Now that he's official, Johnson plans to tackle port's problems
By Charlotte Libov
Although he's had the official title of port director only for a few weeks, Bill Johnson has six months of experience heading the Port of Miami under the belt as he grapples with trying to bring the facility back into the black.
For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the port took in $88 million, up 3.6% from a year earlier, according to Andria C. Muniz, a port spokeswoman. But at the same time, the port ran up an operating deficit of more than $6 million — actually $10 million that was whittled thanks to the application of funds from some "old litigation cases that were settled in our favor," Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson is working to turn around cargo numbers that have declined over the past year. According to figures supplied by the port, freight business at the seaport is down from a high of 1.05 million TEUs in 2005 to 976,514 TEUs in 2006. A TEU is a unit of measurement equal to the cargo capacity of a standard 20-foot-long container.
Cargo business had climbed from 868,178 TEUs in 2000 to slightly more than 1.4 million in 2003 although it dipped to slightly more than 1 million in 2004.
Cargo officials have attributed at least some of the recent decline to last year's frenetic hurricane season.
Mr. Johnson said in an interview that he will work to build up the cargo business.
"It's all about being competitive. You need to let people know that your port operates as efficiently as possible, and you can only do that when you're working with your cargo and cruise partners in harmony," he said.
"During my first two weeks on the job, I reached out for all my cargo and cruise partners and let them know I had an open door, and I needed to know what was not working in addition to what was working," he said.
Although he did not rise up through the ranks of the maritime industry, Mr. Johnson said he is well-qualified.
"I know the business community very well, and they know me. I know the maritime partners extremely well," he said.
He cites his experience overseeing the former ports director as assistant county manager as well as his 27 years in public service, including oversight of the troublesome construction of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts.
"It's true that my background is administrative, but it's much more than that overall," Mr. Johnson said.
He must contend with the aftermath of criticism that arose over news that county police cost the port $8 million in overtime pay, a situation Mr. Johnson is vowing to change.
"We have a security budget starting Oct. 1 that was authorized by Congress of $18 million, and I believe that I can cut that by many millions," Mr. Johnson said.
He said that in cooperation with Miami Police Director Bobby Jones, additional police officers have been assigned to the port and will work straight time "to help reduce overtime.
"I am also bringing in properly trained security officers to augment the sworn officers, and all of the sworn and civilian officers will be working under the direction of assistant seaport director James Maes," he said.
Recently, Mr. Johnson, as part of his reorganization plan, appointed Mr. Maes assistant director of seaport safety and security.
"He's a retired Coast Guard captain from one of the most prestigious districts," Mr. Johnson said.
In addition, Mr. Johnson has hired Denise Minakowski as chief of seaport safety and security. She was chief investigator for the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel, where she evaluated, analyzed and investigated complaints of police misconduct.
Another of Mr. Johnson's goals is to merge the cargo and cruise operations for efficiency, he said.
"I have a strong reputation for getting things done, a strong reputation for integrity, a strong reputation for being a problem-solver and a strong reputation for kicking ass, and these are the things that are desperately needed," he said. "The port needs to be turned around, and it's my job to do it."