Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Black Mold of Portsmouth

“The black mold Adelphia building still stands, or rather rots, on Washington Street, a monument to the hanky-panky our politicians play by taking worthless property off the hands of the well-heeled.

 Five years ago, on July 24, 2006, articles about the Adelphia Building appeared in the Portsmouth Daily Times and the Community Common. Written by Jeff Barron, the opening line of the PDT report was, “Several members of the city building committee gave good reviews to the former Adelphia Communications building Wednesday for use as a police station.”
The Building Committee members were Mayor Jim Kalb and his sidekick Terry Ockerman; First Ward councilman Mike Mearan, who was the chairman; antique dealer Kevin Johnson; and pawnbroker Jim Robinson. The committee  was  accompanied on its visit to the Adelphia building by Police Chief Charles Horner and Captain David Thoroughman.
The committee didn’t just give good reviews to the building; it fell in  love with it. Robinson was quoted as saying, “[I]t seems to be perfect for what they’re wanting. There’s no reason to look anywhere else. My vote would go for it.” He wasn’t talking about the Taj Mahal; he was talking about the ugly, leaking Adelphia building. And what did antiques dealer Kevin Johnson say? He said he was happy with the building because it solved a lot of problems.  The Adelphia building didn’t solve any problems, as far as I can see. Instead,  it created a lot more. For one thing,  the black mold in  the Adelphia building was worse than in the Municipal Building, so how would moving the police department from the Municipal Building to the Adelphia building solve any problems? But Chief Horner was in favor of the move. Why? I believe he was in cahoots with  Neal Hatcher and Mike Mearan, two big backers of the move.

All the News Unfit to Print

Jeff Barron wrote a sentence in his article that makes it easy to see now why he would later be canned. “The building has a musty smell in it and some parts of the ceiling have fallen down.” Barron didn’t realize that there is always news that the PDT does not consider fit to print, news that might upset advertisers or somebody with influence, such as Andy Glockner who didn’t like it when Barron reported that a man who had been arrested for dealing drugs was a mechanic at Glockner Motors. As a PDT reporter Barron  had no business smelling anything or noticing anything falling down, even if it was the ceiling. The musty smell may have been the black mold, which nobody noticed, not even Chief Horner, who is now claiming to have been made ill by black mold in the basement of the Municipal Building.   
With twenty-twenty hindsight, we now know the Adelphia building was a swindle, as the Marting building had been before it. The absentee Adelphia landlord’s lawyer, Mike Mearan, the chairman of the Building Committee, had engineered the crooked deal  by foisting the building  off on the city, which still has it on its hands, like a dead dog  run over by a truck five years ago. The Adelphia building still stands, or rather rots, on Washington Street, a monument to the hanky-panky our politicians play by taking worthless property off the hands of the well-heeled. The city  doesn’t have the money to tear the unsightly building  down, so it remains a monumental eyesore, as it was back in 2006, when the committee and Horner made goo-goo eyes at it. Horner since then has made goo-goo eyes at least several other buildings he’d like to move the police force to.

Kalb The Count
“. . . ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine for the Adelphia building and one against.”

Not only the Building Committee, but everybody in Portsmouth was for moving the police force from the Municipal Building to the Adelphia building, according to Mayor Kalb who will probably be back snoozing on the city council after the November election. Kalb told the Community Common  on that same day, five years ago, July 24, 2006, “When we had the Martings’ forum at Portsmouth High School, 99 out of 100 people that turned in a ballot believed the Police Department should be in the former Adelphia Building.” Can you believe that? Who counted those ballots? Was it Kalb? Was he The Count? Who cast that one dissenting vote? Probably one of those  uncooperative CAVE people.
The city accepted the Adelphia building on the condition, stated  in ordinance 20-2005, that “said real estate . . . is free from all environmental hazards.” If ever the city came into possession of a building that was not free of environmental hazards, it was the Adelphia building, which was about as free of environmental hazards as the Gulf of Mexico was of oil pollution during the oil spill of 2010.  The absentee landlord, who had allowed the building to deteriorate for years, unloaded the building on the city so he could  get a tax write-off, but he could get it only if the building was free of environmental hazards and only if it was subsequently used for some public purpose, which it hasn’t been. It sits there useless five years later, as contaminated as ever. Did the landlord  illegally claim his tax write off to the IRS? Only the absentee landlord knows.
 Each of the last four  mayors wanted to fire Horner. They  understood he was not to be trusted. They understood he is incompetent, disloyal to the bone, and insubordinate to boot. He works hard as police chief, but what he works hard at is  trying  to undermine whomever the mayor might be before the mayor can fire him. He currently has the well-intentioned but na├»ve Solace group in his pocket. Nine women from Solace reportedly sat in the front row of the  city council meeting last Monday night to complain about the mold in the Municipal Building and to say that  the police force should have a new police station. If the Solace-inspired levy to support drug rehabilitation programs goes down to defeat next November, it will in part be because Horner has infiltrated that group like black mold does the interior of old, leaking buildings. Horner is the black mold of Portsmouth politics, and the air will continue to be contaminated  until some mayor succeeds in firing him.

McGruff the Crime Dog 

In an article in the PDT (19 August 2011),  “SOLACE Vows to Find PPD New HDQ,” Horner is quoted as saying, in compliance with the mayor's restraining order against him shooting off his mouth, that he has not had any direct discussions with SOLACE members about finding a new home for the police station. But there Horner was (in the photo below) at the emergency meeting of SOLACE, hours before the Monday night council meeting at which members of SOLACE showed up to support Horner and his campaign for a new police station. The distrustful dog in the photo apparently hilariously, like McGruff the Crime Dog, tried to take a bite out of Horner.  SOLACE may find next November  that there are a lot of voters in Portsmouth who feel like McGruff and don’t trust Horner.  It is  a shame the good people of SOLACE have allowed their organization to become so politicized and exploited by Horner.

Police Chief Horner (on left) at the emergency kitchen cabinet meeting of SOLACE on Monday, August 22, just after "McGruff" tried to take a bite out of him, not long before the city council meeting that evening. Is this what Horner meant by having no discussions with SOLACE members?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gerlach Says No to City Manager

Frank Gerlach, former city manager and mayor of Portsmouth

I don't think  there's anything wrong with the city manager-council form of city government for some cities, but Portsmouth never has been and is not likely ever to be one of those cities. Nobody knows that better than Frank Gerlach who has served as both city manager and mayor. As Mark Shaffer wrote in the Scioto Voice (18 July 2001), Gerlach believes reverting to a city manager would be a step backward. "I would say the city needs a mayor rather than a city manager," Gerlach concluded. 

That is not to say, and Gerlach is not saying, that the current mayor-council system is satisfactory. Far from it. That system needs to change, but reverting to the city manager system would only make things worse. 

In case you have not read Mark Shaffer's Scioto Voice story, I am reproducing it here. Like Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla, Shaffer used to report for the Portsmouth Daily Times before that newspaper stopped making even a pretense at providing balanced news coverage about the city. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Portsmouth Murals Cover Up

Mural of Muse of Art on Portsmouth Floodwall

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Portsmouth Murals. But if the Portsmouth murals can be said to have an Achilles’ heel, then it’s the way they don’t depict unpleasant truths about the city, past and present.

A little known incident is a good place to begin a discussion of the “cover up.”  Among the very last of the fifty-two panels on the main flood wall are panels  #49 and #51, the Muses of History and  Art. Muses are figures from what we call Greek mythology or what  more accurately should be called Greek religion, for who is to say which religions are mythological?  The Greeks believed that the Muses, or goddesses, were spirits who inspired artists to create. The Greeks and Romans did not hesitate to  depict the muses sculpturally as topless, or  bare breasted, and that is the way they have often been depicted in sculpture and painting in the Christian era.

Bare-breasted  is the way Robert Dafford intended to paint the muses in murals #49 and #51. “However,” according to a footnote at the very end of A Thirst for Land (2004), “the Portsmouth Murals trustees  thought that this might cause a bit of controversy and asked that the paintings be ‘covered up.’” Dafford apparently complied with the trustees’ wishes and covered up the muses. Muses may have inspired Dafford to paint the murals, but the Trustees of Portsmouth Murals, Inc., who were paying him, largely with public money, called the tune. At all costs, even the cost of the truth, controversy must be avoided. The last thing the  Trustees of Portsmouth Murals, Inc., and the Chamber of Commerce wanted depicted in the murals is the naked truth.

Black Friday

It  is not just breasts that got covered up or omitted in the Portsmouth murals. The mistreatment of blacks is among the great crimes of American history.  One shameful example from  Portsmouth’s past  was the so-called Black Friday. In “Relics of Barbarism,” which is Chapter VII of his History of Scioto County (1903), Nelson Evans wrote about Black Friday:  “On January 21 [sic], 1830, all the colored people of Portsmouth were forcibly deported from the town. They were not only warned out, but they were driven out. They were forced to leave their homes and belongings.” A Thirst for the Land  repeats Evans’ account of Black Friday, and the historian C.G. Woodson mentioned Portsmouth’s Black Friday in The Education of the Negro (1919), providing the correct date of Black Friday—January 1, 1830. (The date of the proclamation and of the expulsion were probably not the same.) Of the fifty-two panels on the main flood wall, couldn’t one have depicted this tragic event in the city’s history?  The point is not to have a Murals of Shame. There is much to be proud of in Portsmouth’s past, but to exclude an episode as important as Black Friday distorts history. Doesn’t the bible say the truth can make us free? Whether it’s Portsmouth’s racism, unemployment, poverty, drugs, prostitution, or political  corruption,  covering  up or ignoring the truth helps perpetuate rather than remedy the wrongs.

Missing Memorial Mural

   Until such time as Robert Dafford paints a Black Friday mural, Theodor Kaufmann’s painting of fugitive slaves (below), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, could serve as a substitute for the yet-to-be-painted, probably never-to-be-painted, missing memorial mural, “Black Friday: Expulsion from Portsmouth.” 

Friday, August 05, 2011

City Manager for Portsmouth: Deja Vu All Over Again?

City Manager Barry Feldman after being suspended by City Council

Portsmouth’s unhappy experience in the early 1980s  with the city manager-council form of government helps explain why the voters decided to return to  the mayor-council form of government in 1988. Now  some misguided folks as well as the usual crooks want to switch back to the city manager-council form of government. When will they ever learn? It’s as if Barry Feldman never existed. Feldman was the city manager of Portsmouth  during the early 1980s,  a period of political upheaval that he was primarily responsible for. I don’t see Feldman’s name on Portsmouth’s Wall of Fame, which occupies the river side of the floodwall. If it was a Hall of Shame, Feldman’s name should be right up there with all the other crooks. (For more on Feldman, click here.)
Under the council-manager form of government the city manager is supposed to follow the direction  of the city council, but in 1980 Feldman followed the orders not of the city council but of the plutocrats who control Portsmouth. A plutocracy is government in which the wealthy hold political power, and Portsmouth has been a plutocracy since at least as far back as 1980.  In 1980, a  majority of three council members wanted to fire Feldman,  which they had the right to do under the  city charter, but the plutocrats helped organize a  successful campaign to recall the three councilmen.  Their recall was an example of plutocracy, not democracy, at work.
The basic problem with the council-manager form of government is that instead of checks and balances,  it concentrates  the  legislative and executive powers in one branch of municipal government—the city council. Under the city manager-council form of government, the city council exercises both executive and legislative functions and the  city manager is merely the administrative servant of the council. Under the city manager-council form of government, the city manager is  the servant of  the city council, a housekeeper: at worst, which is what Feldman was, the city manager is the  eunuch in the harem of prostitutes financed by the plutocracy.

Bottom of the Barrel

Under the present city charter, anyone can run for city council provided he or she is a registered voter, and therefore at least eighteen years of age; anyone can run for city council who has lived in the city for at least five years (that’s the Portsmouth Boy provision) and have been a resident for at least six months in  the ward they are seeking to represent. They don’t need to be high school graduates; they don’t  need to have finished  grade school. They don’t need to pass a mental competency or drug test. They can be a fool, a crook, and a crony, and too often are. They are the failures and the losers, they are the bottom of the barrel of bad apples. And these are the ones who are going to tell the city manager what to do?
If the the majority of city council members were honest, intelligent, and competent,  the manager-council form of government would make sense. But when was the last time the majority of the Portsmouth City Council were honest, intelligent, and competent? In 1980, that’s when, but that majority was recalled from office precisely because they were, intelligent and competent and above all honest. While there have been notable exceptions, of course, like Bob Mollette, the majority of the Portsmouth city council is usually dishonest, dumb, and  incompetent, and they serve the interests not of the public but of the plutocrats—the wealthy lawyers, developers, and beneficiaries of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. A city manager would be at the mercy of the failures and political hacks—the Bauers, the Kalbs, the Malones—who gravitate to city council with the hope of becoming mayor by default—by recalls, by resignations by those facing recall, and by indictments.
In summary, the council-manager form of city government would make Portsmouth a worse, not a  better place,  and God and now the rest of the country knows our notorious, corrupt, pill-popping  river city is bad enough as it is. 
Cartoon from early 1980s showing city manager Feldman mauling Portsmouth taxpayers