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.