BRADENTON — As a change in command and new business opportunities loom for Port Manatee, the Manatee County Port Authority is at odds on how to privatize the port.
With Port Director David McDonald planning to retire in 2012, Port authority chairman Larry Bustle says he wants to be prepared. He sent fellow county commissioners two memos last week, saying they needed to hire a port transition administrator to help pick a “concessionaire consultant,” who in turn will help as the port considers getting a marine terminal manager to oversee leasing operations.
In the 19-page and eight-page memos dated Friday, Bustle already named a candidate — Paul DeMariano — to hire as the transition administrator.
That move, contends Commissioner Joe McClash, lacks transparency.
As the Manatee County Commission on Tuesday debated Bustle’s recommendation, McClash questioned Bustle’s motives in not bringing his recommendations before the port authority when the commission was in session Thursday.
The members of the county commission also serve as the port authority, but according to law must act as separate boards.
“He was using a secret process that wasn’t open to the port authority,” McClash said. “There are e-mails showing the county administrator (Ed Hunzeker) was having meetings with Mr. DeMariano involving the port.”
Bustle said port business should not be discussed during a commission meeting, and that the plan was not complete until Friday.
But McClash disagreed, arguing that Bustle can convene a port authority meeting anytime the commission is meeting. He just has to declare its need.
After the meeting Tuesday, Bustle said he offered the idea to hire a transition administrator to assist in choosing a concessionaire consultant because the port authority was on a tight timeline to accomplish many things.
He also was impressed with DeMariano’s credentials and put him up for the position because he thought he would be the best person for the job. DeMariano, who now lives in Ellenton, has spent the past 30 years in port-related businesses, including stints in Massachusetts, Everglades, Jacksonville and Philadelphia.
“We need someone with that background to advise us,” Bustle said.
Bustle said he recommended DeMariano to jump-start the process, but the port authority will have the final decision.
The port last month issued a request for qualifications for a concessionaire consultant. Port Manatee is looking to hire a concessionaire consultant to advise the port on how to transition from a landlord business model in which the port authority leases out its marine terminals, to an operating port model where the port authority hires a company to operate its terminals.
Aaron Ellis, spokesman for the American Association of Port Authorities, said the transition Port Manatee is considering has become common in the industry.
“Ports are going out and finding marine terminal managers to reduce the risk involved,” Ellis said. “Shipping lines are fickle, it’s about who gives them the best deal at the moment and they can switch terminals pretty easily. The ports are at the mercy of where shipping lines want to go and, if they decide they can get a better deal elsewhere, a port can see a pretty terrible decline in business.”
The commissioners agreed to reconvene discussion on the transitional structure at their Aug. 19 port authority meeting.