Groseclose contract revealed

Bernard S. Groseclose Jr. stands to make $132,000 in leaving his post at the State Ports Authority.

Bernard S. Groseclose Jr. stands to make a minimum of $132,000 in separation pay after offering his resignation as president and chief executive officer of the State Ports Authority.

His contract, obtained by The Post and Courier on Thursday, suggests the agency provide six months base pay to Groseclose, unless he is terminated for misconduct or an inability to perform his job.

Groseclose, who earned $264,000 a year, volunteered his resignation during a semi-annual evaluation at Tuesday's board meeting.

Joel Sawyer, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, said the SPA board discussed tacking even more onto the separation pay spelled out in the six-page employment agreement. That, he said, "would be a mistake."

"The port board had considered offering Mr. Groseclose a few things they are not contractually obligated to offer," Sawyer said. "We think that sends a bad message when state employees are being laid off."

Sawyer said that after the governor's office contacted SPA Chairman David Posek, it was assured that the ports board is "going to make every effort to pull it back. We're not talking about a whole lot of money with the add-ons, but symbolically, it doesn't look good."

Posek would not comment on any proposed terms of the separation package, which, he said, has not been presented to Groseclose and will likely take a few more weeks to prepare.

Groseclose, 55, became chief executive by unanimous board vote in 1996. He worked under an unwritten agreement for nearly two years.

The job evaluation that prompted him to offer his resignation also is not documented. Responding to a records request made by The Post and Courier on Tuesday, SPA spokesman Byron Miller said the agency's board delivered its review of Groseclose in a closed-door discussion and that there are no notes, tapes or transcripts of the former CEO's performance evaluation.

"The authority has no performance evaluation documents or records," Miller said Thursday.

Since Groseclose was named chief executive, the SPA's revenues have climbed from $71 million to a record $165 million, while cargo volume increased by more than a half million containers.

But recently port volume has declined — nearly 10 percent for the last complete fiscal year and more than 4 percent for the current year to date.

Also, the port's biggest customer, Denmark-based Maersk Line, has announced plans to pull its business, which accounts for 20 percent of Charleston's cargo, by the end of 2010. The company has blamed its decision on the International Longshoremen's Association, saying the union would not agree to cost-saving measures the company said it needed in order to stay.

A consulting firm, New Jersey-based Paul F. Richardson Associates, began meeting with maritime leaders and local officials weeks ago and delivered a confidential presentation to key lawmakers Thursday titled "A Port in Transition." The accompanying subtitles were: "A Customer Base in Crisis" and "The Need for Immediate Action."

It warned that Maersk's decision to leave might "signal a potentially broader cargo market share loss" and that Charleston could face continued problems in retaining container business.

"There is a need to prevent further erosion of the Port's market share, which may not be recoverable over the near term, as carriers look to cut costs," according to a copy of the presentation obtained by The Post and Courier.

According to Paul F. Richardson Associates, the study was requested by "various private sector stakeholders within the Port," but it did not specify who paid for it. The firm said its list of maritime-industry clients is diverse. It includes ocean carriers, terminal operators, stevedores, ports authorities, cargo owners, organized labor, management and investors.

The presentation criticized the SPA of focusing on expansion and profits while being inattentive to its customers.

State Sen. Robert Ford criticized the SPA for not alerting lawmakers and the public about the dire situation on the waterfront sooner. "We never knew," he said Thursday.

Both Ford and state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, both D-Charleston, said they would like to see a maritime union member serve on the SPA board in the future. They support a bill that would restructure the board's makeup by scrutinizing the governor-appointed members more closely.

Gilliard also said SPA bonuses, which last fiscal year netted Groseclose an additional $28,000, should stem from increases in business volume, not profit targets.

Referring to Groseclose's base salary, Gilliard said, "Next time ... I want to see a pay cut of at least 50 percent. That is just way too much for somebody to be making" in a state job.