Friday, November 16, 2012

Stop playing games

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack is insistent upon staffing up the department of Recreation, Natural Resources, and Culture that has been a quagmire for the past two years. Soon after taking office in July 2010, Mayor Mack cut staff and demoted some of the remaining employees, ultimately gutting the department in the 2011 layoffs.

In the meantime, the “department” has run through its budget and then some with little to no accountability. There have been inquiries and investigations into use of facilities, splintered contracts that avoid the bidding process, time sheets and more. Festivals and parades have been produced with no real oversight as to what was being spent, who was getting paid and what the real benefit was.  Favoritism has been shown in funding certain sports leagues over others.

Now, the mayor and business administrator Sam Hutchinson have proposed to city council that the city hire a department director and staff to run the various programs and events that the mayor wants.

Here’s a simple counter proposal, and it is not a new idea.

The department of Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture should be done away with. The maintenance functions should be moved into the division of public property (part of the department of public works) and the rest of the functions rolled into the department of health and human services.  
It is not unheard of for municipalities to have a department of health, recreation and human (or senior) services. Indeed, Trenton used to have the department of health, recreation and welfare.  The last term probably fell out of favor because the county took over the administration of the assistance programs and because the word “welfare” started to have negative connotations.

The point is we have a competent director and staff in the health and human services department. It would be simple to add a couple of staff people to that department who would interface with the outside organizations to provide programming and services at the various city owned facilities.  From Artworks and Passage Theatre to the Trenton Museum Society at Ellarslie and the Trent House Association; from the Boys and Girls Clubs, CYO, PAL, YM and YWCA’s; from Babe Ruth League, the various Little Leagues, the NJTL, soccer leagues the health and human services staff would coordinate the use of facilities and help find money (but not totally fund) the programs. The city would lease or enter into MOU’s with these various organizations to do what they by design do. This takes the cost off of the cash strapped city for providing “recreation” programs.

An added bonus is that elimination of the department of RNRC frees up space for the splitting off of the water and sewer utilities from public works, an idea that has also been brought up before.

The creation of a separate department housing only the utilities makes sense. They have their own separate budget anyway. It will be easier to focus on improving the infrastructure and service provided. One would think it will make our suburban neighbors/customers happier to see the water utility operate more transparently and effectively. And it could isolate the utility staff from layoff or furlough actions affecting other departments.

This can all be accomplished with or without the mayor’s approval. Restructuring the city’s administration is done by ordinance.  As we have all learned recently, it only takes a solid five votes on council to make this common sense move be veto proof.

There is no reason this shouldn’t be taken on immediately. It would be an effective way to streamline the city administration while refocusing on the core functions of municipal government.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well done! Thanks for that analysis.

In its two+ years on the job, this Council has been unable to effect any departmental reorganization on the way the City government is structured, although they have had some opportunities, namely the failed attempts to reorganize Inspections in March and August 2011.

The financial crisis of the City won't be getting any better soon. Council needs to look at any efficiencies it can to say taxpayers some money while still providing essential functions.

The Recreation Department is riddled with waste, inefficiencies and corruption. It needs to be dissolved and its valuable functions reassigned to other directors.