Friday, March 25, 2005
How are downtown Portsmouth and Terri Schiavo alike? Both downtown Portsmouth and Terri Schiavo are in a “persistent vegetative state.” Both downtown Portsmouth and Terri Schiavo have been kept alive for a long time by feeding tubes that provide expensive sustenance for the comatose patient, sustenance paid for by tax-payer dollars. Finally, both downtown Portsmouth and Terri Schiavo have been exploited by cynical politicians and lawyers for political and financial gain.
Downtown Portsmouth has been kept on feeding tubes for so long by lawyers and politicians that the kind of initiative and vision that would be required to revive the patient has been bred out of most local politicians and business people. What a prophet Jesse Stuart turned out to be! (See my Jan. 29, 2004 blog.) The elite of Portsmouth have been on federal, state, and city feeding tubes so long that they have come to think of them not as an artificial temporary support but as the aorta of the local economy. Many local business and professional people have been abated so much they are a bit batty. They have been subsidized so long they are intoxicated by their own dependency, and perhaps nobody more than Neal Hatcher.
To continue the Terri Schiavo analogy, Clayton Johnson is the Bill Frist of Portsmouth. He claims that the downtown can be revived if only we don’t remove the feeding tubes, as long as we don’t cut ourselves off from public funding, as long as we don’t stop the city government from moving in to the empty Marting department store and the empty former Adelphia Cable building.
How do Johnson and his cohorts explain the current dire state of downtown Portsmouth? According to the grim fairy tale he and others began spinning in 1980, and continue spinning twenty-five years later, downtown Portsmouth was about to be restored to its previous robust condition when three malicious councilmen prevented tubes from being hooked up to the area. Why did they do that? What did the councilmen have to gain by allowing downtown Portsmouth to continue in a comatose state? Were there any financial and political gains for them? Their accusers never claimed there were. The councilmen were supposedly just malicious men out to kill downtown Portsmouth.
The councilmen, in turn, claimed that the mall was never a realistic possibility. It was a fantasy, a scheme, a smokescreen, a scam. It was a crooked land grab deal worked out between then city manager Barry Feldman and the local elite. Johnson was an architect of the 1980 mall deal, just as he was of the Marting scam. A front-page story in the Daily Times back on January 23, 1980, described him as “an attorney who was instrumental in helping prepare the shopping center agreement . . . .”
The best evidence that the councilmen were right about the mall being a smokescreen was that the mall never materialized, even though the councilmen were recalled from office within the year and replaced by pro-mall supporters, while Barry Feldman was kept on as city manager. Neither in 1980 or in the twenty-five years since then has a mall ever been built in downtown Portsmouth. We are supposed to believe there was a brief alignment of the planets, back in 1980, and having failed to tap into the public and private monies that were available at that magic moment, the mall could never be built. As recalled City Council member Ann Sydnor explained this alignment of the planets to me, “The recall [of the three councilmen] was successful. They were removed from office. Three people that supported the revitalization of the downtown were appointed to their seats, but by the time this process took place the money had dried up.” If Portsmouth were a realistic site for a mall, why would public and private funds dry up and dry up forever? There will always be public funds as long as there are feeding tubes.
If Johnson had been willing to admit in the beginning that Marting’s was a commercially worthless white elephant, and had arranged to give it to the city in return for the Foundation’s tax relief, he and the Foundation would have some right to a claim of philanthropy, although giving away something that is not only not worth anything to you but is costing you money in the form of taxes, does not make you a Mother Teresa. Johnson was “instrumental,” to use the word used to describe his role in the 1980 mall shenanigans, in subverting Ohio’s Sunshine laws to arrange the outrageous sale of the Marting building to the city for $2,000,000. Having a corrupt mayor and complaisant city council to work with, Johnson got greedy and overreached, and he and the city have been dealing with the political and economic consequences of his poor judgment ever since. The scuttlebutt is that when former mayor Bauer is down in his cups he blames Johnson for the miserable mess that led to the mayor’s recall. So do a lot of other people in Portsmouth.
Clayton Johnson exploits Portsmouth’s romanticized memories of its putatively prosperous past, when Chillicothe Street teemed with shoppers who had real jobs and when Marting’s was the downtown anchor store. Marting’s is the anchor to a past that people want to remember and want to believe can be revived. Playing on people’s nostalgia, exploiting their fond memories and their unrealistic hopes, the Marting Foundation is wrapping their gift to the city in the dearest of downtown memories. “Do not give up on downtown! Do not tear down the Marting building! Do not desecrate the past!” That is the Foundation’s public relations propaganda. Who growing up in Portsmouth in the 1900s did not have some fond experience of buying a Marting’s Christmas or birthday present? I’ve even been told people who might not be able to afford the prices at Marting’s still managed to share in its prestigious name by using a Marting’s box to wrap their gift in. Johnson is now wrapping the past in the Marting building, that undistinguished architectural box, and more recently, since Judge Marshall ruled the sale illegal, is willing to let the empty box go for only the $400,000 he did not return to the city.
And then there is the other Clayton, Johnson's cousin George. It is a shame that somebody did not make living wills for Marting’s and Kenrick’s. Think of how much the taxpayers would have benefited if they did not have to pay for the feeding tubes that are being attached to these private buildings when historic and architecturally important buildings like the N&W terminal and the Municipal Building don’t have a prayer of surviving.
I have made a living will, and if the Marting Building was endowed with consciousness I think it would too. The Marting’s building would be content to survive in the memories of the people who had happy experiences there, and not allow itself to be hooked up to a life-support system that would enable it to survive as a shell of itself when the millions to renovate it could have been spent on a new municipal building.
Terri Schiavo’s parents naturally and understandably cannot give up the hope that she might miraculously recover. They have the pictures of their healthy daughter and their memories to sustain them in their faith, just as we have the floodwall murals as memories of Portsmouth’s mythicized past.
The floodwall murals could not have come into existence and could not continue to exist without the feeding tubes through which it receives public monies. From the start, one of the chief justifications for the floodwall murals was the tourists it would attract. George Clayton’s white elephant properties in Boneyfiddle were purchased to handle the flood of tourists that have not yet come but are still anticipated. The murals have been on the floodwall for about a decade, and the flood of tourists has not materialized. There is at best a steady trickle, but hardly enough to justify the millions of public monies that have already been, and will subsequently be, spent on the project, monies a good part of which will find a way into the pockets of Portsmouth’s over-privileged. “If you build it, they will come,” seems to be the message the Wall supporters spread. Who will be surprised if more historic buildings are torn down and new ones built with the abatements and other perquisites that will flow through the feeding tubes, all to accommodate the anticipated crowds of tourists who will come to see the murals?
Speaking of feeding tubes, 209 Chillicothe Street (pictured below), which is in the next block down from Marting's, offers food for reflection. A pet store struggled to make a go of it at this location before it was vacated to rejoin the number of forlorn empty downtown storefronts. Then a fly-by-night flea market occupied the premises, the hand lettered name of which can still be seen on the wall outside the entrance. The seedy characters who lingered about the flea market added a certain down-and-out authenticity to lower Chillicothe, and we could find some consolation in the fact that if pets could not make a go of it at that downtown location, at least fleas could. But then the flea market flew the coop, leaving a smashed front left door pane, which you can see in the photo below. Parts of Chillicothe St. is beginning to look like John St.
What about feeding tubes? This unprepossessing piece of commercial property was purchased for $45,000 in 1996. In 2005, less than ten years later, in spite of the failed businesses that have occupied it, 409 Chillicothe Street is assessed for $166,390, with improvements of course. And since assessment figures are usually lower than market value, the property is possibly worth appreciably more, on paper at least. How can that be? I suspect there is a feeding tube connected to it somewhere, somehow, because 409 Chillicothe is owned by a Hatcher. If there is any family in Portsmouth who knows about feeding tubes, it is the Hatchers.
Posted by Robert Forrey at 7:09 PM
Friday, March 18, 2005
. . . 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.
[cartoon Feldman axing]
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 four council members as puppets of Feldman and the powers-that-be.
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.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Ex-Mayor Bauer at his final Council meeting
Next Wednesday evening, March 16, at 7PM in Flohr Hall of the SSU library, there will be a showing of Recall, a 60 minute video on the recall of Mayor Bauer. The showing will be followed by an open forum on the recall and on the issues that prompted it, including the sale of the Marting's building.
What follows are a some quotations from the video.
Asked if he had ever seen a more intense division in the city than the one developing during the recall campaign, Jeff Barron replied, “No, I haven’t. For years there were maybe four of five people in City Council meetings. Now, there are maybe sixty to seventy people.”
Jeff Barron, Portsmouth Daily Times
“The guy at the top [Mayor Bauer] is actually a bottom dweller.”
Lee Scott, Recall organizer
“The most significant thing about a recall is if that person is recalled . . . they cannot run for that office for a period of time.”
Frank Gerlach, former mayor of Portsmouth.
“We were recalled [in 1980] not because we were opposed to a downtown mall but because we were opposed to the actions of the City Manager [Barry Feldman].”
Harold Daub, former City Council member
“Lawyer C. Clayton Johnson, a foundation trustee involved in the sale [of the Marting building] could not be reached for comment and did not return calls.”
Reporter for the Columbus Dispatch
“He [Mayor Bauer] misled council on the value and condition of the [Marting] building. It ain’t worth anything.”
Marty Mohr, current City Council member
“If people were upset and concerned about the Marting building, one would think that when it was being discussed in council meetings that citizens would have come forward then. So to give you a valid reason why it’s become a factor now, I don’t know.”
Ann Sydnor, former City Council member.
“I’m writing a letter to the editor right now trying to figure out why in the world a man would pay three times the amount for the [Marting] building. When we could’ve got it for $800,000, we paid $2,000,000. It don’t make sense.”
Tim Loper, current City Council member
“My council person Mr. Baughman and I have not seen eye to eye on a lot of things, and I refuse to go to him when I have a problem. I call somebody else.”
“The city lost out on that stretch of land [15th St. Viaduct] because it was reported that the property had been contaminated, but when it was sold there was nothing on the deed that said it was contaminated. The buyer started selling the property off in sections . . . and we’re finding out the city sold it to him for $60,000 and he has already sold one parcel for about $150,000 and another parcel for roughly $150,000 and another for a few hundred thousand . . . The city lost out on a lot of dollars that were going into someone else’s pocket.”
Bob Mollette, current City Council member
“He [Mayor Bauer] has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar . . . He’s kind of stealing and just turning around and laughing about it. . . . So we’re recalling him.”
Joe Ferguson, Ward 1 resident
“I’ve even had people come to me and tell me they’re his [Bauer’s] drug-dealer – that he came to them to score cocaine and his wife buys marijuana from them. But they’ve never come to me. I’ve never seen them do anything. . . . But, yes, it’s very well known in the city.”
“I think the recall movement is a divisive way of tearing down the community. But I do feel our prayers have somewhat given a positive side to the entire situation.”
David Malone, minister and current City Council member
“A lot of people are angry here, and I think the angry people will be out and vote. They have a reason to go to the polls this time.”
Austin Leedom, editor Shawnee Sentinel
“People have computers. Twenty years ago they may have gotten away with it. But today computers will tell on them. . . . David just slew Goliath.
“I think the city, the community, has spoken, and right now Bauer does not have control. His people, who have had him as their puppet these many years, do not have control right now.”
“This is probably the turning point in this town. These men threw everything they could at us. They tried to change the attention away from the issues to our past records. I think it speaks volumes that the people of this town decided to come to us, people they knew they could trust, to find out what the truth was.”
John Welton, “Doug Deepe”
“Mayor Bauer was recalled last night. Voters decided to give him the boot by quite a large margin.”
WSAZ Channel 3
“I still stand behind our record. We’ve done a good job. We’ve been very successful in preparing the city for future industrial expansion. I think we’ve done a good job. . . . I will survive in one form or another. I had a business in Portsmouth before I became mayor, an advertising and design business, a background in printing also. And we have opportunities out there that we’ll follow up on. We will survive.”
Mayor Bauer, speaking to a reporter after he was recalled.
Headline in the Daily Times the morning after the recall of Mayor Bauer.
Bauer Graphics, still closed as of March 2005
Posted by Robert Forrey at 10:15 AM