VIENNA - A deal that would allow the Western Reserve Port Authority to finance $60 million of the $125 million Austintown racino project helped hedge Wednesday's decision by some of the port authority board members to retain Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon.
The board, which runs the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, voted unanimously to renew DeLeon's contract for another 18 months.
The contract keeps DeLeon at her current rate of compensation, which is $95,000 a year with incentives based on levels of economic development success.
"I think it influenced some board members' (decisions)," board President Scott Lynn said following Wednesday's meeting. "It didn't influence mine. I was going to vote to give it (contract renewal) to her anyway."
Port authority member Andres Visnapuu, who previously has criticized DeLeon's performance, voted in favor of the contract extension.
"As a port authority, you have to try to do what you can do in the public's best interest," Visnapuu said. "There has been an upcoming development, and I have my faith that it should be a good thing."
Under terms of her contract, incentives mean DeLeon could see up to 1 percent of the $60 million bond financing deal. Also during the last six months DeLeon and port authority senior manager Sarah Lown also secured a $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfield assessment coalition grant. The incentives also called for DeLeon to be compensated 2.5 percent of that amount, or up to $15,000.
DeLeon would not receive the full amounts, however, because the combination of her salary and the incentives are capped at $150,000 a year.
Her contract became a hotbed of controversy just six months ago when a strongly divided port authority board bickered for weeks over DeLeon's future. Trumbull and Mahoning County commissioners, who help fund the port authority, also had weighed in during public meetings at that time. Eventually, the board voted 5-3 to an abbreviated contract at an annual salary reduced from the $155,000 she had been making. That six-month deal would have expired next month.
Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka, who previously had urged the port authority "to move in a new direction," was less vocal about Wednesday's decision. He said DeLeon and the port have stepped up to be more accountable in keeping commissioners informed. Still he said he wished she lived in the Mahoning Valley. DeLeon commutes from the Cleveland area.
Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who has consistently supported DeLeon, was pleased with Wednesday's decision.
"Rose Ann has been coming up with a lot of things on the table that will help the area," Rimedio-Righetti said. "You have a port authority that is very active right now. They are working very hard."
In a prepared statement, Lynn credited DeLeon for raising awareness of the "capabilities and capacities," helping secure the $600,000 EPA grant and remaining active in discussions with private and public sector entities interested in locating or expanding in the Mahoning Valley.
"I am quite pleased and look forward to continuing working with the board and community," DeLeon said.