Port authority still in limbo

By Peter H. Milliken



The fate of the Western Reserve Port Authority board of directors is still in limbo.

Mahoning and Trumbull counties’ commissioners emerged after more than an hour behind closed doors Friday without taking any action on the authority’s board of directors and staff.

Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel said after the executive session on legal and personnel matters that the commissioners of each county would consult with their county prosecutors and likely meet again concerning the port authority’s governance in two to four weeks.

“We have a dysfunctional port authority right now,” Heltzel said of the body that operates Youngstown- Warren Regional Airport and promotes economic development in the Mahoning Valley.

“The people behind it are not working together. They are creating a lot of problems, and there have to be some changes made,” he said.

Heltzel, a lawyer who served as the commissioners’ spokesman after the meeting, said they did not discuss merging WRPA with another port authority.

“There is a process by which the board could be dissolved, and that is an alternative,” he said.

“It would actually be dissolved and then there would be a straw man that would take over the assets and liabilities and then a new port authority board, which would be the Western Reserve Port Authority Board number two, would be created; and therefore, you wipe out the board members,” he explained.

“There’s no easy way to get rid of board members. They have to be removed for misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance. That’s the only statutory way to do that, unless they’re convicted of a crime,” he said.

“The other alternative is staying with our board and trying to cull through the board and get changes. We can ask someone to resign. We can’t force them to resign,” he said.

Overall, the port authority board is under-performing “to say the least,” Heltzel said, adding that the board has been plagued by personality clashes that impede the authority’s productivity in economic development.

He also said the port authority’s leasing to Mahoning County of a Meridian Road building the authority bought for use as a new county dog pound is a matter that is now stalled by disagreement among the authority’s board members.

Don Hanni, a board member, said he won’t resign from the board and may file a lawsuit if the commissioners vote to dissolve the board. “I don’t think they have the right to do it,” he said.

“I’ve got eight months left, and I’m going to continue being a watchdog for the public,” said Hanni, whose term ends at the end of this year.

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