TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority board voted Tuesday to negotiate a new two-year contract with director Richard Wainio, disappointing his critics.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman first proposed only one additional year. After her motion failed on a 3-3 vote, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposed the two-year contract. It passed 4-2, with Murman and fellow board member Patrick Allman voting against.
The deal would keep Wainio in the agency's top job through March 2014.
Most board members were pleased with how he guided the port through a recession that devastated international trade.
But they criticized Wainio for his sour relations with port tenants and businesses that say he doesn't listen to their concerns.
"There is a serious issue in terms of communication," Buckhorn said. "On substance, I'm fine. I think these other issues can be resolved. Two years gives us the opportunity to resolve these issues."
Wainio called a new two-year contract ''certainly acceptable."
Asked if he could bridge the divide with unhappy port businesses, Wainio said: ''Communication is a two-way street. I'll redouble my efforts to do that, regardless of how I feel about people personally. There are bigger issues we have to deal with."
Wainio, 61, has served as the Port Authority's chief executive since 2005. He earns $251,118 a year. Questions over Wainio's future arose in July. That's when the Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association, which represents 47 companies doing business at the port, called for the board to let Wainio go when his contract expires in March.
Some board members were surprised to learn the director's contract automatically extends for one year if he isn't offered a new deal by March 2012.
"This contract is just confusing," Murman said. "So, he'd be here 18 months more if we did nothing today." Wainio corrected her. The contact required board members to let him know by Sept. 30 if they planned to offer a new contract.
"You always have the option to terminate me any time you want," he said. "You just need to get four votes."
No one suggested that. But new board member Allman said the director didn't deserve a long-term contract.
"We need an innovative leader that communicates a vision of how this economic engine is going to make things go," Allman said. "You need to change your style." A one-year deal would give him 18 months to fix communications with critics, Allman said.
Murman also criticized the evaluation process for Wainio. It lacks any goals or standards to evaluate his performance.
Chairman Larry Shipp balked at that. He pointed to Wainio's completing projects included in the port's 10-year plan and a new rail line connecting the port to a rail line with access to Midwest and Southeast markets.
Buckhorn's motion authorized a revamp of the evaluation.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (8130 226-3384.