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Published: Friday, 10/16/2009

Port leader resigns for 'personal reasons'; Toth named as successor

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After only 6 1/2 months on the job, Michael Stolarczyk has resigned as president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, with Paul Toth - the man once passed up for the job - named yesterday as his successor.

During a special meeting yesterday morning, the port authority's board of directors voted to accept Mr. Stolarczyk's resignation for "personal reasons" and then appointed Mr. Toth to succeed him immediately.

"The past few months have been a difficult time for me, and my family, as we deliberated the direction of my career and the quality of our personal life. We weighed the benefits of whether we would be best served staying with the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority or focusing on our family-first commitment," Mr. Stolarczyk wrote in an Oct. 9 letter to William Carroll, the port board's chairman, requesting permission to resign by Oct. 23.

His employment contract had required him to give 90 days' notice, but board members waived that provision.

Mr. Carroll said after the meeting that Mr. Stolarczyk's resignation "has come as a surprise. We were moving along quite nicely." Family considerations have to come first, he said.

Added G. Opie Rollison, vice chairman of the board: "I'm disappointed, but I understand. I wish Mike the best. I understand these kinds of things when it comes to family."

Mr. Rollison described a positive relationship with Mr. Stolarczyk.

"I think our working relationship was great, and we were all headed in the right direction, especially recently coming out of a strategic planning session," he said. "We all came out of that with good ideas. We're headed in the right direction, and we still are."

The selection of Mr. Toth, 44, the port authority's current vice president for technical and financial services and a 22-year agency employee, should mean no disruption to port authority initiatives as a result of Mr. Stolarczyk's departure, Mr. Carroll said.

"Paul has a lot of experience. We are pleased to be able to do that," the board chairman said.

Mr. Carroll declined to comment, however, on why Mr. Toth was worthy of promotion this time when he was not even a finalist eight months ago to succeed James Hartung as the agency's chief executive, a job for which Mr. Toth had applied.

"That all happened in executive session," Mr. Carroll said, referring to the closed-door sessions during which the board discussed its hiring decisions.

The votes yesterday morning were preceded by a 70-minute executive session. Board members voted 10-0 both to accept Mr. Stolarczyk's resignation and to promote Mr. Toth. Members Margarita de Leon, Nadeem Salem, and Lloyd Jacobs were absent.

"I'm pleased to accept the appointment of president and CEO of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority," Mr. Toth said afterward. "I believe firmly in our mission and look forward to leading the organization. The port authority is a significant partner in the forward movement of this community and I am eager to continue to focus with our dedicated staff on the many exciting opportunities ahead of us."

"The city of Toledo enjoyed working with Michael Stolarczyk while he served as president of the Port Authority. We wish Michael and his family well," Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said in a statement about the agency's leadership change.

"The city has worked with Paul Toth on various projects including the intermodal [terminal] and the Marina District. Paul has been a great partner and we look forward to working with him to further develop the city of Toledo," the statement said.

As a vice president, Mr. Toth's current salary is $166,384, while Mr. Stolarczyk was receiving $170,000 in annual pay. Mr. Carroll said the contractual terms of Mr. Toth's promotion remain to be negotiated.

Mr. Toth also held the title of interim airports director, and from August through March had been the port authority's interim president following the Aug. 1, 2008, firing of Mr. Hartung for "inappropriate" relations with a female lobbyist.

Carla Firestone, a port authority spokesman, said Mr. Toth technically will no longer have the airport director title, but will remain responsible for overseeing the two airports his agency operates until a pending staff reorganization reassigns those duties to someone else.

Mr. Stolarczyk was 45 when he was tapped for the port position. At the time, he was senior director for business development in the Americas for Exel, Inc., an international contract logistics company with more than 500 sites in the western hemisphere. He was based in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington, Ohio.

The terms of his hiring included the port authority paying up to $30,000 in real-estate commissions on the sale of Mr. Stolarczyk's Upper Arlington home, plus $10,000 for moving expenses and $6,000 for temporary housing.

But according to Franklin County land records, any efforts Mr. Stolarczyk made to sell his house, which he and his wife, Pamela, bought in 2005 for $581,500, were unsuccessful.

Port director Jerry Chabler said Mr. Stolarczyk instead was continuing to spend weeknights in a Commodore Perry Apartments unit and commuting to Upper Arlington on the weekends.

Mr. Chabler said he believed the long commutes and expense of maintaining two residences may have played into Mr. Stolarczyk's decision.

Mr. Stolarczyk did not return several calls seeking comment.

"I'm very dismayed that he made the decision he did," Mr. Chabler said. "He was highly qualified, and he had good vision. I think it's a big loss for the port authority."

But Mr. Chabler also said that Mr. Toth's long experience with the agency put him in a good position to lead it.

"There is probably nobody in the organization who knows more about the port authority and how it works than Paul Toth," Mr. Chabler said.

Mr. Stolarczyk had been one of three finalists to succeed Mr. Hartung, along with Ricci L. Gardner, who had most recently been an executive for Dana Corp. and is now the economic development chief for the city of Toledo, and Sean T. Connaughton, who had been the maritime administrator in Washington for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mr. Connaughton withdrew his name from consideration after the list of finalists was announced.

Though Mr. Toth applied for the permanent position and proved a "very viable candidate," the three finalists offered "broader experiences" that the port authority could draw upon, Mr. Carroll said at the time they were announced.

Bernard "Pete" Culp, the lone port director to vote against Mr. Stolarczyk's hiring - on the grounds that he did not believe Mr. Gardner received adequate consideration for the job - said he supported the decision to promote Mr. Toth as Mr. Stolarczyk's successor, rather than conduct another search.

"We discussed it thoroughly," Mr. Culp said. "I believe in succession. I don't have any problems with this."

In his resignation letter, Mr. Stolarczyk described his brief port authority reign as "rewarding and productive."

But one major port authority effort in which Mr. Stolarczyk personally involved himself was the star-crossed effort to attract JetAmerica, a proposed discount airline, to Toledo Express Airport.

Before even taking office, Mr. Stolarczyk told airline officials he would investigate the potential for the port authority's financial involvement in that venture, only to determine that the public agency could not make any capital investments.

JetAmerica announced in late May its plans for flights between Toledo and Newark starting in mid-July, to be followed with Melbourne, Fla., and Minneapolis-St. Paul service starting in mid-August. Its discount fares, with some tickets sold for as little as $9 one-way, were an instant sensation.

The plan quickly unraveled, however, when federal regulators told the airline it would need to obtain expensive takeoff and landing "slots" at Newark Liberty International Airport. That left the port authority on the hook for more than $100,000 it spent promoting JetAmerica.

Airline officials asserted that as a public-charter carrier, they had been assured they would not need such authority to use the Newark airport, but Federal Aviation Administration officials disputed the airline's claim.

Newark Liberty is one of five U.S. airports for which the FAA requires "slot" authority for scheduled flights in order to control congestion, and such "slots" are closely guarded by the airlines that control them and command top dollar to be transferred.

Staff writer Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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