Wilkes-Barre Airport Defends Bank Move

PITTSTON TWP. Airport officials switched millions of dollars of business to a bank where the vice chairman of the airport board sits as a director.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro said that he was unaware of the switch to Landmark Community Bank of Pittston until the airport board met Thursday.

Cordaro, a bank director, said Friday that he sees no conflict of interest.

I will get nothing from it, he said.

He described the switch as an administrative matter which does not require a public vote by the commissioners of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties who make up the board that oversees operations at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

The matter was not on the agenda for Thursdays monthly airport board meeting nor was it discussed during the public session at which the board approved payment of more than $2.2 million for supplies and services.

We never approved the previous bank either, said Cordaro, referring to the Wachovia account.

Wachovia spokesman Jim Baum said he was unaware of the switch by the airport. Bank policy is to not comment on customer accounts, he added.

Cordaro said that he and other commissioners learned of the switch prior to the board meeting while convening in airport director Barry Centinis office. They were asked to sign signature cards for Landmark Bank, which gives them authority to sign checks for the airport account.

While passing around documents and checks to sign, Cordaro said, he noticed Landmark Bank letterhead. He said that he asked about the bank and was informed the airport was switching from Wachovia to Landmark.

At that point he told the commissioners that he was on the bank board, he said.

I almost didnt want to listen, said Cordaro. I was very shook up by it.

Cordaro said he signed the signature card afterwards.

Attorney Chris Powell, a Lackawanna County solicitor, was present in the office meeting and said there is no reason to suspect any wrongdoing with the bank switch.

It was an administrative decision not involving the board, Powell said.

The office meeting was not an executive session, even though the board routinely discusses airport business in such get-togethers, said the attorney.

Every time the airport opens a checking account we dont discuss that in public, Powell said.

Cordaros account of how the bank switch occurred was corroborated by Dan Nulton, Landmark president and chief executive officer.

I initiated it, Nulton said.

The bank asked to meet with airport management to present a proposal, he explained.

Under the terms of the deal the airport will earn tens of thousands of dollars in interest banking with Landmark, Nulton said. In addition, the bank provides a daily courier service that will save the airport money.

Nulton declined to disclose the interest rate offered to the airport and said the airport can provide that information.

Centini did not return a call left Friday afternoon.

Cordaro and Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid, chairman of the airport board, placed the annual savings to the airport between $30,000 and $40,000.

The fact that Cordaro is a bank board member didnt even occur to me, Nulton said, adding that he did not know Cordaro was on the airport board when the bank made its sales pitch.

Nulton said he sees no conflict of interest dealing with the airport and Cordaro in his capacity as vice chairman. The bank president said he also knows Centini who serves on the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce board.

There would be a conflict, however, if the airport opted for a deal that was less than Landmarks offer, said Nulton.

Vonderheid sided with Nulton and Cordaro, saying there is no conflict because the airport administration made the decision to switch.

Banks get shopped all the time, Vonderheid said.

My issue is that there were savings, he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press