Sunday, December 29, 2013

Back to the future

Looking past United States vs. Mack et al
Monday, January 6, 2014. That is the date that has been designated as the start of the trial of Trenton Mayor Tony F. Mack. That trial, expected to tale a month or so to conclude, will serve as the denouement in the farce that has played out in the three and half years since Mack took office. The proceedings will bring to a close the three ring circus that has to be, hands down, the worst administration in Trenton’s 300+ year old history.

While the bettors, hecklers and staunch defenders ready themselves for the big finale, the cast of the next show to hit the stage of Trenton politics will be assembling in the wings.

On Thursday, January, 2, 2014, the office of the municipal clerk is likely to be overrun with those seeking elected office in the May elections. That is the first day that the mayoral and council wannabes, along with incumbents, are able to pull their paperwork and initiate their candidacy for public office.

At the outset, the armchair handicappers are calling for a full ballot. As of eight or nine months ago, there were already five individuals who had announced their intention to run for mayor. That’s half the size of the field from 2010, but there are likely to be one or two more names in the hat before all is said and done.

On the council side, filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission indicate that the six of the seven current office holders are running again.
Challengers to the current council are already surfacing. Currently, the NJ ELEC website shows three individuals have filed paperwork indicating they will run in 2014. Another has announced to some individuals that he will run and at least two more are presumed to be candidates. Again, expect more names to be added to the list once the process gets underway.

Filing with NJ ELEC and filling out paperwork in the municipal clerk’s office is not all it takes to get on the ballot. The first big hurdle for all candidates is to obtain enough nomination petitions equal to 1% of the registered voters in the district they seek to represent (city wide for mayoral and council at large candidates; respective ward for those seeking a ward seat).

The deadline for filing the petitions is March 10. That gives the candidates just about two months to capture valid signatures from registered voters.
Voters, for their part, can sign only one petition for mayor and their ward council candidate, three for at large council candidates.

The electorate has other responsibilities besides just signing a petition and voting. Before they do either, they need to ask themselves, “Is this person truly fit for the office he or she seeks.”

This is where the weeding out process starts.

Don’t be afraid to start asking questions of the candidates (or their representatives) who are seeking your approval for them to be on the ballot. Start the vetting process now, the city you save may be your own.


One of the problems the city has been having in elections is low voter turnout. Less than 1/3 of registered voters voted in the 2010 mayoral election and the June runoff.
Rudy Rodas had a guest Op Ed in the Times on Friday, December 27, 2013. It is a thoughtful piece that encourages mayoral candidates to address the concerns of the diverse groups that make up Trenton’s population. It’s good advice that all candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, should heed.


Everyone agrees: Trenton has great potential. Its location, its history; its manageable size are all plusses.
Why, then, has the capital city struggled so much of late?

The city seems to lack vision, a sense of innovation. We’ve become too addicted to handouts from the state, county and federal governments and then complain we don’t get enough money. We have not investigated ways to improve the city’s bottom line; ways to create real economic development that gives the city more ratable and more job opportunities.
To date, none of the announced mayoral candidates have set forth any real concrete plans to pull Trenton out of its tale spin. Maybe they are being cautious, not wanting to reveal their hands too early in the process. Or maybe they are stumped for real innovative ways of moving the city forward.

Perhaps one of them will reach out to the recently announcedBloomberg Associates for help.

Headed by outgoing NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and seeded with members of his staff, Bloomberg Associates is offering urban consulting services FREE OF CHARGE to other cities.

Yes, the three term mayor has done some controversial things, but he appears to be leaving New York City in as good, if not better shape, as he found it. It might not hurt to at least give his group a listen. The price is certainly one that Trenton can afford.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Must be something in the water

By this time, it is no secret that Trenton’s indicted mayor is no fiscal wizard. His personal financial problems have been discussed and dissected ad nauseum over the past few years.  His mismanagement of the city’s funds has incited outrage from the city council (at times) and the public (repeatedly).

In recent weeks we have been treated to reports about the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed contractors for work done for the city. 

The now out of business Jonico firm is suing for $600,000 for work done on South Broad Street, interest and attorney fees.

Diamond Contractors is owed $122,000 for the installation of handicap access ramps in sidewalks around town.

Kevin Moriarty addressed this in a recent blog post.  

Another contractor, Marshall Technologies, tried for years to collect a $19,000 bill for work done at the city’s main library. The city administration claimed it should be paid by the library out of the annual stipend received from the city. The library board felt differently and wouldn’t pay. While the two entities argued, the vendor didn’t get paid. After going through mediation, the $19,000 bill nearly doubled to $31,000.  The inflated amount could have been avoided if the administration had just paid the bill when due and worked it out with the library board.

Speaking of the Trenton Free Public Library, we noted this item in the correspondence section of the January 2, 2014 city council docket:
1n Letter for Katz & Dougherty, LLC copy of letter to Mayor Tony Mack, dated December 13, 2013, re: Todd Geter, R.A., Unpaid Invoices for Learning Center Improvements.

Mr. Geter was, ironically, a listed member of themayor’s committee that determined it would be best to reopen the four former branch libraries and keep them under city (as opposed to TFPL) control. Mr. Geter, as a licensed architect, apparently provided the necessary plans, drawings, etc. required to get the permits to allow vendors to do the work required to get the buildings up to code and reopened. But he hasn’t been paid.

A side point, Marshall Technologies did a lot of the work on the mechanical systems in the four buildings. They were paid on time…even though the city council questioned where the money was coming from to pay those bills.

These are just a few examples of the city’s (not just the mayor’s) fiscal failings.

Also on the docket for January 2 is this:
1g Tort Claim Notice filed against the City of Trenton for Damages by Frey Engineering, LLC, 1117 State Route 31, Suite 4, Lebanon, NJ 08833

According to prior newspaper reports, Frey did work for the city that was authorized by Charles Hall, III. Hall never got the proper city council approval for the contract with Frey. Frey did the work and expects to be paid over $43,000.  The city council has not approved the payment because they did not authorize the contract. Further, since the authorization came from Hall and he is a cooperating witness in the federal case against Mayor Mack, some members of council are reluctant to touch the matter.

The list goes on. Former recreation department “contract” employee Lisa Whittaker was essentially paid off in 2012. She performed work and submitted bills that had never been approved by the governing body, but the decision was made to pay her rather than go to court.

Michael Morris, the former lead park ranger, was laid off to make way for Mack confidant Chico Mendez. After a long, drawn out (and costly) fight through the civil service commission, Morris was reinstated, Mendez “removed” and back pay ordered.

And yet the city seems to have no problem paying expenses such as:
1) Former mayoral aide, Billie Hayes, received $250 for his work providing secretarial assistance to Councilwoman Kathy McBride
(Note: All council members are granted a stipend to pay for a clerical assistant. We just find it curious that Ms. McBride has retained the services of one of the mayor's former aides).
2) Flashing Blinky was paid $524.39 for what we presume to have been table decorations and favors for the "City of Trenton Senior Gala" held on December 9.
Who, one might rightfully ask, is minding the store? Who in the administration is it that continually makes these bad, too often expensive, decisions and why?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Much ado about nothing

(Edited, 6:17pm, 12-18-13)
Trentoncity councilwoman Phyllis Holly-Ward has introduced a resolution requesting that all candidates for elected office submit a copy of their credit report to the city clerk (13-678 RESOLUTION REQUESTING CANDIDATES FOR MUNICIPAL OFFICE TO FILE A CREDIT REPORT WITH THE OFFICE OF THE CITY CLERK). Those reports would become public records and the suggestion is that a bad credit report could be one indication of a person’s suitability to hold public office.

The proposal has generated a lot of discourse. Judging from some of the commentary posted in social media, it has also generated some confusion.

First off, this is a resolution. It is not an ordinance. The difference is often misunderstood. Stated simply:
  • A resolution is a statement, opinion, appointment, etc. made by a municipal body.
  • An ordinance is a law, enacted by the governing body, signed by the Mayor (or adopted over his/her veto), and enforced by the police and courts.
So, resolution 13-678, if passed, would merely be the “opinion”of a majority of the members of the council that candidates for municipal office be requested to submit a credit report. It is not required. It is merely a request.
Some people seem to be equating the credit report disclosure with the financial disclosure form required of elected officials and other public officers. These are two different things.
The financial disclosure form requires municipal officers to declare sources of income in an effort to avoid/eliminate conflicts of interest. The financial disclosure information and the credit report have no direct relationship to one another. The former strictly looks at income and where it comes from while the latter deals with an individual’s overall financial health (NOTE: health does not necessarily equate to wealth).
The financial disclosure form has to be filed annually once someone is elected or appointed to an office.
The credit report is being looked at ahead of time as one of several gauges of a candidate’s over all fit for office. It is not meant to serve as the be all and end all, sole deciding factor. It is just one, optional, item that voters can use to help vet candidates.
We confess, we didn't so we researched it. According to the Federal Reserve website a credit report includes:
  • Your identity. Your name, address, full or partial Social Security number, date of birth, and possibly employment information.
  • Your existing credit. Information about credit that you have, such as your credit card accounts, mortgages, car loans, and student loans. It may also include the terms of your credit, how much you owe your creditors, and your history of making payments.
  • Your public record. Information about any court judgments against you, any tax liens against your property, or whether you have filed for bankruptcy.
  • Inquiries about you. A list of companies or persons who recently requested a copy of your report
No one has stated that a bad credit report automatically disqualifies someone from seeking municipal office. Just like a lender uses the information to determine the credit worthiness of an individual, a voter would be able to use the report as a tool to help construct a more complete picture of a candidate’s potential success as an elected official.

Another similar measure might be a candidate's ability to properly complete and submit the required reports to the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission. The inability for a candidate to properly file on time would not necessarily disqualify them from holding office. At the same time, repeated failure to meet the filing requirments might be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not that candidate is worthy of a vote.
Many people have pointed out reasons beyond an individual’s control that would negatively impact his or her credit report. If there was an instance of identity theft or a sudden/prolonged health occurrence that caused an individual to run up debt, that individual did nothing wrong. They simply need to provide a concise explanation if and when asked. Easy.
On the other hand, an individual with poor credit and a history of liens, bankruptcies, etc that are not explained or that are due to repeated poor decision making probably indicates that person is NOT a good candidate for public office.
If you think this is all nobody’s business, that’s fine. However, it should be noted that there is a lot of information available to the public that can, and most likely will, be discovered and revealed during the course of a campaign. Candidates can provide their history willingly or wait until it is revealed some other way.
Of course, certain items on the credit report should be redacted before being made public (social security number, date of birth and the like). This is standard procedure for the release of information to the public.
A lot has been made about the fact that all of the information contained in a credit report is personal and should not have to be revealed. A candidate for office is putting himself or herself out there as someone worthy of the public’s trust. Is it wrong to ask them to be open and transparent?
Any number of websites can provide access to a person’s criminal history, record of judgments, liens and such. It is a safe bet that all candidates in the upcoming municipal election will have their records looked at and anything questionable or controversial will likely be made public.
Some have pointed out that there is a movement at both the state and federal level to ban credit checks of prospective employees by employers. The bill already approved by the state senate (S455) does make exceptions for employees whose jobs will include activities of a financial nature (not merely handling money in a retail exchange).
Obviously, the legislature understands that a credit check can be an effective tool in gauging someone’s fit for a particular job. Since elected officials make decisions regarding the municipal budget, why shouldn’t their credit check be available to use when deciding who to vote for.
People have suggested that this resolution smacks of nothing more than “silly season” politics. They have thrown up a variety of reasons why this resolution should be voted down. They have not provided any suggestions on how the voter might better measure a candidate’s worth, his or her fiscal fitness, to serve.
We’re listening.