It was a small but telling thing that the new Galveston Wharves Board of Trustees decided to form an executive committee.
It was such a new idea that the board had to research its bylaws. In the past, the chairman of the wharves board appointed all committees. But any governing board ought to have the authority to appoint committees. It’s just a matter of time before the bylaws are cleared up and the executive committee is appointed.
Why would anyone think the appointment of a committee might be such a big deal?
This is obviously a new board, intent on a new direction for the port. The executive committee would be a way for the board to ensure the new direction was being followed by the port staff.
So what changes are coming?
It’s no secret that Ted O’Rourke, the new wharves board chairman, and Mayor Jim Yarbrough have been talking about a master plan. O’Rouke has said he hopes to have one in by the end of the year.
While consultants would do the work, expect to see a push to focus the port’s resources on the Galveston side of the harbor. Expect the plan to have suggestions for public-private partnerships and agreements with the Port of Houston Authority to develop Pelican Island.
Next, expect three assessments of the port’s assets: facilities, staff and leases.
The selection of a new port director to replace Mike Mierzwa, who retired in December, obviously will be a critical decision. Controlling costs for personnel will also play into decisions about what can be done to improve facilities. The idea is that the port, with $36 million in revenue, might be able to spend more on capital improvements.
The assessment of port leases will be interesting. Consider, for example, what the wharves board could do with all that space that is now dedicated for handling grain. At one time, grain was an important part of the port’s business. But patterns in business change. Today, the grain operation takes up a lot of space and doesn’t appear to produce much in the way of jobs or revenue.
Based on what the wharves board finds in those assessments, it will come up with a business plan to make better use of its assets.
Stay tuned as the new wharves board appoints an executive committee and gets to work.
The port is one of Galveston’s economic engines — and the assumption that Galveston could get more out of its public assets is refreshing. This is going to be good.
• Heber Taylor