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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Trenton officials pass gas costs to the taxpayers

Trenton City Councilman Jim Coston has received the city's vehicle usage rules recently, after several months of requests for the materials from Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum.

Ms. Feigenbaum said she would have it to the councilman by the following Monday, and that she was putting the finishing touches on the rules document.

This odd response sure sounds like the city has never had a city vehicle usage policy - or ordinance - and it seems whoever has had a city vehicle could use it in an unregulated fashion.

Trips to Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore, or to the grocery store, could all have been made in city vehicles using tax dollar-funded gasoline at a time when the United States has seen some of the highest gas prices in history, sources familiar with the situation said.

Compound this situation with the fact that many of the vehicles are issued to police officials - who are not required to live within city limits - and the problem is even worse, meaning Trenton employees living significant distances away from the capital are motoring back and forth in gas-guzzling police vehicles.

Perhaps the city could afford more housing inspectors - or more police officers for that matter - if we weren't paying the gasoline for city cars so that city officials could "drive off into the sunset".

Monday, August 27, 2007

One more for the pile?

Trenton City newspapers have been on the receiving end of a stream of letters to the editor from city residents irate over the lawsuit threat of a city official aimed at Trenton resident Zach Chester.

All of the letters have one thing in common: they condemn the actions of Assistant Business Administrator and Redevelopment guru Dennis Gonzalez in threatening to sue Mr. Chester after Mr. Chester repeatedly called the city official's record on redevelopment projects into question.

Now it seems even one of the few bright spots of redevelopment during Mr. Gonzalez's reign - the Broad Street Bank - is also sputtering, with the Trentonian's L.A. Parker reporting Tuesday that the beautiful apartment building has yet to see any tenants moving in, despite numerous announced and delayed move-in dates.

Mr. Parker reports that Mayor Douglas H. Palmer will not budge on some portions of the deal between the city and developer Richard Libbey regarding a mandatory contingent of affordable apartments in the early 20th century landmark.

But Trenton City can ill afford to vex another developer and associated redevelopment project, with numerous other Gonzalez-heralded projects falling to the wayside in recent months.

Performa, Manex, Trenton Town Center, The Leewood Affair...

The list of Mr. Gonzalez's failed redevelopment projects goes on, and with the months-long delay in the Broad Street Bank project, one wonders when that developer will turn tail and the Bank's once promising future will be added to the Palmer/Gonzalez scrapheap.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Could the Wi-fi money be better spent?

Trenton City officials announced this week that they are in discussions with Internet access firms about a project that could provide the city with wireless broadband access in a move that would make Trenton the first city to do so in New Jersey.

City officials said the project, if implemented, could provide a significant benefit to the city in attracting businesses and also in making emergency and other city services more efficient.

While city officials said they would pursue the project only at a minimal cost to Trenton's taxpayers, such a project would have to cost the city some kind of money at some point during its lifetime.

Most Trenton residents have things other than wireless broadband Internet access on their wish lists for the city. Less crime and more opportunity would probably seem to be more important to most Trenton residents than the title of New Jersey's first municipality with city-wide broadband access.

Sources said it will be interesting to see how the City Council approaches this question, especially if it becomes a pet project of the Douglas H. Palmer administration.

The project is still in its infancy, but given the current problems with housing inspections and rising police overtime costs, there are other areas of the city that could use any moneys spent on a technological novelty like wireless broadband access, sources said.

Then again, Trenton does need to attract new business and revitalization to provide more opportunity for its citizens and business owners.

The only question what cost?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mayor of Trenton supports possible instance of suppression of democracy

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer agreed with the lawsuit threat of a city staffer aimed at silencing a city resident Wednesday, saying he supported the decision of Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez to send a letter threatening legal action to a Trenton resident who had questioned Gonzalez's dismal record on bringing revitalization projects to Trenton.

According to the Times of Trenton, Mayor Palmer said, "No one can afford to take lightly insinuations of wrongdoing made without any factual basis or specifics."

But the citizen in question, Zachary Chester, never made any insinuations of wrongdoing, while simply calling Mr. Gonzalez's ability to properly perform his job into question.

Mayor Palmer also used the convenient excuse of chalking up Mr. Chester's actions to mere political aspirations.

"There appears to be a trend developing by people who are willing to say anything in pursuit of their own political aspirations, including attacking the integrity of others under the guise of civic activism," said Mayor Palmer in a statement in the Times of Trenton. "That sort of thing should concern us all."

What should concern everyone who supports American democracy is the the attempted suppression of citizen dissent by the actions of a tyrannical political machine in one of America's more run-down cities.

In American democracy, citizens have the right to call the abilities of their public officials into question at any time, without fear of suppression or threat to their lives and families, according to sources familiar with the First Amendment and democracy.

But the Palmer administration does not operate under the fundamentals of American democracy, and instead supports a more tyrannical form of government where the goings-on of the government are kept behind a wall of silence so impenetrable that not even City Council members can get the information they need to craft legislation, according to the Web site of Councilman Jim Coston.

In a further breach of the checks and balances of American government, anonymous sources said Trentonian columnist and Palmer supporter L.A. "Palmer" Parker has contacted Mr. Chester and informed him about the mayor's stance on the issue

Despite the fact that the media is supposed to serve as the fourth estate - in a position to protect the American public from the transgressions of evil political leaders - this Trentonian columnist is relaying the venom of this vindictive mayor of New Jersey's capital city and his administration lackeys, anonymous sources said.

L.A. Parker has also reported Mayor Palmer's opintion that Mr. Chester is a political opportunist who simply makes statements in the guise of performing civic duties in the August 22 Trentonian.

Good night Trentonians, and good luck.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More money spent by inept public officials means more problems for city residents

The Douglas H. Palmer administration of Trenton City has made requests for the creation of additional redundant positions within the government at a time when residents and business owners are clamoring for funds to be invested into overhauling the city's archaic housing inspections schedules.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer told the City Council earlier in the summer that there was no money in the budget for increased inspections and more inspectors, but the administration had two ordinances on last week's City Council docket that would create new positions within the government earning a potential combined salary of upwards of $139,000.

The two proposed positions - Public Information Assistant and Assistant Municipal Clerk - perform duties already performed by other city jobs, and signify a move that flies in the face of the administration's assertions about a lack of money for the housing inspection department.

Listening to the proposal last week during a teleconference session, Councilman Jim Coston responded harshly to the administration's proposals after his requests for increased inspections and overhauled inspection tactics were met with stonewalling, and then a watered-down policy implemented by Mayor Palmer.

"Am I to understand we have 1 housing inspector for every 2,000 housing units but we can afford to hire an assistant public information officer?" said Mr. Coston.

Administration officials, including Deputy Mayor Renee Haynes and Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum said the positions shouldn't be construed to be new, but were more of a housekeeping nature.

"It is just a title in the City Code, and we are setting a salary range for it," said Ms. Feigenbaum of one position.

It remains to be seen whether at some point in the future the administration fills these "housekeeping" positions without notifying City Council or city residents of the expenditures from the city's coffers, city sources said.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Palmer administration officials: Question the job we do and we will sue you

The Assistant Business Administrator and former acting Housing and Economic Development Director of the Douglas H. Palmer administration has threatened a city resident with a lawsuit and demanded half-page apologies in the city's newspapers after the resident questioned the official's performance of his paid city job.

The lawsuit threat to West Ward resident Zach Chester came from Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez, after Mr. Chester repeatedly asked the City Council to use their legal power to investigate numerous failed or delayed redevelopment projects in the city that were the responsibility of Mr. Gonzalez.

Mr. Chester responded publicly to Mr. Gonzalez's threat of a lawsuit in front of City Council Thursday, receiving a thunderous applause from a group of 20 residents gathered at City Hall for the meeting.

"Mr. Gonzalez is a public official, and I am a concerned citizen," said Mr. Chester. "Because, as a concerned citizen, I asked the City Council to look into Mr. Gonzalez's performance as public official, he is now trying to take away my rights."

Despite Mr. Gonzalez's position that Mr. Chester made comments expressing or implying criminal and unethical behaviour on the part of Mr. Chester, a review of minutes from the past meetings and personal experience show that Mr. Chester was only asking for scrutiny of the performance of an appointed public official.

Mr. Gonzalez, as a public official, is open to this scrutiny, according to legal sources familiar with the subject.

Mr. Chester - who grew up in a housing project in Trenton and returned to make a difference in the welfare of the city - said Mr. Gonzalez had picked the wrong man to try and intimidate into silence.

"If you want to sue me, then sue me," said Mr. Chester. "If there is nothing to hide, then settle this in court."

Mr. Gonzalez had been at the center of several delayed or failed development projects within the city, and has been very secretive about the project's problems.

He has repeatedly refused comment in the local media and even responded to an Open Public Records Request from Alysia Welch-Chester about the stalled Trenton Town Center project by asking for $450 in billed overtime costs for his extra work to gather the data.

Touted by city officials as important projects in Trenton's future, several of the projects have never even gotten to the construction stage, with only the Broad Street Bank building coming to fruition under Mr. Gonzalez's guidance.

Residents haven't even moved into that project yet, which had an original move-in date of early 2007.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

City Council Tomorrow

Trenton City Council is set to meet Thursday - in the first meeting of the city governing body since July's five-hour affair - and there have been unsubstantiated reports of the administration and police leadership caving in and agreeing to raise the number of officers in the Trenton Police Department.

Police Director Joseph Santiago is scheduled to make an appearance Thursday, and some sources speaking on the condition of anonymity say he may well tell those gathered at 319 East State Street that the force plans on receiving an additional 50 officers from the fall class, in addition to the 24 already scheduled to join the ranks at the end of the summer.

Residents showed up at the last council meeting demanding the hiring of more officers, describing horror stories of tired officers and waiting lines for police service in one of New Jersey's most dangerous cities.

This recent citizen's movement - made up of old and new residents all concerned about the city - has surely shown its influence, demonstrated by the current marginalization campaign being used by council and administration officials to paint the group as newcomers who don't know anything about the city.

Should the administration bend to pressure and hire more officers, it is proof that enough raised voices can elicit a response from politically-deaf Trenton City officials.

And if they don't hire more officers, then the residents will keep on pushing the issue until they do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trenton officials: knife-attacker deeply troubled, well-known to area police

Trenton City police officials said the perpetrator in Monday's knife attack in the heart of downtown Trenton had mental problems and was a criminal well-known to Mercer County law enforcement officials, seemingly on the defensive about the violent crime seeping into an area of Trenton generally known for its lack of public safety issues.

"The suspect Evans is a deeply troubled individual prone to violence," said Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago in a statement in the Times. "He is well-known to police throughout Mercer County."

Suspect Maurice Evans allegedly attacked a City Hall employee, stabbing the victim and two Good Samaritans who intervened, and then fleeing down East State Street only to be apprehended by Trenton City police.

Trenton officials - including Mayor Douglas Palmer - gave credit to the supposed constant Trenton police presence downtown in the quick apprehension of the suspect.

But anonymous police sources said the apprehending officers were both from patrol groups stationed in other parts of the city, and not from the supposed police presence constantly guarding a few downtown businesses and thousands of state workers from the crime plaguing the other parts of the city.

While Trenton City officials continually say "Crime is Down, Crime is Down" ever more brazen criminals are venturing into supposedly safe areas of town and preying on innocent victims going about their everyday business in the city.

Maybe if there were more police officers hired to relieve the current overworked and undermanned staff, the city could afford to provide a real blanket of coverage for not only downtown, but the neighborhoods where Trentonians actually live themselves.

More officers won't cure the crime, but it will give us well-rested and vigilant officers well-equipped to make life-and-death decisions in dangerous situations like the one that happened in the shadows of City Hall Monday morning.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Council continues to rely on OPRA

South Ward Councilman Jim Coston continues to rely on Open Public Records Act requests to acquire information he needs to perform his duties as a member of City Council, with numerous requests for information about Trenon policy receiving little or no response for the Douglas H. Palmer administration.

With recent revelations on an anonymous Trenton police Web site showing the dispersal of Trenton City vehicles all over the city, Councilman Coston has revived his interest in creating city policy that would prevent such an egregious misuse of the financially-strapped city's property.

Following what Councilman Coston calls further stonewalling on information about the city's vehicle usage policy by Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum, he has drafted another letter that shows his disgust with the Communist Chinese-like blanket of screcy used by the Palmer administration.

"My patience is wearing thin at either the stonewalling or the inability to compile and dispense requested information in a timely manner," said Mr. Coston in a statement on his Web site. "When we have an Open Public Records Act that mandates that citizens receive a response to their requests for public information within seven business days, it is simply unacceptable for the Administration to continue to respond to similar requests from one of their elected representatives at such a glacial pace."

The Trenton Makes site, numerous Trenton residents and Trenton Rising officials have pointed out previously that the Trenton City Council is armed with the ability to demand timely reports and interpetive information from department heads serving at the pleasure of the mayor.

The governing body is also armed with the ability to vote to remove a department head or director as they see fit.

Wouldn't stifling the communication process and stunting the creation of appropriate legislation and therfore damaging the quality of life of Trenton residents be grounds for reprimand and possibly removal?

Until members of City Council prove they have the ability to represent and protect the residents who elected them from a malfunctioning city administration, they do not deserve another vote in any future election.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hiring more officers?

Following months of pressure from single residents, councilmen, and citizen's groups, there are rumblings that the city is getting prepared to bend to pressure and hire more police officers to help a force that is chronically undermanned and overworked.

Unsubstantiated reports say there are 24 officers in the current academy class tapped to enter the Trenton force, with another 50 planned in the following class graduating in the fall.

Resident and Trenton Rising officials supported City Councilman Jim Coston's push to adjust the city code to increase the minimum number of police officers, in a move designed to relieve the overworked force while simultaneously addressing financial stress caused be forced overtime.

Trenton officers are required to work mandatory overtime to address the manpower shortages, with officers being forced to work consecutive 16 hour shifts in some cases.

One officer stationed on the streets of the Mill Hill neighborhood said he was going a little crazy after working a couple of these double shifts in a row. This can be unnerving to some residents, considering the potentially life-threatening situations that occur in Trenton on a daily basis.

There is speculation that Police Director Joseph Santiago or other administration officials may make an announcement at the August 16 City Council meeting.

Make no mistake.

If this move comes to fruition, it is due to citizen pressure from everyday Trentonians, Councilman Coston, and a concerted effort by officials from the Trenton Rising group, who pushed a group of residents to attend the July City Council meeting and give the Trenton government a piece of their collective mind.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Palmer tries to get schools back on track

The Douglas Palmer administration kicked off efforts to remediate the sorry state of Trenton’s schools yesterday, with the mayor’s hand-picked school board moving to create three new high-level administration positions following an address by Mayor Palmer.

Mayor Palmer said the city school district was facing the most difficult situation it has seen since his first term as mayor started in 1990, according to statements in the Times of Trenton yesterday.

The urban district had received a scathing report from the Department of Education earlier in the summer that saw many Trenton students woefully deficient in math and language skills, and many teachers lacking enough certification to teach their subjects, or any certification at all.

The school board was also the audience for Education Commissioner Lucille Davy, who said the way the district was performing currently was “unacceptable”, according to the Times.

One of Superintendent Lofton’s first moves to address the problems was to ask the board to abolish the deputy superintendent position, in addition to creating three new high-level positions that he said will help the district perform at a higher level, according to the Times.

One could call the performance of the Trenton schools one of Mayor Palmer’s major deficiencies during his 17 years as mayor of New Jersey’s capital city.

He has brought in several superintendents that he said would reverse the negative trend in the district, only to have them underperform, or in Superintendent Lytle’s case, severely damage the fragile urban district.

While Mayor Palmer has made some progress in building new housing for Trenton’s urban poor and bringing some businesses back to downtown, the school district situation seems to have constantly dogged the astute politician since he first ascended to the mayor’s office.

With a school board that is appointed by the mayor managing the district, it can be said that Mayor Palmer is to a certain extent responsible for some of the performance of Trenton’s schools, although simply picking school board members does not address the social situation in the economically-depressed city that affects the lives of students so profoundly.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Trenton Rising pushes for more housing inspections

The Trenton Rising group met at the New Jersey State House Annex Saturday for the second round of discussions on the unsatisfactory state of Trenton and its government.

The first meeting had been an introduction of sorts, with city activists gathering together and voicing varied concerns with the condition of the city, and coming to a consensus that the problem was emanating from the dysfunctional government situated at 319 E. State Street.

Residents attending Saturday's meeting concentrated on discussions about the state of the city's housing and tenant-landlord relations.

Trenton Rising officials threw their official support behind a proposed City Code revision-ordinance that would increase the frequency of housing inspections from a paltry once every five years to at least a minimum annual inspection.

South Ward Councilman James H. Coston had previously introduced the ordinance only to be shot down by members of the "rubber stamp" portion of the council who said the body should wait for a presentation about inspection department overhauls being undertaken by the Mayor Douglas H. Palmer administration.

Trenton Rising officials said they hope to get that legislation back on the table in City Council.

"The consensus was that we need more inspections, and in addition to that, we shouldn't be forced to do the job of the inspectors getting paid city dollars to perform these duties," said Trenton Rising organizer Paul Harris.

Trenton Rising members also plan on reviewing housing codes, and creating a quick checklist for residents to use when inspecting their dwellings.

The group hopes this will allow residents to have better knowledge about their rights as tenants and force landlords - many of them absentee "slumlords" - into taking better care of Trenton's housing stock.

Some audience members had voiced concern when Mr. Harris had produced a preliminary inspection checklist, saying the document could cause trouble for the group if it contained incorrect information about housing code.

Mr. Harris and other Trenton Rising officials have responded by making a statement that they would conduct careful research and come up with a carefully created document reflecting true housing code law.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Good first step

Earlier this week Trenton welcomed a new Foot Locker store into the downtown business district in a move that city officials heralded as an important step in the revitalization of downtown.

"It is significant to have Foot Locker," said Mayor Douglas H. Palmer in a statement in Friday's Times of Trenton. "It is an affirmation of their belief in our capital city."

City officials touted the opening of many new businesses downtown over the past year, including several retailers and successful restaurants, as a sign that things are slowly moving in the right direction.

But downtown Trenton has not yet shed its perception of being "empty".

Years ago, Trenton boasted one of the best shopping districts in the area, frequently being the destination for residents purchasing high-end products from world-famous retailers.

But nowadays downtown Trenton is better known as a nine-to-five weekday shopping destination, with little to no foot traffic on the weekends and very few shops open for business.

While Trenton city officials continue to point to small successes like Friday's opening of the Foot Locker, they need to realize that to take bigger steps in the right direction, the city will require better leadership and carefully-crafted policy.

This policy needs to address greater social realities and use the city's tools and assets to stimulate growth in the downtown district and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Details will follow....

Nice Job Trenton Downtowner

Good job on the detailed article by Diccon Hyatt of the Trenton Downtowner:

Photos courtesy of Paul Harris of