By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
From the start of his first meeting as chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board, G. Ray Medlin signaled that 1999 will bring changes to the board.
He taped a small road sign below his nameplate in Maumee’s city council chambers. It read: “Work Area Ahead.”
“What we’re trying to do is create a community here,” he said. “We serve the citizens and taxpayers of the county, and that’s the way it should be.”
Mr. Medlin was named chairman of the board last month, and he made it clear that his leadership will focus on building public support for the port board’s activities.
Not mentioned as a priority: any changes in the staff of the port authority, which has come under significant criticism in the last year.
In November, Lucas County voters rejected the renewal of a 0.4 mill levy that primarily funds economic development. It lost by more than 12,000 votes.
Port leaders attributed the loss to negative publicity the port received last year, in large part through a series of Blade investigations.
Donald Jakeway, president of the Regional Growth Partner ship, compared the insular public relations problems of the port to those of Washington politicians: “Maybe we have our own little Beltway.”
The port authority will put the levy before the voters again sometime in 1999.
Mr. Medlin said that everything about the board will be open to change.
“We intend to take a look at the entire system, taking a look at some of the paradigms and rules and see if they make sense,” he said.
The changes began as soon as the meeting did.
For the first time in years, the board stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance before starting through its agenda.
“This is the first change,” Mr. Medlin said.
He said that board members would be meeting with leaders from a variety of parts of the community, including political, educational, and labor leaders, to improve the public perception of the board.
“We want to go out and let people know what we’re doing,” said the board’s new vice chairman, J. Patrick Nicholson. “But we want to listen, too.”
Port President James Hartung said he wants to do a better job of public relations.
“The general public are the people who have to understand the contributions the port authority is making to this region,” he said.
The outgoing board president, James Poure, is still a member of the board, but was not in attendance.
At the meeting, port President James Hartung presented the port’s goals for 1999. Board member Robert Sullivan noted that passing the levy was not on the list.
But Mr. Medlin said he is confident that, if the board makes the right changes, the levy will take care of itself. “If we do our jobs right, our levy will be a by-product,” he said.
Mr. Sullivan pressed his case, however, with the support of Mr. Nicholson. “Last year, the levy was in the background,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Then it arrived in November and we were whipped.”
The board then voted unanimously to officially add the passage of the levy to its goals.