Move to elect port board is rejected; House panel rids bill of proposal

By James Drew and Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — A legislative committee yesterday rejected an amendment that would have allowed voters to elect members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board, saying the experiment would have created a fifth arm of state government.

State Rep. Sally Perz (R., Toledo) urged fellow members of the House Transportation Committee to oppose the amendment, crafted by state Rep. Jack Ford (D., Toledo) in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election. By a 55 to 45 per cent ratio, Lucas County voters rejected the port authority’s 0.4-mill renewal levy.

“I have another philosophical problem with giving the voters – who we all know don’t vote – more power … ” said Ms. Perz, who was re-elected Nov. 3. “It’s not as if the voters of Lucas County are storming the Statehouse saying, `Should you give us the opportunity to vote, we would guarantee we would have different members on the port board.”‘

The committee voted 9-3 to defeat the amendment and then unanimously to refer the bill to the full House of Representatives for approval. The bill would make the most comprehensive change in port authority law in four decades.

Mr. Ford’s amendment would have en abled Lucas County voters to elect the 13 port authority board members in nonpartisan elections starting in November, 1999. The directors would have served for four years.

He said one reason he took up the issue is that he has growing concerns about the makeup of the port authority board, which has only one woman and one African-American, and up until September, no board members lived in the city of Toledo.

Currently, the mayor of Toledo, with consent of the city council, appoints six board members, and county commissioners appoint six. The city and county share one appointment.

Two polls commissioned this fall showed voter support for election of port authority board members.

Rep. Sylvester Patton (D., Youngstown), who carried the amendment for Mr. Ford, said Lucas County would have been a “pilot project” for the state to determine if election of port board members is more effective than appointment.

“Our charge as legislators is to look for the best government possible,” he said.

But Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) said he did not see any evidence that port authorities with elected members perform better than those with appointed boards.

Committee Chairman Sam Bateman (R., Milford) said he voted against the amendment “because that’s what they wanted.” By “they,” he meant the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the committee’s members from Lucas County, Mr. Olman and Ms. Perz.

Mr. Bateman said representatives of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority had contacted his office in the last few days to express their opposition. Mr. Bateman, who is recuperating from neck surgery, said he didn’t recall their names.

Ms. Perz told committee members that the amendment is part of a conflict in Lucas County over the port authority.

“This change may or may not help the current situation. I am also philosophically against coming to the state legislature to resolve something that is really a community issue,” she said.

James Seney, the former Sylvania mayor who now works for the state Department of Development, urged the committee to defeat the amendment for two reasons.

He said state law positions port authorities as “tools” of locally elected governments and accountable through the appointment process.

“If we directly elect port authority board members, we then sever the employer-employee relationship between the local government[s] and the port authority,” he wrote in a memo distributed to committee members.

Mr. Seney, who is co-chairman of the Ohio Port Authority Council, said that by directly electing port board members, the state would create a “fifth independent local government unaccountable to the existing counties, cities, villages, and townships.”

Reps. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont) and Kirk Schuring (R., Canton) agreed.

“I don’t think we need another level of government,” Mr. Damschroder said.

Several members of the committee said their “no” votes were aimed at keeping the expensive political process away from uncompensated jobs.

“It’s very hard to get people to serve in office when it is a volunteer thing,” said Rep. John Carey (R., Wellston). “And I think it would be really hard to get someone to go through the expense of running for office, unless they had a special interest of some kind.”

Rep. Mark Mallory (D., Cincinnati) agreed, saying that political campaigns aren’t right for port authorities.

“There are enough elected issues as it is. I don’t want to put all the burden of money in a political campaign on the port boards.”