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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is This the Town Without Pity?

Let's see, it is very hard to keep up with Portsmouth city politics these days. I hope I have this correct. The reports here were published on so-called "reliable" sources, and I did my best to sort out many of the major details of our new mayor's first couple of weeks in office. It's all very confusing, so remember my blog entry is pieced from what I could understand as well as what I could read. I have no way to verify all the stories you are about to read. I am, in no way, condemning or condoning anything here. Please read this as merely informational.  I could find no secondary sources. And, no attempt is being made to sway any public opinion or discredit any public official.

Well, once upon a time ... Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray said, "I found gross negligence and mismanagement and I promised to clean up this government." And so the mayor...

1. The Portsmouth Daily Times reported Murray sent a "threatening" letter before being sworn in to the Department of Energy concerning the Piketon facility, demanding to be given “immediate consulting party status for all reviews at Piketon in compliance with the National Historic Protection Act.” Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones wrote a  memo in which he said Murray did not consult with him before making those moves and putting the city in a position of potential liability.

2. In her first hours in office Monday, January 4, Mayor Murray fired Public Utilities (Filtration) Director Sam Sutherland, Public Utilities (Sewage Treatment) Director Richard Duncan, Portsmouth Public Service Director Chris Murphy (he claims without notice and without cause) and his assistant Sherri Prater. Mayor Murray reportedly said she did this without regrets.

3. Quickly fulfilling a promise to consolidate city government, at the same time Murray appointed Jeffrey Peck as the Commissioner of Engineering & Public Services.. She also appointed Bill Beaumont as the Assistant Commissioner. Peck and Beaumont will oversee the four departments -- engineering, public service, water and sewage --  in which the other directors were let go.
4. Portsmouth City Solicitor Michael L. Jones sent a "terse" memo to Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray, warning her of the possible ramifications of recent personnel decisions and statements made to the media that — “may expose the city of Portsmouth to potential liability.”

Jones said, “During your first two days as Mayor of the city of Portsmouth, you have made many decisions and issued several statements to the local media. For the record, I want to be clear that these decisions and statements were made without my prior knowledge and I was never consulted in my capacity as City Solicitor before such decisions and statements were made.”

In the memo, Jones said he believes Murray’s decisions and statements may have exposed the city to possible legal action by terminated department heads.

5. One week into taking office, Mayor Jane Murray’s Chief of Staff Peter “Pete” Mingus then resigned "for personal reasons." Upon further questioning, Mingus took the time to elaborate on his reason.

“I love that town. I want to be there. I want to do good. But I just don’t think that I’m in the right place,” Mingus said after announcing his resignation. “I don’t want to say anything malicious against anyone, or give the impression that I left for any particular one reason. But it is just best that I seek other opportunities.”

6. According to one source, Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray criticized the salaries of some high-ranking employees, while, at the same time, saying she would ask Portsmouth City Council for a raise.

Murray said she had originally promised Commissioner of Engineering and Public Services, Jeffrey Peck, a salary of $70,000. The City Charter states the mayor must be the highest paid department head in the city, and the mayor’s salary is just under $60,000 a year. Murray later said she was able to get Peck to accept a salary of $65,000, but that would still call for the need to raise her salary to that level as well.

Murray also indicated she will ask for pay for Assistant Commissioner Bill Beaumont to be paid $50,000, and her chief of staff, $49,800.

7. Mayor Murray reported told the Portsmouth Daily Times she had signed a contract to allow Mark Harner of Sciotoville to take over handling insurance coverage. Gary Duzan of Portsmouth Insurance Agency said Murray told them she did not appreciate the Kalb administration negotiating the insurance rate three months before she was to take over.

Portsmouth Insurance Agency said Anthem agreed to allow the city to keep that 12-month rate for 16 months. The parties considered that a good deal., took the renewal date to October, which allowed them to renew for 15 months, taking it to Jan. 1, 2011, to coincide with the city’s budget.

“I said, ‘Jane, let me go back and paint a picture for you as to what happened,’ and I did … her comment was — "Oh,” Duzan said, “if you look at today’s paper it’s totally different. We’re doing all of these things … and that’s just not true.”

Duzan also said that the insurance is now going through a company in Jackson, Ohio, which is operated by Eric Braunlin, a brother-in-law to new Assistant City Commissioner Bill Beaumont.

8. Murray had recently sent a letter to the management at the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office in Lexington, accusing them of not responding to recommendations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and requesting “immediate consulting party status for all reviews at Piketon in compliance with the National Historic Protection Act.”

Murray was asked about her views by some Pike County officials who described her actions as “obstructionist.”

“That’s wrong,” Murray said. “The Pike County Commissioners had asked for a meeting yesterday (Thursday) at 3 (p.m.) o’clock, and I agreed to it. We kept checking to see if they wanted to reschedule because of the weather. But they never came, and never canceled the meeting. We’re not obstructionists in what we’re trying to do, and the union saw that very clearly.”

9. Now, Portsmouth is not in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirement to operate the Wastewater Treatment Plant, according to a letter to Portsmouth City Councilman Jerrold Albrecht from the Ohio EPA.

“As we discussed earlier, Portsmouth operates a Class IV Wastewater Treatment facility, which must be under the direction of a Class IV operator 40 hours and five days a week,” Michael Yandrich, Division of Surface Water, Southeast District Office, EPA wrote. “The scenario apparently proposed by Mayor (Jane) Murray does not fulfill this obligation. Since the Lawson Run facility does not have a Class III operator on staff to act as a temporary operator (for up to 30 days), Portsmouth must have a Class IV operator for the full 40 hours per week.”

10. And, finally, even though Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray expected to have Portsmouth City Council pay for the remodeling of her office, pass a raise in pay, and create new positions and the pay rate to go with them, those
items were all defeated at Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council meeting. Murray began, this, her first official meeting by threatening Portsmouth City Council with misdemeanor charges.

I have no idea what is transpiring this January in Portsmouth, Ohio. It is evident people are not very happy with city issues. What will the next step be? Will it be in the right direction? Jane Murray was elected mayor by popular vote, and she, evidently, is following through on promises to make some sweeping changes. Every day brings a new headline of unsettled waters. Some people have been suddenly swept away and some are holding the high ground. My hope is for the survival of all participants and the betterment of our town. No one should suffer needlessly in political transition.

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