Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Long Beach City Council May Fire Harbor Commission President

During its Nov. 19 meeting, the Long Beach City Council will consider a resolution to remove Harbor Commission President Thomas Fields from the five-member port board.

The resolution was placed on the agenda Nov. 11 by Mayor Bob Foster. Foster has yet to explain why he placed the removal item on the agenda. The removal of a commissioner during his six-year term is extremely rare, but according to the city’s charter, the mayor may remove a commissioner at any time with the concurrence of two-thirds of the nine-member City Council.

Fields, a Long Beach advertising executive and former city planning commissioner, was appointed to a six-year term on the Board by Foster in December 2009. In January 2013, he was elected to a one-year term as board president by his fellow commissioners.

He has come under pressure from personnel within the port and City of Long Beach in recent months for numerous reasons, however, including a perceived overbilling of the port for travel expenses. Over the past two years, Fields has traveled extensively out of the country on port business, including to Hong Kong, Montreal, Europe and Guatemala, sometimes racking up tens of thousands of dollars in costs.

Fields and other commissioners, as well as senior port officials spent more than $448,000 on 12 trips abroad between October 2011 and June 2013, according to port records.

Also, Fields and the mayor have disagreed over the lingering issue of a new headquarters for port staff. In the fall of 2011, the port was considering moving from its current aging, seismically deficient headquarters to the Long Beach World Trade Center a few miles away. Fields was one of two commissioners supporting the move, while the mayor and others supported a proposal by prominent local attorney Skip Keesel to instead build a new building on one of several downtown parcels he owns. Keesel said doing so would allow the port to build what they want and save the port money in the long run.

But after considering the options, the Harbor Commission eventually agreed to purchase an interim headquarters building about 11 miles from the port for $14.25 million, a move Fields cast the lone vote against, citing the distance from port terminals as a reason.