Monday, January 15, 2018

Another strike against Jackson

It's not funny anymore.

The situation with Trenton Water Works is bad, but the issue of poor communication from the administration of Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson is way out of control.

The latter compounds the former.

Today, Trenton's water utility experienced another issue with poor quality resulting in a boil water advisory for customers in Trenton and parts of Ewing and Hamilton.

It was the NJ DEP who called for the boil water advisory and who, ultimately, got the word out. Trenton's communication mechanism was apparently paralyzed by the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

As word spread, first on social media, then via newspaper articles posted online, then a notice sent out by the Hamilton Township municipal government, there was nothing from the City of Trenton.

No robocalls, although several had been sent out reminding residents of no trash pick up today.
No posting on the city website until way after the fact.

This begs the question, yet again, #WheresEric?

The problems with the utility have been well documented elsewhere. It is unfathomable that a man who spent a good chunk of his career with responsibility, first as Public Works Director and later as Mayor, of the TWW couldn't get a handle on the issues even a little bit.

There have been problems with staffing for years and Trenton's residency requirement for employees was often cited as a problem. In 2014, Trenton's city council passed amendments to the ordinance that allowed the city hire from outside the city boundaries if need be. Still, TWW has been cited as being woefully understaffed.

Trenton was ordered to make cover and make other improvements to its reservoir. The money is there, yet the work has not been done.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, citing the city's continued failure to properly staff and manage the utility, told them to move ahead with contracting for an outside operator to take over.

That hasn't been done.

With each repeated failure of the water treatment plant, customers wait for information and advisories from the city. And wait. And wait.

The mayor is an "experienced" government officer who sold himself to voters as someone who could "hit the ground running" and successfully handle the running of Trenton. He's brought back lots of equally "experienced" city hall veterans as division and department directors. And he has well paid public information officer. Yet Jackson and company are incredibly tight-lipped when there's a problem with the drinking water supply (or missing employment tax funds or any other negative issue). If team Jackson communicates anything at all, it is late and lacking pertinent details.

Just look at today's notices posted on three municipal websites about the water issues:

Here's Ewing's notice to residents:






Hamilton posted this one:










And Trenton, finally...well after the fact...put up this very spartan announcement. 




Finally, just a mere 12 hours after first becoming aware of the problem, the city of Trenton utilized its robocall system to contact TWW customers.

It certainly shows that the first term mayor and his hand chosen team are not up to the task of running a water utility or a city; and certainly not both.

How can the mayor say he's working on economic development when he can't communicate? How can he claim to be making Trenton a better place to work and live when he can't safeguard the water supply? How can anyone feel good about investing in, moving a business to or residing in a city run by a bunch of mute misfits?

It remains to be seen if Jackson is going to run for a second term. As of a week ago, he had not filed his campaign paperwork. And we know he hasn't kept up with his finance reports from the 2014 campaign.

If he does run, there isn't a single voter in Trenton who should give up his or her vote to this failed mayor.

If he doesn't run let us hope he isn't given an appointment in the administration of incoming governor Phil Murphy. We can't think of any one less qualified for a continued government paycheck.

And, if Jackson doesn't run, voters would be well advised to not vote for any candidate or slate that gets a Jackson endorsement.

Eric E. Jackson has failed Trenton and it is time for the voters to fail him.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Where's Eric?

In the kerfuffle surrounding last week's notice to Trenton Water Works rate payers that there had yet again been issues with the quality of the water, Trenton's Mayor was absent. Sure, there was the official notice about the high rate of haloacetic acid 5 (dated December 26, 2017 but not slated for release until January 5, 2018. Huh?!?!?). But where was Eric Jackson?

As the 2018 Municipal Election season (aka "silly season") ramps up, we acquired a list of campaign registration sheets from Trenton's Municipal Clerk. Among the 18 people who have filed to run in the May election, there are four challengers for the Mayor's seat. But where is Eric?

We started asking around. Nobody has really seen or directly heard from the mayor in a couple of weeks. He didn't hold a Christmas party for his (still NON-tax exempt) foundation, Moving Trenton Together.

He still hasn't turned in any of the missing quarterly NJ ELEC finance reports for the past three years.

Where is Eric Jackson?

One tidbit we did turn up. Apparently, Mayor Jackson's health hasn't been great. And for that, we are truly sorry. At this time, we have unverified reports that Jackson had some issues with blood clots, possibly in his legs. This is no laughing matter and is reported to have resulted in the Mayor being hospitalized at Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell. And if it is not the first occurrence of this condition, how well is it being managed?

First and foremost, we hope that Mayor Eric Jackson recovers from this serious medical condition and continues to do what needs to be done to ensure there are no future setbacks.

However, if he has really been out of commission, did he notify the city council? Did he hand over day to day authority to a deputy or acting mayor?

With all of the issues the capital city is experiencing, shouldn't the public be entitled to know if the mayor duly elected to serve them is incapacitated? Should he decide to file his paperwork and run again in this spring's election, wouldn't it be good to know if he is healthy enough to serve the full term?

And, lastly, what does it say about the man's performance in office thus far if he can be out of commission, hospitalized, and no one knows or asks...

...Where's Eric?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Just vote NO!

Tonight, Thursday, December 21, 2017, the Trenton City Council will meet. On the docket is the second reading and public hearing of Ordinance 17-80. If passed, this ordinance authorizes Mayor Eric Jackson to enter into an agreement with Woodrose Properties Golden Swan Urban Renewal LLC for a long term (10 years) tax abatement.

Woodrose Properties Golden Swan Urban Renewal LLC is one of several property holding companies owned by former Senator Robert Torricelli. We've covered this before (most recently here) but we feel it is important to recap the matter once again before tonight's vote.

The property in question is located at the corner of Front and S. Warren Streets in downtown Trenton. Formerly known as "the Caola properties", the city acquired it in 2001 through condemnation for $164,000. Woodrose then acquired it from the city for $1 in 2005. 

Interestingly, in a Trentonian newspaper report from January 2005, then Mayor Doug Palmer told reporter Charles Webster that...
"Torricelli told us he's not looking at state leases, AND HE DOESN'T WANT ANY CITY MONEY OR TAX ABATEMENTS." {emphasis mine}
That very same article reports that the city of Trenton "will replace the roof and provide other upgrades." Additionally, it was stated that "a back portion of the building was removed" to stabilize the structure.

By March of 2005, the city was in negotiations with Torricelli about a possible tax abatement. In a March 4, 2005 article in the Times, Eva Loayza wrote:
"[City Assistant Business Administrator Dennis] Gonzalez said the city is still negotiating whether to give Woodrose a short-term tax abatement or start tax payments right away."

As it turns out, the city did grant the developer a five year tax abatement where it would only pay 15 percent of gross revenues rather than the full taxes. (We estimate that the tax abatement ran for five years from as early as October of 2007 until the end of 2012).

The city also awarded $202,425 in Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) funds to cover "cost overruns". Both were reported in a December 8, 2007 article in the Times.  (The city also granted $89,000 UEZ funds to another Torricelli project around the corner on W. State Street that same year).

Now, Torricelli wants to convert the office space in the building to more residential and he wants to make improvements to the HVAC system. The total project cost is estimated at about $230,500 and should take about four months.

Other than the short-term construction jobs, there will be no increase in employment associated with this project. The developer claims there is a demand for residential space downtown but the information provided with the proposed ordinance shows nothing to back that up.

And the council, so far, has not asked any probing questions about the application. In fact, when it was discussed at the council conference session on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, only Councilman Bethea asked about it. He wanted to know how long the abatement would be for (10 years) and how much the city would get.

Director of Housing and Economic Development Diana Rogers gave bare bones answers, merely explaining that the taxes paid would be based on a formula. The exchange between the two of them took an entire two and half minutes.(about 21:33 in the audio linked above) Two and one half minutes to discuss a 10 year tax abatement! (Compare that to the 15 minutes or so spent talking about an proposed BUT TABLED ordinance that would revise how the city towing contracts are handled!).

The formula, per the developer's application would be a 10 year tax abatement based on 10% of the annual revenue of the finished project minus a deduction for a vacancy rate. As proposed, the annual net income of the project would be $13,404.80 and if the abatement is granted, the city would receive $14,340 per year in taxes for the life of the abatement. If income on the project doesn't meet that projection, the taxes paid to the city would be less; if the income is higher, the taxes paid would be more.

If we were sitting on council, our vote would be an emphatic "NO".  The developer has utilized the generosity of the taxpayers in the city of Trenton for over a decade. In fact, in his little address to the council on December 5, Mr. Torricelli touted how he hopes there will be more tax credits coming so he can do other development projects in the city (specifically his now surface parking lot across from the Transit Center).

Mr. Torricelli knows very well how to play the system. He'd adept at using other people's money to meet his ends. It's time for him to pay his own way.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Get your hands out of our pockets!

Did you have one of those friends in college who, whenever a group of you were out together, either left his wallet in the dorm or was a little short or had some other excuse why he or she couldn't pay their share for the night's entertainment? And they always promised they'd make it up to you if you could just take care of their portion of the bill this time?

We kind of get that feeling all over again when we read through the documents that comprise Ordinance 17-80 on this week's Trenton City Council Docket.  Approval of this ordinance would grant Woodrose Properties Golden Swan Urban Renewal LLC a ten year tax abatement for the property at 101 South Warren Street.

Previously, we filled you in on some of the history of the property...how the city has bent over backwards for the owner, Woodrose Properties. And we also noted how Woodrose's principal, former Senator Robert Torricelli, has had no problem contributing money to the campaigns of past and present mayors and council members in the city of Trenton.

Let's take a little deeper dive into the Torricelli/Woodrose request for the tax abatement.

On page three of Attachment "A" of the ordinance, the developer describes the proposed project as a
"substantial rehabilitation improvement and conversion of the existing mixed-use building."

 In essence, the building owner wants to update the HVAC system and convert the current commercial office space on the upper floors to residential space. The ground floor retail is currently occupied by a Subway sandwich shop (the "restaurant") and a dental office which opened in September of this year.

A little further down in the package, the developer estimates $181,000 in construction costs, $45,000 for professional fees and a marketing/advertising cost of $4,500. This brings the entire cost to $230,500.  And the work is anticipated to take 4 months.

They are asking the city to grant a 10 year tax abatement of 10% of the estimated annual revenue of the finished project minus a deduction for a vacancy rate. Per the calculations in the application, the annual net income of the project would be $143,404.80 and the city, if the abatement is granted would receive $14,340 a year in taxes.

Here's what has left us scratching our heads. The developer states in the application that...
...based upon the occupancy of the existing apartments...and the location in downtown Trenton (near multiple State Offices and private offices) ...there is a strong demand for market-rate apartments....


OK. If, and that is a big if, there is a strong demand for market-rate apartments, why are they calculating on a vacancy rate? Are they just being conservative in the figuring?

We happen to know someone with rental properties just a block away from the Golden Swan. We asked him about this alleged "strong demand" for market-rate apartments. He suggested that, based upon his experience with his two buildings, the assumption was not true. Our friend admitted that he hasn't under taken a recent study but he noted that Torricelli didn't offer up any proof either.
(NOTE: there is some sort of exhibit referenced in but not included with the documents we received that was pointed to as depicting this demand).

Just to make sure that the city administration on the governing body see how important it is for them to approve this abatement, Torricelli offers up this subtle threat:
Essentially, he says that without the abatement, there can be no conversions and without those, he will "shut down the building."

Does he not realize that the city has ordinances on the books about vacant and abandoned buildings and that should he "shut down" this one, he'd still have to maintain it and keep it secured unless/until it might be sold?

Is blackmailing the city council and the mayor the way to get what one wants?

Folks, we are talking about a private, for-profit investor who obtained the property for $1, had the city do some demo and remediation work for him, gave him various PILOTS on parts of the projects and who has the two large first floor spaces rented. His taxes went up and now he wants the city to cut him a break or he'll pack up and go home.

Not likely. He's got too much other property in town to just walk away.

Nothing about this project screams "revitalization".  The work of saving the historic building is already done. The "conversion" is not going to add to the city's employment rolls. Page five of the application clearly states that there will be no additional staff hired to manage the building (and, it should be noted, those that currently do are located outside of the city). They claim that the additional retail space when rented will bring jobs to downtown, but we believe the retail space to already be rented. (It appears as though this package was prepared last spring but only just recently submitted to the city and doesn't take into account that there is now a dental office located in the building). And, of course, there is the ever popular "construction jobs" that will be "created"; an estimated equivalency of 12 full-time jobs over the four month construction period. Is this really worth a 10 year tax abatement in a city strapped for cash?

Why can't Mr. Torricelli reach into his very deep pockets and fund the conversion himself? He certainly isn't shy about opening his checkbook.

A quick and by no means exhaustive search of NJ ELEC records show that since 1981, Torricelli has personally (this is his money, not the money in his various campaign accounts) given over $117,000 to various political campaigns (we actually have records of contributions he's made that for some reason don't show up in the ELEC database and thus aren't included in that number).  Over half of that amount, $64,500, was given out since December 24, 2013. (Yes, we thought that was an interesting date, too).

Why did we start counting on Christmas Eve of 2013? Because according to the ELEC records that was the date that Torricelli contributed $2,000 to Eric Jackson's 2014 run for mayor. Between that date and June 5, 2014, Torricelli (and his Woodrose Properties, LLC) gave a total of $6,200 to the Jackson campaign. He exceeded the $2,600 limit for the regular campaign (May election) by giving $1,000 from the LLC (an NJ ELEC no-no). Kevin Moriarty explained it here and here

As has been noted repeatedly, we have no idea who may have contributed how much to Eric Jackson in the last three years because it has been that long since he has filed a campaign report. 

North Ward Councilwoman Marge Caldwell Wilson also received a modest $250 contribution from Torricelli in May of 2014.

Campaign contributions are not the only way that Torricelli shows his generosity. After leaving the senate in the wake of a campaign finance scandal, he set up a private foundation with some of his unused campaign funds.

Unlike Eric Jackson who can't seem to file any paperwork on time, you can find the tax returns from Torricelli's Rosemont Foundation online. Here are links to the ones from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.


As we have stated before, foundations and other non-profits set up by public officials offer them ample ways to circumvent campaign finance rules and "spread the wealth." For instance, there was the infamous "Turkey Give Away"  on December 22, 2013.  We all know it was just a coincidence that he was seeking approval to build a "temporary" (it's still there today, four years later) surface parking lot on the old Pete Lorenzo's restaurant site at about the same time. The fact that his 2013 tax return for the foundation shows over $8,700 spent for the turkeys has no relation to him having gotten the go ahead on his plan.

When you look at the website for the Rosemont Foundation or any of the tax returns, you will see that Torricelli has a soft spot or animal welfare. It shouldn't be a surprise then that in 2014 the foundation donated $1,000 to the Lady Margaret Animal Foundation, set up by Trenton's North Ward Councilwoman, Margaret Caldwell Wilson.
 And of course, we cannot forget Mayor Jackson's no longer tax-exempt Moving Trenton Together foundation. The one that conned the good people at the War Memorial into only charging them the (half - price) government rate for renting the theater. Yeah that one.

Well, even though Mayor Jackson couldn't be bothered to file the required 990s, the Rosemont Foundation filed theirs. You guessed it...in 2015 Moving Trenton Together received $2,500 from Torricelli's foundation.


Now, we are not saying that any of this is illegal. And we are not saying that any of Torricelli's largesse is meant to influence any decisions on the part of the Jackson administration, the council or any other government body that can give a thumbs up or down to things like planning and zoning approvals or tax abatements.

What we are saying is that Mr. Torricelli certainly has the ways and means to do the work at the Golden Swan himself. If it is such a good investment that will make the property profitable, then he should dig into his own pocket and keep his hand out of the taxpayer's!


{NOTE: while we were writing this, the Trentonian's David Foster posted a piece on the application for a long term tax abatement. He covers much of the same ground as we have here, but he's got a couple of interesting quotes from Mr. Torricelli.}

Monday, December 04, 2017

How much can the city afford to keep giving?

Former Senator Seeks Tax Abatement For Downtown Property


The above item appears on the docket for the December 7, 2017 Trenton City Council meeting. We find it appalling that Golden Swan Urban Renewal, LLC, whose principal is former Senator Robert Torricelli, would ask the city to reduce the property taxes for his "investment" property on S. Warren Street.

Back in August of this year, Kevin Moriarty, revisted the topic of what he called the Revaluation of La-La Land. It was a topic he'd written about it in January, twice in fact.  And now Torricelli wants a long-term tax abatement.

Well, we say "Too bad!"  Senator Torricelli has taken more than enough from Trenton. It's time he starts paying his fair share.

The Golden Swan property was acquired by Torricelli (through his Woodrose Properties Golden Swan LLC) in 2005. He bought it from the city of Trenton for the grand sum of one dollar. In December of 2007, the city granted Torricelli UEZ funds to do some of the renovation work on the buildings. (This was all covered in some of our earliest postings on this blog. You can find one story here and another here.)

EDIT: courtesy of Kevin Moriarty, we now have a copy of Ordinance 17-80 wherein the developer is requesting a 10 year tax abatement so he can essentially replace some of the buildings systems and convert rental office space to rental residential space. He is doing this under threat of abandoning the project altogether if he doesn't get the abatement because the properties are not profitable. 


It was pointed out at the time that there were some serious monetary contributions that flowed from Torricelli to then Mayor Doug Palmer's campaign and foundation. Not that that in anyway influenced the city's decision to sell the property for $1 and then throw in UEZ money later on.

After a decade, with a Subway store located on the ground floor and some office and residential space above, Torricelli is coming to the city, again; hand out; looking for a "long-term tax abatement."  All the while, the everyday folks are scrambling to meet their newly increased property tax bills. Doesn't quite seem fair, does it?

Now, we can't point to any possible contributions from Torricelli to current Mayor Eric Jackson's campaign or private foundation that may have influenced the decision to bring the tax abatement to council for approval. But only because Jackson has not filed the required tax returns and election reports where such contributions, if there were any, might show up.

What we do know is this, any member of Trenton's governing body who votes to approve this long-term tax abatement is showing that they care more for a non-resident investor who has continually made money off of the city's largesse than they do for the people who actually voted them into office. The best move the council could take would be to vote this ordinance down immediately.





Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fixed price

Yesterday we took you through the saga of the never formed Trenton Employment Commission and the money spent ($23,000+) on Hill Consultants to coordinate Mayor Jackson's invisible Local Employment Initiative. There is so much wrong with that situation that we neglected to include one other little tiny problem that needs to be addressed.

On July 8, 2015 then director of Housing and Economic Development for the City of Trenton Monique King-Viehland prepared and sent a memo to city Business Administrator Terry McEwen. In that memo she recaps the legislative history behind the implementation of the Trenton Resident Employment Policy. She mentions the request for proposal from parties interested in serving as a coordinator for the development and implementation of the program and that Hill Consultants was the only respondent to the RFP. King-Viehland then goes on to recommend awarding the one year, $50,000 contract to Hill Consultants.

There is another document that may have been attached to that memo (the docs as received from the clerk's office were somewhat disorganized). It's a tally sheet of sorts summarizing the results of the RFP process.

The document shows there was only one response to the RFP, that of Hill Consultants. Further down the page, there is a line for "Hourly rate" and that rate is clearly entered in as $100.00.

Interestingly, on the six invoices Charles Hill submitted to the city, the rate is posted as $125.00 per hour.

Nowhere in any of the documents provided in response to our OPRA request is there anything indicating a change in the hourly rate, up or down. Or a correction to the rate published on the tally sheet.

So what happened? How did the rate jump from $100 per hour to $125 per hour?

Was it a clerical error made while the purchasing department was preparing the RFP evaluation sheet? Was the rate always $125 an hour or did the consultant just arbitrarily and unilaterally increase his rate?

In an administration where financial missteps seem to occur with regularity, why would we be surprised if this friend and supporter of the mayor felt comfortable in increasing his billing rate and nobody questioned it.

Maybe if the city council decides to take this up with Mayor Jackson, they can find out why the hourly rate changed between the July and November of 2015.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Whatever happened to the City of Trenton's Resident Employment Initiative?

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson not only rates a failing grade with regards to the management and reporting of his campaign finances (3 years of past due filings) and his Moving Trenton Together private foundation, he’s earns a big fat zero for his Trenton Resident Employment Initiative.

In September of 2014 Trenton City Council passed ordinance 14-42 and created the Trenton Employment Commission. This was done to support the administration’s new policy of seeking at least 25% local employment by contractors on government funded/sponsored projects. The Trenton Employment Commission was to be comprised of the Mayor or his/her designee, a representative from the City Council, a representative from a labor union and four residents of Trenton (the labor rep and the four residents to be appointed by the Mayor).

The stated purpose of the commission is to "meet monthly to oversee the implementation, enforcement and monitoring of the Trenton Resident Employment Policy."

The ordinance was introduced by the Council President (we assume on behalf of the Administration) in August of 2014 just over a month after Jackson took office. The introduction and the adoption by council a month later were both unanimous.

It wasn’t until 13 months after the adoption of the ordinance that the city council approved resolution 15-463, a one year, $50,000 contract with Hill Consultants LLC to coordinate and implement the Trenton Resident Employment Initiative. Hill Consultants was the only respondent to the city’s RFP.

Not surprising for Trenton’s local government, there was some controversy at the time. The contract was pulled from consideration in July of 2015 because ofquestions from the city overseers at the Department of Community Affairs. 

When the resolution awarding the contract finally came before council in October of 2015, mention was made of the fact that Charles Hill, the consulting firm’s principal, had contributed $500 to Eric Jackson’s campaign in 2013. While this did not violate the city’s Pay-to-Play law, it was enough to make South Ward councilman George Muschal vote against the contract. {And it should be remembered that we cannot tell if Mr. Hill made any subsequent contributions to Eric Jackson’s campaign because of the latter’s failure to file reports for the past three years}. North Ward councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson abstained from voting.


It has been two years since Hill Consultants was retained. What has happened since?

Very little, it seems.

Records obtained via OPRA request from the city show that $23,000 of the approved $50,000 was paid to Hill Consultants between December 2015 and June 2016. After May of 2016, Hill Consultants stopped billing the city. There is no documentation as to why and very little in the way of work product to show for the time and money spent.

And when asked, the city replied that the Employment Commission never met nor was anyone even appointed to serve on it.

As noted above, Hill Consultants was the only respondent to the city’s RFP for the Trenton Employment Policy coordinator. The firm’s principal, Charles Hill, is credited with “over 10 years of experience in both the government, not for profit and private sector” in the documents included in the proposal to the city.

Reading through the proposal and researching the firm reveals a couple of ironies. First, Hill Consultants lists an office address in Trenton. According to forms included in the proposal, Charles Hill lists an out of state home address. In a form required under the very initiative he was being hired to coordinate, each contractor or subcontractor must report to the city the number of Trenton residents hired. In this case, none. Not that it was required but the consultant hired to coordinate this local employment initiative was himself not a city resident at the time he was awarded the contract!

The proposal also states that Hill Consultants is a subsidiary of Falcon Ventures, a private equity firm. The website for Falcon lists the same West State Street address as Hill Consultants. New Jersey business records show that in July of 2016 Hill Consultants lost its business status for failure to fileannual reports for two consecutive years. (Sound familiar to anyone?) FalconVentures and Falcon Investments (all part of the series of companies created by Charles Hill) lost their business registration status in June of this year. 

That’s right, the non-resident business consultant failed to file and not just for the consultant company but for the other LLC’s he was a part of. More irony.
An aside: During our records search we also discovered Trenton Partners for (Economic) Development was formed between Charles Hill, Anthony Stewart and Carmen Melendez (she of Tony Mack fame) in February of 2009. That company has also had its business status revoked for failure to file annual reports. And its IRS tax exempt status. The pattern continues.

Next we looked at the invoices submitted to the city by Charles Hill for his services. There are six of them, one for each month, November 2015 through April 2016.

Most of the items listed are for meetings or conference calls with Diana Rogers, the director of Housing and Economic Development for the city. There is one, one hour meeting with Mayor Jackson. There are several blocks of time charged for “Meeting with Hill Consulting Team”, which is a little odd because as far as we can tell, Hill Consultants is a one person shop. (Hill billed time for meeting with himself?)

There is rarely any comment about subject or topics discussed at these meeting or in these phone calls and when there is it simply states something like “discuss Resident Employment Tasks”.  Well, isn’t that rather evident since that was what Hill was hired for?  What about the meat of those meetings; what tasks, specifically, were discussed?

In the invoice marked April 2016, submitted for work performed in March of that year, there is finally some time marked for creating work product. Specifically, 10 hours were billed for the development of a Section 3 conflict of interest policy and 30 hours for an overview and presentation for the commission.

We took a look at the conflict of interest document and it seemed pretty straight forward, boiler plate type language that had been formatted to fit into what we presume to be the Trenton city code book style. A quick Google search turned up various links to similar conflict of interest forms. It sure didn’t take us any 10 hours to do that. A good cut, paste and format session would probably take no more than two hours, three tops.

The work claimed for the overview and presentation to the commission is really intriguing. First of all, we had already established that the commission was never formed and thus never met. Fifteen hours to create the never used powerpoint presentation seems a little high to us.

There are was another combined 10 hours charged for working on FAQ and flow chart attachments to the HUD Section 3 guidelines. Again, seems a little high but what do we know. Maybe Hill is a slow, methodical worker.

What did raise some concerns was the five hours of “Meetings with Community Groups”. There are no specifics given for these meetings. No dates, times, or attendance lists were provided. How does anyone even know if these meetings actually occurred or not? Wouldn’t a prudent steward of public money require and retain back up for auditing purposes?

The invoice labeled May 2016 for hours worked in April also includes mention of meetings with local contractors and community organizations plus development of an outreach document.  We received no example of the document from the city. Again there was no proof that any meetings were held, when they were held, or who attended.

We reached out to noted local contractor Tracey Syphax to see if he had been contacted or made aware of any meetings. His response was that he had no interaction with the consultant nor was he aware of any local contractor who benefited from this program.

We also inquired of John Harmon who leads the Trenton-based African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey if he had any contact with Hill or the city with regards to this local employment initiative. His response mirrored Tracey Syphax’s; No contact.

In amongst the papers we did receive from the city was an agenda for an April14, 2016 meeting of the Section 3 Local Hiring Commission. Again, when we followed up with the city we were told the commission was never formed and no meetings were ever held.


Another irregularity we caught was with the purchase orders submitted by Housing and Economic Director Diana Rogers requesting payment to Hill. The first PO was numbered 16-04659 and was for the December 2015 invoice (hours worked in November). The items in the PO pretty much match the invoice. Then Ms. Rogers appears to get lazy or sloppy or both.

The January PO, and all subsequent ones, use the same number of 16-05251. In fact she uses the exact same PO, with Hill’s verification signature dated in January, 2016, just adding handwritten notes telling what month it was for, what the amount being billed that month is, and then the check number that was issued to pay it. We’re not certified municipal comptrollers or finance directors but this doesn’t appear to be the best, cleanest record keeping.

Do they city’s auditors ever catch any of this stuff?

Where is the city council in all of this. Seven of them passed the ordinance creating the commission that was never formed; the commission one of their own was supposed to sit on. Are they not the least bit curious as to what happened to the commission?

Five of them voted to hire the consultant for $50,000 for a year. He billed the city for almost half of that with little to show. Six months later, he was gone. Aren’t they the least bit concerned about what happened?

And what about the Department of Community Affairs? They had concerns at the outset, did they not think it prudent to check back with the city to see how things were progressing? Or maybe their leaving it for the incoming administration of Governor-elect Phil Murphy to sort out. It's announced that incoming Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver will head up the DCA, maybe she can straighten this mess out.

Regardless, it’s yet another failure for the city; another plan of Jackson’s that was never fully executed.