Amid Port Authority Discord, Counties to Discuss Options

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- The boards of commissioners for Mahoning and Trumbull counties are expected to meet Friday to discuss the state of affairs at the Western Reserve Port Authority.

An advisory Wednesday issued by Mahoning County announced a “staff meeting” in Warren with the Trumbull County Board of Commissioners.

“There’s a lot of animosity among some of the members,” Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel told The Business Journal. “Unfortunately, what is starting to happen is that the better members are leaving the port authority rather than acting in such an environment,” he said.

The Mahoning and Trumbull board of commissioners each have asked their legal advisers to determine if and how the port authority could be reconstituted possible with a different oversight structure.

One member of the port authority’s board of directors, Mahoning County appointee Richard Schiraldi, recently resigned, and two Trumbull County representatives are considering leaving the board, Heltzel said. Each county appoints four members to the port authority board.

“It seems like it’s been festering for a long time,” he remarked. The two county boards want to meet for a preliminary discussion of potential options and “what thinking each side has on this matter,” he said.

James Floyd, a Trumbull County appointee and chairman of the port authority board, said Wednesday, “With the dynamics of the situation, the county commissioners have no other choice but to be proactive.

Speaking with reporters following a special meeting to address the upcoming Thunder Over the Valley Air Show at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Floyd said observers can conclude that the “activities” involving the port authority “probably create the loss of” the board’s “productive members,” individuals “who really have the best interest of the port authority in mind in terms of its mission.”

Floyd would not be more specific.

The port authority was established by the two counties two decades ago to oversee the operation of Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and in recent years added an economic development arm to capitalize on the financing tools available to port authorities under Ohio law.

Schiraldi, an accountant with Cohen & Co. and chairman of United Community Financial Corp.’s board of directors, “cannot be replaced,” Floyd remarked. He declined to answer if he was considering resigning or to speculate whether other resignations are in the pipeline.  

Much of the conflict on the port authority board centers on another Mahoning County appointee, Don Hanni III, who has frequently clashed with other board members. Hanni raised concerns over board member Scott Lewis being involved with a real estate deal involving the port authority and more recently raised concerns about the board buying property for a new Mahoning County animal shelter.

At its April monthly meeting, Sarah Lown, the port authority’s senior economic development manager, told the board that her recently hired executive assistant resigned due to “discomfort” with Hanni’s behavior and said staff time had been taken up by information requests from Hanni that she characterized as “time consuming.”  

Hanni contends he “did the right thing” with regard to both Lewis and the property purchase.

“They’re talking about dismantling the port authority because of me. They can go [expletive deleted] themselves. I’ve got eight months and I’m staying,” he insisted.

Hanni said Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti and former Commissioner John McNally had asked him and Andreas Visnapu, who is no longer on the board, to resign several months ago.

“The board needs to be together. They don’t have to always agree on everything but there’s been quite a split in the port authority over the years,” said Ron Klingle, who joined the port authority board earlier this year. “Something has to change” with the board and “that something obviously needs to be people,” he said. The board “has a ways to go yet before it’s going to solve its problems, he remarked. He, too, declined to be specific.

While Klingle acknowledged that greater involvement by the boards of commissioners might be advantageous, what the board needs are members who are able to communicate with and understand business and its needs.

“The whole idea behind what we’re doing is managing an airport and trying to create jobs for our community,” he said. “You have to have people on the board who have the ability to do that. That’s not necessarily the expertise of the commissioners. … What type of person it makes the most sense to appoint to the board should be pretty obvious but apparently it’s not.”   

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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