Analysis: Ahuja Appointment To Port Commission Might Be A Good Thing. How It Came To Be Might Be Another Question
Corpus Christi City Council gave the nod to local businessman Ranjan Ahuja to serve as one of the appointed port commissioners for the city of Corpus Christi. In doing so they also gave the boot to incumbent commissioner Al Jones, who has served on the commission as a city appointee since last year when he replaced Wayne Squires, who resigned. For the most part it was thought that Jones would likely hold his spot on the commission but at Tuesday’s council meeting things seemed to go a bit astray when Mayor Paulette Guajardo and District 1 Councilman Ben Molina voted against Jones and in favor of Ahuja for the job.
While the Guajardo vote was at least somewhat expected, it was Councilman Molina’s vote that seemed to take observers by somewhat of a surprise on Tuesday. While Molina did not publicly say who he was going to support for the position it seemed that his favor was with Al Jones. In fact, many close to the council and the port say that they fully expected Molina to vote in favor of reappointment for the incumbent. But according to Molina he felt that Ahuja was the right man for the job.
“My decision to support Mr. Ahuja came after I had several conversations with both applicants, and I felt that Mr. Ahuja was going to be a better fit for the position,” Molina told the Corpus Christi Light on Thursday. “There has been a lack of communication from the City’s appointees to the Port Commission, and I believe Mr. Ahuja will strive to keep an open line of communication with the Council.”
While the statement from Molina does sound true enough one does have to wonder if there were not political forces at play—especially from the county and Port Authority level? In fact, it is almost obvious.
Before Tuesday’s council meeting Molina had another meeting over dinner where he met with Mr. Ahuja at the Republic of Texas Steakhouse at the Omni Hotel in Corpus Christi—a favorite of local political wonks. Molina had every right to interview and meet with Mr. Ahuja before casting his vote. But what seems even a bit more strange is who else was in attendance at the meeting.
Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales, Port of Corpus Christi counsel (and Partner of Canales) Doug Allison, and Port CEO Sean Strawbridge were also at the meeting with Mr. Ahuja and Councilman Molina. While there is nothing wrong with dinner among friends, the circumstances seem a bit strange and almost as if political forces were at play to remove Jones from the commission.
Ahuja had applied with the county to serve on the Port Commission before the city appointment. In fact, Judge Canales supported Ahuja in his push to get a seat from that governing body, which was ultimately defeated. Even more strange is that Port CEO Sean Strawbridge would be at the table along with them.
The often heavily fisted Canales is stranger to using political clout. She has leant support to council races in the past there wouldn’t be a big surprise here if that might have been the case. But, if character is what is done while nobody is looking—this could be a bitter situation politically.
Many are now questioning if county influences are meddling in city politics and adding fuel to the fire for the Texas legislature to act by putting further degrees of separation between the two. While a certain level political gamesmanship is to be expected there is a fine line between political wrangling and meddling. It also seems as if the Port felt as if they needed a change in leadership and their hopes were hanging on Ahuja. But then again, perhaps Ahuja can’t be blamed for the actions of others.
Ahuja is a strong businessman and likely to serve well in his Port Commission appointment. He is well liked and makes a favorable argument for holding the seat. His knowledge of the oil and gas industry could prove to be an invaluable asset and being able to communicate will be key—afterall, that is what Councilman Molina says he was looking for.
“I’m looking forward to working more closely with our City Appointees to the Port Commission. I hope that with the addition of Mr. Ahuja, communication between our Commissioners and the Council improves, and that we are able to move forward in a direction that is beneficial to both the City and the Port,” Molina said on Thursday.
Time will tell if that is the end of the story.