Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Political Puppets of Portsmouth


Portsmouth Political Puppets, 1980:
Not much has changed.

Though I am still involved with another web project, I want to take a break and report on the shenanigans of the recently appointed City Building Committee.

I will summarize my report in ten points.

1. The citizens of Portsmouth have got problems, many problems in the city government. The latest is the City Building Committee (CBC). The first problem is that CBC thinks it’s the Portsmouth City Council. Imagine a gerbil that thinks it can fly, or a Chevrolet Aveo that thinks it’s a Cadillac Escalade. Maybe that’s what happens when two aspiring politicians, who wanted to be appointed to replace Tim Loper on the city council – Kevin Johnson, an antiques dealer, and James Robinson, a pawn broker – end up getting appointed instead to the City Building Committee. Instead of focusing on making a recommendation on a city building, the CBC is spinning its wheels all over the place. It is out of control, like a Chevrolet Avio with a driver high on Oxycontin. Too much time has been spent at CBC meetings on “marketing.” Marketing is not what the CBC should concern itself with, but antiques dealer Johnson considers himself a marketing guru, and he has turned the CBC into a marketing committee. The marketing of downtown Portsmouth and the marketing of the Marting’s building may be something that should be done, but the CBC is not the committee to be doing it. The CBC is definitely not the City Council and it is definitely not a marketing committee. IT IS A BUILDING COMMITTEE. But if the committee is confused, is it any wonder? Consider that in the charge that the not-too-bright president of City Council Howard Baughman gave to the CBC, he included the recommendation that they “look at and review any and all things . . .” ANY AND ALL THINGS! And that’s just what marketing guru Johnson is leading the CBC to do. At the 8-7-06 meeting of the CBC, Johnson presented a plan for the “Marketing of Marting’s Building.” That plan included the proposal to “Establish a business and community involved committee or sub-committee to develop a marketing plan which is to include finance options for encouraging a national or regional retail establishment to utilize the Marting’s Building.” So right off the bat Johnson proposed the CBC create a sub-committee to market the Marting building. The problem with Johnson’s proposal was that Mayor Kalb is still trying to make the Marting building the new city building. Just because the voters of Portsmouth recalled former mayor Bauer and two other members of city council because they tried to foist the Marting building on the city, and just because the voters as recently as last May soundly rejected a referendum to convert the Marting building into a new city building, Mayor Kalb has not given up trying to pull Clayton Johnson’s old chestnut of a building out the fire. All the voters in the world could not deter Kalb from his appointed task, which is to arrange a shot-gun wedding of the city to the old-maid Marting building. Kevin Johnson apparently didn't understand that, even though he was a strong supporter of Kalb in the mayoral race and even though he probably would not have been appointed to the CBC without Kalb’s support.

2. So Kevin Johnson, having unwittingly stepped on the toes of the gent who brought him to the dance, went back to his marketing drawing board. At the 8-28-06 meeting, Johnson proposed the CBC pass a resolution to the effect that the city should try to market not the Marting building but the Marting’s Annex. Now, that’s more like it. That’s all right with Kalb. It’s the Marting building itself that Kalb does not want anybody to market, because he still has hopes of sticking it to the citizens and taxpayers again. Back on Oct. 25, 2005, Jeff Barron wrote a Daily Times front-page story titled, “Marting’s Fate in Voter’s Hands.” Barron was wrong again. The fate of the Marting’s building is not in the voters’ hands. It is in the hands of the City Council and Mayor Kalb, and they have shown their customary contempt for that strong majority of voters who decided the city should not convert the Marting building into a city building. The CBC is a puppet committee created by the City Council to get around the voters.

3. The City Building Committee at the 8-28-06 meeting also passed a resolution on the Adelphia building. Members of the CBC have already made a visit to the Adelphia building, and Kevin Johnson gave a strong endorsement on converting the building to a new police station. The CBC should not be passing resolutions or making a decision on the Adelphia building until it considers all possible sites for the new city building. Why should it tie its hands on a possible site for a new city building by making a commitment on where the police station is going to be? Maybe there’s a site or plan where the police and city offices could be together. At the present time, the Adelphia building is the tail wagging the dog, just as Clayton Johnson is the tail wagging the city.

4. The reason the City Building Committee is making the Adelphia building a high priority is because the chairman of the CBC, Mike Mearan, in 2005 negotiated a deal whereby his client Dr. Singer, the absentee tax-defaulting Los Angeles landlord, unloaded that building on the city, just as Clayton Johnson unloaded the Marting building on the city. Unless the Adelphia building is used by the city for some public purpose, such as a police station, Singer will lose out on his tax write-off scheme. According to Portsmouth City Council minutes (3-14-05), “Mr. Mearan said that in order for Dr. Singer to take advantage of certain IRS regulations the City could not sell or lease the building because that would set a value on the property and would restrict the amount Mr. Singer can claim as a donation to the City. Mr. Mearan stated that with the understanding that the City would accept the property and use it for City purposes [emphasis added], with a restriction of ten years, after which if the City wants to get rid of the building or do whatever they want with the building they could do so.” After ten years, the city can shove the Adelphia building, as far as Singer is concerned, because by then he would have gotten his full write-off from the I.R.S. One of the reasons Mearan is chairing the CBC is obvious. He is going to make sure that the Adelphia deal with the city is consummated and that the building is used for “City purposes” so that Dr. Singer will be able to get the maximum write-off on the building. Mearan is involved in a conflict of interest in even being on the CBC, never mind chairing it. Mearan declared at the beginning of the 8-7-06 CBC meeting that though he was Singer’s lawyer on the Adelphia building, he was not in a conflict of interest. But then, at the 8-28-06 CBC meeting, Mearan abstained from voting on the Adelphia resolution. Why would he abstain if he is not in a possible conflict of interest? Perhaps he did not remember that he had declared at the 8-7-06 CBC meeting that his being on the committee was not a conflict of interest. Since Mearan’s young stenographer Heather Hren was busted in Waverly in July for the possession of illegal Oxycontin while riding in a Chevrolet Aveo Mearan had rented for her, she is no longer taking notes at CBC meetings. Mearan himself was taking notes at the 8-28-06 meeting, so he may be having trouble keeping things straight.

5. It is clear from the 8-28-06 meeting of the City Building Committee that Johnson and Robinson are now on board with Mearan and Kalb when it comes to tearing down the present Municipal Building. The CBC passed a resolution calling for the city to make a feasibility study of the Municipal Building, but even before that feasibility study has been done, Robinson made it clear where he now stands on the Municipal Building. He mocked Emily Gulker, accusing her of wanting to save the building and “turn it into a museum.” He turned around and looked up contemptuously at the leaking corner of the council chambers. That leaking corner is the running sore of the Municipal Building that the city government has been using as an advertisement for years to make the case that the building is falling down and beyond repair and every city office should move out as soon as possible if not sooner. If the Municipal Building is now a hazard, it is because puppet Portsmouth politicians like Kalb have deliberately let it deteriorate. At the 8-28-06 CBC meeting, Kevin Johnson made the ridiculous argument that the Portsmouth of 1934 was like a family with one child, but the Portsmouth of now is like a family with ten children, so how can a family with ten children possibly fit in the same house they were living in when there was only one child. What bullshit! Portsmouth had more than twice the population in 1934 than it does now. (In the flyer below, see how Portsmouth was marketed in 1936.) The U.S. Post Office building on Gay Street was built in 1935, a year after the Municipal building, and of the same material and in the same style. The Post Office is in great shape and is probably handling tons more mail annually and has lots more employees than it did back in 1935. The difference between the two buildings is that Portsmouth politicians have control of and have deliberately neglected the Municipal Building while federal officials have over the years taken care of the Post Office.

The Portsmouth the Municipal Building was
serving two years after it was erected.

6. At the 8-28-06 City Building Committee meeting, Kevin Johnson spoke patronizingly of those who claim that some developer wants the land on which the Municipal Building rests. He said he’s been in Portsmouth for four years, but he never heard anyone say such a thing. Four years! As long as that? If Kevin Johnson never heard it, then it must never have been said. Is that what we are supposed to believe? Johnson’s learning curve must be similar to Howard Baughman’s, and his powers of perception about on a par with Mr. Magoo’s. In the last four years, Mayor Kalb has said publicly, at least twice, that the land under the Municipal Building is worth much more if it is developed commercially than if it is used for public purposes, and he has said publicly that there was a developer who was interested in that land. The Portsmouth Daily Times (8-12-98) reported the same thing: “Portsmouth City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to authorize the preparation of legislation to demolish the Municipal Building. The vote was taken in connection with a prospective buyer’s interest in the Second Street property where the building stands (emphasis added). The Daily Times reported (1-29-97) “Some city planners have suggested that the best use of the property where the city buildings are now located would be for a hotel and conference center” (emphasis added). Because Johnson was a strong supporter of Kalb in the last mayoral race, he should know what Kalb stands for and wants to do. Kalb is trying to reserve the site of the Municipal Building, right next to the bridge and near the river, for a developer in the event that gambling comes to Portsmouth. Kevin Johnson has already made public his support of legalized gambling in Portsmouth. His pro-gambling position was front-page news in the Portsmouth Daily Times (6-28-05). Are there some dots that need to be connected? Read my earlier blog “Slots and Sluts,” in which I responded to Johnson’s endorsement of legalized gambling.

7. The City Building Committee has already decided the Adelphia building will be the new police station. Mearan has seen to that. The only thing the CBC has not already made up its mind about is whether the Marting or the Fifth/Third building is going to be the new city building. Who will win that checker match, Kalb or Mearan? That’s the only important thing we don’t know: Is the CBC going to recommend the Marting building or the Fifth/Third building? The rest is a charade that will go on for many months.

8. Baughman said at the 8-28-06 Portsmouth Council meeting that the City Building Committee was doing a heck of a job. Based on their performance so far on the CBC, Kevin Johnson and James Robinson have a future as Portsmouth puppet politicians. Just as soon as there’s another appointment to be made to the City Council or an opening in the mayor’s office, they’ll be available.

9. As an older generation of Portsmouth politicians retreats, replacements need to be found, including ones who will devote themselves to tearing down the Municipal Building. More than any other Portsmouth politician, City Councilman John Thatcher dedicated himself to tearing down the Municipal Building, both figuratively and literally. It was Thatcher who made the motion at the City Council meeting on 8-10-98 to raze the Municipal Building.
CBC members Robinson, Johnson, Kalb

10. Remember that what is at the bottom of all this B.S. from the CBC, is the Portsmouth Commandment that says “No public money will be wasted on a new public building when there is an influential party or parties who own a building that can’t be sold and needs to be unloaded on the public.” If you are not aware of that Commandment, your learning curve is not much better than Baughman’s or Kevin Johnson’s. John Thatcher unloaded his empty unmarketable house on Franklin Boulevard on the state (SSU), which took a $50,000 loss on the deal. That’s nothing compared to the loss taxpayers are probably going to take before Thatcher’s successors, on the City Building Committee, finish their dirty work on behalf of those who pull the strings.