Skip to content

Meet the AAPA Leadership and Staff

About AAPA

Founded in 1912, AAPA today represents 140 of the leading seaport authorities in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 250 sustaining and associate members, firms and individuals with an interest in seaports. According to IHS Inc. - World Trade Service, combined international sea trade moving through Western Hemisphere ports in 2015 totaled 3.45 billion metric tons in volume and US$3.36 trillion in value. Of that total, ports in Central and South America handled 1.69 billion metric tons of cargo valued at US$1.15 trillion, while North American ports handled 1.76 billion metric tons of goods, valued at US$2.21 trillion. To meet the growing demand for trade, the AAPA and its members are committed to keeping seaports navigable, secure and sustainable.

Biographies of AAPA Leadership

STEVEN CERNAK, PE, PPM® 2017-18 Chairman of the Board 

Steven Cernak serves as Chief Executive and Port Director for Port Everglades, a self-supporting enterprise fund of Broward County, FL, that generated more than $163 million in FY2016 and is ranked among the nation’s leading container ports and a world leader in the cruise industry. Florida’s top container port, Port Everglades annually exceeds 1 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units, which is the industry standard used to measure containers), is consistently ranked as one of the top three cruise ports in the world and is South Florida’s main seaport for receiving petroleum products including gasoline, jet fuel and alternative fuels. 

Mr. Cernak, who joined Port Everglades in March 2012, previously served as the port director and chief executive officer for the Port of Galveston, Texas, from 1999 until his selection for the top position at Port Everglades. He also served as president of the Galveston Port Facilities Corporation, a nonprofit corporation formed to promote redevelopment at the Port of Galveston and related entities, since May 2002. Prior to moving to Texas, Mr. Cernak was the manager of Port Development for The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He also held engineering positions with several private engineering consultancies in New Jersey.

Cernak has a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University and master’s degree in business administration from Dowling College in Oakdale, New York. 

KURT J. NAGLE, President and Chief Executive Officer

Kurt Nagle has over 30 years of experience in Washington, DC, related to seaports and international trade. Since 1995, Mr. Nagle has served as President and Chief Executive Officer for the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). Mr. Nagle began working at AAPA, the alliance of the leading public port authorities throughout the Western Hemisphere, in 1985.

Prior to joining AAPA, Mr. Nagle was Director of International Trade for the National Coal Association and Assistant Secretary for the Coal Exporters Association.

Previously, he worked in the Office of International Economic Research at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Mr. Nagle serves on the Executive Committee of the Propeller Club of the United States and is a former commissioner of PIANC, the International Navigation Congress.

Mr. Nagle holds a Master's Degree in Economics from George Mason University.

07 Nagle_Kurt AAPA 11_07

Biographies of AAPA Staff

JEAN C. GODWIN, Executive Vice President / General Counsel

Ms. Godwin is the number two executive and general counsel for AAPA with general operational and administrative responsibilities. Ms. Godwin is responsible for corporate records and provides staff assistance to the Executive Committee and Board of Directors.  

Before joining AAPA in 1990 as Director of Government Relations, Ms. Godwin was the Director of Business Development for Export Network, Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland. Prior to that, she served as Assistant Chief Counsel for Competition Policy for the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration, specializing in transportation and trade issues.  

After graduating with honors from Georgetown University Law Center in 1981, she practiced law for six years with the firm of LaRoe, Winn, Moerman and Donovan in Washington, D.C. Ms. Godwin also holds a B.A. in International Studies from Miami University of Ohio.  


SUSAN MONTEVERDE, Vice President for Government Relations

Ms. Monteverde joined AAPA in 1999 to serve as the head of the Government Relations Department. She is responsible for planning, developing and conducting AAPA's legislative and regulatory affairs program in cooperation with AAPA President, AAPA Committees, the AAPA Legislative Policy Council, and the other government relations staff.

Prior to joining AAPA, Ms. Monteverde was Department Head for Environmental and Public Affairs for the American Chemical Society where she determined the strategic direction for the Society's government relation's program and managed part of its implementation. Ms. Monteverde also worked in the government affairs operation of the National Solid Waste Management Association and the Miller Brewing Company.

Ms. Monteverde holds a B.A. in Political Science from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.



JIM WALKER, Director of Navigation Policy and Legislation

Mr. Walker is responsible for handling waterside infrastructure issues and relevant legislative and regulatory matters, including AAPA’s Quality Partnership Initiative (QPI) with the Army Corps of Engineers.  He serves as staff liaison to the Harbors and Navigation Committee. 

Mr. Walker’s experience includes a 36-year career with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in navigation support, culminating with six years at Corps Headquarters leading its navigation program.  As lead of the Corps navigation program, he was in charge of a $2 billion annual budget over a 27 river inland marine transportation system (IMTS) and over 900 coastal navigation projects. His major accomplishments include development of a Navigation Strategic Vision, an IMTS Capital Projects Business Model, formal partnering with the Dredging Contractors of America, successful execution of ARRA funds, and development of the 2007 Water Resources and Development Act implementation guidance. 

Mr. Walker, who is a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.), holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of South Alabama, and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University.


Director of Freight and Surface Transportation Policy

John joined AAPA on June 2, 2014. While his primarily responsibilities are covering freight and surface transportation policy issues, he also covers port security and the Department of Commerce’s supply chain initiative.

As a legislative director in the U.S. Congress for two members on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he worked on and advocated for numerous transportation issues ranging from the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU and MAP-21, to aviation, Coast Guard, port security and water policy issues. 

As Legislative Director for Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui (D), John was responsible for identifying legislative initiatives and opportunities in the areas of flood protection, water resources and transportation infrastructure investment.  As Legislative Director and Senior Legislative Assistant for Congresswoman Juanita Millender McDonald (D), John prepared and advised the Congresswoman’s participation on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on her three subcommittees (Transit and Highway, Aviation & Coast Guard and Maritime). While leading Congresswoman McDonald’s legislative agenda, John created and staffed the House Goods Movement Caucus as well as coordinated projects and policy initiatives for the reauthorization of the surface transportation bill.

Prior to joining AAPA, John had his own advocacy firm in Washington, D.C., and prior to that he was a senior associate with another D.C. firm where his practice focused on transportation, economic development and environmental issues.

John earned a degree in English from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.  

 John Young photo taken 6-4-2014

EDWARD L. O'CONNELL, Director of Membership Services

Mr. O'Connell is responsible for coordinating and marketing the Association's education and training programs, Spring Conference, Annual Convention and other services. He administers membership files and is responsible for dues assessments and credentials filing.

Prior to joining AAPA in August 1997, Mr. O'Connell ran a consulting business focusing on helping organizations with revenue development, meeting planning and government relations. From 1988 to 1995 he was Director of Membership and Finance/Treasurer for the National Grain and Feed Association. There he directed a membership marketing program; was staff liaison for association committees; managed association meetings, including contract negotiations, marketing, logistics, foundations events and sponsorships; analyzed income and expense items; and was a regular contributor to the association's publications.

Other previous experience includes 12 years of integrated operations management experience in the areas of credit card operation, financial management, retail banking and marketing. Mr. O'Connell holds a Master's degree in Economics from SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, and a Bachelor's degree from SUNY Oswego in Oswego, New York.

AARON ELLIS, APR, Fellow PRSA Public Affairs Director 

Mr. Ellis is is responsible for AAPA's public affairs activities, media relations, and is liaison to the association's Public Relations and Maritime Economic Development committees.

Prior to joining AAPA in November 2004, Mr. Ellis served for 13 years as the maritime media relations manager for the Port of Portland, in Portland, Ore. There, he provided strategic communications management and assistance for both the marine and real estate divisions of the port. Prior to that, he served as a public relations specialist for the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry in Portland, and earlier as an account manager for two public relations agencies (in Salem, Ore., and San Diego, Calif.) and a general assignment reporter for three newspapers (in Eugene, Ore., El Cajon, Calif., and Salem, Ore.).

Mr. Ellis holds bachelors and masters degrees in Journalism from the University of Oregon and a Professional Development Certificate in Marketing from Portland State University. He's active in the Public Relations Society of America, serves on the PRSA-National Capital Chapter board in Washington, D.C., and earned his Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification in 1991, and his Fellow PRSA designation in 2016. 



MEREDITH MARTINO, Chief Engagement Officer

Ms. Martino is responsible for AAPA’s quarterly Seaports magazine and the Alert and Advisory e-Newsletters, as well as AAPA’s social media presence and the AAPA website. Prior to her current role, Ms. Martino served as AAPA's Director of Environmental Policy and Advocacy Outreach, handling policy issues such as ballast water, diesel emissions and regional ocean planning..

Prior to joining AAPA, Ms. Martino was Manager of Government Relations for the Travel Industry Association of America, overseeing grassroots advocacy activities and lobbying on behalf of the U.S. travel and tourism industry on issues related to transportation and the environment.

Ms. Martino worked for U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), serving the Senator on natural resources, transportation and environmental issues, and the U.S. Senate Government Affairs Committee, monitoring issues of the Committee’s jurisdiction and drafting correspondence on behalf of then-Ranking Member John Glenn (D-OH).

Ms. Martino holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Journalism from Ohio University (Athens, OH) and a Master of Arts in Political Management from The George Washington University (Washington, DC).

MARY BETH LONG, Chief External Affairs Officer

Mary Beth Long is currently Chief External Affairs Officer at AAPA and manages the Association's strategic initiatives.  Formerly Manager of Government Relations, she took on her current role when the Association launched its campaign "Seaports of the Hemisphere Allied in Relationships for Excellence."

Prior to joining AAPA in 1999, Ms. Long coordinated the legislative activities at the law firm of Thomson Coburn. Washington, DC.  In 1996-1998, she worked for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where she promoted Chairman Bud Shuster's agenda to outside constituent groups and other members of Congress. She began her legislative career by promoting the interests of motor carriers through the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Ms. Long holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from The Catholic University of America and a Masters of Arts in Public Communication from The American University, both in Washington, D.C.

MaryBeth 3

, Assistant Director of Membership Services and Latin American Facilitator

Tom Hranac joined AAPA in July 2014. He currently helps coordinate and market the AAPA's education and training programs, provides support for the association's website, manages the association's Spanish publications and social media presence and serves as a liaison for Latin American ports.

Prior to joining AAPA, Mr. Hranac was a community organizer with the United Auto Workers advocating for labor rights campaigns in the Washington, D.C. metro area.  Before working with the UAW, he lived in Madrid, Spain, where he taught English as a second language and coached baseball for the Federación Madrileña de Béisbol y Sófbol.

Mr. Hranac holds Bachelor’s degrees in History and Spanish from Nebraska Wesleyan University and Master’s degrees in Spanish and Latin American Literature from New York University and Contemporary History from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

 Tom Hranac 7-8-2014

, Latin American Coordinator

Mr. Diaz-Balart is CEO and Founder of Vestec International Corporation, a Florida Corporation established in 1993. Since March 2009, Mr. Diaz-Balart has been serving as Latin American Coordinator for AAPA.

Prior to forming Vestec, Mr. Diaz-Balart served in executive capacities with IBJ Schroder International Bank, Paine Webber, Barnett Bank and the National Bank of Washington, D.C. Mr. Diaz-Balart also has served as Consultant to the Office of the Special Advisor to the President of Venezuela. In partnership with the principals of the Brazilian financial group—Banco Paulista/Socopa, Mr. Diaz-Balart founded InterTrust Bank Limited (Bahamas). He also advised in the creation of The Florida Special Opportunity Fund, an off-shore investment vehicle for U.S. based commercial real estate transactions, administered by The Allen Morris Company. Vestec advises U.S., Latin American and Spanish companies in their international operations, including companies in the maritime, financial, educational and energy sectors.

Mr. Diaz-Balart holds a Bachelors of Arts (Government) degree from Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) and a Masters of Business Administration from The American University, (Washington, D.C.)

JODI GIBSON, Manager of Training and Programs

A native of Canada, Jodi Gibson joined the Membership Services Department of AAPA in 2000. Currently, she is the Manager of Training and Programs.

Prior to joining AAPA, Ms. Gibson served as an Account Coordinator with Image Media Services, where she was responsible for the development of effective advertising plans and management of customer accounts. Her previous experience also includes working for the Wayne County Board of Education in North Carolina.

Before moving to the United States, Ms. Gibson owned and operated a retail store in Ontario, where she gained experience in purchasing and public relations.

Ms. Gibson holds a B.A. in English from the University of Western Ontario, and a Degree in Broadcasting and Communications from Fanshawe College.

Jodi Gibson