Conflict accusation is leveled

VIENNA – Accusing him of conflict of interest, Western Reserve Port Authority board member Don Hanni III requested the resignation of board member Scott Lewis at a special board Thursday morning. Lewis was absent from the meeting.

The alleged conflict of interest arose after Lewis agreed to meet with John Gibson of Jack Gibson Construction in regards to payment for a winter storage area that was built on the Warren Regional Airport’s property.

The $90,000 construction contract outlined a timeline for the building and its details. The authority withheld $30,000 in liquidated damages when construction was not being completed as agreed.

Hanni said his concern is not with the payment but with Lewis’ meeting with Gibson. Hanni claims Lewis was micromanaging and representing the board as a whole when he chose to meet Gibson.

“My issue is that a board member would act on the part of the contractor,” he said.

This conclusion he drew from a letter Lewis sent to the Port Authority’s attorney, Dan Keating. The letter specifies that Gibson requested to meet with Lewis and that he obliged.

“Mr. Gibson strongly believes his company should be paid in full at this time. Please see the support documentation he provided noting completion of the job. Mr. Gibson is prepared to meet or speak with any members of the WRPA to explain his position,” the letter states.

Contacted after the meeting, Lewis characterized Hanni’s accusation as “trying to shoot the messenger.”

“I really only have one response and that is that a much bigger situation is being made over what it is,” he said.

Gibson and Keating were unable to be reached. Director of Aviation Dan Dickten refused to comment on the issue.

Because the Thursday meeting was called as a special meeting with an agenda only to approve the sale of a $300,000 bond for use in the construction of a three bay garage to be shared with Winner Aviation and the airport, Hanni requested that his statements simply be part of the meeting minutes. They were not discussed by board members.

According WRPA Board Chairman Scott Lynn, a meeting was held earlier in the week with with the Trumbull County commissioners, Keating and others to discuss the construction payment issue in hopes of avoiding any formal litigation.

“Nobody wants to go down that road,” Lynn said.

This is not the first time Hanni accused Lewis of having a conflict of interest as a board member. The last time, Hanni questioned the participation and any financial gain of Lewis in lease negotiations in the summer of 2009.

The lease involved land that pallet and stretch wrap company Millwood Inc. needed in order to buy an airport cargo building. Lewis, who is vice president of Warren-based Edward J. Lewis Inc., was the agent selling the cargo building.

The issue was taken to the Ohio Ethics Commission. There has yet to be a verdict in the probe. Hanni said he hopes maybe this new accusation might light a fire under the ethics commission to come to a verdict.