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Despite apparent missteps, Port Authority got its leader choice right

As much as we laud previous presidents for their public accomplishments while at the Port Authority helm, Lee Krueger actually can walk the talk.

Re: “Documents reveal preoccupation with secrecy in selection of St. Paul Port Authority President,” by Peter Callaghan, Aug. 1.

I was not surprised by the apparent level of secrecy surrounding the selection of Lee Krueger as Port Authority president. Having worked there for many years, I understand the intense political pressure applied to the Port on a variety of public and private levels — most notably by the mayor and City Council. Everyone has their own vision of the Port  — the mayor; the news media; district councils; private business; city, county state and federal government — and they insist that theirs is the best project for the Port to complete. Come on folks, the Port has 20 people on staff and its goal, as former Port President Ken Johnson drilled into me and other staff, was to “remain Switzerland.”

But the contortions required to achieve that goal would befuddle the Cirque de Soleil performing artists. As public servants the Port is accountable to everyone and that means everyone. And that means listening to everyone and weighing their proposals against the very strict criteria the Port has set up to accomplish real estate developments on highly polluted land that is producing no tax revenue and employing nobody. Yet, that’s why it is essential that the Port follow the public disclosure laws to the letter in every situation.

Therein lies the tension that Callaghan describes in his story. He quoted Port officials as trying to walk a thin line between keeping outside influences out of the selection process and following the letter of the disclosure laws. The result is that Lee Krueger’s appointment unfortunately turned into a surreal sideshow, which made the Port and its board look like they were hiding something, incompetent or, at the very least, overdramatic. That’s too bad given that, in my opinion, the selection-committee and its incredible contortionist act actually got it right this time. Lee is the first Port President in more than half of its 83-year-old history to have come from the private sector with proven real estate development and leasing experience.  As much as we laud previous presidents for their public accomplishments while at the Port helm, Lee actually can walk the talk.

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Critics of this piece will respond that without knowing who else was in the running, the public will never know if the board got it right. After all, the appointment cannot be fully vetted with a list of contenders. Vetted by whom?  By the mayor or City Council? Neighborhood and district council members?  Private developers? Real estate reporters? You see that’s why boards select committees that represent people who know how to gauge their vision with applicants’ credentials. I agree it would have been easier to make a list of finalists available before the vote. I still don’t understand that one. Nor do I understand why a Port board member seemed to have already made up her mind in a briefing of other board members before the vote. But don’t equate the Port’s apparent missteps in this search for a new leader for lack of vision.

For the past 83 years, the Port has quietly and painstakingly worked toward a goal of good-paying jobs for people in St. Paul and has 21 business centers with companies employing more than 24,000 people to show for it.

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