Harvey J Graff

My struggles to gain democratic legal rights and respect for residents in the “city” of Columbus continue. The three documents reprinted here below elaborate the themes of my recent essays. To expand the discussion to a larger public, I include them here.

First, I wrote to the City Council legislative aides, department heads, and City Attorneys with who I am in communication. They were silent for some weeks after I tripped on (illegal) broken pavement and fractured my right leg, and commented that the City’s failure to inspect and enforce its zoning codes makes the city as well as the large corporate property owner legally liable.

June 10, 2022

To my correspondents,

Today for the second time in two weeks that we lost electric power from AEP for multiple hours on a weekday morning. Never an explanation. [This is the week before AEP’s massive and unexplained failures. The City refuses to hold AEP accountable, leaving that to the state’s corruption-ridden PUCO]

This parallels Rumpke's sporadic performances without consequences and City Council’s insulting public clean-up by volunteers—who also pay taxes for public services--days.

Columbus' USPS service is among the worst in the US but the "mayor" and Council will not make a statement or file a complaint. One of you tells me that that's up to US Representative Joyce Beatty. I have personally filed two complaints through Sherrod Brown, have learned a great deal, and my complaints are now with the Inspector General's Office.

The City of Columbus bears responsibility and is accountable for the conditions in the city and the failing city services, but the public never hears one word. Neither mayor nor Council speaks to this. We only hear slogans without developed plans, budgets, timetables, and measures of accountability, and disconnected one-shot programs from individual councilors. None of that stops gun violence; enhances public health; supplies adequate affordable housing, education, or social services; or addresses widening inequalities, etc., etc.

Survey the City’s disorganized and chaotic website for an introduction to undeveloped slogans substituting inadequately for public policy. Or attempt to telephone a city office. Begin, in fact, with the mayor’s “aspirations” among his stream of empty “email blasts.”

The mayor's website actually states that "Columbus has been named 'Opportunity City'" during his reign (or is it rain?). But it is the "mayor" himself who named it! This is worse than a joke. It is an insult.

Columbus is more and more like a Third World city. It is


*unhealthy and unsanitary

*the infrastructure is crumbling

*311 and zoning inspection/enforcement are badly broken but receive no attention from Council

*CPD is flailing in part due to the mayor and Council's combined actions and inactions

*there is no planning in Columbus. It shows on almost every street and most dramatically downtown

*the huge but inactive Department of Public Service actively functions as the Department of Private Advancement. This is the Columbus Way.

*there is no accountability within the City of Columbus

Certain staff members have no respect for the public whose taxes pay for their livelihood. They refuse to answer direct questions, and then insult and mock the tax-paying voting public. I have filed formal complaints against the most egregious offenders. In addition, at the advice of my former Columbus Police Department district commander, I have met with and made Internal Affairs complaints.

The City Attorney’s Office tells me that only the mayor and members of the City Council can file complaints against City departments and their staff. I have asked all those with whom I am in contact. So far, none has agreed.

I expect nothing but silence, circling the wagons, and non-responsiveness. One Department refused for days even to acknowledge receipt of my complaint. CPD begins to dismiss my Internal Affairs complaints without discussion or explanation. This is the Columbus Way.

Councilors have "meets and greets," "gripe sessions" in parks, and ask volunteers to do the job of full-time paid trash collectors and police (about which I receive too much spam), but few have any interest in speaking directly to a knowledgeable, concerned homeowner, taxpayer, voter, who doesn't know how much more of Columbus he can tolerate.

The next two messages are the texts of formal complaints filed with the relevant departments of the City, City Council, and the Mayor’s Office per the direction of the City Attorney. (Extensive email documentation accompanied both complaints.) I am not optimistic.

9 June 2022

TO: Brian Shinn, Chief of Claims & Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Office of the City Attorney, Columbus

From: Harvey J. Graff

RE: Formal complaint against Assistant City Attorney Jeffrey Furbee [with detailed email transcripts]

In extensive correspondence, Furbee repeatedly refused to respond to repeated direct, factual questions. He feigned superiority that he does not have.

Furbee either misread or did not read relevant court cases and misadvised Columbus Police Department officers not to prosecute illegally parked cars. The evidence of the courts is clear regardless of Furbee’s denials—never made with explanation or quotations.

Furbee also instructed CPD not to tow illegally parked vehicle to the City Impound Lot on the grounds that the lot was full when it was not. CPD officers in the field reported this to me over and over.

Furbee lied to me; disrespected me; purposefully insulted, offended, and mocked me. He has no regard for the public. He contradicts his position as a City employee who is responsible to the public that he is hired and paid to serve. He irresponsibly and baselessly touts his imaginary superiority when he has none.

He never once called me by my name or by my professional titles, unlike all his City Hall colleagues.

In this case, he chose to baselessly, unknowledgeably, and contradictorily to his office as a civic employee verbally assault a long-time Columbus resident, homeowner, taxpayer, and voter.

This unedited transcript of a number of emails proves convincingly my complaint. I urge you to read it carefully. [not included here]

I ask the City Attorney’s Office to take significant disciplinary action.

I make this complaint without high expectations of any actions. But as a citizen, resident, and scholar, I have responsibilities to myself and to others.

Do I have rights as a resident of the City of Columbus? The larger public and others are concerned.

9 June 2022

To: Jennifer Gallagher, Director of the City of Columbus Department of Public Service [submitted with extensive email transcripts]

From: Harvey J. Graff

RE: Formal complaint against the Department of Public Service Senior Staff (Ferrin, Boontrager): for 1) decision-making in violation of written procedures, 2) placing private corporate interests above the rights of residents of Columbus, 3) disregard of the legitimate direct questions of a home owning, taxpaying, voting resident of the City of Columbus.

Brian Shinn in the City Attorney’s Office tells me that I must file my complaint about the actions and non-actions of Robert Ferrin and Randy Boontrager directly to you. This document constitutes my formal complaint.

My still unanswered questions began when I reported Free2Drive vehicles parked for lengthy periods of time in paid permit residential parking areas abutting my University District home. CPD responded, recognized that the cars were to the best of their knowledge parked illegally. They did not wish to ticket the cars because they thought any citation would be ignored by the leasee or the company owner. But they agreed to file a report on the incident.

CPD was never informed that the Department of “Public” Service had sold permission to leave leased vehicles like litter (like electronic scooters and bicycles) to a foreign corporation. In the process, the private interests of car (like scooter and bicycle) companies trumped the interests of the Columbus public who paid a fee for permit parking near their legal residences. This disregard for the rights of Columbus residents is shameful; it cannot be justified in the words of a marketing slogan of “facilitating mobility.” That is simultaneously the language of marketing, and a contradiction in terms.

In the process, I have learned that ordinary procedures were ignored. There was no public input; neither Council, City Attorney, CPD, nor the Columbus public was involved or informed. I have questions about the legality of this course of action.

Similarly, I have questions about the legality of selling to a private corporation the legal rights to park in paid permit parking areas of Columbus residents. If this is not illegal, it is a massive violation of the rights of the residents of the city of Columbus. Changes in parking meters and payment schemes currently underway have parallels to this.

I inquired about this with City Council. They had no knowledge. I asked the City Attorney’s Office. Zach Klein and Steve Dunbar referred my questions to Robert Ferrin who contacted me and repeatedly refused to answer ANY direct questions. He sent me poorly worded, almost contentless statements multiple times. I asked my questions as a home owning, taxpaying, voting resident of Columbus for almost two decades. I received no answers. None.

Then Ferrin fumbled the ball to Randy Boontrager who as far as I can tell has no relevant qualifications for his position. The hand-off was never explained. Boontrager began by misspelling my name, an error for which he did not apologize after I pointed it out. He followed Ferrin in repeatedly ignoring my direct questions. His final emails dripped with sarcasm.

The entire unedited exchange appears below [in the full complaint]. It provides complete, irrefutable documentation that your senior staff: 1) refuse to answer direct, fundamental questions about actions and legality; 2) claim fallaciously that they have answered questions when they have not; 3) both implicitly and explicitly endorse the rights and power of private corporations over the legal rights of Columbus residents; and 4) treat a senior citizen offensively and disdainfully.

Each time either party responded to me, they removed the distribution list of Council aides and City Attorneys. They are evidently hiding something. What is that?

I close by reminding you that the Short North merchants and now a tiny number of Clintonville shopkeepers and movie theater have their way over these matters with ease. But ordinary citizens are neglected, indeed scorned. That is the Columbus Way.

I ask your complete, responsible, factual, and respectful response as soon as possible.

Shinn immediately confirmed receipt of my complaint. Public Service only replied after repeated requests and after both the City Attorney’s Office and a City Council legislative aide had also forwarded it. There is a fundamental problem of disdain and respect for the Columbus public.

Of course, I have received no substantive response to my complaints.

After I drafted this report, I sent reminders to Shinn and Gallagher. I told them that a month has passed without response. Shinn immediately replied, telling me that he was investigating my complaint and that he would report back in two weeks or less. He apologized.

Gallagher continues her silence. Apparently, she forwarded my reminder to Boontrager--about whom I filed a complaint—to respond. That is another breach of public trust and failure of responsibility. It is unethical. Not only does she refuse her legal responsibilities, she refuses to deal personally with a serious set of issues.

Boontrager continues to refuse to address me by name or copy anyone in City government. He removes all others formal recipients from his responses as if he is hiding something important. He continues to state that he has answered my questions when neither he nor Ferrin has answered one of the many direct inquiries. And he continues his disrespectful and dismissive sarcasm. In this incidence, he ends writing on July 6: “On a personal note, I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend.”

For whom do these uncivil servants think they work? To whom do they think they speak? Or whose taxes do they think pay their reported official salaries? To whose orders and solicitations do they respond? It is not to the public. This is the Columbus Way. In all dimensions, the city and the City shows it.


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 on social history, the history of literacy and education, and interdisciplinarity, he writes about the history and contemporary condition of higher education 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 is published by Palgrave Macmillan this summer.