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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Trenton developer's bad business practices

Memphis media are reporting that the developer responsible for building a mixed-use project in Trenton's South Ward has been engaging in questionable business practices, withholding tens of millions of dollars from the city and spending the funds on projects elsewhere in the country.

Performa LLC's John Elkington took over commercial real estate responsibilities for the Beale Street district in Memphis back in 1982, and has been taking in what amounts to over $1 million annually by taking advantage of a great deal with the development corporation managing Beale Street.

But Memphis officials said Performa and Mr. Elkington have engaged in bad business practices by misappropriating tens of millions of dollars.

Performa should only be taking 15 percent of rental revenue - of a total of $125,000 monthly - but the rental funds that should have gone to the city have not been received, and are not in a court-mandated escrow account that should have been created five years ago, according to Memphis blogger Thaddeus Matthews.

An entity known as the Beale Street Development Corporation should have been receiving rent collected by Performa from Beale Street tenants, and then turning over 15 percent - plus other agreed-to funds - to Elkington's company, with the remainder going to the city.

But Memphis hasn't seen any of these funds since the agreement began in 1982, and there are zero funds in the escrow account Performa should have been maintaining, Mr. Matthews said.

Now city officials want to know where the funds have gone, and when they will be rightfully returned to the City of Memphis. Perhaps the funds are now in coffers of the City of Trenton in payments made for the Hamilton Avenue project.

If these allegations are true, then Performa certainly looks like bad news for Trenton.

More financial delays plague downtown development

The Palmer administration continued its battling with a prospective developer this week, with government officials balking at the developer's requests for additional financial support from the city for the project, which would revitalize an abandoned portion of downtown into a thriving mixed-use center.

City officials receiving a Tuesday presentation from the developer - Full Spectrum of New York - said the developer was renneging on earlier plans that did not include the financial request, which would have the city place tax payments into a bond to help finance the project instead of heading into city coffers.

City officials said the proposal was a Payment in Lieu of Taxes in disguise that had never been part of the development deal previously.

"The mechanism is a PILOT," said City Housing and Economic Development Director Sasa Olessi MontaƱo in the Times of Trenton Wednesday.

The developer is asking for more financial assistance from the city than originally envisioned, but one would think Trenton officials would assist, in any way they can, someone proposing to turn a group of abandoned buildings in a prime downtown location into a massive mixed-use development of 760,000-square-feet.

This same project was supposed to have had a ground breaking over a year ago, according to statements made by Mayor Palmer, but it seems the city and the developer are having trouble reaching any type of consensus on the project.

The city seems to place no value in the project and the great, multi-faceted package of benefits it would provide to Trenton, unless they make the maximum profit off of the early stages of the property's development.

It would bring a large population of middle-income people to Trenton that the city lacks, provide numerous jobs in both the short and long-term, and make downtown businesses and projects - like the Broad St. Bank building - more viable.

But no one has yet to move into the Bank's beautiful apartments yet following financial snafus that one anonymous source attributed to missteps by the city's development officials, especially Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez.

So it seems Full Spectrum has a good deal of work ahead of it, from haggling with city officials to dealing with their financial development gaffes.

Hang in there Full Spectrum, Trenton needs you!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Feinberg vindicates Capital Health

Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg sided with one of Trenton's major healthcare companies Monday, and ruled the City of Trenton would have to rebid its employee health services or award the bid to a different company, after it awarded the contract to a Hamilton-based firm through a flawed process.

This decision also revealed some of the shady practices the City of Trenton engages in when awarding contracts, with bias and malice.

Capital Health Systems sued the city after it awarded a contract to Robert Wood Johnson of Hamilton despite the fact that RWJ's bid came in at over $100,000 more than that of CHS.

CHS cited a litany of RWJ contract problems, including an incomplete proposal and the fact that city officials actually went over the other portions of the other bidders' proposals with RWJ officials.

"The fact that Robert Wood Johnson was able to view the lump sum budgets of the other two bid ders gave it a distinct advantage in crafting its own proposal," said Feinberg in a written opinion.

While Feinberg did not touch on the possibility of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's anger with CHS - over the planned move of one hospital campus to Hopewell - it does seem that city officials went out of their way to hand the contract to a firm other than CHS.

They selected the higher bid, citing unspecified complaints and ambiguous service features as the reason for the selection. This, combined with the fact they let a bidding firm review other bidders' proposals prior to selection, paints a picture of severe bias towards CHS.

Trenton residents shouldn't want a city government that awards bids and taxpayer moneys based on a childish grudge.

They should want a government that awards contracts based on the law, to the firm best-suited to do the job, especially if they are one of Trenton's largest employers and most important industries.

Friday, October 26, 2007

State of the City Three-Ring Circus

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer delivered his State of the City address Thursday at City Hall, touting a plan to hire 50 additional police officers along with new programs to provide financial incentives to middle class wage earners seeking residence in the city.

Both initiatives reek of doublespeak, coming from an administration that has consistently pursued the contruction of a disproportionate amount of low-income housing through Regional Contribution Agreements, while simultaneously using administration and council puppets to fight efforts of progressive council members seeking additional police protection.

The sudden shift of Palmer machine efforts from against councilmen Gino Melone and Jim Coston's initiatives to hire more officers to a position of support is indeed noteworthy, but it seems more like a "steal their thunder" announcement than original policy formation.

These two men, and especially Mr. Coston, have been pushing for an ordinance that would increase minimum Trenton Police Department staffing requirements since the early months of 2007.

But they have been consistently stonewalled in their efforts by the obfuscation of information by administration officials, whose effots were often augmented by an increasingly hidden Police Director Joseph Santiago who continually missed City Council appearances with bizarre and ambiguous excuses.

City Council officials who owe funding support - and probably a few of their seats - to Palmer's blessing also fought discussion of the police staffing measures.

So for administration officials to suddenly do an about face supports a significant community perception that Mr. Palmer and his East State Street lackeys see the hiring of officers not as a public safety issue but a potential political boon.

Like scavenging vultures, they have recognized the meat of a policy that receives unanimous community support, and have reversed their old position at the last minute when City Council officials were reaching the endgame in their pursuit of better protection for Trenton residents.

The mayor took the speech as an opportunity to antagonize naysayers and critics, who, according to the mayor, rely on half-truths and misinformation to denigrate the city for political purposes.

For the layman, these are simply political tactics symptomatic of a vindictive and paranoid administration hellbent on discrediting any and all opponents while cementing its own power.

Unfortunately for Trenton, these savvy political moves only further highlight the need for a smart, organized opposition in future elections to ensure the city gets more efficient, open, and democratic government.

Fortunately for Trenton, the election is only two plus years away.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hypocrisy Hall

In another coddle piece by Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s other spokesman — Trentonian columnist L.A. Parker — Mayor Palmer criticized Mercer County Executive candidate Janice Mintz and others Wednesday for bashing the precarious condition of parts of Trenton during recent debates.

“They pointed fingers, used scare tactics, and mislead people,” said Palmer of the naysayers in the Trentonian piece. “We need people to unify and work together.”

Those are funny words from the man who has lead a city administration that has made its living from pointing fingers, using scare tactics, and misleading people.

During his 18 years as Trenton’s mayor, Mr. Palmer has ran dissenters out of town, threatened those who speak out, and maintained a web of deceitful agents quick to let the mayor know about any community activists who run their mouths about the status quo.

He had an agent provocateur on the Trenton Council of Civic Associations — now in a position of power on the city’s legislative body — report back to him nightly on any dissenting commentary made at meetings.

Mayor Palmer has emphasized the law while permitting the city’s police director, Joseph Santiago, to openly flout numerous policies and run a Gestapo-like police administration where puppets devoid of talent run amok as opponents and dissenters are suspended or relegated to midnight shifts.

As reported on From the Front Stoop, the mayor has emphasized city residency requirements for city employees in the media, and then allowed friends to bend the rules, while simultaneously crucifying opponents for similar violations.

Mayor Palmer recently supported an administration official who threatened a city activist with a lawsuit — yes, that’s right, a lawsuit — after the resident spoke out on the official’s dismal record in the litany of positions he has held within the city.

In Trenton, hypocrisy and King “4” Life Palmer continue to reign supreme.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Outsourcing justice

The City of Trenton plans on cutting two city prosecutor positions and farming them out to private contractors at $150 a session, or some of the lowest rates in Mercer County, according to the Times of Trenton today.

Head Prosecutor Lyle P. Hough was in an obvious huff after learning of the move, which will most likely leave him with lots of work and few hands to do it.

The Trenton public will also suffer when inexperienced outside contractors take up positions where knowing the police, the community, and offenders helps increase conviction rates and helps the courts mete out justice.

What is equally disturbing were statements about the move from the "mouth of God", Palmer spokesman Kent Ashworth, who said the city is "trying to do more with less."

Well perhaps the city wouldn't have to do more with less if it didn't squander funding on outside legal firms and counsel, like that of Special Counsel Joe Alacqua, or $78,000 touch-ups on ridiculous neon Fire Department signs.

Trenton Makes will say it again: the city has already spent nearly $150,000 on Mr. Alacqua's services, in an illegal position that allows Mr. Alacqua to skirt residency requirements and other rules governing City of Trenton employees.

If they deleted Mr. Alacqua's position, they would be able to pay for the two prosecutors, easily, AND the Trenton public wouldn't get hamstrung by inefficient courts that have trouble prosecuting offenders.

Silly cost-cutting like this also paints a picture of the increasingly bankrupt house that is the City of Trenton.

When will it totally collapse?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ewing: we are safe again

The Times of Trenton this weekend reported that Ewing Township is happy about the lack of gangs following arrests made after some well-publicized incidents involving battling gang members and guns.

Things might seem better in Ewing, but a handful of arrests made and a few months of quiet do not mean things are really any better in Ewing. The article says the arrests ended a gang war, but there is no possible way to authoritatively make this statement.

But Ewing obviously wants to set the record straight about its return to peaceful suburban normalcy. And the funny thing is Ewing can get away with it, because most of the gang crime that occurs there is probably not reported, or even picked up on by law enforcement.

Trenton on the other hand cannot get away with making such false statements about public safety, even though Mayor Doug Palmer and Police Director Joseph Santiago do on a constant basis.

In recent years Director Santiago said crime is at an all-time low, but anyone living, or even visiting the city, can tell things are not OK all over Trenton.

In certain areas there are random acts of violence all the time, which leads to an environment where people feel unsafe, whether it is true at the moment, or not.

When people feel unsafe, it is very difficult to remedy, and Mayor Palmer and Director Santiago can make all the statements about crime they want. It does not have the same effect as in Ewing, where the vast majority of residents still feel safe so statements about safety have credence.

Twenty-plus homicides a year and innumerable assaults and lesser crimes hammer the lack of public safety home to everyone in Trenton and the surrounding area.

The statement "crime is down" goes against the public perception.

And it is all about perception.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Capital Health sues Trenton

Capital Health Systems has sued the City of Trenton over alleged low bid violations after the city awarded the contract for its employee health services to another medical outfit based in Hamilton.

The contract was awarded to the Robert Wood Johnson in Hamilton by City Council last month despite the firm being outside Trenton - which the request for proposal said was preferable - and despite being more than $100,000 more expensive.

But official from the Douglas H. Palmer administration advised City Council to award it to Robert Wood Johnson anyway, citing complaints from city employees and difficulties in getting certain documents from the Trenton-based hospital group.

Lurking behind these proceedings are several well-publicized flaps between Mayor Palmer and Capital Health over the group's planned closing of another hospital within Trenton - the Mercer campus in the West Ward. These were mentioned in the lawsuit documents.

Mayor Palmer was quoted numerous times in the media expressing anger over the move.

Perhaps now the courts will punish the City of Trenton for Mayor Palmer's vindictive nature, and its influence on the rest of the city government.

City Council should be wary in the future of revenge resolutions and what they could do to the city when passed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coston's police ordinance fails amid lack of information

An ordinance that would have increased the Trenton Police Department's minimum staffing levels from a range of 270 to 290 up to 310 to 330 failed Tuesday after receiving only two yes votes from City Council members.

Councilmen Jim Coston and Milford Bethea voted yes for the measure, while council members Manny Segura, Paul Pintella, and Annette Lartigue voted no. Council members Cordelia Staton and Gino Melone abstained from the vote.

The council members who did not support the measure said they needed more information about the financial impacts and other consequences of the measure, which administration officials agreed to hash out any with council at the Oct. 23 meeting.

Another requisite for their votes is an appearance by Police Director Joseph Santiago, who has consistently avoided making appearances at council.

But the director has apparently agreed to come before the body on Nov. 27, Chief of Staff Renee Haynes said.

Council members Cordelia Staton and Paul Pintella made remarks to the effect of accusing Mr. Coston of using the measure for political gains by painting council officials as anti-police and anti-public safety, but Mr. Coston said his only motive was to allay the fears of his constituents.

"Public safety should be our top priority," said Mr. Coston. "We can give out all the PILOTs we want, but if folks don't feel safe we will have a beautiful, empty city."

City Council officials not supporting Mr. Coston's ordinance consistently cited a need for information from the administration and the police department to inform a decision about the staffing.

But this is nothing new, as City Council officials have been asking for all of these appearances and all of this information for nearly six months, only to be consistently strung along by administration officials.

Special Counsel Joe Alacqua addressed council near the end of the meeting about a controversial executive session that occurred weeks ago, saying that Mr. Coston indeed erred in providing session tapes to the public.

The counsel also said the council did indeed adopt a resolution prior to the session, despite statements made by City Clerk officials to the contrary.

Mr. Alacqua said council may not have erred in its broad-ranging executive session discussion, among other comments, despite outside legal opinions to the contrary.

Some council members said Mr. Coston acted out of ignorance - being the newest council member - but Ms. Staton said he released the tapes on purpose in what she labeled a calculated move to "make a point".

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bye-bye Sleepy Pie!

Forum posters on Trenton's only censor-free forum today said there is a possibility that Capt. Paul "Sleepy" Messina may be retiring early over his latest problematic episode at the Trenton Police Department.

Capt. Messina was allegedly the focus of a sexual harassment probe after he made some sexist remarks to a male officer. The remarks highlighted, in Capt. Messina's mind, why one of his female coworkers was selected to receive a special laptop computer for use at her police assignment: her breasts.

Of course this comment ended up getting back to the female officer, who promptly filed Internal Affairs documents against Capt. Messina.

Now forum posters have been hinting that Capt. Messina's days could be numbered.

If this is the case, there will definitely be rejoicing in many circles within New Jersey's capital. Capt. Messina was a disgrace to the uniform on many occasions, often acting unbecoming of a high-ranking department officer, leading to the very public detriment of Trenton's finest.

From being caught sleeping numerous times, to ordering wasteful investigations on personal vendettas, Capt. Messina has frequently committed unthinkable acts and gone unpunished.

This is unlike many others in the Trenton Police Department, who committed minor transgressions but were transferred to midnight shifts or even suspended because they didn't toe the Police Director Santiago-Mayor Doug Palmer line.

If the rumors are true, then good riddance!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Palmer's wife has a tangled web of interests

Someone on the Trenton Speaks forum today made some pretty cogent points about the current land-deal flap involving Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's wife and a piece of property she bought from the Lawrence Township.

The poster pointed out a list of powerful positions Ms. Christiana Foglio-Palmer currently occupies in New Jersey, which provides her the ability to make these kind of sweetheart land deals.

The deal - which came coincidentally after donation funds made by Mayor Palmer were wheeled to Lawrence Township council candidates - gave some old hotel property in Lawrence to one of Mr. Foglio-Palmer's development groups at less than 25 percent of the price the township paid for the property.

As the forum poster pointed out, anyone who views this shady contribution trail must also keep in mind that Mayor Palmer's wife also happens to be in positions of power that probably helped close this purchase.

Mayor Palmer's wife is currently the Chairperson of a statewide non-profit, CityWorks that works with commercial development in poor urban areas. She also happens to be on the Board of the Mercer County Improvement Authority, Chair of the State Planning Commission, and housing advisor to Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

She also happened to be in charge of the Council on Affordable Housing under previous governors.

Trenton residents have to ask themselves before they vote in the next election whether they want city leadership to be involved in these tangled webs of outside interests.

They may not be illegal, but they continually call into question the motives behind decisions made by our elected representatives.

It might be the norm in New Jersey, but it doesn't make it right.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Council shows some backbone

City Council Tuesday went against the advice of Special Counsel Joe Alacqua and went with their hearts instead, voting down a resolution that would have renewed the liquor license for a nightclub that had been the cause of numerous problems for the city in past years.

Counsel for the owner of the establishment, Club XL, had recommended the council renew the license so owner Diance Lockhart could sell it to another unrelated party and try to recoup some money, in the face of impending state-mandated violation penalties.

Councilman Milford Bethea, whose North Ward was the site of the maligned club, said from the start of the proceedings last week that he could never vote for a renewal of the license after the club had caused so many problems for his constituency, in the form of robberies, assaults, and other illegal activity.

Other council members recalled the lengthy investigation of the club, in what has become somewhat of an albatross for this City Council.

Last week it seemed some council members were ready to acquiesce to the request of the club-owner's attorney and the recommendations of Mr. Alacqua, but in a rare moment of righteous clarity, Trenton's elected representatives stood up for their beliefs - alongside their colleague Mr. Bethea - and did the right thing.

Let's see some more of this in the future!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

OPMA violation letter elicits silence

A letter outlining potential Open Public Record Act violations by City Council was delivered to the governing body Tuesday, and the document was received with a deafening silence from council members and Special Counsel Joe Alacqua.

The letter outlined violations on the part of council during a recent executive session regarding the appointment of a new city clerk, during which the council broke the letter of the OPMA law several times.

Council members Gino Melone and Annette Lartigue said it is apparent that the council needed to have a special workshop about executive session rules with Mr. Alacqua, in order to prevent further violations that make the council vulnerable to Superior Court-induced fines.

Councilman Jim Coston was absent from the meeting due to a family obligation, but was seemingly absolved from wrongdoing after neither Councilwoman Cordelia Staton or Council President Paul Pintella responded to parts of the letter noting their baseless accusations of malfeasance on the part of Mr. Coston.

Ms. Staton wished to bring Mr. Coston before an Ethics Board, and Mr. Coston planned a written apology to council after he provided a member of the public with executive session tapes of the discussions, according to reports.

But it turns out Mr. Coston was in fact innocent because the clerk decision had already been made, releasing him to provide the tapes to the public, despite legal advice council had received from Special Counsel Alacqua to the contrary.

Monday, October 8, 2007

An unsustainable initiative

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and other New Jersey officials unveiled a public-private partnership called the Trenton Green Initiative last Monday, in a move designed to ensure sustainable development within Trenton while developing Trenton as a regional center for sustainable development business.

Mayor Palmer touted the new plan as developing a blueprint for urban areas nationwide that are pursuing sustainable development, while providing economic opportunity for Trenton.

National awareness of the need for sustainable development and "green" building have made this an attractive time to jump on the bandwagon, but economic indicators say Trenton remains an economically-downtrodden city with a highly unskilled workforce.

The unskilled nature of the Trenton workforce is so high, especially relative to the surrounding municipalities, it seems any high-tech industry based here would not be any kind of a significant boon to the city.

The vast majority of Trenton residents would not be able to work for any business like the one spoken about within Mayor Palmer's plan.

This kind of high-tech business would be more likely to attract skilled labor from outside of Trenton into town for 40 hours a week, fleeing the city limits - with their paychecks - on weekdays at 5 p.m. and Fridays at 3 p.m.

That situation sounds an awful lot like the state offices and their 20,000 employees that were supposed to provide a new purpose and a new economy for this city when they were built in the 1960s.

Taxpayer dollars would be better spent providing training and apprenticeship programs for city residents, providing an opportunity to scale the economic opportunity divide that seperates Trenton from so many of its neighbors.

Trenton's government needs to stop spending tax dollars on extraneous city positions and pie-in-the-sky environmental initiatives. Then maybe the funding will be in place to shore up public safety, housing inspections and other established city services.

This creates an environment to simultaneously train city residents while creating a safer urban environment that attracts skilled people to actually live here, invest here, and spend disposable income here.

Cutting government positions = cash for Trenton

Trenton City Council has already bestowed Special Counsel Joseph A. Alacqua monies in the amount of $75,000 and $95,000 thus far in 2007, providing grand amounts of compensation for a position that is only meant for legal work Trenton's own City Attorney cannot tackle.

This kind of work would normally be single legal cases in areas like redevelopment that City Attorney R. Denise Lyles may not have experience in, for compensation much less than these envious five-figure contracts.

But the Trenton City government seems to be using the Special Counsel position as an extra City Attorney, providing general legal work while being bound by none of the normal stipulations of a city job, like actually living within Trenton.

The current situation of Trenton's Law Department is disturbing, with loads of taxpayer dollars spent on extra lawyers and work that used to be done in-house by the City Attorney's office, sources said.

Instead the work is being spread out among numerous attorneys, all lining up at the Trenton trough of dollars.

What is worse is that all this comes in a city where more than half of the landmass is tax exempt, creating dire fiscal situations for New Jersey's capital. Trenton's cash-strapped government cannot afford to bleed dollars on extra-legal attorney positions that are not enumerated in the Trenton City Code or the Faulkner Act.

It is not only illegal, it is fiscally irresponsible.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Residency issues, AGAIN

More City of Trenton employees are flouting their residency requirements, in what amounts to further evidence that the Douglas H. Palmer administration selectively enforces the law with the passive approval of City Council.

Unsubstantiated reports on the forum today had anonymous law enforcement officials stating their belief that more Newark public safety personnel are ready to take up positions within the city's Communications Department without actually moving to Trenton, as set forth within Trenton City Code.

But Mayor Palmer has said previously that enforcing city residency requirements is an important issue for him.

"I feel strongly about residency and it applies to every city employee, It should be adhered to," said Mayor Palmer in 1997, after the city fired the director of the Trenton City Museum for alleged residency violations. "I feel people who violate the rule are being dishonest. There isn't any gray area here."

Leadership of the Communications Department - which was recently moved back under the care of the Trenton Police Department - was handed to one of Police Director Joseph Santiago's old cronies from Newark, Irv "Gotti" Bradley.

Law enforcement officials have reported that Mr. Bradley, like Mr. Santiago, has yet to move into Trenton as required by Trenton City Code.

As reported previously on Trenton Makes, Mr. Bradley has a sorted record of assault, drunkenness, and eluding arrest stemming from a traffic stop gone bad in Rahway that happened while he was a member of the Newark Police Department under Director Santiago.

When those transgressions occurred, Mr. Bradley received a slap on the wrist from Director Santiago. It comes as no surprise then that these men would openly violate the laws of Trenton, sources said.

It seems that under the current government leadership, law in Trenton will continue to be enforced selectively.

(Mayor Palmer quote cited from article on Trenton Facts)

Possible TCNJ shooting

Law enforcement agencies are on campus at The College of New Jersey, investigating a possible shooting at Travers Hall.

So far they have not corrobarated any evidence of the shooting that was reported, but additional security efforts have been implemented, and the investigation continues.

Many campus activities have been canceled as law enforcement officials continue to search Travers Hall for evidence of the attack.

Trenton officials bend the rules

Trenton City leadership has gone after city employees in the past for violating city code provisions requiring city workers to live in Trenton, but the city's police director currently livies outside the law without a bona fide residence within city limits.

Police Director Joseph Santiago used to feign residence at several different Trenton locations - like the Grand Court Villas in South Trenton - but nowadays he makes it no secret that he lives at his family home, elsewhere in New Jersey.

Some city residents question a mayor and City Council who don't even enforce the city's own code. They question the ethics of a government that doesn't follow its own rules while tasked with governing a large urban area with complex problems.

A city government that selectively enforces its own rules, like Mr. Santiago's residence, promotes skepticism on the part of city residents and does little to foster confidence in its governing ability.

Residents should look for council and mayoral candidates in the 2010 election that promise to uphold all of the laws of the City of Trenton, instead of the current government's lackadaisical stance with enforcing the city's laws and structure.

A citizen's initiative to use legal means to get the city government to toe the line with regards to Mr. Santiago and the residency laws would be an effective way to send a message to some of Trenton's apparently arrogant and incompetent officials.

The long march back to open, honest, and effective city government could begin in court.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

City Council errs again with potential ethics probe

Sources said Thursday that Trenton Councilwoman Cordelia Staton may be preparing to move that Councilman Jim Coston be brought in front of an ethics board for his actions in releasing a recording of an executive session regarding the appointment of City Clerk Juanita Joyner.

Mr. Coston may have been wrong initially in his release of the tapes of the executive session.

But legal sources say that the session itself was illegal and in violation of a slew of Open Public Meetings Act rules that invalidate its confidentiality and any wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Coston.

The executive session began without the adoption of any resolution detailing the session's expected topic, nor any release date upon which the contents of the discussion would become public, the source said.

Further, both Special Counsel Joseph A. Alacqua and Council President Paul Pintella, who attacked Mr. Coston's actions, did not keep the discussion on topic, either out of ignorance or a desire to keep the discussion from the eyes and ears of the Trenton public.

In effect, this lack of direction in keeping the executive session concealed important political discussion from the Trenton public about the perceived abusive nature of the relationship between the Palmer administration and some members of council and hid it beneath the darkness of executive session protocol, sources said.

The complaints against Mr. Coston are further off base for other reasons, the source said.

New Jersey state law dictates that any executive session discussion, especially regarding personnel decisions, becomes public as soon as any decision is made following the executive session deliberations.

It seems that the moment the council voted to appoint Juanita Joyner city clerk, any need for confidentially was removed, and Mr. Coston is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Executive session violations

For personnel discussion about the appointment of new City Clerk Juanita Joyner, the City Council went into an executive session on September 18.

But that move now looks to have been an improper and illegal one, involving an executive session that lacked a proper resolution detailing why it was needed and when its contents could be made public.

In addition, sources with a legal background reviewed tapes of the session, and said it went so far off topic that it should not have been discussed during a single executive session, or an executive session at all.

New Jersey's Open Public Meetings Act sets forth guidelines for bodies going into executive session during meetings to ensure government operates in an open way indicative of a democratic process, but still retains the ability to discuss sensitive issues in a private setting.

These guidelines come into play with the recent toungue-lashing that Councilman Jim Coston received after he released recordings of an executive session to a member of the public without following normal procedure.

The letter of the OPMA requires a resolution detailing the topics of the executive session to be drafted prior to the session, along with information detailing under what conditions and at what time the contents of the session may be made public.

Also, officials from the clerk's office are required to go through recordings or minutes and remove sensitive material before the release of the contents of the executive session.

Councilman Coston certainly did not follow the proper protocol with the release of executive session tapes.

But it turns out this whole problem may be a moot point because City Council itself and its mysterious special counsel seemingly did not follow the initial protocol in going into executive session.

During the session an official from the clerk's office brought up the last city clerk, and council members went as far as discussing their the relationship between City Council and the administration, according to tapes of the session, demonstrating the obfuscation of what should have been a public discussion.

To make matters worse, City Clerk officials said Wednesday that no such resolution was passed on the day of the executive session, and that no such resolution exists.

Once again, Trenton residents: WAKE UP!

The Trentonian reported today that Councilman Jim Coston has been on the receiving end of some discipline from City Council leadership after he turned over executive session tapes from a council meeting a few weeks ago to one of Trenton's bloggers.

According to the Trentonian, Mr. Coston has agreed to apologize for his actions, involving audio tapes that revealed the perceived existence of abuse and disrespect from Palmer Administration officials towards the elected representatives of the people on City Council.

Executive sessions are required when council is engaged in conversations regarding sensitive topics or personnel decisions.

But the sentiments of Trenton's council members about their mistreatment should not be hidden by the city government and kept from the ears of the constituency.

Manuel Segura, despite being elected on a Palmer slate of candidates with money provided from Mayor Palmer, was first to indicate a lack of respect for the City Council during the executive session.

"I know that since I was elected to this place right here, administration had never shown any respect whatsoever to this body, and this is my second term," said Mr. Segura. "We are a legislative body, Mr. President, and I believe we need to be respected."

Councilman Geno Melone's remarks indicated a perception of disrespect at the hands of the administration when Juanita Joyner was appointed into her first assistant clerk position.

"Does this body feel, the way even Ms. Joyner was hired was in a respectable manner to this Council?" said Mr. Melone. "This Council was not even brought into discussion by the administration for her hiring."

Geno added that Council President Paul Pintella and the rest of council had turned over control of the important clerk position over to the administration.

"You've turned, well, Council too, not just you Paul, the Clerk's office over to the administration," said Mr. Melone. "In fact, I came this far from stating why don't you just have the administration, since they done everything else, make the appointment of the Clerk."

The feelings of council members regarding their treatment at the hands of the administration should be in the public domain, because this treatment is indirectly felt by Trenton residents, who voted for their council representatives.

It is disturbing to note that City Council members feel this way, but it is more disturbing that their fellow members do not stand up for them after councilmen Segura, Melone, and Coston have all indicated they have felt disrespected by administration officials.

Why do Council President Paul Pintella and Councilwoman Cordelia Staton not stand up for their fellow council members?

And why do they feel the need to constantly defend the administration and attempt to hide the sentiments of the council from the public?

Trenton needs independent thinkers on council, and not Mayor Palmer's stooges.

Trenton, WAKE UP!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Capt. Sleepy needs to go

A Web site about Trenton’s infamous Capt. Paul “Sleepy” Messina recently detailed an incident within the Trenton Police Department that has resulted in an internal affairs investigation and the transfer of an officer, after sexist comments made by Capt. Messina about a female officer were made public.

After the female officer received a laptop computer to fulfill her own assignments, Capt. Messina allegedly told a male officer who requested a laptop computer for his own use to “buy a set of tits, flash them in front of Barry and Director Santiago and you can get anything you want.”

This is the latest in a long series of incidents involving Capt. Messina that have brought nothing but embarrassment to the Trenton Police Department, its leadership, and the City of Trenton as a whole. And if this incident is anything like the others, the leadership of the TPD and the City of Trenton will probably do nothing to reprimand Capt. Messina, and more likely will do anything they can to defend him.

The leadership of the city has proven again and again that they do not care about the actions of those in positions of power within the city government and the police department, and they have no interest in administering the government and enforcing the rules that govern its departments.

It is now time for Trenton residents to demand the removal of Capt. Messina from their police department before he brings any more embarrassment to this city and its inhabitants. His treatment is indicative of the creeping malaise that is afflicting all levels of the leadership of the city, from the mayor’s office on down.

If the leadership in the police department and the city continue their record of inaction on these matters, it only provides additional credence to the belief of many city residents that their government and its leadership are not only ineffective, but even worse, arrogant about their latitude in acting in ways unbecoming of those serving the public of Trenton.

Trenton desperately needs new leadership, and people need to begin to come together to ensure this happens, especially during the 2010 election.

Downtowner piece

The following appeared in the October issue of the Trenton Downtowner:

The U.S. Conference of Mayors was in town this September, and the arrival of many of the nation's leaders in New Jersey's capital city was greeted by the sight of silent marchers carrying signs that called attention to the ills that they see as a symptom of ineffective leadership in the city during Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's 17-year reign.

What the signs said was nothing new, and neither were the responses they received from the administration or its loyal henchmen in the Trenton media.

The facts of the protest were the following:

The signs called attention to the continued mess that is the Trenton public school system, and the secretive and even threatening nature of a city government that provides little information to City Council members, let alone citizens, and even threatens residents who dare to scrutinize public officials with lawsuits, among other problems.

The people marching came from many economic and ethnic backgrounds, all united by the desire to have their leader in Trenton handling Trenton's problems instead of national afflictions.

Of course, the usual responses and marginalization efforts came out following the event.

Mayor Palmer said that he may be away from the city, but he is still advocating for the needs of Trenton and pushes an agenda meant to benefit Trenton.

"I was missing when I met with President Clinton to get him to make Trenton a home ownership zone, an arrangement that has allowed us to build homes and create hundreds of new homeowners here in Trenton," said Mayor Palmer, responding to the protesters rallying outside the Trenton Marriott.

While Palmer has had some success building homes for low-income residents, it also must be recognized that any politician, especially one who has been in power for so long, can point to some victories and successes as rebuttals to scrutiny from detractors and naysayers.

It is true that the Palmer administration has built many homes in the city of Trenton - just look at the Battle Monument area - but during his tenure in office, Trenton's ratio of rental properties to owner-occupied housing has increased to 55 percent against 45 percent, and the number of vacant properties has steadily increased over the last few years, according to the U.S. Census.

Under Palmer, the city is filled with code violations and illegal living arrangements, and housing inspections only take place in Trenton every five years. There are so few inspectors in the cash-strapped city that single employees are responsible for the inspections of thousands of properties. Palmer unveiled a new housing inspections plan in 2007 that would flood problem areas with inspectors, but the real problem requires more inspectors and Palmer said the current funding situation makes this impossible.

The other response came from a Trenton columnist, who, while independent of the city administration, has become such a common source of Palmer propaganda and damage control that many residents have begun to wonder out loud whether his close relationship with the mayor has begun to erode his journalistic objectivity in his news articles and lead the award-winning columnist to use his subjective columns as a constant pro-Palmer bully pulpit.

In his Saturday piece following the protest, the columnist labeled the protesters a bunch of carpetbaggers who were involved in a short protest before retiring to upper-class coffee shops to drink expensive coffee concoctions. In an e-mail to one of the protesters he said the rally was just a bunch of white people who cared little about the problems faced by many of the city’s residents.

"Most of them were white and disgruntled people who bitched and moaned about city conditions that they really don't care about," said Parker in the e-mail. "Most of them could not care less about black unemployment, urban education, gangs, guns, violence, etc."

"Most of them don't like having a black mayor and a Hispanic police director," he added.

The truth behind the demonstration is that people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities came out to show that they care about the entire city and its current condition under Mayor Palmer, and they showed it by having the guts to stand up in the spotlight for their beliefs about the city they love.

The rally might not have been perfectly proportional to Trenton's demographics, but it was still a powerful sight that was not made up of any one ethnic group.

It’s too bad that some people cannot look beyond skin color and band together with their fellow man without calling motives into question, even in 2007.

But the people who banded together with their fellow Trentonians and came out for the U.S. Conference of Mayors demonstration apparently don't suffer from that problem.

- Greg Forester