Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ten Commandments of City Council Etiquette


I am told by those who do their civic duty and attend Portsmouth City Council meetings that His Honor Our Lapdog Mayor recently reprimanded a Local Capped Citizen for trying to address that august body through the non-functioning microphone without first taking his John Deere cap off, which is one of the Ten Commandments of City Council Etiquette. His Honor Our Lapdog Mayor is particularly sensitive to displays of disrespect since he is the most disrespected public figure in Scioto County, and particularly at Kroger’s Supermarket where he has been calling in sick and otherwise making a liability of himself for thirty years or more. The Drug-Dealing Pimp who sits to the right of His Honor Our Lapdog Mayor on city council reportedly audibly gasped when he saw the Local Capped Citizen approaching the non-functioning microphone with his cap on. The Drug-Dealing Pimp nudged Sleepy, the councilman to his right, to call his attention to the insult that was about to be perpetrated. The Adulterous Minister who sits on the other side of the council table scowled when he saw the Local Capped Citizen approaching the non-functioning microphone. The Adulterous Minister at an earlier council meeting had publicly reprimanded local citizens for not addressing him as “Reverend,” so he was very sensitive to slights and insults from the capped as well as the uncapped of whatever religion or political party they might belong to.

Of course, Council rules forbid local citizens who speak before Council from mentioning any city official by name. Hebrews of Old Testament times were forbidden to utter the name of God or writing it without leaving out the vowels, as in Y*W*H. So too are citizens addressing the Council forbidden to speak the names of those members of Council, or even allude to them euphemistically as His Honor Our Lapdog Mayor, Drug-Dealing Pimp, Sleepy, Adulterous Minister, etc. If they do mention names, they are ejected by the Chief of Police Chief, known as “Inspector Cluzot,” which nickname he earned in part for his Campaign Against Domestic Bloggers Over Sixty, and in part for his history of Botched Drug Busts of Christian Couples Over Seventy.

As a public service, I have done research on the Ten Commandments of City Council Etiquette and I will present them here with the hope that local fast food restaurants, and the slow ones too, will print them on menus, and that the opening of City Council meetings will include, along with the salute to the flag and the silent prayer, a reading of the Ten Commandments of City Council Etiquette:

1. Thou shalt not wear a hat, cap, or head covering unless it is a requirement of your religious faith, as it is for orthodox Jews, devout Muslims, Catholic women over the age of fifty, and loyal Buckeye fans of all ages and denominations.

2. Thou shalt not in addressing Council mention the name of any city official, nor use any euphemism for same, such as Lapdog Mayor, Drug-Dealing Pimp, etc.

3. Thou shalt not think that His Honor the Lapdog Mayor thinks he has the best job in the world just because he does not have to punch a time clock, can come and go as he pleases, as he often does, and has no one to tell him what to do or when to do it.

4. Thou shalt not take photos or otherwise take notice of His Honor the Lapdog Mayor if you should happen to see him driving over to Kentucky in a city vehicle to buy gas, cigarettes, or lottery tickets.

5. Thou shalt not think, just because several Council members sometimes shut their eyes and have trouble keeping their heads up, that they have dozed off or are otherwise not closely following the important business at hand.

6. Thou shalt not be shocked when a Council member appears to be mathematically challenged, and to not know two and two equal four, or to not remember whether he was instructed to vote yes or no on the particular ordinance on the agenda.

7. Thou shalt not, even if you recently had colon surgery, release any gas during Council meetings, particularly audibly, not when the air-conditioning is on the fritz, and particularly not if you are sitting near His Honor Our Lapdog Mayor’s wife, who is honorary chair of the Journey Within Chapter of the Fart-Free Portsmouth Committee.

8. Thou shalt not think that when a Council member is busy texting during a meeting that he is contacting one of his prostitutes rather than closely following the important business at hand.

9. Thou shalt not think that when a member of Council who is about to be recalled by angry voters but resigns instead is resigning so that Council can immediately appoint a replacement who is every bit as obliging and crooked as he or she was, and possibly even more so.

10. Thou shalt not think that the concerned citizens who come to Council meetings each week, and not the crooked and incompetent members of city government themselves, are the ones who, like the Statue of Liberty, are keeping the promise of democracy alive and the flame of freedom lit.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wired World

In the last quarter-century or so, and particularly in the last ten years, computer technology has transformed politics tremendously at the international, national, and local levels. The past few months have demonstrated what computer technology is doing on the international level. In today’s (17-06-09) New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “The unrest unfolding in Iran is the quintessential 21st century conflict,” by which he meant that computer technology is at the heart of the conflict. Every website in Iran became a potential pocket of resistance to the authoritarian government, as did every “twitter” that was sent over the internet, so the government of Iran started blocking websites used by dissidents. Not to be outsmarted, or out-interneted, the dissidents resorted to a free software program developed for dissidents in China, called Freegate, which is small enough to be carried on a flash drive. “Have flash drive, will surf!” could be the motto of these pesky Paladins. With Freegate, a dissident can connect to a server outside China that changes the I.P. address constantly, so the government can’t block it. Messages sent on Freegate can be encrypted and the message easily deleted from the computer on which it was sent.

Guns are a much older form of technology, and in the streets guns trump computers. But streets are not where the conflict between dissidents and governments are ultimately decided, not any more at least. Conflicts are decided one way or another in the hearts and minds of people, and governments and the news media no longer have a monopoly on deciding what constitutes news. Bloggers have helped break that monopoly, and any one of the millions of Americans who own a cell phone camera can scoop the main stream media and the professional journalist. A decisive moment in the Virginia contest for governor occurred when candidate George Allen at a small gathering in a rural setting referred to someone filming the event by a racial slur, calling him a “macaca,” meaning a person of Indian or Pakistani descent. Allen made other serious mistakes, but that one recorded blunder quickly circulated in the blogosphere and was considered to have been the straw that broke the back of his campaign. The internet was crucial to Obama’s campaign for the presidency, making it possible for him to come from far behind to overtake Hillary Clinton and other frontrunners, and then go on to defeat McCain in the general election. The internet, like sex, favors the young, and in no one area did McCain show his age to more disadvantage than in his computer illiteracy. When he admitted he was computer illiterate and that he did not use email, he reinforced the impression, especially among the young, that he was out of touch with the times, lagging behind even most ten-year-olds and perhaps some dogs. In a New Yorker cartoon, one dog, at a computer, says to another dog, “The nice thing about a computer is that no one knows you’re a dog.” Though McCain reportedly owned fourteen dogs, it is unlikely any of them were computer literate. You can’t teach an old dog new technology.


As I pointed out in one of my very first River Vices blogs, back in 2004, and I have repeated in other postings since, local politics have been transformed profoundly by the internet and the blogosphere. Back in 1980, the small clique who controlled Portsmouth politically and economically were able to drive three councilmen from office through a concerted media campaign that involved local radio stations, the Portsmouth Daily Times and local clergy, no less. If the small clique who now control Portsmouth ever look back nostalgically, it would be to that 1980 campaign, with its parades, speeches, and vilification of the councilmen for maliciously standing in the way of progress, by which was meant a new downtown mall. There were concerned citizens in Portsmouth back then, but what did they have to fight back were pathetically few: mimeographed flyers, telephones, and letters to the editor, which may or may not have been printed, and if they were printed probably would be censored, because no criticism of prominent people by name was allowed. That policy still prevails at the Portsmouth Daily Times, but fortunately computer technology and cell phones make it possible for concerned citizens to communicate instantly with hundreds and thousands of people in the local area.

As president of the Shawnee Education Association (SEA), at Shawnee State University, I revived SEA-VIEW, the faculty union newsletter, and, with Jim Flavin, made it available on hard copy and online at the university. But it was the students at SSU who inaugurated a new era in Portsmouth journalism when they published the first paper edition of the Shawnee Sentinel, in 1994; and when they expanded news coverage beyond the university and put the Sentinel online its readership and its influence multiplied exponentially. When Dr. Clive Veri was president and attorney Steve Donohue was Vice President of Practically Everything at SSU they tried to prevent the students from circulating the Shawnee Sentinel on campus, just as the government in Iran and China are trying to clamp down on bloggers and tweeters, but when the Sentinel went online the genie was out of the bottle.

Stifling Bloggers

Still, attempts were made in city government to stifle bloggers and the Shawnee Sentinel in particular. I heard that at one time city employees were told they should not read the Sentinel on city computers, and Portsmouth Police Chief Charles Horner publicly denounced local websites, labeling those who write for them “domestic terrorists,” and he did what he could to restrict what councilman Bob Mollette could post on his website. Along with Bob’s wife Teresa, who has a public information website, the Mollettes used their technological knowhow to clean up the corruption and cronyism. I would not be surprised to learn someday someone is writing a dissertation on the influence of the computer technology on local governments focusing on the the Mollettes as an example of the best of American citizens, a couple willing to spend many thousands of hours and dollars to make local government more responsive to the people.

The semi-official line of the small clique who control Portsmouth, a line parroted by their hirelings in the media, is that there is a small clique of intractable individuals who are making it impossible for the city to move forward with such projects as the renovation of the Marting building. Since it takes a majority to win any election, and since the Marting building has been turned down decisively several times by voters, and since other proposals have been passed that the clique disapproves of and campaigned against how can a small clique be responsible for impeding progress, unless it is the small clique of lawyers and developers who have a stranglehold on the city? It is a majority of the voters of Portsmouth who are opposed to the corrupt clique, a majority who are computer literate and who know better than to believe everything they read on the editorial pages of the Portsmouth Daily Times or hear from Steve Hayes on WXNT. There was a time when the people of Portsmouth had no other source for local news, when they could be manipulated and brainwashed by those who controlled the media, but those days have come to an end in our city, just as we hope they will in Iran and China. Internationally, nationally, and locally, technology has liberated people from ignorance, rescued them from isolation, and united them in the cause of truth and justice. Through wireless communications, the whole world is wired.

I will stop now. My cell phone with a megapixel camera is ringing and my computer is tweeting.


Friday, June 05, 2009

No Justice in Portsmouth

317 Front Street

I've heard a number of times in the last twenty years that one of the things that has accelerated the economic decline of Portsmouth has been the practice of excluding outside businesses from getting a foothold. The Chamber of Commerce and civic leaders would strongly deny this accusation. Undoubtedly, the Chamber of Commerce and public officials are all for new businesses, in principle. However, what an individual is strongly for in principle, and in general, will not necessarily be what he is for in practice, not when it is his particular business that would face more competition. "Not in my backyard!"

A current possible example of this "Not in my backyard!" attitude might be the obstacles the city is placing in the way of J. & P. Caulking, Inc., a Columbus-based construction and renovation business that has bought several old buildings in downtown Portsmouth and begun to restore them. In November 2008, the owners of J. & P. Caulking, Paul Adkins and his family, bought a three-story brick building on 317 Front St. for $12,900. I was told that 317 Front St. had previously been condemned by the city. Built in 1900, according records in the County Auditor's office, the tall narrow building was in danger of collapsing, but the Adkinses  thought it could be stabilized and renovated. Their plan was to create apartments on the two top floors and an ice cream parlor on the ground floor. The city granted the new owners a building permit, but it wasn't long before Larry Justice began bugging the Adkinses about one thing and another. If anybody should be hauled in to court because of rundown property, it is Justice himself, for the building in which he once had a manufacturing business, on Spring Lane, is an embarrassment to the city, as I pointed out in a previous blog

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Since he is the Residential Building Inspector, the Sidewalk Inspector, the Code Enforcement Officer, and the Land Reutilization point man, Justice is in position to do a lot of mischief. Most recently, he had warned the Adkinses that the color they are painting the side of the building is not a color the Architectural Review Board would approve, and the large display windows that have been installed on the ground floor are not acceptable either. Why not? The windows are manufactured by Peachtree Doors and Windows, a solid Wisconsin company that has been in business for over forty years, so the Adkinses cannot be accused of using shoddy materials. Instead of harassing and impeding the Adkinses, the city should be doing everything it can to help and encourage them to restore 317 Front St.

Stop Work Order

I think a review board is a good thing for any community to have, but it is not a good thing to use as a political tool to harass outside contractors trying to do business in the city, especially when that outside contractor is investing many thousands of dollars to renovate a building that has some architectural value but a building that constitutes a public hazard as long as it stands as it is, looking like it could be blown over in a good wind storm. If the city is not going to seize the building as a hazard to the public, and go through the expense of tearing it down; if the city is going to grant the Adkinses a permit to renovate the building, then it shouldn't harass them and order all work on the building stopped because of the color the east side of the building is being painted and because the design of the windows on the front are not up to the Architectural Review Board standards. Give us a break, please! This is Portsmouth where so many of Neal Hatcher's properties were for years allowed to become an eyesore and the neighborhoods they are in become hangouts for drug dealers and prostitutes. This is Portsmouth where there are still neighborhoods that look like rattraps and breeding grounds for poverty, drugs and prostitution. And yet Larry Justice has ordered all work on 317 Front St. stopped because the color of the paint on the side and the design of the new windows allegedly do not conform to the design  standards of the Review Board.

The city appears to be harassing the Adkinses about another building they are in the process of restoring, at 1511 3rd St., on the east side of the city, a neighborhood that needs more than a face lift: it needs major surgery. But the city and Larry Justice ordered work on 1511 3rd stopped because of the equipment parked outside the building. There is a crying need for parking space, don't you know? Ordering the Adkinses to stop working on 1511 3rd St. because their equipment is taking up parking space is like towing away a doctor's car while he is inside treating a patient.

Why is the city and Larry Justice doing this? Is it just random stupidity and incompetence? Or is there a jealous contractor who had hoped to pick up 317 Front St. for a pittance but was surprised when the Adkinses came along and paid $12,900 for a building that had been condemned and would require many thousands of dollars to renovate? When I say jealous developer I don't mean Neal Hatcher but rather a minor league developer. But it is not the minor league developer but Justice who may be in the best position to impede outsiders, who are not close to the ruling clique that the Building Inspector and Mayor Kalb obligingly serve. One of the ironies is that Justice complains about the  color of paint and the design of windows at 317 Front St. do not conform to Portsmouth's high architectural standards while the building in which  Justice once conducted a business (Quality Sheathing Co.) on Spring Lane, is a sight to behold and has been for many years. When Justice  failed to pay Workmen's Compensation taxes, the state put a a lien on his property and got a judgment against him for $7,053.76. Justice has been officially reprimanded in writing at least twice, once for lying to his immediate superior about an important zoning matter, and again for his contacts with a state official, in which he claimed authority and a job title that he did not possess. Not only has the state got him for not paying taxes, SOMC has had to take him to court to pay a hospital bill. Is it too much to hope that, next year, in addition to a new mayor, Portsmouth may also have a new building inspector? That would be a situation in which no Justice would be welcomed.

817 Spring Lane, site of deadbeat Justice's failed business.