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

(10) comments

Norman Pappous

Heber, you know that I respect you, but the notion that the port is a net positive economic engine for our city is an opinion void of fact and ignoring basic finance. In 1940, this newspaper fraudulently labeled critics of the port deal as making a strawman argument. However what they warned about came to be the truth - the exact truth. And what the editor of the Galveston Daily News promised their readers never came to pass. After 75 years, isn't it time to start telling the people the truth?

Susan Fennewald

Norman, a few facts would be helpful. And I don't mean about what the port should or should not pay the city. How can the port be a net negative economic engine for the city? Perhaps its not the most efficient economic engine (according to you)- but I don't see how it can be a drain on the economy. It doesn't consume tax dollars and it generates jobs and activity-those all sound positive.
(My choice for negative impact - first row beachfront vacation homes and vacation residential development. Those consume LOTS of tax/public monies for utilities, sand etc.)

Norman Pappous

Susan, because in the math you have to account for what you are not receiving from that property. Take all the payments from the port, and its leaseholders, to the city in one column. Then, in a second column, add up all the payments to the city that would be forthcoming if the property were privately held. In this column also add the funds from taxpayers to the port (IDC etc). The second column's sum is larger than the first - by a country mile as the city has forgiven past payments AND I am not even addressing the depreciation expenses. Your assertion that it does not consume tax dollars is simply false. The taxes that it does not pay are supplanted by the taxes Galvestonians do pay. Tilman's businesses creates jobs - can he get the same deal? The citizens of Galveston dwarf the economic impact (i.e. job creation) of the port, can we get the same deal? The port was supposed to benefit the island like a business benefits an equity-holder; that is in black and white in the newspaper accounts in 1940. If the criteria for the port's tax exemption is available to everyone, then it would be one thing, but the tax exemption only applies to them. I think we need to revisit the charter on this issue.

Susan Fennewald

Nonsense. That's the kind of thing you can say about almost anything and skew any which way you like to get the result you want. How about some numbers, or some examples? Are you one of the folks pushing for another tourist area along the harbor, instead of a working harbor? And who's to say that will be more profitable. Or do you want to just leave it to a commercial owner - to put a container terminal downtown? Or perhaps a LNG facility - because it might make the most money.

It sounds like you're just trying to set things up for a government giveaway.

Norman Pappous

It's not nonsense - it is finance. The port has an economic benefit granted to them by the citizens on the basis of promises that were not kept. Fact. Numbers? Go to and search for my presentations to city council - twice. Plenty of numbers for you on those videos. I'm advocating nothing as far as the potential uses for the port - that is up to whomever owns it. I'm not interested in managing the port, only in getting them to pay their fair share - as they promised in 1940. Go view the videos of my presentations. btw - I was asking to allow citizens to have a vote.... and that was defeated. The City Council would not even allow a vote by the citizens on the largest asset they own. The citizens could have voted to do nothing and keep it the way it is - but they would not, could not, risk another outcome. The cronyism is strong when it comes to the port.

Norman Pappous

"It sounds like you're just trying to set things up for a government giveaway." So we should just continue to let the taxpayers get the shaft? Because it is we who are supplanting that lost tax revenue.

Susan Fennewald

There are those who have wanted to turn the 14th street area of the port into a vacation/luxury boat facility. My bet is that becomes the first thing they try to accomplish.

Jarvis Buckley

I liked the opposing comments
reminded me of the old show Crossfire. Back when folks could agree to disagree. Without getting
hostile. Good job.

Steve Fouga

I also enjoy hearing from Norm and Susan, who both know much more than I do about the Port and Galveston in general.

Here is my brief observation of Galveston, a product of day-tripping here for 45 years, vacationing for another 10, and living here for 5: It's underperforming. 32 miles of beach and a deepwater (sort of) port, 50 miles from the 4th largest city in the world's most prosperous nation... And we have to float bonds to fix our streets?

Galveston has 2 precious attributes -- the beach and the Port -- and doesn't make the best of either. My personal opinion of the beach, which I know is at odds with some, if not most, on this forum, is that more development, both horizontally and vertically, would benefit the Island. The higher-end, the better. If people will pay to stay in a highish-class hotel overlooking a brown beach and brown water, I say bring 'em on. Let the hoteliers determine what the market will bear, and build it out to that extent.

As for the Port, good grief, is there even the accounting to say we're making or losing money? Again, my impression as an observer, is that it seems a little sleepy. Sure, we can never compete with Houston, but there's a lot of unused or underused territory on Galveston Island and Pelican Island. Shouldn't it be developed? Yes, containers and LNG, if on Pelican Island.

Seriously, does the Port still receive a tax break? Come on, it's not like we're trying to lure a business to the Island! What is the Port going to do if the City renegotiates their tax status? Take the Port elsewhere?

Anyway, more knowledgeable folks whose job it is to deal with issues like these are already working hard, so I'll just leave it at that. [cool]

Charlotte O'rourke

The city owned port produces an annual CAFR ( comprehensive annual financial report) with an independent audit and current and historical port data. This report and all audits are posted on line at the port of Galveston website.

I agree with Susan .... my summary .... if you count beans, you must count ALL of the beans in a consistent and nonbiased manner.

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