Sunday, May 11, 2008

Marc Dann: Marked Man

Once again, Gov. Ted Strickland (shown here) is in the ironic situation of insisting on high ethical standards for others while the standards that prevail in Scioto County, now called Strickland Country, are scandalously low. It is as if he has trouble seeing Strickland Country clearly. It is as if he has double vision. Earlier in the Democratic primary campaign, Strickland criticized Iowa’s caucuses as being undemocratic, though he should have known as well as anybody that no county or city in Iowa is as undemocratic as Scioto County and its county seat, the city of Portsmouth. Now Strickland is threatening Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann with impeachment if he does not resign. It is as if Dann is a marked man. No Ohio state officeholder has been impeached since the early 1800s. “Short of being voted out of office,” a Columbus Dispatch editorial warned on May 11, 2008, “impeachment is the maximum political penalty that can be imposed on an elected official and should be reserved for the gravest offenses.” What was Dann’s grave offense? Another way of putting the question is, “What is Danngate?”


Daniel Gutierrez, Dann’s director of general services, reportedly sexually harassed two female employees. The investigation of Gutierrez was reportedly obstructed by another aide to the Attorney General, communications director Leo Jennings III. To make a bad situation worse, Dann, 46 (shown here) subsequently admitted to having an extra-marital affair with another member of his staff, the scheduler Jessica Utovich, 28, who spent nights in the condo Dann shared with Gutierrez. Gutierrez and Jennings have been fired and Ms. Utovich has resigned as has another of Dann’s assistants, Edgar C. Simpson, who had failed to act promptly when the harassment complaints were first made. More may surface, but up to now two have been fired and two have resigned, but no one has been convicted of anything except acting like idiots, and since when is that enough to impeach or indict any politician?

To at least some of us in Strickland Country, Danngate is very ironic, for we have been trying for years, and especially since Strickland was elected governor, to get advice and assistance from state agencies, and especially from the office of the Attorney General. We have been told by the Attorney General’s office more than once that the state cannot interfere in any way because Ohio is a “home rule” state, and therefore Portsmouth is a home rule city, which apparently means we are at the mercy of the crooks who control the city. The only advice the Attorney General’s office has offered us is to get ourselves a lawyer, but lawyers in Portsmouth don’t dare represent clients who want to take legal action against those who control the city and in particular against those associated with the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP). A former managing editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times complained that the SOGP had organized a boycott among the paper’s advertisers because of its reporting on the so-called Marting Scam, and more recently a reporter for the Daily Times was fired for doing no more than reporting that someone busted for drugs was an employee of Glockner Motors, a business owned by an influential member of the SOGP. How dare any reporter reveal such an embarrassing detail! Not only reporters but Portsmouth lawyers too must be wary. Any Portsmouth lawyer who dares to embarrass the SOGP would find himself blackballed in Portsmouth. As a result, concerned citizens of Portsmouth have had to look outside Scioto County to find lawyers willing to represent them.

The Mayor

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Ted Strickland Giving Oath of Office to Mayor Kalb

When it comes to shady characters and unethical behavior, Portsmouth can more than match Marc Dann or any one else in the Attorney General’s office. Let’s start with the head of local government, Mayor James Kalb, whom Strickland did the honor of swearing into office. Kalb attended vocational school, but if he learned a trade there, he hid whatever skills he might have learned under a basket, a grocery basket, you could say, for he went to work as a grocery clerk at Kroger’s supermarket. He never rose above being a clerk and twice would have been fired, I was told, if he had not been a member of the Teamsters union.

Until he got involved in politics, Kalb never amounted to much, not at Kroger’s or anywhere else. But as a perennial member of city council, Kalb eventually became President of City Council, and in that position he was a key supporter of the purchase of the decrepit 125-year-old Marting department store building, in what is known as the Marting Scam. Not only Mayor Gregory Bauer, but two other members of city council were recalled by outraged voters for their roles in the Marting Scam. Kalb should have been recalled but he saved his hide by claiming he had been duped into voting for the purchase of the Marting building. He blamed Mayor Bauer, among others, for having duped him, and he encouraged the chief of police to investigate the mayor’s role in the Marting Scam. Bauer was never indicted for anything, but he was recalled from office and Kalb, conveniently, was next in line of succession, and became mayor.

After Bob and Teresa Mollette had hired an outside lawyer and got the Marting purchase invalidated in the courts, the self-confessed dupe Kalb turned around and negotiated another scandalous deal with the Marting Foundation, in spite of the voters’ clear indication they wanted the city to have no part of the Marting building. What Attorney General Marc Dann did was get involved sexually with a consenting adult, a woman who worked in his office. What Mayor Kalb did was screw thousands of Portsmouth citizens, without their consent, by conspiring a second time with the Marting Foundation and the SOGP.

But Kalb didn’t stop there. In a blatant rejection of democratic government, Kalb went on to ignore the will of the people as expressed by an almost 3 to 1 margin in a referendum on May 2, 2006, a referendum that specifically called for the city not to renovate the Marting building. Kalb proceeded as if that referendum never happened, and the city council is on the verge of passing an ordinance that calls for the renovation of the Marting building. But even before that ordinance is passed, in defiance of the May 2, 2006 referendum, the Marting Annex is now being renovated. Kalb’s misdeeds are far worse than Attorney General Dann’s, but who is going to prosecute him? This is, after all, Strickland Country, where the Attorney General’s office cannot act because Portsmouth is a home rule city. Is the price of “home rule” the loss of self-government?

Kalb is not done screwing the citizens of Portsmouth. For example, he continues to work part-time at Kroger’s as a grocery clerk. No one would object if Kalb was working evenings or weekends at Kroger’s, but he is working Thursday mornings. He is not "moonlighting," he is "daylighting." There are probably no provisions in Portsmouth city charter prohibiting him from setting his own hours as mayor, but there are laws against public officials using public vehicles for their personal use. Not only has Kalb been known to drive an official car over to Kentucky to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, he even drives a public vehicle to his daytime job at Kroger’s. So the city is not only paying him for the time he is working at Kroger’s, it is also paying for the gas and mileage that he uses to get there. And he managed to slip a $6,138 raise for himself in the 2008 budget, bringing his salary of $$51,870 up to $58,008, a 12% raise. The legality of the raises for the mayor and the new city solicitor has been questioned by Teresa Mollette, but of course no state agency or official, including the Attorney General, can advise or help her out because Portsmouth is a home rule city. She would have to hire an out-of-town lawyer, but since she has already incurred legal costs of over $40,000 challenging the purchase of the Marting building, she cannot afford to individually challenge Kalb every time he flouts the law.

The notorious Portsmouth developer Neal Hatcher was Kalb’s chief backer during Kalb’s campaign for mayor. Hatcher is a Republican, but in Strickland Country corruption is bipartisan. Hatcher made one of the many buildings he owns available to the Democratic Party during Strickland’s campaign for governor. Strickland at a public rally in front of that building thanked Hatcher for making the building available to the Democratic Party. Strickland is a product of the corrupt political culture that prevails in Portsmouth, and he could not have advanced politically without winking at a least some wickedness. While he has always come off as an upright man, Strickland, an ordained minister, has not as far as I know ever done anything but accept the corrupt status quo in Portsmouth. Teaching part time at Shawnee State University was among the honorable but low-paying odd jobs he cobbled together to make a living prior to being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Part-time instructors are the educated slaves who make the academic plantation system possible. They are like the educated Greek slaves who taught the Romans to be civilized. Shawnee State could not have survived economically without them. I’m sure Strickland was a conscientious instructor, but as the president of the Shawnee Education Association, the faculty union, I was in a position to know he accepted the plantation system as he found it and did nothing to improve the working conditions or pay of the many part-time instructors. One part-time instructor was fired for trying to organize part-time instructors. Strickland was a strong supporter of the Ohio Education Association, as that powerful organization was of him, but he had nothing to do with improving the lot of part-time instructors at SSU. That would have put him at odds with those who control Portsmouth and dominated the Board of Trustees of SSU. Ohio law prohibits part-time instructors from belonging to unions, and Strickland was not about to challenge that law.

The Chief of Police

Chief Keeps Eye on Concerned Citizens

Mayor Kalb is not the most powerful and corrupt politician in Portsmouth. Charles Horner, the Chief of Police is. When it comes to abuse of authority, no one in Danngate can compare with Horner. Any mayor who thinks he is higher on the political totem pole than Horner soon learns otherwise. Former mayor Bauer was widely reported to be planning to fire Horner once Bauer won reelection. But Bauer never made it to election day because he was recalled from office. Bauer was recalled from office in part because Chief Horner publicly accused him of criminal behavior, first in connection with the sale of city property located on Route 23 and then in connection with the purchase by the city of the Marting building. Mayor Bauer was not indicted for either of the crimes Horner accused him of. When Bauer was recalled, Horner had what he wanted, which was not so much an indictment of Bauer as job security.

Horner is much better at politicking than he is at stopping drug trafficking, for which Strickland Country is notorious. Horner’s own son was dealing drugs in the Ramada Inn, directly across the street from the Police Station. A one-stop chop shop and Oxycontin operation was going full blast a quarter of a mile from the Portsmouth Police Station, but Horner was among the last to know about it. Horner is also much better at harassing community activists than he is at stopping drug trafficking. He has publicly labeled as “domestic terrorists” concerned citizens, many of them senior citizens, who dare to criticize and recall elected officials. He serves as a bouncer at city council meetings, always prepared to eject any citizen who criticizes a public official by name. He videotapes citizens who attend council meetings and speak to the council from the podium. When asked in a public records request to make those tapes available, he claimed he was not bound to because the camera is his personal property. That may be his way of evading public records requests. If the chief law enforcement in Ohio qualifies for impeachment, what does this chief of police in Strickland Country qualify for?

In my previous blog, “Fart-Free Portsmouth,” I pointed out that Horner’s control has reached the tyrannical point where he won’t tolerate farting in council chambers, even by someone recovering from colon surgery. When the farter complained in an email to the Attorney General’s office about Horner’s threats, he got a reply that contains the following paragraph: “To have your concern appropriately addressed, I recommend you contact the mayor of the area. It is important to note that Ohio is a home rule state; meaning no state-elected official has the authority to oversee the day-to-day operations of a local elected official (i.e. mayor). Therefore, the mayor has the authority to address issues within the police department.” But what if the mayor is in cahoots with the chief and defies the principles of self-government? What we would hope is not that state authorities would “oversee the day-to-day operations of a local official,” but that outrageous acts of a local officials or systemic local tyranny would not be beyond the jurisdiction of the state.

First Ward Councilman

Mearan and stenographer at work

I have saved the worst for last. Michael Mearan is a lawyer and the councilman for Portsmouth’s First Ward. He was not elected to city council; he was appointed after I successfully challenged the elected First Ward councilman’s residency requirement for the office. Mearan has lived in Portsmouth for many years, but he has never run for public office and for good reason: he is one of the most notorious characters in Portsmouth, long rumored to have criminal ties, linked specifically to drugs and prostitution. With his sordid reputation, he could not have been elected to office, even in a city whose ethical standards are lower than President Bush’s approval ratings. Mearan was no sooner appointed to the city council than the mayor appointed him chair of the Advisory Building Committee, a committee whose mission was to find a suitable site for a new city hall, or municipal building, as it is called in Portsmouth.

Mearan’s appointment to chair the Building Committee involved him in a clear conflict of interest, because he was the lawyer for Dr. Herbert Singer, the absentee Los Angeles landlord of the so-called Adelphia property, on Washington St. In Portsmouth’s chronically depressed real estate market, Singer’s property was worthless. The property had been on the market for years, and Singer was behind in paying his taxes on it. Prior to being appointed to city council, Mearan had appeared before that body to offer Singer’s property as a gift to the city, provided the city used the property for some public purpose, such as the site for a police station or city hall. Mearan admitted in offering the building to the city that his client’s aim was to qualify for a tax break from the IRS. Mearan continued to represent Singer even after Kalb appointed Mearan chair of the building committee that was to consider sites for new city buildings. To no one’s surprise, Singer’s property was chosen by the ABC as the site for a complex of city buildings. An interesting footnote to this story is that Mearan was the one who originally sold the Washington St. property to Singer, making a profit of $90,000 after owning it himself for only about nine months.

Rumors about Mearan’s links to drugs and prostitution were reactivated when he chose as stenographer to the Advisory Building Committee a young woman who was not long afterwards arrested for transferring Oxycontin from Columbus to Portsmouth in a vehicle Mearan had rented for her. Mearan claimed he was led to believe she needed the vehicle to visit her sick mother. The young woman was living at the time in an apartment of the Portsmouth Municipal Housing Authority, where Mearan is on the Board of Commissioners. Mearan was known to visit the building in which she lived and was photographed with her at the Scioto County Fair. In addition to being a possible drug runner, the young woman was not so much a trophy wife as a trophy stenographer, being much younger, slimmer, and more attractive than Mearan himself. She was subsequently arrested for purse snatching and admitted to authorities that she was a drug addict, something Mearan, we are supposed to believe, was unaware of. There is no evidence Chief Horner or a reporter with the Daily Times ever investigated Mearan’s relationship with the young woman. Chief Horner’s preoccupation is with “domestic terrorists” of the geriatric variety. Jessica Utovich’s sleep-overs at Dann’s condo led to her resignation and fueled the fires that were being lit under Dann. But meanwhile, in Strickland Country, mountains appear to be mole hills, and lawyers get away, figuratively at least, with murder. It is as if the governor sees Strickland Country "through a glass darkly" rather than clearly, face to face.