My uncle Mort, he's sawed off and short
He measures about four foot two
But he thinks he's a giant when you give him a pint
Of that good ole mountain dew

Recorded by Country Music Hall of Famer Grandpa Jones and written by William York

It’s no secret that I’m often the last person in town to know what’s going on. And like my old River Downs racetrack friend Dick Stevens often said, “I don’t know much, but what I know, I know good.”

So imagine my surprise this week when I learned that several radio stations are banning one of my favorite songs that is typically played during the Christmas season. This duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” has been around longer than I have. It was written by Frank Loesser during World War II, and it’s been recorded by many different artists. My favorite version is by Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton.

From what I gather from recent news, the song lyrics include some nuances that are somehow linked with date rape. For the owners and stockholders of any of these radio stations, one has to wonder if they are banning rap songs with lyrics – that are anything but nuanced – calling for all sorts of degenerate and criminal activity. Of course not.

That’s fine. Louis and Velma are on my MacBook, and I’ll listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” any time I feel like it. Including right now.

While we’re at it, maybe we should also ban all sales of one of southern Ohio’s most popular beverages, Mountain Dew. After all, its namesake song has not-so-subtle references to little people and booze. Good grief.

* * *

• If I make no other New Year’s resolution as we head into 2019, I wish I could resolve not to offer any thoughts on what passes for local government or state and national politics.

However, as one wise man once told me: “Why kill the gifts that just won’t stop giving?”

This week’s actions by Hillsboro City Council President Lee Koogler regarding public meeting protocol and the responsibilities of members of council deserves singular mention.

As we reported, Koogler responded to recent undue public criticism from three members of city council. In addition, and perhaps in light of potential litigation involving recent grand jury subpoenas to five Cincinnati City Council members – the so-called Gang of Five – accused of illegally discussing city business in private and in violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act, Koogler also reminded all members of council as well as Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie, the mayor, Auditor Gary Lewis and Law Director Fred Beery of Hillsboro City Code Section 36.02: Any pre-arranged discussion of the public business of any public body by a majority of its members.

“In other words, if two or more committee members or four or more members of council are meeting, whether at a diner, residence, public building, chat room, group text, email or email chain, etc., discussing public business, it is a public meeting and must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance, unless a true emergency, and the public afforded an opportunity to attend. A violation of Ohio’s public meetings laws may result in injunctive action being filed against the public body, a fine of up to $500 and repayment of court costs and attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. So please, be very careful in conducting conversations with other council members about public business outside of council or committee meetings.”

This is relevant, given that at least three members of council – Culbreath, Morris and Klein – (not to be confused with Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell and Dean) had signed off on a letter critical of Koogler in advance of the Nov. 13 council meeting. If just one more member of council was contacted about this prior to the Nov. 13 meeting, the city could very well be in Cincinnati’s Gang of Five territory and an enterprising young lawyer like Brian Shrive might be contacted to request all emails and texts among the local Gang of Three.

Council President Koogler was wise to bring this issue to the forefront prior to the next council meeting.

The most alarming part of the Gang of Three’s letter was this gem: Calling for the public to attend training to “correctly participate” in council meetings. There is no such requirement in the Ohio Revised Code – and for good reason. Wake up, already. You work for us. We do not bow down to you. We pay your salaries. You ought to speak less and listen more.

Hillsboro voters and taxpayers ought to appreciate Lee Koogler’s efforts. How he has managed to maintain an optimistic outlook for city government is anyone’s guess. But he has, and for that he’s earned our respect. Thank you, Lee.

* * *

• Before wrapping up, let’s not give a free pass to the Highland County commissioners.

In October 2016 – with several Republicans up for re-election from Highland County to Columbus to Washington, D.C. – the headline – as quoted from the meeting – was: “It’s a great day for Highland County.”

On Dec. 5, 2018, the headline is borrowed from Gilda Radner “Never mind.”

Granted, today’s board has a different makeup from the 2016 board. Still, past and present board members have kicked this political football involving the now infamous $843,000 Department of Justice grant that was intended for improvements around Rocky Fork Lake and Paint Township from here to the D.C. Swamp. (All at our expense, mind you.)

Following an executive session Wednesday, Dec. 5, commissioners voted 3-0 “to notify the Department of Justice that we will forgo this grant and begin the process of closing it out.”

For some unexplained reason, this was a non-agenda item for the commissioners. That’s interesting, given that it was a top-of-the-agenda item in October 2016 when several Republicans from here to Washington were up for re-election.

As our headline read more than two years ago: “It’s a great day for Highland County.”

Never mind. (Thanks, Gilda.)

The Republicans in the room and on the commissioners’ phone that autumn day in 2016 were re-elected and most remain in office – except for the former Ohio House talker who has been under an FBI investigation most of this year.

To date, not one Republican county commissioner, state representative, state senator, congressman or U.S. senator has fully explained why the Rocky Fork Lake area will not be receiving the nearly $1 million grant.

Instead, we hear alibis and excuses, with most of the blame aimed at yet another Republican’s (President DJ Trump) Department of Justice.

Instead of asking how many college professors it takes to screw in a light bulb, we ought to be asking how many Republicans it takes to lose $843,000.

Instead of blaming the fiasco on the Highland County Sheriff’s Office’s new FOP contract, we ought to be asking who signed off on that contract. It sure wasn’t Sheriff Donnie Barrera.

From Sen. Rob Portman to Rep. Brad Wenstrup to State Sen. Bob Peterson to former House talker Cliffy Rosenberger (see FBI probe, above) to our county commissioners, no one is admitting fault. Nor is anyone who otherwise puts out the pom-pons for Trump.

After all, this is Trump’s Department of Justice. This is his heartland of America. This is the Trump base. He’s got our back, right?

If the reason Paint Township residents are missing out on $843,000 lies with the Trump administration – as all commissioners insist – the least they can do is put the cheese on the cracker and call out the orange-haired POTUS. But that will never happen.

So now commissioners tell us there is a possibility the county will have to pay back some of the grant money that’s already been spent.

Clearly, someone is at fault. Clearly, someone deserves blame. All the rehearsed spin by local, state and federal officeholders cannot change it.

Aside from GOP political grandstanding and GOP photo ops, what has this three-year ordeal really accomplished?

A great day for Highland County. Indeed.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.