Ports & Terminals

Strawbridge Announces Departure From Port Of Corpus Christi

Sean Strawbridge has resigned as CEO of the Port of Corpus Christi, effective May 31. Port commissioners accepted his resignation during the board’s May 16 meeting, following an at-times heated debate over travel and expense reporting and time spent in executive session.

A day before the commission meeting and the CEO’s resignation, a local Corpus Christi news station, KRIS 6, published a report detailing credit card expenses dating back to last spring, including more than $200,000 spent on a group trip to Israel in November 2022, alcohol purchases and World Series tickets.

Commissioner Diane Gonzalez, who has represented Nueces County on the board since January, raised the subject while the board considered a request to increase the maximum travel and expense reporting from 54 reports to 100 reports.

“I think it’s well known by now that last night KRIS 6 Investigates did a very serious report on travel overspending by Sean Strawbridge that is unacceptable and unconscionable,” Gonzalez said. “This port commission cannot allow this kind of spending, and it must stop immediately.”

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Gonzalez then raised the issues of first-class airfare, the need for itemized receipts and monthly spending of $10,000 on “meals, alcohol and snacks.”

“And this does not include hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel, on alcohol, on meals,” Gonzalez said.

“Commissioner Gonzalez,” Commission Chairman Charles Zahn interjected, “what does this have to do with increasing the reports from 54 to 100 a month?”

Gonzalez argued it was pertinent due to all expenses going through the SAP Concur system.

“We cannot, Mr. Chairman, hide the fact that we have spending that has been out of control at this port commission,” Gonzalez said.

“I’m not trying to hide,” Zahn said. “I’m trying to get to the agenda item.”

Gonzalez went on to say that she had requested the same expenditure information that KRIS 6 released when she began her term on the board in January.

“I have brought this to your attention many times, Mr. Chairman,” Gonzalez said.

Kent Britton, chief financial officer for the port, then spoke up, noting that, while the system currently allowed 54 reports, the port was already filing around 85 expense reports a month, meaning a switch to 100 reports would save the port some money on reporting expenditures. Britton, echoing Zahn, said the questions raised on the amount of expenditures was not pertinent to that particular agenda item.

“Without addressing, as you said, ‘not on the agenda,’ the vast inaccuracies that have been laid out there—” Britton began to say.

Zahn, however, interrupted and called for a second and a vote on the matter, which passed 6-1. Gonzalez was the lone “no” vote.

The next item on the agenda was a report from Strawbridge, which he concluded by addressing the KRIS 6 Report and the comments from Gonzalez.

“When we provide information to commissioners,” Strawbridge said, “we certainly don’t expect that that information is going to be used as a weapon against this institution or against staff, so I think it’s important that I make some clarifying comments.”

Strawbridge then began reading a prepared statement.

“I, the CEO of the Port of Corpus Christi, and commissioners and port staff travel extensively to promote job creating investments in the Coastal Bend, and building trust and confidence among industry and political leaders at the highest level is a must if we are to create a safe and attractive business climate for these major investors and value for our customers,” he said. “This requires face-to-face gatherings in many venues, both domestic and international, as the Port of Corpus Christi is a global trade organization. All expenses incurred by me and professional staff are in compliance with port policies, internal reviews, state laws and the highest of ethical standards. Without exception, any expenses that may have been incurred of a personal nature are paid for with a personal credit card or are reimbursed promptly to the Port of Corpus Christi. Over my 30-plus-year career as a globally recognized industry professional, I have never engaged in unethical behavior or misuse of funds, nor ever been accused of such.”

Strawbridge called the reports concerning expenditures a “witch hunt.”

“We will always counter this behavior with truth and fact,” he said.

Strawbridge then went on to address some of the KRIS 6 report, including expenses related to a boat parade in 2021 and the trade mission to Tel Aviv last November, which related to water desalination technology.

“I can refute all the allegations that were made last night with fact and data that again demonstrates all expenses incurred by me and port staff are compliant with state laws, ethics rules and port policy,” Strawbridge said.

Strawbridge then called on the port commission to stand up against the accusations levied against him and port staff. He concluded his statement to the commission by saying that it had been a pleasure to work with “most of you.”

Several commission members and audience members then gave Strawbridge a standing ovation.

Following the commission’s executive session, as the board considered an agenda to “take action on the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of the chief executive officer and contractual matters in connection therewith,” Zahn announced that he had received a letter of resignation from Strawbridge.

Zahn then moved for the board to grant him authority to execute an Executive Separation and Release Agreement with Strawbridge. Following a second, the board voted 6-1 to approve the motion, with Gonzalez casting a “no” vote.

The board then voted to adjourn, with Gonzalez casting the lone “no” vote.

The port officially announced Strawbridge’s resignation the following day.

“I am extremely proud of the incredible success of the Port of Corpus Christi over my eight-year tenure,” Strawbridge said in the announcement. “It has been a true honor to serve as chief executive officer under the leadership of Chairman Charlie Zahn and the port commissioners, both past and present, and the amazing professional staff whom I have had the distinct honor to represent.”