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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sounding Off About the Columbia Music Arena

The Columbia Music Arena Squawk

This is a political drama of four acts set at City Hall in Portsmouth, Ohio, the scene of intense arguments over important city issues such as public parking in private spaces, the correct operations of city traffic lights, the legal possession of the unconfirmed famed landmark Indian Rock, the quandary over the city ownership of the empty Martings Building, the plight of the homeless Portsmouth Police Department, and now the BIG NOISE DOWNTOWN!

The Players

Jim Kalb - former Portsmouth Mayor; current Fourth Ward City Councilman; operator Columbia Music Arena

Lee Scott - owner of Columbia Music Arena

Local citizens - people concerned with disturbing the peace

Local business operators - people concerned with disturbing the peace

Mike Jones - City Solicitor

Portsmouth City Council - local governing body

State of Ohio - state governing body

Plot Summary

ACT I “The Noise Begins”

1. City's Noise Ordinance Broken:

Former Portsmouth Mayor and current Fourth Ward City Councilman Jim Kalb, who operates Columbia Music Arena, receives a disturbing the peace charge for violating the city’s noise ordinance at the music arena.

2. Portsmouth Court Date For Fighting the City Noise Ordinance:

Kalb wants a resolution, so he has a court date for October 3 in Portsmouth Municipal Court.

3. Late Night Crowds Want Loud Music After 11:00 P.M.:

Kalb, irate about the city intrusion into private enterprise, claims the high-volume-seeking crowds at the Columbia Music Arena begin arriving around the same time they have been having to close, which has drastically hurt “the business.”

ACT II “To Charter Or Not To Charter”

4. Owner Says the Resolution To the Noise Problem Is To "Do Away With the Portsmouth City Charter" and Let the Music Play:

Meanwhile, Lee Scott, owner of the Columbia, is meeting with legal representation to formulate the wording for a ballot issue that would do away with the Portsmouth City Charter. He wants to revoke the charter and all ordinances that have been set up under the said charter and, instead, use the Ohio Revised Code for deciding the legality of everything in question.

5. The Locals Say the Resolution To the Noise Problem Is To Install a Roof on the Columbia:

In opposition, several citizens and business operators believe that Scott is breaking the city noise ordinance since the part of the facility where the bands perform has no roof. The citizens have brought forth allegations of loud, amplified musical volume and vulgarities that they consider “disturbing the peace” emanating from the music venue.

6. Scott Wants To Operate the Music Arena Under A-5 State Law and Continue Late Night Loud Noise:

Scott maintains he has obtained all permits, and was cleared by the city in constructing the building following a fire in 2007. Currently, under the state law, he has an A-5 arena, meaning he has the same rights as “a football field” in the same area of the city.

ACT III “Nobody Likes Me”

7. Scott Says Locals Are Against Him, No One Else, and a Roof Won't Necessarily Solve the Loud Noise Problems:

Scott says this about his problem: "It’s all local. I can’t do anything. I can’t go over their head. They’ve put their own restrictions on us and everything, and if we are under the Ohio Revised Code, we have the same rights as Columbus, Cincinnati, and all the other places that have arenas just like mine."

Scott continues, “Only certain people are complaining, for the most part, on my noise. It’s not about the noise. It’s about me.” Scott says, “They’re trying to impose their charter on me with their noise limitation for what they want. They won’t do it to anybody else.” He contends, "When I put a $300,000 roof and everything on this place, what kind of assurances do I have that I’m not gonna have the same problem? - I get none - no assurances whatsoever.”

8. Scott Complains to City Solicitor Mike Jones But Claims Jones and Others Don't Want to "Give Him Anything" and, Instead "Force Their Little City Ordinance On Him:

Scott says he attempted to talk to City Solicitor Mike Jones about the problems at the Columbia. He claims Jones did invite him to come to his office and talk with him about the problem.

“But he doesn’t want to give me anything,” Scott says. “They want us closed by 11 (p.m.) o’clock. And if we have state rule in here, then they can’t force their little city ordinances on me. They can’t revamp them. They can’t remake them and interpret them to mean what they want them to mean, because then it means what the state wants it to mean.”

ACT IV “The 'Special' Vote For the Volume”

9. Scott Vows to Begin Petitions Process Monday To Put the Issue on a Special Election:

Scott says he hopes to begin the petitions process by Monday. Scott contends it is probably too late to get the issue on November’s ballot, and will probably be brought up at a special election.

The City Ordinance

Radios, phonographs, etc. The use or operation, or permitting the placement, use or operation of any radio receiving set, musical instrument, phonograph, stereo, CD player, cassette tape player or other machine or device for the production or reproduction of sound in such manner as to disturb the peace, quiet and comfort of the neighboring inhabitants or at any time with louder volume than is necessary for convenient hearing for the person or persons who are in the room, vehicle or chamber in which such machine or device is operated and who are voluntary listeners thereof. The operation of any such set, instrument, phonograph, stereo, CD player, cassette tape player, machine or device in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of fifty feet from the building or structure, or six feet beyond a vehicle in which it is located shall be prima-facie evidence of a violation of this section. This section shall be waived for those persons who have obtained a permit through the Police Department for organized functions during hours listed on the permit. Public safety and service vehicles are exempt.

Stay tuned for further updates. What will happen as wheels turn and deals progress? Your guess is as good as mine. Only the players know their true intent and purpose. Rumors and innuendo continue to add flames to the controversy. And, the public waits with baited breath to discover the true protagonists and antagonists of the drama.

Will the open air of late nights continue to reverberate with pounding drums, screaming guitars, and gruff mofo vocals as fines continue to accumulate in the office of Mr. Kalb? Or, will someone or some office pay for a new roof and allow sweet silence once again to descend upon the sleepy city streets of Portsmouth?

And how about the laws? Will the city maintain the right to restrict unwanted, noisy behavior? Or, will the Ohio Revised Code be allowed to supersede the will of the offended locals? Perhaps the voting public will ultimately decide the proper volume levels.

And, perhaps most pertinent, will Mr. Scott, with permits and all, continue to feel he is the object of some local conspiracy to quell his musical noise and limit his essential assurances? Or, will his connections to city council sway the city government to rule in favor of operations unrestricted by local ordinance and public concern?

You can be sure that whatever transpires will bring new twists and turns to city government and local business operations. In the meantime, some themes have already developed. The wise audience surely understands the wisdom revealed thus far. Lessons to be learned include the following:
  1. If it's loud, roof it.
  2. If it's not roofed and loud, don't legally approve it.
  3. If it's roofed and not loud, no one will mind.
  4. If it's not roofed and not loud, few will likely mind. 
Through this drama based on real-life situations, we are able, once again, to explore the lengths of human endurance and the need for cooperation between business and government as private motivations displace the demands for common good.

The entire conflict reminds me of a scene from my distant teenage years. I believe I was seventeen at the time. It went something like this...

I entered my room, and I plugged my guitar in my Fender Deluxe Reverb. Next, I turned the volume knob way up and stepped on the Fuzztone hoping to get that Hendrix “thing” just right. I put my hands on the neck of my Gibson SG and grabbed that crazy E flat diminished something weird chord and hit the strings. As my bedroom walls began to shake a little, I started to sing, "Purple Haze, all in my brain..."

Just then I heard my dad yell from the front room, “Turn that shit down!” And, since I knew better in the first place and since my dad would likely kick my ass if I ignored his displeasure for classic rock, I quickly spun the volume level that read '7' back to '2.'

In my house the local noise ordinance was enforced at my father's discretion. And, he didn't buy any of that "you're picking on me and my budding musical career" bullshit. There was no voting on contested issues and no state law that usurped his authority.

Dad wasn't into loud and rowdy. In fact, he and Mom watched Porter Wagoner and Lawrence Welk every Saturday night to get their musical entertainment for the week.

I played a little more, turned off my amp, and put my guitar back in its case. I opened my door and began walking down the hall to the living room. There, I saw my father sitting comfortably in his chair reading The Portsmouth Times. Just about the time I reached the back door, he noticed me and said with a grin, "And, don't forget to get a haircut this week, too."

I knew I wouldn't get away with letting my hair grow longer. I chuckled a little to myself and quietly shut the door.

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