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?