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McAuliffe replaces five port board members in wake of port losses

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Disappointed with financial performance at the Port of Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday replaced five members of the Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners.

It is the most drastic change to the board since 2011, when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell replaced 10 of the 11 voting commissioners of the VPA board because of the port’s slow rebound from the recession at that time.

“The Port of Virginia is one of the commonwealth’s most important economic assets, and improving its performance is one of my top priorities,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “This team of Virginia leaders has the right experience and vision to strengthen the port financially and put it on the path toward long-term, sustainable growth."

The five commissioners being replaced include both the chairman, Jeff Wassmer, owner of Newport-News defense contractor Spectrum , and vice chairman Scott Bergeron, CEO of the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry.  Both were appointed to these roles after the board chose last year to dismiss private bids to take over port operations, opting instead to restructure VPA with its longtime operator, Virginia International Terminals (VIT).

The other departing board members include Norfolk lawyer James Boyd; Craig Coy, CEO of Command Security Corp. in Herndon;  and Robert Stanton, chairman of commercial real estate investment firm Stanton Partners Inc. Coy was the VPA board's finance committee chairman, and Stanton chaired the board’s operations committee.  Stanton also led the search committee that chose current Port of Virginia CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart, who joined the port in February. McAuliffe has expressed his support for Reinhart.

The Port of Virginia handled a record number of containers in the past year, but the port has been operating at a loss for the last five years.

A recent state audit of port finances showed that the port lost a total of $120 million during its past five fiscal years. The port reviously had predicted it will lose another $24.3 million in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, but officials believe losses will be less.

One of McAuliffe’s appointees, John G. Milliken, a partner at law firm Venable, served on VPA’s board from 2002 to 2011. He was chairman of the board when McDonnell replaced all but one commissioner. 

McAuliffe’s other appointments include G. Robert Aston Jr., chairman and CEO of Portsmouth-based TowneBank; Alan Diamonstein, an attorney at Patten, Wornom, Hatten & Diamonstein in Newport News; Gary T. McCollum, senior vice president and general manager for Cox Communications; and Val McWhorter, founding partner of the Tysons Corner-based law firm Smith, Patcher, McWhorter.

"We welcome the new board members, and we know they have the best interest of port members in mind and that they’ll be assets the board," Virginia Port Authority spokesman Joe Harris said Thursday.

McAuliffe has previously criticized McDonnell’s 2011 decision to replace almost all gubernatorial appointees from the board of commissioners, according to The Virginian-Pilot. A recent study on port operations by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission included a recommendation to limit the governor’s authority to remove commissioners to instances of “malfeasance, misfeasance, or gross neglect of duty.”

JLARC’s report, which came out in October 2013, said the instability of the board appointments was disruptive to port operations. “One of VPA’s largest customers stated that the replacement of the board members in 2011 led many businesses in the shipping industry to begin ‘second guessing’ VPA’s reputation.”

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