PORT CANAVERAL — Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Walsh has resigned from his post effective Jan. 21, 2016, after a tense Port Authority meeting today in which Commission Chairman Jerry Allender moved for his immediate departure. The Commission had been negotiating a severance package with him for at least a month in the wake of derogatory comments Walsh made about residents who opposed the port's proposed cargo rail plan, commissioners told GrowthSpotter.
The severance package is still being negotiated.
But according to Commissioner Thomas Weinberg there was more to it than the negative comments. Walsh "has failed to keep his word on agreements and has accused people that go against him. His behavior has become worse in the last couple of months," Weinberg said. Commissioner John Evans opposed Walsh leaving immediately because of appearances. "If we fire him now, it will be difficult to go to the debt market," he said.
"I have enjoyed my years at the Port and have set up the opportunity for it to grow," Walsh said at the meeting. He said the staff is ready to carry things forward.
At the Aug. 26 Canaveral Port Authority meeting, Walsh called some port critics "Luddites" because they were against a project that would travel over the Banana River and through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Some residents in the area are concerned about the environmental impacts the project would have.
Walsh also said during the meeting, according to Florida Today: "Are we going to make those people happy? No. Their own kids can't make them happy. That's just the reality, and we have a target on our back. Dogs don't chase parked cars. They chase the ones moving, and this port is moving."
Walsh, who is in his mid-50s, had been CEO of the port since June, 2013, when he replaced Stan Payne, who was in the position for nine years. Walsh had been deputy director of infrastructure at the port for the prior two-and-a-half years. He has also been a real estate developer and general contractor.
Walsh subsequently apologized for his comments, the Orlando Sentinel reported, but the action was felt to be too little, too late.
"I made some comments and remarks at our last Port Canaveral commission meeting that I regret and should not have said," Walsh said in a statement issued by the port. "I would like to apologize publicly to members of our community offended by my comments. It was not appropriate of me to get personal or attack those members of the community who oppose port rail or growth strategies. I allowed my frustrations to lead to comments that were inappropriate, and I should not have done so."
In a May interview, Walsh told Growthspotter about how his long range plans that would benefit the Orlando area. He was planning to steward, during the next five-to-seven years, a major master planning effort that includes a $1 billion capital spending program. Walsh was a former real estate developer and general contractor.
The port recently opened its first container site, a $100 million, 40-acre yard that will for the first time allow the port to bring in and ship out consumer goods.
The addition will give Orlando and the rest of Central Florida cheaper food, clothing, consumer electronics and other merchandise, said Walsh, and also spur area growth in the form of new warehouses, more local trucking and hiring to support the logistical expansion.
The economic impact will be about $1 billion over the first year and that will continue to grow to $10 billion annually over the next five years, Walsh estimated. About 50 percent of the impact would be felt by Orlando "because that's where the consumer base is, and those are the people who will benefit from the lower cost of shipping goods," according to Walsh.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.