Port Authority director put on ‘gardening leave’

Although his government contract is not due to expire until May, the Cayman Islands Port Authority’s managing director has been shown the door by the board of directors.

Managing Director Paul Hurlston has been put on “gardening leave” – not reporting to the office, but still being paid – until the end of his contract on May 21, port chairman Errol Bush confirmed Tuesday. Mr. Bush said a letter informing Mr. Hurlston of the board’s decision was delivered to him during a Monday meeting.

“It was contemplated [previously] that we would do this, but we just wanted to wait until after the Christmas break,” Mr. Bush said.

The port chairman told the Cayman Compass in December of the board’s decision not to renew the current managing director’s six-year contract, which was approved in the waning hours of the former People’s Progressive Movement government administration.

“His contract was not an open contract. It ends in May 2015,” Mr. Bush said at the time. “He has to give us notice of his interest to renew. [The board], in turn, has to give him notice of our interest [in continuing the contract]. We did not want to renew his contract.”

Mr. Hurlston did not return Cayman Compass calls or emails seeking comment.

A page-and-a-half advertisement appeared in the Cayman Compass on Friday trumpeting the achievements of Mr. Hurlston during a career that began in 1992 when he was named port assistant director.

“The port director looks back on some of his achievements which has directly given rise to … the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands now being one of the top five cruise ports in the Caribbean and also one of the most efficient cargo handling ports,” the advertisement read.

The ad lists a number of Mr. Hurlston’s achievements since August 2001 in the areas of management, cargo operations, new projects, cruise operations and human resources.

Mr. Hurlston’s departure comes against the backdrop of persistent rumors of sweeping changes at the port authority, as well as remarks made in Legislative Assembly last year that all port staff members would have to reapply for their current jobs. Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said port staffers “had every right to be concerned” about their jobs.

Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell read a letter in the Legislative Assembly, signed by the port board, which indicated that talk of staff changes had been chalked up to a “malicious rumor.”

The port authority hired accounting firm Deloitte, via a tendering process, to perform what the deputy premier termed an “organizational review” at the authority, aimed at “getting us back on better financial footing.”

The port authority has reported significant financial losses in two consecutive fiscal years from which government auditors indicated it may not easily recover. In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, the public agency lost more than $2.6 million.

Premier Alden McLaughlin has said financial performance at the port through the first three months of the current 2014/15 fiscal year appeared to be making a turnaround, but the full year’s results won’t be known until next summer.

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick noted in his evaluation of the agency’s financial statements between 2011 and 2013 that the losses prompted significant concern about the port’s ability to continue operating.

“Given that the port authority has already increased fees in 2010, there is limited room for further maneuver on the revenue generation side, if the expected downward trajectory of cargo and cruise passenger volumes continues,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “The likely options include staff rationalization and direct government support to sustain operations.”

Errol Bush did not paint such a grim financial picture last week, but agreed that losses totaling millions per year could not be sustained ad infinitum.

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  1. Mr. Swarbrick is essentially saying that, if things continue as expected, staff rationalization is a likely option (i.e. people will be fired). Mr. Errol Bush is saying the same thing when he says that the losses could not be sustained ad infinitum. So at the end of the day Mr. McKeeva Bush is correct when he says that port staffers ‘had every right to be concerned’ about their jobs.

    One of the things that I notice about many government companies and departments is that they always need to hire companies like Deloitte to tell them what they should and should not be doing. This makes me question the makeup of the respective boards and the management structure of the respective government companies and departments. It would seem that in most instances the people that are ultimately responsible for leadership don’t have the expertise and/or experience required to do their jobs properly.

    There is nothing wrong with using a company like Deloitte but the offset should be the elimination of so many government companies and a significant reduction in the executive management structure of many government departments.

    Let me make a prediction that the final report from Deloitte includes a recommendation for some level of outsourcing.

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  2. This is a bad situation, and needs to be handled delicately.

    Firstly, those who have ‘hands on’ type jobs need to be kept informed – chances are for those workers the impact will be minimal and they’ll certainly be better off at the end of the process, with pension deficits able to be corrected. BUT all too frequently that is not communicated well.

    @Mac 2nd paragraph summarizes the situation well and therein lies the danger;-

    The terminology has changed over the years – Used to be called ‘downsizing’,
    this became ‘right-sizing’ implying a correction where a department or division had become ‘oversized’.
    Then there was ‘bright-sizing’ where the stolid and obstinate ‘dead wood’ were targeted leaving a more forward looking and lighter management structure.

    BUT, if handled badly, there is a danger of ‘dumb-sizing’ where the brightest and best are the ones who foresee the changes ahead, and, given a lack of communication are the first to set their sights elsewhere, leaving behind the very ones who would have been primary targets.

    That is where the expertise of companies like Deloitte do add value.

    Properly implemented, technology can also flatten the management structure – an access control system with ‘smart keys’ can mean one staff can do payroll in an afternoon which used to take 2 staff 2 days with an old ‘timecard’ system;-

    The fact that many managers are ‘moonlighting’ on other jobs or businesses should be an indication that there are too many ‘Chiefs’ and not enough ‘Indians’.

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  3. The advertisement was hilarious as the Port Director could enact any of the major changes stated without the direction of the Board. Some operational changes I am sure he made over the years but to make out that all progress was his doing and not past boards instructions with him overseeing is madness

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  4. It is all well and good for the various politicians of sitting Government to bray about the need for ..better financial footings at the Port Authority. However, the listening public needs to be aware of the FACT that Government Authorities are NOT run under the same directives as other institutions of business, such as to be found in the PRIVATE SECTOR! In other words, the management of the Authority is NOT allowed to freely and without fetter to adjust budgets, expenditures, staffing etc. in response to market forces such as can happen in the Private Sector. They are forever directly subject to the whims and fancies of various Politicians and their appointed Boards , who may, or may not have ANY CLUES at all about running such a business or, who may not consider the proposed reactive changes proposed by Management to be in the best interest of the Public (or, for that matter, in THEIR best interest, in terms of re-election possibilities!). Therefore, the Public, being shareholders in these National Assets, should make it a priority to acquaint themselves with the real picture, and not be content with just the vague and ambivalent utterings of Politicians and their appointed Boards. Quoted figures and facts WITHOUT CONTEXTUAL REFERENCES or backdrop can be manipulated to paint either a positive or negative picture by those who have vested interest in either outcome.(For example, a loss situation cannot be fully explained/understood unless the terms of reference are also supplied) The current Director (Mr. Hurlstone) is a fully qualified Accountant and Auditor who is in my opinion, just as capable as any other readily available expert to access the economic viability of the Port, and to make the necessary changes in costs structures, staffing quotas, identify additional revenue streams etc., should he be given the remit/permissions to do so. Unfortunately, as current Governmental Structures stand, and as they concern the running of Public Authorities, such a positive scenario has about the same probability of materializing, as has the long awaited Second Coming has of occurring…Aaah well…

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  5. A reply to the article from Jim Cross. I am of the opinion, after having read your submission a number of times, that it perhaps should have read as the following : The advertisement was hilarious as the Port Director could NOT(?) etc. etc. If my suggested inclusion is correct, then your statement serves to bolster the point that, besides being a competent enough Director to successfully manage all of the noted changes (many of them being rather complex and unprecedented,whether they were all his ideas or not)he was also obviously able to overcome and accommodate any differences that accrued from his dealings with prior Boards, politicians, Governments, Staff etc. To my mind, the pertinent question should be; is there a more competent person, (when all of the criteria, and the accrued experience and track record of the current holder of this post is assessed)to lead the Port Authority living in the Cayman Islands today? Boards, for all the power that is vested in them, are appointed from the public by sitting Governments with what appears to me to be a very loose criteria, and I am of the opinion that there is certainly the potential for them to be staffed by a membership who does not necessarily possess the requisite tools to enable them to objectively oversee or micro-manage such a crucial operation. As it stands, the Port Authority has never, to the best of my understanding, ever reported an absolute loss (more monies spent for a financial period than was on hand/collected, and thus requiring of Government subsidy)during Mr. Hurlston’s tenure. Indeed, for many periods, the Port has greatly over performed when measured against the requirements of the Law that governs that Authority. As a keen and invested member of the public, I am watching the outcome of this exercise with much interest and aplomb.

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