Saturday, March 28, 2009

From Dollars to Donuts





When Mike Jones accepted an invitation from the Concerned Citizens Group and met with them on 20 January 2007 to discuss his candidacy for city solicitor, one of the questions he was asked was about the Marting building. Since 2002, the most contentious issue by far in Portsmouth has been the city’s purchase of the worthless Marting building from the Marting Foundation at an inflated price. The city intended to convert the 125-year-old leaking department store into a new home for city offices. Former mayor Greg Bauer and members of city council had involved themselves in the fraudulent sale of the building. The persistence with which our current doofus mayor, Jim Kalb, and a couple of crooked city council members have tried to waste from $7-10 millions of public dollars to make the building habitable has mobilized many citizens and particularly property owners. Because they were the victims chosen to pay for the fraudulent project through property taxes, property owners were outraged.
Marting Building
There is no single issue that more accurately reflects the judgment and the integrity of a candidate than the position that he or she takes on the Marting building. Beware of candidates who avoid or even hedge on that issue, because they are probably either dumb or dishonest, or both, and we’ve got enough of those types in public office already. So eager were they to get David Kuhn out of office that CCG members did not pay enough attention to what Jones’s position was on the Marting building. They have lived to regret it, deeply. Jones’s answer in January 2007 to the question on the Marting building was that he didn’t have a position, or at least didn’t have one that he was willing to admit to in public. Once in office Jones quickly showed his true colors, not only on the Marting building but on other issues as well. He has turned out to be, in my opinion, a politician of the worst stripe, lacking not only in competency but integrity.
We may be able better understand the reasons candidate Jones would not say what his position was on the Marting building when we examine his financial situation at the time he was running for city solicitor.
On 8 June 2007, five months after not answering the question on the Marting building and five months before being elected to office, Jones and his partner completed the purchase of the Crispie Creme Donut Shop, at 1202 Gallia Street. The value the County Auditor put on the donut shop was $107,990, but Jones and his partner paid an eye-popping $325,000 for the property. Did Jones confuse Crispie Creme with the national chain Krispy Kreme? What was he thinking? I suspected there might be an error in the $325,000 figure, so I checked with the County Auditor’s Office to make sure that figure was correct. I was told it was. Granted the valuation put on property for purposes of taxation is usually less than the putative market value, but a nearly 300 percent increase can hardly be accounted for on those grounds. The $325,000 for Crispie Creme sounds as inflated as the $2 million dollars the city paid for the Marting building.
I have walked or driven by Crispie Creme at least a thousand times over the last twenty years and the question that often occurred to me was how in the world it managed to stay in business. In driving past the small building, it’s hard to tell whether it’s open or closed, because open or closed, the dimly lit interior is often empty. I’ve been told that it was a popular business in an earlier time. Customers loved the coffee and especially Mrs. Renison’s 1929-recipe donuts. But time and tastes change. Duncan Donuts and later Starbucks helped do-in old-fashioned donut shops like Crispy Creme, but concerns about diet were what really nixed donuts.
Why did Jones and his partner pay $325,000 for a walking-dead donut shop? I don’t know, but from public records I know who his enablers were, I know who made it possible for him to pay that eye-popping price. The financial institutions that granted Jones mortgages on Crispie Creme were, not surprisingly, the American Savings Bank (ASB) and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP). When I hear ASB and SOGP, what do I think? I think financial hanky-panky and political shenanigans. Records in the County Auditor’s office and the County Records office show that the ASB obliged Jones with a $182,000 mortgage and that the SOGP, to cover the rest of the purchase price, provided him one for $147,000.
Is it possible that the ASB and SOGP were in Jones’s corner in the city solicitor race? Of the SOGP’s involvement in local politics we have plenty of evidence, not just the Marting building; and the ASB, it is now clear, is up to its eyeballs in local politics. Robert M. Smith is the most politicized bank president in Portsmouth, and ASB Vice President Michael L. Gampp was the point man on the Progress Portsmouth Political Action Committee, which lobbied hard for the passage of the Marting ballot measure in November 2008. In spite of the fact that Clayton Johnson, Neal Hatcher, et al, made sizeable financial contributions to Progress Portsmouth, that ballot measure was soundly rejected by the voters.
One way Johnson and Smith could help Jones, in addition to providing him with $329,000 in mortgage money, would be to patronize Crispie Creme, which is in sore need of customers. Rumors currently circulating about Jones being in dire financial difficulties are just that—rumors, but with the financial meltdown and business recession that have occurred since he acquired Crispie Creme in the summer of 2007, it would not be surprising if Jones was in a financial deep fry, and that he soon may be toast. Even the national chain Krispy Kreme, according to Yahoo! Finance, may be out of business before 2009 is over.
House Money
Who knows why the SOGP makes loans or provides mortgages to the people it does? Someone wrote in an email, “Jones was bought and paid for from the beginning.” I don’t know about that, but like the AIG and other free-wheeling financial entities, the SOGP has pretty much had Portsmouth public officials in its pocket for quite a spell. The SOGP, with its offices in the pork barrel Welcome Center, has been able to do as it pleases in River City. It has no accountability to voters and little to regulators. The SOGP is Portsmouth’s shadow government, wheeling and dealing while playing with house money, doling out millions of dollars without much oversight. The ASB is not much better. In 2005, to avoid the paper work and scrutiny that goes with being a publicly held company, ASB went private, buying out its shareholders. Since then, as a private company, its financial operations have become somewhat inscrutable, like they were at AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers.
Why, for example, would ASB grant a $187,000 mortgage to a business that appears to have nothing going for it but donut nostalgia and a return to those filling days of yesteryear, before our deep-fry diets caught up with us in the form of artery-clogging cholesterol and ass-over-the-stool obesity? It’s not just assets that can be toxic. The SixWise.com website claims that donuts are among the six unhealthiest foods in America. When it comes to diet, according to a nutritionist at the New York Obesity Research Center, the only healthy thing about a donut is the hole.
Is it too much to hope that the SOGP and ASB might in the future be held more accountable not only for their financial but also their political activities? Can we be assured that they are not making the equivalent of sub-prime loans to customers whose failing businesses they are subsidizing and whose political support they are currying? Can the citizens of Portsmouth be assured that the chief legal officer in city government is not being held hostage by his indebtedness, that he does what is best for the city, and not just for the influential and wealthy individuals to whom he might be beholden for $329,000 in mortgages and his $60,000 a year part-time job?
Closer to Home

Unfortunately, Jones’s indebtedness is not confined to his business. He appears to have financial problems closer to home. In April 2005, two years before taking out the two mortgages on the donut shop, he bought a home in Portsmouth, on “the Hill,” at 2828Willow Way, for $192,000. Yes, Jones lives on the Hill, but can he afford to, not only financially but ethically? Were the decisions he has so far made as city solicitor influenced by his being mortgaged to the hilt? Would he have favored renovating the Marting building if he was not obligated to the SOGP and Clayton Johnson? Would he have brought Harold Daub to trial on trumped up charges if Daub wasn’t enemy number one to the rich white trash who control Portsmouth economically and politically? And would Jones have tried to fire Police Chief Charles Horner in the rush-to-judgment, undocumented way he did if Horner had not been disloyal to his bosses, first to Mayor Bauer and then to Mayor Kalb, accusing them of illegal actions in connection with the purchase of the 15th Street Viaduct property and the Marting building?
Is there a more highly leveraged office holder in city government than the City Solicitor? If the City Solicitor is no better at handling the city’s legal problems than he is at handling his own finances, his term in office may seem even longer to the citizens of Portsmouth than it will to him. The prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous goes, “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Is Portsmouth one of those things that cannot be changed? Should the Concerned Citizens Group change its name to the Serene Citizens Group? Should they wear a toga and do yoga? Should they, like Alfred E. Newman, stop worrying? Questions and more questions! When a Greg Bauer is replaced as mayor by a Jim Kalb, and a David Kuhn is replaced as city solicitor by a Mike Jones, when we go from the deep fryer into the fire, it is enough to drive a teetotaler to drink or, even worse, to donuts.









Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Trial of Harald Daub



On March 19, 2009, at the end of a long day’s trial in the courtroom at the Portsmouth Municipal Building, Harald Daub was found by a jury of his peers not guilty of the misdemeanor of shoplifting. I want to focus on one aspect of the trial, an aspect which is embodied in the unusual phrase “magnitude of existence,” which Portsmouth police officer Jon Peters used to describe Daub. In his testimony, Officer Peters was asked by Daub’s attorney Richard M. Nash, if he knew who Daub was when he began the shoplifting investigation. Officer Peters admitted he did. When he was pressed by Nash to explain what it was he knew about Daub, Officer Peters replied he knew of Daub’s “magnitude of existence.” As original as it is cleverly imprecise and evasive, Peters’ bureaucratic phrase may be a key to understanding Daub’s trial. Peters resorted to bureaucratese, or the language of evasion, because he wanted to avoid saying, clearly, that Daub was a controversial public figure. If he had said that, Peters might then have been asked by Nash to explain why Daub was a controversial public figure. That could have opened up a can of worms, or a shopping bag of snakes, and the jurors would have learned not just about Daub’s alleged shoplifting but also about his long crusade against political corruption in Portsmouth. Hearing that, the jurors might have suspected the reason Daub was being prosecuted was not for shoplifting but for being a burr under the saddle of those who ride roughshod over citizens’ rights. Daub’s shoplifting trial should be seen, in part, as punishment for his criticism of city government and in particular of Mayor Kalb and of City Solicitor Jones.

The city wasted a great deal of time and taxpayer money in this trial in a futile effort to prove Daub a shoplifter. Although he has worked for thirty years at the A-Plant and testified he has never in his fifty-nine years had any run-ins with the law, Daub was charged with one of the pettiest of crimes. Petty crime or not, Jones made a federal case of it, bussing jurors over to Aldi’s, the alleged scene of the crime, as if this was trial over a murder or a million dollar heist. I have suggested in the past Portsmouth is ripe for reality television series. It rocks! The characters! The plot twists! A First Family worthy of Saturday Night Live!

Jones handled the trial with an ineptness that we are unfortunately getting accustomed to, showing legal skills that were at best rudimentary. Whatever he may have learned as a military lawyer does not seem to have carried over into civilian life. Like an earnest high school debater, he seemed to argue with the greatest conviction precisely at those moments in the trial when his argument was weakest. When the case was clearly slipping away from him, Jones became desperate, accusing Daub of calling Aldi employee Anita Sexton and Officer Peters, the prosecution’s only two witnesses, liars. Daub had not called them liars; he had disagreed with crucial parts of their testimony. But as Judge Kegley pointed out at the beginning and repeated at end of the trial in his instructions to the jury, people of good will can differ in their accounts of events without one or the other being a liar. Experiments prove that people who witness the same event can differ wildly in what they claim they have seen. Jones presumption that there are truth tellers and there are liars, and that’s all, greatly oversimplifies human psychology and seriously limits his effectiveness as a trial lawyer.

The Shopping Bag

Mayor Kalb and his wife have been chortling for months, as if Daub’s guilt was undeniable. Kalb even reportedly showed up at a recent City Council meeting carrying an Aldi’s shopping bag, apparently to call attention to Daub’s alleged shoplifting. An Aldi’s shopping bag became the chief exhibit at the trial, with both the prosecution and the defense debating how many stolen items it could hold and who was carrying it any given second. An Aldi’s shopping bag may live on in infamy, as the Marting building has, as an icon of Portsmouth’s corrupt political history. The bag has the slogan, “It’s all about saving green.” On the basis of Daub’s trial, it could read, “It’s all about screwing Harald Daub.” The testimony of Aldi’s employee Anita Sexton, which Daub’s attorney, effectively demolished, did not reflect well on her or Aldi’s. The possibility that she and her employer were in cahoots with the city is one of the conclusions that could be drawn from the trial of Harald Daub. The prosecution’s case was essentially over by the time Nash was done cross-examining Sexton. She has reportedly been courted by the city government ever since the alleged shoplifting at Aldi’s on December 20, 2008. She was treated like a celebrity by the Kalbs in the hours leading up to the trial, but attorney Nash argued during the trial that she is biased against Daub, whom she admitted she knew as a longtime customer at Aldi’s.

The Nephew

Daub’s drug-addicted nephew has a long criminal record. I saw a notarized statement he had made, confessing to the shoplifting but swearing that his uncle had not been a party to it. If having a drug-addicted nephew is a crime, how many uncles would escape hanging? If having a drug-addicted, drug-dealing son is a crime, Mayor Kalb and Police Chief Horner would be in a lot of trouble. There is no doubt Daub’s nephew was the only shoplifter at Aldi’s on December 20, 2008. The nephew has admitted as much and has already served a short sentence for the misdemeanor in the County Jail. But the crooked arm of the law was not after the nephew; it was after the uncle. Daub is the most hated and feared critic of the corrupt city government, of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, and of the rich white trash who control Portsmouth economically and politically. He has been a marked man ever since 1980, when he and several other city councilmen refused to go along with a shopping mall scam. (See my earlier posting, “The Mauling of Harold Daub.”)

The First Family

According to what I heard in the hallway before Daub’s trial, Allison Kalb, the Mayor’s wife, had previously got herself excused medically from serving on any jury because of her phobias, but her phobias did not prevent her on the day of the trial from hanging around the Municipal Building and sitting through the long trial, like a ghost in the attic. Before the trial began, she talked for long stretches with the Anita Sexton, the prosecution’s star witness, in the stairwell in the hallway outside courtroom and also in the mayor’s office, after Hizzoner returned from his Thursday morning gig punching a cash register at Kroger’s. In the weeks before and especially on the morning before the trial, Ms. Sexton was being lionized, from what I could see, by the Kalbs like a contestant on American Idol. I was not there when the “Not guilty” verdict was finally delivered, in the evening, but I was told before either of them could be asked their opinion on the verdict, Hizzoner and the First Lady bolted out of the courtroom like bats out of hell, with Jones not far behind. In my opinion, Jones is proving to be about as successful at winning cases as city solicitor as he is at selling donuts. There is about him a certain magnitude of incompetence, to coin a phrase.


Mayor Kalb parading across council chambers with an Aldi bag to hand something out of it to Solicitor Jones, who turned out to be the one left holding the bag in this farce.


The Videos

The six videos dominated the trial and were played and referred to by Jones over and over again, but the videos were of such poor quality that they set the reputation of surveillance video back about a half century. I can remember seeing a neighbor’s home movies back in the 1940s that were technologically light years ahead of this stuff. The only thing the videos showed with any certainty was a shopping bag being taken from Aldi’s, but the video also shows that the bag was taken not by Daub but his nephew. Daub was charged with being an accessory to the nephew’s theft of the shopping bag! The theft of a shopping bag was all that was actually proved by the investigation and trial. Instead of being the smoking gun, or money shot, that Jones treated them as, the misnamed surveillance videos were a fusillade of fuzzy through-a-pool-of-water-home-video of events. The laser that Jones used to point to the screen on which the video was projected was like a scene from a Get Smart episode. “See here, Mr. Daub.” “See there, Mr. Daub.” “Is that you now appearing in the produce aisle, Mr. Daub?” I can recall in high school looking through a microscope at amoeba. That’s about how clear the shoppers at Aldi’s looked in the videos, like amoeba. Not only his mishandling of the trial itself but his decision to go ahead with the trial on the basis of such flimsy evidence seems terribly bad judgment on Jones’s part. Only a desperate desire to nail Daub, the city government’s enemy number one, can explain why the city solicitor showed such terrible judgment. Is this a lesson on what happens when the city government attempts to take down the man with the most “magnitude of existence” in Portsmouth?

Final Arguments

In his closing argument, Jones urged the jurors to (a) review the surveillance videos during their deliberations and (b) to use their common sense. Given this particular case, he could not have used two worse arguments. What were the jurors going to see in the videos that he had not all already failed to find during the trial? And as for common sense, that was the defense’s, not the prosecution’s, best argument. Why would Daub, with a good job and close to retirement, with a loving wife and son, risk everything—his job, his reputation, his pension-- to shoplift a bag of whatever it was the prosecution had failed to prove was in the bag the nephew had left the store with? Daub testified that his nephew had put in the bag only a toaster, a six-pack of imported beer, and some miscellaneous candy and snacks. The prosecution claimed Daub and his nephew had shoplifted some hardware. What was the basis of this hardware charge? Aldi’s did an inventory some days after the alleged theft and had found those hardware items unaccounted for: they concluded, therefore, that’s what Daub and his nephew had shoplifted! On such flimsy circumstantial evidence, such harebrained logic, Jones dared to rest his case, saying that even if those pieces of hardware had not been stolen, the videos showed the bag had definitely been stolen and Daub was an accessory to that theft. Even if only a $1.99 dollar Aldi’s bag had been shoplifted, Jones solemnly told the jury, that was enough for them to find Daub guilty as an accessory. Even as I write this blog, I cannot believe the travesty of justice Jones attempted to perpetrate at the trial. Is this the result of his consorting with the likes of Jim Kalb and Mike Mearan? I actually feel sorry for Jones, because he is the one who is going to have to live with the humiliation of this trial for the rest of his life. At the end of the trial of Harald Daub, Jones was the one who was left holding the bag.

During his campaign for city solicitor, Jones had promised he would handle cases himself, and not hire outside lawyers, thus saving the city money. Jones is handling cases himself, as he promised. He mishandled the hearing about Chief Horner’s firing, and now he has mishandled the Daub case. As a result he is not saving but costing the city even more money. The money the city has blown on the Daub case may prove chump change compared to what Daub could sue the city for. If Daub does sue, I don’t think Jones will be handling that case. That would be sending good money after bad.




Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Campaign Promises

We are beginning another mayoral race. I am republishing a November 2005 interview with Trent Williams, who was a candidate for mayor four years ago. I am republishing the interview because it is a reminder that candidates will sometimes make promises that they come no where near to keeping once in office. Williams was not elected mayor, but he remained on as City Auditor. His behavior as auditor has been so at variance with what he said during the campaign that I find it hard to believe he is the same person. I have bolded statements that I now find it hard to believe he ever said, considering the subservient, devious role he has played as auditor the last four years. Would he have shown any of the spirit as mayor that he showed when he campaigned for the office? Would he have taken the same position on the Marting building that he campaigned on? Probably not. He would probably have been as bad a mayor as Tim Loper was councilman of the First Ward and as Mike Jones is as City Solicitor. Loper and Jones both claimed to represent change but in no time at all were selling out the people who elected them and doing what those who control the city want them to do, which included backing the Marting Scam. Since 2002, the Marting building has proven to be the best single issue to judge the honesty and independence of candidates, but the real test comes only after candidates are in office.

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Mayoral Candidate Trent Williams

In his campaign literature, Trent Williams says, "I've always believed that I could make a difference. I have the vision, passion and personal commitment to make a positive impact on our community." That may be true, but I’ve heard more than one person say they are voting for Trent Williams because he is the lesser of two evils. Lee Scott’s position is there is only one evil person in the race and it’s Trent Williams. I also know a few conservatives who know Williams better than I do who say he will be no improvement over Bauer or Kalb. However, on the basis of what I’ve seen of Kalb, I have to strongly disagree with Lee Scott’s endorsement of him, but Scott was right about Tim Loper from the start, so he could turn out to be right about Williams. To help me and others who might not know much about Williams, I arranged to interview him at his office on the Thursday before the Nov. 8 election.


Interview of Trent Williams, 3 Nov. 2005


Q. The relatively few voters I’ve talked to about your candidacy are in general agreement that what concerns them about you is not whether you are honest and trustworthy but whether you have enough backbone, whether you will be strong and decisive enough for the job. How do you respond to those concerns?

A STRUGGLE

A. Of course I don’t agree with that. I think I’ll be a strong mayor as I’ve been a strong auditor. However, I do think I know how they might have formed that opinion. And that is because – you know I’ve been auditor for six years and over that time – let’s say over the first four years – it was a struggle. It was a struggle being beat down by the mayor that was in office at that time, Mayor Bauer, on many different issues, as well as not having the support of the city council in simply trying to do my job . . . and it became sort of a popularity contest, or just an ongoing battle, that didn’t look like it would have a favorable outcome from [the office of the auditor’s] point of view . . . My proposals I would say would be overlooked or not taken seriously. It got to the point where anything I would try to say was done in vain and a feeling of “Why try anymore?” If [the city ] council is not going to consider the point of view I’m going to give them, it’s like I’m not effective because I’m having a boot put on me. It’s like, “Be quiet and do your job.”

Q. Could you be more specific?

A. Mayor Bauer and some members of council tried to downsize my office staff and outsource payrolling. My office was the only city office they tried to downsize, and they could do that because employees in the auditor’s office were not unionized. When unionized city employees got raises, employees in the auditor’s office did not. The employees later formed their own union, which gave them some job protection and raises like everybody else.

Q. Did you ever find a way to express your disappointment and frustration during that period, publicly?

A. As I said, I was much stronger in the beginning, but then I saw that approach wasn’t working, and I become a little bit ineffective over being swept under the rug and being taken advantage of. It used to seem to me that I was sitting in my chair against the other seven people sitting at the table. No one else out of the audience would agree with me or take my side on an issue. Therefore I was easily made to be frustrated by not being taken seriously. But what I think really built my confidence and helped me make a stronger stand for things was when people would actually support what I would say. And that came from an increased interest and an increased number of people that actually came to the city council meetings, and I didn’t feel like I was alone any more. I really appreciated the number of people who began coming to the city council meetings.

Q. So there was nobody on the city council or in the city government who you felt was an ally of yours during that period?

A. Exactly. I felt at that time because of so many issues that were being put against me and it was just a battle between my office and Mayor Bauer’s office and some members of the city council. There’s a long history of friction between the auditor’s office and city council. . . . I feel much more confident now that I have allies on the council – and it’s not so much a question of allies as support and interest of people there agreeing with things [I] point out.

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Trent Williams answering my questions in his office

WILLIAMS VS. KALB

Q. Why should anyone vote for you rather than acting Mayor Kalb?

A. I feel I have a good reputation for honesty and integrity . . . and I feel people are somewhat comfortable with the job I’ve done [as auditor] for the last six years. I’ve been elected twice by a large margin – nearly 70% both times that I’ve won the election.

Q. In the mayoral primary, where did you finish?

A. Second. About a hundred votes behind Jim [Kalb]. And regarding that, with seven candidates, I felt that, or was hoping anyway, that the people who voted for Jim were voting for him and the rest were voting against him. I hope that’s the way it works out this time and that I pick up a lot of the votes for the other candidates in the primary.

Q. What has Kalb done or not done as mayor that you don’t agree with?

A. I think Kalb has tended to go along with some of the former administration’s policies instead of taking a step away from that administration’s philosophy. For example, the plan was for the former council and the former administration to go into the Marting’s building with a tax on the property owners for renovating the Marting’s building. That was the plan. (Of course, the referendum is now in place that will stop that.) And guess what? The plan of the current council and administration is also to continue the former administration’s plan – to continue to go in and renovate the Marting’s building and finance it through putting the same property tax on the back of the property taxpayers. Instead of looking first not at where we are going to put the building but looking for other alternatives, other ways, to pay for wherever and whatever we do. I’d like to see us look into grants and other types of taxes or fees that might replace putting the burden on the property taxpayer. I hope we’re able to bring in some type of mall or upscale retail development. And if we do bring that into the city of Portsmouth, which is one thing I really want to look into and pursue aggressively, we could look at making an agreement with the county government to get a share of the increased sales tax that would come from any retail development.

REVENUE SHARING

If the city government is going to bring in a retail development into the city of Portsmouth, I think it would be fair for the city to share – I don’t mean to take the entire 7% payoff that would be generated by that – but even a half percent or just something minimally to help offset a new or renovated building, that’s for sure. If you look around this place [the Municipal building] – and I’m sure you have – that could help offset and instead of putting it on the property taxpayer’s back, that [half-percent] could just come from the increased supplemental sales tax.

Q. Does the county get all of that 7 percent?

A. No. They get 1 and one-half percent, and 5 percent goes to the state. The other 1 and one-half percent goes – no, that would be 7, that would be 5 and 2.

Q. 5 percent to the city?

A. 5 percent to the county.

Q. I’m confused. 5 percent to the county?

A. [I] take that back. It was 7 and one-half percent, wasn’t it?

Q. I’m not sure.

A. Off the top of my head, it’s hard to remember. But now I remember. It was increased to 7 and one-half [percent] and with the state’s new budget they dropped that half percent. The additional 1 percent— OK, 6 percent goes to the state and 1 percent goes to the county. I believe that’s the formula right now.

Q. And the formula doesn’t include the city in that?

A. Not at all.

Q. And is that typical throughout Ohio?

A. Yes. Sales tax typically goes to the county, income tax is brought in by the city, and property tax – there’s a formula that splits up that between the county, city, and any villages, townships, and schools.

MARTING’S REFERENDUM

Q. The editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times has called the upcoming referendum on the Marting’s building “ridiculous.” What is your view?

A. How can it be ridiculous if so many people are so divided on it? I may be wrong, but I think the majority [of voters] are not going to want to put in many millions of dollars – we’re talking in the 4, 5, 6, even 7 million dollar range. Are we going to take many millions of dollars to renovate a building, which we’re going to have high upkeep and maintenance on, or are we going to put a similar amount, or maybe even more, into a newly constructed building that taxpayers will be much more willing and happier to pay taxes for knowing they are paying for a new state-of-the-art investment that’s going to last for decades? I don’t agree [that the referendum on Marting’s] is ridiculous. . . . I want to see happen what the citizens of Portsmouth want to happen and what taxpayers are willing to pay for. And I think they don’t want to pay for the renovation of the Marting’s building. I think that’s been proven. The three recalls that we’ve had [of Mayor Bauer and councilwomen Sydnor and Caudill] I think were greatly related to those individuals’ support of renovating the Marting’s building. . . . I would like to see us, first, vigorously pursue some type of retail development for that building. That’s what I intend to do. I may be just dreaming a little here, but I think there can be interest, if we’re proactive, in pursuing the interest in the building. . . . That’s the primary first thing the building should be used for. If it eventually comes to where we can’t find a suitable tenant for the building, I think the taxpayers are going to be most happy with razing the building and putting in something that’s going to be suitable to our needs on that site.

NEAL HATCHER

Q. The real estate developer Neal Hatcher is one of the most controversial figures in Portsmouth. Do you have any criticisms of the city government’s relationship with Hatcher?

A. I think it was unfortunate that it was the city that had to do the deal. I’d like to have seen it just a deal between the college and Neal. I don’t understand why the city was forced to become involved with it. . . . I’m not against and am very much in favor of increasing the enrollment of Shawnee State University, which is one of the greatest assets in this community. And I think the dorms are beautiful, and I think that’s one of the reasons for the increase in enrollment for Shawnee State.

But two things I don’t agree with, in any case. One, as I said, is that if eminent domain was going to be used, it should have been a state institution, meaning Shawnee State, to use the power of eminent domain instead of forcing the city, or having the city become involved. And second, I don’t think eminent domain should be used for private development. Now, with that said, Neal is doing something. And I respect that. He’s trying to make improvements. But you have to play by the rules, and ultimately I think most people would agree that even though the buildings he is going to put up over there are going to be quite an asset to the town and to the university, you still can’t bypass the rules just because the ends justify the means.

NO TRUST

Q. Is there anything that I haven’t touched on that you would like to say before we end this interview?

A. Yes. To expand on your earlier question, “Why should someone vote for Trent Willliams for mayor?” I think that I can help develop the trust in city government that is going to be required for us to do anything. What I mean by that is we don’t have now a level of trust between the administration and council and its constituents. And when there’s not that trust there, it tends to bring any little thing that’s done into question. What I would like to be able to help with is to kind of start over. See that things are done above-board, see that things are done openly, hopefully with input from citizens. As I said before, this is not about what I want. This is about what I think everyone in the city will benefit from. What I’ve been working on is developing an advisory panel of community members. . . . Leaders and just regular people . . . from all the key players that make up the development of the city, to come together, not necessarily on a monthly or strict schedule basis, but on an as-needed-basis, to advise me on the problems that we have in the city and what solutions are there to those problems and how can we achieve those solutions.

NO PLAN, NO DIRECTION

Another big problem, besides the trust issue, is that we have no plan. We have no direction right now. There’s nothing we can pick up and put in front of us and say, “This is the direction we’re hoping to go in and here’s how we’re going to get there.” We need a strategic plan and a marketing plan. . . . Right now I don’t think there’s any reason to look at Portsmouth, because there’s no one coming to you and saying why you should look at Portsmouth. . . . They are not going to come to us if twenty other cities are already hot on their tails to get them to come there. Why would they even look at us?

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

Q. Could you give me a rough idea of how much you’ve been able to put into your campaign?

A. Financially, you mean? I think it’s in the $5000 dollar range. . . .

Q. I know from experience, on the basis of the Bauer recall campaign, that the number of signs, and even the amount of money collected, is not necessarily the most important thing.

A. Exactly. . . . There was a lot more money put in the “Keep Bauer Campaign” than in the “Recall Bauer Campaign.” A tremendous, a vast difference. But the vote was what, 65% for recall?

Q. About that [it was 64%]. In looking over your campaign contributions, I notice $2500 from the Scioto County Republican Committee. Since you have about $5000 in contributions to this point, $2500 is a major donation, about half of what you’ve raised. My question is, in view of the putative non-partisan character of city elections, is such a large contribution unusual? Assuming Kalb is a Democrat, does he have a large contribution from a corresponding Democratic committee?

A. No, he doesn’t, not according to the latest records. But three unions have contributed somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500 dollars to Kalb. [Andrew Feight says four unions contributed a total of $2000 to Kalb’s campaign.] And the Scioto County Republican Committee has made $2,500 contributions to Republican candidates in the past, not just for me. I wish I had started fundraising earlier, and raised maybe $10,000 dollars, so the political contribution wouldn’t be such a substantial percentage. But I got a late start.

Q. Thank you for answering these questions.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mayoral Muddle







In an interview with former mayor and city manager Frank Gerlach in The Scioto Voice (“A New Mayor May Be in the Future,” Feb. 12, 2009), the important point was made by Mr. Gerlach, that under the present city charter the mayor of Portsmouth does not have much power. “The mayor needs more authority,” attorney Gerlach told Scioto Voice reporter Nikki Blankenship-Hamilton. Gerlach made the same point when I interviewed him back in 1994, so it is an opinion he has held for some time. Because of Gerlach’s extensive experience as city manager and mayor, as well as his career as successful attorney, there is no one better qualified than him to understand the limitations of the office. Earlier today I watched the video Recall of Mayor Bauer, which I put together back in 2004, and on the several occasions he appears in the video, he makes a lot of sense. It’s feels like a very long time since I’ve heard a Portsmouth mayor talk sense.

The mayor lacks adequate authority because the city charter, in effect, gives the six-member city council the keys to the city. Instead of balancing the three branches of government – the executive, legislature, and the judiciary (or their equivalents), the city charter creates an imbalance by giving too much power to the city council.

Two Years: More than Enough


One fairly simple charter change that could give the mayor more authority is to limit the terms of council members to two years (with the terms for the other elected officers, including the mayor, staying at four years. That would begin to redress the imbalance between the executive (mayor) and legislative (council) branches of city government. Two-year terms for council members would also reduce the need for recalls. Just as is the case in the U.S. House of Representatives and the legislatures in many states, two-year terms would make council members more accountable to voters, who would not have to wait four years to vote a rascal out. More importantly, two-year council terms would also reduce the game of musical chairs game by which members who leave or who are recalled from office are replaced by appointees who are at least as incompetent or corrupt as the members they are replacing. A corrupt appointed member appointing other corrupt or complicit members (as happens too frequently) makes a mockery of democracy in our city government. Considering how ethically and intellectually challenged some of the people who are appointed to city council are (have I mentioned Mike Mearan?), two-year terms, or two-year appointments, would be more than enough, thank you.

Occupying the mayor’s office should not be the last refuge for scoundrels and failures, as has been the case with the last two mayors. In interviewing people for Recall of Mayor Bauer, I learned what a low life he was. I had heard at the university that the “S” that Shawnee State uses as its colophon, which was designed by Bauer Graphic’s, was plagiarized. Whether that was the case or not, that people were willing to believe it shows what a poor reputation Bauer had in the community, and why it came as no surprise when he turned out to be such an eager puppet in the Marting Scam. A willingness to be a puppet should not be a qualification for mayor of Portsmouth, but that apparently was Bauer’s only qualification.

Goof-off and Goof-ball

Over the years, a number of people who worked with Kalb at Kroger’s have told me not only what a “goof-off” but also what a “goof-ball” he was. Somebody who worked with him some years ago at Kroger’s told me he used to spend most of his time scheming how he could get out of working, that he always had one physical complaint or another to scam Kroger’s and Workers Compensation. He was a goof-ball not only in the sense of being a fathead but also in the sense of being someone who kept a supply of varied colored pills in a fish tackle box. But he planned even back then, when he first got on the city council, on being mayor some day. I find it hard to believe he came up with that idea on his own, because it is so out of character. I think I know who probably put that idea in his head and has been pushing pushing pushing him ever since. On his own, he would not have pushed himself because he so obviously hates pressure, and is miserable as mayor, in fact, except for the perks and the prestige. Rather than go back to work fulltime at Kroger’s, maybe Kalb too can work out a mental disability with Workers Comp.


Just the other night I heard somebody who claims to know him well say, “Kalb will never go back to work at Kroger’s.” Kroger’s probably hopes not. Since there are those who feel he never really worked there anyway, what’s the difference? If “hardworking public employee” is an oxymoron, it’s morons like Kalb who have made it one. Gerlach pointed out in the Scioto Voice that while the mayor of Portsmouth does not have much authority, he has a lot of ceremonial things he can do. Kalb has not only been aware of the ceremonial aspects of his job as mayor, he has been obsessed with them. He covets the trappings and perks of being the top lap dog: the big car and the prospect of a big office in a renovated Marting building. He covets the perks and prestige as only a man can that has never gotten much respect from anybody, especially from those who pull his strings.


Uncharted Waters


Kalb has very little chance of being re-elected and there are signs that the Portsmouth Daily Times and his puppet masters have already given up on him and are looking for another puppet. A mayor who doesn’t have the strong support of and respect from citizens has nothing, because public support is pretty much all the mayor of Portsmouth can call on to influence and pressure the council. A mayor, who makes the mistake of thinking he or she can accomplish anything without the strong support of the citizens, and the city council, will have learned nothing from the shameful tenure of Bauer and Kalb. The concerned citizens of Portsmouth have proved with their digital fingers and their door-to-door footwork more politically powerful than all the paid propagandists in the local media and all the rich crooked lawyers and developers who pull their strings. The current 4 to 2 division (with Mollette and Noel being the council members with no strings attached) is as close as I have seen the city council come to becoming something other than a rubber stamp for the likes of Neal Hatcher and Clayton Johnson. It will take the election (not appointment!) of only one more honest council member to banish the rubber stamp. The election of a competent and honest mayor would be a blessing, but it would be a mistake for the new mayor to think he or she is like the CEO of a corporation, not unless CEO stands for Ceremonial Executive Officer. That is the frustrating role the new mayor will be assigned until a majority of the city council backs progressive change or until the provisions of the city charter dealing with the mayor are amended. A new mayor should avoid uncharted waters. Until such time as the charter is amended to grant the mayor more authority, being able to understand and work within and around the charter’s restrictions is the single most important qualification for all mayoral candidates.