Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oops! They Did It Again!

As a very unfortunate series of events unfolded in the greater Trenton area Sunday, dozens of South Ward residents were left standing in the heat and rain with no initial consideration for their physical well being.

With law enforcement types of all stripes on hand to apprehend a fugitive, there was no one present to attempt to deal with the needs of the residents evacuated from neighboring homes.

While it is understandable that things might get overlooked in the initial moments of a crisis, shouldn't there be procedures and considerations in place to communicate with and support those who are impacted by government actions?

In a newspaper report on the handling of the situation by City leaders, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer is quoted as saying he wasn't told about the evacuations or made aware of the plight of those forced from their homes. He further claims to have been in constant touch with Police commanders on the scene and yet hours went by before any relief actions were taken.

True, once he became aware of the plight of the residents left without shelter, food, beverages or rest room facilities, the Mayor acted. Unfortunately, it wasn't until hours had gone by that any of this occurred.

Yet, when criticized by a resident for failing to perform his duties to the citizens of Trenton, the Mayor is reported to have "bristled" that he indeed did do his job. Well, he may have acted as Mayor, but the performance was less than stellar and he deserves the criticism.

Now before any of you dear readers throw up your hands and claim this as just some more unwarranted Mayor bashing, consider two items:

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer is in his fifth term as the elected leader of this city.

He has been chosen to head up the U.S. Conference of Mayors based upon his leadership skills and successful management of the affairs of New Jersey's Capital City.

After 17 years in office is the Mayor's leadership so good he can literally "phone it in" from afar.

Rather than being on site to see exactly what was happening and how it was impacting the residents, the Mayor relied upon phone reports from law enforcement officials on the scene.

Why wasn't the Mayor on hand to witness for himself what the situation was? And if not the Mayor, why not a staff member empowered to act on behalf of the people? Why wasn't the Ward Councilman notified by the Mayor immediately?

Why wasn't the Police Director on-site...oh right, he doesn't live in the town where he's employed as is dictated by local ordinance (but that is a story for another time). And, for thta matter, where was the highly compensated, city-car driving Special Assistant to the Mayor?

Why isn't there a public communication/coordination component to these types of emergency scenarios? One might expect these oversights from a rookie Mayor, but they are inexcusable from a veteran officeholder.

In the spring of 2006 when a rash of shootings left Trenton nearly under martial law, the Mayor and the Police Commanders failed to notify and communicate with the public in general and with various groups and institutions that would specifically be impacted by some of their actions.

Countless hours over several years have been spent trying to forge better relationships between the public and the police as well as other city departments. And it's funny how, when they want to, various City officials can tap into that network to communicate things they want to spread the word about.

But when it really counts, the contacts are not utilized; community leaders are not brought in to help; and even the local council people are left in the dark.

A veteran Mayor knows better. A good Mayor does better.

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