Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Grim reaper or real estate developer?

In other towns they call it eminent domain. In Portsmouth we call it "Hatchered."

Headlines we will not see in the Daily Times: "Elderly homeowners Hatchered as they sleep." "African-American family attempting to make living in real estate Hatchered."

Eminent domain is a hot-button national issue. Getting Hatchered is a local one.

domain abuse cartoon

Mrs. Lela Perry spoke at the Aug. 8 city council meeting. She complained about the way poor black people in Portsmouth are treated by rich white males. She complained about the abuse of eminent domain. I heard it all on WPAY (1400 AM). She said she and her son Joe had been treated badly by city officials and by Neal Hatcher. Yes, she named Hatcher. Specifically. Explicitly. I turned up the radio and held my breath, waiting for council president Baughman to gavel them out of order and possibly expel them from the meeting. But no gavel sounded. Perhaps it is only the names Kalb, Baughman, Mohr and Kuhn that cannot be pronounced before the city council. Or perhaps it is only Harold Daub who cannot mention any public official’s name without getting kicked out.

1149 4th
Joe Perry home at 1149 4th St., soon to be Hatchered?

Joe Perry cited a letter he had received from lawyer and former city council member John W. Thatcher informing him that the city was taking his property by eminent domain. This is the same John W. Thatcher whose white elephant of a house on Franklin Blvd. was taken off his hands back in the early 2000's by the obliging Shawnee State U. board of trustees, which his wife Jo Ann had formerly been a member of. In buying the Thatcher house as a temporary president’s house, SSU and the state of Ohio took a $50,000 loss, a deal that documents show university lawyer Stephen P. Donohue (now vice president and Judge Donohue) had rushed through for the Thatchers. It is a shame that Joe Perry does not have connections on the city council or SSU board of trustees, a shame he does not have the kind of connections that would allow him to sell his property to the city or the university for $50,000 more than its market value.

Thatcher house
John W. Thatcher house on which state took $50,000 loss

Another speaker at the council meeting last Monday was Harry Kyle, of 4th St. Kyle was one of those who would not allow himself to be Hatchered when the developer, in collusion with the city, was using eminent domain to destroy the 3rd St neighborhood back in 2002 to make way for Hatcher’s dormitories in the section of Portsmouth that residents who still live there call “Hatcherville.”

Kyle refused to be Hatchered in 2002, and he said at Monday’s meeting he was going to continue to resist as long as he could. He said that next fall’s mayoral election, which will include possible recalls of several council members, might change the political climate in the city and stop the ruthless eminent domaining of private property. In speaking at the 13 May 2002 meeting of the Portsmouth City Council, Kyle had said that the city had deceitfully and ruthlessly driven people out of their homes to make way for the expansion of Shawnee State, and that the whole business was a “horrible, horrible thing.”

Last Sunday on the ABC program This Week, I heard commentator Cokie Roberts say the power of eminent domain had put developers in virtual control of city councils all across the country. That is certainly the case here in Portsmouth, and another speaker at last Monday’s council meeting, SSU President Rita Rice Morris, bears out the truth of Cokie Roberts’ observation, for kowtowing to Neal Hatcher was obviously the main reason she came to the council meeting.

I have waited several years before forming any firm opinion on President Morris, hoping against hope she would turn out to be a worthy leader of the university. But I knew the odds were against her, or any president, who dared to buck the corrupt system in this town, the same corrupt system SSU is an integral part of. I resisted the opinion that some faculty have that she has become the kept woman on the Hilltop. Former SSU president James Chapman is a reminder of what happens to individuals who don’t go along with those who rule Portsmouth. SSU has its first woman president, but the university, like the town, is still in control of the same corrupt rich white males Lela Perry complained about. Rita Rice Morris is not part of the solution; she is part of the problem. The rich white males have put her in a money-pit on the top of the Hilltop, miles from campus. The way in which George Clayton purchased the Camelot money-pit she now lives in was a scandal, and like the purchase of the Thatcher house, the Camelot house is reminder that in Portsmouth poorer people get eminent domained while the over-privileged of Portsmouth get bailed out when they have property they can’t sell. The Thatcher house, the Camelot house, the Marting building, George Clayton’s Kenrick building, the Adelphia building – it’s the same old story. The poorer folk get Hatchered, and are forced to sell property they value and want to retain; the rich sell to the government or the university property that they don’t want and that is practically worthless for millions or at the very least, hundreds of thousands.

3060 Camelot. The presidential money-pit at the top of the hill.

In her appearance before the council, Rita Rice Morris dared to laud Neal Hatcher as a benefactor of the university and the city. She attributed the growth of the university directly to his willingness to risk money in student housing. Risks? I have already shown in the blog, whose url is given below, that Hatcher is not taking any risks. A Portsmouth businessman like him does not take risks: he takes abatements and pork, he takes guarantees from the university that he will be paid rents even if the student occupancy of his dorms ever falls below 92%. The picture of the wonderful conditions at SSU that Morris presented to the council is a crock. Her claim that students love his dormitories is also a crock. They are required by the university to live in Hatcher’s dorms. Serious students have told me they wanted to get out of them because they are so noisy and, on weekends especially, dangerous. Female students have told me they wanted to get out of them because they run the risk of being sexually assaulted. Students were instructed to call the university police, not the Portsmouth police, if there is trouble. The university does not want any bad publicity getting out to the media, though they could count on the Daily Times to bury any adverse publicity, as it did the anthrax mess.

Where Hatcher's dorms have been built shows little regard for the safety of students. Once the new bridge is completed, 3rd St. traffic will become even more of a hazard than it now is, as I warned President Rice in the first formal meeting I had with her when I served as president of the faculty union.

In contrast to Morris’s pollyanna picture of a Neal-Hatcher-blessed university, SSU continues to be ranked annually among the worst colleges in the United States by U.S. News. Should that be a surprise? The university for almost a decade, except for Chapman’s presidency, has been run not by educators but by a university lawyer who was hired on the basis of as fishy a resume as I have ever seen, by a committee that did not follow accepted hiring procedures; the university is being run by a lawyer who after he was hired would not permit a Daily Times reporter to interview him about his past; the university is being run by a lawyer who was rumored, in Portsmouth’s Republican circles, no less, to be trouble from the start; the university is being run by a lawyer who I was told, was fired from the last job he had held prior to be hired at SSU; the university is being run by a lawyer whom the board of trustees, I was told, almost appointed president, and only after warnings from faculty leaders about the dire consequences of such a move were they dissuaded. This is what happens at a university that has the likes of Neal Hatcher as godfather.

If I sometime speak or write intemperately, it is because I, like a number of others, am outraged by the brazenly corrupt and mendacious political establishment in this city, three members of which the voters of Portsmouth recalled from office last year. The members of the SSU board of trustees are not elected: they are appointed by the governor, and – O, woe is us! – his recent appointment of Kay Reynolds as chair of the board of trustees would justify the faculty wearing black armbands for the rest of the year. The combination of Reynolds and Donohue conspiring together to undermine Chapman as president had to be seen to be appreciated. The combination of Donohue, Reynolds, and Hatcher – that will be something to behold. Members of the SSU board of trustees cannot be recalled but elected members of the city government can, and many of Portsmouth voters, including those who spoke at the city council on Aug. 8, are determined that they will be.

For more on Hatchering, see my earlier blog at http://rivervices.blogspot.com/2005/01/student-housing-shenanigans-at-ssu.html