Friday, September 26, 2008

It's now or never

Grab the tiller, Doug. Or jump overboard and swim for shore.

Well it's been quite a week in the fiefdom of Douglas H. Palmer, a locale also known as the City of Trenton.

Palmer's pet police director marked his official departure by throwing up the "white flag" and surrendering to the court ordered vacation of the position. Of course, in true "Palmerago" (you know, like "Brangelina")fashion of having to have the last word, the former police director tendered his "resignation." This was tantamount to Santiago saying, "OK. You win. But I'm going because I want to, not because you made me."


And, after a "curtain call" on Wednesday, he was gone.

A career Trenton police officer, Fred Reister, has been made the acting director now that the former director is officially gone. A respected administrator who came up through the ranks, Reister is expected to heal the wounds within the department while getting a real handle on the crime situation in the capital city.

That is, if Palmer lets him do his job.

In an article in the Times from Thursday, September 25, Kevin Shea wrote:
Meanwhile, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer firmly said yesterday Santiago's replacement, Capt. Fred Reister, is an interim role and he does not want a lot of changes, and the department needs to stay on the course Santiago set.

Palmer said Reister's appointment is "purely transitional," and said, "I am going to tell him that I don't want to see a whole lot of changes."

Uh, Doug, you had 75 days from the appellate court decision to work on transition. You chose not to. Now you are going to dictate to the guy you appointed, while he was supposed to be on vacation, that you want no changes?

Why, Doug? Just because the acting director made a personnel move involving a police captain who supported one of your opponents in the last election? When are you going to grow up?

On Tuesday, the city council heard held an information session with Library Director Kimberly Bray, representatives of the Library's accounting firm and the Library Board of Trustees. The Trenton Free Public Library, in case you've been too preoccupied with Santiago's departure, is about to collapse from a huge funding deficit. The current plan on the table is to shutter the four branches, layoff personnel, and consolidate operations and remaining staff in the main library on Academy Street.

Many around the city find this solution unacceptable for many reasons. Several members of council have also indicated their opposition to this.

While the current library director was grilled about the situation and the accountants were also given their time in the hot seat, little to nothing was said about or addressed directly to the Board of Trustees of the Trenton Free Public Library who have been on watch over the erosion of the institution's financial stability.

Let's be clear here: as outlined in state law, the Mayor appoints the library board. There is a seat at the table for the Mayor (or his designated alternate), the superintendent of schools, and some community members. The President of the Trustees who has presided over this fiscal meltdown is Mrs. Adrienne Hayling, a long-time Palmer family friend sometimes referred to as Doug's "second mother." And keeping it in the family is the Mayor's sister, Karen Richardson.

Palmer can claim all the surprise at the news of the library's insolvency that he wants, but no one is going to believe him. His administration knew; council had an inkling after the revelations of the previous library director, Scott Hughes, made known his issues with the Trustees, the Board President and the weak financial condition.

For too many years, Doug Palmer has preached "accountability" while demonstrating anything but.

He "settled" on a police director (Santiago) who was anything but accountable; who's spending sprees went unchecked; who's every tantrum resulted in actions detrimental to the overall safety and security of the citizens; and who's constant mantra of "crime is down" was seldom, if ever, backed up with any real hard data other than suspiciously under-reported crime numbers. When that police director finally left or faced defying court orders that allowed for a 75 day transition period, he claimed he scrambled to fill a so-called "surprise vacancy."

With the library system in constant turmoil due to a revolving door in the director's office over the past five years or so; a once robust "Friends of the Trenton Library" group that went dormant in the same period; and no real reporting or communication between the Trustees and the governing body (city council) of the funding municipality, Palmer claims shock and surprise that things have gotten to this point.

It is plain as day that Doug Palmer has lost interest in running this city in an effective and efficient manner. The man who talks all about accountability has none.
His only goal is to find a new job, up front, on a larger stage. (Yeah, good luck with that one, Doug).

It's way past time for Doug Palmer to take some definitive action. This does not mean micro-managing the police department through it's director (acting or otherwise). After all, Doug Palmer is not a law enforcement professional, nor does he have any real public administration experience since he's been little more than a figurehead these past 18 years. It's the various Chiefs of Staff and Business Administrators who have done the real administrative work (and not always well).

Taking action also doesn't mean spouting off simple solutions of consolidating the system into one mega-library with a shuttle service to get people to and from. As Councilman Coston pointed out the other night, there are no cost estimates for upgrading or adding onto the existing main library building; no cost estimates for this proposed shuttle service. It doesn't address the real problem of a library board locked in the iron grip of a presiding officer who is unable and/or unwilling to face the fact that her "way" has lead to the ruin of this vital public institution.

As we see it there are only two courses of action left to Mr. Palmer.

One, he comes back to the job he so proudly boasts of having been elected to; establishes a clear vision for the city with benchmarks for the next month, three months, six months and end of FY2010; and let's the professionals in city government work their hardest to meet those goals (or else); cuts the serious fat from the city's budget, including and especially in the upper levels of the administration and redistribute the money at hand to save institutions like the library; and he should take the sale of the outlying water distribution system off of the table and concentrate on operating the water utility as a sound infrastructure investment and stop living off of its surplus but within the means of the real budget.

The second alternative is admittedly more simple and straightforward. It may leave some with a very bitter taste, but it must be considered.

If Doug Palmer is not man enough to stop the self-deception and buckle down to the task of turning around the city as outlined in above, than he must immediately and irrevocably pack it in and walk away. He's not doing the city or himself any good by continuing on in the current fashion.

It's one or the other, Doug. You're move.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Great lines

Note: entry edited on 9/24/08 to substitute "resign" for "retire."--OMH

The reporting of the departure of Joe Santiago from the already vacated position of police director for the city of Trenton provided ample opportunity for some interesting word choices and turns of phrase.

Let me replay for you now, just a few of the better ones we've read.

At the top of the list is the announcement of Santiago's "resignation" itself. As several of the more astute members of the community have pointed out, you can't really resign from a job you don't have. Lest we forget or overlook the fine point of this, four judges in two separate hearings of the matter determined that the position of police director in the city of Trenton was vacant due to the simple fact that Mr. Santiago was not a city resident. Judge Feinberg gave her decision in March with a 30 day grace period for orderly transition that was stayed until the three judges of the Appellate Court upheld her ruling but extended the transition period to 75 days. No matter how you look at it, Joe Santiago was out of a job. I don't think you can resign from a grace period. He might as well have said, "You can't fire me. I quit."

Another great quote came from Council President and Palmer lackey, Paul Pintella. The idiot prince was quoted as saying Santiago was "one of the finest police directors ever to work in Trenton." Nice.

Here's a test for you Paulie. How many police directors has Trenton had?

Let me help you out. There have been two: Jim Golden and Joe Santiago. (George Clisby and Abe Hemsey were never fully appointed to the position).

Now if we accept your statement that Santiago was "one of the finest police directors" to work here that would indicate that he was a) not the finest and b) Santiago was, by elimination, the worst police director to work in Trenton.

If there were only two, and Joe was not the finest but "one of the finest" than he is second. Second in a field of two is last. Last in this case equals worst.

So you managed to insult Santiago and give a backhanded compliment to his predecessor at the same time. You could have won the prize for best statement, but...

Unexpected vacancy

The topper may be one of the wry comments from Trentonian columnist and Palmer plugger, L.A. Parker.

First, L.A. writes about the appointment of Captain Fred Reister as acting director "until further notice as Palmer attempts to fill an unexpected vacancy."

Something that has been on the books for six months, is "unexpected?"

About 11 paragraphs into his page three article about Santiago's departure, Parker cleverly wrote the following:

"Mayor Palmer bid farewell to his partner in crime, calling Santiago one of the city's top assets and a major crime fighter."

I'm not sure but there may be some double, if not triple irony to that statement.
First, without a doubt Palmer and Santiago are partners in crime. The waste of taxpayer dollars fighting the illegal waiver of the residency requirement was nothing short of criminal (and we still think they should have to repay the city for the legal fees and court costs). Referring to Santiago as one of the "city's top assets" might have read more accurately if the final t was swapped for an s. A similar rewrite might be applied to the declaration that Santiago was "a major crime fighter." His regular displays of favoritism, cronyism and the reported poor attendance record he had while on the city payroll add up to make Santiago more of a major criminal than a crime fighter.

And just when you think you've read the best comes old Smug Doug himself. The Missing Mayor made a prophetic statement in the Times.

"I'm disappointed," Palmer said. "However, I have to move on. I have a city to run and I have to run it."

At last, a statement we can agree with. Palmer has to move on.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A man of his word

And leave the vehicles, cell phones, computers, etc. here when you go.

The story flashing around town today is about the resignation of Joe Santiago as the former police director for the city of Trenton. This inspirational move came on the last day of the 75 day period granted by last July's Appellate Court decision; a period designed to allow for the "orderly transition" to new leadership of the TPD.

Now, the wags are posing the question "How can he resign from a position that the courts determined he no longer held?" And it is a valid question.

Resigned or fired, it doesn't really make a difference (except maybe for the $136,000+ in legal fees our cash-strapped city spent on this ridiculous court case).

What does matter is that Mr. Santiago, the once and future former police director, has shown that after all that has occurred, he is a man of his word.

Last November, Santiago was quoted in the newspaper as saying he'd quit before he moved his family here. Ten months later, he's holding true to his word.

And to show how much we appreciate the former police director's integrity, we offer a similar response to his resignation that we gave nearly a year ago:

Good! Bye!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Smug Palmer hints at Santiago stay

If that's the case, he'd better come with a large check in his hand.

Prior to Tuesday's press conference on the budget and proposed library closings speculation was rampant that an announcement was forthcoming regarding the continuation of former Police Director Santiago's tenure in Trenton.

As we know now, the prepared remarks were truly about the budget and the Mayor's "feigned" surprise at the plan to close the branch libraries.

Of course the question of Santiago's status...the court ordered deadline for his departure looms next week...was raised.

Both Kevin Shea of the Times and Joe D'Aquila of the Trentonian (article not posted to the web at this time) reported this morning that Palmer indicated Santiago might somehow remain as the head of the Trenton Police Department.

The guessing over the hows and whys such a turn of events might occur obscure two very large points.

The first, Mr. Santiago stated quite plainly last fall that if he had to move into the city to keep the job, he'd quit.

The second, the arrogant stubbornness shown by Palmer and Santiago in taking this matter through the courts with the cash strapped Trenton tax payers footing the bill for both sides of the case (Palmer and Santiago's defense as well as City Council's legal position as a plaintiff in the case).

While the pros and cons of Santiago's tenure as Police Director will no doubt be debated for years to come, one thing is quite clear: he thinks more of himself than the people he was hired to serve and the laws he is supposed to uphold.

If Palmer and his cronies want Santiago back so much that they have ferreted out yet another loophole, it had better be a good one.

We know that any pretense of Santiago establishing bona fide city residency will be scrutinized from every angle.

For now, the city waits for next week's 11th hour announcement from Palmer as to the vacant police director position. Rumors and speculation will continue to swirl.

We just hope if Santiago is somehow reappointed to a position on the city payroll that he comes to prepared to write a check payable to the City of Trenton in an amount equal to all the money spent on this wasteful exercise of the judicial system.

No pay, no play.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh no he didn't!

In yet another demonstration of his refusal to take any blame for the state of the city, Doug Palmer called a press conference today to “set the record straight.”

Let’s leave aside for the moment that just last week Palmer used the same approach to counter criticism of the proposal to sell off the Trenton Water Utility’s outlying distribution infrastructure. The man who claims to believe in “accountability” once again is blaming anyone and everyone, including his hand picked Library Board, for the problems in Trenton.

It was also interesting to note that the press conference was scheduled for the Mayor’s conference room, a smallish room barely able to contain the Mayor, his staff, City Council and representatives of the media. There was no room for the public. In fact, one well known citizen was actually turned away at the door with the explanation that the press conference was only for the media, council and department heads.

Interesting, since the opening paragraph of the prepared speech includes the line:
"I have asked you here today because I want the public to have benefit of additional information regarding the Trenton Library Board’s decision to close its four branches due to the City’s budget crisis."

As an aside, Kent Ashworth and Council President Paul Pintella offered apologies later on at the council conference session. But that doesn’t really make up for the obvious intent to exclude the public from the outset. Just like the insistence on holding the Tuesday conference sessions only in the conference room even when, as was the case today, the assembled public wishing to attend couldn’t be accommodated and so were held outside of an allegedly public meeting.

So much for an open and transparent government!

Then there is the content of the speech itself.

Palmer offered pleas of ignorance of the actions and decisions of the Board of Trustees of the Trenton Public Library even as he admitted that he appoints the members.

Hard to believe that long-time Palmer family friend, “second mother” and Board President, Adrienne Hayling, never confided in Doug about that status of the library or the plans to close branches. Just as it is hard to believe that his own sister, also a library board member, never mentioned any of this to Mr. Palmer.

Mr. Palmer is only fooling himself if he truly thinks the general public believes any of this.

It almost makes one wish he was off galavanting around the country again. When he's hear, his bogus sincerity and constant spinning of the truth are nauseating.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trenton Reads...Not!

As the city reels from the announcement that the Library Board plans to close the four branches sometime in the next coming months, the Palmer PR machine (aka L.A. Parker) is in full spin.

In a piece appearing on the Trentonian website this morning, Mayor Palmer spreads the blame on everything from the economy to Governor Corzine. (There goes your shot at the Lt. Governor gig, Doug)


The false outrage and posturing by Palmer just doesn't wash.

First of all, the library funds are managed (mismanaged?) by the board of the Trenton Public Library (TPL). The members of the board are appointed by...all together now...the Mayor.

The board is headed by long-time Palmer family friend, Adrienne Hayling.

The board has failed the TPL by not being able to capitalize on the abundant funding the city has given it over the years.

The board has failed the TPL by not hiring, heeding and retaining top notch professional staff such as former Director, Scott Hughes.

Parker writes:
Palmer placed a portion of the blame on library officials whom he said are responsible for their operating budget.

The board needs to be a person. (We've said this before)

As for Mr. Palmer's assertions that it is "the economy" and/or the fault of the State, let's get real.

True, the economy is in the tank and we are all suffering. But the administration of the city has carried on as if nothing was wrong. The flagrant waste of money on lawsuits defending the former Police Director; the liberal take home car policy; the rampant police overtime spending; part-time assistants to the Mayor making five figure salaries...the list goes on. Each and every item adds up yet the administration refuses to openly detail their plans to live within its financial means.

And in typical Doug Palmer fashion, he suggests that
library officials could correct its financial difficulties via a fundraiser.
"The City would be more than willing to help with such an effort. I think city residents would support such an initiative," Palmer said.

He's kidding, right?

First he says it's partly the board's fault for the financial situation (the board he and only he appoints). Then he suggests they hold a fundraiser and the residents would get behind it and bring the TPL back to some sort of financial stability.

Nope. Not one voluntary dime until the board is restocked with people who understand their fiduciary responsibilities as trustees of the TPL.

And, Doug, if funding is the issue...why not forget about courting PSE&G, Verizon, Bank of America, etc. to fund your worthless "Jazz Festival" and the tired Heritage Days and ask them to direct their grants to the TPL (after you name a new board).

Like so many of the drastic problems facing Trenton today, this could have been avoided. But the quality of leadership from City Hall is so lacking that New Jersey's Capital City contiues its rapid decline to third world status.

Trenton is not just financially broke, it is ethically bankrupt.

If you want to know the real culprit in this Mr. Palmer, look in the mirror.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Meet the new boss

Montaño out, Harris in

The administration announced yesterday that Acting Housing and Economic Development Director Sasa Olessi Montaño was resigning to tend to family matters.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that we were less than thrilled with Montaño's appointment last year. It is unfortunate that she has an ill relative who she needs to care for, but we do feel it is good thing for Trenton that she is leaving the post.

Or it would be except for the political hack that has already been named to as her replacement, Jerome Harris.

Mr. Harris is a long time Palmer friend and husband of former Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Long Harris.

While the press release touts Mr. Harris as a former New Jersey Assistant Secretary of State and a former Assistant State Treasurer, his most recent work in the Palmer Administration has been as a "special assistant for intergovernmental affairs."

In yet another example of how Palmer plunders the city treasury for the benefit of friends, Harris has been paid over $50,000 for a part-time job. According to the press release, Mr. Harris has been "coordinating the efforts of the Trenton Green Initiative."

Wow! Good job! Heading up the largely imagined and symbolic Green Initiative for city that doesn't even practice recycling in it's own offices and facilities; a city who allegedly has hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of recycling equipment sitting in a warehouse somewhere gathering dust because it dismantled it's city-run recycling program.

And what else has Mr. Harris overseen for the Mayor? Did Mr. Harris personally pick out the official Hybrid vehicles for the Mayor to be chauffeured around in?

Oh, yes. Mr. Harris has been the Mayor's representative on the Planning Board.
Mr. Harris is but another in the long line of political appointees who makes a nice living, thank you very much, off of the backs of Trenton and New Jersey (remember folks, Trenton receives a lot of subsidies from the State). One could say his connections are the strongest part of his resume. And he's got the prime seat on the Merry-Go-Round that is Trenton's Housing and Economic Development Department.

Well, at least they didn't put Dennis Gonzalez back in charge.