By Ed Runyan
Western Reserve Port Authority member Don Hanni III accused the authority’s chairman of violating port- authority bylaws for obtaining a blank check to pay the deposit on the purchase of a building.
The building is to be used as the Mahoning County dog shelter. That was possibly illegal, Hanni said at a committee meeting a week ago, because the full port authority board didn’t appropriate the money in advance for the expenditure.
The chairman, Atty. James Floyd, and other board members said the board had gotten proper approval during the budgetary process, and the board wasn’t actually spending the $25,000 since Mahoning County will be paying it back.
On Wednesday, Hanni was on the receiving end of accusations, with Sarah Lown, the port authority’s senior economic-development manager, reporting that an administrative assistant resigned “due to her discomfort with Mr. Hanni’s behavior.” Lown reported during the port authority’s regular monthly meeting that Hanni was “staking out in his car in the parking lot of our office one afternoon. He arrived for unscheduled business. She was alone in the office, she felt uncomfortable.”
Lown went on to report that Hanni was at the port authority’s new office on Champion Street in Youngstown once last week and again this week making public-records requests. She spent four hours trying to obtain the information he sought, but it was taking up a lot of staff time, she said.
Floyd said that Hanni’s asking Lown for a copy of her job description and information on how she spends her time constitutes harassment.
Atty. Dan Keating, the board’s legal adviser, said he didn’t think Hanni’s “blank check” accusations had merit and that Hanni had a right to request public records. Keating, though, said he thought Hanni could have better handled the matter by scheduling a time to “come up and talk” to Lown.
Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler, who attended Wednesday, said he thought the board would better serve the public if it didn’t try to “micro-manage” its staff and worked “on the positives as a team.”
“It just seems like the hurdles and the obstacles and the personalities and personal attacks that are going on are not directed to accomplish the objectives that both Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the entire Mahoning Valley deserve,” he said.
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti was present at the port authority’s economic development committee meeting April 16, when Hanni complained about the “blank check.” Traficanti said he didn’t think Floyd was doing anything “nefarious” by taking a blank check to the auction and filling in the amount after learning the amount needed for the deposit.
Kevin Kern, an accounting consultant for the airport, said Wednesday he agrees with Keating that the “blank check” didn’t violate state laws. The maneuver “bent” the port authority’s bylaws, but the port authority used a “compensating control” to protect against inappropriate spending by having two port authority members sign the check and Floyd involved at the auction.