Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bass ackwards

When you hire an employee, you usually try to hire someone with the most qualifications and/or experience pertinent to the job he or she will be doing.

At least that is the theory.

In the city of Trenton, it appears that the inverse is more the rule than the exception. The hiring policy in city hall seems to follow the old adage "it is not what you know, but who you know."

Marc McKithen, city law director, is a case in point. 

Marc is bright, well educated, and with a strong ethical bent.  He is not an expert in municipal law...especially the byzantine version followed here in NJ.  McKithen admitted as much while being questioned by city council woman Marge Caldwell-Wilson during his confirmation (advice and consent) appearance before the governing body.

Apparently, above and beyond his actual qualifications for the position, McKithen comes from a large, well-known local family.  One of his uncles gave a substantial contribution to the Tony Mack campaign.  Marc made a contribution as well.

During his brief tenure as the city attorney, Marc made some bad calls and a couple of good ones.

One notable example of the latter was McKithen's lack of understanding of the New Jersey's public purchasing laws that lead to the ADPC/Lynx IT consulting contract debacle.  It resulted in the case going before Judge Linda Feinberg, who not only decided against the city's position but gave Mr. McKithen quite the tongue lashing.  The judge was none too pleased with the city's complete abandonment of the proscribed purchasing process.

To the good, Marc McKithen famously and correctly declared the legal services contract between the city and the Cooper Levenson law firm void due to campaign contribution law (pay-to-play).  The Cooper Levenson firm is headed by Lloyd Levenson. The firm contributed significantly to the Partners for Progress political action committee that in turn gave money to Mayor Mack's campaign.  The contribution was allegedly withdrawn by the firm and repaid by the campaign although there was never any hard proof of that. 

What didn't come out at the time or in the aftermath, was that Cooper Levenson also made a $2,500 contribution to another political action committee, Trenton Thrives that in turn spent money on behalf on Keith Hamilton's campaign to become mayor of Trenton.  This also violates the city's pay-to-play law and would have disqualified the firm from doing business with the city.

Levenson himself served as a chair of the Mayor's inaugural ball. His name was featured prominently on the invitation to the event.  In most circles, that constitutes solicitation on behalf of the Mayor and thus would violate the pay-to-play law as well.

All that didn't seem to matter and the administration saw to it that council approved the contract to Cooper Levenson in the fall of 2010.  Only later, when things started getting heated in the press, did Mr. McKithen (who, it must be pointed out, was on staff but not yet the actual law director when the contract was approved) determine the contract to be null and void.

The Mayor quickly issued a follow up message stating that Mr. McKithen was wrong and that the contract was legal and in force.  As the public turned up the heat on the deal, Cooper Levenson oh so gallantly "withdrew" from the contract.

Then came the onslaught of Open Public Records Act requests.  Reportedly, the Mayor didn't like the fact that McKithen was complying with the law and releasing information to the public.  Information that demonstrated just how inept, corrupt and sloppy the Mack administration was.

Rather than clean up his act, the Mayor decided to clean house and put pressure on McKithen to resign.

McKithen has apparently given up trying to bring some semblance of law and order to the Mack administration and has tendered his resignation effective June 30.

So the guy who was trying to do the right thing is being forced out of an administration that needs all of the competency it can get.

Bass ackwards.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Do as I say, not as I do

On Thursday, June 9, the city business administrator announced a new policy regarding who could take home city vehicles and why.

From: Colin Cherry []

Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2011 4:47 PM

To: Seigle, John; McKithen, Marc; Rubino, Joseph; Burzachiello, Ralph; ''; ''; Thompson, Cleveland; Rousseau, David; Denson, Walter; Jones, Nathaniel; Roberts, Anthony

Cc: ''; ''

Subject: Take Home Vehicle Policy

Importance: High

Good afternoon,

Per the direction of the Business Administrator, the following is to be in effect this coming Monday, June 13, 2011 until further notice.

No passenger vehicle (including those assigned to Department Directors) is to be operated outside of business hours. This means that no vehicle should be “taken home”.

The only exceptions to this policy are those employees who work non-standard schedules and require a vehicle to be “on call”. In such cases, the vehicle must be specialized and necessary for the conduct of City business (for example, a water utility van with equipment inside).

All other vehicles are to be parked in their respective lots – that is a Department lot if applicable, the City Hall lot otherwise – at the close of the business day. After the close of business on Monday any vehicle for which the employee has not received special dispensation from the Business Administrator which is found to not be parked as directed will be considered to be in misuse. The Office of the Business Administrator will be forced to assume that the employee has the intention of depriving the City of Trenton of the proper use of that vehicle and all appropriate action will be taken to ensure that it is returned.

Thank you and please ensure that you communicate this directive clearly to your employees.


Colin Cherry

City of Trenton

Management Assistant

319 East State Street

Trenton, NJ 08608

(609) 989-3532
All well and good.  After all, it merely conforms (somewhat) to the intent of ordinance 10-007 passed in January of 2010 and limiting the "take home" use of city passenger vehicles.

One little problem, on Monday evening, June 13, 2011 guess who had a city vehicle parked across the street from his Trenton apartment.  Why, none other than Mr. Eric Berry, Business Administrator for the city of Trenton.

I guess his job puts him above and beyond the reach of his own new policy.

Nice one, Mr. Berry.  Way to go.  You obviously care more about what you can get out of the taxpayers' pockets than what you can do to clean up the cess pool that is city hall.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's Mack serving?

At the Trenton Council of Civic Associations meeting on Thursday, June 9, it was announced that Mayor Mack would hold a “catered picnic” for all civic association members and their families on June 29 in Cadwalader Park.

Mayoral aide and alleged grant writer Yakial Garnier (who also happens to be Councilwoman At Large Kathy McBride’s daughter) made the announcement to the gathering and provided a letter from the Mayor as an invitation.

Everyone is welcome, the city only requests that you RSVP to Ms. Garnier “ASAP.”

Now, we don’t want to be overly suspicious, but why is it that we first learn about this event recognizing “the essential work, effort and time each Civic Organization dedicates to making their communities safe , and more vibrant places to live” just a couple of days after a group of citizens filed notice of intent to recall the mayor?

This couldn’t possibly be a ploy to play to the Mayor’s base constituency who has shown they can be readily bought for free food and maybe a voucher for some cash? You do remember the fiasco after last year’s runoff election when there was a near riot on Hamilton Avenue because Mack’s campaign workers were given vouchers (illegal under NJ election laws) for food and pay, don’t you?

Yes, the timing of the announcement of this picnic is more than a little ripe. But that is not all that stinks.

Anyone else wondering where the money is coming from to pay for a “catered” picnic for an as yet unknown number of people just three weeks hence?

Certainly, if the city has the money, it could be put to better use.

And if it is coming from the Mayor’s campaign committee, he’d better make a full accounting of it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Spin, spin, spin

Well, there you have it.
A group has come together and filed the necessary paperwork to start the recall process for Mayor Mack.

Late Monday afternoon, a response was posted on the City of Trenton website. Besides being a questionable use of city resources in the service of the Mayor trying to hold onto his position, the press release contained erroneous information along with the usual poor grammar we’ve come to expect from this administration.

In the release, it is stated that: Under the law it is the requirement of the recall committee to pay for the costs associated with the actual election.

FACT: the city foots the bill for any special elections held as a result of a recall effort.  The city's statement is point blank incorrect.

And while we’re at it, the $100,000 figure touted as the cost of a recall may be a little high. But, for the sake of easy math, let’s accept it. The simple fact is that $100,000 spent on anything calculates to a tax increase of about $0.00507, or about 1/2 of 1 cent per $100 of valuation. That means if your home is assessed at $100,000, a special election would cost you $5.07 more in taxes.

It is an added cost, yes. But compared to some of the other waste that is occurring in city hall, it isn’t much.

We’re paying that much right now for the Mayor’s two “grant writers” who have produced absolutely zero in the way of revenue for the city. In fact, looking over public records, we are hard put to find even a half dozen grant applications that can be credited solely to either of these individuals. Cut them loose…save over $100,000 just in salaries and a bit more in benefits.

Don’t let the rhetoric from city hall fool you. The constant spinning of the facts have left them all a little dizzy.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Tony Mack*

"Tony Mack"
Tony, Tony, oh Tony Mack, we want our city back!
Tony, Tony, oh Tony Mack, we want our city back!
I am fed up with you, my friends feel the same way too
I tried so hard to be true, like I promised I'd do
But every time I turn around, you’re bringing shame to our lovely town


Hey Tony, Tony, oh Tony Mack, we want our city back
Tony, Tony, oh Tony Mack, we want our city back
We call you on the phone, at least three times a day
All you do is wish us “Happy Pearl Harbor Day.”

But this frustration that we have within makes us ask for your resignation


Can‘t you govern?, Can't you govern?

[Instrumental break]

I wanna say, I'm not getting any stronger, I can't hold out very much longer
Trying hard to be true, but Tony, you just don’t know what to do.


Can't you govern?, Can't you govern?
Can't you govern?, Can't you govern?...

(Tony, Tony, oh Tony Mack, we want our city back)

[Repeats out]

*our apologies to Martha and the Vandellas