Man waving

Andrew Ginther
George Pearson, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Part Two

Across the board, budgets and staffing are insufficient for the City to meet its legal obligations. As a result, the city is a dirty, physical wreck. Visitors who venture beyond the steroid-spewing The Arnold Classic in the Convention Center, within a few blocks of OSU’s football or basketball stadia, or venture into the city for an overpriced steak from the Memorial golf tournament almost universally comment on this.

But unable or unwilling to “see” their city or govern it, Council and mayor give away 100s of millions of dollars indiscriminately to special interests private and pseudo-public groups and individuals. They act as if a full proposal with specific plan, budget, timetable, and measures of accounting and accountability were themselves illegal, rather than the opposite.

Giving millions of dollars to a private start-up coding boot-camp company that lacks any qualifications may not literally break the law. But there is no consequence or even admission of failure when it emerges that the inexperienced outfit is also unlicensed. There is no formal requirement for the countless private corporations that receive unnecessary tax abatements of a variety of kinds to meet their “aspirational” employment or other goals. Nothing matters.

That is an ethical, administrative, and governing crime against the public and councilors’ own job descriptions and oaths of office. The complete lack of awareness across City government constitutes another crime against the public who, after all, pay for these officials’ and their staff’s salaries and directly or indirectly for their unaccountable, unstudied giveaways.

Especially egregious is the Mayor’s and Council’s addiction to tax abatements and tax transfers to private developers and corporations and massive institutions like Ohio State University and its $100 million Leslie Wexner-endowed Medical Center for “special improvement” or “innovation districts.” These are radical giveaways without any measure of accountability, checks, or balances. With hits $2 billion, only-rising endowment, OSU does not meet this municipal socialism. This amounts to undemocratic public for private socialism, the Columbus Way.

Policy and development experts differ on the wisdom and legitimacy of public underwriting of these often for-profit enterprises. The Wexner Medical Center functions as an OSU profit center. No knowledgeable persons, however, endorse such actions without accountability.

Moreover, I underscore first in Columbus such giveaways are ordinarily not approved by voters. Second, they result directly in the underfunding, understaffing, and deterioration of the Columbus City Schools and Columbus Police Department as well as City services more generally. The contradictions are massive; the consequences tragic. We know who losses and who gains. Never the voting, tax-paying public. Not in Columbus, Ohio.

Third, a recent survey by the failing Columbus Dispatch’s only reporter permitted to write critically about City Hall reiterates the common result: “failure to hit job-creation goals no problem for developers with city tax abatements.” (Bill Bush, Oct. 28, 2022) Bill Bush leads with the example of 163,000 square feet of space near Polaris Fashion Place that is six years into its ten year gift (or is it grift?), “despite never coming close to the number of full-time jobs it promised to create.”

The executive vice-president of the development disingenuously and dishonestly comments, “Our position is we’re in compliance. It’s not a requirement. It’s aspirational guidelines…. Those were good-faith estimates, and aspirational.” Do we buy either or both the developer and the City a dictionary or a law book?

Along with the Democratic Party clique-sponsored City Councilors who will not respond to questions or public challenges, who do they think they are fooling? The same pattern pertains to the games played with city funding for often fake and inadequate numbers of unaffordable “affordable housing units,” in the City’s favored developers’ (and contributors’) projects.

This practice mires in muddy dishonesty the Mayor’s and some councilors’ dramatic misrepresentation of the Nov. 8 election’s series of purposefully disaggregated, multiple confusing bond election proposals that together amount to $1.5 billion. For example, they deny the potential tax liability to the public for the $250 million proposed for not particularly affordable housing.

Even more glaring is the $200 million for “public safety,” almost none of which goes specifically to promote public safety. Almost all funds are for building improvements, in particular $139 million for a new courthouse. No one, of course, will say why the present courthouse cannot be renovated for a fraction of the costs. Who are the intended profiteers? How do we count and classify these massive crimes against the public?

Equally criminal and misleading is the mayor’s brazen, unethical, and almost certainly illegal effort to take control of Civil Service appointments from an established, relatively objective process established in the City Charter. When the mayor’s illegal inference with legally-established processes was first exposed, he blamed it on his “office.”

He does not understand that he—the mayor—is responsible for “the mayor’s office.” This parallels his own and many councilors and the Department of Public (aka Private) Services’ inability to understand and abide by the City’s conflict of interest laws.

Ironically, upon taking office, the mayor weakly reiterated them. That director faces a number of complaints currently before the State Board of Ethics. This includes awarding contracts to her husband’s firm. The City breaks the law in the regular course of its business.

Analogously, the Mayor’s, Council’s, and Public (aka Private) Work’s decision to enforce City scooter and parking laws only in their contributors’ Short North is brazen discrimination against the rest of the city’s residence. That is a violation of federal law. Who is paying off whom? No one cares.

This is the norm, not the exception. If Columbus, Ohio had responsible media, the City’s own criminality would be well-known. Another recent example is the mayor’s and councilors’ illegal lobbying for a salary increase in spring 2022. Once again, when exposed, the mayor blamed his “office.” Incredibly, the office responded that the mayor merited a raise because Columbus lacks a city manager.

Neither the “office” nor mayor or council proposes hiring a qualified city manager which most cities have and which antiquated, unreformed, disorganized, ill-equipped, and corrupt Columbus desperately needs. The mayor cannot even manage his own office, and is unfamiliar with the city as a whole.

Along with City Council president, the mayor systematically destroys public safety across the city, replacing it with empty slogans. As mentioned, tax abatements in varying forms reduce the revenue required to fund an already depleted, disorganized, and leaderless police force. The site of one of the US’s strongest and most obstructive Fraternal Order of Police chapters, CPD is under US Department of Justice investigation for systemic racism. That is never mentioned in City Hall.

In addition, the mayor and Council President expended 100s of millions of dollars on indiscriminate, unregulated $200,000 retirement bonuses for police officers. This significantly reduced the number of experienced officers including leaders because there were no controls to “weed out bad cops.” Now, inexplicably and contradictorily, the City offers $500,000 buy-outs to five assistant police chiefs, of whom four may receive the pay-offs.

But no funding for desperately needed officers on the beat, refuse collectors, or trash or zoning inspectors. Is the problem one of vision, lack of concern, simple arithmetic, lack of pay-offs, or just plain …?

Neither mayor and president nor CPD chiefs will discuss CPD’s exceptional rates of killing unarmed young black men (and some women), percentage of officers who live outside the city, the many officers unfamiliar with the law,  CPD’s self-admitted training and communication problems, or the high level of public distrust.

Instead, along with City Director Public Health (who never understood Covid) and more recently county officials, they declare gun violence to be “a public health crisis.” But they have no policies and refuse to take measures proved to succeed such as well-designed gun buyouts that other cities utilize productively. When not waving their ___ in the air, they tout after-school and early-evening sports leagues for 8-18 year olds. And they call for “the public’s help. “This insults the fearful residents who pay taxes to their leaderless, unsafe city.

When not repeating his lonely self-contradictory personal slogan that “Columbus is America’s Opportunity—for a few—City,” the mayor mutters that he “will spend whatever it takes to establish public safety.” Yet he has no policies and gives away the potential sources of funding. These are simple arithmetic and logical failures.

This criminal misbehavior by the City’s “leaders” only stokes crime and violence. The arithmetic and the contradictions explode exponentially.

Then there is Columbus Police Department’s ignorance and refusal to enforce the laws that they are sworn and paid to enforce, introduced above. The lieutenant “new to the district” condemns me for daring to expect CPD to enforce the law. New district commander and her “community liaison officer” refuse to acknowledge emails or return telephone calls.

My examples come from the University District which I know best. The favored, campaign contributing Short North fares far better but poorer areas of color face their own contradictory responses.

Many CPD officers and commanders are not aware that the UD is not “campus” or a Disney-like wild near-eastside uncontrolled late juvenile playground. Along with OSU undergraduate tenants, they are surprised that older, longstanding homeowners live here.

No one knows either the historical district’s history of student residents with city charter banned large landlords, or that the area is residentially-zoned. The City’s conflicting departments of neighborhoods without missions or agendas do not know this, or if they do, they don’t tell anyone.

I have personally given walking tours of the area to three Neighborhood’s staff members. Their familiarity leads to no actions or increased responsiveness to problems.

More than one CPD officer has told me: You should live in Upper Arlington, not in my 107 year old, less than 10 minutes’ walk from my former office. OSU Student Life tells off-campus students nothing of value.

Ignorance of the district combines inseparably with ignorance of the law and refusal to do their job. One experienced CPD officer—who covered his name plate so I could not see it—informed me at the end of September on a home football game day, and I quote: “Breaking the law is reasonable behavior on a game day.” “Breaking the law is….” I am still stunned. This is a paid, licensed CPD officer with a badge and a service weapon. Of course, he refers to overwhelmingly white middle class college students, not to other city populations.

The law is denied as well as unenforced. CPD joins with Zoning (un)Enforcement in denying and refusing to enforce the law. The power of the large landlords who conduct their business with illegal profiteering, lying, and cheating enters into these miscalculations. So too does the criminal refusal of OSU, especially its oversized, disorganized, and anti-student Office of Student Life to inform students of either their rights or their responsibilities, or warn them against certain landlords.

The offending lieutenant, quoted earlier, admitted to confusion about the UD and how to respond to it. Before refusing to talk further with me, he urged me to “invite City Council to your home for the next home game” to let them “see and hear for themselves.”

I did. Not surprisingly, no one is available, or interested in learning about the city that they fail to govern. Of course, it was the City along with OSU and the purposeless University Area Commission that allowed, even encouraged, the destruction of the attractive, historic University District.

Finally, there is no traffic or parking regulation in the UD—or anywhere else with partial exception of the Short North and parts of “downtown.” Only indiscriminate parking tickets for cars parked less than one foot outside lines but no checking for blocking driveways or alleys, parking too far from curbs, and especially Amazon trucks that park literally in the middle of a street when there are spaces open on both sides. More than one tells me, “the police give us permission.”

Can collectors—commonly known as “can fairies”--on Sunday mornings, illegally trespassing on private property without permission, use the same lie line.

Only ticketing for the most minor infractions in bulk is part and parcel of the business model of the Department of Public (aka Private) Service. Indianola and East Lane Avenues are unpoliced race courses or are they drag strips—for motorized vehicles, that is.

Despite owning a home for almost two decades in the UD, paying my taxes, voting, and being a knowledgeable active citizen, I do not have the right to law enforcement or police who know the law and do their jobs. This is a criminal offense on the part of CPD and the City.

There is no policing of the City itself, or in the city of Columbus, Ohio. City leaders and staff routinely break the law. The police do not enforce the law. Herein lays Columbus, Ohio’s fundamental uniqueness and its identity. This is the Columbus Way.

I write on a Saturday morning. I called CPD shortly after 8:00 report the same NorthSteppe Realty/Michael Stickney properties that my neighbors and I report every Saturday and many Fridays. Stickney is well aware of this. So is CPD, the City Attorney, and OSU. Nothing changes because money changes hands, above, below, around tables.

And because it is not in the City’s interest to serve its publics.

Then there is Ohio, with its illegitimate right-wing state government madly and ignorantly racing to be Texas and Florida, but without even reading the legislation they copy. Promoting murder by allowing open carry of firearms without licensing or training, and by banning abortions.

Violating its own Constitution and laws with illegal gerrymandering, and collusion with large corporations such as First Energy.... With an Attorney General unfamiliar with the text of the US Constitution and a Secretary of State who ignores judicial rulings. A governor and lieutenant governor in active pursuit of personal wealth by violating conflict of interest standards and laws, and making reelection deals with Intel for $3 billion in public funds. And with almost all state agencies either alleged and/or under investigation for incompetence and corruption. And, of course, no state Democratic Party to speak of.

My wife and I are talking about possible relocation sites. We had not expected these conversations.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, he writes about a variety of contemporary and historical topics for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Academe Blog, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current; Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies was published by Palgrave Macmillan in August. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming