TAMPA — When Paul Anderson took the helm of the Tampa Port Authority last month, his first act as CEO was to ask for money. The port's governing board allowed him to spend $50,000 to start marketing a new shipping route to Tampa.
Now the board members want to give its new CEO the power to spend up to $100,000 without asking their permission anymore.
Port of Tampa officials said the move will even the playing field with competing ports. Those competitors allow their leaders to spend far more: Port Manatee can spend $50,000; the Port of Jacksonville up to $250,000; and Port Everglades allows a total of $350,000.
But the Port of Tampa has limited its CEO to spending just $15,000 without board approval, a cap set in 1995.
"I think this limit, for the size of our port, is extraordinarily low," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board.
But it will take an act of the Florida Legislature to raise the limit. The language of the Tampa Port Authority's enabling act — the legislation that created and governs the port — must be changed by lawmakers. The port staff drew up new language that the Hillsborough legislative delegation voted unanimously to send to Tallahassee.
The money would come from the port's operating budget, which is paid for with port fees. But while the board wants the enabling act changed, it's not yet settled on how the CEO will use that new authority.
Murman suggested the new $100,000 limit. Her fellow port commissioners supported it, but instead of just giving the CEO carte blanche, they told the port staff to draw up guidelines for the new spending limit based on the policies of other ports.
"I think we should take time to formulate a policy on this," Commissioner Stephen Swindal said. "Is this $100,000 in the budget? How many $100,000s can they spend in a day or two? I think we need to have a policy other than just a blanket authorization."
Anderson said there are plenty of safeguards in place to make sure the money won't be misused, and he'll use it to market the port more quickly and more nimbly. Anderson said he was fortunate that he was able to get January's $50,000 expenditure approved so quickly because the need coincided with a board meeting. But what if the timing isn't so great next time?
"We're going to promote our port more aggressively," Anderson said. "This is very common sense and in practice with what our competitors are already doing."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3404.