Friday, November 22, 2013

Long Beach Harbor Board President Ousted; VP Resigns

The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners lost two members this week, as the City Council fired the board president, and the vice president resigned less than 48 hours later.

In an unprecedented move, the Long Beach City Council on Nov. 19 voted 6-3 to fire Harbor Commission President Thomas Fields from the five-member board, following a recommendation by Mayor Bob Foster.

“Mr. Fields has been immune to suggestions or advice and is often dismissive,” Foster told the Council regarding his desire to fire Fields. “I have no confidence that he can lead the port or appropriately weigh broader city concerns in harbor department actions.”

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 and in June 2013, he was elected to a one-year term as board president by his fellow commissioners.

He had come under pressure from personnel within the port and City of Long Beach in recent months for numerous reasons, 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.

Before the vote, Fields defended his tenure on the board, saying that his trips were made with the intent of bringing more business to Long Beach and that some of the trips he made were on behalf of other commissioners who were unable to travel due to other commitments.

“Every decision I’ve made as a member of this commission has been based on what’s best for the port and the city,” he said.

Among those who cast votes against the removal of Fields was Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, who said she’d been told that Foster wanted Fields fired because he makes up half of a two-person ad hoc committee tasked with selecting a new executive director for the port, to replace Chris Lytle, who quit earlier this year to become executive director of the Port of Oakland.

Schipske said that she’d heard that the mayor already had a candidate for the executive director position, and that firing Foster clears the path for a new committee member who would go along with the mayor’s executive director choice.

The mayor however, denied this.

“I don’t care what the rumors are,” he said, “it’s not the way I run my office.”

Two days after Fields was fired, harbor board vice president Nick Sramek submitted his resignation to the mayor. Sramek’s first six-year term on the board had expired July 1, but had remained on the commission the past few months while the mayor was deciding whether to reappoint or replace him.

According to the mayor, Sramek cited fatigue as a reason for his resignation and said the firing of Fields played no part in his decision. In his day job, Sramek is a senior project leader in system engineering for The Aerospace Corp, where he’s worked for over 30 years.

Fields’ and Sramek’s departures mean there are now three commissioners left on the Board for now. Only two members are required for a quorum.