Monday, May 29, 2006

Shadow Government

Headquarters of Shadow Govt.

It has happened gradually and unobtrusively, without most people being aware of it, but over the last half century, important functions of Portsmouth local government have been privatized. The result is that we now have a powerful shadow government, the origin of which can be traced back to 1964.

To quote from an earlier River Vices posting, “in March 1964, the Portsmouth City Council made a momentous decision. In a resolution, numbered unlucky #13, the council turned much of the economic control of the city over to a private ‘non-profit’ corporation named the Portsmouth Area Community Improvement Corporation (PACIC). In Resolution #13, the Portsmouth City Council granted PACIC an extraordinarily broad mandate. The mandate of this private corporation, consisting mainly of businessmen, bankers, and lawyers, was no less than ‘To promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the inhabitants of the community . . .’ In the following year, 1965, the Ohio state legislature passed a law allowing municipalities to designate community improvement corporations, such as PACIC, as their agent. As if PACIC hadn’t already been granted extraordinary power in Resolution #13 . . . , the Portsmouth City Council passed another resolution (#30), designating PACIC as the city’s official agent, or legal representative.” PACIC eventually morphed into the SOGP.

Working with other community improvement corporations (CIC’s) and with other unelected quasi-public officials, the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP) has come to do the heavy financial lifting in our municipal affairs. A shadow government has evolved in the Portsmouth area made up of a bewildering array of acronyms, not only SOGP but GPEC (Greater Portsmouth Enterprise Community), CAOSC (Community Action Organization of Scioto County), SOPA (Southern Ohio Port Authority), etc.

Through pork projects and abatements, the SOGP has choked the tax base of Portsmouth, weakened initiative, encouraged collusion, and stifled the local economy. The worse it got in Portsmouth, the more pork the SOGP could rustle from state and federal governments.

To finance its activities, our shadow government depends not directly on taxes, as our city government has to do, but on streams of pork dollars from public and quasi-public sources. One of the largest sources of pork for Portsmouth and the SOGP, ironically, is the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), but there are many other sources. Under the arrangement that has evolved in the last half century, our usually inept and subservient city government handles the small change, relatively speaking: the SOGP handles the big bucks. For example, the 2003-2004 records of the SOGP lists over $20 million in “bank investments,” some of the recipients of which are current or past members of the SOGP. The SOGP has handled hundreds of millions of dollars. The city government, by contrast, is left to squabble over whether the mayor should get a new automobile or whether there is money to fix the leaky roof of the Municipal Building. Portsmouth’s real city hall is not the Municipal Building but the new Welcome Center, where the SOGP has its headquarters. It was USDA pork that made the construction of the Welcome Center possible.

Given the limitations of local government, it was to be expected that in the evolution of local and county government an alternative to the traditionally ineffective, subservient, and corrupt local government would arise. The number of Bob Mollettes have been too few and far between in city government. The vehicle for this new non-elective, shadow government are “community improvement corporations,” the CICs. To quote from a handbook for county commissioners, “A community improvement corporation (CIC) is a nonprofit corporation organized under the provisions of Chapter 1724 of the Revised Code for the sole purpose of promoting, advancing and encouraging the industrial, economic, commercial and civic development of the area.” In a report on CICs, the Columbus Dispatch (2/6/95) quoted Mike Shannon, a lawyer who had served as state community improvement corporations coordinator from 1985 to 1988. “They[CICs] can do everything from street beautification to economic and industrial development.” Shannon added, “They [CICs] can make loans to businesses or partnerships under certain conditions; acquire property by such means as purchase or eminent domain; and assume control of businesses in financial trouble.” Mary Bearden, Dublin Ohio’s economic development coordinator, told the Dispatch that CICs “have the rights and provisions by law to act as developers, to buy land and develop property, but at an arm's length away from bureaucracy.” What Bearden means by bureaucracy is local government, local elected officials, or what we might generalize and call the vestiges of local democracy. That is what has to be kept at arm’s length.

In other words, CICs privatize local and county government; they turn government, and especially the financial aspects of government, into a business. “It’s hard for cities to function like a business,” Shannon said. It’s hard for cities to function like a business principally because there are all those bothersome details of the democratic process to deal with, like voters, elections, and public accountability. CICs members are not elected, they are appointed and therefore are not subject to recall. They are not subject to open records laws requests either. They are required to make only annual budget reports, and the reports of the SOGP can be very hazy. For example, in a SOGP bare budget report for 1997, of $314,000 allotted for something called a Small Business Education Center, $252,861 had been spent. Just what was the Small Business Education Center that SOGP had spent a quarter of million dollars on? In a letter dated May 6, 1997, Wally Leedom on behalf of the Shawnee Sentinel requested a detailed breakout of the budget and a clarification on the Small Business Center. There is no indication he ever got a response. A shadow government, run like a business, can stonewall in such a situation, as I have discovered several times when I tried to get information. CICs like the SOGP can get away with, well, if not murder, at least highway robbery, as the folks at Enron did.

What happened in Portsmouth was that responsibility for the economic growth of the area was taken out of the hands of the local and county government and put into the hands of a private, putatively non-profit corporation that was made up of the influential and wealthy individuals in the community, mostly lawyers, bankers, and business people, most of whom had never sunk to running for public office but who were only too willing to serve on a community improvement corporation. Why were they so willing to serve on CICs? To adapt the famous remark of Willy Sutton, because CICs are where the money is. Before there were CICs, the greedy businessman actually had to get his hands dirty and run for local public office. Not anymore, not when there are CICs.

Many people have been led to believe making government more businesslike is the best possible thing that could happen. But is it? Business people and chambers of commerce would have us believe businessmen are a blessing and the heros of the American economy. That's not the lesson I derive from American history. The famous investigative journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote early in the last century, “There is hardly an office from United States Senator down to Alderman in any part of the country to which the business man has not been elected; yet politics remains corrupt, government pretty bad, and the selfish citizen has to hold himself in readiness like the old volunteer firemen to rush forth at any hour, in any weather, to prevent the fire; and he goes out sometimes and he puts out the fire (after the damage is done) and he goes back to the shop sighing for the business man in politics. The business man has failed in politics as he has in citizenship. Why? Because politics is business. That’s what’s the matter with it. That’s what’s the matter with everything—art, literature, religion, journalism, law, medicine,—they’re all business . . . The commercial spirit is the spirit of profit, not patriotism; of credit, not honor; of individual gain, not national prosperity; of trade and dickering, not principle. . .”

President Calvin Coolidge said the business of America was business. That was before the stock market crashed in 1929 and Americans sufferred economically for nearly a decade. The head of General Motors said that what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Tell that to the auto workers who are losing their jobs and their benefits. Thoreau said, I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.

From the Bible to Thoreau’s Walden to Das Kapital, we are warned that money corrupts, and a lot of money corrupts absolutely. Everybody who is in the business of making money, every business person who seeks to increase his or her profits, runs the risk of being corrupted by the process. Even people from humble religious backgrounds, as Ken Lay claimed to be, are not immune to becoming corrupted by money. And it is not just supposedly pious Christians but supposedly pious Jews, such as Jack Abramoff, who can resist the lure of staggering profits. Everyone seeking to maximize profits, to making as much money as possible, which is another side of being businesslike, is a potential liar and crook. Money, like atomic energy is tremendously powerful and capable of doing much good, but it is also capable of doing great harm, especially in the hands of the sanctimoniously unscrupulous.

The recent convictions of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, along with the earlier convictions of other corporate culprits at Tyco, Adelphia, HealthSouth, WorldCom, etc., offer a history lesson about businessmen that Portsmouth can learn from. But this lesson will not be taught in Portsmouth schools or churches or discussed in the local media because our shadow government, with its financial impact on and influence over the local government, media, and education, will not allow it. That’s why the founding of the Shawnee Sentinel in 1995, at Shawnee State U., was an important event in Portsmouth’s history. The Sentinel is far from perfect, and may not always be
diplomatic or grammatical, but it has relentlessly exposed our shadow government and their accomplices and stooges in the city government.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mohr Automania


The May 22nd Portsmouth City Council meeting indicates that the most serious problem in city government may not be corruption but stupidity. What else can we
conclude from the moronic statements of Mayor Jim Kalb and vice president of the Portsmouth City Council Marty Mohr? Kalb is still employed part-time by Kroger’s supermarket. Mohr is proprietor of Auto Mania, “Tunes, Tints, Stripes,” and specializes in visual and sound pollution. The volatile Mohr could serve as a poster boy for Road Rage.

With an arrogance that has made his head bigger than Barry Bonds’ (after all he is vice president of the Portsmouth City Council), Mohr has reached new depths of stupidity. He said Mayor Kalb driving a new Ford Expedition was good for the image of the city, like the new schools that have been built. I am not exaggerating. As Jeff Barron reported in the PDT, “He [Mohr] compared the SUV to city voters approving new school buildings three years ago. Mohr said the buildings have improved the academic standing and image of the Portsmouth City School system. He said the SUV would do the same for the city's image.” Perhaps Mohr could paint some sizzling stripes on the Kalb’s SUV to further enhance Portsmouth’s image.

Speaking of the kind of car the mayor drives enhancing Portsmouth’s image, what about the red Corvette former swinging mayor Greg Bauer drove? At least Bauer, who was recalled from office by the voters, did not tap into public money to pay for the Corvette. He is rumored to have gotten a very good deal from a local car dealer, but he is also rumored to have had trouble keeping up with the payments, which was not good for Portsmouth’s image.

Municipal Building

What is bad for Portsmouth’s image is not Mayor Kalb driving a 1999 car. What is bad for Portsmouth’s image, apart from the stupid utterances of Mohr and Kalb, is the way in which the city government is allowing the architecturally and historically important Municipal Building to fall into disrepair. Kalb and Mohr were willing to spend $9 million dollars to renovate a 124 year-old department store, but they would not spend half that to renovate the 72-year-old home of local government, the Municipal Building. Uncultured clodhoppers that they are, Kalb and Mohr are embarrassed by the Municipal Building, as Kalb is by his 1999 car. Oh, the ignominy of it! A man who had risen to the heights of being mayor of southern Ohio’s drug capital having to drive a car that old.

U.S. Post Office

The U.S. Post Office is built of the same material and in the same architectural style as the Municipal Building. The U.S. Post Office, which was built in 1935, one year after the Municipal Building, is one of the architectural treasures of Portsmouth. So is the Municipal Building, although neglect had made it hard to see. The Mayor and others are determined to tear down the Municipal Building because some developer reportedly wants the land to build a casino on. When and if gambling comes to the city, the developer wants that spot ready for slots. In Portsmouth, what developers want, developers get.

The way in which the Municipal Building has been labeled dilapidated and a deathtrap is not unlike the way in which the 15th Street viaduct land was declared toxic, sharply reducing its value. Then a developer, with Mayor Bauer’s connivance, bought the allegedly toxic 15th St. Viaduct land for a song, and has made a million on it. That same developer could be the one who will build a casino on the site of the Municipal Building and make millions.

The Federal government was willing to spend the money to maintain the Portsmouth U.S. Post Office. The city government does not want to spend a dime on the Municipal Building. The mayor wants the city to buy him a new SUV so that he can take visitors up the hill where the water tower is located, but he won’t fix up the home of city government for the visitors who come there. A restored Municipal Building is an infinitely better way to improve the city’s image than providing Mayor Kalb with a new SUV so that he can drive visitors up the water tower hill.

Leaky Chambers

Speaking of water, what about the water that is leaking into the Municipal Building from the roof that the mayor won’t repair? What about the leaking corner of the otherwise graceful council chambers. The city government loves to display that leaky corner of the council chambers to visitors for the same reason a beggar likes to display his sores. The beggar should get his sores treated and get back to work instead of looking for handouts. The Mayor should get to work and have the leaky roof repaired and stop fretting about the humiliation of driving a 1999 car.

As for those new schools that Mohr likened to a SUV, let us hope that the generations of students who graduate from them will not seek to impress others by the jazzy cars they drive or the deafening music exploding from them. Let us hope they have higher ambitions in life than turning their cars into mobile boom boxes and their minds into empty receptacles for stimulants and status symbols. And let us hope that when those students are on their death beds, they can look back and take satisfaction in having been more than automaniacs at Cruisefests. Let us hope that they have higher ambitions than to become vice president of the city council or mayor of one of the most drug-ridden and corrupt cities in Ohio. Let us hope those students will climb to greater heights than can be reached by an SUV. Let us hope.
"Vrroomm-vroomm" (Pixar Studios)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Cadillac Escalade

By "Automania" I refer not to the car stereo installation business of that name owned by a Portsmouth city councilman but rather to the mania for big automobiles on the part of Portsmouth public officials, such as the mayor, who wants a new Ford Expedition and the police chief who drives a Cadillac Escalade and who wants fifteen new Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers. I learned about these wants at a Portsmouth City Council special meeting on Monday afternoon, May 15, 2006, that should be remembered as a Mid-May Mid-day Automobile Salesman’s Dream. The opening sentence in Jeff Barron’s report on the meeting in the next day’s Portsmouth Daily Times was “Passing the capital improvements budget is one of the more tedious things the Portsmouth City Council does each year.”

The meeting was tedious, I agree, but it will also be painfully expensive for Portsmouth taxpayers, especially when they get the bill for Police Chief Charles Horner’s automania.

In the May 2nd primary, Horner had asked the voters to approve a tax increase to help fund his war on drugs. Portsmouth is notorious as the drug capital of Southern Ohio and as one of the most crime-ridden cities not only in Ohio but reportedly the nation, as the chief frequently pointed out in making his case for higher taxes. But the voters rejected his call for more money for the police dept. They turned him down, I believe, not because they disagree about Portsmouth’s ignominious standing in national crime rankings. They turned him down because they don’t think Horner is the solution to Portsmouth’s crime and drug problems. Some even believe he is part of the problem.

Horner has not been any more successful dealing with drug-dealing in Portsmouth than he has with drug dealing within his own family. As Austin Leedom and John Welton revealed in the Shawnee Sentinel, the chief’s own son was arrested for using and selling drugs. The chief’s son was dealing drugs at Damon’s Restaurant, directly across the street, less than fifty yards from the Portsmouth Police Department. Horner accused Leedom and Welton of crucifying his family by releasing this information about his son, but if they hadn’t, very few people would ever have known of the younger Horner’s drug arrests. The Portsmouth Daily Times does not investigate crimes by the over-privileged of Portsmouth, and all references to the young Horner’s drug arrests were subsequently expunged from public records at a judge’s order.

Horner cites the high crime rate and drug dealing in Portsmouth in particular to justify his requests for more money for the police dept. But he does not stop there. He has also warned publicly that there are “domestic terrorists” among us, by whom he means the Concerned Citizens of Portsmouth and Scioto County. What form of terrorism is this group of largely senior citizens engaged in, other than revealing the drug arrests of the chief’s son and recalling incompetent and corrupt officials from office? The chief doesn’t say, perhaps because it’s classified information in his war on “domestic terrorists.”

Though he himself precipitated the 2004 successful recall of former Mayor Bauer, who was reportedly preparing to fire him, Horner unleashed a full-scale investigation of one of the Concerned Citizens, native American Russell Cooper, who was trying to mount a recall campaign against councilman David Malone. There are good recalls and there are bad recalls, Horner told the city council a while back, by which he meant that the recall that got Bauer out of office and kept Horner in as chief was good, and that the recalls that tried to remove Malone and other current council members from office were bad. The Portsmouth police swooped into Cooper’s neighborhood and did a dragnet investigation on the basis of several alleged forged signatures on Cooper’s petition ballots. Cooper is awaiting trial and faces possible jail time. Don’t look for any suspended sentence and expunging of records for Cooper.

Those Concerned Citizens who dare try to recall Horner’s allies on the city council are treated like domestic terrorists, but those who deal in drugs do not warrant a full-court press, especially if they have relatives or friends in positions of influence. At Ted Journey’s West End Auto, which is located less than a mile from the police station, stolen cars until recently were chopped up and oxycontin distributed. Ted Journey is a friend of councilman Tim Loper, who was renting a house from Journey, not far from the chopshop. Claiming that house as his legal residence was Loper’s way of keeping his seat on the city council. Loper was living in the Sixth Ward, but this being Portsmouth he didn’t think the residency requirements in the city charter applied to him and the city solicitor agreed. Anyway, it was other law enforcement agencies, not the Portsmouth Police Dept., that cracked down on Journey’s West End Auto operation. Horner claimed that he was just about to pounce on West End Auto when others beat him to it. Sure.

15 Crown Victorias

At the special May 2nd election, Portsmouth voters declined to be panicked by Horner’s scare tactics, but the city council at the May 15th meeting gave him what he asked for: the lease of 15 8-cylinder Ford Crown Victorias at a cost of $410,000 over a period of five years. Horner wanted these vehicles and he wanted them now. He asked the council to suspend the rules that required three readings of an ordinance, because he had to act before Friday the 19th to close the deal. We’ve all heard this one before: “Hurry, for you must act now to qualify for this amazing offer!” With the exception of Councilman Mollette, the rest of the council fell for it like sleepy couch potatoes watching an infomercial.

It is not clear that the city needs fifteen new police cruisers or that leasing them for five years for $410,000 is the best way to obtain them. It is no secret that leases are more expensive than purchasing, and that five-year leases are more expensive than three-year leases, especially since manufacturer warranties run out after three years. Since these vehicles will be driven to and from work by police, including police who live outside the city limits, the fuel costs were of concern to councilman Mollette, but in Horner’s view in the war on drugs and domestic terrorism we can’t afford to count the cost of gas. “Have you considered gas mileage on the cars?” Mollette asked Horner, as reported in the Daily Times. “No, I haven't,” Horner replied.

But what are the gas costs we can’t afford to count? Using EPA estimates of gas consumption of the Ford Victoria, I calculate that over a period of the five-year lease, if gas prices remain about where they are, and the vehicles are driven an average of 12,000 miles a year (the mileage limit on most leased automobiles), the cost of gasoline for the 15 vehicles alone, not counting oil and maintenance, will be hundreds of thousands of dollars. When we add the cost of fuel to the $410,000 cost of the 5-year lease, we get a figure that would cause sticker shock among voters if it were made public. Councilman Mollette told the council that other Ohio cities do try to seek economies on the purchase of police vehicles, but presumably those cities do not have as high a crime rate or as many "domestic terrorists" as Portsmouth does, so they can be more cost conscious.

Just how many cruisers are there in the department? Jeff Barron reported that “Police Chief Charles Horner wants to replace all 15 police cars with new ones.” Is fifteen the total number of cruisers, as Barron seems to imply? There are about 40 officers in the department and I have heard they each have a cruiser that they drive to and from the police station. So the department may have a fleet of about 40 cruisers. The rationale I have heard for what seems like a very expensive arrangement for the taxpayers is that the cruisers that are parked all over the city in front of the officers’ homes are an effective crime deterrent. That might be the case if officers live in high crime neighborhoods within the city, a big if, but in any event it does not sound like a cost effective way to wage war on crime. Perhaps Jeff Barron could look into this matter, at least to the extent of finding out whether there are 15 or 40 cruisers sitting parked at various times in front of officers’ homes.

When Horner was asked by Mollette if he would consider using some of his discretionary fund ($240,000 derived partly from drug busts) in his Special Account to defray the cost of his war on drugs, the chief replied he would not. “It's prudent to maintain that money for an emergency, like the possible flu pandemic,” Horner said. “Horner,” Jeff Barron explained, “was referring to a possible outbreak of bird flu which some health officials say may hit the United States.” Horner’s handling of that Special Account has become a hot political issue, because he seems to view monies that end up in it as hornerrariums. Critics of the Special Account have labeled it a "slush fund."
bird flu

City Auditor Trent Williams recently wrote a memo to Horner indicating the chief had to follow state laws in administering this fund, which he has apparently not been doing. Williams wrote, “As a result of our recent discussions of and exchange of information with the Athens Regional Office of the Auditor of State regarding the checking account currently being held by the Chief of Police known as the ‘Portsmouth Police Department Special Account,’ it has been advised and therefore necessary that all funds in this account be deposited immediately with the Portsmouth City Auditor’s office.”

Like a certain prominent politician in Washington, Horner uses scare tactics, everything from domestic terrorism to bird flu, to escape accountability, while the chief crime problem in the city, drugs, continues to plague the community. The trouble, I believe, is that Horner is too much of a politician and not enough of a police chief. Unfortunately, he is not much better as a politician than he is as a police chief, as the police vehicle that he drives, a Cadillac Escalade, illustrates.

Tony "Escalade" Soprano

A politician should be concerned not only about reality but also about appearance. In fact, most politicians care more about appearance than reality. What then is the chief doing driving a fucking Escalade? Pardon my English, but I’m falling under the influence of Tony Soprano. Doesn’t Horner have a clue that the Escalade is known in the trade as “Tony’s Car,” meaning Tony Soprano, who owned not one but two of them? Hasn’t the connection between Tony and the Escalade been made clear on the Shawnee Sentinel website, which Horner monitors closely? The New Jersey TV mobster can afford to drive a gas guzzling Escalade SUV, but can the police chief of a perennially depressed and crime-ridden city in southern Ohio’s Appalachian region with gas at about $3.00 a gallon? The story I’ve heard is the chief obtained the Escalade in a drug bust, so it fell into that controversial Special Account of his for which there has been no accounting. We hope the chief will sell the fucking Escalade to help defray the cost of those 15 new cruisers, and please no bullshit about how that account has to be reserved for real emergencies, like the bird flu. Give up the gas-guzzler. A remote-controlled toy Escalade was advertised on e-Bay for $400 bucks, if the chief wants a memento of his salad days.

Not only did Horner request $410,000 for new cruisers at the May 15th council meeting, he also requested $30,000 for new furniture for the old Adelphia building, which he will be moving into when it is renovated at great public expense. (The voters killed the Marting’s renovation on May 2nd, but unfortunately they were not given the opportunity to vote on the Adelphia renovation.) There are rumors out of the Municipal Building that when the chief gets mad he goes into his office and busts up furniture. Let’s hope, if he has to give up his Escalade, he doesn’t take it out on the new furniture in a fit of automania.

drawing by Susanne Muel

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Missing Link


In a report in the Daily Times on May 12, 2006, Timothy Loper was quoted as saying about being mayor of Portsmouth, “There’s a lot of businessmen who wanted to back me this time for it. But I didn't think I had the education for it, and I didn't have the knowledge. But after seeing the ones that are running the city, I think I'm just as knowledgeable as anyone else.”

After years of frustration and failure, after years of working off and on at menial jobs, most recently pumping gas for minimum wage levels, after enough DUI’s to earn him a jail sentence, Timothy Loper discovered the key to success, at least in Portsmouth. He learned from the examples of past mayor Greg Bauer and current mayor Jim Kalb, as well as from his own futile career, that when you fail at your calling, whether it be in graphics (Bauer Graphics), groceries (Kroger’s), or pumping gas (Bi-Lo), there is one last chance for insignificant failures willing to sell their soul: get into politics.

And what is the prize jewel, the gold ring, the top of heap of local politics? What in Portsmouth is worth a chronic failure selling his soul for? It is not acquiring absolute knowledge, as it was for Faust. It is not beating the New York Yankees, as it was for Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees. No, for Loper, the impossible dream, the summit of success, the Mt. Everest of Scioto County, was none of these. His dream is being mayor of Portsmouth.

Loper doesn’t need talent, intelligence, or education to be mayor of Portsmouth. He just needed to learn how the system worked, and as a member of the city council he learned that. “I think I'm just as knowledgeable as anyone else,” he told the Daily Times, and he is. He learned how to betray the Concerned Citizens who had made his election to the city council possible. With the advice of the solicitous City Solicitor, he learned how to lie about in which ward he was really living. From the boorish councilman Marty Mohr, he learned how to skip those council meetings where he might have to answer to the public for his lies and his deceit.

As a councilman, Loper learned, above all, just who controls Portsmouth economically and politically. He learned who on the Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership calls the shots. He learned who the businessmen and lawyers who control the city are, and he made it clear he was prepared to do their bidding. And they led him to believe that if he continued to do what they wanted, he might someday be mayor. “There's a lot of businessmen who wanted to back me this time for it,” he told the Daily Times.

Supplying the Lute

Among the businessmen who are backing Loper is Chris Lute, who owns Lute Plumbing Supply, located within yards from where Loper pumps gas at Bi-Lo and not far from Ted Journey’s chop-shop, on Fourth Street. An internet site reports that in “June 1992, the Department of Labor (DOL) came down hard on Chris Lute, president of Portsmouth, Ohio-based Lute Plumbing Supply Inc. A DOL investigation found the wholesaler in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), which, among other things, requires employers to pay hourly employees minimum wage plus time and a half for overtime.” The DOL fined Lute $40,000 for back wages. Lute complained, “Having to pay our salespeople an hourly wage keeps us from being creative. It prevents us from doing things to motivate our employees.” In Lute’s view, a mimimum wage was not only uncreative – it was unAmerican. What workers need is more incentive, not a mimimum wage. But a mimimum wage is just what unskilled workers like Loper need to provide them a subsistence living. And Lute was opposed to it.

When Loper became a city councilman, Lute (I have been told) became far more solicitous about Loper’s wellbeing. Just who among Portsmouth’s philanthropic citizens is helping Loper remodel the Journeys’ 519 Third St. house is a trade secret now, but it would not surprise me if Lute was among those who supplied Loper with, if not the loot, at least the materials for the renovations.

Our local businessmen preach initiative and enterprise for workers, but when it comes to getting millions of dollars in various forms of assistance from all levels of government these businessmen do not practice what they preach. For them, there is no stigma attached to welfare provided it is corporate welfare. Pork is bad for minimum-wage underdogs but just fine for fat cats.

And when it comes to financially assisting local politicians, and mayors in particular, local businessmen can be very creative. Whether the mayor is a Republican or Democrat failure doesn’t make much difference. Local developer Neal Hatcher is willing to support a Republican or a Democratic mayor, just as long as the mayor allows Hatcher to raze hell. If Loper ever is elected, he will not forget those businessmen who urged him to run for mayor and without whose financial support he would have had about as much chance of becoming mayor as a minimum wage-earner would have of becoming as rich as Chris Lute.

Most people in elected office in city government are indirectly employed by the businessmen of Portsmouth. They are not paid by the hour and there is no minimum wage. There is nothing, to rework Lute’s language, that prevents the employers of Portsmouth from doing things to motivate their employees, the public officials they helped get elected. The over-privileged of Portsmouth who did not give a rat’s ass about Tim Loper when he was an unemployed unskilled laborer, who would have thought him a lazy drunken lout undeserving of welfare or food stamps, now want him to be mayor, if we can believe what Loper is now claiming, which is a big if.

As a politician, Loper is the missing link between Portsmouth’s encarcerated and unencarcerated businessmen, between Portsmouth’s indicted and unindicted entrepreneurs. The Journeys are, like the Hatchers and the Claytons (Johnson and George), businessmen. But they are more than that: they are entrepreneurs. They are following their American dream. They are not satisfied with working for wages, minimum or otherwise. The Journeys differ from the “respectable” businessmen of Portsmouth only in this respect: the Journeys lack the education, contacts, and skills that would enable them as businessmen to control those who make and enforce the laws. The Journeys lack the clout and the millions that would enable them to operate unethically as businessmen within the law. The Journeys don’t have the pull that would enable them to get millions of dollars of pork from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture the way the SOGP does. The Journeys have to bring home the bacon the old-fashion way: they have to steal it. They don’t have politicians and lawyers doing it for them.

So the Journeys chose to conduct their business outside the law, dealing in stolen vehicles and drugs. And when they were busted, it was not the Portsmouth police department who took the initiative, because Chief Horner’s chief concern is with “domestic terrorists” represented by the Concerned Citizens of Portsmouth and Scioto County, which I admit to being a member of.

Loper accused the Concerned Citizens of driving him from the city council. He said the Concerned Citizens were opposed to him because he would not vote against the purchase of the Marting’s building. Loper said the Concerned Citizens’ pressure on him was the same as if he was being bribed. Loper also claimed that not being allowed to vote in the First Ward in the May 2nd primary was like “being raped.” When and if Loper is raped or bribed, it will not be by the Concerned Citizens.

When it comes to murder, rape, bribery, and lying, no one has anything to teach the Lopers. If the SOGP ever succeeds in getting Loper elected mayor, they will have finally got the politician equal to their own perfidy. Pumping gas at Bi-Lo, Loper is within a minute’s walk of Lute’s Plumbing, Journey’s chopshop, and the SOGP headquarters, in the Welcome Center.

If Loper is ever mayor, we will have the missing link between the indicted and the unindicted criminals of Portsmouth, between the Journeys and the gents in the SOGP. Loper is living proof of the link between the criminals at the chopshop and the criminals in the Municipal building and the Welcome Center.

Saturday, May 06, 2006



One of the first things I was warned when I traveled in Africa on behalf of the U.S. State Dept. in the 1970s was “Don’t drink the water.” When I moved to Portsmouth in 1989, which in some respects resembled a third world country, one of the first warnings I got was “Don’t trust the doctors.” Most of the doctors were associated with the Southern Ohio Medical Center, or SOMC. I didn’t take that warning seriously enough and I paid the price, as so many others I have known or heard about did. While there were many dedicated and talented people working at the hospital, for too many patients SOMC came to stand for Southern Ohio Malpractice Chopshop. The problem was not with the employees as much as it was the systemic cronyism, incompetence, and corruption among the over-privileged at the top.

At a dead-end on Fourth Street, in Portsmouth, we had Ted Journey practicing his chop-shop trade; on the Hilltop, where SOMC is located, we had Dr. Richard C. Rooney practicing his. According to the Shawnee Sentinel, Rooney still has ties to SOMC.

Thoracic surgeon Rooney was one of the doctors who gave SOMC a bad name. Back in 2000, I had heard that Rooney was in difficulties at SOMC. After being charged in a number of malpractice suits (see Rooney’s rap sheet, below) he had moved out of Portsmouth. That meant his house on Camelot Drive was empty. Selling a house in Portsmouth under any circumstances is not easy. In legal difficulties and having had to move out of town, Rooney was not in a good bargaining position when it came to selling his Camelot Drive house. If this was any place other than Portsmouth, he would probably have had to take a loss. But this is not any place; this is Portsmouth, and whenever the over-privileged and well-connected have property they need to unload, and when a private buyer cannot be found, public monies can be found.
In Portsmouth’s lexicon, “marting” means “to purchase, at inflated prices, with public monies, white elephant properties from the politically well connected.” In this case, a malpracticing doctor, a member of the over-privileged class, needed some help from his over-privileged peers.

Former Rooney house on Camelot

Rooney’s case was not unlike that of Clive Veri, president of Shawnee State University. Rumors of legal problems and harassment suits were swirling around Veri when he resigned as president in 1998. He had become an embarrassment at SSU., where an overwhelming majority of the faculty had more than once voted no confidence in him. In one poll he got only 5% of the faculty to support him. SSU was near the bottom in US News annual college rankings. But the worse things got at SSU, the more the university trustees loved the malpracticing president. A piece I wrote in 1998 for the Shawnee Sentinel, in its pre-Internet, pre-cyberspace days, analyzed the sweetheart golden-parachute retirement package the trustees provided to the departing president.

Like Veri, Rooney was rescued by the SSU trustees. For over a year, I served as the faculty representative on a presidential housing a committee, of which SSU trustee George Clayton was chairman. We had been making plans to build a new house for the university president on the campus. The architect had been hired, the plans drawn up, and the ground all but broken. The architect had been encouraged by the committee to be innovative, and he had succeeded.
The house would have been an architectural landmark. But at the twelfth hour, George Clayton picked a quarrel with the young architect. I can think of no better way to describe it. I was flabbergasted. The architect was stunned. What was going on?

The house that Clayton killed

The next thing the committee knew, the project was canceled. Instead of building a state-of-the-art president’s house on campus, as had been planned, Clayton, acting for the trustees, decided instead to buy Dr. Rooney’s house on Camelot Drive. Rooney’s house had nothing to recommend it as a president’s house. The Camelot house was far from campus, was in need of extensive and costly redecoration and repairs, and was without adequate parking. Among other problems, it was slipping off the hill it was on. A retaining wall had to be reinforced. But the house was owned by one of the privileged elite and that was enough to recommend it. Why waste public funds on something new when something old (and empty) weighed heavily on the hands of one of the over-privileged?

George Clayton “negotiated” the outrageous price of $412,000 for Rooney’s house. What did Clayton care? It was taxpayers’ money, not his own that he was squandering. The Camelot house has since proved to be a money pit. If ever a SSU trustee deserved to be sued for malpractice, Clayton did.

In addition to having been on the board of trustees at the university, Clayton had also been on the board of directors at the hospital. There were few pork pies in Portsmouth he did not have his finger in. When his own business failed, he was stuck with an empty department store. He knew what to do. With Representative Rob Portman’s help (“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Porkman!”), Clayton unloaded his empty unsellable empty department store on the public. Millions of public dollars, much of it in the form of pork from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, have gone into buying and converting Clayton’s Kenrick’s department store into a Welcome Center.

Just say no to Marting's

Another empty department store, Marting’s, was also earmarked for conversion into a public building, at great public expense. But the voters refused to be hornswoggled, for Marting’s was the scam that broke the taxpayers’ back. In 2004, voters recalled a crooked mayor and two crooked council women because of their roles in the Marting scam, and just last week, in the May 2nd primary, the voters again rejected the Marting’s referendum. Marting’s is the scam that will never be depicted on the floodwall murals, but it is the scam that brought the Concerned Citizens into being, and for that all who want good government should be thankful.

The monopoly on news in Portsmouth has been broken. There was a time when an insert in the Portsmouth Daily Times and the Community Common was enough to influence voters to support the over-privileged. A closed open forum and a farcical open house at Marting’s was at one time all it would have taken. But inserts in support of the Marting scam were not enough in 2004 and they were not enough in 2006.

The defeat of the Marting scam
in the May 2nd primary was not the only victory for good government. Just as patients can sue malpracticing physicians, voters can still recall malpracticing politicians. The attempt to restrict the voters’ right to recall incompetent and corrupt officials was soundly defeated. We are not about to let the city solicitor decide which malpracticing politician is recallable. Not in a Kuhn’s age.

Rooney’s Rap Sheet