Monday, May 30, 2005

Spats and Anthrax

anthrax molecule
a lethal anthrax molecule

Two events last week, and the way they were covered in the Portsmouth Daily Times, may be examples of the way in which that newspaper occasionally reverts to its previous practice of manipulating the news and controlling the way its readers perceive local events. The Daily Times was not quite the official organ of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and the SOGP porkers, but it was close to it. Without their advertising revenue, the steadily shrinking newspaper could not survive. If a Daily Times reporter dared to try to do the kind of investigative reporting that led the Toledo Blade to expose the scheme by which a prominent political fundraiser and rare coin collector allegedly swindled the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation of millions,* that reporter would soon be looking for another job. Instead of uncovering corruption or incompetence in Scioto County, the Daily Times is more likely to gloss it over, if not cover it up.

Which gets me back to the Daily Times reporting on two events last week, at both of which I was present and therefore know something about firsthand. The first was the Portsmouth City Council meeting, last Monday evening. In recent weeks, councilman Marty Mohr has attempted to change the existing format of council meetings so that citizens cannot speak on items not on the agenda. Instead of focusing on this unusual and even extraordinary effort to restrict free speech, and on Mohr’s earlier dissing of citizens in the council chamber as “crap,” the Daily Times has focused on the protests that Mohr’s insult and his attempt to restrict free speech has prompted. In other words, the Daily Times has made the protests, and not what provoked them, the story.

The May 25th front-page story on the May 23rd council meeting was headlined, “Spats Disrupt Council.” The opening paragraph reads, “Even though it’s hard to find common ground for City Council members and some vocal citizens, they agree that recent disturbances during meetings are not conducive to business.” Jeff Barron closes his report by quoting Mohr and Baughman. Mohr said, “We have an extremely small group of people who enjoy bashing people at meetings, on the Internet and in their newspaper (Shawnee Sentinel).” Barron gives Baughman the last word in the story. “I think the atmosphere discourages outside investment,” Baughman said, “because there has to be an atmosphere of trust.”

Baughman repeats one of the favorite Chamber of Commerce myths of the last quarter of a century, which is that a few people “discourage outside investment [in Portsmouth],” to use his phrase. Twenty-five years ago, according to this myth, three malicious councilmen condemned Portsmouth to another quarter century of economic stagnation by opposing the building of a downtown mall. Two of those councilmen are no longer alive to defend themselves, but one of them, Harold Daub is, and not coincidentally Daub is being cast as the chief culprit of the city council disturbances that are allegedly discouraging outside investment. Daub is being cast as the Darth Vader of Spat Wars. Daub’s behavior at the May 23rd council meeting was not disruptive. I was there. I saw and heard. Daub spoke to the council at the appropriate time, and calmly, but he dared to mention a council member by name, which has become an ejectionable offense according to the imperious standards of deportment set by the dictatorial Baughman and Mohr. Daub was commanded to leave the Municipal Building, and I’ve heard of people who were not there circulating stories he was out of control. The Mauling of Harold Daub continues.

The other event that may have been slanted by the Daily Times occurred on March 24th, the night after the council meeting. It occurred on the Shawnee State campus.

Massie Hall
SSU's Massie Hall: Scene of the "Anthrax" Evacuation

Unlike the “spat” at the council meeting, at which there were a Daily Times reporter and an editor, and about thirty-five citizens, there was no one from the newspaper at what I will call the "Anthrax" Evacuation, judging by the way the Daily Times reported the story. Having been part of it, I thought that the Anthrax Evacuation was the biggest local story of the day, if not the week, and maybe the month, but the Daily Times put the story on page 3 of the same May 25th paper that had the “Spats Disrupt Council” story on the front page. The small story on page 3 is an Associated Press, not a Daily Times story, and the unrevealing and possibly obfuscating headline for it was “White Substance Found at SSU.” White substance? Snow? Cocaine? Why the reluctance to mention in the headline the "A" word, which is what the whole panic was about?

white substance
Associated Press story on page 3 of Daily Times (5/25/05)

Well, of course, how can finding a white substance on campus possibly compete for front-page coverage with a spat at city council? That headline – “White Substance Found at SSU” – may speak volumes for what the Daily Times, and possibly SSU, did not want to publicize about the Anthrax Evacuation, which involved hundreds of students and faculty, as well as more police and police cruisers than I have ever seen at one Portsmouth scene. The potentially tragic Anthrax Evacuation has such possibly revealing and important elements, as well as curious and embarrassing sidelights, that most reporters at most newspapers (certainly those at the Toledo Blade) would love to be assigned to it. But I think no Daily Times reporter has yet written one word on the Anthrax Evacuation. Why not? Writing about council spats apparently has a higher priority.

But I don't think the Anthrax Evacuation story will be buried. Somebody, either because of negligence or misplaced public relations priorities, may have risked the lives of hundreds of people. However, rather than speculate further, I will wait until SSU or public authorities release more facts, facts that Daily Times reporters should be digging up. But in order to do that they need at least temporarily to devote less time to perpetuating the myth that a very small number of citizens, by speaking out at council meetings and writing in the Shawnee Sentinel, are maliciously preventing the economic revival of Portsmouth, and more time to exposing the incompetence and corruption that give Portsmouth a bad name and impede its economic recovery.

*For more on the Toledo Blade story, click on:

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Marty Mohr Mugging for Moe

City Council meetings are turning into the Marty Mohr Show. Is this how Jerry Springer, former mayor of Cincinnati, got his start in show business? Mohr’s mugging for the camera when "Moe" Ferguson caught him red-handed at the illegal pre-meeting meeting in the city clerk’s office shows how much contempt and defiance Mohr has for a free press and the public it serves.

Mohr is Ward 6 councilman and owner of Automania, the car radio business. If nothing else, last night’s May 23rd meeting of the Portsmouth City Council showed that there are some citizens who are not going to take any Mohr crap sitting down. Objecting to his attempts to stifle free speech at the council meetings, the same citizens whom the crapulous (i.e., intemperate) Mohr at an earlier meeting had called “crap” dared to stand up at last night’s meeting and say they objected to his motion to eliminate free speech, which got them ejected from the meeting.

Probably infuriated by the rumors of his adultery circulating on local chat rooms, Mohr seems determined to deny citizens the right to say anything at council meetings. If citizens attending last night’s meeting so much as mentioned the name of a councilman in their remarks to council, in any context, Mohr called them out of order and instructed police to eject them from the Municipal Building. His response seems as irrational as it is ineffective, because his attempt to change council rules and eliminate the part of the meeting allowing citizens to speak on items not on the agenda failed by a vote of 4 to 2.

Judging by how he conducted himself in the rest of last night’s meeting, Mohr must have been incensed by the 4 to 2 vote. He had succeeded in instigating a disorder that he could then use to justify stifling free speech, but four other councilmen did not buy his argument. Councilman Malone wisely declined to be defended by the undemocratic duo of Baughman and Mohr, saying he was quite capable of defending himself, and he did not need to stifle free speech to do it.

While citizens speak during the non-item segment of city council meetings, Mohr, unlike other council members, avoids looking at them, in a studied show of disrespect. As a political ally, the smarmy Baughman has indulged Mohr’s dictatorial tendencies, and excused his crapulousness, but Baughman is clearly eager to move on to other business. Mohr is out of order. By turning meetings into the Marty Mohr Show, he is interfering with the council’s normal business of mulcting the public. How does he expect the fraudulent Marting’s deal to be completed if he continues to incite disorder?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Little Reichstag Fires

Freedom of Speech_1
Freedom of Speech (1943) by Norman Rockwell

“Lies.” That's the only word I can apply to the case that councilmen Howard Baughman and Marty Mohr have made to justify their attempt to deny citizens the opportunity to address the Portsmouth City Council on items not on the agenda, which citizens have been able to do for many years. Baughman and Mohr are trying their hardest to suppress the views of the informed citizens who attend council meetings and occasionally criticize council members, especially Baughman and Mohr themselves. Just how far the two councilmen are willing to go to suppress freedom of speech was evident at the May 9th council meeting, which I attended and which I have also viewed a tape of.

One of the well-informed citizens who addresses the council and occasionally criticizes them is Teresa Mollette. The specific justification that Baughman and Mohr gave for suppressing free speech was her criticism at the April 25th council meeting of councilman David Malone. In comments on the council's inability to handle budgets, Teresa Mollette pointed out that Malone, a councilman who was running for mayor, was not good with budgets. Councilman Malone has some admirable qualities as a public servant, but he is not good with budgets. That is no secret. Like everybody else, he is not perfect. But Mollette's criticism of Malone was not an attack on, or a harassment and an intimidation of, him, as Baughman charged. Nor did Mollette administer a "thrashing" to Malone, as Baughman also alleged.

I was at the April 25th meeting and heard Teresa Mollette address the council. I have since viewed a tape of her comments. She did not attack, harass, intimidate, or thrash Malone, as Baughman claimed. To say that she did is so gross a misrepresentation of what she said and how she said it as to constitute a lie. She was speaking on the failures of the council as a whole in handling budgets. She made a passing reference to councilman Malone because the Daily Times had written that he claimed to be working on balancing the budget. She wasn't singling out Malone; she made it clear she was criticizing the council per se for being penny-wise and pound-foolish in refusing to pay claims by former long-time city employees against the city. She spoke about 3 minutes on the council's budgetary shortcomings; less than half a minute was on Malone.

Baughman and Mohr seem oblivious to the fact that not only is what they and others say at council meetings recorded in the minutes but they are also recorded on tape, by Joe Ferguson, for all to hear and see on his website, Moe's Forum, including body language and facial expressions.

John Welton wrote recently that, “It is becoming more apparent that Sixth Ward City Councilman Marty Mohr is trying his best to cause another political firestorm between the residents of Portsmouth and the City Council.” In a similar vein, Austin Leedom wrote that the Baughman-Mohr attempt to restrict free speech smacked of facism. Firestorm? Fascism? That may strike some as wildly exaggerated. But after sitting through the April 25th and May 9th meetings, as well as earlier ones, I can understand why Leedom and Welton would make these charges.

Let me remind you of a historical parallel. On Feb. 27, 1933, a fire of suspicious origin destroyed the Reichstag, or parliament building, in Berlin. Many historians believe the Reichstag fire was started by the Nazis, who used it as a justification for cracking down on their political opponents and seizing unlimited powers. Remember the city council meeting at which citizens were searched at the door for hidden weapons after a threat was allegedly made against Baughman by someone in a local bar? A reliable source told me that the alleged threat was relayed to authorities by the son of the city clerk. Jo Ann Aeh, the city clerk, has been associated with the Portsmouth City Council since 1980, not long after she and her husband were reportedly welcomed into the Ku Klux Klan by the white supremacist David Duke. The tactics used by supporters of city manager Barry Feldman in 1980 to remove from office three councilmen who were his political opponents resembled the infamous tactics used by the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis to intimidate their opponents.

What we are currently witnessing in Portsmouth is a series of little Reichstag fires to justify a crackdown on free speech and free assembly. Baughman’s characterization of Teresa Mollette’s April 25th remarks to the city council as an attempt to “inflame the environment,” to quote him again, is an example of an effort to light a little Reichstag fire. It is Baughman and Mohr, not Teresa Mollette, who are trying to "inflame the environment."

For example, at one council meeting, Marty Mohr abused his authority as acting president of the city council to angrily denounce "People on the Internet - and I think you all know who you are -- " for spreading rumors in an online chatroom about his having an adulterous affair with a young woman whose name been mentioned in the chatroom. Mohr apparently thought he recognized some of these "People on the Internet" in the front row of the council chambers and he denounced these "gentlemen," as he sarcastically called them, as "crap"; and he said anybody who associated with them were also crap. Since some of these "gentlemen" had wives who were present, the wives naturally took strong exception to his remarks, and pandemonium followed.

No citizen had ever used a council meeting to accuse Mohr of adultery, so why should Mohr use a council meeting to raise such a personal issue and then denounce citizens in the front row as crap? To quote further from Mohr's outburst, he said "Anybody, ANYBODY who'll say anything detrimental to my family, my wife, I will not stand for it!" As I understand it, nobody in the online chatroom had said anything detrimental about Mohr's wife or his family. It was Mohr who was accused of adultery, not his wife or his family, and if he was going to defend anybody at a city council meeting it should not have been his wife or his family but himself. Perhaps it was just an oversight, but he did not deny the adultery charge. Following his outburst, Mohr was reportedly escorted to his car by police. (I listened to Mohr's outburst and the pandemonium that followed it on an audioclip.)

The meeting at which Mohr provoked pandemonium is now being cited as justification for suppressing the right of free speech in public meetings in Portsmouth. Daily Times reporter Jeff Barron recently referred to the disturbances at council meetings as “outbursts,” without pointing out who created the “outbursts.” What those who are attempting to suppress freedom of speech are doing is creating the outbursts that are then used to justify a crackdown on free speech. Baughman characterized Teresa Mollette's mild 26-second criticism of the only African-American council member as a "thrashing." The definition of "thrashing" is to beat with a stick or whip. But it is the erratic Mohr, not Teresa Mollette, who has the reputation of carrying a chip on his shoulder and whip in his hand.

Baughman and Mohr’s ostensible defense of councilman Malone from criticism should be seen for what it is: a cynical attempt to pose as his protectors when it is themselves they are trying to protect. Disappointed as he probably is in his fourth place showing in the mayoral primary, Malone may mistakenly believe Baughman and Mohr are acting on his behalf in making an issue of Teresa Mollette's comments. I believe they are using him for their own political purposes. Baughman and Mohr are the objects of the citizens’ wrath, not Malone, and Malone would be making a serious error if he allows them to use him as an excuse for suppressing free speech.

Baughman and Mohr are laboring under the same illusion those who wield the real power in Portsmouth are laboring under. They think this is twenty-five years ago when the elite had the city manager Barry Feldman in their pocket and controlled the media. They believe they are above criticism and they treat anyone who criticizes them as disturbers of the peace, if not anarchists. Greg Bauer, who was recalled from office last June, had predicted that if he was not retained as mayor Portsmouth would fall into anarchy. Baughman, Mohr and the SOGP crowd they represent are trying by lighting little Reichstag fires to create the impression that Bauer's prophecy is coming true. Because they controlled the news the citizens of Portsmouth got for so long, the elite and their pawns on the council cannot countenance public challenges to their authority. In particular, they cannot stand the freedom of expression and information that the Internet makes possible. They cannot control the Internet, but they continue to try to control public meetings in Portsmouth, setting the conditions and terms under which those meetings take place, in contravention of the spirit of Ohio's Sunshine laws. The attempt to eliminate the opportunity of citizens to address and, yes, to criticize the city council on issues not on the agenda is just part of a wider effort to stifle freedom of speech. Whether they succeed may be decided at the next council meeting, on May 23rd, when another vote is expected on Mohr's motion.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


I voted button

In the weeks prior to the mayoral election, I spoke to acquaintances about the slate of candidates. And the prevailing opinion was there was no candidate on the slate worth voting for. “It’s very discouraging,” was one complaint. “I’m sitting this one out,” was another.

My circle of acquaintances is not large, but it is diverse, including some fairly conservative individuals. But liberal or conservative, they said they were disgusted by Portsmouth politics and frustrated by the slim mayoral pickings, so they decided to stay away from the polls on May 3.

What surprised me was not how many decided not to vote but how many expressed regret that Frank Gerlach was not a candidate. Even some Republicans expressed this view, and they said they knew other Republicans who felt the same way. They had not felt that way in the past, but after seven years of Bauer, Gerlach began to look petty good. I don’t claim to know if such feelings are widespread since I am reporting on a fairly small sample. I haven’t seen any “Bring Back Gerlach” bumper stickers.

But I know I felt most of the serious candidates were compromised by their involvement in the corruption of the Bauer years, in particular by the Marting scandal, and they have not done or said anything to lead me to believe they have turned over a new leaf. None of those on the ballot publicly stated they were against making the Marting building the new city hall, but Gerlach has. None of those on the ballot said publicly the current form of city government is inefficient and should be changed, but Gerlach has. None of those on the ballot has said the Municipal Building is worth saving, but Gerlach has. None of those on the ballot has served as the elected mayor of Portsmouth, but Gerlach has.

Unfortunately, Gerlach did not choose to run. Perhaps he believes he has paid his dues and can live without the hassles of public office. Still, I decided I would rather vote for somebody who was qualified but not on the ballot than for any of the unqualified who were. I decided it was a waste of time trying to figure out who was the lesser of several evils. Instead of staying away from the polls, I decided to go and vote for someone I wish had been a candidate.

I was warned that writing in a candidate is complicated. It isn’t. On the inside of the sleeve that holds ballot, there is column for writing in a candidate. All it takes is a pencil. I did my civic duty. I voted, even if it was for someone not on the ballot.