Sunday, July 31, 2005

Slime Time


"It's a pig, it's a plane, no, it's a Portsmouth politician!"

I am able to report exclusively that the former Shine Time Carwash on Findlay St. has been purchased by the city of Portsmouth for a million dollars, and renamed Slime Time Peoplewash. An example of Portsmouth’s classic cinderblock architecture, the Slime Time building may date all the way back to the 1950s. Acting Mayor Jim Kalb reportedly negotiated secretly with the real estate developer Neal Hatcher to buy the Slime Time building, which will be converted to a state-of-the-art facility that will wash not cars but people, specifically politicians and reporters who do the dirty work for Portsmouth’s corrupt ruling elite, drug dealers, prostitutes, members of the SOGP, the Marting Foundation, and wheelchair-bound senior citizens, in short everyone in Portsmouth who can use a regular washing and scrubbing

The owners of Shine Time Carwash were reportedly willing to let it go for only a million dollars because they wanted to give something back to the community. “We didn’t want to sell it to someone who thought it was an eyesore and would tear it down.” The city is consulting an architectural firm in Cincinnati about the possibility of removing the red brick exterior of Slime Time to reveal the cinderblock underneath. The plan is to turn Findlay Street into an architectural showplace, unpeeling its buildings down to their pristine unpainted cinderblock frames.

When city auditor Trent Williams heard of the city’s purchase of the Slime Time facility, he said incredulously, “It’s only going to cost the city a million dollars?” Even though he was the last to learn of the sale, he did not take offense. “That’s only half of what Marting’s cost,” he said. “It’s a steal.” In a secret memo to City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh, leaked by someone in the Ku Klux Klan, City Solicitor Kuhn wrote, “Screw the public! The purchase of Slime Time is perfectly legal.”

Acting mayor Kalb will release a statement that says, “It’s time Portsmouth moved forward again. Just as the renovated Marting building will serve as a city hall and the former Adelphia Cable building as the new police station and Kenrick’s store as a visitor center, the Slime Time building will no doubt make Portsmouth a cleaner and more attractive city, especially if the council passes an ordinance making couches on porches, dogs under porches, and chickens on top of porches illegal. I predict our citizens will wonder how Portsmouth has gotten by as long as it has without a facility like Slime Time.” The mayor's mantra has become “It's slime time!"


City rescues Slime Time landmark from wrecking ball

Lawyer Clayton Johnson was allegedly the first to propose the city purchase Slime Time at a secret public forum held in his office at which three council members, Neal Hatcher, and the carwash owners allegedly were present. Footage surreptitiously taken by Joe Ferguson from the back of a second-hand reconverted Adelphia van and shown on Moe’s Forum reveals that there were no lights on in the offices of Johnson and Oliver when the late-night time secret public meeting allegedly took place. “Johnson always operates in the dark,” Joe explained

The Sentinel crowd throws so much crap at public servants like me that a facility like this is an absolute must here in Portsmouth,” council member Marty Mohr said. Eager to rid himself of his reputation as Portsmouth’s crappiest politician, Mohr is said to be one of several council members who are jockeying to be first to use Slime Time before facing voters in next November’s recall election. Mr. Clean is how Mohr hopes to emerge from Slime Time.

“The Slime Time Peoplewash will be a Portsmouth landmark,” predicted Steve Hayes, a die-hard cinderblock preservationist. “I hope the omission of the Slime Time building from the murals is an oversight that will be remedied in the future,” he added. Neal Hatcher told the Daily Times, “The Slime Time building ranks right up there with the Adelphia building as a cinderblock landmark in our community. You don’t see much of that classic cinderblock architecture anymore.” Zeke Mullins of WNXT praised the purchase. “It sure makes a fella feel purty good there’s still fellas like Steve [his boss Steve Hayes] who cares about something beside making money. Imagine what some of those Italian quattrocento fellas could have done iffen only they'd a built some of those big churches in cinderblock stead of marble.”

“The Slime Time building is one of the most patriotic structures in Portsmouth,” Howard Baughman said at a recent city council meeting. “Not long after 9/11, its owners patriotically painted the Slime Time facility red, white, and blue,” he explained. The head of a Portsmouth VFW Post was quoted in The Community Common as saying “demolishing the Slime Time building would be like burning the American flag.” Councilman David Malone said he plans to lead prayer sessions in front of the Slime Time facility each alternate Monday before council meetings, unless there is a secret meeting in the city clerk’s office he must attend beforehand. Malone is already working on his first Slime Time sermon, called “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Finally, an unconfirmed report out of Washington says that Rep. Rob Porkman, in one of his last acts before leaving the House of Representatives, will attach a rider to a space appropriation bill to help finance a speedy conversion to Slime Time.


(For those who tend to believe everything they read in print, I feel obliged to point out that there is about as much truth in this posting as there is in most local news stories in The Portsmouth Daily Times.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Slots and Sluts

To a drought stricken region, dark clouds on the horizon offer the promise of rain. But dark clouds can be accompanied by destructive forces, by winds, lightning and torrential rains that do much more harm than good.
Like great dark clouds to the west, gambling is on Portsmouth’s horizon – again. Those clouds were there before, in 1988 and 1996, when gambling was on the ballot, but Ohio voters decided on those occasions that the potential harm was greater than any financial gain gambling might bring. But the dark clouds are back. Pro-gambling forces are trying to amend Ohio’s constitution to allow qualified cities to legalize land-based casino gambling. Because it has a home rule charter and has one of the other requirements a city must meet (being a county seat), Portsmouth is one of three cities in southeastern Ohio that would qualify. Ironton and Gallipolis are the other two.
The ruling elite in Portsmouth were aware of these dark clouds before they were on the public’s radar. I found it hard to believe than any informed person could believe the Front Street murals could attract enough visitors to justify expending millions of dollars of public funds on the “Kenrick’s” tourist center. But if the ruling clique is right in betting that gambling will come to Portsmouth, then that visitor center will no doubt be a busy place. But it will be serving people who came to Portsmouth not so much to see the murals as to play the slots.
I was astonished by what a piece of private Front Street property near the Municipal Building sold for last year. It made absolutely no sense unless someone was betting that gambling would come to downtown Portsmouth. If gambling does come, then all downtown properties, particularly in the area of the Municipal Building, the Ramada Inn, and the new bridge can be expected to skyrocket in value.
The determination of the ruling clique and their local political prostitutes to tear down the Municipal Building can best be understood when put in the gambling context. Acting Mayor Kalb said in a public forum that Portsmouth’s riverfront property is potentially valuable and that he knew of a developer who was interested in the Municipal Building site. Since when is riverfront property in Portsmouth valuable? Only since legalized gambling became a distinct possibility.
The Ramada Inn has struggled for years and would not have been able to survive without the kind of pork that has kept others in business in Portsmouth, which has been like a Third World city for a long time. When I came for an interview at the university in 1989, I was put up at the Ramada, as all university visitors are. I traveled in the Third World in the 1970s, and when I stayed at the Ramada I felt I was back in a Third World hotel. Without university business, which is ultimately public money, and without serving as a dormitory for the university, would the Ramada still be in business? It is certainly not the Ramada that made downtown property valuable. It is the prospect of slots that make the Ramada and other downtown properties look like a potential goldmine. We already have the sluts. (For a libertarian read on the sluttishness of slots, look at
The Portsmouth Daily Times recently (28 June 2005) ran a front-page story by Mark Shaffer with the headline “Gambling Draws Local Support.” Who is the local support? The only supporter quoted is a local businessman, someone identified in the story as “Kevin Johnson, the co-owner of the Emporium at Portsmouth . . .” The PDT reports that Kevin Johnson is in favor of legalized land-based gambling in Portsmouth. Kevin Johnson pointed to unspecified cities in Colorado and South Dakota as places where legalized gambling have been a good thing, and what’s good for cities in Colorado and South Dakota, he implies, will be good for Portsmouth. “He [Kevin Johnson] said casinos could mean turning around the local economy.”

“Gambling Draws Local Support” is the kind of slanted and inaccurate reporting that has made the PDT the prostitute of the local ruling clique for at least a quarter of a century and probably much longer. A story on a local antique dealer’s enthusiasm for legalized gambling is published without checking on the nature of the purported success of legalized gambling in Colorado and South Dakota. In a twenty-minute search on the Internet PDT reporter Mark Shaffer could have found enough documented criticism of gambling in South Dakota and Colorado to balance Kevin Johnson’s rosy scenario for legalized gambling in Portsmouth. When if ever will the PDT point out the potential environmental, social, and moral costs of “revitalizing” Portsmouth through gambling dollars?
Perennial Political Pawn David Malone at Work
We can expect more coverage like "Gambling Draws Local Support" by the PDT in the months and years ahead. Expect the forces pushing for legalized gambling to spend big bucks in promotional campaigns. Expect the PDT to be the recipient of many of those promotional dollars. Expect local businessmen and politicians to cite unspecified studies, as Kevin Johnson does, that imply legalized gambling will be the answer to Portsmouth’s economic woes, as “the mall” was supposed to be back in 1980.
In a cursory look on the internet, I found many websites promoting legalizing gambling in Colorado and South Dakota. These websites are sponsored by the gambling interests in those states. They obviously have a vested interest in convincing the public legalized gambling is a good thing. If your research extends no further than these patently biased sources, you will be impressed, as Kevin Johnson is, by the possibilities of legalized gambling in Portsmouth. A final word about Kevin Johnson. According to the County Auditor’s records, Paul E. Johnson and Kevin Warren are co-owners of the Emporium, a new antique store on Chillicothe St., so Mark Shaffer may have mixed up their names. If so, that was not the only thing he did not get right in the story.

After PBS showed a Frontline program on legalized gambling in the USA, a Colorado viewer wrote a letter to PBS saying, “I want to thank you for the excellent story about gambling. A few years ago when I lived in Colorado I voted for legalized gambling in the town of Blackhawk just west of Boulder and Denver. Today I would never vote for something like that again. I saw the slow decay of that beautiful mountain town and what that type of business can do! It basically destroyed the spirit of the town. The locals were driven out by big money, and fast life style in the name of progress. Closer to home a co-worker of mine hits the Native American casinos on a regular basis, and has in my opinion nearly bankrupted his family. I realize as Americans we control our own destiny, but what kind of future are we creating for ourselves? I get very scared when I hear of all the problems of this country, but I think this problem needs immediate attention! At the rate we are spending money on the ‘Gaming’ industry what is going to happen to us when the well runs dry, all this investment could have been more wisely spent on perhaps educating children against the evils of gaming.”

Another viewer wrote PBS from Colorado to say, “Your program regarding gambling was very interesting. I live in Colorado and we have legalized gambling in three small mountain towns and the State of Colorado lottery. I have seen my in-laws who are in their 70's spend their time and money on the pursuit of ‘easy money.’ It amazes me because they worked very hard all their lives to be able to retire with a modest income. They use to camp and ride their dirt bikes in our beautiful Rocky Mountains. Now, they take bus trips to gambling towns in and outside our State. I personally do not enjoy gambling or understand the pleasure in it. I have not expressed to them my opinion of gambling because it is after all, their right. Four years ago, I met a man who moved to Colorado from Las Vegas. Originally, he told me he moved because he was tired of the rat race and his now ex-wife was transferred here by her company. He lived here over a year before discovering legalized gambling just 30 minutes away from Denver. He became a frequent visitor to the gambling casinos. His whole personality changed. He began losing large sums of money he did not have. He would take out cash advances on credit cards in order to try and 'win it back.' To make a long story short, he never did 'win it back' and eventually hit bottom when he lost his job and had to file bankruptcy for the second time in his life. I learned later on that he had a terrible gambling problem and that was one of the reasons for the move to Colorado. I do not agree with the widespread of legalized gambling. I am concerned for the children who sit in lobbies with very little to do while their parents are gambling. I think gambling is one of the factors contributing to the demoralization of American society.”

And what about South Dakota, the other state Kevin W. Johnson mentioned? “Since South Dakota voted to make Deadwood a casino town in 1989, South Dakota politics have been hijacked by the massive political spending of gambling interests,” according to Mother Jones Magazine. A citizens' group on the internet ( wrote, "Deadwood (South Dakota) is a prime example of what happened to a small self-sufficient community after the opening of casinos in its town. The town was lured by the promise of a much larger tax base, a larger tourist industry, and all the other lures that an industry will use to force the passing of ordinances to allow the business to locate in a community that otherwise would not allow it." The same citizens' group provided the following report, the information in which they attributed to U.S. News & World Report (14 Mar. 1994):

"Shortly after the advent of legalized casino gambling [Nov. 1989], the Deadwood [South Dakota] casino economy lurched forward. The state attorney's office in Deadwood indicated that within approximately two years:

1. Child abuse cases had increased 42% to 43% (from 350 to 500 cases);

2. Police costs had increased 80% to 100% with a virtual doubling of the number of police officers;

3. Although national statistics had increased only slightly, crime in the Deadwood area had increased overall by 10% (although prior to 1989 the crime rate had been declining) with a 50% increase in felonies. Furthermore, there were 614 Class One misdemeanors or felonies in 1988, and 1,070 in 1992, a 75% increase in four years;

4. Domestic violence and assaults had risen 80%; and

5. Burglaries and writing of bad checks had increased . . .

One of the saddest impacts of gambling and casinos in a community are the costs in people. The property and money loss are nothing compared to what people have to do to obtain the money to support their habits. And the saddest of these is when teen age girls have to turn to prostitution to get the money they need. It becomes epidemic as casinos and gambling have always lured girls and women into prostitution.

Teenage girls are forced into prostitution when they can't pay their gambling debt to the loan shark. In 1976 Atlantic City had no prostitution problem - today it is a public health problem.”

It is also possible that the lure of gambling, like the lure of the 1980 mall, by promising prosperity, will take in the hopefully gullible but amount in the end to nothing, and there will be further recriminations against those who challenged gambling for having prevented progress and prosperity. If gambling does come to Portsmouth, the Marting building might finally be recycled appropriately, in view of its recent notoriety, either as a casino or, in the unlikely event prostitution might be legalized, as the biggest bordello east of the Rockies.
Biggest bordello east of the Rockies?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Father, Forgive Him!

Rev. Malone Preaching
"Protection and Deliverance
of a City"

Rev. David A.Malone prayed on the steps of Muncipal Building for the deliverance of Portsmouth. Now citizens of Portsmouth are praying for the deliverance of Malone from the corrupt clique he is blindly following.

Below is a copy of one such prayer.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Prostitute Times

Hooker at work

Julie Stout recently pointed out in Moe’s Forum that the 56-year-old James M. McGinnis, until last February the president and CEO of Heartland Publications, the parent company of the Portsmouth Daily Times, or PDT, was found guilty last June of having purloined $1.7 plus from company coffers. Shades of Adelphia! McGinnis claimed that he was just borrowing the money, but the judge ruled the former owner of the PDT “committed theft, as that term is defined in 812.014, Fla. Stat. (2004) by taking $1,713,342 from Heartland's accounts for his own personal use and benefit." The judge fined McGinnis $5.1 million or triple damages. According to officials, McGinnis will probably not be able to pay the fine, because his wife divorced him, took possession of their house, which left him with only one asset – his XJ8 gold Jaguar, which will be sold at auction.

McGinnis has long been in the business, over the course of 30 years, of managing, owning. and milking roughly 80 small- and medium-town newspapers in 22 states in what he called the American heartland. Contrary to the prevailing view that American newspapers are liberal, most small-town newspapers, of which there are very many, are politically conservative. Small-town newspapers are conservative partly because they are dependent upon local conservative business people for their survival. If local businesses don’t advertise, there is not much to be milked by the small-town newspaper’s corporate parent. The pressure that the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce puts on the PDT to toe the SOGP line is no secret. If you believe the PDT’s current opposition to a second round of recalls was based on an honest, independent judgment on the editor’s part, then you might also believe Madonna is a virgin.

As for the PDT’s circulation, the other source of its income, it has been about as robust as a fossilized pterodactyl’s. That is why small town newspapers often function as the handmaidens of local Chambers of Commerce and do everything they can to promote local economic development, even if the development has an unethical or criminal character and has a detrimental effect on the community, as legalized gambling has. (I’ll deal with legalized gambling in my next blog.) In the case of our river city, the PDT is not so much the handmaiden as it is the prostitute of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, which is the arm of the Chamber that launders government money.

As for the notion that a small town newspaper might do the kind of investigative reporting that could put local business and political bigwigs in a bad light, forget it. Did the PDT report the conviction of its owner James M. McGinnis? Did it put a reporter on the anthrax evacuation at Shawnee State? Has it ever reported that for a decade or more Shawnee State has been ranked as one of the worst universities of its kind in the U.S., in spite of many millions of dollars of state support and special subsidies? Not that I am aware. But it did recently put a reporter on a front-page story of a duck that was reportedly trapped in a storm drain. The Shawnee Sentinel came into existence and became Portsmouth’s most popular source of local news not by reporting on alleged ducks in drains but because it does investigative journalism and is the generator of lively opinion. The PDT does not cover the news that the Chamber of Commerce and the two other large institutions in Portsmouth, the hospital and the university, do not want it to cover. There is a local news vacuum, which readers abhor. That is why the Sentinel, which reports it had 10,000,000 hits in the last year, finds so many readers. Even my infrequent and somewhat professorial blog, River Vices, as it approaches its first anniversary, has had over 10,000 visitors.

The FBI was reportedly involved in the investigation of McGinnis. I have heard rumors that the FBI is involved in an on-going investigation of criminal activities and corruption among the higher-ups of Portsmouth, but that’s all they are at this point, rumors, born of wishes. But of one thing I am fairly sure: the kind of newspapers McGinnis owned, such as the PDT, are about as likely to be investigating corruption or criminal activities among the higher-ups in the towns of the American heartland, and in Portsmouth in particular, as the Portsmouth Spartans are of playing in the Super Bowl next winter. Rather than investigating the well-heeled of Portsmouth, the drain-duck lame-duck PDT is in bed with them, trying to denigrate the use of the recall of public officials and promote legalized gambling, all the while piously pretending to occupy a moral high ground where it scolds the “troublemakers” on the internet, the same internet that broke its monopoly on local news. What the PDT is really doing is working both sides of the street, like a five-dollar John St. whore waiting for a John, or another Jim McGinnis, in a gold-colored Jaguar.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Adelphia: O, Brother!

Adelphia founder in handcuffs

To better understand the Marting mess and the swindle Clayton Johnson has nearly completed with the complicity of the Portsmouth City Council, it helps to look at the so-called Adelphia building, at 807 Washington St., which Johnson made part of the package he told the city it must accept if it hopes to get back any part of the $2 million he illegally obtained from the city for the Marting building.

A little background. Adelphia is a Greek word meaning “brother,” but Adelphia’s history of corruption is enough to make anyone say “O, brother!”

A year ago this week, a federal jury found former Adelphia chairman and founder 80-year-old John Rigas (in photograph above) and his son Timothy guilty of conspiracy and massive securities and bank fraud. Rigas and Timothy were convicted of deceiving investors and hiding more than $2.3 billion in debt while using company funds to finance a lavish life style for themselves and their relatives. The father received a 15- and Timothy a 20-year sentence. The Rigas family was required to pay huge fines and to give up any stake in Adelphia, which was operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The elder Rigas is reportedly down to his last $76 million.

Former Adelphia building on Washington St.

Now, what about Adelphia and Portsmouth? O, brother! In 1984, a Dr. Herbert I. Singer, of Los Angeles, bought what became known as the Adelphia building, on Washington Avenue, from Michael H. Mearan, a local lawyer who specializes in auto accidents and bankruptcy. Dr. Singer leased the building to Adelphia for twenty years, but Adelphia reportedly abrogated that lease in its last year, presumably because Adelphia was in bankruptcy and could get away with abrogating leases and not paying its bills.

About that time, Adelphia moved from Washington St. to its new location, not far from the 15th Street viaduct development. Given the 15th St. viaduct’s shady history and shady tenants, it should be called “Shady Plaza.” The Adelphia building on Washington Street was convenient to customers and far better suited than its current building, which looks and feels like a fur trading outpost in the wilds of Alaska. When I asked an Adelphia representative why the company had moved from Washington St., she said it was because the rent on Washington St. was too high – $2,200 a month.

Did Adelphia try to renegotiate the lease? I don’t know, but Adelphia was in an excellent position to do so, because commercial and retail property in downtown Portsmouth is notoriously hard to rent and even harder to sell. For example, according to figures in the auditor’s office, in the Scioto County Courthouse, in 2001 the true cash value of Adelphia’s Washington St. property – actually Dr. Singer’s property – was listed at $958,970; three years later that figure had been reduced 66% to $319,920.

It is hard to believe, with the value of the Washington St. property plummeting 66%, that Adelphia could not have gotten its rent reduced or even bought the property at a distressed price from Dr. Singer. If the city was sincerely interested in reviving downtown, they should have done everything to encourage Adelphia to stay on Washington St. That would have made sense, at least for Adelphia’s customers, but Adelphia does not think first of its customers, not when it has a cable monopoly and a city council that cares about its constituents about as much as Adelphia does for its cable customers.

By moving to “Shady Plaza,” Adelphia not only did a disservice to its customers, but it apparently dealt a karate chop to Dr. Singer, who filed for bankruptcy. In speaking before the city council, Dr. Singer’s lawyer denied his client had declared bankruptcy, but records in the Scioto County Courthouse at the time and still today prove otherwise. Why did Mr. Singer’s lawyer deny he was in bankruptcy? It is possible that Singer is trying to use bankruptcy in the way Adelphia used it, to avoid meeting his financial obligations. The suspicion that Dr. Singer is yet another shady character in this Adelphia corruption saga is heightened by the fact that he is in default for about $18,000 in city taxes on his Washington St. property, taxes which his filing for bankruptcy puts in abeyance.

One of the refreshing things about Dr. Singer and his lawyer, Mr. Mearan, is how candid they are about the underlying reason Dr. Singer is offering the property to the city. There is no moonshine about saving downtown Portsmouth and no Herbert I. Singer Foundation fa├žade has been established to provide a front of civic-mindedness for Singer’s pecuniary motives. According to Portsmouth City Council minutes (14 March 2005), “Mr. Mearan said that in order for Dr. Singer to take advantage of certain IRS regulations the City could not sell or lease the building because that would set a value on the property and would restrict the amount Mr. Singer can claim as a donation to the City. Mr. Mearan stated that with the understanding that the City would accept the property and use it for City purposes [italics added], with a restriction of ten years[,] after which if the City wants to get rid of the building or do whatever they want with the building they could do so.” After ten years, Dr. Singer doesn’t care what the city does with the Washington St. property; they can flush it down the toilet for all he cares. What he wants is for the city to use the property for some public purpose for a minimum of ten years or otherwise he will be greatly restricted in what he can claim as a tax write for a charitable donation.

We need to understand that this is also the motive behind the Marting Foundation’s offer to give the city the Marting building that it had previously fraudulently tried and failed to sell to it: in order for Singer and for Johnson to qualify for maximum tax write-offs the property they donate must by IRS regulations be used for government purposes, in the case of the Adelphia building as a police station and in the case of the Marting building as a city hall.

Public policy in Portsmouth is being dictated not by what is best for the city and its citizens but by what is best for privileged property-owners who want to unload their virtually worthless buildings off on the public for the purposes of tax write-offs. And it is not just the Marting and Adelphia buildings that are being foisted off on the public. The practice of getting the public to pay for property that is no longer of use to it owners and of very little value in the local real estate market is long-standing and widespread in Porksmouth.

Instead of using millions of dollars of public monies to build structures designed for the purposes to which they will be put, the city government receives old and architecturally embarrassing hand-me-downs that require ridiculous outlays to try to transform them into the public buildings they were so obviously never intended to be. In the meanwhile public buildings of architectural importance and practical value are derided and torn down, while for at least ten years, these other old buildings, such as the Marting and Adelphia buildings, with new phony facades, will have to be renovated and maintained, at large public expense, just so that the tax breaks to the privileged few can not be challenged by the IRS. After ten years the buildings can be flushed down the toilet, which is probably what should have been done in the first place. Or to repeat the startlingly candid language of the minutes of the March 14th city council meeting: “Mr. Mearan stated that with the understanding that the City would accept the property and use if for City purposes, with a restriction of ten years[,] after which if the City wants to get rid of the building or do whatever they want with the building they could do so.” O, brother!

From minutes of the 3/14/05 Portsmouth City Council Meeting

Monday, July 04, 2005



“The history of the present King is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over Portsmouth. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.” Or so say I.

On this July 4th weekend I am thinking not only of the Declaration of Independence but of May 24th, 2005, and of another document that was signed on that day here in Portsmouth, Ohio. I hold a Ph.D. in American Civilization, and as a student and teacher, and as the coordinator of a Yale-based committee that organized a series of conferences around the world prior to the celebration of the American Bicentennial, in 1976, I have in my time seen a lot of American documents. But I have never seen one that mocks the Declaration of Independence and the ideal of American democracy as blatantly and cynically as the one that was signed on May 24th, 2005, by Portsmouth’s acting mayor James Kalb and city solicitor David Kuhn, representing the city of Portsmouth, and by Julia Wisniewski, representing the Richard D. Marting Foundation. That infuriating document, which the city solicitor gave the innocuous name “Marting’s Foundation Grant Agreement and Release,” deserves to be studied for the revealing light it throws on the tyranny that exists in Portsmouth as a result of the unholy alliance between crooked politicians and crooked lawyers.

The depth and pervasiveness of that tyranny cannot be appreciated unless we note that there appeared to be a sort of political revolution last year in Portsmouth. Following the revelation that the city had purchased a former department store at a wildly inflated price of $2,000,000 from the Richard D. Marting Foundation, Mayor Greg Bauer and two members of the Portsmouth City Council, Ann Sydnor and Carol Caudill, were recalled from office as a direct result of that scandalous sale. In spite of the support he received financially from well-heeled backers and editorially from the Portsmouth Daily Times and from the weekly Community Common, Mayor Bauer was recalled by a 2 to 1 margin. The recall movement was bi-partisan, for crooked/honest, not Republican/Democratic was what mattered. June 22nd, 2004, the day Mayor Bauer and the others were recalled, had some of the feel of July 4th, 1776, as I showed in Recall, the video that is now available at the Shawnee State Clark Memorial Library and the Portsmouth Public Library.

The political victory was followed by a stunning legal victory when a suit brought by community activists Bob and Teresa Mollette against the Marting Foundation led to a ruling by Judge Marshall that invalidated the sale of the Marting’s building to the city. Mollette’s attorney had argued that Clayton Johnson had conducted secret illegal negotiations with members of the city council, and Judge Marshall agreed. Johnson is playing the role of King George III in Portsmouth’s contemporary history, but fortunately there are some patriotic people in the city not intimidated by him.

But the political and legal victories of the reform movement did not end the tyrannical rule of crooked politicians and crooked lawyers, as the “Marting’s Foundation Grant Agreement and Release” sadly reveals. What that agreement does is not only put the Foundation and everyone associated with it, including Clayton Johnson, beyond the reach of the courts, it also stipulates a number of conditions that the city would have to meet in order to get back any part of the $2,000,000 the Foundation had previously illegally acquired from the city.

To quote the language of the May 24th agreement, which protects Johnson and the Foundation from any legal action: “the City hereby releases and discharges the Foundation and Marting Brothers from any and all claims or causes of action, from the beginning of the world to the date of this Agreement, arising out of the Dispute and the Purchase Agreement, including any and all claims asserted or which could be asserted which the City has or may have against the Foundation and/or Marting Brothers, whether such claims are legal or equitable, known or unknown, contingent or matured, or joint, several or individual. The release by the City is also intended to and does release and discharge the agents, affiliates, subsidiaries, related business entities, insurers, successors, attorneys, officers, directors, board members, assigns, and all and every other person who has worked for or on behalf of the Foundation and/or Marting Brothers.” With this agreement Johnson not only covers his own ass from the beginning of the world to all eternity, but he also covers the asses of every party however remotely related to the Foundation and the crooked sale of the Marting building.

In the agreement the Foundation on its part agrees to give the city the Marting building, but the Marting Foundation never wanted this worthless property in the first place; the Marting building is like the Old Maid in the card game: whoever gets stuck with it loses. I think the Foundation may have been created primarily to unload the Marting building, preferably by selling it to some foolish buyer or, failing that, by giving it away, which ended up being the only way the Foundation could get rid of it.

Councilman Marty Mohr was right about one thing when he told a Columbus Dispatch reporter last year that he had made a study of retail property and decided the Marting building “ain’t worth anything.” (After being courted by King George and after real estate developer Neal Hatcher named an SSU dormitory in Hatcheville in honor of the Mohr family, Marty Mohr changed his mind about the value of the Marting building.) As long as the Marting Foundation owned the building, it presumably would have had to pay taxes indefinitely, assuming the Foundation had not finessed those, too; there was little chance that any retailer would buy it. Giving the building away, provided someone would take it, might at least make a tax-write off possible, as had been the case when Johnson arranged to have the very dubious assets of the defunct Travel World agency donated to Ohio University, at Ironton.

What makes the May 24th agreement one of the most infamous documents in Portsmouth’s history is, first, that the Foundation, after Judge Marshall’s invalidation of the sale, did not agree to return the $2,000,000 it had received from the city but only $1,405,000, because the Foundation had lost nearly $600,000 on risky investments.

"Honey, I shrank the $2,000,000!"

Section of Marting's Agreement with city of Portsmouth showing how, through poor investments, the Marting Foundation shrank the city's $2 million to $1.4 million

Even though Judge Marshall had ruled that Johnson had violated the law in the underhanded way he had conducted negotiations for the sale of the building, the Foundation would not agree to return all the money it had received but only whatever portion of it that remained at such time that it might return it. The high-handed attitude of our King George can be explained by the unwritten rule that possession is ninth-tenths of the law, even if what you possess you acquired illegally.

But Johnson and the Foundation did not stop there: he also set conditions that the city would have to meet before the Foundation would turn over what ever remained of the $2,000,000, for there was no guarantee that the $1,405,000, with fluctuations in the market, would not shrink some more. Here is the relevant passage from the agreement:

“The Foundation agrees to deliver the Foundations Assets” [that is, the money the Foundation obtained illegally from the city], if “The City agrees that the Foundation Assets shall be used exclusively for one (1) or more of the following purposes: City Police Station, Portsmouth City Offices, or a national or regional retail establishment . . . The City agrees that the Foundation Assets may be used for rehabilitation and renovation of 807 Washington Street, commonly known as the Adelphia Building, for a Permitted Use; and/or (ii) the balance, including any sums which the City shall decide not to allocate to the use and purpose described in Clause (i) herein, to rehabilitate and renovate, or to tear down and rebuild at the main Marting Building, 515 Chillicothe Street, and any other of the Marting Properties, for a Permitted Use."

Imagine a con artist being arrested for illegally selling a worthless painting for $2,000,000, and then agreeing to return only part of the $2,000,000 but only if the defrauded party agrees to keep the painting and spend a specified amount of the returned money on restoring the worthless painting. Oh, and in addition, the con artist insists that any money left over should be spent on restoring another painting of dubious value (the Adelphia building).

We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that con artist King George is not asking for the Marting building back. If you miss that point, you miss everything. Hell, that Old Maid is the last thing he wants back in his hands. No one in his right business mind wants a square foot of that property. As a former employee of Marting's says in Recall, "I know every stinking inch of that building." Johnson's got the city’s money, and he doesn’t want to spend another nickel on that 100-year-old worthless old maid.

But King George the con artist is not done dictating conditions in the Agreement, for the city has to submit a specific plan for a Permitted Use (that is, plans for the Marting and possibly the Adelphia building) within 36 calendar months or lose all claims to the Foundation’s assets (i.e., the city money it holds). "Do exactly what I tell you to do in the time I have told you to do it or you will not get a cent of your money back!" Our spineless and corrupt city government is reduced to being a pawn of this small town dictator.

In his memo to the city officers, accompanying the “Marting’s Foundation Grant Agreement and Release,” solicitor Kuhn wrote, “Please review the agreement carefully, so that the time constraints are met in order for the City to take full advantage of the Agreement.” The city take full advantage of the Agreement? Anyone who reads the agreement carefully should conclude that it is the city that is being taken full advantage of. What the solicitor is really saying is let’s push this crooked deal through as fast as we can, for what the “Marting’s Foundation Grant Agreement and Release” really is, I say on this 4th of July weekend, is a royal screwing.