Sunday, January 15, 2006

Open Letter

Daily Times photo of Strickland swearing in Kalb

Open Letter to Gubernatorial Candidate Ted Strickland

Ted, I have been a strong supporter of yours from your first run for Congress, but what were you thinking when you swore in James Kalb as mayor of Portsmouth at the Portsmouth Municipal Building on January 1? What a way to begin your Portsmouth campaign for governor!

I’ve heard some of your supporters try to put the best face on that Portsmouth Daily Times photo of you swearing in Kalb by saying you look unhappy, as if you were conscience-stricken. But nobody forced you into it, did they? As ripe for picking as the statehouse in Columbus may appear to some Democrats, the voters in Ohio will want more to choose between than Bob Graft and Conscience-Stricken Ted.

The swearing in was not just a ceremonial event. By participating in it, you made it also a political event. That’s the part that’s hard to figure out. It’s obvious what the controversial Kalb had to gain being sworn in by you, the presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination for governor, but what did you have to gain politically? Yes, Kalb is a Democrat, but did you think swearing him in was going to enhance your image with local voters? Are you that out of touch with Portsmouth, now that it has been gerrymandered out of your district, that you didn’t know that Kalb and the corrupt and incompetent Portsmouth city government that he heads is as much an embarrassment and threat to democracy locally as the administration in Washington is nationally? A few of our local politicians are Democrats but more are Republicans. But what difference does that make? All politics is local, as the saying goes, and in Portsmouth all local politics is corrupt. The parallels between Portsmouth and Washington are depressing.

Ted, Portsmouth city government is in control not of K Street lobbyists, like Jack Abramoff, but of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, a Chamber of Commerce front group, and of two rich and powerful local Republicans in particular, the attorney Clayton Johnson and the real estate developer Neal Hatcher, both of whom the Democrat Kalb is the convenient tool of. Before they had Mayor Kalb to do their dirty work, Johnson and Hatcher had Republican Mayor Gregory Bauer, who reportedly lunched with them on a daily basis.

"A Marting We Will Go!"

Ted, let me fill you in on some recent history. Mayor Bauer and two city council members were recalled from office in 2004 because of their complicity in the illegal sale of the empty Marting’s department store to the city for $1.8 million dollars, which was more than twice the $762,000 figure for which the building was appraised. And even that $762,000 figure was an appraiser’s fee-inspired fantasy, which he justified in part because there was an alleged buyer of the Marting building in the wings, and in part because he used Ashland and Huntington retail real estate for comparison purposes to appraise the Marting building. I’ve been to Ashland and Huntington, Ted. They are not Portsmouth by any stretch of anyone’s imagination except the appraiser’s, who was under pressure from Clayton Johnson to wildly inflate the value of the one-hundred-year-old empty department store, Portsmouth's bad dream, in Portsmouth’s depressed downtown.

We have all heard of “Enterprise Zones,” distressed and impoverished areas that get targeted for special government assistance. What we have in Portsmouth is a “Lack of Enterprise Zone,” which author Jesse Stuart prophesied in his novel Land Beyond the River. Marting's is at the heart of Portsmouth's Lack of Enterprise zone. Owing in part to a lack of enterprise, Portsmouth’s anemic economy is dependent on drug-dealers, prostitutes, and, especially, government pork, of which the SOGP is the primary distributor in southern Ohio. If Mayor Kalb and his cohorts have their way, legalized gambling will be added to the mix, further corrupting our community.

Larry Leiter, president of Marting’s acknowledged the $2 million dollar figure for the Marting building was “ridiculous,” but it was all part of the scam Johnson was trying to pull to get a loan from the bank. “It ain’t worth anything,” city councilman Marty Mohr said in 2004 about the Marting building to a Columbus Dispatch reporter. That same reporter tried to talk to Johnson, but Johnson made himself unavailable. In a sworn deposition, Johnson was described by Robert Smith of American Saving’s Bank as going “berserk” because Marting’s was not being appraised at the ridiculously high figure he wanted. You can look all this up, Ted, under “Marting’s,” on Teresa Mollette’s very informative website.

Was Marting’s worth $2 million dollars? Marting’s is no more worth $2 million than Crosley Field is. People no longer go to Crosley field to see the Reds play or to downtown Portsmouth to do their retail shopping. Crosley Field was torn down in 1972, and the Marting building, which is older than Crosley Field, should have been torn down ten years ago. But instead of being allowed to die with dignity, the Marting building, after the expenditure of many millions of taxpayer renovation dollars, will house our corrupt city government and be hooked up to a publicly funded life-support system. The Marting building will become the brain-dead architectural equivalent of Terri Schiavo in downtown Portsmouth. Or at least it will if Mayor Kalb has his way, and you could be dragged into it, Ted, in the SOGP’s upcoming campaign to get voter approval of the Marting scam in a referendum.

There is an unwritten rule in Portsmouth, Ted, regarding structures like Marting’s. No empty house or building owned by one of the over-privileged is so worthless and unattractive that it cannot be unloaded on the city or county and converted at great public expense for some public use. Think not only of Marting's but also of the Kenrick and Adelphia buildings. On the other hand, no public or religious building, no matter how architecturally distinguished and historically important, can escape being torn down to make way for a jail or a parking lot. Think of the razed N&W railroad terminal. Think of the razed old United Wesley Methodist Church. Think of the Municipal Building, where you swore Kalb in. I was surprised to see that he allowed you to risk your life by entering that building to swear him in. The Municipal Building is at the top of Kalb's "This Property is Dangerous and Condemned" list. Some developer has his eye on that property, as Kalb has admitted, which is the real reason it will be bulldozed. We can be thankful that the U.S. Post office is federal, not city property. The Post Office is of the same age and style as the Municipal Building, but it has not been deliberately neglected to justify tearing it down.

It was the citizens, Ted, who pressured the city government to put the Marting issue on the ballot. Since you stood with Kalb at the swearing in, you might be asked during your campaign where you stand on the Marting building. Because of Kalb, you could be dragged into a scandal created by the Republicans Johnson and Hatcher. If you support keeping the Marting building alive, you could be seen as another Dr. Bill Frist (R. Tenn.), who disagreed with Terri Schiavo’s doctors that she was in “a persistent vegetative state.” And if you don’t support keeping Marting’s alive, you risk being perceived by the Portsmouth politicians and over-privileged as a “domestic terrorist.” I will return to the issue of “domestic terrorism” in a moment.

Kalb is not the only Portsmouth politician you were endorsing by administering him the oath of office. You were also endorsing his allies on the city council, such as the oafish Marty Mohr, mugging for Joe Ferguson in an infamously defiant pose (left.) Shrewdly deciding he was not going to be one of the council members who were recalled because they had defended the city’s purchase of the Marting building, Mohr had said in 2004, in perhaps his first and last honest public statement, “It ain’t worth anything.” Since then, after meeting with Clayton Johnson, Mohr has done a complete turnaround and enthusiastically endorsed the purchase of the Marting building. (Timothy Loper won a recall election in Ward 1 by running as a critic of the Marting purchase, but he too promptly switched his position once he was on the council.) According to Marty Mohr’s math, which is as fuzzy as councilman David Malone’s, the city is now getting a great bargain because it is paying “only” $400,000 for the Marting building.

Let me explain, Ted, how Mohr figured that paying $400,000 for the Marting building is a great deal when less than two years ago he said, “It ain’t worth anything.” You see, Ted, Clayton Johnson and the Marting Foundation, through poor investments, lost $400,000 of the $1.8 million it had illegally obtained from the city when it sold it the Marting building. When Judge Marshall ruled the sale illegal, Johnson was obligated to return the $1.8 million and take a $400,000 loss, but Johnson worked out a deal with Portsmouth’s crooked city council and with Mohr and Kalb in particular by the terms of which the city had to keep ownership of the decrepit building in exchange for the $400,000 Johnson was not returning. Oh, and get this, Ted: as part of the deal, Johnson dictated a number of conditions about the building the city had to agree to before he would give back any money. It was like a swindler agreeing to return part of the money he had obtained for selling worthless property, minus $400,000, but only if the victim, in this case the city, also agreed to take the worthless property off his hands.

Johnson’s offer of the Marting building to the city was spun as a philanthropic act, for the sake of Portsmouth’s dearly-beloved-but-long-since-departed Downtown, but in fact what Johnson as head of the Marting Foundation was doing in the name of philanthropy was unloading a property that was costing the Foundation money in the form of taxes, a property he had no hope of unloading on any retail merchandiser with an ounce of business sense. Furthermore, if the Marting building was used for public purposes, i.e., as a municipal building, the Foundation could take a tax write-off. The Marting building is like the old maid in the card game: whoever ends up with it loses, and Johnson is determined the Marting Foundation is not going to be the loser. Given the low level of intelligence and even lower level of ethics in the city government, Johnson is not having much trouble turning the city government, and the over-taxed people of Portsmouth, into the losers.

Do you see, Ted, what you were stepping into when you stepped into the Municipal Building on January 1 to administer the oath of office to Kalb? And that is not the half of it.

The opening prayer on the swearing-in on January 1 was offered up by our adulterous “praying councilman,” Rev. David Malone. Along with his felonious brother Michael, the convicted forger who came within a vote of joining his brother on the city council, David Malone was the sponsor of a religious revival in Portsmouth that had been inspired by a guest preacher associated with the Deeper Life movement. The Deeper Life movement was exposed by the Tampa Tribune as yet another religious fraud, as I pointed out in my blog “My Brother’s Keeper.” One of the tenets of the Deeper Life movement is that you don’t criticize Deeper Life church leaders, no one of whom, it seems, is less than a bishop. We are to think only positive thoughts about all our leaders, whatever community we are part of, whether they are bishops or public officials. (Come to think of it, the Daily Times has been following the Deeper Life philosophy for years.) I was present at a City Council meeting at which the felonious Michael Malone preached the Deeper Life philosophy to the City Council, even as he was continuing to pursue his chief means of income, writing back checks.

The voters in Rev. David Malone’s ward were not thinking positive thoughts about him last year and might have recalled him from office if his opponent, Native American Russell Cooper, had not been arrested for allegedly forging signatures on recall petitions. The charges against Cooper were dropped at the city level because City Solicitor David Kuhn dropped the ball, but the ball has been picked up again at the county level by County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn, his nephew. Meanwhile, Rev. David Malone still sits on the city council and prays at public ceremonies, such as the swearing in on January 1 that you dignified with your presence.

Police Chief Horner

A zealous investigation of Russell Cooper’s alleged forgeries was carried out by the Portsmouth Police Department under the direction of Chief Charles Horner, who incidentally, has his own mini-Marting going on. He had from the start endorsed the proposal to convert the Adelphia building, another empty building that "ain't worth anything" into a public facility, a police station, so the over-privileged absentee landlord could get a tax write-off. The Adelphia building, occupying a streetcorner, could be called “Horner’s Corner.”

“Horner's Corner,” with ubiquitous Hatcher sign (left)

Anyway, Ted, it was Horner who said in remarks to the City Council (9 Jan. 06), “I chose not to become involved in any other recall[election] because it [the investigation of Cooper] was so time-consuming.” And what was the result of Horner’s time-consuming investigation of Cooper? Cooper was guilty, Horner told the City Council on the same occasion, of “a series of improprieties.” An impropriety is something that is improper, something that is not suitable. Since when is an impropriety, even a series of them, a felony? If series of improprieties are felonies then what about councilman Mohr, with his bizarre statements at council meetings about punching the mouths and slashing the tires of drivers who illegally park downtown?

One of the reasons there are so many drug-dealers and prostitutes, we were told by an “investigative” reporter of the Portsmouth Daily Times is that local law enforcement officials have such scrupulous regard for the constitutional rights of all citizens, including drug dealers and prostitutes. But, Ted, what of Cooper’s constitutional rights? Why did City Solicitor Kuhn and City Clerk Aeh rush to judgment on him? Why were Chief Horner’s officers so thorough in its investigation of him? Why did they put him under surveillance and harass him, which is what Cooper has charged? Why have charges against him been dropped and then brought again? Is it part of a concerted effort to insure that David Malone would continue to serve on the city council and do the bidding of Johnson and Hatcher? Is it part of a concerted effort to discredit the recall process and change the city charter to make it even harder than it already is to win a recall election? The recall provisions in the city charter are more stringent than Ohio law requires them to be, the only honest councilman Bob Mollette claims, and yet the city council he patiently takes to task each meeting is determined to make the process by which they can be removed from office even more difficult. And why? To cover their corrupt political hides.

Howard Baughman and Mohr are now attempting to make it more difficult for citizens to recall elected public officials, claiming that that right is being abused under the present city charter provisions, that it is now too easy to recall. Too easy! Tell that to Russell Cooper. Tell that to Richard Noel. The majority of voters in Noel’s ward obviously preferred him to Marty Mohr, but because of the difficulty and confusion inherent in the current recall process, Mohr was returned to city council by relatively few votes.

David Malone claimed that voters would try to recall him if they didn’t like the color of his eyes. It is not the color of Malone’s eyes but his dishonesty, hypocrisy, incompetence, and adultery that made him a recall target. Chief Horner would not have his job if Bauer had not been recalled, because it is no secret that one of the first things Bauer would have done if reelected was fire Horner, whom the Shawnee Sentinel has long accused of corruption. Horner and Kalb and Loper would not be where they are now if citizens had not exercised their right of recall. But now members of the Kalb-led city government, as bad as the Bauer-led government ever was, wants to reduce if not eliminate the risk that they will someday be recalled from office.

What is behind all the recall activity are not domestic terrorists but a group of informed and concerned citizens who are deeply disturbed by the political corruption in Portsmouth, a corruption that emerged odiferously in the Marting scandal, like raw sewage backing up in the sewer pipes on Grandview Avenue. We have had as many attempts at recall as we have had not because we have a group of domestic terrorists in our midst but because we have a group of corrupt politicians who are pawns of the over-privileged of Portsmouth.

In closing, Ted, I want to repeat what I said at the beginning: the current city government is as much an embarrassment and threat to democracy locally as the current administration in Washington is nationally. At last Monday night’s council meeting, Chief Horner denounced those who have attempted to recall elected officials as “domestic terrorists.” The likeness of Horner (left), taken from a video of the council meeting, shows the police chief just before he rose to make his inflammatory accusation. What he told the City Council was, “A group of individuals have seized that recall process to engage in what I perceive as a form of domestic terrorism in this community.” (Teresa Mollette has an audio recording of Horner’s outrageous "domestic terrorism" remark on her website.) And then Horner went on to say, “I don’t think we can allow that to happen. Something should be done.” Something is being done, Ted. Cooper has been arrested for what Horner has said are “a series of improprieties.” And the city council is moving to change the city charter to make recalls even harder to accomplish than they already are.

Cooper claims that there is bad blood between himself and Kuhn going back to the mid-1980s. Kuhn is an amateur anthropologist with an interest in Indian artifacts. Cooper claims Kuhn is an Indian grave-robber. Native Americans are reportedly planning to come to Portsmouth to demonstrate on Cooper’s behalf, because they assume one of their own is being railroaded. They know that some arrogant white people, such as Abramoff, consider Indians “morons,” “troglodytes” and “idiots.” We can add Chief Horner’s “domestic terrorist” to Abramoff’s list of epithets.

Portsmouth is a microcosm of Washington, Ted, and you apparently are unaware of it. Or, even worse, you are aware of it but are going along to get elected. Based on what I know of you, I find that hard to believe. Distance yourself from this “domestic terrorism” crap, Ted, and distance yourself from a police chief who serves at the pleasure of Mayor Kalb; distance yourself from councilman Marty Mohr, who at a recent council meeting was recorded encouraging the punching of parking violators in the mouth and the slashing of their tires; distance yourself from the SOGP pork addicts, or be prepared to pay the electoral consequences. I look forward to being proved wrong. I look forward to seeing you sworn in as governor, but you may not be if you continue to show the kind of political misjudgment you recently showed at the beginning of the new year in Portsmouth. The proverb says “Those who lie down with dogs rise with fleas.” I say those who lie down with lousy politicians will be dogged for the duration of the campaign.