Monday, May 11, 2015

Ballad of Derek Allen

The official results of the Ward Six primary where Stratton and Lowe were
the finalists, as indicated by their names in bold type,  and Allen's man Kleha 
finished out of the money, results which Allen is desperately challenging.

In Portsmouth town, where I’m forlorn,
There’s no city manager dwelling,
And what I want to say  
Is it’s the lying  Derek Allen.

He’s a political carpetbagger,
Who really tries to trickya.
He acts like our city manager, 
But he still makes his home in Piqua.

Twas in the merry month of May
Big lies Allen was a-telling. 
And this is what he had to say,
This convicted liar Allen:

He said the vote in Ward Six
Wasn’t on the up and up.
The devil, up to his old tricks,
Had mixed the voters up.

The man Allen wanted to win
Finished out of the running,
So he wants to have the vote again.
Derek’s nothing if not cunning.

As he commutes to his job,
He hears the church bell knelling
And every stroke seems to sob
“Your days are done Derek Allen.”

Malone settled for  toilet rolls.
Big cheese is what Allen wants to be.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls,
Derek, it  tolls for thee.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Portsmouth's Carpetbagging City Manager

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight, Mr. Allen. You say you are the city manager of Portsmouth, Ohio, but your home is in Piqua, Ohio, a couple of hours away, where you were once assistant city manager but where you were convicted of illegally buying $160,000 dollars worth of stones for a bicycle path from a company that the  mayor of Piqua was a salesman for, which offense was called “dereliction of duty,” and that you lied under oath about this illegal transaction,  making you a perjurer, which the mayor of Piqua himself said was what really got you in trouble, and then the city manager of Piqua, who also said you lied to him about the illegal transaction,  fired you, but you managed to get a job as Village Administrator in Delta, Ohio, where they didn’t need any stones for bicycle paths because they were in the boondocks, so to speak, so you were not guilty of anything, so the search committee from Portsmouth, Ohio, which was looking for a city manager and was chaired by the  same-sex councilman and vice mayor, Kevin W. Johnson, who offered you the city managership, which you probably wouldn’t have gotten if  your trouble with the law was publicized but it was not until after you were hired, and then  you rented an apartment from the controversial developer named Hatcher who has a sweetheart deal with Shawnee State University which guarantees him students for his dormitories in Hatcherville and if occupancy in Hatcherville ever goes below 90 percent the university must make up the difference. So now nobody knows you are the hatchet man for this Hatcher and as long as he is your landlord you feel you have taken a new lease on life and with the passage of the income tax hike by less than ten percent of the registered voters the city will not have to be put under fiscal emergency watch as the county was, which some people think was the best thing that ever happened to county government, but you don’t and you are opposed to a skate park, as you are opposed to  freshmen  being allowed to opt out of Hatcherville dorms, and now that Kevin W. Johnson may soon be saying Sayonara and out of your hair, you are looking forward to building a bicycle path from Portsmouth to Piqua.  Have I got all this straight, Mr. Allen?”

If the recent vote on the increased income tax does nothing else it should open the eyes of at least some of those residents who think of City Manager Derek Allen as the Mr. Clean of Portsmouth politics, as somebody who is always trying to do the right thing for the residents of the city. I believe that who he is trying to do the right thing for, as his career makes fairly clear, is  Derek Allen. It is not the residents of Portsmouth he is serving but the  clique that controls the city economically and politically.  Allen is  a carpetbagger who serves the fat cats, like the real estate kingpin Neal Hatcher, from whom he rents an apartment on North Hill Road. If Hatcher has a duplicity suite in that North Hill complex, Allen should occupy it. Allen is  a carpetbagger because his home is in Piqua, Ohio, to which he commutes as his flexible schedule allows.
     He has a  well-paying job in Portsmouth, but he does not appear willing to commit himself to making Portsmouth his primary residence. Nor should he if he knows what’s good for him. He does not have much job security because the City Council can fire him at any time. He is in his early fifties, so he might hold on to his high paying job until it is time for him to retire. He has good political skills. He is a master at telling  people just what they want to hear and playing off one boob on the city council against another. He might be able to hold his job for another ten years or so, until retirement age.  But in the unlikely event that he does that, he will have worked longer than he has at other jobs he’s held.
     Prior to becoming the city manager of Portsmouth, Allen was the Delta Village Administrator from February 2008 to December 2013. Delta is village of just over 3000 inhabitants located in the Northeast corner of Ohio. What was an ambitious administrator with a master’s degree in public administration doing in a rustic, small-potatoes hamlet like Delta? You could say he was doing penance.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone

     On August 13, 2004, when he was serving as the assistant city manager of Piqua, Allen was convicted of dereliction of duty for having bought $160,000 worth of stone for a bike path without putting the purchase out for bid as was required by law. It so happened that the Mayor of Piqua was a salesman for the company that Allen purchased the stone from. Was he helping himself by helping well-placed politicians to public monies? Is that how he operates politically? It sure appears that way. Allen badmouths those entrepreneurs who dare to compete with Hatcher by providing housing to accommodate students.
     Allen compounded his problems in Piqua by lying under oath about his role in the purchase of that $160,000 load of stone. The Piqua mayor, who was a salesman for the stone company, said that where Allen really got in  trouble was “when he lied and tried to cover it up.” It was like a mini-Watergate in which the coverup was worse than the crime. Allen was fined and given a ninety-day jail sentence, but that was suspended after he agreed to cooperate with the on-going investigation of the stone purchase. 
     As soon as he was convicted, Allen was fired as  assistant manager of Piqua by the city manager Mark Rohr, who said that Allen, in addition to lying under oath, had lied to him about the purchase. But dereliction of duty and perjury weren’t the only legal problems Allen has had. He  had worked as the safety director at Van Wert, Ohio, a town of about ten thousand in northwest Ohio,  but he left that position after  he was named as a defendant in two civil lawsuits.

Following in Feldman’s Footsteps

     Supporters of Allen claim that he indicated at council meetings and indicated to  them personally that he was not in favor of the tax hike. That may have been what he was saying, or implying, but I believe Allen knew from the start that he would be in favor of the hike. Was he lying to those he told he was not in favor of the hike? Is lying one of the political skills he has resorted in his career? If he does lie he is following in the footsteps of former Portsmouth city manager Barry Feldman who concluded that city managers have to be politicians if they hope to survive and if there’s one thing politicians do more than anything else it  is not tell the truth. Not telling the truth goes with the territory. When it comes to not telling the truth Allen is carpetbagging trooper.
     Allen may be a carpetbagger but that has not stopped him from becoming the most important  politician in city government. He was instrumental in getting the tax increased passed. He let it be known there would have to be layoffs of city employees if the tax hike was not passed. That was like guaranteeing city employees would quietly campaign for the tax hike—quietly because campaigning is illegal for city employees.  Allen went along with  the tradition of having the most  controversial issues, like the tax hike,  on the ballot in the primary off-year elections when voter turnout is always low. In fact, the amendment to return to the city manager form of government, the passage of which eventually led to Allen’s hiring, was also, if I am recalling correctly,  passed in a primary election. There are currently 11,613 registered voters in the city. It took less than ten percent of those registered voters to pass the tax hike. That isn’t democracy—it’s hypocrisy!
     Somebody reliable told me that our officious, conniving First Ward councilman Kevin W. Johnson, who helped Allen get hired by keeping Allen’s  conviction for dereliction of duty and predilection for lying unpublicized, until after Allen was hired, is writing on Facebook, or wherever, about riding off into the sunset, to Florida and California, once he sells his antique laden house. What a legacy Kevin W. will have left us: a lying, carpetbagging city manager whose landlord, if not feudal lord,  is Neal Hatcher. Is the current city government with  Allen as the de facto mayor and the cretin Jim Kalb as the vice mayor—is this an improvement over the past? I don’t think so.

Bikers in Piqua where Allen was sentenced to 90 
days for dereliction and perjury.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Tax Increases and the Most Dangerous Occupations

A few years ago I looked at the U.S. Department of Labor  statistics on the ten most dangerous occupations for 2012. I have listed those ten in the box above plus the statistics for firefighters, who didn't make the top ten and is far down the list of the most dangerous occupations at 1.7 percent fatalities per 100,000 firefighters. This is not to say that firefighting is a safe occupation. Even if relatively few of them ever die in the line of of duty, we all sleep better knowing that someone is on duty at Portsmouth firehouses 24 hours, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. But the last Portsmouth firefighter to die in the line of duty, if I am not mistaken, was David Kehoe, eighty-three years ago, in 1932.

The minimum number of employees in the Portsmouth police and fire departments is dictated by the city charter. Since a charter is to a city what a constitution is to a state and nation, I don’t think it is appropriate for the minimum size of any city department to be permanently set in cement in the charter, any more than the minimum number of soldiers and sailors should be fixed permanently in an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  City officials have kowtowed to municipal unions in the past because they knew they would  probably not be re-elected if they didn’t.

Firefighters are essential to the safety of any city, as trash collectors are to health of any city. If you look at the box above, you will see that the fatality rate nationally for trash collectors was the fourth highest for all occupations in the United States and was at least sixteen times more dangerous than firefighting. But trash collectors were paid nationally some $12,000 less annually than firefighters, and in Portsmouth the city  used to go to extraordinary lengths  to avoid paying trash collectors overtime by changing the day of pickup after most holidays, which I had trouble keeping straight as did many other residents in the city. Since the city manager has been on the job, that bizarre collection schedule has thankfully  been scrapped.

The amendment dictating a minimum number of firefighters at 44 is in the charter because the Fire Department was the most politically active of all city employees and when an issue was on the ballot that they favored they were out ringing doorbells throughout the city in their dress uniforms campaigning for one tax increase or another as they presumably  did back when the charter amendment dictating a minimum number of firefighters was on the ballot and as they did again in 2011 in the so-called Safety Levy. Section 82 of the City Charter prohibits those  who hold a place in city government from taking part in political campaigns, which it appears the Fire Chief has violated in the past, allowing members of his department to participate as a group in political campaigns for and against issues on the ballot. Members of the Fire Department  have the right like all citizens to express their opinions and vote on issues, as individuals, but they should not have the right as a group to campaign throughout the city, including in the senior citizen complexes, such as Hill View. In the past, the  Fire Department, in my opinion,  has used scare tactics to influence the vote on ballot measures. I have written about those scare tactics in a past post on River Vices (click here).

Somebody who knows the workings of the city government better than I do has told me the biggest argument against the increase in the income tax is the lack of any restrictions on its use.  "If the tax increase were to provide  funds for street repair, infrastructure up-grades, or other specific limitations it would be more palatable. But the way the ballot is written the tax can be used for whatever City Council decides to use it for.  They will have no incentive to reduce the outlandish fringe benefits being paid to city employees, including first dollar health insurance coverage costing nearly $20,000 which very few individuals can afford.  Fully paid pensions are another perk which the average worker does not have. Taxpayers foot the bill for both the employee and employer share of the Ohio Pension cost. Excessive overtime is paid in certain departments who have learned to play the system to create significant additional overtime in addition to their regular salary. Giving our city council this additional money is like giving alcohol to a drunken sailor.  They have demonstrated no willingness to reduce the cost of city government other than threatening to reduce service."

Former mayor Jane Murray has just made a post (click here) on the tax proposal on the ballot, urging electors  to VOTE NO on the issue.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

All Aboard to Go Backwards!

The crooked conductor on the Twentieth Century Ltd. 

All Aboard for those wanting to go backwards! 
Be sure to vote for the tax increase on Tuesday's 
May 5th election so that we can continue
the same corrupt city government that has got us
in the financial mess we're now in 
and the municipal unions, the police and fire
in particular can continue to dictate fiscal policy
for the city which cannot reduce the number
of police and fire employees because they got
the corrupt politicians to add to the city charter
an amendment that prevents the city government 
from reducing their number even though the city
now has less than half the population it once had.

All aboard! All aboard! Vote to provide
the city government with  millions of dollars
more to misspend on projects like Ameresco  
and  to pay inflated prices for worthless buildings 
such as Marting's and New Century Cable
which have sat empty, rotting, for over
a decade while bankrupt failed businessmen
and lawyers get appointed and elected to public office
where they tell the public to vote for tax increases
so that a failed proprietor of an antique store
can get the city government changed to city manager
so that he can be the acting acting mayor
and tell others how to run the city 
when he was a failure as an antiques store
proprietor who wasn't able to provide  
the city with so much as an antique pot to piss in. 

All aboard! All aboard! Get on the express
train backward to hell, the Twentieth Century Limited,
which  makes stops at the Marting's and the New Century buildings
but avoids Grandview Avenue because of the periodic 
flooding that is the result of city mismanagement.

All aboard! All aboard! Those of you making $50,000
a year will only have to pay an additional $250 in taxes
and those of you making a mean family income
of $23,000 will have to pay even less and those 
who are unemployed or homeless won't have to pay nothing.

So get aboard. The train will be backing out of the station
next Tuesday, May 5th, and if you vote for the increase
we will be backing up to the Twentieth Century, 
maybe as far back as the 1950s when Marting's
was doing a bustling business, when we had a city manager,
and when the Counseling Center did not exist 
and was not attracting thousands of prostitutes 
and drug addicts to Portsmouth and Ike was in the White House.

Below is the business, an upscale antique shop,
that our acting acting mayor and his partner
opened in Portsmouth, which was like opening
a tattoo parlor next to a nunnery in Nebraska.
It didn't make much business sense, which may be why
he  campaigned to bring gambling to Portsmouth,
because high rollers might have frequented
an upscale antique shop, whereas the unemployed
and street people are not into upscale antiques.
Like other business failures, the proprietor
went into politics, where he now presumes
to know just how to run the city,
only instead of peddling upscale antiques
and gambling on the future of Portsmouth
he is now advocating increasing taxes
and urging everybody to get on board
because the train on which he is the conductor
will be backing out of the station next Tuesday
and you better be on board if you don't want
to be left behind and miss those $50,000 a year
jobs for which you'll only have to pay $250
a year in taxes. ALL ABOARD! ALL ABOARD!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Julia Marlowe: The Tomboy and the Lady

The hefty Marlowe as a girl playing
 a boy in Twelfth Night
Marlowe playing Rosalind posing
as a male in As You Like It

The actress Julia Marlowe was a contradiction,  a mixture of the tomboy and  Lady. What follows is a brief blank verse biography focusing on her split personality.

A mixture of tomboy and Lady,
she most often played females on the stage,
Juliet Capulet in particular,
but she played males occasionally—
the mad young poet Thomas Chatterton,
the fictional Sir Joseph Porter
of the farce The Pirates of Penzance.
She also played females posing as  males—
including sweet Viola in Twelfth Night
the fair Rosalind in As You Like It,
and the doomed Joan in  PĆ©guy's Jeanne d'Arc.
It is well known Joan was burned at the stake
but not that it was for cross-dressing,
a heresy in the Church's view.
In Jeanne d'Arc Marlowe wore a suit of armor
and again in one of Shakespeare's histories
and around the house to get used to it,
which was odd but no longer heretical.

Had she never left England she probably
would not have risen above the low station
her family had occupied socially
in the north, near the border with Scotland,
before her father dragged them to Kansas
where he changed their name from Frost to Brough
(his mother’s maiden name, which rhymed with rough)
to escape from an imaginary 
prosecution, and with his wife’s savings
this footloose Brit bootmaker bought a farm
about thirty miles west of Kansas City
in pursuit of his American dream.
But all it took to kill that foolish scheme
and convince him he had made a mistake
was one long winter in his underwear
in the unforgiving plains of Kansas.
So he dragged his family, including
his daughter Fanny, as she was nicknamed,
back east to the so-called Buckeye State, 
to Ohio, to the shoe capital 
of America, to the river city 
of Portsmouth, across from Kentucky,
to what is now 425 Front Street,
with not one but two charming balconies
on which “Julia” might have been born
on a moonlit evening in mid-summer.
Depicted on a Floodwall mural, the simpering portrait of
Marlowe next to 425 Front St.

The building still stands fondly on Front Street,
the same one where Fanny's father did his soft
shoe number, skipping in and out of town
when it suited him, leaving his poor wife
to make the best of a bad situation,
which she did by taking in boarders.
Much later a schoolmate recalled Fanny
had been an unabashed red-haired tomboy, 
and Fanny herself recalled she got girls
to play hooky from school to go hiking
in the fall when the leaves were turning
colors in the woods surrounding Portsmouth.
That was the only pleasant memory
she could recall from what she called her
“miserable" and nomadic childhood.

After moving on to Cincinnati,
where she ran yet another boarding house,
her mother decided she had had enough
of her cad husband, so she divorced him
and married a German baker named Hess,
whom her children, including Fanny,
the future Julia, found  "loathsome."
But at least there was bread on the table.

From her dull, miserable existence,
Fanny the tomboy first found her escape
in play acting, becoming at the age
of thirteen, the character Sir Joseph Porter,
the First Lord of the Admiralty 
in one of the all-children productions 
of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical,
the smash hit H.M.S. Pinafore,
in which, with what was called a "golden voice,"
she sang the team's comical arias. 
Being a tomboy, the role suited her 
it could be said like a sailor to the sea, 
having already acquired her sea legs
when she crossed the Atlantic as a tot.

Pinafore satirizes the snobbery
of England’s rigid class system
in which the lowly got the royal shaft, 
but satire and social criticism, 
radical politics of any kind, 
did not interest the budding thespian.
Instead, the immortal bard, Shakespeare,
the native son of her birthplace, England,
became her ideal, her idol, her god.

From Gilbert and Sullivan, Julia,
as she was  “new baptized,” graduated 
to Romeo and Juliet, not as
Juliet but as Romeo’s servant  
and companion, the faithful Balthasar.
He was one of a number of males 
she would play, reversing the tradition
in which adolescent boys played women 
on the unisex Elizabethan stage.

When she became very serious about
being a thespian, and her acting career,
the name she chose, Julia Marlowe,
was all-Elizabethan: Julia, like Juliet,
and Marlowe, Shakespeare’s contemporary.
Among playwrights the Bard was the monarch
the brilliant master of all he conveyed
and to him she swore her fealty.

What Shakespeare stood for in America,
with its lack of taste, tact, and manners,
was Culture, with a capital C. 
By embracing bardolatry
like an anglophile religion, 
she was able to rise above
her lower class American station.
She lacked not only background and breeding
but also a high school education,
which she tried to make up for
by acting more British than the British.

Her American dream was to be not
American but consummately English.
Her course of study was limited to
the King’s grandiloquently spoken English—
enunciation and elocution—
with lessons thrown in on grooming and posture.
How one carried oneself in public
and on the stage was crucial to success.
To be stoop shouldered, chin down, or drag ass,
was for a lady impermissible.
She once caught a glimpse of her behind
accidentally in a large mirror. 
“She was startled by the ugly movement 
of her hips,” a biographer wrote, 
“so she determined to correct the fault. 
At the time she was passing the summer 
on the [New] Jersey coast; and early 
every morning she paced the shore 
with her hands pressing down on her hips, 
till she had remedied the fault.”
Were those "ugly" hips a reminder she was
a woman, a member of the weaker sex,
which she tried to suppress by pressing
repeatedly down on those ugly hips?
There was  nothing she couldn’t do once she
singlemindedly decided to do it,
even making her behind behave better,
as befitted a Shakespearean actress.

She made her fortune not in Shakespeare's plays—
from them she got respect and adulation—
but plays like When Knighthood was in Flower,
pure American romantic claptrap. 
As she grew older and wealthier,
Marlowe grew more and more to resemble
the aristocrat she had wanted to be
when she was a poor girl
living on the riverfront in Portsmouth.
With enough money to be charitable,
she helped out the less fortunate with whom, 
though not eager to admit it, she felt
a bond, a close identification.

Not burned at the stake like cross-dressing Joan,
she went out philanthropically in
a sunset blaze of noblesse oblige,
her mail armor, much like her male ardor,
rusting in a closet along with gowns
and gewgaws she had used on stage
when she pretended to be "the lady."
The gowns as well as the mail armor
ended up in Portsmouth, gathering dust
in the 1810 House while the male armor,
if not amour propre, like Banquo's ghost,
haunts the banquets of the straight shooters.

Shakespeare in the U.S.  in the 1800s
was something of a racket, fleecing folks
who wanted to get a bit more culture
like those rubes in Huckleberry Finn
who get taken in by the "King" and "Duke,"
who exploited the craze for things British
of which Shakespeare was the ne plus ultra.
Marlowe and Sothern may have been the best
in their trade, but today they sound like
a straight-faced sketch on Saturday Night Live 
lampooning bombastic bardolatry,
which you can eavesdrop on by clicking here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Feldman's Legacy

[For the light it throws on the current city manager's role in Portsmouth, I am reposting an article  from 2005 on former city manager Barry Feldman, who was fired and then rehired after the councilmen who fired him were recalled. Feldman went on to write a Ph.D. dissertation on the city manager form of government at the University of Connecticut.  One of his very important conclusions was that city managers must abandon the idea that they can function effectively by being non-political. That was the ideal on which the city manager form of government was founded--that the chief executive in city government should be non-political. If there are cities  where that ideal can be a reality, Portsmouth is definitely  not one of them. Derek Allen showed  almost immediately when he became city manager that he will be politically active and he couldn't survive if he wasn't. As city manager, he is in an untenable position, because his survival depends upon the support of a majority of the council. Just as the city council hired him, they can fire him. He is a better politician and more intelligent than most of the council and he can continue as city manager, but only as long as he has the support of the majority of council. Politics being what politics are, that support will not always be there. He has a six-shooter, but that sixshooter has no bullets, and no matter how much faster he might be on the draw than anyone else on the city council, the dumbest and slowest of them, when they are a majority, can get rid of him because they do have the bullets, constitutionally speaking.  Feldman was one of the smartest city managers Portsmouth ever had, but he got out as soon as he could because he knew the politics of Portsmouth was like Ebola and as smart and political as he was, he didn't have immunity.]

Feldman after being suspended by City Council

     The 1980 newspaper photo above shows Barry Marvin Feldman after he was suspended by the Portsmouth City Council. Feldman was Portsmouth’s city manager for 4 1/2 years, from Jan. 1977 to August 1981. Prior to coming to Portsmouth, he had been city manager in Lincoln Heights, a small, troubled community north of Cincinnati. He had been city manager of Lincoln Heights for only seven months, from April to November of 1975, but for some reason, somebody in Portsmouth thought he was qualified to be city manager of our much larger, much more politically volatile, river city.
     Feldman’s turbulent tenure as city manager illustrates two important lessons about Portsmouth's past. First, he proved that the head of any public agency or institution in Portsmouth – whether it be city manager, mayor, or president of Shawnee State University (think of Clive Veri)– no matter how inexperienced, unqualified, or dishonest he may be (I’m not suggesting Feldman was all three), could remain in his job just as long as he was part, or was at least willing to serve the interests of, Portsmouth’s ruling clique. Because that clique controlled the local media in 1980, and thereby monopolized the news, they controlled the public’s perception of who the good guys and the bad guys were. Right to the end, the Portsmouth Daily Times and WPAY and WNXT portrayed Feldman as a good guy, the heroic victim of three malevolent councilmen.

     Those who saw things differently didn’t have many ways of making their case publicly. Getting a letter-to-the-editor published was virtually their only hope. In a type-written draft of what appears to be an unpublished letter-to-the-editor, Andrew Clausing claimed that not long after he was first elected to the city council, in 1978, the supporters of a controversial mall project were meeting with Feldman without letting Clausing know. “Many times Mr. Feldman and his cohorts had secret meetings,” Clausing wrote, “and your First Ward councilman [Clausing himself] was not even included.” The City Solicitor Richard Schisler, obviously trying to protect Feldman, accused the City Council of firing him without just cause. Clausing claimed they had just cause: Feldman had failed as an administrator. “He is in fact a poor administrator,” Clausing wrote in the draft of his letter, “and the end result will be that you and I will suffer by paying higher taxes, more welfare and less employment.”

Making Fun of Feldman

Clever political cartoonists opposed to Feldman had to settle for passing their drawings from hand to hand, like a samizdat underground flyer in the Soviet Union. There was no chance they would be published in the Daily Times and there were no alternative publications at that time. One anonymous unpublished cartoon from 1980 shows the long-haired Feldman mauling the taxpayers of Portsmouth on behalf of Jacobs Visconti and Jacobs, the Cleveland developer.

  Feldman axing taxpayers

     In 1980, the City Council fired Feldman not once, not twice but three times, but the city solicitor and a court of common pleas judge and the Citizens for Good Government, a front for Portsmouth’s ruling clique, managed to keep Feldman in office through legal and political maneuvering. In another cartoon, Feldman and his backers are depicted as being protected from the wrath of the citizenry by the umbrella of the courts.
     In fact, the ruling clique used the media to turn the wrath of the electorate against the three councilmen and used legal maneuvering to keep Feldman in office long enough to recall the councilmen. Under the council-manager form of government, the city manager is supposed to serve at the pleasure of the council. “If the manager is not responsive to the council’s wishes, the council has authority to terminate the manager at any time,” as the Santa Ana, California, website puts it. The Ohio Supreme Court eventually ruled the City Council had the authority to fire Feldman, but by then Clausing, Daub and Price had been recalled and replaced by pro-mall council members who supported Feldman. Another cartoon shows the four council members as puppets of Feldman and the powers-that-be after the recall of three honest councilman.

Councilmen as puppets
     In spite of being fired three times, Feldman could have stayed on for another four years, had he wanted to, because he had the support of the ruling clique and the media. He had proved how far he was willing to go and how much pressure he was willing to live under to further their interests. But perhaps in the interest of himself and his family, he chose not to remain in Portsmouth any longer than it took him to find another job. He was probably smart enough to know “the Mall” had become a fiction that nobody was going to be able to turn into a reality. Feldman was in a position to know that there was about as much chance of a big mall in downtown Portsmouth as there was of a National Football League franchise returning to play in Spartan Stadium.

Feldman’s Rapport with People

     In a sympathetic article in the Daily Times on the eve of his departure for a new job as assistant city manager in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Feldman said that the thing that pleased him most about his 4 1/2 years in Portsmouth was his “rapport with people and involvement of citizens in the community.” “Involvement of citizens” was Feldman’s euphemism for parades, protests, petitions and demonstrations that took place while he was city manager. As for his “rapport with people,” there was not much evidence of that while he was city manager. While he had strong supporters among those with money and influence, many others disliked him intensely by the time he left. But he had probably never enjoyed good rapport with ordinary folk anyway. Well-groomed and coiffed, modishly dressed, with two college degrees, the pipe- smoking Feldman raised the hackles of some of the non-elite in Portsmouth, who accused him of being the vain leader of the “Mod Squad,” whose motto might have been “Have blow dryer, will travel.”
     The second lesson to be learned from Feldman’s tenure as Portsmouth’s city manager is that he was living proof that a city manager could be as much of a devious politician as any mayor or council member. No person in the twentieth century did more to sour Portsmouth on the city manager form of government than Feldman, and anybody writing a Ph.D. dissertation on the subject might study his 4 1/2 years as city manager in Portsmouth as an example of just how politically compromised a city manager can become. When the voters of Portsmouth chose to return to the mayoral form of government in 1985, after 55 years of the city manager form of government, the failure of Feldman as city manager was the best argument that the pro-mayoral advocates had going for them.

Feldman’s Mayoral Complex

     Feldman did not stay long in Michigan before he moved on in 1985 to West Hartford, Connecticut, where he has been town manager ever since. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, where he is an adjunct instructor. Nobody ever questioned Feldman’s intelligence, but he still occasionally shows that he suffers from a mayoral complex. He is still involved in politics and still not very good at it. A few years ago he invited a strong opponent of same-sex marriage to speak at a Martin Luther King commemoration. That invitation brought down a hail of criticism from a lesbian organization that claimed Dr. King would not have been opposed to same sex marriages. A spokesperson for People of Faith for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights told the Hartford Courant that the selection of a homophobe as keynote speaker was "an immense insult to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of West Hartford and Connecticut." Feldman pleaded ignorance, telling the Hartford Courant, “It certainly would have given me lots of reason for pause. . . . This is a very difficult issue and there's lots of sympathy all around." Feldman responded to the criticism by doing the politically correct thing: he invited a lesbian activist to speak at the same celebration. So West Hartford ended up with the two political extremists at the commemoration instead of the one moderate speaker that the occasion seemed to call for. As an administrator Feldman may know what he’s doing, but as a politician he manages to put his foot in it.

Leading a Double Life

But politician is what Feldman believes city managers have to be if they are going to be effective leaders; and politician is what Feldman has been throughout his career, as the people of Portsmouth painfully learned twenty-five years ago. If he couldn’t admit at the beginning that he was a politician, he apparently can now, as he nears the end of his career.  In the “Introduction” to his 1998 Ph.D. dissertation, “Reinventing Local Government: Beyond Rhetoric to Application,” Feldman wrote, “The successful [city] managers who have tenure in their current positions know how to lead what Stillman calls a double-life: officially neutral while in fact . . . scrambling for their share of political influence in order to achieve success for themselves and their programs” (8). Feldman believes city managers should not only implement but they should also make policy, which was what he was trying to do, secretly, in those meetings from which the president of the City Council, Andrew Clausing, claimed he was excluded. Feldman apparently tried to lead a double-life as Portsmouth’s city manager and the consequences for the city and himself were traumatic. Perhaps that is why in his otherwise thorough dissertation on the evolution of the city manager form of government never Feldman once found occasion to mention that he had been city manager in Portsmouth.
     If one of the hopes Portsmouth voters had in changing to the council-manager form of government in 1930 was to keep at least one official in city government out of politics, Feldman’s tenure as city manager a half century later dealt a death-blow to that hope, for he was up to his neck in politics, according to his critics. “We were recalled [in 1980] not because we were opposed to a downtown mall," Harold Daub, one of the recalled councilmen, told me, "but because we were opposed to the actions of the City Manager [Barry Feldman].” And because Feldman is a politician, he continues in West Hartford to be a polarizing figure who rubs some people the wrong way, as he did in Portsmouth.
     In an online Connecticut forum back in 2003, an incensed woman posted the following unflattering observation about him: “West Hartford town manager Barry Feldman crawled to a public meeting the other day. All that smarmy over inflated greasy bag of ego did was allow the attendees to admire his grasp of all things meaningless and his arrogant mouthings of whatever platitudes he assumed the great unwashed needed to hear from the top of his lofty self constructed mountain of his sweet smelling excrement.” There are those who feel he left behind a similar smelly legacy in Portsmouth. According to Greek myth, a king named Augeas had failed to clean up his stables for thirty years. It was one of Hercules’ labors to clean up the mess. Anyone looking at Portsmouth’s history for the last thirty years is faced with a similar mess, to which Barry Feldman contributed more than his odoriferous share.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Black Friday: Unfinished Business

Fugitive Slaves (1867) by Theodor Kaufmann

I have posted on Black Friday before on River Vices.  Under the rubric of unfinished business, I am in this post again raising the issue of that infamous but unacknowledged day in Portsmouth history. What I am proposing is that Shawnee State University, as an institution of higher learning and of academic freedom, arrange to have Robert Dafford paint a mural depicting  Black Friday on some prominent building on campus. But it is very unlikely such a mural will ever be painted on the floodwall, not as long as the Lutes and the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce  have anything to say about it. Of course, the chances that a Black Friday mural will ever appear on the SSU campus are not much better since the university trustees are a notorious rubber stamp, but it is worth trying because a failed attempt now might pave the way for success tomorrow.

according to Evans, the illustration above accompanied
 notices in Portsmouth of runaway slaves

Kroger's engaged Dafford to paint a mural in which blacks, among others, are depicted on a prominent outside wall of that supermarket, on Chillicothe Street.  Can't the university follow Kroger's  example? Probably not. The shortsighted Floodwall Murals people reportedly objected to Dafford painting a mural on Kroger's, feeling it would detract from the Floodwall murals. Instead of detracting from the Floodwall Murals, the Kroger mural, which is a mural masterpiece,  should attract more visitors to the city and not just to Front Street, and that will be good for everybody, including the Floodwall Murals. I have looked carefully for Dafford's signature on the Kroger's mural. If it is there, I couldn't find it. The name Robert at the center top of the drygoods store may refer obliquely to him.

Black boys playing checkers from Dafford's Kroger mural

The politics of a Black Friday mural on an SSU building, is much more complicated than they are for the Kroger mural. I say, "Damn the complications, full speed ahead!" to rephrase a stirring quote from the Second World War. If Dafford's signature is not on the Kroger's, or even if it is there but cannot easily be seen, it constitutes yet another coverup where Portsmouth murals are concerned.
If SSU would permit a suppressed event in Portsmouth's history to be prominently displayed on campus, what a signal occasion that would be in the university's history. It might be one of the first thing visitors, especially black visitors, might want to see. But that will probably not happen, not in a hundred years, not  unless the students at SSU, and black students in particular, pressure the administration and trustees. A Black Friday mural would strike a blow for academic freedom and as a token redress  for the city's past racism.  Instead of looking over Dafford's shoulder and mandating a kind of Chamber of Commerce treatment of Portsmouth's past,  Kroger's apparently gave Dafford a free hand, and the result is a beautiful summer-day juxtaposition of age and youth, of primness and playfulness, of ground floor openness and upper floor mystery.
. . .

Taking as my model the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, I am writing a history of Portsmouth in the complex sonnet form he created for that work.  Two of the sonnets in my history in verse concern the Black Friday incident:

Their ancestors chained in bilboes,
shipped to the American South,
the situation of Negroes
was precarious in Portsmouth.
Ohio was not a slave state,
not officially at any rate,
but just across the river,
Kentucky was. Sweats and shivers,
Long hot summers and cold winters--
it didn’t make much difference
whether you were a "buck" or "wench,"
your hands were callouses and splinters.
By 1830, even if free,
you were too close to Kentucky.

In that year,  on January 1st,
a Proclamation insisted
that Portsmouth blacks should be dispersed,
driven out, those that resisted
being liable to arrest
as the sherif would attest,
including women and children,
and even worse for the black men.
Because of the day of the week
on which the Negroes were defamed,
on which their expulsion was proclaimed,
it became infamous, unique.
Commemorated in no way,
the little known day is Black Friday.

For a previous relevant River Vices post click here