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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Stoopped fellow,
Three cheers for hitting the nail on the head with regards to the continuing woes of the governance of the City of Trenton. It seems Trenton is cursed by cyclical periods of decay and reform instead of steady progress. One has to wonder if this is due to the average number of terms of the mayors of Trenton who seem to hang around longer than a chest cold in the middle of winter. Is it time to put an initiative on the next ballot to limit the number of terms of office of the mayor? Is this even doable in the current system? Given the low turn out in this past election, the numbers to get this done are very low. Just a thought.
The Guy by the Canal.

Old Mill Hill said...

Thank you, Sir Guy by the Canal, for agreeing.

As for term limits, it is our understanding that at this time, state law would have to be changed to allow term limits before a municipality or other government entity could enact such restrictions.

If this is the case, then we have to ask the Legislature to pass self-limiting laws.