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Friday, May 30, 2008

Trenton Water Works mismanagement: Part 2

Trenton water utility employees over the years have made it a habit to perform plumbing work while on the city clock for residents in the water utility’s coverage area, with the de facto approval of city officials, say angry water employees.

The history of these activities goes back a long way, they say.

When Mayor Douglas H. Palmer first got into office, Public Works officials and the mayor himself made a big deal out of rounding up and firing around a dozen water works employees for assisting residents in securing illegal hook-ups to the city water system. The efforts didn’t last too long, as most of the fired employees got their jobs back soon after the brouhaha.

But things have gotten much worse lately, say water utility workers.

One employee – documented in a piece in the Times of Trenton two years ago – actually got caught two or three times doing plumbing work, without a license, and while being paid on the taxpayer dime to be doing official water utility work. Nothing happened, despite warning being given by water managers to the higher-ups in the Department of Public Works, say utility sources.

They said that water employees have actually been caught securing permits for plumbing jobs at City Hall, while on the clock, and even collecting money from plumbing work performed for Trenton water customers. The only response from city leadership was a warning or a suspension or two, despite the gross violation of the public trust these activities represent.

Water-related equipment frequently disappears from city depots, say employees, because those doing illegal side-jobs actually use city equipment, city gas, and city vehicles to carry on their side jobs, while getting paid out of city coffers, which are a large part filled with money from all over the state.

The “look the other way” attitude of the city has even attracted the attention of licensed plumbers operating businesses in the Trenton area, according to utility sources, who said the real plumbers take money in from water utility employees. They in turn use the plumbers’ names and licensed plumber status to secure permits for plumbing work, with the costs getting passed on to the unwitting customer.

Water utility sources said that when the dozen or so employees were first rounded up and punished for performing similar illegal services in the early years of Mayor Palmer’s administration, the mayor allegedly said: “when we see corruption, we act.”

Guess things have changed around here.

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