CCPA Chairman Gives Board’s Side of Drake’s Leaving

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – The presence of the man who wasn’t there hung over the monthly meeting of the Columbiana County Port Authority Monday night.

That man, Tracy Drake, who has been executive director and CEO of the port authority 22 years, was on vacation and not due to return until today, Diane Ksiazek, manager of administration and finance said afterward.

During its meeting, the board neither discussed nor acted upon Drake’s departure Sept. 30. Charles Presley, chairman of the port authority board, asked Ksiazek to stand in for Drake in providing background before the board passed two measures: awarding Allison Contracting LLC of Wellsville a $246,275 contract to repair a pump station in Wellsville Intermodal Facility and extending a lease five years to the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. for six acres it uses in the Wellsville industrial park.

The board of five listened silently as Marc D. Hoffrichter, owner of MDH Investment Management Inc. and a longtime civic leader in the redevelopment of East Liverpool, took them to task for not renewing Drake contract.

Holding newspapers that reported Drake is leaving, Hoffrichter said in an even low-key voice, “I am extremely upset [that] he was hung out to dry. It makes me sick.”

He related how Drake had worked closely with him and supported his efforts to restore the economic life of downtown East Liverpool. This included the conversion of a vacant J.C. Penney department store into a data processing center for the former Sky Bank, since acquired by Huntington Bancshares Inc.

News coverage of county commissioners and board members opining that Drake, who earns $200,000 a year, was overpaid prompted Hoffrichter to tell the board, “He deserved every penny he made. The [Columbiana County] taxpayer didn’t contribute a penny to his salary.”

While he didn’t name Presley, Hoffrichter noted that as a member of the board, the port authority pays the health insurance annual premium of $26,556 that covers the chairman’s family. If the board were really interested in reducing expenses, “that’s where you should be cutting,” Hoffrichter declared, not trying to reduce the CEO’s compensation.

As Presley said he would Sept. 1, the day Drake issued a press release that the board had notified him his contract would not be renewed, the chairman took reporters’ questions.

“He has not been offered a new contract,” Presley began. Discussions on continuing Drake’s employment began in June, he said. Apparently little progress was made and while both the board and county commissioners complimented and praised Drake’s performance, “The Columbiana County Port Authority will take a new management direction” beginning next month, Presley said in a written statement and that he iterated orally.

“What kind of direction?” a reporter asked Presley.

“A different direction,” the chairman answered, “a new direction.”

Asked to be more specific, Presley would say only, “Gas and oil is where we’re going.”

Asked to elaborate, Presley stuck to “a new economic direction.”

Asked again to elaborate, the chairman said, “A continuance of forward motion. … A competent board makes [this possible]. … It’s not a negative direction. It’s a positive move forward.”

Asked the extent to which Drake’s compensation was a factor in the board’s “nonrenewing” his contract, Presley called it ”rumor, innuendo and news press.”

The commissioners — Tim Weigle and Mike Halleck, both of whom are former members of the port authority board — might have expressed opinions that Drake is paid too much, Presley insisted, but he nor any of his four colleagues on the current board did not, even among themselves

He made it a point to inform reporters that the commissioners “had nothing to do with this decision,” that is, not offering Drake another contract.

And he was emphatic about rebutting former board member Don Crane’s assertion that Halleck wants to be CEO of the port authority. That is “completely unfounded, false,” Presley declared. “I raised this with Mike Halleck three years ago. … I can validate this to you. I’m chairman and it’s not going to happen. It’s false.”

As to who might succeed Drake and when, Presley said, “This port authority is extremely strong” in both its staff and its board. “This is an extremely involved board. … We can move forward without any kneejerk reaction.”

He himself has “received more than a dozen inquiries” or expressions of interest in the job, Presley said. “I told them all: After Oct. 1, send in your application.”

The chairman reiterated what he told a reporter Sept. 1 about conducting a national search for Drake’s successor, adding that it’s likely a search firm would be hired because it would be national in scope.

He offered that engaging such a consultant would occur toward the end of this year or the first of next year. “We’re in no rush,” Presley said. “We’re comfortable. Diane [Ksiazek] is a point person here.”

As for what qualifications or background the next CEO of the port authority should possess, Presley left it to “experience in economic development and the public sector. We’d be open.”

Asked whether Drake will use remaining vacation days he’s earned until Sept. 30, Presley said Drake had not advised him of his plans – at which point Ksiazek informed reporters and Presley that Drake is due back today.

Asked whether Drake has submitted his retirement notice to Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, Ksiazek said PERS had sent her a form last week asking that she confirm that Sept. 30 is Drake’s last day of employment.

“He can’t cash in unless he calls it retirement,” Presley observed. In his Sept. 1 press release, Drake said he is not retiring but will set up a consulting firm in Sarasota, Fla., and expects to work in southeastern Ohio.

The pump station contract the board approved is an aspect of the transaction the port authority closed in August with Marathon Oil where the authority sold it land in Wellsville Intermodal Facility. The need to repair Wellsville #4 Pump Station dates back at least two years, the repair a condition of Marathon acquiring the property, Ksiazek said.

It will take eight weeks for the parts to arrive and then two to three months for Allison Contracting to complete the work.

As for the five-year lease to Norfolk Southern, it is retroactive to July 1 and expires June 30, 2020. The railroad will pay $14,267 the first year, $22,133 the second, $30,000 the third, fourth and fifth years.

Should it seek to renew a second five years, it would pay $34,500 in rent annually.

Pictured: Tracy Drake.

Columbiana Commissioners Wanted to Cut Drake’s Salary in Half

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