By Joshua Benton and Michael D. Sallah
Blade Staff Writers
The president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority wants a raise.
Port board members will discuss an approximately $7,000 increase in salary for James Hartung at its regular meeting tomorrow.
While several board members say Mr. Hartung deserves more than the $129,960 he is paid now, others are pledging a fight.
“The timing is very, very poor,” board member Jerry Chabler said. “I’m not even in favor of discussing a raise right now.”
Mr. Hartung has led the port authority six years, and his compensation has been the focus of public attention before.
In December, 1998, after voters rejected the renewal of a port authority levy, Mr. Hartung agreed to freeze his salary for a year and pay for more of his own expenses, including a membership at the Inverness Club.
“I’m not insensitive to the public’s concerns,” Mr. Hartung said yesterday. “I care very much. I also know how hard I work and the amount of time I put into my job. I’m not asking for something extraordinary.”
Mr. Hartung is asking for a raise of 5.2 to 6 per cent, which he says would cover increases in the cost of living since his last raise in May, 1998. He has at least one prominent supporter in G. Ray Medlin, Jr., the port board’s chairman. “I think Jim should get a raise,” he said, adding that Mr. Hartung’s voluntary wage freeze and other concessions weigh in his favor.
Several other board members said Mr. Hartung deserves a raise, though he is paid more than every local and state elected official in Ohio.
“I think the scope of his duties more than warrants a wage increase,” said board member Daniel Smith. “I think he’s an excellent president. I think when you compare him with other people in our area, I think he’s certainly deserving.”
Mr. Hartung was hired in 1994 at a starting salary of $100,000. As president, he oversees an agency that runs two airports, a seaport, and is the lead economic development agency for northwest Ohio.
Since his hiring, his salary has grown regularly. In 1995, his pay was boosted to $104,000, along with a $7,500 cash bonus. His salary rose to $110,000 in 1996 and $120,000 in 1997.
Mr. Hartung received his most recent raise in 1998 to bring his salary to $129,960. At the same time, he was granted a three-year employment contract that automatically renews itself annually.
But later that year he agreed to the salary freeze and agreed to pay his own country club fees and his wife’s expenses when she travels with him. He said he “knew we were under fire” at the time because of news reports about the agency’s spending practices, and felt it was in the agency’s best interests that he cap his own pay.
Some board members, like Mr. Chabler, believe that the cap should stay on because the port authority is not performing well enough to give Mr. Hartung a raise. He pointed to a draft report released earlier this month by a consulting firm hired to produce a strategic plan for the agency.
The report, produced by Booz Allen & Hamilton, states that Toledo Express Airport ranked last of eight similar airports in passenger growth over the last 10 years. The airport does not generate enough revenue to cover its expenses.
Mr. Chabler said he met with Mr. Hartung over lunch a month ago to talk about the raise. Mr. Chabler said he indicated at the time that if the raise was to be more than a cost-of-living increase, “I would have problems with it, and most of the board members would have concerns about it.”
With the negative information in the Booz Allen report, Mr. Chabler said he has reservations “even about a cost-of-living increase.
“With those problems, the timing is very poor to talk about a raise for the president,” he said.
Several board members said the airport’s performance will be discussed as part of discussions about Mr. Hartung’s raise.
One other potential problem, Mr. Chabler said, is that the port is involved in contract negotiations with about 25 of its maintenance workers at Toledo Express Airport, who are represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers Local 2351.
Several board members said a raise for Mr. Hartung could send the wrong message to negotiators and make it more difficult to come to an acceptable conclusion to contract talks.
“In view of the fact that labor negotiations are ongoing, I think they ought to table it now,” board member George Ballas said. “Ray, of all people – in light of his background – should know this.”
Mr. Medlin is a former official with various levels of the carpenters union.
Mr. Medlin said a delay would be transparent and would do no good. “There’s no sense for us to wait and fool the public or fool the airport workers,” he said.
“Our contracts and wages are in keeping with other port authorities our size.”
Mr. Ballas did say, however, that talk of a raise would be appropriate after labor talks conclude. “I don’t think Jim is overpaid,” he said. “I think he’s doing a good job.”
J. Patrick Nicholson, the port board’s vice chairman, said he believes it is “premature” to discuss a raise for Mr. Hartung before the final Booz Allen report is completed, which should be in a few weeks.
The final report, he said, is expected to include information on how the port authority’s salaries compare with those at similar agencies across the country. It also is supposed to include an overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the port’s staff.
“Measuring the performance of the staff is the only way we can measure the performance of the president,” he said. “My own judgment is that we need that information before we get into raises.”
If the report shows local salaries are not above average and that the staff has performed well, Mr. Nicholson said he would be “amenable to some kind of a raise. I think Jim works his heart out.”
Mark Zyndorf, who chairs the port board’s finance committee, said he was unaware of the salary discussions. “I know, in the past, the last raise he received when Jim Poure was [port board] chairman, it was pretty controversial as far as the timing,” Mr. Zyndorf said. “A few of us didn’t think it was appropriate.”
He said any new talk of a raise would mean he “would have to give some time to review and study it and see if it’s appropriate.”
Thomas Palmer, another board member, said the method for evaluating employees like Mr. Hartung is open to improvement, and making those changes could push back the proper time for evaluation of a raise.
“My own view is that Jim has been a very able performer and has been an asset for the port,” he said. “I would expect that we would find that a raise is appropriate for him.”
Board members James F. White, Jr., and David Boston said they didn’t have enough information on the proposed raise to comment. Other board members could not be reached for comment.
The port board will discuss the raise in a closed meeting. Mr. Medlin said the matter then would be go to the human resources committee, which he chairs.
A final vote could be taken at next month’s full board meeting.
“I’m the chairman, but that doesn’t mean the board members are going to agree with me,” Mr. Medlin said. “I can’t tell them what to do. This is an issue that will be taken up by the full board.”