Saturday, February 26, 2011

J. Edgar Horner

In an attempt to stop Portsmouth police chief Charles Horner from publicly complaining about the asbestos in the Municipal Building, where the police department is located, Mayor David Malone has recently forbade department heads from saying anything to the media about anything related to city government without first clearing it with the mayor’s office. Mayor Malone apparently doesn’t understand that Horner is trying to use asbestos, as well as mold—don’t forget the mold—to keep his job the way J. Edgar Hoover used communism to keep his, and the way Muammar Gaddafi is using the threat of Muslim extremists to keep his. Make the public think that the only thing that stands between them and disaster is you—you the Portsmouth police chief, you the Director of the FBI., you the dictator  of Libya.
Horner has been making public statements for years about important issues, including the mold and asbestos,  without  getting the permission of  the mayor, no matter who the mayor was, and he will continue to do so with Malone as mayor. Horner will not only make public statements about controversial issues, he will unilaterally begin talking about possible sites to move the police department to, as if he alone is the one who will do the negotiating. Malone does not understand that not only is he not going to be treated any better by Horner than any other mayor has been, he is going to be treated worse. Horner is a law unto himself. He is a loose cannon.  He has never acted as if the mayor or any other public official is his boss. The city charter may say the mayor is the chief executive officer in city government, but from the way Horner acts you would think he was. Horner treats mayors even more contemptuously than he treats officers on the police force.  All three of Mayor Malone’s predecessors   came to understand that Horner had to be fired.  Mayor Bauer would have fired Horner if he hadn’t been recalled; Mayor  Murray would have fired Horner if she hadn’t been recalled; and even the dimwitted  Mayor  Kalb would have successfully fired Horner if the inept city solicitor Mike Jones hadn’t been the one advising him how to do it.

Market Street Mess

Market Street: Ho-hum. How long has this drug bust been going on?

In 2008, in a classic illustration of Horner’s incompetence, he accused local businessman Lee Scott of making threats against him and of being in possession of marijuana. Horner’s incompetence in creating the Market Street mess was reminiscent of the  botched drug bust  that he conducted in Sciotoville in 1992, when he was a sergeant. The Market Street mess  was dragged out, or drugged out, in Portsmouthspeak, in  an all-day fiasco that I witnessed a part of because it took place near where I lived. The Market Street mess prompted an internal investigation by the office of the city solicitor of Horner’s role as police chief. A subsequent report by the investigators concluded that Horner had obstructed justice,  had been  insubordinate to the mayor, and had created a hostile work environment in the police department. According to the report, police personnel of all ranks complained that working under Horner was a demoralizing experience. I can believe it was demoralizing for those members of the police who stood around on Market Street while onlookers, like myself, gathered to watch the paint dry.  Overall, the report of the investigators was critical of Horner, accusing him of having “a propensity to abuse his power and position as Police Chief.” The complete report can be found on Austin Leedom’s website.
In May 2008, Lee Scott brought a suit against Horner and the city of Portsmouth, charging that Horner as police chief had been harassing and making life difficult for him ever since late 2004.(The charges Scott filed can be found on Teresa Mollette’s website.)  Scott’s case against Horner and the city is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. Scott attributed Horner’s animosity toward him to events surrounding the recall of Mayor Bauer, in 2004. Horner had been a strong supporter of Scott in his attempt to recall Bauer, doing what he could to facilitate and encourage Scott’s collection of signatures on recall petitions. Scott does not say why Horner was so eager to recall Mayor Bauer, but it was no secret at the time that Bauer was planning to fire Horner. That was Horner’s motivation.  When Bauer was recalled, Horner congratulated Scott warmly.  But then Horner asked Scott not to publicly admit that Horner had helped in the recall effort. He asked Scott, in other words, to lie about Horner’s involvement. When Scott refused,  and told about Horner’s involvement on websites, their relationship went from bad to worse. Horner retaliated in various ways. He interfered, for example, with the operation of the Columbia Theater, which Scott had painstakingly renovated. Horner’s campaign of harassment, according to Scott,  culminated on May 2008, when Horner accused Scott of making threats against him and also of being in possession of marijuana. May 14, 2008, was the date of the mess on Market Street, when the police and fire personnel stood around for hours waiting for a subpoena to search Scott’s vehicle. The subpoena did not arrive until early that evening, when Scott’s vehicle was finally searched and towed away. It was never proved that Scott had threatened Horner or had pot in his possession.

Horner also showed  his incompetence by making Portsmouth an even more dangerous place to drive in by eliminating certain traffic lights. Or was it his political ruthlessness rather than his incompetence that explains his  stand against  traffic lights? Was Horner  against lights because Mayor Murray was for them? Did Horner want to further increase the turmoil in Portsmouth that Murray was paying the political price for? Murray should have fired Horner as soon as she saw the recall petition that Horner had arrogantly been the first person to sign, at the very top of the petition. For Horner to sign a petition for the recall of the woman who was his boss, wasn’t  that all the justification she needed to fire him? Instead of adopting a foolish policy that requires all department heads to talk to him before talking to Frank Lewis, Malone should have told Horner that he would fire him the next time he tries to create turmoil by spreading scare stories about asbestos and mold. There’s little chance, however, that Uncle Tom would  fire Simon Legree for trafficking in turmoil.

Horner a Clever and Ruthless Politician

Why did Horner outlast mayors Bauer, Kalb, and Murray, and why will he possibly outlast Malone? Because though he may be incompetent as a crime fighter, Horner is a more clever and ruthless politician than any mayor he has served under (or over). Horner is a survivor. He is a survivor for the same reason J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the F.B.I., was a survivor: because of  innuendo and intimidation. If presidents and attorney generals and senators and civil rights leaders with skeletons and women in their closets couldn’t take a hint, Hoover would intimidate them. Hoover scooped up dirt on people like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. The “Hoover files” were notorious. He used his powers of investigation to the max and sometimes beyond the legal max. Wikipedia says, “He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods.” Unlike Horner, Hoover wasn’t incompetent. On the contrary, he was extremely well organized and hard working and an intuitive public relations expert.
Although he championed American values publicly, privately Hoover had a hideous personal flaw to hide. He was a full blown queer.  All queers should be reassured, however,  that Horner is not queer. But Horner, like Hoover,  has something to hide: his incompetence. As a crime fighter, he is pathetic. Rather than being an Eliott Ness, Horner is a bumbling Inspector Clouseau. As an ambitious cop, Horner sold himself as a crack drug buster. But when he was  a sergeant in a drug detail, Horner ordered his men to make  a  drug bust in Sciotoville. Instead of accompanying his men on the bust, or at least pointing out the house to them, Horner went AWOL. Was he avoiding the potential dangers involved in the drug bust? Whatever, his men ended up kicking in the door of  the wrong house, a house in which  an elderly couple who just returned from church were preparing for bed. Understandably, they were traumatized. When Horner arrived at the scene of the crime, the crime against senior citizens, he  apologized profusely. No doubt fearing the consequences of his  blunder, including being sued, he  offered to spend the night in their home, sleeping on the couch in the living room. How reassuring that would have been, having as an all-night babysitter the policeman responsible for possibly the most traumatic night of your life. Maybe he would have also cooked breakfast for them. They declined his offer. With  him in the house, they might have been awake all night.  
In 2006, when Horner had been chief for four years, Portsmouth was one of only two Ohio cities that made the list of the “Top 100 Least-Safe Cities in the U.S.A.”  It is no accident that during the time he has been police chief, Portsmouth has become one of the most  drug-ridden cities in America, gaining a reputation as the Oxycontin capital of the nation. A combination chop shop/Oxycontin dealership was going full blast less than a mile from the Portsmouth police station, but Horner didn’t have a clue. Even closer, much closer,  Horner’s son, who was later arrested, was dealing drugs in Damon’s Grille, directly across the street, only yards from the police station. And then there’s the controversy over Horner’s handling of cash obtained in drug busts. If that controversy has ever been resolved, I am not aware of it. Though  he was criticized for his highhandedness, Horner did not feel he was required to make an accounting of the drug money, but his taste in cars may be revealing. In 2006, I posted “Automania,” a piece on Horner and cars. A Cadillac has for a long time been the car of choice for racketeers and drug dealers, because it is proof that they have arrived. To some of his critics, the white Cadillac Escalade Horner drives, one of the spoils of the drug wars, is vehicular evidence that he is basically a thug, like Tony Soprano, another Escalade devotee. I am of the perhaps naïve view that Horner is not a thug, that he is just criminally incompetent. But as a politician he is no slouch. Credit should be given where credit is due.

The Accidental Mayor

Malone is another mayor Horner will  work on rather than for. Malone was not Portsmouth voters’ first, second or third choice, and more importantly he wasn’t the first, second, or third choice of the SOGP either, who would have preferred the lawyer John Haas. Given the dirty work that a mayor has to do for the SOGP, it is better for the SOGP to have a lawyer as mayor, but Malone turned out to be the mayor they were stuck with, at least for a while, as a chair warmer, a very vulnerable chair warmer. There is first Malone’s notoriety as a serial adulterer. Being known as a serial adulterer  would be a handicap for any mayor, but for a mayor who is also minister of a local church it might be viewed as the epitome of hypocrisy. Because of his sexual escapades, Malone has more skeletons in his closet than Greenlawn Cemetery. Nor does it help Malone that he is only Portsmouth’s second black mayor any more than it helped Murray that she was Portsmouth’s first female mayor. Being an African American and being a woman in a racist and sexist city is not a political advantage. And it does not help Malone that he has limited acumen and is mathematically challenged. He has about as much understanding of spreadsheets as the city auditor Trent Williams. Where Malone is concerned, Horner has plenty to work on. Malone will probably prove Horner’s political patsy, if he isn’t already.
In reacting to Horner’s public complaints about the abestos in the Municipal Building, Malone played right into Horner’s hands. In making his foolish declaration that everyone has to get his permission before they speak to the media (i.e., to Frank Lewis), Malone is cutting his wrists politically. What does  Malone hope to accomplish by screening the news? According to Lewis, “[Mayor] Malone  said he hopes to overcome the turmoil within the city present during the administration of former Mayor Jane Murray, who was recalled late last year.” It is a sign of  Malone’s limited acumen that he apparently does not understand that he is the mayor of Portsmouth today precisely because of the turmoil during Murray’s year as mayor, when everyone, including Horner, was complaining to Frank Lewis about Murray and signing petitions to recall her without first clearing it with her office.
Another thing Malone does not appear to understand is that  “turmoil” increases circulation at the dying Portsmouth Daily Times, just as it did during Murray’s year in office. Frank Lewis is not going to become an unbiased investigative reporter anymore than Dracula is going to become a vegetarian. Lewis is not going to let an Uncle Tom mayor “shut down communication between city department heads and the media,” to quote the  opening sentence of  Lewis’ front-page story, “Mayor’s Office to Screen News.”  That story may be the beginning of Malone’s end. Lewis is not going to let Malone stand in the way of increasing  the Portsmouth Daily Turmoils circulation by his talking to department heads to create more turmoil. If it bleeds it leads is a maxim of profit seeking news media. Turmoil is as valuable to  the Portsmouth Daily Times as oil is to Texaco. Malone’s efforts to restrict the circulation of that oil had prompted Lewis to write an editorial that Malone’s not allowing department heads to talk to media, that is to talk to Frank Lewis, is “fraught with potential pitfalls.” Yes, especially for an accidental mayor who is standing, or sitting, in the way of Council President John Haas, the lawyer the SOGP would prefer for mayor.
 Of course, if Lewis wanted a sure fire circulation booster he would report on Malone’s scandalous carrying on with females in his church and at the Portsmouth Municipal Housing Authority, where his wife works. But philandering, drinking, and drug use by public officials or by influential men in the city is off limits for PDT reporters, including Frank Lewis. To report that even an employee of an SOGP favorite has been arrested is a no-no. For reporting that a mechanic at Glockner’s was dealing drugs, a long-time reporter at the PDT was canned. Was it ever reported in the PDT that Horner’s son was arrested for dealing drugs? Was it ever reported by Lewis that Tom Bihl, the leader of the recall of Mayor Murray,  had previously been indicted as auditor for misappropriating public monies and that as chief of police had totaled two parked vehicles and had not been given a breathalyzer test? And did Lewis mention in his flattering stories on Rich Saddler, who was appointed to city council, that “Portsmouth Boy” had so many moving violations before being arrested and having his license suspended that you might have thought he had taken driving lessons from Tom Bihl? No, what we get instead from Lewis are the pitfalls that he digs for mayors whom the SOGP wants to disappear into.

Horner's Old Tricks

Horner is using the asbestos and mold issues for his own political purposes. He is up to  his old tricks. Horner has even succeeded in getting Lewis to circulate the ridiculous notion that the current crime wave in Portsmouth is because the mold in the Municipal Building is interfering with the efficient operation of the police department. One of the legal and financial consequences of Horner’s public complaints  about mold and asbestos may be a plethora of lawsuits and disability claims in the future by members of the police force. I know mold and asbestos are very serious problems, but they were  also  very serious problems when the shady politicians  in the Municipal Building  paid almost two million dollars for the  leaking, asbestos-laden, moldy Marting building, and it was also a problem when those same politicians allowed councilman Mike Mearan in a blatant conflict of interest to unload upon the city the black-mold-of-Calcutta Adelphia building as a future site for the police department. Councilman Mearan got this scam passed at the same time that  he was the lawyer for the absentee landlord of the Adelphia building. Since his friend, the real estate developer Neal Hatcher, was pushing the Adelphia building project, Horner supported the proposal to convert  it into a new police station. And there they now sit, years later, the Marting and Adelphia buildings, moldy moldering monuments to the pervasive corruption  of a city where, as Governor Kasich has said, it seems  the devil is running things. Governor Kasich  knows, as the previous governor should have known even better, that the devil is running things in Portsmouth, and that includes J. Edgar Horner’s police department.