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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2008

Cover-up at the Port

THE people of Toledo and Lucas County deserve to know all the facts surrounding the firing last week of James Hartung as president of the Port Authority.

That would be true even if the port board had not taken steps to ask voters to renew a $2.2 million tax levy at the Nov. 4 election. The levy is in doubt now that the board has lapsed into cover-up mode and is refusing to release the report it used as a basis to dismiss Mr. Hartung for cause.

In claiming lawyer-client privilege the report was written by a law firm retained by the board the port directors are treading on thin legal ice and they are on even more uncertain footing in the court of public opinion.

If Mr. Hartung did something so serious that he deserved to be summarily fired, the public deserves to know the details. It s a reasonable inference that the board, under its chairman, William Carroll, anticipated the controversy and had its investigation conducted by the law firm precisely so it could claim legal privilege.

This is the same tactic and the same excuse the board used in February to conceal the facts surrounding the forced resignation of James Mettler as the port s vice president of new project development. Mr. Mettler was pushed out of his $100,000 a year job with a highly questionable $40,000 severance package.

The public still hasn t been told why Mr. Mettler left, and this appalling affront to the public and the spirit of Ohio s open-records law must not be compounded in concealing the details of the Hartung dismissal.

If the board doesn t come clean on both matters, it s fair to assume, the public will not look kindly on renewal of the 0.4-mill tax levy, which the directors last week agreed to put on the ballot, even as they were ushering Mr. Hartung out the door on a unanimous vote.

That vote, which included directors considered to be among the port president s most sycophantic supporters, shattered the myth of Jim Hartung as somehow indispensible to the region as an economic development guru. Now those same directors are, for some reason, trying to protect themselves by refusing to let the public know why they did what they did.

Even if the report were covered by attorney-client privilege and The Blade strongly insists that it is not the board would be under no obligation to keep it secret. Many of the board members are private business people, but they must remember that when they do port authority business they are considered public officials and must abide by the open-records law.

That means dropping the cover-up and giving the taxpaying public what it deserves the full story. Otherwise, those same citizens might not be so generous with the Port Authority s tax levy come Election Day.

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