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Published: 12/25/2000

Port board divided on defining job goals

BY JOE MAHR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

How do you measure success? For the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority - an agency that has experienced its share of controversies - it's a question that remains unanswered even after months of soul-searching.

Board member G. Opie Rollison has pushed since October for top agency staffers to have specific, measurable annual goals so that at the end of the year they can be easily evaluated.

The majority of the board agreed, at least in theory. But the question lately has centered on just what is measurable.

“There are a lot of us here who are confused about exactly what you want and whether it's even worthwhile,” board Chairman G. Ray Medlin, Jr., told Mr. Rollison at a recent meeting.

Mr. Rollison is frustrated by the delay because he sees revamped goals and objectives as keys to proving to the public - and to the board - that the agency is truly reforming.

“When we come up to next year, when we want to say to the public, `How did we do?' we can [also] say, `Here's what we said we would do, and here's how we said we would get there,'” Mr. Rollison said.

The agency runs the region's seaport, train station, and two airports, and it arranges low-interest financing for companies looking to expand. It has five divisions, along with the support staff.

In recent years, critics claimed it was mismanaged, prompting voters to reject the agency's 0.4-mill levy in 1998. The levy was passed in 1999 amid promises of reform, and the agency has waged a public-relations fight since then to improve its battered image.

Along the way, the board has had heavy turnover. Only three of 13 members have been on the board for more than three years. Among the new faces is Mr. Rollison, who was appointed 16 months ago.

The board this year commissioned a $240,000 outside management consultant's study by Virginia-based Booz-Allen & Associates. Tina Masington, project manager for Booz-Allen, agreed with Mr. Rollison on the importance of measurable goals and objectives during an all-day meeting in October to discuss the study.

Mr. Rollison insists on goals and objectives that can be quantified - such as ones measured numerically or by date of completion. He points to the goals of Paul Toth, Toledo Express Airport director, compiled by the board's airport committee, of which Mr. Rollison is a member.

Among Mr. Toth's goals for 2001 are increasing passengers to 700,000 a year, attracting airlines for four new nonstop destinations, and by May having new concessionaires to run the airport's food stores, retail shops, and parking lot.

But some board members question whether that philosophy can be carried over to the port authority's other ventures, particularly the seaport. The agency rents out dock space and collects surcharges on cargo shipped through the docks, but it doesn't control the shippers.

Board member Dan Smith, chairman of the seaport committee, said market factorsdetermine the level of shipping. John Loftus, the seaport director, can't control it.

“You have to deal with items you have a degree of control over,” he told fellow board members this month. “Either that or you're kidding yourself and the people you represent.”

Mr. Rollison said he's tired of agency officials saying some things are out their control.

“That's what infuriates ... me,” Mr. Rollison said. “Nothing is out of our control.”

Mr. Loftus talks to dock-based businesses about improving the seaport, so he could list what projects he expects to complete and by what date they would be completed, Mr. Rollison said. He visits shippers to try to market the port, so his goal could be to fit in a certain number of visits each year, he said.

“I'm not saying you have to have 10,000 more ships come in,” Mr. Rollison said. “I'm saying, what are the efforts behind that that we can say he did his efforts, or ... did he just sit there and wait for the ships to come in?”

Mr. Loftus's proposed goals and objectives for 2001 include some specific projects, but they don't offer specific details for some initiatives. To spur passenger operations, a goal is to “continue marketing Toledo and northwest Ohio as a destination for cruise vessels.”

Mr. Rollison argues that the goal should include more details, such as how many cruise ships Mr. Loftus plans to attract next year or a certain date he plans to offer a marketing plan to attract cruise ships.

Because of Mr. Rollison's request, agency administrators have revamped the goals with the help of board committee heads. Mr. Rollison hopes to meet with committee heads before agency President James Hartung presents the new lists at the board's Jan. 19 meeting.

Still, it won't be an easy sell for Mr. Rollison.

Even after hearing Mr. Rollison's plea, Mr. Smith said he felt the seaport had done a good job on the goal sheet.

“I feel like the kid who showed up with his homework,” he said.

And Mr. Hartung is not a convert either.

He said he is not philosophically opposed to Mr. Rollison's push - arguing that he has championed accountability through such things as 50-page year-end reports to the public documenting the agencies' effort. But Mr. Hartung agreed with Mr. Smith that some port authority operations, such as the seaport, don't have easily quantifiable goals.

He points to the agency's vice president of administration and legal counsel, Mary Frederick Coy.

“It's not as if we can say ... her goal is to litigate 16 lawsuits,” Mr. Hartung said.

But, Mr. Rollison said, she could have a goal of reducing the average hourly rate of outside legal help.

“There's measurement tools for every service that you're in, as long as you use innovation to figure out what those are,” he said.



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