Port payout an unwarranted parting gift

We aren’t sure why government officials think it’s OK to give away public money, yet that’s exactly what the Western Reserve Port Authority did when it handed over $23,870 to the former director of aviation at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport — several months after his labor contract ended and he decided to move on without seeking renewal.

No private business would ever operate this way — probably because most private businesses are accountable for justifying these types of large expenses to shareholders, boards of directors or private ownership.

Yet, by a unanimous vote of 8-0, the port authority board decided to hand over a quarter of Dickten’s annual salary — all in an effort to show “appreciation for his past years of service,” port authority chairman Martin Loney said.

Now, let’s be clear. Dickten was well compensated during his eight years of public employment that ended in April at the Vienna airport.

When he left, Dickten was earning $95,481 per year, for example.

During his tenure, he was credited for things like increasing parking lot revenue by nearly $250,000 in one year, handling lease negotiations with airport businesses and day-to-day management.

That’s great, but we see these duties as part of his job for which he already has been compensated.

And let’s not forget that not all of Dickten’s tenure was rosy.

Two legal settlements were paid out in 2016 and 2017 totaling $70,000 to former female employees who alleged sexual harassment involving Dickten and others affiliated with the port authority.

Dickten denied the claims, and port authority officials recently downplayed the allegations, saying nowadays, anyone can raise an allegation.

Also under Dickten’s tenure, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport struggled to find commercial airlines to offer flights out of the airport. Allegiant Air took its last flight in January.

The port authority also settled a lawsuit in February with Aerodynamics Inc. for $150,000. The port authority alleged the airline owed the port authority more than $360,000 paid as a revenue guarantee to ADI. ADI, which briefly offered flights to Chicago in 2016, countersued, demanding nearly $300,000 due in subsidies.

Both Loney and port authority attorney Dan Keating said last week they would not attribute the difficulties in retaining airlines to Dickten.

“Allegiant started here and moved on,” Keating said. “It was their success here that allowed them to do that.”

“The decision to leave was made by the airline, not us,” Loney said. “That was a decision made at their corporate headquarters, not at ours.”

Isn’t that scenario ironically similar to Dickten’s? He came to the port authority eight years ago, worked and was compensated, and then decided to move on by his own volition.

Still, the port authority board thought his departure warranted a $23,870 parting gift.

Everyone resigning from their employment should be so lucky.