Friday, February 28, 2014

You can take your endorsements and ...

In the Times of Trenton’s Thursday, February 27, 2014 edition, local consultant Irwin Stoolmacher offered up an opinion on how to elect better candidates in Trenton’s local elections.

Under the headline “Trenton residents need endorsements and voting records to guide election of next mayor”, Stoolmacher advises that endorsements are similar to campaign war chests. He implies that the more of either a candidate receives raises them to higher level than their opponents.

However, endorsements, like campaign money raised, are significant as they can help to separate the top-tier from the bottom-tier candidates in a race with many candidates, such as the eight at present: Wiley Fuller, Jim Golden, Patrick Hall, Eric Jackson, Oliver ‘Bucky’ Leggett, Kathy McBride, Paul Perez and Walker Worthy.

Stoolmacher asserts that sorting “can be helpful to the electorate” and requests many local officials to issue endorsements.

For this reason, I’d strongly urge County Executive Brian Hughes, Rep. Rush Holt, Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, county clerk Paula Sollami-Covello, county surrogate Diane Gerofsky and the freeholders not to sit on the sidelines in the upcoming race for mayor. They should each make their views known as to which candidate they believe is best equipped to lead the city into the future and the reasons for their assessments.

We suggest that Mr. Stoolmacher has not been paying attention. If he has, he would certainly know that Mercer County Deputy Clerk Walker Worthy has been endorsed by many of the very people he has named.

Endorsements are, indeed, coveted by candidates. Unfortunately, they really don’t give any evidence of a candidate’s qualifications or likelihood of getting elected. Nor are endorsements any kind of indication of how the successful candidate will perform in office. We only have to look at those who endorsed our recently convicted and removed from office mayor, Tony Mack.

The fact is elected officials offering up endorsements only give the electorate an excuse to not do their homework on the candidates.

Stoolmacher as much as admits this when he tries to place the weight of endorsements on the continuum of candidates’ qualifications for the office sought.

I’m not suggesting that endorsements are more important than a candidate’s experience, position on key issues or performance in debates but, because they often garner significant press coverage, they can be significant.

Because they often garner significant press coverage, they can be significant.

There you have it. Endorsements are a PR tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. And they let the electorate off of the hook by providing a shortcut to choosing who to vote for.

The voter’s thinking might be something along the lines of “Oh. If the newspaper/county executive/assemblywoman etc. thinks so-and-so is good, that’s all I need!”

To his credit, Stoolmacher does state that when elected officials endorse a candidate they should explain why. He says the endorsements should include the candidate’s skill set, experience, temperament, education, etc.

What about the candidate’s plans? What about who they associate with; surround themselves with; take contributions from?

These are important things to know. Why doesn’t Stoolmacher encourage the electorate to access the public information available via campaign report filings? Why doesn’t he suggest ways and means for the voters to research and evaluate for themselves? Better informed voters will get us the best choices.

The second suggestion in Stoolmacher’s opinion piece is for Trenton City Council to provide voters with objective information that would help them decide whom to vote for.

I’d suggest it consider making candidates’ voter participation records available. Voting is a clear indicator of concern and interest in government. If a person believes in government, other than incapacitating illness, there is no good explanation for not voting.

Stoolmacher’s reasoning is that “It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask constituents to vote for you when you have not taken the time to vote in the past.

Agreed, but why is it up to the city council to provide this information to voters?

It is public information available from the county board of elections. It comes as part of the data set when you purchase the list of registered voters in the city. The data is extremely easy import into and manipulate with a spreadsheet program.

Yes, there is a cost associated with obtaining it, but any individual or group can purchase it, parse it, and publish it. Why does it have to be the city council? It is not in their job description. Or is the author suggesting that each candidate provide their own voting history as part of their campaign resume?

This doesn’t make a lot of sense and it really doesn’t matter.

We need an engaged, enlightened electorate. We do not need more spoon-fed, “show-up-at-the-polls-and-push-the-buttons-I’m-told-to-push”voters.

If, as Stoolmacher closes out with, the Mayor Tony Mack fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that who is elected really matters.

Relying on the same elected officials to tout their favorites, as they have done in the past, is not going to improve our outcome. Choosing based on somebody else’s recommendation is how the city of Trenton got to where it is today.

Looking at and critically evaluating what a candidate proposes, what they’ve done, and who they choose to surround themselves with is what the voters need to do.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

He's gone!

As of 12:32 pm (by the clock in the court room), February 26, 2014, Tony Mack is the convicted, former mayor of the city of Trenton.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Contrast

The news spread quickly yesterday. Representative Rush Holt will not seek reelection this year.

Representative Holt has been a rarity in any elected office. He is incredibly intelligent, soft spoken, and more than competent. And there has never been a whiff of any scandal about him or the way he conducts his business.

Regardless of your partisan beliefs or opinions of his positions, Rep. Holt has been a model politician. His term of service is the kind that you almost wish would continue forever.

While part of us wishes he would stay on, we applaud his decision to not become one of those elected office holders who chooses to hold onto their seat forever simply because they can.

Contrast that with the man who holds the title of mayor of the city of Trenton even though he was convicted in a federal corruption trial over a week and a half ago.

Here’s an individual who is not bright, is not competent and whose every move carried the heavy stench of abuse of power and worse. He should have been removed from office long before the FBI came knocking on his door in the middle of a July night in 2012.

Incompetent. Convicted. Yet still holds the title of mayor.  He’s the one who should be announcing that he is leaving office. Immediately.

There are no clearer examples of the two extremes of American politics.

If only we had more Rush Holts.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Here's the thing

Here are six things you need to know regarding the status of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack now that a federal jury has found him guilty in the corruption case. Some of this information we have posted before but it bears repeating.

# 1:  He is still mayor unless and until he resigns OR the office is deemed vacant. The state law covering this is as follows:

§ 40A:16-3. When office deemed vacant

The office of a mayor or a member of the governing body of a municipality shall be deemed vacant:

a. Upon its being so declared by virtue of a judicial determination;

b. Upon the death of the mayor or a member of a governing body;

c. Upon a determination of the other members of the governing body that the mayor or a member of a governing body no longer resides within the corporate limits of a municipality or ward from which he was elected;

d. Upon the refusal of the mayor or member of a governing body to qualify or serve;

e. Upon a judicial determination that the mayor or member of a governing body shall have become physically or mentally incapable of serving;

f. Upon the filing of a written resignation with the municipal clerk by the mayor or a member of the governing body, except a resignation filed following the filing of a recall petition;

g. Whenever the mayor, when required by law to attend meetings of the governing body, or a member of the governing body, fails to attend and participate in any meetings of the governing body for a period of 8 consecutive weeks without being excused from attendance by a majority of the members of the governing body, at the conclusion of such period; provided, however, that the governing body may refuse to excuse only with respect to those failure to attend and participate which are not due to legitimate illness; or,

h. Upon a determination that the office comes within the purview of R.S. 19:3-25.

Got it? In this particular matter, Tony Mack must resign or a STATE judge, upon petition from the NJ Attorney General or the (Mercer County) Prosecutor sign an order vacating the office. Otherwise, Mack is mayor until Judge Shipp declares the office vacant upon sentencing.  

(NOTE: when we say the office is vacated, that refers to a permanent situation, not a temporary absence. Temporary absences can not continue beyond 60 days and would lead to a possible declaration of the office being vacant).

Currently, both the Trentonian and the Times are reporting the order is not likely to be signed until sometime Monday. So, we wait.

# 2: Who becomes the mayor upon the office being vacated?

§ 40A:9-131. Acting mayor 

In every municipality, unless otherwise provided by law, if a vacancy occurs in the office of mayor, by reason of death, resignation or otherwise, the presiding officer of the governing body shall become the acting mayor until a successor is elected and qualified.

So, South Ward Councilman George Muschal, would become the acting mayor upon the vacation of the office.

# 3: How long does the Council President serve as acting mayor?


§ 40A:16-12. Appointment to fill vacancy where incumbent was not nominee of a political party; time to fill vacancy 

If the incumbent whose office has become vacant was not elected to office as the nominee of a political party, the governing body may, within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy, appoint a successor to fill the vacancy without regard to party.

The governing body has 30 days to appoint a successor to fill the vacancy.

# 4:  How many votes does it take to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor?

§ 40A:16-6. Vote required to fill vacancy in office of mayor

An appointment to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor shall be by a majority vote of the entire membership of the governing body.

There are seven members of council. A majority is four. The “nominee” can vote for him or her self.  

# 5: What happens if council fails to appoint someone to fill the vacancy in the office of mayor within that 30 day time span?

§ 40A:16-14. Special election to fill vacancy in the office of mayor; limitation on authority to appoint

If a governing body shall fail to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor as provided in N.J.S. 40A:16-4a or 40A:16-5a within the 30-day period prescribed by N.J.S. 40A:16-11 or 40A:16-12, the municipal clerk shall forthwith fix the date for a special election to fill the vacancy to be held not less than 45 days nor more than 50 days after the expiration of the time fixed for the filling of the vacancy. If the date fixed for a special election shall fall within 20 days prior to the holding of any general election, regular municipal election or any other election within the municipality, the vacancy shall be filled at that election. If the date fixed for a special election shall fall within 20 days after the holding of any general election, regular municipal election or any other election within the municipality, then the special election to fill the vacancy shall be held not less than 20 days nor more than 25 days from the date of that election.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a vacancy in the office of mayor occurs in the final 6 months of the term of the mayor, no special election shall be held to fill the vacancy.

No appointment shall be made by a governing body to fill a vacancy occurring in the office of a mayor after the fixing of a date for a special election to fill the vacancy pursuant to this section.

So, if the governing body fails to appoint someone to the vacancy within the 30 day window, the council president remains as the acting mayor because we are within the final 6 months of the term.

# 6: What happens to the council president’s seat on the governing body when he becomes the acting mayor?

To answer that, we look at the following court case:

DeSoto v. Smith, 383 N.J. Super. 384, 891 A.2d 1241, 2006 N.J. Super. LEXIS 54 (App. Div. 2006)

As the result of applying Section 40A:9-131, a municipal attorney was terminated by the Council President who became acting mayor and council president temporarily pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40A:9-131. In an effort to defeat the acting mayor’s dismissal, it was argued that section 131, which allowed the council president to serve as both acting mayor and council president, violated the “separation of powers” doctrine. However the Court ruled that the doctrine of separation of powers was not generally applicable to a Faulkner Act mayor-council government, because the design of the Faulkner Act provided for checks and balances which would enable the Council by a 2/3 majority vote to nullify the acting mayor’s dismissal under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:69A-43(c).

So, the succession in office law (40A:16-12) provides 30 days within which the council is to select an acting mayor pending the holding of an election (or for the unexpired balance of the term of the former mayor, depending on the time of the vacancy). Pending that, the Council President becomes acting Mayor as well as Council President.

Muschal would serve as both acting mayor and south ward councilman/council president.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Think!

On Monday, February 3 2014, the prosecution and the defense will make their closing arguments before a jury charged with determining the guilt of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and his brother Ralphiel in the alleged scheme to accept cash bribes from a would be developer of a downtown parking garage.

This is the end result of an FBI sting investigation that fronted the fake development deal to see if the Macks and their friends JoJo Giorgianni and Charles Hall III would take the bait.  Giorgianni and Hall have already entered guilty pleas, leaving the Macks to stand alone.

Some still wonder if this “sting” was actually “entrapment” and/or if this was part of some greater vendetta against the woefully underperforming mayor and his clique of unruly and ill-mannered friends.

We personally think the prosecution has made its case that there was a conspiracy and that the Mack brothers were not only aware of it but participated in it.  The law does not require that either one of them be caught actually taking the bribes, although Ralphiel was found to be in possession of some of the currency that the FBI used in the investigation.

One can never know for sure how a jury will vote. It only takes one reasonable doubt for the whole case to crumble and the defendants set free.

It is significant that this trial will end, however it ends, just as the municipal election campaign season warms up. Just three months after the verdict is delivered Trentonians will go to the polls to select a mayor and city council for the next four years.

Candidates and voters alike need to take some time to reflect on the past three and one half years of the hands down worst administration this city has seen in its over 300 year history.  We all need to review not only what was done but how it was done.

Before casting one vote in the May 13th municipal election, the public needs to thoroughly and thoughtfully review their choices.  The candidates cannot be judged solely on the cut of their suit or the church they attend.

We need to examine who they associate with; where their campaign money is coming from and how they have conducted themselves in their public and, yes, private lives up to this point.

Engaged citizens must review the information that is available to them via New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission reports.  Does the candidate file complete and accurate reports on time? Are they reporting proper expenditures?

Trentonians must also ask direct questions of those seeking office and not accept the typical, non-committal political double-speak designed to win voter approval but containing no substance.

Mayoral candidates must present measurable, realistic goals and define a plan that they will follow to achieve them.

City council candidates must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the governing body’s role in city government; its authority and power.

Pay attention to not only what candidates are saying but how they communicate.

We all say we want the best for Trenton, let’s not lower our standards just because we have a personal affinity for an individual who is running for office. 

If we want elected leaders who can think critically, than we must be critical in how we choose them.

The 2010-2014 term has been a waste for the city of Trenton. Corruption scandal aside, we have seen more waste and ineffective, often non-existent, government. It is well documented and openly recognized that the city’s woes did not start at noon on July 1, 2010.  What has transpired since has dragged Trenton down to the lowest point in our memory.

Despite what may be said during the campaign, whoever takes the oath of office on July 1, 2014 will not be able to flip a switch and immediately make everything “OK” again.

So choose wisely, Trenton. Or be prepared for an even rockier next four years.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

No time for cheers

The Trentonian is reporting this morning that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his newly appointed executive director of the Schools Development Authority, Charles McKenna, have promised Assemblyman Reed Gusciora that Trenton will get a new high school.

This is just the latest in a long series of promises and hoped for starts on remedying a situation where students and staff are forced to endure conditions that in any other district would not be tolerated.
The situation with the 82 year old high school is not new. It has been punted back and forth for over a decade pitting the state against that school board against the preservationists against the state and so on.

Everyone wants to point the finger and no one wants to accept any blame. That has to stop. Now.
Let’s start at the very beginning: the Trenton school district let the building deteriorate.  Undoubtedly, defenders of our board of education will say it was a money problem, but let’s be real. It is a management problem.

Yes, it is an older building and proper repairs and upkeep cost more than temporary, slap-dash fixes. So budget and plan. Trenton’s funding for its infrastructure (like that of the county and the state) is woefully inadequate. We have no problem pumping up salaries for administrators and the like but we won’t invest in maintaining and improving what we have.
When the courts determined that New Jersey was required to allocate some $8 billion for fixing up the dilapidated schools in the state’s poorest districts, it got everybody excited.  With all of the money in play, could scandal be far behind?

After only five years in existence, the Schools Construction Corporation created to oversee the investment in school improvements was abolished in 2007 by then Governor Corzine. Audits showed that hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted in the gold rush to get new schools built. The SDA was formed to “put an end to the wasteand mismanagement of the past”, Corzine was quoted as saying in August of 2007.
The reorganization of the funding and management authority meant all projects would be reevaluated. This put the Trenton Central High School plans back into play and set the stage for more delays.

Alumni and preservationists felt, and we believe rightly so, that a properly managed restoration and updating of the existing school would actually be less expensive than totally new construction. Princeton’s high school, the same vintage and similar design as Trenton’s, had undergone just such a renovation and no one complained about their building as being inadequate.
There is an unfortunate bias that “new” is better and will solve our problems.  It is an attitude that is a holdover from the first couple of centuries of this country, when resources were seemingly unlimited and we could just expand and build a new whenever and wherever we wanted.

A new school building, made of concrete block and drywall instead of brick and plaster is not going improve test scores and raise graduation rates.
That was the popular position and one that the SDA (and its predecessor, the SCC) played to. Building new was cheaper, they said.

And so it went, back and forth; Build New! Restore and Renovate!
The ineffective, mayor appointed school boards and school administrators (with a few exceptions) collectively fell in with the community cry for all new construction. The preservationists made enough noise to give the SDA political cover for its own inadequacies, indecision and political posturing.

Nothing got done.  Conditions in the building worsened.
In the run up to last November’s gubernatorial election, a lot of attention was given to the school. It became just another pawn in the political chess game. Media tours, protests, candidate visits and the incumbent’s reported refusal to tour the building were reported and remarked upon constantly.

Now that Governor Christie is ensconced in his second and final term, and regardless of his aspirations and success in moving to the White House in 2016, he’s promising “a new school.”
We continue to hope that the plans call for mostly renovating and restoring the existing structure, but we realize that is unlikely at this point. It’s a shame.

What is a bigger shame is that it has taken this long to get something done (if, indeed, the promise comes to fruition).
There should be no self-congratulations; no high-fives; no cheers.

The powers that be (and were) created this mess. They prolonged the agony and contributed to the destruction of a once beautiful and quite serviceable school building.
Instead of demonstrating the value and worth of taking care of the things we have, the school district, the board of education, the elected leaders at all levels let us down. They morphed maintenance and management issues into political posturing. They all said “It’s for the children” and for more than a decade, an entire generation of students has gone without.

There is no cause for celebration and no reason for further blame shifting.
Just sit down and get to work.

“It’s for the children.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Now what?

Is the defense team for Tony and Ralphiel Mack trying to stifle coverage of their trial on corruption charges?

{edited at 9 pm, 1/10/14 to include notes about and from the Times article on the matter}

On the same day that jurors and the public heard a recording of JoJo Giorgianni complain about Trentonian columnist LA Parker constantly writing stories picking on Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, the defense team appears to have subpoenaed another Trenton reporter.

On Friday evening, the Times of Trenton published a story online noting that Thursday morning, January 9, Times of Trenton reporter Alex Zdan was served with a subpoeana asking for "all notes pertaining to coverage of the Mack et al matter."

According to the article by Jenna Pizzi,
“Attorneys for The Times have notified the judge and the defense attorney of our intent to fight the subpoena," said Matt Dowling, editor of The Times. "Courts have long-recognized a privilege deeply rooted in the First Amendment that protects reporters from being compelled to provide evidence in judicial proceedings.”

Just after Judge Michael Shipp called a one hour recess for lunch on Thursday, Times reporter Alex Zdan was approached by Robert Haney, attorney for Ralphiel Mack.

Haney, accompanied by private investigator Buddy Wright, walked over to where Zdan was speaking with colleague Jenna Pizzi.

Haney and Wright stood slightly apart for a moment and were largely ignored by the reporters. After politely waiting for a pause in the conversation, Haney asked Zdan if he had been “served.”

There was a very tense pause while Zdan just stared at Haney. Finally, Zdan told Haney that he would not and probably should not speak with him, at least not without a lawyer present. The reporter’s tone was calm and measured but there was unmistakable tension in the words.

Haney nodded and stated that was why he had approached Zdan. He asked that any legal representative of the reporter’s please contact him.

This happened the same day that a lengthy article based upon an interview Zdan did with Giorgianni appeared in the Times. Whether that article was the catalyst for the legal action against Zdan is not known.

Zdan’s reporting on the entire investigation from the time of the FBI raids of the homes of the Mack brothers and Giorgianni has been intensive. He has uncovered the reasons why search warrants were issued for certain individuals.

We hope the defense is not unfairly trying to silence the press or discourage further investigative reporting as part of its trial strategy.

And we hope the defense team is a zealous in pursuing  and preventing possible witnesses from sitting in the courtroom during proceedings, such as Rodney Washington did on Thursday.