When Mayor Jim Kalb called the City Council to order, standing on the steps of the city building, a crowd of residents spilled out through the lobby doors. Councilwoman JoAnn Aeh made the motion to appoint Sam Sutherland as Interim City Manager. Kevin W. Johnson then nominated Derek Allen (whose recent dismissal had triggered the crisis). The crowd broke out in boisterous applause, which momentarily delayed the proceedings.
Mayor Kalb objected to Allen’s nomination, suggesting it would be illegal. After requesting the City Solicitor’s opinion, John Haas stated that the city charter stipulated the interim must be appointed from among the city’s current department heads.
The vote was then called and four members cast their ballots in favor of Sutherland, two voted against. The factions held — Kalb, Aeh, Lowe, and Meadows (the Anti-Allen partisans) continued to ride roughshod over the objections of Kevin E. Johnson and Kevin W. Johnson.
The contest has the potential to realign Portsmouth political coalitions, and, in the process, divide the local Republican Party, whose leadership is increasingly being undermined by scandals. It is an open secret that the Bryan Davis faction of the local Republican party, which controls the county commission, has been seeking the ouster of Allen for months.
City Solicitor John Haas addresses the public at a special meeting of the Portsmouth City Council on the 23rd of December, 2017. In order to accommodate an outraged public, Portsmouth City Council held its meeting in the lobby of the City Building. Residents were restricted by council to keep their comments to the issue of appointing an Interim City Manager. Left-to-right, Jo Ann Aeh (2nd Ward), James Kalb (4th Ward), Tom Lowe (6th Ward), Gene Meadows (5th Ward), Diana Ratliff (City Clerk), Kevin W. Johnson (1st Ward), Kevin E. Johnson (3rd Ward), and John Haas (City Solicitor). Photo Credit: Screenshot from Crowd Agency Live Stream
While Derek Allen is not without his flaws and has come under deserved criticism for his handling of the city’s homeless population, he does have his champions, residents who believe he has helped re-establish order and fiscal solvency, contributing to Portsmouth’s recent stirrings of recovery and renewal — what progress the city has seen over the last several years. Moreover, they question whether the Anti-Allen faction followed the charter and “due process” in their snap decision to fire the City Manager.
It is safe to say that if history is any guide, Allen’s firing is headed to the courts; his dismissal will undoubtedly be challenged and damages against the city sought. At this point, only reversing their vote to dismiss and the establishment of an orderly hearing process to take up the accusations against Allen, may avert the costly lawsuit and recall campaigns. However, if today’s vote on Sam Sutherland is any indication, the Anti-Allen faction is not about to reverse their misguided and disastrous decision.
Before the year is out, City Council will meet for what is being billed as "Round Three" in this political contest. Thursday, December 28th’s meeting, which is scheduled for 6pm, at the old Portsmouth High School Gym, will be the biggest one, yet. So far, the public has largely been denied an opportunity to express their sentiments and have them recorded in the Council’s official minutes. Yet, if you were listening today, there were folks shouting out comments and criticisms for all to hear. And from the voices in the crowd, residents are already organizing for a recall campaign against Kalb, Aeh, Lowe, and Meadows.
Peerless Portsmouth sounds bound and determined to retain one of its more controversial nicknames, “Ohio’s Recall City.”
For those unfamiliar with past recall elections in Portsmouth, a refresher may be in order. Its first worth noting that some of the players in today’s controversy are no strangers to the recall phenomenon. Jim Kalb, the current mayor, first took on the role of mayor when city voters recalled Mayor Greg Bauer in 2004. At the time of the recall, Kalb served as President of the City Council and the charter stipulated that in the case of a recall, the Council President would assume the position of Mayor.
Thirteen years later, at the end of 2017, following another round of recalls and a charter amendment that established a City Manager form of government, Jim Kalb once again serves on City Council, representing the Fourth Ward, and serves as Mayor, having been chosen by council to be its presiding officer. JoAnn Aeh, the once, long-serving City Council Clerk, who now represents the Second Ward, is remembered for her role in past recall petition drives, as it fell to her, as Clerk, to approve or deny the validity of petition signatures.
The Southern Ohio Progressive Movement encourages city residents to get involved, be active, be engaged. Support a local free press. Demand that our local news outlets get to the bottom of this evolving scandal. Demand that Ohio’s open meeting and public records laws are respected and not violated. Always remembering, once again, Isaiah’s scriptural advice, “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.”