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Port director sets sail for county job

David Metz, a 26-year employee of the city of St. Petersburg, is leaving his post Friday.

David Metz, St. Petersburg's port director for the past 2{ years, is taking a new job with Pinellas County for higher pay in a more exciting field with a boss he has worked with before.

After 26 years with the city, Metz leaves Friday to become a senior economic development manager with Pinellas County. Though just 46, Metz is actually retiring to take the new job.

As port director and head of Florida's largest municipal marina, Metz was earning just more than $65,000 with the city. At the county, he'll earn about $72,000 annually.

Metz will report directly to his old boss, another St. Petersburg alumnus, assistant county administrator Rick Dodge, the city's former assistant administrator. In his new job, Metz will try to bring more businesses and the jobs they create to Pinellas.

Metz said last week that the verbal jabs he has endured while standing before St. Petersburg City Council member Kathleen Ford made his decision to leave that much easier.

Those who have witnessed those encounters still cringe at the recollection.

University of South Florida Dean Bill Heller recalled a recent council meeting, when Metz was again defending a master plan for the city-owned port: "I was there with a guy from the Coast Guard. We just couldn't believe what was happening to him. That has to hurt. He really got raked over the coals."

Ford routinely declared that Metz mismanaged the city's port facilities. His personnel file, though, describes a worker who through the decades has consistently earned the highest marks and comments from his supervisors.

The marina, where he took over in the early 1980s, remains fully occupied and well-maintained. It operates without taxpayer subsidies. He has served on the board of directors of a national marine industry association.

At the port, where he was appointed director 2{ years ago, after the death of Floyd Glisson, he is credited with overseeing the development of a master plan that draws on the port's neighbors: USF, the Coast Guard and the Florida Marine Research Institute.

It is here that USF's Heller says Metz is most effective. "I can tell you, we've gone to Tallahassee on behalf of the city and the port. He's on a first-name basis with the directors of the other port authorities, the transportation department, everybody up there. You just don't get that kind of respect without a lot of work."

And it is also here that Ford and Metz tangle. She supports the idea that the port should be configured like a traditional port, one able to handle general cargo and cruise ships alike.

Metz, other city officials, their consultants and the port's neighbors have endorsed a plan that would make the port into more of a tourist and educational destination able to also handle small cruise ships.

At just 3 acres, St. Petersburg's port is the smallest in Florida, and one of the most shallow. General cargo has been scarce for years. Cruise ships have typically preferred Tampa to St. Petersburg. The council approved the new master plan last year.

And Ford continues to say that Metz has mismanaged the port.

"That's what council member Ford always says," Metz said with a laugh last week.

She made that point again at the council's Jan. 6 meeting.

"How many ports have you been director of?" Ford asked Metz at that meeting.

"This one," Metz replied.

"What troubles me here, folks, is that here is an asset that has been mismanaged, underutilized, and this is a further step down that road," Ford said.

At other times, Ford has asked Metz about his educational and employment background, as though she was concerned about his qualifications to hold his job.

Nevertheless, Ford said last week that she will miss Metz.

"He didn't have experience as a port manager, but that didn't make him a bad person," she said. "He was an absolutely talented and loyal city employee. We're going to miss him. He followed the orders; I just didn't agree with the orders."