Who Will Fill the JaxPort Post?

On paper, it looks like a good job: CEO of a major seaport, a six-figure salary and lots of perks.

But the successor to JaxPort’s recently departed top executive Paul Anderson will face a host of problems, from growing the port to deepening the harbor to fixing a navigation hazard in the St. Johns River to steering through political challenges.

Nancy Rubin, a JaxPort spokesperson, said executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, based in Chicago, is accepting applicants and is expected to present a short list of candidates, possibly at the board’s April meeting. She said she has no idea how many candidates the search firm will bring to the board. Once the board decides, it will negotiate a salary with the new CEO.

Who will the JaxPort board choose to grapple with those challenges?

State Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, president of First Coast Manufacturers Association, has been actively campaigning for the post. The port’s interim CEO, Roy Schleicher, said he would like to be considered. Another port official, Eric Green, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Former state Rep. Mike Weinstein, who’s resigning from the State Attorney’s Office in mid-March, said he will not apply for the job, despite rumors about his interest.

Ray, 56, has the support of the majority of the Jacksonville City Council, on which he served from 1999 to 2007 before becoming a state representative in 2008. Eleven Republican members of the 19-person City Council signed a letter asking Gov. Rick Scott to use his influence to appoint Ray to the post.

The governor appoints three members to the JaxPort board, and the mayor appoints four members. Neither, however, can appoint the new CEO.

“Lake has shown through his many endeavors that he is a visionary leader who can help forge consensus and lead people to successful resolutions,” the letter stated.

“I am honored that so many of the City Councilmembers are supporting me for the position at JaxPort,” Ray wrote in an email to Folio Weekly. “Their support demonstrates that they respect my professional qualifications coupled with political experience related to ports, economic development, transportation and logistics at the city and state.”

City Councilmember John Crescimbeni, a Democrat, said he was unaware of the letter mailed to the governor until he read about it in the newspaper.

Ray said he contacted some of the JPA board members in mid-December, before Anderson left the post, to express his interest in the job.

“I have deliberately had no other contact with them concerning the position since early December,” he said. “I have had no contact with the search agency and do not know anyone there to my knowledge.”

When asked if he would have to give up his post in the state House, where he serves as Joint Legislative Auditing Committee chairman, vice chairman of the Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chairman of Transportation & Highway Safety Committee, Ray said, “It would be premature and inappropriate to have that conversation at this time.”

General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said she has not been asked by Ray, JaxPort or the City Council to research the question. “The state representative is a part-time job; the CEO is typically not an [elected] office, but I would have to do a complete analysis.”

Just prior to the start of the 2013 legislative session, Ray lobbied in Washington for swift federal actions for port improvements. Ray has filed a bill in the Legislature mandating that the state spend at least $50 million a year on ports starting in July 2013, with an ultimate goal of $250 million a year.

Ray has been one of the leading port proponents in the Legislature, claiming improved ports will bring trade and jobs to Florida.

In 2012, Ray testified for the prosecution in the federal bribery trial against former JaxPort Chairman Tony Nelson, who is serving a 40-month prison sentence on convictions for bribery, money-laundering, mail fraud and lying to the FBI.

Ray testified that he complained to the FBI about Nelson exerting pressure in 2006 to try to force him to hire a company with which Nelson was involved. Ray told The Florida Times-Union that Nelson’s company lost its contract with the port.

As a civil engineer, Ray has experience doing business with ports. He served as president of Harbor Engineering from 1993-2003, was a vice president of Halcrow from 2003-2010 and a principal of Lake Ray & Associates.

JaxPort is suing Halcrow Inc. and two other companies, W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. and Thompson Engineering Co., for alleged failure of paving work at the $149 million Dames Point Terminal in 2007. The federal court suit was filed in November.

Ray said he was involved in the design of the project, which called for the use of rolled compacted concrete. He said he was not involved in the decision to substitute asphalt for concrete or to use a road material made from power plant ash.

Ray said Halcrow no longer exists. He said he left the firm about two years ago around the time it was sold.

A 12-year veteran at the port, Roy Schleicher finished second in the national search when Anderson was selected two years ago. He previously served as the authority’s executive vice president.

Another candidate reported to be interested in the job is Eric Green, JaxPort’s senior director of government and external affairs.

Green did not reply to an email sent to his office about the post. Green previously served in high-level administrative posts in the State Attorney’s Office and the Mayor’s Office. He was promoted to JaxPort senior director in 2006.

One of the men rumored to want the job, former state representative, former mayoral aide and state Senate candidate Mike Weinstein, said the process of selecting a new head of JaxPort had become too politicized and he wouldn’t apply for the position.

Weinstein said the port really doesn’t need anyone with port experience, because JaxPort doesn’t really operate the port. It leases space to other companies to do port business. What JaxPort needs, he said, is a real estate expert.

While not campaigning for the position, Weinstein said he would consider serving as the director on an interim basis if he were asked.

Many years ago, Weinstein said, he was a finalist for the top job of running the port, finishing second.

What’s ahead for the port? A plan to deepen the channel to 47 feet, so that larger cargo ships can load and unload goods in JaxPort once the Panama Canal widening is completed.

Gov. Scott has put $36 million in his proposed budget to make repairs to Mile Point, a dangerous section of the St. Johns River, with strong currents. The governor’s budget calls for $288 million in seaport infrastructure improvements at the state’s 15 public ports.

The last person in the port CEO position, Anderson, stayed only 23 months before leaving for a similar post in Tampa, with a higher salary and more stability.

When JaxPort hired Anderson in January 2011 he seemed like the perfect candidate. He had experience as a Federal Maritime Commission member and lobbyist for JM Family Enterprises and was comfortable working in Tallahassee and Washington.

The board made him the highest-paid port executive in Florida, shelling out an annual salary of $320,000. He now makes $350,000 a year as the Tampa Port Authority director.

Anderson angered JaxPort Board member Reginald Gaffney and then-state Rep. Weinstein when he told Gulftainer Co. Ltd. that its concept for a new $250-million cargo terminal on Blount Island didn’t fit in with the port’s future plans. Peter Richards, Gulftainer manager director, said he was surprised and disappointed by the port’s response. “It was a case of ‘No, we don’t want you,’ ” he told the Jacksonville Business Journal.

Anderson also complained about the instability at JaxPort, where appointments made by the mayor and governor kept changing the leadership of the board.

“I had five board chairmen in 18 months,” Anderson told the Business Journal, adding he believed the Tampa Port Authority had something else he wanted: “a stable board.”