Port of Brookings Harbor Manager Ted Fitzgerald might not walk on water, but in the eyes of board commissioners, he might be pretty darned close.
That sentiment was among the comments made in the board’s review of Fitzgerald’s performance over his two-year tenure at the Port of Brookings Harbor.
And with those accolades came a $15,000 bump in pay, to $100,000 a year.
Port board commissioners justified the raise, saying Fitzgerald has overcome criticism and brought port finances into the black. He’s also attracted new business ventures and accomplished an innovative dredging process — all while operating without an overall strategic plan and having to rebuild the port and harbor after the tsunami two years ago.
Fitzgerald is on call 24/7 — responding to everything from broken dredge pipes floating out at sea to painting retail spaces — and often uses his own equipment for port projects. He hasn’t taken compensation for the mileage he puts on his personal vehicle to other cities to discuss port issues. He can be found monitoring large events — or buying fresh produce at the Farmers Market.
“The port is in better shape today than it ever has been,” Commissioner Jim Relaford said Wednesday. “At one point (in port history), we couldn’t even cover employee paychecks. We had our backs against the wall. Fortunately, those days are gone, and a lot has to do with his leadership.”
“He keeps the ship headed in the right direction,” said Commissioner Ted Freeman. “He’s getting things done. He keeps things rented, he’s brought new business opportunities here and keeps the crew energized. It’s a good atmosphere.”
Most recently — even as Fitzgerald ties up the final ends of tsunami repair — he has transformed the fish-cleaning station from a port expense to a profitable venture.
In the past, port officials had to pay to have fish bones and guts hauled away. Now, they’re collected, frozen and sold as bait. That made the port $17,000 — in the month of February alone. Port officials believe that will easily and quickly double.
“That pays for it (his raise) right there,” Relaford said. “He’s very innovative. He’s done a lot of things in two years.”
Mike Manning, who has served on the board four months, agrees.
“Ted has taken a personal interest in the success of the port,” he said. “He’s donating his life to the port. He’s here 24/7 to deal with everything — big or small, commercial or sport, whether it be the candy shop or the commercial unloaders. It’s getting better all the time.”
Strategy and guidance
Fitzgerald, commissioners agreed, might do better if he had the guidance of a strategic plan, which became less of a priority when the tsunami struck.
“Ted tries to do all of it himself,” Relaford said, adding that Fitzgerald works on a quarterly work plan. “Without a (longer-term) plan, you’re just responding (to what needs to be done).”
The port agreed Tuesday night to immediately begin working on a strategic plan and have it in place before the fiscal year begins July 1.
“The board’s supposed to be doing that,” Relaford said. “We’ve got 15 years of strategic plans on the shelf, and they were never used.”
“But it has to be done with the needs of the port in mind, not the dreams and aspirations and wishes,” Fitzgerald said. “Other people had wishes; the big green building was somebody’s wish. Wishes have no merit. We need to look at needs that will apply within parameters of this economic reality.”
Down the road
If Relaford has one goal in mind, it’s to develop the port to its maximum potential.
“We’ve got $40 or $50 million worth of assets that need to generate income for the port and economic growth for the community,” he said. “We’ve got the facility, we’ve got the capability; we just need to get ourselves financially sound so we can do it.”
He’d like to see a large hotel, top-rated restaurants, a row full of shops, the capability to serve larger boats and an expansion of the commercial fishery.
This past winter’s financial papers indicate the port was far more profitable than commissioners expected. Rumors on the river and in the fisheries indicate that this summer’s salmon season should be even better than last year’s.
The port currently takes in about $2 million gross each year; Relaford would like to see that figure bump up to $4 million — net.
Freeman said he would like to see something done with the vacant green building; think about enlarging the harbor; and get into the dredging business to become a little more independent from federal agencies and help local waterways.
“This place is fairly demanding,” Fitzgerald said. “It takes a lot of my time. It’s a big undertaking. But we’re making headway down here. It’s coming along.”
“There are a lot of people who wouldn’t take this job; there’s certainly no upside to it,” Relaford said. “He’s pulled it out. He’s done a very nice job.”