Friday, January 28, 2011

The price of ignorance

Merriam-Webster’s definition of IGNORANCE

The state or fact of being ignorant: lack of knowledge, education, or awareness

If there was any doubt about the complete inability of our Mayor to comprehend the depths of his inept management of the city, they have long been buried under the blizzard of catastrophes that have befallen Trenton.

From day one, the choices Mayor Tony F. Mack have made as the city’s chief executive officer have lead from blunder to blunder. Starting with the hiring of friends and supporters at a time when the city was facing a critical fund shortage and pending layoffs of experienced and skilled employees; moving through appointments of legally tainted individuals to his cabinet; the indictment of his half-brother on charges of using city resources to profit from a side business of doing plumbing repairs; and now the pending legal action against the Mack administration for failing to follow state public contracting laws (let alone common sense). The Mack administration has demonstrated conclusively that it is overflowing with ignorance. And arrogance.

When advised by Council President Muschal and Councilwoman Caldwell-Wilson of reported problems with employees in the Trenton Water Utility, the Mayor reportedly shrugged it off. The subsequent arrest and indictment of water works employees demonstrated that Mayor Mack doesn’t get it.

The City’s Housing and Economic Development Department prepared an error-filled and faulty ordinance for Council that would have sold city-owned properties to a developer for $1 each. The developer, it turns out, had given generously to the Mack campaign; so generously, in fact, as to have exceeded the limits for campaign contributions. An error like this is supposed to be discovered and corrected WITHIN 48 HOURS of the receipt of the contribution. Some seven and one half months after the contribution was received, the overage had not been returned. Only after the matter became public knowledge did Mayor Mack offer to refund part of the contribution and split the balance between the contributor and his wife in an attempt to comply with the law. (NOTE: as of this writing, there is no public record that any money has been returned to the contributor).

The fact that the Housing and Economic Development staff was decimated by layoffs and retirements played heavily into this matter. By the admission of Acting Director Henrietta Owusu, no one on her truncated staff was able to catch the fact that the majority of the properties being offered to the developer were NOT in a redevelopment area and therefore could not be sold without benefit of some sort of pubic auction. Further, the remaining properties that were in a redevelopment area were not in the redevelopment area stated in the ordinance. While she took full responsibility for the errors and omissions as acting department director, Owusu indicated it was the fact that the department was left critically short-handed by the staff reductions that created the mess.

The Mack administration apparently doesn’t grasp the value of having knowledgeable and experienced employees on hand to perform vital tasks. In fact, the administration seems to favor incompetent and inexperienced friends as witnessed by the hiring practices of the last seven months or so.

Why else would he hire unqualified individuals as Park Rangers and put them “in charge” of city hall security? Or make his campaign committee treasurer his personal secretary? Now the Mayor is reportedly thinking of making this man, the same man who cannot properly complete and file the required campaign reports with the state, the Assistant Business Administrator?


Perhaps the greatest example of the Mack administration’s lack of awareness and/or knowledge is the matter of the Information Technology (IT) consulting contract. The entire process for competitive contracting as defined in the state statutes was tossed aside by Mayor Mack and his minions so that a favored but flawed vendor could get the contract.

The newly minted city attorney, whose experience with municipal law was questioned at the time of his nomination, was apparently ignorant of the process and gave little in the way of sound advice to the city council as they deliberated the matter.

The city’s long time purchasing agent had left during the RFP process and was not there to shepherd it along.

Similarly, the IT Director for the city was let go in the November layoffs. His exit left no one with a sound understanding of the city’s IT needs to effectively evaluate the proposals of the three bidders.

Just think, Trenton could have kept the IT director on instead of the two worthless, inexperienced and unqualified “grant writers” hired by the Mayor and who have yet to land any grant of any significance to the core functions of the city.

More ignorance.

Now the city is facing legal action via a complaint filed by the long-time IT consulting company who was thrown over for the new guy. It remains to see what this will cost the taxpayers in additional monies unnecessarily paid out due to the administration’s fumbles and foibles.

But let’s not turn a blind eye to the governing body’s role in the IT fiasco. City Council, or at least the five members who voted to award the contract to the vendor with the faulty proposal, must share the mantle of ignorance with the Mayor. Various members of the public tried to explain the problems with the process but the council wouldn’t listen.

Turning a deaf ear to the voices of reason is most likely going to be a costly experience.

The price of ignorance.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Six months into the Tony Mack Experience Trenton is still fumbling along.

Six months in and the city still doesn’t have a Business Administrator.

Six months in and the city council has yet to set salaries for the Mayor and his cabinet.

Six months in there are 61 firefighters still hanging by a thread wondering if and when they will be laid off.

Six months in and the dust has not yet settled on the rest of the city workforce: will there be more layoffs, pay cuts, furlough days?

Six months in and we have had two major problems with the Trenton Water Works that many fought so hard to keep intact as a city asset. Besides the “brown water” situation of early October and the Prosecutor’s raid on the department in December, there have been accusations of possible contamination at one of the system’s water tanks and cries for state or regional takeover of the utility.

Six months in and the administration is still tripping over the strings attached to the state aid handed out just before Thanksgiving. This time, it was the failure to clear appointments with the Department of Community Affairs before bringing them to city council…again.

Six months in and there is no real budget on the table and in the process of refinement and approval.

Six months in and there is little reason to expect anything to change in the next six months.

Six months into the Tony Mack Experience Trenton is still fumbling along.