Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Light the way

Oh joy!

If all goes right, tomorrow evening a ruddy glow will illuminate Perry Street as the ill-conceived giant fire helmet will once again be turned on over the front of Trenton Fire Headquarters.

There will no doubt be handshakes, back slaps and photo ops abounding as our City Leader’s bask in the neo-neon glare of a job well-done. Another $78,000 well spent on a half-million dollar boondoggle in this cash-strapped and common-sense depleted city.

We’ve said it before: It is obscene that this city can’t find the ways and means to maintain it’s important and historic structures and facilities, but we can squeeze the municipal budget to light the sky over the otherwise deserted block of Perry Street adjacent to the Route 1 Freeway.

The sign does nothing for the city. It doesn’t really direct attention to the building and the Fire Museum inside because it can’t be seen from anywhere but on that block. The beacon is as useless as a flashlight to a blind man.

But it’s common; in fact it appears to be policy, of the Palmer administration to work in large and empty gestures.

We hear talk about the city going “green” and the creation of “green collar” jobs to spur the local economy. But we have to contrast that with the fact that we allow highly paid consultants and non-resident directors to commute to and from Trenton in city owned vehicles that are not the most economical consumers of city provided gasoline.

The state is vilified for not paying it’s fair share of money for all of the land it holds title to, but the city does nothing to force the private owners of vacant buildings to optimize their value by maintaining them and seeing that they are utilized to their fullest potential.

The power of the various boards and commissions (and some might say the City Council itself) has been usurped by the authority to appoint (or endorse/financially support) those he chooses to serve; to serve, not the greater public good, but his political needs and whims.

The arbitrary application of the city’s residency requirements has been a hot topic of late. The apparently illegal granting of waivers and allowances for families to be domiciled in locales other than Trenton are examples of Palmer deceit and subterfuge.

Even the recent announcement of taking paired-down, localized, and sanitized versions of the weekly police ComStat meetings out to the Citizen Police Advisory Council meetings is just another attempt to provide an image makeover for the Police Director. Why has it taken five years into his tenure, only after his performance and residency have been called into question, has the Director decided to “take the show on the road?” Wasn’t the public promised this at the time of the big ComStat demo held in the NJN studios several years ago?

And what about the recent panhandling and curfew sweeps that have occurred in the city? These actions were undertaken, we are told, after numerous complaints from residents about these quality of life issues.

Well, folks, the residents have been complaining regularly and consistently about these issues for years. Why the action now? Because Mr. Santiago and Mr. Palmer need some good PR as they head into a showdown on the issue of residency and the director’s effectiveness?

Is there a better icon, really, of the Palmer legacy than an over-budget, faulty, outsized, useless sign? It speaks volumes about the way this city has been mismanaged since 1990. Whether Douglas H. Palmer abdicates in six months, 18 months or sticks around to 30 months and completes his term, we’ll always think of him when we see that stupid fire helmet.

Another wasteful example of an empty gesture.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Technology fails again

GPS gadgets are all the rage and we must admit we're as enamored of them as much as the next fellow.

But as with all technology, the information one gets out of the system is only as good as what goes into it.

Recently two examples of GPS failure have presented themselves they are shared here for your amusement and caution.

One morning a couple of weeks ago a large tractor trailer edged it's way down the 100 block of Jackson Street. It stopped at Livingston as the driver contemplated making the turn. A resident approached the driver to advise him that, even if he could make the turn onto Livingston, he'd most likely not be able to negotiate the turn from Livingston onto Mercer.

The driver appeared perplexed. As he gazed at his handheld GPS unit, he asked where "Heavenly Ham" was.

Heavenly Ham is in Mercer Mall, not on Mercer Street.

After being redirected, counter to whatever his handheld gadget was telling him, the driver had to back his rig up and out onto Market Street during morning rush time.

This morning, a car was slowly creeping along Market Street, the driver obviously lost. After turning around it pulled up to the curb and the woman in the passenger seat lowered her window to ask where Saul's Funeral Home on Greenwood Avenue is?

Directions were given while the driver continued staring at his GPS. He smiled and offered thanks for the course correction while shaking his head at the unit in his hand.

"Worthless," he said.

So much for technology.

Two good things happened in Trenton last week.

Sort of.

On Saturday afternoon The Trenton City Museum in Ellarslie Mansion hosted the opening reception for the student art show. This exhibit, held every other year, displays works by students in Trenton schools. The show was juried this year and the winner were rewarded with an escorted trip to New York City.

By all accounts the reception was a wonderful event. Except for the fact that not one elected official from the City of Trenton was reported as being present. Not the Mayor, not any of the Councilpersons...and Councilwoman Staton is a community liaison person for the school system! Apparently, even the Schools Superintendent was MIA.

That evening, the Jersey Street Community Association held it's 10th recognition dinner. Always a good time, attendance was up and the evening's proceeds were shared with Anchor House.

South Ward Councilman Jim Coston was the only elected city official in attendance. Seems as though the last time an At-Large Councilperson was present was in 2005 when Manny Segura was an honoree.

These are just two instances of positive things that happen around town that go unrecognized (via participation) by our elected officials.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ok Kids. Recess is over let’s get back to work.

Apparently the death announcement of the K. Hovnanian project proposed for the former Champale site in South Trenton has brought out the worst playground behavior from some members of City Council.

Council President Paul Pintella has indicated that delays caused by “extending courtesies” to South Ward Councilman Jim Coston led to the projects downfall.

Is Mr. Pintella stating that the deal collapsed from working with rather than strong arming the elected representative of the South Ward to achieve a deal that was satisfactory to all?

Perhaps more interesting, is Councilwoman Cordelia Staton’s assertion that it was delays stemming from negotiations over “property values and assessments” that killed the deal. Trentonian reporter L.A. Parker characterized the Councilwoman’s stance as blaming “homeowners for challenging eminent domain procedures.”

Is she really suggesting that it was the residents who were against the government land grab of their private property who killed the deal?

For his part, Councilman Coston has reported that it has been his feeling for some time that the Administration desired to have a project done in Trenton by a nationally recognized developer such as K. Hovnanian and would do what was necessary to achieve that goal. Coston asserts that a remark from a high ranking administration official indicated that if this project did not get done, the land would remain undeveloped for the duration of Doug Palmer’s tenure as Mayor.

In other words, he was threatened to do it the administration’s way or suffer the consequences.

While not prone to accept all the rampant conspiracy theories that fly up and down the local grapevine, there is some history here that may just support Coston’s hypothesis.

In what may be a coincidence but is still interesting to note, Mr. Pintella mentioned at a TCCA meeting six or seven years ago that Trenton needed to attract developers like K. Hovnanian and/or Toll Brothers to town.

Since he is kept in Mr. Palmer’s expensive suit pocket, could it be possible that this was one of Pintella’s frequent bouts of verbal diarrhea where he let slip a little hint about something that might have been in the earliest discussion stages?

A little foreshadowing to indicate just how prescient an elected official he is?

And when the project was first proposed, it fit the footprint of the existing redevelopment site. It wasn’t until after the initial public approvals came in and some community meetings were held that the plans started to change and more land “might be needed.” At the builder’s request, the redevelopment area was increased to include privately held properties, thus paving the way for the use of eminent domain, “if needed.”

The city was so anxious to amend the redevelopment plan to comply with Hovnanian’s wishes that it was later determined by a judge that procedural errors were made which necessitated a “do over” and delayed the process further.

Of course, neither Mr. Pintella nor Ms. Staton mentioned that when they sought to blame someone for the failed project.

Hovnanian’s own fiscal troubles started to mount as the housing industry slowed. Was anyone really surprised that the company would give second thoughts to building in Trenton?

And is it equally unexpected that the Palmer administration, faced with losing yet another “high profile” project might try to quietly work toward a resolution…like a last minute request to extend the Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payments?

It is completely plausible. This administration has proven so inept and challenged that it is desperate to have a name brand project as part of its legacy. To this end, the blame game will be utilized to deflect the harsh light of public disapproval from shining on the inadequacies of Mr. Palmer and his chosen few.

While others may have wished Councilman Coston had held a harder line against the expansion of the Hovnanian project from the get go, he at least tried very hard to serve and work with his constituents.

Mr. Pintella and Ms. Staton would do better to serve the people who ostensibly elected them to office than to the puppet master who continues to control their actions and words.

They need to stop these childish games of “I didn’t do it. He/she/they did it,” and get back to the business at hand.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This is not news...

K. Hovnanian is pulling the plug on it's development plans for the former Champale site in South Trenton. As originally presented and coming on the heels of the ill-conceived Leewood Village proposal back in 2004, the project won praises and support all around.

Then Hovnanian decided to get greedy. They determined they couldn't make their plan work on the existing footprint of the Champale property, so they got the city to expand the redevelopment area and set their sights on some privately held properties. After a long drawn out fight, Hovnanian and the City prevailed and private properties were acquired.

Unfortunately, the developer's fortunes sank with the housing market and economy and the market was missed. The project is dead. And what is left to show for it?

The city has needlessly acquired properties it must now deal with; people were forced to give up all or part of their holdings for a perceived "greater good;" and individuals who were anxious and willing to sell have been left high and dry.


Last night's school board meeting regarding the future of Trenton Central High School was a farce at best. Representatives of the SDA reversed position on timelines to achieve funding; the school board president opted not to allow public comment (perhaps in violation of the state's sunshine laws) and adjourned the meeting while a member of the Board had the floor.

Another shining example of the quality of leadership in Trenton.


Doug Palmer was given the opportunity to throw another hissy fit in this morning's Times where he tried to pass off last week's City Council resolution as politically motivated by individuals who will seek his seat in 2010. Palmer went on to sing his usual song about the Mayor and Council having to work together (meaning Council should acquiesce to his whims and desires) and that if they (Council) didn't feel the ordinance allowed for exemptions they should amend it.

Kind of counters his own argument that the ordinance does allow for exemptions now, doesn't it?


And finally, apparently yesterday the powers that be in the Trenton Police Department decided they would respond to City Council's request to bring the "ComStat" process to the public in a series of ward/police district based road shows. Starting this Thursday, January 24, at the West Ward Citizen Police Advisory Council (CPAC) meeting, the police will present an abridged version of their weekly process for the public to witness.

Is it just me or does anyone else see the timing of this as a little more than coincidental? The first of the four proposed public events is scheduled for one day before the "seven working days" deadline that City Council gave the Mayor regarding Police Director Joseph Santiago's residency. And the first meeting is to take place in the West Ward...long a stronghold of Mayor Palmer (and Councilman Pintella who abstained from voting on the resolution) supporters.

Nope. This is not news. Not in our little piece of paradise.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

So early in the new year for so much cynicism

Tonight the battle lines will be drawn in the fight to save Trenton Central High School. On the one side, the cash strapped State of NJ who is bullying the equally cash strapped City of Trenton and it's School Board into accepting a "new school or nothing" approach to updating the facilities. On the the other side are the preservationists, alumni, and common sense advocates struggling to hold onto this beautiful old edifice.

Certainly, if Trenton's City and Schools Administration actually knew what they were doing and had treated the existing TCHS building as the treasure it is, we wouldn't be in this bind.

And if the State hadn't thrown away all of the school funding through the badly managed SCC and just gone with the plan that was prepped and ready to go three or four years ago, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

But the fact remains, our government entities have failed us once again. And now the community is left holding the bag of crap our "leaders" have dealt us.

It is time for the State to get off of its high horse and release the money for the renovation of TCHS. Period.

And we, as a community, need to stand tall and demand our school board, Superintendent Lofton, and the City Administration meet their collective and individual responsibilities to see that this gets done and gets done right.

And along the way, school board member Lucy Guzman should reimburse the district the $300 for the on-line course her daughter is taking for free.

We're in this mess because too many people have fed too long and too well at the public trough while our facilities go wanting.

Stop. Now.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The three "R's"

Read this, do the arithmetic and write to the appropriate parties.

A group of concerned citizens has provided the following information supporting the the saving and renovation of Trenton Central High School.

What you can do . . .

• Attend the Special Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 5:30pm. Formal action may be taken at this meeting.

• Attend the Regular Board of Education meeting on Monday, January 28, 2008 at 7:00pm. Arrive between 6:00-6:15 to sign up to speak.

Both meetings are at the Board of Education building at 108 N. Clinton Avenue

• Send this information to others so that they can also speak up.

• Contact the following people and tell them we need to follow-through on renovation plans for Trenton High School now.

Trenton Board of Education. Send emails to the Board Secretary and let her know you want your comments distributed to all the Board members: Joyce M. Kersey, Diane Campbell, Alexander Brown, Lucy Guzman, Lisa Kasabach, Harry Luna, Marcellus Smith, Donald Shelton, and Nicola Tatum.

Trenton City Council. City Council passed a resolution in support of saving Trenton High School on January 17th. Let them know we need their continued support. The resolution was introduced by Councilwoman Annette Lartigue other council contact information can be found at (Contact Information – scroll to City Council)

Mayor Douglas Palmer. We need his help with the state to ensure Trenton gets what it deserves – now that all the suburbs have their new schools

State School Development Authority (SDA). They oversee the design and construction of schools. Scott Weiner, Chief Executive Officer or 609-943-5955

State Department of Education (DOE). Along with the SDA, they determine which projects will get funding. Lucille Davy, Commissioner (609) 292-4450

State Legislators. They represent our interests at the state level. Senator Shirley Turner (609)-530-3277, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman (609) 292-0500, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (609)-292-0500. For emails go through steps at

Write an op-ed for the local newspaper and tell them why Trenton High must be saved. Trenton Times; Trentonian or contribute anonymously to “BackTalk” by calling 609-396-7030

Sign up your organization, civic group or yourself as an official “Save Trenton High” supporter. To sign up as a supporter please email with your name and contact information.

For more information, go to . This effort is being organized by the Trenton Historical Society, the Trenton Preservation Committee, the Trenton High School Alumni Association and dozens of individual Trenton residents and tax payers just like you.

And it bears keeping in mind that if the renovation plan had been executed three years ago, the project would be at least near completion and the costs would have been lower. The state has been dragging its feet on this and now wants to force Trenton to do the wrong thing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Under the clock tower

A few thoughts regarding the debate over renovating or demolishing the Trenton Central High School building.

Let’s start right at the top with the money.

We all know that the city only pays 10 percent or less of the school district’s budget as it is. The rest comes from the state. And that includes construction funding…regardless of whether it for building new or renovating existing structures.

So yes, on the surface, it looks like a no-brainer cost saving measure for the state to spend $90-$100 million on building a new school than an “estimated” $250 million on renovations to the old school.

The problem is the “savings” are only superficial. In fact, there may not be any actual savings at all.

In a letter to South Ward Councilman Jim Coston that was posted to his blog, a local professional with some knowledge of these kinds of projects raised some questions about the cost figures the state is providing.

Stephen Doyle is a project manager at KSS Architects, city resident and member of the Trenton Planning Board. His comparison of cost figures quoted in the press with what he knows from his work is somewhat enlightening.

Mr. Doyle questions whether the $250 million price tag quoted for “renovating” the existing high school doesn’t also include some new construction costs. Apparently the project was originally to include about 400,000 square feet of renovation and 100,000 square feet of additions to the existing building (new construction). This calculates to what Doyle terms an “insanely high” cost of about $500 per square foot.

At the same time, assuming new construction of an equal amount of square footage, the estimated costs of $90 - $100 million yields a cost of between $180 and $200 per square foot. This, Mr. Doyle asserts, is below the average for school construction projects in New Jersey. He goes on to quote his firms school projects coming at $250 to $325 per square foot.

And are the costs quoted for new construction taking into consideration the acquisition of land for new buildings? Planning and permits?

Let’s not discount the aesthetic qualities of the craftsmanship and materials that went into constructing the current TCHS building. There is simply no way new construction will come close to matching that level of workmanship. The simple fact that the building is still standing 75 years later is a testament to that quality. We’d be hard pressed to say the same for anything built totally new today…especially at the apparently low price point the state quotes are indicating.

Many people have pointed out that there has been no talk about the dollar cost of demolition of the building. We’ve not addressed the environmental impact of disposing of the material once the building is torn down. And then there are the energy costs to carry out the above. (What happened to Trenton going green?)

This situation is not unique to Trenton, and there are rational precedents for saving the beloved TCHS.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a document that addresses the renovation vs. demolition question. The document suggests that you look at all the factors and solicit community input. has a similar article comparing renovation with new construction. The article notes that renovation is not without its difficulties and pitfalls, but comes down in favor of it over new construction.

One of the main things not being discussed in the current reporting of this story is the planning and scheduling of the project.

Certainly, renovating the existing building while students are in attendance will be an issue. But since the students are currently spread over a handful of “campuses” throughout the city, it would seem that accommodations could be made fairly easily. This is especially true if the work is scheduled and phased in a sensible fashion.

A little more difficult to deal with would be providing for the students during wholesale demolition of the main (existing) building on Chambers Street. Where will they go to school in the interim? How much will the additional transportation cost?

And, as Mr. Doyle pointed out in his letter to Councilman Coston, what about the cost of maintaining the existing building while new construction is occurring, only to then tear down the 75 year old edifice. Seems rather wasteful, doesn’t it?

We may need to get creative and seek ways to mitigate some of the costs of renovating the existing structure, but it will be worth it. The sense of pride and accomplishment might just help bring the fractured community that is Trenton back together.

To be sure, it is an emotional as well as a fiscal issue. But when you look at all the costs, cash and other, it seems to make sense to save and renovate that grand lady on Chambers Street.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One turkey sandwich, please

Make mine to go.

In his Trentonian column on Wednesday, January 16, local scribe L. A. Parker compared City Council’s long-awaited action on the residency waiver to their inability to construct a decent turkey sandwich with the ingredients set out before them.

Parker, who is not known for his objectivity when it comes to the actions of the Doug Palmer administration, admonished the six members of Council who voted to give the Mayor seven days to rescind his action regarding Police Director Joe Santiago’s residency.

L. A. decried the hours spent discussing and avoiding action on this one issue when so many other items need to be addressed. And Parker is right on that, there are a lot of other issues to be dealt with.
a) the City’s infrastructure is not in good shape
b) housing enforcement (indeed, enforcement of all laws in general) is more lax than it should be
c) Our schools are physically falling apart and the school administration is failing our children, despite the millions of dollars poured into the system by the state (this is not a Council problem per se, but it still needs to be dealt with).
d) No matter what the Mayor, Director Santiago, or their respective spin doctors say, public safety in Trenton is not better now than it was 40 years ago. It is not even better now than it was 40 months ago.
e) We still have no economic opportunities for unskilled city residents and no prospects of attracting a major employer to the area in at least part because of points c and d above

What Mr. Parker fails to acknowledge is that after 17+ years of the same bullying, arrogant, administration the state of the city of Trenton is not totally Council’s fault. Indeed, if you follow the money and support that Mr. Palmer has given to “his team” of council people, logic tells you that implicit in that funding and endorsement was that they would support his agenda and personal whims.

Of course, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Parker would, along with the council people who received the Mayor’s largesse, deny that there was ever any intent to co-opt the legislative branch of city government to do the executive branch’s bidding.

If that were truly the case, why would Mr. Parker make snarky remarks about a council majority that found its voice?

So what, it took them awhile. But they made a turkey sandwich and it tastes pretty good. Maybe they’ll get comfortable in the kitchen and start making more.
If Mr. Palmer continues to ignore the law for his own selfish and egotistical reasons, maybe Council can cook up another sandwich and send him packing as well.

It is obvious Doug doesn’t want to be here anymore and we certainly can’t afford his poor leadership any longer.

As columnist, Mea Kaemmerlen of the Times wrote this morning, “Trenton -- beleaguered and beloved -- deserves an energetic, intelligent, inspired, workaholic leader.”

Let’s order up a triple-decker turkey club, to go.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Council takes a stand on residency

Mayor Palmer throws a hissy fit

With a vote of 6-0 and one abstention (Council President Paul Pintella), Trenton's City Council voted last night to have the Mayor enforce the city's residency ordinance as it pertains to Police Director Joseph Santiago. The Mayor was given seven days to notify Council of his compliance with their "respectful" request.

For his part, Mayor Palmer reacted in his typically child-like manner.

Times reporter Eva Loayza quoted the Mayor in an article in this morning's edition:

"Respectfully, that resolution is not going to carry weight with me nor will I fire him because he has legal standing, he has a waiver," said Palmer, who has repeatedly said he had the right under the ordinance to grant Santiago a waiver.

"I am not going to do their dirty work. If they want to fire him, let them do it," said Palmer.

What happened to the Doug Palmer who dismissed charges that city council was his personal rubber stamp? Now that a majority voted and voted against him, their opinions no longer "carry weight" with him?

What happened to wanting a council and administration that showed they could work together to get things done? Now that he isn't getting his way, he's saying "let them do it."

There are a lot of facets to this Santiago/residency issue. Many hours have been spent discussing and debating the situation...on the front stoop and elsewhere.

The simple fact of the matter is, there is a law currently on the books and in effect. That law has been applied against employees from time to time in a very inconsistent (and some might say selective/vindictive) manner. To many, ourselves included, the current reading of the ordinance does not allow for the granting of any waivers once an individual accepts a position with the city.

And since the Mayor steadfastly disagrees, it will be up to the courts to decide who's right. And unfortunately, it is going to cost the city and us taxpayers money to prove or disprove the Mayor's "belief." Money, that we obviously don't have.

As a city, maybe we should continue to discuss the merits of residency requirements for city employees. But in the meantime, there are many other concerns we need to deal with. For now, the residency ordinance is what it is; the law is the law.

Contrary to what Mr. Palmer may think, the City of Trenton is not his personal kingdom. He is not an emperor. He is not above the law (and neither is Mr. Santiago).

The thinking members of city council get it.

It's about time the Mayor does too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The price is not right.

Back in October, a topic of discussion was the bad choices our city leaders make when it comes to handling our tax dollars. In a posting it was noted that we were throwing another $78,000 at the stupid neon fire helmet on the Trenton Fire HQ building while our central high school building was falling apart.

This week we are treated to the news that the fate of the grand old lady on Chambers Street is all but sealed. A recommendation has been set before the Board of Education to vote to build a new high school and demolish the existing one. It's all about costs, we're told.

Estimates to renovate the 75 year old high school run more than $250 million dollars. Money that the city certainly doesn't have and that the fiscally irresponsible Schools Development Authority (SDA)--formerly the corrupt and mismanaged Schools Construction Corps (SCC) frittered away. So the SDA is offering to fund an estimated $90 - $100 million for new construction.

While many in the community want to see the building saved and returned to its former glory, a majority on the school board and Superintendent Rodney Lofton seem inclined to give in to the State's demand to build a new school.

A special meeting has been called for 5:30 pm January 22 a the Schools Administration building on North Clinton Avenue. The meeting appears to be more of a concession to those pushing for preservation than any real attempt to discuss alternatives to demolition.

"I think the conversation is over," Lofton is reported to have said.

So, if a new school is built, does anyone think it will last 75 years or more? Will a new school be constructed as well as the existing one was? Will it be maintained better than the current one is?

And how environmentally sound is it for this allegedly "green thinking" city to tear down and haul off a huge building? What about the price of demolition and disposal of the material from the current school site? Has that been calculated into the cost estimates for abandoning the existing school and building a new one?

This is just another prime example of the inability of Trenton's leadership to deal with problems in a reasonable and realistic way. We repeatedly mismanage things until they are beyond repair and then throw good money after bad building new.

We let our water department infrastructure deteriorate to the point where it is "more cost effective" to sell it off to the highest bidder than to make the necessary investments in maintaining a first class system that can help generate income for our cash strapped city.

We run up huge amounts of police overtime expenses instead of hiring and retaining the adequate number of officers needed to make a real and lasting impact on public safety.

Sooner or later, we are going to have to pay the price of all this neglect and mismanagement. It is time to pay up and stop making the same stupid management decisions over and over again.

Deferred maintenance is not a productive or effective way to manage our assets.

Whether it is a police department, water utility or the public high school, they were all looked upon as investments in the city's future. We need to rededicate ourselves to preserving and maintaining those assets because we cannot continue to build anew.

The cost is just too high.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Council kudos

A wave and a nod from the front stoop to Councilpersons Bethea, Coston, Lartigue and Melone. These elected representatives of the city's four wards (North, South, West and East, respectively) are coming together on a couple of key issues facing Trenton residents.

First, they are in agreement that as it stands now, the city's residency ordinance does not make any provision for the Mayor granting a waiver to Police Director Santiago or anyone else. It's a start. And we won't belabor the point.

More importantly, the four Ward Councilmen and Councilwoman have decided to take the budget to the people by scheduling a round of workshops where the public can review and ask questions about just how the City spend our money.

The first of these workshops is scheduled for Wednesday, January 16, 7:00 - 8:30 pm at the St. Mary's Parish Center on Adeline and Beatty Streets.

The object of this, and the subsequent sessions (one each in the other three wards) is to comb through the budget to try and find ways of reallocating funds to improve services and/or reduce the proposed tax increase.

Our representatives are making a concerted effort to open up the process to their constituents. It's up to us to accept their invitation to participate.

As Councilman Coston is fond of saying, the budget now belongs to Council. They can approve it as is or modify it (within reason). Our four Ward representatives are asking for our input.

With all of the woes our broken, down-trodden, (dare I say "corrupt?") city faces, it is going to take greater effort on all of us to pull together and turn things around.

Let's find out if we're really spending our money wisely and effectively. At the very least, maybe we can realign some of the Administration's priorities to more clearly reflect those of the people they work for.

It may be wrong to look backwards, but if we were given this kind of opportunity in the past maybe we could have redirected spending so that the water utility was an efficient asset rather than something to sell off in parts for cash.

Maybe we would have redirected Police spending on appropriate staffing, technology and vehicles rather than redesigning badges or repainting and re-lettering the fleet.

Certainly we might have determined the need, ala new Hamilton Mayor Bencivengo, for a sensible City Vehicle policy to save costs and discourage those 50 mile commutes!

Maybe the public would written off the idiotic neon fire helmet rather than continually pumping money into trying to keep it lit.

We're not going to solve all of the city's fiscal woes in a couple of budget review sessions over the next couple of weeks. Still, one can't help but think that if we'd had a more "hands on" approach in the past we wouldn't be at the point where civic associations have to consider taking responsibility for maintaining landscaping in neighboring parks and traffic islands.

Residents in permit parking areas might not be faced with having to pay for the privilege of parking in their own neighborhoods (it's coming folks, yes indeed, its coming).

Maybe at least this budget review will show that we really can't afford to award the $90,000+ contract, plus car and gas, plus office to our part-time gang consultant.

Or you can stay home and watch Dancing with American Idol and complain later about the property tax increase.