Friday, December 18, 2015

Building Trouble: 2837 Scioto Trail

[In view of the recent indictment of a SOLACE officer, I am reposting a piece I wrote on SOLACE'S connection with the putative anti-drug crusading Police Chief Charles Horner back in October 2012.]

2837 Scioto Trail, former pill mill, becomes SOLACE headquarters

A recent post by Jane Murray on her lively website wegottroublerighthereinrivercity calls attention to the checkered history of 2837 Scioto Trail, a building now being occupied by the SOLACE group, which, in my opinion, started out with the praiseworthy purpose of consoling the families and friends of deceased drug addicts, but was hijacked by former Portsmouth police chief Charles Horner for his own political purposes. Horner has been building trouble his entire phony drug-busting career. Having failed miserably as a drug-busting police chief, Horner was already planning to abandon ship, the ship from which he had frequently been AWOL for physical and psychological problems, and run for sheriff. 

       It was ironic that SOLACE should end up in the singularly ugly building that had last been occupied, briefly, by a pill mill. That its occupancy was brief was owing not to Chief Horner, whose failures as a drug-buster are legendary, but rather to former Mayor Murray, who can take credit for its closure and whose recall from office, with additional irony, Horner and the landlord of 2837 Scioto Trail, Ronald Cole, were instrumental in bringing about. Cole circulated petitions to recall Murray, and Horner, in a typical treacherous betrayal of whomever the mayor (his boss) happened to be, was first to sign a petition for the recall of Murray. Did Horner’s slowness in dealing with the pill mill on the trail have anything to do with the camaraderie that he and Cole might have shared as a result of their cooperating in the campaign to recall Murray? And did SOLACE’s moving into 2837 Scioto Trail having anything to do with the image problems the Coles had created as a result of hosting pill millers in the building? Who better to help take the pill-mill stigma off the ugly building than SOLACE? Just as Horner had used SOLACE to cover up his notorious ineffectiveness in fighting the drug epidemic, did Cole use SOLACE to rehabilitate 2837 Scioto Trail? Murray wrote in her post, “[T]hough the committed people in the local prescription drug fighting organization SOLACE are no doubt unaware, the very building in which they have located in Portsmouth is at none other than 2837 Scioto Trail.” Is it possible the SOLACE folk were that gullible and unaware of what they were getting into when they moved into that building?

The Ladies of Solace not saying no to Horner
       Along with a number of other buildings in Portsmouth (think of the police station in the Municipal Building, the Marting building, the Marting’s Annex, the Adelphia building, the gas company building on Clair Street), 2837 Scioto Trail has become part of an architectural trail of tears that Horner created in his sorry political career. Now he covets the County Sheriff complex, and if with the help of SOLACE members he is elected, that edifice too will be haunted by his controversial presence, for wherever Horner goes he builds trouble.

Adelphia building, on Horner's architectural trail of tears

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Derek Allen: From Pigwa to Porksmouth

      Our piggish city manager is at it again. Here is the  overly generous package he received when he was hired in 2013—an annual salary of $105,000; a $50,000 lump sum severance payment when he departs; health, disability, and life insurance benefits; payment for all unused leave days; and a $2500 annual vehicle allowance. He received all this in spite of his spotty work record. He had trouble holding down administrative jobs. In addition to being fired from one job,  he had been convicted of having perjured himself in testimony related to his conflict of interest when he was serving as the Assistant City Manager of Piqua. He received a suspended jail sentence and fined for perjury.

     For the last two years he has as city manager been getting away with highway robbery because he has continued to make his home in Piqua while working part time and receiving big bucks  as Portsmouth’s carpetbagging  city manager. But that has not satisfied him. Now, like a highwayman  he is trying to hold the city up again. What he is trying to do is get the city to provide him with a $250,000 life insurance policy, a five week annual vacation, a $600 increase in his automobile allowance, up to $3100, as well as having the city pick up his annual membership in the Ohio City/County Management Association, which illegally helped him get hired as city manager in Portsmouth and which the city picked up the tab for him to attend its annual conference. In making his latest requests for more money and benefits, I would not be surprised if Allen had learned at that conference how to further gouge the city where he's city manager. 

      The chief argument being made by Allen and  his supporters on the city council  to support increasing Allen’s vacation time and other benefits is that he works like hell. Allen’s chief supporter  is Kevin W. Johnson, the Primary Prevaricator on the city council. Johnson is quoted in the PDT report as saying, Allen needs more time off because he does not want to see him “worn out.” Johnson made similar observations when Allen had not been city manager  very long. “I’m just going to try to take some more time away,” Allen himself is quoted in the PDT. “I am exhausted.” I suspect that Allen is exhausted because he is already spending too much time away from Portsmouth, what with the commuting he is doing  between his job and his home in Piqua, and if it is true that he works long hours on the days he is in Portsmouth it is because of the long weekends and the other days he’s in Piqua, and there is no sign he is going to move. 

The photo of Allen's Piqua home on the Miami County website (2007)

      I just checked electronically again with the Miami County auditor’s office, which still lists Allen and his wife as the owners of 805 Boone Street, in Piqua. The biggest commitment Allen could have made to his job as city manager was moving to Portsmouth, but he rented a pad from Neal Hatcher, which speaks volumes about what his financial priorities and personal preferences are, as Kevin W. Johnson’s announcement that he will run for Scioto County Commissioner, which pays about $55,000 annually, shows what his are.

      To live in the same city where Allen is city manager is to have your intelligence constantly insulted. In response to the report  in the PDT, one longtime Portsmouth resident said, “This guy refused to live in Portsmouth! Now he wants the citizens to pay for his refusal to live in Portsmouth. This guy  must think the citizens of this town are real country bumpkins!”

Relevant River Vices Posts

Derek Allen's Cock-amd-Bull Open Letter. (Click here)
The Carpetbagger from Piqua. (Click here)
Portsmouth's Carpetbagging City Manager (click)

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Missmanajin' the Dang Sewers

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
that haz more relijion
and less moral'ty than Porchmuth,
or haz the likes of Kevin W. Jonsun,

who, after messin' up on sity counsil,
throes hiz hat in the ring
fur the county commissioners
where the payz more to his likin'?

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
that 'points a leprechaun imp
to itz corrupp sity counsil,
a notorious drug-deeling pimp

who, when he wuz called a shyster,
sued fur defecation of caricature,
which produced lotz and lotz of lafter.
In any other sity he’d a bin in stir.

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
who’d hire a convicted purjuror,
a carpitbugger from Pickwa,
as itz hi-payed sity manajer?

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
that haz more addicks purr capita,
includin' old ladyz in tennis shoos
and an ordrained won in taffeta?

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
ware bankruptures and crooks govurn,
and ware the Wall of Fame clames
itz hospitil and suthurn

wen we all nose its Applatchin,
fur better or more orphin wurse,
ware McCoys talk only to Kobs
and Kobs do nothing but curse?

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
ware the drawers and hewers,
like in Joshooa 9:23,
cant even manij the dang sewers?

Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
that haz more trouble flushing it?  
Iz thare 'nother sity in 'merica
that iz more full of it?

         Snuffy Smith, 2015

Dammit, Dreck Allen, my outhouse washed away!

Monday, November 30, 2015

No Building Left Behind 2015

[It has been ten years since I coined the phrase "No building left behind" policy of Portsmouth real estate. The two principle examples of that policy, the Marting building and the so-called Adelphia building, still stand, empty and uninhabitable, reminding us of how corrupt our city government was and still is. What follows is a re-posting of the original article.]

Southern Ohio Museum: Original No Building Left Behind

     The good news is Marting’s won’t be the site of the new city building. The bad news is the Adelphia site will. Why is that bad news?

      Remember that the first principle of Portsmouth real estate is that no over privileged private party or corporation should ever have to take a loss on a building or piece of land, no matter how worthless or hazardous it is, as long as there are public funds that can be tapped into to bail the owner out, or as long as there is a tax break that can be derived from donating the property to the public, and letting the city deal with the headaches and expenses associated with owning and dealing with the property. This first principle of Portsmouth real estate could be called the No Building Left Behind policy.
      Instead of being free to build from scratch on the best site possible, city planners must start with a building and site that has been unloaded on them with the connivance of corrupt public officials. The City Building Committee Final Report (11 Dec. 2006) listed as the first and presumably most important reason for locating the new City Hall Complex on the so-called Adelphia building site is that the city owns the property. It is like the old days, when ATT had a total monopoly of the telephone industry, including the manufacture and sale of telephones. The policy of ATT back then was you could have any color phone you wanted provided it was black. Under the No Building Left Behind policy, the city or county can erect a new public building or city hall complex anywhere they want provided it is an undesirable site or building that the city has paid too much money for or has accepted from a donor who has stipulated the site or building must be used for a public purpose so that the donor can get a tax write-off.

      Consider the following examples of Portsmouth’s No Building Left Behind policy at work, beginning (1) with the earliest one I know of, the 1977 sale of the obsolete Security Central National Bank building to the city, which then leased it to the Southern Ohio Museum Corporation for one dollar a year for a period of twenty years, with the city, as lessor, having major responsibility for maintaining and insuring the building; (2) the empty and virtually worthless department store that the Marting Foundation illegally and infamously unloaded on the city for $1.9 million; (3) the nearly bankrupt Travel World Agency, which three well-connected Portsmouth businessmen, with Clayton Johnson as their lawyer, “donated” to Ohio U., as a tax write-off; (4) the empty Thatcher house, on Franklin Blvd., for which SSU paid the politically connected Thatchers much more than it was worth and which SSU later sold to a doctor at a $50,000 loss to the taxpayers; (5) Dr. Rooney’s house, on Camelot Drive, the remote and parking-less money pit that SSU paid top dollar for and, with the meter still running, now serves as the slipping and sliding home for SSU president Rita Rice Morris; (6) the empty and otherwise worthless Kenrick’s department store that was taken off George Clayton’s hands with county and federal funds and converted into a Welcome Center; (7) the “sale” of the Temple B’Nai Abraham to SSU for an ungodly sum; and (8) the “donation” to the city of the misnamed Adelphia property, which should be called, the Singer property. Adelphia never owned that property, having only leased it instead from Dr. Herbert Singer, of Los Angeles.

The No Singer Building Left Behind

      The history of the Singer property bears a depressing similarity to all the other shady real estate deals of the last thirty years. Just as you would not know that Martings is really three very old buildings beneath a faux brick façade, the Singer building is actually two old buildings hidden behind a rusting metal façade. What became the Singer property was once the site of an automobile dealership, but after things went kaput in Portsmouth, that dealership and others on Washington Street went out of business. While the history of the building and the date of its construction is something of a mystery, which even the crack consultants of Ameresco Corp. could not unravel, what we know for sure is that at one point local shyster lawyer Mike Mearan owned the so-called Adelphia property. Then, in 1984, he sold it to Dr. Herbert Singer, of Los Angeles. Following his purchase of the property from Mearan, Singer then leased the building for twenty years to Adelphia Cable. I have heard that Adelphia was paying Singer a sizable rent each month. [I was subsequently told by an employee of Adelphia Cable that it was paying $12,000 a month rent, which over the 20 year lease would be $2,880,000 dollars.]

      Because of the massive fraud perpetrated by the family that owned the Adelphia Corporation, that company went bankrupt and the larcenous founder, John Rigas, went to prison. Because of the protections afforded to bankrupt corporations, Adelphia apparently did not need to meet the obligations of the final year of its twenty-year lease with Singer. I was puzzled when Adelphia hastily moved out of Singer’s building to a smaller less conveniently located site. Because commercial property in Portsmouth is notoriously hard to rent, I wondered why Adelphia hadn’t used its leverage to negotiate a new lease for Singer’s building, at better financial terms. Subsequent events would make clear why Adelphia wanted out of the Singer building as fast as possible. First of all, how would you feel as a tenant if the building you were paying good money for had been neglected for some time, and had leaky room in which there was asbestos in the decking? How would you feel, furthermore, if your absentee landlord lived in Los Angeles, over 2500 miles away?

      Following the flight of Adelphia Cable from Washington Street, Singer was stuck with an ugly building that had virtually no financial or architectural value and no prospect of being rented by another tenant. His curiosity getting the better of him, Singer finally made his first visit to Portsmouth to see the property, but only after Adelphia had moved out. At some point Singer hired the controversial real estate agent-developer Neal Hatcher to handle the property. Months turned into years and the Singer building sat on that decrepit southwest corner of Washington and 9th Street, unattended and leaking, like so many other empty commercial buildings in Portsmouth (think Marting’s, think Kenrick’s). The Singer building was almost as bad as many of the buildings that Hatcher owns and neglects.

      Singer was responsible for city taxes on the decrepit property, but in deadbeat fashion he stopped meeting those financial obligations. This was not very civic-minded of him, but what did he have to lose, way out there in California, in stiffing the taxpayers of Portsmouth? But he still needed to find some way to unload the property. Because Hatcher could find no buyer foolish enough to buy the property, Singer hired Mike Mearan to come up with a plan to stick the public with it, and Mearan, a gifted con artist, did. Mearan knows the winding and dimly lit corridors and courtrooms of the City Building and the County Courthouse of Portsmouth the way a proctologist knows a cancerous rectum or Jean Valjean, in Hugo’s Les Miserables, knows the sewers of Paris. What Mearan advised Singer to do was donate the worthless property to the city, stipulating that in accepting the property the city would have to commit to using it for a public purpose. That was an all-important stipulation, because only then would Singer be able to claim a tax write-off from the IRS. Another stipulation that Singer put on the “donation” was that he would not have to pay the $23,000 back taxes he owed on the building. At the City Council meeting 13 Feb. 2006, the council approved a motion from David Malone to excuse $5,707.50 in taxes due on Singer’s property. This was in addition to excusing Singer of the $17,000 plus taxes he had already failed to pay. Councilman Malone,whose math is notoriously fuzzy, is usually accorded the honor of making motions that bilk the taxpayers. The scheme Mearan came up with was to propose to the city that the building Singer was offering be converted into a police station, which clearly met the definition of “public use.”

“Wonderful Idea”

      The public first learned of the Singer-Mearan donation scheme when Hatcher, acting as Singer’s real estate agent, appeared at the 13 Dec. 2004 City Council meeting with Tanner and Stone smoke-and-mirror architectural plans to convert the Adelphia building into a police station. I was at that meeting and I remember that the architectural drawings made the renovated Singer building look like the Gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel.” It looked good enough to eat. Who paid for those architectural plans? Singer? Hatcher? Mearan? Or did Tanner and Stone donate their time in anticipation of future fees? According to the minutes of the 13 Dec. 2004 Council meeting, “Mr. Hatcher said he felt it would be a wonderful idea and provided drawings showing the Adelphia Building as it exists and how it might look if converted into a Police Station. . . . Mr. Hatcher suggested an ordinance accepting the building should include an amount not to exceed $500,000 to 600,000 for improvements. He noted the advantages would include parking for the police. He said he felt this to be a good opportunity for the City of Portsmouth . . .” Not wanting to hog all the glory, Hatcher pointed out that the plan was the brainchild of Mike Mearan.

      At the Council Meeting 10 Jan. 2005, Kalb urged members of the City Council to visit the Adelphia building and judge for themselves if the building was worth accepting from Singer. Kalb claimed that someone else was interested in the building if the city wasn’t, which is the familiar tactic that is used in real estate negotiations to get a reluctant party to buy. The same tactic was used by George Clayton to justify raising the price that SSU paid for the Mooney house on Camelot Drive. Playing the role of a political pimp, for which he is well suited, Kalb was in effect saying, “Hey, there are other guys interested in this gal if you ain’t.”

Shyster Lawyer

     Mearan appeared at the 14 March 2005 City Council meeting, identifying himself as “an attorney representing Herbert Singer who is offering the former Adelphia building to the city . . . the intent of Dr. Singer is to give this property to the City for the City to use.” Mearan went on to admit that Singer’s “intent” in offering the building to the city was really not philanthropy but to get a tax write-off, and he could only get that if the property was used for a public purpose. As the minutes of 14 March 2005 state, “Mr. Mearan said that in order for Dr. Singer to take advantage of certain IRS regulations the City could not sell or lease the building because that would set a value on the property and would restrict the amount Mr. Singer can claim as a donation to the City.” The next sentence of the 14 March 2005 minutes reveals how little philanthropy had to do with Singer’s donation. “Mr. Mearan stated that with the understanding that the City would accept the property and use it for City purposes, with a restriction of ten years after which if the city wants to get rid of the building or do whatever they want with the building they could do so.” Do whatever they want with it? In other words, after ten years of public use, which would qualify Singer for the full write-off, the city could shove the building as far as Singer or Mearan was concerned. Once Singer got his tax-write off, he didn’t care what happened to the property, just as he hadn’t cared what happened to the property when he owned it, as long Adelphia paid the rent. Singer had squeezed all he could out of it.

      The City Council bought into the Singer-Mearan-Hatcher scheme and passed an ordinance at the 14 March 2005 meeting "Authorizing the Mayor and the City of Portsmouth, Ohio, to accept a deed to real estate generally known as 807 Washington Street, Portsmouth, Ohio, said property to be used for city-related purposes for a minimum period of 10 years." Kalb reported at the Council Meeting 23 May 2005 that he had met that morning with Mike Mearan, who showed him the deed that signed the so-called Adelphia building over to the city.

      The city’s acceptance of the Singer building was the first step down a long and expensive road for taxpayers. There are some things that are not only not worth the asking price, they are not even worth accepting as a gift. Failing to look the gift horse in the mouth, failing to look for mold and asbestos in the building, the city accepted Singer’s offer. The result was the city ended up paying through the nose for a nag that was fit only for the glue factory. If the Singer building had been a horse, the humane thing would have been to shoot it. Instead, the City Council accepted the building from Singer and, following Mearan’s stipulation about public use, agreed to turn it into a police station. The close examination of the building was made only after the city accepted the building. That examination showed that beneath the rusting metal façade, the Singer building was unsalvageable. The leaking roof was leaking worse, making that asbestos problem even worse, and the moisture was creating black mold, also known as toxic mold, which for a building is like AIDS. The Singer building was an incurably sick building. It was not safe to convert into an outhouse, let alone into a police station. Why hadn’t the city council and mayor made a close examination of the building before they accepted it from Singer? Because too many of our city officials are in office to do the bidding of those with big bucks. They dare not not ask embarrassing questions or try to get at the truth. The truth about the Singer building was the last thing they wanted. So the city was stuck with yet another decrepit old building with asbestos and mold.

No Oxycontin Left Behind

     Did this mean that Singer was going to lose his tax write-off? Did this mean he was going to have to pay the $23,000 in taxes after all? There was little likelihood of that, especially after Mearan became a member of the Portsmouth City Council. Mearan became a member of council not the democratic way, by running for office. Here is how he got on council: After I filed a complaint with the County Board of Elections, charging Tim Loper was not living in the First Ward, which the city charter requires, he was removed from City Council. Mearan was subsequently appointed to replace Loper by the City Council. The City Council did not stop there, because next it appointed Mearan to the City Building Committee. Howard Baughman and the City Council did not stop there, because then they appointed Mearan to chair that committee. Mearan's first act as chair of the CBC was to assign his drug-addicted employee Heather Hren (shown left in photo at work for CBC ) as its stenographer, a position she held until she was arrested for transporting oxycontin from Columbus to Portsmouth in a car Mearan had rented for her. In addition to No Building Left Behind, we have No Oxycontin Left Behind.

      So Mearan was not only appointed to the Council and appointed to the CBC, he was appointed chair of it. In what other city could such a brazen conflict of interest take place without so much as a peep from the press or local law enforcement officials? An attorney representing a client who would get a tax write-off if his “donation” was used for a public purpose, such as a police station or city building, chairs a committee that is considering locations for a new police station and a new city building. What do you think the odds were that the City Building Committee, with Mearan as chair, would recommend the Singer property be used for a police station? And what do you think the odds were that the CBC, once the Singer building was shown to be unsalvageable, would then recommend that the building be torn down and that the site be used to build a new police station and city building? Pretty good chance, I would say.


      What follows is a list of the improvements that the Building Committee acknowledged would have to be made to the so-called Adelphia building to convert it into a police station. (1) Installation of communications and data cabling; (2) Installation of new emergency generator; (3) Modification of existing electric distribution system; (4) Installation of new Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning systems; (5) Installation of new plumbing piping and fixtures; (6) Floor cutting, concrete patching, and tile for new locker rooms; (7) Cleaning of wall studs, walls and floors to remove mold residue; (8) Painting of structural steel in older section of building; (9) Painting of all interior walls; (10) Removal and replacement of all interior doors and hardware; (11) Removal and replacement of all flooring materials; (12) Removal and replacement of all of the existing ceiling tiles; (13) Removal and replacement of 50% of insulation above the ceiling; (14) Removal and replacement of 50% of existing drywall; (15) Installation of new energy-efficient windows and exterior doors; (16) Installation of new roof for entire building; (17) Exterior work including replacement of metal siding and painting of masonry; (18) Site work including resurfacing of parking lot and landscaping. These eighteen proposals should have been replaced by one simple proposal: Remove this contaminated building forever from the face of the earth and let the negligent landlord pay for at least part of the removal.

      Why in the world would any public official agree to spend as much money as these improvements would cost to convert an old building in terrible condition when a new one could be built for the same price? Why resuscitate a corpse when you can have a new baby? You can bet the cost of converting the so-called Adelphia building was going to be much more than the $500,000 to $600,000 Hatcher originally estimated. That estimate was so much fairy dust tossed in the eyes of a gullible public. And notice that one “improvement” that seems hardly worth mentioning, removing mold residue, proved enough to scuttle the whole project.

      If Singer had not neglected his building as much as he obviously had for as long as he had, maybe the building would have been worth saving. I say maybe. But why should the public pay for the neglect of an absentee landlord who allowed his property to deteriorate so badly? Because that is a feature of No Building Left Behind. After all the profit has been wrung out of a property and a business, the owner turns it over to the state, county, or city government to let it deal with the consequences. When rail passenger traffic was no longer profitable, turn it over to the government and complain about how inefficiently the government runs things. When the Marting’s department store can no longer turn a profit, sell it to the city government for one last profit squeeze of $1.9 million and let the empty building become a festering political and financial problem for years.

Black Telephone

      The City Building Committee tried to pass off the Singer property, which it was led to by the nose, as the best site for a new city complex. What the CBC decided is the equivalent of saying that a black phone would have been its first choice even if there were fifty-seven other colors and shades available. The corner of Washington and 9th Streets is about as good a site for a new city complex as John Street would be for a convent or the Scioto River for a surfing competition. What is there about that corner that suits it for a city complex? There’s not much to be said for that location. Instead of a view of the Ohio River and the bridge, the only thing you can see from the corner of Washington and 9th is the steam escaping from that crooked smoke stack on the roof of the the Osco factory. If the city had not been hornswoggled into accepting a building that should have been condemned as a health hazard, where might the new city building have ended up? We will never know for sure, because the No Building Left Behind policy dictated that the city building and the police station was either going to be in the Marting’s building or on the Singer property. That is like giving a condemned man the choice between the noose or the electric chair.

      But the Singer site is the lesser of two evils, because no one is any longer trying to claim the Singer building is salvageable, whereas there are still die-hards who will still tell you the Marting building should be converted into a city building. At least on the Singer site the city can start from scratch instead of having to renovate a decrepit 125-year-old department store. The City Building Committee was under a lot of pressure to choose the Marting building for a city hall, but Clayton Johnson had succeeded in making that building so politically radioactive that there is now no chance of his original scheme ever being carried out, even with his obliging tools Kalb and Baughman backing it.

      The best site for a new city building would be the site of the present City Building. If the City Building is going to be razed, then a new one should be raised on the same site. Why? Because it is the most convenient, the most time-honored, and the most scenic spot. And it is downtown. Being downtown was supposedly a major advantage of the Marting building. But city officials, and above all Mayor Kalb, have been angling to make the site of the City Building available to a developer for years. It is too valuable, Kalb says, to be wasted on a mere city hall, on the house of local government. The phrase that gets repeated is "prime commercial property." The CBC even uses that phrase in explaining why the current site of the City Building should not be wasted on a city hall complex: it is prime commercial property. If it so valuable commercially, why has the Ramada Inn, directly across the street, been a financial basket case ever since it was built. The Ramada Inn has survived by housing university students and as a half-way house for people with drug-related problems. The Ramada Inn survived by mooching off the public sector, and we are supposed to believe the land across the street is too valuable to waste on a new city complex?

      The single most important truth about No Left Building Left Behind policy is that we wouldn’t have had any of the shenanigans and headaches and scandals associated with the Marting building and the Singer building if Kalb and his cronies had not been conspiring for years to systematically neglect the City Building with the intention of eventually tearing it down in order to sell the site to some developer. The anticipated tearing down of the City Building was what made the Marting and the Singer rip-offs possible.

      When it comes to saying just which developer is interested in the City Building site, Kalb has been like a coy stripteaser, revealing just enough to pique the public’s curiosity, but not enough to reveal who that developer is. Who is Kalb protecting, who is he hiding? Which developer is it whose name would create a firestorm if it were known he was the one waiting to get his hands on the City Building site? Which developer is it who is ultimately responsible for where the City Building and the Portsmouth Police Station apparently will end up? Whoever ends up on whichever site, keep in mind that all the shenanigans are really the result of the No Building Left Behind policy, according to which a building that has architectural and structural value, such as the Train Depot and the City Building, will be torn down while many millions will be squandered acquiring property and buildings that are actually liabilities, not assets. This is the way things are done in Portsmouth. The question is will things ever change?

Marting's, the Albatross Building

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Carpetbagger: from Piqua to Portsmouth



       The opening sentence of a report in the Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT) by Frank Lewis posted online on 6 November 2015 states, “Portsmouth City Council will take action to authorize Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen to begin to advertise for bids and to enter into contracts with the lowest and/or best bidder for required supplies, materials and services for 2016.” According to the report by Lewis, “Yearly requirements include such items as manhole rings and covers, asphaltic concrete, uniforms for police and fire departments, chemicals for water filtration, police department radio maintenance and other equipment and services.” Lewis then details the costs of the new breathing apparatus the Fire Department needs. “The estimate from Breathing Air Systems lists the original price of $11,842, showing a 16 percent discount, bringing the cost to $9,947.28, less $1,000 for the trade-in of their existing unit, the new price is $8,947.28. Allen said there is an additional cost for shipping and installation of $819 and he is requesting an additional $1,000 for contingency.” Lewis then explains why the present breathing equipment is obsolete, an explanation which is even more complicated than the financial breakdown, so I won’t reproduce it here. 

       What I will emphasize here is that  one of the important details Lewis failed to mention, even in passing in his report, is that our carpetbagging city manager  who will put out for  bidding all services and materials that cost $50,000 or more, as required by state law, was himself guilty of violating state law regulating the purchase of materials when he was the assistant city manager in Piqua, Ohio, where he continues to  make his home, though his high paying job is in Portsmouth, which is why I call him a carpetbagger. Not only did Allen ten years ago break the law in purchasing $160,000 worth of gravel for a bike path without putting it out for bid, but he compounded his crime by lying under oath when testified about the gravel purchase. (See the Celina Daily Standard report at the end of this post.) On the basis of his testimony, Allen was convicted of perjury and received a fine and a suspended jail sentence. Shouldn’t Lewis in his story on contract bidding at least have alluded, if only in passing, to Allen’s failure to follow state law about the bidding process in Piqua, where they probably would not hire him now as dogcatcher.  Because of the PDT's soft pedaling  of Allen's controversial career, as many as nine out of ten Portsmouth residents may have no knowledge of his criminal record, nor of his  inability to hold on to a job. Unlike honest investigative PDT reporters who lost their jobs when they reported something they shouldn’t have, Frank Lewis is a master not only of omission but also of innuendo. He knows not only whose toes should not be stepped on but also whose toes should be on behalf of the crooked clique. 

       For example, on November 4, in reporting on the results of the Portsmouth elections the day before, Lewis did not limit himself to reporting on Tom Lowe’s decisive victory in the Sixth Ward city council race; Lewis also alluded, as he had in the past,  to the alleged ganging up by Lowe and Shawn Stratton on the Sixth Ward incumbent Jeff Kleha in the primary election. “Stratton and Lowe were at the center of a controversy in the May Primary,” Lewis wrote, “when they seemingly teamed up to defeat incumbent councilman Portsmouth attorney Jeff Kleha, leaving him as the odd man out. It was that election in which the Scioto County Board of Elections allowed Sixth Ward voters to vote for two instead of one as had always been the practice of the city in previous elections.” The so-called “controversy” arose primarily not because of past election practices but because Kleha had been a political rubber stamp for  city manager Allen, who hated to lose him. Because Allen has a history of not being able to hold a job, he needs every city council member in his corner. It was not Stratton and Lowe but the voters in the Sixth Ward who made Kleha “the odd man out,” but Lewis does not see it that way. In reaction to Kleha being voted off city council, there will be an amendment on the March 2016 ballot to outlaw elections in which electors  can vote for more than one candidate. That amendment has Allen’s fingerprints all over it. The amendment serves  the purpose of further calling into question the legitimacy of Lowe sitting on the city council. The politics of Portsmouth are even dirtier under the city manager form of government than they were under the mayoral form of government. If only there was a Breathing Air System for readers of the Portsmouth Daily Times whose use of smoke and mirrors to mislead Portsmouth residents about the political corruption in one of the dirtiest drug-addicted cities in America.

       Tim Loper was elected to city council as a candidate who was strongly opposed to the city’s costly plan to renovate the decrepit Marting building into the new city hall, but once elected  as reformer, Loper became a tool of the corrupt clique that controls Portsmouth. The corrupt clique valued Loper so much that they provided him with a sham address in Ward One to allow him to continue on council even after he and his wife moved to another ward. Allen is a far more valuable tool to the corrupt clique than Loper ever was, and the PDT and Frank Lewis in particular will be careful not to step on Allen’s toes at the same time that they will be reminding residents that Lowe, should he continue to act  like a trouble-making reformer, had "seemingly" resorted to electoral chicanery to get on city council. If Lowe for any reason does not finish his four-year term, Kleha will be waiting in the wings to be appointed to the city council by the city council, which is how he got on council in the first place. Those foolish four-year terms  for city council are what enable the game of musical chairs to be played over and over again. Will we ever have a city council that will allow for the return of two-year terms, which will make recalls and musical chairs a thing of the past? Not when we have the likes of Jim Kalb and Jo Anne Aeh and the convicted perjurer like Derek Allen as city manager. I will end this post by reproducing a story from an Ohio newspaper that, unlike the PDT, does not use smoke and mirrors to protect convicted carpetbaggers.

From the Celina Daily Standard

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Latest Portsmouth Daily Times Coverup

The masthead of Celina's The Daily Standard, which, unlike the Portsmouth Daily Times, did not cover up the truth about Derek Allen's career.

      Under the byline of that pious fraud Frank Lewis, a  front page report in the  Portsmouth Daily Times (29 Sept. 2015) has the headline, "City Says Multiple Public Records Have Been Costly to Taxpayers.” How costly? According to the  carpetbagging perjurer Derek Allen, who is Portsmouth’s city manager, the cost of the public records requests has been  over  $42,000. Because Allen is a compulsive liar, I doubt the veracity of everything  he says. That $42,000 figure is more inflated than a Macy's Parade balloon. In a report on public records that Allen concocted, which was handed out at the City Council meeting (28 Sept. 2015)—a meeting Allen did not attend—he claims that $24,592.50, or over half of the alleged total cost of the public records requests,  was what the city paid to the firm of Squire Patton Boggs (SPB) for legal advice on public records requests, beginning in January 2014.  

      What is Squire Patton Boggs? It is one of the largest and judging by the fee they charged Portsmouth probably one of the most expensive law firms in the country. Just who in our  city government is responsible for enlisting the services of SPB? Could it be anybody other than our wheeling and dealing, politically scheming  city manager? And who might he have been trying to curry favor with in engaging the services of SPB? Senator Rob Portman has close ties to SPB, according to Wikipedia. One of the partners of SPB, Patton Boggs, is an unsavory character who has represented some of the worst dictators and most polluting companies in the world. In advising Portsmouth legally, SPB is representing one of the sleaziest city governments in the United States, so maybe they are the right law firm, however high-priced they maybe. Perhaps because City Solicitor Haas has the reputation of being a nincompoop lawyer, maybe SPB was necessary. But if SPB  was the price the city had to pay for having a nincompoop  as  city solicitor, is that Murray’s fault? 

Deja Vu All Over Again

      Maybe the reason Allen is doing everything he can to stop Murray from making public records requests about the flooding in Portsmouth is because it was a public records request somebody made in Piqua that led to the exposure of Allen’s  illegal purchasing activities when he was the Assistant City Manager in that city. It was when he  testified under oath about those activities that Allen committed perjury. Allen was fired as soon as he perjured himself, but that was not the first time he had been fired from a job in the public sector.  As reported in The Daily Standard (2, Oct. 2004), Allen had previously been fired from public service jobs in Van Wert, Ohio,  after he was named as a defendant in two civil lawsuits and then subsequently in Celina, Ohio, by the mayor because Allen had become such a controversial figure, as he has also become in Portsmouth. When will he be fired as city manager in Portsmouth? For Portsmouth’s sake and for the sake of the flooded residents who live near the Hill and the Southern Ohio Medical Center, of whom Jane Murray is one, that day cannot come too soon.

The Perjurer from Piqua

      So we have the perjurer Allen,  from Piqua,  where his home is located but where he would not be hired as dog catcher, becoming with the complicity of the Portsmouth Daily Times and the  connivance of city council member Kevin W. Johnson and the skullduggery of the International City/County Management Association, the carpetbagging high-paid city manager of Portsmouth, where he is trying to sweep the  flooding under the rug and accusing Murray  of bankrupting the city with public records requests about that flooding. Allen reminds me of Patton Boggs, the big cheese in the Squire Patton Boggs law firm. Boggs served in the 1990s as the lawyer for the bloody Guatemalan dictatorship. When a Guatemalan nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz, was tortured and raped by members of a death squad, Boggs, according to Wikipedia, defended the dictatorship by claiming that Sister Ortiz was murdered not by a death squad but by her "out-of-control, sadomasochistic lover." With Allen we are bogged down with a city manager who blames the victims of the flooding for the flooding, but all we get in Lewis's report in the Portsmouth Daily Times on public records requests is Allen's side of the story. Why didn't Lewis call Murray, who says her telephone number is in the phonebook, for her side of the story? Lewis knows on what side his bread is buttered, so he never stops buttering up our local dictators, nor does Allen, who is fortunate he does not have a controversial city manager in Piqua who has been fired as may times as he has.

"That $42,000 figure is more inflated than a Macy's Parade balloon."

For Jane Murray's views on this subject, check out her blog: 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Re-Branding of SSU

A recent announcement by Shawnee State University informs us that “The Office of Communications has been renamed the Office of Marketing and Communications to reflect its broader role in outreach, marketing, and branding.” I wrote a post about an earlier"rebranding" at SSU in July 2009, which I am reposting a slightly edited version of below. I was hard in the post on Wayne Allen who is a gifted writer, but he would have been better if the PDT  Community Common had had somebody who could proofread.

* * *

Will the cuddly Shawn E. Bear be euthanized?

      SSU’s Director of Communications Elizabeth Blevins was recently interviewed in the Community Common by reporter Wayne Allen on the subject of the “rebranding” of the university. Merriam-Webster defines the noun brand as a well-known and usually highly regarded or marketable name.” So rebranding might mean “changing a brand to make it better known, more highly regarded and marketable.” Last fall, feeling it was time for rebranding, a brand marketing team was assembled from different departments at the university. Wayne Allen, a former SSU student, reported, “It became clear to the team, the university needed a partner to help lead them through the entire branding project.” Incidentally, that comma after team creates a run-on sentence. The sentence would be perfectly correct and clear if Mr. Allen used the relative pronoun “that” instead of the comma. If he wanted to be a little more formal, he could have used a semicolon instead of the comma, something I discouraged students from doing when I taught freshman composition at SSU. Only if they understood the correct usage of commas and periods should they risk fooling around with semicolons. Just as guns should be kept out of the hands of children, semicolons should be kept out of the hands of novice writers.
      Some of my colleagues at the university knowledgeable about composition theory believed that it didn’t help to point out punctuation mistakes to students, because research shows it doesn’t help, and besides there are more important things to teach students about writing than punctuation, a view I agree with. But I circled the punctuation errors anyway, thousands and thousands of them, out of habit I suppose, proving the truth of the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And if a reporter for the Community Common and the Portsmouth Daily Times, like Allen, who attended SSU, writes run-on sentences, doesn’t it only go to prove my colleagues knew more about composition than I did? Allen proves trying to teach punctuation is a waste of time.
      Anyway, the “ partner” the SSU brand marketing team chose to advise them was Stamats, a marketing firm that specializes in helping institutions of higher education with marketing problems. I had never heard of Stamats before, but I was immediately put off by the name. Isn’t that name a marketing problem? If I were advising Stamats, I would urge them to change their name. I mean what the kind of a name for a business is Statmats anyway? It’s not only meaningless; it sounds stupid and looks ugly. Only when I visited the Stamats website did I learn how Stamats got its name. Stamats is the name of the family that founded the firm back in 1923, and what’s more, their website points out, Stamats is a palindrome, a word that is spelled the same forwards and backwards. Well, will wonders never cease. But it doesn’t stop there. Stamats is a name that keeps on giving, because Stamats is also an anagram, an anagram of Assmat. If Stamats was in the assmat business instead of the business of advising universities about rebranding, the name Stamats would be Ok, the same forward as backward, with an anagram thrown in for good measure, with all kinds of ass-backwards connotations. If I were in the business of rebranding, I would advise Stamats, if it declined to change its name, to at least adapt the slogan of Ohio’s Smucker’s jams: “With an anagram like Assmat, it’s got to be good!”
Better Layed Than Never
       But let’s get back to Allen’s interview with Blevins. “What they did for us is layed the architecture for going through this kind of process,” Allen quotes Ms. Blevins. There is,no such word as “layed.” What Wayne Allen had in mind probably was “laid,” the past of the verb “lay.” I used to advise students to try to avoid the verbs lie and lay, whose various parts are so confusing and difficult to remember that it’s easy to mix them up and embarrass yourself and others.
      Ms. Blevins goes on in the interview to say that the SSU brand-marketing team didn’t want to just toss around suggestions for a new logo and choose one haphazardly. “We wanted it (the new logo) to be more meaningful than that.” She said the university wanted a new logo to be based on research.  So the folks at Stamats advised the brand marketing team on the research. “The research consisted of conducting a survey of current students, facility [sic], staff, and alumni.” Although there is a Facility Dept. at SSU, Allen’s "facility" is probably a typo for faculty. I make mistakes like that sometimes in my blog, but I have a friend who proofreads for me. But that’s what managing editors at newspapers are supposed to do for reporters: keep an eye out for typos and the wrong homonym, such as “there” for “their.” Allen quotes Blevins as saying, “They came in [the students and “facility”] and told us what they think of, [sic] when they think of Shawnee State. What they think makes us (SSU) unique in there [sic] eyes.” Allen writes, a sentence later: “They were also asked what keeps them at SSU, among various other questions about there [sic] experiences.” Blevins goes on, as quoted by Allen, “In a time were [sic] resources are limited [sentence fragment]. We do not want to be wasteful, this will be a soft implementation” [run-on sentence]. Isn’t there a managing editor at the Daily Times company, which now owns the Community Common, or is proofreading, like doing away with a Monday issue, one more thing that the Times company has eliminated to cut costs? Without an editor to assist him, Allen, who doesn't have much facility with language, is, grammatically speaking, virtually bare ass, or since we are talking about SSU, I should say bear ass. But that is nothing compared to what PDT reporters sometimes must do if they want to keep their jobs. Times reporters know that reporting some facts can cost them their jobs, as two of the best and most experienced of the PDT reporters, Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla, discovered. [Barron was fired after reporting in a story in the PDT that someone who had been arrested for dealing drugs worked as a mechanic at Glockner's, a major advertiser in the PDT.]
      To sum up: the rebranding effort at SSU so far appears to consist mainly of slightly changing the curve of the Shawnee “S,” slightly changing the shade of the school’s blue and gray colors, and changing the cuddly looking  Shawnee Bear to a Grizzly.  Does this mean that the previously lovable Shawn E. Bear is going to be euthanized? If Shawnee State is going to continue to claim that its most marketable feature is that it is a student friendly place, shouldn’t the official SSU bear look a little friendlier, a little less lethally clawed, a little less grisly than the bear that SSU has just adopted?
      In one of Allen’s sentences near the end of his article, he makes an inspired error that shows a talent, if not a genius, for malapropism. It replaces my previous favorite Wayne Allen  malapropism, “imminent domain,” which when used in connection with developer Neal Hatcher, might more appropriately have been called “imminent doom.” Allen’s prize-deserving malapropism is, “There will be an official unavailing [sic] of the new look in the fall when all of the students are on campus.” “Unveiling” is the gerund Allen was not quite able to come up with, but  “unavailing” is even better, because it means “futile or useless,” or availing not. Is there a better word than “unavailing” to describe the current public relations effort on the part of SSU and its “partner” Stamats?
Annual Ranklings
      The other day I checked U.S. News’ annual rankings of American colleges and universities, which I know get no respect at SSU. Though SSU is no longer at the virtual bottom of the bottom fourth tier, the worst of the worst as they were ten years ago, they are still mired somewhere in that  fourth tier: SSU in the U.S. News rankings is not second-rate, not third-rate, but fourth-rate. There are a number of fine students and faculty at SSU, and let’s not forget the fine "facilities," but SSU's reputation is still in the toilet. Isn’t that the problem Stamats should be advising on, not the shades of the school colors, not the curve of the Shawnee S, and not the fangs and claws of the official Shawnee Bear. SSU is not likely to get out of that bottom tier anytime soon, not with former SSU students writing as carelessly as Allen does and not when SSU’s Director of Communication, presumably SSU’s resident expert on communication, spouts the public relations jargon the way she does. ("Soft implementation," indeed!) The notion that American business knows what's best for everybody, including those in higher education, carries a lot less weight than it did before the recent incredible display of incompetence and dishonesty by the business and financial class. Being more businesslike is hardly an unqualified virtue given the recent era of Bernard Madoff madness.
       I used to tell Shawnee students that Harvard was once viewed in England as the cow college in the colonies, but U.S. News now rates Harvard as the best university not only in the U.S. but in the world. Take that Oxford and Cambridge! I told students that maybe by the time their grandchildren are of college age SSU will have become a university they will want to attend and will be proud to say their grandparents attended. But on the basis of this current rebranding effort, I would say that day is much farther away than I thought. With rebranding efforts like the current one in which Stamats is involved, it may not be the grandchildren but the great-grandchildren who might one day may be able to take pride in their great-grandparents' degrees from Shawnee State.
      When I taught at SSU and struggled, along with others, to help raise it from a third-rate to a second-rate university, I adopted as my slogan a line by E. E. Cummings: “There is some shit I will not eat.” Before ending my reflections on rebranding, I will suggest a slogan for SSU, at least for English, if not Communications, majors. It is the title of a poem by the English Victorian author Arthur Hugh Clough (pronounced Cluff): “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth.” No marketing or communications experts, trained as they are in the art of deception, could possibly come up with a more inspiring use of the English language than Clough whose poem can be read by clicking here

SSU's new official bad-ass bear

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

301 Front St.: An Architectural Treasure?

301 Front Street, Portsmouth: An Architectural Treasure?

    One of the unfortunate things about the history of Portsmouth architecture is that in the original hand-written records, instead of listing the year, or at least the approximate year that an old house was built, somebody in the Scioto County Auditor's Office simply wrote "old." When the records were digitalized around 1998, "old" was a vaguely useless bit of data, so the Auditor's Office arbitrarily adopted the year 1900 for the birthdate of all nineteenth century buildings it did not have a definite year for, and 1950 for all twentieth century buildings it did not have a definite year for. If there was an ideal solution for the problem of dating Portsmouth's old buildings, attributing the years 1900 and 1950 to them by the Auditor's Office was far from  ideal.  Instead of being  vague about when a building was built by classifying them as "old," the digitalized records now are misleading because there are no asterisks or other indications that 1900 and 1950 are arbitrary and not the actual dates when the buildings came into being.

      Unlike wooden structures, which were victims of time, fire, and termites, one old brick building that survived and could be dated was  associated with a prominent, prolific family whose history was a matter of record,  namely the Kinney family. The style of the original Kinney house reflected the sober, even austere  Federal-style that predominated in  New England and the Northeast from the time of the Revolution to about 1830. The founder of the clan, Aaron Kinney and his wife were from Pennsylvania, whose state motto is "Virtue, Independence and Liberty," which suggests that morality had priority in the Keystone State.  The construction of the Kinney house was begun in 1810 but was not finished until 1812. At first,  as was the custom, the age of a building was dated from the time it was completed, not from when it was begun but from when it was finished, as a baby's age was determined not by when it was conceived but by when it was born. So the Kinney home became the 1812 House, but because the older a building was the more prestige it and the family associated with it had in a new county like America where everyone was supposed to be equal, the 1812 House became the 1810 house.  But not only was the date of the Kinney house changed, so eventually was its style of architecture. What makes the style of the 1810 House pretentious is the incongruous pillared front, which was added in 1913, over a century after the house had been built. Since it was like a Southern mini-manse in the ante-bellum South, it was a front in more than one sense. Those Kinneys who were born and raised and  became well-to-do in Portsmouth were the members of the nascent aristocracy of southern Ohio.  Like the Appalachian migrants they rubbed elbows with, the Kinneys were more influenced culturally and politically by the South than they were by Pennsylvania and New England. The unofficial motto of the city became, "Portsmouth,  where Southern hospitality begins." As it is currently looks,  the 1810 House could be said to be where Southern pretentiousness begins.

The 1810 House: "Where Southern pretentiousness begins."
   301 Front Street   

      If the date of the  construction of the Kinney house was known because of the prominence and importance of the Kinney family, the date of the house at 301 Front Street was lost because its occupant, James Salsbury (the spelling varied) was not the founder of a prominent family and the two-story brick Federal-style house he lived in, and perhaps was owner of, was a plain and unpretentious example of plebeian, vernacular architecture. The house  was built no later than 1820, and probably at least a few years earlier. It has apparently not been altered at all, at least externally, in the nearly two centuries of its existence. Salsbury was a saddler, a moderately successful one, or he wouldn't have been able to build a new house, assuming he owned it. He was active in local affairs, but he was obviously no Kinney, intellectually and socially, with no descendants who kept the Salsbury name alive who might have fiddled with 301 Front Street to make it more imposing and stylish. That is the beauty of 301 Front: its plainness and simplicity, its democratic, somewhat anonymous and by now gritty dignity. If John G. Peebles had not mentioned the house in passing in his journal, which Nelson W. Evans reprinted in his History of Scioto County (1903), where I found it, 301 Front Street might have historically gone up in smoke, so to speak.

      The current  records in the Auditor’s Office say 301 Front Street  was built in 1900, the arbitrary year assigned to older buildings. The unpretentious, two-story house  is an example of Federal-style architecture, which was popular in the United States between 1780 and 1830, and particularly in the thirty years between 1785 to 1830. There are few Federal-style houses  remaining in Portsmouth because there were relatively few to begin with, and the couple of unoccupied examples that remain are in sorry condition, with the exception of 301 Front Street, which up to now has been  a neglected, architectural treasure. (The reason it is a treasure may be precisely because it was neglected.) Its proportions, which haven't changed, seem perfect, like a small Greek temple. The reasons it was neglected may be in part because of errors made by Evans and/or by his  contemporary John G. Peebles, who had drawn a map in 1894 of Portsmouth as it purportedly had been in 1820, which Evans had relied on in drawing the  map he included in his history (Vol. 1, between pages 441-442). Evans is a somewhat unreliable source in determining the age of an old building.

   What's in a Name?   

      The names of Portsmouth Streets had changed over the course of the nineteenth century. Water Street had become Front Street, and West Second Street had become Madison Street. Either Evans or Peebles or both had made a hash of those streets in the following passage (I, 439), in which Evans appears to be quoting Peebles: "In-lot,  Number 227, on the southeast corner of Madison and [West] Second streets, had a small brick house in which James Salsbury lived after his marriage to Nancy Kehoe." The first mistake in this passage is that what is now 301 Front Street could not have been located  on any corner of Madison and [West] Second streets because those two are one and the same street, a street that was  first called West Second and later renamed Madison; and the in-lot on which the brick house was located, that is, the in-lot on the corner, was number 228, not number 227, though the two in-lots adjoined and were probably both part of the property. The house that was later numbered 301 Front was in 1820 on the corner of West Second and Water Street, or West Second and Front Street, if the name of Water Street had been changed by that time to Front Street. The passage of Peebles' journal that Evan's quotes from is in the section with the heading "Residents of Portsmouth, 1819-1821," so what is now 301 Front Street could have been in existence as early as 1819, and probably  at least several years earlier. It is remotely possible that 301 Front Street is about as old as the 1810 (really 1812) house.

      The  confusion about 301 Front Street is a reminder that words are symbols of the thing they represent, and not the the thing itself,  not what Kant called the "ding an sich," which is strictly and epistemologically speaking, unknowable. If we equate reality with the things language represents, we are being not only presumptuous but vulnerable. Words as symbols are not hard to manipulate and even when they are not being intentionally manipulated, they are subject to slippage, with one street becoming two and a corner occurring where none really exists, and with Water Street becoming Front. The latter change, incidentally, was probably an example of the conscious manipulation of symbols, in this instance words, for a purpose. Naming a street Water Street because a river is adjacent to it becomes a disadvantage when the river periodically floods over not just Water Street but half the city,  something a real estate agent and property  owners on Water Street would not want prospective buyers to be reminded of. Similarly, the change of the name of West Second Street to Madison was done for patriotic, i.e., political reasons, as was the change of another street to Jefferson Street. Later, in the twentieth century, I discovered in the Portsmouth Public Library, a woman trying to raise money for the 1810 House gave as one of the reasons the public should  support the house was because it represented "the American way of life," not just the Kinney way of life. But since the 1810 House had become architecturally Southern "gentrifried" by that time, what she was really saying was that the house represented not so much the American way of life as the Southern American way of life. Wasn't  the periodic appearance of  the Ku Klux Klan in Portsmouth throughout the twentieth century a manifestation of the darker side of this Southern American way of life? And is not Jo Ann Aeh's imminent return by underhanded electoral means to the Portsmouth City Council not a reminder of the recent underhanded return to the city manager form of city government. The return to a city manager was a virtual coup d'etat orchestrated by the International City/County Managerial Association. It  did not change Portsmouth politically for the better, and the hiring of a convicted perjurer as city manager virtually guaranteed that it would be crooked business as usual, a feature of that crooked business being the game of musical chairs that is facilitated by the four-year terms of council members who frequently do not finish their terms, giving the council the opportunity to appoint their obliging, rubber stamp  replacements?
      The  bright spot in the recent history of  301 Front Street is that it was purchased in  September, 2014,  by a  young  sociology professor  at Shawnee State University. Sean Dunne is not an ivory tower academic. He is actively involved in community projects, which has earned him a place on our prevaricating city manager’s hit list. Derek Allen's attempt to pass a falsehood off as truth got him in a lot of trouble when he was a member of the city government in Piqua, where they would not hire him as dogcatcher after he was found guilty of perjury, having  testified under oath to what was not true. But that did not prevent the Portsmouth City council from hiring the perjured Allen at a $100,000 plus salary, with a generous severance package as city manager after he persuaded the search committee, with his deceptive words, that he was not really a perjurer.  In the year Dunne  has owned 301 Front Street, he has made major improvements in the inside of the building, probably spending more money than anyone ever has  upgrading the property.  He estimates he has already spent and gone into debt to the tune of about $30,000, without a dime of assistance from the city government or semi-public agencies, Among the improvements he has made was ridding the cellar of termites and removing the huge old sycamore tree near the rear of his house. Because the tree had become hollowed out as it aged, which happens with sycamores, it was leaning toward and in danger of falling on and crushing the small old house. In addition, an inspection of the house by a professional revealed the roots of the sycamore was  damaging the foundation of the house, making its removal imperative.  

      That Professor Dunne was willing to go into debt to buy and upgrade the property—and remove the menacing tree—is ironic in view of what has happened to another historic,  far larger  and more imposing Boneyfiddle house that I have recently written about in River Vices (see link below). I refer to  633 4th Street, the last two owners of which, a lawyer and a doctor, with much more earning potential than a college  professor, were not willing to go to the  expense of removing the towering trees that had turned into  twin Frankensteins. What  the present absentee owner of 633 4th, the doctor, did, instead of removing at least the more menacing of the two trees, was hide its exposed roots behind a new brick wall, the old wall having been pushed over by the tree’s  slowly clambering roots. For anchorage and nutriments, a  tall tree needs its roots to extend up to fifty feet from the trunk of the tree. The tree in the confining northwest corner of  633 4th Street  had become imprisoned, and in an attempt to break out of its imprisonment, had put pressure on the wall, which eventually toppled over. Walled up again, that partially uprooted tree could topple over onto Washington Street at any time, but especially in high winds. It was fortunate that the tree whose roots had been cut had not killed or maimed some child when it fell in  Tracy Park (see the link below). If and when the Frankenstein tree falls on Washington Street, who knows what it might do? Perhaps what our city  needs are more civic-minded college professors and fewer shyster lawyers, like Mike Mearan, fewer absentee landlord-doctors, like Dr. Singer, and fewer prevaricating city managers like Derek Allen.

Sean Dunne with SSU students at a recent meeting 
of the North Central Sociological Association.

Relevant Posts

Update on a Cover-up (click here)
Deathtrap for Tots (click here)
The Dragoness Jo Ann Aeh (click here)
Don't confuse the Klan with the Klutzes (click here)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Update on a Cover-up

October 2014: And the Wall Came Tumbling Down

      I published a post on River Vices (29 October 2014) on the  wall that fell on Washington Street, as shown in the photo above (click here for the link to that post). The fallen wall was part of the property belonging to Dr. Alain Asher at 633 4th Street. Today I am posting a follow-up to that post, arguing that a cover-up is taking place of what was revealed when the wall fell, which is shown in the photo above. What was revealed when the wall fell was that the roots on the ground to the east of the towering tree at the corner of 4th and Washington Street were and still are largely above ground. Tree roots are supposed to be below ground, anchoring the tree,  but the roots of this tree, on the wall side of the tree, were not, and still are not,  anchoring the tree. In order to anchor a tree, roots must be in the ground below and must be able to spread laterally in order for the tree to live and grow.

      The roots on the eastern side of the tree are not anchoring the tree because they are above ground. What the roots are trying to do is find ground to grow deeper and farther into the ground, but the wall and the concrete sidewalk prevented the roots from extending in an easterly direction. There was  a conflict between the roots and the wall. A very slow motion sumo wrestling match between the tree and the wall had been going on for many years.  Compared to the humungous towering tree, the brick wall was a 97-pound  weakling, so there was no question about who was going to win this wrestling match.

      The towering tree and its nearby companion tree should have been cut down  some time ago by the previous owner. But that would have been  a considerable expense, and also that would make the property  look somewhat naked. It would certainly look a lot less sylvan and marketable  without those trees.  Perhaps one of the reasons Dr. Asher bought the property is he was captivated by those majestic trees, as anyone who appreciates nature would. But when nature poses a threat to people, as those trees do to pedestrians on the sidewalk and the drivers of vehicles passing along Washington Street, people should come first. But now, in not cutting  down those trees,  Asher in my opinion is not only bricking over, he is  covering up the problem.  The tree with the roots exposed could be toppled by high winds or it might because of gravity fall on Washington Street without warning. The city was lucky when the tree that fell at Tracy Park didn't injure or kill a child or parent (click here for a relevant post). The city had been warned publicly by me and others of the danger of trees in Tracy Park falling because some of their roots had been cut in the construction of the playground. If there  had been deaths or injuries, for ignoring those warnings the city could have been sued for millions.

      Not surprisingly, in  view of the wildly inflated price Asher had paid for 633 4th Street,  he failed to find a buyer when he put it on the market. When the wall fell, a sale became virtually impossible. Asher paid the Johnsons $440, 500 for the property, which was almost twice the $244, 150  the County Auditor's Office valued the property at. So Asher paid the Johnsons almost $200,000 more than  the county auditor's valuation. If the property had been on the Hill, that would have been one thing, but 633 4th is in the heart of the Boneyfiddle district, where the value of property, already low because of the chronically poor Portsmouth housing market,  dropped further because of the presence of the Counseling Center, which has been attracting drug addicts to Boneyfiddle from the tri-state area for decades. Petty crime is rife in the city,  but much of it goes unreported because the victims feel reporting it is pointless.

      I asked the bricklayers who are building the wall if they had a building permit, and one of them said replacing the wall was restoration, and restoration projects do not need building permits. But this is not just a restoration, it is a cover-up that hides a potentially dangerous problem. The city will be liable because it is allowing the cover-up to continue when what it should require is the removal of the two trees because they are a danger to the public. The City Engineering Department reportedly recently sent someone to inspect the project. If the inspector  didn't see the roots, which are the root of the problem,  then just what did he see?

     The  problem  is even worse than I have suggested because the section of the wall that still stands, the section on 4th Street, appears to be unstable because of the pressure from the roots of the companion tree. The sidewalk of 4th Street side of the property was in such bad condition some years back  that I posted an article on River Vices warning that it was hazardous for pedestrians (click here). It was not long afterwards that the sidewalk was repaired by the developer Neal Hatcher's construction company. The infamous photo of Hatcher giving me the finger was taken while his workmen were completing the sidewalk repairs. One of Hatcher's redeeming features is that he is not a hypocrite. Our city government, on the other hand, reeks of hypocrisy. I think it is worse now that we have a carpet-bagging, convicted liar as  city manager. When we had the doofus Jim Kalb as mayor, at least he lived in his own home, in Portsmouth. Allen's home is in Piqua, so he rents an apartment from Neal Hatcher. If one of the trees falls on you, you will be no less crippled or dead whether we have a city manager or a mayor. If you are killed by a falling tree,  at least you will find a place in earth even if those roots don't.

Towering tree with new yet-to-be-painted red brick wall (lower right)

Other Relevant Posts:

"Kiwanis Playground: Deathtrap for Tots?" Click here
                                      "The Hole Truth": click here