Dear President Elect Obama,
The rumors and whispers in Trenton are once again suggesting that our long-time Mayor, Douglas H. Palmer, is leaving after the first of the year for one of the many appointments in your administration.
As much as many of us would like to see Mr. Palmer leave here, we do not think he deserves or is really qualified for any position of greater significance. We would hope that you and your staff would not be fooled by the superficial qualities of the expensive suits and crafted resume designed to project the image of a ground-breaking, competent leader.
As a government official Mr. Palmer has been neither effective nor particularly forward thinking. He has presided over a marked decline in New Jersey’s capital city: the population has decreased, the percentage of owner-occupied housing units has decreased, and the per capita income is shamefully low. While at the same time the neighboring communities have grown and prospered (at least in comparison).
The Palmer years have been marked by increased dependence upon financial contributions from the state and federal governments to make ends meet. In fact, some calculate that 80% of the city’s operating cash comes from taxpayers who do not reside in the city.
At the same time, the city owned water utility that serves outlying municipalities as well as Trenton was generating enough of a surplus that Palmer used some of the money to plug holes in the general budget. That is until some of the other towns served by the utility cried foul with the Board of Public Utilities. The Palmer response: raise Trenton water rates to parity with suburban rates so he no longer had to seek state approval of rates and oversight of how the money was spent.
When that didn’t silence the critics a plan was hatched to sell off the suburban water distribution infrastructure, claiming it was too expensive for the city to continue to maintain. Of course, if some of the surplus generated by the utility over the years had been used to maintain and improve the system, it would have been more valuable and perhaps rates could have been stabilized, etc. But then the money wouldn’t have been there for Palmer’s pet personnel and perks.
All the while, Mr. Palmer spent lavishly on cars and drivers for himself, multiple take home cars for city employees who do little more than commute to and from city hall from within the 7.5 square miles of land Trenton occupies, and well-compensated consultants, aides, and special assistants.
Palmer also gave carte blanche to an arrogant and extravagant Police Director who wasted millions of dollars on unneeded horse patrols, new badges, and two new police district buildings. When citizens filed a court challenge to the Police Director’s non-resident status, Palmer wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars unsuccessfully defending his declared right to issue a residency waiver. Not learning the lesson handed down by one superior and three appellate court judges, Palmer turned around and appointed a new police director who also does not meet the same standards of residency that the city administration has itself set in past cases when they’ve removed city employees for non-compliance. This has of course generated another law suit.
And this is typical of the Palmer belief that he is always right. His treatment of subordinates who disagree with him is well documented. In fact, many people pursued and dismissed by the city for non-compliance with its own residency ordinance were treated thusly because they had in some way crossed, disagreed with or displeased Mr. Palmer. The ego is large and the skin incredibly thin for person supposedly dedicated to public service.
When the smile and false charm fail to get Doug Palmer what he wants, he resorts to bullying and strong arm tactics. He has berated private citizens and city council members who’ve publically disagreed with him (so much for lively debate). He uses appointments and public acknowledgement to curry favor and yanks them away when crossed.
Without the healthy campaign bank accounts raised by virtue of his incumbency, (expecting sizable donations from his department directors as well as local developers, businesses, etc.), Palmer would not have been re-elected to a third and most certainly a fourth term. His ability to motivate people and build an organization or movement based purely on personality has waned. He’s never been such a great thinker and change agent that people would follow his lead; nor has he been able to generate much political capital within the Democratic Party beyond that which is attached to his holding public office.
Mr. Palmer hitched his aspirations to higher visibility and greater power to the hopes of Senator Clinton’s political campaign yet he couldn’t even deliver his hometown to her vote tally. Once you became the party’s nominee, he was all about supporting you.
Ask yourself, what had changed? The ability to lift Doug Palmer out of the dark abyss of nearly two decades of a failed administration had passed from Ms. Clinton to you.
We urge you to look long and hard at the real Doug Palmer and not the flashy, pre-packaged, version. Do not trust this man with any sort of important position or responsibility. His capabilities start and end with a big smile and expensive wardrobe.
If you really want to do us a favor, you can take him out of Trenton by investigating his mismanagement of public funds and manhandling of the public trust for the past 18 plus years.
That would be the best thing your team could do for Trenton, NJ