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?