Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FACT

The proposed charter amendment would put a $100,000 maximum on the big spenders in City Government



If on February 3rd voters pass the proposed “Limitations on Taxing Authority” charter amendment, an amendment I will call Fiscally Accountable City Taxation (FACT), what will it mean? What are the facts about FACT?

FACT 1: Portsmouth property owners will have an opportunity to curb the Portsmouth city government’s habit of spending large chunks of taxpayers’ money without their approval, as the city did in 2002 when it paid a wildly inflated price of $2 million dollars for the empty and leaking Marting Department Store.

FACT 2: The city will have to provide a justification and a plan for major expenditures that cannot be financed out of Capital Improvement Funds.

FACT 3: City government will be required to pay for large scale items out of the Capital Improvements Fund, which is what they should be doing, instead of sticking property owners with thirty year tax bills to pay for such projects as the renovation of leaking Marting Building and the moldy Adelphia property.

FACT 4: Portsmouth property owners will have a say in 30-year debt obligations, that will be paid for out of their property taxes.

FACT 5: There will be, in effect, a $100,000 limit on the city’s Master Card. Yes, the City will still be able to get away with spending $50,000 on repairing the leaking roof of the Marting Building Annex, without taxpayers even knowing about it, and they will still be able to spend $25,000 on a new city car for Hizzoner the Mayor Jim Kalb, but spending anything over $100,000, except out of the Capital Improvements Fund, will be prohibited.


The city secretly spent $50,000 repairing the roof of the Marting Annex (shown above) without the approval of the City Council, an uauthorized expenditure that Councilman Mollette has requested the County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Kuhn to investigate.

The infamous Marting building for which the city paid $2,000,000 in perhaps the greatest fiscal scam in Portsmouth's history. Passing the charter amendment would make scams like this a thing of the past.

Vote “Yes” on Feb. 3rd on the “Limitations on Taxing Authority.”


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes, We Can!




















When I woke up this morning, January 20, 2009, Presidential Inauguration Day, with all the hopes and dreams it embodies, writing anything about it was the furthest thing from my mind. Because Washington seemed so far from Portsmouth, and so different. There is so much hope in Washington, so much faith in change, and so little in Portsmouth. The contrast between Washington and Portsmouth was too much to think about, never mind write about.

No, We Can’t

The feeling in Obama’s Washington today is “Yes, we can!” The feeling in Portsmouth is “No, we can’t!” No, we can’t stop our chief executive officer, Mayor Kalb, from doing anything, and I mean anything, that isn’t half-assed, like his aborted firing of our Captain Queeg police chief, Charles Horner. No, we can’t clean up the incompetence and the corruption in city government. No, we can’t stop Kalb and his cronies from being the lapdogs that they are, or stop them from continuing to try take the worthless Marting and Adelphia properties off the hands of the Marting Foundation and the absentee landlord Dr. Singer. No, we can’t stop our devious City Auditor from enabling the sailors-on-shore-leave spending of Kalb and council members Malone, Albrecht, and Mearan. No, we can’t stop City Solicitor Mike Jones from paying more attention to political conniving than he does to the City Charter. No, we can’t stop Second Ward councilman David Malone from acting as if the election of Barack Obama means Malone is going to be our next mayor. (As if most of us don’t know the mathematically and ethically challenged David Malone is definitely no Barack Obama.) No, we can’t stop the delusional Mike Mearan, who was appointed not elected to the city council – we can’t stop him from trying to convince not only the voters of the First Ward but also apparently himself that he is a philanthropic Good Samaritan and not, as I have heard for years, a drug-dealing pimp. No, we can’t stop the Portsmouth Daily Times from cravenly serving the interests of the crooked lawyers and developers who control the city politically and economically, and we can’t stop the Daily Times from firing reporters who make the mistake of thinking that they can mention anything in a story, and I mean anything, such as where someone arrested for drug dealing happened to be employed, that might embarrass in the least the businessmen without whose advertising dollars the Daily Times could not survive.

Yes, We Can!

But then, after I heard on the radio and read the accounts from Washington about the beginning of Inauguration Day, and then President Obama's speech and the hope it was inspiring, I thought, wait a second. Yes, we can, too! Yes, we can, even here in Portsmouth. Don’t forget the blogosphere! It helped elect Obama and it has made a tremendous difference in Portsmouth. The media no long monopolize the news. Just last November 4 the attempt to foist the Marting building and the Adelphia property off on the citizens of Portsmouth was defeated decisively, as had happened in a previous elections, in 2006, in spite of the deceptively named Progress Portsmouth Committee and other proponents of the ballot measure spending lots of money and resorting to the usual dirty tricks to get the measure passed. The Marting/Adelphia ballot measure was defeated decisively in spite of the support of the Daily Times and its supine, since-departed unctuous Managing Editor Arthur Kuhn. And even before that recent November 4, 2009, election victory, two honest candidates, Bob Mollette and Rich Noel, had been elected (not appointed!) to city council and there is a good possibility that the next elected mayor will be someone who is not a lapdog of the rich white trash. One line of President Obama’s Inaugural speech can be applied, I believe, to Portsmouth: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history . . .”

And, yes, we can, and will, find someone in the First Ward to run against Mike Mearan, because even a yellow dog could defeat him, and if we don’t find someone I will run against him myself and let me tell you, as this post and others I have written might indicate, I will wage one hell of a campaign. Yes, I will.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shadow Government: Update

Welcomectr
Home of Portsmouth
s Shadow Government

[No posting I have made since I began River Vices back in July 2004 strikes me as more relevant and timely, in view of the recent economic crisis, and the discrediting of the financial elite, than
Shadow Government, which I wrote back in May 2006. I am reposting it now, with a few minor changes and additions.]

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 Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, or SOGP.

Working with other community improvement corporations (CICs) and with other unelected quasi-public officials, the 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 government.

Porkman

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, and Representative Rob “Porkman Portman, now positioning himself to run for governor of Ohio, who made the construction of the Welcome Center possible.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Rob Porkman!

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.

The Business Model

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.

Monkey Business

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 catastrophically in 1929 (and again in 2008), and Americans suffered economically for nearly a decade. The head of General Motors infamously 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 Enron's son-of-a-preacher 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 and Bernard Madoff, who can not 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.

Sentinel

Friday, January 09, 2009

Devious

Progress Portsmouth's postcard was "devious," says Chuck Calvert.

Underpaid reporters and managing editors come and go at the Portsmouth Daily Times, like Portsmouth's transient $5 dollar hookers, but that newspaper’s mission of misleading the public on behalf of the crooked clique that controls Portsmouth economically and politically continues. The report by Frank Lewis in today’s Daily Times (January 9, 2009) on yesterday’s state Elections Commission hearing in Columbus is a good example of why that newspaper, with its steadily declining circulation, is sometimes called the Prostitute Daily Times. Instead of sending Lewis to Columbus to sit in on the hearing, the Times preferred to keep him in Portsmouth, sitting on his ass, where he could write a story without making any direct observations of the event himself. He didn’t bother to quote one word of the statement Harold Daub had prepared, which reads as follows: “In the view of the Ohio Board of Elections, the postcard that the Progress Portsmouth Committee mailed to voters about the City Center ballot issue was misleading. The Chair of the hearing, Chuck Calvert [shown above] went so far as to call the postcard ‘devious.’ But the commission unanimously agreed that the Progress Portsmouth Committee could not be held accountable because a public official, the City Auditor Trent Williams, in an August 6 public letter, had provided the information that the committee drew upon for the postcard, and there is no proof that the committee knew that information was misleading.”


The infamous postcard


Williams’s August 6, 2008, letter, which was entered in as evidence in yesterday’s hearing in Columbus, gave the Progress Portsmouth Committee the legal cover to spread the lie via postcards that a vote for the City Center/Justice Center projects would not require an increase in taxes. What the Progress Portsmouth Committee did yesterday, through its lawyer, was pass the buck to Williams, who, in his rambling answers, tried to pass the buck to the city solicitor. The argument of the Progress Portsmouth Committee in the hearing boiled down to this: Don’t blame us, we were only passing along what the city auditor had publicly stated, and what Williams’ argument boiled down to was, Don’t blame me I was only following the advice of the city solicitor. Since neither Williams nor the city solicitor was the object of the charges Daub had brought, the Commission was not empowered to render any judgments about the legality or veracity of what the City Auditor or the City Solicitor might have said or done.


City Auditor Trent Williams


In his August 6 letter, Williams had stated that the City Center/Justice Center projects would not require “any increase in property taxes above the current budgeted level.” This is the devious heart of the scam that Williams and others in and out of city government had concocted: they had raised the 3.1% mill for a fire truck in the jerry-rigged budget with the intention of continuing that 3.1% increase for another 30 years to pay for the City Center/Justice Center projects. That 3.1% would be a continuation, they tried to convince us, not an increase. That was the scam Williams laid out in the August letter and that’s the scam the Progress Portsmouth Committee parroted in its postcard.


The scam Williams helped concoct and that Progress Portsmouth parroted in its campaign is very small potatoes compared to the enormous scam Williams may currently be engaged in, which is the claim that in the current national and state financial meltdown the city of Portsmouth somewhat miraculously has no serious financial problems, and can afford to continue with its $13 million dollar (and counting) plans to build a new city hall and courthouse-jail, and to buy yet another fire truck, and to provide Mayor Kalb with a new car commensurate with the dignity of his high office, and do all this without any apparent need to cut out or cut back or postpone any of the plans or perks currently in the works. Williams may come out of all this, to my way of thinking, as either The Miracle Worker or Portsmouth’s Own Ponzi. Charles Ponzi, was the devious crook who cooked the books and ended up, well, in a not very nice place.


Charles Ponzi