The president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority became a big player in two major trade groups last year, but the increased clout has come at a price: nearly a fifth of his time and more than $23,000 in travel expenses.
A Blade analysis of travel records shows the agency's president, James Hartung, spent nearly one out of five work days partly or completely away from Toledo to attend 23 meetings, seminars, and conferences with trade groups in the last 18 months.
The revelation occurs as some of his bosses - the agency's 13 appointed board members - are pushing for more oversight of the trips. None of the board members, however, has suggested the trips are improper.
“Certainly, all the associations he belongs to, I'm not saying they don't benefit the port authority in one way or another,” board member Jerry Chabler said. “But I want Jim to explain to me and the rest of the board what the benefits are to the port authority, or is this a benefit to Jim Hartung to enhance his resume?”
Other board members scoff at such a suggestion. They say Mr. Hartung's roles in the groups - and the accompanying trips - are well worth the time and money.
“Jim Hartung has the best reputation of any port director in the United States,” board Chairman Pat Nicholson said.
The travel records show that Mr. Hartung spent the equivalent of 10 work weeks on such trips in 2000. The time was split evenly between days completely at the events and travel days - days he may have spent partially in Toledo.
The trips included a four-day workshop aboard a cruise ship in the Virgin Islands and 10 days for a conference on the coast of Australia. In between there were stops at places ranging from Duluth, Minn., to London.
So far this year, Mr. Hartung has spent the equivalent of five work weeks traveling - not counting four trips he has taken solely to meet with state and federal officials.
Besides the travel time, Mr. Hartung gets four weeks paid vacation a year, but agency spokesman Brian Schwartz said Mr. Hartung hasn't taken any vacation or sick days in 2000 or 2001. Mr. Hartung, who is paid $137,107 a year, isn't compensated for unused sick or vacation time because he is at the limit of such days he can accumulate, Mr. Schwartz said.
In the past 18 months, the agency's share of travel expenses was more than $23,000, with some expense reports unavailable. That doesn't include the nearly $3,400 the agency spent last year to send then-board Chairman G. Ray Medlin, Jr., on four of the trips. Like all board members, Mr. Medlin is otherwise unpaid.
The Blade's analysis also shows that the agency hasn't submitted claims for more than half of an additional $9,200 in travel expenses that's supposed to be reimbursed by one of the trade groups - some for trips taken more than a year ago.
Mr. Hartung runs an agency that oversees the region's seaport, train station, and two airports. It arranges low-interest loans for expanding businesses, and it helps fund the Regional Growth Partnership economic development agency.
The port authority is mostly self-supporting through user fees, but it supplements its budget with collections from a 0.4-mill property tax levy in Lucas County. It ended last year with a $1.9 million surplus, its biggest ever.
Still, travel expenses have been a sore issue in the past.
In 1998, The Blade reported that the port authority and growth partnership together spent more than $100,000 a year on travel and entertainment.
The revelations stirred up critics, like Mr. Chabler, who argued that the free spending was evidence of mismanagement and arrogance. The criticism helped defeat an attempt to renew the agency's levy that fall.
But, in 1999, voters renewed the levy after the arrival of several new board members - including Mr. Chabler - and a public vow of fiscal reform. Among other things, Mr. Hartung agreed to stop charging the agency for his wife's travel expenses, even though the benefit was guaranteed in his contract.
Still, Mr. Hartung and many agency board members blamed the 1998 levy's defeat on what they considered unfair Blade articles. They point with pride to Mr. Hartung's extensive role in the industry trade groups - proving, they say, that he is respected by peers worldwide, even if he hasn't been by some in his hometown.
In June, 2000, Mr. Hartung became the leader of the world's biggest trade group devoted to cargo hauling: International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association, based in Great Britain. The association boasts more than 2,000 members in 90 countries.
For this association, Mr. Hartung made six trips in 2000 - including the Australia conference, a London meeting, and four meetings in Jersey City, N.J. He has made three trips this year.
The association is to reimburse members for the costs of international trips, and it has reimbursed the agency more than $4,000. But the port authority hasn't submitted nearly $5,300 worth of claims, including $900 in airfare for Mr. Hartung's wife to go with him to the Netherlands in March, 2000. Mr. Hartung paid for the ticket on an agency credit card.
This month, after The Blade's inquiry, the Hartungs wrote a personal check to cover the cost of the ticket. Mr. Schwartz said the couple still planto seek reimbursement from the cargo association.
“More or less, it did slip somebody's mind to ask for the reimbursement,” Mr. Schwartz said.
He said there's still a dispute with Australia association members over whether the association should pick up the $2,200 tab for the Australia trip. Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Hartung has offered to reimburse the port if the association doesn't.
As for the remaining money owed, Mr. Schwartz said the claims will be submitted. Though some are from last year, Mr. Schwartz said he doesn't believe the claims are late.
The port authority picks up the tab of trips for the International Longshoremen's Association, the Transportation Research Board, and for the other major trade group in which Mr. Hartung holds a top spot: the American Association of Port Authorities.
The port association represents more than 150 public port authorities in North America. Last fall, Mr. Hartung was named the head of the United States delegation.
Mr. Nicholson said the costs are small compared to the increased clout. That clout is needed to shake Toledo's four-decade shipping slump by getting federal officials to upgrade the St. Lawrence Seaway -the gateway to the Great Lakes.
“These organizations - they're the only way you have a chance to get anything done in Congress,” he said.
It's about more than clout to advocates like Davis Helberg, the port director in Duluth.
“We have the ability to pick up the phone and call John or Jane Doe in Gulfport, Miss., or Everett, Wash., and say, `You dealt with this. What was your experience? What can we gain from it?'” said Mr. Helberg, a former port association chairman. “If we stay in the isolation of our own ports, we can't develop that [network].”
Mr. Helberg, among the longest serving port directors in the country, said he would be a bit offended if he needed to seek permission from his board before taking each trip.
“I can only speak for me, but I need the freedom to move when I need to move,” he said.
Board member G. Opie Rollison first raised the issue on Mr. Hartung's travel, suggesting this summer that he be required to get permission from the board chairman for each trip.
Mr. Hartung declined comment on Mr. Rollison's request.
But in a June 28 memo to Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Hartung lashed out at Mr. Rollison's suggestion, complaining that any board member with a problem should have come to agency administrators first.
“I am shocked and disappointed in a blatant breach of professional protocol,” Mr. Hartung wrote.
Mr. Schwartz defended Mr. Hartung's travel schedule.
“There may be a perception of people who don't work in this industry that this is somehow inappropriate. But this is the way business is done in this industry,” Mr. Schwartz said.
Besides Mr. Chabler, board Vice Chairman Jim White said he also felt there needed to be more oversight, either through a more specific budget allocation or through the approval of the chairman.
“Clearly there needs to be a process,” Mr. White said.
Board member Doni Miller agreed on the need for more board input, but she said she did not think it was fair to make Mr. Hartung get permission before each trip.
“Somehow, the board needs to feel comfortable about the relevance of the trips,” she said.