Friday, May 18, 2012

There he goes again

In an act of obvious spite that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack is attempting to rescind the appointment of two school board members because they hold views different than his.

Press reports in the Trentonian and the Times (article not yet available online) indicate that Mack had his friend and former school board member Joyce Kersey call current board members Denise Millington and Marisol Ovalles to tell them their services were no longer required.  This occurred the day after the women had been sworn in for their three year terms and the day after they voted for a school superintendent candidate that was not the mayor’s choice.

The legality of such a move is being investigated but it stinks regardless.
{Update: local attorney George Dougherty did some research today and offers the following "...Title 18A (Education) regarding the removal of Board members. I am quite sure that there is no power in the mayor to “rescind” an appointment. Once the appointee has been sworn to the office she/he has a term. There are very limited removal provisions in the law. They operate by such things as disqualification by loss of residency or some other personal conflicts. There is no indication that a Mayor can pull an appointee for any reason." This would seem to be common sense and certainly matches our thoughts as well as those in the comment below}

Trenton is one of nearly two dozen New Jersey municipalities where the school board is appointed by the mayor rather than elected by the voters. The argument over which is a better system is a toss up. The capital city has tried both methods and neither seems to have yielded great results. A hybrid board made up of some mayoral appointees and some elected members might be the way to go, but that is a topic for another day.

For years, the appointed board in Trenton has been subject to the whims of the sitting mayor. Former mayor Dough Palmer was known to not reappoint board members after they had somehow displeased him.  And it appears that Mayor Mack is following right along in that tradition.

What is interesting, too, is some of the appointments Mayor Mack has made.

Last fall, for instance, Mack appointed Waldemar Ronquillo to the seat vacated by Algernon Ward. Within a month, Ronquillo stepped down for personal reasons.

Then Mack appointed Ovalles to complete the term. She was just appointed to a new, full, three-year term. Ovalles was sworn in Monday even though she has plans to move out of the city soon and therefore must resign.

You would think that some of these issues would come out in the vetting process prior to the mayor making an appointment.

Then again, maybe not.

In April, Mack appointed Gerald Trueheart to a vacancy on the school board.

Trueheart is a former employee of the Trenton School District.  According to the minutes from an April 12,2010 school board meeting, Trueheart was not only denied a salary increment, he was not reappointed to his position with the district.

Trueheart is also associated with the failed Paul RobesonCharter Schoolthat is being taken over by the Philadelphiabased Scholar Academies. As part of the plan to salvage Robeson’s charter, all current administrators and board members must resign their positions. That wouldappear to include Trueheart as well.

This begs the question: is Gerald Trueheart competent to sit on Trenton’s school board?

Is this another example of Mayor Mack’s inability to exercise solid judgment in selecting and keeping people for key positions? 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

For Immediate Release

Mayor Tony Mack Saves Public Safety

TRENTON—Mayor Tony Mack hosted a press conference today regarding the recent shooting attempt on two Trenton Police Officers on patrol in a city vehicle. Mayor Mack announced key updates to his comprehensive plan to fight crime in order to keep the public up-to-date with new information. Mayor Mack made the following statement:

Public safety is essential to the City of Trenton we can not permit crime or symptoms of crime, poverty and oppression to continue to burden the peace of mind of our residents, business owners, and stakeholders. 

Crime is deplorable, and I am serving crime an eviction notice-you are not welcome in
Trenton anymore, and I am asking all residents to join with me in sending crime and
criminals a farewell exit. 

In order to restore the vitality of the city through recreational and cultural programs and
services we are announcing a new initiative from the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor’s
Learning Centers.  

We are making strides that are tough and challenging but necessary to keep the public’s
best interest our focus. It is crucial to keep our libraries open.  

That shows that our children need any and all resources our City can offer as it relates to
education. I know that our police officers would much rather walk a child home after a
library visit, then walk them into a precinct.  

Therefore, my administration plans to retrofit the Mayor’s Learning Centers with plate steel sheathing, polycarbonate window coverings and install gun turrets that will be manned by volunteers.   

This work will be accomplished with the use of CDBG funds and the application of the surplus from the Trenton Water Works. This revenue stream will enhance our city by providing jobs and engaging the community to participate in the protection of our most precious resource, our children.  

Under the direction of my volunteer coordinator of volunteers this comprehensive action will be undertaken under the guidance and directorship of my special Committee Of Non-paid Supporters, or CONS.

Because of the emergent emergency of this matter Mayor Mack will, by executive order and with the blessing of less than half of the city council, waive the normal bidding and contracting procedures required under state statute.

All work will be performed by individuals who have sufficiently demonstrated their belief in the Mayor's initiatives, have contributed to his campaign fund and/or have a prior criminal record thereby qualifying them for re-entry program funding.  

NOTE: This is not a real media advisory from Trenton's City Hall. If it had been, you would have been directed where to turn and when to scream in outrage. On second thought....

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tell the truth, Mayor Mack

Mayor prevaricates at opening of second learning center.

According to Carlos Avila's report in this morning's Trentonian, Mayor Tony Mack continues to blame the board of trustees of the Trenton Free Public Library for the branch closings two years ago.

“I have been working diligently to reopen all four of these buildings since the Trenton Free Public Library Board decided to close them in August of 2010,” he said.

That is his side of the story. And it is just plain wrong.

In a letter dated September 13, 2010, TFPL Trustee Virginia Dietrich writes:
"The over $1M reduction to this year's budget has had a devastating effect on our ability to provide neighborhood services. Your generous offer of an additional $350,000 funding would be a welcome addition to the $2.1M allocation the City has already committed for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Unfortunately, it is not enough to cover the cost of your proposed plan for a 3-7 pm 5 day per week schedule at all four Branch locations. As we detailed in the budget sent to your office on August 20, 2010, the Library would need an additional $845,952 for a total allocation of $2,945,962 to implement your plan."
There it is, ladies and gentlemen, in plain English.
"Unfortunately, it is not enough to cover the cost of your proposed plan for a 3-7 pm 5 day per week schedule at all four Branch locations."
The question that needs to be asked by citizens, taxpayers, the governing body and the mayor's own administration is simply this:

If you cannot afford to fund the TFPL to provide the hours and services you want, how can you find the money (according to this report in the Times, now up to $75,000 per "learning center" per year from the $30,000 stated on April 30) to operate this parallel system of ersatz libraries?

Tell the truth, Mayor Mack.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What does the Trenton Water Works have to do with the Mayor’s Learning Center Libraries?

That’s what we wondered after noticing Paul Harris at Monday’s ribbon cutting at the former Skelton Branch Library building.

Mr. Harris, if you recall, was hired as an “intern” by the Mack administration on August 9, 2010. His rate of pay was $15 an hour. On October 15, 2010, Mr. Harris received a 33% pay raise to $20 an hour, just a few weeks before the city’s first wave of layoffs and demotions of regular employees was put into effect.

Ostensibly assigned to the city’s department of Health and Human Services, no one was ever really sure Harris’ described job duties were. It was pretty evident that Mr. Harris was to serve basically as yet another assistant to the mayor. He seemed to spend all of his time taking photographs and videos of the mayor in action (or would that be “the mayor’s inaction?”); working on the city website; trolling Facebook and other online sites for any negative comments about the Mack administration.

In a memo dated February 14, 2011, Joseph Rubino, then the director of HHS, informs Harris that three days a week he is to report to Gwen Carter to assist with the Health Clinic.  The other two days a week Harris would be assigned to “ancillary projects” working with other units under HHS.

In an accompanying description of his duties, Mr. Harris appears to be assigned to marketing and other activities relating to the city’s senior centers. It is interesting to note that this “intern” is also charged with helping to “supervise” certain employees stationed at the centers.
(NOTE: we really hope to delve further into the Mack administration’s use and abuse of the term “intern” in a future post)

But all of the above almost seems sensible when compared to what has recently transpired.

Sometime this year, Mr. Harris was “transferred” to the Trenton Water Works. His payroll information from March 1 forward clearly shows him being paid out of the TWW administration account.

Yet there he was at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon, recording the mayor's ribbon cutting for posterity but being paid on the water customer's dime. 

Hence our question: what does the TWW have to do with the Mayor’s Learning Center Libraries?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


The Mayor’s Learning Center Library.

Well, we can’t really use the term “library.” There is no professional staff. No reference help. No resources.

What difference does it make? It’s all just a bunch of words.

Words: Mayor Mack’s biggest nemesis.

He knows words. Sometimes he can actually pronounce them correctly. But he just doesn’t seem to be able to grasp their meaning; at least not when he is in public grasping for answers to questions.

Why do words have to be so mean?

For instance, the mayor stated yesterday during the ribboncutting for the new Learning Center in the old Skelton Library building that he’d received “…an email from someone at the state today saying they were concerned…”

“They sent out a letter asking us to reconsider or rethink opening a library.”

“$100,000 of a $2 million budget does not give you the right to dictate to us what we do with our building.”

The communication the mayor refers to here was not sent “from someone at the state” but rather from New Jersey Library Association ExecutiveDirector Patricia Tumulty. 

The NJLA doesn’t give the city any money towards its libraries. In fact, the NJLA, amongst other things, lobbies for increased financing from the state to the public libraries.

There is the “state” and there is the “state library association”. Two different entities, but it is all just words to the mayor. 

We got what he meant. “Keep your nose out of our business. I’ll do what I want.”

“The library board,” he states, “had the same opportunity to come and join us in this effort as all the other volunteers had on this project. They had the same opportunity. For those who say they didn’t know about the committee, they didn’t know about what we wanted to do, it’s just untrue.”

Maybe Mayor Mack didn’t mean to say “it’s just untrue”. Maybe he meant to say, “it’s unfortunate that I didn’t let them know what I was going to do whether they participated or not.”

You see, here is how it really played out. 

The library, faced with budget cuts from the Mack administration, made the determination that it could no longer operate the four branch libraries.

There was some back-and-forth that included the mayor promising to deliver the funds needed to keep the branches open part-time several days a week.

On October 25, 2010, the mayor issued a press release inviting people to participate in a “community lead Library task force who will identify best practices for operating and maintaining our libraries and day to day operations immediately.”

So this press release, which we have only ever seen on thecity website and which appeared only a day or two before the infamous “Highlights of the first 100 Days” press release that was little more than a recounting of the mayors appointment calendar for the preceding three months, was issued but largely overlooked.  Was it ever distributed? Did the media pick up on it?

Well he issued an invitation in a press release. So we all “knew” about it and could have joined in.

Mayor Mack even repeated this last night at his South Ward Town Hall meeting (a very sparsely attended affair when you take away the members of the Mack cabinet, his posse and the three council people that were present).

Mack was questioned on the transparency of his government by one citizen in attendance. The mayor’s response was first to blame the newspapers for only printing negative stories and then to ask of a specific example of when his administration was not forthcoming with information.

“The library plan that was developed in secret” said the citizen.

The mayor again trotted out his explanation that nothing was done in secret. That everyone was invited to join this committee.

Mayor Mack has yet to offer any explanation for the lack of information available from the administration when requested via OPRA on two separate occasions.

He was invited to tell us what he was up to but chose not to participate.