Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mayoral Muddle

In an interview with former mayor and city manager Frank Gerlach in The Scioto Voice (“A New Mayor May Be in the Future,” Feb. 12, 2009), the important point was made by Mr. Gerlach, that under the present city charter the mayor of Portsmouth does not have much power. “The mayor needs more authority,” attorney Gerlach told Scioto Voice reporter Nikki Blankenship-Hamilton. Gerlach made the same point when I interviewed him back in 1994, so it is an opinion he has held for some time. Because of Gerlach’s extensive experience as city manager and mayor, as well as his career as successful attorney, there is no one better qualified than him to understand the limitations of the office. Earlier today I watched the video Recall of Mayor Bauer, which I put together back in 2004, and on the several occasions he appears in the video, he makes a lot of sense. It’s feels like a very long time since I’ve heard a Portsmouth mayor talk sense.

The mayor lacks adequate authority because the city charter, in effect, gives the six-member city council the keys to the city. Instead of balancing the three branches of government – the executive, legislature, and the judiciary (or their equivalents), the city charter creates an imbalance by giving too much power to the city council.

Two Years: More than Enough

One fairly simple charter change that could give the mayor more authority is to limit the terms of council members to two years (with the terms for the other elected officers, including the mayor, staying at four years. That would begin to redress the imbalance between the executive (mayor) and legislative (council) branches of city government. Two-year terms for council members would also reduce the need for recalls. Just as is the case in the U.S. House of Representatives and the legislatures in many states, two-year terms would make council members more accountable to voters, who would not have to wait four years to vote a rascal out. More importantly, two-year council terms would also reduce the game of musical chairs game by which members who leave or who are recalled from office are replaced by appointees who are at least as incompetent or corrupt as the members they are replacing. A corrupt appointed member appointing other corrupt or complicit members (as happens too frequently) makes a mockery of democracy in our city government. Considering how ethically and intellectually challenged some of the people who are appointed to city council are (have I mentioned Mike Mearan?), two-year terms, or two-year appointments, would be more than enough, thank you.

Occupying the mayor’s office should not be the last refuge for scoundrels and failures, as has been the case with the last two mayors. In interviewing people for Recall of Mayor Bauer, I learned what a low life he was. I had heard at the university that the “S” that Shawnee State uses as its colophon, which was designed by Bauer Graphic’s, was plagiarized. Whether that was the case or not, that people were willing to believe it shows what a poor reputation Bauer had in the community, and why it came as no surprise when he turned out to be such an eager puppet in the Marting Scam. A willingness to be a puppet should not be a qualification for mayor of Portsmouth, but that apparently was Bauer’s only qualification.

Goof-off and Goof-ball

Over the years, a number of people who worked with Kalb at Kroger’s have told me not only what a “goof-off” but also what a “goof-ball” he was. Somebody who worked with him some years ago at Kroger’s told me he used to spend most of his time scheming how he could get out of working, that he always had one physical complaint or another to scam Kroger’s and Workers Compensation. He was a goof-ball not only in the sense of being a fathead but also in the sense of being someone who kept a supply of varied colored pills in a fish tackle box. But he planned even back then, when he first got on the city council, on being mayor some day. I find it hard to believe he came up with that idea on his own, because it is so out of character. I think I know who probably put that idea in his head and has been pushing pushing pushing him ever since. On his own, he would not have pushed himself because he so obviously hates pressure, and is miserable as mayor, in fact, except for the perks and the prestige. Rather than go back to work fulltime at Kroger’s, maybe Kalb too can work out a mental disability with Workers Comp.

Just the other night I heard somebody who claims to know him well say, “Kalb will never go back to work at Kroger’s.” Kroger’s probably hopes not. Since there are those who feel he never really worked there anyway, what’s the difference? If “hardworking public employee” is an oxymoron, it’s morons like Kalb who have made it one. Gerlach pointed out in the Scioto Voice that while the mayor of Portsmouth does not have much authority, he has a lot of ceremonial things he can do. Kalb has not only been aware of the ceremonial aspects of his job as mayor, he has been obsessed with them. He covets the trappings and perks of being the top lap dog: the big car and the prospect of a big office in a renovated Marting building. He covets the perks and prestige as only a man can that has never gotten much respect from anybody, especially from those who pull his strings.

Uncharted Waters

Kalb has very little chance of being re-elected and there are signs that the Portsmouth Daily Times and his puppet masters have already given up on him and are looking for another puppet. A mayor who doesn’t have the strong support of and respect from citizens has nothing, because public support is pretty much all the mayor of Portsmouth can call on to influence and pressure the council. A mayor, who makes the mistake of thinking he or she can accomplish anything without the strong support of the citizens, and the city council, will have learned nothing from the shameful tenure of Bauer and Kalb. The concerned citizens of Portsmouth have proved with their digital fingers and their door-to-door footwork more politically powerful than all the paid propagandists in the local media and all the rich crooked lawyers and developers who pull their strings. The current 4 to 2 division (with Mollette and Noel being the council members with no strings attached) is as close as I have seen the city council come to becoming something other than a rubber stamp for the likes of Neal Hatcher and Clayton Johnson. It will take the election (not appointment!) of only one more honest council member to banish the rubber stamp. The election of a competent and honest mayor would be a blessing, but it would be a mistake for the new mayor to think he or she is like the CEO of a corporation, not unless CEO stands for Ceremonial Executive Officer. That is the frustrating role the new mayor will be assigned until a majority of the city council backs progressive change or until the provisions of the city charter dealing with the mayor are amended. A new mayor should avoid uncharted waters. Until such time as the charter is amended to grant the mayor more authority, being able to understand and work within and around the charter’s restrictions is the single most important qualification for all mayoral candidates.