Friday, December 17, 2010

Scratch this one off the list

Applied for the FEMA grant aptly named SAFER to rehire the 61 firefighters slated for lay off. If awarded the grant funds could be in excess of 13.7 million dollars.
Mayor Tony Mack admitted to city council last night that the city may be laying off 61 firefighters after all.

Seems the grant application touted as one of the Mayor's highlights of his first 100 days in office is not such a bright spot after all.

The laughable list of "accomplishments" published in a poorly written release was really more of description of everyday activities of a small city mayor.  It incorporated activities planned and executed by non-profit support groups for city institutions such as the William Trent House and the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie.

Mayor Mack touted the SAFER grant application again in his slightly bizarre November 4 press conference vowing that:
Enough is enough; today I am announcing that we will not lay-off any public safety employees, that means very clearly, that no police officers or firefighters will be affected by the lay-off plan.
Mack went on to offer fuzzy logic and questionable math as an explanation for how he would avert laying off approximately 1/3 of the police force, the firefighters and substantial numbers of civilian city employees. At this time he repeated his vow that the "libraries will remain open."  They have not...only the main library remains staffed and open.

He even went as far as to assert that he could accomplish these reduced layoffs with no help from the state...a remark that Governor Chris Christie rebuked the very next day at a public meeting in Trenton.  With Mack present at the event in the Boys and Girls Club on Centre Street, Governor Christie explained that whatever state aid the city got was for public safety personnel.

Mack hasn't listened and apparently won't listen to anyone giving advice or news he doesn't want to hear.  And the city of Trenton is sliding deeper into debt and despair because of his stubborn ignorance.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

It just doesn't seem to faze him

Well there has been no slow down of missteps and misdeeds by the Tony Mack administration, as we’ve entered the holiday season.

The capital city’s feckless leader has not managed to stay out of headlines or escape notice of the bloggers since the Thanksgiving break.

Over that long holiday weekend, an article appeared in the Times reporting of citizen annoyance at the overuse of the city’s ability to place robo-calls on a near daily basis for no good reason.

Blogger Kevin Moriarty posted about the lack of information on how the city was going to deal with the $12,000,000 gap in funding between the $39 million requested and the $27 million pledged by the state. Remember, earlier in the month the Mayor said he’d found a way to eliminate many of the planned layoffs with or without state aid? Show us the math.

It was announced that an informational meeting on how the process for recalling an elected official works in New Jersey. Some assumed this would be a blueprint for a Mayoral recall.

Then came reports of personnel and organizational shuffles at city hall. The mayor has yet to name his “permanent” department directors and city council hasn’t pushed him on it, even though the interim directors have been serving for longer than the statutory 90 days.

Along with this was the rumored appointment of campaign svengali Dan Toto to replace the hastily departed Andrew McCrosson as Business Administrator. No sooner was that squelched, then we hear that Toto has been appointed “on an interim” basis but will be “paid immediately” to work part-time as the coordinator of the city YouthStat program.

This raised eyebrows and questions about the legality and propriety of the appointment. Looks like another challenge to Council’s powers by the loose cannon mayor.

Following close on the heels of that announcement was the disclosure that the Administration was now going to the various unions and asking for salary givebacks of 10% plus furlough days. This is the same Administration that had avoided some layoffs by demoting and cutting the pay of employees earlier in the month.

However, perhaps the biggest story to hit to date is the arrest of the Mayor’s half-brother, Stanley “Muscles” Davis for a scheme involving use of city time and materials to do plumbing jobs and pocketing the cash. Reports of the raid on the Trenton Water Works offices on Cortland Street were all over the Times, the Trentonian and TV stations starting Monday afternoon. The latest being today’s story of how Stanley “Muscles” Davis perpetually threatened and intimidated his co-workers at the TWW.

Through it all, Mayor Mack remains quiet, happy and wishing everyone a Happy Pearl Harbor Day!”

Do you think he knows how bad things have gotten?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The F does not stand for Finesse

Tired of having the failings and foibles of his administration splayed across the front page of the Trentonian, Mayor Tony F. Mack has apparently declared the city tabloid as “paper non grata” in city hall. One of the mayor’s minions halted Tuesday’s delivery of the Trentonian and an email has surfaced that suggests the administration is seeking to cancel its subscription to the paper.

Former Mayor Doug Palmer’s thin skin and sensitivity to criticism, while well known, never quite reached the level of Mayor Mack’s apparent discomfort. Of course Palmer may not have made quite as many missteps in so short a time as Tony Mack has, either. Still, Palmer understood the need to keep “friends close and enemies closer” and never turned his back on either of Trenton’s dailies that we can recall. He may have challenged their assertions and reporting but he didn’t cut off their access to city hall.

Mayor Mack’s overreaction is another story; a front page story.

Strange and heavy handed move for a man who promised a transparent government that was accountable to the public.

Monday, November 15, 2010

You just can't get it right, can you?

A turkey of an idea

Dear Mayor Mack and staff:

  1. In a city that is broke and broken, do we really need, can we afford, should we have a city sponsored (ie; paid for) parade? It was a bad idea in the waning years of the Palmer administration and yet here you are, the "we're going to do things differently" crew doing just the opposite.
  2. Was the Thanksgiving holiday moved from Thursday to Saturday? If it was, it somehow escaped our notice. If it wasn't, then the parade on Saturday is not really a "Thanksgiving DAY Parade, now is it?*
Yet again, your lack of common sense is stupefying.



*Before anyone raises the point...we have the same feeling about St. Patrick's Day Parades that are not held on St. Patrick's Day. Regardless of whethere they march in Trenton, Hamilton, Robbinsville, or on the Moon.if it isn't on March 17th, it is NOT a St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Random thoughts on a saturday afternoon

Hey!  All you candidates in last week's elections, it's over!  Tuesday was four days ago, how about you send out your minions to collect your campaign signs.  Especially you winners...and especially the signs that were placed illegally on public property!  Your responsibilities didn't end when the polls closed my friends! 

And you know what...some of you losers (figurative and literal) from last spring's city election and runoff need to remove your signs too.  That includes you, Mr. Segura para Trenton!


Does anybody remember the water crisis of a month ago?  Did anyone ever explain what really happened to cause the low pressure and brown water experienced by some customers of the Trenton Water Works?  We know it wasn't strictly a function of the high water level in the Delaware River at that time

And whatever became of Ron Lind?


Nobody has anything to add to the razzle-dazzle fumbling of the city of Trenton layoff plan?  We all believe that Mayor Mack's manipulation of "the plan" is going to work, right?  The numbers said so.  At least that is what we were told.


Now that we've visited the Mayoral Circus (Mayor Mack's Thursday morning press conference touting his "saving" of the public safety jobs; etc.) and wrung our hands in despair over those who did get laid off, are we going to get back to the predicament of having an unfit judge presiding over Trenton's Municipal Court?


The library branches are still closed.  And the deadbeat jazz festival promoter is still on the Library Board.


City Council meetings are rapidly turning into a side show of incompetence and in-fighting while the citizens of Trenton seem to be struck silent by the city's rapid descent from bad to worse.


You're doing a heck of a job, Tony!

Friday, November 05, 2010

No matter how you slice it

In this case, Justice wears a blindfold out of shame.

Superior Court Judge Feinberg has cleared Trenton Municipal Judge Renee Lamarre Sumners to return to the bench after a one week suspension.

City Council has voted, six to one, in favor having Judge Sumners resign.

Mayor Tony Mack seems to be taking the approach of wiping his hands clean of the mess his appointment turned into.

Trenton suffers another hit on its image.

When you analyze the situation, here's what you have:

Sumners is an attorney with a history of twice having her license suspended (2004 and 2006) for non-payment into a state fund.

Either she doesn't have the money, is a poor money manager, or feels she is above the law.

If she doesn't have the money, we have to wonder why.  She's an attorney.  If she's not making money at her chosen profession is it because she is taking work that doesn't pay or is she not working enough?  Just how good of an attorney is she?

If she is working hard, and a lot, but still doesn't have any money to pay the required fee ($258 was the amount I believe) than maybe she is a poor money manager. 

We'll concede that keeping a balanced check book is not every one's favorite pastime.  But the woman holds herself out to be a professional; someone with advanced and specialized training in a line of work that requires her to be able to analyze and reason through problems.  Like keeping track of her finances and meeting her responsibilities. 

If she can't manage her finances and doesn't realize she needs to find someone who can than we have to question her ability to analyze and reason her way through the problem.  If she can't comprehend that this is a problem after twice having her license to practice suspended, then we might infer her skill set is not up to the standards of her chosen profession.

Now we look at the fact that Sumners bounced two checks paying the dues this year.  If she knowingly wrote bad checks, it's criminal.  If it was due to an inability to keep a checkbook, she's incompetent.  If she just doesn't care, she's arrogant.  None of the three are good traits in any line of work...especially so in the practice of law.

And then there is the issue of unpaid income taxes. Reports indicate that Sumners and her husband owe $15,808 from 2003 and 2006.  Why?  Was they money there but they didn't feel they needed to pay?  Did they screw up their tax returns?  Or was there no money?  Didn't they both have jobs?  They must have had income if they owed taxes?

This brings into question Judge Sumners' approach to meeting her legal responsibilities.  Did she think she didn't have to pay?  Did she place herself above the law?

Then there is the matter of the unpaid credit card bill.  Seems Judge Sumners owed $2214.22 on a credit card from 2008.  The creditor filed and received a judgement against Sumners in December of 2009 and Sumners received the notice to pay in January of this year.  She failed to return the paperwork, the creditor filed a civil action complaint and a bench warrant for Sumners arrest was issued on September 29.

Um, she's an attorney by trade. Right?  She should know better.  Right? 

Judge Sumners is the cause of her problems.  Through ignorance and arrogance, she has demonstrated quite plainly that she is incapable of serving as a judge. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court decides ethics cases.  This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing as it can somewhat mitigate politics from influencing the tenure of a judge.  Only the Supreme Court can remove a judge from the bench.

Unfortunately the State of New Jersey seems to have a fairly liberal interpretation of what constitutes ethical behavior by attorneys. Sanctions in ethics cases more often result in suspensions than removals or disbarment's.

In layman terms: Judge Sumners would need to be found with a smoking gun in her hand, standing over the still warm body of her victim before she is likely to be sanctioned for breach of ethics. Even then she'd probably only get what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

The fact that once a judge takes the oath only the state supreme court can remove her might explain another little piece of this puzzle. 

On the night that Mayor Mack convinced six members of council to approve the appointment by lying about Sumners having completed a background check the would be judge and family were present.  Upon being confirmed by city council, Sumners immediately sought out Superior Court Judge Paulette Sapp-Peterson to be sworn in.

Hmm.  If it's so difficult to remove a judge once he or she has taken the oath and a newly appointed judges has some questionable baggage, why not hurry up and get sworn in. Maybe she's not so incompetent after all.

Sumners needs to resign.  Period. 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

That was close!

By a margin of approximately 3 to 2, Mercer County voters chose to keep Paula Sollami-Covello as their County Clerk rather than hand the office to former Trenton City Councilman Gino Melone.

Guess Gino finally coming out as a closeted Republican after all those years pretending to be a Democrat didn't win over any voters.

Or was it the electorate's memory of the games Gino played going into his final term on Trenton's council.

At that time Melone shepherded Doug Palmer's slate of at-large candidates around the East Ward to get them votes with the hopes of securing the council presidency for himself.  That ploy didn't work either.

We don't mean to pick solely on Gino.  All politicians and would-be candidates should take note of his plight.

You'll win office once in awhile with your craft and cunning but sooner or later the voters will tire of your games and duplicity.  Then you will be left out in the cold.

Serve the public and you can serve for a very long time and move up the ladder.  Serve yourself and eventually you will pay.


Mayor Mack tallies his toils for the first 100 days (give or take a few days)

On Wednesday, October 27, Mayor Tony Mack held a press conference to enumerate the things he's done since taking office on July 1.  In an accompanying and poorly constructed press release titled

the Mack Administration enumerates a lot of...well...nothing.

For six pages, the Mack flacks assembled a rambling, mismatched cut and paste listing of daily functions and activities that any elected official/administration would go through.  There is no substance; no breakthrough. 

It doesn't take much scrutinizing to realize that the list was assembled out of snippets lifted from various supervisors' reports.

For example, on page four of the document is this tidbit:
  • 1719 William Trent House Museum hosted may events for the public such as Getting the House Ready for Summer, Colonial Ice Cream Making, Herbs in the Trent House Garden, Trent’s Enslaved Workers-Theme Tours Garden Theme Tours.
And right below it:
  • Fred Miller concert, Art Exhibit Opening, Art/Theatre Camp, Art Exhibit Opening, Battle Against Hunger Event, Garden State Watercolor Exhibit Opening, Gallery Talk, Trenton High School Exhibit Opening
The former was obviously taken from a report on activities held at the Trent House.  It lists a number of the full schedule of activities held there.  These are nothing new.  The non-profit support group the Trent House Association has been programming activities at the city owned facility for years.  It is not an accomplishment of the Mack Administration's first 100 days.  It is a continuation of something already in place.

In the case of the latter the reader is left guessing as to exactly where and what and how the activities were held.  Those in the know would realize that this was a listing of events held at the Trenton City Museum.  The museum is currently housed in Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park.  Both the building and the surrounding lands are city owned.  The collection, exhibits and programming of the museum are the responsibility of the Trenton Museum Society, another non-profit.  These accomplishments that the Mayor lists as his own are actually due to the Museum Society...solely or in partnership with other groups.

In both of the above cases the Mayor is actually claiming as an "accomplishment" items from ongoing series of events that pre-date his term in office.  We call "FOUL!"

Others have taken note in blogs and comments elsewhere on the Internet of the liberal use of "we" and the poor grammar; mismatched writing styles, etc contained within the press release. It is such a blatant patchwork of poor writing it begs to be printed in a ransom note type font (you know, as seen on TV and in movies, where the kidnapper cuts words from magazines and newspapers and glues them onto a sheet of paper and sends them to the police or whomever).  This begs the question of why the city is paying over $83,000 a year for someone who is supposed to be overseeing "policy and communications" for the mayor.

So with that point, let us leave you with a real list of Mayor Tony Mack's "accomplishments" since taking office on July 1, 2010:

  1. One of Mayor Mack's first appointments, Carleton Badger, was a convicted felon.  Mr. Badger "withdrew" from consideration after the press published his criminal history.
  2. Mayor Mack pads the city payroll with friends, relatives and the daughter of a city council woman while layoffs loom for nearly 400 city employees (including over 100 police and fire personnel).
  3. Mayor Mack's promises to keep the city's four library branches open even on a limited basis failed after he was unable to deliver adequate funding through an outside donor that never materialized (some would argue that never existed).
  4. Mayor Mack lied to the city council about his nominee for the lead Municipal Judge seat having completed a full background so they would vote in favor of the appointment.
  5. Mayor Mack fumbled the removal of deputy city clerk and former councilwoman Cordelia Staton from her job. He then lied on the record at a city council meeting and tried to implicate the Trentonian in a conspiracy surrounding the police being called to escort Staton from City Hall.
  6. Mayor Mack's team failed to communicate openly and in a timely manner when the city's water filtration plant was shut down in early October. We're still waiting for an explanation of what really happened.  And why.
  7. Mayor Mack continually submitted and re-submitted resolutions to city council until he got professional services contracts awarded to law firms connected to his transition team and inaugural ball committee. 
  8. Mayor Mack's Municipal Judge pick Renee Lammare Sumners (see # 4) is revealed to have a history of passing bad checks to pay for her license to practice law and an unpaid credit card bill of over $2200.00 that resulted in a bench warrant for her arrest to be issued in September.
  9. Mayor Mack's total mishandling of the city's affairs (and yes, we all agree he inherited a mess, but what has he done to mitigate that?  NOTHING!) may weigh heavily in the Governor's final decision on how much "transitional aid" the city gets from the state.
Do I need to go on?

For those who keep talking recall, you had better start the search for a viable replacement or we are going to be in worse shape one year from now.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spin control?

The following was sent out from City Hall shortly after 12 noon today:

Honorable Mayor Tony F. Mack
319 East State Street
Trenton, NJ 08608

For Immediate Release:                                                                                            Contact: Lauren J. Ira
October 29, 2010                                                                                                    Office: 609-989-3052
                                                                                                                                Mobile: 609-741-7322

City of Trenton Requires Criminal History Checks for all Non-Uniform Employees

TRENTON—Mayor Tony Mack issued the following statement regarding the requirement of criminal history checks for all non-uniform employees. Mayor Mack stated the following:

“Compliance with City of Trenton criminal history checks is vital to protect our residents and the public. Our stringent requirements mandate all non-uniform City of Trenton employees adhere to a criminal history check regardless of their status or role within the administration.

Judge Renee Lamarre Sumners understands the importance of complying with all of the necessary procedures and mandates. Judge Sumners assured me that all recent matters were resolved expeditiously.

The administration remains confident in Judge Sumners’ ability to preside based on her expertise, discipline, and training as a public officer authorized in the court of law by the State of New Jersey,” concluded Mayor Mack.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Now read this

This advertisement appeared in the Times (of Trenton), page A5, Saturday, October 16, 2010.

We here at the Front Stoop found it interesting.  The ad is a public notice from New Jersey American Water (NJAW) that they exceeded a drinking water standard.

According to the ad, during routine cleaning of a settlement basin, sediment was stirred up and entered the water system and overburdened the filters of the system.  This caused turbid water in excess of the 1 NTU standard to enter the distribution system of water that Aqua New Jersey purchases from NJAW or it's Lawrenceville customers.  The incident occurred on Thursday, September 23, 2010.

The ad goes on as follows:

What does this mean?
This is not an emergency.  I it had been you would have been notified within 24 hours.  Turbidity is not harmful in itself.  High turbidity increases the chance that water might contain disease-causing organisms.

What should I do?
You do not need to boil your water or take other corrective actions.

So what we want to know is this:

If the incident above is being treated as a non-emergency and notification wasn't required within 24 hours and boiling water wasn't required, what really happened at the Trenton Water Works (TWW) between October 2 and October 8 that made the City of Trenton and the DEP issue "boil water advisories" repeatedly from the 4th through the 7th?  

Doesn't it seem likely that the situation with the TWW was somewhat more serious than the NJAW event of September 24?  But the city has repeatedly told us there was no risk and that there was no evidence of contamination. At the same time, we were continually advised to boil water and, if our water temperature was lower than 113 degrees Fahrenheit to drain, flush and refill our hot water tanks.  And why haven't the results of the water tests conducted between October 3 and October 7 been made public?

We don't consider ourselves prone to conspiracy theories but there certainly seems to be more to the story than the Mack administration AND New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection have so far let on.

Our water is running clear now, how about our government officials come clean.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Water under the bridge

Here's a look back at the water crisis of June 2006 as reported in the Times:



Published: July 9, 2006

Joe McIntyre's stomach was churning.

He was on his cell phone, getting a progress report on the Trenton Water Works' reservoir, and the news was disturbing.

Water in the city's reservoir had begun to whirlpool around the main pipe that feeds the system, much as water emptying from a tub will swirl around a drain.

It was less than 48 hours after Water Works employees shut down the filtration plant to keep the roiling Delaware, engorged by rains and cresting its banks, from fouling the system. What the vortexing water meant to McIntyre, the Water Works chief, was that the reservoir that supplies water to some 210,000 people in five towns was dangerously close to empty.

The inspection on the morning of June 30 was the culmination of two days of frantic maneuvering by the city's water department to keep Trenton's taps from running dry.

While residents fled the Island and Glen Afton neighborhoods to avoid the rising river and floodwaters poured into river towns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, causing nearly $8 million in damage in Mercer County alone, city employees were locked in the Water Works plant, hoping to squeeze every last drop from the beleaguered system.

And while the crisis that could have left the Water Works' customers without drinking water for weeks was averted, officials say there is little that can be done to fortify the system against future shutdowns.

An upgrade to the system, planned to begin later this year, will help, officials say, but ultimately, the river is the boss.

The crisis began at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, June 28.

McIntyre, the Water Works chief, reported to the filtration plant to find the Delaware agitated into a tempest by stormwater that began pouring into the river the day before.

Testing showed that the water, which is sucked from the river each day to supply the city and surrounding areas, was dangerously muddy. McIntyre had two choices.

He could shut down the system, ceasing all filtration until the river returned to normal and force the city to rely on the 2-day supply stored in the reservoir. Or he could wait and continue filtering the silt-filled water and risk fouling the system, forcing a prolonged shutdown and a hardship for tens of thousands of customers.

Neither option sounded good, but McIntyre chose the riskier route.

"We decided to shut the plant down," the water department chief said in an interview last week about the near catastrophe. "It was nerve-wracking, and it required us to live at the plant for a couple of days to monitor the water, but the alternative was to be more conservative and risk losing the system longer term." 'THE CLOCK BEGAN TO TICK'The system's demand for water runs about 30 million gallons per day. The reservoir is continually replenished by water, sucked from the Delaware and chemically filtered to create what's known in water-supply circles as a floc - a clump of particles that settles to the bottom and is removed from the liquid.

At full capacity, the plant can filter as much as 40 million gallons per day, easily keeping up with the demand.

But when McIntyre threw the switch to shut down the plant, "the clock began to tick."

"From that point we began monitoring how long we were off-line and how that correlated to the amount of water left in the reservoir," he said.

Alerts went out to residents to begin conserving water, and Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer put in a call to Gov. Jon Corzine, beseeching the state's top executive to close down the dozens of state offices located in the city and send thousands of workers home. The governor's action saved more than 3 million gallons for each of the two days the offices were closed.

"Had the governor not closed the state, we would have been in trouble," Palmer said. "He understood the seriousness of the situation, but if he didn't, I think we might have run out of water." HOPEFUL SIGNSMcIntyre's gamble began to look like it might pay off, when at 10 p.m. on June 29 testing showed the water was calming and the amount of silt - or turbidity - began to decrease. The employees, many of whom had not left the plant since the shutdown the morning of June 28, began to feel optimistic that the crisis might be over.

But it was not to be.

"Right after that, we had a spike again," McIntyre said. "It was frustrating because we had begun to get in the mind-set that we would get it running again earlier in the day, but we couldn't."

After the Friday morning inspection of the reservoir, McIntyre knew time had run out. If the water could not be properly filtered and the reservoir ran dry, officials would have no choice but to pump dirty water into the system.

Once that decision is made, McIntyre said, there is no turning back.

"Once you pump in substandard water, the plant will need to be cleaned and that could take several days," he said. "It creates a real hardship for customers for a number of weeks while the system is cleaned."

Finally, with no time left, McIntyre made the decision to fire up the plant. The turbidity was decreasing - though not as fast as he would have liked - and the reservoir was nearly dry.

By 3:40 p.m. June 30, the system was up and running, and employees were running dozens of tests to see if the water could be purified enough for drinking without first boiling it to kill any residual bacteria.

By 10 p.m., the crisis was over as the system began to meet the demands of its customers. Only Ewing was adversely affected when pressure dropped in three areas. A boil-water advisory went out for parts of the township but has since been lifted. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURECity officials say they have learned from the near calamity and are using the knowledge to try to ensure there is no future disaster. The plant is in line for some $50 million in renovations later this year, which Palmer said will modernize the system and make it more efficient as well as increase the amount of water that can be filtered each day.

The city is also negotiating with other providers to increase the amount of water that can be supplied in the event of a crisis.

But to some extent, the city is at the mercy of the river's moods.

"We deal with whatever the river hands us," McIntyre said. "We don't have the power to change the characteristic of the river, so we have to adapt and deal with whatever it throws at us. Sometimes you can do that with effectiveness and sometimes you can't."

For McIntyre, it was too close for comfort. The water dropped to a level not seen since 1975, when a malfunction caused the filtration plant to flood and damaged the pumps.

"We stretched the line as far as we can go," he said. "It was very close. The reservoir level was down to spots where no one that I have dealt with here has ever seen."

What the future holds is anyone's guess, experts say. Upriver development has destroyed wetlands and forests and left nowhere for runoff to go, said Bob Molzahn, president of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware Basin. Several bad storms have highlighted the problems as well, he said.

"What's the solution?" he asked. "I don't know, but you wonder if it might not get worse."


Copyright, 2006, The Times, Trenton N.J. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Almost good enough isn't

Ok. Let’s stop tiptoeing around the situation here. We’re all adults, right?

The idea for the Trenton International Jazz and Blues Festival, no matter how noble, was too grandiose and unrealistic from the get go. And that would have been the case if there was a cadre of seasoned, well-financed and connected individuals working on the event.


Event planning professionals who read the press in the run-up to the festival were seen shaking their heads. “This can’t possibly work,” was the universal comment.


When you consider the lack of experience and track record of the organizer, Ms. Annette Njie, the question marks grow large and fast. And then there is the financial issue.

In yet another case of “the emperor’s (or in this instance, empress’s) new clothes” nobody saw fit to tell Ms. Njie that this (lack of) plan for the event was faulty.

  • Nobody checked to see if there was proper financing behind the event so that performers and vendors at least got paid, even if the event failed to break even (few events do first time out).
  • Nobody verified the promoter’s claims of funding from various sources?
  • Nobody checked into her background to see if she had been part of anything of this scale or succeeded at such an event in the past.

It is one thing to fail in an honest attempt to do something the right way. It is another to make promises and plans and then not diligently follow them up with proper execution.

The now defunct Trenton Jazz Festival failed to break even and it had large (by Trenton standards) corporate sponsorship. The city ultimately had to contribute funds to cover event expenses even though that festival was supposed to stand on its own financially.

The city of Trenton is plagued with individuals who see “the opportunity/potential” but only as far as it lines their own pockets. While there are and have been exceptions*, miss- or half-assed management is the accepted norm.

It’s time we stop this foolishness. In the arts, civic engagement or politics it is time that Trentonians stop accepting 2nd best (or less). An individual, event or promotion presented to the community that seems too good to be true, probably is.

We need fewer posers and dreamers. It’s the doers who are grounded in reality and have a strong work ethic that we need on our boards and committees and in public office.

Until we stop being suckers for the big lie, Trenton will remain mired in mediocrity and failure.

*The Trenton Film Festival is one such example of an event that succeeded, grew, and weathered changes in direction and leadership to continue on in a responsible, if scaled-down format.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Tony Mack a gambler?

During last spring’s campaign, questions arose about Tony Mack’s personal finances. He hadn’t held steady employment for several years, his short-lived restaurant was closed and in debt, and there were rumors about pending foreclosure proceedings on his personal residence. The “icing” on this cake was the $20,000 personal loan Mr. Mack made to his campaign.

Where did the money come from?

Since taking office, the Mayor’s personal financial picture has come under scrutiny and criticism. Reports have surfaced about outstanding tax issues on the building at Calhoun and W. State Streets that served as Mack Campaign Headquarters. That building is owned by Foremost Development Construction LLC. Foremost is Tony Mack.

The Sheriff’s sale of the Mayor’s residence on Berkeley Avenue was postponed from August 25 to September 29. Beneficial Mortgage Company filed for foreclosure on the mortgage, delinquent water bills, interests and such that total some $319,457 due.

And now comes a report by the Associated Press that the money for the $20,000 loan to the campaign came by way of a mortgage on one of Mack’s rental properties. The mortgage is the fourth on the property and is held not by a bank or financial institution but by a Burlington County resident who states she “is not comfortable” discussing the loan.

The continuing saga of the Mayor’s personal finances indicate that he was willing to bet his already highly leveraged real estate portfolio on the fact that he would win the election.

While he did succeed in becoming the city’s top elected official, his salary has already been knocked down from $149,107 to $126, 460 due to a court decision in a case left over from the previous administration. That’s about a 15% decrease in anticipated salary to the sole bread winner for his family of four children and wife. There is no doubt Mack is heavily in debt and in danger of losing his home and his income properties.

And there is little doubt that his big ticket ($175 per person) Inaugural Ball slated for October, just before some 400 city workers are slated to be laid off is being targeted to refill his campaign coffers. This would enable him to pay back that loan “he made” to his campaign.

But what if he hadn’t won the election? Where would Mr. Mack be right now? How would he face his financial obligations?

Mack and his city paid spokesperson, Lauren Ira, are correct when they say his financial problems are “personal.” Correct, to a point.

Being willing to take such high stakes risk with his own money and his family’s security is one thing.

The city of Trenton is extremely serious financial trouble. Is gambling with what little resources we have the best approach to stabilizing the city budget?

We don’t think so.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

King me

Kudos to Checkers proprietor Tom Fowler for being the best provisioned and most professional participant in last night’s Trenton Sampler. The event was billed as a kick-off for the city’s first ever participation in the statewide restaurant week (Sept. 19-25). Mr. Fowler was on hand to personally greet and serve his chili to the participants. His food was hot and there appeared to be enough to go around.

The other participants chose to take a “dump and run” approach to the event and one didn’t even bother to show up. They left one or two trays of food on the tables. The stations were un-attended and many of the dishes were not even kept warm. We’re not the squeamish type, but this screams health code violation when food is left in the “danger zone” of above 40 and below 140 degrees F for any length of time. (To be honest, this was negated by the fact that there was so little food compared to the number of participants that it was mostly gone in the first hour).

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Now this is what one might expect of an organization seeking grant writers to bring in funding to support and sustain programs.


While we understand that by using the technical title of "aide to the mayor" the jobs don't have to be posted and aren't subject to the normal civil service process, it would have been more transparent to go public with the search.

Unfortunately, it may have resulted in finding more qualified and experienced talent than Ms. McBride-Garnier or Ms. Lentz. Instead, we have to rely upon the Mayor's {questionable} judgment.

We at the stoop don't believe either would have made the cut if they were answering the advertisement above.  Check out their resumes here.

Why do we think they are the best choice for the city of Trenton?

And what of the potential conflict of interest between a member of the Mayor's staff and a relative that sits on City Council?

Trentonians should expect more bang for their buck and appointees earning $50K plus per year should have some demonstrable experience in bring money in via grant writing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

An open letter to Mayor Mack

Dear Mayor Mack,

The problems facing the city of Trenton are numerous and the result of years of bad decisions, irresponsible spending and total mismanagement by the previous administration and city councils.

You inherited a mess, but you knew this going into the campaign and you knew it when you took the oath of office.

Certainly, we all have to re-think our personal financial situations and make adjustments in order to survive in these tough economic times.

Your finances have obviously been on shaky ground for awhile. You knew this while you were campaigning and it didn’t change when you were sworn in as Mayor.

Since you took office you have done nothing to help your situation or the city’s. What are you thinking?

When you are facing such difficult situations as the pending foreclosure on your personal residence, back rent and utilities owed on your now closed business, etc. how can you find $20,000 to lend to your campaign? Of course people are going to ask questions and make accusations.

You need to be open and up front about it with the public you have sworn to serve. You should not deny or deflect what is common public knowledge. It does nothing but harm your credibility and hamper your effectiveness as the city’s Chief Executive.

When you have inherited a fiscal sinkhole as large as the city’s deficit, you start cutting costs to the bone whenever and wherever you can. This means eliminating or reducing some services in order to preserve those that are essential to the well being of the residents.

You should not pad the city payroll with friends and supporters while faced with having to lay off almost 200 public safety employees and an equivalent amount of civil service employees.

The people you do hire need to be the best qualified for their positions. And if you must create new positions, such as “grant writers,” you should seek out individuals already employed by the city who would benefit by being moved over to the new position rather than being laid off from their old one.

The people you appoint to high ranking positions must also be of the highest caliber. Their backgrounds should be spotless, their qualifications impeccable. Trying to foist convicted felons onto the public and public payroll is simply not acceptable. Most of us believe in second chances and so forth, but repeat offenders as cabinet level appointees is not an example of good judgment.

Mayor Mack, you campaigned on the promise of providing an accountable and transparent government. The short time you have been in office has exemplified just the opposite.

When you, or your designated spokesperson, communicate with the press and the public, it should be done as accurately, and informatively as is humanly possible. We don’t want half-baked notions, over the top spin pieces, or dismissive “Next Question” comments. Your “30 days of Accomplishments” press release was void of any basis in reality or substance.

Your administration mishandled the dismissal of the acting deputy city clerk and inappropriately called in the police to have her removed from the premises. Then you have the audacity to lie to the city council and the public by suggesting the whole matter of the police presence was part of a set-up assisted by members of the local press.

Mayor Mack, you have failed to provide for your family and you are failing to provide for the residents and tax payers of the city of Trenton.

Many people want you to succeed, and everyone wants the city to succeed. As we close in on the first 60 days of your administration you have failed to operate fairly, openly and transparently.

There is still time to correct your mistakes, Mr. Mayor.

You can start by dismissing everyone one of your aides. You need to let go of the security detail (drivers) and return them to policing duty. Any other new hire of this administration must be evaluated against existing employees as to qualifications and experience for the job and the current employee should be given preference over any new hire when filling a position.

You need to forget about improving baseball fields in the west ward and stop giving lip service to keeping the library branches open. All non-essential Health and Human Services programs…especially those duplicated by other agencies…must be terminated.

There is still time, Mr. Mayor, for you to correct your path and the city’s. There are a lot of people standing by, waiting to provide good counsel and a helping hand. But you have to want it. Your recently announced schedule of Town Hall meetings can be the start of the reformation of your administration.

We urge you to let go of the hangers-on, the sycophants and the wannabes. Accept the fact that you need help, not friends and flunkies. Embrace those in the community with the experience, good sense and wisdom to lead Trenton to a shining tomorrow.

There is still time, but you must act now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to recall Mayor Mack

Here's a brief rundown of the major steps of the recall process:

  1. Notice of intent to recall is filed with the City Clerk’s office not more than 50 days prior to anniversary of the Mayor's first year in office. (See countdown clock below)
  2. Once approved by the city clerk’s office, the Mayor will be serviced with a copy of the intent to recall notice and post it in the local papers.
  3. The group pushing for the recall has 160 days from the approval to collect and file signatures totaling at least 25% of the registered voters in Trenton.
  4. The city clerk has 10 businesses to certify that the number of signatures collected was sufficient to move forward with the recall.
  5. If the petitions are declared sufficient, there will be an election wherein the voters will cast their ballot to recall the Mayor or not. The election can be a special election or added to the next general election as spelled out in the notice of intent to recall.
  6. At the same time that the voters will decide whether to recall or not, they will be able to vote on someone to replace the Mayor should he be recalled. The Mayor is eligible to run for the office he vacated if the recall is successful.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Staton mess

Trenton’s city council voted last night to dismiss Deputy City Clerk and former At Large Councilwoman Cordelia Staton. This brings the curtain down on the first act of this saga. Let us hope that there is no second act in the way of a lawsuit.

The five individuals on council who voted to dismiss (Bethea, Caldwell-Wilson, Chester, Holly-Ward, McBride) Ms. Staton are to be commended for their action…if not they’re reasoning and rationale as reported in the press.

And even though we disagree with his position, we acknowledge that the South Ward Councilman Muschal stood by his principles and voted to keep the Deputy Clerk.

We are somewhat disappointed that the East Ward Councilwoman, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, abstained for the vote. Hopefully, this was because of some reason other than an aversion to taking sides by making a controversial decision either way.

This situation quickly polarized city residents as demonstrated by the attendance at the August 5 city council meeting. Council chambers was packed and you could almost draw a line down the middle of the room that neatly divided the pro-dismissal and pro-Staton sides.

Overlooked in the outrage about Mayor Mack’s total mishandling of the situation are some facts which should be reviewed in order to put the whole affair in perspective.

Item 1: As far back as early 2007, Ms. Staton seemed to be aiming for the City Clerk position vacated by Anthony Conti’s resignation. Nothing wrong on the face of that, but keep in mind two points.
  • She was less than one year into her second term as Councilwoman At Large.
  • She was not certified as a municipal clerk* and may not have even started taking the required classes as yet.

Item 2: After not finding a suitable permanent replacement for Conti, in the fall of 2009 city council started taking applications from those interested the position. Ms. Staton put her name in for consideration even though after almost three years she was not yet a certified for the position.

Item 3: In February, 2010, Council member Melone spoke on the record of the need to let the new council taking office on July 1 to have the opportunity to select their own clerk and urged his colleagues not to make a permanent appointment. After repeated attempts to demonstrate a fair and impartial process at naming a permanent city clerk, Ms. Staton had removed her name from consideration, council terminated long time (and as yet un-certified) Acting City Clerk Juanita Joyner and hired Leona Baylor as Acting Deputy Clerk.** Citing the need for an experienced hand to guide the city through the spring elections, former clerk Anthony Conti was brought in as a consultant to help Ms. Baylor.

Item 4: In June, 2010, Ms. Staton discreetly resigned her council seat with less than a month to go in her term, quit her job at the Board of Education, and was quietly appointed Deputy Municipal Clerk for the city of Trenton by some of her colleagues. She still had not achieved certification as a Municipal Clerk.

Item 5: Voting in favor of the appointment were Councilman Melone (in apparent conflict with his stated position earlier in the year), Councilman Pintella (Staton’s running mate in 2002 and 2006) and Councilwoman Lartigue (who was not present at the meeting but voted via her cell phone). This vote raised a couple of procedural questions:
  • Is Lartigue’s vote via cell phone allowed?
  • What is the number required for a majority vote amongst the four council members actually present at the meeting, two or three?

Item 6: The Mack administration, regardless of its motives, was correct to point out the improper way that Ms. Staton was appointed. This did not give them the right or reason to treat her the way they did. You don’t fire someone by leaving a note on their chair while they are at lunch and you don’t call the police to have them escorted out of the building.

We’re sorry that Ms. Staton was mistreated by the Mack administration. Still that doesn’t remove the fact that she held the position through improper actions by the previous council as they tried to take care of one of their own.

We hope the current council will get some definite rulings on the propriety of voting by phone and other procedural matters before they get caught up in gaffes like their predecessors.

*Apparently, NJ state law allows the appointing of an Acting Municipal Clerk who has yet completed the course work and passed the certification exam providing that the appointee does obtain certification within a certain time frame.

**Also according to NJ state law, a person holding a valid municipal clerk certification can not be appointed Acting Municipal Clerk but can hold the title of Acting Deputy Clerk and fulfill all the duties of the Municipal Clerk.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

That was the week that was

Or was it?

That was the week that was (or TW3) was a comedy show filled with political satire and parody that ran first on the BBC in 1962 and 1963 and then on NBC in 1964-65. The attitude of both the British and American versions was to illuminate the absurdities and foibles of contemporary culture and society by lampooning the establishment.

Last week’s three ring political circus in Trenton had similar, albeit unintended effect on the local government.

It began with the revelation that recently elected Mayor Tony Mack had nominated Carlton Badger, a convicted felon and admitted forger, to be the Director of Housing and Economic Development for the city. Mack tried defending his choice by saying Badger had paid for his past mistakes and should be accorded a second chance.

Few were buying it.

On the same day that the Times reported the above story, both papers ran advertisements that Mack’s Berkeley Avenue home was slated for a Sheriff’s Sale on August 25. The Mayor at first denied that he was in foreclosure. At a press conference two days later he claimed it was personal business and not for public consumption. And over the weekend Mayor Mack assured both the Times and the Trentonian that his finances were under control and “paid in full.”

At the same time, a story in the Bergen Record on Saturday delved deeper into Mack’s financial woes. It seems the Mayor has a history of financial difficulties stretching back several years and involving several properties. This includes two previous foreclosures on his residence.

There are also questions about his foundation, Tony Mack Cares, which hasn’t provided any reports on its operations or filed any tax returns since 2002.

The Mayor’s association with other questionable individuals does nothing to improve his image. The maximum contribution to his campaign (and long-time support) by the infamous Jo Jo Giorgiani and the financial issues of Pete Fields and Carla Hogan, Chairperson and Treasurer respectively, of the “Partners for Progress” Political Action Committee that helped fund the Mack campaign leave many wondering just what is going on.

And then there is the question of the $20,000 loan Mack made to his campaign in April.

Where did the money come from if Mack was already in foreclosure proceedings on his home, in arrears on rent for his business (Broad Street Grill, now closed), and he had no job?

Financial questions aside, Mack’s leadership continued to be questioned after he totally mishandled the dismissal of Deputy Clerk Cordelia Staton. It wasn’t just the rudeness of notifying Ms. Staton she was fired by leaving a letter on her desk chair while she was at lunch that was bad form. Someone, we can only presume the Mayor or one of his aides, called the police to have Ms. Staton physically removed from City Hall.

Mack’s highly public suggestion to city council that perhaps the calling of the police and the presence of local media personnel were planned did nothing for his credibility.

While we believe that Ms. Staton’s appointment in early June was done improperly, that misstep is nothing compared to the way the Mack Administration fumbled the attempt to dismiss her. Her removal now is most assuredly going to result in a lawsuit that will prove costly to the taxpayers of Trenton.

In an effort to defuse and disarm criticism of his personal and political missteps, Mack issued a hastily (and poorly) written press release touting his alleged successes of his first month in office. Unfortunately, the lengthy fluff piece is long on wishful thinking and short on actual substance.

What the events of the past week have demonstrated quite plainly is that Mayor Mack is not up to the task at hand. His decision making leaves much to be desired and shows that he is totally incapable of running the city of Trenton.

The only hope we have is for Mayor Mack to forget about appointing friends and cronies. He must…if he still can…surround himself with truly experienced and talented advisors and do as they direct him to do. Otherwise, he is going to sink the city deeper into debt than his predecessor did. Then will come the firestorm of ethics, if not criminal, violations.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mack short on wisdom

City Hall a zombie land of hacks and paybacks.

The recent moves in and out of 319 East State Street seem to point out the new mayor’s shortcomings.

Respected and experienced municipal finance guru Bill Guhl suddenly departed last week after less than a month volunteering as the Acting Business Administrator. Indications are that Guhl’s suggestions on how to pull Trenton out of the economic swamp were not only falling on deaf ears, but that there was open resistance from the Mayor’s cronies. While some see Guhl’s departure as a diva-like act, others give him credit for trying but walking away rather than to continue to bang his head on the wall of mayoral indifference.

Next came the announcement that Carleton Badger was named the acting Director of Housing and Economic Development. Mr. Badger, it seems, has had some legal issues in the past that, amongst other things, cost him his real estate license for a time.

Quoted in an article in the Times, Mayor Mack brushes the lapses aside and suggests that Mr. Badger has “paid his debt to society.”

The problem is Mr. Badger didn’t have one ethical misstep. According to the Times, Badger “…has been twice indicted for forgery, pleaded guilty to a theft charge that was brought in 2001, and has a history of bankruptcies and other financial difficulties.”

Further on in the article, LeRoi Banks, a former business partner of Mr. Badgers, indicates that there is more to be learned.

"He took money from me a lot of different ways," Banks said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."
This doesn’t generate a lot of confidence in the statements that Badger has reformed and has readjusted his ethics.

At the tail end of the same article in the Times comes notice of three new appointments. Preacher and former West Ward Council Candidate John Vaughan has been tapped as an aide to Mayor Mack.

Why are we hiring more aides when we are looking at laying off city employees? Another irrational decision.

And what about the two ladies hired as grant writers? One is Councilwoman Kathy McBride’s daughter. The other is reportedly a bartender at the Mill Hill Saloon.

Obviously, these two individuals are highly qualified for the position. Right.

Another move that has heads shaking and tongues wagging is the lunch-time pink-slipping of former Councilwoman Cordelia Staton from her Deputy Clerk’s position.

We do believe that the 11th hour appointment of Ms. Staton by her former colleagues during the waning days of the previous administration was wrong.

We also believe that the Mack administration could have demonstrated a little more class in the handling of the situation.

Almost makes one wish for the good old days of the Palmer dynasty.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

What he said

Today’s Trentonian contains a piece by long-time city editor Paul Mickle on recommended steps for dealing with Trenton’s budget crisis.

His points are sensible and actually echo some of the campaign rhetoric we heard from most of the candidates during this past spring’s campaign season. They should be acted upon immediately with no further debate, discussion or deal making.

We need a trimmer, slimmer, more efficient city government. There is no way you can achieve that and continue to support 67 operating divisions.

Without a doubt, the outside consultants must go. Moreover, this was something that Mayor Mack spoke about often during his campaign.

Speaking of the Mayor…it is very disappointing to see that he started himself off at the same salary as his predecessor ended with. After all, didn’t a judge rule that the last raise Doug Palmer gave himself and his department heads was illegal? In addition, wasn’t part of that illegal raise based upon so-called “longevity pay?” (A highly questionable and suspect practice for an elected official and his appointees. Seems like a reward for winning re-election.) Mr. Mack should start at a lower salary because he is a) new to the job and b) costs need to be cut.

We’d like to add that Mr. Mack needs to cut out his driver/security detail and return those police detectives to the police department to do much needed police work. Again, Palmer was regularly criticized for keeping this detail while cuts were made elsewhere. Mayor Mack needs to demonstrate to the taxpayers that he is ready, willing and able to cut back on the “frills” of office at least until we get our fiscal house in order.

This leads us to another of Paul Mickle’s points: new hires and appointees should not be starting at the top of the salary range. It is not good practice from a human resources point of view nor is it reasonable when the city is broke! And for those of you who want to argue about paying top dollar for the best let us remind you that this isn’t the private sector. When you go to work for the public sector there is (or should be) a tacit understanding and acceptance that you are doing it as much to be of service as to make a living wage. If you want to maximize your earning potential, the public sector is not where you should be.

The proposed county take over of the libraries and parks…Cadwalader Park specifically… may not be such an easy remedy.

Merging the Trenton library into the county system would most likely still mean the end of the four branches. It would also mean the end of the line for the Trenton Free Public Library and it’s highly ineffective board. And that is all “if” the Mercer County Library was amenable to taking over the Trenton system. Our understanding of the history behind earlier attempts to merge the library systems is that the board of trustees on the Trenton side didn’t want to give up control of the system and thus rejected the offer from the county.

Similarly, we recall earlier debates of putting Cadwalader Park in the hands of the Mercer County Park Commission. There was uneasiness on the part of some Trentonians to turning over Olmstead’s jewel to the “golf and softball” crowd over at the county. And what would become of Ellarslie…the city owned historic mansion, which houses the collection of the Trenton Museum Society that comprises the bulk of what, is known as the “Trenton City Museum?”

It’s a complicated proposal that requires a thorough vetting.

Without a doubt, the city vehicle fleet needs to be pared down. Again, this suggestion has been bantered about for a couple of years now. The SUV’s driven by department heads should be the first to go. The Police Mobile Command center is probably also expendable. In fact, aren’t there two? The first was a custom truck ordered by former Police Director Jim Golden and the second, the “bus” retrofitted by former Director Joe Santiago. If this is still the case, let’s keep whichever one is more efficient and effective to operate and get rid of the other one.

Certainly, the cost cutting must apply equally to the top-heavy school administration. And while the discussion about at least a partially elected school board simmers in the background, the recent revelations about waste and abuse in the in-home schooling program plainly demonstrate the school system needs a complete overhaul. This means vehicle fleet reductions, streamlining of the organization to eliminate expensive assistant and deputy superintendent positions, and realistic pay scales. All the things that apply to city hall apply here as well.

Lastly, the damned police horses. We have heard that there are no more police horses and that there are still two being boarded in Hopewell at Trenton taxpayers’ expense. Mr. Mickle states that latter to be the case. If he is correct…and we have no reason to doubt that he is despite the previous administration’s statements to the contrary…then it is time to end this ill-advised, costly waste of taxpayer money. The remaining horses must be sold or given away and the tack, uniforms, and horse trailers sold. Trenton needs to be out of the mounted police business immediately.

Mayor Mack, please heed Mr. Mickle’s words. It is time to make the politically painful but common sense moves he prescribes.

Friday, June 25, 2010

First piece of business

Later this week Trenton will have a new city council and a new mayor.

We’ve already been treated to a taste of the new crew’s form with the flap over who may be chosen to preside over council and how that decision was arrived at. Let’s give the players in our divine comedy the benefit of the doubt and assume that this week’s missteps are due to a little bit of stage fright as our elected officials approach the date of their swearing in. And let’s assume once the ceremony is behind them, our council will get down to serious business.

And one thing they can do is adopt an ordinance aimed at keeping our city free of extraneous signs, posters and handbills while providing for a modest revenue stream.

We don’t write or speak fluent legal/legislative-ese so the following suggested law may need to be translated into the appropriate verbiage.

“Effective immediately upon adoption by council, the city of Trenton will charge $1.00 each for the removal and disposal of any/all illegally placed signs. This would apply to all campaign signs for candidates running for any public office; any political action, candidate committee, political party or public question signs; it would also apply to signs promoting cultural events (are you listening “Art All Night?”), civic events or commercial establishments/events. This law applies to any/all such signage placed on public utility poles, public property, and private property without the owners express permission. “

“The fines for the removal of these signs will be assessed to the offending party promoted by the sign: candidate, committee, and business, etc. and payable immediately upon presentation of bill for services from the City of Trenton. In the case of political committees, the treasurer of record will be held personally liable for the fines if the entity cannot pay.”
This law should not meet with any resistance from any of our council people…especially those who have campaigned for a cleaner city (and some of whose signs were removed from telephone polls by city employees) or who have a clear understanding of the laws regarding placement of political after having served on the county election board for years.
By coupling enforcement with a fine, it should discourage the cobbling up of the capital city with handbills for club events (especially those promoting things like ‘stank butt Friday’ etc.) and make those offenders who think nothing of littering the city pay for their mistake.

All those in favor say, "Aye!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Send in the clowns

Don't bother, they're here.

When we were younger one of the hallmarks of summer was the seemingly endless series of carnivals held on the grounds of area churches. Each week there were amusement rides, “games of skill” (as opposed to games of chance) like ring toss, softball throw, shooting gallery, and food available to one and all.

It was like going to the boardwalk or the midway at the state fair only in a church/church school parking lot. Every week, one carnival would close and another would open just down the road. We were never at a loss for entertainment.

So it appears to be with Trenton’s City Council-elect.

The outgoing council hasn’t quite left the building, but the replacements have already taken the stage and begun to amuse us.

This morning’s Trentonian reports South Ward Councilman and sole holdover George Muschal invited his colleagues-elect to a “get-to-know-you” dinner at Amici Milano Monday night. The story states that two of the new council people, Kathy McBride and Alex Bethea did not attend. McBride and Bethea are alleged to be balking at the fact that in a non-binding straw poll the five members present agreed to elect Mr. Muschal as Council President and Councilwoman-elect Phyllis Holly-Ward as Vice President.
“Muschal said all seven members had been invited, and that each received the same phone call from him asking that they attend a get-to-know-you get-together at the restaurant — “That’s a blatant lie!” said McBride, councilwoman-at-large — but that Bethea claimed not to know where the restaurant is, then called Muschal at 4 p.m. Monday to say he wasn’t coming.”
Great! McBride, known to be difficult to reach at times and a no show at some candidate forums seems to be inclined to remain elusive. Her choice but it is not a good trait for an elected official and she shouldn't criticize others for taking action in her self-imposed absence.

And Mr. Bethea, who has campaigned city-wide in the last three elections for a Council At Large seat should know where Amici Milano’s is by now. If he doesn't...what about searching the phone book or the internet or just asking someone where this place is.

Is this the overture to the soap opera that will be Trenton’s City Council for the next four years?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

They never cease to amaze

One of the hallmarks of the outgoing Palmer Administration has been their "efforts" to clean up the city.

We won't delve into whether or not this effort has been successful.  Let it suffice to say that besides the annual clean city march held each April, the only other ongoing process are the neighborhood clean up days.

The various neighborhoods around the city get a week each year where they can pretty much empty out their attics, basements, garages and yards of any unwanted items, especially those not normally collected at curbside.

The Mill Hill Neighborhood's turn is coming up this week.

How did we find out about clean up week?  By fliers placed haphazardly on front porches where they can easily blow away in the breeze or, in the case of vacant houses, be left to get soaked in the rain and then slowly moulder and fall apart.

Nice way to keep our city clean.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It’s all over now

But we've only just begun
Trenton has a new mayor-elect.

The seven council seats have been filled for the next four years.

Congratulations to Tony Mack, Kathy McBride, Phyllis Holly Ward, Alex Bethea, Marge Caldwell-Wilson, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, George Muschal (who won the May 11 election), and Zachary Chester.

And congratulations to Algernon Ward and Michael McGrath for leading the successful charge against the sell off of the suburban portion of the Trenton Water Works to NJ American Water.

The fight to get the approval of the water deal on the ballot and the campaign to inform and inspire residents to vote on it was an un-qualified success.

Trenton was saved from what the majority obviously believe was a short-sighted deal. While the sale would have unarguably provided some immediate, much needed cash it would have mortgaged the city’s future fiscal soundness.

The group that coalesced around the opposition to the sale crossed demographic, party, and ward boundaries. And that is probably the biggest “win” for the city of Trenton.

After years of “divide and conquer” leadership, we have again found a way to work together for the common good. This is a lesson we do best not to forget.

As the new Mayor and Council take their seats on July 1 they would do well to keep yesterday’s lesson in mind too.

Trenton has suffered from an administration that worked in the shadows and through intimidation to get its way. It ran roughshod over any independence demonstrated by city council. And the voice of the people was treated as a mere annoyance that was more often barely tolerated than heeded.

Our city is still in difficulty. Stopping the water sale has not fixed the underlying budget issues. But we have a template for cooperation and engagement that was not present during the Palmer years.

The potent combination of new council and mayor plus an active and enlightened community can bring about much needed change in Trenton.

We at the stoop raise a toast (a glass of Trenton water, thank you very much) to a new day for the city and the citizens.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Good luck, Trenton

The day is here. 

June 15, the date for the Trenton municipal runoff election and the day the public gets to decide on the proposed split and sell off of part of the Trenton Water Works.

Trentonians are about to make some of the toughest, most important choices in the past 20 years.

They have to choose between two former Palmer insiders/confidants for Mayor.  Tony Mack has some questionable money problems and the endorsement of the outgoing Mayor; Manny Segura is collecting full disability but thinks he can adequately fulfill the duties of a full-time (plus) Mayor.

The electorate must choose three At-Large Council reps from among six individuals.  Some are known to the populace; others not.  Juan Martinez is the purported head of a mythical community group and currently holds a patronage position with the failing city school system. Missy Balmir is a professional political hack with connections but precious little practical experience and questionable contributions from far afield from Trenton.  Darren Green is a member of the Balmir's "slate" of candidates who has raised no visible funds of his own.  Obviously not the first choices of candidates to fill the slots.

Of the three left, Phyllis Holly-Ward has some real city hall experience along with some community credentials.  Kathy McBride is outspoken and a real street campaigner who may not have a lot of depth when it comes to policy and process but she doesn't lack spirit.  Alex Bethea is a school principal who has lead the local NAACP chapter.

In the North Ward the choice comes down to New Black Panther Party member Divine Allah, aka Brian Bethea or career Democratic party person Marge Caldwell-Wilson.

The East Ward contest is between brash anti-Palmer crusader Joe Harrison and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.  Jackson is part of the Balmir triad, a state employee and, by most accounts, a usually MIA member of the city's zoning board.

Quiet man Zac Chester is facing former school board President Joyce Kersey in the West Ward runoff. 

And then the big ticket item on the ballot:  the proposal to split off the suburban portion of Trenton's water utility to corporate giant NJ American Water.  A vote yes approves the administration's plan to cash in the money making part of the system for a one time fix of $80 million. 

A no vote leaves the system intact with all of the costs and proceeds accruing to the city and it's water customers.

The choices made on Tuesday will impact the city for decades to come, regardless of the tenure of those elected to office.

Choose wisely, Trentonians.  Not just for tomorrow, but for the future of our city.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Common questions/direct answers

Are the entire Trenton Water Works being sold?

NO. The only thing being sold would be water pipes in Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell and Lawrence Townships along with some water towers and pumping stations.

Is the buyer a foreign company?

NO. New Jersey American Water Company (NJAWC), a subsidiary of American Water Works Company is the proposed buyer. American Water Works Company is the largest public water utility in America. It was at one time a subsidiary of RWE, a German Company, but was spun off in 2008.

Is it true that, as part of the sale, NJAWC will pay 60% of cost for water facility improvements in Trenton that benefit the outside system?

NO. According to the sales agreement between NJAWC and the City of Trenton Exhibit C includes the terms for a Capital Improvements Surcharge calculation.

The section establishes two factors that would be applied to the cost of capital improvements that benefit the townships.

The first factor would be based upon an agreed percentage assigned to the City and to the townships. This could be a 40% allocation for the City and a corresponding 60% allocation for the townships (NJAWC).

The second factor is based upon the amount of water the City customers use and the amount of water that township customers use (Demand Share Factor or DSF). Those percentages could also be 40% for the City and 60% for the townships.

To determine the amount that NJAWC would pay the City, the cost of the project, say $70 million dollars (the cost of the Filtration Plant project), would be multiplied by each factor. Applying the first factor of say 60% would give $42 million. Then applying the second factor would give $25.2 million. The $25.2 million would then be divided into annual payments that would also include the interest that the City is paying on the money it borrowed to finance the project. The annual payment would then be converted to a per thousand gallon surcharge to add to the base water rate. The figures would be recalculated every three years.

What this means is that NJAWC would pay $25.2 million for a benefit that is worth at least $42 million dollars. What that also means is that the City, actually its water customers, would have to make up the difference of $16.8 million over the life of the loan. (The actual amounts would be more over the life of the loan due to the interest charges.)

Applying the provisions of Exhibit C of the pending contract reveals that NJAWC will not pay 60% of the cost but only about 36% of the cost or less depending upon the factors.

VOTE NO on June 15th!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

They're all wet

General Superintendent for Water and Sewer Joe McIntyre was featured in an ad this morning paid for by Trenton Yes. The ad, the latest in a series aimed at convincing voters to approve the sale of the outlaying water system to New Jersey American Water (NJAW) shows, McIntyre posing at what we presume to be one of the water works facilities.

If you don’t already know it, Trenton YES is completely funded and managed by NJAW. And the photo was quite probably taken during a recent visit to Water Utility facilities by NJAW staff as outlined in this article from the Trentonian.

The headline of the ad is intended to look like a quote from Mr. McIntyre.

“People think we’re selling Trenton Water Works. That is simply not true. Everything in the city stays the same.”
Really? Reducing the utility’s customer base by over 60% is equivalent to staying “the same?” How many businesses do you know that can lose more than half of their customers and stay solvent without raising rates for the remaining clientele?

The ad continues with another quote.

“We’re just selling township assets. We’re selling a bunch of old pipe. We’re selling some water towers…and two small booster stations. That’s it.”
Since the Trenton YES people like to play semantics police, what would be sold if the plan is approved is not “township assets.” It is, in fact, assets belonging to the people of Trenton that are located in the neighboring townships that would be sold. So Trenton assets, not township assets, would be sold. Mr. McIntyre…if he actually made these statements, should know better.

We’re selling a bunch of old pipe” is not exactly accurate either. The suburban infrastructure is newer than the system that serves the city of Trenton. We are keeping the “old pipe” and selling off the newer stuff.

And about those water towers…engineering studies have indicated that without those towers, water pressure in certain areas of the city could experience dangerously low water pressures in times of emergency.

To be sure there is a lot to consider when looking at this proposed water deal. But it really comes down to a a couple of basic facts:

The outside water system is a major part of the value of the entire Trenton Water Utility. Without that (growing) customer base the utility will have a hard time remaining solvent based solely on servicing the Trenton customers…even after water rate increases.

IF the deal is so good for Trenton, why has NJAW spent more than $178,000 from May 4 to May 17 (and a whole lot more since judging from the mailings and ads we’ve seen) to convince the voters approve the sale?

IF the deal is so good for Trenton, why did NJAW spend an estimated $175,000 (based upon the legal fees paid by the City of Trenton in the same fight) to prevent the voters from having a say on the sale?
We can not accept or believe anything NJAW/Trenton Yes has to say to us about this deal.

Nor can we accept or believe anything that Mr. McIntyre purports to say in these advertisements. After all, it was Mr. McIntyre who had yet to complete a cost savings analysis on the sell off of the suburban system on January 22, 2009. That was the very day that Mayor Palmer addressed council and told them he had been working on this for nearly a decade. The very day that Mayor Palmer stated that the city had “held out” for the $80 million sale price.*

Neither one of these gentlemen appear to know what they are talking about.

Just vote NO!
*Public records indicate that NJAW was willing to pay $100 million for the outside system but the NJ Board of Public Utilities actually reduced the sale price to $75 million + $5 million for "consultative services" to be provided by Mr. McIntyre and his staff.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pay attention

Are special interests funding campaigns of Trenton candidates?

While Trenton citizens collect their breath between last week’s municipal elections and the June 15 runoff for Mayor, Council At Large and three of the city’s four Ward council seats, it’s time to catch up on some homework that we should have been doing all along.

In the final hours before last Tuesday’s elections, there was a lot of hand wringing and expressions of shock and dismay as revelations were made about the funding of Tony Mack’s Mayoral campaign.

At issue is this: Mr. Joseph Giorgianni contributed the $2,600 maximum allowable amount for an individual to a candidate committee. Mr.Giorgianni is a long-time Mack supporter. The concern that has been raised is that Mr.Giorgianni has had some legal problems of his own in the past.

This doesn’t sit well with Tony Mack’s detractors. Many question the candidate’s judgment in taking money from a convicted felon. Others are wondering half out loud where the money Mack loaned his campaign ($20,000 according to ELEC reports) really came from. Mack has been essentially unemployed for the past couple of years and is in arrears on his property taxes.

While this is all quiet titillating and sensational, what about the financing of other candidates?

No one has made quite as much fuss about apparent runner up Manny Segura’s campaign funding.

Isn’t it odd that the candidate who used to use the slogan “Segura Para Trenton” (Segura for Trenton) has received the bulk of his campaign donations from politicians and businesses from North Jersey? Sounds to us like Senor Segura is more for himself and his cronies than for Trenton. In his 2006 run for City Council, Segura received 45% of his $53,625 war chest from individuals and entities with addresses in North Jersey. Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack alone gave Segura $10,000. Another 7% ($4000.00) of Manny’s money came from unions or union officials. And let’s not forget the $2500 that found its way from former Sen. Torricelli’s wife to the joint candidate’s committee for Segura, Paul Pintella and Cordelia Staton.

All for a city council at large candidate in poor little old Trenton.

In this year’s campaign, Manny again has tapped his “friends” beyond Trenton. He raised some $19,200 in contributions from individuals and businesses in North Jersey. Included in his contributor list are elected officials from Passaic and Newark. One might be able to understand why they might be interested in helping Segura out. But what about the employees of TY Lin International; one who lives in Hackettstown and the other in Oxford, an engineer and a surveyor respectively. What interest might they have in who becomes Mayor of Trenton? Or is this all party money being channeled into Segura’s accounts? How much will he be “for Trenton” if elected and the donors behind these contributions start calling in favors?

Contrast the above with the fact that apparent third place finisher Eric Jackson raised all of his money through modest contributions from local individuals.

The special interest funding is not only going to the Mayoral candidates. Looking at the At-Large race (also in a runoff), we found some interesting items.

Where front runners Kathy McBride, Alex Bethea and Phyllis Holly-Ward all show modest (if any) campaign contributions from locals; T. Missy Balmir shows $2900 in contributions from employees of Washington DC based political consultants Field Strategies, Inc.

Field Strategies is a company used by politicians to design and execute effective campaigns. And who are some of their clients? How about everyone from Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, the New Jersey Democratic Party, and various labor unions.

So tell us, Ms. Balmir, why are five employees of this consulting firm so interested in seeing you get elected in Trenton, NJ when they all live in the D.C. area?

And while you are at it, how about explaining how it is that Mr. Green (Darren “Freedom” Green) appears on so much of your campaign literature and such and yet shows no major fundraising on his part? And you might as well extend your answer to Ms. Reynolds-Jackson who is in the run-off for the East Ward Council seat.

Come clean: are you a slate put up by party bosses to wrest control of poor old Trenton?

Juan Martinez, the 4th place finisher in the At Large race has raised money but we are not sure where it came from as the reports seem a tad incomplete.

At the Ward level, we have the aforementioned Verlina Reynolds-Jackson going up against Joe Harrison in the East Ward runoff. Reynolds-Jackson hasn’t reported any major contributions but did roll over slightly more than $1000 to Missy Balmir’s campaign. Presumably this was for some joint advertising, but wouldn’t that then necessitate the formation of a Joint Candidate’s committee?

Harrison has filed papers stating he will not raise nor spend more than $4000 in his campaign and not more than $300 will come from any one contributor.

In the West Ward, former school board head Joyce Kersey has raised about $8500. Most came from a $6000 loan she made to her campaign and the rest appears to have come from local supporters. Her opponent in the runoff, Capital Health employee Zachary Chester, has had his own issues with fundraising but seems to have built a treasury of over $31,000 from a mix of local friends and distant contributors.

In the North Ward, surprise 2nd place finisher Divine Allah has no reports posted on contributions or expenses, not even a declaration that he would spend less than $4000.00 on his campaign. Contrast that with Marge Caldwell-Wilson’s nearly $19,000 in money raised…more than 35% of which came from union political action committees around the state.

An informed voter is a better voter. Do your homework before you go into the booth and cast your ballot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The morning after

We've pretty much all been there at one time or another.

The pounding head, the ringing ears, the raspy throat, the very unsettled feeling in the stomach.  All the result of overindulgence.

We think a majority of Trenton's voters...or a majority of the nearly 11,000 who actually voted in yesterday's municipal elections are experiencing some of the same symptoms this morning.

With a pitiful, less than 28% voter turnout, all but one of the contests to fill the Mayor and City Council seats appear to be headed for a runoff. 

Only incumbent South Ward Councilman George Muschal has handed his challengers a solid defeat.  The rest, Mayor, three Council At Large*, and the North, East, and West Council seats are headed into a June 15 runoff.

As we called it back in January.  Top three vote getters in the Mayoral race are Tony Mack, Eric Jackson and Manny Segura.  There are only three votes separating Segura from second place finisher Jackson.  No doubt there will be challenges and a very close examination of the provisional ballots, etc. before the results are certified by the city clerk.

In the At-Large race, it appears as though Trenton has chosen an interesting trio as the primary vote getters:  Kathy McBride, Alex Bethea and Phyllis Holly Ward.  McBride is an outspoken anti-violence activist who ran for At-Large in 2002 and again in 2006 where she nearly upset Palmer's plans to keep his slate in office by squeaking out ahead of Cordelia "Dee Dee" Staton in the May election. 

Bethea is a vice principal in one of the city schools, has also run before, and made the 2006 runoff with McBride and Mill Hill resident Jim Carlucci. 

Holly-Ward is a city employee and former head of the Trenton Council of Civic Associations (TCCA).  Her stint as TCCA president launched a monthly column in the Times where she wrote about building community and personal responsibility.  Of the three, Holly-Ward is probably the best qualified candidate.

Should the At-Large race go to a runoff, Juan Martinez, T. "Missy" Balmir, and Darren "Freedom" Green will go up against McBride, Bethea and Holly-Ward.  This is truly sad.

Martinez is a well-known opportunist working in the guise of Community Activist.  He purports to belong to/head up the mythical, all encompassing People for the Revitalization of the South Ward (PROS) organization.  The problem is, no one has ever been able to demonstrate when and where PROS meets; who the membership is other than Juan; provide copies of it's mission statement and/or by-laws, etc.  Juan is probably most remembered for supporting the idiotic "Leewood" plan that would have wiped out some 6 square blocks of Trenton's South Ward through the use of eminent domain in order for Palmer friendly developer could then build new homes to sell back to the very people that had been displaced.  Martinez's reward for his efforts on behalf of Leewood...a cushy $62,000 a year gig with the City School System as a community liaison. Not a good choice for any elected office in our estimation.

Missy Balmir is a former aide to Governor Corzine, a former aide to  Rep. Rush Holt, a former aide to Mayor Doug Palmer and a former member of the Trenton School Board (appointed by Doug Palmer).  In short, she has spent her adult life working with and for the same people who have led Trenton to the mess it is currently in and thinks she can change it for the better.  Doubtful.  And when you look at her campaign finance reports it becomes clear that Balmir is but another party hack put into play by a machine hoping to keep Trenton under it's thumb.  Bad choice.  Really bad choice.

Darren "Freedom" Green seems like an earnest enough fellow.  But where has he been and what has he done prior to running for Council At Large?  Why voters would choose him over obviously more experienced and and qualified candidates this time around is not only puzzling, it is actually disturbing. 

In the three ward races going to a runoff things are just as confusing.

In the North Ward, party insider Marge Caldwell-Wilson will face New Black Panther Party member Divine Allah in the June contest.  Ms. Caldwell-Wilson was removed from the South Ward** council seat in 1998 after some irregularities in absentee ballots were discovered.  Her reward...she was appointed to the County Board of Elections (hire a crook to catch a crook?).  She's flaunted her party connections as if they give her real qualifications to represent the people of the North Ward.  In fact, she has been rather detached from real involvement in the community...including her own neighborhood association, until she decided to run for council.  Note to Marge...union endorsements and glad handing with the former-gov might get you money, but it won't buy you friends.

Mr. Allah, on the other hand is waging a grass roots campaign that includes the retro-act of driving through the neighborhoods shouting through a bullhorn to entice voters to turn out.

This would be a fun contest to watch if we didn't have to make the choice ourselves.

In the East Ward, Joe Harrison and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson will battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate.  Harrison has been an outspoken critic of Doug Palmer's troop of players and the administration's antics. 

Ms. Reynolds-Jackson is a zoning board member and....
That is to say, she is a bit of an enigma and there is little information to be found from culling through her NJ ELEC reports.  Come to think of it, the same is true from At-Large candidate Mr. Green.

And both Ms. Reynolds-Jackson and Mr. Green appear in campaign literature with Ms. well as on her website.

Hmmm...we smell a slate with some strange connections.

And then there is the West Ward.  Zachary Chester is running up against Joyce Kersey.  Ms. Kersey, you may remembered, stepped down from her post on the school board where she was an ineffective leader and member.

Mr. Chester waged a quiet, well-funded campaign with all the trappings of a city wide machine: communications director, volunteer coordinator, etc.  He did have that little glitch where he ran afoul of the city's strict Pay-to-Play ordinance (which he and his wife helped pass by referendum in 2006).

To add interest to the run-off election will be the question of whether or not the proposed sale of part of the Trenton Water Works to NJ American Water should go through or not.  (We think not).  Leading up to yesterday's election, most of the candidates above took strong positions against the sale.  A couple (Jackson and Chester specifically) have not been as forthcoming on the issue.  NJ American Water is already pouring (pun intended) resources into the fight to have the sale approved.  Watch closely and see where some of that money lands and how it impacts the candidate's positions in the next four weeks.

And buy some alka seltzer, pepto bismol or maloxx.
*there are some provisional ballots to be looked at and the scrutiny due to come to determine whether Eric Jackson or Manny Segura face Tony Mack in the Mayoral Runoff could actually change the outcome of the At-Large race and make a runoff unnecessary.

**Mill Hill and other areas traditionally part of the South Ward were redistricted into the North Ward in the spring of 2001.  To this day, some feel it was a blatant effort to prevent Ms. Caldwell-Wilson from again challenging then Councilman John Ungrady for the South Ward seat.

Editor's note:  Comments made in the above posting have not set well with some readers. This has been brought to the attention of this site's management and is duly noted.

That said, for those objecting to anything contained above, we submit this snippet from an article written by Tom Hester, Jr. and published in the Times of Trenton on October 3, 1998:
In June, it seemed as though Marge Caldwell-Wilson _ courtesy of her five-vote victory over incumbent John Ungrady in the June runoff election, a victory made possible by a 36-7 absentee ballot advantage _ had become the South Ward's first woman representative. But when Allen Lee, Caldwell-Wilson's former campaign manager, visited the Millhouse Nursing Home just four days before the runoff, he was setting the stage for this Tuesday's unprecedented special election between Caldwell-Wilson and Ungrady for the South Ward council seat.

DURING THAT VISIT, Lee went room-to-room delivering absentee ballots to the nursing home residents.

Two months later, testimony from the residents would help force his candidate from office, marking the first time in city history a judge removed someone from the council and called a special election, which will cost the taxpayers at least $40,000, according to city clerk Anthony Conti.
In short, absentee ballots thrown out; an individual removed from office and a special election held.  That was all we said on the matter.

Regarding the New Black Panther Party, our assumption was that everyone understands that group espouses black separatism, something we do not condone, and thus didn't need to comment further.