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?


Anonymous said...

Hey, not that the LAW even matters in Trenton anymore, BUT...

Aren't TWW employees supposed to be paid via the TWW and there is to be NO intermingling of funds or employee pay?

Just saying is all...

Old Mill Hill said...

That is our understanding.

To be clear, we believe that Mr. Harris actually reports to TWW's Cortland Street facility now, which makes his appearance at the ribbon cutting as the mayor's media meister are the more questionable.

Anonymous said...

Great read! Two questions:
-How is this illegal?
-How many interns does that mayor have currently working for him? Also, what are their names

Old Mill Hill said...

We don't know that anyone said it was "illegal." It does stand to reason, though, that TWW employees paid with TWW funds should be doing TWW work.

That said, we understand and appreciate that one of the benefits Trenton gets from owning the water utility is that it can take a portion of the TWW surplus and roll it over to the city's general fund.

What seems to be the gray area people question is whether it is correct to say that Mr. X or Ms. Y has 85% of their salary paid out of city funds and 15% paid out of water utility funds IF that amount of money is above and beyond the surplus amount rolled over to the city.

On the intern question,we need to do some more research. Last December there were a half dozen or so "interns" working for the city. Most were doing work in the recreation department. Some were being paid as employees, some were being paid as contractors.

The number has changed at this point. Some have resigned, some have been "hired" into the city, etc.

The fact of the matter is the administration seems to be playing a shell game with some of these people and just when you think you know what there title and duties are, things change.

Anonymous said...

Since 2006, the Mayor and Council have arbitrarily established the amount of the water utility surplus that is transferred to the City’s general fund. Prior to 2006, the City government limited the amount of the transfer to the maximum amount allowed by State statute. The statute, which still exists, limits the amount of the transfer to 5 percent of the water utility’s prior year expenditures, providing there is surplus available. For example, if the water utility had expenditures of $36M (an amount equal to what the water utility now spends), under the statute the City could transfer $1.8M of water utility surplus to the City’s general fund. With the equalization of rates for City and Township customers in 2006, the prior administration believed the statute limit no longer applied and that the utility and the City were no longer subject to the regulation of the NJ Board of Public Utilities. The current administration is also disregarding the limitation of the statute and has transferred $3M dollars in each of the last two fiscal years. The prior administration did likewise, with one year’s transfer being $6M. If you are a Township customer, you ask why should my water utility payments be used for non-water utility purposes. This view resulted in a lawsuit filed by the Townships that asks the courts to order the City to comply with the statute and possibly restore the funds to the water utility that were transferred in excess of the statute limitation. The suit was suspended pending the outcome of the sale of the utility’s Township assets. The lawsuit was resumed, but there has been little movement due in part to the four Townships’ inability to act in concert and agree on how to pay for the legal costs involved. Once transferred to the City’s general fund, the funds may be used in any way the City deems necessary.

The use of water utility funds to pay a portion of the salary of personnel in other City departments or divisions and who provide services to the water utility has been an accepted and statutorily allowed practice. The amounts or portions of those salaries were typically based upon a reasonable measure or the time those personnel devoted to water utility matters or the amount of work performed by those personnel relative to similar work done for all other City offices. These types of contributions were determined for the Law Department, the Purchasing Office, the Director of Public Works’ office, the Finance Department and the Department of Administration. When the NJBPU had jurisdiction over rates and whenever the water utility sought increased water rates, the NJBPU and the Townships reviewed these contributions. Any unreasonable contributions were subject to rejection as reasonable costs and would result in a higher water rate for City customers. The approved amounts for portions of salaries had no effect on the statutory limit of transfer of water utility surplus.

Anonymous said...

But that was when the NJBPU and others had the responsibility and opportunity to provide oversight of the City’s use of water utility funds. But now, the NJBPU and even DCA either refuse or are reluctant to intervene in the misappropriation of water utility funds. There are at least six people on the water utility payroll who do not work for the water utility. Similarly, there are others who report to water utility facilities but, because of their relationship to the Tony Mack, do little or no work while they are on site and are not responsive to supervision. Many of the latter are un-indicted friends of Tony Mack’s convicted brother, Stanley Davis. This exists while the water utility is in dire need of qualified personnel to deliver the level of service deserved by its customers. The water utility continues to regress. The effects of which are obvious to some and, unfortunately, will become obvious to others only after there is a public health incident.

Unless and until a jurisdictional entity uses its authority to intervene and stop the misappropriation of water utility funds and the mismanagement of the water utility, the featherbedding and patronage currently practiced will continue unabated.