Fernandina Port names new Executive Director after 8 months

By Wes Wolfe
April 29, 2022

Chris Ragucci’s removal as Port Director in August came after concerns about conflicts of interest.

The Port of Fernandina has an Executive Director again, around eight months after the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) tossed out the old Executive Director, Chris Ragucci, who remains CEO of the Port operator, Nassau Terminals, and the company that owns it.

“(The Executive Director job) I think is critical to the future of the Port of Fernandina,” said David Kaufman, president of Checkmate Consulting and a former 25-year senior director at JAXPORT. “I believe that the vast majority of my employment history has geared me toward this type of position.”

He’s had a long career in ports, and those jobs touched on just about every aspect of port operation, he added. Kaufman interviewed with the board along with the other finalist for the job, Noël Comeaux, who is COO of Healthy Communities LLC and spent eight years as a transportation industry analyst with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“I’m ready to get started with little-to-no learning curve,” Kaufman said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s an exciting opportunity, and one I look forward to working with each of you — both individually and collectively — to make sure that the goals of OHPA are met, and that the community’s goals and objectives are met as well.”

Kaufman already has knowledge of the Port, as Checkmate Consulting provided business development services to OHPA and he served as a strategic master plan advisor to the Authority. His list of accomplishments with JAXPORT in planning and commercial development are many, and include creating the Dames Point Marine Terminal and negotiating the first cruise industry lease agreements in Jacksonville.

“You’re a part commercial business and you’re a part public entity,” Kaufman said about the nature of the Port.

“Being able to understand each of those environments and to walk those lines takes some skill and some experience. Understanding that confidentiality and transparency are not always at odds with one another. There are things that by the very nature of the business need to remain and kept in a confidential way, and there are things that, by nature of being a public entity, you have to be very transparent about.”

The commissioners’ vote on appointing Kaufman was unanimous.

Ragucci’s removal as Port Director in August came after concerns about conflicts of interest on his part, since he’s also CEO of the company operating the Port.

“His role as Port Director is limited to service on this Council, as well as other ‘customary marketing and advocacy on behalf of OHPA,’” OHPA Commissioner Miriam Hill said at the time.

“I want you to think about those words, as well as ‘customary marketing and advocacy on behalf of OHPA.’ I want you to think about the sworn statements that have been made and reported widely in the paper, the filings that have been made with the Court, and I am asking this board to take action to remove Mr. Ragucci as Port Director.”

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
2 years ago

Kaufman served as a “strategic master plan advisor to the Authority”. Wasn’t it that master plan that called for expansion of the port into the historic district and a variety of new services that would not be friendly to the Fernandina Beach community? Time will tell how Mr. Kaufman will balance the economic development of the port with the commmunity.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon(@mmonzon)
2 years ago

OHPA and any Port operator will fail as long as they are unwilling to seriously work with the community of the City of FernandinaBeach. Several years ago, they were willing to jeopardize out community by shipping coal into our port and community efforts stopped their plans.Their adversarial stance continued by refusing to humor agreements with the city and Ragucci’s stance on many issues hasn’t helped at all. This is a strong community that wishes the Port to succeed but not at the expense of the lifestyle that we enjoy. Let’s hope that Mr. Kaufman is skilled at interacting with OHPA, the Port operator, City government and our vibrant community.