Water Rats Return to Sinking Ship
In her first important act as mayor Jane Murray fired what she considered three very ineffective department heads: Chris Murphy, the Service Director; Sam Sutherland who headed the Drinkable Water Department; and Richard “Rick” Duncan who headed the Undrinkable Water Department. She fired them for both budgetary and administrative efficiency considerations. It was not coincidental that Sutherland and Duncan, two of the three Murray fired, might occupationally be called Water Rats, for she was among those homeowners who lived near the Southern Ohio Medical Center who had had it up to their necks with water and sewage. But Murray had also had it up to the neck with the city government’s budgetary shell games. She knew that revenues from water and sewage payments had become the piggy bank that the city government used to pay for the other expenses of city government, including the salaries, health benefits, and pensions of city employees, even though that is a violation of state law. As far back as 2005, Austin Leedom had written in the Sentinel, “Money collected by the city for water services is, by law, only to be spent by the Water Department.” The politicians could raise water and sewer rates without having to go to the voters, and they did repeatedly, and continue to do so. One of Malone's first actions as mayor was to raise water rates by 18%. He hopes that will help pay his salary and the salaries of his fellow water rats.
The department heads Murray fired—Murphy, Sutherland, and Duncan—are back. Actually, Murphy never left; he just moved over to a job in the Municipal Court. After being banished from city government, and not for the first time, the bad penny Richard “Rick” Duncan, Jim Kalb's crony, turned up again and was rehired by the city. I am told he still has only a Class 3 license, instead of the required Class 4, but he is back heading the Waste Water division, eager to resume his water torture of the homeowners of Portsmouth.
One of the first things Duncan says he is going to do now that he is again head of the Waste Water Department, to quote from Frank Lewis’ recent slavering interview with him in the Daily Times (it’s worse than “Portsmouth Boy”), is begin negotiations with union employees in his department to figure out “how to compensate [them] for some of the EPA requirements that we have.” Excuse me? Is complying with EPA requirements such a burden that Waste Water workers must be given extra compensation? What about the burden that unemployed workers throughout the country and in Scioto County have to bear? Are we to understand that even though the city does not have a pot to piss in, Duncan will find a way to make up for the regulatory stress the workers in Waste Water are under? As Mayor Murray pointed out, almost 80% of the cost of Portsmouth city government goes to pay the salaries, health insurance, and pensions of city employees, including elected officials. Since the city is reportedly in a projected two and a quarter million dollar deficit and sinking like a ship in a sea of red ink, the only compensation that Duncan may be in a position to offer the overburdened Waste Water workers is increased leak time. The cost of city government and the size of the deficit can not be reduced unless the money that now goes for the salaries, health insurance, and pensions of city employees is reduced. Even the mathematically challenged titular Mayor Malone must understand that.
Though he is not worth a plug nickel, Jim Kalb may also be back. Playing musical chairs over the years with the ever obliging Ward Four councilman Jerrold Albrecht, Kalb is trying to get back on the city council just a year after being trounced by Murray in the last mayoral election. If the money saved from the firing of Murphy, Sutherland, and Duncan and the removal of Kalb from the public payroll had been real and permanent, and had they not returned like rats to the sinking ship, the taxpayers would eventually have saved about a million dollars. But those prospective savings proved a mirage. The circle can’t be squared and, at least in Portsmouth, public employees can’t be furloughed or fired, at least not permanently, even if the city doesn’t have the money to pay for their salaries, generous health benefits, enviable pensions. The de facto mayor John Haas has proposed that the city, instead of furloughing or discharging public employees, should raise the city income tax. He wants to raise the income tax on those who are lucky enough to have jobs but unluckily have them in Portsmouth. Haas recognizes that even increasing water rates by 18% is not going to be enough to defray the high cost of city government.
Parasite Politicians and Pampered Public Employees
Everywhere else in America, at the federal, state, and municipal levels, public employees are having their salaries cut, their health benefits reduced, and their pensions renegotiated. But in Portsmouth those things are non-negotiable. Why? Because public employees are the electoral base of Portsmouth’s corrupt political machine. Without the support of public employees, the machine could not function. The symbiotic relationship between parasite politicians and pampered public employees leads to corruption, deficits, and dejection. When Murray fired three public employees, other public employees felt their jobs were in jeopardy as well. That’s when they panicked and flocked to Dickens Pub to drown their sorrows in reduced priced drinks and disguise their anxiety with partying and a lot of down-the-Hatchers.
If Murray had done nothing else than fire Murphy, Sutherland and Duncan, she would have sealed her fate. Lizzie Borden learned you can’t chop your mother up in Massachusetts and Murray learned you can’t fire public employees in Portsmouth, or at least you can’t and remain mayor. City employees have been the political base of at least three Portsmouth mayors—Bauer, Kalb, and now Malone. Republican, Democrat, Independent, it doesn’t make any difference in Portsmouth. Bauer is a Republican, Kalb is a Democrat, and Malone is a born-again, adulterous Uncle Tom. They did what they were told to do by the unelected multi-millionaires who control the politics and economy of Portsmouth.
Mayor Murray as Avatar
Murray would not do what Portsmouth mayors are supposed to do. Instead, she became the avatar of financial responsibility. She is the ghost of unbalanced budgets past. When she fired three public employees her first day in office, she scared other public employees who thought she was crazy. They were afraid she might even be crazy enough to fire some of them. But now she is gone and the political water rats like Kalb are back, or he soon will be, the freeloader-absentee mayor-wannabe biker who did so much to bankrupt and embarrass the city. Now the question is where the money will come from to pay for his health insurance, pension, and the other costs associated with a kept politician. The day may not be far off when the water rats who have returned to the sinking ship and the other city employees who never left will drown financially in a sea of red ink, or should I say, in view of the return of Rick Duncan to city government, in a sewer of red ink?
“Mr. Duncan, on behalf of all the rats, I want to welcome you back to the sewers of Portsmouth.”