PORT MANATEE -- The employee who built more than $12 million in security improvements at Port Manatee since Sept. 11, 2001, is retiring after an unexpected second career.
Frank Holden, the port's security chief for the better part of the past 14 years, will work his last duty day July 31. He announced his retirement publicly at a port authority meeting Thursday.
The retirement is also a benchmark for reductions in senior port staff. Over the past two years, the number of senior department heads has been cut by 50 percent, saving the port $450,000 annually. Those cuts have been made through retirements and attrition.
Holden, 67, served as the port's senior director of operations and director of seaport security until just a few weeks ago. David St. Pierre, Holden's deputy, has since moved into the top security spot. Holden will finish out his work with the port in his operations post and running special projects.
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Like other port staff promoted into senior positions during the past two years, St. Pierre will be expected to perform old and new duties. His previous position will not be filled.
A former police officer who worked 32 years in law enforcement and 18 years as a police chief in Montgomery County, Pa., Holden retired to Florida in 2000 to work as a charter boat captain.
After working with the port on a sea grass replanting project on a temporary basis, he put his retirement career on hiatus to do something he'd vowed to avoid.
"I said I would never get involved in security when I left law enforcement," Holden said.
Once he started working full time for the port, he started a "progressive and meteoric rise" through the port's security department, according to port Executive Director Carlos Buqueras. At the time of Holden's hiring, the port didn't have an official security chief. It also lacked the fencing and manned gates that now control access.
That all changed just months after he started work.
He said, "9-11 blew security stuff up."
Holden beefed up the port's security services, building the department to 40 employees and using millions of dollars in federal grant money to secure the borders of the port's property.
Today, all people and vehicles entering the port must go through an access control checkpoint so security personnel can track who and what is on the property at any one time. The port is also finishing the final phase of its mass notification and communications project, which has revamped the port's telecommunications infrastructure.
The port's security department has also gained local renown for its training program. Security personnel from a number of other Florida ports come to Port Manatee to learn how to do their jobs.
Holden said he is proud of how the security department has matured.
"We built one of the best security departments around," he said.
Holden said he has no specific plans for retirement. He lives in Palmetto with his wife, Judy.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or one Twitter @MattAtBradenton.