Halleck Calls Drake’s Exit ‘a Normal Retirement’

LISBON, Ohio – Despite Tracy Drake’s announcement Tuesday that the Columbiana County Port Authority doesn’t intend to renew his contract as CEO and therefore he is leaving Sept. 30, Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck insists Drake is retiring.

“He’s 63 years old and moving to Florida,” Halleck said Wednesday during a recess of the commissioners’ weekly meeting. “It sounds like a normal retirement to me.”

Informed of the blunt language in Drake’s statement, released Tuesday afternoon, Halleck still characterized Drake’s departure as a retirement and said, “I wish him the best. I wish him congratulations.”

Rumors of Drake’s leaving the port authority had intensified the last two months and The Business Journal and Morning Journal, based here, received anonymous letters purportedly from a county employee who wrote the courthouse was abuzz with reports of Drake’s leaving involuntarily.

Other sources, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said Halleck thought Drake is paid far too much as CEO and wanted the port authority board to not renew his contract.

Drake is paid a salary of $200,000, another $11,000 in deferred compensation benefits plus an automobile allowance. His salary and benefits are paid for entirely by the port authority, the only such entity in Ohio not funded by taxes from the county or region it serves.

Columbiana County commissioners appoint members of the port authority’s five-person board of directors.

The port authority has recorded a profit every year of the 22 years Drake has been executive director or CEO, and its operations are funded exclusively by revenues it generates. The five members who serve on the board are compensated financially for their time.

Halleck, a former member of the port authority board, asked the reporter to identify his sources. The reporter would not, upon which the commissioner stated, “They’re all lies that you heard.”

Asked to assess Drake’s performance, Halleck said, “God bless him. He did a good job.”

Asked who might succeed Drake, Halleck pointed out that such a decision is up to the port authority board: “Whatever decision they make, I’ll respect their decision.”

Tim Weigle, president of the county board of commissioners and its liaison to the port authority, added little, noting he no longer sits on the port authority board. Weigle served on that board until he took office as commissioner a little more than 1½ years ago.

The third commissioner, Jim Hopppel, left the meeting room during the recess.

The county director of economic development, Tad Herald, was in the audience. Herald was a county assistant prosecutor when he was hired at the end of August 2013 at a salary of $60,000. His salary this year is $65,000, a payroll clerk in the county auditor’s office said yesterday.

Asked if he is a candidate to succeed Drake, Herald replied, “I don’t believe so.”

In his statement, Drake wrote, “The port board of directors has informed me that they do not intend to offer a new contract for next year. Therefore, my last official day on the job will be Sept. 30.”

Of his time with the port authority, which began in 1993, he said, “This has been the best job in the world and I’m proud of what we have accomplished. … This has been a great place to live and raise my family.”

Among those accomplishments were seeing the assets of the port authority grow to nearly $40 million from $5 million, “an average increase of $1.6 million a year,” he said, securing more than $30 million in grants or Congressional earmarks to develop and build two industrial parks — the Wellsville Intermodal Facility and Trade Park just outside Leetonia – his role in attracting more than $1 billion in private investment throughout the county and the creation and retention of 2,000 jobs.

Of what he will do after Sept. 30, Drake said he and his wife, Pamela, a psychiatrist, “are relocating to Sarasota, Fla.,” where he intends to “base a consulting firm. … I’m in discussions with several public- and private sector entities about putting my expertise to use.”

The Drakes have purchased a residence in Sarasota and Dr. Drake “will join an established psychiatric practice,” he said.

Pictured: Tracy Drake at the Wellsville Intermodal Park.

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Drake to Leave Columbiana County Port Authority

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