Monday, December 31, 2007

Ok. Maybe we're not so bad off after all

Looks like Trenton isn't the only city with a Mayor who makes questionable statements or avoids city hall. These two items were gleaned from the Trentonian this morning:

1) Mayor Ken Williams resigned in Centerton, Arkansas (pop. 2,146) in November and revealed that he is actually Don LaRose, an Indiana preacher who abruptly abandoned his family in 1980 because, he said, satanists had abducted and threatened him, and brainwashed him to rub out details of a murder he supposedly knew about. He said his memory returned only recently, thanks to truth serum.

2) Mayor Lino Donato of Poteet, Texas (pop. 3,500), said in November that he would remain in office despite his inability to set foot in city hall. That building is less than 1,000 feet from a youth recreation center and therefore off-limits to Donato, who was adjudicated a sex offender in October.

Well, we're pretty sure there isn't a court order keeping Doug Palmer out of City Hall (or the City, for that matter). Same goes for Joe Santiago and Police Headquarters.

But it would be interesting to see what would happen if doses of that "truth serum" could be administered to Palmer and Santiago.

Here's a toast to an interesting year in Trenton. May you all have the best in health and wealth in 2008!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

At least he's trying

Newark's Mayor Booker is on the job and in town!

The venerable New York Times ran an interesting story this morning about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's hands on approach to improving public safety in New Jersey's largest city.

The story relates how Mayor Booker and his Police Director Garry McCarthy have been making surprise visits to the city's four precinct houses and touring Newark's streets during the overnight hours to observe first hand how the Newark Police Department carries out its duties. Mayor Booker commends the Police for the job they are doing and challenges them to keep up the pressure on the criminal element in between answering calls for service.

Mayor Booker also visits the communications center to observe the volume of calls for service and how the recently installed camera system is monitored.

The article is a good read and makes one wonder why we aren't seeing a similar "hands on" approach to policing here in Trenton. While some here may find fault with an elected official and his appointed director being so involved, one has to think it can't be any worse than the absentee management we get from our missing mayor and non-resident police director.

One gets the sense that Mayor Booker understands the importance of improving Newark's Public Safety image and that he needs the cooperation and buy in of the entire Police Department to accomplish this. And it is apparent that he is willing to put in the time and effort, in person, to impress this upon the members of the department.

Contrast this with the completely adversarial attitude Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer takes towards the members of the Trenton Police Department. His complaints about disgruntled cops and union leaders might carry more weight if Mr. Palmer was actually around to observe just how the police department operates. Similarly, a police director who didn't believe he was above the law might go further towards making a real improvement in Trenton's public safety.

Instead we get excuses, public relations spin and "taillights driving off into the sunset."

Almost makes you wish you lived in Newark.

A quick nod to Trenton's Time for discovering the NY Times article and posting about it on Saturday.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

These are the times that try men's souls

Thomas Paine wrote those words in December of 1776 just prior to the battle of Trenton and the battle of the Assunpink (2nd Battle of Trenton). They were part of his pamphlet, "The Crisis."

As we watched today's battle reenactments in Mill Hill Park, we were reminded that the war for independence was fought so that the "free" colonies of the fledgling republic could self govern and not be subservient to the tyrannical whims of King George the III of England.

Two hundred and thirty one years later, Trentonians are again subject to the whims of a wanton despot who has totally lost touch with those he was elected "to serve." Douglas H. Palmer, in his fifth term as Mayor of the City of Trenton has ceased to care about what is best for the City and more about what is best for him.

The most recent, high profile example is the Mayor's controversial waiving of the City's residency ordinance in order to hold onto equally controversial Police Director Joe Santiago. At first, Palmer insisted that it was well within his power to grant such a waiver (even though other City Employees have been terminated for not adhering to it, raising claims of selective enforcement). More recently, the Mayor has suggested that City Council pass an amendment to the ordinance that would allow for the exception for Mr. Santiago.

Some have pointed out that this is a non-issue as the Mayor is not intending to run for office again in 2010 and so Mr. Santiago will most probably not continue on as Police Director under the next Mayor. Other have claimed that Director Santiago has done more good than harm as Police Director and it is just "disgruntled cops" and/or members of the public who don't like the fact that Mr. Santiago is a "person of color" serving as the head of the Trenton Police Department.

Still others think the residency issue/Director Santiago are "irrelevant". In a recent editorial in the Trenton Downtowner, Joe Emanski expressed the belief that there are other, more substantial issues facing Trenton that deserve the attention and outcry from the public.

To a certain degree, Mr. Emanski is correct.

Trenton's school system continues to fail the children (and citizens in general) of our city.

The city is for all intents and purposes "broke" as evidenced by the recent grant given from the state of New Jersey's "Distressed Cities" program to close a multi-million dollar budget gap. Of course the Mayor denies that Trenton is "distressed" but yet he's got his hand out to the State for financial aid.

As has been noted before, the City seems incapable or unwilling to take care if its properties and infrastructure. This results in the need for major funding to bring buildings, streets and the water and sewage utilities up to snuff...or to sell them off for a one-time cash infusion.

Still, we can find money to grant to developers (who are also campaign contributors), fix ridiculous neon fire helmets, fund increasingly expensive and ineffective horse patrols, purchase city SUV's, etc. All of which can be spun by the administration to seem better than we and many others believe.

So while Mr. Emanski may have a point about there being other issues that deserve attention, the fact is that the residency is one clear cut case of Mayor Palmer's abuse of office. And while it may seem irrelevant to some, if this battle is joined and the "people" win, it will crack the seeming Teflon veneer that Doug Palmer has wrapped himself in. And from there, last term or not, the people can start righting the many wrongs that exist in the way the mayor governs.

Just as the 10 Crucial days between Christmas 1776 and January 3 1777 proved to be the turning point of the American Revolution, challenging the Mayor on the Santiago residency may prove to be just as crucial to Trenton's history going forward.

Now is the time for everyone to join together and demand accountability from the Mayor and his appointees.

The future of New Jersey's capital city depends upon it.

--PS: Speaking of Patriot's Week and the Battle Reenactments, it needs to be noted for the record that reports indicate only one of Trenton's eight elected officials was seen enjoying the celebration of Trenton's significance in American History. Huzzah! to the Coston family for understanding that participation in civic life doesn't begin in and end with the striking of a gavel on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that truly living in Trenton means being a part of all it has to offer. Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Something doesn't add up

The city of Trenton is facing a $25 million budget shortfall.

The state of New Jersey will give Trenton $21 million (above and beyond the $16.5 million already being paid to Trenton "in lieu of taxes" on the state properties within the city limits).

The money comes with "strings attached" and the Mayor doesn't like it.

He doesn't like the fact that he's at the Governor's doorstep, hat in hand, asking for help, but might have to rein in his profligate spending practices and file monthly reports with the state in order to keep the city solvent.


Mayor Palmer was quoted as saying "For them to ask us to sign this is laughable and unfair."

The Mayor went on to say that the conditions attached to the money are usually reserved for municipalities who have mismanaged their finances but implied that wasn't the situation in Trenton. Rather, it is the state's fault for not paying it's fair share of property taxes to the city and for having no other mechanism in place to hand over $21 million dollars to a city that...has what? Mishandled its finances?

Now, let's recognize right off that the problem of the state paying its fair share of property taxes has been an issue as long as Doug has held office (and before). He's known about it, talked about it and made noise about how it needs to be changed. At the same time, his financial people have known about it and had to deal with it. Yet the spending continued as if "the money were there."

So what does our city's chief executive do? He cries poor and throws good money after bad on neon fire helmets; out of town gang consultants; and stipends for non-resident cabinet level directors.

Four years ago he tried to sneak raises for himself, his directors and city council after having frozen department budgets and asking for cutbacks. When the public found out, a fuss was made, but the raises stayed.

While the Mayor (and his pet, the Police Director) have demonized the Police Unions and cursed the four-on/four-off police schedule, the number of cops on the force has decreased, homicide's have increased and overtime spiraled out of control.

They installed, touted and then cursed a video surveillance system that has failed to perform the promised crime fighting miracles (although it is reported that video footage from one camera did help in the recent solving of the Eure homicide, how many other crimes occurred under the blind eye of the faulty system?). For what purpose all this spending?

So Mr. Palmer and Mr. Santiago can point and say they are doing something. But it is just throwing money at a problem, not solving anything.

The city is losing businesses every day: restaurants, cheesecake bakeries, hardware stores, auto body repair shops. In large part this is due to the reluctance of people to shop or dine in the city out of a sense of discomfort with the less than clean streets; frequent panhandling; lack of suburban style parking convenience and increasing number of abandoned or poorly maintained buildings (including city owned ones).

The administration, through an act of city council, gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to one "connected" developer out of the Urban Enterprise Zone monies that could be better spent bolstering the small business that exist here and need help to survive.

Our hotel, financed with bonds backed by the taxpayers of the city of Trenton, was to be sold. And as part of the deal, the financing burden was going to be shifted from the wallets of Trentonians and spread to New Jersey's taxpayers as the state agreed to substitute its bonds for the city's. Sale or no sale, we're all still on the hook for the financing of the hotel.

Most recently, the Mayor proposes to sell off the part of our water distribution system that serves non-Trenton customers. It's a relatively short term financial fix at the cost of losing one of the city's greatest financial assets (or at least one with great financial potential in the coming years...if managed and maintained properly).

At the same time, the City of Trenton is cashing in it's limited financial stake in the TriGen co-generation system downtown. Again, a one shot financial fix from the sell-off of a potential future revenue source for the city.

The list goes on.

The City of Trenton is not only poorly managing it's finances, it is poorly managed.

To belittle some common sense conditions placed on the state money is irresponsible of the Mayor.

That is to say, "It is laughable and unfair."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Show me the money

While the City of Trenton is cleaved in two over the residency (not "the Santiago") flap, another insidious plan is afoot in the state capital.

Seems a late addition to Thursday night's Council docket includes an item asking for the body to approve over $200,000.00 in Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) funding for the restoration work on the "Golden Swan" building(s) at Front and Warren Streets in downtown Trenton.

Now no one is happier to see this historic edifice be spruced up and put back into practical use than the denizens of the Front Stoop. But...and you knew there was a "but" what cost?

Let's do a quick review:

The City purchased the "Caola Building" (aka "the Golden Swan)several years ago for $164,000. In 2005, it was sold for $1 (that's right, a buck) to Woodrose Properties whose principle partner is none other than former Senator Robert Torricelli. The project has required a vast infusion of money...some of which reportedly has already come from the City in the way of aid for the demolition of a 20th century addition and some site remediation. And, of course, there was the standard agreement for a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) granted the developer.
(click here to jump back to a previous rant on this subject)

Besides the "Golden Swan" project, Woodrose purchased the former Townhouse Restaurant on W. State Street and the building next door to combine the two into an office building. In 2006, Woodrose asked for and received $89,000 in UEZ money to "install an elevator" in the State Street project to make it fully handicap accessible. And at the time, Council was told the building was "fully leased."

Last time we checked, the building was unoccupied.

Back to tonight...Mr. Torricelli and his cohorts are coming to City Council with their hands out once again. Asking for another $200,000+ to help complete what has been an expensive and extensive restoration process.

Oh, and by the way, this is the same Robert Torricelli who managed to funnel over $10,000 in campaign contributions to Mayor Palmer and the joint campaign committee for Paul Pintella, Manny Segura and Cordelia Staton.

So when you add it all up, the former Senator has invested a little over $10,000 in Trenton by the way of campaign contributions and has received over a quarter of a million dollars in property and funding in return. Plus, he's gotten tax abatements on his projects. And now he's asking for another $200,000 plus in UEZ money.

Wanna bet he gets it?

Smart man that Torricelli. Rich too. And he's not risked hardly a dime of his own money.

While we're worried about where the Police Director lives, our treasury is being pillaged by another crooked Jersey politician and his cronies.

Including a former Senator.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's Cryin' Time Again

So, Mayor Palmer pitched a fit in front of City Council Tuesday evening, daring them to vote to terminate Police Director Joe Santiago for non-residency and vowing to "keep him" anyway.

The Mayor seems to think that the fact that the Santiago family was threatened, received "pornography" in the mail and may have had someone trespass on their property is reason enough to allow this questionable, if not illegal, "waiver."

Besides the amnesia over his own words of several years ago, the Mayor seems to be overlooking a couple of very simple facts.

Mr. Santiago is a career law enforcement professional. If he doesn't know and accept the risks that come with the job, he should retire. And, frankly, the Police Director has been quoted as saying that his family comes above all and everyone else.

Fine. Admirable.

So, if the Director's family is "first, second and third" on his list of priorities, that makes Trenton number four on his list at best! Can he really be the best choice to lead our Police Department then?

Additionally, Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer were fully cognizant of the residency requirements of the job when the appointment was made and accepted.

Mr. Santiago made frequent comments about seeking a suitable home here, resided at the Trenton Marriott for awhile (and do we know who actually paid for that choice?) and then allegedly had residences at the Grand Court Villas (aka Cigar Factory) and later with his then assistant, Abe Hemsey. Suddenly, it became important and acceptable for Mr. Santiago to reside elsewhere other than Trenton?

The contradictions and deceits abound.

Santiago was going to move here, but the market changed and he could "no longer afford" to buy a house in town? Well, maybe not if it was only going to be a "second home" to hold off the critics. Certainly he could have afforded Trenton by disinvest himself of his Morris County property.

And while we're crying "poor" let us not forget that this is a man being paid over $100,000 per year by the City (not counting a $25,000 stipend, free cars, gas, etc.) and collecting a full pension from 30 years as a cop.

If he can't afford to live in Trenton, maybe he should have applied for some of the subsidized housing opportunities the Palmer administration has been so fond of creating!

As for the Mayor, it is painfully obvious that he does not accept or uphold the very laws of the City he was elected to serve. Otherwise he wouldn't so readily make these arbitrary (and possibly illegal) decisions to circumvent City Ordinances when and for whom it pleases him.

The residency issue is not just about Joe Santiago.

It is not about whether the Police Unions are happy with the administration and it's appointed leadership of the department.

The residency issue is about a Mayor who has gotten so mad with power and position that he has forgotten all about the reasons for civil service rules; integrity; accountability and fair play. It's about circumventing those rules and regulations for political expediency (as in the case about the newly appointed Communications Director, Irv Bradley who not only has a police record, but is also a non-city resident). It's about violating the very Civil Service rules intended to remove the politics from Government jobs and provide equal opportunities to all qualified candidates, not just friends and friends of friends.

Mayor Palmer is worried about how Trenton will be perceived if Joe Santiago is forced out (remember, he was forced out of the State Police before he came to Trenton). Just how does Mayor Palmer, the self-important President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and admitted campaign co-chair for a high-profile Presidential Candidate, think our city is perceived now?

Trenton is a broke and broken, dysfunctional and dyspeptic example of a once great city. We continue to suffer under the despotic rule of a Mayor who lacks the integrity and enlightenment to admit when he is wrong.

Instead of making this personal, the Mayor should admit that mistakes have been made and policies have been broken and/or ignored. Only then can he hope to engage his detractors in a meaningful and positive way.

Until he admits that he is wrong in this matter, Mayor Palmer will never be perceived as more than another "first" that dragged his city into last place.

Now that is something to cry about.

Monday, December 03, 2007


This morning's entry comes from none other than Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer (courtesy of the Times of Trenton Archive) who wrote the following as an Op-Ed piece in the Monday, March 15, 1999 edition of the The Times (the emphasis is ours):



One of the biggest issues of concern that our community and my administration are facing is how to effectively deal with neighborhood crime and public safety in Trenton. While we have made significant progress reducing the number of major crimes that occur in our city, like murder and armed robbery, we have not been able to adequately deal with the biggest problem in our communities _ nuisance crimes, such as drug dealing, prostitution and illegal street gambling. These are the crimes that literally destroy the fabric of our communities and our residents' quality of life.

As a result, our communities have increasingly, and rightly, demanded greater police presence and responsiveness. They have made these demands for relief, most particularly, to me. When they have made them even to city council, the council has then turned to me and my administration for relief.

The problem

Under the current system, with the police department headed by a police chief, my ability as mayor to hold the head of the police force completely and immediately accountable for providing this relief is greatly limited. There are stipulations concerning when, if, how, and for what reason a police chief can be disciplined or terminated.

Perhaps the greatest limitation, however, is job tenure. As it exists, the police chief serves from date of appointment until mandatory retirement at age 65. Even residency is a complicating factor. The mayor cannot even require that the police chief live in our city. I personally believe, and have heard from enough residents to know that they too believe, when it comes to the safety of our city, nothing is more important, symbolically, than for the head of the police force to live in the city that he or she is in control of protecting and serving. I cannot be persuaded that it is OK for our police chief to be isolated from our communities.

Not `who' but `what'

Many people are asking, and many more are speculating, ``Who does the mayor want?'' I have not made a decision on ``who'' I want for the job; but, I do know what I want. I want the authority to appoint the best person for the job, the authority to hold that person immediately accountable, and the authority to take action at the point when these factors are no longer the case. Simply put, I want someone who is just as accountable to me as I am to the people who elected me.

I want someone who will work with this administration, city council and our community as a team, with one goal in mind _ better policing, for a safer community. I want someone who will live with us and work with us, without the shield of tenure for job protection _ a luxury that neither I nor city council have. We cannot sit in our positions and know that, barring the most extreme circumstances, our jobs are guaranteed until age 65, as a police chief can. There simply is too much at stake in our communities to provide that much of a disincentive for a police chief to make the difficult decisions or major changes that are required in such a tough job.

As we continue working toward our goal of neighborhood revitalization, we must be assured that the person responsible for police operations feels a strong sense of obligation to work as a member of the team to help reach a common goal. We have an opportunity not to subject ourselves to the whims of a police chief who may or may not have the same goals in mind.

Take, for example, the current crisis the governor and state police are facing. If Gov. Whitman's state police superintendent had had the protection of tenure, the governor would not have been able to immediately hold the head of the police force accountable for his actions, which were, as she put it, ``inconsistent'' with what she is trying to accomplish. Her ability to respond swiftly was key in extinguishing this issue before statewide discord occurred. Without a doubt, the public would hold the governor accountable for taking action, whether she could have or not.

As mayor, I am held responsible and accountable to our residents for the actions or inactions of the city's police force. And, like our governor, I want the authority to hold that individual just as accountable as I am to the people who elected me _ someone who has as much to lose as I do if they don't perform. As the current chief will soon retire, we now have a short window of opportunity, one we will not have again for a long time, to explore the best way to make that happen.

A new system

Because of the critical importance of this issue and because of this timely opportunity, in the coming days I will formally propose to city council that we abolish three positions _ those of both police and fire chief, as well as public safety director. I will request that we form two separate departments in police and fire with individual department directors who report directly to the mayor. The deputy chiefs in both departments would report to their respective department directors.

This issue is so important to me that I believe we must take this opportunity to elevate these critical entities to the cabinet level and bring them to the table to be a closer and more involved part of city management.

No other services that the city provides to our residents are more important than police and fire protection and safety. I believe with separate directors who can concentrate specifically on the two separate departments, we would improve both fiscal and staff accountability. Now is our window of opportunity to make changes that, in time, can have dramatic impact on our community and in our neighborhoods. Now is our opportunity, as we are redeveloping our city at rapid pace, to ensure that we have police and fire departments that are a part of making Trenton the great place, the fantastic city, that it is becoming. We already know it is difficult to do this without them at the table as part of our team.


After the current police chief's April 1 retirement, Public Safety Director Dennis Keenan will be in charge of daily police operations until a decision has been made by city council and I have appointed a person to fill the position.


During my last State of the City Address, I said I would raise the bar of accountability to get to the next level of difficult but necessary changes and improvements that our city and its residents must have. Unlike what some people have suggested, this is not a political issue. It is not a racial issue. It is not even an issue about individuals. This issue is about choosing a method of leadership that is best for police operations and accountable to the community.

I already know that changing the status quo will not be a welcome idea for everyone. On an individual basis, I can appreciate that. But I must make the choices that are best for communities, not individuals. However, I can't do it alone. Now it is up to city council to decide. Will we move forward, as many other progressive cities have, and take this opportunity to have more accountability from the leadership of our police department? Or, will we simply accept the status quo?

Once this proposal has been presented, it will be up to the council to decide whether we continue business as usual, or whether we take this rare opportunity to make the best selection of individuals to ensure that the safety and well- being of our residents, the trust between our community and police force, and the quality of life in our neighborhoods are the number one priorities in public safety. They are to me, and they should be to city council because our residents deserve no less.

Reforming government when necessary to meet the needs of the people is not just a good thing to do, it is what we are obligated to do. It is my sincerest hope that our city council will look at the strong merits of our proposal and judge it, as I have, with all of the people they serve in mind.

Douglas H. Palmer is mayor of Trenton.

Now we must ask ourselves this: did the Mayor mean what he said back in 1999 or was he just selling what he thought the people wanted to hear?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bloggers beware

Seems as though NJ politicians are suffering from a rash of thinning skin.

An article in today's Times of Trenton notes that Manalapan Township officials are going to court to have the name of an anonymous blogger revealed.

A blogger known as "daTruthSquad" has been openly critical of the town fathers and now they want to know who is behind the posts.

Sound familiar?

Remember a few months back when Trenton's Assistant Business Administrator threatened a citizen with a law suit if said citizen didn't retract his requests for updates on various development projects in the city? Fortunately, the threat was never carried out.

But should those of us who post our thoughts and opinions be fearful that those who were elected to represent us might seek vengeance?


So, Mr. Clean, TrentonKat, Miss Karen, Greg, Dan, Rollo, Sporty Joe, et al: keep posting, good or bad, about Trenton.

We want to know if your sad because your favorite cheesecake store has closed; our favorite restaurant relocated to the suburbs (to be replaced by a bar); or you want your police director to have to live in Trenton. We want to know where the tamale lady will be; that there was a good art show at Gallery 125; that you're proud of Officers Harbourt and Davis for their recent acts of heroism.

Go Thunder! Rah Devils! Yeah bloggers!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Another bad deal for Trenton

This morning's Times carried an article by staff writer Andrew Kitchenman about the continued delays in getting Performa Trenton's "Foundry" project off the ground. This time, it's the lack of closing on the loan from Citibank to finance the project.

To catch everyone up, Performa is a management/development entity headed by one John Elkington. Mr. Elkington and company's sole claim to fame is/was the management of the city-owned Beale Street entertainment district in Memphis, Tennessee. Several years ago, Mr. Elkington decided to leverage his "success" in Memphis by taking on the development of similar projects...mostly around the south. During the later years of the Bob Prunetti led County Administration, Performa proposed a development in Trenton. Originally set for the former Apex Lumber site and adjoining properties along S. Broad Street, the project was shifted up to the area opposite the Sovereign Bank Arena and encompassing the sole surviving building of the old American Steel and Wire Company plant, "Building Four" (this was to be the location of yet another failed development scheme earlier on in the site's history).

The project has been subject to numerous make overs as the developer has sought $10 million in public money along with a $21.8 million dollar loan from Citibank. While we are continually assured that this is a go and ground breaking will occur in this month or that month, nothing has happened.

Well, nothing that is except the failure of Performa Trenton LLC to make a tax payment of $16,800 on part of the property. "An oversight," Performa Trenton LLC partner and spokesman Lindsay Burbage said at the time.

And now we learn that the major financing for the estimated $50 million dollar project has been delayed as the lender seeks more equity from Performa. Perhaps not an unwise move on the part of CitiBank considering Performa's track record elsewhere.

Performa has had little, if any, success outside of Memphis. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina project was dropped because the developer couldn't get as much control of the properties as he desired. Performa was literally kicked out of Shreveport, Louisiana's "Red River District" for failure to perform as promised. The Farish Street project in Jackson, Mississippi has run aground time and again and the Mayor there is reportedly unhappy. And in Birmingham, Alabama Performa is also running into delays in securing loans for a proposed project.

Meanwhile, back in Memphis, the City Council has gone to court again to force Performa to turn over monies owed the City from the management fees collected. Coincidentally, this violates a court order issued in 2002, the same year Performa announced it's Trenton project. It seems as though there are allegations that Mr. Elkington has neither paid the City of Memphis it's share of the money collected for managing the Beale Street district nor placed said monies in a court mandated escrow account. Some estimations place the amount owed Memphis in "the millions."

Further, it has been reported that over a quarter of a million dollars is owed to a contractor for labor and materials used to construct a club in downtown Memphis, near Beale Street, that Mr. Elkington is a partner in. Horizon Construction has filed a lien in the amount of $229,562.39 against the owners of Ground Zero Memphis. The owner of the club is listed as Lee's Landing Commercial LLC with an address at Elkington's Beale Street office.

Taken altogether, it is hard to ignore the fact that Mr. Elkington's Performa Empire is built on shaky ground. It may just be time for the Mercer County Improvement Authority (of which Mayor Palmer's wife, Chris Foglio is a member) to take a step back and start looking at ways to extricate itself from this bad idea.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Checks and balances

One of the main constructs of the basic American form of government is the fact that it is divided into three distinct parts: executive, legislative and judicial balanced so that, if each does it's job, government works and no one person or group gets too much power.

It's a fact that we've all been taught and should have learned before we graduate high school.

Yet some way, some how, the residents of Trenton have lost sight of this fact just as the elected officials (most specifically our current, long-term mayor) have ignored it.

Instead, presumably to ensure his "vision" and secure his "legacy," Mayor Palmer has bought and/or bullied a majority of the current council members enough to always get his way.

Not only does this subvert the very principles of our form of government, it appears to have been ruinous to the civic, if not fiscal, health of Trenton. By stifling any real discussion or debate on the matters brought before them, the Mayor virtually assures the Council will vote "his way," no matter how ill advised or poorly conceived. Repeatedly, the Council takes action supporting the Administration's position without asking the tough questions and holding out for complete answers.

The awarding of a contract to a 15-month old technology company to build and maintain a city-wide wireless Wi-Fi network is one example. While we are promised that the system will be built "at no cost" to the city of Trenton, we don't yet know how much the City will ultimately have to pay to have access to the network. Nor do we know how much it will cost citizen's to access it. And that's if the system ever becomes operational.

There's ample evidence that the time has yet to come when technology and costs make these municipal Wi-Fi networks feasible. Larger, more experienced companies such as AT&T and EarthLink are having trouble finding business models that work in demographically more lucrative markets. How can a virtual start up realistically expect to make it work here?

But Mayor Palmer wants this (for his resume?) and so Council has approved it.

Another item was the purchase of 10 unmarked SUV's for the Trenton Police Department. The proposed Capital Budget expenditure was to replace vehicles in the Police department's aging and well-worn fleet. And this request is only the beginning. The Police Director has put in for 30 new SUV's total.

Fortunately, questions were raised...not about the need for new vehicles...but for the need for expensive, high fuel consumption SUV's over more traditional sedans. At least that has been tabled for further discussion

To be sure, this item will be revisited. No doubt Police Director Santiago will address the "need" for this purchase when he visits Council next week (Tuesday, 11/27). Let's hope he does. And let's hope the Director also addresses his lack of residency in Trenton, the latest flap surrounding Capt. Paul Messina, the murder rate, and more.

Mayor Palmer has demonstrated his lack of management acumen for over two decades. He's been good at touting his "accomplishments" and polishing his image, but he's failed at actually moving the city forward.

Our high school is crumbling from decay; historic buildings such as the the Douglass House, Eagle Tavern, Mill Hill Playhouse, et al suffer from neglect (true, the Eagle Tavern has undergone renovations in recent years, but even that process suffered from a lack of oversight that ultimately left the interior of the second floor exposed to the elements); our police fleet is one big rolling wreck.

Still we can find tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a neon sign for our main firehouse while our crews wait for training; police overtime spending has soared into the millions but we can't find money to hire more cops (or settle the contracts with the ones we have now); we're committed to pay an unknown amount for wireless internet services from the only vendor who answered the city's request for proposals but we can't get our police and fire communications system to work all the time, everywhere in town or manage to make our once highly touted surveillance camera system function reliably.

It's time for Council to stop writing those blank checks and start seeking some common sense balance to the business of serving the citizens.

Technology Turkey

Who gets the gravy?

Not surprisingly, Trenton's City Council once again swallowed the Palmer party line and approved a contract with Florida based E-Path Communications to provide a city-wide wireless internet system. The Mayor himself made an appearance before Council to show his sincere support of this proposal, presumably to secure any possible wavering votes from the body.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of Council demonstrated once again their lack of ability to think and act independently by approving this ridiculous plan without doing their homework.

Fact: E-Path is barely a year old company that was the sole respondent for the city's ill advised RFP for a city-wide wireless network.

Fact: Larger, more established and experienced companies have repeatedly failed to find workable business models for providing this service in other, dare we say more affluent and thriving, communities around the country.

Fact: Offers of free help and consultations from outside parties were spurned by the Administration.

In article in the Trentonian, Mayor Palmer is quoted as saying:
“We envision a network that brings widespread, affordable Internet access to residents, students and teachers — and adds another important amenity for existing businesses and future economic development. In addition, E-Path will build, at no cost to the city, a separate, secure, dedicated network that the city will use for police, fire and emergency services, communications and all other city services.”

Interestingly familiar rhetoric that sounds a lot like what was said when companies were vying to get lucrative municipal cable franchises. Remember the promises of "low cost" and "access?" What are you paying for your cable access these days?

All the optimism and hope in the world cannot make this turkey of a deal palatable.

We need to look at who exactly is "E-Path Communications;" what their real plan is and who stands to gain the most from this contract.

Probably not the citizens of Trenton.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Let the games begin!

The 14th Annual "Safest and Most Dangerous City" crime rankings as compiled and calculated by the good folks at Morgan Quitno Press, now a part of CQ Press, have been released. Prepare for the yearly debate over the validity of these rankings.

In years past, Trenton has not fared too well in these rankings. For example:

14th Most Dangerous City in 2006 overall, 4th Most Dangerous City with a population of 75,000-99,999. And Trenton had the 9th largest drop in ranking from 2005 to 2006.

27th Most Dangerous City in 2004, 4th Most Dangerous City with a population of 75,000-99,999.

And such.

Now let's be honest, the 2006 rankings were based upon the crime stats from calendar year 2005. Since we had a record homicide rate (31) that year, we'd hardly expect a good showing. Interestingly, the Police Director started really pumping the "Crime Is Down" mantra just about the time those rankings were released last year. That was also about the same time there was a sudden "drought" of crime reports coming out of Police HQ.

Of course, when the rankings came out the City Spin Doctors went into overdrive.

"Questionable methodology," "can't compare only numbers," and other responses were flowing forth from Director Santiago, City Public Information Officer Kent Ashworth, Mayor Palmer and others. And they weren't alone in refuting the validity of the rankings.

NPR ran an interview with the Mayor of St. Louis,Missouri, 2006's "Most Dangerous City" and he was livid about the (false) implications of the rankings.

At the other end of the spectrum, "Clean, Safe and Beautiful Hamilton Township" was the 31st Safest City in 2006. And don't think for one minute the Gilmore machine was above a little puffery and false pride in their rating.

So, which is it? Are the rankings just worthless data manipulation that are meaningless in the real world? Or are they a reasonable measure of just how successful one municipality's policing efforts are compared to others?

This year's rankings (based on the 2006 crime stats..."the lowest in 40 years in Trenton") place Trenton as the most improved but the 7th most dangerous city of it's size (75,000-99,999) and 39th most dangerous/340th safest city overall.

We've got our "number one" as the most improved in the rankings from last year to this (more properly from 2005-2006). And we're still in the top 10 most dangerous cities of our size/top 50 most dangerous nationwide.

Any guesses on what we'll hear coming out of the propaganda machines at 319 E. State Street and 225 N. Clinton Avenue?

Wi Fi Fo Fum...

On Tuesday Trenton's City Council will be on the receiving end of a presentation from the would be provider of a city wide WiFi wireless network.

Mayor Palmer touted this in his recent State of the City address so we might assume, judging from past experience, that the Mayor considers this all but a done deal. In fact, recent history tells us that if the administration wants it and City Council approval is required, so it shall be.

Of course the vendor-to-be will put its best face on and sell lots of sizzle to Council. Business Administrator (and part-time city resident) Jane Feigenbaum will note all the positives that adopting this technology will bring to city services. Non-resident Police Director Joseph Santiago, in his appearance before Council next-week, will no doubt tout the benefits of a City-wide wireless network to improve policing (like surveillance cameras that work?). To be sure, a strong case will be made for adopting this technology as a way to help bridge the "technology gap" between Trenton residents.

While these arguments and benefits need to be weighed, so too should the facts and experiences of other municipalities around the country who are considering WiFi networks as well.

The facts are pretty clear to even the least techno-savvy layman: the technology is not yet sufficient to provide a low-cost, wide-spread, consistent network. The cost of installation and maintenance are not insignificant and too high for most municipal governments to bear alone. For an outside vendor to provide cost-effective, profitable service the system must be supported either by advertising, subscription/access fees or some combination of both.

In neighboring Hamilton Township, there is free public access to wireless internet in Veterans Park. Before you can log-in you have to register (for marketing purposes) and there are ads on the access home page. And this is just to cover the costs of providing access in one limited area of the township.

Just downriver, Philadelphia's ambitious plan to provide wireless internet access across the city has been a less than glowing success. Some residents still haven't been able to achieve proper connectivity and Earthlink, Philly's service provider, has actually regrouped and stopped bidding on contracts elsewhere as they seek a build a better business model.

Before any decisions are made whether or not to approve a wireless internet package for Trenton, the contract should be reviewed thoroughly by an independent consultant. Of course, this won't happen.

The Palmer administration has already reportedly turned down on offer from a professional consultant (and city resident) to review any proposals from interested vendors. Admittedly the consultant is a frequent critic of the way the city goes about its business, but is that really a reason to turn down free, qualified help?

Lacking any real due diligence on the part of the Mayor's hand picked henchmen (and women), it is up to the members of City Council to do their own homework.

We should all encourage our elected representatives to study not only the "facts" placed in front of them but to also research how other municipalities are approaching this technological frontier? City Council has the resources and the responsibility to gather the facts independent of those spoon fed them by the administration.

...this may be an idea who's time has not yet come.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Still waiting

As noted here previously and in Trenton Kat's blog, as part of the Police Director's Public Relations spin on keeping the citizenry informed a city-wide crime map was hastily posted to the city website last week. The intimation was that this was a regular part of the TPD effort to share information with residents.

(By the way, has anyone else noticed that the "Departments" link on the Trenton homepage ( is mysteriously missing?)

Now that two ComStats (for which the weekly maps are prepared) have come and gone since that solitary posting, nothing new has appeared on the City website.

This is but the latest example of Police Director Santiago and Mayor Palmer's total disregard for maintaining open and honest communication with the people they are supposed to be serving.

You would think that they might have taken note of the downfall of neighboring Hamilton Township's Mayor Gilmore. It's an accepted fact that the two term incumbent lost his reelection bid largely due to his attempts to cover up things including, but not limited to the latest auditor's report on the municipal budget.

Apparently, the arrogance of Santiago and Palmer towards the populous of Trenton can not be stunted. Residents of the Capital City are doomed to suffer under the whims and misdirection of these petty tyrants until enough of us stand up and say, "NO MORE!"

Judging from the voter turnout on election day, that time may not yet be here. And even for those who do it in general or municipal elections, if we continue to reelect the same representatives who continue to fail us, we will continue to get the representation we deserve.

We can do better. The time to start is now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Uh, Mr. Police Director, Sir. Did you forget something?

So last week's drama over accusations that the Trenton Police Department leadership wasn't reporting crimes accurately or in a timely fashion resulted in the hyping of the fact that the "weekly crime map for Trenton is on the Police Department's Public Safety Information page."

And lo and behold, last week you could find the most recent map posted there.

Now since that startling announcement, there has been another weekly ComStat meeting.

So there should be another, newer, map available for posting on the City website, right?

Oops! Guess again!

So the question is, was this just another "knee jerk reaction" to criticism by the Trenton Police Director to show how open and forthcoming he is about crime?

Or does he really think the community's memory is so short that we have all forgotten about this issue already?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Oh really! And since when?

Trentonian writer Jack Knarr ignited a controversy with Tuesday's article on how Trenton Police Department brass report crimes.

In response, media representatives and community members were invited to a press conference on Wednesday to hear the department's rebuttal. It should be noted that Director Santiago was not present at the press conference, but left Captain Scarangelli and others to defend the department from the slings and arrows of the media and any malcontents from the community at large who might have been in attendance.

An official response was posted on the City's website. Of particular note was the following section:

The title of Mr. Knarr’s editorial, “TRUE CRIME: THE REAL TRENTON STATISTICS” suggests that there exists an ongoing conspiracy among the Command Staff and within the Trenton Police Department to under report crime in order to show our organization in a positive light. Mr. Knarr’s assertion that a “secret police source” had to “smuggle” out several crime maps from the COMSTAT meeting to show a true compilation of crime in the City of Trenton could not be further from the truth. Crime maps are routinely exhibited to members of the public at community meetings where discussion between the public and police officials concerning crime events often occurs. In addition,crime maps are posted in the roll call rooms throughout the Trenton Police Department for utilization by police personnel to analyze crimes occurring in their areas of responsibility. I do not understand why Mr. Knarr’s “secret police source” would have to smuggle information from the COMSTAT Meetings when it is readily available to him/her each day of the week.

We were particularly interested by the assertion that "Crime maps are routinely exhibited to members of the public at community meetings..."

While this has occurred intermittently over the past several years, it has hardly become routine. In fact, this important flow of information and data reporting to the community has been turned on and off, with no explanation given, over the past several years. There have been several requests for maps to be provided in electronic format for email distribution and/or posting on various websites that have gone unanswered.

Further down in the document, a note is made of the fact that the "weekly crime map for Trenton is on the Police Department's Public Safety Information page."

Lo and behold, a quick check (once we navigated the not so intuitive city website), located the map in question...and the most recent one at that.

Not to sound unduly suspicious, paranoid or cynical, but just how long have these maps been posted there?

Certainly not over the last weekend when the whole website was down due some domain name registration snafu.

And for a city that can find ways to trumpet the most mundane and useless information (ticket sales for the jazz festival via the reverse 911 system comes immediately to mind), why wasn't the public told about the availability of these maps on line? Wouldn't it be simple for the officers attending all these community meetings to state "and the weekly maps are now being posted on the city website" or send a press release to the local media or put a banner on the front page of the website?

Or was this a very sneaky, clandestine response to not only Mr. Knarr's article but the civilian generated and well distributed crime map created by fellow blogger TrentonKat for the past couple of months? And wasn't it just a year ago that there was the big flap between the media and the Police Director about the timely release of any crime reports that ended up in a meeting with the County Prosecutor?

Let's face it folks, by and large the members of the Trenton Police Department are doing a tough job under any circumstances. And the community appreciates that.

What is difficult to accept is the detachment of the non-resident Police Director; his refusal to accept that he is accountable not only to the Mayor but to the citizens of Trenton; and his failure to let the better instincts of the capable members of his command staff take the lead in managing the department.

Let's get back to open and honest dealings about the crime situation in Trenton. Working together,openly and honestly is the only way to go.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Media Alert

OK, so Director Santiago has called a press conference for 2pm today in response to yesterday's article in the Trentonian in which Jack Knarr argues that crime reporting is being tweaked in favor of the "crime is down" mantra.

Well, 2pm is the perfect time for the daily news cycle, and it makes it tough for John and Joan Q. Public to attend...even though there is a big push to get "community leaders" to be at the event.

So, in case you have to miss this event, here's are the talking points that most likely spew forth from the august leaders of the the TPD and possibly even the sometimes "missing Mayor" himself:

Crime is down!

Media is bad. They never tell you the "good stuff" that happens here.

Crime is down!

Yes, some crimes that are reported one way are, upon further investigation, classified another way. There is nothing incorrect, illegal or wrong about this.

Sometimes a "break in" is not a burglary, but just a trespass. Doesn't get counted the same way.

Crime is down!

People have axes to grind. They can't admit that {the administration of the police department} is making a difference and crime is down.

Well, from where we sit. Crime is not down.

The numbers may have been reduced, in part through reclassification of the "deviant acts" as one blogger calls them. And truth be told, in some cases such reclassification may be warranted, but not all. Still, anyone paying attention to their neighborhoods, let alone the city as a whole can tell you that "incidents" are happening all over.

As for the big bad media only reporting the negative stuff: well, when the authorities aren't forthright and forthcoming with the facts and information, that is news. Of course, we would like to see the local media apply the same rules to other local municipalities.

Have you heard about the half dozen cars stolen from the Hyatt Parking Lot on Route 1 a couple of Saturday's ago? No? Where are the papers on that one?

But back to Trenton, if what the Director has said in the past and will say again this afternoon is true and crime really is down, why aren't the weekly crime maps made public for everyone to see? Then we can compare our knowledge with what is being "reported" and see if things actually match up or not.

Yes, Director, until you are totally open and honest about the weekly crime reporting and share the information willingly with the public and the media, warts and all, people will be suspicious.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bending the law

It's shaping up to be a tough week for the stand up guy who leads the City of Trenton Police Department.

The front page of this morning's Trentonian touts a story about how the crime reports are tweaked and sanitized before being provided for public consumption (and at that, they are rarely made easily available to the general public).

It will be interesting to watch how City Hall and Police HQ try to spin this one. Hopefully they are more successful than Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore was at hiding the sizable budget shortfall in Mercer County's largest municipality (you know, "Clean, Safe Hamilton").

There are those in the community who have for years begged, bargained and pleaded for the regular release and publication of the crime reports to the public. Why?

For one, so that the residents of any given neighborhood can see if what they are experiencing is actually showing up in the reports. That way all parties can be kept honest about what is reported and how large or small the crime problem actually is. This is not an unheard of approach. And really, how hard would it be to accomplish since the crimes are mapped for the weekly comstat meetings anyway?

Additionally, regular disclosure of criminal activity will reduce the suspicion that the authorities are holding back or hiding information.

But crime reporting isn't the only issue facing Mr. Santiago this week.

The question of his residency continues to dog the police director. In today's Times, Mayor Palmer states that he has granted Mr. Santiago a waiver of the residency rule.

There's only one small problem: there doesn't appear to be any clause in the City Ordinance granting the Mayor or anyone else the power to waive residency once the appointee has accepted the position.

Therein lies the basis of Frank Weeden's complaint.

Hopefully, these issues will not go away between now and the Police Director's scheduled appearance before City Council at the end of the month.

And, if you only attend one council meeting this year, make it that one.

Make the Director answer directly to the questions about crime reporting and residency.

You've got nothing to lose, the TV writers are on strike anyway.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Over the past several months there has been a recognized surge in people posting blogs about the goings on in and around Trenton, NJ. To some, the blogs have become a sport; a source of amusement. For others, the blogs have provided news, information and opinion not readily found in more traditional (and income dependent) media. And, for those who are the "featured players" in the various entries, the blogs have become (perhaps) an annoyance or irritation.

Still, despite the angle or subject, the bloggers have a common belief in the power of the people to change things. That power resides in the right (and privilege) to vote.

This year, the entire New Jersey Legislature is up for election. Who sits in the Mercer County Executive's Chair will be decided, as will two of the Freeholder seats.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this state to get things back on track and moving forward. You can truly have a say in just how and what gets accomplished in the next couple of years simply by going to the polls and voting.

It's very easy to criticize and second-guess those elected to public office. But they wouldn't be there if wasn't for the simple fact that the majority voted for them.* Sometimes, as in the City of Trenton in recent elections, the "majority of votes" did not come from a majority of those who could vote.

You'll have over 12 hours to get to the polls on Tuesday, November 6. Make the time to do your part. Politicians are a funny bunch, they hear the loudest what is said in the silence of the voting booth. Let them know what you want or be prepared for "more of the same."

You have got the power; You have the right; You have the privilege.

Use it!


*a few years ago I learned the disturbing fact that at any given time, up to one full third of elected offices are filled by appointees of one of the two main political parties. While the general public doesn't get to vote on filling these vacancies, party committee people do. Another reason to get involved....!

Step up

Last week, city activist, businessman and former mayoral candidate Frank Weeden formally notified City Council that he was questioning the residency status of Police Director Joseph Santiago. In a letter addressed to Raisa Walker, Director of Personnel, Weeden raised the issue of Santiago's non-compliance with the city ordinance requiring residency.

As has been noted here previously, Director Santiago is not the only member of Mayor Palmer's cabinet, past or present, to flex the residency rules. Some may have done a more complete job of covering the fact that they don't really live here than Mr. Santiago, but it is still a known fact that he is not the only one.

West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue immediately went on record as supporting Mr. Weeden's inquiry. You might almost have thought she was first learning of this little tidbit. Or you might reason that she's starting to align things for the 2010 municipal elections when she will be seeking a post higher than representative of the West Ward. Her letter to the editor in either Sunday's Trentonian or this morning's Times is a further indication of her intentions (if you click on the link to the Times, you'll have to scroll down the page. Her letter is the third or fourth one).

It doesn't really matter why, it is good that Ms. Lartigue is echoing the question. One can probably guess that South Ward Councilman Jim Coston will also be interested to hear the 'explanation' for the Director's lack of Trenton residency with the North and East Ward Councilmen joining the chorus.

And while it is tempting to point fingers and ask these elected officials why it took so long for them to recognize this issue, we can't forget that they were elected to represent the people of this city. If the residents didn't publicly or formally bring this topic up prior to Mr. Weeden's letter, then we can't really blame the elected representatives for leaving it alone.

While we might hope that our elected officials were a little more proactive in such matters, we have to understand that they are subjugated to the bullying tactics of the Mayor and his administration. If a Councilperson pushes the administration too hard on this or any matter, he or she may just find themselves in a situation of not being able to procure proper city services to his or her constituents. And that doesn't do any of us any good.

Maybe now that Mr. Weeden has broken the public silence on the matter of residency, a majority of Councilpeople will join in and demand the administration do the right thing.

And to help stiffen the resolve of Council, everyone who can should plan to attend the City Council meeting on the 27th when Director Santiago is scheduled to appear. Let him know that he's not fooling anyone and that he is not above the law.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat?

This morning's Times ran an article about Full Spectrum's presentation to City Council on the long planned "Town Center Project." In the spirit of the season, From the Front Stoop has put a holiday spin on the saga:


City Hall: "Who's there?"

Some guys from NYC and elsewhere: "Full Spectrum from NYC and our friend 'Magic' Johnson."

City Hall: "Whaddaya want?"

Guys from NYC: "We want to invest in your city. We want to take over a complete block of downtown Trenton and remake it into a shining example of green development; we want to erect a humongous mixed use property that will revitalize your moribund city."

City Hall: "Really? Great! Where do we sign? When can you start?"

Guys from NYC: "We gotta talk."

City Hall: "Why?"

Guys from NYC: "Because we want to do this project, but we need some stuff from you."

City Hall: "What kind of 'stuff'?"

Guys from NYC: "We'll also need to work out parking off-site since our plan doesn't include enough for the projects tenants, let alone visitors, service people, customers, etc. Oh, and we'll probably need your assistance in acquiring some of the properties."

City Hall: "Get your planning board approvals and we'll get back to you."

Guys from NYC: "OK."



City Hall: "Who's there?"

Guys from NYC: "Full Spectrum."

City Hall: "Election's over. We're busy."



City Hall: "Who's there?"

Guys from NYC: "Full Spectrum. We gotta talk."

City Hall: "Why?"

Guys from NYC: "Because we want to do this project, but we need some stuff from you."

City Hall: "We're busy. Tell it to the newspapers."



City Hall: "What?!?!?!"

Guys from NYC: "Look, really. We want to do this project. But you have to sign off on the developer agreement..."

City Hall: "Let's see that."

Guys from NYC: "...and we need you to agree to some convoluted financing."

City Hall: "What?!?!?! You want us to grant you a PILOT* and we're not even sure if the market can/will support your project. Oh no.. unh-uh."

Door slams.

To be continued...

*Payment in Lieu of Taxes: a frequently granted incentive to given to developers to help the funding of projects.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

State of dissent

In his State of the City address given before Council on Thursday evening, Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer continued to rant against those who can’t or won’t view the city through his rose-colored glasses. After taking a dramatic pause to scan around Council Chambers at those gathered to hear his warmed-over rhetoric, the Mayor launched into a mini-sermon about how dissenters hurt the city.

But tonight, I do question whether we remember what has brought us this far. Some of us appear to have either lost our way, or, are having difficulty finding the way … the way to work together to get things done.

Certainly, criticism can be good … constructive, fact-based criticism. But not one person is hurt when we talk about our city with minor league truths and major league lies…Trenton is hurt.

This is not an all together incorrect statement. But who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Not one person is hurt when the media report on gang members like they’re celebrities, but treat honor students like they don’t exist. Not one person is hurt. Because the honor student likely goes on to college, and if the honor student happens to be our newest Assistant City Attorney – and graduate of Trenton Central High School – Nakia White – that honor student makes her way to Harvard Law School and then comes BACK to her hometown in Trenton to work for the City where she was a summer intern. So, again, the honor student isn’t hurt when that story is never told … Trenton is hurt … because families that might otherwise consider calling Trenton home, pass us up and go elsewhere, because they think their child can’t make it to “a Harvard” by way of Trenton Central High…But these families don’t hear enough from us about the many students who do.

Certainly there are good things in Trenton that don’t make the “news” and it is a shame, but it is a fact. Young people are supposed to avoid gang involvement, do well in school and succeed in life. It is what we all want and hope for Trenton’s children. Meeting that expectation is only newsworthy if it is abnormal or extraordinary. To say otherwise indicates that failure is the norm, thus making success newsworthy.

Factual and timely reporting of gang activity and crime doesn’t hurt any one person or the city as whole.

Trenton is only “hurt” when we don’t face up to the real facts and work together to change things. The first step in correcting a problem is admitting there is a problem.

Similarly, factual reporting of failing school systems, questionable police management, or public officials who threaten lawsuits when questioned by the public doesn’t hurt the city as much as it highlights how much work needs to be done.

If there has been one consistency in Mayor Palmer’s tenure it has been his reluctance, if not outright refusal, to admit that his critics might be right and he might be wrong. His tendency to treat criticism as high treason instead of an opportunity to make a positive change is what is hurting the city.

A continuous hum of negative vibes in the most personal way hurts the value of your property….Why would anyone want to buy a home in your neighborhood if all they ever hear is how bad you say it is?

What hurts the value of our property is the lack of enforcement of codes and laws; the litter in the streets; and the dysfunctional school system.

So what do we actually get at the end of a day of Trenton-bashing? Well, I’ll tell you what I think we get: We get a community that’s polarized because lines have been drawn and people feel compelled to pick a side … and worst of all … We get a city that’s marginalized … because Trenton will never reach its true potential if Her citizens don’t find common ground, commit to a common agenda and work together to achieve it.

Funny, but it seems to me it is the Mayor and his minions who like to polarize and marginalize those who dissent or disagree with the party line.

So if you love Trenton, lift Her up, don’t tear Her down…if you love Trenton, don’t look to find blame, work to find solutions…if you love Trenton, focus on Her beauty, not Her faults. I intend to work with citizens who will help us lift Trenton up.

We – ALL of us – from the Battle Monument to Centre Street, from Chambersburg and Villa Park to Hiltonia – we are all Trenton.

While there are those who paint the city with a broad brush of negativity, most people of our acquaintance love this city and appreciate all it has to offer. These are the people who volunteer their time and energy to work for the improvement of their neighborhoods; those who lead civic associations and other community groups; people who are committed to supporting local businesses and cultural organizations.

There are a lot of people who are doing what they can to improve the city. In the course of their activism and advocacy they are bound to disagree with the Mayor.

Does that make them any less loyal to Trenton than Douglas H. Palmer?

As we move forward with our comprehensive agenda steadied on the future, I remind us all: In one way, we are very much the same city that we have been for decades. We still can’t afford to get complacent … We still can’t afford to become distracted … and we still can’t afford to believe that the strategy of divide-and conquer will deliver us our victory. I will spend all of my efforts working on the problems – and working with citizens on a positive, constructive course of action.

We are all Trenton. And as part of Trenton we have the right to criticize and question how and why things are done. A true leader would recognize that and use it to his or her advantage to move the city forward.

Instead it seems that our Mayor is the one who is set on divide and conquer. He should heed his own words.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stand by me

An article in this morning's Trentonian bearing the headline "Palmer's last speech?" contains the following quote attributed to the Mayor:
I will stand with anyone who wants to move this city forward, but I have no time for people who are going to stand on the sideline and root against Trenton.

Seems like an interesting choice of words coming from a man known for his vindictive approach to anyone who dares criticize or disagree with his decisions.

Need proof?

Let's look at residency. Although city teachers, fire and police personnel are excluded by state law, it is a requirement that city employees reside in the city. Over the years there have been a number of incidents where employees have circumvented the law by setting up "in town" addresses when they really resided elsewhere. This was tacitly approved by the Palmer administration...unless or until you somehow stepped on the Mayor's toes. Then all of sudden you could find yourself suspended if not fired for non-residency.

Former Director's of the City Library, City Museum at Ellarslie and managers within the City's vast Public Works Departments are just some of the people who took a hit for not living in town.

On the other hand, various and sundry Palmer appointees have been allowed to maintain false residences here or given dispensation to live elsewhere over the years.

Allan Mallach took an apartment here, but never really left his home in Roosevelt when he was Housing and Economic Development Director.

Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum, has a home on Mercer Street in Mill Hill that she visits so rarely the neighbors frequently turn her front porch into their own personal social club. Her backyard gets cut about once a season...only after the weeds get at least knee high. And the building itself is showing signs of neglect and disrepair.

Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez lived in the city, then moved out when he left his job at City Hall to work for the Trenton Economic Development Corporation (TEDC--remember them? That was the agency that bungled the construction of the office building at Front and Broad Streets preventing the move of the Hill Wallack Law Firm into Trenton from West Windsor). Once the TEDC unravelled and Dennis sought shelter back at Palmer HQ at 319 E. State Street, he resided outside of the city long enough for the leadership of the Trenton Council of Civic Associations and others to start asking questions residency. To his credit, Mr. Gonzalez did purchase another house in the city shortly thereafter.

Police Director Joe Santiago is a real interesting case. When he first took the position in 2003, Mr. Santiago said he was anxious to move his family to Trenton and various neighborhoods were cited as possible locations. In the interim, Mr. Santiago took up weekday residence at the Trenton Marriott (did we ever find out who paid for that?). After awhile, the Director allegedly took an apartment in South Trenton at the Grand Court Villas (Cigar Factory). Still later, he listed his address as the residence of his assistant, Abe Hemsey in North Trenton. Then came the revelation that Mayor Palmer was granting Director Santiago special permission to commute to and from his home in Sterling, NJ (at the City Taxpayer's expense) due to medical and family reasons.

Yup. The Mayor "stands with anyone" who will go along with him and do his bidding. But he sure doesn't stand too close to those who have a differing opinion.

And it doesn't just extend to city employees.

But what about the local architect, preservationist and developer who had to sit out a round after not being reappointed to the City Landmark's Commission for Historic Preservation. This just happened to occur after the individual actively campaigned for one of Doug's opponents? You don't find many bigger Trenton boosters than this fellow, but he was given a "time out" by the Mayor.

How about local business owners who have struggled and hung in there, waiting for the tide to turn and things to get better in town only to have the Mayor's wife suddenly stop using their services. Could it be because the shop owners openly criticize what they see as wrong about the city? Or support candidates other than the Mayor's chosen few?

The examples go on. Anyone who is the slightest bit engaged, even the "johnnie-come-latelies" as Council President Pintella calls them, in the local scene can provide a story or two of their own. And they all point to the same sad fact.

Mayor Palmer's words, "I will stand with anyone who wants to move this city forward" are as devoid of veracity as his suits are empty.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A matter of dollars and sense

Two interesting items from this past week's news:

The City Administration has agreed to spend yet another $78,000+ to upgrade the seldom working neon sign that sprawls across the facade of the Fire Headquarters building on Perry Street.

If you're not up to speed on this subject, here's a brief synopsis.

The sign was conceived to be a companion to the famous "Trenton Makes" sign on the lower free bridge across the Delaware River that would serve as a landmark and help attract people to the Fire Museum (which itself didn't reopen until a couple of years ago). Originally estimated to cost $75,000 to build and install on the Fire Headquarters building in 2002, the balky sign has seldom worked right for any measurable length of time.

The latest contract granted to update and upgrade the sign brings the total spent on this boondoggle has reportedly cost the city $500,000 over the last five years.

The second item was an article in Saturday's Times about the serious deterioration of physical plant at Trenton Central High School's main (Chambers Street) campus.

In the article TCHS Principal James Earle and other district employees decried the crumbling plaster, leaky roof, and overall decrepit condition of the once grand and glorious 75 year old edifice.

The story is bound to rekindle the passionate debate over saving the building or trashing it (and along with it, a significant icon on the city's once proud image. And it will highlight, yet again, the sorry state of Trenton's educational system.

We can all name socio-economic reasons why not every student is thriving in our schools. What has never been made clear as how and why we have let the school buildings deteriorate to the point that they can't hope to function for their intended purpose.

We can't find or won't allocate the funds to quite literally keep a roof over the heads of our school children, but we can fritter away a half-million dollars on a stupid neon sign that has never worked properly and can hardly be seen from anywhere except in front of the building it is on.

It just doesn't make sense.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A different take

South Trenton resident and Community Activist Juan Martinez sounded off in a recent Trentonian article about the tightening of the laws requiring New Jersey residents to legally register their vehicles within 60 days of moving here.

According to Mr. Martinez, enforcement of the auto registration laws is some sort of veiled, anti-Latino movement supported by certain racist/elitist factions within the community.

Thursday night's City Council meeting was well attended by a group speaking out against this law, (a state law by the way, not a city law) that they claim is unfairly aimed at Latino immigrants.

Before we choose sides and start pointing fingers, let's look at this situation realistically.

The effect of this "new" law is to close some technical loopholes in the prior law. It was already mandated that individuals who establish their principle residence in New Jersey must register their vehicles in this state within a given time frame. There was also somewhat vague language that granted what amounted to an unlimited grace period for people not residing here full-time.

Apparently, the old law was for all intents and purposes unenforceable. And since New Jersey has if not the single highest, one of the highest, automobile insurance rates in the country, many people took advantage of the legal loophole to register their car elsewhere to skirt the rules and save money.

So we got a new law.

The purpose of the old law was to guarantee that automobiles based and principally operated in New Jersey...the most densely populated state of the union, were properly registered, insured and inspected in an effort to increase the safety for all the residents of New Jersey.

Now we have a new law. I don't see that its purpose is any different plus it cleans up some messy language of the prior law.

Another fact: Trenton is a city that grew and was laid out well before the post-world war two advent of the automobile. Houses sit close together on narrow streets that don't provide anywhere near enough parking for the increasing number of cars in each household. It's a problem.

So when a resident comes home late and can't find a parking place convenient to his or her front stoop, he or she gets upset. And when the cars parked nearest his or her front door is registered out of state, he or she gets more upset.

(Convenient in this case would be a generalization referencing those one or two parking spots that are closest to one's own front door. The definition varies...especially for those who live on streets where there is no on-street parking allowed!)

Folks...we live in a city. Parking is at a premium. If you want convenient, plentiful, semi-private parking just footsteps from your front door, maybe an urban neighborhood is not for you.

(We, the people, created this mess. We moved our homes, schools, jobs, stores and amusements ever further into what used to be the state's farmland only to increase our dependency on automobiles to go to work or play. But that's a topic for another time.)

Compounding this issue is the decades of Regional Contribution Agreements (RCA's) that have allowed the suburbs to buy their way out of providing affordable housing within their borders. Jobs move out of the cities but the housing affordable to our lowest wage earners is concentrated more and more in these same cities. So how do these folks get to work?

Cars. Lots of cars.

So, aside from election year "stunting" by incumbents looking to prove they deserve yet another term in the State Legislature, some of the impetus for this tightening of the automobile registration law may have come from those who feel that there are too many vehicles belonging to transients and recent arrivals clogging up our streets.

But this "remedy" is not to be applied exclusively to immigrants. We can probably all count among our acquaintances people who drive out-of-state registered vehicles while their principal domicile is here in the Garden State.

Now let's not make any mistakes here. Anyone who thinks cracking down on the "illegally" registered cars with Pennsy tags is going to free up unlimited amounts of parking for fully compliant residents is delusional.

The majority of those vehicles will ultimately be registered "legally" in New Jersey and the parking shortage will remain.

What we may gain is an increase in compliance with all auto registration laws...including proper insurance and inspection of the vehicles that ply our roads.

Mr. Martinez and his friends fear that the new laws will ultimately rob working people of their mode of transportation to get to and from work.

He may be right in some cases. But instead of railing against the enforcement of the original intent of the auto registration laws, he might do better arguing for an end to the economic segregation caused by the RCA's that concentrate affordable housing in the old urban centers while the jobs flee to the suburbs. Then some of these cars might not be needed in the first place.

It is a tough issue. There are many who feel that these hard-working immigrants should be given what amounts to special treatment when it comes to following the laws of the land they have come to live and work in. What so many seem to fail to grasp is that by ignoring or waiving the “rules” we cheapen our quality of life and standard of living.

If this is truly a land of opportunity where hard working people, whether their immigration status is legal or not, can provide a better life for themselves, why would we want to diminish it by selecting what laws are acceptable to follow and which aren’t? Aren’t the laws of the land the rules we follow to keep the machinery of our society in working order?

Unfortunately there no doubt are some who do see this “new” law (which, again, is no different than the intent of the old law) as an opportunity to force people of a different ethnic or cultural background out of the area.

For many more, it is just a way to bring parity and fairness back to the table.

“Why do I have to register my car here, get it inspected, and pay high insurance premiums when my neighbor doesn’t?”

Critics of the “new” law speak of fairness but they are asking for favoritism and to be exempted from the law. Is that fair?

Generations of people from all over the world have come to this country and the vast majority of them have taken the time and made the effort to play by the established rules. Why is it now “unfair” to ask others to do the same?

With freedom and opportunity comes a responsibility to follow the rules. And as long as the rules are applied equally to all then there really is no reason to complain.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The Jersey Journal, newspaper of record for Jersey City, is running a series of articles about crime in the city. (available on line at

The series is based upon the compilation and charting, via computers, of violent crime statistics for the 19 months from January 2006 through July of this year as obtained by the Newark Star Ledger and Jersey Journal staff through Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

So far, there have been no great revelations in the information presented...especially to those who have been paying attention to crime discussions and statistics for awhile now.

There are very strong similarities between the description of problems (youth congregating on street corners; limited police resources; broken families; poor education systems; etc.)in Jersey City and what we hear, read and say about Trenton.

One thing that has struck this reader, so far there has been little evidence of the hyperbole so present in Trenton's "crime fighting" strategies.

For instance, in this morning's article, there is a very matter-of-fact statement by Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey regarding how his department maintains a list of the most serious repeat and violent juvenile offenders in order to help the Prosecutor's office deal with their cases.

There was no hype about this being a ground-breaking approach. We don't know from the article, but one gets the sense there was no highly-paid consultant credited with this common sense approach to law enforcement data analysis. It was held up as the next great wave in crime-fighting.

Let's hope more Trentonians read this series and can take away some good information that can be applied here.

And let's hope our Public Officials read the series and realize that reducing crime is a serious issue and not just a public relations opportunity.

Reporters, Councilpersons, or the Public shouldn't have to resort to OPRA requests for information on crime in the city.

It's time to stop playing to the cameras and the press and talk about our crime problem, real or perceived, in a very real and open way.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And we're all the poorer for it.

Rutgers Economists James Hughes and Joseph Seneca have reported that people are leaving New Jersey faster than ever before. Studying the Census and IRS data from 2002 through 2006, Hughes and Seneca determined that the gap between the number of people leaving the state and the number of people moving in has more than tripled.

New Jersey could actually see an overall decrease in population as early as 2008.

William Dressel, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, is concerned of the overall impact this can have on our cash-strapped state. Not only does fewer people translate into less taxes collected, a significant population drop could cost us a Congressional seat and reduce the population-based Federal Aid received.

But there are other losses to be considered as the population flees the high property-taxes, poor infrastructure, over-developed suburbs and decaying urban centers.

The people who are leaving are those who can. Those who have the ways and means to pack up and move...whether it is across the river or across the country. Certainly, our economy will miss their spending.

But these are also most likely to be people who are involved in making their communities better. They are the activists, board members, volunteers, patrons, etc. that breath life and vitality into our arts, education, and civic non-profits. These are the people who, to the best of their ability, give back to keep our towns and cities livable.

As they flee, our efforts to move forward, especially in places like Trenton, are impaired...if not hamstrung.

This last week marked a significant loss for the Greater Trenton Community as two very committed and involved people completed the transition of divesting from Trenton and setting up shop in the middle of the country.

For the last decade or so, if you looked at any one's list of "movers and shakers" in Trenton, you would have seen the names of Beth and Garry Feltus. Business people, civic leaders, former school board member, patrons of the arts, they were in many ways ideal citizens.

In time honored fashion, they have packed up and headed west in search of a better life. No doubt they will miss Trenton and the people they've shared so much with.

And to be sure, Trenton will miss them.

How many more Beth and Garry's will pull up stakes and leave this week? This month? This year?

How will the State of New Jersey fare when all that's left are those who aren't able to go anywhere else?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Well what do you know?

So at least five of Trenton's City Council members showed good sense last night and voted to not renew the liquor license for the troubled Club XL.

If you don't remember, Club XL operated at the site of the old City Gardens up by where Calhoun Street runs into MLK Blvd. The operation was fraught with problems: fights, robberies, underage drinking and alleged live sex acts, nudity and prostitution. It has been closed since 2004 while the various charges have been debated and argued and heard.

Although the body had voted previously to not renew the license, the owners are appealing the decision. In the meantime, they came back to Council with the proposal to renew the license so it could be sold and transferred to another location.
Even though Special Counsel Joseph Alaqua suggested the proposal be accepted, Councilpersons Bethea, Lartigue, Melone, Segura and Staton voted against it. Councilman Coston was absent due to family business and Council President Pintella abstained.

Interestingly, a similar offer to renew the license upon condition of it's sale was put before the Club XL owners early on in the process and they turned it down; preferring to take their chances in winning a favorable decision after the charges against them were heard.

Now that the "evidence is in" and the City Council, sitting as the local ABC Board, has denied the license renewal the owners are singing a different tune.

Too bad.

And "Yeah" for those City Council members who stuck to their guns and denied the renewal of this license again.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It starts here

Yesterday the residents of the Cadwalader Heights neighborhood held a very successful house tour. Although they have held house tours before, this one was extra special as it marked the 100 years since the fist home was built there.

Through hard work, cooperation and solid promotion they attracted nearly 1000 people to their homes and neighborhood. Similar events have been held in the Berkeley Square and Mill Hill neighborhoods. And the Contemporary Club's popular "Four Views of Trenton" tours have been drawing people to town for over twenty years.

The majority of attendees for these events come from outside of Trenton. Proof that people will indeed visit Trenton for well organized and promoted events and will pay to do so.

But that's not the only good thing about these events.

Writing in an op ed piece in the Times last Wednesday, long time Cadwalader Heights resident Carol Nicholson offered the following "simple recipe:"
...if you want to live in a neighborhood that lasts for 100 years -- take control of your community, don't leave it to politicians, bureaucrats or violent gangs. Know your neighbors, help each other and organize. Even the most informal grouping is a legitimate voice....

Civic pride starts at one's doorstep, continues through our respective neighborhoods and finds its way right up to the steps of City Hall. The neighborhoods that are the most stable are the neighborhoods that have developed into effective communities working together for the benefit of all. Similarly, municipalities around the country, of all sizes, only succeed when the residents work together for the common good.

It is indeed a "simple recipe" and yet so many of Trenton's neighborhoods seem to be lacking in this regard. While there are many civic organizations on the books some are poorly organized and/or suffer from low participation. Even the Trenton Council of Civic Associations (TCCA), which should serve as an umbrella organization for all the neighborhood groups, is not immune to the malaise.

At any given meeting, you can count on seeing the same few neighborhoods represented with a smattering of drop-ins from other groups around town. It has even been reported that some public officials advise against participating in TCCA activities because "it is only people from North and West Wards" who attend or that the organization has become "political."

Well, "duh!"

First of all, the meetings are open to and attended by representatives from civic groups city wide. If people from specific neighborhoods or wards don't attend, it is not by design or intent. It is because of self-exclusion.

Secondly, the TCCA is no more or less "political" than any other organization concerned with improving the quality of life in our city.

While some may point to various projects and proposals as indications of a Trenton revival, they are but window dressing. No more effective at depicting a halt in Trenton's decline than the infamous "kitties and curtains" plywood panels that were applied to the many vacant properties around town a few years back.

The City's successes have been and will continue to be measured neighborhood by neighborhood. It starts with a statement of boundaries: "I am concerned with my house; my block; my neighborhood."

It continues with a commitment to take the necessary steps that will result in incremental improvements each and every day.

This is how it was done in Mill Hill, Berkeley Square, Cadwalader Heights and other neighborhoods.

"Take control of your community," states Doctor Nicholson. "Don't leave it to politicians, bureaucrats or violent gangs."

Take control of your city.