Port Administration head to leave position by July

April 18, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

Brendan W. "Bud" O'Malley announced yesterday that he will step down as executive director of the Maryland Port Administration by July 1 after two tumultuous years in the post.

Characterizing his departure as a retirement, Mr. O'Malley said he'll explore private-sector employment opportunities. "They will be in the transportation field, and that's about all I want to say about them at this point in time," said Mr. O'Malley, 54.

A permanent successor has not been named. State Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer will take over the port's operations temporarily, enabling him to gauge what qualifications a replacement will need, a statement from Mr. Lighthizer's office said.

Mr. Lighthizer's interim duties won't start until Mr. O'Malley's retirement has been finalized, a spokeswoman for the secretary's office said yesterday. She added that Mr. Lighthizer, who also chairs the Maryland Port Commission, which sets policy for the MPA, went on a brief vacation yesterday and was unavailable for comment.

"My official departure date has not been set," Mr. O'Malley said. "Jim Lighthizer and I have been discussing that. It will be on or before July 1 -- I suspect it will be sometime in May."

In February, Gov. William Donald Schaefer vowed that he would shake up the MPA and noted that he was "not at all pleased with what's going on in that place." The governor was at a meeting in Annapolis yesterday afternoon and couldn't respond to questions, a spokeswoman said.

Mr. O'Malley seemed caught off guard when asked if he'd been pressured to relinquish his post as head of the city's port. "I, I, I volunteered to retire," he declared.

John M. Waltersdorf, a member of the Maryland Port Commission member, was circumspect regarding Mr. O'Malley's announcement. "I would refer you to Secretary Lighthizer," he said. "We're sorry to see him [Mr. O'Malley] leave -- the details would be better if they came from the secretary."

Mr. O'Malley's revelation came a few weeks short of his second anniversary in a job that has brought his management capabilities under harsh scrutiny. Under his direction, the port continued to be plagued by labor problems, and several major steamship lines have departed recently for calmer ports.

Calling 1990 "a year to be forgotten," Mr. O'Malley said last month that cargo at the state's piers declined 12 percent. Total cargo tonnage for the MPA was 5.1 million in 1990, compared with 5.8 million tons in 1989, marking the second straight year tonnage dropped. Meanwhile, the three ports in Virginia's Hampton Roads area -- Baltimore's principal competitor -- handled 7.2 million tons of cargo last year, an increase of 7.5 percent from 1989's level.

In addition, MPA officials have warned state legislators to expect a deficit somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.1 million this year.

But Mr. O'Malley's administration also presided over the construction of a $250 million, state-of-the-art container-handling facility that opened in the fall.

"My most noteworthy accomplishment was the successful opening and operation of Seagirt Marine Terminal," he said. "I think in time it will be known as one of the finest container terminals in the world."

Mr. O'Malley said his major shortcoming was his inability to "establish a positive labor-management climate," he said. "I think that we have started some good work along those lines.

"I think labor and management have begun to recognize that it is critical for them to act as a team."

Asked to provide an overall picture of the port's health, Mr. O'Malley said: "I think the port has a lot of strengths. I leave it feeling it is a better place for my having been here. It is poised for growth and will probably see significant growth in 1991."

Mr. O'Malley took over Baltimore's port agency after 28 years with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, where he was an assistant director and built a reputation as a tough negotiator with a knack for behind-the-scenes coalition-building.

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