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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Recall of the Mayor of Portsmouth, Ohio

"The votes are in and it's out with the old, in with the new -- with all 19 precincts reporting, voters in Portsmouth overwhelmingly decided to recall Mayor Jane Murray. The final vote: 63 percent voted for the recall -- 36 percent voted to keep Mayor Murray in office. Voter turnout for this special election was 26 percent." (WSAZ News, November 7 2010)

Along with initiatives like fixed election dates and voter-initiated referenda, recall legislation is an attempt to give ordinary citizens more power.  The simple act of voting every four or five years may not be enough of an effective mechanism for genuine citizen engagement. Citizens deserve effective tools to use in order to hold politicians accountable. In Portsmouth, Ohio, the voters determined Jane Murray needed to be relieved of office. Proper steps for recall were taken by committee; the election was held; and the mayor was recalled.

A recall does just that - it gives the populace a democratic process for ending an officeholder's term before more extensive damage may occur. Equally important, a recall gives an officeholder's supporters an opportunity to show overwhelming support for continued initiatives. A recall is not, as some would call it, a "one-sided affair." The recall gives both sides an equal opportunity to demonstrate their case for continued contractual public service.

The process of recall is not a pleasant exercise for anyone involved. Informed people realize its serious consequences. Negativity on the part of both sides surfaces as people understand the gravity of their vote. Inevitably, the past and the present actions of a recalled official take center stage in the minds of the voters while promises of a better future rest in the balance. 

Recall is a stinging reminder for those who hold office that their constituencies hold tremendous judgmental power at their discretion. By most accounts, good politicians should have nothing to fear from the implementation.  If they are doing their job in representing their constituents well, theoretically recall will never be initiated. But, the balance of power must always remain with the people, and recall ultimately strengthens the will of one person as an all-important voice with a single vote. Recall is direct, human-level democracy.

Some might say the smaller number of voters in many recall elections makes the outcome less representative. To counter that, people need only to view the real motivations for casting a ballot in any election, general or special. Indifference and general lack of involvement are negative traits of an American citizen unacceptable to those who carry hopes for progress and positive change. If people do not vote in a critical recall, they should not complain about the results. In brief, these people have chosen to shirk one of their democratic obligations.

New mayor David Malone and Portsmouth City Council is now faced with a tremendous challenge. The people have spoken at the polls, and now, city government must respond to their concerns with new, united determination and vigor. Instead of making the new year a continuation of past disagreements, they must make it a totally new beginning. The opportunity for improvement is great, but now the citizens look to the leadership of the city for action. 

Oliver Cromwell said, "Not only strike while the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking." This quote is appropriate in the present situation. Timely movement, not stagnation, is the key to improving Portsmouth and its government. Council is well advised to heal any open sores and proceed with cooperation and unity. Above all, council should remember that all people contribute to the lifeblood of the community.

As equals, city workers can return to their chosen fields of expertise and support others as teammates in these trying times. No one likes to feel threatened in their environment or feel forced to endure undue hardships. All people have strengths that must be nurtured to full development. Indeed, all have shortcomings that require sensitive attention. If those in control do not wish to offer common courtesy to all, the city loses. If lies lead to injustice, the city loses. And, if people desire power instead of the common good, the city dies.

I supported the recall of Mayor Jane Murray. I am not ashamed or sorry for lending my support to this effort. I understand that controversy is sure to follow the vote. People will argue that the recall was unneeded as well as a waste of time and money. But, when an important election draws 3,123 votes (26% participation), the vast majority of eligible voters in the city did not care to express their concern. How can the populace gripe about the outcome of the recall? I believe the city required the change. I cast my single vote to validate my view.

I sincerely hope Mayor Malone can help mend fences and establish new, effective order. Some people will surely nitpick his decisions and cite the recall as a scapegoat for all fault, so he must be prepared to face such criticism. The city council serves the people, yet many Portsmouth residents expect complete discord as the order of the day. This ridiculous mentality has pervaded the area for so long that many buy stock in the "Good Ole Boys" theory of subversive control. What a shame to denigrate the system that struggles to serve.

Granted, city government must open doors and seek new blood for the sake of needed reform and renewal; however, despite its problems, Portsmouth is living testimony to the determination of the Appalachian spirit. Many strong-willed, educated individuals have dedicated themselves to the betterment of the area. They understand the epidemic of drugs, the criminal element, and the lack of employment that thwart almost all new positive development. Still, many residents do not yet know that Ohio, even the nation, views Scioto County as an area that continually fights as a model of activism and determination in the face of overwhelming problems.

The worst enemy of the average citizen in Portsmouth may be reflected in his/her mirror. I am not trying to upset anyone with this comment. Sometimes the truth is so simple that it is easily overlooked. A simple exercise of self inspection may be beneficial for the young and old.You may ask yourself these few questions about your contributions to the present pervasive attitudes pertaining to the city limits.

1. Do I insist on living in a Portsmouth of the past, disdaining most reality?
2. Am I guilty of spreading nothing but negative attitudes about Portsmouth?
3. Do I actively contribute to building any positive image about Portsmouth?
4. Am I a person who believes nothing can improve in Portsmouth?

No one expects miracles with the recall, but council should give immediate attention to major issues. When the team works for possible solutions together, workers' expectations run high and all involved feel they are critical to all successes. Just as important, those who labor for progress need proper support and equal consideration. And, efforts to unite the wards and build better relations with city employees should help.

As people contribute their constructive ideas, they expect to be privileged to answers, not just questions and tabled agendas. Anyone with an active share in success will help raise negative images while working harder. Attaining important goals that strengthen the very foundations of Portsmouth must become exercises involving common, compromised decisions that require everyone to sacrifice purely personal agendas. In essence, leaders must slip on the shoes of an enormously varied population, tread their streets, open their ears, and respond.

I wish all of the elected officials good luck. I know their challenges are great. I honestly hope my vote for the recall restores confidence in Portsmouth, in city government, and in the will of the citizens. Council, please forge new alliances that make a difference. Our elected officials are the following:    

      Mayor of Portsmouth - David Malone

  • First Ward - Kevin Johnson 
  • Second Ward - To Be Decided
  • Third Ward - Nicholas Basham 
  • Fourth Ward - Jerrold Albrecht
  • Fifth Ward - John Haas
  • Sixth Ward - Richard Noel
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