Friday, December 26, 2014

Judge Mowery and the First Amendment

The Mowery property at 1327 Kinney's Lane

The First Commandment of Portsmouth real estate is that when a person of influence has a piece of property that is difficult to sell in the chronically depressed Portsmouth real estate market, a public or semi-public entity will take it off his or her hands and, drawing directly or indirectly on public monies, pay appreciably more than the property is worth. (For more on the First Commandment, click here.) The Marting Foundation infamously unloaded the empty, leaking, unmarketable Marting building off on  the city a dozen or so years ago  for almost $2,000,000, and that building has been an albatross around the neck of the city and its taxpayers ever since.

A more recent, smaller scale example of the First Commandment apparently at work is the house at 1327  Kinney's Lane  (shown above) owned by Judge Steven Mowery and his wife Leasa. In a public notice in the classified section of the Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT), it was announced as required by law that Scioto County Counseling Center/Compass Point Housing intended to purchase 1327 Kinney's Lane and another house at 644 4th Street and convert them into  "dormitories" for "residents." In the lexicon of the burgeoning drug addiction treatment industry, addicts with some kind of coverage are "clients" and halfway houses for them are "dormitories," and drug clinics to dispense drugs to them are "counseling centers."

The misleading classified ad that was buried in
 the classifieds of the Portsmouth Daily Times.

Before 1327 Kinney's Lane and 644 4th Street in Boneyfiddle could be sold to SCCC/Compass Point, 4th Street residents learned about the notice buried in the classified section of the PDT and became politically galvanized, appearing at the 16/9/2014 meeting of the City Planning Commission at the Municipal Building to make clear they didn't want  the Counseling Center owning and operating any more property in their neighborhood, which was already saturated with tax-free, socially toxic Counseling Center properties. By protesting, Boneyfiddle residents had made the Mowery house on Kinney's Lane and the 4th Street house political hot potatoes. In my interpretation of what happened, in an attempt to squelch the controversy,  SCCC/Compass Point tried to drop the political hot potatoes as quickly as possible. Toward that end, Craig Gullion, the Executive Director of Compass Point Housing, appeared at the hearing in the Municipal Building to announce his organization was no longer interested in acquiring 1327 Kinney’s Lane because  it was too small for the number of "residents" that Compass Point had wanted to house there. Gullion's  explanation was fishy. Hadn't he, as the Executive Director of Compass Point Housing,  or hadn't someone else in his organization, ever been inside 1327 Kinney's Lane before deciding to buy it?  Isn’t the size of a house one of the first things a prospective buyer, especially the Executive Director of a housing company, would notice? Even if his sense of size was faulty,  wouldn’t the County Auditor’s website have provided the exact square footage for him to determine whether 1327 Kinney’s Lane was big enough to suit Compass Point's purposes?

The size of the house at 1327 Kinney's Lane may not have been the problem. The size may have been a smokescreen Gulllion  raised to cover his tracks.  Since the purchase of 1327 Kinney's Lane by the Counseling Center had become controversial, wouldn't  the fact that Judge Mowery was the potential seller raise eyebrows? It raised more than my eyebrows when I examined the fiscal year 2012-2013 federal form 990 that SCCC/Compass Point was required as a non-profit to file with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. What form 990  revealed was that Judge Mowery's wife Leasa, the co-owner of 1327 Kinney's Lane, was the president of  SCCC's fifteen-member Board of Trustees. Because of her important position at SCCC and because of her husband's role as municipal judge, their sale of 1327 Kinney's Lane to SCCC would have appeared to be a glaring conflict of interest. But hardly anybody would have known that if the SCCC hadn't been required as a non-profit to publicly reveal who was who and what was what financially in that somewhat secretive corporation. Non-profits are held to a higher standard and can't get away with the unethical hanky-panky private corporations can. Just what the legal and organizational relationship between the SCCC and Compassing Point Housing is cannot be determined by the 2012-2013 990 form. Who is who and what is what financially at Compass Point needs clarification for it looks like the tail that is wagging the SCCC.

In addition to a couple of the usual suspects, such as Julia Wisniewski,  what follows are the names of the fifteen members of the Board of Trustees of SCCC:

Board of Trustees of SCCC 2012-2013
Leasa Mowery,  Pres.
Brady Womack, VP
Barbara Burke, Secty-Treas.
Mark Cardosi
Karly Estep
Susan Fitzer
Joan Flowers
Asa Jewett
Wm. McKinley 
Dr. Robert Nelson
Wm. Plettner
Barry Rodbell
Rev. Sallie Schisler
Dr. Ronald Turner
Julia Wisniewski

How much might SCCC/Compass Point have overpaid the Mowerys for the Kinney Lane property if the sale had taken place? That is anybody's guess. But if the First Commandment of Portsmouth real estate was followed, as it was with the Marting building, it might have been well above fair market value. But the petition the residents of 4th Street filed with the City Planning Commission changed the fate not only of 1237 Kinney's Lane but of 644 4th Street as well. Since the controversy broke, SCCC/Compass Point has done nothing about buying 644 4th Street, and now appears to have less than no interest in it. Because of the political blowback, that once red hot potato is colder than an ice cube and may end up on the auction block (click here).

644 4th St.: "the once hot potato is colder than an ice cube."