By Ed Runyan
Four of the five remaining Western Reserve Port Authority members voted Friday to hire a Pittsburgh law firm to represent them in the event that county commissioners follow through with threats to dissolve the board.
The meeting was called after the port authority received a public-records request from the Mahoning and Trumbull county commissioners, seeking copies of the contracts and bonds the port authority and the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport have, authority chairman Ron Klingle said.
The port authority is in the process of filling that request, Klingle said.
Klingle said he doesn’t know why the request was made, but port authority board members “have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the port authority.”
The four members in attendance — Klingle, Don Hanni III, Scott Lewis and Pat Pellin — voted unanimously to hire Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellot of Pittsburgh at a rate of no more than $360 per hour on an “as-needed basis.” Member Martin Loney was absent.
Atty. Dan Keating, the port authority’s longtime legal adviser, said the Pittsburgh firm was selected because of its experience as an adviser to the Allegheny County Port Authority.
After the meeting, Klingle said the port authority board is a “completely separate governmental entity than the county government” in Mahoning and Trumbull counties that appointed them.
“ ... It’s become necessary for the port authority to hire legal representation in order to make certain that the authority’s interest is protected,” he said.
Noting that Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler and Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel have called the port authority board “dysfunctional,” Klingle said the board wished to “make a public statement ... to emphatically state that the port is not a dysfunctional organization and that what has been observed over the past six months is the process of taking a dysfunctional organization and making it functional.”
Ditzler, reached after the meeting, said the public- records request was made as part of the “ongoing process” the Mahoning and Trumbull commissioners are following “to make sure we have the information to take action, whatever that may be.” He said no decision has been made yet as to whether to dissolve the board.
Ditzler said it “seems kind of ironic that the port authority board has taken action to spend money to protect them against the appointing authority. I think their fiduciary responsibility should be to protect the taxpayer.”