New Port board could right ship

A four-county, lake-to-river economic development authority with a great lake port, airport and Ohio River port. For years we have suggested this concept for the Western Reserve Port Authority in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, the Ashtabula City and Ashtabula County port authorities to the north and the Columbiana County Port Authority to the south.

The impetus for recommending this concept stemmed from years of poor decisions and taxpayer waste at the Western Reserve Port Authority. So this year, when commissioners from both counties began considering dissolving the port authority and approaching those in Ashtabula and Columbiana counties for a potential mega-port authority, we endorsed the action.

But since then, three of the eight Western Reserve Port Authority members have resigned, including Chairman James Floyd, who has been a magnet for controversy. And by the end of the year two remaining board members will have their terms expire and another board member may submit his resignation. All that, along with the loss of its executive director, means the need to dissolve then reorganize will disappear. The board is dissolving and reorganizing naturally.

The future success of the port authority, and economic development in the Mahoning Valley, hinges now on who commissioners from Trumbull and Mahoning counties appoint to fill the vacancies.

Much of the board’s dysfunction revolved around former Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon. She stepped down on April 15.Then much of the dysfunction revolved around Floyd, who wrote large checks without board approval, Scott Lewis, who was cited by the Ohio Ethics Commission, and Don Hanni, who publicly demanded consequences for their actions. Floyd resigned, as did fellow members Scott Lyn and Richard Schiraldi.

At the end of the year, Hanni’s and board member Patrick Pellin’s terms expire. It’s hard to imagine Lewis still on board in 2015 considering his ethics citation and heat from commissioners who have called for his resignation.

That leaves Ron Klingle and Martin Loney, who are both newcomers having been appointed to terms that began this year. So in a 12-month period, the commissioners will have replaced the entire board. To dissolve the port authority and create a new one, with or without the counterparts in Ashtabula and Columbiana counties, an idea still being pursued by Mahoning Commissioner David Ditzler, would take years and maybe millions of dollars.

The Valley doesn’t have that long, or that much money to spend. Nor do the commissioners have any business micromanaging the port authority, as Ditzler proposed when he asked for advice on whether a new entity could be required to report directly to the commissioners.

What the port authority needs is a cohesive relationship with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber. What it needs is a good working relationship with the ports in Ashtabula and Columbiana counties. And what it needs are no-nonsense members who can keep the house in order.

Someone once said that on every sinking ship, the good people are the last to jump off. Let’s hope that’s the case here. At the end of the year, Klingle and Loney should be the last ones still on board. With six new board members, they could easily right this sinking ship.