Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kiwanis Playground: Deathtrap for Tots?

The huge Copper Beech hardwood tree that crashed upon the Kiwanis playground

     Frank Lewis has outdone himself in shamelessness in his report in today’s  online Portsmouth Daily Times on the huge tree falling on the Kiwanis playground (click here). Because he is so skillful in covering up the crookedness of Portsmouth, Lewis could work for a hundred years for the PDT and he would never be fired or made to feel unwelcome as editors and reporters have in the past. He spends a good part of his story providing John Johnson, the president of the Portsmouth Kiwanis Club, and Kiwanis Ohio District Governor Donald Parker, with the opportunity for taking bows for the Kiwanians for the wonderful work they did in building “this wonderful playground,” “this world renowned playground.” What chutzpah! What a crock! The truth is the playground was and is a potential deathtrap for tots, not only because of falling trees but also because of the heavy vehicular traffic that swirls around it. 
     The city and the Kiwanis Club were warned about the potential consequences of how and where the playground was built, and they can thank whatever gods may be, or their lucky stars, that one or more children was not killed or badly injured when the tree fell. Surveying a bench the tree had obliterated, Jack Tackett of the Portsmouth City Service Department is quoted by Lewis as saying, euphemistically, “If somebody had been sitting on that bench they would have been in trouble. Would have been in trouble? They probably would have been dead. If only one child had been killed or injured, the city and Kiwanis could have been sued. Kiwanis’s claim that they now have no legal responsibility for the playground overlooks their culpability in this project from the start.  
     The real heroes in this mess is the couple who called everybody’s attention, including my own, to the problem of the rootless trees. Naturally, they were viewed as trouble makers, as what Steve Hayes of WNXT calls CAVE people, that is, Citizens Against Virtually Everything, including apparently deathtraps for tots. That’s how critics of the city are treated by the local media, as cave people.
     For my side of the story, read my 2009 post, “The Kiwanis Playground: The Hole Truth” (click here). Also read “Burning the Midnight Oil,” my 2009 post on Mayor Kalb’s email answer to my open records request for official documents related to the playground agreement between the city and the Kiwanis Club (click here). That was the email in which Kalb called me “a worthless piece of shit” and worse, the email that went viral. My blog crashed when the number of hits to “Burning the Midnight Oil” approached 450,000 in 48 hours. For the  country and the world, Kalb may have confirmed the worst stereotype of  the ugly American, if not the ignorant redneck. The world was astonished:  “What kind of a city would have such a crude ignoramus as mayor?” 
Kalb supplied me with an undated document that I suspected had been produced after the fact. I strongly suspected that the playground had been built without proper authorization, which would have made the whole project  a violation of Ohio law. I challenged both the city and Kiwanis to say that the written agreement was drawn up and signed before the project was begun. I got no answer from Kalb.  I visited the then president of the Portsmouth Kiwanis Club. I went with someone who knew Dr. Hamm-LaValley, who assured me the doctor of dentistry was an honorable woman. I was prepared to drop the whole matter if Dr. LaValley had an explanation of why the letter she signed was not dated, but she declined to talk to me. Immediately below also is a previous letter of intent, signed and dated 18 December, 2008, under the official Kiwanis letterhead. Below that is a copy of the undated agreement letter, signed by Dr. LaValley, which I suspect is undated because it was written after, perhaps well after construction of the playground began. That may be why it has a faux letterhead and is not written on either city of Portsmouth or on official Kiwanis stationary:

Dated playground letter of intent with Kiwanis letterhead
Undated Kiwanis letter of agreement with stark letterhead.

Finally, when the playground was dedicated, I wrote an open letter to the children of Portsmouth about the playground, trying to explain the controversy (click here).