By Joshua Benton and David Patch
Blade Staff Writers
G. Ray Medlin was unanimously re-elected chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority yesterday, with support coming from a surprising source.
Board member Jerry Chabler, who has been a vocal critic of Mr. Medlin in the past, made the motion to keep him in the post.
“I have a total respect for Ray Medlin,” Mr. Chabler said. “I’ve had a diversity of opinions with the chairman, but I think it’s all been very healthy. I think this is what the board needs.”
The two men have had less-than-cheerful things to say about one another over the last few months, with Mr. Medlin calling Mr. Chabler “needlessly divisive” and Mr. Chabler saying Mr. Medlin was “too tied to the old ways” at the port authority.
But at yesterday’s meeting, the last of 1999, the entire board seemed to put old grudges behind to relish what members consider to have been a successful year, despite declining traffic at the Port of Toledo and Toledo Express Airport.
In November, Lucas County voters renewed a 0.4-mill port authority levy that provides funding for regional economic development. Voters had rejected a similar levy in 1998 amid questions about the authority’s spending practices and accountability to Lucas County taxpayers.
“I appreciate the confidence of this board,” said Mr. Medlin, who was first elected board chairman in December, 1998. “If you don’t look at the way you do things, as they say, ‘You’ll always get what you always got.'”
J. Patrick Nicholson, who was re-elected by the board as vice chairman, agreed.
“We’ve got to think new ways,” he said. “We need a vision, more than anything else, to make the Great Lakes the economic heartland of the world.”
No other names were entered into nomination for the top two board posts.
Board member Thomas Palmer, who chaired the board’s nominating committee, said his committee had sought legal counsel to determine whether Mr. Medlin’s re-election would cause any legal or ethical problems.
On Nov. 24, Mr. Medlin was named economic development director of the city of Toledo. The port authority is charged with economic development for all of Lucas County, although it contracts that duty to the Regional Growth Partnership, and some government officials had questioned whether Mr. Medlin should hold both jobs at once.
Mr. Palmer said attorneys from the Cleveland firm Squire, Sanders, & Dempsey and the Toledo firm Spengler Nathanson reported that there was no legal conflict in Mr. Medlin holding the two positions.
“We looked very closely at this issue, because the public needs to see that we’re addressing these legitimate questions,” said Mr. Palmer, a lawyer. “All of us feel Ray has shown great leadership over the last year, and we need a continuation of that strong leadership.”
Mr. Palmer said the port authority, the city, and the county will request an opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission to further examine the ethical issue. In the meantime, Mr. Medlin said he would abstain from discussing or voting on issues involving the city of Toledo. As an example, he cited issues involving Toledo Express, which is owned by the city but operated by the port authority.
Earlier in the meeting, the port board unanimously approved an $11.9 million operating budget for the upcoming year. The $500,000 increase over 1999 spending includes a $64,000 hike in the marketing budget for Toledo Express and a $300,000 allocation for dredging at the Port of Toledo and for buying land for a proposed U.S. 20A interchange on I-475/U.S. 23.
The board voted 12-1 to renew the port’s economic-development contract with the Regional Growth Partnership for five years for a fee of $1.35 million next year. Board member David Boston dissented on the grounds that the fee should be reduced because the RGP has amassed more than $600,000 in reserve funds.
“At a time when the port is scraping for capital dollars to meet federal matching funds for projects, we shouldn’t be giving the RGP money they don’t need,” Mr. Boston said.
In other business, the port board:
* Agreed to add 1,600 square feet to the 2,500 square feet of office space that Manitowoc Marine Group, Inc., leases from the port authority at the Toledo shipyard. Manitowoc plans to expand its Toledo Ship Repair Co. operations.
* Approved reimbursing FirstEnergy $29,373 for the port authority’s share of a recent environmental survey of land that the port authority and utility own in East Toledo.
* Appropriated $64,450 from federally transferred drug-forfeiture funds to pay for a new four-wheel-drive truck, portable radios, drug-awareness pamphlets for children, police-station improvements, and training and supplies. Alluding to a past controversy over a former airport director’s personal use of a similarly funded truck, Mr. Boston, the airport committee’s chairman, promised that the new vehicle “will be used for law-enforcement purposes.”
Port authority president James Hartung said the expenditures had been approved by representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice.