Tuesday, March 22, 2011

State of the City

We’ve been tempted to draft a lengthy dissection of Mayor Mack’s State of the City Address but hesitated. Fortunately, Dan Dodson was on it immediately and posted a thoughtful response on his blog.

Sometimes, procrastination pays off.

At tonight’s city council meeting, that pay off came. Sort of.

Resolution 11-157 was the extension of the information technology (IT) consulting contract with ADPC. This is the contract that an RFP was issued for last fall and that resulted in the controversial and faulty hiring of an unqualified vendor, Lynx Technology Partners.

ADPC, who has provided this service to the city for over 20 years, took the matter to court and prevailed.

In an order issued on March 11, Judge Feinberg determined that the RFP process would need to be rebid and that ADPC would continue under the terms of the current contract until June 30, 2011.

Tonight’s resolution was presented on the docket this way:
According to a report posted by Bob Chilson on his blog, when the resolution came up for a vote, it failed to pass.

Councilwoman Holly-Ward asked the City Attorney, Marc McKithen, if there was any paperwork to back up the resolution. McKithen reportedly stated he didn’t have anything.

Council voted 5-2 against the resolution. The two members who voted in favor of the resolution, Council President Muschal and Councilwoman Caldwell-Wilson, were the only two to vote against awarding the IT contract to Lynx technologies in the first place. It is pretty obvious that they are paying attention.

It is hard to say what is more disappointing in this matter…the complete lack of understanding on the part of five city council members as to what the judge ordered or McKithen’s apparent refusal to offer a proper and thorough explanation of the matter so they could vote intelligently.

At best, we have a situation where the ignorance and incompetence of a majority on our governing body is compounded by the willful contempt demonstrated by the city attorney and the rest of the Mack administration.

That, friends, is the real state of the city. It is not "well."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hello! Is there anyone in there?

Less than two months before a recall effort can be initiated about our sitting city council members or mayor, and all is quiet?

No rumblings of a committee or committees being formed to rid City Hall of the incompetence, ignorance and arrogance that has prevented us from making any progress towards solving the fiscal problems facing us.

No outrage at the repeated failings of the administration to follow the laws of the land, let alone use common sense in managing the city day to day.

No outrage at the repeated failings of members of the governing body (city council) to grasp the most basic concepts of proper process and procedure even when it is pointed out to them in plain English.  Repeatedly.

Nearly nine months into this administration and we don't have a budget; we are on the last few months of an IT consulting contract and no IT Director; taxes are up, services are down.

Nod if you can hear me.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Technical foul.

Does anyone really know what is going on?

A few weeks back, the city announced it was going to institute temporary layoffs (furloughs) for all departments except police and fire. The furloughs would take place every week for 13 weeks starting in April.

This announcement bothered those seemingly few people who were paying attention because it meant the virtual shutdown of the Trenton Water Works (TWW) for one day each week. Considering the facts that

  1. the water utility operates on its own budget; employees are paid from rates charged for water usage, not tax dollars so any cost savings from the furloughs would NOT save the city money
  2. the majority of the customers of the water utility are located outside of the city and thus would be penalized by the weekly furloughs
  3. all customers would be put at risk because the furloughs would mean no one was minding the water treatment plant, pumping stations, etc. on those days

The problem comes from civil service rules that state furloughs must apply to entire departments. Since TWW operates under the umbrella of the Public Works Department, any layoffs affecting Public Works must apply to TWW.


Fortunately, the state of NJ through the DEP recognized the potential problems and squelched the furlough idea.


Before that occurred, a plan was drawn up to make TWW along with the Sewer Authority their own department, thus isolating (like Police and Fire) from the furloughs. It was a good idea…for a lot of reasons.


However, the city is only allowed to have 10 departments and our current structure has us maxed out. In order to create a Water and Sewer department, room has to be made in the organization chart. Part and parcel to creating the new department was the idea of making the current department of Inspections a division of the department of Housing and Economic Development. This would actually be a return to the way things once were.


This all needs to be accomplished by an ordinance introduced and passed by the governing body (city council). Predictably, with this administration and council, the plan has stalled.

Some object to moving Inspections back under Housing and Economic Development. Some don’t understand or object to creating a Water and Sewer department.

A workable solution languishes because the governing body seems unable to get its act together to do anything positive and the administration can’t think its way out of a paper bag.

Now here’s an interesting twist…

In November, the Mayor rearranged the former department of Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture (RNRC). Recreation and Culture were brought under the Mayor’s office directly and Natural Resources were moved to the Public Property Division of the Department of Public Works. In some respects the consolidation of departments is a good thing. Eliminating a director’s salary and merging functions are ways to economize.

And doing away with the department of RNRC frees up a space on the organization chart that could be filled by a newly created Water and Sewer department. Right?

Well, it would IF the city’s administrative organization chart was properly amended by ordinance. The Mayor cannot arbitrarily do away with a department. That must be done by ordinance approved by the city council.

Guess the Mayor didn’t think about that.

Neither did the city law department…obviously because of their inexperience with municipal law.

And the City Clerk didn’t catch it, so the city council didn’t realize it either.
Technical foul charged to the whole lot of them for simple failure to operate according to the rules.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


On the docket for Trenton’s City Council meeting this past Thursday was an executive session to discuss “Personnel and Litigation: ADPC.”

Published reports say that Acting Business Administrator Elaine Adams was to go before council to answer questions about the city’s financial situation. Ms. Adams is a long time city employee who, by all accounts, is competent and conscientious but who has reluctantly taken the hot seat by holding down the oft-vacated position of BA for the city. Apparently, the pressures and controversy surrounding this pivotal position in the city administration are not to Ms. Adams’ liking. She has not been present at many city council meetings and reportedly has not been very responsive to inquiries from city council.

Presumably, Thursday night’s executive session would have provided an opportunity for Ms. Adams and the governing body to come to an understanding regarding the BA’s responsibilities in responding and reporting to council.

Ms. Adams may be uncomfortable in her duties as acting BA. If that is affecting her job performance than she needs to either politely refuse the “honor” of the position and go back to the work she is familiar with or resign from the city completely. If she wants to continue in the acting BA position, than she needs to suck it up and do the job or face these closed-door inquiries.

Council went into session with Ms. Adams standing by. A quarter of an hour later, Council President Muschal told the acting BA she would not be meeting with council after all.


Council, who has complained for weeks on end about a lack of answers from the administration, had the opportunity to flex its legal authority and call a high ranking, if reluctantly so, official onto the carpet and they balked!

Because of the nature of the closed-door session, we may never actually know what happened. What we do know is this: the governing body of the city of Trenton failed yet again. This group…and we are speaking of them as a singular entity here; either does not understand its power and authority or is totally unprepared and unwilling to use it.

While much attention has focused on the failings of the Tony Mack administration, little has been said about the council. This week’s episode pretty much demonstrates that this group of neophytes is ill prepared to carry out the duties of the elective offices they sought.

Looking back over the past eight months of their tenure reveals their repeated breakdowns. This council approved the appointment of the municipal judge at the urging of the Mayor…even though the requisite background check had not been completed. This council approved a legal services contract with Cooper Levenson that later had to be voided because it violated the city’s pay-to-play ordinance. This council drafted and introduced a faulty ordinance that would allow them to participate in their meetings via telephone.

Let us not forget how this council voted to give the city’s Information Technology (IT) consulting contract to a bidder with a weak and non-compliant proposal. Even after a number of individuals pointed out the flaws with the proposal, this council went ahead and made a choice that was overturned by a judge. Now the city is left without an IT director (let go in the November layoffs) or a consultant to monitor and maintain the city’s systems. Moreover, there is the matter of continued litigation in the matter as witnessed by the second item that was to be discussed at Thursday night’s executive session.

In baseball, as in all sports, when players are not performing as expected they are removed from the game. This council has had way too many “visits to the mound” made by members of the public to encourage, enlighten, and enlist them to do the right thing. The council has continually failed.

Time to pull them from the game.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Dear Mr. Kienle

Letter to the Editor of the Times, Thursday, March 3, 2011:

Let's have Mack's back

With his back to the wall, Tony Mack entered the mayoral office of Trenton. He has been on the defensive ever since (editorial, "Cooperation deficit," Feb. 27).

Politics at any level requires strategy to try to satisfy those who put you in that seat, hoping that it does not become "the hot seat."

Right now, the seat is a bit warm. No one is perfect. Let's try to find a way to help this man out of his dilemma.

This letter is a vote for His Honor, Tony Mack, mayor of Trenton.

Joe Kienle Jr.,


Dear Mr. Kienle,

Agreed…Mayor Mack came into office with facing an unprecedented budget crisis and other problems left to him by the previous administration.

You say the Mayor has been on the defensive ever since. Again, we agree.

Now ask yourself, “Why has the Mayor ‘been on the defensive ever since?’”

Have you not been paying attention, sir?

Shall we start with nominating a twice convicted felon to head up a vital city department? Or how about the questionable judge appointment?

Then there is the summary dismissal of all department heads who served the previous administration and the consequential loss of expertise and knowledge in how the city runs. At the same time, the Mayor filled positions with friends, supporters and the like…most of whom have no experience matching the duties of their jobs.

Or maybe that is the strategy you allude to in your second paragraph. You know the part about trying “to satisfy those who put you in that seat.”

Indeed, the Mayor’s chair is “a bit warm.” And no one, especially our Mayor, is perfect.

You suggest we “try to find a way to help this man out of his dilemma.”

What do you think the likes of Mr. William Guhl was doing? What do you think many of us have offered and tried to do over the past eight months or so?

Many, many people have publically and privately offered assistance and suggestions to help make things right. The Mayor has had none of it.

Mr. Kienle, the plain and simple fact is that Mayor Mack is in over his head; he has refused to accept this fact as steadfastly as he has refused good counsel when offered. Many have tried to have his back, but are forced to turn away because it is of no use.

If you cannot see that the Mack administration to date has been an abject failure then you, sir, are as delusional as the Mayor.

You can not vote for “His Honor” because he has none.