Toledo needs to move forward quickly on economic development in the wake of James Hartung s firing Friday as president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, according to local political and business leaders.
In these economic times, it s just critical that everyone stay focused on moving forward, said Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County commissioners. We can t afford to let it be a distraction.
Fellow Commissioner Ben Konop said Mr. Hartung s dismissal creates an opportunity to take a new look at economic development because several other development-oriented agencies also are at a crossroads. The Lucas County Improvement Corp. s top executive recently resigned, he noted, and the city of Toledo s economic development effort is in transition.
We need to analyze what we re doing well, and what we re not, Mr. Konop said. Perhaps we can take a new direction, which we certainly need at this point.
We ll miss Jim, we ll miss his vision, said Tony Reams, executive director of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, whose local planning role includes transpor-tation projects that have included port authority collaboration. But there are a lot of others who are also leading Toledo s job-growth efforts, Mr. Reams said, and we ll do everything within our power to make sure this region continues to move in the right direction.
Brian McMahon, a local developer who supported Mr. Hartung s advocacy for establishing an intermodal terminal complex to capitalize on the region s convergence of transportation assets, said the port president s highly publicized firing could hinder the nationwide search for a replacement.
There is no one here who has the port credentials, locally or nationally, to replace him, Mr. McMahon said.
After nearly five hours of closed-door deliberations spanning two days, the 13 port directors voted unanimously Friday morning to fire Mr. Hartung with cause for reasons that were not disclosed.
The board reviewed the findings of an investigation launched in response to allegations by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner that Mr. Hartung improperly steered a lobbying contract for a consortium of local entities, including the port authority, to a West Toledo lobbyist with whom Mr. Hartung was accused of having an affair. The Northwest Ohio Legislative Consortium employed Kathy Teigland as its Washington representative from 2001 through 2007.
Mr. Hartung yesterday issued his first public statement after the firing, saying in a written release that his personal life should not be used for political gamesmanship.
He also defended his record as port president and in hiring Ms. Teigland.
Kathy Teigland did an outstanding job as the representative of Wise and Associates when the consortium was first created and continued to successfully represent the consortium following the Wise contract, Mr. Hartung wrote.
While I understand the questions that have been raised about the consortium, I have not compromised my professional integrity or my commitment to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and to the best interests of northwest Ohio.
Mr. Hartung s employment contract made him an at-will employee, meaning that the port directors could fire him with or without cause provided they gave 60 days notice.
The with cause provision in the dismissal resolution means that the agency intends to deny Mr. Hartung the severance compensation he would otherwise receive under the contract, including nine months pay at three-quarters of his salary rate, continuing health coverage, and pension contributions.
The severance pay alone would be worth about $100,000 to Mr. Hartung, whose attorney, Kevin Greenfield, said Friday that a contractually required appeal hearing will be requested when he and the port s lawyers meet tomorrow.
The port authority on Friday denied a Blade request to inspect the investigative report upon which the port directors based their vote. The report was prepared by Spengler Nathanson, a local law firm, and that firm s James Jeffery said on the port authority s behalf that it is covered by the attorney-client privilege exception to Ohio s public-records law.
John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, responded that the newspaper will pursue its legal avenues to obtain access to the report.
Mr. McMahon said he believes the report will eventually come out, but in the meantime, regardless of what the report says, now we have to live with the results of this.
Even if Mr. Hartung s dismissal is justified, the developer said, it could have been accomplished without what he considers to have been Mr. Finkbeiner s political grandstanding. The matter could have been handled behind the scenes, he said, with Mr. Hartung, 65, potentially allowed the opportunity to retire.
No matter how much lipstick we try to put on this, it does not come off well for this community, Mr. McMahon said.
Upbeat or pessimistic?
Mr. Finkbeiner said last night that Toledo will do just fine during the post-Hartung era in terms of attracting businesses to the area.
Economic development does not begin or end with one man, he said. People who are interested in expanding or coming to Toledo or northwest Ohio are more interested in the packages we have to offer or the incentives that we put together for them.
Mr. McMahon said he is especially concerned about the impact on discussions with the developers of a proposed deepwater container-ship terminal in Melford, N.S., for which Mr. Hartung wanted to establish Toledo as a Great Lakes feeder port. The former port president was part of a local delegation that visited Melford last month, and Melford officials are scheduled to tour Toledo s port facilities later this month.
But Steve Fought, an aide to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who was also part of the Melford tour, said the tour here must go on without dwelling on the controversy involving Mr. Hartung.
He said Miss Kaptur is dismayed that we re talking about personalities rather than the all-important priority of job creation.
Will [the firing] delay economic development? Only if we let it. There is too much going on to let one person, one incident interfere with progress, Mr. Fought said.
Mr. Hartung s firing from the port authority also removes him from the LCIC executive committee, on which the port president holds a seat, said Kathleen Kovacs, the executive committee s chairman. She said she did not know how the termination might affect LCIC Executive Director Matt Sapara, who is also the port authority s development director.
The former port president, she said, will be missed by local economic development leaders.
Mr. Hartung s been a wonderful proponent for helping to move the area s economy forward, especially in transportation issues, Ms. Kovacs said. I ve always appreciated his candor and thoughtfulness on economic development.
A learning curve
Several members of the port authority s board of directors said they believe the transition, while perhaps not seamless, will be smooth.
When you lose your leader of 14 years, you have to feel a little uncomfortable, but one thing I believe Jim did was put together a great team, said Nadeem Salem, chairman of the port board s airport committee. The port authority has functioned quite well with the good people that are there, and I have no doubt that the current staff under the direction of the new interim president will carry on the work of the port authority. We will continue to be strong.
Whoever succeeds Mr. Hartung will face a substantial learning curve after taking office, director Michael Frank said.
With any sudden change of leadership, there are unfortunate effects, and a significant period of adjustment, Mr. Frank said. In my opinion we have a magnificent staff, and I think they will effectively step into the breach.
I expect the port authority to embrace the challenges and opportunities this presents, and I expect us to be productive, said Thomas Palmer, a past board chairman. All of us are committed to making that happen.
Blade staff writers Rod Lockwood, Gabe Nelson, and Alex Parker contributed to this report.
Contact David Patch at:email@example.com or 419-724-6094.