By Ed Runyan
The politically charged aspects of the Western Reserve Port Authority went on display Friday as Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka demanded answers from one of the men he appointed to the board.
Polivka, who has recently called for the authority’s executive director, Rose Ann DeLeon, to be replaced, asked Scott Lewis, a Trumbull County appointee to the board, why Lewis was proposing a new contract for DeLeon.
Polivka’s question came during the port authority’s regular monthly meeting Friday after Lewis made a motion to approve a one-year contract with DeLeon that would pay her $95,000 with performance bonuses. Her current salary, which expires in early December, pays $155,000 annually.
The vote ultimately failed, and no decision was reached on whether to allow her current contract to renew automatically, whether to look for someone else or whether to approve a one-year contract.
“My question is to Mr. Lewis. What has changed from two days ago, when you told me this board was going to move in a different direction and not renew the contract?” Polivka said.
“Actually, Dan, what I shared with you two days ago was the decision to keep Rose Ann was still 4-4, and that over the last period of time, other members of the commissioners have had conversations with other members of this board.” Lewis said.
Lewis later said the other commissioners he was referring to were Mahoning County Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti and John McNally IV, who had talked to the Mahoning County appointees to ask them to give DeLeon another year.
Lewis, who recently was reappointed to another four-year term by the Trumbull commissioners, then explained to Polivka that he felt DeLeon deserved to be brought back for one year at a “substantially lower salary.”
The board has been split on whether DeLeon should be replaced or given another year to prove that she can produce jobs and economic development for the region.
She’s been handling the port authority’s economic-development work for three years, though she missed work for several months because of cancer and her husband’s death.
Mahoning County board member Andres Visnapuu called for DeLeon’s contract to be non- renewed at last month’s meeting, but the vote went against it 4-3.
Visnapuu and board member Don Hanni III have said they feel DeLeon hasn’t produced enough results to justify a return to the job. Polivka, who faces a Republican challenger in the Nov. 6 election, has said he agrees with her being replaced.
Trumbull Commissioner Frank Fuda has been critical of DeLeon, but Trumbull Commissioner Paul Heltzel supports her. Mahoning Commissioner Anthony Traficanti has been critical of DeLeon.
Scott Lynn, the port authority’s chairman, said after the meeting he believes something will be worked out before a Nov. 7 deadline to write a new contract for DeLeon despite the divided board and county commissioners.
Lynn said he and the three other Trumbull appointees — Richard Musick, James Floyd and Lewis — met twice with Fuda and Heltzel to discuss DeLeon’s future, but Polivka wasn’t present either time.
Righetti also spoke at the port authority meeting, saying she has worked very well with DeLeon and Sarah Lown, DeLeon’s assistant, “in the last six to eight months with projects they have helped me in Mahoning County that have brought jobs here for our labor for the Valley, and I want to see that continue.”
She also told the Mahoning appointees that they should “respect the commissioners enough to come to us” and talk to them when important issues come up like the employment of a port authority director “so we can have input.”
Righetti agreed that she did talk to Mahoning port authority representatives about keeping DeLeon and Lown in their jobs, saying, “I am very happy in their performance.”