Thursday, February 12, 2009

Letter to Senator Brown

Feburary 12, 2009

Dear Senator Brown:

An ordinance presented at a hastily called special meeting of the Portsmouth City Council on February 11th contains the following provision: “Whereas, it is anticipated that in order for local municipalities to qualify for federal stimulus funds, projects would need to be ready for construction within ninety (90) days. The City of Portsmouth has existing plans for a municipal building that would be located at the city-owned property on Sixth and Chillicothe Street in Portsmouth, Ohio, and as such, would potentially qualify for these federal funds. It is expressly understood that no local tax funding would be utilized for the construction of this project, if federal funding was allocated as part of the 2009 Economic Stimulus Package to pay for this project.” The ordinance does not name the building in question “on Sixth Street and Chillicothe,” presumably because the Marting building is a red flag to the voters of Portsmouth. The city has been trying desperately since 2002 through various underhanded means to use public monies to renovate that controversial building and the voters have turned it down every time they have had a chance to. The most recent rejection took place just last week, on February 3rd, in a special election.

The courts invalidated the 2002 sale of the building, but the city turned right around, in defiance of the voters and courts, and for a second time took the unmarketable building off the hands of the Marting Foundation with the intention of converting it to offices for the mayor and other city officials. Inserting the building into a stimulus package, as the ordinance proposes, is just the latest attempt by the city to subvert the will of the voters of Portsmouth.

The Marting building would be the salmonella in any stimulus package. By including Marting’s in the Portsmouth stimulus package, the city is contaminating the package as a whole and leaving Governor Strickland with the potential problem of having to defend a politically toxic item in the state’s stimulus spending. Last fall, Victoria Wulsin made the support of the Marting project part of her campaign for the House of Representatives, angering a number of Democratic voters in Scioto County, which contributed to her loss to Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt.Whatever other mistakes she may have made, Schmidt did not back the Marting project.

Believe me, you will hear from others beside me when the Marting building’s inclusion in the city's stimulus package is publicized. The ordinance’s assurance that no local tax money would be spent on the construction of the building, assuming that assurance is worth anything, does not mean that local taxpayers wouldn’t be paying through the nose for the next thirty years for maintenance and other costs associated with a building that is too old, too moldy, and too large for the city’s purposes.

The state of Ohio and the city of Portsmouth have crying needs that deserve to be met in a federal stimulus package, but the Marting building is not one of them. Just as the operator of the plant in Georgia is being held responsible for allowing salmonella-tainted peanut butter to go to market, so will those who put the Marting building into any stimulus package. The unmarketable Marting building is not a 90-day shovel-ready project, as the ordinance claims. It is a bulldozer-ready project and the sooner it is demolished, or otherwise disposed of, the sooner will it stop poisoning the politics of Portsmouth.

Dr. Robert Forrey, President

Concerned Citizens of Portsmouth