Sunday, August 23, 2015

Update on a Cover-up

October 2014: And the Wall Came Tumbling Down

      I published a post on River Vices (29 October 2014) on the  wall that fell on Washington Street, as shown in the photo above (click here for the link to that post). The fallen wall was part of the property belonging to Dr. Alain Asher at 633 4th Street. Today I am posting a follow-up to that post, arguing that a cover-up is taking place of what was revealed when the wall fell, which is shown in the photo above. What was revealed when the wall fell was that the roots on the ground to the east of the towering tree at the corner of 4th and Washington Street were and still are largely above ground. Tree roots are supposed to be below ground, anchoring the tree,  but the roots of this tree, on the wall side of the tree, were not, and still are not,  anchoring the tree. In order to anchor a tree, roots must be in the ground below and must be able to spread laterally in order for the tree to live and grow.

      The roots on the eastern side of the tree are not anchoring the tree because they are above ground. What the roots are trying to do is find ground to grow deeper and farther into the ground, but the wall and the concrete sidewalk prevented the roots from extending in an easterly direction. There was  a conflict between the roots and the wall. A very slow motion sumo wrestling match between the tree and the wall had been going on for many years.  Compared to the humungous towering tree, the brick wall was a 97-pound  weakling, so there was no question about who was going to win this wrestling match.

      The towering tree and its nearby companion tree should have been cut down  some time ago by the previous owner. But that would have been  a considerable expense, and also that would make the property  look somewhat naked. It would certainly look a lot less sylvan and marketable  without those trees.  Perhaps one of the reasons Dr. Asher bought the property is he was captivated by those majestic trees, as anyone who appreciates nature would. But when nature poses a threat to people, as those trees do to pedestrians on the sidewalk and the drivers of vehicles passing along Washington Street, people should come first. But now, in not cutting  down those trees,  Asher in my opinion is not only bricking over, he is  covering up the problem.  The tree with the roots exposed could be toppled by high winds or it might because of gravity fall on Washington Street without warning. The city was lucky when the tree that fell at Tracy Park didn't injure or kill a child or parent (click here for a relevant post). The city had been warned publicly by me and others of the danger of trees in Tracy Park falling because some of their roots had been cut in the construction of the playground. If there  had been deaths or injuries, for ignoring those warnings the city could have been sued for millions.

      Not surprisingly, in  view of the wildly inflated price Asher had paid for 633 4th Street,  he failed to find a buyer when he put it on the market. When the wall fell, a sale became virtually impossible. Asher paid the Johnsons $440, 500 for the property, which was almost twice the $244, 150  the County Auditor's Office valued the property at. So Asher paid the Johnsons almost $200,000 more than  the county auditor's valuation. If the property had been on the Hill, that would have been one thing, but 633 4th is in the heart of the Boneyfiddle district, where the value of property, already low because of the chronically poor Portsmouth housing market,  dropped further because of the presence of the Counseling Center, which has been attracting drug addicts to Boneyfiddle from the tri-state area for decades. Petty crime is rife in the city,  but much of it goes unreported because the victims feel reporting it is pointless.

      I asked the bricklayers who are building the wall if they had a building permit, and one of them said replacing the wall was restoration, and restoration projects do not need building permits. But this is not just a restoration, it is a cover-up that hides a potentially dangerous problem. The city will be liable because it is allowing the cover-up to continue when what it should require is the removal of the two trees because they are a danger to the public. The City Engineering Department reportedly recently sent someone to inspect the project. If the inspector  didn't see the roots, which are the root of the problem,  then just what did he see?

     The  problem  is even worse than I have suggested because the section of the wall that still stands, the section on 4th Street, appears to be unstable because of the pressure from the roots of the companion tree. The sidewalk of 4th Street side of the property was in such bad condition some years back  that I posted an article on River Vices warning that it was hazardous for pedestrians (click here). It was not long afterwards that the sidewalk was repaired by the developer Neal Hatcher's construction company. The infamous photo of Hatcher giving me the finger was taken while his workmen were completing the sidewalk repairs. One of Hatcher's redeeming features is that he is not a hypocrite. Our city government, on the other hand, reeks of hypocrisy. I think it is worse now that we have a carpet-bagging, convicted liar as  city manager. When we had the doofus Jim Kalb as mayor, at least he lived in his own home, in Portsmouth. Allen's home is in Piqua, so he rents an apartment from Neal Hatcher. If one of the trees falls on you, you will be no less crippled or dead whether we have a city manager or a mayor. If you are killed by a falling tree,  at least you will find a place in earth even if those roots don't.

Towering tree with new yet-to-be-painted red brick wall (lower right)

Other Relevant Posts:

"Kiwanis Playground: Deathtrap for Tots?" Click here
                                      "The Hole Truth": click here

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Schlepping Online Around Ohio

Ohio: 88 counties, 251 cities, 35 city managers

      I have been schlepping around Ohio for the last couple of days via the internet. What I was trying to find out was how many of Ohio’s 251 cities had a city manager. Wikipedia facilitated my search because it has a "List of Cities in Ohio" which includes a category called Government. Because some cities didn't state what kind of government they had, I schlepped over to their official on-line websites for the answer. But that information was  sometimes hard to find on official websites, and a couple of cities, smaller ones,  did not have an official website. So I had to do Google searches, which did not always lead me to an answer. As a result I am not a hundred percent sure the final figure for the number of cities with city managers, 35, is exact, but it is very close. Since there are 251 cities in Ohio, that means that about 14 percent of Ohio’s cities have a city manager.
     In  schlepping around Ohio online, I learned more than which cities had city managers. For example I noticed with two exceptions, Hudson and Springboro,  that city managers were invariably males whereas mayors were in a surprising number of instances females. Assistant city managers or their equivalents were occasionally female, but her boss was usually a male, except in Springboro where both the city manager and the assistant were females.
      The populations of manager-council cities tend to be smaller than cities with mayor-council form of government. The half dozen most populous cities in the state are mayor-council.  They may have experimented with the city manager form, but that didn’t last long. The manager-council city with the largest population is Hamilton, which is located in the greater metropolitan Cincinnati area. Hamilton’s population is over 62,000, but most city manager cities are much less populous. Perhaps politics have as much to do with large cities choosing mayor-council as do economics, but I will leave that issue to the experts.

Ohio Bi-political

      As a result of schlepping around Ohio on the internet, I have a better sense of why Ohio is a swing state in national elections, why it might be called bi-political, and why it might go Republican in one presidential election and Democratic in another. Historically, the two major cultural and political influences on Ohio were the Northeast (New England and Connecticut specifically) and Appalachia, and seldom if ever do  the twain meet. What state would not be at least a  little schizophrenic with such a conflicting regional heritage? Midwesterners in general and Ohioans especially have a repressed sense of cultural inferiority that they deal with in part by trying to be number one athletically, especially in that manliest of all sports, football. Most babies are born in Ohio with Buckeye fever. The Notable Persons listed on most city websites  are dominated by athletes, entertainers, and politicians in that order. Does any other state have more Notable People who have played in the National Football League? The best that  one deprived city could come up with for an athletic Notable Person was some guy who had played in the Canadian Football League. How pathetic! Portsmouth, which is proud to be the granddad of the Detroit Lions, has a plethora of baseball players but not much to show culturally except for Kathleen Battle.
      But it could be worse. At least Portsmouth did not suffer the ignominy of Springfield, Ohio, which as recently as 2011 was found in a Gallup Poll to be the “unhappiest city in America.”  Just yesterday a rather sad looking fellow stopped to ask me directions. He looked like he might have hitch-hiked into town. I asked him where he was from. He said Springfield. Springfield may be trying to make up for its unhappiness by having an unusually long list of Notable People, including David Ward King, the inventor of the King Road Drag, which has nothing to do with drag racing. It was a horse drawn implement that smoothed out rough roads but could only be used after a  road had been softened by rain. Imagine a road crew that works only when it rains. What a drag! What we have in Portsmouth is not King Road Drag, but drag racing legends such as the bankrupt perennial  politician Jim Kalb.
      One Ohio city reaffirmed its commitment to culture by naming itself Trotwood,  after a female character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.  Trotwood was way ahead of other Ohio cities in countering sexism and racism. Not only is Trotwood not a manager-council city, it has a mayor who is not only female but black. The first female mayor of Portsmouth, who happened to be white,  proved so uppity to the Portsmouth Boys, as they are known,  that she was promptly recalled from office. Portsmouth has since, with the assistance of the devious International City/County Management Association (ICMA), switched to the manager-council form of government and hired Derek Allen, an ICMA member,  as city manager, even though Allen had been convicted of lying under oath when he was a government official in Piqua, Ohio, which happens to have a mayor-council form of city government. What can you expect from ICMA,  an organization that has been dominated historically and apparently still is by white American males? Though Mr. Allen probably would not be hired as dog-catcher in the mayor-council city of Piqua, he still makes his home there while serving as the perjured, carpet-bagging city manager of Portsmouth. In Portsmouth, to qualify for public office it seems you have to have either been a pimp, a drug dealer, a bankrupt, or a perjurer.
      If there was a Gallup Poll for the most addicted manager-council city in America, Portsmouth would probably  win in a landslide, as would Derek Allen for the slipperiest city manager.  Do Portsmouth residents sleep more soundly knowing that Allen is city manager and that they are one of the 14 percent of Ohio cities that have a manager-council form of government? Gallup should do a poll on that question. There are some rough roads ahead for Portsmouth under a city manager. The problem in Portsmouth may be that we no longer have dirt roads. Every inch of surface of the Hill section of the city is paved so that when it rains Grandview Avenue, at the foot of the Hill,  resembles at best a tributary of the Ohio River and at worst a makeshi(f)t sewer. Where is David Ward King's Split Log Drag when we really need it?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Snuffy Sez to the Shitty Man'ger

"Dammit D'reck my outhouse washed away!"

Grandview geysers iz overflowin’
wiffout our sity man’ger knowin’?
D’reck denies there’s shit and piss?
Ignorance they sez iz bliss.
If one picture’s worth a thousand words,
one video’s worth a thousand turds.
Look, D’reck, you Piqua site-seer,
Look by simply clickin’ here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Dragon Lady is Back!

I am reposting below a River Vices blog on the Dragon Lady from September 2010. Has the manager-council form of government introduced a new era in Portsmouth politics, as City Manager Derek "Dreck" Allen repeatedly claims? I think not, and to illustrate my point I will cite the latest bit of evidence. The Dragon Lady is back. Former City Solicitor Jo Ann Aeh is going to be the next Ward Two councilwoman. Because of the foolish four-year terms for council members and the power of the city council to appoint replacements for those members who often do not complete their terms for one reason or another, there is a long tradition of the city council appointing corrupt cronies, such as the shyster lawyer-pimp-drug dealer Mike Mearan, to a vacated seat. But Aeh is too shrewd, knows too many legal loopholes,  to let herself get on the city council in that time dishonored way. Instead, the Dragon Lady has arranged it so that she will be the unchallenged candidate for the seat in the primary election and therefore the unchallenged candidate in the general election.  As Aeh told the Portsmouth Daily Times, even if only two people vote for her, she will win. But  wouldn't it take only one voter for her  to win? Since she will be voting, that's presumably all it would take. She will elect herself. That's democracy at work, Portsmouth style. And if Aeh at her advanced age does not complete her term, as is quite possible, the council will appoint her replacement, and so the sham democracy will continue and having a city manager, and particularly our current city manager, will not make a damn bit of difference. For those who may have forgotten some of the disgraceful details of the political career of the Dragon lady, including her connections to David Duke, the Grand Dragon of Ku Klux Klan as well as the rebuke she received from the Ohio Supreme Court (see below). The SOGP is dead and buried but the Dragon Lady lives on. 

* * *

   Concerned Citizens Group president Jerry Conkle and CCG member Jim Wilson have told me that it is their clear recollection that on Wednesday, July 28, 2010,  Portsmouth City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh told  them, in her office in the Municipal Building, that  the deadline for them to return the  petitions to recall Ward Three councilman Nicholas Basham was August 20. It is possible there was a misunderstanding and that Conkle and Wilson misinterpreted what Aeh said, or that she was confused rather than  attempting to mislead them. It is possible, but in light of Aeh’s track record in regard to recall petitions and of her long standing, obstructionist  role in city government,  it is  more likely, in my opinion, that she deliberately  mislead Conkle and Wilson, and through them the other members of the CCG, by making them think they had a week less than they actually had to collect the required number of  signatures to put the recall of Nicholas Basham before Ward Three voters. The City Charter stipulates they should have had thirty days from the time they took out the petitions, which would have meant that she should have told them they had  until August 27 to return the petitions. For the aging and physically challenged members of the CCG, the lost week was a handicap they were not able to  overcome and they suspended their efforts shortly before what they believed was the August 20  deadline. In spite of being handicapped and having to walk with a cane, Jerry Conkle collected almost fifty signatures in the record heat wave. Jim Wilson, as a result of working many years installing and repairing heating and air conditioning  systems, has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which requires him to always carry an oxygen supply, but he  did his best in the limited time Aeh led him to believe he had to collect signatures. 

What motivation would Aeh  have for  impeding the recall effort by Conkle, Wilson, and other members of the Concerned Citizens Group? As City Clerk, Aeh serves at the pleasure of the city council, which can fire her whenever it chooses. A city clerk's employment depends directly upon the support  of members of city council, which puts anyone who occupies the office in a potential conflict of interest in handling petitions to recall council members. Aeh and every city clerk who succeeds her will continue to be in a potential conflict of interest until the charter is changed to insulate them from pressure from members of city council and other elected officials who are subject to recall efforts. In the past, Aeh did her best to bend the rules in favor of  council members Jim Kalb, Ann Sydnor, and David Malone, her political allies, when they faced recall. Aeh did for Kalb, Sydnor, and Malone, what she may recently have tried to do for Nicholas Basham: trying to protect his hide to save her own. As long as she is beholden to the city council for her livelihood,  such situations will likely occur. As Teresa Mollette wrote on, “The city charter needs to be revised to take the power of approving petitions out of the hands of the city clerk. This is a job for the county Board of Elections.” 

Judging by the website of the Dickens Pub, Jo Ann Aeh has become a frequenter, if not a  habituĂ©, of the pub, which Basham owns. Basham  offers reduced prices for drinks to those customers who can prove they are city employees by producing  their health insurance cards.  The irony of that little detail about health insurance is that Mayor Jane Murray has raised the hackles of city employees by calling attention to the high costs of their generous health benefits, which should serve as a reminder of the generous health insurance benefits the city council voted themselves back in 1990 (Ord. 1990-106), which caused one of the most bitter recall campaigns in the history of Portsmouth. If the term of office for council members was two years instead of four, there would be much less need of  costly and bitter recall campaigns. If  the term of office for the city clerk was not an open-ended, possibly life-time appointment, as it has been for Aeh,  but was rather fixed and not dependent on the city council’s approval,  then perhaps there would not have been so many shenanigans  over the  long period of time Aeh has been city clerk. There is a sign on the wall of Aehs office that reads, “Lord, Help me hang in there,”  but  some people might  feel  that  she has not so much been hanging in as hanging on and that among the calls she got urging her to run, the Devil may have been one of them.

   Section 7 of the Portsmouth City Charter briefly states the ostensibly limited duties of the city clerk:  “The Clerk shall attend the Council as its secretary, shall keep its journal and other records, and make an annual report, giving a summary of its proceedings and shall perform such other duties as are given him by this Charter or which may be prescribed by ordinance.” Doesn't sound like much, does it? But the “other duties” assigned by the Charter include those related to recalls, which are stipulated in Sections 151-153 of the Charter. Those duties" give the city  clerk a lot of opportunity for mischief, which Aeh has made the most of. It may be those duties" that have enabled her to hold her job longer than any other city employee. Through manipulation, if not  malfeasance, she has, in my opinion, helped keep corrupt political officials in office by obstructing citizens’ attempts to remove them by means of the recall. Would she have been collecting a paycheck  for a quarter of a century without conducting a kind of protection racket for corrupt cronies, and especially for those members of the city council, without whose good will she would long ago have been replaced? The political life of  most public office holders in Portsmouth, especially with all the recalls, has been as short as a fruit flys, but  for Aeh it has been as long as a turtles.   

AehIllegal Removal of  Names from Recall Petitions 

   Aeh’s abuse of the office of city clerk was evident in 1996, when she illegally removed names from petitions whose purpose was to recall First Ward council woman Ann Sydnor and Fourth Ward councilman Jim Kalb. In a decision handed down on  September 11, 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that “Aeh had clear legal duty under Sections 151 and 152 of the Portsmouth Charter to certify as sufficient the recall petitions relating to the First and Fourth Ward council members. The petitions had the requisite number of signatures to be sufficient. Aeh was not entitled to remove signatures from the petitions after filing. In addition, relators have established a clear legal right to this certification, and they have no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Based on the foregoing, we grant a writ of mandamus compelling Aeh to certify the recall petitions seeking the removal of First and Fourth Ward Council Members Sydnor and Kalb as sufficient and to notify these council members pursuant to Section 152 of the Portsmouth Charter. In addition, we grant relators’ request for attorney fees and order relators’ counsel to submit a bill and documentation in support of the request for attorney fees, in accordance with the guidelines set forth in DR 2-106” [italics added]. Aeh was caught in the act and the city  had to pay for it. 

   More recently, it was  not just the recall of Basham  that Aeh may have helped sabotage by supplying misinformation to Conkle and Wilson. She has also either deliberately or, perhaps as a consequence of her advancing years, inadvertently made a mess of  the public records she has the responsibility for creating, keeping track of, and  preserving. Legal action soon may be initiated against her and other city officials for their failure to produce public records requested by citizens. The fines mandated by state law for failing to produce each public record can really add up, so the cost to the city for Aeh’s failure to create, preserve, and produce public records requests  could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The Columbus Dispatch carried a story recently about huge financial penalties being imposed on public officials in northern Ohio who failed to comply with requests for public records. With all its other financial problems, Portsmouth may be furthered burdened with having to pay large penalties for the failure of Aeh and other officials to comply with requests for public documents. Possibly, some  records cannot be produced  because they have been destroyed, in violation of state law.
      On August 30, Corey Columbo, an attorney from the Columbus-based  McTigue Law Group,  representing Mayor Murray, filed a challenge to the petitions that have been filed with Aeh for the recall of the mayor. McTigue himself  represented Damon Fite and  the Concerned Citizens who successfully challenged the legality of Aeh’s removal of signatures from recall petitions back in 1996. Just as Aeh can abuse the powers of her office to frustrate those seeking to recall  her political cronies, she can abuse those same powers to abet petitioners who are trying to recall a political enemy from office, in this case Mayor Murray.  Whether or not she shortchanged Concerned Citizens a week, she extended the time the Recall Murray Campaign had to collect signatures, as she is allowed to do by the Charter.  Columbo has compiled fifteen objections to the petitions for the recall of Murray, most of which appear to put Aeh right at ground zero of the legal mess that is unfolding over the recall of Murray. Columbo explained that the McTigue Group deals almost exclusively with election disputes, and it was evident at the Election Board meeting on August 30 that the recall of Murray looks very shaky legally. In spite of bluster from the Election Board chairman Rodney Barnett, the rest of the Board seemed chastened by Columbos’ remarks to the board, and Sayre, the attorney from the Country Prosecutor’s office, admitted he was unfamiliar with protested recalls and would need to do a quick study of the subject, which, given the time frame he has to operate within, will have to be really quick.  All the confusion is not surprising given the twelfth-hour timing of the Recall Murray Campaign, which began when former indicted City Auditor Tom Bihl threw his hat in the ring, or rather, more accurately, put  his head  in the wringer when no one else had been brave or foolish enough to do so. Because of the half-assed, half-gassed way in which the Recall Murray Campaign has proceeded, with the Dickens Pub serving as unofficial campaign headquarters, it is not surprising that there are at least fifteen reasons why the State Board of Elections may rule the recall petitions invalid. I have seen McTigue perform before the Ohio Board of Elections, and I would not want to be in Aeh’s shoes, or Tom Bihl’s either, if and when they testify  before the board. 

Where Southern Hostility Begins

The snarling Aeh at a City Council meeting
Aeh became involved in city politics back in the early 1980s, when the city was in turmoil over the recall of three members of city council who were vilified and demonized because they were allegedly against a shopping mall, just as Mayor Murray is being vilified and demonized now because she is allegedly against just about everything she can be accused of being against. The hatred being whipped up in the campaign to recall her is reminiscent of the hatred stirred up in the South and Midwest against Negroes by the Ku Klux Klan. As recently as the late 1970s, the Klan had a presence in Portsmouth, and some first-hand observers thought the movement to recall the three councilmen in 1980 had the characteristics of a KKK rally. Marchers did not carry a burning cross but they did carry  a casket with the picture of one of the councilmen, Harald Daub, as I wrote about previously in “The Mauling of Harald Daub.” Daub is still the target of hate mongers. His house and automobile were pelted by eggs late one night not long ago, perhaps by those who had been drinking firewater earlier at a Happy Hour at the unofficial headquarters of the Recall Murray Campaign. I refer to Basham's Dickens Pub.

   Jo Ann Aeh’s husband Roy was reportedly active in the Klan in the late 1970s, and was said to be recruiting for the KKK among the employees at the state prison in Lucasville. In a letter dated April 29, 1978, the authenticity of which has not to my knowledge been disproved,  the so-called Grand Dragon of the KKK, David Duke, welcomed Roy Aeh as a new member and invited him and his wife  to a KKK national convention in Jackson, Mississippi, where there would be seminars on “how to stop the rising tide of the forces that mean to end White Supremacy.” The Grand Dragon concluded the letter to Aeh by writing, “You and your wife JoAnn are cordially invited to be with us in this great crusade.” The letter specifies who the great crusade was against:  “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans.”   I am not suggesting Jo Ann Aeh was a member of the KKK or that she championed White Supremacy. But of her political activities since 1980 it can be said, on the basis of the available evidence, that she is a supporter of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, the SOGP, which has had,  under several names, a stranglehold on the economic and political life of Portsmouth for the last thirty years. It is not the KKK we need to worry about: it is the SOGP, a so-called Community Improvement Corporation, and it is no secret who the “Grand Dragon” of the SOGP is. Portsmouth: Where Southern Hospitality Begins,” one of the citys slogans, perhaps should be changed to, Portsmouth: Where Southern Hostility Begins.” 

   The hatred being generated in Portsmouth today is not against “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans.” The hatred today is against domestic terrorists” and CAVE People, that is, against the community activists who serve as the watchdogs of local government; but the hatred is directed above all against Mayor Murray who has challenged the corrupt status quo as perhaps nobody has in the history of Portsmouth, with the possible exception of  the three councilmen of  thirty years ago. That was when  Aeh, not coincidentally,  began her political career, a career she continues to carry on, having been  transmogrified into something of a snarling, fire-breathing Grand Dragoness who not only illegally alters recall petitions but  who has become increasingly unwilling or unable to carry out her record keeping responsibilities as required by the City Charter. She has reportedly become irate when asked for minutes of various public meetings and contemptuous of the principle of open public records, or at least of those who approach her with public records requests. It remains to be seen how much snarling and fire breathing she will do before the Ohio Board of Elections, if and when she has to testify about the recall petitions. It remains to be seen also whether northerners will get a better idea of what it’s  like to live in the Deep South of the Grand Realm of Ohio. (What follows is a letter from the Grand Dragon inviting Aeh and her husband to a KKK Convention.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grandview Geysers

The Grandview area before the Dreck Geyser spouted

[Residents of the Grandview area reported that during the recent
torrential rains, sewers spouted like geysers.]

As sewage erupted from the sewers,
Like sepia geysers in the air,
Chief among the wrongdoers
Was "D'reck,"* our city manager.

One of the high risers,
Filled to the odiferous brim,
One of the Grandview Geysers, 
Should be named after him.

Let's call one the Shyster Geyser,
After the notorious Mike Mearan.
Let's call another the Kevin W. Geyser,
After the officious First Ward con man.

But let's name the biggest of all,
The geyser with the brownest luster,
The geyser with the most offal,
After our septic shitty manager.

Yes, let's call it the D'reck Geyser
Because it's so full of shit.
Let's call it the D'reck Geyser
Just for the hell of it.
               Robert Forrey, 2015

*Dreck (pronounced der-reck) is a Yiddish word
that is synonymous with the English word shit.

No, those are not Grandview residents watching the Dreck Geyser.
Those are tourists at Yellowstone National Park viewing the
most famous of all geysers, Old Faithful.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

ICMA: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, or Worse?

One of the curious things about  the campaign in Portsmouth in 2011 to change back to the manager-council form of government was the role played  by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), which, though I did not know of its existence at the time,  I now view as a somewhat stealthy and deceptive organization, a wolf in sheep's clothing, if not worse.

In the last one hundred years, 1915-2015, which coincides with the existence of the ICMA,  the United States has been strongly influenced in its international relations by the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which is the quasi religious belief that America is unique in the history of the world, being  the most  favored nation of, if not of  God,  then at least of  History. From the perspective of American exceptionalism, America is the home of true  freedom and democracy, which gives  it not only the right but the obligation to spread that  precious birthright around the globe. America promotes its exceptionalist view of freedom and democracy internationally in any number of ways and places, including Afghanistan, and through any number of organizations, including most notably and controversially the CIA. Where does ICMA get the money to operate its domestic and international operations? Domestically it has conservative corporate sponsors, which could foot the bill. Where the ICMA gets the money to finance its international operations it doesn’t say, but who else could it be if it is not an agency of the U.S. government?

Portsmouth is one of the American cities to which the ICMA provided financial and logistical assistance to electorally replace the mayoral-council form of government. But was the election fair? In  2011, the ICMA helped city councilman Kevin W. Johnson and the Committee for Better Government get a charter amendment passed  in the November election that returned Portsmouth to the manager-council form of government. The Portsmouth Daily Times  reported that the "ICMA and the Ohio City/County Management Association assisted the council-manager advocacy group Committee for Better Government Management by providing educational materials and guidance on the development of the charter amendment text. ICMA also contributed financial support to [the] Committee from the Fund for Professional Management to aid the group in mailing 4,000 educational postcards." But not many people read that squib in the PDT or knew the ICMA existed let alone that it had been instrumental in Portsmouth’s return to the city manager form of government. The margin of victory in that election was very small—just sixty votes—or a little over one percent of the votes cast.  I very much doubt the charter amendment would have passed if the ICMA had not interceded on the side of manager-council supporters. 

I first learned of the ICMA and its intervention in the 2011 election only recently  when I  read the minutes of  the 8 August  2011 meeting of the Portsmouth City Council, which you can read by clicking here.  That meeting took place only three months before the November election, but at least several people at the council meeting were surprised to learn about the charter amendment and even more surprised to learn  about the role of the ICMA. They learned of ICMA’s involvement because a member of that organization, who was the city manager of Loveland, Ohio, was at the August 2011 council meeting. He was present but he claimed he was present only in an educational capacity. This is what the ICMA consistently claims, that it is not taking sides in the manager-council versus the mayor-council form of government struggle, that it is just playing an impartial, educational  role, but that is a canard. The ICMA does everything it can to spread the manager-council gospel and to disparage the mayor-council form of government, all the while claiming to be impartial. ICMA claims to have a strict code of ethics that all its members, including city managers,  must follow. The ICMA may not have a dog in the fight, but it  has a wolf, a wolf  in sheep's clothing, and the wolf unethically carries on in its sheep's clothing not only before a city switches to a city manager but also afterwards, providing  its allegedly non-partisan assistance in the city's search for a city manager. ICMA can be so brazenly hypocritical at times that a shark may be a more appropriate metaphor than a wolf in sheep's clothing.  Derek Allen, who was chosen as city manager,  was judged to have lied under oath as a public official and received a suspended jail sentence. Is he the ICMA's idea of a highly ethical city manager? 

I have checked with the Scioto County Board of Elections to see if the ICMA or any of its many corporate sponsors filed any report on its financial involvement in the 2011 election as is required by county regulations. The Board of Elections could find no filing by the ICMA, which presumably considers itself, as a self-proclaimed impartial organization, above such requirements. It may have gotten away with such high handedness in Afghanistan, but can it also in the United States? Perhaps the Scioto County prosecutor can answer that question.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The New City Seal: Stars and Fleurs-de-Lis Forever

Portsmouth's New City Seal

If there’s one thing Portsmouth should not want to commemorate with a new city seal it’s the new U.S. Grant Bridge, which took longer to build than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The businesses in downtown Portsmouth threatened to sue the Ohio Department of Transportation for 8 million dollars for the profits they claimed were lost because of the inordinate time it took to build the bungled Grant Bridge. The Golden Gate  Bridge took four years to build; the Grant Bridge took six, even though the Grant is half as long and doesn’t contain any pedestrian or bike paths, and is two-lane rather than six. And not long after the Grant was built there were "oops" occasions when the bridge had to be closed for inspections and repairs, on the Kentucky side. It was as if the points on the Ohio and Kentucky shores, which the bridge was supposed to connect with, were not perfectly coordinated.
      Wikipedia reports, “ It should be noted that the bridge was critically under-designed and not constructible until C.J. Mahan stopped construction and awaited a near complete redesign by the design consultant.” Mahan was suspected of having more political connections than business acumen. He was not much better when it came to barges than he was with bridges. At one point a barge sank that was carrying a large crane that was to be used to construct the center of the bridge. This was the cause of one of many delays. It was as if the bridge was being built not on the Ohio but on the Amazon River, in the jungles of South America, or on the Khwai River, in Thailand. The hungry and abused prisoners of war who built a railroad bridge in the Oscar winning 1957 movie The Bridge on the River Kwai were efficiency experts compared to those who built the new Grant Bridge. 
      Its embarrassing history notwithstanding, there at the heart of the new city seal is the Grant Bridge, wrapped in the American flag no less, which brings to mind Samuel Johnson’s remark that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Who is the scoundrel  responsible for making the Grant Bridge the center of the city seal? Who dared to besmirch the American flag by having it wrapped around the boondoggled Grant Bridge? Without claiming I am  sure of  the answer to that question, I will call your attention to a seemingly insignificant detail in the new city seal. I refer to the tiny fleurs-de-lis, if I am not mistaken,  alternating with stars, in  the outermost circle of the seal.