The Wolf administration is shaking up the staff leadership at the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, a state agency that owns piers and marine terminals on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River.
James T. "Jamie" McDermott Jr., 59, announced that he will retire in April after 25 years at the agency, 21 of those as executive director, in a letter to Gov. Wolf on Sept. 23.
The port authority's second in command, senior deputy executive director Robert C. Blackburn, left the PRPA, effective Monday.
Blackburn, 54, who could not be reached for comment, joined the PRPA as a marketing representative in 1992 and later became director of marketing and deputy executive director.
Wolf in February appointed a new PRPA board chairman, Gerard H. Sweeney, and six other board members. The seven represent a majority on the 11-member authority board.
Sweeney told McDermott last month that the Wolf administration wanted to make some staff changes, according to a port authority official familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the agency.
The conversation took place not long after a Sept. 17 informational briefing, conducted by McDermott and PRPA's market advisers Ernst & Young and Hatch MacDonald, with about 100 members of the maritime community and others to talk about a timeline for developing 200 acres known as Southport at the Navy Yard. It would be the first major Philadelphia port expansion in 50 years.
"I don't think it's appropriate to comment on any personnel situations," Sweeney said Wednesday of the leadership changes. "When you are dealing with people, their careers, their families, I just don't really have any comment.
"Jamie had a long, successful, productive career at the port. He made the election to retire. I think he's elected to do that for his own reasons."
Looking ahead, Sweeney said the Wolf administration and the port board were "very excited about the growth potential of the Port of Philadelphia." The agency in September asked interested parties to submit "qualifications" to develop Southport, and hopes the project will be underway by 2017.
"We have a number of other things underway at the port that hopefully over the next year or two will start to produce some significant results for the city of Philadelphia and for the commonwealth," Sweeney said.
The personnel changes come at a time when Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney has said he wants to increase port business and bring 8,000 to 10,000 working-class jobs to Philadelphia.
Sweeney said there would be a national search for a new port executive director and "our hope is to launch that search in the next 60 days."
Asked whether he thought there would be other staff departures, Sweeney reiterated he wouldn't discuss personnel.
"There are certainly a lot of great people at the port who believe in the port's mission and work hard to execute it," Sweeney said. "We are excited to work with the existing team there and move ahead."
McDermott said, "We've always tried to keep personnel matters here private. As I told you, I am delighted to be retiring."
McDermott began his career as an assistant Philadelphia district attorney in 1980, became chief counsel at the PRPA in 1991, and was named executive director in May 1994. "Having done this [government and quasi-government service] for 36 years, it's just plenty," he said.