By Gregory Flannery
Justice is a Cheap Sandwich
A man uses illegal drugs, gets caught and pays the penalty. He spends the next 13 years living drug-free, stays out of trouble, finds work and becomes a stellar employee. When he applies for a job with the city of Cincinnati, he is one of only 15 out of 68 applicants to pass the civil service exam. Sounds like a good job candidate, right?
Wrong. Gene Mays found out that 13 years of sobriety, honest living and hard work count for nothing in the city’s eyes. The civil service commission ruled that a felony conviction bars anyone, no matter how qualified, from working for the city. After losing a lawsuit, Mays took his case before the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, which last month ruled 2-to-1 against him. Appeals Judge Mark Painter, who issued the dissenting opinion, blasted the majority’s decision as “baloney.”
Citing the civil service commission’s failure to exercise discretion – which, Painter said, is required by law – he took issue with a magistrate’s finding that the commission has “the absolute right” to bar former felons. That interpretation is absolutely wrong, according to Painter.
“Commissions do not have rights; people do,” he wrote.
The appeals court should have overturned the civil service commission’s ruling because it was arbitrary and unreasonable, Painter’s opinion said.
“When people do turn their life around, we should applaud and help them help themselves – not ban them from employment by imposing arbitrary rules,” he wrote.
That kind of clarity is why we’re going to miss Painter when he moves to a job at a new United Nations appeals court in September.
Some of His Best Friends Are Cavemen
Clarity, however, isn’t the word to describe a June 10 column in CityBeat by Joe Wessels. To borrow a phrase from Painter’s ruling, the column’s observations about homeless people were “eyewash.” Wessels opens by saying he’s never been homeless but allows that he could be in serious financial trouble if he misses a paycheck.
“Giving up sometimes seems like a great idea,” he writes. “Or getting a simpler job. Or no job and no responsibilities. You know, being homeless.”
A blithe, un-thoughtful reverie about poverty can be forgiven. But Wessels doesn’t stop there. He trots out the old canard about homelessness being a freely chosen “lifestyle.”
“I don’t like finding excuses for these folks,” Wessels writes. “I’m not into feeling sorry. Living in Over-the-Rhine, I’ve had enough conversations with the ‘chronically homeless’ to know that it’s more acute than chronic. Many like living the way they do.”
Many? The column cites no numbers, of course. Wessels’s argument is nothing more than the oft-used excuse given to justify ignorant remarks about racial minorities, homosexuals and other oppressed groups: “Why, some of my best friends are black/gay/homeless.”
Consider the way Wessels describes one of his sources: “Tom Banks, an Over-the-Rhine character, made a point to me recently.” Could any characterization be more dismissive, more disrespectful? Mr. Banks is “a character,” a bit player in the colorful street theater that Wessels sees when he looks at poverty.
Wessels speaks truly when he says he isn’t “into feeling sorry” for homeless people. Last year he used his column to criticize churches for engaging in the untidy practice of giving food to poor people in Washington Park.
He’s entitled to his opinion, of course, uninformed though it might be. But he is not entitled to use his tenuous affiliation with Streetvibes to give himself a veneer of expertise. His June 12 column takes note of the fact that Wessels is a member of the Streetvibes advisory board.
I’d like to point out that the advisory board hasn’t met in more than a year. I’d also like to point that Wessels is no longer on the advisory board. I wish I could say he was dumped for his neanderthal opinions about homelessness, but the advisory board was dissolved before the column was published.
Those Darned Naysayers
Mayor Mark Mallory’s rhetoric about the Streetcar That Will Save Cincinnati is no better. Cincinnatians for Progress is a lobby formed to oppose a ballot issue that would – gasp – give voters a chance to vote on the proposed streetcars. Letting voters decide the issue is “dangerous,” according to a June 10 press release announcing a rally for the group. Mallory, who chairs Cincinnatians for Progress, couldn’t come up with anything better than the lame assertion that some people just want to hold Cincinnati back.
“Once again, however, the naysayers in our community want to put a stop to that progress and leave our city in the past,” Mallory said.
That’s why they oppose the streetcar plan: They hate progress. They probably hate Cincinnati itself. Thanks for clearing it up.