a 3-foot spurt in September to get ready for her big fix, becalmed Bertha spent 2014 doing essentially what Congress does. Nice work if you can get it.

Speaking of going nowhere fast, the state Department of Transportation released its annual Corridor Capacity Report in October. You might think it’s a study of how many teenagers can squeeze into a standard high school hallway, but you would be wrong. It’s a report on highway traffic congestion in Washington, and the latest findings indicate that traffic in the Puget Sound region was more congested in 2013 — commence forehead slap — than in 2011. And one of the reasons for this congestion? The improving economy. Who knew? All we have to do to speed up our daily commute is tank the economy again. Best-case scenario: Your commute time will be reduced to zero if you lose your job.

To help people in such dire economic straits, Amazon courageously came forward during the summer and said it was cutting the price of its 32-gigabyte Amazon Fire Phone from $199 to 99 cents with a two-year contract. Giving away phones in exchange for a set of AT&T handcuffs is nothing new, of course, but Amazon’s Fire sale — coming only two months after the phone’s celebrated introduction — was a fairly open admission that the device is apparently less popular than cockroach pudding.

Speaking of roaches, the legal sale of marijuana in Washington state finally took effect in July, as a handful of stores started selling pot that was in ridiculously short supply, at least in Seattle, because people have no problem getting their ganja needs filled at medical marijuana dispensaries, which are virtually unregulated in this state. Still, it was impossible for news media outlets to go more than a day or two without some sort of coverage on who’s selling, who’s buying and who’s (not) blowing smoke. 

Meanwhile, rumors that the name of the new state ferry Tokitae is nautical code for “a toke a day” were put to rest when Washington State Ferries explained that Tokitae means “nice day, pretty colors” in the Coast Salish language. This revelation doesn’t exactly blunt the wacky-weed linkage, but we have to move on.

Speaking of moving on, Mark Driscoll, the controversial senior pastor of Mars Hill Church’s sprawling evangelical Christian empire, formally backed away from the pulpit in October after taking a leave of absence in August. Allegations of bullying, abusive behavior, sexual harassment, mismanagement of funds and even plagiarism had stuck to Driscoll like gum on the soles of his shoes, but the church says it did not request his resignation and that his announcement came as a surprise. Really.

Driscoll’s chief offense seems to have been an inability to play ball with other members of the church hierarchy. Look for him to land a spot with the Los Angeles Clippers, who have been unable to play ball in the NBA for 45 years. That circumstance will change, of course, under new owner Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who paid $2 billion to acquire the team from Donald Sterling, who got caught making racially bigoted statements to a woman who was secretly recording his conversation.

Speaking of clueless executives, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said in April that a plan to transfer thousands of engineering jobs out of the Puget Sound region was the company’s way of “creating the strongest possible Boeing” by setting up so-called “centers of excellence” in other parts of the country where Boeing has little or no presence. McNerney also scored points with Boeing’s rank and file in July when he told an analyst that he had no plans to retire after turning 65. “The heart will still be beating,” he said. “The employees will still be cowering.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of artisanal, cage-free, tone-deaf leadership that’s hard to come by these days.

Embarrassment also visited Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco, who was scammed by a couple of Romanian con men posing as Native Americans looking for scrap copper wire they would use to teach disabled children how to make jewelry. Carrasco granted the men access to a City Light facility in April and the pair made off with 20 tons of copper wire and scrap metal valued at $120,000. Police later recovered the stolen goods, so no one at City Light was punished, least of all Carrasco, who is the city of Seattle’s highest-paid employee — annual salary: $245,000 — and, evidently, its easiest mark. 

Speaking of gullible, pretty much the entire Seattle Seahawks fan base accepted Richard Sherman’s unsportsmanlike rant against San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after January’s NFC championship game as a charming “in the moment” outburst. It was actually a classless display by someone incapable of being a gracious winner, but Sherman inexplicably got a pass from a lot of people who excused his brash on-field behavior because, off the field, he’s actually a nice guy. Sherman eventually said he could have chosen his words better, but he didn’t exactly retract them.

Satya Nadella, the new CEO of Microsoft, obviously subscribes to Sherman’s How to Come Across as a Sore Winner masterwork. When asked by the president of Harvey Mudd College, who also happens to serve on Microsoft’s board of directors, how women in business should ask for a raise, Nadella said they shouldn’t. Instead, he suggested women should simply trust that good stuff will happen to narrow the gender pay gap. “It’s not really about asking for a raise,” said Nadella, who earned $11.6 million in fiscal 2014, “but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise. … That might be one of the initial ‘super powers’ that … women [who] don’t ask for a raise have. It’s good karma. It will come back.” After experiencing the sort of instant karma usually reserved for the release of a new Microsoft operating system, Nadella backpedaled and said he answered the question “completely wrong” and acknowledged that men and women should get equal pay for equal work. 

Speaking of fat paychecks, the Seattle City Council made headlines around the world in June when it voted to phase in a $15 minimum wage for companies in Seattle during the next four to seven years. Smaller companies receive the longer phase-in period, but skeptics still vowed it is the end of the world as we know it and that employers will be fleeing to other communities to avoid the socialist scourge. Imagine their surprise when those communities also come to realize that common sense and fairness are noble virtues and that a decent living wage is every employee’s right.

The Port of Seattle has always believed in paying well. Payscale, the Seattle-based benefits and compensation researcher, says the port typically pays its people 20 percent above market rate. This should go over well when the ports of Seattle and Tacoma merge their maritime operations. Excuse me. It’s an “alliance,” not a merger. The idea is to make Pugetopolis more competitive in the business of wooing container-shipping firms. When these firms ask why they should park their boats in Seattle/Tacoma instead of, say, Vancouver or Oakland, the alliance will be able to answer, “We have lots of money to throw around. Wink. Wink.”

Speaking of inspired customer service, Washington State Ferries workers ordered nearly 500 passengers off the Cathlamet in August because the crew feared the boat was overloaded as it left Bremerton for Seattle. Subsequent review of a surveillance video showed that the boat was actually under its load limit of 1,200 passengers. A malfunctioning hand clicker used to count passengers was blamed for the error. Ferry workers are now using Seattle Police Department estimates to count passengers. (Coincidentally, the busy Bainbridge-to-Seattle run now handles about 700,000 passengers per trip.) Fortunately, most of the inconvenienced customers on the Cathlamet were Seattle Seahawks fans on their way to a preseason game. Chances are good they don’t remember the slight — or anything bad that happened this year — because, as you may recall from the first paragraph of this essay, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl! 

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

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