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 The contribution was allegedly withdrawn by the firm and repaid by the campaign although there was never any hard proof of that.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.