Monday, April 28, 2008

Kalb's Confession

At the City Council meeting on August 9, 2004, acting Mayor Jim Kalb made a remarkable confession. He admitted publicly that the sale of the 125-year-old Marting building to the city had been a fraud. He admitted publicly that when the city purchased the Marting building the heating and air conditioning systems were in poor condition, and so was the roof, which was leaking. He confessed that the building had “major environmental conditions,” by which he meant asbestos. He confessed that the appraisal that the city had relied upon had been made by an unlicensed appraiser (Ken Rase) and that the figure Rase had come up with was three times the value another appraiser had made just three months earlier. The mayor of Portsmouth admitted what others would be scolded for saying, and yet what he said was ignored and forgotten. Naturally, you didn’t read about his remarkable confession in the Portsmouth Daily Times.

If Kalb confessed the sale of the Marting building was a fraud, why had he originally voted in favor of the purchase? He confessed that he had been misled and given “faulty information.” He confessed he been told the heating and air conditioning were in good condition, that the roof would last for years, that there were no “environmental problems.” Who gave him this “faulty information”? He confessed he had been misled by PFB Architects of Cincinnati, the engineering firm the city had hired to inspect the Marting building and estimate the costs of renovating it. He confessed employees of PFB had told him there were no problems. He confessed he learned of the true condition of the building only after the sale in a written report provided by PFB. He confessed what they had told him verbally was at variance with what they put in writing.

Kalb also confessed that he was the one to initiate the investigation of the purchase of the Marting building, but instead of telling him the results, the investigators kept him in the dark. “As the person that first asked the questions and now the Mayor of the City involved in the investigation,” he said, “I would of [sic] thought I should have been one of the first to know the results.” He confessed that instead of being one of the first to know, he was one of the last. He confessed that as of August 9, 2004, he had still not “received any papers or official word concerning the outcome of the investigation.” Kalb comes off in his own confession as a foolish dupe. When Kalb confesses to being a dupe, you are inclined to believe him. Kalb said that if he had known before the sale of the Marting building what he had learned afterwards, he probably would not have voted for it. If the voters of Portsmouth knew before they had elected Kalb mayor what they know now, they probably would not have voted for him.

After the Mollette lawsuit resulted in the nullification of the Marting purchase, Kalb turned right around and “negotiated” another deal with the Marting Foundation by which the city once again assumed ownership of and the headaches connected with the worthless Marting building. In spite of confessing he had been duped in the original acquisition of the Marting building, Kalb acquired it a second time. He was duped again. As it is written in Proverbs (26:11), “As a dog that returns to his vomit, so is a fool who repeats his folly.”

The Confession

What follows, word for word, is Kalb’s disorganized confession as recorded in the official minutes of the City Council. I added italics for emphasis.

Noting this to be his “final word” on the Marting’s building purchase, he [Mayor Kalb] stated everyone present to be aware that the State’s investigation into the purchase of the building is completed. He said it appears there is not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that merits any further investigation. The Mayor said if he had had all the information that is known today he would probably have voted differently at the time of the purchase. He said if he had known, at the time of his vote, that an appraisal had been done less than three months before the appraisal provided him and that a certified commercial appraiser did not do the appraisal provided to him, he might have voted differently. He said had he known the appraisal he was given, by someone not so licensed, was ten times the amount of the one by a licensed appraiser, just three months before, he might have voted differently. He noted there to have been discussions saying the two appraisals were done for different reasons or needs, but the fact is both appraisals list their respective figures as “fair market value,” saying he still has trouble understanding how the fair market value of a building open for business tripled in just three months for a building that was then empty. He said a need for a different appraisal after just three months, the tripled increase of the fair market value and the fact that he did not have an appraisal by a person licensed to do so, led him to question other aspects of the purchase for which he had voted. He questioned whether or not he was intentionally led to believe that the heating and air conditioning systems were sound and would be operating for many years, and was shown heating and cooling bills that were so low he felt he had to question them. He said he was told, that the systems was so great that he was told that Council should create a new position for the person who had maintained these systems so well, so that he could continue to do so. He said he was also led to believe that the roof would be good for years and that there were no major environmental problems that needed to be corrected. He said the engineering firm that the City hired verbally relayed these facts to him and he believed all of this until after the purchase was completed. He said soon after the completed purchase he received a written report contrary to what he had been told verbally. He said the report indicated it had been received prior to the completion of the purchase. He said all the facts he has stated to this point and the fact that so many educated people in the public were questioning the purchase led me to the point that I had to have some of these questions answered. He said to help him get these answers he forwarded his questions to the Chief of Police because he was told by the Solicitor that the Chief of Police is the person in charge of any investigations in the City. He noted that it has been repeatedly stated that he conspired with the Chief of Police to initiate this investigation in his quest for answers to coincide with the recall and to discredit Mayor Bauer. Stating that it has been said the Chief Horner was “out to get Bauer” because of plans for the Police Department to be in the basement of the new City building, he said, “If this were so, why would the Chief be willing to help me in my search for answers when I was also there to vote about the location of the Police Department.” In defense of the Chief, the Mayor said, “He did so because he took an oath and part of his duties is investigation of possible wrongful acts in the City.” He further stated that it has been said that he started this whole process because I wanted to be Mayor and because of the recall effort in place it was the ideal time to discredit the Mayor – have him recalled and assume his position.” The Mayor called these accusations “absolutely false” saying; “I spoke many times both publicly and privately against the recall. Mr. Scott will even verify that I told him privately that this recall was not a good thing for the City.” He said he supported and defended the purchase of the Marting's building up until the time a person came forward with information that perhaps he had based his decision to purchase the building, on faulty information. He said the information provided to him brought up questions, to which he needed answers, and that is when he went to the Chief of Police for help. He said he did not choose the time for the information to surface nor did he ask for an investigation just to arbitrarily discredit any individual organization. He said, “I took an oath as a Councilperson and to ignore this information would have been a violation of that oath.” He said he did what he had to do, as did all the individuals and agencies involved in the investigation. He stated the “bottom line” to be, “The investigation has run its course and there were no improprieties found.” He said he guessed that left him with one final question, which was, “Why were people on the street, the news media, local organizations and agencies all aware of the result of the investigation before me?” He stated, “As the person that first asked the questions and now the Mayor of the City involved in the investigation, I would of thought I should have been one of the first to know the results.” He said that he still has not received any papers or official word concerning the outcome of the investigation.

“As a dog that returns to his vomit, so is a fool who repeats his folly.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Conventional Folly

Shopping Mall Scam

Portsmouth has for at least the last twenty years been plagued by the Shopping Mall Scam. The crux of that scam was that a downtown shopping mall would revive downtown Portsmouth. That scam, which goes back at least to 1980, persisted until Neal Hatcher’s proposed Shopping Mall finally bit the dust a few years ago. If Hatcher couldn’t produce a mall with the city government in his pocket, no one could. Downtown Portsmouth is the last place any developer with sense would want to build a mall. You don’t build malls downtown, anymore than you build battleships in Arizona, and for good reason. There is not much water in Arizona or space in downtown Portsmouth. Malls are built on the outskirts or even better miles away from a downtown, on undeveloped relatively cheap land, not in a downtown where traffic cannot be accommodated, and not where you have dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of pieces of property that need to be negotiated for or acquired through the time-consuming, politically volatile and expensive avenue of eminent domain.

Now that a stake has finally been driven through the heart of the downtown Shopping Mall Scam, along comes a new scam to take its place: the Portsmouth Convention Center. Probably very few people in Portsmouth have ever heard of Heywood T. Sanders, but they should. A professor at the U. of Texas in San Antonio, he is a leading authority on convention centers. Among the conclusions he has reached, after twenty years of studying the subject, is that convention centers, and the new hotels that often accompany them, usually create far fewer economic benefits and far more problems in the communities in which they are built than had been expected. Most convention centers/hotel complexes are at best revenue-neutral and at worst a financial drain on local taxpayers and municipal governments.

Testifying before a U.S. House of Representative subcommittee in March 2007, Sanders said, “Forecasts of thousands of new convention attendees boosting local economies with millions of dollars in new spending, yielding thousands of new jobs are the common currency of local convention center development proposals and related consultant market studies.” That currency, Sanders suggests, is counterfeit; the optimism that proposed convention centers generate is unjustified. But that’s not the end of the convention center scam, for when existing convention centers do not live up to expectations, the argument is made that the reason they are not doing well is that they are not large enough: to succeed, they need to expand. So the convention centers become even bigger and so do the problems.

As for the hotels that are frequently part of a convention center package, Sanders in his House testimony warned they are as unlikely to generate growth as the convention centers themselves. “While consultant market and feasibility studies for these hotel projects indicate little public risk,” he pointed out, “with hotel operation forecast to generate sufficient net income to pay for debt service, those forecasts have almost invariably proven incorrect.”

Consultant Racket

Part of the problem with convention centers are the consulting firms that communities hire to make preliminary studies. Those firms almost always conclude that a convention center/hotel complex is a slam dunk that will lead to more visitors, more revenue, and more growth. In a 2000 interview in ArtVoice, Sanders said, “I’ve read about forty different feasibility studies. And you know, not a single one says don’t do it, don’t build a new center. Not one even says this might not be a good idea, or maybe you should be cautious. Every single one says ‘build it, you’ll do great.’ ” “If you build it they will come” works in the movies but not in reality, and Portsmouth, last I heard, was still located in reality, though too many of its residents try to escape from its poverty and despair with drugs and other forms of dope. CEO N. R. Augustine,of Martin Marietta said, “Hiring consultants to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold, your problems into their gold.” I have never lived anywhere that has had more consultants per capita than Portsmouth. What Portsmouth urgently needs is a consultant who can end its dependence on consultants.

The development of the consultant field is one of the great rackets of the last half century. Consultants can always come up with the facts and figures to justify whatever it is the groups that hire them want to do. Do you think consultants would be in business very long if they didn’t? Convention center consultants are to the present what medicine men were to the past. Medicine men promised to make hair grow on bald heads, the consultants promise that convention centers will rejuvenate depressed downtown areas. The most profitable of these convention center consultants is, ironically, a firm named Johnson Consulting!

Consultants can be used to demolish as well as build. If you want to tear down a city hall or municipal building to make way for a convention center/hotel complex, hire a consultant firm to come up with a study that concludes the building is a public hazard and should have been torn down ten or twenty years ago, even though the building is only about 75 years old and its municipal architectural twin sister, a U.S. Post Office located just up the street, constructed at the same time, is doing just fine thank you. Want to stick the taxpayers with an empty leaking relic of a department store that is 125 years old and no retail merchant in his right mind would want? Then hire a consultant, or appoint an advisory committee, to decide that building is just the place to invest $12 to $15 million public dollars to convert it into a “Civic Center” that is supposed to help to revive the dead downtown area. Never at a loss for scams, Portsmouth has two of them to save downtown: the City Center Scam and the Convention Center Scam. Meanwhile, downtown Portsmouth continues to be a magnet for prostitutes, drug-dealers, and antique/junk shoppes.

White Elephants

Speaking of antique/junk shoppes, convention center/hotel complexes in dozens of American cities have turned out to be white elephants. We’re talking about cities as visitable as New York, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia, whose convention centers have not attracted enough visitors to justify what they cost to build and operate. If those cities have not attracted enough tourists to justify their convention centers, what is going to attract enough tourists to Portsmouth to justify its convention center/hotel? The floodwall murals? In a digital age of high definition TV and stunning graphics, of YouTubes and Photoshop boobs, the floodwall murals represent a quaint but static form of visual stimulation and entertainment. An honest appraisal of the economic impact of the murals, one in which paid consultants were not involved, would probably reveal they have not helped the downtown much economically. Even if Todd Book’s purloined rock ends up at the Welcome Center, I would say that the number of tourists who visit Portsmouth will remain at best a trickle. If a $38 million dollar bridge could make little apparent economic impact on downtown Portsmouth, why would a $20 million plus dollar convention center/hotel complex? The only thing that probably would attract enough tourists to Portsmouth to justify a convention center/hotel complex would be casino gambling, but until gambling comes to pass, Portsmouth should take a pass on a convention center/hotel complex.

And before we have casino gambling in Portsmouth, we should have a little more risk in our local economy. But it is the systematic elimination of risk and competition, the stacking of the deck, the loading of the dice, that is stifling our local economy. The game is fixed and when people like Hatcher play he is really playing with house money, which in this case means public funds. That competition is the lifeblood of the American economy is one of the great American myths, and no where that I have been is that more a myth than in Portsmouth. The proposed convention center/hotel complex in Portsmouth will presumably be financed in the way the Hatcherville SSU dormitories were. The taxpayers will take all the risks and Neal Hatcher, or whoever the developer-in-waiting is, will be guaranteed he can’t lose.

There is an extensive bi-partisan conspiracy to keep the game fixed. Anyone who comes to work in Portsmouth doesn’t need a consultant to tell him or her that loyalty or at least submission, is rewarded and criticism is punished; that just as long as you don’t try to change anything, you are welcome; that just as long you are willing to put up with cronyism, incompetence, and corruption, you will fit in; and that just as long as you are willing to go along, you will get along. In Portsmouth to get along you need to learn the local dialect, in which “forward” really means “backward,” “philanthropist” really means “crook,” and “news” really means “lies.”

Big Boys

“The immediate proponents [of convention centers] often are hotel owners and Convention and Visitors Bureaus,” Sanders said in ArtVoice. “But it’s usually the big boys, the major players in local business, who are really behind it. These are people who have a tremendous amount of money invested in the entire downtown area, and when the city’s economy is doing poorly they’re desperately concerned that they could lose a good part of what they’ve put into downtown.” I have not read a more accurate description of the role of Portsmouth’s “big boys” in our chronically depressed economy. The reason for our big boys’ fixation with downtown Portsmouth is that they were stuck with virtually worthless downtown property, but they refuse to take a loss on it. Why should they when they know how to make the public pay? What they have learned to do, instead of taking a loss, is find governmental agencies or public institutions, such as SSU, to take the unmarketable property off their hands, properties such as the Marting Department Store, George Clayton’s Kenrick’s Department Store, and Herbert Singer’s so-called Adelphia property. Where is the County Welcome Center, and where will the proposed City Center and the new police complex be located? On these otherwise unmarketable properties. City planning in Portsmouth consists off taking worthless properties off the hands of the big boys and trying to figure out what to do with them.

Javits Center: Going Nowhere

Sanders argues that “revitalization works where you have multiple small-scale undertakings, not blockbuster public investments. Compare [Manhattan’s] SoHo to the West Side projects around the Javits Center—one wasn’t centrally planned at all, it just happened as people discovered inexpensive space available in attractive buildings, and it’s thriving. The other has received all kinds of public attention and isn’t going anywhere.” Then he cites an example closer to Portsmouth. “I saw the same thing in Cincinnati: one area had quietly become a hub for diverse small enterprises—restaurants, offices, entertainment—attracting them with nice buildings and low expenses, and it was full of people; across town was the area the city had been trying to revitalize via a plan involving large direct public investment, and it was dead, no one around. Big-box development just doesn’t work.” Portsmouth’s convention center/hotel complex is not going to work either, no matter what the design of the building.

A survey conducted by SSU students found that about half the people interviewed thought downtown Portsmouth was ugly and unsafe. If Portsmouth’s $38 million dollar Bridge to Nowhere has made no apparent improvement in downtown Portsmouth, why would a $20 million dollar convention center/hotel located right next to it? Why has the Ramada Inn been a basket case for the last twenty years, earning the nickname “Queen of the Rust Belt,” but a hotel right across the street is supposed to be the salvation of downtown Portsmouth? Forget the pipe dreams and concentrate on getting rid of the crime and ugliness of downtown Portsmouth. But that will take new faces in city government and a new police chief, one who is not trying to intimidate citizens in their sixties, seventies, and eighties from speaking out on behalf of progress and accountability from public officials. Horner has labeled these elderly citizens “domestic terrorists,” when their worst crime is producing blogs like this and refusing to buy into Portsmouth’s latest scam, a convention center/hotel complex. What we get from our public officials is not leadership but collusion, not wisdom but conventional folly.

Bridge to Nowhere

Thursday, April 17, 2008

April 14: "Packing" the Meeting




O, Portsmouth, to what depths of corruption and ignominy will the Clayton Johnsons, the Neal Hatchers, the Jim Kalbs and, yes, the Ted Stricklands not drag you?

The meeting of Portsmouth City Council on 14 April 2008 illustrates what can be done when Democrats and Republicans put their heads together to screw the taxpayers of Portsmouth. The corruption in Portsmouth is as deep and pervasive as it is because it is bi-partisan. Governor Strickland is as responsible as any Republican for the shameless subversion of democracy that is taking place in Portsmouth and especially in the chambers of the Portsmouth City Council. No one knows the corruption of Portsmouth better than Strickland, because he was active in Portsmouth politics for many years and because he had his office in Portsmouth before the city was gerrymandered out of his congressional district. No one knows the corruption of Portsmouth better than Strickland and no one could do more, since he is governor, to help stop it.

A person whose truthfulness I have come to rely on told me that Strickland was asked as he was about to leave a local restaurant, back when he was still in congress, what he thought the trouble with Portsmouth was. Noticing a copy of a newspaper with a front page story about the Marting building lying on the table, Strickland pointed to the story on Marting’s and said, more or less, “There’s Portsmouth’s biggest problem, right there.” Now, I assume Strickland meant not that the Marting building by itself was Portsmouth’s biggest problem but rather that the systemic political corruption that made the Marting scam possible was the biggest problem. I think he was right on target.

On 2 May 2006, the voters of Portsmouth, by a nearly three to one margin, passed a referendum demanding the city not proceed with the renovation of the Marting building. The city has ignored the referendum, by proceeding with plans to renovate the Marting building as if the referendum never happened. Even before passing an ordinance to resume the renovations, on the morning of 14 April, 2008, a tall crane pulled up next to the Marting Annex to begin replacing its roof.

At the Times too Long

Sam Piatt wrote about this event in the 15 April 2008 PDT. The title of a Depression era song goes, “Sam, you made the pants too long.” On the basis of Piatt’s reporting at the Portsmouth Daily Times, maybe the title should be changed to, “Sam you’ve been at the Times too long.” If he had integrity, would Piatt be back for a second tour of duty at the PDT? Two experienced reporters with experience and integrity, Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla, no longer work at the PDT. They were fired. Deaterla was fired after the Times bought the Community Common.

They were fired by the Managing Editor of the PDT, Arthur F. Kuhn, who presumably hired Piatt. Kuhn must have come to the PDT thinking he was hired to write homey columns about the ups and downs of living out in the woods. It was as if he thought he was on a sabbatical or Neiman Fellowship. He seemed unaware that the Nature-boy niche has already been taken by Portsmouth’s sixtyish hardcore adolescent Steve Hayes. Kuhn started out with the same nature shtick as Hayes. As late as last September 9th, he wrote one whole Sunday column about how cold it was out there in the woods. “I never got acclimated to the cold last winter,” he wrote, “so even though I love the four seasons and the winter, I still may corner the market on thermal undies.” The cold wasn’t the only thing he wasn’t acclimated to. He wasn’t yet acclimated to the dirty politics of Portsmouth or to his role as managing editor of the Prostitute Daily Times. He did not appear to understand he wasn’t hired to write about how cold it could get out in the boonies. He was hired to do journalistic dirty work in downtown Porksmouth, like a long line of managing editors before him. He was hired to promote the interests of the Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, which the PDT so subserviently serves. He was hired to criticize concerned citizens as naysayers and gadflies. It was not the woodsman’s axe he was expected to wield but the hired tool’s hatchet. If a managing editor should corner the market on anything, it should be journalistic integrity, not thermal undies. A managing editor who wasn’t a journalistic prostitute would hire, not fire, reporters like Barron and Deaterla.

Cover up Reporting

In the Tuesday 15 April 2008 PDT, Piatt reported that early the previous morning a tall crane (shown here) appeared next to the Marting Annex, starting a project to replace the roof. Piatt reported how tall the crane was (100 feet) and what the under-estimated cost of the job was ($49,550) but not a word about the 2 May 2006 referendum that enjoined the city from doing any renovation of the Marting building. The city action to replace the roof of the Marting Annex was a contemptuous violation of the will of the voters, but Piatt didn't come close to mentioning it. On 12 September 2007, Jeff Barron had written a front page PDT story, “Referendum Talk Angers City Leaders.” In the course of that story, Barron pointed out, “Voters two years ago decided not to renovate the former Marting’s Department Store.” If Piatt were to report as simple a fact as that, he might have been fired by Managing Editor Kuhn, as Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla had been for not being cover-up reporters. All Jeff Barron had to report was that a man arrested for dealing drugs was employed as a mechanic at Glockner Motors. That’s all it took to get him fired. Of course, if Andy Glockner wasn’t a member of the SOGP, Barron might still have his job. Maybe. It has been my observation over the years that reporters at the Times, if they are not forced out or fired, just leave out of shame.

In the same 15 April 2008 PDT, Piatt reported on the the City Council meeting the night before. The subhead on the story was “Strong Support Shown for Establishing City Center.” In the story, Piatt wrote, “judging from the applause from the 100 or so people who filled the chamber and spilled out into the hall, the nays must have been outnumbered about 80 to 20.” Piatt does not point out that most of the 80 were union members who were there because their unions told them to be there, and most of them were not from Scioto County, and therefore not taxpayers who would have to foot the bill for the renovation of the 125-year-old Marting building. For most of the union members, they were at their first and probably last Portsmouth City Council meeting of their lives. I asked a number of them where they were from, and the answer was Ashland, Maysville, Ironton and Columbus, Ohio. Those from the Portsmouth area were in the minority. The Shawnee Labor Council had packed the council chamber with the aim of leaving little room for regular council goers. They had packed the chambers to give a distorted picture of public support for the Marting project, a distortion Piatt was only to willing to report. Many of union members were still in or hardly out of their teens. Some of these young people said they were in apprentice programs and they were given class credit for attending the council meeting. Unfortunately, what they got a lesson in was how to subvert the democratic process by packing a meeting. They were recruited for the council meeting the way Portsmouth school children reportedly were recruited to march in the infamous 1980 KKK-like parade in favor of the Shopping Mall Scam. Hell, anything's better than going to class.

Up and Coming Con Artist?

I talked to Jim, a union man from Columbus, who told me he had come down to Portsmouth to support the City Center. I asked him a few questions, and it was obvious he had no idea of why the Marting building was controversial. I asked him if he knew the building was 125 years old and had a leaking roof that would have to be replaced. He had no idea what I was talking about, as I’m sure most of his fellow unionists did not. He wandered off in the direction of Austin Keyser, of the Shawnee Labor Council, who had organized the packing of the council chamber by non-local, out-of-state union members. I have sometimes wondered where the next generation of Republican and Democratic con-artists and scoundrels were going to come from. Is Keyser a leading young Democratic contender for one of those roles? I snapped a photo of him (shown here) at a recent council meeting. Just above his head, fittingly, is the leaking corner of the council chamber that Mayor Kalb loves to call attention to, like a beggar does his sores in appealing for alms.

Perhaps some excuses can be made for Kalb, even though he is the best-lapdog-in-show. He may not be nearly intelligent or sensitive enough to realize what a painful embarrassment he is not only to Portsmouth residents but also to members of his own sex. Jim Kalb is not only a poor excuse for a mayor, he is a poor excuse for a man. I will go even further and say Kalb is not only an embarrassment to his city and to his sex, he is an embarrassment to our species. Kalb could be expected to be a strong union supporter since on at least two occasions in his failed "career" at Kroger’s, where he did not rise higher than a grocery clerk, the union reportedly saved him from being fired. I am a strong supporter of unions, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better argument against them than Kalb. If the union helped Kalb save his job, Chief Horner had to save his job on his own initiative by helping to get Mayor Bauer recalled. Mayor Bauer reportedly would have fired Horner if he had not been recalled.

Big Brother is Watching

Meanwhile, at the April 14th council meeting, Horner had his camera aimed in the direction of the visitors gallery in the council chamber. Having labeled concerned citizens “domestic terrorists,” he is obviously continuing to try to intimidate and harass critics of city government and of his own police state tactics. Where did Horner find the money for his hi-tech surveillance equipment? From funds made available to police departments by federal agencies for the war on domestic terrorists? If only Horner had such equipment a few years ago, he might have been able to focus it directly across the street from the Portsmouth Police Dept., at the Ramada Inn, where his son was dealing drugs.

A lot of the competition for seats at the April 14th meeting would have been reduced if council sessions were televised. But the City Council has for years been dragging its feet on televising council meetings. The last thing it wants is for the public tuned in to what it does. Just as citizens were not able to find seats at the April 14th meeting, they were not able to watch it on TV either.

Let’s count our blessings, whether we can see them or not. We have Bob Mollette, an incredibly well organized and courageous council member, and we have the veteran steel worker and union officer Rich Noel, whom the lowlifes in city government are currently doing everything they can to drive from the city council. If only those young apprentices at the meeting knew it, Rich Noel is the union man to emulate, not Austin Keyser.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Scams: 1980 and 2008

Casket and
"Wanted" sign
used in 1980

It is instructive to compare the Marting Scam of 2008 with the Shopping Mall Scam of 1980. One of the connections between the scams is that local lawyer C. Clayton Johnson was a key figure in both. The differences between the two scams and the differences between 1980 and 2008 are also worth noting. The nine blocks that were supposed to revive downtown Portsmouth in 1980 have been reduced in 2008 to one pathetic building that is supposed to revive downtown Portsmouth, the 125-year-old leaking and unwanted-by-anybody-else Marting Department store. Even when it comes to scams, Portsmouth is not what it once was.


  • Working with City Manager Barry Feldman and others, but behind the backs of the City Council, Clayton Johnson is instrumental in the creation of a scheme to develop a $63 million dollar mall in nine blocks of Portsmouth’s depressed downtown area.
  • The city of Portsmouth enters into negotiations with a Cleveland-based developer Jacobs, Visconsi, and Jacobs. A Memorandum of Intent was drawn up.
  • Local unions and the Ohio Civil Services Association in particular back the 1980 Mall Scam.
  • Harold Daub votes in favor of the mall. He is hailed "Man of the Hour" by the general manager of WPAY Tom Reeder, but after flying to Cleveland to talk to the developer, Daub concludes the proposed mall is a castle in the air and a scam by backers of the mall hope to reap millions.
  • Daub, councilman Mark Price, and Mayor Andrew Clausing, publicly oppose the mall plan, claiming it could cost taxpayers millions of dollars with no likelihood that the mall would ever be built.
  • A media campaign is waged to harass, vilify, and recall Clausing, Price, and Daub. WPAY and its general manager Tom Reeder and the Portsmouth Daily Times lead the media campaign for the Mall and against the three councilman, including Daub, Reeder’s former “Man of the Hour.”
  • After a concerted campaign by the local media, Clausing charges that “We have government by the press and the radio.” “There could have been a riot initiated by the news media,” Clausing told the Portsmouth Daily Times.
  • A pro-mall Ku Klux Klan-like parade is held in downtown Portsmouth, with marchers carrying caskets bearing the likenesses of the city councilman opposed to the mall.
  • Ann Sydnor and Jo Ann Aeh, whose husband was active in the KKK, get their start in Portsmouth politics by becoming invovled in the campaign to recall the three city councilmen. Aeh and Sydnor become permanent political fixtures in Portsmouth either as office holders or employees of city and county government.
  • The three councilmen are recalled and replaced by pro-mall council members, but the proposed mall never materializes. City Manager Feldman slinks out Portsmouth not long afterwards for another job in Michigan, and for the next 25 years the myth is perpetrated that Portsmouth missed its one chance to regain prosperity because of three councilmen.
  • Even with a subservient city council, Neal Hatcher in the period 1996-2006 fails to get his proposed mall off the ground.
  • The city school system, with a plan to build a downtown athletic complex, steps in to purchase the land that Hatcher had acquired by knavery and eminent domain for his mall.

Portsmouth Daily Times, Jan. 23, 1980


  • Mayor Bauer and two councilwomen, Ann Sydnor and Carol Caudill, who were part of the original Marting Scam, are recalled from office by angry citizens.
  • The purchase of the Marting building by the city is ruled invalid by the courts in a case brought by Bob and Teresa Mollette.
  • Clayton Johnson negotiates a new scam on the Marting building with Mayor Kalb, but voters by a nearly 3 to 1 margin in a 2 May 2006 referendum demand a stop to all renovation work on the Marting building.
  • Clayton Johnson sees his plan to convert the 125-year-old Marting building into city offices stymied by concerned citizens and by the courts.
  • At a luncheon in a Portsmouth restaurant, in October 2007, Johnson is overheard bragging about the 1980 campaign that recalled the three councilmen who opposed the 1980 mall, saying that one of the councilman, Harold Daub, was still around and still causing trouble.
  • Johnson is allegedly overheard saying the time had come to begin another campaign like the 1980 one, but this time in favor of converting the Marting building to city offices.
  • Local talk jock Steve Hayes of WNXT and managing editor Art Kuhn of the Portsmouth Daily Times mount a media campaign, criticizing concerned citizens and two City Council members, Bob Mollette and Rich Noel, who are opposed to the Marting Scam.
  • 81-year-old Sixth Ward Councilman Rich Noel, who voted against the Marting Scam, is accused of not paying for city trash collections, even though he was never billed for those services.
  • The story on Rich Noel first appears in the Scioto Voice, which is trying to outdo the Portsmouth Daily Times in its servility to the powers-that-be in Portsmouth.
  • On 25 March 2008, six city employees and four vehicles converge on Noel’s property on Dunlap Road, looking for violations of city codes. They find none. The city had not made a single visit to Noel’s property in the previous twenty-five years.
  • The Shawnee Labor Council endorses the Marting Scam.
  • On Monday, 14 April 2008, the city council is expected to pass an ordinance to authorize the renovation of the 125-year-old Marting building into city offices.
125-year-old unwanted-by-anybody-else Marting building

Friday, April 04, 2008

Marting Madness

A Portsmouth native who is a friend of mine, and who knows the history of the city better than I do, recently told me that he absolutely cannot understand why the city government is determined to spend up to $20 million dollars to renovate the 125-year-old empty, moldy, and leaking Marting department store building for city offices. It doesn’t make any sense. At times it seems loony. My friend is baffled, and so am I, and so are the vast majority of other Portsmouth residents and taxpayers. Yet the proponents of the Marting building, led by the lawyer and deal-maker Clayton Johnson, are proceeding even though they know they will continue to be resisted politically and legally for having defied the will of the majority of the voters, who demonstrated though the democratic processes available to them, through recalls and a referendum, that they want no part of the madness of renovating the Marting building.

Captain Clayton

Clayton Johnson is not leading the city forward. He is leading the city backward, all the way back to 1883, when the Marting department store building was erected. He is leading the city backward to more turmoil, to more referenda, to more litigation, and to more delay. The 125-year-old Marting building, which is hidden behind a phony brick fa├žade (even the bricks are phony), is commercially and architecturally worthless and should have been torn down ten years ago. But it wasn’t. Why? I am not a lawyer, or an architect, or a psychiatrist, but I am a student of American literature, and I find in what is considered the great American novel, Moby Dick, a possible explanation for the Marting Madness.

When Clayton Johnson cooked up the Marting deal, he overreached. He got too greedy. He put a price tag of $2 million dollars on the Marting building, which was appraised for no more than $700,000 plus, and even that figure was much higher than it should have been. He overreached when he conspired with crooked city officials to sell the building to the city for $2 million. He didn’t act very smart. When the mayor and council members who conspired with him were recalled from office by outraged voters, Johnson was embarrassed. The man with the reputation as the smartest lawyer in town suddenly looked dumb, and greedy. He avoided talking with a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch who was writing a feature story on the whole mess. What could Johnson say? When the Mollettes brought suit and the Marting deal was invalidated by the courts for the secret and illegal way it had been put together, Johnson would have been not just embarrassed but professionally and personally humiliated.

Hoisted on his own Pequod

The white whale cost Captain Ahab a leg. The blowup of the Marting deal cost Clayton Johnson his reputation as Portsmouth’s smartest lawyer. The only thing Johnson appears to have more of than money is pride. After that loss, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. When Ahab lost his leg, he vowed revenge. When Johnson lost his reputation, he vowed to get even, if my analogy is valid. He negotiated another crooked deal with the city in which he stuck the city with the the 125-year-old Marting building and the Marting Foundation kept the $2 million, or what was left after his legal fees were paid, setting a number of conditions that had to be met before he would return the money. He’d show them, the Portsmouth rabble who did not even know how to set an alarm clock! Among the conditions he set was that the Marting building had to find a new retail tenant – a virtual impossibility – or be used for city offices.

The name of Ahab’s ship was the Pequod. Ahab’s pursuit of the whale made no sense economically or ethically. In his mad pursuit of the white whale, Ahab endangered the Pequod and its crew. With his Marting Madness, Johnson is financially endangering Portsmouth and its taxpayers. At the end of Moby Dick, the ship and crew go to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Where and when and how is it going to end in Portsmouth with our mad Ahab and his motley crew? God only knows.

Marting Building: Very Like A Whale