Mannix About Manatee: Arrests of port workers troubling pattern

September 15, 2013 

Port Manatee has always seemed to be its own little world, tucked away in the county's northwest corner right off U.S. 41.

Usually, the only time it's in the news is when there's a photo op with some visiting politicians.

Or the port just received another shipload of expansion money. Or some unlucky stevedore is crushed by falling cargo.

Otherwise, the port carries on, what with tropical produce, forest and petroleum products, phosphate fertilizers, cement, steel and such coming and going. Business as usual.

Until lately.

A series of disturbing events over the past four months makes you wonder, what in blue blazes has been going on with the top people who were supposed to be running that multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Where to begin? First there was the June 11 arrest of Robert B. Armstrong. The 25-year-old, who went from a part-time laborer to a full-time gig working with computer-aided design software, was charged with 24 counts of burglary, stealing thousands of dollars of port property to support a drug habit he'd been arrested for previously.

Bad enough on its own. What made it worse, though, is the fact his father, Robert J. Armstrong, was the port's No. 2 man, its deputy executive director and chief financial officer.

According to police reports, video surveillance in a Palmetto pawn shop shows the elder Armstrong paying for the items, which he returned to the port but without telling anyone they had been stolen.

After being placed on leave, Armstrong was fired June 27 and later turned himself in to face second-degree felony accessory after the fact charges involving thefts made by his son.

How embarrassing. Troubling, too. Yet hardly had the shock waves from that debacle died down when the port was rocked again last weekend.

Executive Director Carlos Buqueras was arrested Sept. 7 on a domestic battery charge after the Manatee County Sheriff's Office reported an argument with his wife had turned violent at their home.

Manatee County's Port Authority can't be happy over the fallout from the Armstrong arrests. Now this?

Instead of returning to work last Monday morning, Buqueras should've done the right thing and turned in his resignation.

Domestic battery is a social ill, a cancer in our country. According to U.S. statistics:

• Every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten in our country.

• Approximately 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually.

• One in four American women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

That undoubtedly resonates with the person who chairs the Port Authority -- County Commissioner Carol Whitmore.

Domestic battery is all too common.

But Carlos Buqueras is not Joe Schmoe.

He is the well-compensated head of the fifth largest of Florida's 15 deepwater seaports, a burgeoning facility and economic engine whose proximity to the Panama Canal and its expansion by 2015 is an advantage the Port Authority wants to exploit. Can it be accomplished with a director working under such a cloud? I doubt it.

Whitmore said the authority will await the completion of the arrest investigation before rendering its decision. It can't be back to business as usual in Port Manatee's own little world.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter:note>

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