Counties may ax port authority

WARREN – Dissolving the Western Reserve Port Authority may resolve problems surrounding the “dysfuntional” board, Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel said.

“We have a dysfunctional port authority right now,” Heltzel said. ”The people behind it are not working together, they’re creating a lot of problems, and there have to be some changes made.”

He, the other Trumbull County commissioners and Mahoning County commissioners met in closed session for an hour Friday afternoon to discuss the port authority. He called disbanding the economic development group a “real possibility.”

No action was taken after the meeting but the two groups will meet with legal council to determine the best plan for dissolution, Heltzel said. Commissioners will meet again in two to four weeks to discuss their findings, he said.

Heltzel said the decision is not based on any single action but by the board’s inability to work as a cohesive team to accomplishing economic development for the area.

“There’s some good, there’s some bad, and there is some medium (board members),” he said.

Port Authority board member Don Hanni III was in the audience Friday afternoon and said he believes the dissolution is an attempt to get him off of the board.

“The bottom line, I got eight months left, and I’m going to continue to be a watchdog for the public- that’s what I feel the job I have is to do,” he said.

Hanni was involved in one example of ”faltering” cited by Heltzel, the acquisition last month of a building for a dog pound in Mahoning County.

“It was going along pretty smoothly and now there’s some problems because some of the board members have chosen to contest the ability of the board to handle that,” Heltzel said.

Authority Chairman James Floyd bid on the building at an auction, and put down $25,000 of the authority’s cash as earnest money. The board approved the expenditure after the fact.

Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler defended the move, saying the port authority needs to have the ability to move quickly on properties as they become available.

”Yes, I raised the issue,” Hanni said, ”because the chairman went and took steps to spend money without getting the approval of the board. It’s very simple – if the county commissioners want to condone people on the board breaking the law and making money at the taxpayers’ expense, well maybe they do want to change the board.”

Hanni also has taken issue with other board members who he believes had business conflicts of interest with port authority actions.

Hanni said he would not resign if requested and is willing to take the commissioners to court, though he is not clear of what charges he would file.

“I could end this by going and resigning right now and there would be no more talk,” he said.

Port Authority board member Richard Schiraldi already turned in a letter of resignation, while Heltzel said another member indicated they may follow suit.

Heltzel said other problems stem from the port authority’s lack of an executive director. The board has yet to appoint an interim director after the departure of former Executive Director Rose DeLeon in mid-April.

Hanni agreed that this is an issue, but took fault with DeLeon, saying she was overpaid and ineffective.

Heltzel said the discussion is not linked with United Airlines’ decision this week to end consideration of offering daily service from the Youngstown Warren Regional Airport, though he expressed disappointed in the retraction.

Ridding the board of unwanted members is a difficult process that would require proof of misfeasance, malfeasance or criminal behavior. Board members could also be requested to resign by the commissioners, who are responsible for their appointment. This is an option Heltzel said they are not interested in taking.

If the board is dissolved, Heltzel said the commissioners would likely make a “Western Reserve Port Authority 2” to handle the work of the original. The entire process could take an additional two months or so after the dissolution. Heltzel said there was no discussion about possibly merging with another port authority.