Port Authority Audit Is Vital

It is not necessarily true that where there’s smoke, there also is fire. Still, an issue that has been smoldering for about a year, involving the Weirton Area Port Authority, should be resolved.

About a year ago, some local officials asked the West Virginia Public Port Authority, which has jurisdiction over the local agency, to conduct an audit of it. State Authority Director Doug York has said that is “not within my statutory authority.”

Then, earlier this year, Weirton city officials and the Brooke and Hancock county commissioners asked that legislative auditors look into the local port authority. Nothing happened then, either, because of concerns over whether state Auditor Glen Gainer’s office, rather than the Legislature, should be handling such an inquiry.

Now, Weirton City Council is renewing its request for a probe.

A variety of questions are being asked about the Weirton Area Port Authority. City Council documents indicate concerns about the authority’s organization, payments – or failure to make them – to employees and vendors, and property acquisition methods, among other items.

Controversy over the local port authority has been complex and at times strident, featuring a continuing series of accusations and counter-claims by those involved. Clearly, the authority’s work has not proceeded smoothly.

Claims of mismanagement and even wrongdoing are not unusual when public money is being spent. But in this situation, public officials from one city council and two county commissioners are concerned enough to be seeking state intervention.

Disagreements over jurisdiction should not be allowed to prevent a state investigation. Port authority officials should welcome it, if only to clear the air. Local government officials should insist on it to get answers to their questions about the authority. And taxpayers should insist on knowing whether their money is being used wisely.

Within weeks, not months, state officials should resolve the question of jurisdiction and proceed with an audit of the port authority.