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Meanwhile, Back at the Port

July 10, 2011

A recent article in the Times reports on what appears to be a potential controversy at the Port of Tampa.   Apparently, the Director is up for evaluation which has bearing on his ($251,118 annually) contract, and some of the port businesses want to have input.  Tampasphere is not sure why this input is even an issue but the report states:

The public can speak at designated times during board meetings. But Manelli said port businesses should get to submit comments that would become part of Wainio’s overall evaluation.

It seems that the public can speak at meetings, but the evaluation process is not really built for public comment – or concerns.  For instance, oddly,

The past evaluation form rated him mostly on relationships — with the board, local government entities and port authority personnel. One area focused on business and relations with customers.

Tampasphere agrees that having a good working relationship with government entities and employees is important.  On the other hand, one would think that the job of the director is to oversee business at the port and that business and the port’s relationship with customers is important, too.  Moreover, the port is a public facility and the board and director (a public employee) have a duty to the public to make sure the public’s investment is providing the most benefit to the public, not that their relations are chummy.

Tampasphere found this part of the report even odder:

In the past, association members objected that the evaluation didn’t focus enough on the port’s performance, such as tons of cargo, the number of ship calls and cargo containers.

* * *

Those numbers are driven by the economy and demand for materials in the Tampa Bay region, Wainio said. He blamed a handful of businesses owners who couldn’t get preferential treatment from the port authority.

There are two issues here.  First, Tampasphere is not sure what the Director is blaming the “handful of business owners” for.  If they have something to say, they should be allowed to say it as part of the evaluation process.  The same is true for people who have favorable things to say.  Everyone, including the public, should be included in the process.  That is how things should work.

For Tampasphere, the second issue is the bigger concern – if the Port’s actual performance as a port – you know, what comes in and out of the port, how much of it, and how much money it generates – is determined solely by the economy, what does the position of the port director do?  Is it just public relations?  If so, why not hire Julie The Cruise Director?

Just an FYI from the Port Enabling Act (on the Port’s website):

The port authority shall have the specific responsibility of planning and of carrying out plans for the long-range development of the facilities of and traffic through the port in the port district.

The Port is supposed to be an engine that drives the economy.  Maybe they do not accurately express the Director’s views, but the quoted comments sound more like a plan for complacency – the same complacency that was heard so often at TIA (the alleged lack of demand and the inability to overcome some hurdle).  Yes, the economy is a factor in demand, but what is the Port doing to develop its service area, widen its business, and help the local economy grow?  What is the plan for the expanded Panama Canal so the port continues to be relevant in the long term?  Why is the port business limited to demand in the Tampa Bay region? How does the Port plan to increase demand for its services and facilities?

These are the type of questions Tampasphere wants the board to ask and to factor into the evaluation.

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