Mahoning Commissioner Questions WRPA Process

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- The threat of Mahoning County pulling its share of funding from the Western Reserve Port Authority helped spur what officials called a productive meeting (READ STORY) Wednesday between the two entities, one Mahoning County commissioner says.

Commissioner David Ditzler says the Board of Mahoning County Commissioners fully intended to place on the agenda Thursday morning a measure that would nix funding for the port authority, but backed off in the aftermath of Wednesday's meeting.

"That's why they stopped the shenanigans on the port authority," Ditzler said at the conclusion of today's commissioner's meeting. "It happened because we threatened to take away the monies. That's the only way you can get somebody to listen and do the right thing."

Ditzler and his two fellow commissioners, Anthony Traficanti and Carol Rimedio-Righetti, said they were miffed at what they consider were port authority chairman Ron Klingle's efforts to appoint an interim executive director -- namely businessman John Moliterno -- to the port authority without consulting them or members of the WRPA board.

Ditzler had threatened to remove Mahoning County's funding if the WRPA board selected a new director at its Wednesday meeting without the county's consent or input.

The port authority, however, held off on making any decision regarding the position after spending an hour in executive session with Traficanti and Rimedio-Righetti.

"It's unfortunate that it had to get to that," Ditzler said. "This board had no input in what they were doing. Our members had no information given to them."

Ditzler said commissioners planned to rescind the 1.5% of the budget the county devotes to port authority funding -- nearly $1 million -- and create a separate development program apart from the WRPA that included the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the city of Youngstown, and possibly the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp.

But the commissioner also acknowledged that a port authority holds more power and would probably be a more efficient tool for economic development across the entire region. The WRPA oversees the operations of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, but also has the ability to support economic-development projects across the region.

Ditzler said this latest impasse is among a series of disagreements between the commissioners and the port authority that has led to calls for disbanding the WRPA altogether, an option that's still on the table as far as Ditzler's concerned.

"It's still an option in my mind," Ditzler noted. "There are still problems there. It's gotten to a point where the trust factor isn't there."

The meeting Wednesday at the port authority appeared to be the first step in re-establishing this trust, said Traficanti and Rimedio-Righetti, who were both present. Ditzler was out of town and could not attend.

"I think we have some type of relationship that we may be able to form," Rimedio-Righetti said, noting another meeting with the port authority, as well as with Trumbull County commissioners, should occur in a week or so. "I think it worked out very well for us. We'll go forward in trying to get this port authority back on track."

She also thanked port authority chairman Ron Klingle for including commissioners in WRPA's meeting.

Klingle called Wednesday's meeting as "the most productive meeting the port authority has ever had. The conversation that just took place is the beginning of a new relationship with the county commissioners' offices of both Trumbull and Mahoning counties," he said.

The port authority chairman said that the meeting provided the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation about the direction of the port authority. "It's going to be a very good relationship going forward," Klingle predicted.

Traficanti also said that the meeting Wednesday was very productive. "Our whole purpose as one of the partners is that we want to know what's going on up there," he said. "We certainly want to move ahead. We want to get our board members in place and we want that board to be a functioning entity."

Mahoning and Trumbull County each appoint four members to the port authority board. Mahoning County has to fill two vacancies and Trumbull County one since the resignations of three board members in recent months.

Traficanti said from this point on, Mahoning County and its representatives would be part of the selection process for a new WRPA executive director, as would Trumbull County.

"We just respect the fact that we're part of the conversation," Traficanti said. "It's not hard to ask to include us, and after yesterday's meeting, that's going to happen."

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to our twice-monthly print edition and to our free daily email headlines.