State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome was awarded a new seven-year contract and a $50,000 raise Tuesday by the SPA board, although his current contract was not set to expire until next fall.
The board's unanimous action makes Newsome's new contract effective in January, raising his pay to $350,000 well before the September expiration of his existing three-year agreement.
Newsome will continue to be eligible for annual performance bonuses equal to up to 30 percent of his pay.
The action comes at a time when many large issues confront the SPA, including the development of a new North Charleston port, construction of a Charleston cruise ship terminal
and plans to deepen the Charleston shipping channel.
"We've got, without a doubt, the premier port director in the nation," said board member David Posek. "And we want to keep him."
Board Chairman Bill Stern said he couldn't agree more.
"I think this contract sends a message to everyone on the outside ... that Jim is committed to Charleston and the state of South Carolina," he said.
On Tuesday evening, Newsome told an audience at The Propeller Club of the Port of Charleston that he was humbled by the board's action.
"In view of the considerable amount of work still to be done, and the great opportunities here, I recently approached our board with the idea of entering into a longer-term contract which starts the process of removing any uncertainty about the future of our senior leadership team," he said.
"They have been gracious enough to agree to a new, seven-year contract with an option to extend, which has been approved in our board meeting today, and for which I am most appreciative."
Although the SPA board met behind closed doors for about 90 minutes before reconvening and approving the new contract Tuesday afternoon, its decision was clearly expected by Newsome, whose comments to The Propeller Club were written before the board voted.
Stern said Newsome has a good plan for moving the port forward.
"When you're sure you have the right guy, you want to keep him around," Stern said. "If we weren't confident or weren't sure, we would have done a two- or three-year contract."
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley introduced Newsome at the Propeller Club event, and praised him as "a natural maritime leader."
"I've gotten to see him up close and in action, and let me tell you, I was so impressed," Riley said. "He's the right man at the right time."
State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, is chairman of the state's Port Oversight Commission and attended the SPA board meeting where Newsome's new contract was discussed. He said the board made a good decision, because Newsome has shown he can bring new customers to the port.
"He's more than a good manager and a port leader, he's part of the branding," Grooms said.