Thursday, July 17, 2008

Circular Logic

The Facility Advisory Board (FAB) of the Trenton Board of Education (BOE) met Wednesday night to discuss and clarify the recent round of funding promised from the School Development Authority (SDA).

The Save Trenton High Coalition posted an update on the meeting that addressed the status of the Early Childhood Center, MLK/Jefferson, Roebling and Trenton Central High School:

Mr. Dwayne Mosley of the FAB gave the presentation and Mr. Alexander Brown of the Board of Education (BOE) facilitated the meeting. Representatives from the School Development Authority’s (SDA) and the State Department of Education (DOE) were not present. Approximately 15 members of the public and two BOE members were in attendance.

A significant amount of time was devoted to discussing and deciphering the SDA’s decision-making “process” as presented by the FAB and BOE, specifically as it relates to Trenton High and Roebling. Apparently, it borrows heavily from the chicken and the egg theory. It goes something like this:
1. The SDA has told the BOE they must make a decision soon on either renovating or replacing Trenton High and Roebling.
2. The SDA has refused to provide the BOE with a cost analysis or feasibility study on renovation and replacement in order to make an informed decision.
3. The only way to get the SDA to provide any information to the BOE in order to determine the best alternative for the students (and this is where we were told to suspend our disbelief) is for the BOE to vote on a resolution to “abandon” Trenton High and Roebling and build brand new schools.

That is precisely what the BOE is going to do. On Monday, July 28 the BOE is going to vote on a yet to be written resolution to “abandon” the landmark Trenton High and build a new school that serves only 1300-1500 students, all in the name of studying its renovation.
The FAB and the BOE attempted to pacify the public by explaining that this is how the SDA’s “process” works. Possibly by September the SDA will complete its analysis, and another FAB meeting will presumably be held to the present to the public the results of renovation versus new construction.

Extremely confusing, yes. But if this is truly the “process,” it is apparent that the SDA is still incapable of managing school construction projects. By forcing the BOE to scrap the existing renovation plans and start from scratch there is a very real risk that the limited amount of funding will disappear.

The meeting reportedly concluded when Mr. Brown abruptly adjourned it while one member of the public tried to ask a question.

So, if we understand this as presented, only if the Trenton Board of Education votes to abandon the idea of renovating the existing Trenton High School and build a new facility that serves fewer students will the School Development Authority provide cost estimates for new construction versus renovation.

One could conclude that the SDA would take their cue and make the financial case for not renovating the existing Trenton Central High School because the Board has to vote that way in order to get a cost estimate.

This is not just wrong, it is absurd.

If the money is designated for the city of Trenton, shouldn’t the responsible body be able to determine how it is to be spent? And shouldn’t the funding agency be mandated to provide the information needed to determine how it should be spent…
…prior to the Board of Ed making that determination?!?!?!

Not one to give our BOE a pass, but should the state really hold us hostage because it failed to rein in the waste and corruption of the SDA’s predecessor, the School Construction Corporation?

The BOE will vote on this new resolution on Monday, July 28.

Let’s hope the powers that be shake some sense into the SDA before then. Let’s get realistic and comprehensive cost comparisons for renovation vs. new construction and give the Trenton BOE the opportunity to make an informed decision.

It’s the very least that should be done for the citizens of New Jersey who are footing the bill for whatever is done here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Orderly transition

By now, the news has flashed around town.

The Court has determined that former Police Director Joseph Santiago has 75 days to exit the city. The time frame was given to "facilitate and 'orderly transition' to his successor."

The think tank gathered here on the Front Stoop has the following to offer as this matter winds to a close:

1) Just because the Court allowed 75 days for a transition doesn't mean the former Director has to take all of that time before leaving. A professional, forward thinking manager would have been thinking about and planning for an orderly succession regardless of the circumstances. Especially considering the possibility of a court ordered vacation of the office, Mr. Santiago should have been working on plans to do this all along. The fact that he apparently didn't, and that the Palmer administration did not consider this possibility is but pure negligence. They need to step up and transition Mr. Santiago out of here as soon as possible for the sake of the city.

2) There should be some immediate oversight given to the operation decisions made by the former Director from here until he officially leaves the position. His pettiness and vindictiveness are well documented and his command abilities questionable at best. To let him have his way now, in the waning days of his regime could do more harm to an already depleted and demoralized department.

3) Any candidates for a new Police Director should not be reviewed solely by the Mayor, but should be vetted by a special selection committee comprised of two City Council members and three citizens. No more "surprise" appointments. The search should commence immediately.

3) There should be absolutely no city funded appeal of the court's decision. Four judges at two levels of the judiciary have come to the same opinion. Any appeal, request for a stay, etc. cannot continue to be funded by the financially strapped City of Trenton. For his part, Mr. Palmer should accept the defeat and focus on getting Trenton back on its feet; Mr. Santiago must accept the defeat and just move on.

4) The City needs to immediately and definitively address any and all employees currently not meeting the residency requirement of their position. The legal process has struck down the once existing waiver clause in the city's residency ordinance. There are no exceptions. There shall be no exceptions. This means that Mr. Bradley should be immediately dismissed as Director of the Communications Division. If not, Council should act swiftly on this matter. And Ms. Feigenbaum, if she does not meet the full requirement of bona fide residency, must go as well. Same with Mr. Gonzalez or anyone else.

This situation has not been good for Trenton and those who live and work here. It is time to close the door on this chapter and move ahead into a new era. Mr. Palmer could go a long way towards redeeming himself by seeing that the transition is not only orderly, but swift and complete.

A perfect example

City must cut budget, but don’t touch the administration

Trenton is flat broke. The city is looking at a significant budget deficit and the administration has asked all departments to cut their budgets by 10%.

But when is the administration going to tighten its fiscal belt?

We talk about maybe having to charge to use city pools next summer; furloughing police dogs; and possibly closing libraries. But there is never a mention of the administration cutting back on its expenditures.

For instance, this item from Thursday’s council docket:



For those who haven’t been following this, Mr. Alacqua serves as “special counsel” to the city, providing legal advice and guidance. Mr. Alacqua is in attendance at most City Council meetings as is the City Attorney, Ms. Denise Lyles.

Why, you might reasonably ask, do we need a “special counsel” at $95,000 per year when we have a City Attorney and legal staff who is already on the city payroll and who are city residents?

Blogger Greg Forester has addressed this several times, most recently here. As he points out, Mr. Alacqua is not the only attorney handling legal work for the city via special services contract. Just look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with outside law firms to fight the Santiago residency case…tax dollars spent to argue both sides of the case!!!!

(Note: as this is written, word is coming in that the judges ruled 3-0 against the former police director).

Now what if we took some of that money going outside the city for special services contracts and put it into keeping our library’s open (read the Times article on this).

Or what if we applied that money to the recreation department budget so the parks can be better maintained?

You get the point. How far could we go cutting the administration’s expenditures before we need to reduce city services in order to balance the budget? Shouldn’t we be looking there first?

We at the stoop join in Chrissie’s call for city council to vote “no” for this expenditure. Let’s hope the thinking members of city council choose to vote against resolution 5 lr and start us on the road to real fiscal responsibility.

As a bonus…let’s stop hitting up corporations for sponsorships of the failing Heritage Days and the alleged Trenton “Jazz Festival” and instead put that money to work keeping our libraries open. At least until we get a new, higher functioning library board that finds ways to augment the city’s contribution to it’s operating expenses.