Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Memo from a taxpayer

One person's twelve, oops, make that thirteen cents worth.

To: The Palmer Administration and Trenton City Council

Subject: The Budget

Ok. You danced around so long that the FY2008 budget has to be approved more or less as presented. There was no chance for City Council to find ways to reduce or eliminate the tax increase because a) the budget year is nearly 75% over and the money similarly spent and b) the Administration likes to play games with the amount of detailed, timely information given to Council so they can perform their fiduciary duties effectively.

So you won another round of “My Way.”

Well, let’s get started today on the FY2009 Budget. Let’s start with the assumption that revenues will not increase a single penny above this year’s (and it’s a pretty sure bet they won’t even meet that mark).

Let’s look at real ways to cut spending. And yes, this means jobs. But perhaps not the ones you were thinking of cutting.

For starters, let’s look at these various “Special Assistants” to the Mayor. By now we all know the saga of Barry Colicelli, the highly compensated “consultant” whose contract was not renewed by Council. Well that’s just the beginning.

How about Mr. Jerry Harris? Do we really need to pay him over $50,000 to be a part-time assistant to the Mayor? No!

How about Chief of Staff Renee Haynes? Is this position really required? A survey of most taxpayers might just show you that it is not. There’s another $100,000+ a year saved.

In fact, Mr. Palmer, if you were to “stay home” and tend to the business of running this city, you might not need all this extra help.

Oh, and let’s not forget your driver. How about we let those police officers assigned to you get back to doing the job they were hired to do in the first place: protecting and serving the people of Trenton.

I know it will be hard on your image as a highly successful municipal executive with a role to play on the national stage, but too bad!!!!

The people of Trenton need a leader. They want a mayor who is hands on, in touch and grappling with the real problems of this city. They don’t want a grandstander who is running all over the country promoting himself while the city sinks deeper into debt and despair.

So there’s your start. Check around the executive branch of Trenton’s government and see what other positions we can no longer afford. (Public Information Officer Kent Ashworth, maybe).

Next, stop spending incredible sums of money for outside professional services contracts when the work can be done in house with staff people (and if the people on staff aren’t qualified, get rid of them and hire people who are!).

Need an example?

How about all the various attorney contracts the City pays for? We have a legal department and staff. Why is so much work going out the door? Is it to “toss a bone” to your cronies and campaign contributors? (The names Peterson and Trimboli are just two that come to mind). Bet we could save some money there.

And just why are we dealing with so many legal cases anyway?

Let’s see, there are protracted union negotiations…and who benefits from those? Not the unions and their membership; not the public. That’s right, the lawyers.

And there’s the multitude of claims and lawsuits. Maybe if we didn’t arbitrarily tell the police to “look the other way” while someone shoots a movie without a permit or liability insurance; perhaps if we monitored the way we go about the city’s business, we could minimize or eliminate some of these claims and reduce the need for legal representation. I believe it’s called “Risk Management.”

And it’s not just contracts with lawyers. We need to seek out the best price on all outside professional services contracts…regardless of whether or not they are buddies or supporters of your campaigns (and those of your chosen few).

Along with this, we need to totally and honestly evaluate how the various city departments operate.

Now whatever happened to the management study being conducted in the past year? What were the results? How much did that cost? Are we reaping any benefits from that yet? Oh, and was it really necessary to hire as one of the sub-contracted consultants the wife of one of the division heads who’s staff was being interviewed and evaluated? Isn’t that a little dicey as well as pricey?

City Council, don’t turn away. You’ve got a role in this too. Apply what you’ve recently learned about the budget process to FY2009 expenditures. If you don’t have a working budget in front of you, along with the backup information and material, don’t approve any unnecessary expenditure! Especially outside contracts. It’s past time for you to exercise the power and authority that you have over the budget. Use it or lose it!

Back to the administration; stop proposing stupidly expensive and totally unwarranted spending.

The fire helmet was a bad idea from day one. It became an infamously costly bad idea as time went on. The next time it goes out, have it dismantled and sold for scrap. It’s worthless and we can’t keep spending money on it.

Municipal Wi-Fi: it is a bad idea. Scrap your dreams and whatever promises you may have made to E-Path. It will never be what you think it will. If E-Path or any other company wants to build a system, let them. Just don’t put one Trenton dime into it.

And stop buying half-assed technology just because somebody’s cousin or friend is "in the business" and will sell you stuff cheaply that you can then point to as an illustration of just how advanced and sophisticated Trenton is.

You did it with the old Computer Aided Dispatch System (CPLIMMS was it?)

You did it with the Motorola radio system for the Communications division (remember the promise that the whole County would share this system --- and the cost--- with us?)

You did it with the farce of the video surveillance cameras in the midst of the 2006 election campaigns.

Are the few minutes of positive press you get really worth the ultimate cost to the taxpayers for non-functioning equipment and systems? Not to mention the risk to life and property when they fail to perform as advertised?

If you really want to improve the city’s bottom line, how about making a real and concerted effort to wrest control of the multitude of vacant buildings from their owners who are sitting on them like golden eggs that will never hatch. Take those buildings and put them in the hands of the various small developers who have been working very hard to restore and revive the market for this great old building stock. Get these building out of the hands of speculators and into the hands of people who will realize their full assessed potential.

Forget the big marquee development projects that never seem to work out or get started or become what they were promised to be.

And stop squandering our money and UEZ funds on your friends like Mr. Torricelli and his touted yet unrealized promises of “full occupancy.”

In short, the Mayor and the Administration must stop treating the City budget like their own personal treasury. Pennies must be pinched. They must do without some of the fun things (do all the various directors and such really need full-time city provided vehicles when our cops don’t have enough decent cars to use?) and perks.

If we can’t afford them, you can’t have them. (And by the way, a lot of this also applies to that money pit subset of City government, the school system. Let’s get rid of the extra assistant and special superintendents, various other dead weight positions, unneeded extras and spend money on good teachers, supplies and facilities!)

So let’s get cracking! Sharpen those pencils and fire up those calculators. July 1 is but four months away. Let’s see a fully thought out preliminary budget and all the back up detail presented to Council by then.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Have you noticed?

City Council voted in December that Police Director Santiago should comply with the Trenton’s residency ordinance.

There was some chest beating by the Administration: Mr. Palmer declared he had the power to grant a residency waiver. If Council didn’t agree, let them do what they have to do.

Then we heard the somewhat conciliatory, “Maybe it’s time to change the ordinance to allow waivers.”

Hmmm. Could it be, on further review, Mr. Palmer’s stance wasn’t as firmly rooted as he thought?

Then, just after the holidays were over, nine city residents filed a legal complaint against the city for allowing Mr. Santiago to continue on in his position of Police Director without complying with the residency requirement.

Then, towards the end of January, it was announced that the Police Department would be bringing its ComStat meeting out on the road to the residents. Appearances at the various Citizen Police Advisory Council (CPAC) meetings were scheduled. Billed as a chance for the public to see a scaled down version of the weekly command meetings, the events suddenly also included a “presentation by Police Director Santiago on the organizational structure and operation of the Trenton Police Department.”

Hmmm. Could this be a response to complaints that Mr. Santiago was remote, detached from and unavailable to the public that pays his salary?

Shortly into February the long dormant crime map on the City of Trenton website was suddenly updated (after three months) and a new one was posted this past week as well.

The local Chamber of Commerce is hosting the police director at an upcoming breakfast meeting, to explain his Crime fighting strategies for Trenton to the business community.

Hmmm. Could all of this, along with the ComStat road show, be an attempt to rehabilitate Mr. Santiago’s tarnished image?

And, he's apparently scheduled to appear before the Plainfield City Council to tell them the advantages of having a Police Director vs. a Police Chief. Strange, since they've already apparently put the changeover into motion, so why would he be making the case for a Civilian Police Director?

Hmm. Is Santiago auditioning for the Plainfield job?

Even the Palmer machine can’t be that transparent.

Or can they?

Fever dreams of a Socratic Dialogue

Mobius logic as taught in Palmer’s republic

The taxpayer funded responses to the complaint filed by citizens regarding Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago’s non-compliance with the city’s residency ordinance rolled in last week.

Angelo Genova, counsel for the Mayor, has claimed that:
a) the city’s residency ordinance is null and void under New Jersey statutes
b) if not null and void under state law, the city’s residency ordinance
conflicts with the Mayor’s “inherent executive powers of appointment and

c) The city’s residency ordinance purports to impose a residency requirement
upon Director Santiago, “a member of a police department and force” in
contradiction of New Jersey law prohibiting same.

Salvatore Alfano, counsel for Director Santiago, responded with his own claims that:
a) the city’s residency ordinance is null and void under New Jersey statues
b) if the residency ordinance is not null and void under state law and applies
to the Director, then the Mayor has the power to grant a waiver

Do these arguments make sense to you?

The city’s residency ordinance has been in effect for quite some time and has been used by the Palmer administration to remove various city employees for non-compliance. Palmer never questioned the constitutionality of it before.

Now, because he’s not getting his way, it’s suddenly in conflict with state law?

Now, because he’s not getting his way, the residency ordinance is in conflict with his power and authority as Mayor?

It didn’t seem to hinder that power and authority when he applied it to dozens of employers over the past 17 plus years.

And what about the assertion that the ordinance imposes a residency requirement upon Director Santiago as a member of the police force?

Doesn’t this contradict the very intent of the referendum changing to a civilian Police Director from a Police Chief?

Doesn’t it also contradict with the long, hard fought case preserving Director Santiago’s rights to collect his police pension because, as Director, he was not a member of a police department and force?

And didn’t Trenton’s ever so generous taxpayers foot the bill for the legal defense in that case as well?

He either is a member of the force who must forego his police pension for the duration of his directorship or he is a civilian and the residency requirement applies.

It only takes common sense to realize the defense attorneys’ arguments make no sense.

And regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings, the taxpayers of Trenton are the losers as we pay our way out of another Palmer created mess.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Let them build it, then we'll come

This Thursday’s city council meeting is another “double-header” with the docket review conference session scheduled for four in the afternoon and the regular council meeting immediately following (the schedule says 5:30, but we know better).

On the docket is this interesting item:



Now if memory serves, when this was brought up back in November the administration said that there would be no cost to the city to build this system. Trenton would just pay for the services it used.

In fact, in an article in the Trentonian at the time, Mayor Douglas Palmer was quoted as saying,
“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.”
So, has E-Path miraculously been able to install test and make operational its wi-fi system in three months time? We don’t think so.

If the system is not available to us, why are we authorizing a contract for services with them unless that capital is needed to help fund the installation? And if that’s the case, then the council and the people of Trenton were lied to yet again by Douglas H. Palmer.

Let’s face it, we knew all along the only way this young company from Florida was going to be able to launch this project was with the promise of a contract for services from the city, and probably with similar contracts from the county and state to follow suit.

What happens if we don’t approve this contract? Does E-Path lose its funding for the project and the whole thing just go away…”at no cost to the city?”

What happens if we do approve this contract? Will we start making payments to E-Path prior to service being provided? What happens in the likelihood they never get the system built? Will we then have incurred a “cost to the city?”

You know, Verizon is working hard to get areas of the city wired for its highly touted FIOS system. They are taking on the expense of designing and installing the system before they take any money from subscribers to the service.

Why are we being asked to contract with E-Path communications now unless it is to partially underwrite their proposed system? A system, as we’ve pointed out previously, that is most likely doomed to fail.

Once again, we need to ask our council to exercise common sense and fiscal controls by not approving this handout to E-Path Communications.

Build the system, demonstrate that it works, and then come see me about subscribing to it.

Is that too hard to understand?

Who's at the helm?

After burning up the keyboard and the logging some serious verbiage last weekend, we sat back this week to quietly observe things from our vantage point on the stoop.

The picture isn’t all that good.

Revelations about Mr. Colicelli’s continued use of city resources and appearances at City Hall despite not having a binding contract, coupled with the fact that he’s been paid for “work done” last month and not authorized under any contract irritated certain council members. Meanwhile the Times, unconvincingly took those council members to task for an alleged hasty vote that didn’t allow for a proper transition as the consultant, who according to his submitted invoices did little more than attend meetings, exited.

Trentonian columnist L.A. Parker wrote about the questioned need for a $130,280 Chief of Staff position and a $55,457, part time aide. Citing an anonymous source, Parker reported that “Palmer antagonists” may be setting their sights on eliminating these two positions.

Interestingly, these (and other) positions need to be reviewed with respect to their effectiveness in the overall operation of the city and the relative cost to the tax payers. During the Palmer years, the city hall hierarchy has grown. The Chief of Staff position, a police driver, and various aides to the Mayor: these have all been added, but do the results justify the costs?

Or is the Mayor:
a) covering for his own managerial inadequacies
b) taking care of friends and associates
c) paying others to do things he’s not interested in doing.

Perhaps all of the above.

Councilman Coston made a point in the aftermath of the Colicelli decision that maybe the Palmer should “take the reins.” And that is the simple truth.

The hallmark of the Palmer administration is that the man himself is remote and detached from the day to day job he was elected to do. In fact, he is increasingly absent from the city itself. In his stead we have had a succession of Chiefs of Staff: Bill Watson, Gwendolyn Long-Harris, and Renee Haynes. And then there are aides, like Mr. Jerome Harris…who, if we are not mistaken, is the husband of the former Chief of Staff.

It was also announced this week that there will be some half dozen different attorneys working on the Santiago residency case. And they will all be funded by city tax dollars. All because Doug Palmer is determined to have his way, or punish those who oppose him by dragging things out in the courts. And if he won’t capitulate and rescind his unlawful waiver, city council should step up and terminate Santiago’s employment with the city. The law is the law (and take heed all you other not-quite-bona-fide-city-resident Directors who’ve been sticking closer to your Trenton cribs—you could be next). Drawing this matter out in the courts is unnecessary and costly.

Similarly, it was revealed in today’s paper that the city is filing for the return of settlement payments made to Trenton Fire Captain Ron Kosztyu. Kosztyu had alleged the city passed him over for promotion due to his union activities and anti-administration stance. The State Department of Personnel Merit Board agreed, but the city appealed. Just prior to the case going before the judge, a settlement was reached.

Now the city is challenging that Kosztyu and his attorney, George Dougherty (who is also representing the citizens who are challenging the Santiago residency waiver), improperly spoke to the press regarding the settlement and disparaged the city. On these grounds, the city is seeking to have the settlement declared void and the payments returned.

Anyone notice a pattern here?

It’s been said elsewhere but the comparison to Nero fiddling while Rome burns keeps coming to mind.

Palmer is only fooling himself if he thinks the people of Trenton can’t see through his charade of leadership. This Captain is not on the ship, let alone in the pilot house. He’s left it to an ever increasing cadre of loyalists with questionable competencies (the names Haynes, Gonzalez, Santiago, Colicelli come immediately to mind) to run the city.

And folks, we’re in danger of running aground.

Perhaps its time for our other elected officials, city council, to grab the oars and turn this boat around. Before it’s too late.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

And another thing

Ok. We've used up more than our daily allotment of bandwith today, but this needs to be said.

Angel's Wings is a great non-profit that takes in youths from infancy through 12 years of age that need shelter, care and love. Now a part of Anchor House (which deals similarly with older children), Angel's Wings sports an impressive record placing kids in foster homes and, ultimately, getting some returned to their families or adopted into loving and welcoming homes.

Tonight, Angel's Wings held their 6th annual benefit dinner dance. The previous five were held at the Trenton Marriott. In those five years, there was never an appearance by any Trenton official. Nobody from the Mayor's office. No Councilpeople. Nobody.

This year's event was held at the new Hilton Garden in Hamilton Township. As the guests arrived and checked in, they were greeted not only by Alan Meinster, owner of the now closed Marsilio's and caterer at the hotel, but Hamilon Mayor John Bencivengo. Mayor Bencivengo stayed for most of the proceedings (unlike Trenton's Doug Palmer who breezes in and out at will of those events he deigns to attend.)

Kudos to Mr. Meintster. And to Mayor Bencivengo of Hamilton.

Recognizing the significance of hosting events like the Angel's Wings "From the Heart" gala is an important part of an elected official's duties.

Shame on Mr. Palmer and his "chosen few" for not acknowledging this wonderful organization and their support of Trenton. What would it have taken to have him recognize the value and significance of having this event in Trenton?

An open letter to Andria Carter

Ms. Carter,

Your opinion piece in this morning's Trentonian came off as more "Pro-Palmer" propaganda.

First, you refer to his tenure as Mayor as a "dynasty."

With all do respect, Ma'am, but a dynasty properly refers to a familial line of succession within a ruling family. And, traditionally, through the male members of said family.

Since Mr. Palmer was elected to office and he has no male heirs holding positions of power, I would hardly refer to his administration as a "dynasty."

He is, to be sure, a despot trying desperately to hold together his imagined empire, but it is not in anyway shape or form dynastic.

Second, you refer to Mr. Palmer's "nice power base within New Jersey's capital city and on the national stage."

Have you been smoking crack? Mr. Palmer's base in the area is of questionable power. What has worked to the Mayor's advantage locally has been his deep pockets. He's been able to raise and spend money on his (and others') campaigns. He has raised that money by virtue of his incumbent status. But to say he has power is a serious over estimation of his position in local, county or state politics.

The fact is he hasn't "delivered" the city voters for some time. And that is where power comes from. In fact, just last Tuesday, the city voted very strongly for Barack Obama...not Palmer's chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton. If he had all that "juice" wouldn't he have worked to deliver the votes to Ms. Clinton?

You seem to share the same delusion as Mr. Palmer does: holding the office of Mayor of Trenton makes him somehow all powerful.

Well you both need to divest yourselves of that hallucination right now.

The almost 18 years of the Palmer administration have coincided with a major decline in the economic health of the city. The population has decreased; the ratio of homeownership to rental has decreased; the school system is a wreck and the crime rate is not "the lowest it has been since the 1960's." All of this decline despite the fact that he's hand picked a majority of the last two sitting city council members as well as appoints the school board.

The administration is at the very least borderline corrupt (but we all know it is worse than that). Palmer and his henchmen have bent or ignored the laws, operated in shaddows rather than openly and has failed to set us on the promised path to revitalization.

You mention, as does the Mayor at every opportunity, his leadership of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. So what? It's more high-profile, image building bull crap! That doesn't make him powerful. That just feeds his ego.

"Shaping policy," and rubbing elbows with other high profile elected officials has yet to translate into anything tangible for the residents of the city of Trenton.

He gets TV time. Meanwhile we suffer.

Yes, rumors abound and there are scenarios aplenty regarding what may happen and who may run for what office in 2010. But your assertion that the City Council's decisions to not approve spending money (which in case you haven't noticed we don't have)to fill positions we don't need is politically motivated sounds strangely like the words of Mr. Palmer himself.

The facts, Ms. Carter, would seem to dispute your position.

We were promised the underlying design of the website we are leasing from the vendor negates the need for a "webmaster" as each department could upload and update the content of it's webpage. And we already have an IT officer for the city (although his expertise has been questioned by some), who should be able to handle to day-to-day oversight of maintaining the city's web presence as part of his regular duties,no?

The situation with Mr. Colicelli and the Council vote to not offer him another consulting contract comes down to questions about the return on investment for the city's money.

Mr. Colicelli gave a broad overview of what programs the city was involved in to help stem the growth of gangs. It was, like his non-detailed invoices, essentially a rehash of the presentations he's given since his services were first retained. There was nothing that explained what made his presence and participation critical to the continuation of these programs. There was no hard evidence of anything "extra" that Mr. Colicelli brought to the table that warranted another expensive annual contract.

The increase in money to be spent (again, remember the city is strapped for cash) was, we were told, to make up for the loss of the city provided car and cell phone in the new contract. This was, one would presume, to silence those on council who had criticized and questioned the provision of these items (plus office and computer) to an independent contractor to begin with.

Does your newspaper hire stringers, Ms. Carter? If so, does it provide them with company vehicles and cell phones and dedicated computers and office space?

You are right that political dealings in City Hall are like a soap opera. But you had best include yourself and any other members of the Pro-Palmer press as part of the cast of characters.

And you had better cast those members of City Council who are doing the right thing by standing up for their constituents as "heros."



Doug Palmer and Joe Santiago pitched a fit on Friday, the day after City Council voted 4-2-1 to not approve a contract with On Target Law Enforcement and Security Consultants/Barry Colicelli for services. In true Palmer fashion, charges of “playing politics” were made along with accusations compromising “public safety.”

Way to go. Don’t accept defeat gracefully. Rather stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy (just what Trenton needs more of) rather than dealing with some basic facts.

Fact 1: Mr.Colicelli was retained as a consultant. Normal business practices dictate that consultants provide a thorough accounting of their time and activities in order to be paid. Judging from the invoices we’ve seen and that were published on the Trenton Facts website, Mr. Colicelli did not do this.

Fact 2: As a consultant, Mr. Colicelli may have had a hand in initiating some valid programs. The argument that he must be retained indefinitely for the programs and initiatives to move forward is ridiculous. Part and parcel of his work from the outset should have been for him to get things started and show others what they need to know to keep it going. Councilman Segura said it in Saturday morning’s Times: “If that didn’t happen, then he wasn’t a real good consultant.”

Fact 3: Mr. Colicelli is not irreplaceable. The statements made by Chief of Staff Renee Haynes and echoed by Palmer and Santiago that no one person could do what Colicelli does are patently false. The city of Trenton had a very knowledgeable gang intelligence unit prior to Mr. Colicelli’s arrival. And while Mr. Colicelli may have expanded the database and helped network the personnel and information with other agencies, that doesn’t all have to disappear because the contract wasn’t renewed. (If it does, see the point above.)

Fact 4: To suggest, as Mayor Palmer did, that it would take eight people to do what Mr. Colicelli did is ridiculous. Colicelli went to meetings. There are any number of people who also attended those meetings who have at least as much expertise, more local knowledge and the dedication to their jobs and purpose to pick up any slack. And for those that are city employees, if they aren’t able to incorporate the various initiatives and cooperative programs into their duties, maybe we need to look at their suitability for the positions they hold. (Would be ideal for a Deputy Police Chief, but we don’t have any of those anymore, do we).

Fact 5: Chief of Staff Haynes asserted during the Council conference session that preceded Thursday night’s vote that Mr. Colicelli’s services were needed because Council and the public have demanded that Trenton maximize the number of police on the street. This was an absurd statement in the extreme. Any rational person understands that it would be a member or members of the command staff, not street officers, who would most naturally take over the duties of the former consultant. We have very talented and experienced Captains who are more than capable and knowledgeable enough to do incorporate Mr. Colicelli’s role into their own jobs. This is a management problem, not a need for a consultant.

Fact 6: After three years of lucrative consulting contracts with the City, still doesn’t have a grasp of the geography of and locations in and around town. He spoke the other night of working with the “Boys and Girls Clubs of America over on South Clinton Avenue.”
It’s the Boys and Girls Clubs of Trenton and Mercer County and it’s been located on Centre Street for over 50 years. Later on, when asked by Councilwoman Lartigue if he’d done any work at “Holland Middle School” Colicelli said “No.” He went on to explain that he was working with students at Dunn, and the High School. When it was pointed out that “Holland Middle School” was actually Trenton Central High West, Colicelli had to ask the schools security chief Howard White “if that was where [they] were the other day.” Is it too much to expect from such an involved individual to have a better handle on the places and names of the institutions he’s supposedly working so closely with?

Fact 7: As part of the prior contracts, Mr. Colicelli was to be provided a car, computer, mobile phone and office. The public and various members of City Council questioned this additional expense to the taxpayers considering the financial state of the city.

Fact 8: There are some real and serious questions pertaining to the legalities of Mr. Colicelli’s contracts. The most recent contract with the city ran from December 15, 2006 and expired December 14, 2007. The contract wasn’t signed until March 16, 2007. Yet Mr. Colicelli submitted invoices for both January and February of 2007. This indicates that he did work for two months, presumably still had use of city provided car, cell phone computer and office, even though he was not under contract. Did he know he would be paid; that is was Colicelli somehow “assured” that a contract would be approved?
Fact 9: Mr. Colicelli’s assertion that his services to the city were actually worth $144,000 are interesting. If we divide that figure by the $75 per hour billing rate, it comes out to 1920 hours. That would be the equivalent of a full-time job. A job Mr. Colicelli could not get with the city unless he was a bona fide resident. Could this have been another attempt to skirt the city’s residency requirement for the benefit of a Santiago crony?

These are the items which needed to be considered before awarding another contract to Mr. Colicelli. And at least four of the City Council members understood that and made up their minds based upon their understanding of these facts, the law and Trenton’s financial status.

As for Mr. Palmer’s tantrum: it’s just more hooey from our city’s part-time, absentee “leader.” He didn’t get his way. He has some egg on his face, and he needs to spin the situation around to “blame” others for his own, ultimate failings. It’s always “a mandate from the people” when things go Palmer’s way, but “it’s politics” when they don’t.

Why isn’t it “politics” when Councilman Pintella, presiding over Thursday’s conference session, offered that Council should give the Mayor anything he wants? Seems to us that is a violation of one of the basic Parliamentary precepts: the chair of the meeting should refrain from offering personal opinions while wielding the gavel. Unfortunately, it is all too apparent that Mr. Pintella serves the Mayor and not the people of Trenton.

Why isn’t it “politics” when, during the portion of the conference session when “the public” was allowed to ask questions directly pertaining to the Colicelli contract that the Council President allowed Mr. Santiago to speak? Mr. Santiago, who stated on the record that he was not “speaking as Police Director” was allowed to go ahead of city resident Rafael Valentin. Mr. Santiago, in case you forgot, is not a resident of Trenton and if he’s not speaking as the Police Director (which he had already done earlier in the proceedings), should have deferred to Mr. Valentin and any other residents.

Why isn’t it “politics” when Chief of Staff Haynes and Council President Pintella improperly interrupted Council’s vote Thursday night. Since it was obvious the vote wasn’t going to go the Administration’s way, Mr. Pintella and Ms. Haynes inserted their personal feelings (along with their duty to their “boss”) into the proceedings. It took a reminder from City Attorney Denise Lyles that there was a vote on a motion in progress to the proceedings back in order.

Mr. Palmer has never been able to accept that people might disagree with him or have a difference of opinion. If you do, you are a “hater,” a “malcontent,” “disgruntled.” It’s “sour grapes” or “political.”

Mr. Palmer, one can take the view that everything that anyone says or does is “political” as it impacts someone else. So what?

You are an elected official. You sought and obtained public office through the “political process.” So what?

People will have a difference of opinion with you. So what?

If you were half of the leader that you purport to be, you would accept that you cannot have your way all of the time. Most of us learn this lesson sooner in life than you have appeared to. Grow up and accept that sometimes, the ideas and positions of others will prevail.

To the four Councilmen who comprehended the situation and acted accordingly, your efforts on behalf of the citizens and what is truly in the city's best interest are applauded and appreciated.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

This pork barrel stinks

Media reports in the Times and the Trentonian as well as Councilman Coston are now saying that the "new" Colicelli contract is for one year at a whopping 33% increase!

Of course, who would know since the contracts are not made available for public scrutiny until after they are signed!

This makes the points raised here yesterday and on the Trenton Facts website all that more serious.

The simple facts are this: the city of Trenton is hiring and paying a consultant with questionable credentials a lot of money plus giving him use of taxpayer funded resources with no measurable or demonstrated benefit.

Mr. Colicelli is a retired Police Captain from Newark and known crony of Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Mr. Colicelli himself frequently stated upon his arrival in Trenton that he is "no Gang expert."

Mr. Colicelli is not a Trenton native; does not live here; was not familiar with the City or its residents when he began consulting for the City three years ago, yet we turned to him for consulting services and "knowledge" that is available from within the ranks of our police department.

Mr. Colicelli has not thus far been required to turn in detailed paperwork accounting for the time he has charged to the city.

Mr. Colicelli has not demonstrated to any group or individual that he has provided a benefit to the city.

Mr. Colicelli is rarely seen at City Council meetings or out in the Community.

Mr. Colicelli can travel to conferences, at the City's cost, to give presentations yet he can't be bothered to keep the community that is paying him abreast of the progress of his work.

Mr. Colicelli is blythely ripping off the taxpayers of this city and he's being aided and abetted by the Palmer administration.

We need a consultant who will tell us how to disband the "Gang" that is really holding this city hostage. The "gang" who's OG is Douglas H. Palmer

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More on Colicelli's Contract

Yesterday, Trenton City Councilman Jim Coston let it be known that the contract for Barry Colicelli and his On Target Law Enforcement and Security Consulting Company was up for renewal. If the new contract is approved at Thursday's Council meeting, not only will it be for a discounted rate (about 32% less) than the previous contract, but the term will be for two years instead of one.

Sounds like a deal except for one thing, what do we get for our money?

Looking at a copy of the previous contract which actually expired back in December of 2007, we find the following items:

The contract is between the City of Trenton (Client) and On Target Law Enforcement and Security Consulting (contractor).

The services are to be provided by Barry Colicelli personally who will charge a rate of $75 per hour.

The total amount of the contract shall not exceed $91,000 (That is the equivalent of 1213.33333 billed hours)

The client (City of Trenton) will provide the following: an office, computer, mobile phone and loaned vehicle (car). (We're assuming the City owned car--a crown victoria--is fueled with city gas, but it isn't spelled out in the contract. We did see a copy of an expense report where Mr. Colicelli was being reimbursed for gas for a trip to Washington D.C.)

The Client will reimburse the Contractor for travel expenses.

The contract spells out the scope of work for the contractor as "providing direct assistance to the City of Trenton and its departments in the formulation of a comprehensive collaboration of City services to address the at-risk youth and adult gang-involved populations within the City."

Ok. So we hired somebody to help us shape a process to address a problem. We gave him a car to commute 50 miles each way, a cell phone, computers and an office in City Hall. And he attends meetings.

Now, we'll be positive here and state that sometimes you need an outside voice to identify and coordinate new ways of doing things. And along the way, there should be training and preparation of existing personnel to carry those initiatives forward.
The contractor should not be a perpetual rehire for the same scope of work with no measurable progress shown.

We've also had the opportunit to review some of Mr. Colicelli's invoices to the City from 2006 and 2007. Interestingly, the 14 monthly invoices we reviewed were strikingly similar in that they followed a template so closely as to be nearly perfect copies of one another. Some dates were changed, one initiative or task force meeting might be substitued for another from month to month, but they were each one for the same exact amount: $7,583.

Now that's an interesting number: $7,583 each month. No break down of how many hours (at $75 per) spent on each item on the invoice, just a total amount of $7,583.

If you divide that by the hourly rate, you get 101.106667 hours a month. Each and every month. Most professionals I know of that bill by the hour will calculate to the nearest quarter hour. But not Mr. Colicelli. He bills to the exact amount, and it totals precisely 101.106667 hours per month.

And if that isn't odd enough, try this little math exercise. Multiply the $7,583 per month by the 12 months in a calendar year and you get $90,996. That is just four dollars short of the maximum $91,000 allowed under the contract.


And then there are the travel reimbusements. Mr. Colicelli went to conferences in New Orleans and Washington D.C. last year on the City of Trenton's tab. This cost us another $1,300 plus.

And again the question has to be asked, what benefit has the City received from Mr. Colicelli's services? What benefit that we couldn't have just as easily obtained from a bona fide employee of the City of Trenton without the extra cost?

In a City struggling to make ends meet; where people will often say they are not getting their money's worth from City employees; how can we justify the continued expense of this "consultant?"

And if his work is so good and he has been so effective, why are we looking to grant him a fourth contract?

If we have benefited so much from hiring this consultant, why are we suddenly able to get him for two years and two thirds the cost?

Oh, and does it mean anything that Mr. Colicelli donated at least $1,300.00 to Mayor Palmer's re-election campaign in 2006?

It adds up to one thing and one thing only, patronage of the worst kind.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More bad deals

South Ward Councilman Jim Coston has reported in today's blog entry that the Administriation is proposing a two year renewal of consultant Barry Colicelli's contract for a modest 32% increase over the cost of the previous one year deal.


That's right, the "Special Assistant" to Mayor Palmer would be paid $119,000 for two more year's of work for the city of Trenton.


Coincidentally, the current term for Council and Mayor lasts until June 30, 2010. That's just over two years from now.

With the rampant rumours and whispers that Doug Palmer will be jumping ship sometime between now and the end of his term (after his term as President of the Conference of Mayors ends this year, if/when Hillary Clinton takes him to Washington, or if he should get the nod for NJ's Lt. Governorship---take your pick), this is an obvious ploy to safeguard Mr. Colicelli's contract regardless of what the Mayor does in the next couple of years.

Mr. Coston raises good points about the economics of this deal. And the Administration will no doubt spin it that the city will be receiving two years of work for two thirds of the cost.

If we're not mistaken the contract renewal was previously withdrawn from the Council's docket amidst grumblings and questions about what benefit the city was receiving from the arrangement. No doubt this new "deal" is being proposed as a way to demonstrate that the Administration is responding to concerns and therefore has negotiated a "better deal for the City."

Prove it!

Really, what has Mr. Colicelli provided to the city that couldn't be obtained from current employees of the Police and/or other departments?

Do a few powerpoint presentations warrant this kind of expense? Does it take an outside consultant to bring together representatives of various agencies and convene the fabled "youthstat" meetings? (are they still being held? has anyone been given a progress report?)

And generally, aren't consultants hired for a fixed time and purpose, with some sort of end product provided? When did Trenton become finanicially secure enough to hire consultants on an on-going, open-ended basis?

And what about the costs of maintaining this consultant's office in City Hall? The car he commutes to and from Brielle in? The gas for that car? How many consultants do you know that get that kind of deal?

Remember, he's a consultant and as such does not work exclusively for the city of Trenton.

No. This contract should not be renewed. Not for one year or two. There is no tangible, measurable benefit the taxpayers have received from Mr. Colicelli's services. It's time to cut him loose, kick him out of his City Hall office, get the keys back to the Crown Vic and put those resources to better use here in Trenton.

Let your Council representatives know how you feel about this incredible waste of your money.