WRPA Hires Law Firm to Protect Its ‘Interest’

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- The Western Reserve Port Authority’s board of directors is hiring legal counsel to resist any attempt by commissioners in Mahoning and Trumbull counties to dissolve the body.

During a special meeting Friday afternoon, four of the five remaining members of the port authority’s board of directors voted to retain the law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellott LLC as special counsel to the port authority’s attorney on an “as-needed basis,” as determined by the port authority’s chairman and counsel, at an rate not to exceed $350 per hour.

“We have a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of the port authority. As a result, it has become necessary for the port authority to hire legal representation in order to make certain that the port authority’s interest is protected,” said Ron Klingle, port authority chairman. Members Klingle, Don Hanni III, Patrick Pellin and Scott Lewis all voted in favor of hiring the law firm. The fifth remaining member of the port authority’s board, Martin Loney, did not attend the special meeting.   

“This is a very well qualified law firm,” said the port authority’s attorney, Dan Keating. The representative of the firm he and Klingle met with serves as outside counsel for the Allegheny County Port Authority, he said.

Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellott LLC has 15 offices, including its headquarters in Pittsburgh, according to its website.

In response to turmoil among the port authority board’s members in recent months, the boards of commissioners in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, who are responsible for appointing the eight members of the port authority board, have met twice to consider possible actions, including dissolving the port authority and replacing it with a new port authority and board. Three port authority board members have resigned since late April and commissioners have not replaced them, nor have they indicated they are likely to appoint anyone to the current board, which they have characterized as “dysfunctional.”

Klingle pointedly disputed that characterization, “emphatically” stating that the port authority is not a “dysfunctional organization, and what has been observed for the past six months is the process of taking a dysfunctional organization and making it functional.” 

Klingle also told reporters following the meeting that the board is in the process of complying with a public records request by the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners. The county, he said, requested a “thorough list” of contracts, bonds “and everything else” involving not just the port authority’s economic development arm but also the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, which the port authority was established to oversee two decades ago. 

Klingle said he could not say what the commissioners’ intent was. “Anything I could say would just be speculation,” he remarked.

He also denied that the hiring of outside counsel signaled that the current port authority board didn’t intend to go down without a fight.

“That’s exactly what is not being said,” Klingle responded. “We’ve always wanted to take the high road through this whole thing. We’re going to be a professional organization and that’s what we will be going forward.”

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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