Port leaders get raises, bonuses amid booming business


Following a near-record performance during fiscal 2015, the State Ports Authority’s board of directors on Wednesday awarded the agency’s top executives with pay raises ranging from 2 percent to 32 percent and bonuses of up to six figures.

The board also authorized the maritime agency’s staff to move forward with plans to issue $300 million in revenue bonds to pay off old debt and help build new infrastructure to lure bigger containerships expected to visit the East Coast when the Panama Canal expansion is finished next spring.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO, received the biggest bonus — a one-time payout of $157,286 — as the agency surpassed financial and production goals set by the board.

All told, the seven-person executive staff split $517,663 in bonuses. Another $1.7 million in bonuses will be split among the SPA’s more than 500 other employees. The total incentive payments represent roughly 1.1 percent of the SPA’s $196.8 million in revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and about 7.2 percent of the agency’s annual payroll of $30.8 million.

Newsome, who has been with the SPA since 2009, will see his base salary increase 6.1 percent to $435,000 a year beginning Dec. 28.

“As we all know, we had a wonderful (fiscal) 2015,” said director David Posek, a member of the board’s Human Resources Committee. “We looked at these salaries in relationship to our competition with both Norfolk (Va.) and Savannah (Ga.) and they are right in line with our competition.”

Newsome’s base pay for the coming year is less than the $515,170 salary paid to Curtis Foltz, CEO of the Georgia Ports Authority, which operates ports in Savannah and Brunswick. It also is less than the $618,750 paid to John Reinhart, CEO of the Virginia Port Authority, which operates seven terminals in that state’s Chesapeake Bay area.

While those port directors make more money than Newsome, they also operate much larger facilities.

Georgia’s fast-growing ports, for example, handled nearly double the number of cargo containers as the Port of Charleston during the last fiscal year. Virginia’s port terminals handled about 30 percent more cargo. The ports in Georgia and Virginia also are setting records for cargo levels.

The SPA’s pay increases come as Newsome is restructuring his executive staff, reducing the number of senior vice presidents to five from the 11 that were in place when he joined the agency.

Newsome arrived as the SPA had been losing business for years and its biggest shipping line was threatening to pull out of the market. Newsome has since revived the Port of Charleston, now the nation’s fastest-growing and ninth-largest, but said those efforts didn’t give him enough time to work on the agency’s management and organization.

“We needed to focus on getting back in the game commercially and on the external affairs side in terms of making sure we had the right message to our stakeholder, the Legislature and people of South Carolina, and making sure we got our (harbor) deepening project on track,” Newsome said. “So, I decided now that it’s five years into that, it’s time to review the organization ... (and) establish a really clear culture and way of working together.”

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The biggest change is the hiring of labor lawyer Catherine Templeton, the former director of the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, to handle the SPA’s human resources, external affairs and legal issues. She joins the SPA this week at a salary of $235,000 per year — $73,000 more than she made leading DHEC.

Barbara Melvin, who had been in charge of external affairs, will become senior vice president of operations and terminals. That new job gives Melvin, an 18-year SPA veteran who led the harbor-deepening project, a 32 percent salary bump to $250,000 per year.

The agency’s three other senior vice presidents were given $5,000 raises apiece.

The $300 million bond issue would be used to retire about $110 million worth of debt the SPA has remaining from a previous offering and $190 million for capital improvements, including site preparation work for a new cargo container terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston.

Newsome has said the SPA must increase the amount of cargo it moves and raise the rates it charges customers to help pay for more than $1 billion in planned improvements over the next five years. The SPA is seeking a higher return on capital — currently at 3 percent — to attract investors.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_