Sunday, January 27, 2008

How wrong can you be?

As expected, The Blade editorial board has taken a swipe at the pay of Jim Hartung, president of the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority.

You see, they don't think he should get pay increases - or be paid as much as he is - considering the economic condition of the area. While this has been a consistent position from them, it's wrong.

First of all, they believe the purpose of the Port Authority is to create jobs.

"The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which is charged with economic development, hasn't been able to create many new jobs recently."

The only jobs a Port Authority can create are new positions within their own agency. They don't create jobs. In fact, their purpose is to run the ports.

"Our Vision:
To position Toledo as a premier world transportation center.

Our Mission:
To assure that the Toledo area's water, air, rail, and surface transportation assets are developed and operated in a cohesive, coordinated and safe manner in order to provide maximum efficiencies and benefits to shippers, receivers, and passengers; to assure optimum business growth, technology development, investment, job retention and improvement in quality of life."

While the Port does have certain economic development tools in that they provide financing options to businesses, it's the businesses that create the jobs, not the Port Authority - or any other economic development entity including the Lucas County Improvement Corporation, the Regional Growth Partnership or the various government departments of economic development.

If entities like The Blade would acknowledge this fact, there wouldn't be unrealistic expectations of elected officials and economic development agencies in terms of what they can actually do. And, we might finally get around to focusing on creating an environment that will help businesses create jobs - rather than taking credit for what the private sector has done in spite of the unfriendly business policies that permeate our area.

The Blade also believes "Mr. Hartung could set a good example for public officials by refusing this ill-timed gift." I'm not sure, in his job description, where it is that the president of a port authority to supposed provide a good example for elected officials...but I think they've got this backward. Isn't it the elected officials who are supposed to provide the example?

And it's not a gift. It's compensation for performance. Interestingly, The Blade - and the elected officials who've criticized the raise and called for it to be 'returned' - have failed to state a performance-related reason for why Hartung has not earned it. Instead, they're appealing to emotion and class envy by implying that since so many people in this area are 'suffering,' other individuals should not prosper.

Besides, if the elected officials really care so much about the impact of salaries and the people who have to pay them, they can start by reducing their own - and the ones of all the government workers. Perhaps, rather than criticize what the Port Board has determined to be good performance, The Blade would like to address their lack of opposition to the Commissioners (by a 2-1 vote) giving Children Services Board employees pay increases of 4%, 3% and 3% over three years - especially when that agency has 2 - yes 2 - levies that support its operations (2.4 mills versus the .4 mills the Port Authority gets).

Then there is the issue of the Port Authority tax levy itself. Throughout their editorial, the reader is given the impression that the levy pays for the salary and is going toward the pay increase.

"... we don't believe such a generous raise constitutes the "wise use of [tax] levy dollars" ..."

"While the port generates income from shipping and airport operations, it also is the beneficiary of some $2.5 million a year that streams from the 0.4-mill property tax levy that was renewed by voters in 2004."

"... port directors are so accustomed to the steady income from the levy ..."

"The Hartung pay raise is a rude slap at those workers and to all those in Toledo and Lucas County who support the port operation with their tax dollars."

So let's set the record straight. From the Port Authority webpage:

"Ninety-three percent of Port Authority funding comes from revenue generated by its operating divisions and its finance programs. This revenue pays for all administrative costs including staff salaries. The other 7 percent comes from revenue generated by its tax levy. That money is used exclusively for capital improvement projects."

And this is consistent with the promises the Port Authority Board made in 2004 - to use these levy dollars in this manner. This levy used to help fund the Regional Growth Partnership before it became a separate, privately-funded organization. After the RGP's break from the Port Authority and public funding, the Port agreed to put a portion of those levy revenues into a Community Economic Development Program. And that's what they did, according to a Blade August 26, 2005, article, "Port authority OKs urban projects - South Branch library included on list for redevelopment grants":

"The port board approved $338,000 to seven nonprofit neighborhood agencies in Lucas County, fulfilling a promise to devote more of its tax- levy revenue to urban projects.
The port authority , which had been under fire for economic development programs outside Lucas County, in which its 0.4-mill development levy is assessed, agreed as part of a levy renewal campaign last year to set aside $350,000 annually for neighborhood revitalization. The levy generates about $2.2 million a year."

So Hartung's raise does not come from the levy, but from the profit on the operations of the Port Authority itself. The promises made to the public about the levy dollars are being kept. So the levy, itself, should not be a factor in the discussion of Hartung's compensation.

In the end, Hartung's pay is based upon his performance in running the operations of the Port Authority - not upon the overall economic conditions of the County, which is something over which he has absolutely no control. And to even imply that he is responsible for that is ridiculous.

Elected officials, on the other hand, through their policies, actions, taxing, fee structures and spending do have such control and influence. And editorial board members should remember that fact the next time they do endorsements.


Micah said...

With airport traffic at an all-time low, I don't think that he should get anything.

It's a ghost town out there anymore.

Maggie Thurber said...

Micah - there's more to airport traffic than just the passengers. Any review of a person's performance should be based upon total duties - and not just one aspect.

Is passenger traffic actually down? If so, are the decreases in passenger traffic offset by an increase in freight traffic? Were there other performance goals relative to the passenger terminal that were met? Are there aspects of the passenger traffic that airport and Port Authority staff have no control over? Did the Port Board take such questions into account when making their decision?

If the opposition to the raise was based upon a lack of overall performance, there might be something to the complaints.

But, since all the people have done is complain about it based upon an appeal to emotion due to others being less well off, then I must object - and so should you...

Maggie Thurber said...

Additionally, in the interest of full disclosure, Micah, according to his blogger profile, is an air traffic controller at the airport.

Perhaps you could clarify, Micah, if this means that you're an employee of the Port Authority or if you are employed by some other entity?

Tim Higgins said...


Isn't it amazing what salaries and uses of taxpayer dollars the Blade and the commisioners choose to comment on and how?

When talking about the Port Authority, both are quick to jump on the bandwagon to tell the Port Authority board how to spend its money and to decry the lack of performance of the agency. Now setting aside that they are completely wrong in their opinion of the goals of this agency or their misrepresentation of the use of taxpayer dollars in this case, let's simply compare it to another for to check both groups for consistency. Oh, let's say ... TARTA and their levy, which both supported.

Where was the hue and cry over the service provided? Where was the outrage over administrator salaries? Where was the cry for sacrifice and fiscal responsibility?

We appear to ask little of the county commisioners or the Blade for that matter, consistency however, might be a good place to start.

Maggie Thurber said...

excellent point, Tim - thanks for adding it!

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