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).