A remade board of directors at the Allegheny County Port Authority faced with a CEO search and persistent financial troubles is scheduled to meet for the first time Friday since a state-mandated shakeup.
"I'm hopeful it's a group that can work together and get over any political differences," said former board Chairman Jeff Letwin, 59, a Squirrel Hill Democrat. "I think it goes back to everyone's goal. It's about seeing the region move forward."
Letwin is among six members of the old nine-member board who were reappointed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. A change in state law in July tweaked the makeup of the board to 11 members. Previously the county executive made all nine appointments.
The new board will face several issues from the outset, including searching for a CEO and securing additional state funding to head off future cuts. The state Legislature is considering a transportation bill that would provide additional funding for transit.
"I think the state leaders, like me, want to see real reforms; make the system more business-like," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think there will be some big disagreement. It's about streamlining the system and making it better."
Fitzgerald cited upcoming discussions about dedicated bus service between Downtown and Oakland, real-time arrival data and promoting T ridership to the North Shore as examples.
The board meeting is scheduled, but Gov. Tom Corbett has not made his choice. Kelli Roberts, a Corbett spokeswoman, acknowledged that a 60-day window to make selections has passed but said no penalty exists for making a late selection.
"We're working diligently to make sure we get the right person," Roberts said.
The vacancy leaves the board with eight Democrats and two Republicans. In addition to Fitzgerald's six appointments, Republican and Democrat leaders in the state Senate and House each made a selection. Experts said Corbett is likely to pick a Republican.
The new board is expected to vote on a chairman and make committee assignments at its first meeting.
"With the financial commitment of the state, it's a good idea to have different business perspectives to Port Authority in their quest to become financially sound," said attorney David White, 57, a Franklin Park Republican, who was appointed earlier this week by House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney. "I've been on boards in the minority and worked towards building a consensus."
Philadelphia's transit authority, SEPTA, has appointees from five counties as well as appointments from state legislators. Thomas Ellis, a Montgomery County Republican and Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, who both serve on SEPTA, said it's beneficial to have different perspectives.
"What's most important is to have a chairman that respects everyone's opinion," said Ellis, a lawyer. "Mostly we all tend to agree. It doesn't break down into Republicans and Democrats."
University of Pittsburgh public administration and policy expert George Dougherty said party affiliation and allegiance to who appointed you fades over time.
"So in essence, the fact that there are three Republicans makes the most difference when the board first begins to meet," Dougherty said.
Former board member Mavis Rainey said politics played a role in her not being reappointed to the board, a claim Fitzgerald denied. She was one of four members who opposed Fitzgerald's successful push to fire CEO Steve Bland earlier this year. Five of Fitzgerald's six appointees voted to fire Bland.
"I just thought politics would be put aside. Maybe I'm naive," said Rainey, who runs the non-profit Oakland Transportation Management Association.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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