Richard Hyatt: It's time to honor a man who got things done

August 14, 2012 

When Frank Martin put a man on the moon even the Neanderthals were impressed.

His outer-space venture was the building of a civic center -- something seven mayors before him promised but didn't deliver. We were stuck on Groundhog Day and a city auditorium that had the personality of a stale loaf of bread symbolized the time warp the city couldn't escape.

This was the Columbus that in 1990 elected Frank Martin mayor -- a Columbus that he said "was always looking down at its dirty shoes."

Malaise and self-doubt were prevalent and as Martin told Otis White, the president of Civic Strategies Inc., the only way to cure the lingering disease was to come up with a local project that rivaled Neil Armstrong's memorable stroll.

"We needed a man on the moon," Martin said. "For about 25 years we had talked about a civic center. It never got done, never got done and never got done. I looked at that and said this is our man on the moon project."

A confusing two-part sales tax package was on the ballot and when the usual suspects ridiculed his sales-tax proposal, the mayor talked about their cave man mentality and called them "Neanderthals," a description that, though accurate, wasn't usually included in an elected official's dictionary. Martin prevailed.

A proposal that would produce $115.7 million for the court-ordered sewer program, along with other infrastructure needs, passed with 91 percent of the vote.

In a separate ballot question, a $26.5 million civic center was approved by nearly 80 percent of the voters.

With these items came the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, a meandering park that introduced the community to a river it hadn't seen in years.

He was a one-term mayor, but his administration inspired the community to celebrate what it could be instead of hanging its head about what it had become.

In recent months, Frank Martin showed that same swagger and spunk as he defended himself against pancreatic cancer.

He died Sunday at the age of 73.

Over the past few days, friends have repeated stories about this outspoken character that never avoided controversy and always fought for justice.

Such as a morning he didn't show up for a case in front of U.S. District Judge J. Robert Elliott. Told the attorney had a conflict and was in Superior Court Judge John Land's courtroom, Elliott dispatched a bailiff with a message.

"Tell Lawyer Martin that I can get him out of Judge Land's jail, but Judge Land can't get him out of my jail," Elliott said.

Martin was there in minutes.

He was a high-profile defense attorney that enjoyed the limelight. Clients paid dearly and his reputation grew along with his fees.

That made his decision to run for mayor remarkable, but in 1994 he chose not to run again. Just as well, his talk from the hip style didn't endear him to everybody.

He left office in a flurry of conflict over papers he had taken to the city incinerator.

But the city was buzzing. Plans were in place for a new police headquarters and a public health building.

Parks and sidewalks were built. The 1996 Olympics was coming, and a town that didn't believe in itself had begun to believe.

Frank Martin was an engineer of progress, but his good works aren't reflected in the facilities he helped forge.

Other names are on the dedicatory plaques, not his. It's time to rectify that oversight. Name the public safety headquarters for him or the new city services building. Honor a man that got things done.

Or go back to your caves.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.

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