Fernandina Port names new Executive Director after 8 months

port fernandina
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.”

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe

One comment

  • Noel P. Comeaux, AICP, PMP

    April 29, 2022 at 6:53 am

    Mr. Comeaux also has 17 years of experience working with every agency in the Marine Transportation System including with regulatory and promotional programs. Further, he has worked with deepwater ports on all three U.S. coastlines as well as inland services including those stemming from the Kentucky Riverport System Study after helping develop the study itself (in a team environment). Finally, he is honored to be considered for the Executive Director position based on his substantial experience yet pleased David Kaufman was selected.

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