The Tampa Port Authority should open the search for its new director to broad public input. The next chief executive will wear many hats — head of a billion-dollar enterprise, a major downtown landowner — and the entire region has a stake in who will lead the port and shape downtown Tampa's waterfront.
The port's governing board took the right step by creating a search committee that includes representatives from business and the maritime community. A headhunter firm will identify candidates to succeed Richard Wainio, who is retiring this fall, and the search committee will recommend finalists to the port board. This added step of vetting candidates will open the hiring process to public view, and it will give port tenants a larger say in the selection of a CEO who must balance their competing needs. The process should help build a line of communication between the port administration and tenants, and it should help the new director make a strong transition.
The board, though, should have gone further and appointed a diverse search committee that included other civic leaders. The panel's makeup looks business-heavy, with representatives from job development groups but no real voice from downtown, civic organizations, or the scores of trade groups and public agencies with whom the port does regular business. This is a drawback for an operation that is playing an increasing role in developing the downtown Channel District. And port chairman William "Hoe" Brown should not have had the latitude to hand-pick a member of the panel without disclosing whom he was recruiting. This is a public institution, and its new director needs to appreciate that obligation in the fullest sense.
The search committee is just starting its work, which leaves the port plenty of time to strengthen the process by adding more civic representation. This is a soul-searching exercise for the port as much as a hunt for a new chief executive; the deliberations should frame a vision for where the port goes and a strategy for becoming a more vibrant part of the region's economy. Board members should take their time in finding a director who will be a good fit for the coming decade.