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Search firm likely to lead effort to fill port chief job

The Mississippi State Port Commission expects to hire a search firm to recruit a replacement for Don Allee, who departed his post as executive director and CEO of the Mississippi State Port Authority Nov. 2.

Allee ran the Port of Gulfport for 11 years, having previously served as a port executive in Freeport, Texas, and Houston.

Matthew Wypyski, COO at Gulfport, will serve as the port’s interim director, a port spokesperson said.

Controversy marked Allee’s efforts to rebuild the port heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Tensions flared in the Gulfport community after former Gov. Haley Barbour diverted $570 million in federal disaster recovery funds for the port restoration. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had allocated the money to provide housing for low-income residents.

As a compromise, the funds went to the port with the stipulation they would be used to create jobs for low- and moderate-income residents. The port’s restoration plans have been criticized for not meeting that requirement, though the state port said in a new release last week that it is exceeding federal requirements on the number of low-income residents or businesses working to restore and expand the West Pier.

In the news release, the port said it has exceeded the goal that 10 percent of a contract’s value benefit businesses that meet federal guidelines.

Port Commission chair Lenny Sawyer declined to say last week what qualifications the commission will seek in a new port chief or what sort of time period it will set for filling the job. “We’re not prepared to go make a comment on that,” he said. “I assume we will hire a firm to go out and find us a good, competent person.”

Sawyer said the five-member port commission has the final say on the hiring.

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