Monday, May 16, 2011

Dear Trentonians,

What follows is not news. It is not a revelation. It is simple, common sense.

Read it or don’t.

Heed it or don’t.

If you want a better city, do something about it.

Stop condoning violence through inaction. You know who has the guns, who is shooting at whom and why. Speak up. There are confidential tip lines set up to protect your identity if that is your concern.

Your silence is killing this city.

Parents, if you want a better school system and better educational opportunities for your children, get involved. Discipline your children. Teach them how to act in a productive, not disruptive, way. Show them what is acceptable behavior and standards of dress. Reinforce that learning is good and hard work is the way to a better life. Dissuade them from the flash and dazzle portrayed in popular culture by teaching them lasting values.

Do it with actions as well as words, even if it means dropping a few of your own pretences. Do you really need that Mercedes or BMW SUV when a Ford or Chevy will serve you just as well and cost you less to maintain?

And if you are worried about what your kids are doing in their spare time…get out of your chair; leave the bar and find out. We have sports leagues crying for participating children AND PARENTS! Take advantage of the opportunities to engage in positive activities with your children. Being a parent is not the same as making a baby.

Tired and frustrated by wading through the filth and garbage in our streets and lots? Clean it up! If you want others to take pride in and care of this city, you must set the example. Maintain your property to the best of your ability and help others do the same for theirs. Again, leading by example will make a difference.

Want a better, more accountable government? Get involved. Follow what is going on by reading the local papers, talking to your neighbors and the various blogs. Inform yourself on the issues. Don’t rely solely on what elected officials tell you. Take the time to research and reflect on the information available, then communicate your thoughts and opinions to the Mayor and Council.

If, after all of your input, you feel that your elected officials are not serving the best interests of the city…

…remove them from office.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fed up?

The arrest last week of former Trenton chief of staff Paul Sigmund brought out the expected waves of compassion from the public.  To be sure, everyone wishes Mr. Sigmund well on his journey down the long road of recovery. 

What can't be overlooked in this matter, however, is the fact that Mr. Sigmund should have never been hired by Mayor Mack in the first place. 

The past two days, letters to the editor have appeared in the Times addressing this situation.  On May, 9 we read this:

Noblesse oblige

The writer of the letter "Enough, already" (May 6) complains that The Times has published "humiliating photos of the son of one of the oldest and most respected families in Mercer County."

This newspaper has not humiliated the Sigmund family; Paul Sigmund IV did that all on his own. I, for one, would expect more of someone like Mr. Sigmund. This is a man born with all the advantages, all the connections, all the chances that most of us just dream about. I think it's deplorable that Mr. Sigmund behaved in such an irresponsible, selfish and thoughtless manner.

Patricia H. Stewart,
And on May 10, this letter appeared:
A gaggle of rogues plummet from power
I applaud The Times for often showing the Trenton mayor's disgraced former chief of staff, Paul Sigmund IV, in handcuffs on Page One (letter, "Enough, already," May 6). He deserves the newspaper's shaming and so much more. As for his "respected Mercer County family," it is surely quite less so now. They have a lot to explain, if they hid the truth from the citizens of Trenton.

I urge The Times to publish a rogues' gallery of all the corrupt, unethical or incompetent high-level city appointees once placed in positions of trust and power by the good mayor of Trenton. Remind the newspaper's readers and the taxpayers and voters of the city that birds of a feather flock together. It is "enough, already." Trenton Mayor Tony Mack should resign before he does any more damage to the reputation of the Capital City, and all of his unworthy henchmen should be fired.

William E. Andersen,
West Windsor
Both writers make valid points.

The Times (of Trenton), the Trentonian, the New York Times, WPVI-6 none of the media outlets created this situation.  It may be argued that they have surely capitalized on the newsworthy event of a high-ranking official of New Jersey's capital city being arrested for drug possession and assaulting the arresting officers.  The fact that the official is the scion of a notable family just adds to the interest factor.  The humiliation is totally the responsibility of Mr. Sigmund.

Mr. Andersen's letter is about another humiliation...that perpetrated by the Tony Mack administration with his string of bad choices for appointees.  The suggestion that Mayor Mack step down is not an unreasonable one. 

For those who might question the right of a non-Trenton resident weighing in on the matter we would respond, "and why not?"

The taxpayers of the state of New Jersey have underwritten Trenton's mismanagement for way too long now.  They should have the right to voice their opinion on whether or not the city's leadership is doing a good job.  Surely, the voters of the city of Trenton have not shown they are up to the task.

After electing the previous mayor to five terms the voters seem to have lost their way.  From a field of 10 possible replacements running in last May's election, Mayor Mack won the runoff in June.  Since then, the city has suffered one humiliation after another. (The saga has been reported here and elsewhere, we won't delve into yet again).

There is a chance for the voters to redeem themselves.  Anytime after this Thursday, May 12, a recall effort can be launched.

It is a daunting task with a maze-like process that is bound (designed?) to trip up the unprepared.  But it can be done.

For it to succeed, Trentonians must keep a few things in mind.

The three person recall committee needs to be representative of the city populous. 
There should only be one committee to recall.  Multiple entities will just dilute and derail the process.  Regardless of one's reasoning for wanting to remove the Mayor (or a council member...they are subject to recall as well), you must join together over the common bond of wanting to improve things in the city.
Similarly, any individual wanting to run to replace a possibly recalled official should be vetted and agreed upon collectively.  Too many candidates will just make it that much easier for the status to remain quo.
Get organized and get smart.  The signature drive is a large hurdle to get over in the process. Work together and consider using centralized signature collection locations rather than relying mostly on door-to-door canvassing.

The clock is ticking, Trenton.  Nearly everyone you meet is talking about the needed changes in city government.  You can make it happen.

Or you can be humiliated again.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Another unqualified appointee.

No, this isn’t about Paul Sigmund IV’s brief tenure as Chief of Staff/Deputy Mayor for the City of Trenton.

Not directly.

This is about Mayor Mack’s choice for law director, Marc McKithen.

At first glance, Mr. McKithen might seem a perfect candidate to be tapped to head up the city’s law department. He grew up here, he’s from a large and well-known and respected Trenton family, he graduated from the city's Young Scholar's Institue, Rider University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University

Besides being general counsel for the family business, Kelly’s Janitorial Service, Inc, he was an associate at the Manhattan firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. And by his own admission has little expertise in municipal law. His experience, you see, was in corporate matters, specifically intellectual property…patents and such.

While there are some basic similarities to the various disciplines of the legal profession, there are also very great differences. There are areas of arcane knowledge that are of little use or consequence unless you are working in a specific area of the law.

Municipal law, especially here in New Jersey, is a fairly specialized field. The basic form and procedures may be the same for all areas of law, but the details and minutiae (and isn’t that really what law deals with mostly) are what separates them.

If you are having trouble grasping this, think of the medical profession. The basic biology of the human body is the same, but do you want a podiatrist to perform cataract surgery on you?

So we have a corporate law guy sitting as the de facto legal expert for the city of Trenton. He is supposed to provide good counsel to the administrative and legislative branches of the government so we, as a city, don’t get into trouble.

Mr. McKithen has not only admitted on the record during his advise and consent hearing that he had limited experience in the practice of municipal law, he has demonstrated it.

The inept and irresponsible handling of the city’s information technology (IT) consulting contract is but one example. Even when the errors in the city’s process were pointed out, McKithen allowed the council to illegally choose an unqualified vendor over a qualified one. This cost the city time and money to unsuccessfully defend itself in court.

To his credit, Mr. McKithen did pull the plug on an outside legal contract to the Cooper Levenson law firm after it was discovered and loudly made public that the firm had violated the city’s pay-to-play ordinance. But while he gets the nod for doing so, it should also be pointed out that he was on staff at the time that the contract was repeatedly brought up for council to approve and he never advised against it….EVEN WHEN MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC POINTED OUT WHY IT SHOULD NOT BE GRANTED!

These are just two examples of Mr. McKithen’s inexperience leading to bad decisions.

Just this week, when faced with the Sigmund saga and with the administration seemingly unable to make a stand up decision on the man’s employment status, McKithen has failed again.

City Council, for once, seemed poised to act as a responsible and thinking body by beginning the process of removing Mr. Sigmund from the city’s employ. Colin Cherry, a city employed “management assistant,” after consulting with McKithen circulated a memo to members of city council, the business administrator declaring that the governing body does not have the authority to remove from office the Chief of Staff/Deputy Mayor since they did not have advise and consent power over the appointment to that position.

From: "Colin Cherry"

Date: Wed, 4 May 2011 13:08:39 -0400

To: Zachary Chester; Alex Bethea;

George Muschal; Kathy McBride; Marge Caldwell-Wilson; Phyllis Holly-Ward; Verlina Reynolds-

Cc: Baylor, Leona; ; 'Eric Berry'; McKithen, Marc

Subject: Removal of a Municipal Officer by Council

Good afternoon,

I just wanted to reach out to clarify the powers of removal that are granted to City Council.

Following my discussions with the Director of Law, I am providing the following clarifications.

City Council does not have the authority to remove deputy mayors (including the Chief of Staff), mayoral aides, or the Mayor’s personal and executive secretaries. These positions are appointed by the Mayor and can be removed at his discretion pursuant to State statute (N.J.S.A. 40:69:A-60.1) copied below.

The mayor of any municipality having a population of more than 80,000, but less than 300,000, which, prior to January 9, 1982, had adopted the form of government designated as "Mayor-Council Plan C" provided for in article 5 of P.L.1950, c.210 (C.40:69A-55 et seq.), may appoint one or two deputy mayors, a personal secretary, an executive secretary, and aides not exceeding seven in number, who shall serve and be
removable at the pleasure of the mayor, and who shall serve in the unclassified service of the civil service of the municipality and shall receive such salary as shall be fixed by the mayor.

City Council does, however, have the ability to remove, with cause, Department Directors, the Business Administrator, or any other position that requires the advice and consent of Council. To do so requires a two-thirds majority (5 votes). The Department of Law is currently investigating whether or not there are any other positions that may fall under City Council’s purview to remove, however no additional positions are believed to fall under Council’s authority at this time.

Thank you and please let me know if you have any further questions.


Colin Cherry
City of Trenton
Management Assistant
319 East State Street
Trenton, NJ 08608
(609) 989-3532

When consulted on the matter, noted local attorney and former city law director George Dougherty offered up a two page opinion contradicting Mr. Cherry’s assertion. This opinion was sent to Mr. McKithen.

Mr. Dougherty's cover letter that accompanied his opinion reads in part:
My opinion is that the City Council’s powers under NJSA 40:69A-37 expressly apply to “any municipal officer” other than the Mayor and a Council member. Attached is my explanation and supporting authority. The fact that the mayor can appoint a deputy (and some other officers) without council advice and consent and can remove, does not equate to the City Council has no authority to remove. It has it clearly under Section 37. See attached.

Mr. Cherry’s opinion adds something to Section 37 which does not appear in print. There is no requirement in the published portion of that section which limits Council’s removal power over “any municipal officer” to those officers whose appointment is subject to Council’s advice and consent. If he has a citation to that requirement I would be happy to reconsider.
Yet, when asked at Thursday night’s council meeting for an opinion on the body’s power to remove public officials, Mr. McKithen responded that the council’s authority did not extend to the chief of staff. His contention is that if they don’t approve (through advise and consent) the appointment, they cannot remove the appointee.

Well Mr. McKithen, we think you may be wrong.

There is one thing that we agree upon…council had to approve your appointment and so they have the power to remove you.

And they should.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Make it right, Mayor Mack

Monday’s arrest of Paul Sigmund is a very sad turn of events.


Let’s be perfectly clear here: Mr. Sigmund obviously has some problems that we all hope he will seek proper treatment for. May he find the will and the way to overcome his personal demons and correct his path. And may his family be able to move through and past this chapter of their lives.


While we wish Mr. Sigmund and his family well, there are other more public and pressing matters that must not be swept aside in sentimentality.


Mayor Mack’s judgment is once again in question.


Are we to believe that the Mayor knew nothing of Mr. Sigmund’s problems before bringing him on board less than two months ago? Rumors and questions about just what was reported in Mr. Sigmund’s required background check have swirled since his appointment as Chief of Staff was announced.



The New York Times reported that Mack spokesperson Lauren Ira stated that Mr. Sigmund submitted to and passed the required drug test at the time of his hiring.


Are we to believe then, that only in the last seven weeks Mr. Sigmund has developed a heroin habit?


Last month there was the speeding incident where Mr. Sigmund was stopped for driving a city owned vehicle 35 miles over the speed limit. It was later learned that Mr. Sigmund had neither a valid New Jersey nor California driver’s license.

Are we to believe that, as was claimed at the time, the city administration had no knowledge of Mr. Sigmund’s lack of valid driving privileges?


Mayor Mack it is time for you to step up and do the right things: 
  1. You need to ask for Mr. Sigmund’s resignation immediately.
  2. You need to come clean about what you really knew about Mr. Sigmund’s background; his substance abuse problem and his suspended driver’s license.
  3. You need to issue an executive order directing all elected and appointed officials of the city of Trenton to immediately submit to a drug test.
  4. You need to remember that the first day to submit the paperwork initiating the recall process is just eight days away.

Mayor Mack, your poor judgment has yet again put the city of Trenton in a bad light and the taxpayers on the hook. We are fortunate that the events above did not take a more tragic route where someone was injured or worse while your appointee illegally operated a city owned vehicle while speeding or driving under the influence or both.

This may very well be your last chance to make things right.