County controller calls for the resignation of two airport authority board members who invested in OneJet

September 23, 2018
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Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is asking for county Executive Rich Fitzgerald to seek the resignations of two members of the Allegheny County Airport Authority board who invested in an airline the authority is now suing for violating an agreement.

Robert Lewis and Jan Rea both invested in OneJet, the Trib reported this month.

“When two of nine members of a board happen to have financial ties to an airline which received public money from a decision of that board, it’s not a coincidence, it’s part of that board’s culture,” Wagner said in a news release.

Fitzgerald, Lewis and Rea did not return calls seeking comment.

Rea and her husband Donald invested in June because OneJet was planning to offer private air service to Naples, Fla, where the family has a winter home, she said. Lewis does not know when he invested, but it was not this year, he said. Neither disclosed the amount.

Jeffrey Letwin, the solicitor for the authority, said he has no issue with Rea or Lewis staying on the board as long as they recuse themselves from votes including OneJet, as they have done since investing, he said.

Lewis was also a member of OneJet’s board of directors, the Trib reported in December. Lewis told the Trib this month he was never a member of the airline’s board, only an advisory board. Letwin said Lewis had been a member of the airline’s board.

After learning of Lewis’s investment on Aug. 14, Fitzgerald told the Trib he planned to ask Letwin to make sure Lewis and other board members never voted on anything that would have benefited them financially.

Fitzgerald, who appoints airport board members with Council Council approval, said he planned to keep Lewis on the board “unless there’s something that we find that wasn’t done properly,” he said at the time.

According to state law, municipal authority board members, such as Allegheny County Airport Authority members, can only be removed by the court. The county executive can ask for resignations or choose not to reappoint board members.

During his first term, Fitzgerald had members of county boards and authorities sign undated resignation letters that could have potentially been used to oust members without going through the courts. In 2013, Fitzgerald said he would stop asking for the letters and destroy all the letters he had received. He said he never used any of the letters.

The authority filed a lawsuit against the airline earlier this month seeking to get back $763,000 of the $1 million incentive the authority granted the airline in 2016 in exchange for new flights to 10 cities. The airline launched flights to nine cities, but now is down to only two -- Indianapolis and Hartford, Conn.

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