Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sidewalk Shenanigans: 2

The photo above suggests how city inspector Justice should have marked Johnson's hazardous sidewalks

     The Portsmouth City Engineering Dept. periodically and apparently haphazardly inspects sidewalks in the city, marking with bright orange paint sections that are potentially hazardous for pedestrians. Only the sightless could miss these “mark-ups,” as they are called. In addition, the property owners are given warnings and a specified time by which they must make repairs at their own expense. How long property owners have to fix their sidewalks is stipulated in the City Charter: 30 days.
      Early in 2005, the City Engineer’s office marked up sidewalks in the Boneyfiddle district. St. Mary’s Church had its sidewalks marked up and received notification letters from the City Engineer. At about the same time, a number of sidewalks directly across the street from Clayton Johnson’s residence, on the corner of Washington and 4th Streets, were marked up. Those homeowners across from Johnson received a letter notifying them they had thirty days from the date of the letter by which to make the repairs. The property owners across the street from the Johnson residence made repairs on their sidewalk. Johnson did not, even though his sidewalks were in bad shape and had been getting worse for some time. In fact, so many of sections of Johnson’s sidewalks on Washington Street and on 4th Streets were beyond repair and needed to be replaced.
      Though Johnson’s sidewalks had been marked up in 2005, they were not repaired and the orange mark-ups gradually faded. His sidewalks remained hazardous to pedestrians, particularly to senior citizens, especially in winter. Early in 2006, photographs of Johnson’s hazardous sidewalks were posted on the Concerned Citizens Group website, where viewers were asked to try to identify whose sidewalks they were. Someone who walked up Washington St. regularly to have lunch at Toro Loco immediately recognized the photos as Johnson’s sidewalk. He knew the cracks and crevices by heart.
Well into 2007, Johnson’s sidewalks remained the public hazard they had been for years. In June 2007, Teresa Mollette went to the Engineer’s Office and asked why the city continued to do nothing about Johnson’s sidewalks. The Asst. Engineer looked to see if there was a copy on file of a 2005 letter to Johnson, notifying him of the mark-ups, but no copy could be found. On June 20, 2007, Asst. Engineer Bill Beaumont and Residential Building Inspector Larry Justice met with Johnson to inspect and mark-up his sidewalks. It is a reasonable assumption that this meeting would not have occurred if photos of the sidewalks had not been posted on the internet and if Teresa Mollette had not made her inquiry. On June 26, Beaumont wrote a letter to Johnson, which included the following paragraph: “You are hereby instructed to have the marked-up sidewalks replaced/repaired per sidewalk specifications located in the Engineering department. This work needs to be completed within sixty (60) days of the date of this letter.” Sixty days is twice the number called for in the City Charter and twice the number of days given to others in the neighborhood early in 2005. Sixty days from June 26 was August 25.
Missing the Deadline

      By Monday August 20, fifty four days had gone by but neither repairs or replacement of Johnson’s sidewalks had even begun. On Tuesday, August 21, Teresa Mollette dropped by the Engineer’s Office and pointed out that the sixty-day deadline was drawing near. If the work was not done by the end of the week, Saturday, August 25, Johnson would be in violation of city ordinances and presumably liable for a fine. Whether it had to do with Mollette’s visit to the Engineer’s Office on Tuesday, August 21, on the morning of Wednesday, August 22, Johnson’s neighbors were awakened by the rumble of tractors and trucks of Neal Hatcher’s JNH Construction Company, which were tearing up Johnson’s sidewalks
JNH was not through replacing Johnson’s sidewalks until Wed., August 29. So Johnson was given twice the time called for in the charter, and twice the time of others in the neighborhood, and then he waited until the last week to begin replacing them, and might not have then if Teresa Mollette had been applying pressure.
      Thanks to pressure from concerned citizens and the publicity generated on the internet, the hazardous sidewalks in front of the Johnson estate are no more. Boneyfiddle and Portsmouth are a little safer and less unsightly than they were. Johnson has done his civic duty, even if belatedly and reluctantly.

Thatcher's Unmarked Sidewalks

      Johnson is not the only Boneyfiddle property owner shown favoritism. Take the property of the lawyer John Thatcher on the corner of 3rd and Washington Streets. The sidewalks surrounding the house and garage Thatcher owns on that site are badly in need of repair, and have been for years, but they have not been marked by the City Engineering Dept. The city apparently does not hassle Thatcher about violations of city ordinances the way it does Harold Daub and David Newman, who are not in the good graces of city officials.
      Why are Thatcher’s sidewalks spared? Is it because like Johnson he is one of the overprivileged of Portsmouth? Thatcher was a member of City Council for a number of years, and there was no one on the council more determined to tear down the Municipal Building. Why? Because, he claimed, it was falling down and a safety hazard. I suspect that’s not his only reason for wanting the building down. Active in Republican politics, he litters his yard at the corner of Washington and 3rd Streets each election season with political signs. Thatcher’s political connections have worked to his financial advantage as a property owner. He owned a white elephant house on Franklin Blvd. that he was having trouble selling, a lot of trouble at the price he was asking. In SeaView, the magazine of the Shawnee Education Association, I wrote about the shenanigans accompanying the sale of Thatcher’s empty Franklin Blvd. house to Shawnee State University for a ridiculously high price. When SSU finally sold the house, the taxpayers of Ohio lost $50,000 on that housing shenanigan. Thatcher’s wife, also very active in Republican political circles, had served on the SSU Board of Trustees, so Thatcher, like other overprivileged lawyers and businessmen, are in a position to receive political favors from the trustees of SSU. The political prostitution that goes on in Boneyfiddle can be gauged by the number of signs Thatcher manages to cram on his property. Like the whores of John Street, Thatcher believes in advertising, although the signs the prostitutes use are more subtle and less of an eyesore.
      Since the City Auditor no longer has anything to say about sidewalks, in spite of obligations placed on him by the City Charter, might the chief legal officer of city government, City Solicitor Kuhn, exercise some kind of restraint on sidewalk shenanigans? Forget it! Kuhn is joined at the hip with Thatcher, and all the other unprincipled characters in Portsmouth. If you get a chance, the next time you drive by Thatcher’s parking lot on Washington and 3rd Streets, stop and look at the sidewalks around the Thatcher-Kuhn signs, which are nailed together.