If Tampa port director Richard Wainio's job is in danger, his bosses didn't act like it Tuesday.
Members of the Tampa Port Authority governing board voiced support for Wainio a week after a group that represents 47 companies doing business at the port called on them not to renew his employment contract.
"We all know how well he's doing in the context of this economy," said Carl Lindell, one of five gubernatorial appointees to the board. "We're on pretty good footing with him."
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman suggested giving Wainio a new evaluation tied to specific financial and business goals for the port.
"Let's not make it personal," she said. "We all respect Mr. Wainio for the job he's done here."
Wainio, 61, has held the port's top post since 2005. He earns $251,118 a year. Board members have until Sept. 30 to evaluate his performance and decide if they want him to stay past March 5.
On Tuesday, board chairman Lawrence Shipp said he directed Wainio to respond in writing to criticisms raised by the Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association, or PTMIA.
In a July 15 letter, the association cited significant declines in cargo tonnage and ship arrivals at the port since 2006.
The authority's operating income declined from about $5 million in the black at the beginning of his tenure to $1.1 million in the red last year, the letter said.
The group also said Wainio "is viewed as being unwilling or reluctant to solicit or accept suggestions, feedback or input in the development of port strategy, growth and operations."
Wainio dismisses the group as not representing the views of the wider port community.
He e-mailed the Times a list of about 100 businesses that lease land from the port authority, noting that most are not members of the PTMIA.
Wainio also sent the names of 133 firms that belong to the Executive Shippers' Council, a group of exporters and importers who generate a third of the port's container cargo business.
"These firms work with us and support our efforts to grow business," he wrote. "Virtually all of them have close and cooperative relationships with the (Tampa Port Authority) staff."
In other business, the port board granted licenses for a new business to handle cargo on private property despite objections by Tampa Port Authority staff and union members.
Tampa Marine Terminals can now move both bulk materials and general cargo, such as bundled steel and lumber, on the site of an old Tampa Electric power plant.
Port staff objected, basically saying there's barely enough business to support the existing firms.
"To add more and more operators might mean that not just the new guy might fail, but other people fail," Wainio said.
Tampa Marine Terminals principal Richard Tager has run cargo businesses in the area using nonunion labor.
Robert Doster, a 34-year union longshoreman, said the new company would cut rates to shippers and put higher-paid union longshoremen out of work.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.