Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A "snowmad's" observation

A note to our readers: We've relocated our base of operations east of the capital city into Hamilton Township, hence the title change suggested by one waggish friend several weeks back. (We'll work on an improved header in the weeks to come. Hopefully one that will work for the mobile version of the blog as well).

While some might think this move has placed Trenton squarely in our rear view mirror, we prefer to see it as offering a wider, possibly higher definition perspective. Since we are still property tax paying residents of a neighboring township, we feel we can still add to the discussion by, for and about Trenton and its role in Mercer County. As Father used to say, "As goes Trenton, so goes the townships around it."


Last weekend's major snowfall has provided the opportunity to observe and compare how various adjacent municipalities handled the issue of clearing the streets of abnormally high amounts of snow. It also allows for a comparison of the public's response to same.

Social media has been on fire with commentary about the various towns' efforts to deal with the snow. The local papers have picked up on it as well. The Times ran this story comparing Ewing and Trenton's approach to clearing one stretch of road that runs through both. They also ran a story about Trenton residents frustrated with the city's snow removal efforts.

Trenton is a centuries old town that was laid out and developed before the advent and dominance of the automobile. Her horse and buggy era neighborhoods have difficulty accommodating enough parking for the multitudes of personal vehicles under the best of conditions. Dump a couple of feet of snow on the streets and it quickly makes a mess of things.

The City has to clear the snow, obviously starting with the main thoroughfares and working down through the secondary and tertiary roads and onto the alleys and such. A big problem, as any urban homeowner will tell you, is where to put the snow removed from the streets and sidewalks.

Self-centered idiots who clear the walks in front of their homes and/or dig out their parked cars, trucks and SUVs by throwing the snow INTO THE STREET should be cited and punished. They are not helping themselves let alone anyone else by adding to the snow clogged streets. They are just making it harder for the city to plow everyone out.

On the other side of the coin, the city must have a better, more effective plan in place for snow removal. You would think that a Mayor who had previously served as the Public Works Director would be better able to direct and manage the city's clean up efforts. How could it be that no one thought about clearing the City Hall parking lot until it was time for the workers to show up on Monday?

Open communication with the residents about the progress in clearing the streets might help to cut down on some of the complaints. Perhaps the snow removal plan should have some benchmarks that can be used for all to measure the municipality's effectiveness in getting the streets cleared of snow.
(All snow emergency routes completely cleared within 8 hours of the cessation of snowfall; all secondary roads cleared 12 hours later; etc.)

Hamilton runs an application called "Snow Plow Sal" that is supposed to show where plows are operating at any given time as well as tell users when they can expect their street to be plowed. We saw several complaints posted about untouched streets where the app indicated plowing had been done. We didn't investigate the claims (we stayed off of the roads as much as possible during and immediately after the storm so the plows could do their thing.)  It seems as though there were some "errors" in the data provided. Or maybe it was the interpretation of the data. If a plow had made a pass on the street but the snow wasn't removed all the way down to the pavement, was the street considered "done"?

Again, it was a lot of snow. Even with Hamilton's generally larger, less congested streets, it is hard to make that volume of frozen precipitation disappear overnight. Were the public's expectations met? It doesn't seems so. Were those expectations realistic? That's a good question.

And what about the citizens? How well did they cope with this?

Our past experience in Trenton was that only about half of the residents and property owners (including the City itself) adequately cleared their sidewalks as per city ordinance. This made walking tricky at best. As mentioned above, those that did often threw the snow into the streets adding to the burden the plows had to clear away.

In Hamilton there are still some properties where the sidewalks haven't been cleared but not as many proportionately as we used to see in the city. Interesting to us were the homes where the driveways and walks to the front door were snow and ice free within hours of the end of the storm while the sidewalks along the frontage were left untouched. So, it wasn't a matter of someone too old or ill to get the shoveling done.

City or township, the unusual circumstances of the storm did bring out the good in a lot of people. Stories of neighbors helping neighbors dig out cars, get walks cleared, etc. were also posted online and published in the papers. The Trentonian's Jeff Edelstein even did a column on his personal experience with "a helper".

We, too, were the beneficiaries of good neighbors who brought their snow blower over to clear the driveway and knock down the "plow wall" that had been kicked across the driveway curb cut.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Tag! You're IT!

Tonight, Trenton's governing body will, yet again, vote on a contract for IT Consulting services. It has become every bit as hot button an issue this year as it was five years ago under the Mack administration.

There have been a few articles in the local press, some good blogging by Kevin Moriarty, plus some extended commentary on social media. Here are three points that we think must be kept in mind when discussing this situation and deciding the best direction from here.

1) The shortcomings of the City of Trenton's IT system should not be blamed solely (if at all) on the current consultant, Associated Data Processing. ADPC is a vendor hired to support the city's various departments and their IT needs.

Over the years, many have commented on how the city has lagged in effectively using technology to increase the efficacy of its many operations. We've begged for more modern, up to date, services.

Is it the fault of the vendor supporting the existing systems that the city has not drafted a plan to improve the technology used or committed the resources necessary to execute a plan (if there was one)? NO!

If you know your car needs new tires, a transmission rebuild and a tune up but don't direct your mechanic to do the work and authorize the cost of same, is it the mechanic's fault that you can't get up to speed on Rte 1? NO!

If you talk about wanting to lose weight, quit smoking and get in shape with your personal physician but don't follow her suggestions on how to achieve those goals, is it her fault? NO!

Why are so many so quick to blame ADPC for the shortcomings of the Trenton's IT infrastructure?

Just read the documents included with the RFP and you'll see that in the past five years there has been few substantive discussions with either the past or current administrations about upgrading the city's IT system. Contained within in that RFP is an assessment report done, at the City's request, by the (then) current contractor, ADPC. Or we should say, a part of the report is included.

The RFP only contained 36 pages, about half, of the full assessment report. The parts that were omitted were the recommendations, evaluations of ADPCs performance, and lists of aborted or stalled projects, etc. The full report can be found here.

One example...stretching back to the Palmer administration, the city has been "ready" to implement a new computer based system for issuing parking permits and passes. This started when the current Mayor was the Director of Public Works (under whose supervision falls the Division of Transportation) and has been talked about through the Mack years and into the present.The city has yet to commit the resources (funding) to get this system up and running. That is hardly the fault of ADPC.

Another example, the city has failed to update and maintain its GIS system, rendering it somewhat less than useful.

In the full IT Assessment report, various departments rated ADPC's performance. We'll let the document speak for itself here.

2) The RFP process has, by all accounts, been seriously flawed. Flawed to the point where it certainly appears, at least superficially, that it was done in an attempt to manipulate the outcome. Let's start with the simple fact that the city's purchasing agent is not certified (nor does she have to be, by state statute, but she hasn't been able to pass the test). So how credible is the bidding process for anything when it is overseen by someone who cannot meet the requirements for certification set by the state?

With regards to the IT contract, the members of the scoring committee are somewhat suspect. Are they qualified to evaluate IT matters? Are they free of conflicts of interest and totally objective? Was the hired "professional" really able to evaluate a dozen responses from bidders in only the two hours he was paid for?

The mere fact that the administration only published part of the IT Assessment report, leaving out the solid recommendations and lack of commitment to upgrades and improvements is a pretty good indication to us that they were trying to push their shortcomings (and those of their predecessors) off on someone else.

3) It is very doubtful that FCC Consulting is truly the best firm out of all the companies that responded to the RFP. A simple review of the websites of all the companies shows a notable lack of professionalism in FCC's site when compared to the competitors. All of the other firms show at least a small staff and multi-person leadership. FCC's is obviously a one person show at the moment, run out of the principal's rented home. Not very confidence instilling.

What happens if FCC gets the contract? How quickly can he staff up to meet the demands of the work? Can he recruit people with the right skills and experience to serve what will surely be FCC's biggest client?

Does FCC have the financial wherewithal to manage this contract? Doubtful.

Mr. Carothers' business history is rather checkered. There are two judgments from 2008 and 2009 totaling almost $70,000 that are listed on the state judiciary website as still being open. Why hasn't he been able to pay these off?

The business registration for the various LLC's Mr. Carothers has created have all been suspended at one time or another for failure to file annual reports. Filing is a simple process, done online. And if your company goes out of business, you are supposed to file that as well.

Then there is Mr. Carother's personal history of bankruptcy and such. Again, not a lot to build confidence in his ability to successfully perform the important work that the city so badly needs.

So, what to do?

It is possible that there is a better company out there that can help Trenton move ahead in the IT game. There is really no way of knowing until the administration maps out a plan, on its own or with the help of a consultant, as to what it wants to achieve, when it wants to achieve it by and earmarking the funds and human resources to get it done.

For the long term, a plan must be drawn up and a timetable for implementation adopted.

In the short term, the city needs a capable IT consultant. Why not keep ADPC at least through the process of developing a strategy for moving ahead? And if not ADPC, then at least obtain the services of a truly experienced, financially stable vendor to handle the current needs.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

This is how our failing city operates

The headline read “Trenton union leader files suit against the city to have $40k returned after contract dispute”.

The story was about Dave Tallone, the head of the city’s largest union and his quest to have $40,000 returned to him by the city of Trenton.

Tallone had been charged with 15 counts of forgery and fraud in 2011 but the charges were dropped in 2013.  At that time, Tallone paid the city of Trenton $40,000 in case the city decided to pursue a civil case against him in the matter. They haven’t and he asked for his money back but hasn’t received it. So, Tallone filed a lawsuit.

Now, at first, this might seem only fitting and right. He put the money up in trust, it wasn’t needed and now he wants it back.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t that simple.  There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

If you are not familiar with or have forgotten the background in this matter, here’s a refresher:

From at least 2006 through 2011, Dave Tallone was paid by the City of Trenton to provide food for the Annual Spring Litter march. State law prohibits municipal employees and officers from doing business with their employer so Tallone used other names in an effort to cover his tracks.

Most often, he seemed to use the name of Adele Wright. Ms. Wright is Mr. Tallone’s sister. He also used the name of a Joseph Gresko who is believed to be a relative and/or friend of Tallone’s. The addresses used on the documents pertaining to the contracts were sometimes Tallone’s home address or that of his son (who has since passed away).

It had to have been common knowledge throughout City Hall he was doing this. It was Tallone who showed up to serve the food each day (presumably while still collecting his daily pay from the City of Trenton).

The payments for the food were deposited into bank accounts in the city employee credit union, of which Mr. Tallone was the president. One check was actually endorsed by the payee and then endorsed again with a signature reading “Dave Tallone.”

In the fall of 2011, Mr. Tallone was charged by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office with 15 counts of forgery and fraud.  The charges were dropped in 2013 because the MCPO could not get Tallone’s sister to travel from her home in Nevada to Trenton to testify.

Tallone got his job back and was given his back pay. The day after the charges were dropped, he gave the city a check for $40,000. Ostensibly this was to be held “in trust” pending the result of any civil action the city might initiate in place of the failed criminal case.

Now Tallone wants his money back. The city hasn’t yet given it to him, so he’s going to court to get it.

Too many questions, too few answers
We have never quite grasped the whole way the case was handled from the outset. Nor have we understood how it went on for several years before being brought to the attention of the authorities.

From the New Jersey State Statutes:
40:69A-163. Interest in contracts or jobs forbidden
No officer or employee elected or appointed in any municipality shall be interested directly or indirectly in any contract or job for work or materials, or the profits thereof, to be furnished or performed for the municipality, and no such officer or employee shall be interested directly or indirectly in any contract or job for work or materials or the profits thereof, to be furnished or performed, for any person operating any interurban railway, street railway, gas works, water works, electric light or power plant, heating plant, telegraph line, telephone exchange, or other public utility within the territorial limits of such municipality.
L.1950, c.210, p. 509, s. 17-14, eff. June 8, 1950.
There seems to be no disagreement that it was Mr. Tallone who got the contracts. The Mercer County Prosecutor states, in a faxed letter accompanying Tallone’s legal filing that “Mr. Tallone maintains that any service under vendor contracts with the City of Trenton were [sic] provided in full and at the lowest bid.”

That’s pretty clear. Tallone got the jobs. It is also pretty clear that the by using the names of other individuals and effort was being made to circumvent the law.

The whole idea of Tallone having submitted the lowest quote is also questionable.

A purchase order issued for the April 2011 event was in the amount of $12,000 for “unlimited” lunches to be served. It was made out not in Mr. Tallone’s name. It was made out in the name of Joseph Gresko but at the address of Mr. Tallone’s residence.

Documents obtained from the city show two other price quotes for providing the lunches for the April 2011 litter march. One was from Heavenly Ham in Mercer Mall for 3000 lunches at $7.00 each ($21,000). The second was from Fred & Pete’s Catering in Mercerville. Again, 3000 lunches but at $6.00 per ($18,000). Note, the number “3000” not “unlimited.”

Why were two of the quotes for 3000 lunches but Mr. Tallone’s was for an “unlimited” amount?  Was it to make the bid appear even lower?

Who requested the quotes is not clear but we do know this, the entire Litter March was coordinated and paid for out of the Department of Public Works. Mr. Tallone, as an employee of the Sewer Utility, works in a division of the Department of Public Works. Is it possible Tallone was given access to the other quotes so he could come in with a lower price?

If you do the math, Tallone’s price wasn’t the lowest.

The city provided a roster of 37 “teams” representing 1904 people expected to participate in the litter march. The list noted some “no shows”, dropping the count to 1857 plus "staff". If we round the number up to 2000 people in attendance it’s a full third less than the 3000 lunches in the other quotes. If you divide Tallone’s “lowest” bid of $12,000 by a maximum 2000 attendees it comes out to $6.00 per lunch served. That’s the same amount as the well known Fred and Pete’s Deli was going to charge. It is very unlikely, given the list of 1857 attendees “plus staff” that the number of lunches served reached 2000. Let’s assume the 1857 participants were augmented by 43 “staff”.  That brings the total of lunches to 1900. Dividing the $12,000 by 1900 brings the price per lunch to $6.32, higher than the Fred and Pete’s quote.

Interestingly, documents show that Tallone was paid in full for the unlimited lunches on March 29, nearly three full weeks prior to the event. This is another irregularity. Vendors are not usually paid in full prior to delivering the goods or services. We can understand a partial payment to cover the upfront costs of materials, but full payment before delivery should never have occurred. Yet the purchase order was signed off by the then acting director of Public Works, Ralph Burzachiello. There was never a full accounting of the number of lunches served. What if the event had been cancelled due to weather? Would the city have gone back to Tallone and asked for the money back?

A copy of another PO for $8,500 was obtained from the city. This PO was for supplying and serving of “unlimited” continental breakfast for all staff and volunteers the day of the litter march.

The accompanying handwritten quote was broken down into two items. The continental breakfast for an estimated 2500 people at $2.00 per ($5000) and to supply and serve “unlimited” lunch for staff and participants estimated at 700 people extra at $5.00 per head ($3500). This PO was made out to Adele Wright and the address given was that of the condo where Tallone’s son lived.

We know that Ms. Wright was living in Las Vegas at the time, so how come her name is on the PO? Why wasn’t Mr. Gresko’s name used? Was this an attempt to splinter the quotes so that the cost fell below the minimum bid threshold? It should also be noted that this quote, requisition and purchase order were all dated AFTER the April 18 Litter March. So, after the before the fact payment of $12,000, there was an after the fact billing and payment for breakfast and MORE LUNCHES. Sounds like someone was helping himself to healthy seconds from the City's plate! How is it no one in the city finance offices caught that?

Another anomaly in this story is the lack of documentation regarding the vendor providing the food to the city. State law requires any individual or entity to doing business with the local unit to provide a Certificate of Registration. There appear to have been none sought or obtained for Mr. Tallone et al.

When copies of the 1099 forms issued to the vendor(s) for tax reporting purposes were requested, the city stated none had been issued because no Tax ID numbers had been provided. Another violation of law but the city went ahead and repeatedly engaged Mr. Tallone in contracting for the food for the litter march, year after year without reporting his income.

Where were the controls? Who was ignoring or directing to be ignored the most basic rules for purchasing and payment by a municipal government?

The highest levels of management had to know this was going on. How else could so many rules have been overlooked in allowing Tallone to get the contracts?

In 2011, it was acting Public Works Director Ralph Burzachiello who signed the PO for the

In 2010, then Public Works Director Eric Jackson signed some of the paperwork submitted under Gresko’s name. 

Why hasn’t the MCPO investigated the city side of this issue?

Tallone acknowledges he did the work, yet the PO’s were issued under the names of others. Isn’t that in and of itself fraud? Why was the MCPO’s case so dependent upon the testimony of Ms. Wright that it couldn’t proceed without her? What was Mr. Gresko’s role in all of this? Was the use of his name in combination with different addresses just another attempt to hide the real fact that Tallone was getting the contracts illegally?

A big if
If Mr. Tallone, Mr. Gresko and Ms. Wright actually had some sort of catering business, it was not properly registered with the state. They didn’t provide proper tax identification numbers to the city. Due to Mr. Tallone’s obvious and acknowledged involvement, they are banned from doing work for the city anyway.

How did any of this escape the notice of the department directors and others who had to sign off on the paperwork?

With all of the above unanswered questions it is somewhat understandable that, on the advice of counsel, Mr. Tallone would pay the city $40,000. It seems pretty obvious that any civil action taken by the city against Tallone would result in him having to make restitution for the money gained from his prohibited contracts.

Or does Mr. Tallone think that the current administration would rather give back that $40,000 in the hopes of putting this story to rest without having to answer any of those pesky questions above?

Dave Tallone got his job back. He has reportedly received his back pay. Seems to us he has pretty much been made whole. Why shouldn’t he make restitution to the city for at least some of the money he received through the illegal contracts?

He should leave it as is and drop his lawsuit requesting the return of the money.

Or maybe it would be better for the matter to proceed, publicly, in the courts so the world can see and hear how the successive administrations in the City of Trenton have broken and ignored public contracting laws and how no one, including the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, has stepped up to take all the parties to task.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Clean it up

Excerpts from the Trenton City Code:

[HISTORY: Adopted by the City Council of the City of Trenton 9-7-1967 as § 12-19 of the Revised General Ordinances. Amendments noted where applicable.]
It is found and declared that there exists in the City of Trenton structures used for nonresidential purposes which are, or may become in the future, substandard with respect to structure, equipment and maintenance; further that such conditions, including, but not limited to, structural deterioration, lack of essential heating, plumbing, storage or refrigeration equipment, lack of maintenance or upkeep of essential utilities and facilities, existence of fire hazards, inadequate provisions for light and air, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding, constitute a menace to the health, safety, morals, welfare and reasonable comfort of the citizens and inhabitants of the City.
It is further found and declared that by reason of lack of maintenance and progressive deterioration, certain properties have the further effect of creating blighting conditions and initiating slums, and that if they are not curtailed and removed, such conditions will grow and spread and will necessitate in time the expenditure of large amounts of public funds to correct and eliminate the same, and that by reason of timely regulations and restrictions as contained in this chapter, the growth of slums and blight may be prevented and the neighborhood and property values thereby maintained, the desirability and amenities of residential and nonresidential uses and neighborhoods enhanced and the public health, safety and welfare protected and fostered.

§ 56-2. Purpose.

The purpose of this chapter is to protect public health, safely, morals and welfare by establishing minimum standards governing the maintenance, appearance, condition and occupancy of nonresidential premises; establish minimum standards governing utilities, facilities and other physical components and conditions essential to make the aforesaid facilities fit for human habitation, occupancy and use; fix certain responsibilities and duties upon owners and operators, and distinct and separate responsibilities and duties upon occupants; authorize and establish procedures for the inspection of premises; and provide for the repair, demolition or vacation of premises unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use. This chapter is declared to be remedial and essential for the public interest and it is intended that it be liberally construed to effectuate the purposes as stated herein.

§ 56-9. Duties and responsibilities of owner and operator.

The following duties and responsibilities are imposed on every owner and operator of any building covered by the provisions of this chapter:
It shall be the responsibility of the owner of a commercial establishment to supply suitable trash containers of a minimum size of 30 gallons at each entrance/exit to the establishment as a convenient means for customers to dispose of discarded products that were purchased within and to prevent the accumulation of trash and debris in front and around said commercial property.
[Added 6-20-2002 by Ord. No. 02-53]

Sunday, January 11, 2015
No trash receptacle as required. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015
Trash has been on the curb since Friday, January 9. No Trash receptacle as required.

Sunday, January 11, 2015. Trash from former bank building at Broad & Market.
Note to sack of stucco mix on the ground to the right of the utility pole. It has been there for weeks. 

And lest we think it is just commercial establishments, there are also rules for residences:

Chapter 248. SOLID WASTE

Article I. Garbage Collection

§ 248-3. Provision and use of containers.

One- or two-family dwellings. A proper and sufficient number of approved containers, as herein defined, for the storage of garbage and rubbish between collections shall be provided by each family residing in a single-family dwelling or in a two-family dwelling. It shall be the duty of the occupants to maintain such containers in good repair, in a clean and satisfactory condition and to store rubbish and garbage properly therein.
[Amended 1-6-2001 by Ord. No. 03-8]
Multiple dwellings. In the case of a building housing three families or more, the owner, lessee or agent of the premises shall provide a sufficient number of suitable approved containers, as herein defined, for the storage of garbage and rubbish. In the case of buildings housing 75 units or more the owner, lessee or agent of the premises shall provide front-end-load containers and maintain them in good repair and in a clean and satisfactory condition.
[Amended 1-6-2001 by Ord. No. 03-8]
Commercial and nonresidential establishments. The proprietor, manager, agent or person in charge of a commercial establishment, professional office, church or any other premises where occupancy is nonresidential in nature shall provide proper and sufficient approved containers as defined herein.

And this is just one small corner of the city.

Where is the enforcement?

How can we make the city better if we don't make property owners honor their responsibilities?

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

We know what it says, we just don't care

Lack of adherence to vehicle ordinance driving us crazy

City of Trenton Ordinance 10-007 was passed passed by the governing body on January 21, 2010. It was signed by then Mayor Douglas Palmer on January 25, 2010. It has been the law of the city since then.

That ordinance reads in part:
Passenger Motor Vehicle use
A. It is the policy of the City of Trenton that the cost of purchasing, leasing, maintaining, insuring and fueling non-specialized passenger automobiles for use by civilian public employees be reduced to the greatest extent compatible with the safe and efficient provision of municipal services. To that end, it shall be the duty of the Business Administrator forthwith to enforce the restrictions on on the acquisition, maintenance and assignment of non-specialized passenger motor vehicles as set forth below as of the effective date of this Ordinance. 
The ordinance goes on to enumerate various things the BA is responsible to submit to the Mayor and City Council including, under items number 3 and 4: 
3. For each vehicle listed, the name, office, or position or employment or agency of each person who has been or is currently assigned or otherwise permitted to operate it shall be set forth, stating the date or date range of each person's usage of that vehicle. 
4. For each non-specialized passenger vehicle on the list, the Business Administrator shall provide a concise explanation as to the purpose served by continuing the City's ownership and maintenance of the vehicle and by not requiring the assigned user or users to use personal vehicles on a reimbursement basis. 
 We've written about the abuse of the unnecessary vehicle fleet before. You can read it here, here and here.

For at least the third time in four years, we requested the vehicle list AND the "concise explanation" as to why it is better for the city to own maintain the specific vehicles than reimburse the employee for using their personal cars.

The initial response was a general inventory of vehicles and where they were assigned. But there was no explanation given as to why it is a good idea for the city to maintain the fleet. We reminded the City Clerk's office that the response to the OPRA request was incomplete and asked for the explanation to be provided.

This is the response we received:
"According to the Department of Public Works; The City of Trenton limits the assignment of vehicles to personnel depending upon their daily responsibilities and necessity to respond during emergencies.  Under the direction of the Business Administrator, each department Director reviews their respective employees’ assigned tasks to determine and establish the vehicle use limits based on the same.  Directors are also assigned vehicles which are used at their discretion."
 Thanks, but that is not what we asked for.

Mr. Mayor, Mr. BA, Ms. Chief of Staff, and Mr. Council President:

Does the Administration and/or the Governing Body of the City of Trenton ever intend to follow the procedures spelled out in plain English regarding the non-specialized passenger vehicle fleet? It is, after all, the law!

For all the lip service given to new beginnings, accountability and such, to date, on at least this one matter, you are no better than either of the two Administrations/Councils to come before you.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Now you see it, now you don't. Now you see it, again.

As you know, the budget committee of Trenton’s City Council has been meeting with department directors to go over the proposed numbers for this fiscal year (which btw is half over).

Did you know that there is still a line item for a Director of Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture?

There is.

Why can’t the administration figure out what it wants to do with regards to this department?

Mayor Jackson’s transition team took the position that the city might be best served by reorganizing city government and doing away with the department altogether. This would be accomplished by dividing up the work of that department amongst the remaining departments. It is an idea that has beenfloated here and elsewhere for the past few years.

Last month, the preliminary budget included money for hiring a director of DRNRC and three staff people in seeming conflict with the transition report. Then, in a November 21, 2014 article by Times reporter Jenna Pizzi, city spokesman Michael Walker stated the idea was scrapped.

"The mayor is not moving ahead with the department of recreation," Walker said. "He is rethinking the way the city is moving forward with recreation." 

Or so we thought.

Turns out, page three of the budget reviewed at the Monday, December 22 hearing included the line items for salaries of a recreation director's and staff. (See image above). This completely contradicts Walker's statement made last month. 

Sources say the administration doesn't know yet how it wishes to proceed with the recreation department but wants the money in place just the same. 

Sounds indefinite and undecided. Kind of like the guy who was running things a year ago this month. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Consider this

Imagine you are department director for a small Northeastern city. Imagine that city is Trenton.

Let's say you have a problem employee. He's been disciplined at least once, very recently, for failing to properly carry out his duties. His job will be in jeopardy if he has any more problems. He knows it. You know. The whole department knows it.

One day you find out that he is accused of violating the very rules as a private citizen that he, as an employee, is charged with enforcing on every other citizen.

What would you do to that employee, if you judge the accusations are true?

Would you mete out a more severe punishment?

Would you suspend the employee? Would you fire him?

Whatever action you took, how would you feel if your decision was overruled by your boss against your objection?

That seems to be the core issue at last month’s dismissal of the city’s inspections director, Cleveland Thompson.

Sources indicated at the time that Thompson’s departure was brought on by his insistence that an employee in his department should be terminated and the administration, for whatever reason, did not agree.

Thompson, who has since been brought back to his old title of electrical sub code official, reportedly either quit or was fired by the Jackson administration over a disagreement on the handling of a disciplinary matter concerning housing inspector Ken Bullock.

Citing the usual “we don’t comment on personnel matters”; the Jackson administration has refrained from providing any details. There are some things we do know via the results of some requests for public information.

  • Kenneth Bullock, a barber since 1978, was hired by the city of Trenton in July, 2006. He was known to be an avid supporter of Doug Palmer who had just started his fifth and final term at the time Bullock was hired. In fact, Palmer was one of three references listed on Bullock’s employment application. The others were Palmer Public Information Officer Kent Ashworth and then East Ward Councilman Gino Melone.
  • In September of 2011, Bullock apparently was laid off along with many other city employees. He was rehired in July of 2013. 
  • In March of 2014, Bullock issued a Certificate of Occupancy to a house on Bayard Street that was being sold. Work was being done in the house that required permits yet Bullock failed to cite the seller or buyer and issued the C of O.
  • Payroll records show that Bullock was not paid for two days in April of this year. This corresponds with a disciplinary suspension Bullock served for failing to perform his duties in that case. 
  • Also in March, Bullock inspected 216 Rusling and approved a rental and sale final C of O. Due to complaints received a re-inspection was conducted on May 9 and several violations were discovered.
  • Bullock granted a rental C of O for an apartment on Grand Street on April 29. On May 5, another inspector responding to a complaint by the tenant, inspected the apartment and discovered a dozen violations that were not included in Bullock's inspection report. Included in the overlooked violations was the lack of carbon monoxide detector and access to the electric panel box. 
  • On May 13, inspectors acting on an anonymous tip went to 218 and 220 Dickinson Street to investigate the dumping of construction debris in the former lot after the installation of a deck and stairs on the back of the house at the latter address. Indeed, there was evidence that a deck had recently been built on the rear of 220 Dickinson and there was debris from that job in the lot next door. 
  • The 220 Dickinson property is owned by Kenneth Bullock. He bought it from the city for $15,000 at an auction in May, 2010. When the inspectors approached the house they noticed a recently added deck and stairs and the debris on the property next door. When they went to the front door of the home, they were confronted by Bullock who allegedly told them to “tell Cleveland that he needs to stop thisThe report by Inspectors Joe Pratico and Ray Bucchi states Bullock also said: “Listen to me carefully. I have reached my boiling point. Do you understand what I am saying? I’ve reached my boiling point and I will go back to prison.
  • Bullock was issued a summons for allowing the dumping of the construction debris leftover from the construction of the deck on the adjacent (218 Dickson) vacant property. The matter has been transferred to Ewing Township out of Trenton Municipal court because of potential conflicts of interest. 
  • Bullock paid $900 for not taking out a permit for the construction of the deck. The initial violation of not having a permit cost him $500 and there was an additional $50 fine per week for eight weeks until he got the permit. 
  • Once the permit was issued and the deck inspected, violations were noted. They were to be corrected by September 12, 2014. We currently have no information on the status of those violations. 

As a result of all of this, we are told that a disciplinary hearing was held.

Reportedly, Director Thompson felt strongly that Bullock’s cumulative actions should result in immediate termination.

The administration, on the other hand, wanted to suspend rather than terminate Bullock.

Thompson is alleged to have refused to sign the suspension paperwork which resulted in him no longer being the Director of Inspections.

What would you do?

You have an employee with a record of failing to perform his duties. He’s already served one suspension. He obviously disregarded the very construction code he is employed to enforce by not obtaining a permit for work on his own property. It certainly appears he allowed construction debris from the project to be dumped on an adjoining property.

What would you do?

A tip of the cap to Kevin Moriarty for his input on shaping the opening of this piece.