Thursday, December 20, 2012

Meanwhile, in America's formerly favorite hometown...

{NOTE: we made a correction to the statement regarding the percentage of the Hamilton GOP committee treasury that was transferred to the ex-Mayor's campaign fund. We regret the typo that indicated a math error.}

In what could only be described as an attempt at karmic rehabilitation, Hamilton Township ex-Mayor John Bencivengo planned to run out his campaign treasury by sending checks totaling some $60,000 to various area charities.

Then came the reports that some of the chosen non-profits are politely turning down the contributions.

But that isn't the interesting part.

On the night of April 19, the Times of Trenton posted a story about Bencivengo being the target of a federal investigation into political corruption.

On that same day, according to his own campaign report (see page 2), Bencivengo received a transfer of $11,000 from the Hamilton Township Republican Committee. That $11,000 represented about 40% of the club's treasury.

On the corresponding report from the Hamilton party (page 8), the transfer was dated as occurring April 20...the day after.

Did Bencivengo incorrectly think he could use campaign funds for his legal defense? Remember, his defense attorney was Jerome Balloratto, who reportedly charges $500 per hour.

The NJ Supreme court decided that issue in the case of former state senator Wayne Bryant. Campaign funds cannot be used for the purpose of providing a defense in a criminal case.

"Contributors do not expect that their candidate’s election will be a stepping stone to a criminal indictment", wrote Justice Barry Albin in the March 2010 decision.

Why would Bencivengo practically plunder the township club's coffers just as he was heading into a federal corruption case?

Once he moved the money in, it would be "awkward" to move the money back.

Dispersing it to local charities was a nice gesture.

But it does smell a bit.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Then again...

Further research reveals Tony Mack is NOT the first!

Yesterday, we stated that Trenton's current mayor was the first in the city's history to be indicted while in office.

We were wrong.

In 1947, then mayor Donal Connolly was indicted by a Mercer County grand jury. Mayor Connolly was charged with a misdemeanor conspiracy for absconding (a few years earlier) with $1,600 in licensing fees while he was secretary to the State Beauty Culture Control Board. He was ultimately acquitted.

So we will correct yesterday's statement to read this way:
Tony Mack became the first sitting mayor in the 333 year history of New Jersey’s capital city to be indicted on charges based on his actions while in office.
The rest of what we posted yesterday, we stand by.

Mayor Mack should, for the good of the city, step down.

Friday, December 07, 2012

He got what he wanted

Tony F. Mack has dreamed of leaving his mark on Trenton.

He succeeded yesterday, but not in the way he probably had expected.

Tony Mack became the first sitting mayor in the 333 year history of New Jersey’s capital city to be indicted.

Tony, the affable three-sport standout from Trenton High was able to rise above the bleak prospects of life in the city’s Wilbur section. He attended Howard University and came home to become a bright light in the city and county Democratic Party. A former protégé of then Mayor Doug Palmer, Mack eventually became member of the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Somewhere, somehow, something went awry.

Some say Mack was mistreated by his former mentor and/or the county political machine.

Others think he may have squandered his natural political skills.

We think his reach exceeded his grasp.

Tony Mack ventured way beyond the limits of his abilities and skated out onto thin ice.

The simple fact is Tony Mack was in over his head in a variety of ways.

His personal finances were a mess. His political career was on the skids. His prospects for gainful employment were apparently non-existent.

The tenacity he showed as a star wrestler, the no-quit attitude kept him plugging away. His warm smile and “look at me, I’m not supposed to be here” story were engaging enough to squeeze him into the mayor’s office in July 2010.

What happened since then has been a well documenteddisaster.

It is very true that an indictment is not a conviction and we all believe strongly in the “innocent until proven guilty” ethos.

Yet Tony Mack is guilty. He is guilty of gross incompetence; guilty of blind prejudice and a mad desire to gain vengeance over those he believes have wronged him. He is guilty of mistaking love of self for love of our city.

Tony Mack should resign, immediately from his position of Mayor of the City of Trenton. His vanity; his ego is holding our city hostage.

Nothing. NOTHING! Not one damn thing will be done that can move Trenton forward unless and until Mr. Mack is mayor no more.

Of course, if he were to resign, his troubles will worsen exponentially.

It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that, with the amount of debt we know he carries, a sudden lack of regular income will send a herd of creditors to his doorstep, hands out, wanting their due. His attorney may be among those looking for that first position to be paid.

So it is that Tony Mack will stick it out until the last possible minute. He will forsake his professed love for Trenton; he will forsake his devotion to his family’s well being simply to avoid having to say, “Enough! I can’t do this anymore. I quit!”

Tony Mack should do some real soul searching but he can’t. When he stands before a mirror, he doesn’t see the wretched mess he has made of his brief tenure as mayor of Trenton. He only sees the nice suit, the warm, affirming smile.

Tony Mack cannot see the reality. He only sees his “projection” of what he wants that reality to be. And that image is getting dim.

Tony Mack has made his mark on Trenton all right. He won’t soon be forgotten, but he will not be remembered fondly.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

TWW redux

The Times this morning ran an article about the many vacancies at the Trenton Water Works. The jobs run the gamut from laborer to licensed technicians.

Part of the article discusses the difficulty in filling the technical positions with qualified city residents.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t mention that some of the vacancies were created by the demotion and then subsequent dismissal of qualified technicians in apparent retribution for their testimony against Stanley “Muscles” Davis, the half-brother of Tony Mack.

Davis, you will recall, is now serving time for his role in a scam where he did “side jobs” for TWW customers using TWW materials and equipment on TWW time while pocketing the cash payments for the work.

TWW, a money making city asset that many of us fought hard to keep intact, has been abused and ignored under the current and past administrations. It has been used as a source of patronage jobs.  One just has to look at the hires made after July 1, 2010 to see that.

Names like Terrance Bailey, Dave Briegle, Charles Hall, Henry Page (now out on disability we understand), Rodney Washington and, later, Paul Harris and Linda Gundy were all added to the payroll under the current CO. Briegle and Hall were recently laid off in a corrective action because they should have gone in the September 2011 layoffs but were passed over so the administration could target the technicians mentioned above. Hall, as we now know, did precious little work for TWW. Instead he was “loaned” to the city to oversee multi-million dollar projects in the parks and is alleged to have been involved in the federal case against Mack et al.

Paul Harris, at first an “intern” with the city was moved to TWW earlier this year although he still seems to spend most of his time in and around city hall and not the utility supply shed where he is supposedly assigned.

This is the kind of inept and inappropriate management that needs to stop. While we understand that patronage is a time honored political tradition, it is costly and it serves no one well…except those getting the jobs.

As quoted in the article, Councilman Muschal certainly supports an increased effort to fill the jobs with residents.
“There’s a lot of job opportunities we can put out there. I would certainly like to see priority put toward the vacancies in the water utility.”

There are some simple, straightforward steps that can be taken to attract, develop and retain and qualified workforce for TWW.

  1. Promote and execute a job fair specifically for the utility. Tap into the local trade associations, chambers of commerce, tech schools and such to seek out candidates for the vacancies.
  2. Institute a training and development program for TWW employees to help them become more proficient at their jobs.
  3. Encourage those with interest and aptitude to get appropriate certifications so they can advance. Consider holding training and coaching sessions to help them prepare for the required tests. Reimburse those who successfully obtain certification for the fees involved in return for a commitment to remain with the utility for a set number of years.
  4. Consider settling the pending lawsuit by rehiring the employees who claim they were wrongfully dismissed because of their testimony in the Davis case.

And we cannot ignore the fact that we need to reorganize the city departments to put water and sewer in their own department. Councilman Chester reportedly brought this up again at the recent budget meeting.

We wrote about this previously and how easy it would be to achieve.

It only takes five votes, council. Five votes.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fact check

Towards the end of yesterday’s public session, the CO of the office of mayor stated that the city has decreased the amount of money given to the Trenton Downtown Association to carry out its mission.

The CO, yet again, does not know what he is talking about. The principle funding source for the TDA is the special tax assessment levied upon all properties within the district. The money is collected by the city and turned over to the TDA.

The CO’s statement can be heard in Part Four of the video posted on the Times website, starting at about 5:11 and running to about 5:38. The key statement comes right about the time Anthony Roberts' phone rings.

Here’s a transcription of what he says during that segment, with emphasis on the part about reducing the amount TDA receives.
“We’re trying to work with TDA now to do some of our tree lightings and Christmas enhancements and ornaments and things of that nature. Um. So. Yeah. We need to do that. They’ve been. Um. Working with less. We’ve decreased the amount that we generally give to them. And we, we know they are doing the best they can with limited resources.”

The city simply cannot reduce the amount of money given to TDA out of the special assessment collected specifically for that purpose.

We verified with Christian Martin, the executive director of the TDA, that the city hasn’t reduced the funding.

Mr. Martin did add that TDA has stepped up and is “doing more in the sense that we are cutting grass and weeds, maintaining public spaces, managing waste inside and outside our district. We had to do this because the city completely stopped working on that front.”

So there you have it. The city has not reduced the funding given to TDA.

The city has reduced services that it previously provided.

What say you to those facts, Mr. Mack?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A lesson to be learned

The recent bribery trial of Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo continues to send ripples through the normally placid pond of township politics.  Bencivengo rightfully resigned one day after a federal jury convicted him on all counts of accepting money in exchange for offering his political influence. 

Filling the vacancy created by the resignation has caused lawyers to examine and re-examine state law to ensure proper process is followed. At the same time, it has generated its own set of controversy and questions.

Under the Mayor/Council form of government the presiding officer of the municipal governing body (council president) assumes the duties of mayor immediately upon the vacancy of the office.

The governing body then has 30 days to appoint an acting mayor to hold the office until a special election can be held to choose a replacement to complete the term. If the vacancy comes after a certain point in the final year of the term, the acting mayor chosen by the governing body completes the remainder of the term (no special election held).

In the case of municipalities with partisan elections, such as Hamilton, the party whose nominee held the vacated seat (the GOP in the current example) has 15 days from the creation of the vacancy to submit three names to the governing body to consider for the appointment as acting mayor. In municipalities with non-partisan elections, the governing body selects the individuals for consideration.

Watching the second act of this political soap opera is not just about the entertainment value. Sure, it offers us lots of opportunity for sarcasm and snarky comments. It also provides a valuable lesson in why we must all get involved in carefully vetting and choosing our elected leaders.

For Trentonians who have already learned the hardships of making poor choices in leadership it provides a very real case study of what we may ourselves be going through in a few months time.  Should Mayor Mack be indicted, go to trial and be convicted, our city will be faced with the very same scenario, but with some complicating twists of our own making.

The elevation of the council president to acting mayor upon the vacancy of the office will most likely set off a pyrotechnic display not witnessed in Trenton since Dec. 26, 1776. Any decision made by the person assuming the mayor’s chair is likely to be questioned/challenged by the governing body, the members of which can rarely agree on what day of the week it is let alone actions to be taken. (Example from Hamilton: the dismissal of Business Administrator John Ricci by acting Mayor Kevin Mears is generating comments and criticisms according to press reports).

Complicating matters will be the oversight on hiring and firing granted the DCA via the state aid MOU. No mayor of Trenton, acting or elected, currently enjoys a free hand in making key personnel decisions such as department directors and the business administrator. There are, however, other appointed (non-contractual) employees who could be, and probably should be, immediately dismissed by any acting mayor.

The selection of a replacement mayor, whether temporarily until a special election is held or to complete the remainder of the current term, will be the real battle.

Who will guide the process?

Our governing body is short on experience and, in some individual cases, completely void of comprehension of their rights and responsibilities.

The legal department, also short on knowledge and experience with municipal law, has to date not been particular assertive in matters of technicalities.

The deliberation over who should be appointed acting mayor will likely be a comedy of errors and omissions. With no local party committee to winnow down the choices to three, any and all interested and legally qualified parties will have to be given their due before a group of finalists are put up to a vote.

There are already two individuals who have filed with NJ ELEC to run for the office of mayor in 2014, a third has announced an exploratory committee and at least a fourth who has previously expressed an interest in running. That list does not include any sitting council members who may be eyeing “the big chair.”  

How many more names might be tossed into the hat? How will individual loyalties and personal plans of members of council figure in the decision making?

Can we expect a smooth, orderly and proper decision to be made by at least five members of a governing body that has been largely stalemated on any major initiative over the past 27 months?

What will happen to the “business” of the city while the above battle is fought? For over two years the city has been adrift due to the incompetency of the Mack administration, the inexperience of the governing body and the inability of the two branches of government to get the simplest things done (remember the toilet paper crisis of last spring?)

The events of the past couple of years in Trenton and Hamilton show just why it is so important for all voters to actively participate in the election process. Researching the background, experience and qualifications of all candidates before heading into the voting booth is the beginning. Keeping elected officials accountable and our government transparent is equally important.

If we want better government, we all need to be better citizens. Otherwise, we are likely to see repeats of the disasters we are living through right now.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Stop playing games

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack is insistent upon staffing up the department of Recreation, Natural Resources, and Culture that has been a quagmire for the past two years. Soon after taking office in July 2010, Mayor Mack cut staff and demoted some of the remaining employees, ultimately gutting the department in the 2011 layoffs.

In the meantime, the “department” has run through its budget and then some with little to no accountability. There have been inquiries and investigations into use of facilities, splintered contracts that avoid the bidding process, time sheets and more. Festivals and parades have been produced with no real oversight as to what was being spent, who was getting paid and what the real benefit was.  Favoritism has been shown in funding certain sports leagues over others.

Now, the mayor and business administrator Sam Hutchinson have proposed to city council that the city hire a department director and staff to run the various programs and events that the mayor wants.

Here’s a simple counter proposal, and it is not a new idea.

The department of Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture should be done away with. The maintenance functions should be moved into the division of public property (part of the department of public works) and the rest of the functions rolled into the department of health and human services.  
It is not unheard of for municipalities to have a department of health, recreation and human (or senior) services. Indeed, Trenton used to have the department of health, recreation and welfare.  The last term probably fell out of favor because the county took over the administration of the assistance programs and because the word “welfare” started to have negative connotations.

The point is we have a competent director and staff in the health and human services department. It would be simple to add a couple of staff people to that department who would interface with the outside organizations to provide programming and services at the various city owned facilities.  From Artworks and Passage Theatre to the Trenton Museum Society at Ellarslie and the Trent House Association; from the Boys and Girls Clubs, CYO, PAL, YM and YWCA’s; from Babe Ruth League, the various Little Leagues, the NJTL, soccer leagues the health and human services staff would coordinate the use of facilities and help find money (but not totally fund) the programs. The city would lease or enter into MOU’s with these various organizations to do what they by design do. This takes the cost off of the cash strapped city for providing “recreation” programs.

An added bonus is that elimination of the department of RNRC frees up space for the splitting off of the water and sewer utilities from public works, an idea that has also been brought up before.

The creation of a separate department housing only the utilities makes sense. They have their own separate budget anyway. It will be easier to focus on improving the infrastructure and service provided. One would think it will make our suburban neighbors/customers happier to see the water utility operate more transparently and effectively. And it could isolate the utility staff from layoff or furlough actions affecting other departments.

This can all be accomplished with or without the mayor’s approval. Restructuring the city’s administration is done by ordinance.  As we have all learned recently, it only takes a solid five votes on council to make this common sense move be veto proof.

There is no reason this shouldn’t be taken on immediately. It would be an effective way to streamline the city administration while refocusing on the core functions of municipal government.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Here's your timeline.

This morning, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack had a press release posted on the city website villifying those "rogue coalition" of members of city council who voted "No Confidence" in his leadership and want to cut his salary by 52%.

Over the course of three pages, the paranoid, delusional and obviously stressed out man that Kevin Moriarty has dubbed the "Current Occupant" (CO for short) of the mayor's office lays out a timeline of  quotes and actions of members of council that he is upset with.

"Their efforts to denigrate the Office of Mayor will not succeed. Our roots of commitment remain firmly planted and we are more than prepared to deal with the winds of political theater," stated Mayor Tony F. Mack.

Obviously, the CO (and/or his writer) have no more talent for written communication than he does for leading a city.
While he fumes and mumbles and mutters to himself about those plotting against him, let us take a look (yet again) at a timeline of the CO's focus "on moving the City of Trenton forward".
  • July, 2010 -- The CO dismisses all of the department directors of the previous administration, thus losing the institutional knowledge and experience required to keep the city moving along. He also nominates a convicted felon to his director of Housing and Economic Development. He also hires a man with a criminal past to be the director of the municipal courts and appoints as head municipal judge a woman with financial problems, a history of writing bad checks, and who refused to submit to the required background check. A an experienced and knowledgable volunteer Business Administrator quits before the month is out because the CO "doesn't believe in good government."
  • July-August 2010 -- Even though it is a known fact that the city is facing a huge budget deficit, the CO hires a full compliment of mayoral aides and puts other friends and allies on the payroll at places like the Trenton Water Works. Speaking of the TWW, the CO also saw to it that his half-brother was put in charge of the on call scheduling at the utility.
  • September 2010 -- The CO cuts the appropriation to the the Trenton Free Public Library but demands they maintain full hours at the main building and four branches. He later blames the decision to close the branches on the TFPL board and not his lack of funding.
  • October 2010 -- Heavy rains raise the turbidty and level of the Delaware river forcing the TWW filtration plant to go offline. Because of inadequate supervision by experienced personnel the switching from pump to reservoire and back results in several days of boil water advisories for the utility's customers. For the first two days, the communication from the city regarding the situation is infrequent and no clearer than the brown water coming from the taps.
  • November 2010--At a press conference, the CO announces that he "saved public safety" by NOT laying off any police personnel. The fact that he didn't reduce the force at that time most likely figured into the city losing a federal COPS grant early the following year, putting those "saved" jobs at risk.  The chief municipal judge the CO appointed was told to resign by the presiding judge of the Mercer vicinage because of the ethical questions surrounding the appointment.
  • December 2010 -- The CO's half-brother and accomplices were arrested for doing side jobs on TWW time using TWW materials and pocketing the payments for the work done.
  • January-February 2011 --- A controversy arose over a contract given to the Cooper Levenson law firm to do work for the city because of a sizable campaign contribution made to the mayor. The contributions were passed through a political action committee to the CO's campaign in violation of the city's pay-to-play ordinance. At about the same time it was discovered that a Pennsylvania developer had made an excessive contribution to the CO's campaign and was in-line to receive some three dozne city properties for $1 each. Unfortunatley, most of those properties were NOT located in redevelopment areas and could only be sold via public auction.
  • March 2011 --- A superior court judge strikes down a controversial contract issued to an IT consulting company citing the mayoral aide who made the decision on the vendor as "unqualified" to do so.
  • April 2011 --- Paul Sigmund, hired in March as the city's Chief of Staff (Deputy Mayor), is caught speeding in a city vehicle. Sigmund's driving privilege had been suspended in California where he lived prior to taking the Trenton job and had not been reinstated at the time of the traffic stop. The Mack administration was made aware of the suspended driving privileges but issued a city vehicle to Sigmund none the less.
  • May 2011 --- Chief of Staff Paul Sigmund was arrested after making a heroin purchase just blocks from city hall. The CO refused to dismiss Sigmund immediately, waiting instead for the Chief of Staff to resign. It was also revealed that there were payroll irregularities with some of the park rangers hired by the CO, including payment for time not worked, payment before the state approved the hires, handwritten time cards, etc.  In addition, it came to light that director of Public Property Harold Hall, a salaried, appointed position, was receiving overtime and paid comp time that he wasn't legally entitled to.
  • June 2011 --- Against long odds and a very high standard for participation, a recall effort against the CO was launched by five citizens who had already had enough of the CO's foibles. Law Director Marc McKithen resigns rather than cooperate with the CO's administration in its attempts to avoid responding to Open Public Records requests.
  • August 2011 --- A superior court judge finds that the Mack administration did not comply with the law regarding OPRA requests filed by two civic activists.
  • September 2011 --- The CO proceeds with massive layoffs of city employees, including over 100 police officers. His friends and supporters who were hired last and should have gone first were left on the payroll (with the exception of one of his aides).  By the end of the month, the Mack administration is on its fourth Police Director in 14 months, its seventh (or was it eighth?) Business Administrator, its fourth Housing and Economic Development director. Two of his allies, Harold Hall and Carmen Melendez were elevated to acting director status over the objections of the NJ Department of Community Affairs. Reports surfaced of Ms. Melendez having been paid for unearned sick and holiday time and a very troubled business history that included having lost her realtor's license at one point, defaulted loans and unpaid taxes on her properties.
  • October 2011 --- Former Recreation division employee Maria Richardson files a complaint alleging she was wrongfully dismissed because she wouldn't go along with the CO's improper procedures for purchasing, etc. Information surfaces about the "splintering" of contracts in order to circumvent the state public bidding laws. The CO jeopardizes a part of the state financial aid to the city by at first not agreeing to some of the terms of the MOU. He later agrees to modified terms but gives up recruitment and hiring authority to the state.
  • November 2011 --- The recall committee gathers some 8,500 signatures on petitions to recall the CO. While that was short of the 9,000 or so that was needed, it was more than voted for Tony Mack in the runoff election of June 2010.
  • December 2011 --- It is revealed that the CO refuses to entertain an offer to from a non-profit to lease, renovate and reopen one of the closed and vacant library branches as a community center with a small learning resource component.
  • January 2012 --- The Mack administration attempts to get the city council to pass a salary increase for the Mayor and Department Director positions. The CO announces grand plans for a "Commission" on international business affairs that is immediately downgraded to "committee" status and does nothing except hold a reception. He also announces a "Comprehensive Crime Initiative" that is neither comprehensive or much of an initiative. It is a document listing some vague ideas of ways to increase the city's crime fighting tactics, none of which were ever implemented.
  • February 2012 --- The city council takes a scalpel to the CO's proposed budget, including reducing the salary line for all of the remaining mayoral aides. The CO's request for increased state aide is denied because of a lack of fiscally sound management. An impasse between the administration and council over the approval of a "stale" contract for paper supplies leaves city buildings without paper towels and toilet paper. The story makes international news. A second complaint alleging violation of the state Open Public Records Act is filed against the Mack administration. A group of citizens drafts an ordinance that would reduce the salary for the office of mayor and asks the city council to introduce it. It stalls after the first reading.
  • March 2012 --- The CO incorrectly accuses the council of overstepping their legal bounds by cutting the salary budget for his staff. He alleges this will jeopardize the safety and security of the citizens. He was wrong on both counts. In his state of the city address, he announces plans to start reopening the closed library branches as "Learning Centers".
  • April 2012 --- The first of the four Learning Centers is opened. The CO gives varying cost estimates for what it will take to operate these centers.  He also inappropriately spent general maintenance funds to repair and equip these buildings.  A boxing/martial arts program running out of a city owned building and funded by a county grant of state money is shut down based on allegations of "drug use." This results in the discovery that the entire TMAC grant was not being properly administered per the terms of the contract with Mercer County. The County takes back some of the control of the grant funds.
  • May 2012 --- The CO continues to open his "Learning Centers." Two state legislators introduce a bill that would make recalling an elected official somewhat less difficult. (They must be part of a "rogue coalition" as well.)
  • June 2012 --- The CO insists on spending approximately $75,000 on the poorly promoted and sparsely attended Heritage Days Festival. Some of the fees included paying people to "organize" the event, paying a city employee to perform at the event (against state law), and paying a sound and light company in full in advance for this festival and a later music festival that was ultimately cancelled and (at last check no refund had been received.)
  • July 2012 --- The CO runs through a toll booth in Delaware while driving his city issued vehicle on a weekend. It is presumed he is using it for personal business since his son was playing in a baseball tournament in Delaware that weekend yet the city paid the delinquent toll and service charge. The FBI stages early morning raids of the CO's home and the residence of his brother Ralphiel, and campaign contributor/supporter JoJo Giorgianni. The next day, the FBI swarms city hall and removes files, computers, etc.
  • August 2012 --- More information starts to surface about the investigation into the Tony Mack administration. All of the rumors of questionable business dealings and improper procedures start to make sense.
  • September 2012 --- The CO is arrested, along with his brother and Mr. Giorgianni are arrested by the FBI on a criminal complaint alleging a conspiracy to use the CO's public office for personal gain. Mr. Giorgianni is also arrested on a complaint of running a drug distribution ring that has no relation to the activities of the CO.
  • October 2012 --- a newly organized group called "Majority for a Better Trenton" drafted a resolution of "No Confidence" and asking the CO to resign and asked the city council to place it on the docket. Council approved the citizen initiated measure 4 - 3.  At the same time, the council introduced its own ordinance reducing the salary for the office of Mayor. It passed the first reading, 5 -2.  The CO told the council and the people gathered in chambers that reducing his salary was illegal and violated the MOU with the state of NJ. Neither was true. At the very end of the month, the city was hit by hurricane Sandy leaving many residents without power and such for two or three days. The CO stayed home, never venturing out to meet with the emergency management team, tour the city, etc.
  • November 2012 --- The CO was absent from city hall while the BA and other directors gave reports to council about the implementation of the city's emergency plan. The CO knew the salary ordinance was up for second reading and was not present to defend against it. Four of the six individuals who spoke publicly about the ordinance before the vote were in favor reducing the salary. The ordinance passed on the second reading, 4 - 3. It is not veto proof, so the CO vetoed it and then posted the screed referenced above.

So, Mayor Mack, after reading through the timeline above, just who is engaging in "political theater?"

Friday, November 02, 2012

Trenton's East's your councilwoman

The following was posted on the "Fans of Trenton's Irresponsible Blogger" page on Facebook. (reprinted with permission of the author)

I doth think she protests too much

It comes as no surprise that tonight's city council vote on the ordinance reducing the salary for the office of mayor passed 4 -3.

It is also no surprise that Alex Bethea, Kathy McBride (who both voted against the ordinance's introduction two weeks ago) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson voted against the measure.
 What? Didn't Verlina vote FOR the intro...
duction of the ordinance last month?


The pundits and wags and odds makers said it wouldn't last. They were correct.

The East Ward councilwoman was all full of piss and vinegar tonight as she tried to explain away her change of vote. She wanted the measure pulled and made a motion to that effect.

The motion to table the salary cut was voted down along the same line as the ordinance itself later received.

Reynolds-Jackson pulled everything out of her bag of tricks to try and stop this measure from proceeding. While stating that she thought the mayor was not performing well in the job and declaring she wanted him gone as soon as possible, she invoked "due process" and worried that the salary reduction prior to the resolution of the federal case against Tony Mack might contaminate the proceedings. (Completely unrelated and no impact on the case)

She fretted over the "broad language" in the ordinance and how it might lead to future litigation. Reynolds-Jackson suggested the council would be hamstrung in adjusting the salary back up for someone "they really wanted" as mayor. (Little can prevent a lawsuit from being brought, but the odds are slim. Council would have to approve the contracts for attorney's on both sides of the case. The mayor certainly doesn't have the resources to press that case while fighting the federal case against him. And council has the statutory authority to adjust the salary either way.)

When pressed as to why she waited until just tonight to study the ordinance further, the councilwoman offered that she voted for the measure on first reading so that it could come up a second time and we could hear public comment on it.

Interesting. But there are some holes in that excuse.
  1. She could have voted against the ordinance at first reading and it would still have passed and come up for public hearing.
  2. Of the six individuals who spoke during the public hearing portion of the proceedings, only two spoke against cutting the mayor's salary. Four spoke in favor of it. And at least one additional person (Mike Walker) spoke in favor of the salary cut during the public comment portion of the meeting prior to the public hearing before the vote. More than twice as many people present tonight spoke in favor of reducing the salary for mayor as spoke in favor of it.
  3. Most interestingly, Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson asked to have the ordinance tabled for further study prior to the opening of the public hearing portion of the meeting. So she really couldn't have been all that interested in hearing what the public had to say, on the record, regarding the ordinance.
That is just the kind of misbegoten mental process that passes for "intelligent" thought for some members of this council.

Let us not overlook that tonight Ms. Reynolds-Jackson stated adamantly and repeatedly that she felt that Tony Mack has been an abject failure as mayor and she wants him gone a soon as possible. Yet, just two weeks ago, this same self-described "intelligent" elected representative who does her "due diligence" did not vote for the resolution expressing no confidence in the mayor and asking him to resign.

She had problems with the language of that piece of legislation that had no actual impact beyond being a statement of position.

It is pretty clear that Ms. Reynolds-Jackson is sitting on the fence. That is the least desirable trait anyone could want in an elected official.

My hope is that the people of the East Ward absolutely bludgeon her with the blunt instrument of her own words. She could not be more senseless.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just what we don't need

According to an article in this morning's Trentonian, the city of Trenton will soon host another "march against gun violence."

Organized by 22 year old Josilyn Steward, the march is tentatively scheduled for November 4 at 2:00 p.m.

While it is always a good thing when people are motivated to "do something" in the wake of a tragedy, that desire to get involved needs to be tempered with common sense.  When deciding a course of action, one must ask and answer specific questions.

What is the goal of this activity? What will be the end result? How will this help further "the cause?" Indeed, what, exactly, is the purpose of the action to be taken?

So, what is the purpose of this march? To call attention to the wave of violence that is flooding our streets right now? 

There is no need. We are all aware of it.

What will this march do to reduce the violent crime?

Honestly, nothing.

The article goes on to state that the support that Ms.Steward is receiving for her plans to hold a march is spawning something else. Those that are coalescing around this idea to hold a march and rally are considering using this as a springboard to launch a non-profit. The purpose of this as yet unnamed, new entity would be to raise money to help fund activities for the city's youth.

"Ah,' you say, "that's good. That's productive."

We say, "Is it?"

Let us throw the wet blanket of reality on this scenario.

Starting a non-profit requires, the filing of some paperwork (and paying of certain fees), and establishing a board of directors with by laws to operate by, etc.

None of that is an impossible task. Indeed, look at the roster of registered non-profits in this area and you will realize that we have an abundance of them. The IRS website lists 448 non-profits with a Trenton, NJ address.

That's over 400 entities striving for a piece of the community's charitable contributions. How is this new non-profit going to compete? What service will it provide that isn't already being covered by one of the existing groups?

There has been recent press coverage about how difficult it has become for established charities to maintain the necessary funding to meet their objectives. The fiscal pie is shrinking in size and more entities are vying for their fair share.

Rather than promote another march and rally that will just be a one-time expenditure of social capital, why not direct that energy into support for existing entities and programs that need volunteers? Why not help raise awareness of the need for funding that already exists and help direct resources...human and capital...there?

Our baseball leagues need coaches and other help; our library (the real library, not the bogus learning centers) and its "friends" organization can use volunteers and fundraising assistance; the Boys and Girls Club, the CYO and the YMCA can all use volunteers and help with raising money. Those are just a few notable examples of entities doing good work that need more help. Work with them or some of the other organizations that provide mentoring and/or recreational opportunities to our city's youth.

In the Trentonian article, Ms. Steward is quoted as saying,  “I want to put the unity back into the community.”

Fantastic idea!  Help unite the community with the institutions that are already here and helping them extend their reach and increase their capacity.

That is the way to make a difference.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Read this!

Last night during the ongoing soap opera that Trenton’s city government has become, we were treated to yet another attempt to elect a council vice president.

Councilman at large Alex Bethea wanted to introduce a motion to nominate and vote on someone to hold the gavel should the president not be present at a council meeting.

Council president Phyllis Holly-Ward was having no part of it.

And for good reason.

The existing rules of procedure do not call for the election of a vice president of council.

Mr. Bethea is obviously ignorant of the rules. He complained, loudly and forcefully that he had never belonged to any organization that did not have rules providing for some one to preside over a meeting in the absence of the designated chair.

I would refer Mr. Bethea to the following section of the Rulesof Procedure as found in the Trenton city code:


Call to Order; President Pro Tem
The President shall take the Chair at the hour appointed for the meeting, and shall immediately call the Council to order. In the absence of the President, the Clerk or his/her designee shall call the Council to order. The Clerk shall then determine whether a quorum is present and in that event shall call for the election of a temporary President. Upon the arrival of the President, the temporary President shall forthwith relinquish the Chair upon the conclusion of the business immediately before the Council.


Not a single mention of the existence of an elected vice president.

It should also be pointed out that the current rules of order do not call for the election of a new president each year of the for year terms. This is something that was started by this council without consulting or conforming to the current rules of order.
The Presiding Officer
Election and duties. The presiding officer of the Council shall be the President, who shall be elected at the organization meeting. The presiding officer shall preserve strict order and decorum at all regular and special meetings of the Council. He/She shall state every question coming before the Council and announce the decision of the Council on all matters coming before it. He/She shall appoint special committees of the Council. The President may vote on all questions, his/her name being called last. The President shall sign all ordinances and resolutions adopted by the Council during his/her presence. In the event of the absence of the President, such ordinances and resolutions shall be signed by the presiding officer.

Council president Holly-Ward is aware of this and has said that she wants to have a document drawn up and submitted for passage that would amend the rules to make sure the body is in compliance and vice/versa. We hope that this is accomplished sooner rather than later.

Mr. Bethea needs to read and familiarize himself with these rules and stop wasting the council’s time

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A public service announcement

Dear citizens,
If you are planning to attend Trenton's city council meeting tonight and intend to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, let us offer you some basic do's and don'ts.
  1. State your name and address for the record.
  2. You have three minutes. Make it count.Keep your comments focused, preferably relevant to one of the topics at hand, items on the docket.
  3. If you don't have anything prepared to say, don't feel obligated to take your three minutes just because you are present and signed the piece of paper.
  4. Do not repeat yourself over and over. It doesn't help make your case.
  5. If others who speak before you have addressed the issue you were planning to speak on and you agree with them, just say so. There is no need to repeat the points already made. Just say you agree with those individuals who have already stated they are in favor of or against whatever.
  6. If you are coming to speak about the Mayor's Learning Centers, please know that we all understand what services such facilities are meant to provide. We recognize they are the same services provided by professional staff on a regular, dependable, basis at the Trenton Free Public Library. Consider supporting the notion of taking the money proposed being spent on the Learning Centers and adding it to the appropriation for the real thing, the Trenton Free Public Library. We also realize that the Mayor, or more likely his brother, has probably asked you to come and plead your case before council.
  7. Proposing solutions and suggesting courses of action are good. Doing so without knowing what you are talking about is not. Please don't waste the council's time, our time or your time suggesting things that cannot be done. If you are not sure, ask if it can be done, don't demand it.
  8. Be courteous and respect everyone's time (and patience). When your three minutes are up, you are done. Finish your sentence (not your paragraph, not your point, not your resume), say thank you. Sit down.
The purpose of a city council meeting is for the council to take care of the matters before it. State law mandates that there has to be public comment. It does not have to come at the top of the agenda. It could come at the end.
Taking too much time at the podium delays council from doing their work. They have enough distractions without you standing there spilling your life story simply because you like the sound of your voice coming back through the public address system.
Thank you. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Just the facts

We here at the editorial department of the Front Stoop wanted to take a few (three) minutes (180 seconds) to set the facts straight on a couple of points from last night’s Trenton city council meeting.

Mayor Mack does not have “binders full of people” wanting to meet with him. Well, not if you exclude his attorney, his creditors and the FBI.

It is true that Mayor Mack was “saved” from the mean streets of Wilbur by recreation programs; recreation programs that were largely run by the Trenton PAL, not the city.  Was there some city money involved? Probably. Were they city run and staffed programs? No.

There is no “Master Plan” for the city as the Mayor stated last night. At least not that we have seen. If he was indeed referring to his annual “report” and/or state of the city speeches, it has been pointed out repeatedly that they are not plans. Plans have defined goals and measurable outcomes.

The city council does have the authority to reduce the salary for the Mayor. Under the Faulkner Act N.J.S.A. 40:69A-43a., 40:69A-180 and general municipal law, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-165, the power to fix the compensation for the offices of Mayor, City Clerk, Business Administrator, Department Directors, and City Council Members is exercised by the adoption of an ordinance.  Nothing we have seen in the MOU with the state supersedes the statutes. (Btw, Rahway City Council cut their Mayor’s salary last year, no problem).

And, if you remember, Mayor Mack made similarly erroneous statements last spring when the council amended his budget and he didn’t like it.

He was wrong then, he is wrong now.

Finally, if the city council is going to have a time limit on public comment, then it should be enforced on all speakers and all speakers must adhere to it. Period.

Our city government is stuck in neutral and the non-stop ramblings of people, no matter how pithy, inspirational, or amusing does not move us forward.

Ok. Times up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yes, we can.

Yesterday, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack issued a press release calling for the City Council to approve and support his budget request for various recreation funding in FY2013.

In response, we enumerated various examples of waste and mismanagement that has plagued that department during Mayor Mack's rein.

We at the Front Stoop are sometimes criticized for being negative, for only being against something and never offering "solutions."

Here, then, we offer our suggestions on how we might approach the budget issues for the Department of Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture.

First and foremost, you must understand that although this department exists in the city organization chart, it has essentially been operating out of the Department of Public Works, Division of Public Property and the Mayor's Office. 

This is not completely bad. In fact, one very real and valid approach to this situation would be to review all of the functions of the DRNRC and divvy them up amongst other divisions/departments thus doing away with the department and redundant layers of management.

For example, grounds keeping duties as well as maintenance of the buildings would naturally fit under the Division of Public Property. If the city coffers are ever flush enough again to afford a staff landscape architect, he or she could easily work out of that division.

Programming like the pools and the summer feeding program could be handled out of Health and Human Services.

This kind of restructuring should really be considered. For one thing, eliminating the DRNRC would then free up room to move the Water and Sewer Utilities into their own unit. Such a move would have its own benefits that we might take up at a later time.

Our first recommendation would be this type of reorganization at the cabinet level. It has to be done by ordinance which means there needs to be five solid votes on council to override any possible veto by the mayor.

Assuming that a reorganization of the DRNRC is out of the question for the immediate future, here are our thoughts on the budget.

First and foremost, the council must exercise its power of approval over ALL outside contracts, regardless of whether or not they exceed the bid threshold. In this way, they can control just what money is being spent while going through the lengthy budget process. We believe the governing body can, and should, pass a resolution making it very clear that NO contracts for outside goods or services are to be awarded without its prior approval.

To be fair, this also means that council must deal fairly and promptly with proper, timely requests for approval from the administration.

As the budget process trudges forward, the above will ensure that spending is done within the parameters and without jeopardizing the ongoing maintenance of facilities, etc.

Reviewing the past year's operating expenses should provide a fairly good basis for setting limits on what is needed to keep up city parks, buildings, etc. Planned upgrades and emergency repairs can be budgeted for as a percentage of the annual operating budget.

Staffing is a critical area. The park rangers need to be brought back into compliance with the hourly wage (at last check lead ranger Robert "Chico" Mendez was being paid way more than the posted rate) and overtime hours must be monitored and tracked. Additionally, most of these positions are seasonal, not year round, and that needs to be enforced.

One area of staffing that must be budgeted for is the hiring of a director for Ellarslie and the Trent House. Recent plans have called for one person to oversee both facilities. That's fine and it is needed.

Speaking of those two buildings, they along with the Mill Hill Playhouse and Artworks need to be the focus of proper maintenance and upkeep. These four buildings house ongoing, cultural programs run by outside non-profits. The city must honor its MOU's and leases with these groups and provide a safe, welcoming and functional building for their occupancy.

The controversial Learning Centers need to be de-funded and the money requested for their operation and upkeep added to the city's appropriation to the Trenton Free Public Library. That is where the city will get the most bang for its buck, not in some vanity effort to have the mayor's name and image posted in the four corners of the community.

The buildings should be properly shuttered and secured until such a time as the city can find suitable tenants to use them.  The same goes for the city's recreation centers. If they can't readily be leased out to existing entities to run programming out of, they need to be winterized and secured.  The city cannot currently afford to staff and operate these buildings properly.

Another area that unfortunately must be cut back is the funding given to the various sports leagues around town. We suggest that a nominal contribution to each of the leagues be determined and that it be awarded equally to all. No more favoritism should be shown to one league over another for any reason. And this must be communicated to the leagues as soon as possible so they can make plans to find other funding sources.  One spin off of this approach could be greater community involvement in wider support for these activities.

If/when the city's fortunes improve and we have confidence in the administration's ability to follow a budget, things can change. Until then, the Mayor has to face the fact that he can "wish" for a lot of things but the Council has the final say.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just say, NO!

The administration of Mayor Tony Mack will introduce its FY2013 budget to city council on Tuesday, September 25. It appears that the Mayor has instructed his finance staff and the Business Administrator to budget once again for a fully funded, fully staffed Department of Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture.

How do we know?

We know because this press release was posted on the city website on Monday, September 24. It is directed at both the city council and the general public. It declares the Mayor's intention to run a first rate, top-drawer recreation program that will provide something for everyone. It challenges the will of the city's governing body to be fiscally prudent by asking them to fully fund the Mayor's pipe dream. Mostly, it is aimed at rehabilitating the Mayor's tarnished and dented image as he tries to extricate himself from the pending federal corruption charges.

Mayor Mack should be ashamed of himself for this outrageous posturing and posing.

If Mr. Hutchinson didn't advise against this, then he should be ashamed of himself, too. He was brought in to serve the public as the city's BA. If he can't or won't put this city on a course of responsible budgeting, he is not the right man for the job.

Therefore, that leaves it up to the city council to put some severe controls on the Mayor's proposed spending.

As soon as is legally possible the city council needs to cut the proposed RNRC budget to the bare essentials.


Because Mayor Mack has proven that he is incapable of following a budget, purchasing procedures or any rules at all.

For example:

The city entered into its usual contract with Buoy 98 Marine to maintain, install and monitor the floating docks that flank the city boat ramp on Lamberton Road. The city paid $7,000 for this service. However, the docks were never installed. We went the entire boating season without docks installed, but paid for their installation, monitoring and repair AND charged boaters the full fee to use the ramp anyway. Why were the docks not installed? I don't know. You might want to ask Mayor Mack that. Or one of his key staff members, like Trenton Water Works Stock Clerk Paul Harris.

My guess is that none of Mack's crack staff ever thought to contact the Buoy 98 Marine and direct them to install.

While you are asking questions, you might want to inquire about the $17,400 paid to a sound and light contractor to provide his services for a music festival that never occurred this summer. To be fair, TWW Stock Clerk Paul Harris did send an email to the vendor asking for a refund of the money because the festival was cancelled. However, the email had an error in the address so we don't know if it was ever corrected and resent. Nor do we know if the vendor, assuming he was contacted, returned the money or not.

When it comes to sports leagues, the city has a long-standing practice of contributing money to them. This continued under Mack with a few twists. Whereas all city baseball leagues appear to have received money from the city, one...the Trenton Babe Ruth more than the rest. Documents show that all the leagues received $3500 except the TBRL. That league, the one the Mayor's son plays in and the Mayor and his Brother coach in, received at least $5,000.

We have mentioned before the $15,793.97 spent on a sound system.

And it's recently become known that the city is paying a contract employee for hours she claimed to have worked even though she appears to have had no contract approved by the city council and there was no money in the account to pay her with. In fact, according to documents received via OPRA request, the council is going to be asked this month to approve a transfer of funds to cover the expenditure made in July; an approval requested after the fact.

The Mayor is asking for funding for the Thanksgiving expensive extravagance the city should have given up years ago. We made that case during the Palmer era.

The Mayor also wants full funding for another Heritage Days Festival. In the minutes from a June 2012 meeting with council, Mayor Mack states that the Heritage Day budget was $30,000. Records show the city spent $46,416.49 with vendors to put on the event. There was police, park rangers, EMT's, etc to be paid as well.

Again, we have previously called for the doing away with this city financed event.

In the Press Release the Mayor asks the Council to grant his funding request for the Mayor's Learning Centers.  In the year just passed, the Mayor spent $9,874 on 55" Flat Screen TV's, sound bars and mounts for the Learning Centers. The money came from CDBG funds that had been set aside for "improvements to public facilities."

Why doesn't the Mayor earmark the money spent on the folly of the Learning Centers for the Trenton Free Public Library instead?

There were several account overdraws in the Recreation budget last year that the Mayor directed the finance team to "override" in a memo dated June 28, 2012.

So, NO! Council should NOT PASS the Mayor's proposed recreation budget.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A taste

On Monday, July 2, 2012, the City of Trenton hosted a celebration of Giuseppe Garibaldi birthday celebration.

The refreshments for the reception after the ceremony were provided by Amici Milano in Chambersburg.  The city paid $2,550 for a hot buffet for 150 people. See the invoice and purchase order here.

The purchase of the food was paid for out of the Economic Development "Profession Services" budget line.

The event was announced in this June 18 Press Release.

While we have nothing against the celebration of the many ethnic groups that have made Trenton what it is, we have to question this expenditure.

Why did the city, after over 100 years of presence of Italians and Italian-Americans, decide, in one of the worst fiscal years ever, decide to foot the bill for this extravagance?

Is the following sentence from the press release a clue?
Letters of friendship will be signed by Mayor Mack and the Italian delegation, establishing a bond between Trenton and Sicily.
Sicily? With all of the connections Trenton has with Naples, Casandrino, San Fele, etc. why all of a sudden are we "establishing a bond between Trenton and Sicily?"

Could it be because Tony Mack confidant, supporter and, now, co-defendant, JoJo Giorgianni is of Sicilian ancestry?

And why Amici's? Not that we have anything against Jimmy and his restaurant, but wasn't Amici's the place that put on the evening reception after the January folderol regarding the Mayor's Commission Committee on International Business Affairs? The one that supposedly sent a letter to the city stating the cost of the reception was donated only the city could never produce said letter?

It doesn't really matter.

What does matter is that a broke and broken city can't afford this kind of frivolous luxury.

Why did we spend $2,550 of tax payer dollars on this? And did anyone take a head count? Did we actually provide food for 150 people?

While we have learned to expect and revile this type of foolishness from Mayor Mack, didn't we expect that BA Sam Hutchinson and the DCA would put a brake on this kind of spending?

The only economic development to come out of this event was the money that went into Jimmy Kamies' pocket.

Good for Jimmy. Bad for the city taxpayers?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Testing, Testing. 1, 2, 3.

When will it end?

When will Tony Mack and company stop spending our tax dollars on foolish purchases?

We had hoped that with Business Administrator Sam Hutchinson coming on board, there would be some slowing down of the Mayor's profligate spending.

Alas, that does not seem to be the case.

Take for instance this purchase from ProLine Music in Fairless Hills, PA.  The City of Trenton spent $15,793.97 to purchase a fairly sophisticated sound reinforcement (PA) system.

$15,793.97 of our tax money. For sound equipment that we probably don't really need.  And just where is this equipment being stored? Who will have access to it and track its use?

The purchase was paid for out of the FY2012 Recreation budget, specifically the "Electric and Communication Supplies" and "Recreational Equipment" budget lines. 

It would be nice if someone would provide a rationale, an explanation of why this purchase had to be made now.

With the city in such dire financial straights, is this the wisest use of our money?

What happened to the oversight that Mr. Hutchinson is supposed to be bringing to the table?

Was this really a sound idea?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The little man with the outsized ego

Mayor Tony Mack was arrested Monday on federal charges of conspiracy. He was arrested along with his brother, Ralphiel, and JoJo Giorgianni.

That is old news.

While Trentonians breath a little sigh of relief that something, finally, is being done about the inept and allegedly corrupt Mack administration, the saga has not ended.

We say that because the arrest was just the first step in the process of bringing Tony and Ralphiel and
JoJo to justice. Next comes the grand jury and (expected, but not guaranteed) indictments. Then, months later, a trial.

In the mean time, Tony Mack is still the sitting Mayor. He still has the authority and power granted him under state law.

And that brings us to the point of this post.

Tony Mack, as reported in today's Times, has no intention of stepping aside and letting someone else run the city while he deals with his legal issues.

Tony Mack, no matter how much we want to think otherwise, is still "in charge."

We cannot forget or overlook that. We must continue to scrutinize everything that is done; every penny that is spent; and whether or not proper process and procedure is being followed.
here are still thousands of dollars of expenditures out of the Recreation budget that were not properly explained, contracted for or approved by council.

We still don't know whether radio station WIMG ever aired a single commercial for the $12,000 the city paid them last June.

We still don't know what Herb Ames and the Capital Region Minority Chamber of Commerce did with the $12,000 the city contributed to it in two installments over the past year.

What we do know is that Mayor Tony Mack is not any more likely to change his way of doing business than confidant and aide Anthony Roberts is likely to change his taste for garish, striped suits.

Take for just one, small example city Purchase Order #12-00211.

This purchase order in the amount of $170.00 is made out to Trenton Photographers and Video. It is for 4, 8x10 Color Portraits of the Mayor, in a step-up mat and frame.  The bill was paid out of account number 01- 10 -1000 -299 which is the budget line for the Mayor's Office, Other expenses.

Again, the amount, $170.00, is not terribly significant. The purchase is, however, indicative of how our Mayor's tiny little brain and out sized ego works.

While the documents don't state it specifically the fact that there are four of these portraits suggests that they might be destined to hang, one each, in the Mayor's Learning Centers.

The timing of the purchase is interesting. The invoice was placed May 31, 2012, the requisition and PO are dated July 16, 2012.

The order was apparently placed late in FY2012 at the same time that the first three Learning Centers were being opened and the fourth was being worked on and while questions were being raised about the Mayor's free spending ways.

The purchase was completed and paid for out of FY2013, a new budget year. Coincidentally, the requisition and PO were dated just two days prior to the FBI providing a surprise wake-up call to the Mack residence in the early morning hours of July 18.

There is another interesting bit about the requisition and PO.  Both are signed by Anthony Roberts.

Normally, wouldn't one party complete the requisition and another sign off on the PO? You know, just to provide a little bit of control over spending?
And under what power, what position, what title is Mayoral Aide Anthony Roberts authorized to sign city purchase orders? He hasn't been the "acting" BA since Mr. Hutchinson came on board in mid-April.

Certainly the dollar cost of this purchase is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. It remains symbolic of the Mayor's belief that he is above the law and that the meager resources of our beleaguered city are there to serve him, not the other way around.

How many other purchases have been requisitioned and/or approved by Anthony Roberts with no proper authorization beyond "the Mayor wants it?"

How much in tax dollars and state aid has been wasted merely to stroke the overreaching ego of our inept and ineffective Mayor?

Things will not improve until Tony Mack is no longer Mayor of the City of Trenton. And the sooner that happens, the better.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

On the air

See if you can follow this one:

On May 20, 2011 Maggie Morris Guzzardo, the CEO of radio station WIMG, drafted a letter outlining three advertising packages. (all the documents referenced in this piece can be found here)

The letter has a fax stamp of 6/1/2011 and reads in part:
“Please keep in mind that this proposal is flexible and that we can adjust any aspect mentioned. Advertising may include any project or event the City of Trenton wishes to promote. This may include housing projects, camps, pool schedules, city recycling and/or trash collection revisions due to holidays, special recreation events, city updates or a special address to the public.”

The three packages described are for 125, 175 or 200 sixty-second commercials run over a three month period, July 1, 2011 – September 30, 2011.  The prices quoted are for $7,500, $10,500, and $12,000 respectively. 

Per the letter:
“Each package includes Mayor Mack’s monthly appearance on Trenton Talks segment ‘In The Public Interest’ every first Tuesday of the month at 6:00pm. This is an added value {emphasis added} of $1,000 per show.”

The city apparently contracted for the $12,000 package because they paid that amount to WIMG with check number 182074 dated 6/15/12 and signed by the mayor.

The questions are many.

First, as a public official, why was Mayor Mack’s “monthly appearance” on the radio considered an “added value” to the contract?

Would Mayor Mack not have had a regular monthly appearance on the station without buying the advertising?  Plenty of people have made regular, semi-regular or solo appearances on public service programs and they don’t pay for the privilege. Why would anyone put a dollar value on the Mayor’s appearances?

Did Mayor Mack actually make all three appearances that were “included” with advertising package?

What of these 200 radio commercials, just what were they used for? What did they promote or inform the public of? Nobody seems to know.

An OPRA request for documents pertaining to the content of these 200 radio commercials got the following response:

“…your request was sent to all departments who might be able to provide you this information. All departments have responded that they do not have the documents that you are requesting. We will now consider this OPRA completed/closed.”

Nowhere in city hall was there a copy of the script or scripts for 12,000 seconds of radio advertising that the city paid $1 per second for.  Nowhere in city hall was there a audio recording of any of the finished commercials that were broadcast (if, indeed they were broadcast).

Twelve thousand dollars of tax payer money committed and nobody in city hall can tell us, show us, let us hear what we spent it on.

But, wait! There’s more!

An expenditure such as this should have come before the City Council for approval. Like so many purchases that this administration has made, it didn’t.

There was no approval to spend this money from the governing body. Is that why it took almost nine months for payment to find its way to the vendor? Funny thing, unless you or your business is a heavy advertiser with a good payment history, payment is usually due up front; before any of the commercials would air. If not payment in full, than some percentage of the fee may be required before the commercials are produced and aired.

Perhaps the City of Trenton has such a solid financial standing that the business community is willing to act on verbal promises and handshakes.

Is it normal, then, that a requisition to pay for the radio spots would be submitted eight months after the commercial(s) last aired?

And who requisitioned this payment for services? Why none other than Mayoral Aide/Acting Director of Housing and Economic Development Carmen Melendez.

Requisition R2-06810, dated 5/31/12 is signed by Ms. Melendez.

Interesting that a query of the Edmunds accounting software shows only two approvals: Ms. Melendez’s name appears in the 2nd approval field and Acting Purchasing Agent Marchell Marshall’s name appears in the 3rd approval field. There is no 1st approval.

Why? Aren’t the series of approvals required so that people don’t play games with the taxpayers’ dollars?

And why was the check paid from the account line for Economic Development, Professional Services 60-6040-290 rather than the Economic Development, Advertising line 60-6040-201?  If we are buying advertising, shouldn’t we pay for it from the advertising budget?

So we have yet another glaring example of the complete lack of control over the spending of the Mack administration. Twelve thousand dollars out the door, paid from the wrong account and with no clue whatsoever as to what the money was actually spent on.

Why does this continue to happen?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Buyer beware

There are a multitude of properties for sale in the city of Trenton at this time.

Some are on the market due to the unfortunate realities in the aftermath of the real estate bubble burst.

Others are on the market because the owners simply want to get out. They want to cut their ties to a city whose municipal government is in crisis.

Either way, it looks like a buyer’s market if one is willing to take a leap of faith and invest in the city’s housing stock.

As with all investments, due diligence is needed.

Take for instance just two recent listings of properties for sale.

The first is located at 29 Hampton Avenue in the city’s Wilbur Section.

Here’s how the website reads:

Highlights and Description

  • 2 stories
  • In the Wilbur neighborhood
  • Part of the Trenton school district

Investment opportunity. Two unit semi-detached property has fenced in backyard, plenty of space and did I forget to mention...Affordable! Seller is Very Motivated, make us an offer today!

It doesn’t show a photo of the property.

Because we are a full-service blog, we offer this image taken this morning.

And the asking price for this gem of an investment property: $55,000.

The property appears to be assessed at $44,900 and the taxes are just over $2,500 per year.

Not much into fixer uppers? Maybe you would this property at 245 Tioga Street.

The description on the website says: Single Family Home for sale by owner in Trenton, NJ 08609. Great opportunity for investors at this already low priced fully rented great income producer. Two story semi-detached property has fenced in backyard, plenty of space and did I forget to mention...Affordable! Seller is Very Motivated, make us an offer today!

This one even includes a photograph too.

The property is reportedly assessed at $40,200 and taxes are just under $2,300 per year.

Of course what the website doesn’t say is that a Lis Pendens has been filed on this property. A foreclosure is in the works. Also not noted is that there are two other creditors who have loaned the owners money with the property as collateral.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, both of these properties are owned by Trenton Mayor Tony Mack.

Buyer beware.