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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some budget cut suggestions

The City of Trenton faces a potential $7 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2009 budget, Palmer administration officials told City Council Tuesday. Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum said even that shortfall would come, even with an anticipated 13-cent tax increase, following the tax hike Trentonians saw this year.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his city business officials ought to seriously deliberate on cutting major positions and department sectors to make up the deficit, instead of consecutive, large-scale tax-rate increases.

This suggestion comes out of the reality that Trenton’s city government is extremely top heavy, especially in the amount of gratuitous positions of employment attached to Mayor Palmer himself.

There are mayor’s aides, and a chief of staff who is only needed because of Mayor Palmer’s infrequent presence inside Trenton's borders. There are three separate drivers assigned to the mayor, all of which earn about $70,000 or more that a Trenton Police Department detective earns annually.

Despite having significantly less population, Trenton’s city government is way larger than it was under the Holland administration, and significantly larger than the government of Hamilton Township, which has several times more area and about 6,000 more people in population.

Judging by Mayor Palmer’s recent treatment of longtime city employees as cannon fodder in the ongoing residency case, it is likely that the monetary axe will fall on lesser employees, and not any of the high-ranking and highly unnecessary positions that currently suck salary and benefit money out of the city coffers, at an increasingly prodigious rate.

City Council should seriously consider using its statutory budget powers to fleece the hell out of the crowd of unnecessary city employees that make a living off of performing unneeded work for the mayor of a relatively small urban municipality. A couple hundred thousand dollars could be made up in that area alone, through some careful cutting and elimination of positions.

This is Trenton, and Mayor Palmer is not the mayor of a massive city that requires an equally massive administrative bureaucracy. Paired with Trenton's size, such an organization only serves to interfere with the rest of the city’s finances.

Council members, please take an axe to such an edifice.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are we a bunch of idiots?

Only in Trenton’s topsy-turvy world of city government would City Council be on the receiving end of two harebrained schemes asking for hundreds of thousands of city dollars, following a presentation on just how cash-strapped the city's fiscal future is looking.

Rumors about the city’s dismal finances have abounded for a long time, but in recent days they have grown into a crescendo of nervous whispers here in New Jersey’s capital.

Those voices talk of 10-percent budget cuts, layoffs, firehouses closing, and other symptoms of a city government whose finances have finally broken, after 18 years of mismanagement under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

But to add injury to insult, at tonight’s council meeting representatives from a wireless internet company trying to sell council on the merits of a citywide Wi-Fi system - which council members have already rejected once - will make another desperate appearance to try and get a city contract worth over $200,000 from the doubting city representatives.

That is scheduled only an hour after council members receive a nightmarish briefing on the city’s failing finances.

At around the same time Tuesday as that dandy, Police Director Joseph Santiago will try and convince council about the necessity in paying $200,000 to another gun company for handguns for Trenton’s police officers, despite the fact that the current supplier has offered to replace the whole weapons cache for free.

What is wrong with this picture?

A good way of looking at the behavior of Mayor Palmer and his officials in their treatment of city residents and the legislative branch of city government is that they act like they’re talking to a bunch of idiots.

They say one thing, then do another, which nearly always contradicts their earlier positions and policies. Whether it’s finances or residency or any other issue, it has become quite apparent that many Palmer administration officials – including the mayor, a Trenton native – have little or no respect for the rest of the city, or its government.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

Monday, April 28, 2008

BREAKING: residency news...

Court papers filed today only further revealed the despicable conduct of officials in the Douglas H. Palmer administration, which has grown worse in recent weeks.

According to papers filed in Mercer County Superior Court today, Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and others began threatening about a dozen or more longtime city employees with termination a few weeks ago, in a ploy to bully City Council into amending the city’s residency ordinance to save the hide of Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Attorney Jim Manahan has now filed an order to show cause, which seeks to save the livelihood of the employees and have the court block Mayor Palmer’s unthinkable decision to terminate them, only to save Mr. Santiago.

Mr. Manahan, in section of 17 of his brief, said it best:

“In fact, this course of action by the City is not based upon any legitimate and honest interpretation of the ordinance in light of the court’s decision…but rather is a politically motivated action designed to coerce the City Council of the City of Trenton to revise the ordinance in such a manner as to legislatively overrule the court and allow the public official (Santiago) named in that action to remain in office.”

Mr. Manahan hit the nail right on the head. Once again, Mayor Palmer’s officials seem to have lost all touch with reality, willing to stop at nothing to save the Police Director from the judge’s gavel.

What is ridiculous about the city’s position is that the employees in question were not granted a residency waiver under the city’s own ordinance, but actually had their residency waived by the Department of Personnel, which manages the hiring and testing of city workers.

Note to Palmer and his lawyers: state law supercedes Trenton’s law, no matter how the two might conflict, and Judge Feinberg did not throw out the state statute regarding waiving residency, just Trenton’s.

Also, it is unthinkable that Judge Feinberg, in throwing out the city’s waiver provision, was calling for any employees waived under that rule to retroactively be subject to termination.

In a letter to City Council that later morphed into a Times of Trenton Op/Ed, Mayor Palmer said administration officials had begun reviewing the files of city employees, and only recently “discovered” some had received waivers under the city’s ordinance, and now faced termination.

All of these statements were broad lies made to the entire public.

Not only did Mayor Palmer and company know about these waivers, as evidenced by employment certifications that disclosed in no uncertain terms that these employees had their residency waived, but they knew they were state-waived, and not waived under the provisions of the city’s own residency ordinance.

But, despite all of this, Palmer administration officials were ready to fire these city workers tomorrow morning, on the tenuous theory that because a judge threw out Trenton’s residency waiver provisions last month, these Department of Personnel-waived employees were subject to termination.

In fact, sources said the only reason they didn’t terminate the employees weeks ago was that union representation, before turning to Mr. Manahan, actually told administration officials they would lobby City Council to amend the law to save the workers.

Smelling blood in the water, Mayor Palmer and Ms. Feigenbaum apparently delayed the termination date, until tomorrow.

Even that date now faces a delay, because with the filing of the papers today Judge Feinberg has scheduled a 10 a.m. conference on Thursday, where she could potentially confront city officials and ask exactly what power gave them the ability to terminate these state-waived employees, retroactively, because of her own decision.

Should get interesting in those chambers. Stay tuned.

Baroni: restore ELEC funding

One of the most questionable cuts in Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed budget is that which would slash funding to New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission from last year’s level of $4.9 million to $4.1 million, according to Sen. Bill Baroni, R-14.

The senator recently wrote a letter to the governor calling on the restoration of funding for the commission, which serves as a major obstacle to those in New Jersey who would engage in activities that would fall under what's known as "pay-to-play."

“We need to be serious about ending New Jersey’s culture of corruption,” said Sen. Baroni, in a statement. “It is vital we both strengthen and support ELEC. Gov. Corzine’s budget does neither.”

The commission served to oversee the enforcement of the 2006 pay-to-play disclosure law, which provided some level of oversight to over 2,000 elections, and 24,000 public contracts worth over $10 billion, according to Sen. Baroni’s office.

The commission also provided public information on contributors giving money to over 6,000 candidates, contained in 30,000 reports covering $69 million worth of campaign contributions.

The election commission has also continued to operate at low staffing levels, according to a report by the senator’s office, which showed numerous vacancies and unfilled positions in a government organization crucial to the oversight of public monies.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More fiscal woes for T-Town

Trenton is in deep financial trouble, according to city hall insiders, who have revealed that Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez and other officials have begun meeting with department heads and calling for across-the-board budget cuts.

This comes after it was reported widely in Trenton's online community that Mr. Gonzalez was expected to make an appearance at City Council to make the legislative body aware of the city's sudden financial crisis, but now it seems that crisis has resulted in every city department facing a possible double-digit budget slash.

Also allegedly on the monetary chopping block is a proposal originating with City Council members Gino Melone and Jim Coston to add 50 officers onto the police force.

The revelation that Trenton's business officials are now in emergency mode follows a truly odd city budget process that saw the city's budget introduced at such a late time that nearly three quarters of the fiscal year had already passed.

Reasons cited for the delay by Palmer administration officials were numerous measures designed to avert what was purported to be a disastrous fiscal situation.

But that now seems to be occurring anyway, regardless of the fiscal gimmicks touted by Mayor Palmer and his officials. It begs the question - what exactly have these people been doing with the city's finances?

This year saw the sell off of valuable water infrastructure, the sale of a potentially lucrative interest in a local energy company, and an application for emergency state aid, and despite all of that, Trenton ended up with a nice-sized tax hike with another one already looming next year.

About the state of the city's finances, it is often heard that one need only kick in the front door of City Hall to get the entire rotten structure of the city's finances to come down.

Apparently someone kicked down the door this month.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Check out the Broad Street Bank

The Broad Street Bank building is quite an amazing place.

That was well known to me prior to this weekend, but now that I have moved in, I realized I did not even know the half of it.

Spotless hallways, beautiful new apartments, exercise facilities, and of course the rooftop garden all combine to make a residential opportunity that cannot be found nearly anywhere between Manhattan and Philadelphia.

One of the smallest features, but one of the most noticeable to me, are the large wooden 10-foot doors that serve as the entrance to each of the building’s 124 living spaces. It is likely that those oversized doorways are part of the building’s past as a structure devoted to high finance, and probably counting the riches of the men who masterminded Trenton’s industrial domination.

All of the people already living in the building have been extremely friendly, always eager to introduce themselves and exchange apartment floors and numbers.

“This is paradise for me,” said one man I ran into, while moving boxes, furniture, and other items up to my seventh-floor one bedroom home.

Both the super and a security guard live in the building, meaning there is 24-hour assistance for tenants who need help with their apartments or building, and there is always a watchful presence observing the goings-on in and around the stately structure.

This building is exactly the kind of thing that can help bring Trenton back from the brink, by attracting people with disposable, middle-class income into the city to live.

They will likely walk the city’s downtown area, perhaps providing the impetus to make Trenton’s downtown the kind of place the survives the departure of state workers off to the suburbs each weekday, at 5 p.m.

Come check out the building, if you get a chance.

What is wrong with Doug Palmer?

Palmer administration officials don’t support the promotion of valuable city assets like the City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion, if it comes in the form of free advertising on the Ruins of Trenton.

After nearly a year of posting information about events and features at the museum, a request came in two weeks ago from people running the museum.

They asked that the information be removed from this Web site, after their superiors advised them to do so. Those requests came from higher-ups with links to Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

This Web site is almost always aligned against the policies of the Palmer administration, and this type of action shows exactly why taking such a position is almost always valid.

This free advertising reached hundreds of readers every single day, who might never have known about the museum or any of its wonderful features, but Palmer and company would rather see it removed.

Mayor Palmer and his officials are a childish and vindictive group of individuals who care more about exercising power and controlling Trenton than actually seeing this city come our from the social and economic chaos that has plagued it for so many years, under Mayor Palmer.

The important point here is how this idiotic request to end the free promotion of a city asset is a symptom of a greater problem that afflicts this city government.

Good public policy and making decisions based upon the welfare of the city and its residents take a position of secondary importance to the personal positions and whims of Mayor Palmer, who rules from afar from the Roebling summer house in Hunterdon County.

This is wrong, on many levels.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wrong kind of green

Trenton’s green initiatives have more to do with spending green pieces of paper than actually protecting the environment.

While once-a-year trash marches throughout the city make for excellent photo opportunities and feel good stories for the local media, journalistic endeavors of the deeper kind reveal quite a different set of public policies than those trumpeted by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and other city officials in press releases and on the city’s Web site.

Not only does the city not even take the simple step of instituting recycling at city facilities, but city officials refuse to restrict the rampant misuse of gas-guzzling city vehicles in allowing employees to motor around the state on non-city business.

Take the following instance, which raises two different and serious questions about the type of public policy being undertaken by those in the Palmer administration.

Councilman Jim Coston recently renewed a call for an explanation from administration officials as to why Mr. Bradley had taken his city vehicle 50 miles north to Rahway to visit his family, and in response, he received a copy of a city vehicle policy.

This vehicle policy allowed Mr. Bradley to take his city vehicle up to his former home in Rahway, according to administration officials.

That policy should be changed immediately, out of consideration for both Trenton’s fragile financial situation and the obvious environmental impacts of such unnecessary city-funded motor vehicle use.

This city cannot afford to provide employees with city vehicles and $3.50-a-gallon gasoline for trips to far away places throughout New Jersey.

Also, what exactly is Mr. Bradley’s family doing in Rahway?

Blinda Bradley and the others should have moved to Trenton the moment he accepted the position late last summer, and Mr. Bradley should face termination for failing to abide by the city’s residency law, like 30-plus other employees terminated for similar violations.

What kind of public policies are these, Mayor Palmer?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hypocrisy: Mayor Palmer and "Live where you work"

Talk about "do as I say, not as I do."

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer advocates for the "Live Where You Work" program, which he unveiled at his State of the City address last fall.

That program seeks to have highly-paid executives and other people working in Trenton actually move into the city, through incentives like reduced mortgage rates and assistance from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

But Mayor Palmer does not really practice what he preaches, as evidenced by the whoe Police Director Joseph Santiago affair, and the mayor's treatment of other high-ranking and highly-paid city officials who should be living here, under the city's residency law.

Trenton's economic and social problems coincide with a decline into an impoverished state, with fully one-fifth of the city's population living under the federal poverty line.

Getting executives to move into the city is a good idea, but an even better and easier idea is to force well-compensated city officials to abide by the residency ordinance, which is a much more effective method of economic redevelopment than simply offering incentives and hoping for individuals to bite.

These employees are being paid straight out of the city's own coffers, rather than being a group of people working in Trenton for the state or some other business.

Let's start with enforcing the residency ordinance, and getting city employees to live in the community of Trenton, and then go after the others.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More accountability needed to shore up efficiency of state-funded crime programs

State senators today stressed the importance of the state's anti-crime initiatives while keeping those programs funded, even as Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposes a budget that calls for the same funding the various programs received last year, despite uncontrollable cost increases.

Sen. Brian Sarlo, D-Hudson, said he recognized the state's financial problems and their effect on the budget, but called for additional efforts in getting state dollars to existing programs, while creating new programs.

"I think we may be able to do more with our limited state dollars, by developing our own gang prevention curriculum," Sen. Sarlo said.

Senator Shirley Turner stressed the importance of proper funding to the anti-crime initiatives in the urban areas of New Jersey, while getting the most out of every dollar that comes to the cities of the Garden State to address gang and drug-fueled crime problems.

"In our state's urban centers, local law enforcement is struggling to keep up pace with the rate of violent crime being perpetrated by individuals and gangs," said Sen. Turner, D-Mercer, following the budget hearing for the Department of Law and Public Safety. "Gangs, guns, and drugs rile the streets, and nearly every major prosecution in our urban courtrooms can be linked back to one of those three factors."

Sen. Sarlo also lauded the state's anti-gang programs and legislative efforts in curbing gang crime and making it more difficult for the state's gang members, but railed against flat funding for state anti-crime initiatives.

"We've added gang criminality offenses, to ensure harsher sentencing for gang crime offenders," said Sen. Sarlo. "We've cut down on the number of guns which are in our communities illegally."

While state legislators call for more dollars and better efficiency in making good use of those dollars in anti-gang and anti-crime programs, the lesson of Barry Colicelli in Trenton should not be forgotten.

That man ended up taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Trenton, without either accounting for any of his efforts or leaving some permanent system in place so others could carry on what should have been important work.

The numerous problems of this state's urban areas provide a fertile breeding ground for cronyism, but not accountability, or oversight.

These state officials could create a better environment for both of those important things by attaching state dollars and anti-crime grants to certain control measures, like monthly reports or some sort of committee to watch over whatever programs receive state dollars.

That could go far in preventing both city and state taxpayers from paying thousands of dollars to people who don't have the proper credentials, and fail to document exactly what they are doing to address crime in cities like Trenton, or Newark.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Roberts: move school votes to November

Dismal turnout throughout New Jersey in the recent school board and budget vote has Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts renewing a push to have school board elections moved to the same November date as the general election, and possibly eliminate budget votes completely.

Only around 14 percent of New Jersey's eligible voters actually showed to vote in the April school election, and no school election in the past 25 years has actually seen turnout go over the 20 percent mark, according to Mr. Roberts' office.

Those poor turnout numbers come despite the fact that the majority of a New Jersey resident's tax bill goes to the public school system, in a state with some of the highest property taxes in the United States.

"It's time for New Jersey to wake up to the reality that the April school elections are a poor way to decide the direction of public education in districts across the state," said Mr. Roberts, D-Camden, in a statement. "It makes no sense to continue holding elections in which a super-minority of voters participate. Greater voter turnout will lead to greater accountability when it comes to property taxpayers' money."

Apparently two legislative committees in the state government have already recommended switching to a November date, citing both increased turnout and the reduction in administrative costs associated with holding the April election.

A portion of what Mr. Roberts will likely propose, in a series of bills, will eliminate voting on school budgets, unless a budget goes over a set cap on increases determined by the state government.

Annually more than 70 percent of school budgets pass, give or take, and a no vote usually results in small reductions and the later passage of the budget, regardless of a "no" vote on a school budget.

In other legislative action on education, places like Trenton could be required to hold a referendum to decide between the current mayoral-appointment of board members, versus an annual election for seats citywide, with the passage of legislation currently sitting in committee.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Star-Ledger pieces stimulate legislative inquiry

New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system will be the subject of a special session of the State Senate Labor Committee on May 5, according to the office of Sen. Paul A. Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex, and Passaic.

The system was the subject of a series of Star-Ledger articles that focused on the problems of the system, which oversees the disbursement of $1.8 billion in funds to injured public employees each year.

“It’s appropriate to take a close look at the workers’ compensation system to see whether it can be made more efficient,” said Sen. Sarlo, in a statement. “The recent media focus on the system gives us a chance to see if we can make it a better, fairer program so nobody falls through the cracks.”

The Star-Ledger series, called “Waiting in Pain,” used eight months’ worth of research to examine the system, gaining significant information through interviewing workers who ended up in court because of problems with the compensation system.

A total of around 117,000 open worker compensation cases were also reviewed for the study, which identified numerous problems, including significant delays, insurance bullying, and an ineffective court system.

The office of Sen. Sarlo recently received confirmation that David J. Socolow, New Jersey's Labor and Workforce Development commissioner, will be on hand at the May 5 hearing to answer any questions that were raised by the in-depth pieces published in the Star-Ledger recently.

The hearing is expected to be held at 1 p.m. on May 5 in Committee Room 10 in the State House Annex, according to state officials.

Still no phantom residency violators?

The city administration continues to perpetuate the myth of a hundred or more city employees being threatened with immediate termination from employment because of residency violations, requiring a timely enactment of a residency waiver provision by City Council.

That should gain no traction with anyone in Trenton, and should be recognized for what it is: a feeble political tactic.

Every single one of these employees should have signed a residency certification either during the hiring process or sometime during 1995, depending on when they were first employed by the City of Trenton.

Those certifications carry potential criminal charges for false information, which includes statements about taking up residence in Trenton. The document also states in no uncertain terms that people who violate the residency ordinance while working for Trenton face immediate termination.

In fact, 30 or so employees have been terminated by the Douglas Palmer administration for breaking the residency law, and several are currently fighting prosecution by the city for residency violations.

The Palmer administration has yet to reveal the identities of any of the so-called residency violators, and when they do, it remains to be seen whether any of these people falsified their certifications, received true residency waivers, or are simply products of the long-established record of selective enforcement by the city government.

Like every other city employee, these people should be forced to move into the city, or face termination. Let no one forget about all of the other employees who have been drummed out of service for breaking a well-established and helpful residency law in Trenton.

Trenton cannot afford to let valuable city tax dollars flee the city limits in the salaries or gas tanks of employees who are legally required to take up residence here, contributing both tax dollars to the city and disposable dollars to Trenton's economy.

Their existence - if they even exist - represents no good reason to amend the residency law. Rather, it only serves as further evidence of the evil government running the capital city of New Jersey.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dennis "Rasputin" Gonzalez deserves termination

Considering the bungling conduct of Douglas H. Palmer administration officials when it comes to city redevelopment projects, it should come as no surprise to people living near this city that another project seems headed to the scrap pile.

The record of these officials speaks for itself, now that it looks like it is becoming the time to hand out blame for the failure of yet another project, the proposed K. Hovnanian project at the old Champale site in South Trenton.

The only thing that has been successful with this project is emminent domain, controversy, and the creation of anger, coming from city residents screwed over by the City of Trenton and the developer.

Mr. Gonzalez and the Palmer administration are probably one out of seven when it comes to real redevelopment projects in the city, with the lone project counting as a success being the Broad Street Bank building, which has only recently begun to get off the ground after around a year of the usual city government screw-ups.

Despite this extensive record of failure, Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez and other Palmer administration officials continue with name-calling and arrogance when dealing with City Council, like they did in today's Times of Trenton.

"Coston is the biggest perpetrator," said Mr. Gonzalez, of council members being responsible for alleged but unsubstantiated falsehoods and lies, that are usually more often the material of Mr. Gonzalez and company.

City Council candidate Zachary Chester was right to call out Mr. Gonzalez last year on his failures in bringing tangible results to Trenton.

And what did Mr. Chester get in return?

A threat of a lawsuit and demands for an apology from Mr. Gonzalez, who ended up failing to follow through on any of his apparently empty threats.

This same kind of disrespect has been experienced by both City Council members, and residents living around the Champale site, who have had their lives turned upside down for years now, all because of the blind desire of Mayor Palmer's officials to get the project off the ground.

Enough is enough.

City Council should find a new developer, and tell Mr. Gonzalez and the others that they have screwed up for the last time.

Remove this man from his position.

All it takes is a five-person City Council vote.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Revisit residency editorial

The Times of Trenton misrepresented events in the Police Director Joseph Santiago residency controversy in an editorial Wednesday.

The most glaring factual errors in the piece were statements regarding the reasons behind the invalidation of a residency waiver granted to Mr. Santiago by the court. The editorial states that happened because Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ruled that the residency’s waiver provision was inconsistent with state law.

The real reason why the waiver was tossed was out of recognition that Mayor Douglas H. Palmer never had the ability to grant such an extra-legal waiver.

All Mayor Palmer actually did was issue some piece of city stationery that stated Mr. Santiago did not have to abide by the residency ordinance, unlike nearly every other city employee.

Judge Feinberg saw that such an action had no legal weight at all. It did not even follow the path prescribed by the City of Trenton’s old residency waiver provision, which was eventually thrown out.

She correctly recognized that Mayor Palmer granted no waiver, but rather simply decided that Mr. Santiago did not have to follow the law, because that was the supreme will of the mayor at the time.

Responsibility for the total elimination of any waiver provision lies squarely on the shoulders of the attorneys for Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago, who saw that the best defense was to take a stance that the ENTIRE ordinance was invalid and should be thrown out, after apparently recognizing the earlier waiver was illegal.

They based this defense on the notion that the city's residency waiver provision was not perfectly consistent with the language of state law that delineates how residency laws and waiver should work.

All that succeeded in doing was having the entire waiver provision thrown out, leaving Trenton with the super-strong residency ordinance that worked so well for nearly 20 years, without waivers or exemptions, when the city had around 60,000 more inhabitants and a much better economy.

Unlike what was stated in today’s editorial, what has actually happened was that Judge Feinberg stated to the world that Mayor Palmer is not some sort of superhuman god who can bend and change the law as he sees fit.

She saw that he is a democratically elected official who swore to uphold the residency law, without regard to his preference for certain employees over others.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Broad Street Bank building event today

A long-awaited grand opening celebration at the Broad Street Bank building today hopefully signals the start of renewed efforts by the officials from the City of Trenton in ensuring the historic building and architectural landmark will enjoy some measure of success in attracting tenants to live in downtown Trenton.

George Fakiris of Bayville Holdings LLC – the company that pumped $34 million into renovating the building – was right on with some of his comments in today’s Trentonian about the city’s efforts on both Bayville’s building itself and the city government’s overall efforts in the downtown area.

“I’m not putting anyone down, but we expected more from the City of Trenton,” he told the Trentonian Tuesday. “We thought they would take care of the abandoned buildings near our property. Who wants to look out of their window and look at buildings that not being developed?”

These are the words of a frustrated man from a company that saw the prospects of getting a good return on an important investment for both Bayville and the City of Trenton itself dwindle because of the dragging of feet by city officials, in helping the company secure both a Certificate of Occupancy and parking for future tenants of the building.

Numerous tenants – like me – originally signed up for apartments in the building but delays stemming from paperwork problems caused many prospective Broad Street Bank building residents to find housing elsewhere, and now only eight apartments out of 124 are filled.

These complaints are similar to those coming from other developers who try and work with the city, like Full Spectrum LLC, which wanted to undertake a massive development in the same area as the Broad Street Bank building.

Judging by the condition of Trenton’s downtown – as a business and living area that all but dies after 5 p.m. and on weekends – it would probably behoove city officials to go out of their way for people like Bayville, whose project offers the best hope of returning downtown to its condition decades ago, as a regional shopping and business center.

Trenton needs projects like the Broad Street Bank building to help bring the city back to an acceptable level of economic and social activity. City officials should treat the developers of such projects accordingly. Hopefully assistance from the Trenton Downtown Association and Richardson Commercial, along with renewed effort from the city government, will do the trick.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Where we stand on residency

Some in this city continue to miss the bigger picture in the ongoing Joseph Santiago residency case, as has been evidenced by people speaking publicly in City Council chambers and in letters to the editor in the pages of Trenton's two papers.

Such confusion in the community means that maybe it is time to offer one take on where this issue has come from, where it is going, and where it stands today.

Right now the issue is in limbo, with a hearing scheduled for June 3 in New Jersey's Appellate Division.

There a panel of three judges recently granted an extremely short stay and an accelerated appeal schedule, g iving the impression that they want to see this issue settled, and not dragged out forever in the courts as Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has publicly vowed to do.

In the meantime Mayor Palmer has asked City Council again and again to quickly swoop in and amend the residency law to allow the mayor to grant waivers, and effectively reverse the initial court decision in which City Council members were victorious plaintiffs along with nine city residents, including me.

Last week Mayor Palmer even wrote a letter to City Council members, which was eventually published an Op/Ed piece in the Times of Trenton.

It again called upon the seven members of council to amend the law because of the presence of unnamed city employees with "special skills or talents" who the administration has determined are violating the city's residency law, likely because of either carelessness on the part of Mayor Palmer's staff, or simply more unequal application of the law.

But it seems that people like the city's Communications Director and other politically-favored employees continue in the employ of the city despite not maintaining bona fide residences here.

That only goes to show that for Mayor Palmer, this is not about "special talents or skills" but simple political favoritism and cronyism, and blatant disrespect for the law.

Part and parcel with this call for a hasty ordinance amendment is a position that public safety is in danger because of the possible removal of Mr. Santiago, which is also plainly false.

The Trenton Police Department is made up of hundreds of brave and capable police officers who have the skills and talent necessary to perform the job, with or without the ephemeral presence of a man who is frequently nowhere to be found during many of the city's most dire public safety emergencies.

Even if Mr. Santiago has done a good job - which is highly debatable - it should be remembered that an employee's performance on the job has nothing to do with why they should or should not be allowed to remain in office when openly violating city law.

Such arguments have never been applied to the 20 or so employees who have been terminated in the past by the Palmer administration, many of whom have likely performed valuable services to the city while violating this long-standing rule.

In the earlier court decision, Judge Linda Feinberg stated that she believed Mr. Santiago had done a good job, but that those sentiments did not save him, or anyone else, from the weight of the law. She stated this in no uncertain terms in her ruling that Mr. Santiago had to vacate his office, and when denying a stay or appeal on the same decision.

Just like any other residency violation case, this is not about one man. This is about the law.

It still remains to be seen whether the City Council will move to amend that same law in the future to install some sort of waiver amendment that would allow non-residents the ability to take office here.

It at least bears some consideration and public discourse, especially if a system could be installed that would prevent the kind of political favoritism that has been applied to the law up to this point by the Palmer administration.

That being said, there is absolutely no rush to consider amending the ordinance until the Santiago affair has been settled by the court system, which should happen sometime in June.

Only after that dust settles should the seven members of City Council begin deliberations on revising the law, which served the city so well without waivers or exemptions for nearly four decades.

It should be pointed out as well that while Mayor Palmer cries and whines for a waiver amendment and talks of his support for residency, it was his own group of high-paid lawyers who argued that the entire residency law should be thrown out, which was the only reason the waiver amendment was tossed in the first place.

That same argument also resulted in a ruling by Judge Feinberg that the only waiver provision that can possibly be considered is a state statute that likely precludes Mr. Santiago from ever being able to attain the position again.

It requires a classification system that weights job candidates according to their proximity to Trenton. Candidates living in Trenton, the towns surrounding Trenton, Mercer County residents, and the counties surrounding Mercer would all have to be offered the directorship before Mr. Santiago could ever even have a chance of getting the job.

It is obvious that the residency ordinance is a great tool in contributing to the economic well-being of this city, by keeping high-paid city officials contributing to Trenton's fragile economy and tax base.

Mayor Palmer himself said in the State of the City address that these are the types of economic mover and shakers that need to live in Trenton if the city is to reverse its downward economic trend.

Live Where You Work, right Mayor Palmer?

But for Mayor Palmer the trend that has developed is the perception that Mayor Palmer cannot decide whether he likes residency or not. He says he supports it, then instructs his lawyers to seek to have the entire law invalidated, for the sake of Mr. Santiago.

Maybe he is just saying whatever it is at the moment that he and his tax dollar-funded attorneys think will best suit his obvious desire to keep Mr. Santiago in office and win a battle with his own constituents.

Whatever Mayor Palmer's stance is, moment to moment, it is obvious that Mr. Santiago has plainly been proven to be in violation of the law, and as it stands, he should be removed from office for that decision.

That should be done despite claims made by Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago regarding their belief that there are currently few or any high-ranking police officials within the department who could take over the position. These claims seem to be entirely untrue.

First, there are several captains and others who could take over the position and move to Trenton.

Like the invalidation of the waiver provision, this is also the fault of these two men. Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago orchestrated the elimination of the three deputy chief positions years ago. These positions, if filled, would have provided ample talent to take over the directorship.

And, for argument's sake, it should not be forgotten that at one time Mayor Palmer installed an interim director who never attained a rank higher than patrolman, which means that person never had any administrative experience, or even command experience in leading any number of sworn officers, let alone an entire department.

There are plenty of equally-capable law enforcement officers that could take over the purely administrative functions of the Police Director position, and some of them would likely move to this city and become part of the Trenton community.

And that simple fact probably makes them a better candidate for the position than a non-resident director like Mr. Santiago could ever be.

Let Trenton residents not forget that it has been the decision of Mayor Palmer, Mr. Santiago, and their lawyers to continue this costly fight through the court system despite the very letter and spirit of the law standing in their way.

The residency law, its importance, and the arrogant fashion in which Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago have carried themselves through this affair will not be forgotten by the electorate either, a majority of which seems to support the equal application of the law.

Any elected official rushing to amend such an important law to save the skin of one man should remember that the people in this city support the law, as is, and will vote accordingly in 2010.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What is needed for a recall

A possible recall of Trenton's mayor, Douglas H. Palmer, has been thrown around a lot recently here in New Jersey's capital.

The belief here is that this should be done, although the sheer numbers and process behind undertaking such a task mean that a careful investigation of the prospects of doing so need to be investigated and carefully planned.

That must be done before the start of a drive that would likely require the signatures of eight to 10,000 registered voters to be completed successfully.

One of the most important tasks facing a recall effort is to put together a concise and meaningful message that can be used to get people from all over the city to support recalling Mayor Palmer.

There is no shortage of fodder for this message, simply because Mayor Palmer - especially recently - has basically given up any facade of actually doing what is right for the people of the City of Trenton.

Contradictory statements made during the Joseph J. Santiago residency case have revealed to the world what Mayor Palmer is.

Mayor Palmer has shown himself to be a man who is willing to do anything and everything to win a fight against his own residents and against the rule of law to save the butt of a man who has clearly broken a very simple and very important law in this city.

Before this, he was a severely vindictive and ineffective policy maker who managed to repeatedly get reelected, while having done nearly nothing to revive this city.

Neighborhoods that were once strong have slid into ruin, and numerous city businesses have fled for the safety of the suburbs while the rest of the city has continued to experience a violent plague of deadly social problems that threaten its very existence.

Despite what manipulated statistics of the Police Department may show, this city is not safe, crime is not down, and what's worse, the awful politicization and polarization of the Police Department has rendered much of the work of many of the bravest and finest of Trenton's police moot.

The city government here is run in a deep shroud of secrecy, with city money and city contracts doled out not to those who would do the best job for a city that sorely needs it, but on the basis of patronage, cronyism, and the whim of a politician who likely spends the minority of his time in the city he has ruled for nearly two decades.

A large number of officials in the Palmer administration act in an arrogant and disrespectful manner not only to regular city residents, but to the very group of representatives those residents elected onto the seven seats of the co-equal legislative branch of government, City Council.

Economic redevelopment has failed miserably under Mayor Palmer.

With only a rough and hasty count, it seems that at least five major redevelopment projects have either stalled or never come to fruition, even though those projects probably represent the only way this city will ever come out of its economic and social slumber.

Despite this litany of failures and violations of the public trust, Mayor Palmer has managed to sandbag himself behind a wall of subservient followers who are frequently blinded by poverty and political posturing.

Piercing that blinding blanket and making people realize once and for all that this man has got to go before the city can take any step forward is the most crucial step before such a recall action can run its course and finish with the election of some other executive.

Maybe it's time to get to work.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Santiago given another six weeks in office

Police Director Joseph Santiago has been granted a short-term reprieve from a March court decision that would have ousted him from office for violating Trenton's residency ordinance.

Three judges from the state's Appellate Division granted the stay after reviewing competing briefs from both sides of the issue.

They also granted a fast-pace briefing, argument, and opinion schedule that surely dashes the previously expressed hope of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer to "drag this out in the courts."

Lawyers for Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer have to turn in their case briefs by April 28, and the judges have scheduled a June 3 court date for arguments with a decision likely to be rendered soon after that.

Mr. Santiago's lawyer - Salvatore Alfano - already began spinning the decision on the stay by making claims that the decision vindicated the position of Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer, because in general stays are only granted when there is at least some likelihood of success.

But other legal sources have said that the oddly-crafted court schedule - which usually stretches months and even years - means that the Appellate judges compromised on the decision, basically saying "we will grant you this stay, but we are going to decide this one very quickly."

Plaintiffs in the suit to remove Mr. Santiago like me were told from the beginning that there was a very good chance that the entire affair could take a year or more before coming to a close, and the Appellate Division judges have precluded that from happening.

Also, the plaintiffs in this suit seem to have the law on their side, while Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago only have a bunch of convoluted and contradictory arguments that go against many public statements made by both men for years.

This one is not over yet.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Palmer's people jump the gun

It seems At-Large Councilwoman Cordelia Staton and Council President Paul Pintella jumped the gun in attacking South Ward Councilman Jim Coston about posting a public document on his Web site this week.

The document was a letter from Mayor Douglas H. Palmer threatening City Council members with the firing of city employees who are living outside of Trenton and outside of the city's residency law. It was not a private letter, and it ended up being published in the Times of Trenton as an Op/Ed piece.

But it seems that Mayor Palmer's City Council lackeys were not informed about the mayor's plans to have the letter published in one of Trenton's two newspapers.

The two prematurely went into attack mode about Mr. Coston's posting of the letter on his Web site.

They said Mr. Coston violated council protocol agreed upon for the Joseph Santiago residency case, which continues as Mayor Palmer and the director seek a stay and appeal of an earlier decision to oust the director.

Mr. Coston has always expressed a desire for more open and transparent government, while other council members seem content in following Mayor Palmer's lead in running a city government in the shadows and behind closed doors, while the public is left with little to no knowledge about what occurs at City Hall.

Perhaps the Palmer machine and its allies would be better served by maintaining better communication, before jumping on such an exemplary city representative as Mr. Coston, who was only doing his constituents and the rest of the city residents a favor by posting the mayor's letter about changing an ordinance that could affect the lives of many a Trentonian.

Mr. Pintella also seems to be an unlikely candidate to be crying about so-called council protocol, when he authored his own protocol mishap this week by rescinding a council resolution calling for an appearance by officials from. K. Hovnanian.

Single council members - even the president - do not have the ability to unilaterally rescind a council resolution that successfully passed on a vote.

Please remember protocol, Mr. Pintella.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"H" for hypocrisy

So much for green initiatives and making Trenton a green city.

It is well documented that Mayor Douglas H. Palmer vocally supports green initiatives, but his employee automobile policy speaks volumes about how much Mayor Palmer actually supports environmentally friendly actions.

The mayor routinely allows city employees and contractors to motor back and forth to Trenton from far-flung locations throughout New Jersey, sucking both city tax dollars and gasoline into their engines, and spewing earth-warming carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Now it is being said that the city does not recycle at many municipally owned properties, including City Hall, and other structures.

It seems the common-sense practice of recycling ended around the same time that Mayor Palmer ousted former friend and mayoral adversary Tony Mack.

It looks like Mayor Palmer wanted Mr. Mack out of his city job.

It appears Mayor Palmer then decided that the best way to do that was to jettison the entire city-run recycling operation. Then city officials managed to find jobs for every other recycling employee, except for Mr. Mack.

Now, city residents find that one result of the mayor’s vindictive behavior is that, with the demise of the city’s recycling program, so came the demise of many city buildings actually recycling, as one would think a city run by such a self-expressed green politician would do.

Mayor Palmer has mastered the art of talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Maybe the H. in the middle stands for “hypocrisy.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bill from Sen. Rice seeks to keep affordable homes affordable

With the glut of home foreclosures striking New Jersey’s impoverished urban areas the hardest, Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, saw fit to introduce a bill this week that would ensure low-income and affordable homes resold because of foreclosure remain within the ranks of New Jersey’s affordable residential units, instead of being sold at market rates.

“The lack of affordable housing has long been a major problem facing New Jersey residents, and unfortunately, tough economic times have only pushed our low to moderate income families into foreclosure,” said Sen. Rice, in a statement Wednesday. “This state has worked hard to subsidize and reserve affordable housing properties for occupancy by low and moderate income families and the slowing economic and rising mortgage interests rates have caused many of these units to be foreclosed upon.”

Under the bill, S-1622, affordable housing units in foreclosure could be sold only to other qualified low or moderate-income households, thus keeping these units reserved for occupancy by the intended population.

New Jersey changed its affordable housing regulations in recent years, but older units mortgaged prior to the law change were not protected from being transferred into market rate units, according to Sen. Rice’s office.

The measure might be a helpful one in middle-class and affluent communities where there is a great impetus to change affordable units to market-rate, to gain profits.

But in New Jersey’s urban areas sit a disproportionate amount of the state’s affordable housing units, following years of railroading those units and the people who live in them into the state's poorer urban areas.

For places like Trenton and Newark to reverse this trend, officials there need to get more market-rate housing and middle-income families into homes within their city limits, but it looks like Sen. Rice’s legislation, if passed, could become a roadblock in those efforts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Paid family leave bill passes

Paid family leave legislation was passed into law Monday following a 22 to 15 Senate vote.

The result of yesterday’s Senate session makes New Jersey the third state in the country to provide paid benefits to workers caring for newborn or newly adopted children, or sick family members.

“I sponsored this legislation as a father, who understands the urgency of this type of leave time for working families, because I was in a similar situation 14 years ago when my daughter Lauren was born four months premature,” said Senate Majority Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, earlier this month. “My boss understood and allowed me to take off the time I needed, but I can’t imagine having to choose between spending time with my daughter who was clinging to life, and going to work to be able to put food on the table for my wife and then four-year-old son.”

The law provides up to six weeks of paid family leave during any year-long period, with employees being eligible to receive up to two-thirds of their weekly salary, or up to $524 a week.

The measure makes employees use up all available maternity or disability leave time prior to going onto paid family leave, in addition to two weeks of sick leave and vacation time.

Supporters of the bill noted that the vast majority of New Jersey residents supported the legislation, according to an Eagleton Research Poll conducted earlier this year.

Funding for the legislation comes mainly through a .14 percent contribution from employee paychecks in the state Disability Fund. From these funds would go into a special account earmarked solely for expenditure on employees going on paid family leave.

“The decision of having to work to make ends meet and spending precious time with a newborn child is one that far too many mothers and fathers have had to deal with over the years,” said Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex. “By passing this legislation, we are ensuring that New Jersey puts the needs of families on par with the needs of business.”

The legislation passed yesterday for the second time this year, with some minor revisions by the State Assembly requiring an additional vote on the Paid Family Leave legislation.

Now it will be up to Gov. Jon S. Corzine to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do.

Paycheck contributions would then begin on Jan. 1, 2009.

Palmer bends the truth again

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has contradicted himself yet again in defence of ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago.

This time he directly mischaracterized the zeal with which his administration has gone after city employees who skirt the city's residency law, in statements made to the Times of Trenton Tuesday.

"We have better things to do than be the residency police," said Mayor Palmer to the Times Tuesday, in a statement that just goes to show how far this misguided mayor is willing to go in lying and talking out of both sides of his mouth in his drive to save Trenton's controversial Police Director.

The facts of Mayor Palmer's dedication to the residency law and its enforcement are well known.

The mayor has used city funds to investigate and prosecute over 20 city employees for residency violations during his tenure, frequently using private investigators and other surveillance tactics in investigating residency violators and drumming them out of city service with great fanfare.

Right now, at least one city employee and likely several others are being actively prosecuted for breaking the law, which serves to reinforce the city's fragile economy by keeping high-paid city employees living in Trenton.

In that fashion, they both contribute to the tax base and spend their disposable income here.

Mayor Palmer's comments came in a response to the revelation last week on this Web site that he had sent a letter* out to City Council effectively threatening them with being responsible for the termination of additional city employees, who have apparently been spared from the usual Palmer residency treatment by Trenton's vindictive executive.

Mayor Palmer did not elaborate on the nature or number of the alleged residency violators, while simultaneously pursuing an appeal* of the court decision that ousted Mr. Santiago.

He apparently is willing to hedge his bets, especially while dealing with a City Council that has increasingly shown backbone in rejecting his frequently idiotic executive policies.

What Mayor Palmer's statements amount to is only additional evidence of a mayor who is willing to aggressively enforce city law against some employees, while sparing others.

That amounts to the unequal application of the law, which is something that is so obviously anti-American that the mayor now deserves the swiftest rebuke from both City Council and the registered voters of the city.

*Click download to view letter.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Appeal filed for Santiago residency case

A notice of appeal has officially been filed by Trenton officials seeking to overturn a recent court decision that ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago for non-residency.

The notice of appeal - filed Friday - will now head to the Appellate Division, where Judge Stephen Skillman will take a look at Mr. Santiago and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s case for reversing the earlier decision.

The notice also asks for emergency relief in the form of a stay, which is something that a Mercer County judge refused to grant. That judge said that the Trenton Police Department was well-equipped to deal with the loss of Mr. Santiago, contrary to Mayor Palmer's stance that a stay was needed to safeguard public safety in Trenton.

Legal sources said Monday that there is little to no chance of the decision being overturned, citing the fine legal mind of Judge Skillman and the facts of the case, which paint Mayor Palmer as a man who is willing to selectively enforce city law to spare the employment of one favored employee, while strictly enforcing the law against others.

Even that portrayal of the mayor has been broadened lately, with the revelation that the mayor is threatening to terminate other city employees for residency in an effort to get City Council to amend the residency law to spare Mr. Santiago’s fate and the fate of other employees.

Mayor Palmer said a review of personnel files revealed the administration has granted several other invalid residency waivers to city employees, meaning those employees are subject to immediate termination.

But others involved in the case say that it is likely this move is simply a scare tactic, with the mayor currently prosecuting at least one city employee for residency violations.

Other city employees and a former city attorney have said that no employee has ever received a residency waiver – except for the illegal one granted to Mr. Santiago – since the provision was adopted in the late 1980s.

Mayor Palmer stated himself, in the fall of 2007, that no other employee was ever granted a waiver except for Mr. Santiago, who specifically asked to receive the consideration.

With the appeal officially filed, a new conflict may be emerging between City Council and the mayor. The council will have to be asked whether or not to appropriate city funds to fight the appeal case.

But almost no city employees are ever handed moneys to fight termination-causing cases, so providing such support for Mr. Santiago needs to be carefully considered by City Council, whose members were co-plaintiffs with a group of nine residents – including me – who filed the lawsuit to remove Mr. Santiago.

Even a former City Clerk was forced to fight a legal case against the city with his own funds, and only after the case were those funds awarded to him.

Should Mr. Santiago be treated differently, even after a judge supported the view that he could no longer serve as director?

Probably not.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Government notices could move to the net

A bill that has earned the scorn of many an editorial page in New Jersey is on its way to becoming law.

The bill - sponsored by assemblymen Joseph Cryan, Louis Greenwald, and Paul Moriarty - would allow municipalities and government entities to satisfy public noticing requirements for certain announcements by placing the notices online.

On March 17 it was passed in the Assembly, and the bill now sits in committee in the Senate for likely passage sometime in the coming months.

"We have a responsibility to the public to ensure simple, easy access to government records and notices," said Mr. Cryan, D-Union. "With Internet access and usage continually on the rise, it makes good sense to allow the public to access meeting notices and other government documents electronically."

With its passage, the bills would mean that state, county, and municipal governments could comply with the existing rules on publication by simply posting a notice on their own official Web site, as opposed to purchasing costly newspaper ad space.

But the bill would not preclude any entity from purchasing advertising space in newspapers, although the cost factor would likely mean a drastically reduced revenue stream from government ads for newspapers.

"In our current fiscal climate, we should be taking any and all steps necessary to reduce the operating cost of government," said Mr. Greenwald, D-Camden. "Utilizing the power and reach of the Internet can improve people's access to government information and save taxpayer money at the same time."

Currently these entities are required to take out newspaper ad space.

Newspaper staffers are obviously against a bill that could mean only more drain on the already vastly shrunken advertising revenue coming in to the state's struggling newspapers. The editorial boards of several papers attacked the measure earlier in the year.

After passing by a large margin in the Assembly in March, the bill is now being reviewed by the Senate for eventual passage.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Legalized theft

It bears putting into perspective what Mayor Douglas H. Palmer is now asking Trenton City Council to do in possibly enacting a residency waiver provision to spare the employment of Police Director Joseph Santiago, and apparently other city employees who have been living outside the law and outside of Trenton.

Stealing funds from the city is an offense that would nearly always result in termination for any city employee. It is also an offense that, as a city rule, carries equal weight in terms of termination as the city's residency law, which says any employee who stops living within city limits is also open to termination.

If Mayor Palmer had prosecuted dozens of city employees and fired them for stealing, it would be similar to the way the mayor has fired dozens employees of falsely maintaining residences within Trenton.

If Mr. Santiago had been found guilty of stealing, but Mayor Palmer purported that the director had been granted a "stealing" waiver preventing him from meeting the fate of other city employees who had stolen funds from the city, it would also be similar to this situation.

For argument's sake, say a group of residents had filed a lawsuit to remove Mr. Santiago for stealing, and a judge had ruled that, indeed, Mr. Santiago had committed theft and should be removed for that offense, but also providing that if it so deemed, City Council could come in and create a theft waiver that would allow Mr. Santiago to continue on as a city director despite his past transgression.

What is going on now is parallel to that scenario.

Mayor Palmer would now be saying that while he has prosecuted dozens of other employees for theft, he has allowed others to go unscathed, improperly, in the same process that he spared Mr. Santiago from his looming fate of dismissal.

Would that reality mean that City Council should go ahead, and enact a theft waiver to not only spare the cadre of city employees who have avoided prosecution and removal, but also Mr. Santiago, who has been deemed worthy of removal by a high court in the State of New Jersey?

Let us not forget that the continued presence of these employees being paid city dollars while not maintaining residences within the city basically does amount to theft, in the form of all of that city tax money and disposable dollars not spent here in Trenton.

What do you think?

Palmer tries to blackmail City Council

Palmer: I granted numerous illegal waivers

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer admitted to granting numerous invalid waivers to city employees while harshly enforcing the law against others, in a letter sent to City Council members Thursday.

The letter effectively threatens City Council with the termination of many of these illegally-employed city workers if council members do not move ahead and enact a waiver provision to city law, effectively legitimizing what has apparently been going on improperly and behind the scenes in Trenton's morally bankrupt administration.

Previously Mayor Palmer has said he needed a waiver provision to exempt high-ranking department directors, but in his letter he expresses a desire to be able to legally exempt lower-ranking city employees.

The letter fails to note that because of Mayor Palmer's defense of labelling the residency law invalid, the court struck down the portion of the law regarding granting waivers for residency.

"Since the court's decision, we have reviewed personnel files to determine if any employees were currently under a grace period. In so doing, several employees were found to have invalid waivers," wrote Mayor Palmer. "Nevertheless - based on the court's decision and the council's apparent lack of urgency to reinstate a waiver provision - these employees too, must b immediately terminated."

Several points jump out of the letter.

First, it seems the mayor is threatening the council with being responsible for the firing of the employees.

But as a rule that Palmer administration officials know and actively enforce, any non-resident city employee is not to be employed. Being a municipality that has a residency ordinance, any potential or otherwise hired employee should know that they are subject to termination if they are no longer residents.

It is not the fault of council if the Palmer administration continually and actively enforces the law, unevenly and subjectively.

Secondly, Mayor Palmer states that the waiver provision has been used many times, by administrations prior to his own.

This is completely untrue. The waiver provision was never used, according to former City Attorney George Dougherty, until Police Director Joseph Santiago received an illegal and improper one that resulted in his removal from office at the hands of a judge.

The waiver provision is therefore so unnecessary that it has never been used - at least properly - a single time.

Further, Mayor Palmer admitted to City Council that Mr. Santiago was the only employee to ever get a waiver, "because he asked for one," Mayor Palmer said, in City Council chambers in the fall of 2007.

Trenton simply does not need this waiver provision.

Also untrue, is Mr. Palmer's talk of grace periods.

There are no grace periods in Trenton. Once someone is an employee, they must live here. That much is plain and simple.

If Palmer administration officials have been illegally employing city workers, it needs to tell these employees to move in, or enforce the law as quickly and effectively as it has done in the past and is currently doing against several city water utility employees.

City Council should not back down because of these idiotic and facetious scare tactics.

Mayor Palmer and his administration, through their active enforcement and sworn dedication to the residency ordinance, created this situation. They should not be allowed to lie, cheat, and contradict themselves to change a time-tested and important city law, and get out of that situation.

You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.

*It may be time to get those recall petitions going. This man has now lied repeatedly, and admitted to breaking the oath of his office he has now taken four times as Trenton's mayor, to uphold city law. Taking him out of office bears serious consideration.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Roberts: tie state aid to efficiency

In what could mean a financial deathblow to both Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed state aid cuts and fiscally irresponsible cities like Trenton, Assembly Speaker and political powerhouse Joseph J. Roberts this week called for the further development of existing legislation that would tie state aid to governmental efficiency, rather than the size of a municipality, as proposed by Gov. Corzine.

“I share the governor’s dual goals of enacting a state budget that does not live beyond its means and encouraging a more rational local government structure through consolidation and shared services,” said Mr. Roberts, D-Camden. “However, performance, not population, must be the benchmark against which government is judged.”

Gov. Corzine has proposed a budget that cuts state aid across the board, but the state’s smaller municipalities with population below 10,000 persons are hit the hardest in the budget.

Mr. Roberts noted the existence of legislation – passed in 2007 – that called for the creation of municipal efficiency standards that could be used in the calculation of state aid numbers. Those formulas have not been created, but now Mr. Roberts says they could be used to determine where future state aid dollars are headed in the future.

Trenton’s finances are rumored to be in total disarray, driven by an administration that routinely fails to make budget cuts and continues to swell beyond the size of government necessary for a city that has seen its population decline from around 140,000 to roughly 84,000.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s administration is closer in size to that of the City of Newark than Hamilton Township, despite the fact the city is much closer in population to Hamilton, with less than one quarter of the area.

If state aid begins to be determined by efficiency calculations, Trenton’s government needs to begin making some very difficult decisions designed to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and do more with less.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Go council go

City Council struck down two especially misguided resolutions on Thursday that would have further mortgaged Trenton's future, by doing business not for the good of the city residents but for the good of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's ego.

This is just the latest instance of the legislative branch's newly-found strength and wisdom, as it continues on an unprecedented stretch of doing great work for the people of this city.

First, City Council voted down a resolution 5 to 2 that would have given a company of questionable history $250,000 worth of city dollars to play around with, and likely screw Trenton on its investment.

E-Path Communications and the Palmer administration were really obsessed with the idea of providing a citywide Wi-Fi network here in Trenton, even going as far as to initially promise no up-front city investment in the endeavor.

When E-Path couldn't swing that, Palmer's people and the company came back before City Council Tuesday, making a fairly ridiculous presentation meant to sway City Council into passing the appropriation, which had grown from zero dollars to $250,000 in a matter of months.

Council wasn't having it.

Every member except for Palmer flunkies Paul Pintella and Cordelia Staton voted against the measure, proving once again how ridiculous it is to have Mr. Pintella sitting as City Council president.

He routinely fails to vote in the interest of city residents, usually voting instead for the interest of a man who is only sometimes a city resident - Mayor Palmer.

Mr. Pintella showed this again Thursday when he voted for an almost equally misguided resolution that would have allowed the city to rebid occupational health services after a Mercer County Superior Court Judge ruled administration officials broke the rules in handing the contract to their favored contractor, and non-city business, Robert Wood Johnson of Hamilton.

Luckily the other members of council saw through this idiocy and voted against the measure, keeping the contract - at least temporarily - in the hands of city business and major employer, Capital Health Systems.

Mayor Palmer had a beef with Capital Health after the health care company announced plans to move their Mercer Campus facility out to Hopewell Township.

Being the vindictive egomaniac and failed ruler that he is, he had his cronies try and steer the contract to Robert Wood by showing them Capital Health's submitted proposal, which effectively gave the Hamilton company an advantage.

Despite the judge's clear ruling, Mayor Palmer apparently had his administration people go in front of the City Council again, trying to get around the ruling by using a different, more biased and subjective bidding process.

Kudos to City Council for seeing through this nonsense.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Take away residency and bankrupt Trenton even more

It was kind of funny today – in a weird way - to see such an outspoken advocate of taking another look at how to economically develop Trenton attack such a good tool in the battle to do so.

Dan Dodson always seems to have the right ideas, especially when it comes to the budget, Trenton’s economics, and almost anything having to do what the fiscal and economic situation of New Jersey’s capital.

Keeping all that in mind, I think I will have to respectfully disagree with his letter to the editor in the April 3 Times of Trenton (“In or out, believe in the city) that disputed the value of the city's residency law.

Whether someone supports the idea of a residency law or not, it cannot be denied that the more middle and high-income wage earners living in Trenton, the better the city will be in economic terms.

There is a high degree of correlation between economic well-being and a reduction in social problems, so it follows that the more middle and high-income wage earners there are living in Trenton’s homes, the better the social situation will be here.

The flight of those same wage earners - following decades of economic decline and demographic change – was what precipitated the city’s current impoverished and economically depressed state.

There may have been various causes and influences on the departure of most of the people in that economic class - like the flight of industry, demographic change, and the development of the suburbs - but it is indisputable that with the departure of these people to outside of the city limits, Trenton was drained.

The residency law serves to work against this detrimental process. Sure, many towns do not have residency laws, and that’s because they do not need them. They can survive without keeping their high-paid city employees living in the city limits, because other people from economic groups choose freely to live within their borders.

Trenton does not have this luxury.

Additionally, residency laws are not only legal, but the state government and especially the legislature has shown support for these laws, and how they serve to shore up – however slightly – the poor economics of New Jersey’s urban areas.

Today’s letter to the editor gave the impression of city personnel officials hiring an employee, and then holding a gun to their head and informing them of their impending doom, having to reside in the worst place on Earth, the City of Trenton.

These people know the law, and by accepting a city-paid salary and employment here, they signal their willingness to become a part of this community.

As opposed to being some sort of “bankrupt” idea, without the residency law, Trenton would likely end up a vastly more bankrupt city.

Residency circus at City Council

It may not have been on Tuesday's City Council docket, but around 80 residents showed up at council chambers in City Hall anyway to harp on the city's controversial residency issue and recently ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Much of the same old tired arguments were repeated in Mr. Santiago's defence, ranging from his performance in office, his alleged ability in reducing the number of the city's homicides, and his success in getting the police to "learn how to talk to residents."

The flimsy show of support came after a Superior Court judge gave the director 30 days - or until the close of business on April 24 - to pack his bags and leave town.

That decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by nine city residents, including me, who asked he be removed from office because he failed to maintain a real residence in Trenton, as per city law.

Former Police Department spokesman Peter Page was apparently summoned by Mr. Santiago to speak on behalf of the director. Mr. Page said that the director should be spared, because he brought down police response times.

One Santiago detractor was actually placed in handcuffs in council chambers, after going over her allotted public comment time and refusing to allow security guards to remove her from the podium.

Most of Mr. Santiago's supporters - who have been nowhere to be found, as the issue unfolded over the last six months - apparently came not because of their own feelings on the matter, but rather because of the exhortations of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and supporters of Mr. Santiago.

That reality was evident in discussions with many meeting attendees, who noted that while they came to support Director Santiago, they did not understand the two sides of the issue.

Several of the pastors Mayor Palmer asked to come to the meeting to support Mr. Santiago and ask for City Council to amend the city's residency law were openly asking other audience members about what the issue was all about.

Others proved their ignorance of current events, telling City Council "not to vote to remove the director," and "please don't allow this matter to go to court."

One member continually referred to Councilman Jim Coston as former police official Joe Constance, telling Mr. Coston to stop picking personal fights with the mayor.

Another woman was even seen handing out Target gift cards, rewarding a group of people who showed up at the meeting.

Recent mayoral candidate John Harmon said he supported making Mr. Santiago live in Trenton or removing him from office. He cited the bad standard the city was setting, through selectively enforcing the residency law.

"I'm worried about the example we're setting for the kids," Mr. Harmon said.

One South Ward resident read a 1999 Op/Ed piece by Mayor Palmer supporting residency, and then scolded the city for selective enforcement of the law.

People from the Trenton Resident's Action Coalition - of which I am a member - officially announced their group's formation, and listed a group of issues they would like to see tackled in the future.

Most surround residency, city contracts, and the way the municipal government allows city dollars to flee the borders in the pockets and gas tanks of companies and contractors employing people who do not live in Trenton.

In another portion of the meeting, E-Path Communications received a skeptical response from City Council about a proposed $250,000 appropriation to the company, which has plans for development a citywide wireless internet network.

It is doubtful they will receive the money, according to council members, and E-Path officials said publicly the network would likely never come to fruition without the city moneys being delivered. E-Path and Palmer administration officials originally said the network would cost nothing.

City Council members said they plan on continuing public comment leftover from Tuesday at Thursday's regular City Council meeting.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Senator calls for investigation of Distressed Cities program

A Republican State Senator asked for subpoena power last week to get the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to release information about the hundreds of millions of dollars being disbursed through the state’s Distressed Cities program.

The program – which doles out state moneys to economically depressed cities like Trenton – has apparently handed out $500 million over the last five years, and Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24, wants to know where that money has gone, as a member of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.

“The Distressed Cities program has been operating over the past five years without regulation, oversight, or even the most basic accounting of the use of taxpayers’ money,” said Mr. Oroho. “This program – this slush fund – has been operating in the dark for far too long and now it is time to shine the clear light of day on it.”

The Department of Community Affairs has refused several requests for explanations as to why certain cities got into the program and others are denied, and also refused to provide details on how the department decided to deliver the funds, according to Mr. Oroho’s office.

Trenton received money out of the fund this year, although Mayor Douglas H. Palmer denied that Trenton was really a distressed city after accepting the money, which was used to make up a massive budget shortfall that resulted from increasing municipal costs and the stagnant economic growth that has become the hallmark of the Palmer years.

If Mr. Oroho successfully investigates this issue, he will probably find that like many state funds headed to New Jersey’s cities, the moneys were likely squandered on silly expenditures, and unnecessary conveniences provided to city employees and contractors.

In Trenton, employees and even city contractors are regularly provided with cars, cell phones, offices and gasoline, all of which have costs associated with them.

There is little accountability or responsibility for this spending, which shortchanges not only the city residents who actually need the money, but the state residents whose dollars are being sucked into the state’s urban areas.

Good luck Mr. Oroho.