We are beginning another mayoral race. I am republishing a November 2005 interview with Trent Williams, who was a candidate for mayor four years ago. I am republishing the interview because it is a reminder that candidates will sometimes make promises that they come no where near to keeping once in office. Williams was not elected mayor, but he remained on as City Auditor. His behavior as auditor has been so at variance with what he said during the campaign that I find it hard to believe he is the same person. I have bolded statements that I now find it hard to believe he ever said, considering the subservient, devious role he has played as auditor the last four years. Would he have shown any of the spirit as mayor that he showed when he campaigned for the office? Would he have taken the same position on the Marting building that he campaigned on? Probably not. He would probably have been as bad a mayor as Tim Loper was councilman of the First Ward and as Mike Jones is as City Solicitor. Loper and Jones both claimed to represent change but in no time at all were selling out the people who elected them and doing what those who control the city want them to do, which included backing the Marting Scam. Since 2002, the Marting building has proven to be the best single issue to judge the honesty and independence of candidates, but the real test comes only after candidates are in office.
Mayoral Candidate Trent Williams
In his campaign literature, Trent Williams says, "I've always believed that I could make a difference. I have the vision, passion and personal commitment to make a positive impact on our community." That may be true, but I’ve heard more than one person say they are voting for Trent Williams because he is the lesser of two evils. Lee Scott’s position is there is only one evil person in the race and it’s Trent Williams. I also know a few conservatives who know Williams better than I do who say he will be no improvement over Bauer or Kalb. However, on the basis of what I’ve seen of Kalb, I have to strongly disagree with Lee Scott’s endorsement of him, but Scott was right about Tim Loper from the start, so he could turn out to be right about Williams. To help me and others who might not know much about Williams, I arranged to interview him at his office on the Thursday before the Nov. 8 election.
Interview of Trent Williams, 3 Nov. 2005
Q. The relatively few voters I’ve talked to about your candidacy are in general agreement that what concerns them about you is not whether you are honest and trustworthy but whether you have enough backbone, whether you will be strong and decisive enough for the job. How do you respond to those concerns?
A. Of course I don’t agree with that. I think I’ll be a strong mayor as I’ve been a strong auditor. However, I do think I know how they might have formed that opinion. And that is because – you know I’ve been auditor for six years and over that time – let’s say over the first four years – it was a struggle. It was a struggle being beat down by the mayor that was in office at that time, Mayor Bauer, on many different issues, as well as not having the support of the city council in simply trying to do my job . . . and it became sort of a popularity contest, or just an ongoing battle, that didn’t look like it would have a favorable outcome from [the office of the auditor’s] point of view . . . My proposals I would say would be overlooked or not taken seriously. It got to the point where anything I would try to say was done in vain and a feeling of “Why try anymore?” If [the city ] council is not going to consider the point of view I’m going to give them, it’s like I’m not effective because I’m having a boot put on me. It’s like, “Be quiet and do your job.”
Q. Could you be more specific?
A. Mayor Bauer and some members of council tried to downsize my office staff and outsource payrolling. My office was the only city office they tried to downsize, and they could do that because employees in the auditor’s office were not unionized. When unionized city employees got raises, employees in the auditor’s office did not. The employees later formed their own union, which gave them some job protection and raises like everybody else.
Q. Did you ever find a way to express your disappointment and frustration during that period, publicly?
A. As I said, I was much stronger in the beginning, but then I saw that approach wasn’t working, and I become a little bit ineffective over being swept under the rug and being taken advantage of. It used to seem to me that I was sitting in my chair against the other seven people sitting at the table. No one else out of the audience would agree with me or take my side on an issue. Therefore I was easily made to be frustrated by not being taken seriously. But what I think really built my confidence and helped me make a stronger stand for things was when people would actually support what I would say. And that came from an increased interest and an increased number of people that actually came to the city council meetings, and I didn’t feel like I was alone any more. I really appreciated the number of people who began coming to the city council meetings.
Q. So there was nobody on the city council or in the city government who you felt was an ally of yours during that period?
A. Exactly. I felt at that time because of so many issues that were being put against me and it was just a battle between my office and Mayor Bauer’s office and some members of the city council. There’s a long history of friction between the auditor’s office and city council. . . . I feel much more confident now that I have allies on the council – and it’s not so much a question of allies as support and interest of people there agreeing with things [I] point out.
WILLIAMS VS. KALB
Q. Why should anyone vote for you rather than acting Mayor Kalb?
A. I feel I have a good reputation for honesty and integrity . . . and I feel people are somewhat comfortable with the job I’ve done [as auditor] for the last six years. I’ve been elected twice by a large margin – nearly 70% both times that I’ve won the election.
Q. In the mayoral primary, where did you finish?
A. Second. About a hundred votes behind Jim [Kalb]. And regarding that, with seven candidates, I felt that, or was hoping anyway, that the people who voted for Jim were voting for him and the rest were voting against him. I hope that’s the way it works out this time and that I pick up a lot of the votes for the other candidates in the primary.
Q. What has Kalb done or not done as mayor that you don’t agree with?
A. I think Kalb has tended to go along with some of the former administration’s policies instead of taking a step away from that administration’s philosophy. For example, the plan was for the former council and the former administration to go into the Marting’s building with a tax on the property owners for renovating the Marting’s building. That was the plan. (Of course, the referendum is now in place that will stop that.) And guess what? The plan of the current council and administration is also to continue the former administration’s plan – to continue to go in and renovate the Marting’s building and finance it through putting the same property tax on the back of the property taxpayers. Instead of looking first not at where we are going to put the building but looking for other alternatives, other ways, to pay for wherever and whatever we do. I’d like to see us look into grants and other types of taxes or fees that might replace putting the burden on the property taxpayer. I hope we’re able to bring in some type of mall or upscale retail development. And if we do bring that into the city of Portsmouth, which is one thing I really want to look into and pursue aggressively, we could look at making an agreement with the county government to get a share of the increased sales tax that would come from any retail development.
If the city government is going to bring in a retail development into the city of Portsmouth, I think it would be fair for the city to share – I don’t mean to take the entire 7% payoff that would be generated by that – but even a half percent or just something minimally to help offset a new or renovated building, that’s for sure. If you look around this place [the Municipal building] – and I’m sure you have – that could help offset and instead of putting it on the property taxpayer’s back, that [half-percent] could just come from the increased supplemental sales tax.
Q. Does the county get all of that 7 percent?
A. No. They get 1 and one-half percent, and 5 percent goes to the state. The other 1 and one-half percent goes – no, that would be 7, that would be 5 and 2.
Q. 5 percent to the city?
A. 5 percent to the county.
Q. I’m confused. 5 percent to the county?
A. [I] take that back. It was 7 and one-half percent, wasn’t it?
Q. I’m not sure.
A. Off the top of my head, it’s hard to remember. But now I remember. It was increased to 7 and one-half [percent] and with the state’s new budget they dropped that half percent. The additional 1 percent— OK, 6 percent goes to the state and 1 percent goes to the county. I believe that’s the formula right now.
Q. And the formula doesn’t include the city in that?
A. Not at all.
Q. And is that typical throughout Ohio?
A. Yes. Sales tax typically goes to the county, income tax is brought in by the city, and property tax – there’s a formula that splits up that between the county, city, and any villages, townships, and schools.
Q. The editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times has called the upcoming referendum on the Marting’s building “ridiculous.” What is your view?
A. How can it be ridiculous if so many people are so divided on it? I may be wrong, but I think the majority [of voters] are not going to want to put in many millions of dollars – we’re talking in the 4, 5, 6, even 7 million dollar range. Are we going to take many millions of dollars to renovate a building, which we’re going to have high upkeep and maintenance on, or are we going to put a similar amount, or maybe even more, into a newly constructed building that taxpayers will be much more willing and happier to pay taxes for knowing they are paying for a new state-of-the-art investment that’s going to last for decades? I don’t agree [that the referendum on Marting’s] is ridiculous. . . . I want to see happen what the citizens of Portsmouth want to happen and what taxpayers are willing to pay for. And I think they don’t want to pay for the renovation of the Marting’s building. I think that’s been proven. The three recalls that we’ve had [of Mayor Bauer and councilwomen Sydnor and Caudill] I think were greatly related to those individuals’ support of renovating the Marting’s building. . . . I would like to see us, first, vigorously pursue some type of retail development for that building. That’s what I intend to do. I may be just dreaming a little here, but I think there can be interest, if we’re proactive, in pursuing the interest in the building. . . . That’s the primary first thing the building should be used for. If it eventually comes to where we can’t find a suitable tenant for the building, I think the taxpayers are going to be most happy with razing the building and putting in something that’s going to be suitable to our needs on that site.
Q. The real estate developer Neal Hatcher is one of the most controversial figures in Portsmouth. Do you have any criticisms of the city government’s relationship with Hatcher?
A. I think it was unfortunate that it was the city that had to do the deal. I’d like to have seen it just a deal between the college and Neal. I don’t understand why the city was forced to become involved with it. . . . I’m not against and am very much in favor of increasing the enrollment of Shawnee State University, which is one of the greatest assets in this community. And I think the dorms are beautiful, and I think that’s one of the reasons for the increase in enrollment for Shawnee State.
But two things I don’t agree with, in any case. One, as I said, is that if eminent domain was going to be used, it should have been a state institution, meaning Shawnee State, to use the power of eminent domain instead of forcing the city, or having the city become involved. And second, I don’t think eminent domain should be used for private development. Now, with that said, Neal is doing something. And I respect that. He’s trying to make improvements. But you have to play by the rules, and ultimately I think most people would agree that even though the buildings he is going to put up over there are going to be quite an asset to the town and to the university, you still can’t bypass the rules just because the ends justify the means.
Q. Is there anything that I haven’t touched on that you would like to say before we end this interview?
A. Yes. To expand on your earlier question, “Why should someone vote for Trent Willliams for mayor?” I think that I can help develop the trust in city government that is going to be required for us to do anything. What I mean by that is we don’t have now a level of trust between the administration and council and its constituents. And when there’s not that trust there, it tends to bring any little thing that’s done into question. What I would like to be able to help with is to kind of start over. See that things are done above-board, see that things are done openly, hopefully with input from citizens. As I said before, this is not about what I want. This is about what I think everyone in the city will benefit from. What I’ve been working on is developing an advisory panel of community members. . . . Leaders and just regular people . . . from all the key players that make up the development of the city, to come together, not necessarily on a monthly or strict schedule basis, but on an as-needed-basis, to advise me on the problems that we have in the city and what solutions are there to those problems and how can we achieve those solutions.
NO PLAN, NO DIRECTION
Another big problem, besides the trust issue, is that we have no plan. We have no direction right now. There’s nothing we can pick up and put in front of us and say, “This is the direction we’re hoping to go in and here’s how we’re going to get there.” We need a strategic plan and a marketing plan. . . . Right now I don’t think there’s any reason to look at Portsmouth, because there’s no one coming to you and saying why you should look at Portsmouth. . . . They are not going to come to us if twenty other cities are already hot on their tails to get them to come there. Why would they even look at us?
Q. Could you give me a rough idea of how much you’ve been able to put into your campaign?
A. Financially, you mean? I think it’s in the $5000 dollar range. . . .
Q. I know from experience, on the basis of the Bauer recall campaign, that the number of signs, and even the amount of money collected, is not necessarily the most important thing.
A. Exactly. . . . There was a lot more money put in the “Keep Bauer Campaign” than in the “Recall Bauer Campaign.” A tremendous, a vast difference. But the vote was what, 65% for recall?
Q. About that [it was 64%]. In looking over your campaign contributions, I notice $2500 from the Scioto County Republican Committee. Since you have about $5000 in contributions to this point, $2500 is a major donation, about half of what you’ve raised. My question is, in view of the putative non-partisan character of city elections, is such a large contribution unusual? Assuming Kalb is a Democrat, does he have a large contribution from a corresponding Democratic committee?
A. No, he doesn’t, not according to the latest records. But three unions have contributed somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500 dollars to Kalb. [Andrew Feight says four unions contributed a total of $2000 to Kalb’s campaign.] And the Scioto County Republican Committee has made $2,500 contributions to Republican candidates in the past, not just for me. I wish I had started fundraising earlier, and raised maybe $10,000 dollars, so the political contribution wouldn’t be such a substantial percentage. But I got a late start.
Q. Thank you for answering these questions.