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Thursday, January 31, 2008

A broken system

The theoretical brilliance of the American system of government is that with the other branches of government and the separation of powers, the system should be equipped to cope with whatever kind of idiot the citizens put into power.

The hope is that someplace in the system there are good politicians, who can use their legal powers to balance out any misguided policies.

That is how it should work, but not necessarily how it does work.

Take the national government, where a United States Attorney General facing questioning from a panel of some of the most senior Senators in the union would not label a process known as waterboarding as torture outright because the Bush administration has refused to recognize its own law-breaking, or recognize the practice as such.

As a reminder, this tactic uses the simulation of drowning to make a captive feel incredibly uncomfortable, to put it lightly.

In Trenton there is Douglas H. Palmer, who has put forth misguided initiative after misguided initiative, from housing policies to politicized appointments to hackneyed development projects and - last but not least - politically-charged firings and investigations based on established city law.

Through many years of this, institutions like City Council, the court system, and the local Democratic apparatus have failed to use their abilities to counteract any of these initiatives or their source, and a city that was already on the ropes in 1990 is about to be carried out of the arena on a stretcher.

This city has continual public instances of favored city officials who flagrantly break city law and then routinely go unpunished, while administration officials come into City Council chambers and publicly insult the representatives of the people, which is an act that is surely tantamount to insulting the residents themselves.

To prevent this madness from continuing, city officials - especially those on City Council - need to stop displaying this business as usual attitude, and question administration officials and their policies while demanding both truthful and timely answers.

When an administration employee like Dennis Gonzalez talks down to City Council members and fails to give a straight answer when asked about any city policy or development project, then council needs to get together and advise that employee that they will soon be out a job.

It seems that there are some working on City Council who cannot do their jobs as the representatives of the people by asking the tough questions, and doing the right things and demanding the respect their office deserves.

They need to give serious thought to stepping down before anymore of this city is destroyed by the unfettered and unchallenged power that is warping its very fabric.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Corzine has friends in funny places

Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s asset monetization plan got an unlikely boost Wednesday when the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce announced it was endorsing the plan, in particular supporting the parts of the plan calling for governmental controls on future state spending.

That spending got the state into its current financial hole - with around $32 billion in debt and a dwindling Transportation Trust Fund - which the governor’s plan aims to fix through a scheme involving toll hikes on the state’s superhighway.

With toll increases of around 800 percent by 2020 or so, the increased revenue would be used to pay for a massive bond issue undertaken by an entity assuming management responsibilities for the roadways.

The bond issue would then go towards paying down half of the state’s total debt and reinvigorating the Transportation Trust Fund, while controls like freezing the current budget, limiting spending, and requiring voter approval of state borrowing without dedicated revenue sources would be put into place to prevent more uncontrolled debt.

“Already a strong plan with new thinking, the Chamber Board’s desire is for it to go even further to forcefully address systemic expenditure problems within our state’s fiscal structure that have plagued Administration after Administration,” said William J. Marino, chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Constitutionally curtailing state spending, expanding reform efforts within the state’s public benefits system, consolidating government departments, and embracing other expense reductions are all items we would like included in the final work product in order for this effort to be successful.”

Gov. Corzine associated the refunding of the state’s transportation coffers with the continued success of the state economy.

“As a corridor state, our transportation infrastructure is the linchpin of our economy. Without that, businesses big and small cannot begin to grow or thrive in our state,” said Gov. Corzine, in a statement. “If we don’t re-set New Jersey’s finances and improve our ailing infrastructure, our State’s economic future will be in jeopardy.”

Republicans responding to the announcement of the endorsement sounded disgusted, with many saying the Chamber of Commerce had sold out the state’s middle class and business community by advocating the plan.

“I am disappointed that the Chamber would endorse a $40 billion borrowing proposal without so much as a cursory glance at the yet to be released legislation or the concession agreement,” said Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. R-21, in a statement. “No business executive that I know would borrow $40, much less $40 billion based on a set of talking points.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Council: what is up with Irving?

Communications Director Irving Bradley's residency in Trenton and his usage of city-owned vehicles in exotic New Jersey locations will be the subject of further City Council discussions after the body broached the issue in the closing minutes of the regular session of their Tuesday meeting.

"I want to talk about Mr. Bradley's weekend jaunts," said Councilman Jim Coston to the rest of council.

Councilman Coston questioned Palmer administration officials on whether they had allowed Mr. Bradley to take a city-owned Ford Expedition up to his old home in Rahway over the weekend, which was revealed on a Trenton Web site this week.

Chief of Staff Renee Haynes did say that police officials were allowed to take their city vehicle home with them at night, citing the unsafe nature of Trenton for the overnight storage of city vehicles, but that only brought up another issue: the director's residence in Trenton.

Council members asked why Mr. Bradley - as a civilian director - would have his family living outside of the city at his old home in Rahway, in violation of the city's residency laws.

"If he is a resident of Trenton, than that car should have been parked at his Trenton residence," said Councilwoman Annette Lartigue.

That was all for the council on the matter - for now - with already four and a half hours and an executive session yet to be conducted.

Mr. Coston said earlier in the conversation that he wanted to discuss the issue in-depth at a later date, but finished by handing out a certification with a "detailed explanation of residency", to all council members and some of the administration officials.

All city employees hired after 1995 were required to sign the certification, which defines exactly what comprises the bona fide domicile that is required of city employees, with violators facing dismissal.

Legal sources said Tuesday that if Mr. Bradley signed the paper, he would be in violation of the law and subject to prosecution, and if he didn't sign the paper, then it would serve as evidence of the Palmer administration engaging in selective enforcement, by failing to enforce a law they had upheld numerous times against other employees.

Council is expected to discuss the issue further in coming weeks.

Palmer won't uphold the law

An arrogant Mayor Douglas H. Palmer told those questioning the residency of Communications Director Irving Bradley that the director is in fact abiding by the city’s residency ordinance on Tuesday, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Photos of Mr. Bradley’s various city-owned vehicles were shown at his downtown city apartment building, but later photos showed one of the same vehicles 50 miles away at his old family residence in Rahway.

But the city law requires employees working for the City of Trenton to maintain bona fide domiciles within city limits, with part of the definition of that term requiring the city home to also be the home of the immediate family of the employee.

If Mr. Bradley’s family is still living in Rahway then Mr. Bradley is living in open defiance of the law, with the support of an arrogant and despotic Mayor Palmer.

Despite the reality of the situation, Mayor Palmer said Tuesday that Mr. Bradley is abiding by the residency ordinance, and Mr. Bradley would not say whether his family is moving to Trenton calling the matter “private”, according to the Times of Trenton.

Mayor Palmer also used the news piece to continue his efforts in distraction, with a verbal attempt to muddy the issue by declaring that those who are complaining about the breaking of city laws were taking the city government’s attention away from other more important matters.

“It continues to amaze me that with public safety being the most important issue facing the city, people are raising distracting ‘non-issues’,” said Mayor Palmer in Tuesday’s Times.

When is the open violation of the law by our elected officials a non-issue, especially in the American system of government?

It seems that according to Mayor Palmer’s contradictory logic, “crime is down” and the city is experiencing a renaissance, but the public safety issue requires so much attention that the suspension of established law is acceptable for some employees but not for others, as if Trenton was in some sort of state of emergency.

Almost equally contradictory is the mayor’s declarations about the financial woes of the city – including the mortgage crisis – and the need for a tax hike, while simultaneously allowing his underlings to literally milk the city of taxpayer dollars to fund the commutes of real and pseudo city-employees.

Also, isn’t this supposed to be a “green” city?

City Spin Dr. Kent Ashworth told the Times Tuesday that the city allowed employees to take their cars home because there was no safe place to keep the vehicles, but that makes no sense.

As city resident Dan Dodson once said on his Web site, the capital is literally awash with both surface parking and parking decks that are almost never used at night, and it is entirely feasible for the city to use one of these empty structures as a repository for city-owned vehicles.

Hamilton Township’s Mayor John Bencivengo recently clamped down on the abuse of municipal vehicles, and it is time for Trenton to do the same.

When Trenton residents face potentially-crippling increases in their tax bills, the municipal belt needs to be tightened, and a perfectly logical place to begin would through taking away the ridiculous perks provided to many of Trenton’s highly paid employees.

Everyone else pays for their own gas and everyone else commutes to work in their own vehicle.

It should be the same for city employees.

Monday, January 28, 2008

More residency issues

Residency controversy continued its role as the albatross of Trenton’s city government with Monday's release of some damning photos that provide visual evidence of the continued abuse of city laws, city vehicles, and city-funded gasoline by a relative newcomer to the Trenton scene.

Two different vehicles of Acting Communications Director Irving Bradley were shown at his alleged new address within the City of Trenton at the Broad Street Bank building during the workweek, but then one of those same city vehicles was shown over the weekend at what is purported to be Mr. Bradley’s old home address in Rahway, nearly 40 miles away.

The important thing here is that Mr. Bradley and his family would have completely moved out of Rahway and into the Broad Street Bank apartment to comply with the city’s residency ordinance, or else he would face immediate termination at the hands of the city’s personnel department.

This same issue is exactly why Police Director Joseph Santiago – who happened to have work with Mr. Bradley in Newark – could soon be dismissed from his position for feigning residence in the city and then later refusing to move into Trenton to comply with the law.

The story of Mr. Bradley’s flouting of the residency law just continues the long line of people under the Palmer administration who demonstrate the attitude that the law does not apply to them when they hold the favor of Mayor Palmer or his higher cabinet members, like Mr. Santiago.

More residency controversy is sure to only further divide the city and spark further discussion about amending the city’s residency laws, but those who suggest doing so fail to see the reason for having such a law, and the importance of maintaining the current law, or even strengthening it.

Trenton’s current impoverished and dilapidated condition only came about with the flight of industry and the middle class out of the city, which was then followed by housing programs that cemented many of the region’s poor within the city’s borders.

The residency ordinance serves to keep a solid base of middle-class wage earners inside the city limits, providing for at least some mixed incomes and keeping the city alive economically, at the bare minimum.

Without the residency ordinance a group of 2,000 people earning some of the better salaries in the city would likely flee for the borders, leaving the city in more economic turmoil that it is already experiencing.

A lesser benefit of the residency ordinance is that it makes those in public service positions actually share in the interests of the community, likely working harder towards improving a community in which they have a greater stake.

People advocating for a weakened ordinance or its elimination forget exactly why the ordinance was enacted – by a citizen’s referendum in the late 1960s – and how Trenton got into its current condition.

The flight of the middle class and business has only accelerated since those times, and for Trenton to turn that around it will likely require development and the reconstruction of neighborhoods ruined by the scourge of poverty, and the addition of attractions that bring people into the city.

Weakening residency will only allow people to go the other way, right out of Trenton.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dammit, he's right!

Trentonian columnist L.A. Parker wrote Saturday that the outpouring of support that has developed for saving Trenton Central High School from the wrecking ball seems incredibly insensitive, given the plight of the students who are actually trying to learn in the building.

He may have hit on something that seems to have been lost in all of the brouhaha over preserving that wonderful structure in the East Ward.

It may be cliche, but what about the children?

While it has been the belief here that the building ought to be saved if possible, it is also a reality that the students who are studying there already face enough problems in trying to get an education in a poverty and crime-ridden community.

They shouldn't be distracted and required to worry about learning in a structure that is falling apart and much too large for the present student population.

So if it turns out that building new state-of-the-art facilities would remedy that situation more quickly than a renovation effort could, then Trenton needs to bite the bullet and move in that direction.

Surely portions of the building - especially the wonderful front facade with the clock-tower - could be saved for historical purposes or even for use as some sort of athletic or educational facility.

The children studying there currently should not be punished because a city and a school board couldn't keep up with a regular schedule of maintenance to keep the building in working form.

And while that inability to manage the maintenance of the buildings is one of the real causes of this problem, the city will get nowhere by moving towards a renovation effort simply to remedy the past ineptitude of Trenton's school administration.

Preserving historical structures is important to keeping a link to the city's great past, especially in hope that one day another great future will come to Trenton, but that effort should not take precedence over the teaching of children who so desperately need a proper education.

For all his shortcomings, Superintendent Rodney Lofton made two important points at a school board meeting last week, where good comments and pertinent information came few and far between.

"Facilities do not determine a child's education, but they have an effect on it," said Mr. Lofton. "One thing that is good about being superintendent is that all I have to worry about is the needs of the children."

Maybe - and in fact more likely - renovating the school could provide a proper learning environment for the kids at Trenton Central, using plans that were put together years ago.

But whatever the case, it is important to pick the plan that will better satisfy the needs of the current, living children rather than the needs of those trying to save a historically-significant but inanimate building that has already gone into disrepair.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Trenton Twilight Zone

The more Police Director Joseph Santiago talks, the more it seems like he and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer have accepted the director's impending exit from New Jersey's capital due to violations of the city's residency laws.

Mayor Palmer's acceptance of the ouster of Mr. Santiago is the more peculiar of the two instances, given the mayor's power-obsession and constant efforts to get all things in Trenton done his way.

Old Mill Hill called Mayor Palmer a puppet master Friday on his blog, which is truly what Mayor Palmer has been, especially regarding the City Council that all of a sudden grew the cajones to go after Mr. Santiago for so blatantly breaking the law.

One would think that this political master and power fiend would do everything in his power to preserve Mr. Santiago's position within Trenton, but it seems both the mayor and the director himself have accepted Mr. Santiago's fate, either at the hands of City Council or those of a Superior Court judge, who will hear a lawsuit about the matter on Feb. 22.

So what gives?

Did all of City Council really stand up for the rule of law and the clear opinion of city residents on this matter?

The more likely scenario was that the rubber-stamp portion of the body simply got the mayor's blessing, and went along with the rest of the body in asking for Mr. Santiago's compliance and threatening him with dismissal.

Why take more political damage when you can cut your losses and begin anew, in a stronger position?

Just imagine, Mayor Palmer walks over to the council conference room in City Hall, and there is Cordelia Staton and Paul Pintella, and maybe some other council members.

"Well my servants, they got us this time, so we will let this go," says Mayor Palmer. "But we won't let this happen again. Once Santiago is out of here we will take care of that ordinance, and get one of you into the mayor's office."

"Yes, sir," says Mr. Pintella and Ms. Staton and the others in unison.

That scenario sure paints the Santiago affair and council's newly-found strength in a different light, but in the end, the result is that the law got enforced.

The end justifies the means, according to Machiavelli at least.

Whatever the case may be, if Santiago goes, score this as one point for the good guys. But the game is not over yet, and there is much more work to do.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gov. Corzine proposes $2.5 billion in school build money

Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposed $2.5 billion in additional state funding mandates Thursday to provide money to build schools in the urban districts that got burned when a state school construction agency frittered away $6 billion in original funding, amid allegations of corruption and waste.

Trenton's school district was among the many poorer urban school systems that saw funding for their own massive projects - like Trenton Central High School renovations - disappear because of project overruns and accounting errors.

As one Trenton school board member said last week, "We woke up the next day, and our money was gone."

Well, hopefully now Trenton's schools will get the attention they so desperately need in the form of the additional state funding.

The funding proposal will still have to pass muster in the state legislature, where officials are sure to push for funding not just for the many poor urban districts that missed out on the last state gravy train, but also for the more wealthy neighbors of New Jersey's cities.

Already Republican legislators are rushing to judgment on the measure, which seems to fly in the face of the governor's asset monetization plan.

What looks like a major contradiction comes from the measures included in the plan that severely restrict the ability for the state to spend money, in the same kind of manner that Gov. Corzine now asks for billions more in school construction funding.

But promises were made to the many needy urban districts, and God knows that districts like the one here in Trenton have a desperate need for the money.

Whether the money turns into a renovation of Trenton's historic high school or the construction of a new facility remains to be seen, but the need of Trenton students for updated learning spaces is clear.

They need to learn somewhere.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Palmer cries foul

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer says that City Council’s tough stance on Police Director Joseph Santiago’s non-residency exists because of the political aspirations of the individuals who make up that body, according to the Times of Trenton.

This latest, poorly conceived residency outburst seems like more desperate crying from a usually skillful politician who has finally been caught red-handed, and now only seeks to muddy an argument in which he has become aware of the fact that he does not have a legal leg to stand on.

Council is doing the right thing and there are many possible reasons for that, but the mayor’s comments look like a pathetic attempt to distract everyone from the most important fact in this matter: the mayor has violated a very simple and straightforward law.

He is wrong, and all of the political posturing and complaining and crying in the world will do nothing to change that.

Council members have publicly cited the law – which clearly states Mr. Santiago must live in Trenton, in a bona fide domicile – as the reason for council moving to resolve the issue with a measure threatening the mayor with Mr. Santiago's dismissal.

On Wednesday Mayor Palmer continued his reliance on what he sees as an interpretation of waiver-granting language of the ordinance, although that language does not seem to apply to Mr. Santiago’s situation.

He also chided council for not going along with the administration's flawed interpretation of the law and taking part in his law breaking. This is all because of politics, the mayor said.

“I believe some want to run for office. For an odd reason, they think this is a good issue to run on,” said Mayor Palmer to The Times Wednesday. “Trying to get rid of Santiago is not the issue to run on.”

And truthfully, perhaps council members went down this path because they felt their backs were up against a wall.

The resolution only came after the filing of a lawsuit by residents against Mayor Palmer, Mr. Santiago, and the City of Trenton, seeking Mr. Santiago’s removal and a declaration from a judge stating that the mayor has no ability to bend and selectively enforce the law at will.

Also possible is that some council members' actions do indeed stem from politics related to the mayor’s expected departure from his longtime position as the city’s executive, but that is just the nature of politics.

In the end, it is likely no one will remember or care why council members took a stand, especially if a wrong was made right and the law was enforced.

The irony here is that Mayor Palmer cries about political motives - and not the law - as the cause for the residency flap, while he falls victim to what mirrors his own bread-and-butter style of craftily using political games to get things done his way in Trenton.

Mayor Palmer has stacked the political deck in his favor in the past, using campaign money to get a slate of council members onto the body that would be obedient and docile in going along with administration-sponsored initiatives, and the resulting ineptitude of that body has frustrated thousands of residents for years.

The political power that allowed for such prolific government-shaping came from his seat as mayor, and the power that comes from that seat is now waning with Palmer's suspected exit from Trenton politics.

Maybe the officials that were indebted to Mayor Palmer after he previously supported them recognize this, and plan on using their own seats to jockey themselves into position for the next Palmerless political environment.

There is no surprise in this space that Palmer’s political web has already begun unraveling, with his departure from the mayor's office following the May 2010 election only two years away.

It has been a long time coming, but the chickens are coming home to roost.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Republicans to hold their own toll-hike meetings

Republicans will hold their own town meetings on Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s asset monetization plan with a goal of seeking public input on the scheme, showing little confidence in the governor’s own set of meetings currently rolling through New Jersey’s 21 counties.

A Republican task force headed by New Jersey State Assembly members Michael Doherty, Richard Merkt, and Caroline Casagrande will hold the meetings in several locations around the state, mirroring Gov. Corzine’s own outreach efforts.

Gov. Corzine is currently holding his ownmeetings on the plan, which calls for large hikes in highway tolls to be used to pay for the debt incurred in a massive bond issue. Those bond moneys would be used to pay off half of the state’s $32 billion debt and also provide money for the state’s dwindling Transportation Trust Fund.

Unlike the governor’s meetings, the Republicans plan on making the meetings open to all members of the public without the need for registering prior to attendance.

The stated goal of the meetings is to both assess the plan and ask for other solutions favored by state residents, Republicans said.

The governor has said he would like to see the legislature pass the plan – which includes other financial measures designed to rein in runaway state spending – by mid-March, although the looks like a daunting task, based upon reaction from both state residents and legislators on both sides of the aisle.

“The governor is doing his best to rush this proposal through the legislature in the next two months and we want to make sure the public has an opportunity to provide its input on this matter,” said Mr. Dougherty, R-Warren and Hunterdon, in a statement. “I am not at all confident that the town meetings being conducted by the governor are an accurate representation of the public’s concerns on these matters.”

A schedule of planned meetings is expected to be released later this week.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Quick Hits: Week of Jan. 21- Jan. 28

The Trenton Board of Education meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., and the fate of the historical gem that is Trenton Central High School could be decided. Attend and make your voice heard! Don't let a bunch of hand-picked Mayor Palmer cronies make bad decisions with Trenton's architectural heritage.

A man was seen at Cafe Ole Tuesday morning telling someone named "Joyce" to delay public comment or cancel it all together at the Board of Education meeting scheduled for Tuesday night. He said he didn't want a "groundswell" of support or a public debate to occur at the meeting. It seems like Mayor Palmer's cronies are trying to stifle public debate on the Trenton Central High School controversy...


Trenton City Council meets next Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall. The residency flap is still not settled, and the seven day ultimatum to Mayor Palmer is up this Friday. Want to be bet Director Santiago isn't moving into Trenton?


Gov. Jon S. Corzine continues his whirlwind tour of the state next week, trying to sell his toll hike plan to the state's voters as the legislature gets ready to debate and then vote on the measures. The Guv will be in Camden County on Jan. 28, at the Voorhees Middle School. People aren't buying the plan, a poll says.


Blue Jersey Editor Juan Melli wonders aloud about political favoritism in the Democratic leadership for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming primary. He provides some pretty interesting evidence of an "unofficial" official support policy by the state's democratic machinery. I see a lot of Obama supporters in Trenton, and this is surely a contested primary. Why stack the deck?


Gov. Corzine and hundreds of others were on hand in Trenton Sunday, to pay respects to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Obama's candidacy was seen as evidence of progress in the quest for equality by the Star-Ledger.


The Democratic candidates got pretty nasty with each other Monday night in front a crowd in Myrtle Beach. The debate was the scene of much squabbling and bickering between the three leading candidates, with Sens. Clinton and Edwards taking turns lashing out at Obama.


And most importantly....the Giants are Super Bowl-bound! They get two weeks off after their improbable victory in Green Bay, and then get a chance to knock off the unbeaten Patriots as 14-point underdogs. Go JINTS!


New Jersey's senators are somewhat loved by the voters...Gov. Corzine is not.


Crime continues to hit parts of Trenton, despite the freezing temperatures of the last few days. I thought winter was the slow crime season in T-Town, and also, isn't crime down, Mr. Santiago. Can't wait to see what the summer is like...

King Day

Lincoln Memorial Address
Washington, D.C.
28 August 1963

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday quick hits

Trenton should not allow its historic high school to be demolished, especially based upon seemingly faulty numbers presented by the city's school board about building a new school facility.


The state is welcoming its first comptroller, in a move that hopefully means more oversight of New Jersey's corrupt state government. Democratic leader Bonnie Watson Coleman welcomes the new state official.


Curiously, the Trenton City Council president suggested council "join" the lawsuit initiated by group of Trenton residents to get the residency ordinance enforced against Police Director Joseph Santiago. How about council just uses its statutory ability to remove the director for breaking the law, saving taxpayer dollars and taxpayer time?


Those commuting from Trenton Train Station should be pleased. A potentially crippling strike has been averted.

Pols: more open information regarding toll plan

Controversy surrounding Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposed asset monetization plan continued to deepen this week, with legislators from both sides of aisle proposing revisions and questioning both the plan itself and the manner in which the Corzine administration has both analyzed the plan and pushed for it in the public realm.

Under Gov. Corzine's plan, toll hikes on the state's superhighways would be used to pay off the bond debt of a large public agency that would manage the roadways, with issued bond funds going towards paying off half of the state's $32 billion debt and reinvigorating the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund.

Republicans like Senate Republican Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr. and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce today called for the governor to release outside opinions the administration sought on the plan, which looked at the possible tax-exempt status of bonds issued by the proposed highway agency.

“If he is exercising the necessary caution in proceeding with this plan, Governor Corzine must have sought legal advice on the key question of whether bonds issued by this newly created Public Benefit Corporation would be tax exempt,” said Mr. Kean, R-Union, Morris, Somerset and Essex, in a statement. “The success or failure of this toll hike proposal could hinge on that question and the Legislature should be provided with that legal opinion now so that we can analyze the issues it raises.”

Mr. DeCroce this week called out the governor for saying tax rebates and other relief granted to taxpayers in recent years could be in danger without implementing the toll plan.

“The threat also confirms what Republicans have been saying for two years that unless an amendment to the state constitution is approved to guarantee the permanency of property tax relief, promises by Corzine and Democrats to the contrary were meaningless,” said DeCroce, R-Morris and Passaic in a statement. “New Jersey taxpayers should not be pawns in a political blackmail plot.”

Even democrats - like Senator Barbara Buono, Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee - are calling for more openness of information regarding the toll plan.

“If this (proposal) is designed to cure our fiscal ills, we really need to see what’s on every shelf in the medicine cabinet,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex, in a statement. “In the initial stops on his public tour, the Governor has been upfront and knowledgeable, but now we’ll need to examine what’s beyond the labels.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Corzine continues a tour of the state's counties, explaining the plan to residents in town hall meetings.

The governor said he wants the state legislature to pass the plan by mid-March, although that looks like a daunting task with little public support for the plan.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2010, here we come

The 2010 election can't come soon enough for Trenton.

The standard reason given for this is because it signals the point when Mayor Douglas H. Palmer finally gives up his throne at 319 E. State Street, after having been mayor for the New Jersey capital for 20 years.

This fact is almost universally heralded as the promise of the 2010 election - apparently by residents and senior state senators alike - but it is especially true in light of the corrupt, vindictive, and even illegal administration that Mayor Palmer has been running of late.

The supreme example of the shenanigans of Trenton's morally-bankrupt leader has been the Police Director Joseph Santiago residency flap, in which the mayor has absolutely refused to uphold and enforce the very simple residency law on one of his hand-picked department directors, which should have long ago resulted in Mr. Santiago's termination from office for not actually living in the city.

And with City Council's Tuesday ultimatum to Mr. Santiago to move in or get out, those who love open, free democracy and the rule of law - and wish to see an end of the economic and criminal chaos that permeates much of Trenton - are likely smiling.

But the Santiago flap has also served to only further reveal the failures of other government entities besides the Palmer administration - like council - who also faltered in carrying out their duty to uphold the laws of the city, the state, and country.

City Council's slow reaction to this very simple, straightforward issue and the way the body fumbled and bungled the matter for three months has to leave many with more than a few doubts in their heads.

The political horror show of inaction put on by the seven council members culminated in nine frustrated city residents - including myself - taking the very law into their hands and suing Mayor Palmer, Mr. Santiago, and the City of Trenton over the non-enforcement of the residency law.

As L.A. Parker said so poignantly in his column Wednesday, it is likely that after council's latest performance, it is probably a reality that this council couldn't get together and decide how to put together a turkey sandwich, let alone legislation.

So, while the 2010 election promises an end to two decades of the Palmer administration, it also holds the promise of the possibility of some new faces on City Council, ready to uphold the law and act as a legislature should - always ready to check and balance the improprieties of the executive branch.

The Santiago affair proves that what goes on in council chambers is often a peanut gallery of discussion and inaction, and that has to change before Trenton can.

Corzine pushes "hard-sell" to New Jersey

Gov. Jon S. Corzine wants the New Jersey legislature to pass his asset monetization plan by mid-March as he canvasses the state and makes stops in 21 counties to talk with local citizens about his plan, which uses toll hikes on the state’s superhighways to issue bonds to pay back half the state’s $32 billion debt.

And while he faces an uphill battle in getting a legislature divided over the plan to pass it into law, it seems he feels the measure is a fait accompli for state taxpayers, and not worthy of revisions based on taxpayer opinions.

Gov. Corzine is going around the state selling the plan at the same time as the legislature debates it, meaning there is no in-between time to add or subtract portions highlighted by the citizenry.

That fact certainly makes his town-hall meeting tour of the Garden State ring slightly hollow, as a more of a sales-pitch explanation than a true town hall, intake of resident-input type of operation.

But it does appear the plan is not yet set in stone, with Gov. Corzine making some concessions that frequent commuters and New Jersey residents using the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, or Atlantic City Expressway would be able to get discounts in a kind of frequent-flyer type system.

Passing the legislation will certainly take some pushing, prodding, the twisting of arms, and the making of deals, with many Republican and even some Democratic legislators being skeptical of a plan that uses more debt to pay off old debt.

“Without question, it will be a hard sell,” said Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, in a recent Associated Press piece.

The plan would create a non-profit, public benefit corporation that would run the toll roads, and issue billions of dollars in bonds, which would pay for about half of the state’s current debt, and provide funding for the state Transportation Trust Fund, which is set to run out in 2011.

To pay off the bonds, tolls would jump by 50 percent, every four years starting 2010, with the current average toll paid of more than one dollar jumping to over five dollars by 2022.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Santiago given seven days to comply with residency law

Trenton City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night that gives Mayor Douglas H. Palmer seven days to advise council of Police Director Joseph Santiago's intentions to move into Trenton before facing dismissal proceedings for his continued violation of the city's residency law.

"As a body, we need to make a decision," Councilman Jim Coston said.

The measure also criticized Mayor Palmer's granting of an exemption to the law through a waiver, calling the waiver improper and not in accordance with the residency ordinance and therefore having no force or effect.

Most of the council members who voted for the measure - which included every council member except for Council President Paul Pintella, who abstained - reflected that they supported Mr. Santiago's performance as director but could not make exceptions to an established Trenton law because of that performance.

"I support him 100 percent," said Councilwoman Annette Lartigue. "But the ordinance is clear."
Councilman Gino Melone had similar sentiments.

"This does not reflect Mr. Santiago's performance," said Mr. Melone. "But the law is the law."

Numerous residents also spoke out about the issue during public comment, with a majority supporting the enforcement of the law and the requirement for city employees to live in Trenton.

One man - a lifelong resident born in Trenton in 1944 - said that the law fought against the wave of urban flight, which decimated many New Jersey city's and continues to do so today, urban areas like Trenton.

"This isn't Trenton anymore," he said. "Let's get back to Trenton."

City Council went into an executive session immediately following the regular meeting to discuss a lawsuit filed against the city last week by a group residents - in which I am a plaintiff - with the goal of having Mr. Santiago removed for his violation of the residency ordinance.

Residency back on council agenda

Trenton City Council members intend to continue discussions on the Joseph Santiago residency controversy at their meeting tonight, with a possibility of taking definitive action on the issue.

“I would like to see us make a decision tonight because I’m sick of this same discussion,” said South Ward Councilman Jim Coston in today’s Trentonian. “It’s time to fish or cut bait.”

Avenues previously discussed by City Council include ordering Joseph Santiago to announce his intentions about moving to Trenton and then initiating a dismissal hearing against him, asking the mayor to actually enforce the law, or hiring a special attorney for City Council to seek a decision from a local judge on the issue.

Initiating a dismissal hearing against Mr. Santiago would allow the council a chance to use a five-vote decision to remove the director, which seems to be warranted by language in both city and state law.

But hiring an attorney to seek a judgment would most likely bog down the momentum gained in the matter last week, when a group of nine residents - including myself - filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, and Mr. Santiago, seeking the director’s removal for his residency law violations.

The City Council has not yet proved itself to be a reliable instrument for enforcing the law - although this could be a perfect opportunity to do so - and even seeking a judgment from a Superior Court judge would still require the council to make its own deliberations, requiring five votes from the council’s seven members to make Mr. Santiago’s removal from office a reality.

Simply supporting the lawsuit and whatever decision is made in a court of law would probably be a good choice, unless the council does indeed have the strength and resolve to enforce the laws of the City of Trenton.

Otherwise, it would be better to let a court of law make the decision, and stand by that opinion.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Corzine signs school funding scheme

Gov. Jon S. Corzine today signed legislation that officially implements a new school funding formula for New Jersey school districts, after the plan was passed in the waning hours of the lame-duck legislature.

The new formula means that many middle-income districts that saw little or no state aid increases over the past few years shpuld now receive a hefty increase in money.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, poor, urban Abbott districts will see a small increase in aid, followed by years of flat funding under the plan.

Trenton fits into this category, with Superintendent Rodney Lofton already having predicted program cuts and belt-tightening in the wake of the new formula and its effects on the millions of state dollars that have been pouring into the district in recent years.

Urban district advocates have cried foul over the plan and its perceived effects on soon-to-be underfunded Abbott districts, but many officials have interpreted the new plan as recognition that the abundant Abbott funding of the past had little or no effect on the plight of urban students.

A state education official in the Times of Trenton recently pointed to the dismal test scores of the older students in many urban districts, which have remained low throughout the period of heavy state funding.

Urban district proponents have frequently pointed to an upswing in the grades of fourth grade test-takers, he said, but those advances in test scores seem to disappear once the same students reach the more senior levels of public schooling.

It seems to be true that poverty and social ills overwhelm any gains made by overfunding schools where students spend little of their overall daily time.

If that's the case, the state aid dollars should go to redeveloping blighted urban areas in New Jersey, with an eye to ending the social and economic chaos that seems to doom many of the students in Trenton and other New Jersey cities.

The new formula still needs approval from the New Jersey Supreme Court, who will have to decide whether the new plan ensures the thorough and efficient education required by the state constitution.

Nobody told me

Getting involved in a lawsuit against the City of Trenton and Police Director Joseph Santiago's non-residency is one of the greatest actions to which I have ever affixed my signature during my 25 years of existence.

Through it all, I continue to believe one thing about this wonderful city on a hill: Trenton SHOULD be a happening place, and a place that bucks the trend of downtrodden New Jersey cities.

It has everything going for it, like the presence of state government, waterfront properties, wonderful housing stock, and an impressive transportation network.

But all those factors seem to have been negated because the most important factor determining the welfare of a municipality is the conduct of its government, and in this respect the growth of Trenton is continually stunted.

We have an absentee administration from top to bottom, with multiple department directors doing the Santiago shuffle by failing to maintain a bona fide residence - and a bona fide interest - in our community.

Also bearing consideration is the continually shrinking tax base, disappearance of the middle class, and other symptoms in a city where people are afraid to live, work, and spend.

With regards to Mr. Santiago, I believe that a better public servant is one who understands the trials and tribulations facing a community.

But one who lives far away is one less likely to take the proper policy action while employed in public service.

Those policies and decisions need to be of the highest quality in Trenton government, simply because we face the most dire and extreme of all urban problems.

We cannot deal with a government that utilizes the petty seizure of power and bending of law at will, because the strongest and most empowered arbiter that could potentially fix our problems IS the government.

A government like that of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's - which has become complacent, lazy, and accepts the status quo - cannot serve the public interest, and cannot begin to bring our residents out of the chains of crime and poverty that now envelop them, left and right.

This city is potentially on the cusp of greatness, but only with the removal of this governmental crutch can we begin to even develop, and then implement the way out of hardship.

It is time to begin that change.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Plaintiffs get their day in court on Feb. 22

Mercer County Superior Judge Linda Feinburg granted a day in court to those who sued Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, Police Director Joseph Santiago, and the City of Trenton over the director’s continued unpunished breaking of the city’s residency ordinance.

Yes, that group included me, Trenton Makes Editor Greg Forester.

Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago will appear in Mercer County Superior Court on Feb. 22 to explain where exactly the mayor gets his unspecified ability to exempt the director from the residency ordinance, while inflicting punishment on other city employees who break that law.

Without a valid defense, Mr. Santiago would be cast out of his position as Police Director.

Sen. Turner: Trenton needs fresh ideas, leadership

State Sen. Shirley Turner thinks Trenton needs a mayoral candidate similar to democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to revive the city after 17 years of rule under the Douglas H. Palmer administration.

During an interview with the Trentonian this week, it seemed that she took a negative view of the current mayor, and the pool of candidates in position to make a run to replace him.

“City residents have lost hope and need a person to rise up and instill a new energy in Trenton,” said Sen. Turner, in Thursday’s Trentonian. “People here need a champion.”

Of the current pool of candidates, which is filled with the familiar faces of City Council members and city politicians, she told the Trentonian “maybe there is someone out there that we don’t know about who is considering running for mayor, but I’m not so sure about some of the people that have been named to succeed Palmer.”

Those familiar with Trenton’s political situation have pointed out two areas of significance in the comments made by one of New Jersey’s most powerful legislators.

First, she seems to verify the idea that Mayor Palmer truly is on his way out, with that information being relayed as common knowledge in even the highest political spheres in the state.

Two, it seems respect for Doug is waning, with more and more politicians who normally kept away from commenting on Mayor Palmer’s ruling style bucking the trend.

Recently, a rubber-stamping City Council went against the interpretation of the mayor on the city’s residency ordinance, saying the executive had no ability to grant waivers, according to the language of the law.

The same council members have also begun challenging officials from the mayor’s administration, who usually walked all over the city’s legislative branch with relative impunity.

Seems like times are changing for Mayor Palmer.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mixed response to Guv's toll-hike plan

New Jersey politicians from both sides of the aisle have congratulated Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Tuesday's State of the State address in recent days, in recognition of the governor's observations on the broken state of New Jersey's finances.

But many of the legislators and state politicians cast doubt on the validity and rationale behind the governor's asset monetization plan, which would gradually hike up tolls on the state's superhighways to provide revenue to a state agency that would undertake one of the largest bond issues in history.

Gov. Corzine's proposals would use the bonds to pay back around half of the state's $32 billion debt and replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund, while using the burgeoning toll revenues to pay back the debt service on the bonds.

File it under the "take on debt to fix debt" category in your government plan filing cabinet.

Coupled with the plan would be spending controls and a requirement for referendum votes on any additional spending measures initiated by state government that did not correspond to some sort of revenue source ready to fund the spending in question.

Hardcore Democrats like Mercer County's own Bonnie Watson Coleman were quick to embrace the governor's speech and the plan, but many Republican legislators immediately questioned the logic behind issuing more long-term debt to address the current debt.

The plan will be hashed out with New Jersey residents over the coming months, with Gov. Corzine set to hold 21 town hall meetings in 21 counties.

The first meeting is upcoming, in Livingston, N.J.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Residents sue city over residency flap

A group of citizens - including myself - filed suit in Mercer County Superior Court today after becoming outraged over the arrogant bending and breaking of the law at the hands of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer in the case of the non-residency of Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Citing public statements made by Mayor Palmer, administration officials, and Director Santiago himself, the suit seeks an immediate vacating of the directorship, based upon state law that calls for the removal from office of government officials who fail to meet residency laws dictated for municipal positions.

With a complaint about the director’s non-residency in Trenton having been logged two months ago — without action by administration officials or City Council — the residents moved to put the matter before a judge so a decision could be made, in this example of unabashed violation of city law.

“As attorney for the individual plaintiffs, the best description of their motives and their purpose is summed up in the remedy they have asked for in the complaint: A declaration that the Mayor is neither above the law, detached from the law, or the creator of the law,” said the attorney for the plaintiffs, George Dougherty. “They sue because the Mayor claims to have a power to suspend the law at will.”

Central to the suit is not that Mr. Santiago does not live in Trenton — which the director does not deny — but that nowhere in the city’s residency ordinance is there room for waivers granted after the initial employment of the employee.

The only waiver language within the law lays out a process for employment in cases where no suitable candidates can be found who live in Trenton, which is different from Mr. Santiago’s case.

The director had already lived in various apartments and hotel rooms and feigned compliance with the residency law, living in places that never actually met the definition of a bona fide domicile within the city set forth in the law.

Only in 2006, was a waiver publicly announced — after nearly three years of public service — and not during the initial employment of Mr. Santiago.

In the fall Mr. Santiago said he would never move to Trenton, citing dedication to his family, and Mayor Palmer soon granted an illegal, permanent waiver to the controversial director.

The mayor also threatened prolonged court action and continued flouting of the law should City Council or others move forward with the ouster of Mr. Santiago.

Germane to the argument is that Mayor Palmer has moved to dismiss dozens of city employees over the years for similar residency violations, hiring private investigators to gather evidence on violators and drumming them out of city service with great fanfare.

This inconsistent application of the law was tempered with numerous public statements made by Mayor Palmer affirming his commitment to the residency law and its importance to the viability of the capital city.

The suit seeks an immediate declaration that Mr. Santiago’s position is vacant, and a return of any compensation received by the director from the time of the filing of the suit to his removal from office.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Council majority does not see waiver-granting ability in residency law

The majority of Trenton City Council doubts Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's ability to grant exemptions to the city's residency ordinance to Police Director Joseph Santiago, according to testimony given Thursday before the body went into executive session to discuss possible remedies to address the situation.

Avenues discussed publicly included having the director removed, through the council's statutory ability to do so, or seeking a declaratory judgment on the matter from a Mercer County Superior Court judge.

"I challenge the notion that the mayor has the ability to grant these waivers, according to the ordinance," said Councilman Gino Melone.

Mr. Melone joined Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, and Annette Lartigue in refuting the mayor's ability to exempt certain employees from the ordinance, which requires employees to maintain a bona fide residence within Trenton city limits.

Manny Segura did not seem to take either side, besides calling for additional information.

Only Council President Paul Pintella and Vice President Cordelia Staton seemed to support the ability to grant waivers, pointing to a section of the law that provides for a grace period or exemption for those filling vacant positions after long and exhaustive searches did not turn up suitable candidates living, or willing to live in Trenton.

"It is not that simple Mr. President," said Mr. Coston, which led to other council members declaring their belief that waivers, like those granted to Mr. Santiago, were not laid out in any section of the law.

Both Mr. Coston and Ms. Lartigue said that Mr. Santiago had not been hired to fill a vacancy - with the directorship being filled by Acting Police Director Abraham Hemsey at the time, in 2003 - so the exemption portion of the ordinance did not apply.

Curiously, Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez said he could not tell the council about the administration's ability to grant waivers, or where the powers came from, in comments that almost elicited his removal from council chambers at the behest of Ms. Lartigue.

"The administration has made their position clear, and I cannot add to that," said Mr. Gonzalez, who had moments before used the excuse that it was not his duty to provide an opinion on a legal issue to the council.

That drew Ms. Lartigue's ire.

"Do not get smart with me tonight Mr. Gonzalez," said Ms. Lartigue, who reminded Mr. Gonzalez that this was a council meeting, and not an administration meeting. "I will have you removed from chambers."

Indeed, all administration officials were ordered to leave council chambers prior to the executive session.

More action is expected tomorrow on the residency issue.

Corzine unveils toll plan

Gov. Jon S. Corzine revealed the details of his asset monetization plan to a packed statehouse today during his State of the State address, calling for 50 percent increases in tolls on the state's highways beginning in 2010 as a way of fixing the state's complicated financial problems.

Management of the state's roads would be turned over to a new public benefit corporation, which could borrow against those increases in massive bond issues that would allow New Jersey to instantly pay down around half of its $32 billion debt and restock the Transportation Trust Fund, which is set to run out in a few years.

The trust fund is the major source of funding for the maintenance of New Jersey's massive transportation system.

Other parts of the plan would include a state spending freeze for the next fiscal year, while simultaneously seeking out around $2.5 billion in budget cuts to address a $3.5 billion budget deficit and prohibit future budget increases that go beyond projected state revenue increases.

The other billion dollars in debt would instantly be eliminated by the plan, through the elimination of exorbitant debt service annually sustained in the state budget.

Also, any future measure that would incur debt without naming a dedicated revenue source would be put to a referendum, allowing New Jersey's voters to approve the increased spending.

Gov. Corzine said this was the only feasible solution to the state's financial woes.

"Pigs will fly over the state house before any budget or spending cuts can fix these problems," Gov. Corzine said.

The projected toll increases - which would begin in 2010 and increase by 50 percent every four years thereafter - would mean the current average $1.10 toll paid today would balloon to over $5.00 by 2022.

The governor reminded the audience that tolls have never kept up with cost of living increases or inflation, noting the Garden State Parkway has seen only one increase, in 1989, over its entire history.

Reaction from legislators following the address was somewhat grim, with both Sen. Tom Kean Jr. and Sen. Alex DeCroce labelling the plan as a massive tax increase placed on the shoulders of New Jersey's residents, especially those who commute.

New Jersey's debt means that if equally shared, every resident would owe around $3,700.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Time for a new system

With Gov. Corzine's new school funding formula up for debate today in Trenton, scores of advocates for urban school districts that stand to lose their preferred funding status under the new plan saw fit to picket the state house, voicing their concerns over what the new plan could mean for the state's poorer districts.

And while the shift away from years of sending the majority of state aid to the state's poorer "Abbott" districts could mean problems for districts like that of Trenton, the new funding plan only serves to equalize what had become an increasingly unfair and outdated system that showed little results.

Following the Abbott vs. Burke decisions and the suspension of the state's funding formula in 2002, state aid was channeled mostly to urban districts, while other districts saw flat funding based on old demographic data that increasingly diverged with reality.

But during all those years of financial bounty for New Jersey's 31 poor school districts, little progress was made in the plight of the state's urban students, while more and more complicated financial nightmares were created for the rest of the state's districts.

The new funding formula could be better than the old system, in that at least it represents a change from a system that was surely broken and only served to wreak more havoc on the majority of New Jersey's overburdened taxpayers.

Channeling billions of dollars into urban school districts is obviously not the solution, and now perhaps the state can move on to trying to solve the larger social ills that are the real cause of failing urban schools, which fall victim to social problems that require around-the-clock, dedicated treatment.

These most complicated of problems simply cannot be cured by dollars that are applied only to the 35 hours a week while the child is in a classroom.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

NJ Dems vow reforms in 2008

The Democratic leadership in the New Jersey legislature this week declared their intentions for the New Year, announcing that the issues of loophole-free pay to play reform, a wheeling ban, clean elections renewal, overhaul of the legislative ethics committee, and a new legislative ethics code would take precedence with the upcoming legislative session, starting Jan. 8.

"We’ve got a combination of experienced veterans and bright new leaders ready and eager to tackle the challenges that lie ahead,” said Senate President Richard Codey, D-Essex, in a statement. “We’ve made great progress, but there’s still a lot more work to be done. Now it’s time to get to it. Tougher campaign finance and ethics laws are a fundamental component of a more transparent and efficient government.”

Wheeling and pay to play reform should take special precedence, considering how both practices continue to riddle many levels of state government and sour the taste of state government in the mouths of taxpayers.

Trenton sees plenty of both, with men like Robert Torricelli - who have real campaign donation links to numerous members of Trenton city government - regularly receiving lucrative awards of city funds, through City Council resolutions awarding cash to development projects in which "the Torch" has an interest.

Just look at the presence of foreign Camden County law firms performing legal work for the City of Trenton for exorbitant moneys and understand that the practice of wheeling is alive and well in Trenton and the rest of New Jersey.

In the past, city legal work was done in-house through the City Attorney's office, but now law firms making donations in far-away places in New Jersey are rewarded with contracts in places like Trenton.

Just follow the money.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Tax hike for T-Town

Trenton residents face a 5.2 percent increase in taxes this year - meaning an extra $120 in tax bills for residents living in homes assessed at the city average of $100,000 - according to testimony given by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and administration officials Thursday night.

Most of the increase - which means the municipal tax rate increases by 12 cents to $2.45 per $100 of assessed value from $2.33 - was linked to costs that Mayor Palmer said were out of the city's control, citing salary and benefit increases for city employees.

The budget is around six months late, after the city scrambled to find revenue to make up budget gaps that Mayor Palmer blamed on all of the parcels of state-owned, tax-exempt property in Trenton, for which the city only receives payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that make up only a fraction of what Trenton would get in property taxes on what is frequently valuable downtown property.

The other major point of the mayor's presentation at City Council's Thursday meeting was that the hiring of an additional 25 police officers took up three cents of the total 12 cent increase, despite the fact that 13 of those officers will be simply filling vacancies instead of actually meaning an increase of manpower in a crime-plagued urban environment.

For the net gain of total of 25 officers - and a net gain of 12 - Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum said the city had budgeted $600,000, which she said covered salary and benefits for only half a year for the officers.

Another peculiar fact in the new budget was that $5 million was earmarked for paying police overtime money.

That came despite the fact that residents and those on council who had been pushing for the additional officers had always cited the city's multimillion dollar police overtime budget as one of the prime reasons why additional officers should be hired, presumably to take up some of the overtime hours and relieve an overworked police force.

It seems this addition of 12 officers to Trenton's police force is the first installment of 50 promised by Mayor Palmer in his state of the city address.

One bright spot last night was council's tabling of a contract to be awarded to the city's gang consultant, Barry Colicelli, who normally gets a lucrative $91,000 contract and usage of a city vehicle and city hall office.

Council members failed to pass the measure after observing that Mr. Colicelli had not been before them more than once on city business for nearly an entire year.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

No-bid contracts, free on the Delaware

Tonight City Council will have an item on the docket that is indicative of the status of regional gravy train that Trenton has reached under the leadership of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

The city's anointed gang czar, Barry Colicelli, is set to be awarded a $91,000 contract by City Council tonight, to allow him to continue the stellar work he has done of late in combating Trenton's thousands of armed gang members.

This is probably like no other contract being awarded to any firm seeking municipal work anywhere in New Jersey, with Trenton's residents ponying up not only the $91,000 for the contract itself - and a questionable work product - but the usage of a city vehicle for work in the city, and for the commute back to sunny Brielle, New Jersey.

This is probably a no-bid contract as well - despite the shady, gray legal area where no-bid government contracts reside - allowing the city's administration to continue to peddle influence and corruption in return for the tax dollars of Trenton's mostly poverty-stricken residents.

Is this really the best person to be handing the reins of our anti-gang initiatives, given the way the problem has spiraled out of control over the last five or so years?

Is it really a coincidence that this man happened to be Police Director Joseph Santiago's right-hand man in Newark, where Mr. Colicelli was a Police Captain?

Contracts like that slated to be given to Mr. Colicelli are given out weekly at 319 E. State Street, to Camden County law firms, urban redevelopment companies with conflict-of-interest problems, and political agents like Robert Torricelli.

Maybe when all that ends, Trenton can get its finances back on track, without selling off every single asset in a pre-Palmer departure fire sale.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Residency is crucial to Trenton's future

Trenton Downtowner Editor Joe Emanski recently observed that perhaps the civically active people involved in the Joseph Santiago residency flap are misguided, and should be pursuing other more important issues currently facing the city.

This is nothing new, with numerous residents and council members over the last month publicly questioning whether the city community was wasting time and effort on something that really isn’t that important to the city.

And while the reality is that the residency of Santiago probably ranks low on the severity list of problems facing New Jersey’s capital, the truth is that this residency controversy is actually a symptom of a much larger disease that afflicts Trenton’s city government.

Right now, Trenton’s government is a malfunctioning, anti-democratic entity, and that fact needs to be addressed before the city can hope to tackle any other sort of problem.

Specifically, city administration officials working under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer continually walk all over City Council, the City Code, and city residents.

The council is an ineffective body whose votes are usually an afterthought to administration officials pushing for their latest convoluted boondoggle, like citywide Wi-Fi or selling off the city’s valuable water infrastructure assets.

Like the Queen of England, council is treated like a ceremonial body only good for ceremonial approval of administration policies that are assumed approved prior to their introduction at a City Council meeting.

To know this truth, one only has to look at the perplexed and annoyed faces of Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum or Chief of Staff Renee Haynes when someone in council chambers actually speaks out, or asks a question about an administration initiative.

The City Code is also treated like a ceremonial group of laws, which are open to bending and interpretation by city administration officials and Mayor Palmer.

Take the residency law.

Numerous city officials do not actually meet the residency requirements, but only those who do not support the Palmer administration are ever investigated and removed for non-compliance. The others are allowed to remain, despite the mayor’s outspoken support of residency requirements.

Normally this situation was the status quo in Trenton, but, like Mr. Emanski said in his December editorial, the upcoming mayoral election and the perceived exit of King Palmer from the Trenton scene has something happening on City Council that has not been seen for quite some time – independent thinking and challenges of administration-sponsored policies.

That development has opened the door, ever so slightly, to a return to the normalcy of a regular democratic and American government, where the legislative body of the city can balance the executive branch, preventing unchecked power and the bending and breaking of city law, like the residency ordinance.

Bringing the residency complaint, and forcing the City Council to end the warping of law and the unchecked power of the administration, is being used as a tool to pry the representatives of the residents back into their proper role of questioning policies and making prudent decisions on every piece of legislation that comes before them, rather than the usually fait accompli-status of many weekly docket items.

If the residency movement succeeds - with the assistance of a City Council that finally steps up to the plate - then the stage will be set for a new era of proper political functioning in Trenton, and an end to the era of the repeated passage of onerous legislation, without a peep from City Council members.

On the surface it may seem that those involved in the residency flap would be better off by placing their energies somewhere else, but the truth is the disease of malfunctioning government must be cured before any larger goal can be attained.

Residency is one of the most critical symptoms of the creeping malaise of Trenton’s government.

It needs immediate treatment.