By Jordan Cohen
In the wake of the uncertain status of the besieged Western Reserve Port Authority, Trumbull County commissioners have sent a letter to board member Scott Lewis asking for his resignation.
According to Commissioner Frank Fuda, Lewis has yet to reply.
The commissioners reappointed Lewis to a four-year term with the authority in December 2012.
Commissioners from Trumbull and Mahoning counties appoint board members.
Lewis received a public reprimand from the Ohio Ethics Commission last April after signing an agreement admitting a conflict of interest in a 2009 real-estate deal before the authority in which he represented one of the parties.
Lewis, vice president of a Warren and Youngstown real-estate firm, received more than $97,000 in commissions for brokering the sale of a building on the western edge of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport that the WRPA voted to approve. Though Lewis abstained from voting on the sale, he admitted actively participating in transaction discussions.
The authority oversees operations at the regional airport and participates in economic-development initiatives.
In signing the agreement, Lewis avoided prosecution and was not required to resign from the authority board. The commissioners think he should quit anyway, however.
“A series of questions has arisen about the viability of the current port authority structure and members,” their June 17 letter states. “…Commissioners request that you examine your continued participation as a board member of the authority and consider resignation.”
“With all the controversy that’s going on, we think his resignation would be the best thing that could happen right now,” Fuda told The Vindicator on Wednesday.
A newspaper message seeking comment from Lewis was not returned.
In May, the commissioners asked the county prosecutor’s office to determine if Lewis’ actions amounted to “misfeasance, nonfeasance or malfeasance in office.”
Fuda did not disclose the findings Wednesday but said he believes the commissioners may not have enough of a legal basis to remove Lewis from the authority.
William Danso, the assistant county prosecutor researching the request, said he could not comment due to “lawyer-client privilege.”
The letter to Lewis was signed by Fuda and Commissioner Dan Polivka. The third commissioner, Paul Heltzel, who died Monday, had been in the hospital at the time the resignation request was sent. The late commissioner, however, had been openly critical of the WRPA. In a joint meeting in May with Mahoning County commissioners, Heltzel called the authority “dysfunctional.”
Commissioners from both counties have discussed dissolving the board due to public infighting among the eight directors, three of whom have since resigned.
Last Friday, the five remaining directors voted to hire a Pittsburgh law firm to challenge any effort by both counties to dissolve the port authority.