Thursday, September 30, 2010

No Ire-ish Need Apply

Shawnee State University is currently looking for a new Security Chief. Twenty years ago, you could be pretty sure the job would go to some local white male with political connections who had the support of at least a few influential members of the Board of Trustees. At that time, Shawnee State was viewed as a Rife pork project whose most important function was to  provide jobs and contracts for  people in the Portsmouth area who had political connections, and the Board was the agency that dispensed the jobs and the contracts. For all I know, that is still the case, and who will get the Security Chief position may have been decided even before the search committee was formed. I   hope that is not  now  the case, and for purposes of argument I will assume that it is not.  If it is no longer the case,  I suggest the  search committee  exclude from consideration any applicant from the Portsmouth area who is Ire-ish.

Back in the nineteenth century, when Irish immigrants were as welcome as the measles in many cities in the northeast, Help Wanted signs would sometimes add “No Irish Need Apply.” I think SSU should have put up a Help Wanted sign that said “No Ire-ish need apply. The word “ire” is a synonym for anger, so by Ire-ish I mean anyone who is in anyway involved in Portsmouth politics because you can’t be involved in Portsmouth politics without being, or becoming, very angry, without  becoming  very Ire-ish.  If I wasn’t Ire-ish when I arrived in Portsmouth twenty years ago, I sure as hell am now.  

Any applicant from local law enforcement agencies should be carefully scrutinized because those agencies are   extremely politicized  and the  chances applicants from them will  be Ire-ish are very high. Whatever advantages a member of a local law enforcement agency might have for the job  over outside candidates are far outweighed by the disadvantages. The political baggage that local Ire-ish candidates will bring with them will be so heavy that it will crush anyone it falls on. Ideally, a law enforcement agency should be free of politics. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The Portsmouth Police Department in particular is more political than the Republican, the Democratic, and the Tea Party combined.  The Ire-ishness that infects the Portsmouth Police Department  will quickly infect the Security Department  at Shawnee State. Up to now, as far as I know, the Security Department at Shawnee State has not been political, but put an Ire-ish cop at the top and within a year, if not a month, it’ll be an Ire-ish  tag-team  that will make the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame look like Hare Krishnas.


Monday, September 27, 2010

From the Ku Klux Klan to the Ku Klutz Klan

The Grand Klutz

What does the Portsmouth mayoral election way back in 1923 have to do with the current effort to recall Mayor Murray? Another way to pose that question is, What does the Ku Klux Klan have  to do with the  Ku Klutz Klan, or the Grand Dragon with the Grand Klutz?” 

The Ku Klux Klan

In the fall of 1923 the incumbent, relatively young Mayor of Portsmouth, William N. Gableman, was running for a third two-year term. He had the endorsement of the Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT) which praised him for restoring the city to fiscal stability. His commendable handling of the city’s budget was  all the more impressive  because he  was opposed every step of the way, the PDT  reported,  by the  City Council, which  wanted to return to the  previous spoils system under which people were rewarded  with city jobs and contracts for their  political support.

How did the Ku Klux Klan figure in the 1923 election? Not long before the election the Klan  had applied to Mayor Gableman for a permit to  march to the cornerstone laying of the First Lutheran Church, at the corner of Grandview and Grant Street. The  Klansmen wanted to march to show their support for a new white Protestant church. If it had been  a new black church or a new Jewish temple, the Klan might have marched in protest. There was no indication in the news reports that the Lutherans had invited or would welcome the  Klan.  What the Klan  hoped to get by marching to the First Lutheran Church was some respect,  such as the Masons got when they marched to cornerstone laying ceremonies for public buildings. But like other  public officials at the local, state and national level,  Gableman considered the Klan to be an un-American organization that preached hatred and practiced violence, and he did not want to lend them legitimacy by granting them a permit to parade through the streets of Portsmouth in the ghostly hoods and robes that the Klan had  adopted during Reconstruction to frighten Negroes.

The  Ku Klux Klan  wanted to march to the First Lutheran Church in 1923

By the 1920s the Klan had become a powerful political force in Portsmouth and in many other cities in Ohio and across the nation.  The Invisible Nation, as the Klan  was then known, was at its pernicious peak in the decade, capitalizing on whites fears   of blacks.   In denying  the Klan a marching permit, Gableman incurred the  wrath of the Klan and their sympathizers in Portsmouth.  It is also possible the Klan and others spread the rumor that Gableman was Jewish, which he wasn’t:  he was Presbyterian. Whether or not anti-Semitism was a factor in the election, racism definitely was, and  Gableman lost  by an almost two to one margin. The Klan was victorious in   Portsmouth, Youngstown, Cleveland and other  Ohio cities,  as well as in states as far away as Oregon.   On the day after the election the PDT reported on the front page, “Ku Klux Klan Generally Victorious.” 

Remnants of the Ku Klux Klan are still in Portsmouth.  As recently as 1994, an estimated 400 people attended a KKK rally behind the Municipal Building. But the rally was a far cry from the 1920s. Of the estimated 400, some attended the rally  out of curiosity; some out of opposition to the KKK; but only  a small minority because they liked  the KKK’s message that only White Supremacy can save America.

 Ku Klux Klan Rally: Portsmouth, May 1994

Ku Klutz Klan

We know what the Ku Klux Klan is, but what is  the Ku Klutz Klan? Klutz is a  Yiddish word meaning a clumsy and stupid person. By the Ku Klutz Klan I mean those incompetent and intellectually challenged individuals, obvious failures in their chosen trades or professions,  who have gotten  elected or appointed to city government in the last thirty years or so,  and who, acting as the political puppets of the wealthy clique that controls the city economically and politically, have criminally misgoverned  Portsmouth and brought it to the verge of bankruptcy. The latest estimates from the mayor’s office is that Portsmouth  could be in a $5 million deficit by next year, leading the state to declare the city in a fiscal emergency and put it in virtual receivership, as it has already the county.

The Ku Klutz Klan includes the last two mayors, the failed businessman Greg Bauer and  the failed  grocery clerk, the clueless Jim Kalb, who was the reigning Grand Klutz prior to finishing third in the last mayoral election. The ranks of the Ku Klutz Klan also include, from my perspective,   City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh, whose husband Roy was a member of the Ku Klux Klan;  City Auditor Trent Williams, CPFA; Police Chief Charles Horner; City Solicitor Michael Jones; Ward Five councilman John  Haas; Ward Three councilman Nicholas Basham; recalled council woman Carol Caudil;  former indicted City Auditor Tom Bihl;  and current county  employee Larry Mullins, the sometime backup  to WNXT Motormouth Steve Hayes. The Ku Klutz Klan has diehard supporters outside of city government, such as Tim Arms, proprietor of the Ye Olde Lantern Restaurant; the kooky Ku Klutz  Karaoke Queen Sue Lonney who ignores Kroger’s no soliciting rule by pressuring elderly women in the parking lot to sign her   petitions; and of course the ex-mayor’s wife, who regularly receives a check from the state for a psychiatric disability, “crazy money,” as it is sometimes called, which makes doubly ironic the sobriquet that the  Ku Klutz Klan has come up with for  the gainfully employed Mayor Murray: Crazy Jane.

Determined to save America from Negroes and mongrel immigrants, the Ku Klux Klan targeted “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans,” to quote the 1978 letter the Grand Dragon of  the Ku Klux Klan sent to Jo Ann Aeh’s  husband Roy,  welcoming him to the brotherhood.  Determined to “Save Our City,” urged not to be “screwed by strangers,” the Ku Klutz Klan targets Concerned Citizens, “domestic terrorists,” gays,  CAVE People, and the first female mayor of Portsmouth. The feelings of the Ku Klutz Klan are complex, including economic, social, and sexual anxieties that were bluntly summed up in the yard sign that warned during last fall’s mayoral campaign,  “Don’t be Screwed by a Stranger.” The corollary of that sign would be one that said,  “Keep It in the Family.” All the klutzes in the county are currently collectively engaged in an attempt to recall Murray for taking on   Portsmouth’s corrupt, incestuous political culture and for sounding the alarm about the possible impending financial implosion, an implosion  Tom Bihl laid the groundwork for  as City Auditor when he began  a system of borrowing-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul bookkeeping. 

 Totaled Recall

 Bihl is the klutz who, when he was chief of police, totaled two parked vehicles on Offnere Street and badly damaged a third before he was whisked away by two officers on the force without being given a breathalyzer test. The Scioto County Board of Elections on September 7 invalidated Bihl’s first petition drive, no pun intended. Having, in effect, totaled one petition drive,  Bihl is now working on totaling a second. It makes you wonder if  the Board of Elections should  give a breathalyzer to those taking out petitions, particularly since those involved  spend so much time drinking at Dickens Pub and the Lantern Restaurant. Maybe it would save the taxpayers of Portsmouth  money if Bihl was given a breathalyzer before he did anything. This second petition drive, in the unlikely event it is successful, will require a special election for which the  taxpayers will foot the bill.  As a klutz whose foot doesn't know the difference between  a clutch and a brake, Bihl's motto could be, “Damn the deficits! Full speed ahead!

The Recall Murray campaign is being fueled by alcohol, with Basham providing drinks at half price  to city employees and Tim Arms reportedly fueling the petition drive with alcohol at the Lantern. It is fitting  that the campaign headquarters of Bihl’s Recall Murray campaign  is  Basham’s bar, but  booze is not the  antidote for Portsmouth’s  notorious drug problems. The war on drugs is not going to be won by half-intoxicated, half-assed  klutzes.

The Ku Klutz Klan has gotten not one but two permits for public rallies. The most recent rally, the second of its kind, was held at Tracy Park.  The weather was great but the rally fizzled, as will the attempt to recall Murray if it ever gets on the ballot. Whatever mistakes Murray has made, and whatever her limitations may be, she is not a klutz, as she proved in the successful race she ran for mayor against two klutzes,  and as she will continue to prove as Portsmouth’s day of fiscal reckoning approaches. The Ku Klux Klan succeeded in defeating Mayor Gableman in 1923, but I predict the Ku Klutz Klan will not succeed in defeating Mayor Murray,  because she’s an intelligent tough lady and this is 2010, not 1923.

Having fun at the fizzled Ku Klutz Klan rally at Tracy Park,
with Bihl holding a paper and the kooky Karaoke Queen to his left.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Dragoness: City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh

   Concerned Citizens Group president Jerry Conkle and CCG member Jim Wilson have told me that it is their clear recollection that on Wednesday, July 28, 2010,  Portsmouth City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh told  them, in her office in the Municipal Building, that  the deadline for them to return the  petitions to recall Ward Three councilman Nicholas Basham was August 20. It is possible there was a misunderstanding and that Conkle and Wilson misinterpreted what Aeh said, or that she was confused rather than  attempting to mislead them. It is possible, but in light of Aeh’s track record in regard to recall petitions and of her long standing, obstructionist  role in city government,  it is  more likely, in my opinion, that she deliberately  mislead Conkle and Wilson, and through them the other members of the CCG, by making them think they had a week less than they actually had to collect the required number of  signatures to put the recall of Nicholas Basham before Ward Three voters. The City Charter stipulates they should have had thirty days from the time they took out the petitions, which would have meant that she should have told them they had  until August 27 to return the petitions. For the aging and physically challenged members of the CCG, the lost week was a handicap they were not able to  overcome and they suspended their efforts shortly before what they believed was the August 20  deadline. In spite of being handicapped and having to walk with a cane, Jerry Conkle collected almost fifty signatures in the record heat wave. Jim Wilson, as a result of working many years installing and repairing heating and air conditioning  systems, has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which requires him to always carry an oxygen supply, but he  did his best in the limited time Aeh led him to believe he had to collect signatures. 

What motivation would Aeh  have for  impeding the recall effort by Conkle, Wilson, and other members of the CCG? As City Clerk, Aeh serves at the pleasure of the city council, which can fire her whenever it chooses. A city clerk's employment depends directly upon the support  of members of city council, which puts anyone who occupies the office in a potential conflict of interest in handling petitions to recall council members. Aeh and every city clerk who succeeds her will continue to be in a potential conflict of interest until the charter is changed to insulate them from pressure from members of city council and other elected officials who are subject to recall efforts. In the past, Aeh did her best to bend the rules in favor of  council members Jim Kalb, Ann Sydnor, and David Malone, her political allies, when they faced recall. Aeh did for Kalb, Sydnor, and Malone, what she may recently have tried to do for Nicholas Basham: trying to protect his hide to save her own. As long as she is beholden to the city council for her livelihood,  such situations will likely occur. As Teresa Mollette wrote on,The city charter needs to be revised to take the power of approving petitions out of the hands of the city clerk. This is a job for the county Board of Elections.” 

Judging by the website of Dickens Pub, Jo Ann Aeh has become a frequenter, if not a  habituĂ©, of the pub, which Basham owns. Basham  offers reduced prices for drinks to those customers who can prove they are city employees by producing  their health insurance cards.  The irony of that little detail about health insurance is that  Murray has raised the hackles of city employees by calling attention to the high costs of their generous health benefits, which should serve as a reminder of the generous health insurance benefits the city council voted themselves back in 1990  (Ord. 1990-106), which caused one of the most bitter recall campaigns in the history of Portsmouth. If the term of office for council members was two years instead of four, there would be much less need of  costly and bitter recall campaigns. If  the term of office for the city clerk was not an open-ended, possibly life-time appointment, as it has been for Aeh,  but was rather fixed and not dependent on the city council’s approval,  then perhaps there would not have been so many shenanigans  over the  long period of time Aeh has been city clerk. There is a sign on the wall of Aehs office that reads, “Lord, Help me hang in there,”  but  some people might  feel  that  she has not so much been hanging in as hanging on. 

   Section 7 of the Portsmouth City Charter briefly states the ostensibly limited duties of the city clerk:  “The Clerk shall attend the Council as its secretary, shall keep its journal and other records, and make an annual report, giving a summary of its proceedings and shall perform such other duties as are given him by this Charter or which may be prescribed by ordinance.” Doesn't sound like much, does it? But the “other duties” assigned by the Charter include those related to recalls, which are stipulated in Sections 151-153 of the Charter. Those duties" give the city  clerk a lot of opportunity for mischief, which Aeh has made the most of. It may be those duties" that have enabled her to hold her job longer than any other city employee. Through manipulation, if not  malfeasance, she has, in my opinion, helped keep corrupt political officials in office by obstructing citizens’ attempts to remove them by means of the recall. Would she have been collecting a paycheck  for a quarter of a century without conducting a kind of protection racket for corrupt cronies, and especially for those members of the city council, without whose good will she would long ago have been replaced? The political life of  most public office holders in Portsmouth, especially with all the recalls, has been as short as a fruit flys, but  for Aeh it has been as long as a turtles.   

Aehs Illegal Removal of  Names from Recall Petitions 

   Aeh’s abuse of the office of city clerk was evident in 1996, when she illegally removed names from petitions whose purpose was to recall First Ward council woman Ann Sydnor and Fourth Ward councilman Jim Kalb. In a decision handed down on  September 11, 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that “Aeh had clear legal duty under Sections 151 and 152 of the Portsmouth Charter to certify as sufficient the recall petitions relating to the First and Fourth Ward council members. The petitions had the requisite number of signatures to be sufficient. Aeh was not entitled to remove signatures from the petitions after filing. In addition, relators have established a clear legal right to this certification, and they have no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Based on the foregoing, we grant a writ of mandamus compelling Aeh to certify the recall petitions seeking the removal of First and Fourth Ward Council Members Sydnor and Kalb as sufficient and to notify these council members pursuant to Section 152 of the Portsmouth Charter. In addition, we grant relators’ request for attorney fees and order relators’ counsel to submit a bill and documentation in support of the request for attorney fees, in accordance with the guidelines set forth in DR 2-106” [italics added]. Aeh was caught in the act and the city  had to pay for it. 

   More recently, it was  not just the recall of Basham  that Aeh may have helped sabotage by supplying misinformation to Conkle and Wilson. She has also either deliberately or, perhaps as a consequence of her advancing years, inadvertently made a mess of  the public records she has the responsibility for creating, keeping track of, and  preserving. Legal action soon may be initiated against her and other city officials for their failure to produce public records requested by citizens. The fines mandated by state law for failing to produce each public record can really add up, so the cost to the city for Aeh’s failure to create, preserve, and produce public records requests  could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The Columbus Dispatch carried a story recently about huge financial penalties being imposed on public officials in northern Ohio who failed to comply with requests for public records. With all its other financial problems, Portsmouth may be furthered burdened with having to pay large penalties for the failure of Aeh and other officials to comply with requests for public documents. Possibly, some  records cannot be produced  because they have been destroyed, in violation of state law.
      On August 30, Corey Columbo, an attorney from the Columbus-based  McTigue Law Group,  representing Mayor Murray, filed a challenge to the petitions that have been filed with Aeh for the recall of the mayor. McTigue himself  represented Damon Fite and  the Concerned Citizens who successfully challenged the legality of Aeh’s removal of signatures from recall petitions back in 1996. Just as Aeh can abuse the powers of her office to frustrate those seeking to recall  her political cronies, she can abuse those same powers to abet petitioners who are trying to recall a political enemy from office, in this case Mayor Murray.  Whether or not she shortchanged Concerned Citizens a week, she extended the time the Recall Murray Campaign had to collect signatures, as she is allowed to do by the Charter.  Columbo has compiled fifteen objections to the petitions for the recall of Murray, most of which appear to put Aeh right at ground zero of the legal mess that is unfolding over the recall of Murray. Columbo explained that the McTigue Group deals almost exclusively with election disputes, and it was evident at the Election Board meeting on August 30 that the recall of Murray looks very shaky legally. In spite of bluster from the Election Board chairman Rodney Barnett, the rest of the Board seemed chastened by Columbos’ remarks to the board, and Sayre, the attorney from the Country Prosecutor’s office, admitted he was unfamiliar with protested recalls and would need to do a quick study of the subject, which, given the time frame he has to operate within, will have to be really quick.  All the confusion is not surprising given the twelfth-hour timing of the Recall Murray Campaign, which began when former indicted City Auditor Tom Bihl threw his hat in the ring, or rather, more accurately, put  his head  in the wringer when no one else had been brave or foolish enough to do so. Because of the half-assed, half-gassed way in which the Recall Murray Campaign has proceeded, with the Dickens Pub serving as unofficial campaign headquarters, it is not surprising that there are at least fifteen reasons why the State Board of Elections may rule the recall petitions invalid. I have seen McTigue perform before the Ohio Board of Elections, and I would not want to be in Aeh’s shoes, or Tom Bihl’s either, if and when they testify  before the board. 

Where Southern Hostility Begins

The snarling Aeh at a City Council meeting
Aeh became involved in city politics back in the early 1980s, when the city was in turmoil over the recall of three members of city council who were vilified and demonized because they were allegedly against a shopping mall, just as Mayor Murray is being vilified and demonized now because she is allegedly against just about everything she can be accused of being against. The hatred being whipped up in the campaign to recall her is reminiscent of the hatred stirred up in the South and Midwest against Negroes by the Ku Klux Klan. As recently as the late 1970s, the Klan had a presence in Portsmouth, and some first-hand observers thought the movement to recall the three councilmen in 1980 had the characteristics of a KKK rally. Marchers did not carry a burning cross but they did carry  a casket with the picture of one of the councilmen, Harald Daub, as I wrote about previously in “The Mauling of Harald Daub.” Daub is still the target of hate mongers. His house and automobile were pelted by eggs late one night not long ago, perhaps by those who had been drinking firewater earlier at a Happy Hour at the unofficial headquarters of the Recall Murray Campaign.

   Jo Ann Aeh’s husband Roy was reportedly active in the Klan in the late 1970s, and was said to be recruiting for the KKK among the employees at the state prison in Lucasville. In a letter dated April 29, 1978, the authenticity of which has not to my knowledge been disproved,  the so-called Grand Dragon of the KKK, David Duke, welcomed Roy Aeh as a new member and invited him and his wife  to a KKK national convention in Jackson, Mississippi, where there would be seminars on “how to stop the rising tide of the forces that mean to end White Supremacy.” The Grand Dragon concluded the letter to Aeh by writing, “You and your wife JoAnn are cordially invited to be with us in this great crusade.” The letter specifies who the great crusade was against:  “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans.”   I am not suggesting Jo Ann Aeh was a member of the KKK or that she championed White Supremacy. But of her political activities since 1980 it can be said, on the basis of the available evidence, that she is a supporter of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, the SOGP, which has had,  under several names, a stranglehold on the economic and political life of Portsmouth for the last thirty years. It is not the KKK we need to worry about: it is the SOGP, a so-called Community Improvement Corporation, and it is no secret who the “Grand Dragon” of the SOGP is. Portsmouth: Where Southern Hospitality Begins,” one of the citys slogans, perhaps should be changed to, Portsmouth: Where Southern Hostility Begins.” 

   The hatred being generated in Portsmouth today is not against “Niggers, Jews, Catholics, and Puerto Ricans.” The hatred today is against domestic terrorists” and CAVE People, that is,  against the community activists who serve as the watchdogs of local government; but the hatred is directed above all against Mayor Murray who has challenged the corrupt status quo as perhaps nobody has in the history of Portsmouth, with the possible exception of  the three councilmen of  thirty years ago. That was when  Aeh, not coincidentally,  began her political career, a career she continues to carry on, having been  transmogrified into something of a snarling, fire-breathing Grand Dragoness who not only illegally alters recall petitions but  who has become increasingly unwilling or unable to carry out her record keeping responsibilities as required by the City Charter. She has reportedly become irate when asked for minutes of various public meetings and contemptuous of the principle of open public records, or at least of those who approach her with public records requests. It remains to be seen how much snarling and fire breathing she will do before the Ohio Board of Elections, if and when she has to testify about the recall petitions. It remains to be seen also whether northerners will get a better idea of what it’s  like to live in the Deep South of the Grand Realm of Ohio.

Letter from Grand Dragon inviting Aeh and her husband to KKK Convention

* * *

Update:  1:45  Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I attended the hearing this morning at the County Court House, where Jane Murray's attorney Corey Columbo made a thorough, meticulous, and convincing  case that the recall effort against the Mayor should be invalidated for numerous violations, particular and procedural.  The Scioto County Board of Elections agreed, so the campaign to recall her has failed. Let us hope this is the last recall over which Aeh will ever preside.