The first step in recovering is admitting that you have a problem. Western Reserve Port Authority chairman Scott Lynn took that first step.
When Port Authority Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon accepted a six-month contract with a 40-percent pay cut, Lynn announced, ''I supported her, but I want to see something happen. We have to make some progress on economic development. We're not here to just tread water.''
Hallelujah. Three years and a half a million dollars later, Lynn admitted we've been treading water.
DeLeon is paid $155,000 per year plus benefits and expenses as part of her three-year contract to run the Port Authority's economic development. Since she first took the job she has been criticized for failing to stimulate growth. That criticism came to a head this year when some Trumbull and Mahoning county commissioners and some members of the Port Authority board of directors publicly called for her termination.
As a compromise with her supporters, including Lynn, the Port board offered her a six-month contract worth $47,500. Last week she accepted.
DeLeon's acceptance is telling. One of her staunch supporters - Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel - called her ''the best of the best'' when she was hired in 2009 after a national search. If that assessment is accurate, one has to wonder why she would accept a 40 percent pay cut to work for a board that is split on her abilities. Surely the best of the best in the nation would be in demand elsewhere.
That leads us to believe that the six months and $47,500 are nothing more than a severance package. With no requirement to actually work during the six months, DeLeon has the money to tide her over while she searches for another job.
Which, though temporarily expensive, is a good thing. The Port Authority now has a chunk of change to use on real economic development.
At the Port Authority's request, Mahoning County commissioners increased the bed tax there beginning in October. The commissioners, despite objections from the Mahoning Valley Lodging Association, increased the bed tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. Mahoning's contribution to the Port Authority increased $500,000 per year.
Lynn said much of the money from Mahoning's tax increase is needed to carry out the Port's economic development efforts. Mahoning commissioners John McNally and Carol Rimedio-Righetti said they think the area is poised to capitalize on the shale boom and the extra money to the port authority will ensure that economic development efforts in the area can stay aggressive.
Stay ''aggressive'' is inaccurate since, as Lynn said, they have been treading water. But that can change.
DeLeon's new contract means the Port Authority should have at least $30,000 extra in six months and at least $60,000 extra by the end of the year. That's part of the money Mahoning commissioners provided for aggressive economic development.
The Port Authority should use that money - and hopefully in six months all of the money spent on DeLeon's salary, benefits and expenses - and contract out for professional economic development. A good recipient for that contract might be the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber.
While the Port Authority has been treading water, the Regional Chamber has had its pulse on economic development and shale boom capitalization throughout the Mahoning Valley. What it could do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the Port has to spend on business attraction would make the Port's accomplishments look elementary.
Here's something else to consider: A recent study determined that, properly funded, tourism can be a job-creating, economic driver. For that reason, the city of Columbus is diverting a larger portion of its bed tax to tourism. It is not raising its bed tax.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman commissioned the study that showed boosting tourism would improve the economy.
''This is not a redistribution plan but something that will also create more jobs and grow arts programs,'' Coleman told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.
The bed tax in Trumbull and Mahoning counties is split between each county's tourism bureaus and the Port Authority. The Port Authority gets 3.5 percent of Mahoning's bed tax money and 3 percent of Trumbull's. The other 1.5 percent in Mahoning and 2 percent in Trumbull goes to each county's tourism operations.
It might be wise to follow the Columbus plan and take the savings from DeLeon's contract and send it to the tourism bureaus.
Whether contracting out for job creation or spending more on tourism, Lynn's admission should be a catalyst to redistribute the bed tax in a way that improves the region's economy.