Monday, March 26, 2012

Does the mayor have any clue what he is doing?

Recent newspaper articles have sketched a picture of just how poorly the Tony Mack administration manages the city.  
On Sunday, we were treated to a story about how the city failed to comply with certain stipulations that came with federal stimulus funds. That failure to comply and the subsequent inability to properly manage the construction projects funded through the grant resulted in the loss of the money.  Now, the jobs are incomplete and/or poorly done and the contractors have not been paid.

Today we read that Passage Theatre Company, the city’s only professional theater group, may very well have lost a $25,000 grant because the city wouldn’t come to terms on a long term lease for the Mill Hill Playhouse.

How insane is all of this?

The street projects written about on Sunday involved repaving a portion of S. Broad Street and the creation of wheelchair accessible curb cuts at intersections throughout the city.  The lack of proper oversight of the contractors due at least in part to the staff shortage created by last September’s layoffs led to the poor workmanship and loss of funding.

This situation could have easily been managed by thinking things through and having a plan.  Both notions, however, are foreign to the administration.

In the case of Passage Theatre, the grant was received through its own work. It is not city money, government money or even government administered money (read: No Tax Dollars).  The money was to be leveraged into a capital campaign to replace the aged and decrepit HVAC system at the city owned Mill Hill Playhouse. 

That’s right…a non-tax dollar funded improvement to a city owned building.

The grant required a long-term lease from the city to Passage Theatre. In return for the long-term lease, Passage would step up what they were paying for utilities (power, heat and light) to use the building. Something that wasn’t brought out in this morning’s article was the fact that should Passage Theatre be forced to vacate the Mill Hill Playhouse for another location, they take with them the lighting and sound equipment that make it a viable performance space leaving the city with a stage and some chairs. That the Mack administration can’t see it’s way clear to agree to a long-term lease shows an appalling inability to think things through.

When you couple these stories with the fumbling of the directorship of the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, you have to question whether the mayor sees any value in the cultural life of the city.

There are other stories floating about regarding the city turning its back on other groups and non-profits utilizing city buildings. Some are cultural organizations, some are providing social services.

And let’s not forget that the city has stalled the proposal by the CYO to utilize the former Skelton Branch Library building…allowing it instead to sit fallow. The building has been broken into; the missing panes of glass replaced with wood and the shrubbery in front cut down.  The CYO proposal would take the upkeep of the building off of the city’s shoulders and keep it in use.

Similarly, the mayor out right refused to entertain the proposal of the East Trenton Collaborative to occupy and renovate the historic East Trenton Library branch building. That plan would put the building back into use and available to the community at no cost to the city. 

In both of these cases as well as the situation with the Mill Hill Playhouse, the city retains ownership of the buildings; receives a minimal ($1 per year) stipend from the entities; but in return is relieved of the bulk of the carrying costs for maintaining otherwise vacant buildings.

Another aspect of this overall situation is that by messing around and losing funds, the city’s “rating” in the eyes of other granting entities (government or otherwise) is lowered. That makes it more difficult to receive the funding the city government is so dependent upon.

Imagine what will happen if Trenton loses another round of COPS grants or other Justice Department funds that supplement our public safety budgets.

For a mayor who just delivered a state of the city address sprinkled with a few million dollars worth of grants, taking such a cavalier attitude about managing and leveraging the resources available does not bode well for the fiscal health of Trenton.

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