Manatee Port Authority chairman accuses board member of ‘illegal negotiations’

MANATEE -- The chairman of the Manatee County Port Authority on Monday accused a fellow board member of illegally attempting to negotiate terms of a contract agreement with the successful candidate chosen as the new executive director for Port Manatee.

Chairman Larry Bustle, who said that he had been authorized to negotiate the contract, called fellow board member Joe McClash’s actions “illegal, improper and unauthorized negotiations.”

McClash replied that there was “nothing illegal or improper” in the phone call he made last week after the board approved a contract with Carlos Buqueras, the long-time director of business development at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades.

McClash said he considered the contract unacceptable in some respects, and hoped to protect the interests of the county and the port by suggesting changes to some of its terms, but he contended that his call did not constitute “a negotiation.”

Bustle told the panel it was his understanding that the incident had confused Buqueras about with whom he was negotiating.

Bustle urged members to “stand by” their original decision Thursday approving the contract, without changes McClash recommended Monday.

The panel voted 4-3 on several related motions, with board members Carol Whitmore, John Chappie and Donna Hayes siding with Bustle, and Robin DiSabatino and Michael Gallen voting with McClash.

A motion not to renegotiate the contract passed 4-3, with Bustle, Whitmore, Chappie and Hayes voting in favor and McClash, and DiSabatino and Gallen voting against.

Last month, the authority selected Buqueras from a field of more than 80 applicants to succeed David L. McDonald, who is retiring Jan. 31 after many years at the port.

On Thursday, the authority approved a three-year employment agreement with Buqueras, 57, at a salary of $175,000 annually, bumping up to $183,750 after six months, The Herald previously reported.

McClash objected to items in the contract involving such things as deferred compensation and relocation expenses, he said.

He had a right to bring the issue back before the board, even though the contract had been officially approved, because some facts were not revealed during the original discussion, he said.

Buqueras could not be reached for comment.

The port is governed by the Authority, a seven-member board that sets policy and oversees major expenditures for the port, according to its website. The authority is comprised of the same seven members as the elected Manatee County Commission, but each governing body has a separate set of officers and financial accountability, the website said.

n In other action, the board voted to proceed with changing the Comprehensive Plan to reduce the four-lane section of the planned Tara Bridge to a two-lane section.

n The commission decided not to do anything about a challenge from a Wisconsin foundation asking it to halt prayers before its meetings, deciding it has complied with the law.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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