The different standards for public graft and corruption in Dayton, Ohio

Full Disclosure: my business, The Next Wave, does limited amounts of graphic design work and printing for the Sidebar and Brian Higgins. His websites for both the Columbus and Dayton restaurants are on our server.

Front page, center, top of fold. Multiple photos. Even when Mayor Clay Dixon took me outside to be his punching bag, it was below the fold.

The Dayton Daily News new modus operandi is to grab onto a small story and expand it into a grand inquisition. You can almost be guaranteed that if they do one investigative story, more will follow, each bigger and more inflammatory. Ask Sherry Oakes from Design Homes, Raleigh Tramell, or the operators of Richard Allen Academies, all whom have been dragged through the trial of public opinion in the Dayton Daily of late.

Now, we have the post mortem being written for a small, seemingly successful businessman, who happens to be in the body hauling business.

Montgomery County may have violated its own contracting requirements last month when it renewed a contract with a body-hauling business that was delinquent on hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state taxes, a Dayton Daily News investigation found. The debt — more than $215,523 in past due federal and state income taxes, and workers’ compensation premiums — would appear to put the Dayton-based company GSSP Enterprise Inc. in violation of its contract with the county, which requires payment of “any and all” taxes. Owner Brian E. Higgins also never disclosed that he had a business relationship with the director of the coroner’s office – something that the owner is required to disclose in a contract.

via County renews contract with delinquent business.

As a small business man, I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s very easy to get fined and have tax liens placed on your business. The myriad of websites, forms and differing reporting deadlines- as well as the number of different payments required by the state, as well as the complexity of tax laws make mistakes almost inevitable. Couple that with the misleading business practices of Intuit, makers of Quickbooks software, who sell a product for $150 every year that requires a $200 a year subscription to be able to use the payroll/taxation functions- including the ability to print out the basic filing forms and you have a recipe for the government to make more in some cases from fines than from collections. I remember one year not having sold any printing of business cards or letterhead for the six-month period that I report sales taxes in. The state decided this is impossible, “estimated” my sales taxes due, slapped a fine on my company and then took months to fix its assumptions.

The numbers that are reported on the front page of the Dayton Daily news (lowercase N intentional) add up to under a million dollars, and include the mixing of personal and corporate debt to inflate the numbers. This would never be done in a credible news story since the two aren’t in any way related. Corporate CEO’s get divorced all the time, with big settlements, and yet it would never be included in a financial analysis of their company.

But, there is one quote the DDn did dig up:

Susan Willeke, spokeswoman for the Ohio Ethics Commission, would not directly comment on the Betz and Higgins business connection, but said, “If someone uses their public position to secure a public contract for themselves, their family or a business associate, it is a fourth-degree felony.”

Really? Esrati.com has exposed multiple instances of county employees hiring friends and family without open competition. The hiring of a convicted rapist in the Board of Elections without even a job application, the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts made sure both his wife and father-in-law had jobs for the county, and if we go back to pre-blog days, I stood up at the Dayton City Commission meeting after losing against Bootsie Neal and Dean Lovelace for a commission seat, and threatened to file for an injunction to stop the “emergency legislation” the commission was enacting to purchase the former Sears site downtown for the Riverscape fountains project.

A brief recap of the Sears project: a group of local businessmen formed an LLC to purchase the Sears building for $200,000 with a five-year option on the real estate that it was on for $1.5 million. The businessmen included: Alan Rinzler who owns the Talbot Tower and other real-estate holdings; Sandy Mendelson, owner of Mendelsons; Jason Liff, a local real estate broker and former owner of MotoScooto, and Bruce and DeNeal Feldman, owners of Economy Linen.

Full disclosure once again- after I threatened to file the suit to stop this “emergency legislation” I naively approached Mr. Mendelson to do his advertising, something he mentioned when giving me a $500 cash donation for my campaign (a donation I had to return and get as a check to satisfy the BOE- who doesn’t believe cash is legal tender for donations larger than $100). He told me to “go-to-hell” when I called- which I didn’t understand, since I didn’t realize at the time he was part of the LLC. Over lunch at Franco’s he explained his part of the deal- and told me that “nobody cares” about this, and I had a simple choice- file the suit (which at best would stall the deal and force it into a regular ordinance- taking two readings and 30 days to go into effect) and “find my body parts in different area codes” (exact words- you don’t forget threats like that from someone you barely know at the time, who wears a lot of gold jewelry) or, drop it, and have a nice little advertising account that puts money in your pocket.

For a year and a half, my firm did award winning advertising for Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet. We re-did his logo, introduced the new tagline “The first place to look for every last thing” and developed the “explorer” character in a series of TV ads. His business grew substantially. When we couldn’t agree on terms for me to close my business and come run his retail operation, including the eBay business that I had pushed him to, we parted ways. I did do a small campaign a few years ago because he had severely damaged his brand publicly by suggesting he was closing and moving to another location and his sales were down. He stiffed me for a few thousand dollars- to date, the biggest uncollected debt my business has had in 22 years.

Back to the Sears deal- if the names DeNeal and Bruce Feldman don’t ring a bell, maybe Bruce’s wife’s name does: Debbie Feldman, our county administrator, who is one of Montgomery County’s highest paid government employees (as far as I know only Steven Johnson at Sinclair is paid more and it’s a horse race between Debbie and Dayton Schools Superintendent Lori Ward for second depending on how you count their perks).

The price that the LLC got for their $200K investment and option on the Sears deal? $8.7 million.

Front page story anyone?

There are lots of people getting rich off government contracts in this community. Our Congressman’s wife got a no-bid contract from the Dayton Development Coalition to come up with “Get Midwest” – a tagline that may go down in the annals of advertising history as one of the lamest- if it had been consequential. She also had a GSA schedule to do work for the Federal government while her husband was a sitting congressman on the defense appropriations committee- no DDn story outed her for doing work for the Army Corps of Engineers after I exposed it and work for the Home Depot PAC- a convenient way to skirt campaign finance laws. I could go on.

I can’t tell you if Brian Higgins got any special tax breaks for job creation from any government or quasi-government organization for “job creation” or “economic development”- but I can tell you that everyone of those government bureaucrats who will be first to load the shells into the guns of his firing squad over these tax issues- ate at his restaurant or maybe enjoyed hors d’ouvres at a fund-raiser he hosted (I had my election night event there- Brian donated food and allowed us to use the private back room to gather and watch results). I can also tell you that the building owner, Mike Ervin (who filed an eviction notice on Friday causing a Saturday DDn article) had put several different operators in the former Pacchia space where Sidebar 410 is today- and none of them could make the menu and atmosphere work the way Higgins has. Higgins employs at least 40 to 50 people and spends his money locally- with companies like mine. Yet, he doesn’t get a 30-year tax abatement like GE. While “high-tech” jobs may pay more, we have an awful lot of people who need service jobs too.

I’d look up the performance of all the “job creation” and “economic development” deals and compare them to Higgins’ operation any day of the week, but of course, there is no required posting and reporting of tax dollar giveaways in return for promised job creation. Hmmm- I wonder why not?

In the grand scheme of things, Brian Higgins and his tax bills or his government contract are being used as smoke and mirrors to cover up for wholesale thievery of public tax dollars. I’ll once again set myself up for “you’ll never do work in this town again” by calling out the “job creating” and “tax roll enhancement” juggernaut, CareSource. A company that despite paying its CEO, Pam Morris, $3 million plus a year, getting all kinds of tax breaks- including its new HQ built with public dollars- is 100% dependent on tax dollars for income, making their CEO right up there with the CEO of Countrywide, FannieMae and FreddyMac- as criminally overpaid quasi-government bureaucrats who have zero risk and 100% upside guaranteed.

Where is the front page story hanging them up?

While I don’t doubt that the body collection contract award probably didn’t follow correct practices, I’m pretty sure that Debbie Feldman or Roy Sigritz (the head of county purchasing) won’t take a hit on this. I’ll also add, that getting paid $128 to go pick up a body anywhere in Montgomery County on 24-hour call isn’t exactly raking in big bucks for what can be some really disgusting work. I asked the owner of a tow truck company if he could make money on that price- without accounting for mileage or disposable supplies on each run (remember some of these corpses can weigh as much as 600 lbs, could be several weeks old, and can be dangerous- open wounds with bodily fluids etc- you’d want to wear a bio-hazard suit) and he said “barely.”

The real bodies that need to be moved in this county are the ones running this three-ring circus with impunity- but, that would require the newspaper to do real investigations and run the risk of alienating the friends and family of the Monarchy of Montgomery County- and they have the advantage of owning everything from elections to judges. Good luck with that.

 

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