Tuesday, April 29, 2014

John Haas: Portsmouth's Untenable City Solicitor

The central problem with city government in Portsmouth is not the form of government it has, namely the mayoral or city manager variety. The central problem is the kind of men who run for and get elected to city government. The men who occupy public office  are for the most part failures. They are men, usually,  who have failed in business, in a profession, or in a trade, or who are not now or perhaps have not for a long time  been  gainfully employed and want the benefits and the prestige of holding  public office. No form of city government is going to work with incompetent city officials, whether they are elected or appointed, and whether the form of government is mayoral or city manager. 
As an example of an incompetent city official, take city solicitor John Haas. According to the Portsmouth Daily Times (29 April 2014), “Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas says he cannot represent Portsmouth City Council when it comes to public records requests in the future.” Why not? Because, Haas told the PDT, the city council “has placed my office in an untenable position.” What does “untenable” mean? A tenant is “Someone  who pays rent to use or occupy land, a building, or other property owned by another.” The original and strict meaning of untenable is that an apartment or a house  or an office for some reason cannot be occupied, cannot be tenanted.
That is not the meaning of untenable that Haas has in mind, (if you will allow me the liberty of using “mind” in connection with him). Another meaning of untenable, and the one Haas apparently has in what passes for a mind is a place or a position or an office, such as the office of  city solicitor, that cannot be defended. But no one is attacking Haas or the office of city solicitor. They are rather proposing to change the office of city solicitor from an elective to an appointed office.  John Haas is obstructing city government by refusing to carry out one of his responsibilities as city solicitor because he doesn’t approve of the proposal of several councilmen to change the city solicitor position from an elective to an appointed position. It is hard to believe  that a lawyer would think he has the right to refuse to perform a duty of the  city solicitor because he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to change the office from elective to appointed. Changing any public office from elective to appointed or appointed to elective is a long, complicated, democratic  process, as is spelled out in the city charter.
      But it is Haas himself who is untenable, who is indefensible, who is not qualified to hold the office of city solicitor. He is not qualified  because he is in terms of his understanding of the law, incompetent. He doesn’t understand that by refusing to handle public records requests he is not fulfilling one of the duties of his office that he swore to perform. He cannot choose which of his duties he is going to perform and which he isn’t. The issue of whether the city solicitor should be elected, or whether it is a bad or good proposal,  is not the issue. At no level, local, state, or federal, does government work that way. But Portsmouth apparently is an exception and a public official is going to be allowed to choose which of his duties he performs and which he will not. Fire fighters are not allowed to choose which fires they are going to put out; police officers which laws they are going to enforce; sanitation workers which trash they are going to pick up;  and deadbeat dads are not allowed to decide which of their children they are going to pay child support for. But Haas is going to decide he is not going to handle public records requests and the Portsmouth Daily Times is not going to point this flagrant dereliction of duty out to its readers? That’s not just untenable, it’s intolerable. Oh, and two more things. Haas like two other council members, Kalb and Malone, have declared bankruptcy. And didnt Haas first get his foot in the door of the city solicitor's office by being appointed? Isn't that how many of these untenable, bankrupt characters start their political careers, by being appointed? As Snuffy Smith would say, Isnt that a crock?

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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.” 
                 from City Council Appointees: Portsmouth's Perennial Problem”