Friday, March 28, 2008

A few thoughts on residency

It is not about the person, it is about the law…and the benefits to the city.
Prior to Judge Feinberg handing in her decision in the Santiago case, there was a lot of back and forth about the policy of granting residency waivers to select individuals employed by the city.

Some people insist that residency requirements should be done away with completely. They don’t feel it matters in the least where anyone who works for the city lives.

Others say waivers should be allowed in certain circumstances.

One phrase we hear often in these arguments is that “we need the best person for the job, not the best person who will reside here to take the job.”

That just doesn’t make sense and here’s why:

If residency is a requirement for the job and a candidate is not willing or able to meet that requirement, then simple logic dictates they are not the best candidate for the job.

It makes you wonder what these “we don’t need residency requirements” folks think of the people who have voluntarily chosen to reside here in Trenton. If “the best” won’t relocate here, are those of us who have second rate? Isn’t that a slap in the face of the many, residency-law-abiding city employees?

Let’s make something else perfectly clear: residency requirements were enacted by the people of this city to help mitigate the loss of the middle class (and above) residents to the surrounding area. The idea was to maintain a resident base of people who could support the economy of the city by earning and spending their money here.

It’s interesting to note that the Palmer Administration’s policy of “selective enforcement” of the residency ordinance has coincided with an increasing amount of Trenton tax dollars flowing out of the city in the form of paychecks and professional service contract payments to non-residents.

Just look at the city law department. There was a time when the City Attorney and staff handle the vast majority if not all of the city’s legal work. The members of the department were required to live in the city from which they drew their paychecks. They paid taxes on their homes here; they patronized the restaurants, stores and movie theatres (remember them?) here. The dollars stayed in circulation in town. Business was supported; jobs were supported so more people could earn a living wage.

A picture of the law department today tells a completely different story. We have a City Attorney (I believe it may be a statutory requirement). But we also have the highly compensated “Special Counsel” who is essentially a non-resident contract employee. We also regularly retain several other outside attorneys to handle labor cases and contract negotiations; defense for the many damage and injury claims that are filed against the city (take a look at a council docket sometime), most from outside of the City.

In this most recent example of the residency waiver challenge, only the citizen plaintiff’s had local representation. City Council, the Mayor, Director Santiago and corporate entity of the City of Trenton all had separate legal representation and all were from out of the area.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees paid by the city each year to contract out services to providers who don’t live in the city.

Why not make sure we had an adequately staffed, professionally capable law department comprised of city residents. Then the wages paid would have at least half a chance of staying within the community and doing good where it is needed most (rather than Cherry Hill, or Livingston or Keyport etc.

Our so-called leaders tell us repeatedly of the need to attract people with expendable income to reside here; seek entertainment here; shop here; dine here.

And then they contradict themselves by giving money by the wheelbarrow load, not to mention cars, cell phones, etc., to outside attorneys, “gang” consultants, and the like.

Trenton will continue to suffer until and unless those who have been elected to office are held accountable.

Residency is one tool by which we can do that.

Doing away with it, amending it, waiving will only exacerbate our problems.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Help me with this

Contradiction and confusion between 319 E. State St and 225 N. Clinton Ave
The Mayor and his well-paid North Jersey attorney want Judge Feinberg and the residents of Trenton to believe that if Joe Santiago is ordered to vacate his office immediately, the Capital City will be at grave risk of being overrun by the criminal element. Therefore, they argue, the termination of Joe Santiago's tenure as Trenton Police Director because of his non-resident status should be stayed pending an appeal or until an orderly transition of authority can be made.

Of course, the legal wheels on this residency issue have been grinding for a couple of months. Why haven't the city and police administrations made prior plans for this transition, "just in case?" Seems to me the inaction of our leadership has put the public safety at risk by not having succession planning in place.

And didn't we just go through this with Barry Colicelli case?

Just for the sake of argument, let's consider that the Mayor is correct and the city is at increased risk without the steady hand of Joe Santiago at the command of the Police Department. Attorney George Dougherty, who represented the citizens in their fight to have the residency ordinance upheld (and who is himself a Trenton resident), rightfully asks if the safety and security of Trentonian's was then compromised every time Mr. Santiago was absent from his desk due to illness, vacation, or just plain not being around.

Excellent point, of course.

And if we weren't "unsafe" enough, now comes the issue of the request for City Council to authorize an expenditure of $200,000 for new police firearms. Currently the city city uses Glock handguns. The proposed contract would be for new guns from Springfield Armory. Through a police spokesman, Santiago has said that City Council can opt not spend the $200,000 and go for the free, "inferior weapon" and intimated that doing so would be unsafe for the police as well as the public.

But with safety a concern, was the Police Director himself or a designated representative present at the City Council meeting to make the case for the switch?

Of course not.

So to sum up:
Trentonians are at risk if Joe Santiago is summarily and immediately dismissed as Police Director. There will be presumed chaos in a police department that functioned quite well (arguably better) for over 200 years prior to Santiago's appointment as Police Director. The public will be at risk.

Since his appointment five years ago Santiago has been at best a part-time city resident and for the last two or more years has made no pretense about living 50 plus miles away from Trenton. His frequent absences do not put the public at risk.

The city should spend $200,000 to change weapons for the police department when the current supplier will provide new guns free of charge. Saving money by staying with an alleged "inferior" weapon* puts the police and the public at risk.

The police director has no problem if City Council decides to keep the "inferior" weapon, but he couldn't be bothered to attend the meeting and make his case for the allegedly safer choice.

Does this mean that the public is again at risk, but the Director doesn't care enough to make his case for minimizing that risk?

Through all of the contradiction and confusion one thing is clear, Joe Santiago is not interested in serving the people of the City of Trenton any more than he is interested in living here.

Guess it is just time for him to go. Now.

We did a quick Google search and came up with this discussion thread that concluded there is no real difference between the two weapons under consideration. And the cops we've checked with seem to agree. Why spend the money for something that is essentially the same as the no cost option?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

But what about the horses?


Setting aside the fact that he acted in violation of the City's residency ordinance by granting a residency waiver to Police Director Santiago, the Mayor claimed that the Feinberg ruling is jeopardizing the public safety of Trenton residents.


The loss of experienced, dedicated professionals under Santiago's heavy handed management didn't jeopardize our public safety?

The ever-increasing police overtime budgets for the first four years of Santiago's tenure that resulted in a physically and emotionally exhausted police force didn't jeopardize public safety?

And what about the money spent on worthless video surveillance cameras, redesigned badges, and multiple numbers of high-end vehicles for Santiago cronies to drive to and from work (while our street cops and detectives had to "make do" with an aging and decrepit fleet)? Did any of that improve public safety?

Let's not forget the money wasted on the mounted patrol units. Yes, they look pretty standing around on the street corners downtown on a nice day, but what about the cost of stabling, feeding, transporting, providing veterinary care? This improved public safety how?

The Mayor needs to drop any and all thoughts of appealing Feinberg's decision.

He needs to bid farewell to Joe Santiago (and Irv Bradley), and get back to running this city FOR THE PEOPLE!

If he's not willing to do that, then let's put him and Santiago each on one of those horses and send them off on their respective journey to their homes in the north lands.

With the two of them out of the way maybe we can start to feel safe again.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The luck of the Irish

Feinberg says residency matters

It’s been an interesting day.

Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg has ruled that Trenton’s residency ordinance does indeed matter and the appointed police director should indeed be a bona fide resident of the City of Trenton.

That said, there are a lot of questions.

The first is: if an appeal is made, does Santiago keep his position?

At this writing, the information at hand indicates, “No,” he loses his position until such a time as an appeal is heard and Judge Feinberg’s ruling overturned.

What about a stay of the judge’s decision?

Sources feel it’s not likely to happen.

What happens in the Trenton Police Department?

When given the news this afternoon a friend asked, “Who’ll be in charge now?”

Of course, if there were still Deputy Chiefs within the TPD, one of them would possibly be given the responsibility…at least in the interim while the dust settled and the picture clarified.

With a lack of DC’s, there are a number of Captains currently on the force, several of whom are qualified by experience and tenure to step up.

The truth is, as big an event as this is regarding the battle between the citizens and the supposed powers of the Mayor, what matters now is what comes next. What happens now on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Trenton?

There has been a lot of energy and verbiage expended on why Joseph Santiago was not an appropriate person to head up Trenton’s Police Department. Despite his alleged claim not to go until served with a legal document (and in contrast to a previous statement that if he had to move here to keep the job, he’d leave), Santiago’s tenure has timed out.

Has anyone really thought about what will come next?

Members of the TPD and the public alike need to seriously examine their approach to “life after Santiago?”

For those who felt that Santiago was doing a great job, how are you going to carry on in his absence? Will you continue to be involved or will you walk away in disgust and disappointment that things haven’t gone your way?

A similar question can be posed to those who have stood and questioned the effectiveness of Santiago’s tenure as police director. Now that his residency “waiver” has been nullified, are you going to go back inside your homes in self satisfied silence that one perceived “evil” has been eliminated from our downtrodden city?

And to the long-suffering police who have had to deal with the whims and rages of the narcissistic and egomaniacal Santiago, are you willing to commit anew to working with the community to honestly and effectively reduce crime in Trenton?

There is nothing stronger than a working community police partnership. The successful challenge to the bogus residency waiver issued by Mr. Palmer to Mr. Santiago is a perfect example of what can be done when people unite to uphold the law. But will the bond be sustained and efforts refocused on the everyday street crime?

Will the general public maintain the trust in and communication with the Police? Will they share the information necessary to allow the Police to arrest and convict those responsible for the crime in our communities?

Will the police sustain and build upon the bridges of cooperation with the community that have been built because of and in spite of Santiago’s actions over the past five years?

Today’s judicial action has a lot of potential, let’s not waste it. One of the most divisive chapters of Trenton’s community-police relations was effectively laid to rest by Judge Feinberg’s decision.

It’s time to look forward to a safer, more unified Trenton and leave the abuses of power and privilege behind.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Next up: paid parking for city residents?

Tonight's city council conference session (5:00 pm, second floor of City Hall) includes a presentation on fee structures. One of the items listed is "Parking Enforcement."

Don't be surprised if the powers that be propose a fee structure for residents in the permit only parking areas of Trenton.

Permit parking is usually granted when there is a direct conflict between residents and visitors for the limited on street parking. Areas around the hospitals, ball park, arena, train station and downtown have had permit parking ordinances enacted so that residents have first dibs on available parking spots.

The system was designed so that permits and visitor passes would be reissued every couple of years to aid enforcement efforts. As is typical in Trenton, the system was let go to the point where enforcement is nearly impossible in some areas due to the large amount of resident turnover, counterfeit passes, etc.

After years of "we're working on it" representatives of Trenton's Traffic and Engineering Division of Public Works have floated the idea of annual parking permits being issued for a "nominal fee."

If this is proposed and passed, it will be another instance of penalizing the tax paying citizens for the city's mismanagement.

Let's hope any such trial balloons are shot down immediately.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Meanwhile, over in the schools administration building

"Dumber than a bunch of rocks."

The Trenton School District has had another glorious week.

First, there was the story of conflicting understandings of what actually occurred at a meeting between District Officials and representatives of the Schools Development Authority (SDA). In an article by reporter Lisa Rich in the Times, (Mix-up swirls around TCHS), readers were "entertained" to learn that the fate of the city's 75 year old high school was still up in the air because the participants in the private meeting walked away with completely opposite understandings of what was said.

That's right. Trenton School Officials and State Representatives couldn't even agree on what their stated positions were with regard to the ongoing drama of trying to save Trenton's iconic central high school building.

This morning we were treated to another telling article by Ms. Rich wherein the school officials claim that the district's failing grades on the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) test are misleading. (Trenton district says AYP data misleading)

Mandated by the Federal No Child Left Behind rules, the AYP doesn't account for fact that many of Trenton's schools house elementary and middle school students. The elementary students are improving, but the middle schools are not and that is dragging down the systems scores.

But if the elementary school kids are showing Adequate Yearly Progress, why isn't that translating into the middle schools as those students are promoted through the system?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Are you listening, Council?

Earthlink has halted all of its work in Muni-WiFi systems and is officially pulling out of the as yet uncompleted Philadelphia network after three years. Why are we contemplating a "commitment" to a $250,000 contract with a small, unknown company with even less of a track record?

We already have Automatic Vehicle Locators in our Police Vehicles. Why are we soliciting bids for a new system?

The CitySide housing units are a fiasco. Why give a second thought to helping the owners bail out of their self-made mess with City financing, PILOTs, and property swaps?

Our Civilian Police Director does not live in the city as required by law (you said so yourselves with your vote in December), took sick days Monday and Tuesday and yet appeared before the Plainfield City Council Monday night. (Remember back in December when you chastised him for not being present and accessible to you and the citizens?) Why don't you go all the way and terminate his employment by the city?

The Administration has actively pursued and fired employees for non-residency, even when they've maintained an apartment in town and only lived away on weekends. Why are you allowing Communications Director Irving Bradley to split his residency?

Personnel Director Raisa Walker, presumably under oath, stated in July of 2006 that the City of Trenton had not issued any residency waivers to any employees in six years. Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum stated in January of that same year that Mr. Santiago had been granted a residency waiver. These statements clearly contradict one another. What are you going to do about it?

The city is broke and broken. We need you to stop the stupid, illegal and wasteful spending and start repairing the civic infrastructure.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It figures

Newspaper reports indicate that the property swap, PILOT agreement and commitment of RCA funds to Maryland's Landex Corporation may just be approved. At the very least, the pending legislation will be on the docket for Thursday's Council meeting.

As we said before, it is another instance of a bad developer seeking help and money from the city to bail out their failed scheme.

Kudos to Councilmen Bethea and Coston for trying to inject common sense into the proceedings and questioning the notion of throwing good money after bad.

And Councilwoman Staton's concern about multiple exits from the properties is great...although current construction and occupation codes apparently don't require this.

Most telling though, are Council President Paul Pintella's comments. Lacking anything of substance to say on the matter, he is reported to have congratulated the developer on an "impressive PowerPoint presentation." The deep thinking Pintella concluded that he is inclined to support the proposal because "the current situation is unacceptable."

What else would we expect from him. Let's not forget how the City stepped in and bailed out the failed housing development initiated by the now defunct Urban League of Trenton. To Pintella, the City is apparently there to help struggling developers, no matter what their track record.

Let's take a pass on this deal and parcel out those properties to worthy developers who have proven their ability to provide decent home ownership possibilities. And let's work on getting Ms. Siegel and Landex to clean up their mess here in Trenton before they come asking for any further financial assistance or property swaps.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Walk a mile in my town

Running out to pick up a tomato pie for dinner, we managed to catch the tail end of a story on NJN News (about 24 minutes in) this evening announcing that Trenton was named the country’s 8th most walkable city by Prevention Magazine.

In conjunction with the American Podiatric Medical Association, Prevention assembled a group of experts who evaluated the best cities for hoofing it around.

In the write up, Trenton was cited for the high percentage of people who walk to work and or walk for exercise. Trenton’s infrastructure was deemed “highly walkable” because it provided wide sidewalks without having to cross a lot of wide and busy streets.
Another positive was the cluster of walkable commercial and cultural attractions downtown.

Now it’s tempting to denigrate the study by pointing out the comparable absence of such attractions compared with the Trenton of 40 or 50 years ago. We’ll forego the cheap and easy shot to point out the positive…Trenton is an exceptionally walkable city.

The fact that Trenton still exhibits the character of its 19th century boom years is a real plus. The city’s size is quite manageable, even for pedestrians. It’s only about a mile from the county courthouse at Broad and Market Streets to Waterfront Park. It’s a similar stroll from the State House up through Stacy Park to the Island neighborhood.

The cluster of government and commercial buildings downtown is easily accessible.

And the architecture is by and large intact due to the lack of wholesale redevelopment schemes (not that there hasn’t been some proposed).

In short, Trenton is a city on a very human scale and it would behoove professional planners and developers to keep that in mind as they plot the future of the capital city.

As thinking people seek more ways to lives independent of their automobiles, cities like Trenton will become more and more attractive. We’d be well advised to keep to the plans for downtown as laid out in the Capital City Redevelopment Corporation’s Master Plan of twenty years ago. The state and the city should come to terms with the need to open up Rte. 29 so we can regain pedestrian access to the riverfront. And we need to stop courting the out-of-scale type of developments represented by the Full Spectrum project.

To be sure, we need more people living, working, shopping and playing downtown. But we can’t afford to lose the comfortable scale of the buildings and streets in the process.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Just say no!

Tuesday’s City Council Conference session will include a presentation from Baltimore-based Landex Corporation. This is the group responsible for the Cityside apartments in various locations around town.

According to a report in the Times last week, Landex has proposed a property swap with the City of Trenton. Landex wants the City to turn over 14 buildings it owns in exchange for 22 Cityside buildings around Passaic and Spring Streets. The 22 Cityside properties currently each house 2 rental units, but under the proposed plan, the homes would be converted to single family, owner occupied units. Landex also wants a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement, as well as a commitment of some Regional Contribution Agreement (RCA) monies as part of the deal.

Speaking for Landex, Chairwoman Judy Siegle admitted that renting to Section 8 tenants here in Trenton has not worked out as planned for the company.

Council President Paul Pintella and Council Vice-President Cordelia Staton both commented on the lack of quality in the current Cityside buildings.
It appears that under the proposed deal, Landex will utilize the RCA money and PILOTs to fund the conversion of all the properties into owner occupied units.

In essence, this failed corporate landlord that has been sucking up government money in the form of Section 8 rental payments, now wants the city to underwrite its exit from the rental business and support its development of properties for sale.

Once again, we have a would be developer coming to the city with its hands out looking for a contribution/financial support from our depleted coffers.

If Landex’s business model didn’t work out in the first place, what makes us think this new enterprise will succeed?

And what of these Section 8 tenants, where will they live? If they need rental assistance, they surely aren’t going to be able to buy one of these new homes.

Even if they could somehow finagle a deal to purchase a home, if they were “bad tenants,” how are they going to fare as property owners?

Nope. This seems like another bad idea that needs to be shot down.

We keep hearing that things have changed in Trenton and how developers are seeking out opportunities here in the city. But it always seems that they are seeking opportunities to get public funding, at least in part, for their projects.

One bad idea after another is presented, and there always seems to be a member of the administration ready to go to bat for the developer.

When will we learn to just say no?

Take a hike, E-Path

Southward Councilman Jim Coston reported the following on his February 27 blog entry:
E-Path. A copy of the resolution from last November granting E-Path "right-of-way" is on the Articles of Interest page. The $250,000 contract that was pulled from the docket last week had some contingencies as part of it. I am told that it amounted to nothing more than a guarantee that the City would pay $250,000 to E-Path for wireless network service once the network was built, not before. The guarantee is to help E-Path secure a loan to actually build the thing.
This course[sic] begs its own questions. Why can't E-Path get its own financing without locking the City into a deal? Why wasn't Council given a copy of the contract? What has E-Path been doing since it got "right-of-way" several months ago? The biggest question, the one that most concerns me, centers on their track record heretofore.

Let it be pointed out that those of us gathered on the front stoop said all along that this was most likely the case. The City of Trenton was being asked to commit to this contract so that it could help E-Path secure funding to do the job.

The City of Trenton doesn’t need to commit to anything. E-Path said they could do this on their own. Trenton should not agree to anything further until a system is up and running and its capabilities have been thoroughly demonstrated.

The administration can back pedal, sing, dance and spin this any way it wants but one fact remains clear: without a commitment of City money, E-Path will not build this unproven, unneeded network.

And the word from the stoop is still “No.”

Bye-bye, E-Path.