Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another Mack administration fail

What the heck is going on?

The Mack administration has once again demonstrated its world-class incompetence with the way it is handling the whole Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene thing.

First, the consistently misused telephone notification system sent out a call Friday assuring the city’s residents that the city’s emergency management team was on top of all developments and had a plan in place. City spokesperson Lauren Ira went so far as to state there were no planned evacuations and that the Delaware River would not flood.

That’s right. About 24 hours before the storm even hit, the city was declaring there would be no emergency. WOW! I wish I had that kind of ability to see into the future. NOT!

A day later, the storm hits. Anyone with internet access is checking the web for flood predictions and such. What do we hear from the city? Zilch.

Then the rumors start. The water filtration plant is going to be shutdown. Is there any word from the city?


While emails, Face book posts and texts flash around town, the city website, the city Face book page, and the Cty-connect system are silent. In fact, all the website has is an announcement of a press conference scheduled for 1pm on Sunday to discuss the state of the weather emergency. Oh, and the fact that the Island neighborhood must evacuate.

Finally, West Ward Councilman Zac Chester distributes a notice declaring the rumor of a TWW shutdown as false. Only after that does the city manage to put a mention on the website, the Face book page and the Mayor calls into the Channel 6 news to set the record straight.

On Sunday, amidst rumors of a boil water order, the city quietly admits that the filtration plant had been shut down and the system switched over to draw down from an estimated 2.5-day supply in the reservoir. In and of itself, not an unusual or scary situation, but the city also softly asks people to observe water conservation measures to help stretch the supply. Again, they fail to utilize the social media, website or robo call system to alert and inform the public.

Then, with the Island evacuation nearly complete, the city determines that the neighboring Glen Afton neighborhood also needs to be evacuated ahead of the anticipated flooding by the Delaware River.

Not surprisingly, the city’s plan has some problems. First, the predictions for the river’s quest are lowered to a point not expected to impact the Glen Afton neighborhood.

Second, the installation of back flow check valves on the storm drains and some other engineering fixes have pretty much eliminated the flood risk from Glen Afton’s lowest areas. The higher properties were seldom threatened by floodwaters at all.

As absurd as this “recommended” evacuation is, the city followed up with an incredibly stupid and unlawful threat as a means to enforce the removal of citizens from their properties. The city said they would tow all vehicles not removed from the streets of Glen Afton as well as any left in driveways (private property). To further show it meant business, the administration told residents that power would be cut to the homes as well.

Outraged by this apparently unlawful and senseless abuse of power, residents of Glen Afton started to push back. In trying to determine who made such a ridiculous set of decisions, leaders of the local civic group representing the neighborhood were led to believe that the Mayor was only carrying out the orders of the County government.

Fortunately, a check with acting County Sheriff Jack Kemler confirmed this idiocy did not originate with the County government.

Armed with that information, and threatened with a potentially massive law suit against the city, Policy Director and Spokesperson Lauren Ira was questioned about who made the decision that these actions would be taken, that these actions would be legal. Her response was relatively swift and quickly shifted blame from the county to Fire Director Quareeb Bashir. Ms. Ira indicated it was she was only “following orders” from the Office of Emergency Management.

Lauren Ira []
Sent: Sunday, August 28, 2011 10:17 PM
Subject: Re: Regarding Glen Afton Residents and leaving there homes.

My information came from the Trenton Police Department and you should direct your concerns to them, I was following their orders, and those of Director Bashir, Office of Emergency Management Coordinator.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

So, yet again, the city has shown itself incapable of handling the most basic of weather/flood emergencies and completely ignoring the threat to other areas of the city (notably the South Ward) while muddling the process in the Island and Glen Afton neighborhoods.

This is not good government.

It is not even good farce.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hey, Joe?

Remember this:

Trenton official arraigned

Published: Monday, February 26, 2007, 10:35 AM Updated: Monday, February 26, 2007, 11:05 AM
By Ralph Curcio/The Times

TRENTON - Longtime city Finance Director Christine Stankiewicz, who was indicted last week on charges of official misconduct and theft by deception, appeared in court this morning. Stankiewicz was arraigned before Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek, who entered not guilty pleas on her behalf.

Assistant Prosecutor Doris Galuchie said the 57-year-old woman had allowed employees to take improper time off work and falsified payroll timesheets. Stankiewicz, who has no prior criminal record, was released on her own recognizance.

© 2011 All rights reserved.


The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office raided city hall, removed Stankiewicz from her place of employment and she was indicted for allowing employees to take improper time off work and falsified payroll timesheets.

So the question is, where is the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office now?

The city of Trenton appears to have improperly employed one Nathaniel M. Jones, Jr. as the Director of the Municipal Courts for the past year. There are some problems with this:
  • The position of Court Director does not appear to exist under the city’s administrative code
  • Mr. Jones is not a bonafide resident of the city of Trenton
  • Mr. Jones has a criminal record (that he appears to have tried to avoid disclosing by avoiding a thorough background check)
  • Mr. Jones has proven to be highly ineffective in the apparently non-existent position.
Yet, to date, nothing has been done about this. Surely, this bears scrutiny that would no doubt result in some sort of charges being filed.

As Kevin Moriarty said in his blog the other day:

I think one can make the same claim of … Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini. For over a year, Bocchini has been investigating, collecting evidence (and had evidence provided to him), convening grand juries and more; with very little to show for it. He has indicted a few Water Works employees including Mayor Mack’s half-brother, but there has been precious little other movement from his office on any other matter.

I think Mr. Bocchini may also have a “terminal case of the slows.” Going forward, I expect this to be one of several articles that will turn up in the future when one Googles “Joe Bocchini” and “Tony Mack.” What will the others say?

Maybe this article will turn up on that Google list.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A refresher

What follows is the text of Mayor Mack's State of the City Address from last March with comments bringing the reader "up-to-date."
The State of the City Address

As Delivered by:

Mayor Tony F. Mack

Monday, March 21, 2011

Good Evening and Welcome to the State of the City Address. Good Evening Council President, City Council members, elected officials, and distinguished guests.

I stand before you with one mission: a better Trenton. A better Trenton cannot be realized without looking first at our past, then toward our future. Tonight is when we do both, together. 

Looking to the past, we see that when I took office, a lot of things were wrong, a lot of things had to be cleaned up, and I’m going to tell you what we did to clean up that mess. But, much more important, I’m here to talk to you about the future, about my vision for the City of Trenton. It’s a vision of a greener city, with world-class parks for our children. It’s a vision of a safer city, with police officers walking the beat, focusing on preventing crimes before they happen. It’s a vision of a more beautiful City with freshly paved, litter-free streets, and community gardens in every ward. And, most of all,
it’s a vision of a vibrant city, with an active street life, new private sector jobs and a strong growing economy. 

First the past, when I took office on July 1, the administration faced a monumental $55,000,000 million budget deficit. No single administration in our City’s great history wrestled with a larger financial obstacle. I am proud to announce that last week we eliminated that budget deficit completely, and we were able to do this without cutting one service to residents of Trenton. When we entered office, the prior administration was kind enough to leave us with a layoff plan. If we had implemented the layoff plan designed by the prior administration, it would have reduced the City’s workforce by 328 employees, 328 people would have lost their jobs including 111 police officers and 61 firefighters. This plan also included closing public pools, all libraries, and senior centers; the reduction of garbage collection to one day a week and the complete elimination of the entire Department of Recreation, Natural Resources, & Culture. The layoff plan also called for the downsizing of our Sanitation division by 25 employees and the loss of two street sweeper employees.  

The branch libraries were closed have not reopened; there were layoffs and demotions last November, a corrective action in May because some of the November layoffs were done improperly, and there will be another round of layoffs in a months time...including over 100 police.

Had this layoff plan been executed I assure you we would be looking at a completely different Trenton. At the time, our administration determined maintaining the vital services to residents were our top priority. Reducing police, fire, and sanitation services was immediately taken off the table.  

Instead, we encouraged the City’s bargaining units to offer givebacks. We directed department directors to scrutinize every line item in their budgets for possible savings. We focused more on ascertaining funding, grant writing and on encouraging departments to put extra effort into researching and applying for these grants.

Yes, we well remember that the Mayor hired two aides specifically to write grants.  How has that worked out for the city so far?  Not well.  Not well at all.

In short, our administration operated on the budget with a scalpel to address our deficit, instead of wildly swinging an ax with little thought to the consequences. The road to this point has not been an easy one, nor should it have been. It is not an easy task to reduce the number of employees or eliminate vacancies in a department while the public expectation of services goes unchanged. It is not an easy task to increase the workload of existing employees, while unable to offer increased wages or benefits. Some employees are performing the work equivalent of two to three employees. These employees, including those who were laid off, remain dedicated to public service. Our administration
owes gratitude to all employees and the team of dedicated acting and recently appointed permanent department directors who went above and beyond the call of duty. Please join me in applauding them now for their continued service to the City of Trenton.

The operative ideal essential to our success during this economic climate is the ideal of partnership. Partnership requires everyone to be willing to give something up for the greater good. Partnership requires us to recognize that alone we cannot solve the issues our City faces. Common sense dictates we unite and combine resources. Again, the ideal of partnership will remain a pillar of my decision-making process.

The problem’s we continue to face are multi-directional. Discussions that should have occurred around conference tables were waged on the pages of newspapers and blogs. Let’s move away from these battles, and agree tonight that we can do better, and we will. We hosted town hall meetings throughout the summer, fall, and winter, and we will continue to do so to ensure open communication, transparency, and access to information. We also host a monthly radio program on WIMG 1300AM, so that we can speak with one voice to the City.  

Getting back to partnership, we partnered with community organizations and stakeholders to host a Youth Development Summit, an Art, Culture and Heritage Summit, and we will host an Economic Development Summit at the end of this month.

Oh yes. Let's talk about Art, Culture and Heritage.  Like how you plan to keep the City Museum at Ellarslie and the Trent House open without qualified people on staff.  What's that going to do for the Arts, Culture and Heritage of the city?

As a result of these summits I signed two executive orders into law, creating a youth development task force and a domestic violence task force. We partnered with Rutgers University and borrowed one of the City of Newark’s highly successful programs: the Youth Education Employment and Success Center at the Daylight/Twilight High School on Hanover Street.

In order to honor the achievements of our students, right now the atrium is transformed into a display room, showcasing works authored and illustrated by students from Washington Elementary School, Stokes Elementary School and Hedgepeth Williams Elementary School. City Hall will become its own Orchestra Hall on Friday evening where students from Foundation Academy Charter School Orchestra & Choir will perform “An Evening of Student Achievement.” We also reopened our South Broad Street senior center. Soon we will have a state of the art tennis facility which already made national news. I am very proud of these major accomplishments for the City of Trenton. 

That then is it for the past. Now I want to move forward on to my vision for Trenton.

First, a few concrete goals we plan to implement over the next year.

  • We are considering special legislation, for the Capital City, requiring all non-civilian new hires to live and reside within the City of Trenton. We will partner with County, State, and Federal entities, to encourage their employees to live where they work. Through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, it is our hope people will take advantage of the live where you work low interest mortgage to rebuild and infuse our City with new residents. Yet his BA still only rents an apartment here and goes home on weekends; the Director of the Municipal Court returns home to Maryland each weekend; the expected nominees for Public Works and Police Director neither one reside in the city. And then there are the park rangers the Mayor hired who aren't residents as well as the Director of Public Property. Good examples, don't you think.
  • I will sign an Executive Order establishing the Capital City Educational Trust Commission. Institutions of higher learning in Camden, Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, and New Brunswick have transformed portions of these cities. We believe a similar transformation can happen in Trenton. This Commission will begin serious discussions with public and private colleges/university to consider our proposals. Anybody heard anything about this?
  • Our administration will work with our educational partners to secure funding and reopen Trenton Central High School’s Vocational Program. There are many successful men and women throughout the region who learned a trade at our Vocational Technical Program. This program will once again be a resource for our children. We should be opening doors for our children’s success not shutting them, and when opened, VoTech will be regarded again as a transformative gateway. Anybody heard anything about this, either?
  • We will seek revenue sharing agreements with the County as it relates to the Sun Bank Center and Waterfront Park. Following in the footsteps of many other prosperous cities across the nation, we will pursue ways in which to receive a portion of proceeds from sales of tickets and parking for entertainment and sporting events. In the same line of reasoning, we will also work aggressively with the state to establish an equitable ‘Host Benefit Fee Program’ so we can recoup the costs of wear and tear on our infrastructure directly resulting from use by government workers.
  • Currently, our unemployment rate is twice that of the national average. The City of Trenton should be a place for second and third chances for those who want the opportunity to gainfully contribute to our community. We must be willing to open our hearts and minds and look beyond the past. I encourage leaders in our religious, business, civic, educational, and non-profit communities to continue to use your organizations as places that welcome statewide re-entry initiatives. 
As I stand before you today, my heart is beating with excitement- excitement at the vision of a Trenton reborn. A greener, safer, more beautiful, vibrant and growing Trenton- Here’s how I plan to make that vision a reality.  

The Department of Recreation, Natural Resources, & Culture was slated to be eliminated, as mentioned earlier. Instead, we retained key staff and maintain department functions in order to preserve recreation programs, parks, and our cultural venues. Because of our decision, we are proud to say that four of our recreation centers remain open and a resource to our residents. We have signed off on park and cultural site renovations that exceed $12,000,000 million which demonstrates our commitment to a greener and more active community.  But that key staff is slated to be laid off in mid-September so where does that leave us?

On a very cold bitter December morning we broke ground on our new Tennis Center at Cadwalader Park. Once completed this facility will be the nation’s largest junior tennis facility and we will have a full ceremony with individual and corporate donors and sponsors. We are grateful for our partners the National Junior Tennis & Learning of Trenton; the United States Tennis Association; Friends of Cadwalader Park Tennis; D&R Greenway; and private individuals. I will not stray from my commitment to these projects because these projects are Trenton’s future. You cannot have a community without community space. 

Some of those locations to be renovated include: Calhoun Street Field, George Page Park, Mill Hill Park, Greg Grant Park, Mill Hill Playhouse, The William Trent House, The Ike Williams Center, and Cadwalader Park. Let me share a little more detail:

Hold it!  Most, if not all, of the following projects were in process long before Mayor Mack's administration came along.  Frankly, they had to undertake these or lose the funding that had been left sitting idle for too long.  Half-credit or less will be given for moving these projects off of the starting block but that is all.

Calhoun Street Park renovates the existing multi-purpose field into two separate fields designed for use as a soccer field and football field. Site improvements will also include the addition of turf irrigation, stadium style bleachers and field lighting. In addition, a small playground will be added near the existing pool and the parking area will be reconfigured and renovated. Landscaping improvements will be installed throughout the facility. Future improvements for the next phase will focus on the renovation of the pool house facility.

Greg Grant Park construction will create a new park on a former industrial site and will include the construction of a brand-new basketball court, large playground, amphitheatre/spray-pool, picnic grove and gazebo, as well as an extensive pathway system with decorative lighting. The completed park will also provide extensive lawn areas and landscaping.

Cadwalader Park includes 3 dynamic projects.

  1. Picnic pavilion, playground, and pedestrian bridge: this project will include the removal of the existing 1983 pavilion and installation of a beautiful new structure which closely replicates the original 1903 pavilion, destroyed by fire. The pavilion will include secured access to utilities provided to make the structure serve a broader range of functions. A ‘state of the art’ playground will be constructed nearby. The existing canal bridge is scheduled to be removed and a new structure, more closely resembling the original bridge, will be constructed at the original location.
  2. As described above, the tennis courts project is structured into two phases, phase one will include the restoration of the existing asphalt courts including a new asphalt surface and color coating, new nets and post and new fencing. Phase two will include a new asphalt surface on the clay courts, with new nets, posts and fencing and will provide for ‘short courts’ used to teach the sport to children.
  3. Ellarslie, the City of Trenton Museum will finally be lighted at night, showing off this historic jewel.
Mill Hill Park improvements: includes three projects

  1. Renovations to the existing park include: new park entry plazas along the Broad and Front Street perimeters as well as the reconfiguration of the entry at Broad/Front Sts., a new pathway system within the park, interpretive signage, a renovated and stable historic iron bridge, a new bathroom within the basement of the Douglass House, replacement of the park lighting and extensive landscape improvements.
  2. The Ike Williams Center (Clay St.) will receive extensive exterior and interior renovations including: the replacement of the existing garage door fa├žade with a series of glass paneled doors and entry canopy, new exterior lighting, accessible entry and renovations to the adjacent courtyard. Interior renovations will include new flooring, lighting, mechanical systems, a kitchenette, bathroom renovations and new courtyard entry doors. Work completed, building re-dedicated with great fanfare only to remain closed due to lack of staff required to operate it. Brilliant!
  3. Mill Hill Playhouse will receive a new roof and exterior lighting.

George Page Park: phase one includes restoring the historic entry plaza on Clinton Ave.and expanding the existing playground. Subsequent phases include: the addition of landscape improvements, decorative lighting and a pathway system to tie into the adjacent Clinton Commerce and Crescent Wire sites. Future plans are also being developed for Hetzel Field that will include renovations to the ball-fields and pool-house and redesign of the pool complex to include a new pool and spray-ground. Parking, accessible pathways, pedestrian lighting and landscape improvements will be completed
as well. Let us not forget the nearly decade old plan of a linear greenway following the course of the Assunpink Park and the many improvements promised for the existing facilities that greenway would connect.

Trent House: We will clean and paint the Trent House, and light it at night, to show off yet another of Trenton’s many historical sites. Interesting because the coming layoffs will leave the Trent House without any qualified, full-time staff to run things there.

Artworks: renovations to this facility include putting on a new insulated roof system, renovating to the exterior brick walls, new rain scuppers and downspouts and upgrades to the existing HVAC system to increase efficiency.

Cook Y Field : renovations to the existing turf field and provision of bleacher, goal posts and a portable irrigation system to maintain the field turf.

Roberto Clemente Park: renovations to the existing park include expanding the existing pool compound, building a new color-coated basketball court, ornamental fencing and brick plazas at the two entrances, ornamental lighting and extensive landscaping as well as a new playground and a gazebo within the renovated children’s garden to accommodate environmental classes and garden crafts.

In addition to all of that, I am happy to share; we will re-start the Parks Commission. The Parks Commission is a citizen’s advisory committee that works with the City to ensure our parks are among the best in the world. It was deactivated during the previous administration. This administration is bringing it back to life, to allow our most important consumer; the park users, to have a say in how their parks are run. As you can see from all that I’ve mentioned, we are well on the way to my vision of a greener, more active Trenton. Right. The Parks Commission.  A call for interested parties went out but what has happened since?

You all know public safety is near and dear to my heart. Starting with the Trenton Police Department – it is constantly improving its police management model to meet the changing needs of our community. I have long thought that community policing, a strategy that has worked so well in other large cities, was the right strategy for Trenton.

Community policing involves getting police officers out of their cars and into our neighborhoods, getting feet on the street. Tonight I am enthusiastic to share the start of community policing in Trenton. Starting this week, our police force will put in place the Neighborhood Enforcement and Stabilization Task Force (NEST) initiative.

The NEST program was created to merge police enforcement and community policing practices, to open the lines of communication and adopt a neighborhood team approach to crime and safety issues. In addition to NEST, we are putting in place an Intelligence-Led Policing initiative (ILP). ILP makes sure that all the information the officers on the beat collect from their neighborhoods filters up the command structure. That way our commanders can make decisions based on the best kind of intelligence, intelligence learned on the street, from the community. This year we will thus make a dramatic change, a change from solving crime, which is important, to joining together with the community to prevent crime. We saw how effective this was, city-wide, during this summer’s, Take it to the Streets program, and we heard you loud and clear at our Public Safety Summit.

We have already implemented the Comstat Model, which provides police with the computer data they need to track crime in real time. Comstat is based on four basic principles: accurate and daily intelligence, rapid deployment of resources, effectiveness of tactics, and relentless follow-ups and assessments. The aforementioned principles allowed the department to reduce the number of crimes committed in the City by tracking “hot spots,” high-crime areas, and assigning police officers based on real data. Further, as the year progresses, the department will pursue an expanded model for intelligence gathering, while continuing to expand its Criminal Intelligence Unit. Refining this data-led model will allow for the best possible deployment of resources.

Um, Mayor?  Community policing and the beginning of Trenton's adoption of Comstat occurred 10 years ago under Director Golden.  The NEST initiative came during the Santiago era.  You can not claim credit for them, sir.

Additionally, in a new collaborative effort between the Trenton Police Department and the Trenton Municipal Court, an initiative is being created to institute a Safe Surrender, Amnesty program that will assist residents and those with outstanding matters in the Trenton Municipal Court. Through this program the Trenton Municipal Court will assist these individuals in disposing of their matters by paying their fines, setting up payment plans, complying with court orders, scheduling new court hearings, and other types of relief.

Yeah. How's that working out so far?  As noted earlier, the Court Director doesn't really live in Trenton.  His job performance has been less than stellar.  And nothing has been done about this at all.

With all these changes, with the introduction of community policing, feet on the street, with police decisions informed by real-time computer data, we are well on the way to fulfilling my vision of a safer Trenton....with 1/3rd fewer cops. Right.

I also want to see a more beautiful Trenton; we have received 10 grants funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation totaling $6 Million dollars. We’re using these grants to fund immediate improvements to Hanover Street and Cadwalader School. Additional projects include repairs to Stockton Street, Perry and Bank streets, North Warren Street, Montgomery Street, South Clinton Avenue, installing ADA Ramps in various locations, Bellevue Avenue, and Broad Street. Last summer roads were aggressively paved, this summer we will pave a record number of roads by doubling our roads crews. In fact, most of last summer’s roads were recommended by residents at our town hall meetings, and we were excited to make noticeable improvements to the City. Let me take a moment to thank our unsung heroes who keep our streets clean and healthy. There is something to be said about every road, sanitation, waste and recycling worker. Please join me in applauding their dedicated service to our City.  And come mid-September, the very capable sanitation supervisor will be downgraded to a sanitary inspector status. The streets crew will lose three supervisors and analyst and engineer from the traffic office will be gone as well.

Along with freshly-paved streets, we are also continuing a project dear to my heart: the Annual Clean Communities Litter March. This year’s theme is, “Its Simple Go Green…Keep Your City Clean.” The City of Trenton will celebrate our clean communities and our natural resources. This year, local schools, community groups, civic associations, churches, private businesses, city residents, and public employees will participate in our Litter March on Monday, April 18 from 8:30am to 3:00pm in Mill Hill Park. I served as past chairman of the Litter March Committee for over 14 years. I am so excited to march with you to Keep Trenton Clean.

To further beautify our neighborhoods, we are happy to announce a new, comprehensive community gardens program. This program will utilize city-owned property to ensure we have community gardens throughout the City. We will put gardens first in every ward, and eventually in every neighborhood in the Trenton community. Community gardens not only beautify our neighborhoods, they serve as a place for neighbors to socialize and provide the people of Trenton with freshly-grown, locally produced food. I am proud to be the Mayor that introduced this long-overdue program.

With freshly-paved, litter-free streets, with community gardens brightening our neighborhoods, we are well on our way to achieving my vision of a more beautiful Trenton.

The engine that powers these improvements, of course, is economic growth. That’s why it’s so important for us to make the last part of my vision a reality. To make Trenton a vibrant, growing City.

We have a myriad of ways we are going to achieve that goal. The first is encouraging the use of the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program. Trenton is only one a few cities allowed to use this program, which encourages development around our newly-renovated

Train station and our light-rail stations. I am pleased that we already have a project underway, a $250 million office tower next to the train station that will be built as part of this tax-credit program.

But development cannot happen unless people have decent places to live, unless we can revitalize our housing stock. One way we are doing this is through the $100 million HOPE VI redevelopment project. As a result of our continued partnership with the Trenton Housing Authority 600 Trenton residents attended the HOPE VI job fair. Projects like this will continue to serve and attract commuters to the sixth busiest train station along the Northeast corridor.

On the housing front in 2010, the City has been working diligently to renovate abandoned homes and make Trenton’s housing what it should be. For example, in the last few months we have rehabilitated 14 homes on Dunham Street, started construction on 18 homes for working families on Carteret Avenue, finished construction on 34 homes on Lamberton and Lalor Streets and continued the rehabilitation of 78 homes in the East

Ward. Additionally, we commenced construction of 20 units on East State Street during the early part of the year and new working families are expected to move in by April 2011. 

We are also increasing revenue generation and helping revitalize the City by selling abandoned homes. We sold a total of 58 properties in our last auction. The total proceeds from this auction netted $383,400. Other sales include: the sale of 657-659 Calhoun Street to Cleantex for their business expansion, netting $50,000 and potentially creating 150 jobs; the sale of two acres of the Kramer Site to Faigle Realty, netting $150,000 and creating an industrial facility for Standard and Roofing, a Trenton business which is projected to create additional jobs once the new facility is up.

On the economic development front in 2010, City staff continued to expand outreach to local businesses to join the Urban Enterprise Zone Program (UEZ), using the 'door-to-door' campaign to explain the cost savings and grant benefits of membership. Additionally, the City continues to support redevelopment and revitalization through its Award-winning Brownfields Program. The Brownfields Program utilizes State and Federal resources to conduct environmental cleanup for important revitalization projects such as the Assunpink Greenway, the rehabilitation of the former Magic Marker site and East Trenton Homes, to name only a few.

In October, the 17th Annual Trenton Small Business Week was very successful. We have also re-established important links to the Trenton Downtown Association, and are committed to the integrated approach espoused by the Downtown Capital District Master Plan. On March 31st we will hold an Economic Development Summit, which will focus on implementing the Downtown Master Plan. Additionally, an RFP has been issued to develop the Glen Cairn Site. In spite of the challenging economy, other economic development highlights include: Delicatessen on South Warren Street and a new restaurant, 'Eleven' on Front Street.

That’s not all, projects in the pipeline include: NJBIA's new headquarters on Lafayette Street; the proposed redevelopment of Building 101(Roebling Complex); a new housing development by the Rescue Mission; new housing development by HomeFront; Phase II of the Delaware run project by K. Hovnanian Homes; the creation of a loan pool with funding partners to facilitate residential development in the city; the redevelopment of the Polizzi meat market site; and the redevelopment of the former Mill Hill Hotel. Finally, we expect that the Economic Development and Historic Tourism Summit will facilitate reinvestment in important landmarks in our downtown including the Bell, Aleda, Trenton Savings Bank, Tremont, and the Commonwealth Buildings.

One other exciting development I’d like to highlight is the planned expansion of the James Kerney Campus of Mercer County Community College in Trenton. In response to the growing need for academic and career opportunities for Trenton and other residents of Mercer County the college is launching a major expansion of its Trenton Campus. Future initiatives include a Center for Art and Design, Modeling and Simulation, and room for an expansion of the Health Science, Business and Entrepreneurial Studies curriculum.

All of these projects will help lead Trenton’s strong economic growth. However, you cannot have growth without efficiency. Anecdotal evidence suggests that developers add a surcharge of approximately 10% when analyzing whether to do a project in Trenton, to account for the inefficiency of the City’s Inspection and permitting process. That’s why I am proud to announce a new, dual-track inspections process. Based on Philadelphia’s program, developers will be able, for a fee, to receive guaranteed dates for such things as plan approvals and construction permits. Using this system we will be able to cut time and provide certainty to developers, while forcefully administering, and enforcing the City's code requirements. To add additional efficiency, we recently rolled out an online payment system to accept payments via the City’s website for land license renewals. Since January 1, 2011, $250,000 in landlord licensing fees has been collected through the City’s website. This simple change freed-up front office staff to process payments submitted over the counter and attend to other issues. The department also identified 67 unsafe and dangerous properties throughout the City that are in various stages of demolition.

 Right! And the coming layoffs will see the loss of one sub-code official and four housing inspectors. Very efficient.

On this point let me go one step further. I’ve already talked about how we are renovating and selling city-owned abandoned properties. But we must go beyond that to ensure economic growth. We must and we will tackle the city-wide problem of vacant and blighted properties. Arguably, the City owns 1200 unused properties. We are exploring market-based mechanisms designed to take these properties off the City’s hands and get them back on the tax rolls. The City should not be in the real-estate business, and so we are looking at ways to use the markets to get these properties in the hands of private owners. That way they can be developed, adding to the City’s economic growth. I am already looking forward to updating you on our progress on this crucial initiative.

Other crucial areas I am proud to highlight tonight are initiatives of our Trenton Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services who responded to a total of 9,745 and 5,233 calls respectively. The awarding of the $13.7 million federally funded SAFER grant with the aide of our congressional delegation, allowed us to save 61 jobs, and to keep all of our firehouses open, at NO additional cost to the City of Trenton. We also received a 2011 Kenworth Command Vehicle. This vehicle will allow the Fire Department, to have a mobile Incident Command Post with Satellite live feed and state of
the art interoperable communications.

The Trenton Fire Department, FMBA Local 206, FMBA Local 6, and the Family Network will launch: the Readers are Leaders program. The department will collect new and gently used books to create Neighborhood Book Stops. Children are invited to visit their local fire house to borrow a book, and when they bring it back, they may select another. Through the Readers are Leaders, firefighters will visit schools to read with students. Again, tonight you’ve heard how the pillar of shared partnership is the thread that binds the ideals of my vision.

The commitment to partnership is embedded in every City Department. For example, the Health & Human Services Department now shares an agreement with Princeton Borough to provide Spanish translation services to our growing and thriving Latino community. This agreement provides a unique approach for two government entities to work together to better serve our residents. We forged a new partnership with the Pennsylvania Veterinary School to enable students to obtain hands-on veterinary training at the Trenton Animal Shelter. The Trenton Animal Shelter’s website is upgraded to create a fast-paced online pet adoption process. We co-sponsored a Blood Drive with the American Red Cross at Trenton’s very own NJN studios. Tomorrow, we are partnering with the American Diabetes Association to host the Association’s 23rd Annual “Alert Day” a one-day, wake-up call encouraging Trentonians to find out if they are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Finally, the Environmental Services Division successfully obtained a $20,000 grant from the State of New Jersey; from which it purchased a state-of-the-art Lead Paint Analyzer to test homes for lead paint.

Tonight you heard the accomplishments of our City’s departments and my vision for transforming Trenton into a vibrant, greener city, with world-class safe parks and safe clean streets for our children. A growing City, with a strong economy that creates new private-sector jobs. The vision outlined is clear, with measurable tangible goals. Beloved, I will continue to put Trenton first. I know you will stand with me - as we revitalize Trenton together as partners. I am energized, optimistic, and enthusiastic. Trenton has undergone many transformative changes over the past 200 years.

Yet here we are, STILL STANDING. Here we are together. Let’s continue to work together. Believe in each other. And, most importantly, create a place where our children, can be proud - to one day - raise their children in a thriving revitalized Capital City.

Believe in Trenton! I assure you the State-of-OUR-City is well, and we are on our way.

God Bless you, and God Bless the GREAT Capital City of Trenton!


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Too dumb for words

Here's the envelope that contained the layoff notice for a city employee (name redacted).  Note the spelling of the location.

Envelope addressed to city employee at what is meant to read "Ellarslie Museum"

I guess this is a pretty good indication of the value the Mack administration puts on literacy, not to mention culture.

Friday, August 05, 2011

A new low for Trenton

The Mack administration with the apparent approval of Council President McBride has struck a blow against open and effective government.

In a directive dated August 4 and signed by BusinessAdministrator Eric Berry, department heads and their respective employees are advised that “any request to review a constituent issue, information on your individual department duties, projects or other city business, all employee are directed to politely ask that Council member or members to make the request through the procedure established by Council President McBride”

The memo continues with the statement “that in the event any Council member independently makes a request of any employee, all employees are instructed to politely remind the individual member of Council or members of Council that they are acting outside the established policy of the President Council {sic}.”

This, in effect, is saying that all requests for information, attention to a problem etc. are to go to the Council President first who then will transmit the request to the BA’s office.

While there is a state statute (below) that directs the municipal council to deal with employees through the mayor or his designee, it does not in any way give that power of communication solely to the Council President.

§ 40:69A-37.1. Mayoral control of administration
In any municipality adopting the mayor-council plan of government, the municipal council shall deal with employees of the department of administration and other administrative departments solely through the mayor or his designee. All contact with the employees, and all actions and communications concerning the administration of the government and the provision of municipal services shall be through the mayor or his designee, except as otherwise provided by law.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the council's inquiry into any act or problem of the administration of the municipality. Any council member may, at any time, require a report on any aspect of the government of the municipality by making a written request to the mayor. The council may, by a majority vote of the whole number of its members, require the mayor or his designee to appear before the council sitting as a committee of the whole, and to bring before the council those records and reports, and officials and employees of the municipality as the council may determine necessary to ensure clarification of the matter under study. The council may further, by a majority of the whole number of its members, designate any number of its members as an ad hoc committee to consult with the mayor or his designee to study any matter and to report to the council thereon. It is the intent of the mayor-council plan of government to confer on the council general legislative powers, and such investigative powers as are germane to the exercise of its legislative powers, but to retain for the mayor full control over the municipal administration and over the administration of municipal services.

We hope that the members of Trenton’s governing body will put their presiding officer on notice that they are not about to give up the powers and authorities of their office.  Further, we hope that the Mack administration will see this folly for what it is: an attempt to further remove itself from accountability to the residents of the city of Trenton.