The No. 2 executive at the Tampa Port Authority had an unceremonious exit last month when port officials relieved him of his managerial duties and banned him from the property.
Today, Zelko Kirincich is still employed by the port on an as-needed basis, but he needs special permission to step foot on port property, according to a separation agreement he signed last week.
Despite the banishment, he will be paid for two more months at a rate equal to his $210,000 annual salary.
What exactly happened remains a mystery.
Port officials won’t answer questions, and most port board members contacted by the Tribune were unaware of his departure or didn’t know enough to comment. Port officials went to some effort to ensure that there was no paper trail explaining what happened.
Some longtime port clients and tenants are stumped.
“He was a pleasant guy,” said Murphy Oil terminal operations manager John Laing, who didn’t foresee Kirincich’s ouster. “He returned calls. He followed through on what he said he was going to do.”
Kirincich, who could not be reached for comment, was one of the best-known figures at the port, having worked his way up its ranks since coming on board in 1996. His last position as deputy port director of operations and engineering gave him broad oversight over many of the port’s functions.
He briefly rose to the top job as interim port director in 2004, and some port board members sought to hire him as permanent port director.
Nothing in his personnel file indicates any serious problems.
Kirincich’s various bosses at the port generally described his overall work as “outstanding” or “exceptional” in annual performance evaluations dating back to the 1990s. Past port directors commended his ability to solve difficult problems, but occasionally encouraged him to improve his interpersonal skills.
The port is a public agency created by the state and overseen by a seven-member board, which includes Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. It charges fees to the maritime companies that use its facilities, and it pays for some capital projects by levying a property tax.
In December, the board lured Paul Anderson, then the chief executive of the Jacksonville Port Authority, to take over the Port of Tampa at a salary of $350,000. Soon after, Anderson hired one of his former Jacksonville subordinates, Raul Alfonso, at a $195,000 salary to lead the port’s marketing and real estate development efforts.
Whether that precipitated Kirincich’s departure, no one will say.
What little is known about his banishment comes from a separation agreement he signed March 6.
The document indicates Kirincich’s employment was, at one point, to have ended Feb. 22. But instead he is being retained until May 22 on an as-needed basis and to give him time to find a new job.
He will continue receiving his salary until then, but is expected to work from home or somewhere else off-site. He must get permission from Anderson or his designee before stepping on port property, the document says.
Kirincich agreed not to pursue legal or administrative claims against the port, and both parties agreed not to say anything disparaging about each other, according to the document.
That could explain why the port, and Kirincich, remain mum on the subject. Anderson sent the Tribune a brief statement saying he can’t discuss personnel issues. Generally, though, he’s making organizational changes to help the port succeed globally, including some branding, operational and personnel changes, he said by email.
A lawyer for the port told the Tribune that Kirincich was told in person that he was being relieved of his management duties. There is no written record of the reasons for it, attorney Charles Klug told the Tribune.
Members of the port’s board of directors and a few businesspeople who use the port were surprised by Kirincich’s dismissal. Still, they said the new chief executive has a right to pick his own staff.
Carl Lindell, a port board member, said Kirincich’s departure is a loss for the port because of his experience. But, he said, Anderson has a right to choose his staff, and disclosing his reasons serves no purpose.
“It’s not that uncommon for people who take over big companies to bring in their own people,” Lindell said.