Monday, February 16, 2009


Trent Williams, "A serial truth batterer."

The following notice recently appeared in the Portsmouth Daily Times.

"The League of Women Voters of Scioto Co. will meet Monday, February 16, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Forest Room of Hillview Retirement Center. Trent Williams, Portsmouth's City Auditor will be the guest speaker. The topic for discussion will be the Charter Change recently voted upon in the February 3, 2009 special election. The public is cordially invited to attend." Notice it says "topic for discussion."

I was present at 7 o'clock, along with about a dozen others, not counting the League of Women Voters personnel, who were sponsoring the meeting. I brought my video camera so that there would be a record of what Williams said about "the topic for discussion," namely "the Charter Change recently voted upon in the February 3, 2009 special election." There were no reporters there from the Daily Times, nobody from any of the radio stations, as far as I could see.

There was hardly any time for discussion, because Williams arrived late and immediately explained he would be leaving early because he had a concert practice to attend. Arriving late, leaving early. That, I heard somebody sitting near me say, was typical of Trent. While we waited for him, I fiddled with my camera and thought of lines about time from one of the most famous poems of the last century, "The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

And indeed there will be time . . .

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create . . .

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred lies and distortions . . .

I took some liberties with that last line because our devious city auditor is as good at killing time as he is at lying, which reminds me of Thoreau's pregnant observation in Walden about the expression "killing time." Thoreau asked, "How can we kill time without injuring eternity?" I will pose the question to Williams, "How can you kill time and lie without injuring eternity?"

When Williams finally did arrive, he began by taking some time to explain what the city auditor's job consisted of and how effective he was at doing it. He went on and on about stuff that had no direct relevance to the announced topic. I realized later that what he was doing was killing time, which he had so little to spare, because he wanted to postpone dealing with the meat of the evening as long as he could and he especially wanted to leave as little time as possible for discussion about the meat of the evening.

When Williams finally got to the issue of the amendment to the city charter that the voters recently passed, he told many lies and resorted to many distortions, often repeating himself so he could leave as little time as possible for any discussion. How many times did he bring up the issue of the words "voter: and "elector"? He hopes that the amendment that was passed on February 3rd will be ruled invalid by the Board of Elections because it refers to a "majority of electors" rather than "majority of voters." HOW CAN THIS BE A VALID ISSUE WHEN SECTION 166 OF THE CITY CHARTER, WHICH IS DEVOTED TO AMENDMENTS TO THE CHARTER, REFERS TO A MAJORITY OF ELECTORS, NOT VOTERS? The auditor and the city solicitor should read the city charter.

When he got though with his lies and distortions, Williams was looking towards the door. It was if the whole orchestra was waiting for and could not begin without him. He asked, "What time is it? Seven-thirty? I can take a couple of questions – if there are any." If there are any! Did he think he had frozen us in our seats with his snow job? One woman asked who paid for elections, and after he killed a few minutes answering, Jane Murray stood up to be recognized and took issue with something Williams had said in his previous answer. He reprimanded her and said, "This isn't a debate and I have the floor!" When she continued making her point, he picked up his notebook and left in a huff. He had a concert practice to go to. He didn't have any more time to waste on discussions. After he left, Jane Murray stepped to the front to protest the auditor's litany of untruths. Litany of untruths is putting it mildly. Williams is not only a time killer, he is a serial truth batterer. There should be a shelter in Portsmouth for the truths he regularly batters. Murray read a statement from Larry Essman, a Certified Public Accountant, who teaches at Shawnee State. Essman's criticism of three of Williams' untruths about the amendment can be found on the Concerned Citizens Roundtable website and on Teresa Mollette's website.

After the meeting, I told Jane Murray, "That was as bad as a city council meeting." She answered, "It was worse."

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

Thursday, February 05, 2009


When testifying before the Ohio Elections Commission last month, Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams said the city government was not legally obliged to get the approval of the voters to proceed with the $15 million plan to convert the Marting and Adelphia properties into a city hall and justice center. (Please read that important opening sentence again.) Williams said the city put the project on the ballot in the November 2008 election, but it was not legally required to. The city believed it had the right to go ahead with the $15 million dollar project without the approval of the voters. The city of Portsmouth also thought it had the right to spend $2 million dollars of taxpayer money to purchase the empty and leaking Marting building without the approval, or even knowledge, of taxpayers. These are examples of the kind of arrogance that led to the recall of Mayor Bauer and two members of city council and that led to the defeat in two elections, in 2006 and 2008, of city plans for the Marting building and the so-called Adelphia property.

On February 3, 2009, in a special election, voters passed a charter amendment that placed new limits on the Portsmouth city government’s authority to levy taxes. The West Virginia television channel WSAZ saw the victory of the amendment as an expression of “People Power.” Not in a million years would reporters or editors at the Daily Times dare to express such a view of the supporters of the charter amendment, not if they wanted to keep their jobs.

The heading of the proposed charter amendment reads, “Approval of the majority of electors of the City of Portsmouth needed for Passage.” An editorial in the February 5th Portsmouth Daily Times about the February 3rd election shows why so many people choose not to subscribe to that newspaper. The editorial, titled “Election a sign of things to come,” claims that the heading of the ballot amendment, with its use of the phrase “majority of electors” may be grounds to legally invalidate the amendment. To quote the editorial, “What was the committee that drafted the amendment’s intension [sic] in the wording? Did they intend for it to mean the majority of the electors, that is, those registered to vote? Or a majority of those who go to the polls in that election?” This may be a legitimate question to raise, but if whoever wrote the editorial was familiar with the charter and specifically with Section 166, which deals with amendments to the charter, he would know that the final sentence of Section 166 states, “If such a proposed amendment be approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon it shall become part of the Charter at the time fixed therein” [underlining added]. The committee that drew up the amendment to limit the taxing authority of the city repeated the “majority of electors” phraseology in the charter where the phrase is used in the context of the majority of those who would vote, not the majority of those who could vote, on charter amendments. I suspect the Daily Times, and others in city government, are deliberately misreading “majority of electors” in an effort to discredit and ultimately nullify the results of the election in court. Why would the Daily Times be involved in a scheme to subvert the democratic process? In the twenty years I have lived in Portsmouth, I have learned the Times is really the house organ of the lawyers and developers who control the city economically and politically. What the Times offers is the party line, the party in this case being the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership.

The Daily Times editorial also snidely denigrates the February 3rd election because of the small percentage of the voters who turned out. It’s a well known and much lamented flaw of American democracy that many people who could vote in any given election, don’t. Even in a general election, when the weather is good, and the issues involved in the election are well publicized, a large percentage of voters who could vote don’t. In a primary or special election, when the weather is bad, and the election itself is poorly publicized by the local media, many more voters who could vote don’t. But the Times makes the 582 who did come out and vote for the amendment sound like a small band of obstructionists or even worse (parroting Portsmouth’s police chief) like terrorists: “Portsmouth City Council is being held hostage by 582 votes.” It is the citizens of Portsmouth who are being held hostage—hostage to the lawyers and developers and to the untruths of the Portsmouth Daily Times.

The vote on the amendment was close, but in a democratic election it takes only one vote to win, no matter how many votes are cast. In Portsmouth, this applies to charter amendments as well as to other measures. The amendment to limit the city’s taxing authority passed 582 to 572, ten times more than the necessary one-vote majority. There are seven ballots still to be counted—six provisional and one absentee—but even if all seven of those votes end up being against the measure, which is unlikely, it would still pass with three times more than the required one vote majority needed.


In a recent letter to the Portsmouth Daily Times urging citizens to vote no on the amendment, City Auditor Williams called the election a “No-Brainer.” When it comes to “No-Brainers,” our auditor is something of an authority, lacking not only the brains but the educational qualifications to fulfill the duties of his office. I think he, and whoever advised him in writing this letter, is not thinking or writing clearly, and certainly is not reading the city charter clearly. That the auditor doesn’t understand the city charter and democratic elections better than he does is a sad commentary on how unqualified he appears to be for the position he holds. In his letter to the Times, Williams wrote, “If we don’t trust them,” referring to the city’s elected officials, “there is already a method in place to change things. It’s called—voting for their opponent in an election.” The Daily Times repeats the same nostrum but with a more tenuous grasp of grammar. “If you don’t trust your councilperson, vote them [sic] out of office the next time they [sic] come up for reelection.” What neither Williams or the Times pointed out is that in Portsmouth too many individuals first get on the city council by being appointed, not elected, and because of the unfortunate four-year terms for council members (two would be more than enough) they burrow in and are as hard to get rid of as termites. Half the current city council—Mearan, Albrecht, and Haas—started out as political termites. Now, just try to get rid of them!

Williams and the author of the editorial show themselves to be No-Brainers when it comes to knowing about the history of the United States, and about the so-called Progressive Era (c. 1890 to 1920) in particular. If the only way to remove those who were elected, or who were appointed to office, is to wait as long as four years to remove them, our federal, state, and city officials, especially here in Portsmouth, would be even more corrupt and beholden to those with the big bucks than they already are. As a result of changes during the Progressive Era, such as the initiative, referendum, and recall, politicians were made more accountable to the electorate and American government more democratic. No longer did voters have to wait four years to get rid of crooked politicians. They could get rid of them through recalls and they could make important changes in city charters anytime they could muster the signatures to petition the government for a special election.

“And remember,” Williams closed his letter to the Portsmouth Daily Times, “you are never going to get the majority of the electors of the city to come out to vote, let alone vote for or against any issue, so it will be impossible to buy that firetruck (sic) or replace deteriorating public property.” What is he talking about? Is he being blatantly devious, to speak oxymoronically, with these scare tactics, or is he as dumb as he sounds? It is not a majority of those qualified to vote but a majority of those who do vote who decide elections. The backers of the charter amendment are not opposed to buying fire trucks or to repairing deteriorating city property. What they are opposed to is the city suspending the rules to make emergency purchases of deteriorating private property, such as the Marting building, and then sticking the taxpayers with the $2 million dollar bill in the form of long-term property taxes.

WSAZ was right. The passage of the charter amendment was an expression of People Power. What the Daily Times editorial represents is not the people but the plutocrats, not the readers but the advertisers, who keep the wretchedly subservient paper afloat. If there were truth in advertising, wouldn’t it be called the Prostitute Daily Times?


Monday, February 02, 2009


A sample ballot, provided by Wayne Nichols, on the charter amendment to limit the taxing authority of the city of Portsmouth. Vote Yes on Tuesday, February 3rd.