Mahoning commissioners seeking opinion on dissolving port authority board
By Ed Runyan
The resignation of Western Reserve Port Authority member Rick Schiraldi is a reason the Mahoning County commissioners have asked their lawyers whether they can remove any of their four appointments to the authority board.
Infighting among port authority members, which Mahoning Commissioner David Ditzler said may have led to Schiraldi’s resignation, has led Ditzler to wonder if the whole board needs to be dissolved.
Ditzler said Friday the commissioners have asked the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s office to advise whether the port authority could be reorganized, to answer directly to the Mahoning and Trumbull commissioners instead of its own board; and whether the commissioners have the authority to remove a board member.
The Trumbull County commissioners also recently asked their prosecutor’s office to research the same things, and Ditzler said he’ll be calling for the Mahoning and Trumbull commissioners to meet soon to discuss these matters together.
Schiraldi cited only “business and personal commitments” in his April 25 resignation letter as reasons he resigned, effective immediately, but Ditzler said he believes Schiraldi is among port authority members who believe their personal and business reputations are being damaged by the “dysfunctionality” of the board.
Two days before Schiraldi resigned, Mahoning County representative Don Hanni III raised questions at a port authority meeting about the process chairman James Floyd followed to pay the deposit on the purchase of a building to be used as the Mahoning County dog shelter.
Hanni said it was improper for Floyd to obtain a blank port authority check and fill in the amount at the sheriff’s sale once the amount of the winning bid was determined.
Sarah Lown, the port authority’s economic-development manager, then reported that the administrative assistant she recently hired had resigned because of her “discomfort with Mr. Hanni’s behavior.” He came to the port authority’s Youngstown office last month seeking records relating to Lown’s job description and performance.
Ditzler, who attended the meeting, said the bickering he heard among board members and staff doesn’t surprise him because he has witnessed the divisive nature of Hanni’s tenure on the port authority for a long time.
In fact, Mahoning County commissioners Anthony Traficanti and Carol Rimedio-Righetti asked Hanni to resign about a year ago, Ditzler said. Ditzler added that the focus is not on removing Hanni but noted that Hanni has less than a year left on his appointment to the board.
Hanni could not be reached late Friday for comment.
Of Schiraldi, Ditzler said: “I have a ton of respect for him. I think he’s one of the best port authority members we have.”
Other port authorities in places such as Summit and Cuyahoga counties have done extraordinary things, but this port authority won’t reach its potential if its dysfunction isn’t corrected, Ditzler said.
He added that he thinks the Trumbull and Mahoning county commissioners need to become more involved in overseeing the port authority’s work.
Paul Heltzel, Trumbull County commissioner, said there have been rumors of “a couple” of resignations among the four port authority members appointed by the Trumbull County commissioners, but nothing has been confirmed.
He agreed that the unfortunate consequence of divisiveness on a board such as the port authority is that some of the most-respected people leave.
The Trumbull County commissioners also are seeking an opinion from the prosecutor’s office on whether Scott Lewis, a Trumbull County appointment to the board, can be removed as a result of the public reprimand he received last year for a conflict of interest.
Lewis was the listing agent for a real-estate deal on the western edge of the airport that was finalized as a result of a lease the port authority approved. The ethics commission said Lewis failed to keep a proper distance from the port authority’s deliberations on the lease.
Hanni was the person who reported the conflict to the ethics commission.