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Published: Friday, 7/18/2008

Hartung's time is up

REGARDLESS of the outcome of the investigation involving James Hartung, it has become pretty clear that the president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has outlived any usefulness he may have had in the job.

Rather than serving as a source of steady leadership, Mr. Hartung, who has held the top administrative post at the port authority since 1994, has been in the job too long and has become a professional survivor.

As a result, taxpayers are stuck with an annual bill of $2.5 million to support an agency that is largely running on inertia, rather than serving as a dynamic engine of economic development for the Toledo area.

The only thing taxpayers can count on every year is that the port board will approve a generous pay raise for Mr. Hartung, seemingly unrelated to performance. Over 14 years, his salary has risen 78 percent, while the agency's record has been modest at the seaport, mediocre in the case of job creation, and downright dismal at Toledo Express Airport.

It's somewhat ironic that the impetus for the investigation of Mr. Hartung came from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. That's because a number of the mayor's appointments have contributed to a complacent culture on a weak port board, which serves mainly to rubber stamp its president's decisions.

According to the mayor, Mr. Hartung should be fired because he has had an improper personal relationship with one of his employees, Kathy Teigland, lobbyist for the port board and other local agencies. But dismissing the port president for personal acts that aren't against the law is problematic because he has no moral turpitude clause in his contract.

Instead, we believe, Mr. Hartung's employment should be cut short because a more capable individual can be found to boost economic development in Toledo and Lucas County. We can do better.

Indeed, one of the few jobs of note he created in recent years belonged to Jim Mettler, who was the port's $100,750-a-year vice president of new project development before being mysteriously pushed out in February, dangling from a $40,000 golden parachute of severance benefits rigged by Mr. Hartung.

In these trying economic times, the responsibility for development is too important to be entrusted to a person who acts as if a long tenure entitles him to the port presidency. It's time to hand off the port job to new blood, an executive who is primarily concerned with advancing the cause of job-creation rather than simply his own survival.

A changing of the guard at the port is long overdue and would be necessary even if there were no pending investigation into Mr. Hartung's private life.

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