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.

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