Friday, October 28, 2011

Rick Rattled

“Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Duncan. I enjoyed your illustrated lecture about Portsmouth politics very much, but me and the other rodents in our ward  feel that maybe, when it comes to one particular person, that maybe, just maybe, you sort of  go off the deep end and neglect waste water, which is a subject we care about a lot.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mirror, mirror, on the wall . . .

. . . whos the dopiest councilman of all?

     Nothing would give me more pleasure than never having to write, or even think about a dope like Jim Kalb again, but that is not going to be the case because he will be the front man for the renovated Columbia Theater, which insures there will be problems there, and he is running again, unopposed, for city council to fill the Fourth Ward  seat that is being vacated by Jerrold Albrecht.That’s Portsmouth’s version of musical chairs, which two-year terms for city council would help put an end to.

     Our recent crop of Portsmouth politicians closely  resembles the Seven Dwarfs, with Albrecht as Sleepy (always dozing), Kalb as Dopey (because of all the dope), Basham as boorish Brashful, councilman Greg Bauer as Sneezy (from too much snorting), Chief Horner as Grumpy, and former mayor Frank “Sneakers and Sash” Gerlach as Happy.  When Sneezy Bauer defeated Happy Gerlach for mayor, Dopey Kalb became president of council. Then Sneezy Bauer was recalled as mayor after Dopey Kalb conspired with Grumpy Horner  to accuse Sneezy of purchasing the Marting Building illegally. When Sneezy was recalled by a two to one margin,  Dopey Kalb became mayor, and Sleepy Albrecht was appointed by The Wizard of Ooze to take Dopey’s place on the city council. Are you following me? Then Snow White trounced Dopey Kalb in the last mayoral election forcing him into the shadows. But then Dopey and all the city employees and the bikers ganged up on Snow White, who was recalled, and now Sleepy Albrecht is retiring and Dopey Kalb, probably on the advice of the Wicked Witch, is running unopposed for the Fourth Ward council seat.

      Dopey’s being manager of the Columbia spells trouble for that historic landmark, just as Dopey’s being back on city council spells serious trouble for Portsmouth. Far more than any other dwarf, Dopey is responsible for the financial mess the city’s in. When it comes to handling finances, he’s a real dope.

     In the tradition of the failed businessmen who end up on city council, the seventh dwarf, Kevin “Doc” Johnson, knows just what the cure for the city is: a more businesslike form of government in the person of a city manager. But we’ve already been through that fiasco, with Prince Harming, Barry Feldman, the infamous city manager of thirty years ago. Feldman’s come and gone,  and Portsmouth, having had enough of city managers coming and going like migratory birds, went back to the mayoral form of government.  If we go back to the city manager form of government, the dwarfs on the city council will be running the city again.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Citizens for Bitter Government

The faded, peeling reminder on the Wall of Fame of the selection of Portsmouth as an All-America City, in 1979

     There are times when I feel sorry for an opponent. This is one of those times. I am not opposed to the city manager form of government per se, as I pointed out in a previous blog but I am opposed to Portsmouth switching back to the manager form of city government because our corrupt government and vice-ridden river city is wholly unsuitable for it. A city has to be at a level of ethical and professional maturity before the city manager form of government will work, but Portsmouth is no where near that standard, not when petty criminals, failed businessmen, scofflaws and people with degrees in music education often wind up being “public servants,” often after being appointed to office by our corrupt city council. Still, I can’t help feeling sorry for the Citizens for Better Government (CBG), the group supporting the switch back to the city manager. On October 11, 2011, the CBG circulated a press release that included the following pathetic and misleading argument in favor of the city manager form of government:

“Back in 1979, citizens of Portsmouth were proud and excited for the future. It was in this year that the National Civic League named Portsmouth, for the first and only time, an ‘All-American City’ [sic]. And this incredible award and honor was due to the accomplishments off [sic], amongst many… Portsmouth’s City Manager” [emphasis added].

     It struck me as odd that the city manager who was instrumental in Portsmouth winning this “incredible award” was not named. I assumed it was just an oversight that the CBG hadn’t given credit where credit was due. But then I remembered who the city manager was in 1979, and then I realized not mentioning his name was probably not an oversight on the part of the CBG but rather a deliberate omission. The city manager in 1979 was none other than Barry Feldman, the most controversial of the thirty or so city managers that Portsmouth had from 1930 to 1988. In 1980, the city council voted to fire Feldman, as the city charter gave them the authority to do, but the unelected rulers of Portsmouth organized a recall movement that removed the councilmen, not Feldman, from office. Clayton Johnson (according to the Sentinel) got him reinstated. Reinstated or not, no city manager did more to discredit Portsmouth and the city manager form of government than Feldman, so naturally the Citizens for Better Government would not want to mention his name, which had become synonymous with bad government. The Citizens for Better Government not only left out the name of the controversial city manager whom they credited with getting Portsmouth the All-America City designation, they also got the name of the award wrong. The correct name is not the All-American City; it is the All-America City.

The unnamed city manager
     If Barry Feldman was such a great city manager, the question arises: why didn’t Portsmouth’s Wall of Fame, created in the early 1990s, include him among the stars on the wall? Again, it might have been an oversight, but that was probably not the case since Feldman had become an embarrassment to the city and had left not long after being reinstated. Turnover was frequent and a destabilizing feature of Portsmouth’s city manager system of government. Feldman’s four years as city manager was the most bitter period in the last sixty years of Portsmouth’s political history. If Feldman is the CBG’s idea of an ideal city manager, then that group should more appropriately be called not Citizens for Better Government but Citizens for Bitter Government, which is what we likely will be returning to if we go the city manager route again. As long as a majority of the city council are the pawns of Portsmouth’s unelected rulers, which is usually the case, it doesn’t make much difference what kind of city government we have, though I think it is better to have a bad mayoral than a bad city manager system. At least a mayor is not designated by the charter as the servant of the city council, which a city manager is. Keeping the mayoral form of government in Portsmouth will assure that the checks and balances that American government at all levels is based upon will be retained, for what it’s worth. 

The National Civic League 

     It’s worth taking a closer look at the National Civic League (NCL), the organization that makes the All-America City awards, which the Citizens for Better Government in its press release glorified as “this incredible award and honor.” There is no denying that the National Civic League is very good at public relations. If one of the aims of advertising is to persuade people to buy products they don’t need and can’t afford, then one of the aims of public relations is to spin the news so much that the public is too dizzy to know which side is up and which down, or which corporation not only profits from but also preys upon the public and which doesn’t, and which politician is honorable (a rare bird) and which dishonorable. Incidentally, the CBG conferred  on one of its members, a former controversial Portsmouth councilwoman, the title the Honorable Anne Sydnor, which shows you how much the term honorable can be misused for public relations purposes. The essence of public relations, in my view, is, through deceptive practices, making anything, no matter how bad, look better. Isn’t that why public relations practitioners are called “spin doctors”? 

     The chief spin doctor of the British government was later forced to resign after she recommended on the day of the 9/11 attacks that it was a good time to release any bad news the government might be sitting on because it would be buried beneath the horrendous news of 9/11. Isn’t that the most cynical kind of public relations you ever heard of? The NCL spins not only on behalf of the cities it selects as clients but even more on behalf of itself. Remember the movie The Miracle Worker? The NCL is so good at spinning that the public might end up believing that America might sink into chaos if the miracle working NCL was not there to rescue its cities from unemployment, poverty, racism, crime, drugs, prostitution, etc. The National Civic League is so good at promoting itself that it would probably get an All-America Public Relations award if there was an organization in the business of annually granting such an award. If you want to see how good the NCL is at spinning itself, visit their website.

    Where does the NCL get the money to keep their non-profit organization going? It gets corporate support from a wide variety of private and public sources, everyone from State Farm Insurance to the Sprint Foundation, and from Southwest Airlines to the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado. Covering all public relations bases, the NCL is green, diverse, and intergenerational, serving everyone from kids to senior citizens. In contrast to the Ameresco Corporation, which focuses on energy related areas, including in Portsmouth, the NCL hires out its staff as consultants in almost every conceivable problematic area of municipal life. How effective are they? In Portsmouth’s case, not very. Instead of leading to a brighter future, the All-America City award of 1979 was followed almost immediately by bitterness, recalls, recriminations, and continued economic decline, and in 1988 by the scrapping of the dysfunctional city manager form of government. What form of municipal government does the NCL recommend? The city manager form, of course, which is modeled on the business corporation. The city manager system, a reflection free market fundamentalism, is part of the process of the corporatization of America. What is good enough for General Electric is good enough for the All-America City, to rework an old slogan.

Like a Vanity License Plate or a Bald Pate

     The NCL also recommends that cities “Hire NCL to help you dream, create a shared vision, and a specific and achievable action plan.” Are there costs connected with all this? There are, and a city councilman in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a serial All-America City, questioned whether the taxpayers of his city could afford it. When he tried to contact NCL to find out particulars about its operation, he found they played their cards pretty close to their vest. An All-America City award is a little like a vanity license plate: you have to pay extra for it, but does it make a car bigger, faster, or otherwise increase its value? I don’t think so, anymore than it does to have Ohio’s motto, “With God all things are possible” inscribed on your car or head, or should that be “With City Manager all things are possible”?

    Such gestures do not work miracles, anymore than having a city manager form of government does. Costa Mesa, California, is a city manager city, but that did not prevent it mismanaging its finances, leading to the firing of about half the 500 plus city employees, one of whom committed suicide by jumping off the city hall. Even if Citizens for Better Bitter Government think it’s “incredible,” becoming an All-America City doesn’t work miracles. I’m embarrassed for them for having to resort to such a pathetic argument in favor of the city manager, but that is not going to stop me from voting against that form of government on November 8th.

How I will be marking my ballot, voting against the  city manager charter amendment

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Lady Liberty Says Exercise Your Right to Vote on November 8


Increasing the City Income Tax will make it possible for the free-spending Portsmouth City Government to continue to pay salaries and generous benefits to members of the police and fire departments that the taxpayers cannot afford. It's as simple as that.

Here is what the ballot will look like. Vote for fiscal responsibility by filling in the bubble next to "Against the Charter Amendment."


The city manager would be a puppet in the hands of the City Council, which could fire him or her whenever and for whatever reason. The city has already tried the city manager form of government, and it didn't work. Frank Gerlach has been both mayor and city manager of Portsmouth, and he says the city is better off with the mayoral form of city government. 

Here is what the ballot will look like, including all the fine print. Vote against city manager government by filling in the bubble next to "Against the Charter Amendment."