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Meanwhile, Back at the Port, Part II

July 18, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the Port (again), the Tribune reports:

A group of Port of Tampa tenants listed 11 grievances with port director Richard Wainio in opposing renewal or extension of his contract in a letter Thursday to Tampa Port Authority board members.

Or as the Times put it:

An organization that represents 47 companies doing business at Tampa’s port wants port director Richard Wainio to leave when his contract expires in eight months.

“This can best be described as a vote of no confidence,” wrote Timothy Shusta, president of the Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association, in a letter Thursday to the Tampa Port Authority governing board. “A review of (Wainio’s) record over the past six and a half years overwhelmingly supports this position.”

The letter can be found here.

Tampasphere has already addressed the issue of the Port Director and his upcoming review. As we said previously, all views should be aired.

What still stands out in the reports is the stated responses from the Port Board Chairman and the Director.  From the Tribune:

Board chairman Larry Shipp characterized the letter as an “unwarranted personal attack made for its shock value,” while Wainio said the issues the Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association raised were “flat out incorrect or so vague I don’t know what they are talking about.

“It’s a small group of people who have their own agenda,” Wainio said. “They want control.”

* * *

“The same issues have been addressed since I’ve been a board member,” Shipp said. “There’s nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t been explained over and over. Ships don’t come to port if there’s no local business (in this economy).

“There are some things we could take a closer look at. Maybe we haven’t been strong enough on those with accounts in arrears.”

And from the Times:

Wainio wasn’t sent a copy of the letter Thursday but heard about its contents.

“From what I understand, it’s all old issues that came up before,” he said. “Some are just nonsense; some, opinion from a handful of people not happy with some of the decisions we’ve made.”

Port Authority chairman Lawrence Shipp also said he’s heard the complaints before.

“They’ll have to be investigated,” he said. “I don’t know what’s accurate and what’s not accurate, what’s personal and what’s not personal.”

* * *

Wainio called the industry association a small group that doesn’t represent the larger port community, including importers, exporters and large shipping lines.

“If they really believe change is needed, I’d step down,” he said. “But that’s not the case.”

* * *

Wainio blames the sour economy, Florida’s dormant construction industry and the shift of cargo — such as the coal that fires Tampa Electric power plants — from ships to railroads.

“Anyone with a brain in his head knows the port doesn’t have control over these things,” he said in an interview last week. “If business declines because of market demand, there’s nothing the port can do about that.”

Once again, this is an oddly defensive and unproductive reaction (and a little different in tone, too).  (And the group’s size is irrelevant.  What is relevant is whether they are correct or not.) Of course, there is also this article, which we’ll just put out there for your consideration for a totally different tone.

Tampasphere understands the economy has something to do with port traffic.  What we are more concerned with is a vision of leadership to expand the market and services served by the Port, especially with the impending expansion of the Panama Canal.

Once again, maybe it is simply what the reporters choose to report, but we are not hearing the vision and the plan – or a defense of what has gone before.  That is our concern.

Simply saying the economy is bad and the complaints are old is not sufficient.  Demand can be grown and fostered.  And complaints and problems – like at the airport, in transportation, in economic development, etc., simply fester when not addressed.

Tampasphere wants – and the Tampa Bay area desperately needs – leaders that get out in front of problems – once again, look to the new airport director.  The Port Director certainly has the opportunity, and obligation, to lay it all out in his review.  We look forward to hearing it.

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