The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's board chairman yesterday took his name out of the running for the board's top job next year - ending a two-year era marked by political infighting and the agency's struggle to overcome a bad image.
Chairman G. Ray Medlin, Jr., said he decided Thursday night to step aside from consideration for a third term so he could spend more time with his family. He broke the news at the port board's monthly meeting yesterday at One Maritime Plaza.
“You guys are great. I love you,” Mr. Medlin told fellow board members. “But I'd rather take a lesser participatory role, if possible.”
His political arch-rival on the board, Jerry Chabler, shook hands with Mr. Medlin after the meeting and offered praise for the job Mr. Medlin has done.
“I told him that we'd had our differences, but on balance, I thought he did a good job as chairman,” Mr. Chabler recalled. “I wished him nothing but the best of health and success in whatever he does in the future.”
The port board, composed of 13 unpaid members, oversees an agency that runs the region's seaport, train station, and two airports.
Mr. Medlin has chaired the board for two years, and has the longest consecutive tenure as a board member, with eight years.
His decision to step aside leaves the race apparently down to two for the chairmanship next year: Vice Chairman Pat Nicholson and board member Jim White.
Mr. Medlin appointed a special committee of five members to offer formal nominations at next month's board meeting. Neither of the candidates, nor Mr. Medlin, are on the committee.
Mr. Nicholson has expressed interest in the job. Mr. White has remained mum on whether he'd accept it.
Mr. Chabler and board member David Boston have recommended Mr. White for the job, arguing he is a no-nonsense board member with broad respect.
Other board members have not expressed a preference for either candidate, but they sounded familiar themes that either would be a good choice.
Regardless of who gets picked, Mr. Chabler predicted that the infighting would lessen next year.
“With a new chairman, regardless of who it is, I think it goes a long way in bringing harmony on that board,” Mr. Chabler said.
Harmony may be among the least-used adjectives to describe the port board and the agency it runs, particularly in the past two years.
Mr. Medlin took over the chairman's job in January, 1999 - two months after voters rejected the board's operating levy renewal.
Agency critics at the time seized on news reports that the agency was spending more than $100,000 a year on entertainment and travel for executives, its board members, and employees.
Agency critics also complained the port board had turned into a good-old-boys network that avoided substantive debate and let the agency's staff control policy.
Among those critics was Mr. Chabler, whom Mayor Carty Finkbeiner appointed to the board in July, 1999.
The mayor said he wanted the voice of the critics to be represented, particularly as the board tried to convince voters to pass the renewal levy that fall.
Both Mr. Chabler and Mr. Medlin worked to successfully pass the levy, but they retained opposite viewpoints of the agency.
Mr. Medlin blamed the levy's 1998 defeat on what he perceived as unfair coverage in The Blade. He considered Mr. Chabler a grandstander who twisted facts to get publicity.
Mr. Chabler blamed the levy defeat on what he perceived as real problems that needed full and open debate. He considered Mr. Medlin an old-guard board member who tried to muzzle detractors.
Their philosophical differences led to a shouting match at one levy committee meeting last fall.
This spring, Mr. Medlin threatened to kick Mr. Chabler off two committees after Mr. Chabler questioned the safety of a company's fuel tanks at Toledo Express Airport. Other board members interceded, and Mr. Medlin backed down.
And, at September's board meeting, Mr. Medlin and Mr. Chabler ended the session with a shouting match that left other board members red-faced.
The shouting match led to an unprecedented two-hour meeting between the pair and a retired Toledo industrialist, Chester Devenow, who tried to mediate their dispute.
Mr. Chabler since questioned Mr. Medlin's ability to be an effective chairman because he said Mr. Medlin lacked decorum and because Mr. Medlin, a former labor leader, took a job this year as the business development manager for The Lathrop Co., a Maumee-based construction firm.
Mr. Medlin often recuses himself from board votes that do have or potentially could have an impact on Lathrop's business, to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He said he didn't think his actions hurt the efficiency of the board, and he said it wasn't the reason he chose not to run for a third term.
His announcement yesterday came a day after he said he was considering another run for chairman.
Mr. Medlin said yesterday that he decided to avoid another term after talking with his wife Thursday night about the time the job took.
Like Mr. Chabler, Mr. Medlin chose not to criticize his rival yesterday.
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” Mr. Medlin said. “Two years is enough. These [board members] are all great folks, including Jerry, and I'll still be helping out.”
The new chairman will lead a board that is set to tackle some potentially contentious issues.
Among those is the compensation for agency President James Hartung.
Mr. Hartung agreed in December, 1998 to freeze his pay at $129,960 a year in an effort to win public support for passing the levy in 1999.
He did without a raise in May, 1999, and in May, 2000. But he has since asked for a $7,000 a year increase, retroactive to May, 2000.
The debate has been shelved until negotiations are completed with union workers at Toledo Express.
Some board members are willing to support only a cost-of-living adjustment, which wouldn't be retroactive to May.
Mr. Hartung has withdrawn a controversial request that the board start paying $160-a-month dues for an Inverness Club social membership as well as travel costs for his wife to accompany him on one business trip a year.
He gave up those perks after the 1998 levy defeat, and several members argued it would send the wrong message to give them back to him.
The board also must tackle initiatives outlined in a recently completed $240,000 study of the agency by management consultants Booz-Allen & Hamilton of McLean, Va.
That includes compiling detailed, measurable goals and objectives for agency staff.
Mr. Hartung said his office is compiling those lists and hopes to present them to the board at either its December or January meeting.