Because councilmen Kevin W. Johnson and Rich Saddler are reportedly trying to get the city to convert the Marting building into a city hall, I am reposting "The First Commandment" from 2006 to remind readers that when it comes to unloading property off on taxpayers, some things never change.
The First Commandment of Portsmouth’s over-privileged is “Local government shall not construct a new public building when a doctor, lawyer or businessman has a worthless old building that can be turned into a public building at great public expense.”
Here are five recent examples of the First Commandment at work:
(1) First Ward councilman John Thatcher and his wife, a former trustee of Shawnee State U., owned an unoccupied old house on Franklin Blvd that they had trouble selling in Portsmouth’s sluggish real estate market. The solution? They sold it, for much more than market value, to SSU as a “temporary” house for the SSU president. When the temporary president’s house was later sold, to a doctor, SSU and the tax-payers of Ohio took a $50,000 loss, not counting the furnishings and redecoration and the loss of taxes for the years the house was off the tax rolls.
(2) A doctor had an unoccupied aging Camelot Drive house, with serious structural problems, which he was having trouble selling in Portsmouth’s chronically sluggish real estate market. The solution? He sold it to Shawnee State U. at an inflated price as the permanent home for the president of SSU, even though the house is far from campus, has inadequate parking space, requires large expenditures for repairs and refurbishing, and is unstably situated on the side of a hill down which it is inclined slowly to slip. The sale was “negotiated” by the chair of the SSU board of trustees, George Clayton.
(3) Herbert Singer, an absentee landlord, living in Los Angeles, had an unoccupied building on Washington St., the former Adelphia building, on which he owed back taxes. The prospects of any business wanting to rent or buy that property were very remote. The solution? He got the city to accept the worthless Washington St. building as the next headquarters for the Portsmouth Police Dept. That way the absentee landlord in L.A. would not be responsible for real estate taxes, past and future, and he could claim a tax write off. Neil Hatcher, the absentee landlord’s agent, would get his cut. Chief Horner, always willing to play ball in a crooked game, readily agreed to this arrangement.
(4) George Clayton’s Kenrick’s catalogue store on Second St. went belly up when the Grant Bridge went down, and he was stuck with an old, empty building that he had no hope of renting or selling but still had to pay taxes on. The solution? With his political connections, he unloaded it on the county, which obtained it with pork provided by Rep. Rob Porkman and the Dept. of Agriculture. The building, on which millions have now been spent, is named The Welcome Center, but tourists complain it is seldom open and when it is it is unwelcoming. What it really is is the headquarters for the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership and the illegitimate and ugly architectural offspring of the marriage of pork and political corruption.
(5) The Marting Foundation, a speciously philanthropic front for Portsmouth’s boss, Clayton Johnson, a cousin of George Clayton, had a large white elephant on its hand: the empty Marting building, a former department store, at the corner of Sixth and Chillicothe St. The problem is a familiar one in Portsmouth: the property is unsellable and unrentable but the taxes on it still have to be paid. “It ain’t worth anything,” as councilman Mohr told a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. The solution? Get the city to buy it for nearly $2 million and convert the now 124-year-old department store into a municipal building. The city bought it, at the inflated price, but the sale was ruled invalid by the courts. Then the Marting Foundation arranged a fall-back deal whereby the city would keep possession of the building, provided the city met certain conditions laid down by the Foundation. Imagine a con artist dictating the terms under which he will return the money he has fraudulently obtained. Like the Old Maid in the card game, the Marting building is last thing the Foundation wanted to end up in its hands. If it gets approval in a special referendum that will take place on May 2, our corrupt city government plans to go ahead and convert the former department store to a municipal building.
What these five examples demonstrate is how Portsmouth’s over-privileged classes faithfully adhere to the First Commandment: “Local government shall not construct a new public building when a doctor, lawyer or businessman has a worthless old building that can be turned into a public building at great public expense.”