F. Brooks Royster III, brought in to head the port of Baltimore after a public battle for control between the previous director and the Ehrlich administration, said yesterday that he will step down with three years left on his contract.
Royster said he would prefer to stay in the job. But the political appointee noted that his new bosses in the administration of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley have a right to choose their own director. In the end, he and Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the decision was mutual that Royster would leave July 31.
"I'm disappointed I'm leaving, but I'm not mad," Royster said. "I wish the governor and the secretary and this port nothing but the best. It's a historic and viable port, and the next person should have an easy transition."
Porcari declined to discuss the reasons for Royster's departure as executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the public terminals of the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore. But Porcari praised the director for his service and said he would name a replacement before Royster leaves.
Porcari, who was named transportation secretary in January, also would not comment on whether Royster would be paid for the remaining time on his $225,000-a-year contract.
"We're actively working on the next steps right now," Porcari said.
Royster was appointed by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in May 2005 to succeed James J. White, who had left for the private sector. White, who was well-regarded in the state's maritime community, resigned after a dispute with Ehrlich's transportation secretary, Robert L. Flanagan, over control of port operations.
Those in the port community have praised Royster for calming the flap caused by the White-Flanagan rift, which had garnered attention in the international maritime press. They also were glad to regain some of the stability White had brought when he was appointed in 1999 by Ehrlich's successor, Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Before White, the port had gone through seven directors in eight years.
"I'm somewhat shocked," Harry Hussein, general manager of Haul North American in Baltimore, said yesterday. "Maybe if we knew who was replacing him it wouldn't be concerning."
Morgan "Trip" Bailey, president of BalTerm, which handles paper imports for the port, was among those who said they liked Royster and were sorry to see him go.
Others agreed but noted that Royster didn't sign many long-term contracts for port business.
In a telephone call from a business trip in London, Porcari commended Royster for his port leadership, which included signing new cargo contracts, opening a cruise ship terminal and signing a cruise line. The port also set a record last year with 9.3 million tons of general cargo.
O'Malley's office referred calls to Porcari.
Appointments are political at the marine port and at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, both of which are owned by the state. But given the complex nature of running such operations, directors typically are experienced business people who have led similar transportation agencies.
Royster had been chief executive of the company that runs the largest terminal operation at the port of Miami-Dade. White had worked his way up at the port of Baltimore.
Royster had been chosen by a search committee led by Bentley, a former Republican congresswoman and port consultant.
"His performance supports that selection," Bentley said.
Royster said that he tried to build on the port's leading position in handling automobiles, paper, and farm and construction equipment but that he also sought to build a containerized cargo business that had been flat. And he sought new trade partners in different parts of the world, including Asia.
He also steered the port through a tumultuous time after a Dubai company said in 2005 that it would buy contracts to manage U.S. port terminals, which triggered a political firestorm in Washington. DP World was forced to sell the assets, including contracts in Baltimore.
Royster said he considers Baltimore home and will look for a new job in the region.
As for his replacement, some in the port community say they would like to see the return of White, who worked for Porcari when he was transportation secretary in the Glendening administration.
Porcari declined to address the notion. White did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Sun reporter Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.