At a time when cargo volumes moving through the Port of Houston are expanding rapidly, a commission set up by the Texas legislature issued a report saying the Houston Port Authority has to make sweeping changes “to restore public trust and address the challenges ahead.”
The Sunset Advisory Commission criticized the port authority’s board of commissioners, recommending more transparency, ethics reform, financial disclosure and a limit of three four-year terms. It made more than 12 recommendations in the 95-page report it released Friday.
The commission was established by the legislature last year following an investigation of the authority’s then-executive director, Alec Dreyer, for misuse of the agency’s assets. Dreyer, who had requested the investigation, was ultimately exonerated.
Despite what the commission termed “missteps” by the port authority and its public image, the report said the agency “is not a broken organization.”
One of the chief concerns of the politicians who served on the Sunset Commission was the need to set up best business practices to ensure contracts are awarded on a competitive basis and to establish better controls over the port authority’s Promotion and Development Fund, which state politicians have described as a “a slush fund.”
The Sunset Commission’s report followed months of investigation into the port authority’s business practices by the commission staff.
One of the reasons the legislature set up the Sunset Commission review was to make sure the Port of Houston has a governing body that can gain access to increasingly scarce federal funds needed to expand the port’s infrastructure as it gets ready to compete with other Gulf ports for the larger ships that will start coming through the Panama Canal after it opens its new set of larger locks in 2015.
The port is a huge economic engine for the State of Texas, where a total of 258,000 jobs are related to cargo moving through the port, which generate $4.5 billion in state and local taxes, according to a recent study by Martin Associates.
Len Waterworth, who succeeded Dreyer as executive director when he decided to resign at the end of last year, welcomed the Sunset Commission’s findings. “This report does confirm what I believe. I’m looking forward to implementing better business practices. This is a great opportunity to make some modifications to the port and help us grow the next phase of the business process,” Waterworth said.