Wellsville attorney will fill port spot

LISBON – Wellsville attorney Nick Amato was named the newest member of the Columbiana County Port Authority, although his appointment by county commissioners was not unanimous.

Commissioners voted 2-0 at Wednesday’s meeting to appoint Amato to the five-member port authority board seat occupied by Rob Johnson until his term expired at the end of 2013. Johnson, the son of the county Democratic Party chairman, asked to be reappointed but commissioners – all of whom are Republicans – decided to open up the process.

“We had a lot of interest … and most were well qualified,” Commissioner Mike Halleck said of the people who expressed an interest in the appointment, some of whom they asked to apply.

Halleck said he “wrestled with the decision” but decided to nominate Amato because of his extensive experience as a civil attorney and his close ties to Wellsville, where he was born and raised and located his law practice. Halleck views this community connection as an asset since the port authority’s most significant holding is its riverfront industrial park in Wellsville.

“Amato is well known and well versed in that community,” he said.

Joining Halleck in voting for Amato’s appointment was Jim Hoppel. The third commissioner, Tim Weigle, abstained from the vote and afterward was asked why. While Weigle believes Amato was a good choice and he has no problem with his appointment, he did not know him as well as his colleagues.

“They know him better than I did, so I let them make the decision, and I hope he goes in and does a great job,” Weigle said.

Weigle favored former investment banker Greg Ewing, who had applied. “I think Greg Ewing would have been by far the best choice to put on the board … but Mike and Jim felt attorney Amato was best choice,” he said.

Halleck agreed that Ewing, whom he asked to apply because of his finance background, would have been a good choice, but he was unsure how long Ewing might be around.

“Mr. Ewing indicated to me he was putting his (Rogers-area) property up for sale and might be relocating,” he said.

Halleck pointed out there will be two port authority board seats up for appointment at the end of this year and Ewing could be considered for one of them if he remains in the county.

Commissioners said they had a number of people call them or stop by expressing an interest in the appointment. But aside from Amato and Ewing, the only other formal applications were from Madison Township Trustee Glenn Smith, former county commissioner John Wargo, CAA administrator Marty Grimm, Chief Deputy County Engineer Bob Durbin and Carla Channel, an assistant clerk to commissioners.

The position pays $7,200 a year and comes with health insurance.