Friday, April 27, 2012

Kill the Zombie Libraries

Update: Kevin Morriarty has launched the "Stop the Zombie Libraries" initiative. Check it out and sign the petition! You can sign it on line here:

As reported by Matt Fair in the Times on Thursday, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack seems hell bent on destroying the over century old Trenton Free Public Library by creating his so called "Mayor's Learning Center Libraries" in the closed branch library buildings.

This scheme was first hinted about last December when the Mayor announced he wouldn't entertain the offer of the East Trenton Collaborative to refurbish the historic former East Trenton Library branch building and operate a combination community/learning center out of it. No details were forthcoming at that time.

During his March 21, 2012 "State of the City" address, Mayor Mack declared that he would have his "Learning Centers" open "on or before April 30." Again, no details were forthcoming.

No one on city council had any information on this. The director of the Trenton Free Public Library nor the Board of Trustees of the Trenton Free Public Library knew anything about this plan. Not the Friends of the Library group, the state librarian or even the county librarian (even though the Mayor had pledged that patrons of the learning centers would have access to the Mercer County Libary System).

Kevin Moriarty has written extensively on this matter over the past month or so. Starting with his response to the same "State of the City" address and continuing through a fairly detailed analyis of what few details of the plan we have gotten. There have been a couple of more entries about this, including this morning's wherein Kevin dubs these facilities the "Zombie Libraries."

It is a sick twist of fate that just a few years ago the people in this city were coming together in an attempt to save the branch libraries from closing and to find a way to ensure the venerable and historic TFPL remained a viable resource for the community.  Now, we are fighting to kill off these Zombie Libraries because they are evil (not to mention illegal) and if they are allowed to proliferate they will surely be the death knell for the very same Trenton Free Public Library that has its roots in an institution created before this country won its independence from England.

Let's be revolutionary, yet again, and tell our elected representatives on city council to exercise their authority and shut down this folly. At the very least, this "plan" must be stopped until factual and satisfactory answers have been given to the most basic of questions such as where is the money coming from to operate these centers? Who will be managing them? How can any of this be accomplished without the formal consent of the Trustees of the TFPL and/or city council?

Say "NO" to the Mayor's Zombie Libraries!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tell me why

Mayor Tony Mack wants to appoint three more, full-time municipal judges.

Mayor Mack wants to open up auxiliary court rooms in the abandoned East and West Police District Stations.

Tell me why.

Here you can find the Trenton Municipal Court statistics from July 2008 through March of this year. These stats were obtained from the state judiciary website and has data going all the way back to July 2004, if you want to check for yourself.

When you look at the stats you will want to look at some key headings: Filings, Clearance Percent, Backlog and Active Pending.

Filings in FY 2009 were down 2% from FY2008.
Filings in FY 2010 were down 15% from FY2009.
Filings in FY2011were down 5% from FY2010
Filings for the first three quarters of FY2012 ARE DOWN 32% over the same period the year before!

Clearance percentage in FY2009 was 95%. That means less cases were cleared than were opened.
In the next two years, the clearance rate was 102% and 109% respectively. For the first nine months of this fiscal year, the clearance rate is 113%. 

More cases were cleared than opened. This reduces the backlog. In FY2009, the backlog was up 11% from the previous year.  In FY2010, the backlog dropped by 3%. There was an 11% reduction in the backlog in for FY2011. So far in FY2012, the backlog has dropped 27%!

The bottom line figure is the Active Pending number. While it went up 12% from FY2008 to FY2009, it has been steadily dropping since.

The municipal court has been operating with pretty good efficiency with the two full-time judges. Hiring more would just add expenses we don't need.

Tell me why.

The case load is being handled effectively in the existing facility. While I hate that the "never should have been built" East and West police buildings are sitting virtually idle, there is no apparent need to spend money to reconfigure them for additional court space.

Besides needing permission from Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson to add the additional judges, Trenton would need Administrative Office of the Courts approval to create courtrooms in the police sub-stations.

According to knowledgeable sources, the AOC must approve the location, the courtroom itself, security issues, public health/access issues and must be willing to provide the court recording and computer equipment.

That application process could take a year. If permission is granted for the new judges, where will they work when only have two court rooms available?

If the judges are approved and can't work they can't be laid off. By statute the term is a mandatory three years. Remember the controversy surrounding Mack's first judicial appointee, Renee Lamarre Sumners and how she had to finally resign?

Right now Trenton is approved for 3 full-time and one part-time judge but we never had that many. We haven't had the need or the space. With what the statistics above show, we don't need them now. If we add judges and court rooms, will we be hiring more court staff as well?

And let's remember the simple fact that the police are not issuing as many summons, thus lessening the case filings.  Less filings, less volume in the courts.

Has any of this been thought out by the Mack administration?

Tell me why.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lessons learned

Sometimes, things work out.

Just about a year ago peculiarities in the city's payroll system came to light. This happened, it must be noted, because of the research done by Trenton United blogger Robert Chilson.

One situation that he discovered was that (then) director of public property Harold Hall had collected overtime and double time pay in the first three months of 2011.

Mr. Hall, who in September was promoted to acting director of public works by Mayor Mack, is paid a salary of about $108,000 per year.  He is a salaried (not hourly) political appointee. As a rule, salaried employees do not collect overtime as an hourly employee does.

In February and March of 2011, Mr. Hall twice received "double time" compensation for hours worked beyond his normal 35 hour work week.  Three time in the same period, Hall received regular overtime (1.5 times his normal rate of pay) for hours worked beyond his regular 35 hour work week.

Payroll records indicate that in the check dated February 3, 2011, Hall received pay for a total of 93.5 hours. We understand that there were weather situations (snow storms) that required an extra effort on the part of the administration to oversee snow removal and such, but it is part of the Mr. Hall's job as a director to work the required time for no extra monetary compensation. Getting paid for 23.5 extra hours was wrong. Getting paid for 23.5 hours of extra time at a higher rate of compensation was more wrong. Hall was paid for 19.5 hours of overtime and four hours of "double overtime" during that pay period. That amounts to just over $2200 extra in one paycheck.

The next pay period, Hall received pay for 13.5 hours of overtime. This equaled an extra $1200 in that paycheck.

In the check issued March 31, 2011, Hall received an additional $1600 dollars in pay split between nine hours of "double overtime" and six hours of overtime.

Finally, the check issued on April 28, 2011 shows that $1526 in overtime was included. This was for an additional 17 hours worked over the regular 70 hours in the pay period.

All totaled, Hall received over $9200 in extra pay from the city that was improper.

In reviewing Hall's payroll records before and since the discovery of his extra pay, we have learned an interesting fact. Mr. Hall's pay was garnished to the tune of $562.87 every two weeks from June through December of last year. This means he paid back some $8400 of the money. (NOTE: we do not have an explanation for the $778 he didn't pay back, but assume it may have to do with some of the payroll deductions, etc.) Kudos to the powers that be (whichever ones came into play) that made this repayment happen.

While none of the money funny business is good news, the fact that it came to light because of the dedicated work of a government watchdog is. This is a prime example how necessary citizen activism is to a healthy civic infrastructure.

Without the work of concerned citizens, government is less accountable.

Who knows how much more money might have been improperly paid to Harold Hall?

Who knows if any of it would ever have been paid back?

Irresponsibility is NOT doing the right thing.

Friday, April 06, 2012

It’s not my fault. I didn’t cause it.

That was the punch line to an old George Carlin routine that poked fun at the trend of denying responsibility for anything bad.

It has become the theme song of the Tony Mack administration.

The Times’ Matt Fair wrote a story about the city being out of compliance with the Section III requirements for local work force participation in CDBG funded projects. In that story is the following quote: 

“These grants were in place when we took office,” acting business administrator Anthony Roberts said in an e-mail last night. “We will continue to make corrections to irresponsible proposals submitted by the Palmer administration just as we have with many other ill-advised projects.”

The key phrases in the Roberts defense: “in place when we took office” and “irresponsible proposals submitted by the Palmer administration.”

The reality is slightly different.

At his very first Town Hall meeting as Mayor, Tony Mack told a rapt and attentive audience at the North 25 housing complex all about his grand plans to refurbish several parks.  Astute watchers of Trenton politics knew that the funding was in place for years and at risk of being lost if action wasn’t taken. The only thing the Mack administration did was put the wheels into motion.

So…if that was the case, which administration is responsible for seeing that the contracts are let according to the Federal rules? The Palmer administration, who applied for, received and then sat on the money or the Mack administration that actually signed the contracts?

Nobody with any sense would argue that Palmer did no wrong. But after almost two years “in charge”, Tony Mack’s finger pointing has gotten tiresome.

Similarly, in stories published in both the Times and theTrentonian, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has put the city of Trenton on notice that it is in violation of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. In a letter sent to Municipal Clerk Leona Baylor, the prosecutor cites the fact that the city is behind in approving and posting city council meeting minutes as required by law.

Both papers report the reasons given for being behind are that the clerk’s office is short-staffed, the workload because of OPRA requests from citizens takes priority, and…wait for it…they were behind when I got here.

In Matt Fair’s Times article, Municipal Clerk Leona Baylor is quoted as saying:

“The minutes have always been behind. They’ve never been current. They were behind when I first got there.”

The city website posts meeting agendas going back to 2006. There are a little more than a dozen meeting minutes that appear to be missing from between Jan 1, 2006 and Dec 31, 2009.  From Jan 1, 2010 the minutes start appearing less frequently. Interestingly enough, when the Mack administration took over on July 1, 2010, meeting minutes were approved pretty consistently for the first four months or so. Then there was a steep drop off of minutes being approved.

So, yes, Ms. Baylor, a problem existed prior to your arrival and prior to the Mack administration. The problem went away for a short time and then came back with a vengeance.

Whether complying with OPRA requests or completing the meeting minutes in a timely manner is a burden or not, it is the law. And it is the duty of the clerk's office to follow the law.

We all recognize the failings of previous administrations and some of them cannot be corrected now. But that is not an excuse for failing to follow federal grant guidelines, state statute or common sense. 

After almost two years at city hall, there is no one to point fingers at except those who are on the job today.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Mayor Mack is a cry baby

The following is the text of a press release posted on the City of Trenton website Friday, March 30, 2012. It is a childish rant from a mayor who is upset that a majority of city council stood up to him.

While he encourages the public to contact the four members of council he singles out (Caldwell-Wilson, Chester, Holly-Ward, and Muschal) and tell them they have done wrong, we feel just the opposite. These four did the right thing, the right way. They should be congratulated, not castigated.

What do you think?

March 30, 2012

MAYOR                                                                          609-989-3030


Today, because of the actions of four irresponsible and selfish Trenton City Council members we are forced to layoff all of the Mayor's Office staff. This selfish act could potentially harm the health, safety and welfare of the City. These actions are unprecedented by City Council members, statewide and perhaps nationally, for that matter. Council members Phyllis Holly-Ward, George Muschal, Zachary Chester and Marge Caldwell-Wilson actions are both self-serving and detrimental to all residents, businesses and the community at large.

This is the first time in the history of our City that the Mayor has been left with no staff to conduct the taxpayer's business. This "do nothing" action by Council members Phyllis Holly- Ward, George Muschal, Zachary Chester, and Marge Caldwell-Wilson is both draconian and egregious in nature.

We ask residents for their patience as we work through this mess. Make no mistake about it, as Mayor of this City, I am determined as ever to succeed on behalf of all the residents in this great City!

I urge the citizens of Trenton to join me and urge your council representatives Phyllis Holly-Ware [sic], George Muschal, Zachary Chester and Marge Caldwell-Wilson to respect the history of our great City and its significance to our great Country.

C: Trenton Times
All City Council Members