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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.


Old Mill Hill said...

Just for the record, Mr. Lartigue has worked for Trenton Housing Authority (THA) for quite some time.

He was Deputy Director under his immediate predecessor, Dallas Parks.

As I understand it, the Trenton Housing Authority is funded primarily by the Federal Government via HUD. The THA serves to provide management oversight of the properties and programs via the appointed commissioners (who, in this case, are appointed by the Mayor of Trenton).

While the situation bears watching, I think it is unfair to automatically assume or suspect any type of collusion between the Palmer Administration, Councilwoman Lartigue and her husband.

Rather than what the Lartigues may or may not do in response to Mr. Palmer's whims,I'd personally be more concerned about Mr. Harris, along time Palmer crony, sitting as a member of the board of commissioners.

Let's try to keep as open a mind as possible in these situations.

Greg Forester said...
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Greg Forester said...

The point is not that there is wrongdoing, the point is this is an obvious conflict of interest that will cast doubt on Lartigue's council decisions...

Greg Forester said...
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Old Mill Hill said...

In a town the size of Trenton it would be hard to not find potential conflicts of interest amongst most, if not all, of the various government, civic and religious leaders. And we are well advised to be alert against that.

Still, I am not convinced that this situation is as "obvious [a] conflict of interest" as you state.

In my tenure here, I've seen very few occasions where THA matters have come before City Council. If and when they do, Ms. Lartigue can (and probably should) recuse herself from the proceedings.

Nothing different than Mr. Pintella recusing himself from matters pertaining to financial arrangements between the city and the state's department of health (or whichever department he's employed by at the moment)...which he has done.

Where have your concerns been regarding potential conflicts of interest between Ms. Staton, an employee of the school district, and her role as a Councilwoman acting on matters regarding that same school district?

This is why open and transparent government is so important. And why checks and balances and proper procedures must be followed.

But I still think it is a tad alarmist to presume that there is and will be a "conflict of interest" on the part of the Lartigues.

All I am saying is, give them the opportunity to show how they might handle same before you set off the sirens.

Greg Forester said...

Obviously we have a difference of opinion here and that is fine.

One final point though.

Your examples of Mr. Pintella and Ms. Staton do bear keeping in mind, but in their cases there are very easily defined and clear cases where they should recuse themselves from voting because of an obvious conflict of interest.

But when you have a family member working for the man you are trying to check and balance, the instances of when that relationship causing a conflict are much less well-defined and ambiguous, raising the frequency of speculation.

That means people can question the rationale between a vote or position on a much broader number of issues, as opposed to the other council members, where only school or health issues create the conflict.

Also, I don't support the idea that he has been in the position for a long time so it is not a conflict, or lessens the conflict.

Conflict of interests don't usually get grandfathered in or become dampened over time. To me, that's just the sign of complacency in Trenton.