By Ed Runyan
The Western Reserve Port Authority and Mahoning County commissioners have changed course on plans to have the port authority buy a building for use as the Mahoning County Dog Kennel and lease it back to Mahoning County.
On Wednesday, the port authority approved a memorandum of understanding that transfers the successful bid of $250,000 on the former Jump Stretch fitness center building at 1230 N. Meridian Road in Youngstown from the port authority to the Mahoning County commissioners.
Assuming the transfer is approved by Judge Lou D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, the project will be carried out from here by Mahoning County officials without port authority involvement.
The port authority chairman, Atty. James Floyd declined to discuss why the move was made, but Mahoning County commissioners David Ditzler and Anthony Traficanti said the reason is because of the instability of the port authority because of the possibility that the board will be dissolved or reorganized.
“We wanted to make sure we can close on the building,” Ditzler said, explaining that the “dysfunctionality” involving infighting among port authority board members leaves commissioners concerned that the port authority might not be able to handle the project.
Traficanti said the port authority is in a “transition” phase because of the recent resignation of two port authority board members and discussions about dissolving the board.
Traficanti and Ditzler both noted that the commissioners were eager initially to have the port authority handle the deal because the port authority has powers that would have allowed it to get the building renovated and operational quicker than the commissioners could. Traficanti said the change has set the project back, but he doesn’t know how much.
Floyd placed the winning bid on the purchase in April at sheriff’s sale with the intention of the port authority buying the building and leasing it back to Mahoning County, which would own it in about 10 years.
But Port Authority member Don Hanni III said at an April 23 port authority meeting that Floyd may have violated Ohio law and the port authority’s bylaws because he obtained a blank check from the port authority and took it to the sheriff’s sale, ultimately writing the check for $25,000 as earnest money for the purchase.
Those accusations, counter accusations against Hanni and general discussion about proper procedures triggered Ditzler’s call for the board to be dissolved and reorganized. Commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties discussed that possibility at a meeting May 9 but made no decision.
Meanwhile, the port authority spent more than an hour in a closed meeting to discuss “pending litigation” and emerged to reject a memorandum of understanding with the Liberty marketing firm Rubenstein Associates that Floyd signed Jan. 31.
The memorandum authorized Rubenstein Associates to bill up to $3,000 per month from February through December for public relations, marketing, work on a monthly newsletter, dissemination of press releases and other work.
It also authorized up to $5,000 for the company to assist the Council of Development Finance Agencies of Columbus while it is in the Mahoning Valley gathering information that will be used to create a strategic plan for the port authority.
The port authority authorized board member Ron Klingle to address questions being raised regarding some of the bills Rubenstein Associates has submitted.
Hanni said the Rubenstein matter is also another example of Floyd authorizing the spending of port authority money without first getting authorization from the full port authority board.
The port authority did award a bid of $570,000 to Adolph Johnson & Son General Contractors of Mineral Ridge to construct a second building containing 14 T-hangars at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.