Friday, October 16, 2009


Less than two weeks ago, it seemed a million people on both sides of the Atlantic read or heard that mayor James Kalb, in response to my public records request, had called me a piece of shit that he wouldn’t piss on if I were burning, and he was just getting started. But he did turn over the public records, and as I suspected they might, those records suggest that he did something worse than call me names. Because he felt cornered and desperate, he may have acted in an underhanded and unscrupulous way; he may have resorted to a devious trick. In addition to lowering the level of public discourse in America to previously unplumbed depths of profanity and coarseness with his post-midnight email, he may have tried to deceive me and the public by providing a bogus public record. There is an old-fashioned word for what he appears to have done: skullduggery.

Agreement in Principle

The public records Kalb provided me include two letters to him from the president of the Portsmouth Kiwanis club, Robin Hamm-LaValley. The first letter (which can be viewed by clicking on the following
link) is a preliminary agreement, or “agreement in principal [sic],” signed by her and Kalb. It is dated December 19, 2008. I believe that first letter is what it purports to be, an agreement in principle, and that the date December 19, 2008, is accurate. The agreement in principle states, and I will bold it for emphasis, that a “subsequent agreement will be required to clarify all issues relating to the plans, specifications, site allocation, site preparation, liability and any other matters that either party deems appropriate.” In regard to site allocation, the agreement in principle stipulates that the City of Portsmouth “will designate ” an area within Tracy Park where the playground would be constructed.

Subsequent Agreement

I believe that the second letter, the subsequent agreement, is bogus. (To see a copy, click this
link.) I believe it was concocted after the fact, ex post facto, in an attempt to deceive the public. The evidence that has accumulated strongly suggests there was no written subsequent agreement when the construction of the playground began. I believe the written subsequent agreement that Mayor Kalb provided me was written sometime after construction began and possibly after I had asked in a public meeting at Tracy Park on September 18, 2009, whether a written agreement existed between the city and Kiwanis regarding the construction of a playground. I had asked at that public meeting if there was a written agreement because Mayor Kalb had told the Portsmouth Daily Times on the previous Saturday, September 12th, that Kiwanis was not building the playground in the designated area, where they were supposed to. “For some reason,” Kalb told the Daily Times, “when they started digging, they moved from the original location and now the playground is around some trees.” That was why he suspended construction of the playground. To add to the confusion, the September 20th Community Common provided another version of why the site of the playground had been changed, reporting the rumor that the location of the site had changed at the order of the public service director. Without Mayor Kalb knowing about it?

This confusion and the resulting controversy came about, in my view, because there was no subsequent written agreement for the parties involved to be guided by. Imagine trying to build a house without architectural plans or start a voyage without a map or a compass. The controversy over the playground probably arose because there was no written agreement when construction began, even though the agreement in principle required that there be one.

Lost and Found

I was not the first to request public records related to the playground project. Following the public meeting in Tracy Park on September 18th, James Warnock, the first to raise the safety issue about the playground, asked Mayor Kalb for a copy of the written agreement. Kalb told Warnock that the written agreement had been misplaced, promising to call Warnock when it was found. When I contacted Warnock six days later, on September 24th, he told me he was still waiting to hear from the mayor. Because Warnock had not made a formal written request for the records, I doubted Kalb would ever find the “misplaced” records or call Warnock. How could he, when the required subsequent written agreement probably didn’t exist when Warnock requested it? Because Warnock had heard nothing from Kalb, I decided to make my formal written public records request.

The Road to Hell

I believe Kiwanis started the playground project with good intentions, but the road to hell, the proverb says, is paved with good intentions and, I will add, with politicians like Kalb often doing the paving. The root of this whole mess, I believe, is Kalb’s laziness, incompetence, and frequent absences from his office and the state. He was in North Carolina when this crisis came to a head. Kiwanis Portsmouth is now in a hole, along with Kalb, a hole that may only get deeper because it is hard to see how the “subsequent agreement” he provided me, if it is bogus, could have come into existence without the collusion of Kiwanis.

Since both letters, the agreement in principle and the subsequent agreement, were purportedly drawn up by Kiwanis president Hamm-LaValley, I asked her on October 14th if she could tell me when she had signed the undated subsequent agreement. She politely declined to answer, suggesting that I write to the address on the letterhead of the two letters I held in my hand. There is no address on the second letterhead, the subsequent agreement; and the only address on the first letter, the agreement in principle, is a post office box number, 782. I will write Box 782, asking if Kiwanis can provide evidence that the subsequent agreement was signed before construction of the playground. If Kiwanis is able to provide evidence that it was, I will apologize. But I think it will be some time, probably not until after the November 3rd election, and maybe not until hell freezes over, before I hear anything definitive from Box 782.

I still find it hard to believe Kalb and Kiwanis would have resorted to such skullduggery, that they would set such a poor ethical example for the kids they claim to be devoted to. But who would have thought Kalb would write his infamous post-midnight email, but he did. The ACLU of Ohio warned that Kalb in his intemperate email to me may have set a dangerous precedent of intimidation. But with the public records he provided me, Kalb may have done something worse. Mugging a constituent in an email who requested public records is bad enough. Concocting a public record to meet a constituent’s request in order to cover your ass is worse.