Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Latest Portsmouth Daily Times Coverup

The masthead of Celina's The Daily Standard, which, unlike the Portsmouth Daily Times, did not cover up the truth about Derek Allen's career.

      Under the byline of that pious fraud Frank Lewis, a  front page report in the  Portsmouth Daily Times (29 Sept. 2015) has the headline, "City Says Multiple Public Records Have Been Costly to Taxpayers.” How costly? According to the  carpetbagging perjurer Derek Allen, who is Portsmouth’s city manager, the cost of the public records requests has been  over  $42,000. Because Allen is a compulsive liar, I doubt the veracity of everything  he says. That $42,000 figure is more inflated than a Macy's Parade balloon. In a report on public records that Allen concocted, which was handed out at the City Council meeting (28 Sept. 2015)—a meeting Allen did not attend—he claims that $24,592.50, or over half of the alleged total cost of the public records requests,  was what the city paid to the firm of Squire Patton Boggs (SPB) for legal advice on public records requests, beginning in January 2014.  

      What is Squire Patton Boggs? It is one of the largest and judging by the fee they charged Portsmouth probably one of the most expensive law firms in the country. Just who in our  city government is responsible for enlisting the services of SPB? Could it be anybody other than our wheeling and dealing, politically scheming  city manager? And who might he have been trying to curry favor with in engaging the services of SPB? Senator Rob Portman has close ties to SPB, according to Wikipedia. One of the partners of SPB, Patton Boggs, is an unsavory character who has represented some of the worst dictators and most polluting companies in the world. In advising Portsmouth legally, SPB is representing one of the sleaziest city governments in the United States, so maybe they are the right law firm, however high-priced they maybe. Perhaps because City Solicitor Haas has the reputation of being a nincompoop lawyer, maybe SPB was necessary. But if SPB  was the price the city had to pay for having a nincompoop  as  city solicitor, is that Murray’s fault? 

Deja Vu All Over Again

      Maybe the reason Allen is doing everything he can to stop Murray from making public records requests about the flooding in Portsmouth is because it was a public records request somebody made in Piqua that led to the exposure of Allen’s  illegal purchasing activities when he was the Assistant City Manager in that city. It was when he  testified under oath about those activities that Allen committed perjury. Allen was fired as soon as he perjured himself, but that was not the first time he had been fired from a job in the public sector.  As reported in The Daily Standard (2, Oct. 2004), Allen had previously been fired from public service jobs in Van Wert, Ohio,  after he was named as a defendant in two civil lawsuits and then subsequently in Celina, Ohio, by the mayor because Allen had become such a controversial figure, as he has also become in Portsmouth. When will he be fired as city manager in Portsmouth? For Portsmouth’s sake and for the sake of the flooded residents who live near the Hill and the Southern Ohio Medical Center, of whom Jane Murray is one, that day cannot come too soon.

The Perjurer from Piqua

      So we have the perjurer Allen,  from Piqua,  where his home is located but where he would not be hired as dog catcher, becoming with the complicity of the Portsmouth Daily Times and the  connivance of city council member Kevin W. Johnson and the skullduggery of the International City/County Management Association, the carpetbagging high-paid city manager of Portsmouth, where he is trying to sweep the  flooding under the rug and accusing Murray  of bankrupting the city with public records requests about that flooding. Allen reminds me of Patton Boggs, the big cheese in the Squire Patton Boggs law firm. Boggs served in the 1990s as the lawyer for the bloody Guatemalan dictatorship. When a Guatemalan nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz, was tortured and raped by members of a death squad, Boggs, according to Wikipedia, defended the dictatorship by claiming that Sister Ortiz was murdered not by a death squad but by her "out-of-control, sadomasochistic lover." With Allen we are bogged down with a city manager who blames the victims of the flooding for the flooding, but all we get in Lewis's report in the Portsmouth Daily Times on public records requests is Allen's side of the story. Why didn't Lewis call Murray, who says her telephone number is in the phonebook, for her side of the story? Lewis knows on what side his bread is buttered, so he never stops buttering up our local dictators, nor does Allen, who is fortunate he does not have a controversial city manager in Piqua who has been fired as may times as he has.

"That $42,000 figure is more inflated than a Macy's Parade balloon."

For Jane Murray's views on this subject, check out her blog: 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Re-Branding of SSU

A recent announcement by Shawnee State University informs us that “The Office of Communications has been renamed the Office of Marketing and Communications to reflect its broader role in outreach, marketing, and branding.” I wrote a post about an earlier"rebranding" at SSU in July 2009, which I am reposting a slightly edited version of below. I was hard in the post on Wayne Allen who is a gifted writer, but he would have been better if the PDT  Community Common had had somebody who could proofread.

* * *

Will the cuddly Shawn E. Bear be euthanized?

      SSU’s Director of Communications Elizabeth Blevins was recently interviewed in the Community Common by reporter Wayne Allen on the subject of the “rebranding” of the university. Merriam-Webster defines the noun brand as a well-known and usually highly regarded or marketable name.” So rebranding might mean “changing a brand to make it better known, more highly regarded and marketable.” Last fall, feeling it was time for rebranding, a brand marketing team was assembled from different departments at the university. Wayne Allen, a former SSU student, reported, “It became clear to the team, the university needed a partner to help lead them through the entire branding project.” Incidentally, that comma after team creates a run-on sentence. The sentence would be perfectly correct and clear if Mr. Allen used the relative pronoun “that” instead of the comma. If he wanted to be a little more formal, he could have used a semicolon instead of the comma, something I discouraged students from doing when I taught freshman composition at SSU. Only if they understood the correct usage of commas and periods should they risk fooling around with semicolons. Just as guns should be kept out of the hands of children, semicolons should be kept out of the hands of novice writers.
      Some of my colleagues at the university knowledgeable about composition theory believed that it didn’t help to point out punctuation mistakes to students, because research shows it doesn’t help, and besides there are more important things to teach students about writing than punctuation, a view I agree with. But I circled the punctuation errors anyway, thousands and thousands of them, out of habit I suppose, proving the truth of the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And if a reporter for the Community Common and the Portsmouth Daily Times, like Allen, who attended SSU, writes run-on sentences, doesn’t it only go to prove my colleagues knew more about composition than I did? Allen proves trying to teach punctuation is a waste of time.
      Anyway, the “ partner” the SSU brand marketing team chose to advise them was Stamats, a marketing firm that specializes in helping institutions of higher education with marketing problems. I had never heard of Stamats before, but I was immediately put off by the name. Isn’t that name a marketing problem? If I were advising Stamats, I would urge them to change their name. I mean what the kind of a name for a business is Statmats anyway? It’s not only meaningless; it sounds stupid and looks ugly. Only when I visited the Stamats website did I learn how Stamats got its name. Stamats is the name of the family that founded the firm back in 1923, and what’s more, their website points out, Stamats is a palindrome, a word that is spelled the same forwards and backwards. Well, will wonders never cease. But it doesn’t stop there. Stamats is a name that keeps on giving, because Stamats is also an anagram, an anagram of Assmat. If Stamats was in the assmat business instead of the business of advising universities about rebranding, the name Stamats would be Ok, the same forward as backward, with an anagram thrown in for good measure, with all kinds of ass-backwards connotations. If I were in the business of rebranding, I would advise Stamats, if it declined to change its name, to at least adapt the slogan of Ohio’s Smucker’s jams: “With an anagram like Assmat, it’s got to be good!”
Better Layed Than Never
       But let’s get back to Allen’s interview with Blevins. “What they did for us is layed the architecture for going through this kind of process,” Allen quotes Ms. Blevins. There is,no such word as “layed.” What Wayne Allen had in mind probably was “laid,” the past of the verb “lay.” I used to advise students to try to avoid the verbs lie and lay, whose various parts are so confusing and difficult to remember that it’s easy to mix them up and embarrass yourself and others.
      Ms. Blevins goes on in the interview to say that the SSU brand-marketing team didn’t want to just toss around suggestions for a new logo and choose one haphazardly. “We wanted it (the new logo) to be more meaningful than that.” She said the university wanted a new logo to be based on research.  So the folks at Stamats advised the brand marketing team on the research. “The research consisted of conducting a survey of current students, facility [sic], staff, and alumni.” Although there is a Facility Dept. at SSU, Allen’s "facility" is probably a typo for faculty. I make mistakes like that sometimes in my blog, but I have a friend who proofreads for me. But that’s what managing editors at newspapers are supposed to do for reporters: keep an eye out for typos and the wrong homonym, such as “there” for “their.” Allen quotes Blevins as saying, “They came in [the students and “facility”] and told us what they think of, [sic] when they think of Shawnee State. What they think makes us (SSU) unique in there [sic] eyes.” Allen writes, a sentence later: “They were also asked what keeps them at SSU, among various other questions about there [sic] experiences.” Blevins goes on, as quoted by Allen, “In a time were [sic] resources are limited [sentence fragment]. We do not want to be wasteful, this will be a soft implementation” [run-on sentence]. Isn’t there a managing editor at the Daily Times company, which now owns the Community Common, or is proofreading, like doing away with a Monday issue, one more thing that the Times company has eliminated to cut costs? Without an editor to assist him, Allen, who doesn't have much facility with language, is, grammatically speaking, virtually bare ass, or since we are talking about SSU, I should say bear ass. But that is nothing compared to what PDT reporters sometimes must do if they want to keep their jobs. Times reporters know that reporting some facts can cost them their jobs, as two of the best and most experienced of the PDT reporters, Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla, discovered. [Barron was fired after reporting in a story in the PDT that someone who had been arrested for dealing drugs worked as a mechanic at Glockner's, a major advertiser in the PDT.]
      To sum up: the rebranding effort at SSU so far appears to consist mainly of slightly changing the curve of the Shawnee “S,” slightly changing the shade of the school’s blue and gray colors, and changing the cuddly looking  Shawnee Bear to a Grizzly.  Does this mean that the previously lovable Shawn E. Bear is going to be euthanized? If Shawnee State is going to continue to claim that its most marketable feature is that it is a student friendly place, shouldn’t the official SSU bear look a little friendlier, a little less lethally clawed, a little less grisly than the bear that SSU has just adopted?
      In one of Allen’s sentences near the end of his article, he makes an inspired error that shows a talent, if not a genius, for malapropism. It replaces my previous favorite Wayne Allen  malapropism, “imminent domain,” which when used in connection with developer Neal Hatcher, might more appropriately have been called “imminent doom.” Allen’s prize-deserving malapropism is, “There will be an official unavailing [sic] of the new look in the fall when all of the students are on campus.” “Unveiling” is the gerund Allen was not quite able to come up with, but  “unavailing” is even better, because it means “futile or useless,” or availing not. Is there a better word than “unavailing” to describe the current public relations effort on the part of SSU and its “partner” Stamats?
Annual Ranklings
      The other day I checked U.S. News’ annual rankings of American colleges and universities, which I know get no respect at SSU. Though SSU is no longer at the virtual bottom of the bottom fourth tier, the worst of the worst as they were ten years ago, they are still mired somewhere in that  fourth tier: SSU in the U.S. News rankings is not second-rate, not third-rate, but fourth-rate. There are a number of fine students and faculty at SSU, and let’s not forget the fine "facilities," but SSU's reputation is still in the toilet. Isn’t that the problem Stamats should be advising on, not the shades of the school colors, not the curve of the Shawnee S, and not the fangs and claws of the official Shawnee Bear. SSU is not likely to get out of that bottom tier anytime soon, not with former SSU students writing as carelessly as Allen does and not when SSU’s Director of Communication, presumably SSU’s resident expert on communication, spouts the public relations jargon the way she does. ("Soft implementation," indeed!) The notion that American business knows what's best for everybody, including those in higher education, carries a lot less weight than it did before the recent incredible display of incompetence and dishonesty by the business and financial class. Being more businesslike is hardly an unqualified virtue given the recent era of Bernard Madoff madness.
       I used to tell Shawnee students that Harvard was once viewed in England as the cow college in the colonies, but U.S. News now rates Harvard as the best university not only in the U.S. but in the world. Take that Oxford and Cambridge! I told students that maybe by the time their grandchildren are of college age SSU will have become a university they will want to attend and will be proud to say their grandparents attended. But on the basis of this current rebranding effort, I would say that day is much farther away than I thought. With rebranding efforts like the current one in which Stamats is involved, it may not be the grandchildren but the great-grandchildren who might one day may be able to take pride in their great-grandparents' degrees from Shawnee State.
      When I taught at SSU and struggled, along with others, to help raise it from a third-rate to a second-rate university, I adopted as my slogan a line by E. E. Cummings: “There is some shit I will not eat.” Before ending my reflections on rebranding, I will suggest a slogan for SSU, at least for English, if not Communications, majors. It is the title of a poem by the English Victorian author Arthur Hugh Clough (pronounced Cluff): “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth.” No marketing or communications experts, trained as they are in the art of deception, could possibly come up with a more inspiring use of the English language than Clough whose poem can be read by clicking here

SSU's new official bad-ass bear

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

301 Front St.: An Architectural Treasure?

301 Front Street, Portsmouth: An Architectural Treasure?

    One of the unfortunate things about the history of Portsmouth architecture is that in the original hand-written records, instead of listing the year, or at least the approximate year that an old house was built, somebody in the Scioto County Auditor's Office simply wrote "old." When the records were digitalized around 1998, "old" was a vaguely useless bit of data, so the Auditor's Office arbitrarily adopted the year 1900 for the birthdate of all nineteenth century buildings it did not have a definite year for, and 1950 for all twentieth century buildings it did not have a definite year for. If there was an ideal solution for the problem of dating Portsmouth's old buildings, attributing the years 1900 and 1950 to them by the Auditor's Office was far from  ideal.  Instead of being  vague about when a building was built by classifying them as "old," the digitalized records now are misleading because there are no asterisks or other indications that 1900 and 1950 are arbitrary and not the actual dates when the buildings came into being.

      Unlike wooden structures, which were victims of time, fire, and termites, one old brick building that survived and could be dated was  associated with a prominent, prolific family whose history was a matter of record,  namely the Kinney family. The style of the original Kinney house reflected the sober, even austere  Federal-style that predominated in  New England and the Northeast from the time of the Revolution to about 1830. The founder of the clan, Aaron Kinney and his wife were from Pennsylvania, whose state motto is "Virtue, Independence and Liberty, which suggests that morality had priority in the Keystone State.  The construction of the Kinney house was begun in 1810 but was not finished until 1812. At first,  as was the custom, the age of a building was dated from the time it was completed, not from when it was begun but from when it was finished, as a baby's age was determined not by when it was conceived but by when it was born. So the Kinney home became the 1812 House, but because the older a building was the more prestige it and the family associated with it had in a new county like America where everyone was supposed to be equal, the 1812 House became the 1810 house.  But not only was the date of the Kinney house changed, so eventually was its style of architecture. What makes the style of the 1810 House pretentious is the incongruous pillared front, which was added in 1913, over a century after the house had been built. Since it was like a Southern mini-manse in the ante-bellum South, it was a front in more than one sense. Those Kinneys who were born and raised and  became well-to-do in Portsmouth were the members of the nascent aristocracy of southern Ohio.  Like the Appalachian migrants they rubbed elbows with, the Kinneys were more influenced culturally and politically by the South than they were by Pennsylvania and New England. The unofficial motto of the city became, "Portsmouth,  where Southern hospitality begins." As it is currently looks,  the 1810 House could be said to be where Southern pretentiousness begins.

The 1810 House: "Where Southern pretentiousness begins."
   301 Front Street   

      If the date of the  construction of the Kinney house was known because of the prominence and importance of the Kinney family, the date of the house at 301 Front Street was lost because its occupant, James Salsbury (the spelling varied) was not the founder of a prominent family and the two-story brick Federal-style house he lived in, and perhaps was owner of, was a plain and unpretentious example of plebeian, vernacular architecture. The house  was built no later than 1820, and probably at least a few years earlier. It has apparently not been altered at all, at least externally, in the nearly two centuries of its existence. Salsbury was a saddler, a moderately successful one, or he wouldn't have been able to build a new house, assuming he owned it. He was active in local affairs, but he was obviously no Kinney, intellectually and socially, with no descendants who kept the Salsbury name alive who might have fiddled with 301 Front Street to make it more imposing and stylish. That is the beauty of 301 Front: its plainness and simplicity, its democratic, somewhat anonymous and by now gritty dignity. If John G. Peebles had not mentioned the house in passing in his journal, which Nelson W. Evans reprinted in his History of Scioto County (1903), where I found it, 301 Front Street might have historically gone up in smoke, so to speak.

      The current  records in the Auditor’s Office say 301 Front Street  was built in 1900, the arbitrary year assigned to older buildings. The unpretentious, two-story house  is an example of Federal-style architecture, which was popular in the United States between 1780 and 1830, and particularly in the thirty years between 1785 to 1830. There are few Federal-style houses  remaining in Portsmouth because there were relatively few to begin with, and the couple of unoccupied examples that remain are in sorry condition, with the exception of 301 Front Street, which up to now has been  a neglected, architectural treasure. (The reason it is a treasure may be precisely because it was neglected.) Its proportions, which haven't changed, seem perfect, like a small Greek temple. The reasons it was neglected may be in part because of errors made by Evans and/or by his  contemporary John G. Peebles, who had drawn a map in 1894 of Portsmouth as it purportedly had been in 1820, which Evans had relied on in drawing the  map he included in his history (Vol. 1, between pages 441-442).

   What's in a Name?   

      The names of Portsmouth Streets had changed over the course of the nineteenth century. Water Street had become Front Street, and West Second Street had become Madison Street. Either Evans or Peebles or both had made a hash of those streets in the following passage (I, 439), in which Evans appears to be quoting Peebles: "In-lot,  Number 227, on the southeast corner of Madison and [West] Second streets, had a small brick house in which James Salsbury lived after his marriage to Nancy Kehoe." The first mistake in this passage is that what is now 301 Front Street could not have been located  on any corner of Madison and [West] Second streets because those two are one and the same street, a street that was  first called West Second and later renamed Madison; and the in-lot on which the brick house was located, that is, the in-lot on the corner, was number 228, not number 227, though the two in-lots adjoined and were probably both part of the property. The house that was later numbered 301 Front was in 1820 on the corner of West Second and Water Street, or West Second and Front Street, if the name of Water Street had been changed by that time to Front Street. The passage of Peebles' journal that Evan's quotes from is in the section with the heading "Residents of Portsmouth, 1819-1821," so what is now 301 Front Street could have been in existence as early as 1819, and probably  at least several years earlier.

      The  confusion about 301 Front Street is a reminder that words are symbols of the thing they represent, and not the the thing itself,  not what Kant called "ding an sich," which is strictly and epistemologically speaking, unknowable. If we equate reality with the things language represents, we are being not only presumptuous but vulnerable. Words as symbols are not hard to manipulate and even when they are not being intentionally manipulated, they are subject to slippage, with one street becoming two and a corner occurring where none really exists, and with Water Street becoming Front. The latter change, incidentally, was probably an example of the conscious manipulation of symbols, in this instance words, for a purpose. Naming a street Water Street because a river is adjacent to it becomes a disadvantage when the river periodically flood over not just Water Street but half the city,  something a real estate agent and property  owners on Water Street would not want prospective buyers to be reminded of. Similarly, the change of the name of West Second Street to Madison was done for patriotic, i.e., political reasons, as was the change of another street to Jefferson Street. Later, in the twentieth century, a woman trying to raise money for the 1810 House gave as one of the reasons the public should  support the house  was because it represented "the American way of life," not just the Kinney way of life. But since the 1810 House had become architecturally Southern "gentrifried" by that time, what she was really saying was that the house represented not so much the American way of life as the Southern American way of life. Wasn't  the periodic appearance of  the Ku Klux Klan in Portsmouth throughout the twentieth century a manifestation of the darker side of this Southern American way of life? And is not Jo Ann Aeh's imminent return by underhanded electoral means to the Portsmouth City Council not a reminder that the recent return to the city manager form of city government, which was a virtual coup d'etat orchestrated by the International City/County Managerial Association,  did not change Portsmouth politically for the better, and why hiring a convicted perjurer as city manager virtually guaranteed that it would be crooked business as usual, a feature of that crooked business being the game of musical chairs that is facilitated by the four-year terms of council members who frequently do not finish their terms, giving the council the opportunity to appoint their obliging replacements?
      The  bright spot in the recent history of  301 Front Street is that it was purchased in  September, 2014,  by a  young  a sociology professor  at Shawnee State University. Sean Dunne is not an ivory tower academic. He is actively involved in community projects, which has earned him a place on our prevaricating city manager’s hit list. Derek Allen's attempt to pass a falsehood off as truth got him in a lot of trouble when he was a member of the city government in Piqua, where they would not hire him as dogcatcher after he was found guilty of perjury, having  testified under oath to what was not true. But that did not prevent the Portsmouth City council from hiring the perjured Allen at a $100,000 plus salary, with a generous severance package as city manager after he persuaded the search committee, with his deceptive words, that he was not really a perjurer.  In the year Dunne  has owned 301 Front Street, he has made major improvements in the inside of the building, probably spending more money than anyone ever has  upgrading the property.  Among the improvements he has made was ridding the cellar of termites and removing the huge old sycamore tree near the rear of his house. Because the tree had become hollowed out as it aged, which happens with sycamores, it was leaning toward and in danger of falling on and crushing the small old house. In addition, an inspection of the house by a professional revealed the roots of the sycamore was  damaging the foundation of the house, making its removal imperative.  

      That Professor Dunne was willing to go into debt to buy and upgrade the property—and remove the menacing tree—is ironic in view of what has happened to another historic,  far larger  and more imposing Boneyfiddle house that I have recently written about in River Vices (see link below). I refer to  633 4th Street, the last two owners of which, a lawyer and a doctor, with much more earning potential than a college  professor, were not willing to go to the  expense of removing the towering trees that had turned into  twin Frankensteins. What the present absentee owner of 633 4th did, instead of removing at least the more menacing of the two trees, was hide its exposed roots behind a new brick wall, the old wall having been pushed over by the tree’s  slowly clambering roots. For anchorage and nutriments, a  tall tree needs its roots to extend up to fifty feet from the trunk of the tree. The tree in the confining northwest corner of  633 4th Street  had become imprisoned, and in an attempt to break out of its imprisonment, had put pressure on the wall, which eventually toppled over. Walled up again, that tree could topple over onto Washington Street at any time, but especially in high winds. It was fortunate that the tree whose roots had been cut had not killed or maimed some child when it fell in  Tracy Park (see the link below). If and when the Frankenstein tree falls on Washington Street, who knows what it might do? Perhaps what our city  needs are more civic-minded college professors and fewer shyster lawyers, absentee landlord-doctors, and prevaricating city managers.

Sean Dunne with SSU students at a recent meeting 
of the North Central Sociological Association.

Relevant Posts

Update on a Cover-up (click here)
Deathtrap for Tots (click here)
The Dragoness Jo Ann Aeh (click here)
Don't confuse he Klan with the Klutzes (click here)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Update on a Cover-up

October 2014: And the Wall Came Tumbling Down

      I published a post on River Vices (29 October 2014) on the  wall that fell on Washington Street, as shown in the photo above (click here for the link to that post). The fallen wall was part of the property belonging to Dr. Alain Asher at 633 4th Street. Today I am posting a follow-up to that post, arguing that a cover-up is taking place of what was revealed when the wall fell, which is shown in the photo above. What was revealed when the wall fell was that the roots on the ground to the east of the towering tree at the corner of 4th and Washington Street were and still are largely above ground. Tree roots are supposed to be below ground, anchoring the tree,  but the roots of this tree, on the wall side of the tree, were not, and still are not,  anchoring the tree. In order to anchor a tree, roots must be in the ground below and must be able to spread laterally in order for the tree to live and grow.

      The roots on the eastern side of the tree are not anchoring the tree because they are above ground. What the roots are trying to do is find ground to grow deeper and farther into the ground, but the wall and the concrete sidewalk prevented the roots from extending in an easterly direction. There was  a conflict between the roots and the wall. A very slow motion sumo wrestling match between the tree and the wall had been going on for many years.  Compared to the humungous towering tree, the brick wall was a 97-pound  weakling, so there was no question about who was going to win this wrestling match.

      The towering tree and its nearby companion tree should have been cut down  some time ago by the previous owner. But that would have been  a considerable expense, and also that would make the property  look somewhat naked. It would certainly look a lot less sylvan and marketable  without those trees.  Perhaps one of the reasons Dr. Asher bought the property is he was captivated by those majestic trees, as anyone who appreciates nature would. But when nature poses a threat to people, as those trees do to pedestrians on the sidewalk and the drivers of vehicles passing along Washington Street, people should come first. But now, in not cutting  down those trees,  Asher in my opinion is not only bricking over, he is  covering up the problem.  The tree with the roots exposed could be toppled by high winds or it might because of gravity fall on Washington Street without warning. The city was lucky when the tree that fell at Tracy Park didn't injure or kill a child or parent (click here for a relevant post). The city had been warned publicly by me and others of the danger of trees in Tracy Park falling because some of their roots had been cut in the construction of the playground. If there  had been deaths or injuries, for ignoring those warnings the city could have been sued for millions.

      Not surprisingly, in  view of the wildly inflated price Asher had paid for 633 4th Street,  he failed to find a buyer when he put it on the market. When the wall fell, a sale became virtually impossible. Asher paid the Johnsons $440, 500 for the property, which was almost twice the $244, 150  the County Auditor's Office valued the property at. So Asher paid the Johnsons almost $200,000 more than  the county auditor's valuation. If the property had been on the Hill, that would have been one thing, but 633 4th is in the heart of the Boneyfiddle district, where the value of property, already low because of the chronically poor Portsmouth housing market,  dropped further because of the presence of the Counseling Center, which has been attracting drug addicts to Boneyfiddle from the tri-state area for decades. Petty crime is rife in the city,  but much of it goes unreported because the victims feel reporting it is pointless.

      I asked the bricklayers who are building the wall if they had a building permit, and one of them said replacing the wall was restoration, and restoration projects do not need building permits. But this is not just a restoration, it is a cover-up that hides a potentially dangerous problem. The city will be liable because it is allowing the cover-up to continue when what it should require is the removal of the two trees because they are a danger to the public. The City Engineering Department reportedly recently sent someone to inspect the project. If the inspector  didn't see the roots, which are the root of the problem,  then just what did he see?

     The  problem  is even worse than I have suggested because the section of the wall that still stands, the section on 4th Street, appears to be unstable because of the pressure from the roots of the companion tree. The sidewalk of 4th Street side of the property was in such bad condition some years back  that I posted an article on River Vices warning that it was hazardous for pedestrians (click here). It was not long afterwards that the sidewalk was repaired by the developer Neal Hatcher's construction company. The infamous photo of Hatcher giving me the finger was taken while his workmen were completing the sidewalk repairs. One of Hatcher's redeeming features is that he is not a hypocrite. Our city government, on the other hand, reeks of hypocrisy. I think it is worse now that we have a carpet-bagging, convicted liar as  city manager. When we had the doofus Jim Kalb as mayor, at least he lived in his own home, in Portsmouth. Allen's home is in Piqua, so he rents an apartment from Neal Hatcher. If one of the trees falls on you, you will be no less crippled or dead whether we have a city manager or a mayor. If you are killed by a falling tree,  at least you will find a place in earth even if those roots don't.

Towering tree with new yet-to-be-painted red brick wall (lower right)

Other Relevant Posts:

"Kiwanis Playground: Deathtrap for Tots?" Click here
                                      "The Hole Truth": click here

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Schlepping Online Around Ohio

Ohio: 88 counties, 251 cities, 35 city managers

      I have been schlepping around Ohio for the last couple of days via the internet. What I was trying to find out was how many of Ohio’s 251 cities had a city manager. Wikipedia facilitated my search because it has a "List of Cities in Ohio" which includes a category called Government. Because some cities didn't state what kind of government they had, I schlepped over to their official on-line websites for the answer. But that information was  sometimes hard to find on official websites, and a couple of cities, smaller ones,  did not have an official website. So I had to do Google searches, which did not always lead me to an answer. As a result I am not a hundred percent sure the final figure for the number of cities with city managers, 35, is exact, but it is very close. Since there are 251 cities in Ohio, that means that about 14 percent of Ohio’s cities have a city manager.
     In  schlepping around Ohio online, I learned more than which cities had city managers. For example I noticed with two exceptions, Hudson and Springboro,  that city managers were invariably males whereas mayors were in a surprising number of instances females. Assistant city managers or their equivalents were occasionally female, but her boss was usually a male, except in Springboro where both the city manager and the assistant were females.
      The populations of manager-council cities tend to be smaller than cities with mayor-council form of government. The half dozen most populous cities in the state are mayor-council.  They may have experimented with the city manager form, but that didn’t last long. The manager-council city with the largest population is Hamilton, which is located in the greater metropolitan Cincinnati area. Hamilton’s population is over 62,000, but most city manager cities are much less populous. Perhaps politics have as much to do with large cities choosing mayor-council as do economics, but I will leave that issue to the experts.

Ohio Bi-political

      As a result of schlepping around Ohio on the internet, I have a better sense of why Ohio is a swing state in national elections, why it might be called bi-political, and why it might go Republican in one presidential election and Democratic in another. Historically, the two major cultural and political influences on Ohio were the Northeast (New England and Connecticut specifically) and Appalachia, and seldom if ever do  the twain meet. What state would not be at least a  little schizophrenic with such a conflicting regional heritage? Midwesterners in general and Ohioans especially have a repressed sense of cultural inferiority that they deal with in part by trying to be number one athletically, especially in that manliest of all sports, football. Most babies are born in Ohio with Buckeye fever. The Notable Persons listed on most city websites  are dominated by athletes, entertainers, and politicians in that order. Does any other state have more Notable People who have played in the National Football League? The best that  one deprived city could come up with for an athletic Notable Person was some guy who had played in the Canadian Football League. How pathetic! Portsmouth, which is proud to be the granddad of the Detroit Lions, has a plethora of baseball players but not much to show culturally except for Kathleen Battle.
      But it could be worse. At least Portsmouth did not suffer the ignominy of Springfield, Ohio, which as recently as 2011 was found in a Gallup Poll to be the “unhappiest city in America.”  Just yesterday a rather sad looking fellow stopped to ask me directions. He looked like he might have hitch-hiked into town. I asked him where he was from. He said Springfield. Springfield may be trying to make up for its unhappiness by having an unusually long list of Notable People, including David Ward King, the inventor of the King Road Drag, which has nothing to do with drag racing. It was a horse drawn implement that smoothed out rough roads but could only be used after a  road had been softened by rain. Imagine a road crew that works only when it rains. What a drag! What we have in Portsmouth is not King Road Drag, but drag racing legends such as the bankrupt perennial  politician Jim Kalb.
      One Ohio city reaffirmed its commitment to culture by naming itself Trotwood,  after a female character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.  Trotwood was way ahead of other Ohio cities in countering sexism and racism. Not only is Trotwood not a manager-council city, it has a mayor who is not only female but black. The first female mayor of Portsmouth, who happened to be white,  proved so uppity to the Portsmouth Boys, as they are known,  that she was promptly recalled from office. Portsmouth has since, with the assistance of the devious International City/County Management Association (ICMA), switched to the manager-council form of government and hired Derek Allen, an ICMA member,  as city manager, even though Allen had been convicted of lying under oath when he was a government official in Piqua, Ohio, which happens to have a mayor-council form of city government. What can you expect from ICMA,  an organization that has been dominated historically and apparently still is by white American males? Though Mr. Allen probably would not be hired as dog-catcher in the mayor-council city of Piqua, he still makes his home there while serving as the perjured, carpet-bagging city manager of Portsmouth. In Portsmouth, to qualify for public office it seems you have to have either been a pimp, a drug dealer, a bankrupt, or a perjurer.
      If there was a Gallup Poll for the most addicted manager-council city in America, Portsmouth would probably  win in a landslide, as would Derek Allen for the slipperiest city manager.  Do Portsmouth residents sleep more soundly knowing that Allen is city manager and that they are one of the 14 percent of Ohio cities that have a manager-council form of government? Gallup should do a poll on that question. There are some rough roads ahead for Portsmouth under a city manager. The problem in Portsmouth may be that we no longer have dirt roads. Every inch of surface of the Hill section of the city is paved so that when it rains Grandview Avenue, at the foot of the Hill,  resembles at best a tributary of the Ohio River and at worst a makeshi(f)t sewer. Where is David Ward King's Split Log Drag when we really need it?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Snuffy Sez to the Shitty Man'ger

"Dammit D'reck my outhouse washed away!"

Grandview geysers iz overflowin’
wiffout our sity man’ger knowin’?
D’reck denies there’s shit and piss?
Ignorance they sez iz bliss.
If one picture’s worth a thousand words,
one video’s worth a thousand turds.
Look, D’reck, you Piqua site-seer,
Look by simply clickin’ here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Dragon Lady is Back!

I am reposting below a River Vices blog on the Dragon Lady from September 2010. Has the manager-council form of government introduced a new era in Portsmouth politics, as City Manager Derek "Dreck" Allen repeatedly claims? I think not, and to illustrate my point I will cite the latest bit of evidence. The Dragon Lady is back. Former City Solicitor Jo Ann Aeh is going to be the next Ward Two councilwoman. Because of the foolish four-year terms for council members and the power of the city council to appoint replacements for those members who often do not complete their terms for one reason or another, there is a long tradition of the city council appointing corrupt cronies, such as the shyster lawyer-pimp-drug dealer Mike Mearan, to a vacated seat. But Aeh is too shrewd, knows too many legal loopholes,  to let herself get on the city council in that time dishonored way. Instead, the Dragon Lady has arranged it so that she will be the unchallenged candidate for the seat in the primary election and therefore the unchallenged candidate in the general election.  As Aeh told the Portsmouth Daily Times, even if only two people vote for her, she will win. But  wouldn't it take only one voter for her  to win? Since she will be voting, that's presumably all it would take. She will elect herself. That's democracy at work, Portsmouth style. And if Aeh at her advanced age does not complete her term, as is quite possible, the council will appoint her replacement, and so the sham democracy will continue and having a city manager, and particularly our current city manager, will not make a damn bit of difference. For those who may have forgotten some of the disgraceful details of the political career of the Dragon lady, including her connections to David Duke, the Grand Dragon of Ku Klux Klan as well as the rebuke she received from the Ohio Supreme Court (see below). The SOGP is dead and buried but the Dragon Lady lives on. 

* * *

   Concerned Citizens Group president Jerry Conkle and CCG member Jim Wilson have told me that it is their clear recollection that on Wednesday, July 28, 2010,  Portsmouth City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh told  them, in her office in the Municipal Building, that  the deadline for them to return the  petitions to recall Ward Three councilman Nicholas Basham was August 20. It is possible there was a misunderstanding and that Conkle and Wilson misinterpreted what Aeh said, or that she was confused rather than  attempting to mislead them. It is possible, but in light of Aeh’s track record in regard to recall petitions and of her long standing, obstructionist  role in city government,  it is  more likely, in my opinion, that she deliberately  mislead Conkle and Wilson, and through them the other members of the CCG, by making them think they had a week less than they actually had to collect the required number of  signatures to put the recall of Nicholas Basham before Ward Three voters. The City Charter stipulates they should have had thirty days from the time they took out the petitions, which would have meant that she should have told them they had  until August 27 to return the petitions. For the aging and physically challenged members of the CCG, the lost week was a handicap they were not able to  overcome and they suspended their efforts shortly before what they believed was the August 20  deadline. In spite of being handicapped and having to walk with a cane, Jerry Conkle collected almost fifty signatures in the record heat wave. Jim Wilson, as a result of working many years installing and repairing heating and air conditioning  systems, has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which requires him to always carry an oxygen supply, but he  did his best in the limited time Aeh led him to believe he had to collect signatures. 

What motivation would Aeh  have for  impeding the recall effort by Conkle, Wilson, and other members of the Concerned Citizens Group? As City Clerk, Aeh serves at the pleasure of the city council, which can fire her whenever it chooses. A city clerk's employment depends directly upon the support  of members of city council, which puts anyone who occupies the office in a potential conflict of interest in handling petitions to recall council members. Aeh and every city clerk who succeeds her will continue to be in a potential conflict of interest until the charter is changed to insulate them from pressure from members of city council and other elected officials who are subject to recall efforts. In the past, Aeh did her best to bend the rules in favor of  council members Jim Kalb, Ann Sydnor, and David Malone, her political allies, when they faced recall. Aeh did for Kalb, Sydnor, and Malone, what she may recently have tried to do for Nicholas Basham: trying to protect his hide to save her own. As long as she is beholden to the city council for her livelihood,  such situations will likely occur. As Teresa Mollette wrote on, “The city charter needs to be revised to take the power of approving petitions out of the hands of the city clerk. This is a job for the county Board of Elections.” 

Judging by the website of the Dickens Pub, Jo Ann Aeh has become a frequenter, if not a  habituĂ©, of the pub, which Basham owns. Basham  offers reduced prices for drinks to those customers who can prove they are city employees by producing  their health insurance cards.  The irony of that little detail about health insurance is that Mayor Jane Murray has raised the hackles of city employees by calling attention to the high costs of their generous health benefits, which should serve as a reminder of the generous health insurance benefits the city council voted themselves back in 1990 (Ord. 1990-106), which caused one of the most bitter recall campaigns in the history of Portsmouth. If the term of office for council members was two years instead of four, there would be much less need of  costly and bitter recall campaigns. If  the term of office for the city clerk was not an open-ended, possibly life-time appointment, as it has been for Aeh,  but was rather fixed and not dependent on the city council’s approval,  then perhaps there would not have been so many shenanigans  over the  long period of time Aeh has been city clerk. There is a sign on the wall of Aehs office that reads, “Lord, Help me hang in there,”  but  some people might  feel  that  she has not so much been hanging in as hanging on and that among the calls she got urging her to run, the Devil may have been one of them.

   Section 7 of the Portsmouth City Charter briefly states the ostensibly limited duties of the city clerk:  “The Clerk shall attend the Council as its secretary, shall keep its journal and other records, and make an annual report, giving a summary of its proceedings and shall perform such other duties as are given him by this Charter or which may be prescribed by ordinance.” Doesn't sound like much, does it? But the “other duties” assigned by the Charter include those related to recalls, which are stipulated in Sections 151-153 of the Charter. Those duties" give the city  clerk a lot of opportunity for mischief, which Aeh has made the most of. It may be those duties" that have enabled her to hold her job longer than any other city employee. Through manipulation, if not  malfeasance, she has, in my opinion, helped keep corrupt political officials in office by obstructing citizens’ attempts to remove them by means of the recall. Would she have been collecting a paycheck  for a quarter of a century without conducting a kind of protection racket for corrupt cronies, and especially for those members of the city council, without whose good will she would long ago have been replaced? The political life of  most public office holders in Portsmouth, especially with all the recalls, has been as short as a fruit flys, but  for Aeh it has been as long as a turtles.   

AehIllegal Removal of  Names from Recall Petitions 

   Aeh’s abuse of the office of city clerk was evident in 1996, when she illegally removed names from petitions whose purpose was to recall First Ward council woman Ann Sydnor and Fourth Ward councilman Jim Kalb. In a decision handed down on  September 11, 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that “Aeh had clear legal duty under Sections 151 and 152 of the Portsmouth Charter to certify as sufficient the recall petitions relating to the First and Fourth Ward council members. The petitions had the requisite number of signatures to be sufficient. Aeh was not entitled to remove signatures from the petitions after filing. In addition, relators have established a clear legal right to this certification, and they have no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Based on the foregoing, we grant a writ of mandamus compelling Aeh to certify the recall petitions seeking the removal of First and Fourth Ward Council Members Sydnor and Kalb as sufficient and to notify these council members pursuant to Section 152 of the Portsmouth Charter. In addition, we grant relators’ request for attorney fees and order relators’ counsel to submit a bill and documentation in support of the request for attorney fees, in accordance with the guidelines set forth in DR 2-106” [italics added]. Aeh was caught in the act and the city  had to pay for it. 

   More recently, it was  not just the recall of Basham  that Aeh may have helped sabotage by supplying misinformation to Conkle and Wilson. She has also either deliberately or, perhaps as a consequence of her advancing years, inadvertently made a mess of  the public records she has the responsibility for creating, keeping track of, and  preserving. Legal action soon may be initiated against her and other city officials for their failure to produce public records requested by citizens. The fines mandated by state law for failing to produce each public record can really add up, so the cost to the city for Aeh’s failure to create, preserve, and produce public records requests  could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The Columbus Dispatch carried a story recently about huge financial penalties being imposed on public officials in northern Ohio who failed to comply with requests for public records. With all its other financial problems, Portsmouth may be furthered burdened with having to pay large penalties for the failure of Aeh and other officials to comply with requests for public documents. Possibly, some  records cannot be produced  because they have been destroyed, in violation of state law.
      On August 30, Corey Columbo, an attorney from the Columbus-based  McTigue Law Group,  representing Mayor Murray, filed a challenge to the petitions that have been filed with Aeh for the recall of the mayor. McTigue himself  represented Damon Fite and  the Concerned Citizens who successfully challenged the legality of Aeh’s removal of signatures from recall petitions back in 1996. Just as Aeh can abuse the powers of her office to frustrate those seeking to recall  her political cronies, she can abuse those same powers to abet petitioners who are trying to recall a political enemy from office, in this case Mayor Murray.  Whether or not she shortchanged Concerned Citizens a week, she extended the time the Recall Murray Campaign had to collect signatures, as she is allowed to do by the Charter.  Columbo has compiled fifteen objections to the petitions for the recall of Murray, most of which appear to put Aeh right at ground zero of the legal mess that is unfolding over the recall of Murray. Columbo explained that the McTigue Group deals almost exclusively with election disputes, and it was evident at the Election Board meeting on August 30 that the recall of Murray looks very shaky legally. In spite of bluster from the Election Board chairman Rodney Barnett, the rest of the Board seemed chastened by Columbos’ remarks to the board, and Sayre, the attorney from the Country Prosecutor’s office, admitted he was unfamiliar with protested recalls and would need to do a quick study of the subject, which, given the time frame he has to operate within, will have to be really quick.  All the confusion is not surprising given the twelfth-hour timing of the Recall Murray Campaign, which began when former indicted City Auditor Tom Bihl threw his hat in the ring, or rather, more accurately, put  his head  in the wringer when no one else had been brave or foolish enough to do so. Because of the half-assed, half-gassed way in which the Recall Murray Campaign has proceeded, with the Dickens Pub serving as unofficial campaign headquarters, it is not surprising that there are at least fifteen reasons why the State Board of Elections may rule the recall petitions invalid. I have seen McTigue perform before the Ohio Board of Elections, and I would not want to be in Aeh’s shoes, or Tom Bihl’s either, if and when they testify  before the board. 

Where Southern Hostility Begins

The snarling Aeh at a City Council meeting
Aeh became involved in city politics back in the early 1980s, when the city was in turmoil over the recall of three members of city council who were vilified and demonized because they were allegedly against a shopping mall, just as Mayor Murray is being vilified and demonized now because she is allegedly against just about everything she can be accused of being against. The hatred being whipped up in the campaign to recall her is reminiscent of the hatred stirred up in the South and Midwest against Negroes by the Ku Klux Klan. As recently as the late 1970s, the Klan had a presence in Portsmouth, and some first-hand observers thought the movement to recall the three councilmen in 1980 had the characteristics of a KKK rally. Marchers did not carry a burning cross but they did carry  a casket with the picture of one of the councilmen, Harald Daub, as I wrote about previously in “The Mauling of Harald Daub.” Daub is still the target of hate mongers. His house and automobile were pelted by eggs late one night not long ago, perhaps by those who had been drinking firewater earlier at a Happy Hour at the unofficial headquarters of the Recall Murray Campaign. I refer to Basham's Dickens Pub.

   Jo Ann Aeh’s husband Roy was reportedly active in the Klan in the late 1970s, and was said to be recruiting for the KKK among the employees at the state prison in Lucasville. In a letter dated April 29, 1978, the authenticity of which has not to my knowledge been disproved,  the so-called Grand Dragon of the KKK, David Duke, welcomed Roy Aeh as a new member and invited him and his wife  to a KKK national convention in Jackson, Mississippi, where there would be seminars on “how to stop the rising tide of the forces that mean to end White Supremacy.” The Grand Dragon concluded the letter to Aeh by writing, “You and your wife JoAnn are cordially invited to be with us in this great crusade.” The letter specifies who the great crusade was against:  “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans.”   I am not suggesting Jo Ann Aeh was a member of the KKK or that she championed White Supremacy. But of her political activities since 1980 it can be said, on the basis of the available evidence, that she is a supporter of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, the SOGP, which has had,  under several names, a stranglehold on the economic and political life of Portsmouth for the last thirty years. It is not the KKK we need to worry about: it is the SOGP, a so-called Community Improvement Corporation, and it is no secret who the “Grand Dragon” of the SOGP is. Portsmouth: Where Southern Hospitality Begins,” one of the citys slogans, perhaps should be changed to, Portsmouth: Where Southern Hostility Begins.” 

   The hatred being generated in Portsmouth today is not against “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans.” The hatred today is against domestic terrorists” and CAVE People, that is, against the community activists who serve as the watchdogs of local government; but the hatred is directed above all against Mayor Murray who has challenged the corrupt status quo as perhaps nobody has in the history of Portsmouth, with the possible exception of  the three councilmen of  thirty years ago. That was when  Aeh, not coincidentally,  began her political career, a career she continues to carry on, having been  transmogrified into something of a snarling, fire-breathing Grand Dragoness who not only illegally alters recall petitions but  who has become increasingly unwilling or unable to carry out her record keeping responsibilities as required by the City Charter. She has reportedly become irate when asked for minutes of various public meetings and contemptuous of the principle of open public records, or at least of those who approach her with public records requests. It remains to be seen how much snarling and fire breathing she will do before the Ohio Board of Elections, if and when she has to testify about the recall petitions. It remains to be seen also whether northerners will get a better idea of what it’s  like to live in the Deep South of the Grand Realm of Ohio. (What follows is a letter from the Grand Dragon inviting Aeh and her husband to a KKK Convention.)