Mahoning, Trumbull Commissioners Meet Again Over WRPA

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties will meet again in the next two weeks to continue their discussions regarding the future of the Western Reserve Port Authority.

The two boards of commissioners are still leaning toward dissolving the current port authority and establishing a new board, which Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler described as “probably the primary objective” when he spoke with reporters Monday following an hour-long meeting the two boards held in executive session. “We have several options,” he said.

The two boards of commissioners are “absolutely congruent on this and we’re marching in concert on how we’re moving forward,” he added. The boards, which previously met May 9, are continuing to gather information, he said.

“We don’t have a timeline on what we’re doing but obviously the sooner the better,” Ditzler remarked. “We do have the authority” to dissolve the current port authority, he assured.   

The port authority board, which is increasingly viewed as dysfunctional by the commissioners, is down to five members. Three members -- Richard Schiraldi, Scott Lynn and its most recent chairman, James Floyd -- have resigned since late April. Each county appoints four members to the port authority, which was formed to operate the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna Township.

While the port authority board can still act, one of the issues being investigated is whether that would remain the case if another member resigns. “It would be futile of us to appoint three new members and then all of a sudden dissolve the port authority. So we’re taking it one step at a time,” Ditzler said. 

Among the commissioners’ concerns is that the port authority board hasn’t replaced Rose Ann DeLeon, the port authority’s former executive director, on an interim or permanent basis. DeLeon, hired in 2009, left earlier this year for medical reasons.

The port authority’s senior economic development specialist, Sarah Lown, “is doing an excellent job” working with businesses but the commissioners remain concerned about how the situation with the current board looks to companies that might be considering the region, Ditzler said.

The boards are also concerned about bills not being paid “for reasons that we don’t know,” he added. “I think there’s some litigation pending on bills that haven’t been paid.”

At the WRPA board’s May 21 meeting, a memorandum of understanding to pay Rubenstein Associates in Liberty Township for work dating back to February failed to be approved. The board’s vice chairman, Ron Klingle, was authorized to negotiate with Rubenstein and report to the board on any action to be taken. 

One option Ditzler favors is forming a “lake to river” port authority with Columbiana and Ashtabula counties. “None of us have a patent on good ideas so the more inclusive we are from a regional standpoint, the better it serves the communities that we represent,” he said.

“It’s something that we’re going to get information on and see where we stand. Maybe there’s no desire from other counties to look at those options. But I would think that Mahoning and Trumbull having an airport within their port authority would make us advantageous to port authorities in the neighboring counties,” he added. 

Any merger with the Columbiana County Port authority would need to involve the body that formed it, the Columbiana County Board of Commissioners, said Tracy Drake, CCPA’s executive director.

Drake said he is unaware of any such discussions taking place although he noted that Klingle, who joined the WRPA board earlier this year, met with him and one of his board members to discuss “items of mutual interest.

The topic of potential mergers of the port authorities did not come up at that meeting, Drake said, which took place a few months ago, before the current movement by Mahoning and Trumbull commissioners to dissolve the Western Reserve entity.

Klingle did not respond to requests for comment.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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