Trenton's city council voted Thursday night to restore South Ward Councilman George Muschal to the position of president of the governing body.
This was accomplished after a long day of scrambling, huddling, researching, caucusing and planning because as the fiscal year draws to a close, certain members of the city council were expecting a reorganization meeting resulting in, probably, a new president being chosen along with a council vice president.
There were multiple problems with the expected scenario above.
1. The council's own rules of procedure as stated in the city code do not allow for the annual reshuffling of the deck as has been practiced by this body.
2. State law does not indicate that there would be an annual reorganization of the governing body.
3. Nothing in the rules of procedure or the state statutes creates the position of vice president.
What has happened is that this council has been operating out of compliance with its own rules. (It should be noted that the ersatz vice president position was instituted under the previous council and somehow got carried through to this one. An example of the poor performance of the the city law department, the municipal clerk's office and the governing body itself for not recognizing and correcting the deficiencies in their process).
On Tuesday night, East Ward Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson wanted to introduce an ordinance to amend the rules of procedure to accommodate the errors in executed over the past several years. Even that move was a mistake as the council need not, indeed should not, amend its rules of procedure via ordinance because an ordinance requires the signature of the mayor. This adds a layer of oversight and inter-branch cooperation that state law does not require.
N.J.S.A. 40-69A:36 clearly gives the governing body the authority to set its own rules of procedure by resolution. The fact that Ms. Reynolds-Jackson attempted to use an ordinance to change the rules of procedure indicates a) lack of comprehension of and familiarity with her powers as a council member and b) a similar ignorance of the law on the part of whomever was advising her.
Besides going about amending the rules of procedure in a more complicated and unnecessary way, the council woman's proposed changes seem to conflict with the intent of state law.
The proposed ordinance was pulled and in its place, West Ward councilman Zachary Chester proposed a resolution amending the resolution naming Councilwoman Phyllis Holly-Ward president for the 2012-2013 year and extending her term through June 30, 2014.
This, of course, met with great resistance by Ms. Reynolds-Jackson, Councilwoman McBride and Councilman Bethea.
These three, who have generally been understood to stand with the administration of indicted Mayor Tony Mack in all matters, appeared to be fearful of having Ms.Holly-Ward continue as president. So concerned, they were adamant about continuing to violate the body's own rules of procedure just to ensure one of their own could obtain the chair of presiding officer.
Mr. Chester's resolution was tabled until Thursday's meeting so that everyone would have the opportunity to review what was being proposed (compliance with the law).
All accounts indicate that Thursday was spent hammering out a new plan...to restore Councilman Muschal to the presidency. Actually, this was a reasonable and workable solution.
Unfortunately, the internecine workings and innate mistrust amongst members of the council indicated the need to do some maneuvering to ensure that matters were conducted fairly and transparently.
This caused another flap when Councilwoman Reynolds-Jackson balked at a change in the voting order that would make her vote first rather than last. She objected that this was not the normal way they did things (the council generally votes in alphabetical order by last name, the same order they sit in on the dais). There is not set rule about this and, further, Ms. Reynolds-Jackson has expressed no problem with her colleague, Kathy McBride, sitting (out of order) at the far end of the dais just to make the point that she doesn't wish to sit next to Ms. Holly-Ward.
The double standard is obvious to all and it was generally conceded that, had she voted last, Ms. Reynolds-Jackson may very well have voted against her own proposal to restore Mr. Muschal to the presidency.
This is the painfully exemplary of how this governing body fails to work, as a whole, for the good of the city. Some members are more concerned with their perceived position and effectiveness than with doing the job they were elected to do.
With less than a year before the next election, we hope that the electorate of this city will awaken and deny the poseurs (in office or wannabes) the opportunity to mire the city in personal politics to the detriment of the greater good.
We've seen the way this body has conducted itself. We can, and must, do better.