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Thursday, February 28, 2008

A call for a new Law Department

South Ward Councilman Jim Coston recently stated on his Web site that the reason why a woman named Susan Singer is representing the City of Trenton in the Santiago residency case is that the city was named as a defendant in the original complaint, in addition to Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Police Director Joseph Santiago as defendants.

Mr. Coston said that as a defendant, the City of Trenton needed to file a response and a brief for the court, or face some sort of default judgment.

What has been so peculiar is not Ms. Singer's involvement in the case and the city simply needing representation, but rather the circumstances that led to this whole case and why the city now needs to pay for outside legal counsel.

The current situation and those same circumstances also mean it is time to look for new municipal counsel, because the present bunch has made it clear they cannot perform their duties without yielding to political pressure, which is a force that can be deadly to the rule of law.

The present Santiago drain of city resources stems from the fact that two separate lawyers who already represent the City of Trenton - among others - could not yield a public opinion on the case, and now the taxpayers are paying for a lawyer from North Jersey to represent a client that has basically become a schizophrenic.

One voice in the city's metaphorical head is Mayor Palmer, and the other is City Council, and they have taken contradictory positions on a legal issue.

In response, neither City Attorney Denise Lyles or Special Counsel Joe Alacqua - who receive a total of around $280,000 annually from the city - could give a public opinion on the case, and made the bizarre claim that they were in conflict.

This may seem acceptable on the surface, but the function of the City Attorney and a Special Counsel who does the City Attorney's job is to function as the third, judicial branch of municipal government.

They are tasked with giving legal opinions, judging laws, and making legal sense of situations for both the mayor and council, which obviously represent the other two branches of a democratic government.

But both of these highly paid and likely well-educated people could not publicly fashion some sort of an opinion in a case that is allegedly as straight forward a legal case as can be.

If that is indeed true and Mr. Santiago's residency violation controversy is so legally simple, then it follows that Ms. Lyles and Mr. Alacqua probably did not lack the ABILITY to yield an opinion that would have prevented the current involvement of courts and numerous lawyers.

They lacked the WILL, and in this case, the will to do the duties they are charged with as paid lawyers working in the service of the city, and therefore the people of Trenton.

For the money of the people of Trenton, and it truly is their money, a City Attorney or Special Counsel is needed who can defuse these situations.

They should give unbiased opinions and save uncountable hours and dollars on something that is really nothing more than a pissing match between a vindictive city executive who can't stand to lose, and a City Council that has, until now, been unable to stand up for itself as a group.

In most positions of employment, if a worker refuses to discharge their sworn duties in a highly important situation that calls for reliable service, the employee is instantly and summarily removed from their employment, and a suitable replacement is found and put to work.

It can be construed that the residency case has demonstrated that two of the highest lawyers in the city's Law Department care more about politics than the city they work for or the law they have made a life's work out of.

This City Council and its members and future councils need to work to ensure that the next time an important legal conundrum faces the city, the lawyers they employ don't flee for the hills and leave the people of Trenton behind to pay the bill.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Corzine suggests huge cuts

Gov. Jon S. Corzine presented his 2009 budget proposal yesterday to a packed and nearly silent New Jersey Assembly room, outlining a budget with highlights that included the elimination of 3,000 state jobs and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Personnel, and spending cuts of $500 million compared with the previous fiscal year's budget.

“The time is long part for the state, its governor, and its legislature to end imprudent spending and borrowing that exceeds our means,” said Gov. Corzine. “This budget does just that.”

The budget not only eliminates the three departments, but reduces spending in every department of the state’s executive branch, which is something that Gov. Corzine said has never happened before.

With real spending cuts of $500 million, the budget has a total spending cut of around $2.7 billion, which is designed to offset uncontrollable inflationary costs of healthcare, contractual, and energy costs.

Cuts to property tax relief would eliminate tax rebate checks to more wealthy New Jersey homeowners, although the rebates are preserved in the new budget proposal for 90 percent of homeowners.

A majority of those will receive the same rebate checks they received last year, around $1,000.

Smaller municipalities, especially those with populations of less than 10,000, face cuts to state aid, with a total of $190 million of cuts to the state’s municipal aid funding.

Gov. Corzine said Wednesday that he will continue pushing his toll hike scheme, despite overwhelming public opposition to a plan that would eventually raise current tolls by 800 percent, while a highway management entity would use that money to pay back a massive bond issue.

The bond issue money would go to both paying down half of New Jersey’s $32 billion state debt and refunding the Transportation Trust Fund, set to run out in 2011.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Palmer pulls 180 for Santiago

The defence of both Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Police Director Joseph Santiago against a residents' lawsuit seeking the ouster of the director rests firmly on positions that are complete reversals of earlier Santiago and Palmer rhetoric.

It's true that politics is a dirty game and that one can easily reverse earlier stances on more benign issues, but the defences of these two men seriously call into question their ability to serve the public interest as city officials, not to mention the success of their defense would result in unfathomable consequences for numerous state entities.

After vigorously applying the city's residency ordinance against dozens of employees who were investigated and found to be living in a way that was outside of Trenton's residency law, Mayor Palmer's defense teams now says that the law is invalid, and fails to follow the guidelines of state law on residency regulations.

In a similar way, Mr. Santiago maintained strongly in testimony to a state pension board that his new position as Trenton Police Director was a civilian position, but has now reversed that stance by hanging his hat on state law that protects policemen, firemen, and teachers from having to comply with residency ordinances.

Mayor Palmer, despite claims of being an accountable elected official, seems to be making it public knowledge that he is now willing to try to overturn a law that he staunchly supported in pushing for having a civilian director of police.

Let the City of Trenton not forget that Mayor Palmer originally claimed that a switch from a chief would provide additional accountability, because he would have more control over a man who lived in Trenton, instead of a powerful chief living outside of city limits.

And Mr. Santiago has made it clear that he is equally willing to reverse his position on issues of great importance, by basing his defence on the police nature of his job only a year after emphasizing the same job's civilian nature, to keep tens of thousands of dollars in annual pension money coming into his pockets.

But both men's reversals aside, what they seem to be basing their defences on could be faulty, for the following reasons.

In Mayor Palmer's case, a ruling in court favoring his position would mean that residency ordinances across the county and across New Jersey would suddenly become invalid, freeing thousands of employees from the constraint and setting the stage for a mass exodus of people, money, and taxes out of many New Jersey towns.

Mr. Santiago's vindication would mean that any mayor who had pushed for a director-led department based on additional accountability and the ability to make the director live in town - and not some far-flung suburb - would suddenly have the rug pulled from underneath them.

The consequences of supporting either of those positions or both together would likely be too high for any rational Mercer County Superior Court judge to support.

But, stranger things have happened.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is there anybody out there?

The family unit is crumbling under the pressure of the social and economic chaos that is wreaking havoc in many neighborhoods in the City of Trenton, and two recent blotter items from the Trenton Police Department prove it.

In one of the items, a 16-year-old committed armed robbery when he pulled a knife on and stole $50 in pennies from his old man, and then fled the scene.

In the other, a young boy of seven years reached into his jacket pocket on his way to elementary school and found a package containing 70 grams of crack cocaine, which investigating police believe belonged to an assortment of the child's family members.

Both the boy and his sister - who turned the crack in to authorities at their school - were taken away by Division of Youth and Family Services officials, and Trenton police arrested the children's mother, father, and two uncles, charging them with drug offences and endangering the welfare of a child.

These two incidents paint a picture of how even a fundamental and important institution as the family is torn apart when the plight of those in our inner cities becomes so dire that they become willing to mortgage the future of their children for illegal economic gains.

In one way the two crimes could be seen as some sort of sad photography, of snapshots in the life of some of Trenton's more at-risk youth.

There is a strong possibility that the boy who found his daddy's crack in his pocket will likely bounce into youth homes or foster families, and could end up being involved in his own illegal pursuits.

He is only seven years old, yet he has already gone through an experience that would be unimaginable and untenable for the vast majority of people living in this world.

Maybe one day he will become desperate and pull a knife on his foster-father, demanding all of the "rainy day" change on the floor, sitting in a glass bottle in his foster home.

Maybe the boy who was willing to commit armed robbery and victimize his own father was exposed to the dangers of drug-dealing when he was seven, perhaps finding his father's stash of crack cocaine somewhere in his residence.

These two symptoms of much larger problems underscore the need for those in leadership positions in Trenton to begin enacting real, lasting change, in the form of both economic redevelopment and the pumping of money into the kinds of programs that give children a chance to do something else besides being constantly exposed to the ghetto street life of some of Trenton's grittier neighborhoods.

Money spent on a bloated municipal government for a city whose population has been shrinking for decades would be much better spent on programs and initiatives that really help out the community, as opposed to fancy, crony gang czars and multiple aides for an absentee mayor.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Senators take aim at witness intimidation

The story has become a familiar one in urban areas like Trenton.

A man or woman is murdered in plain view in a densely-populated city neighborhood, yet investigating police cannot find a single witness willing to go on the record and finger the murderers.

Those witnessing the act won't talk, due to fear of retribution from gang members willing to end the life of people they believe are talking to cops.

This week New Jersey Sen. Shirley Turner and Sen. Ray Lesniak sponsored legislation trying to tackle this growing problem, which would raise the stakes for those taking part in witness intimidation and tampering by increasing penalties.

Bill S-267/A-503 was released from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee this week, and would strengthen penalties for those convicted of witness bribery, intimidation, tampering, and hindering.

"Our prosecutors are having a tougher and tougher time getting witnesses to testify in court cases when the defendant is a member of a street gang," said Sen. Turner, D-Mercer, in a statement. "These gangs have effectively paralyzed our neighborhoods by threatening retribution towards who 'snitches.' We need to stand with witnesses and let them know that the law will protect them and their families."

They hope the laws will allow more witnesses to come forward and suppress a problem that has been significantly hampering crime investigations in New Jersey cities.

"Witness intimidation is getting so bad that many times, prosecutors will not pursue a criminal case unless there are multiple witnesses to the crime," said Sen. Lesniak, D-Union, in a statement. "Many witness fear for their lives, especially when gang members are the accused individuals. We need to reverse this trend so that prosecutors can put more violent criminals behind bars.

The bill works mainly through raising the degree of established offenses, with witness tampering becoming a first degree offense in cases involving those who bear witness to the most heinous of crimes, listed under the No Early Release Act.

Also, retaliation against a witness or informant would become a second degree offense instead of a fourth degree offense.

The bill now heads to the New Jersey State Senate, after receiving unanimous approval in committee.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A schizophrenic client?

One situation that remains unexplained following the recent filings of court papers by all sides in the Santiago residency case is the appearance of court papers seeking the dismissal of the complaint against Police Director Joseph Santiago by a woman named Susan Singer, who claims to represent the City of Trenton.

Hailing from Mr. Santiago's old haunts near Newark, Ms. Singer authored the papers that seem to purport that the municipal corporation that is the City of Trenton - including both City Council and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer - has come to some sort of consensus on the residency issue, and wants the case dismissed.

But nothing could be further from the truth, and no one in any part of the Palmer administration has yet explained the purpose of retaining this woman for taxpayer dollars to represent a position for a client that disagrees with itself.

You see, in the residency situation, one part of the City of Trenton disagrees with another part of the City of Trenton, namely Mayor Palmer with City Council.

City Council has filed its own response, demanding a judge to order Mr. Santiago to establish a residence in Trenton and Mayor Palmer to enforce the residency ordinance and remove Mr. Santiago from office, should he fail to do so.

Mayor Palmer's stance is that the law violates state guidelines and is null and void, and that Mr. Santiago is a police officer and does not need to abide by a residency requirement.

These two positions are completely opposed to one another, and yet the City of Trenton and its taxpayer-funded coffers are paying for an attorney to establish a false position for an entity that cannot reach agreement, and put that false statement on paper and officially file it with the court.

Something stinks at 319 E. State Street.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Contract oversight? What a concept!

The chair of the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee this week said that New Jersey needs to implement better oversight measures to prevent the wasteful spending of taxpayer money on professional services contracts.

"It's intolerable to hit taxpayers with the price tag for state contracts that balloon in size while no one is properly trained to oversee their implementation and ensure accountability," said Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex.

The source of Ms. Buono's concern this week were apparent memos about implementing oversight from high-ranking state officials in the mid-1990s, which Ms. Buono said were agreed to but never implemented.

The result: longstanding contracts with consultants that balloon in size and suck the lifeblood out of a state that is in a world of financial hurt, with Gov. Jon S. Corzine widely expected to propose massive budget cuts and slash services in his Tuesday budget address.

Ms. Buono's office, in a release, said the state had spent around $800 million on outside consultants in the two-year period up to August of 2007, mostly without any accounting of what the money was actually being paid for, and whether the services were provided in a proper way.

New Jersey's municipalities could use similar oversight, with governments in places like Trenton frequently exploiting loopholes in state law to hand out contracts reeking of cronyism and bad politics.

Using an extremely broad interpretation of state statutes regarding extraordinary and unspecifiable contracts, the city recently paid one man over $300,000 with little oversight and no accounting of what he was actually doing with his time.

That's right, it was Barry Colicelli, he of the city office, car and cell phone, and not of the skills, expertise, or special knowledge to do what the city thought he was doing, which was a situation likely signified by ambiguous invoices and the "business as usual" attitude of the city's finance officials.

Change the laws Ms. Buono, and not just for the state government.

The residents of New Jersey like their money in their pockets, and not in the pockets of the friends and associates of shady politicians.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Palmer: residency law is void, contradicts state law

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s defence against a lawsuit seeking the removal of Police Director Joseph Santiago for non-residency is based in part on statements that severely contradict the way the law has been enforced for decades and Mayor Palmer’s own reasons for installing the Police Director position.

Papers filed in Mercer County Superior Court Wednesday by attorney Angelo Genova said that state laws exempting police personnel from residency requirements protect the Police Director position.

Palmer’s defence against the suit – brought by myself and eight other residents – also claims there are discrepancies between state law and Trenton’s residency requirement and that a law used to fire dozens of employees during Mayor Palmer’s tenure is now void, and has no force, although these claims seem to be tenuous interpretations of Section 2-95 of Trenton City Code.

The laws referred to by Mr. Genova and an attorney representing Mr. Santiago actually apply to rank-and-file employees and not director positions, which are clearly accounted for elsewhere in both the state wording and Trenton’s residency law, according to legal sources.

The defence laid out by Mayor Palmer’s counsel seems to fly in the face of the policy of a mayor who actively pushed for creating a director-led Police Department instead of one headed by a chief because it would allow more accountability and also empower the mayor to make sure the leader of the Police Department was a city resident.

The statements portraying the residency law as a violation of state regulations is even more tenuous, because it would mean that a law that has been on the books for over 40 years was never challenged by anyone with the slightest knowledge of legal matters, including the counsel for any of the numerous employees fired by the City of Trenton for residency violations.

The other important implication of Mayor Palmer's defence is that if it were upheld in Mercer County Superior Court it would mean that all city employees would be exempt from the suddenly voided residency law, likely resulting in the mass exodus of 2,000 middle-class wage earners out of the city.

In a flurry of other papers filed in court Wednesday, Mr. Santiago’s lawyers said the director never stated he would refuse to move his family to Trenton if forced to do so, and an attorney claiming to represent the City of Trenton – which includes City Council – moved to have the case dismissed, despite actions to the contrary by David F. Corrigan, who represents City Council.

Mr. Corrigan’s papers have the City Council asking a judge to decree that Mr. Santiago must immediately establish a residence in Trenton, or Mayor Palmer must then do his duty and remove his coveted cabinet member.

City Council also seeks a combination of their complaint with that of the residents', in the interest of saving both time and taxpayer dollars.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dems suggest cutting tax relief

Some Southern New Jersey Democrats have begun calling for drastic reductions in the property tax rebate program that gave New Jersey homeowners $1,000 checks last year, with the elimination of the rebate checks as part of the program to right the state's sinking finances.

The legislators - all from the state's 1st District - suggested the move as an alternative to what many fear will be drastic, program-ending budget cuts, which are set to be revealed next Tuesday during Gov. Jon S. Corzine's budget address.

As part of his financial restructuring plans, Gov. Corzine promised massive cuts in the state budget to eliminate $2.5 billion worth of deficit and balance the budget, along with later controls on state spending, and referendum approval of future bond issues by the state that lack dedicated revenue sources.

Republicans responded to suggestions of cutting the tax relief measures angrily Tuesday, saying it was a step in the wrong direction.

"Why is that Gov. Corzine and the Democrats seem to have visceral opposition to cutting any spending other than tax relief," said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris. "Property tax relief programs are not spending, they are a way to let the taxpayers keep more of their own money."

Democratic legislators calling for reductions in property tax relief said Friday that last year's rebate check program was made possible through increased taxes, which made the majority of the program contradictory.

Gov. Corzine has suggested that property tax relief could stay in place with the implementation of his plan to raise tolls on some of the state's highways, and have an independent entity manage the roadways and issue bonds to pay off half of the state's $32 billion debt.

Monday, February 18, 2008

No way to 250k for Wi-Fi boondoggle

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer wants City Council to appropriate $250,000 in the middle of a budget crisis to pay for costs involving planned citywide Wi-Fi services, with a resolution awarding the moneys up for consideration this week at City Council.

The problem is that when first announcing the plan in November 2007, Mayor Palmer told City Council and the rest of the city that the wireless network would be constructed free of charge to the city, and that construction - involving the placement of many Wi-Fi devices all over Trenton - has certainly not happened yet.

"This broadband wireless network will be constructed at no cost to the city," said Mayor Palmer in a Nov. 20 press release. "In addition, E-Path will build, at no cost to the city, a separate, secure, dedicated network that the city will be using for police, fire, and emergency services, communications, and all other city services."

The only thing Trenton was supposed to pay for was the actual broadband wireless service itself, and none of the cost associated with all of the work that goes into setting up such a network.

But now it appears Mayor Palmer is asking the city for the very start-up money that Trenton officials were told was unnecessary by officials from E-Path Communications, Inc., who said publicly that their operation was footing the cost of installing infrastructure necessary for such a network.

And while the idea of a citywide Wi-Fi network certainly is interesting, from the start the whole point was that the plan would be a financial liability, with a company that has yet to prove itself elsewhere tasked with an endeavor that has not been done successfully anywhere else.

That financial liability problem was seemingly negated back in November when Mayor Palmer said the network would be built free of charge, but now it seems even that safeguard is being removed, and that leaves City Council a fairly simple choice tomorrow.

The seven members can either vote to approve the moneys for what is certainly a risky operation in the middle of a severe city fiscal crisis that has tax rates set to rise again, or they can vote no, and let E-Path and other such companies prove themselves somewhere else, in a city with less to lose financially than Trenton.

It is really that simple.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

N.J. law would sanction employers of illegals

In what could end up being landmark legislation for a state as as progressive as New Jersey, leading state Senate Democrats announced this week that they are crafting legislation that would punish New Jersey companies employing undocumented immigrants.

"Companies that knowingly hire illegals are destroying job opportunities for the working men and women of New Jersey," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland. "This practice has to be stopped."

Specifics have not been worked out yet, but it looks like the set of laws would punish first-time offending companies by revoking business licenses for 10 days, preventing them from doing business in New Jersey.

Repeat offenders would permanently lose their business licenses, making the commonplace practice of hiring undocumented immigrants a potentially costly one for many state companies.

Mercer County's own Route 1 corridor boasts some of the most frequent offenders, in restaurants and landscaping businesses, which frequently hire undocumented workers with the most rudimentary of documentation in the form of fake Social Security cards and other false papers.

The problem of undocumented immigrants has grown exponentially in recent years for New Jersey, with some estimates pegging the number of undocumented, mainly South American nationals living in New Jersey at 500,000, out of a population of more than eight million.

Mr. Sweeney said that he hopes to have the legislation completed in the second half of 2008, and after passage all New Jersey employers would be required to verify the legal status of all of their employees.

The new law does have precedence, with a similar Arizona statute already in place.

The constitutionality of that measure was upheld recently by U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake, who refuted a claim that the Arizona law interfered with federal regulation of immigration, based on federal law that gives the 50 states to regulate business licensing in connection with immigration status.

"People complain about illegal immigrants, but the federal government is not enforcing its own statutes," said Sen. Sweeney. "With my bill, New Jersey would join Arizona as the only states thus far to impose sanctions against businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Intrigue for the Lartigues

Wayne Lartigue - husband of Councilwoman Annette H. Lartigue - was officially promoted to the Trenton Housing Authority's executive director position this week, handing the spouse of a City Council member a position that answers to Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and carries a salary of $135,000.

Media reports of this promotion Saturday showed Mr. Lartigue deflecting questions about a possible conflict of interest by stating he had already worked for the THA prior to Ms. Lartigue's election to City Council.

Strangely, Ms. Lartigue has not stated her position on her husband's promotion and salary increase, despite the fact that it will surely cast doubt on her future legislative work.

Her position is on a body that is supposed to independently deliberate and check the executive branch of the city government, headed by Mayor Palmer.

Even in the case of a well-thought out position or vote, naysayers will constantly raise questions about Ms. Lartigue's ability to think independently and do the business of the people, haunted by the threat that a position contrary to that of her husband's boss could result in consequences on the livelihood of her spouse.

The existence of such a conflict of interest can be debated until the cows come home, but a family member answering to Mayor Palmer and receiving a six-figure salary has now become a 600-pound gorilla living in City Council chambers.

Whenever Ms. Lartigue makes a controversial decision on an ordinance, resolution, or appropriation, involving either supporting or going against Mayor Palmer, questions will be raised and rumors of back-room deals and political pandering circulated around Trenton.

This is precisely the reason why relationships smacking of dirty politics and the co-opting of a coequal branch of government should be avoided at all costs by those responsible for serving the interests of the people.

Even the slightest hint of open government being damaged by such an arrangement is too costly an undertaking for any government that cares about the feelings of the people it serves.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Council plans to file their own suit, decision delays likely

Trenton City Council members and their attorney want to file their own court action against Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Police Director Joseph Santiago, and combine that with the lawsuit against the two filed earlier this year by nine Trenton residents, including myself.

City Council's attorney, David F. Corrigan, sent papers signalling the council's intentions Friday, stating their intention to file their own court action involving "the city's residency ordinance, the Police Director's failure to abide by the same, and the mayor's alleged refusal to enforce the law."

That action could be consolidated with the suit brought by the residents, but with the amount of lawyers involved in the case - alreay up to six - the proposal likely means more delay for a case that was originally set to be decided on Feb. 22. and delayed until March 7.

Trenton City Code states that City Council is empowered to remove the director with a five-member vote, so if they believed in the merits of their case against him the body could remove the director without resorting to a costly and protracted court battle.

But that may be the end result anyway, with Mayor Palmer stating earlier in the flap that he would not remove the director himself and planned to retain the director's services despite any council action removing Mr. Santiago from employment with the City of Trenton.

In his letter to Judge Linda Feinberg Mr. Corrigan said the council's position was inconsistent with that of the lawsuit brought by the residents, although it is unknown how that position is different from that of the residents, whose suit is based upon support the residency law and its continued enforcement.

With the filing of council's official response it should be determined exactly where those inconsistencies lie, based on the language of City Council's response.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cloudy future for Mercer County Board of Freeholders

Mercer County’s Board of Freeholders will likely have high turnover this year, with the pending March selection of a replacement for departing Freeholder Elizabeth Muoio to be followed with an open convention in which many Democratic candidates will be vying for the party nod for the seats of freeholders Tony Mack and Lucy Walter, which are said to be vulnerable.

John Cimino - the son of former Assemblyman and Department of Personnel Commission Anthony “Skip” Cimino – already announced his candidacy for a freeholder seat, along with Princeton Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz, and local labor leader Mike Maloney.

Trenton activist and entrepreneur Alysia Welch-Chester – the wife of Trenton’s West Ward City Council candidate Zachary Chester – is also expected to announce her candidacy in the next few weeks. Ms. Welch-Chester has been active in Trenton civic and business circles, and was instrumental in getting the city’s pay-to-play ordinance passed, despite opposition from Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his allies on City Council.

Of the incumbent freeholders, Mr. Mack’s seat is apparently the most vulnerable, because of public clashes with Mayor Palmer, who remains one of Mercer County’s stronger party figures, especially after the former Hamilton Mayor Glen D. Gilmore’s loss in the 2007 election.

Mr. Mack ran against Mayor Palmer for the mayor of Trenton position in the contentious 2006 election, which resulted in court action because of alleged voter fraud on the part of Mayor Palmer. Mr. Mack lost the suit, and officially conceded that election this week.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Administration to council: don't change the budget

City Council members were told not to use their statutory power to review and possibly make serious changes to the Trenton city budget Tuesday, because any significant revisions would delay further a budget that outlines a fiscal year that is nearly 70 percent complete, according to Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum.

Trenton faces another tax hike this year to make up for a budget shortfall, and will likely face another next year, simply due to inflation and poor economic growth that saw Trenton’s ratables grow by only $8 million in value this past year.

The proposed budget carries a tax rate increase of 12 cents, raising the municipal tax rate from $2.33 per $100 of assessed value to $2.45 per $100, which means a person with a home valued at $100,000 will have to pay an additional $120 annually.

One resident said that to break even with inflationary and recessionary economic forces, Trenton’s $2 billion in ratables would have to grow by more than $200 million next year, which would be nearly impossible, barring some economic miracle.

Ms. Feigenbaum laid out a strict timeline for the budget to City Council officials that left little or no time for oversight and review, because serious amendments would require resubmitting the budget to state agencies, only further delaying the adoption of the document.

Trenton apparently faces some sort of time-crunch because of the usage of estimated tax bills to collect revenue, according to finance official Ron Zilinsky.

City Council members were also told, curiously, that they could not cut the budget significantly or remove staff positions by Ms. Feigenbaum, who said that the body had already implied agreement with the majority of the budget previously.

Trenton’s council representatives have not been provided with simple Microsoft Excel version of the document, which would expedite review, having only PDF or paper copies of the document, which results in a complicated, nearly undecipherable 300-page packet of information.

The delay on the budget is due in part to wait time for the millions of dollars in extra funds from the state’s distressed cities funds, although city officials this year maintained Trenton does not fall in that category.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gang czar paid despite lack of contract

Gang consultant Barry Colicelli has continued to receive compensation from the City of Trenton in the form of a $7,583 payment, usage of a city car, city cellphone, and a city office, despite not having a contract in place since his last deal expired in mid-December, Chief of Staff Renee Haynes said Tuesday at a City Council meeting.

It is customary for city consultants to continue to receive compensation not approved by City Council as they transition out of the city's services, said Ms. Haynes, whose signature was seen on a Colicelli city payment voucher circulating the meeting, dated Jan. 31.

She also said that without retaining Mr. Colicelli, the city would lose out on all of the information and pending grant moneys that Mr. Colicelli had gathered during his three years with the city.

West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue told the administration to immediately stop all payments to Mr. Colicelli, and end his usage of city amenities.

Both councilmen Gino Melone and Manny Segura - who had voted no on the contract last week - pointed to the statements of the administration about the ending of services and disrupted programs as evidence of a contract without accountability or permanency.

"Barry knows it and no one else," said Mr. Melone sarcastically. "So I guess he did it without training or prepping anyone to take over."

Councilman Paul Pintella said it was a frequent practice in the city for government contractors to continue receiving payments out of the pockets of taxpayers after the end of their contract had lapsed, saying their job didn't "just end with the lapse of the contract."

Payment vouchers signed by Ms. Hayes for Mr. Colicelli revealed that while the chief of staff had signed off on the voucher, it was not signed by the city's comptroller, and it did not contain an itemized breakdown of Mr. Colicelli's time.

Instead it took the form of all of the rest of Mr. Colicelli's payment vouchers, with an ambiguous listing of activities and a lump sum attached, signed off by Ms. Haynes, Mr. Colicelli, but not by the city's comptroller.

2010 city election takes shape

Several incumbents and a new candidate have begun filing contributions with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission for the 2010 Trenton municipal race, with that election now a little over two years away.

Current City Council members Gino Melone and Jim Coston have filed contributions, although it has been widely speculated that Mr. Melone is weighing a possible run at the mayor’s seat that is expected to be vacated in 2010 by Trenton’s current leader, embattled Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

Mercer County Freeholder and former Trenton mayoral candidate Tony Mack has also filed contributions for the 2010 mayor’s race, as has Mayor Palmer, although the mayor’s filings seem to be residual and statutory in nature, listing no new contributions and only old financial information stemming from a loan he took out for his 2006 campaign.

Election newcomer and West Ward resident Zachary Chester has filed as well, with election papers detailing monetary backing in the form of contributions made by coworkers at Capital Health System.

Mr. Chester also seems to have good political backing, in the form of endorsements for his run from current West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue, which have been made by Ms. Lartigue at public meetings recently.

Ms. Lartigue will also be running for the mayor’s seat in 2010, with Trenton residents from some West Ward neighborhoods reporting they have already been invited to what has been billed as an official campaign-launch event.

But Ms. Lartigue’s recent waffling on issues such as the contract of city gang consultant Barry Colicelli and the Police Director Joseph Santiago residency issue have apparently given those in her base of support some doubts about her credibility as an elected official.

Councilman Manny Segura is also believed to be mulling a run at the mayor’s seat, and his recent solid voting record puts him and head-and-shoulders above Ms. Lartigue, who has demonstrated an inability to separate herself from the increasingly unpopular Palmer administration, and its officials’ arrogant style of rule.

Councilwoman Cordelia Staton’s position in the 2010 elections has not been officially established, but as a Hillcrest resident, she could conceivably run for a West Ward seat that might be easier to win than her current at-large position, given the erosion of the power of Mayor Palmer city-wide.

That would put her on a collision course in the election with both Mr. Chester and Ms. Lartigue’s public endorsement of an anointed successor.

Ms. Staton made her name working for the Palmer-backed referendum that gave Trenton the Police Director position and has the backing of the mayor, so Ms. Lartigue would be put in the predicament of either continuing to back Mr. Chester, or making a decision to rescind that support and go along with the status quo, including several administration officials who have publicly butted heads with Mr. Chester.

Let us hope Mr. Chester is successful and gets a seat at the table, which would likely prevent more of this...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ousted gang czar working, Palmer openly disregarding council vote

Ousted gang consultant Barry Colicelli has been showing up for work at his City Hall office in his city car despite the fact that City Council ended his relationship with Trenton last Thursday by voting not to renew his contract, city sources said Monday.

It appears that administration officials working under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer have told Mr. Colicelli to stay on and continue working for taxpayer dollars despite the fact that a majority of City Council properly exercised their statutory powers and rightfully prevented what had become an unnecessary drain of resources for a contract that simply wasn’t in the interests of Trenton residents.

Councilmen Manny Segura, Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, and Gino Melone should be commended for their actions, and those voting in favor of of the contract need to be reprimanded for failing the residents and taxpayers in a most miserable way.

But the council members voting against the contract and what it represented need to recognize what is now happening, in response to their suddenly-potent drive to do what is right for Trenton.

The city government under Mayor Palmer - with the presence in City Hall of a contractor who no longer works for the city - continues to show an absolute disregard for American ideals of checks and balances and the separation of powers that were so carefully placed in the form of government used by Trenton and other New Jersey municipalities under the Faulkner Act.

City Council’s will is being openly violated but its members share part of the blame for the current situation in Trenton, because they have allowed the administration to operate in this arrogant manner for so long.

They have rarely questioned what Mayor Palmer and his officials have done until recently, and they continue to do the city’s business unaware of what they could and should do in response to the tactics of the other branch of government.

At their fingertips they have the ability to subpoena anyone, remove city employees for cause, refuse advice and consent on mayoral appointments, and use the power of their votes to deny any administration initiative or action, effectively halting the mayor in his tracks.

With that in mind, these city representatives need to see that the mayor is playing hardball with the interests of city residents and their elected officials on City Council, and has been for some time.

City Council must continue their current streak of good decision-making, and play hardball right back, or otherwise face total abdication on city matters while simultaneously failing at what they swore to uphold the day they entered public office.

The only entity with any power to stop the faulty leadership of the Palmer administration is City Council, and in this kind of political game a lot of important things are at stake, especially for a city with a resume of problems like Trenton, New Jersey.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Anti-politics residency petition imminent

Plans are being drawn up to get a newer, tougher residency laws on the books in Trenton to prevent the kind of political meddling that has become the hallmark of the city's current government, led by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

To put it lightly, the enforcement of a law that requires employees and their families to live in Trenton and become a part of the city community has been inconsistent under Mayor Palmer's leadership.

Favored employees tend to receive illegal exceptions to the law while other employees have been investigated and removed from their positions with great fanfare by Palmer administration officials.

The new ordinance would put a stop to that, by placing stronger controls on the granting of waivers by requiring City Council to sign off on any exceptions with their consent, and an affirmative vote of at least five council members.

The new push to get official petitions out to the city's voters stems from the sudden rumors of a desire to amend the current law on the part of certain council members, who have seemingly reversed their earlier position on the law.

City Council members Paul Pintella, Annette Lartigue, and Cordelia Staton have stated publicly that they would like to amend the ordinance, after Police Director Joseph Santiago's residency controversy is resolved.

The initiation of the ordinance would also serve to publicly flush out into the public eye exactly which council members are going against the city's interests with thoughts of weakening the law.

Those officials would have to publicly put themselves on the side of a line in the sand opposite a sizable portion of Trenton's voters, and a large and organized group of citizens who would likely place their votes with pro-residency candidates in the upcoming 2010 election.

That could all be avoided though, according to legal sources, who said Sunday that the City Council would have the ability to adopt the strengthened residency ordinance themselves, without forcing a special election for a law that is overwhelmingly supported in the Trenton community.

Once in place, the ordinance would be legally impervious to amendments or revisions for a period of three years, during which violators holding city positions could be rooted out and dismissed without protection from extra-legal waivers or meddling by Mayor Palmer or his contingent of henchmen on City Council.

The new version of the residency law could go far in stamping out the existence of rampant cronyism in Trenton, by including language inhibiting the ability of the mayor or administration to create patronage positions like the one formerly held by recently-ousted gang consultant and non-resident Barry Colicelli, without a thorough search for Trenton employees and residents who could provide similar services.

That section would likely require a more open public bidding process and stringent regulation to prevent anymore phony-baloney contracts given to the family members of Mayor Palmer's close friends or the former Newark coworkers of Mr. Santiago, on the taxpayer's tab.

With the poor turnout in Trenton's last general election, organizers of the ordinance push have certainly been given a unique gift, in their ability to initiate ordinances by getting at least 770 signatures of the city's registered voters while challenging current city laws with the collection of around 1200 signatures.

Should the Palmerites on City Council move to amend the current ordinance prior to the initiation of the new one, the petition efforts would simply morph from an initiative into the protest of the weakened ordinance, with an eye to correcting and strengthening its language.

Council members moving to preemptively amend the ordinance and weaken it to appease Mayor Palmer and administration officials would likely have egg on their collective face, by siding with a power-hungry mayor instead of the residents and voters of Trenton.

The creation of a suitable petition and organization efforts have already begun, and canvassers will likely be in city neighborhoods sometime in March.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sour grapes

Call it a case of sour grapes.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer lashed out at City Council Friday after the body failed to renew the contract of the mayor's gang consultant and effectively ended the tenure of ex-Newark cop Barry Colicelli, both denying him his annual $91,000 paycheck and putting a stop to the existence of a patronage position that had no built-in accountability or benchmarks.

Mayor Palmer - himself more of a skilled politician than a skilled leader - naturally began spinning the matter as a case of the council playing politics, rather than a case of City Council standing up for the interests of city residents and their precious tax dollars, which were fleeing the city's borders annually in the bank account of a non-resident, Mr. Colicelli.

“They are playing politics with public safety,” Palmer said at a press conference. “This is politics at the worst level.”

Actually, the person who was playing politics was Mayor Palmer himself, after he created the position out of thin air, despite the presence of numerous Trenton Police Department officials with skills equal or greater than Mr. Colicelli's.

The gang czar was only brought in and given a city contract because of his affinity to Police Director Joseph Santiago, who worked with Mr. Colicelli under the corrupt Sharpe James administration up in Newark.

But those indictments presently dogging Mr. James demonstrate a group of individuals who showed blatant disregard of the public trust that seems to have moved from Newark to Trenton with the arrival of Mr. Santiago and Mr. Colicelli.

The irresponsible manner in which the Request for Proposal was conducted - along with the ambiguous nature of Mr. Colicelli's payment vouchers - point to a phantom position custom-made to give Mr. Santiago's Newark buddy another income source.

They paint a picture of a job in which Mr. Colicelli could do as he pleased, without oversight or tangible results.

City Council decapitated part of that money and corruption trail Thursday by ending Mr. Colicelli's expensive and suspicious relationship with the city, in which he received both thousands of dollars, a city vehicle, a city cell phone, and a city office, in a contract with little or no controls or oversight.

That kind of use of public funds is absolutely unacceptable in a city in a financial crisis, which should try and do as much in-house work as possible.

That is a better plan than constantly bringing in outside help in that has neither a stake in the community nor have any incentive to reinvest their compensation in our community.

Mayor Palmer is doing what he does best, and that's playing politics, but no matter how much spin comes out of the corridors of City Hall, in this case, City Council did the right thing by ending Mr. Colicelli's relationship with the city.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The regime change has begun

The first piece of Sharpe James' Newark garbage was shown the door last night when the Trenton City Council voted not to renew a contract for Barry Colicelli, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's gang consultant and Police Director Joseph Santiago's Newark crony.

The vote preceded an absurd dog-and-pony show where Mr. Colicelli - who has not been seen in City Council for 10 months - came before the body and gave an hour-long presentation that attempted to show the council exactly what they were getting for $91,000 a year, and why they should give Mr. Colicelli a pay raise.

After retiring into the main council chambers for the second half of the meeting, the true circus began, when Mayor Palmer's council puppets and administration officials fought an invaliant and nearly illegal effort to stall the vote, when they saw the resolution awarding the contract would fail.

After two no votes from councilmen Milford Bethea and Jim Coston, Councilwoman Annette Lartigue tried to launch a discussion into how to amend the resolution to make it passable by City Council.

What followed was truly ridiculous, with Ms. Lartigue, Council President Paul Pintella, and Councilwoman Cordelia Staton holding inaudible side conversations in public view, apparently to discuss strategy about what to do about the imminent failure of the administration's pet resolution.

Chief of Staf Renee Haynes resorted to scare tactics and gave council a ghoulish warning about the possible no vote on the contract, in the middle of a council motion and while the vote that was still on the floor.

"Council needs to be aware that if they fail to pass this resolution, there will be a void left in Trenton that cannot be filled," said Ms. Haynes, who implied that a no vote was a vote against public safety and Trenton's well-being.

The feeling here is it was a vote about governmental integrity, good fiscal management, and a rejection of the bullying Palmer administration's attitude toward the legislative branch of city government.

After Mr. Pintella started more discussion, and chastised his colleagues for voting against the measure, City Attorney Denise Lyles said that the vote was still on the floor and needed to be finished before council could discuss rebidding the contract or doing anything else.

Both councilmen Gine Melone and Manny Segura voted no, with Mr. Melone addressing Mr. Colicelli and saying he had done a good job but the city no longer needed his services, which to him seemed like a permanent contract.

Mr. Segura had harsh words for some of his other council members and the administration officials, who had begun bullying tactics while the vote was tkaing place.

"No one will intimidate me about my voting," Mr. Segura said.

The measure failed, with four no votes, an abstention from Ms. Lartigue, and two yes votes from the Palmerites, Ms. Staton and Mr. Pintella.

In the battle to rid T-Town of more Newark garbage thus far: one down, two more to go.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mayor Palmer might run out of options

For the second time this year, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has failed to get out the vote for his preferred political candidates in any sizable numbers, after Sen. Barack Obama trounced the candidate Mayor Palmer endorsed, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Through organizational efforts superior to those of Mayor Palmer’s machine, Sen. Obama supporters made sure that their candidate got the vast majority of votes in Trenton, with Sen. Obama getting 7,221 votes to Sen. Clinton’s 2,994.

Some may speculate that this hefty defeat can be attributed to Trenton’s demographics – with over 50 percent of the city’s population being African-American – but the fact of the matter is the rest of Mercer County, which is heavily white, voted in far greater numbers for Sen. Obama than Sen. Clinton, who enjoyed the support of most of the heavy hitters in the county's political scene.

The mayors of New Jersey’s urban areas have traditionally been empowered in the state’s political arena because of their ability to churn out large numbers of votes for the Democratic Party, but it appears that like much of Mayor Palmer’s skills, this ability is waning.

Even more significant is the impact this election is having on Mayor Palmer’s prospects for positions following his tenure as mayor of Trenton, which is suspected to be over following the 2010 election.

As a self-proclaimed Hillary supporter, Mayor Palmer is believed to have some sort of federal position waiting for him should his candidate win the November election, but the chances of that happening are surely diminished as Sen. Obama continues to show the ability to compete with, and maybe even defeat Sen. Clinton.

Another position could be the new Lieutenant Governor’s office, but Mayor Palmer’s likely running mate would be New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who has been suffering dismal approval ratings and has openly spoke of sacrificing his political future for the sake of the state’s finances.

That doesn’t sound like a very promising path either.

Should Sen. Obama win the Democratic nomination and deny the federal positions open to Mayor Palmer with a Clintonvictory, and Gov. Corzine win the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination and go off on a governor’s campaign and suicide mission, Mayor Palmer very well might face either running for the mayor's for a sixth time, or retiring to his quiet Hunterdon County home.

Let us hope he goes for the latter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lt. Gov. Palmer, a nightmare for New Jersey

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer could certainly be one of the first candidates ever in New Jersey for the newly created lieutenant governor position, after state residents voted the position into existence in the same election that put Gov. Jon S. Corzine in the state's highest office.

Mayor Palmer told this week that he was honored to be thought of for the position - which is widely suspected to be a possible landing place for him in life after Trenton - but that for now, he was focused on Trenton.

But it is highly doubtful that people in Trenton want Mayor Palmer's attention anymore, and any gubernatorial candidates pledging to run with Trenton's mayor should be aware of that fact and remind themselves of this vindictive politician's legacy of rule here in Trenton.

Consistently high murder rates, economic downturn, the flight of business and the middle class, and the continued slide of formerly viable neighborhoods are just some of Mayor Palmer's achievements in 18 years as Trenton's mayor.

As mayor, his policies have included selective enforcement of the law, the use of vengeful tactics against employees who don't toe his line, and appointments stinking of cronyism and disrespect for the public trust.

Trenton has become little more than a money trough for far away officials from Newark and the rest of Northern Jersey to come to, only to get their fill of money, benefits, and city-funded perks, and then scamper off into the night and in clear violation of the city's residency law.

Lucrative contracts funded by taxpayer dollars are given away without the slightest accountability and without the slightest adherence to state guidelines, while the average resident is taxed into oblivion with increased levies every year.

The city's financial establishment is in such bad shape one would only have to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure would come crashing down.

But instead of cutting programs and tightening the government belt, city infrastructure with long-term revenue potential is being carried off bit-by-bit as Mayor Palmer makes up structural deficits through one-time quick-fix fire sales of water and energy utility assets.

All that holds on in Trenton are groups of dedicated residents fighting for the livelihood of their beloved city in the face of arrogant and indifferent administration officials, who have lost all touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

All of these poisons could be unleashed on a statewide scale with the election of Mayor Palmer as lieutenant governor.

Hey, at least he would be out of City Hall.

Dems still competitive, McCain pulls away

An earlier and more meaningful primary day for New Jersey brought out record numbers of voters and meant victory here for Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton, but for New Jersey dems at the end of Tuesday, the overall picture for the national primary race remained murky.

By late last night Sen. Barack Obama had taken Alaska, Alabama, Colorado, Missouri, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Connecticut, North Dakota, Georgia, Utah, and Delaware, while Sen. Clinton had taken Arizona, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Sen. Obama appears to trail Sen. Clinton by less than 100 delegates, because the states that held primary elections for the dems Tuesday will split their delegates proportionally, based on various formulas.

Sen. Clinton comes away with about 40 percent of the delegates needed for the nomination while Sen. Barack Obama has about 35 percent, meaning the race is still very competitive, which is something that hasn't happened for a quarter century.

While Sen. Clinton took some of the larger states that were up for grabs yesterday, Sen. Obama succeeded in winning more states than his opponent and remained in a good position to continue a fundraising surge that saw him raise over $30 million in January, or roughly $17 million more than Sen. Clinton.

That's good news for democratic voters in New Jersey's urban areas like Trenton, Jersey City, and Newark, where Sen. Obama seems to have gotten a lot of his support in the Garden State, because their candidate should be in good shape for the remainder of the campaign.

It is suspected that many of Sen. Clinton's most ardent supporters have already donated moneys up to the full amount allowed by law, while Sen. Obama's recent momentum gains mean that much of his financial support has yet to be tapped.

On the Republican side, Sen. McCain took many of the largest and most important states and about half of the delegates up for grab Tuesday, with Mitt Romney winning a smattering of northern and western states and Mike Huckabee grabbing many of the usual Republican stronghold states.

In a major victory over Mr. Romney, Sen. McCain took California for the Republicans.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No accountability, no responsibility

The Douglas H. Palmer administration has announced that it wants to give away $119,000 in a two-year contract to gang czar, former Newark cop, and Police Director Joseph Santiago tag-along Barry Colicelli, in what amounts to another case of the epidemic of fiscal irresponsibility plaguing the administration of the City of Trenton.

What is not known by anyone in any kind of official position is what this man has done for the city, since responding to a rather shady Request for Proposal that was only advertised for ten days on the city's Web site.

Truly the only thing he seems to have done for Trenton and its residents is to suck around $91,000 a year out of the city's treasury through receiving a tailor-made annual contract in what can only be called a patronage position, pure and simple.

Councilman Jim Coston and others on that body said recently they haven't even seen the city's gang consultant in many, many months, and they have no idea exactly what service the Brielle resident is providing the city.

Really, the only constantly discernible progress made by Mr. Colicelli has been in occupying a City Hall office, using a city-provided cell phone, and motoring back and forth on the two-hour daily commute to his home on the New Jersey Shore, in a city car fueled by city gas.

Those are not the only perks received by this city contractor, with Mr. Colicelli frequently charging travel and food expenses to the city taxpayers while taking extravagant trips around the country with Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago.

He charged hundreds of dollars while traveling to New Orleans and Washington D.C. with his two amigos in City Hall, but city contractors are not usually allowed to charge travel expenses and other personal costs to a city.

Only city employees - who are required to live in Trenton - are allowed to do that.

This unfathomable situation only goes to show that the Palmer administration has made a habit out of violating the public trust, and continues to show absolutely no restraint or thought when expending the tax dollars of a financially-distressed city that needs every dollar it can get.

Mr. Colicelli's old contract expired in December, but it remains to be seen whether he has been receiving extra-legal pay out of city coffers, since the contract lapsed without renewal by City Council.

This is but one symptom of the affliction of arrogance that has enveloped the self-servants working at 319 E. State Street.

City Council has no choice but to vote down this contract at its Thursday meeting.

Incentive program contradicts mayor's stance on residency

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and state officials unveiled a new program Tuesday that will provide incentives for anyone working in Trenton who decides to take the next step and purchase a home in the capital city.

The incentives come in the form of financial benefits that include reduced mortgage interest rates and the provision of funding to reduce the overall cost of the home for buyer.

Someone seeking a $250,000 mortgage would receive $12,500 in assistance from the state, assistance on closing costs from the GMAC Mortgage company, while receiving a favorable interest rate on their mortgage, according to the Times of Trenton.

What is truly ironic about the new program is that it is called the Live Where You Work program, and it comes at a time when the city is embroiled in controversy over city employees who are skirting the city’s residency law by living outside of Trenton’s borders.

Police Director Joseph Santiago certainly doesn’t live where he works, and Communications Director Irving Bradley is in violation because his family has yet to move to Trenton, but Mayor Palmer refuses to enforce the residency law on his prized police director and his Newark tag-a-long, flunky, yes-man, Mr. Bradley.

Mayor Palmer and the state are hell-bent on people moving into targeted development areas like Trenton, with a dual goal of preserving the state’s dwindling open space and trying to revitalize its urban areas by getting middle-class wage earners to move into the city.

But the mayor won’t make these two employees – with Mr. Santiago earning around $110,000 and Mr. Bradley earning around $80,000 – move to Trenton, despite the need for Trenton to maintain and build upon its economic base of middle-class, tax-paying residents.

The program is certainly a good idea, and the state should consider increasing the benefits it provides to prospective homebuyers who are considering moving into Trenton. It fits right into the foundation of the residency ordinance, which obviously puts a premium on having people who earn a decent wage in the city live within the city.

But supporting this kind of program while failing to enforce the residency ordinance and uphold city law certainly sends the wrong message.

Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth Mayor Palmer.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Senate Prez favors lottery privatization

Senate President Richard J. Codey seems to think that harnessing the power of the state's lottery to provide additional revenue to help shore up New Jersey's sagging finances might be a better idea than Gov. Jon S. Corzine's toll-hike plan.

Sen. Codey, D-Essex, has been actively pushing for the consideration of constitutional amendments that would allow the state to lease its lottery to a private operator, which some experts say could provide many billions of dollars in revenue.

Those amendments would require voter approval on the ballot in next year's general election.

"I think we need to keep all of our financial options open at the moment," said Sen. Codey, in a statement this week. "If we can get the ball rolling on this now, and get it on the ballot in November, then at least we will have the legal means to explore this option in the future."

Many residents would probably prefer something like that - coupled with gas or sales tax increases - than the governor's plan, which involves raising the tolls on some of the state's largest roadways by up to 800 percent by 2022.

The added revenue from those increases would go towards paying the debt service on a massive bond issue, which would be used to cut the state's $32 billion debt in half and replenish the Transportation Trust Fund, the main source of moneys for state transportation improvements.

Whatever the case, the state needs to do something quickly as its residents continue to struggle with one of the highest state debts in the nation, and the threat of that same transportation fund running out of funds in a few years' time.

Gov. Corzine was skeptical of the lottery plans making any real dent in the state's financial problems.

"We think we are operating the lottery in an extraordinarily efficient manner today," said Gov. Corzine to the Associated Press on Jan. 28

Saturday, February 2, 2008

More lawyers, more wasted money

In what could only be construed as more fiscal mismanagement by those in power in the City of Trenton, both Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and City Council are seeking private legal services in the ongoing controversy over Police Director Joseph Santiago's non-residency in Trenton.

Mayor Palmer and City Council already have the services of Special Counsel Joseph A. Alacqua, City Attorney Denise Lyles, and an army of lawyers at their disposal for a cost of several hundred thousand dollars per year, but the two entities have apparently decided to spend additional taxpayer dollars by seeking outside legal help.

If retained next week the new attorneys will be sitting in on a very simple case, in which eight Trenton residents and myself sued the city, Mayor Palmer, and Mr. Santiago, seeking Mr. Santiago's removal for his non-residency and a statement that Mayor Palmer has no ability to warp the law in his favor.

That suit was filed after Mayor Palmer continued to insist that he has an unspecified right to bend the city's residency law by providing waivers to an employee who has said publicly that he does not and will not live in Trenton.

All of this could have been avoided if either Mr. Alacqua or Ms. Lyles had done their jobs as city counsel and provided legal opinions on the matter, but both refused to do so, citing conflicts between Mayor Palmer and City Council.

Perhaps they fear what an angry Mayor Palmer might do if they told him what many attorneys reviewing the case have said - Mayor Palmer doesn't have a leg to stand on.

The mayor's belief that the law gives him the ability to grant a waiver seems to be contradicted by his constant calls for City Council to amend the ordinance, according to Councilman Jim Coston.

But Mayor Palmer remains adamant about his super-legal powers.

"I hold out to the council my belief that I have the authority to grant the waiver but the ball's in their court," said Mayor Palmer in the Times of Trenton this week.

City Council is expected to retain the services of a Monmouth County lawyer by Thursday of next week, after the body took a straw vote on the attorney following their residency flap executive session last week, officials said.

And Mayor Palmer has apparently contacted attorney Angelo Genova to represent him, despite the fact that he does not need his own attorney in the matter since he has not been sued independent of his role as mayor of Trenton, and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit do not seek damages from Mayor Palmer.

Both Mr. Alacqua and Ms. Lyles should be perfectly capable to handle such a simple matter, legal sources said this week.

Mr. Genova has already asked attorney for the plaintiffs George Dougherty for an adjournment of the case, which Mr. Dougherty denied.

City Council will have the peculiar opportunity to deny Mayor Palmer from retaining Mr. Genova with city funds next week, when a resolution awarding a contract to the attorney would likely come before council.

Council members said they would have to think carefully about letting Mayor Palmer spend more taxpayer dollars, after the mayor threatened to drag out the case for months and spend city funds extravagantly in defence of his authority to bend the law.

Mr. Santiago as already retained his own council, although it is not known whether those services are being paid for by Trenton taxpayers, who face a tax increase this year because of a budget shortfall of many millions of dollars.

Barring an adjournment granted by a Mercer County Superior Court judge, the case should be in court on Feb. 22.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Bill would end school board gag orders

Trenton’s Board of Education would no longer be able to silence the public in the future with the pending passage of legislation requiring school boards to have a public comment session in every open meeting.

Two weeks ago school officials wary of the groundswell of public dismay over demolition plans for the Trenton Central High School decided not to hold public comment, but now that practice could no longer be legal in the future, after the bill was released from the Assembly Education Committee this week.

“Opening the floor of every public meeting to comments from residents is essential for good government to flourish,” said bill sponsor Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, D-Essex, in a statement. “Promises of accountability, transparency, and openness at all levels of government are meaningless if state law looks the other way while some school boards law down ad hoc gag orders as a means of silencing critics and concerned residents.”

Language in the bill calls for amending the state’s Open Public Meetings Act to make school boards carve out a portion of all of their public meetings to allow the public in attendance to comment, on any issue related to the school district.

Current state law mandates that all meetings of a municipal governing body provide a period of time for the public to comment, and Ms. Spencer’s bill mirrors that language and applies it to a municipality’s Board of Education.

The measure was released from the committee unanimously this week, and now Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts will decide when to put it to vote.