Thursday, May 30, 2013

Duncan's Brain

I am in the process of changing the layout of River Vices. Until those changes are finished, I have created River Vices 2 for new postings. To see "Duncan's Brain,"  the first posting on River Vices 2, click here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

City Council Appointees: Portsmouth’s Perennial Problem

Mark Twain showed river towns have more than their share of vices. RIVER VICES shows Portsmouth, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Scioto Rivers, is no exception.

Mike Mearan: the Most Notorious Appointee

The Portsmouth  Daily Times reported (18 May 2013) that a second candidate, Lance L. Richardson,  is going to throw his hat in the ring for the Third Ward council seat being vacated by Nick Basham. Does that mean he wants to be appointed by the council or that he wants to be a write-in candidate in the regular election? As far as I know, Richardson has previously shown no interest in becoming a member of city government the old-fashioned way, by running for office. That is often the case with appointees. They run for office the way Rosie Ruiz ran the 1980 Boston Marathon, by skipping the grueling race but showing up at the finish line. The “ring” Richardson threw his hat into consists not of Portsmouth voters but the remaining five Portsmouth city council members whom the city charter authorizes to appoint replacements to the city council. Back on 26 June 2006, Richard Noel, president of the Concerned Citizens Group, wrote a letter to the Portsmouth City Council requesting that a measure be placed on the ballot calling for the term for city council members be reduced from four to two years. Up until 1985, Portsmouth City Council members served two-year terms, but then that provision was changed in that year by charter amendment. The council rejected Noel's proposal and declined to allow the voters decide whether to go back to two-year terms. 

       City Council = House of Representatives

The Founding Fathers intended that the U.S. House of Representatives be “the people’s house,” the body of the federal government that would be directly elected by, and therefore most accountable to, the people. It was to be the most representative and the most held-accountable body of the federal government. In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton and Madison wrote, “As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration [the House of Representatives] should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.” The best way they could think of to insure that the House of Representatives would remain “the people’s house,” was frequent elections. “Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured” [emphasis added], they wrote in number 52 of the Federalist Papers. In regard to frequent elections, they quoted, in number 53, the proverb “that where annual elections end, tyranny begins.” But that proverb was an old one, and conditions had changed since ancient Greece. Elections every year were impractical when many voters were spread over large areas. Somewhat reluctantly, because they preferred annual elections, the Founding Fathers decided that the maximum term for a representative should be biennial, that is, two years.

                               Local Government in Ohio

When Ohio designed its state government, it closely followed the federal model, with a General Assembly that consisted of a House of Representatives and a Senate. Following the federal model, terms for the Ohio House, the “people’s house,” were two years. Most local governments in Ohio usually followed the state model. In local governments, the legislative body, the counterpart to a House of Representatives, is the city council. Following the example of the House of Representatives, two-year terms were the general rule for city councils. But a number of cities and towns have shifted to a mixture of two-year terms for ward representatives and four-year terms for at-large council members; other communities have shifted to a four-year term for all council members. The Columbus City Council has four-year terms, but the city councils of Cleveland and Cincinnati retain two-year terms. While there are exceptions, generally smaller communities are more likely to have four-year terms for city council, the larger ones two-year terms. Why the difference?

Possibly because larger urban areas with a history of municipal corruption and machine politics see two-year terms as a way of removing those council members who turn out to be bad apples before they spoil all the apples in the barrel. Cities and towns that have been plagued by corruption and that distrust politicians as a class want city councils to be on the short leash that two-year terms represent. A political machine or, in the case of Portsmouth, a 
clique, would more likely arise and persist in a city where members of city council had four rather than two years in which to scheme, collude, and corrupt. Communities that don’t have a history of crooked politics don’t want to go through the trouble and expense of having elections every two years. But large cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati may have learned that biennial elections are worth the trouble because they make the city council more accountable. They learned from experience, as we have bitterly in Portsmouth, that at least some politicians are not to be trusted. The same thing that makes four-year terms seem sensible in some communities makes them seem unwise in others. The Concerned Citizens believed four-year city council terms is asking for trouble, which is what Portsmouth got when it changed to four-year terms in  1985.

                                     Checks and Balances

The late Howard Baughman entering Marting Building
during an open-house for the public

The three branches of government that the Founding Fathers established—the legislative, the executive, and the judicial—were intended  to serve as checks and balances on each other. The counterparts of those three branches of government are discernible in local government in the mayor or city manager (executive), the city council (legislative), and the city solicitor and city courts (judiciary). Unfortunately, too often at the local level, the three branches of government, rather than checking and balancing each other, are in cahoots, forming a tyranny that, with the connivance of the local media, represses and exploits the public they are supposed to be serving. If you want to see a cornpone version of the kind of tyranny our Founding Fathers were concerned about, Portsmouth provides a textbook example.  The Portsmouth city council, the mayor, the city solicitor, the auditor, with the collusion of long-time city clerk Jo Ann Aeh,  would regularly meet illegally in her office just before council meetings like a gang of safe-crackers planning a job. 
It was at one of these illegal backroom meetings that Marty Mohr orchestrated the appointment of Jerrold Albrecht to the city council as Austin Leedom reported online  in The Sentinel, dated 6 May 2007 (click here).  (For other Mohr antics, clear here.) While attending one of these closed-door illegal meetings, then councilman Marty Mohr was photographed through the city clerk's open door Joe Ferguson. The mugging Mohr responded defiantly by clenching his teeth for the camera. 

Marty Mohr mugging for camera

Just as Mayor Bauer predicted chaos would reign if he was recalled from office, and just as council president Carol Caudill said, “God help the city of Portsmouth” after she was recalled, the president of the city council in 2006, Howard Baughman, who was facing a recall, warned of the consequences if the  city council returned to two-year terms. Baughman remarked at the 25 June 2006  city council meeting, “Theres a learning curve when you become a city councilman.”  He did not think council members could possibly come to understand budgets in only two years. The real reason Baughman and others opposed two-year terms was not learning curves. Two-year terms were unacceptable because they might have  helped loosen the grip of the clique of lawyers and developers who controlled  the city through their puppets on the city council.  

The only other defense beside “learning curves” Baughman offered against two-year terms was that, “It would just be constant turmoil and turnover every two years.” Though all council members would run for election at the same time, it is unlikely that they would all be defeated. And if they were, that might be the best thing for the city. If biennial elections bring constant turmoil, how have the U.S. House of Representatives, the Ohio House of Representatives, and the city councils of many cities in Ohio managed to survive for as long as they have with two-year terms? Where is the turmoil in the following two-year term Ohio cities: Alliance, Amherst, Athens, Blue Ash, Chillicothe, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cuyahoga Falls, Lorrain, North Royalton, Norwood, Parma, Silverton, Warren, Wilmington, Wyoming, etc? There has been a lot of turmoil in the Portsmouth City Council since 1985  and much of it has been the result, directly and indirectly, of four-year terms and the recalls that would not likely have taken place if council members had faced the electorate every two years.     

Honest capable people in public office have no reason to object to two-year terms, because they can be assured of reelection if they do a good job. It’s the dishonest council members, and especially those who began their careers by being appointed rather than elected, who want the four-year terms to continue. Four-year terms for city council members helped perpetuate the political clique that controlled Portsmouth on behalf of the now discredited Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP).  I don’t know whether  Lance  Richardson  would turn out to be a good or bad councilman, but why did  he throw his hat in the ring only now, as a potential appointee, rather than run in a regular election, as I would think anyone not trying to cut corners  and short-change democracy would prefer to do? Let us hope Richardson, a self-proclaimed tax expert, is not another of those shipwrecked characters who save themselves from drowning in a sea of insignificance by clambering aboard the raft of city government that is already crowded with other failures, dreaming no doubt that the game of musical chairs might result someday in their becoming mayor, as Malone did when he won the booby prize as a result of Mayor Murrays recall.

When you consider the council members who began their careers as appointees, the list is not encouraging.  Baughman was originally an appointee, when his friend and his next-door neighbor John Thatcher, conveniently resigned as Fifth Ward councilman. And then Baughman himself resigned before he could be recalled, making the appointment of John Haas possible in the endless appointee game of musical chairs that is orchestrated by Portsmouth’s powerful, unelected clique. Jerrold Albrecht first got on the council by appointment, and so did the notorious shyster Mike Mearan. James R. Saddler is the most recent appointment. Saddler had not shown any interest in city government previously, except when he had to appear in court for numerous speeding violations, including a DUI for which his license was suspended. For all those who prefer to begin their political careers by applying to the council for a vacated position rather than run in an election, we should have buttons that say not “I Voted,” but rather “I Applied.” But in any campaign to reduce the terms on city council to two years, Mearan should be the poster boy and he should be proudly wearing an “I Applied” button. 

Current First Ward councilman Kevin W. Johnson tried to begin his political career in Portsmouth when he applied to council to replace Tim Loper after Loper was forced to resign his seat when it was proved he was not living in the First Ward, the ward he represented, in violation of the city charter. To replace Loper, the city council appointed Mearan, arguably the most scandalous appointee in the history of the city,  rather than Kevin W. Johnson. 

I find the political jockeying to become council president that takes place among those council members, some of  whom were originally appointees, unseemly. When Jane Murray was recalled, David Malone, as president of the council, replaced her in spite of the fact he had finished fourth behind her in the previous mayoral election. Malone had been elected to the presidency and next in line to be mayor, by appointees such as the lawyer John Haas, his fellow bankrupt, who is yet another council member who was appointed  after  failing to succeed in his chosen field. It is almost as if there is an unwritten requirement that candidates must be failures, if not bankrupts,  before they will be considered as appointees. Who with any self respect would want to owe their presence on the council to an appointment by such a council? To revise the famous quote by Groucho Marx, I don't want to belong to any city council  that would accept me as a member.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Prostitution Culture

[In response to Non-Profits Ruining Neighborhoods, an important posting on Jane Murrays blog (click here), I am reposting (below) a 2005 River Vices article Prostitution Culture.]


Naked Truths

    Perhaps reacting to criticism that it does not do investigative reporting, that it leaves that to the Shawnee Sentinel while it masters the art of cover-up journalism, the Portsmouth Daily Times ran a four-part series on prostitution in Portsmouth by staff writer Phyllis Noah. The title of the series was “Naked Truths: the Story Behind Portsmouth’s Prostitution Culture.” Wow!

    Let the hooker who is without sin write the first 4-part series on Portsmouth’s prostitution culture. For a reporter on the Daily Times to write an expose of Portsmouth’s prostitution culture is like Winona Ryder writing on the sins of shoplifting or Monica Lewinsky on the evils of oral sex.

   There is a limited definition of prostitution, which is selling one’s body for money, and a general meaning, which is selling one’s soul for an unworthy cause or corrupt group. The phrase “prostitution culture” suggests something more than hookers on John St. It suggests the more general definition of prostitution. Given its notoriety and conspicuousness, prostitution is the best metaphor for the political culture of Portsmouth, and I have used that metaphor a number of times in this blog.

   Perhaps to bolster flagging circulation, the Daily Times marketed the 4-part series by calling it in a touch of tabloid titillation “The Naked Truth.” It sounds like the front page not of the Portsmouth Daily Times but of the New York Daily News. Naked? You would no more want to see the prostitutes of Portsmouth naked than you would want to see former councilwoman Carol Caudill, the Sassy Lassie of the Internet, as the centerfold in Playboy Magazine. Truth? The Daily Times will do everything it can to increase its sclerotic circulation except tell the truth about Portsmouth’s “prostitution culture.” The prostitute culture of Portsmouth consists of far more than the hookers of John St. TheDaily Times fears the truth the way Dracula does the cross because telling the truth about Portsmouth’s prostitute culture would mean ending its role as the prostitute to the over-privileged Johns who control the city. The over-privileged of Portsmouth turn as many tricks as the prostitutes on John St., but they do it in the name of philanthropy and public service.

The Master Plan: The Worse the Better

    The way the master plan for Portsmouth works, the worse things get in the city and the more blighted it becomes, the better it is for the over-privileged who profit from the pork that the city becomes eligible for. As shown on 3rd St., where Hatcher’s abated student dormitories were built, the temptation to declare healthy streets and neighborhoods blighted is too hard to resist when millions of dollars of pork and profits can be accumulated. One of the economic side benefits of prostitution in Portsmouth is that it provides public sector employment for those whose jobs are to deal with the many streetwalkers. It is another illustration of the rule that where Portsmouth is concerned, the worse things get the more public funds will be pumped into the city. The economy of Portsmouth relies heavily on the public funds that can be appropriated to incarcerate criminals, house addicted prostitutes and their children, house the aged and college students, and welcome tourists and, possibly, gamblers.

    There is precious little about prostitutes in the series “The Naked Truth” and a lot about drugs and drug counselors and drug authorities. The message of the series is that Portsmouth’s prostitution problem is really a drug problem. Of the dozen people Noah interviewed, few of them were prostitutes, and those few were discussed in relation to drugs. Honesty in advertising requires that if you are going to run a 4-part series on drugs that you call it a four-part series on drugs, and not try to pruriently imply it has anything to do with nakedness.

Going in Circles

    If you explain the prevalence of prostitution in Portsmouth by drugs, how do you explain the prevalence of drugs in Portsmouth? Noah’s explanation is that prostitution is a serious problem because of drugs. What Noah offers is not an explanation but an excuse of why there is so much prostitution in Portsmouth. But as Municipal Judge Schisler told Noah, the drug problem is no worse in Portsmouth than elsewhere. If that’s the case, then why is there so much more prostitution in Portsmouth? Drugs do not explain why Portsmouth is, per capita, the prostitution capital of Ohio. To explain Portsmouth prostitution by drugs and Portsmouth drugs by prostitution is to go in circles.

   Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession because it has been around for thousands of years, thousands of years before there was a drug culture. The economic, social and psychological reasons for prostitution – the sexist attitude toward women, the chronic lack of employment in this area, the failures of the public education system, the breakdown of the family, the salaciousness of popular culture – theDaily Times does not consider these among the causes of prostitution. Everything is attributed to drugs, a neat and simple explanation that implies drug dealers are the cause of prostitution.

   Are there no other culprits than shadowy drug dealers? What about real estate developers? Prostitutes play an important role in Portsmouth “redevelopment.” They accelerate the deterioration of declining neighborhoods. Along with eminent domain, they spell doom for neighborhoods in which they are allowed to exercise their constitutional rights. They are already beginning to drift away from the bulldozed John St., which no longer offers much cover for johns or prostitutes. A lonely tree is all that is left for them for soliciting. How many hookers can one tree provide shade for? Hookers are drifting further and further into surrounding neighborhoods, neighborhoods where their constitutional rights are not likely to be as protected as they were on John St. About all that’s left standing on John St. is that tree under which smoking prostitutes wait for Johns. Tobacco dwarfs all other drug problems in the U.S., but because it is legal and highly profitable the news media focus on other drugs.

    I first began talking to people in the John St. area several years ago. They were reluctant to talk to a stranger, because they feared that they would be targeted for retaliation by the police and the powers-that-be. Many residents had moved out of the area by that time because prostitutes and drug-dealers had moved in, making life impossible for ordinary families. Count on it, there will be near zero tolerance for prostitution and zero support for constitutional rights in the John St. area once ground is broken there for Neal Hatcher’s shopping mall.

    One resident of John St. told me several years ago that it appeared to him the police and city officials were turning a blind eye to the prostitution and drug-dealing in that neighborhood because it served developer Neal Hatcher’s purposes. Drugs and prostitutes were being ignored, this resident suspected, because their activities supported Hatcher by driving down property values and driving out residents. If this resident had expressed his views to a Daily Times reporter, I doubt they would have gotten into its pages. When it comes to these kinds of “naked truths” about the over-privileged of Portsmouth, or about the shenanigans of the SOGP, or SSU, or the SOMC, or its other clients, the Daily Times prefers a cover-up, or at best one side of the story.

Exploiting Prostitutes by Protecting Them

  The respect that law enforcement officials have for the constitutional rights of the prostitutes of Portsmouth, as reported in the 4-part series, is nothing short of astonishing. Who would have thought that the Portsmouth police department and the local courts were such hotbeds of civil libertarians? If only the police and city officials were as determined to protect the constitutional rights of those who attempt to exercise the right of free speech at city council meetings where citizens are ejected by the dictatorial president of the city council if they so much as mention the name of a particular councilman or a particular developer or a particular lawyer. If only they were as determined to protect the rights of those who attempt to exercise their right to recall elected officials, and of those who offer themselves as candidates in recall elections, as they do to felons who are advised of their right to run for and hold public office by the city clerk and the city solicitor, even when those rights are reportedly misrepresented and misinterpreted.

    If there were a Pulitzer prize for cover-up journalism, for not unearthing local corruption and incompetence, for not exposing Portsmouth's prostitution culture, the Daily Times should have won one by now for reporting like that in “Naked Truth.”