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Monday, June 30, 2008

Roberts and Watson-Coleman on A-500 and killing RCAs

Study: 20 percent of N.J. households don't have enough money to live

One in five households in the Garden State are making less money than they need to survive, according to a New Jersey Poverty Research Institute study released earlier this month.

What's more scary than that simple statistic is that many of these households, 85 percent, consist of families with one or more working adults who are confronted with a world where their work simply does not bring in enough to deal with this state's spiraling cost of living.

The study also, as expected, found that educational attainment correlated directly with households not making enough income to live on.

But the study went further and suggested that for those households suffering from income inadequacy providing increased educational opportunities was crucial, in addition to those opportunities being available at times built around a full-time work schedule.

The study found that a harmful arrangement for many of the "one in five" households was that education was required to move out of the inadequate income categories, but in New Jersey there are few such opportunities for working households to gain that education while continuing to work and put bread on the table.

The state also needs to provide more plentiful assistance for families with single parents, especially women of color, according to the study.

There are inadequate "safety nets" for that group, allowing many poor single mothers to exist here in one of the richest states in the country without many options for getting a better life.

Sounds like the Garden State has a long way to go in reducing the number of households here that deal with inadequate income, which hurts everyone, either directly or through depressed economic output and social problems.

New Jersey officials need to take heed, and continue the fight to bring opportunity and the American Dream to not just the few, but the many.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Urban officials should praise the death of RCAs

Legislation that eliminates the use of Regional Contribution Agreements as a municipal tool in complying with state affordable housing law has been increasingly assaulted by various New Jersey stakeholder groups.

The Regional Contribution Agreement is that affordable housing mechanism that allowed municipal officials to trade off up to 50 percent of their affordable housing obligations to other municipalities for cash, instead of actually building the housing within the borders of their boroughs, towns, or cities.

Rich suburban towns are afraid of what actually building their share of affordable housing might do to their tax base.

But even some urban area officials seem equally afraid, over how the elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements effectively kills a revenue source frequently used to repair existing affordable housing and build new housing.

But in doing so, New Jersey's urban mayors and officials seem to be denying one of the main factors in the complex process that so badly damaged the social fabric of cities like Trenton, Camden, and Newark, which was the flight of middle-class wage earners out to the surrounding suburbs, later followed by good jobs and good businesses.

Public officials like Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer and others should be doing all they can to get those middle-class wage earners, places of employment, and businesses back into Trenton.

But instead many urban mayors used Regional Contribution Agreements as a stop-gap measure to fill shortfalls in affordable housing construction and repair budgets, further damaging the fabric of the city through concentrating more and more poverty there.

Regional Contribution Agreements make no sense for poor urban areas, but they make perfect for suburban mayors, to whom the agreements represent a steal of a deal.

According to affordable housing advocates, a suburban town sending off its affordable housing to a city pays around $35,000 per unit, while the average total cost of building and subsidizing such a unit is nearly four times that, $140,000.

Plus, the people who end up living in those units in New Jersey's urban areas live in places without jobs, far away from existing jobs, and with poor educational opportunities.

The elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements is an important step for New Jersey's cities and poorer municipalities in their quest to rehabilitate their economic and social environments, which have suffered since the advent of suburbia.

Without them, cities will stop piling on disproportionately large numbers of the state's poor, while suburban areas will be forced to provide affordable housing opportunities closer to jobs and closer to opportunity.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Focus is elsewhere

"My focus entirely is always Trenton," Mayor Douglas Palmer said, to the Times of Trenton Friday.

What a crock.

This, coming from a mayor who is so frequently absent from city business that he requires text messages and cell phone updates to show up at a city meeting that was advertised with flyers boasting remarks from Mayor Palmer.

In fact, the most active this mayor has been during the entire calendar year past was when his highly touted and highly ineffective police director came under fire after openly flouting Trenton's residency ordinance.

Besides tending to his more national responsibilities, the biggest attention this four-term executive has given to the city he rules and the town he calls home has been the cut-and-dry, black-and-white case of former Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Mr. Santiago so blatantly broke the city's residency ordinance - which Mayor Palmer used so successfully to eliminate foes within the ranks of Trenton city employees - that the arrogance of the mayor and the director combined opened such a gap in Mayor Palmer's seemingly invincible armor that soon, it is hoped, the former director might be handed his walking papers.

But besides that attention paid so closely by Mayor Palmer, the city has moved on, basically unchanged. Residents have been murdered, lives have slipped into the abyss, and more businesses and viable residents have fled the city borders.

Mayor Palmer's legacy is one of emptiness, of using a small city and a capital of an important state to leverage greater influence and greater positions.

But we living in Trenton know the truth.

Mayor Palmer's focus long ago stopped being "entirely Trenton."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doug Palmer: All words, no results

Hopefully Sen. Barack Obama won’t be fooled into handing Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer some sort of federal position, should Sen. Obama win the presidential election in the fall.

Despite strong support for Sen. Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary battle, the toothy smile of Doug Palmer has made appearances in numerous photos and press releases with Sen. Obama of late on the city’s Palmer Public Relations portal - the official city web site.

Particular disturbing were direct quotes from Sen. Obama about how Doug suggested a particular program or urban policy that the presidential hopeful took a liking to.

Sen. Obama beware, because, as TrentonKat has pointed out recently, Mayor Palmer’s world is full of words and devoid of any real action.

Trenton’s mayor is little more than a public appearance marionette, quick to travel around the country making speeches about non-existent programs or policies that have little or no effect on those living in his hometown. The same problems are here, day-in and day-out, just as the same phantom policies, speeches, and developments are forever trumpeted by Trenton’s missing mayor.

Wednesday was a perfect example, as reported by Old Mill Hill.

Another highly touted redevelopment project near the Trenton Transit Center was to be the subject of a public meeting held at City Hall, with Mayor Palmer and other city officials in attendance ostensibly to listen to public opinion, on what has become a hot issue with city residents due to the proposed demolition of two beloved Victorian mansions and a very convenient gas station.

But – as has become the custom at Trenton community meetings – the Fearless Leader who was supposed to make remarks and listen to the feelings of the Trenton faithful initially neglected to make an appearance.

A crowd already restless over another potentially ill-conceived redevelopment plan grew more restless, until someone actually roused Mayor Palmer from wherever he was, probably at either a city watering hole or at his home in Delaware Township.

The under-prepared leader finally made a belated appearance but failed miserably to calm the public, who had hoped for a true community dialogue but once again were treated to spoon-fed Palmer nonsense.

The city should just face it. Mayor Palmer has already moved on to bigger and better things, and it’s time for a city as a whole to move on.

School district Déjà vu

A pesky thorn in the side of Trenton’s city government seems to be causing pain once again.

The city school board laid down the law to another school superintendent in April, by voting to inform Rodney Lofton that he would not be reappointed with the expiration of his contract in 2010, as belatedly reported by the Times of Trenton.

One member cited what seems to be a common theme in Trenton as the reason for sending the message to Mr. Lofton to the Times - a perceived lack of communication and disrespect on the part of the school administration towards its legislative partner in running the school district, the board.

But, reflecting on the actions of the Mayor Palmer-appointed school board in many different educational incidents and gaffes over the past few years, it should be asked why exactly should any of them really expect any respect or punctual communication from the school administration.

When things have gone have gone bad, reflecting badly on the city and the city’s administration, the school board has been shaken up, with members resigning or leaving to be reappointed by newly-appointed members favored by Mayor Palmer. Then those people inevitably fail, only to have new members or old favorites return to take a seat at the table. The same happens with the endless line of highly-touted superintendents, who inevitably leave amid scandal, or failure, or both.

When the Sherman Avenue grading scandal occurred, instead of taking responsibility for something they ought to have known about – and possibly been punished for – the board and the city as a whole chose to direct its ire at Superintendent James Lytle, who had already departed for another position elsewhere.

As the superintendent, yes, he was responsible, but the school board should have been equally responsible for being so out of the loop regarding the business of the district it is supposed to rule.

The board should have known what was going on at a separate high school building – which lacked its own principal in a possibly illegal manner – and should have realized the grade-tampering was underway long before it resulted in revoked or denied diplomas for Trenton students.

In short, in being so unaccountable, easily replaceable, and dysfunctional, this school board has effectively abdicated much of its responsibility and power in governing the way Trenton’s children are educated.

A lack of communication and failure in realizing any real progress on the part of the district’s administration should come as no surprise to any board members or Mayor Palmer, who has proven himself completely inept in fixing the problems that plague Trenton’s school district.

A superintendent will leave, a school board’s membership might change, but in the end the group that is continually shortchanged in all of this – Trenton’s students – will keep getting the short end of the stick.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The supreme and autocratic ruler of the City of Trenton

Maybe the City of Trenton is really some sort of complicated monarchy.

Now, normally here in the U.S. public officials abhor the trappings of monarchy, which bestows upon political leaders royal treatment beyond what is reasonably or logically necessary because of a perception of a sovereign and holy ability to know and do what is best for their people.

In many respects this is really what many find so revolting about the way officials in parts of Trenton's government carry themselves under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who has succeeded in using his long tenure here as an excuse to establish trends and policies that resemble those of a 16th century autocratic nation-state.

It's well-known that Mayor Palmer is driven around the city, to his child's school, and God knows where else by a full-service detachment of detective sergeants from the Trenton Police Department who alternate the duty of driving and "protecting" the mayor from all who seek to destroy* him.

Look, all that really means is that King Doug has utilized city funds and a false sense of a threat to his security to bestow treatment that seems to approach that of royalty.

That's right.

At a time of dwindling police presence and surging violent crime an executive who spends much of his time outside of his city requires armed police to drive him around and attend to him as he carries out his mayoral duties.

The alleged cause of this type of treatment - usually reserved for important public officials and members of royal families - is that a deranged man assaulted the mayor at some point.

Also smacking of some sort of royal existence is the manner in which Mayor Palmer strongly supported the idea that he had the power the bend the city's residency laws at will, due to his position as city executive.

That's really just the process of legislating under the strongest form of monarchy. Men rule as holy and autocratic beings with the ability to create, change, and invalidate establish law at will, like Mayor Palmer sought to do, so far unsuccessfully.

Don't forget how city official Dennis Gonzalez, who enjoys the strong support of the King, actually threatened a city resident and now City Council candidate with a lawsuit after receiving criticism from the gentleman about Mr. Gonzalez and King Palmer's extremely disappointing record of failure in bringing highly-touted redevelopment projects to fruition.

There is also the unnerving practice in which administration officials repeatedly disrespect City Council members through refusals to submit information and the continued emergence of disrespectful verbal exchanges with the city's elected representatives.

Trenton needs straight forward and down-to-earth public officials, rather than a egomaniacal holier-than-thou group that thinks it knows better, and is better, than the people living here. The 2010 election is the time to make the change.

*Many seek to destroy him, but in a political sense, not a physical one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Boo to the League of Municipalities

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities took it upon itself Monday to send out a press release railing against the recent passage of an affordable housing reform bill in both houses of the state legislature.

In the five-graph release the League of Municipalities singled out provisions in the legislation that eliminate Regional Contribution Agreements, the nefarious practice that allowed richer municipalities to sell off portions of their affordable housing requirements to poorer municipalities.

Provisions like Regional Contribution Agreements only succeeded in allowing rich towns in New Jersey to circumvent the entire goal of state affordable housing law, of eliminating the ability of municipal officials to use zoning and others efforts to preclude low-income groups from taking up residence within their borders.

But the League of Municipalities chose to label the banning of Regional Contribution Agreements as “the elimination of a compliance mechanism,” when the legislature really succeeded in eliminating what amounted to a loophole in compliance with affordable housing law.

Perhaps equally disturbing as the League of Municipalities stance against this landmark legislation is that Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer succeeded in getting one last large-scale Regional Contribution Agreement in place before the loophole is closed.

The size of a Regional Contribution Agreement between Marlboro Township and Trenton was actually increased through negotiations between Mayor Palmer and Marlboro officials, up to 332 units from 252 units.

Trenton will only be receiving a paltry $25,000 per unit, which will likely fail to cover the immense economic and social costs of concentrating more and more of the state'’ affordable housing on Trenton’s streets, which already bear the load of many New Jersey municipalities’ affordable housing obligations.

According to news reports, Trenton City Council already approved this agreement, earlier this month.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thanks, Director Chaos

The two murders that occurred within 20 minutes of each other over the weekend in Trenton probably taxed the manpower of the police force to the limit, judging by the massive decrease in minimum police staffing levels the city has experienced over the last two years.

All of this is part-and-parcel of the chaotic and detrimental ruling style of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, who apparently believes the best use of high-ranking and high-paid Internal Affairs officers is for spending hours of overtime to investigate non-favored cops, rather than doing actual police work.

The Trentonian has already reported on the minimum staffing levels situation that is causing the City of Trenton to be covered by ever smaller numbers of officers, despite a continuing crime problem.

As reported by the Trentonian's Joe D'Aquila, records obtained by police sources show a dramatic fall-off in the actual police presence in the east police district, versus the west police district, where minimum levels and the actual number of officers on the street has not fallen nearly as dramatically.

By early June this year, the east police district’s police presence had basically been halved through orders issued by the hand of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, with the 7 a.m., 8 a.m. shifts’ minimum number of cops down to four, the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. shifts down to six each, and the 3 a.m. shift down to three.

Only the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shifts saw more officers out on the street than the bare minimum, and one shift – the 10 p.m. – actually had less than the minimum, probably because of office duty or some other issue.

Flash back to early June 2007, and the numbers are nearly double. The 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. shifts all were required to have at least 10 cops out on patrol throughout the east police district, and some actually saw more than the minimum out on patrol, up to 12 officers. The 3 a.m. had five officers, up two from the present levels.

While the western district also experienced some minor reductions in staffing levels, the changes were not nearly as drastic as in the east, where through June 8 of this year there had been 420 total crimes versus the west’s 284.

The 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. shifts in the west in June of 2007 saw a minimum level of eight officers, the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shifts, 12, the 10 p.m. 11, and the 3 a.m., six. Fast forward to the present and the numbers have dropped to six for the 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. period, eight for the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m., and four for the 3 a.m.

The means that while the east police district, with its greatly elevated crime levels, saw its minimum staffing levels for all six shifts drop from 35 to 19, in the same time period the less crime-plagued west district saw a cut of 37 to 26.

Mr. Santiago, at a civic meeting last, said he has “succeeded in getting more cops out on the streets” than any of his predecessors. Well Mr. Santiago, these numbers certainly do not reflect that.

A truly scary situation occurred in April when an officer on duty responded to a homicide in the complex of crime-plagued housing projects off of Stuyvesant Avenue, and it bears directly on this whole issue of waning police presence and Mr. Santiago’s wasteful use of Trenton cops.

The victim had already expired, after having his head blown clean off by a murderer’s bullet, but only a handful of officers were able to respond because of Trenton’s Santiago-endorsed staffing reductions.

An ever-growing crowd of irritated project residents began chanting at the officers, apparently because they believed the victim was still alive and the police were not doing anything to help him with his “worsening” medical condition.

The officers and a group of paramedics actually began doing CPR on the murdered man, out of fear that the explosive situation could become violent due to the low number of officers on the scene and the growing number of angered observers.

At this sensitive moment one of Mr. Santiago’s response time-obsessed dispatchers contacted a Sgt. Tony Manzo on the scene and told him to report to the scene of another crime of much less significance. The officer – obviously a little stressed out – told the dispatcher that he was busy, and that if he had a problem they could “take it outside” back at the station.

No longer enjoying the favor of the former director meant that the “take it outside” comment was used by Mr. Santiago as an excuse to order a psychological evaluation, desk duties, and administrative charges.

Equally disturbing was that Internal Affairs officers allegedly spent hours of overtime work listening to the dispatch tape.

All this, while Trenton is seeing reduced levels of cops out on the streets. Thanks Mr. Santiago.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

L.A., L.A.

It must be nice for a mayor to have a live-in public relations flack and publicist working at one of two local newspapers.

L.A. Parker at the Trentonian works just in this manner, as evidenced in today's column attacking calls by councilmen Gino Melone and Manny Segura for State Police to join the Trenton Police Department in the streets of New Jersey's capital.

Mr. Parker did make one important point in his piece, although it was tied to a typical Parkeresque appeal made to the emotions of the readership. Yes, it is correct that those who say the maintenance of a police post on Walnut Avenue would have prevented the recent fire-bombing death of a young resident are thinking illogically.

Police could be placed on every corner, street, and in every neighborhood in the city and many crimes would likely be prevented, but criminals would move their activities elsewhere and the especially dedicated criminals would figure out a way around the problem of police posts.

That being said, the hypocrisy of Mayor Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago is appalling, in linking staffing reductions and a dramatic decline in the number of police on the street to budget issues while refusing to entertain getting extra sworn state officers on the street.

Mr. Parker barely touches on that issue, as usual, while playing to the more emotional and less rational emotions of the populace in painting Mr. Melone and Mr. Segura as two out-of-touch politicians who call for state police while failing to understand what is going on in some of the city's neighborhoods.

Coupled with some jabs at the "Best 4 Trenton" slate of councilmen - Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Mr. Melone and Mr. Segura - all this really amounts to is a simple public relations campaign aimed at tarnishing the images of City Council members who have recently thrown a major wrench into the political plans of Mr. Parker's master, Doug Palmer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The chasm is widening

The rift between City Council and the Palmer administration grew larger Thursday as council members scolded administration officials for blindsiding them with city ordinance revisions and additional appropriations to pay off expensive lawyers defending former Police Director Joseph Santiago in his residency battle.

West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue apparently got into an exchange with administration officials after they produced an ordinance legalizing earlier appointments of municipal court judges, which seemed to display the administration's usual attitude of considering council votes a purely ceremonial affair.

"Council is the proper authority," Ms. Lartigue reportedly said, after Assistant Business Administrator Dennis "Rasputin" Gonzalez told council that the administration had already consulted the "proper authority" before producing the ordinance revisions.

Hopefully Ms. Lartigue's comments indicate that the councilwoman is going to move away from siding with the administration, as she has so frequently done of late. That would provide the "Best 4 Trenton" slate of Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Gino Melone, and Manny Segura with a decisive fifth vote.

Having five votes would allow them to vote to dismiss intransigent administration officials from employment with the city, almost at will.

Those kind of actions have become appropriate with the continued disrespect shown towards council by Mayor Palmer's political officials, exemplified by Mr. Gonzalez's actions on Thursday and a series of lies uttered by Mr. Santiago to a group of council officials and residents at a civic meeting earlier this week in Chambersburg.

Also of interest were reports of a split vote on the appropriation of lawyer's fees to attorneysrepresenting Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago during the residency battle, which will likely be concluded next week.

It was unfortunate that Mr. Melone and Mr. Coston were absent from Thursday's meeting, as the addition of those two would have provided those voting against the lawyers' fees with the votes necessary to kill the appropriations, which included payments to a lawyers whose client was not a person, but "the City of Trenton."

That would be a nice show of force and an appropriate step to show the administration that the city's coffers are not some sort of endless pit to dig money out of to defend favored city employees.

It remains unclear when it became city policy to pay attorneys defending city employees in civil suits.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A lot of nothing

"A demagogue is someone who tells what he believes to be lies to people who he believes to be idiots."

Former Police Director Joseph Santiago made a rather unsubstantive appearance at the Chambersburg Civic Association meeting Wednesday, apparently at the behest at his old subordinate and supporter, Association President Peter Page.

The same old "crime is down" and "crime is at the lowest point in the city's recorded history" talking points came out of Mr. Santiago's mouth.

They were paired with other commentary on the alleged improvements Mr. Santiago has brought to the department, despite the continued crime problem plaguing many of the city's neighborhoods.

The man known to rule the Trenton Police Department like his own medieval fiefdom told those gathered there that he had no involvement in the deployment of officers out on patrol and in position throughout the city's four police districts.

"I don't tell them where to be," said Mr. Santiago. "I don't make decisions about where the officers are."

Those comments came despite the existence of deployment orders that demonstrate a precipitous decline in the city's minimum police staffing requirements apparently bear the former director's signature, according to department sources.

Minimum staffing levels in the crime-plagued East Ward have been halved, but Mr. Santiago said Wednesday that he has succeeded in getting more police out on the streets than his predecessors.

"When I got here, I went on a tour and I couldn't find a Trenton police officer," said Mr. Santiago.

Mr. Santiago told the audience that every one of his commanders needs more manpower and more resources. But when discussing the possible deployment of State Police within Trenton Mr. Santiago said the troopers were not "urban" police and were not needed to help protect the streets of Trenton.

At the conclusion of the relatively brief discussion, the association leaders - especially Mr. Page - went totally out of their way to protect the director by shielding him from questions from some in the audience.

It seemed that Mr. Santiago was vulnerable due to the presence of numerous city enemies in the audience, including four City Council members that went against the director in his ongoing residency battle.

Councilmen Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Gino Melone, and Manny Segura all attended the meeting in another show of solidarity between the four, who were believed to be the target of propaganda and spin on dwindling police coverage and its false relationship with the city's budget problems.

Several of the city representatives were visibly angry during some of the director's comments, especially those regarding the futility of adequately policing the city's streets and the lack of necessity in bringing in more police in the form of state troopers.

A truly telling moment happened at the beginning of the meeting, when Mr. Melone asked the audience members whether they felt safe in their city, which received a nearly unanimous response of groans and shaking heads.

Under Mr. Santiago and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, few feel totally safe.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reform the Law Department now

Tuesday night’s City Council docket exemplified exactly why Trenton needs to dispose of the staff of its current Law Department and return to the days when an in-house staff of city lawyers that lived within Trenton’s borders handled all of the legal work of the city.

The current situation – in which Trenton has City Attorney Denise Lyles and Special Counsel Joe Alacqua – for some unknown reason results in expensive city contracts being handed to numerous exotic law firms for all types of legal work in a very repetitive manner.

Tuesday’s docket actually had no less than $360,000 worth of resolutions and amendments regarding legal contracts handed to outside law firms. Back before the advent of Douglas H. Palmer as the city’s perennial mayor, the City of Trenton actually had a full staff of lawyers with a limited budget who were responsible for the vast majority of the city’s legal work.

That meant that only in rare cases would the city have to dip into its coffers to enlist the services of outside law firms that didn’t have offices within the city and whose lawyers did not live in the city, unlike the in-house staff of attorneys.

But now Trenton pays a city attorney and a special counsel hundreds of thousands of dollars, with little work product to show for it. The city attorney has actually abdicated the responsibility of advising City Council to the special counsel, in what some legal minds have criticized as a less-than-optimal arrangement.

Those same legal officials have also criticized the advice being delivered to those same City Council members by their special counsel.

It looks more and more like the legal opinions delivered in council chambers are generally made to influence council members into supporting administrative initiatives and reinforcing the policy positions of Mayor Palmer.

Municipal practices says that special counsels are usually hired only for a special circumstances and for brief periods of time for work on specific legal issues, but Trenton’s Special Counsel Joe Alacqua seems to have been hired as a sort of permanent counsel position with greater powers than the City Attorney, but in a position that allows him to live outside the city.

Future mayoral candidates ought to make reforming arrangements like Trenton’s legal practices part of their platform. Fixing this situation and returning back to the days of a larger in-house staff will save the city hundreds, if not millions of dollars and also bolster the city economy by having all of those lawyers take up residence here in Trenton.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

State moves one step closer to the death of RCAs

State legislators took a major step in closing one of the largest loopholes in New Jersey affordable housing law Monday, when the Assembly passed a bill that will end the use of the Regional Contribution Agreements.

RCAs were a major obstacle to the universal provision of affordable housing throughout the state, because they allowed municipalities to hand off their affordable housing obligations to other cash-strapped towns and cities for a certain amount of money per housing unit transferred.

The state’s lower house voted 45 to 33 in passing the bill, with every single Republican in the entire room voting against the measure, and a handful of Democrats choosing to abstain on the measure.

“The time has finally come for New Jersey to open the door to affordable housing for the countless working families who are in need of a reasonably priced place to call home,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer, in a statement.

The victims of RCAs were the state’s poorer towns and cities and their inhabitants, which progressively found themselves living in larger and larger pockets of poverty as their local governments signed up for RCAs as a way to get around long-term fiscal problems through short-term infusions of cash.

That cash – usually around $30,000 or $40,000 per unit – usually ended up being woefully short in dealing with the litany of economic and social problems that came with concentrating large populations of the poor in small urban areas throughout the state.

The funding gap caused by the elimination of the RCAs will be partially filled through raised development fees, which could go into a state fund reserved for the construction of new affordable housing or the rehabilitation of existing housing.

The bill faces deliberations in the state Senate next week, and with an affirmative vote there, it could be quickly signed into law by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A K-9 and horse show

Public officials here think that Trenton residents are idiots.

That much is apparent from a newspaper article today detailing the withdrawal from the streets of the city’s highly touted and highly ineffective mounted police units, due to budgetary problems.

Former Police Director Joseph Santiago, talking to the Times of Trenton, said that the units are being pulled back from the streets because of the city’s fiscal crisis.

But further down in the article it’s revealed that the horses are still going to be retained on a pasture at the Mercer County Equestrian Center, for nearly 75 percent of the current cost of having them out on the street involved in police work.

The horses – all four of them – cost the city around $40,000 a year, with a majority of that cost coming from a $27,600 fee to board the animals at the horse center. The city isn’t getting rid of the animals, so Trenton will still be incurring most of the cost in maintaining a mounted unit, without actually having the unit on the street.

What’s the point then?

The former director admitted that the horses’ $40,000 price tag was a drop in the bucket for Trenton, which has a $40 million police budget, but that public pressure requires the unit be “disbanded.” But the Times report looks like they are simply being removed out of the public view while remaining on the city budget rolls.

Where the City of Trenton will actually be savings dollars is in reduced overtime costs from having the officers assigned to the horses being out on patrol instead.

Of course, Mr. Santiago neglected to point this out, probably in hopes of painting the elimination of his pet horse unit as some sort of misguided and unnecessary budgetary matter forced on him by the reality of Trenton's finances.

While Mr. Santiago has decided to keep the unused horses, he has moved forward with eliminating the much more useful K-9 units.

What's known as the vice unit is also a casualty of the fiscal crisis, even though it represented perhaps the best tool in the TPD arsenal in dealing with high-level drug dealers and other dangerous criminals of the worst sort, but no one apparently cares about that.

Dealing with the budget crisis by keeping the horses and getting rid of vice and the K-9dogs is becoming a literal dog-and-pony show, as Mr. Santiago spins the elimination of one of his favorite units as some sort of ineffective budget casualty, while unceremoniously eliminating other more effective police units.

Trenton residents are once again going to get the short end of the stick.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Trenton needs all the help it can get

City Council deliberations this week over the possible usage of New Jersey State Police units in patrolling the streets of the City of Trenton have revealed a chasm of difference between the minds of some council members, and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago.

On one side council members like Gino Melone support the deployment of state police units in Trenton on general patrol, while the man who actually could put things in motion to get the troopers in Trenton - Mayor Palmer - adamantly opposes it.

Once again it looks like the mayor and his friends are out on the wrong side of the fence, based on their silly arguments and the reality of Trenton's law enforcement situation.

Mayor Palmer and the former police director say the state police are already involved in certain initiatives and task forces, and additional state police presence is unnecessary.

"For the record, we are utilizing New Jersey State Police officers in several initiatives," said Mayor Palmer, to the Trentonian. "For those who say let’s bring state troopers in, I say let’s keep Director Santiago here."

Despite those sentiments it seems there would be an obvious benefit in having an extra detail of police out on the prowl in Trenton, especially in the city's more crime-ridden areas. Remember, with the alleged reining in of overtime and widespread budget problems there is a dramatic reduction in real police manpower.

This week someone said there are actually some points during the 24 hours of a day where very few Trenton cops are actually out on the streets.

Apparently the very early morning hours see as little as four cops out in each of the city's four wards, which basically means that an unlucky series of crimes or accidents results in police coverage being stretched dangerously thin in a city with a blatant crime problem.

Cost has been cited by Mayor Palmer and others in refusing to ask for state police help, but as Councilman Jim Coston has pointed out, the price is actually much smaller than actually hiring the same number of cops and paying them salaries, benefits, and pensions.

Camden had between 16 and 20 state police working the streets, and this year Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposed charging the poverty-stricken city $800,000 a year for the coverage, or roughly $40,000 per cop.

Since Trenton is already in the process of hiring 50 more cops and adding them to the police force, presumably for more than $40,000 a piece, it would be good to enter into some sort of agreement with the state police to get at least 10 or so troopers.

It looks like 10 troopers would cost roughly $400,000, and those 10 could make up some of the difference to fully staff a police department experiencing somewhat of a manpower shortage, especially with action by City Council members that moved to hire 50 more officers over the next year.

Or, we could go the Palmer and Santiago way, in keeping an overworked and understaffed police force on the streets of a city with a crime problem without the help of capable state troopers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Some renaissance thinking for modern-day Trenton

One of the revolutions that came with Renaissance thinking was the belief that man’s existence was totally based upon sensory input, and not on a “soul” or innate ideas inserted into one’s psyche by God at birth.

John Locke and Claude Helvetius shaped these ideas, but a truly revolutionary leap from those philosophical positions came later.

It may actually have good application here in Trenton.

The philosophy of these men actually converts easily into political science, because if sensory input and the human environment were all that shaped human existence then people were neither good nor bad, at least at birth.

So, shaping the surrounding environment with “good” legislation issuing forth from a “good” government is therefore a practical way of making people live a virtuous and productive life, free from crime and a destructive existence.

If someone is in support of those views, than the greater national government and the local Trenton City government have both failed many of the men and women in Trenton and the rest of the nation by failing to create effective “good” legislation and ensuring an environment that causes mankind to live a virtuous existence.

Locke and Helvetius would probably look at Trenton’s city government as an entity that has failed mightily in creating “good” laws that make – or at least help - Trenton’s people live virtuous lives.

They would probably say Trenton’s City Council – in allowing itself to be kicked around and disrespected by administration officials – has severely retarded the ability of its members to ever create the kind of “good” legislation that these long-dead philosophers were talking about.

They would frown even harder on the greater state and federal governments for letting such large populations living in the nation’s cities exist in a broken environment where living a virtuous life is nearly impossible, or at least severely difficult.

Surely some that read this will be angered by the idea that the government – through “good” legislation and controlling the social environment – may be responsible for the actions of citizens and that the same government is highly responsible in propping up the lives of the people it rules.

The people who are most often angered by such a proposition are those who already lead a productive, and even maybe a virtuous life in places like Trenton, where so many others are sucked into a less-virtuous life of crime and poverty.

Before discounting this as philosophical-scientific nonsense, remember the importance that Locke – and to a lesser extent – Helvetius have in the foundations of modern thinking and the scientific method.

With that in mind, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” position that does not fit in anywhere with Locke or Helvetius is less easy to take when observing those who have fallen through the cracks.

Also, few of the people actually taking such a position have ever been confronted with the sheer difficulty of growing up and living in places like some of Trenton’s neighborhoods, without opportunity or dealing with what must be a very strong pull to give up and give in to the surrounding environment.

Trenton’s City Council and the greater state and federal governments need to take better action in making “good” laws that create a more virtuous environment.

And to do that, City Council needs to continue fighting to get the tools it needs to create that “good” legislation we so desperately need.

We want to be virtuous, right?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More hypocrisy from Trenton's missing mayor

A TrentonSpeaks poster correctly pointed out that an angry comment from Mayor Douglas H. Palmer in Wednesday's Trentonian highlighted exactly what is so wrong with the way City Council members never seem to get the information they need from administration officials to deliberate and vote on pieces of legislation.

"Members who make statements without knowledge are nothing short of irresponsible,” said Mayor Palmer, referring to comments from Councilman Gino Melone, who noted the dispersal of units stationed on crime-plagued Walnut Avenue in his own East Ward.

What lies behind City Council members working, voting, and now commenting in the media while existing in an information blackout is the policy of disrespect and stonewalling that continues to be utilized by administration officials like Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and Chief of Staff Renee Haynes.

Now it seems that Mayor Palmer is offended by council members making statements without knowing the facts. Well, if that's the case, then it follows that taking votes, awarding contracts and handing over city money without knowing the facts is surely an even more irresponsible action than simply commenting on the correlation between a drop in police coverage and heinous criminal acts.

It can even be said that Mayor Palmer's heated comments in some way vindicate the actions of a majority of council last week, in refusing to move on any agenda items because of continued disrespect from administration officials in the form of ignoring repeated requests for information.

I'll say it again: more stonewalling and disrespect can only be met with more hard line tactics, in the form of more work stoppages or better yet, the sacrifice of an administration official or two through a council vote of removal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An olive branch vs. a baseball bat

Councilman Jim Coston took a more diplomatic approach with Palmer administration officials and his colleagues Tuesday when he said he would not repeat his actions of last week, in getting a majority of council to halt all council business because of stonewalling on requests for information on the part of Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum.

Mr. Coston said that, in the future, he would simply move to halt consideration of specific pieces of legislation rather that putting a stop to all city business.

Ms. Feigenbaum once again failed to turn over the majority of the information to Mr. Coston Tuesday, in giving him only two answers out of the 11 questions he had submitted to the business administrator weeks earlier.

Many – including me – had hoped for a repeat of last week’s strong action by a majority of council members in stopping consideration of the docket. It had even been speculated that maybe council members would go even further, in bringing up administration officials on removal charges for the stonewalling that has been a feature of the administration’s treatment of council for quite a long time.

But, in the end, cooler heads prevailed.

This is a legislative body that is expected to get things done, so perhaps Mr. Coston decided that more work stoppages and hard-line tactics would be detrimental to not only the administration, but the regular residents living throughout the city.

As one person said, Mr. Coston is sitting in that council chair, and maybe this kind of cool-headed approach is one of the reasons why that is a reality.

But, that being said, in the future any administrative stonewalling does deserve to be met with more aggressive legislative tactics.

Mr. Coston and all the others are expected to legislate in the best interest of city residents, and when they do not have all of the information required for the task they simply cannot do their jobs effectively.

That’s why an executive branch – whether it be Doug Palmer or President Bush – enjoys keeping legislators in the dark, because they are less likely to use their legislative powers to check and balance the negative initiatives proposed by executives.

Council President Paul Pintella said that in the future Mr. Coston and the others need to reach out and “get the information” themselves, or ask Mr. Pintella himself to talk to the administration and get the needed information. But Mr. Pintella has already proven that he is not up to the task, as council request after council request has been denied or ignored, without the council president uttering so much as a word.

Equally disheartening on Tuesday was Councilwoman Annette Lartigue once again throwing wild allegations of extra-legal activities being perpetrated by Mr. Coston and other council members, in having one-on-one conversations prior to last week’s council meeting and work stoppage.

Ms. Lartigue publicly accused Mr. Coston of breaking the Open Public Meetings Act, and Special Counsel Joe Alacqua basically backed her up in her accusations, despite saying that he did not know the exact facts in the case, besides what he had heard or read.

Sources contacted after the meeting said that Mr. Coston’s actions in speaking with three other council members didn’t constitute a violation of the letter nor the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Hopefully one day City Council will consider calling out Mr. Alacqua on what seem to be frequently biased legal opinions designed to either support the administration or rebuke the actions of council persons not enjoying the favor of Mayor Palmer.

Better yet, maybe they could even consider ending Mr. Alacqua’s odd relationship with the city’s legislative body, as a permanent special counsel-city attorney who gets to live outside Trenton while using a city car and a city cell phone.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

L.A., stop spinning the issue

What seemed like a feeble attempt to discolor the actions of City Council last week was penned in today’s Trentonian by reporter, columnist, and Doug Palmer-supporter L.A. Parker.

The target of the propaganda was a move by four council members last week to halt council business until information needed to make educated votes was provided by Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and the Palmer administration to City Council members.

Mr. Parker wrote that Councilman Jim Coston misled Councilman Manny Segura into supporting last week’s work stoppage by saying all council members would be made aware of the plan before putting it to an eventually successful vote. Apparently Mr. Coston did not make council members Annette Lartigue, Paul Pintella, and Cordelia Staton aware of the plan, according to the article.

But, when it comes down to it, who really cares?

All three of those council representatives have continually toed the administration line over the past half-year or so, so making them aware of the plan would have likely resulted in stall tactics or other attempts to sabotage Mr. Coston’s plan to halt City Council business. It is equally as likely that their vote would have been the same regardless of being informed of the plan.

The three support the status quo and that means relegating City Council to the status of a secondary and almost ceremonial body meant to constantly support every administrative initiative, no matter how misguided and out of touch with the interests of the people of Trenton.

Ms. Lartigue, Mr. Pintella, and Ms. Staton’s actions last week speak volumes about how they see themselves fitting into Trenton’s city government. Whether they had prior knowledge or not it is not easily understandable why they voted against the measure, except as a very public way of showing their support of the administration.

It just doesn't make sense for City Council members to vote against a measure that effectively enforces the importance of the legislative body getting the information it needs to perform its duties, simply because they weren’t made aware of the plan prior to its public announcement.

Apparently Trenton has a bunch of puerile individuals in important positions of power that need to be ousted as soon as possible.

Even more interesting than last week's events will be what happens at tonight's City Council conference session, especially considering that, despite the Trentonian piece, all systems are go for continued action by City Council's dynamic "gang of four."

If the administration repeats their old stonewalling tactics tonight, the proper plan of action would be to immediately adopt a resolution bringing Ms. Feigenbaum or any other official withholding information up on charges for eventual removal, which City Council is empowered to do.

That’s how a functioning legislative branch plays hardball.

Monday, June 9, 2008

RCA-killing bill advances

The elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements came one step closer to fruition last week when the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted to release legislation reforming much of the state’s affordable housing rules to the Assembly for a full vote.

“The legislature can no longer take an ostrich-like view of the state’s housing policy,” said sponsor and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, in a statement. “New Jerseyans need homes they can afford and jobs they can reach. That state must lead by example by expanding access to equitable and affordable housing.”

The bill – A500 – would end the use of RCAs and require a 20 percent set aside of affordable housing units for all development projects receiving state assistance, including Office of Smart Growth areas and transit villages.

As one of the more controversial state policies, RCAs allow municipalities to sell off portions of their affordable housing obligations to other towns instead of actually building housing within their borders.

RCAs have effectively concentrated the state's poor in downtrodden pockets of poverty within urban areas of that state, according to detractors. They say that serious fiscal problems in cities necessitate involvement in the agreements, with the revenue received usually failing to cover the cost of concentrated poverty and its associated social problems.

Under the bill, funds that the state’s urban areas received through the use of RCAs would be instead be generated by an increased 2.5 percent fee on all nonresidential development.

The replacement of deed-restricted affordable housing lost through redevelopment would also be mandated by the bill, effectively closing a loophole through which municipalities could eliminate affordable housing previously built in newly redeveloped areas.

The bill seems to try and address one of the most frequent complaints against Council on Affordable Housing mandates, in which public officials and others state that affordable housing rules conflict with other state mandates. This is done through the use of housing impact statements, which other state agencies are required to make when vetting new rules and regulations.

A500 will now faces deliberation in the entire New Jersey Assembly in the near future.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good luck, TPD grads

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer used the graduation of a Trenton Police Academy class this week as an opportunity to highlight what he called "Trenton Police Director Joseph J. Santiago's" promise "to strive for a department more representative of our community," according to the Times of Trenton.

Former Police Director Joseph Santiago has surely diversified the police department during his tenure.

But, despite the comments from the fearless leader of Trenton, current and future officers excelling at their law enforcement vocation face unnecessary peril, should they not toe the Santiago line during their tenure - that is, if Mr. Santiago is not cast out of his office for his admitted violations of the city's residency law.

That's because this is simply the way things have been done since Mr. Santiago entered the department in 2003. Since then some of the best and brightest officers have been relegated to midnight shifts, desk jobs, and other positions both demeaning and wasteful of their skills.

It happened only because those same officers refused to follow along with the former director's ridiculous leadership style, according to those whose lives have been so adversely affected by Mr. Santiago.

Now the brand-new recruits finishing their academy training this week face the same obstacles in their quest to serve the people of Trenton, whatever their skin color, creed, or anything else of that nature.

Their only hope - and the only hope for Trenton's residents - is a favorable and Appellate Division decision in Mr. Santiago's residency case, which could put a stop to all of the politically-charged wastage that has occurred in the department since Mr. Santiago took over.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Trenton councilmen, keep up the good work

Confusion is the appropriate word to describe the feeling that emerges when one is confronted with an instance in which legislators call out a few of their own for taking action to ensure they have the tools necessary to do their job.

That is a fairly accurate description of what City Council members Annette Lartigue, Paul Pintella, and Cordelia Staton did Thursday, when the other four council members - Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Gino Melone, and Manny Segura - finally stood up the administration's constant abuse and lack of respect.

The four voted to put a stop to council voting on the Thursday docket.

They basically told officials under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer to take the docket and shove it until a time when administration officials begin providing timely responses to council requests for information like the request in question, made by Mr. Coston regarding police costs and what the city incurrs for guarding Mayor Palmer's oft-empty house in Hiltonia.

While the supporters of the City Council work stoppage deserve credit for their thoughtful actions, the more important focus should be on the other three representatives who don't seem to understand the job they have been tasked with as City Council members.

That hypothesis was quite evident in some of the reactions from the three slower council officials, like when Ms. Lartigue actually accused the other members of "collusion" in organizing the council vote prior to the meeting that stopped the passage of legislative measures.

Such accusastions betray a frightening disconnect between the job description of City Council members and the actual conduct of a small faction of council officials.

Having proper knowledge to actually deliberate on matters coming before council is crucial to how council members carry out their duties, in that their specific job is to discuss, write, and vote with the interests of their constituents at heart. They are not a vestigial body that ceremonially votes on city business without having a proper understanding of what's before them.

Yet it seems like the three council members who continue to fail in holding the administration accountable prefer council to take the latter role, as a ceremonial body, versus the former, as an effective deliberative body that makes the best decisions for Trenton's residents.

If that is their take on what City Council is meant to do, then they need to step down from the dais immediately and let other potential council representatives take a seat.

More importantly, any new members ought to be more like the four members who stepped up for the public interest Thursday, in putting a stop to the disrespect and nonchalant attitude of administration officials that effectively damages the the proper functioning of this city's government.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What about Trenton's "Animal Houses"?

A Sen. Shirley Turner bill aimed at expanding the applicability of “Animal House” provisions to towns all over the state seems like it could be used as an interesting springboard to go after bad landlords and the crummy tenants they tend to attract in places like Trenton.

Sen. Turner’s legislation expands the existing “Animal House” statute to allow governing bodies in every New Jersey town to pass ordinances requiring landlords of problem houses to post bonds and other forms of financial security to compensate for further drains on municipal resources caused by their properties.

The bill passed the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee today, and now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

"Requiring bonds has been a proven method in shore communities for reducing disruptions coming from rentals. Now it will be an option in all communities, especially those that are home to our colleges and universities,” said Sen. Turner, in a statement.

Shore towns have been allowed to pass these types of local ordinances since the inception of the law in the early 1990s, but college towns like Sen. Turner’s own Ewing Township have pushed for their own similar laws since that time.

But why not expand it to homes that frequently attract gang or drug activity in places like Trenton, where these problem properties drive out home owners, ruin the quality of life, and only serve to further damage the city’s social fabric?

Surely there is some responsible way of fashioning legislation similar to the “Animal House” statute but aimed at the type of problems experienced in the inner cities of New Jersey.

It could provide a significant resource for cash-strapped cities that can use all the help they can get when dealing with service-draining crime and gang issues.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Palmer has less options with Obama win

One potential way out of the Trenton political scene for Mayor Douglas H. Palmer was closed last night with the assumed Democratic presidential primary victory of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Throughout the campaign Mayor Palmer has been a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, despite turning out a paltry number of votes for the New York senator in the primary vote in February.

It had been widely believed by many here in Trenton and beyond that the mayor of the capital city would move on to some sort of federal position with a presidential victory of his endorsed candidate. But the candidate supported by most people in this city’s political arena has now seemingly upset Ms. Clinton.

What will Mayor Palmer do? His other options don't look so great either.

Remember, the other potential outlet for Mayor Palmer – widely reported in some of the state’s online media – was a run as the state’s first Lieutenant Governor. That position will come into being during the gubernatorial campaign in 2009, after voters supported an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution in the last election.

But running for that position could be fraught with peril, as current Gov. Jon S. Corzine continues to endure a horrendous approval ratings that could loom large in the next campaign for governor. As the incumbent, Gov. Corzine will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee, but anyone joining the ticket to run for lieutenant governor would face an uphill battle.

All of this adds up to a situation where those who want to end the reign of Mayor Palmer here in Trenton should prepare for the upcoming 2010 municipal campaign as if the mayor is once again running, for a sixth term as the city’s executive.

Developments have simply made the likelihood of another Palmer for Mayor campaign greater and greater, with each passing month.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Residency update

A panel of three Appellate Division judges Tuesday heard the case of former Police Director Joseph Santiago and what his current predicament means to the continued existence of Trenton’s residency ordinance.

Attorney George Dougherty, on behalf of the plaintiffs, argued the original decision handed down by Judge Linda Feinberg stripping the city’s residency law of waiver provisions and vacating the office of Mr. Santiago was appropriate, and did not require either the addition of new residency waiver sections or the trashing of the ordinance altogether.

Attorneys for Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Mr. Santiago maintained that Judge Feinberg had correctly assessed that Trenton’s residency waiver provisions did not adhere to superceding state law, there invalidating them. But they again said they disagreed with Judge Feinberg’s remedy to that issue, in cutting off the waive provision and giving Trenton City Council the ability to amend the law to include waiver consistent with state law.

“We believe Judge Feinberg got the diagnosis right, and the cure wrong,” said Mayor Palmer’s attorney, Angelo Genova.

Mr. Genova said the three judges should fashion a court order instructing City Council to adopt an ordinance conforming to the superceding state law, including waiver provisions providing avenues to save the embattled director, whose employment has been in jeopardy due to court action threatening to oust him over non-residency.

Some of the judges seemed skeptical over the idea that the waiver portions deleted by Judge Feinberg required a rewriting of the entire ordinance, rather than simply taking action on the “relevant portions” of the law, which Judge Feinberg did in her earlier decision.

One judge questioned the position that the waiver sections and their invalidation required a brand-new ordinance.

“They had the ordinance for years and years and years, and it was apparently satisfactory,” he said.

“Aren’t we only talking about the waiver provision?” asked another.

Mr. Santiago's attorney, Salvatore Alfano, said that by leaving the earlier decision in place the judges will have continued to strip Mayor Palmer of the ability to appoint outside candidates to city positions in special circumstances."

Mr. Dougherty, attorney for the group of plaintiffs – including me – argued that attorneys for Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago were misrepresenting the relationship between residency ordinances and the superceding state statute, adopted in 1978.

He said the state statute was not designed to work as a “Venus Flytrap” that swooped in and bit any municipality that chose to amend an existing residency ordinance with requirements to adopt the state law’s language in its entirety.

“It does not say here is the liturgy, and if you make a mistake, you lose the baby with the bath,” Mr. Dougherty said.

He said state legislators could have included language into the statute warning municipal officials of the imminent threat to their existing residency ordinances, if they really intended to catch any ordinance editors with requirements to adopt the state law, equally and in full.

“They could have written that,” Mr. Dougherty said.

He pointed to language included in the state law that states that ordinances “are subjected to the relevant provisions” of the statute, and not the law in its entirety.

A final decision on the matter is expected to be handed down within two weeks. Judges at the hearing hinted at granting another grace period, to offer City Council the ability to either amend the ordinance or take further action. There is also, of course, the possibility that the three judges will move to uphold the earlier Superior Court decision.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Change this bill

One piece of government news that caught my eye this morning was the continuing advancement of legislation that would allow municipalities holding nonpartisan elections in May to move those elections to the date of the November general election, saving money and likely increasing voter turnout at elections while retaining their election’s nonpartisan status.

“Allowing towns that hold May nonpartisan elections to move those elections to November without jeopardizing their nonpartisan status is a win for everyone,” said one sponsor, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, in a statement. “Municipalities win because they save money while being able to keep their unique form of government; voters and candidates win because the electorate is more engaged and more active in November elections.”

At first it looked like a great idea from Mr. Diegnan, D-Middlesex.

But just like so many of New Jersey’s more innovative and beneficial laws, a proviso attached to the measure severely restricts its benefits away from those who need it most.

Rammed into the bottom of the legislation is the exception that the power to move to November elections and greater accountability would only apply to towns with populations under 10,000 and other special municipalities, a group of which Trenton and many other New Jersey municipalities are not members.

The logic of why larger towns and cities that already experience horrendously low voter turnout and even less accountability on the part of public officials would be left outside of the scope of such a law escapes me.

It seems to me that the cycle of reelection repeatedly handed to Trenton’s current bankrupt administration could be broken more easily with greater voter turnout.
This city – and others like it - also could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so, by eliminating all the work involved in having another election in May.

Some may argue that holding elections in May makes elections non-partisan, but that is a farce equal to the lie that says it is better to hold school elections in May to keep politics out of the voting.

The fact is that increased voter turnout translates into greater accountability and better attention to the public interest, and therefore trumps any small-scale benefits in less or "nonpartisan" elections.

Someone ought to get on the phone and talk to Mr. Diegnan, and get him to eliminate the population limits in his otherwise ingenious legislation.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Solutions wanted

Middle class people living here in Central Jersey are faced with an ever-rising tide of rising costs and damaging expenses that threatens to sweep the vast majority right off their feet.

This much is clear to me, after making trips today to Mercer County gas stations and grocery stores, and reading every local newspaper report detailing price hikes and looming energy price increases that portend an even worse time down the road.

What exactly are our elected officials, or better yet, the powerful and the rich, doing to address this economic chaos that threatens the very way of life for the average person living in Central Jersey and greater America? And what of the plight of all New Jerseyans who already face the highest property taxes and a high cost of living?

Gov. Jon S. Corzine and both parties in the state legislature have done little to provide any sort of comprehensive relief from any of these problems, which bodes poorly for anyone relying on these characters to provide governmental relief from the present and worsening economic crisis.

It bears asking why public officials have not slashed the size of government and eliminated unnecessary services, and pursued better mass transit and comprehensive tax relief at whatever cost, before taxes and transportation-related energy costs combine to drive every last person out of New Jersey. The difficult options, policies, and choices that could provide relief, albeit in a painful way, need to be explored and possibly instituted, regardless of political fallout or possible uproar.

Also, we as a people need to watch the actions of these people and others in positions of power carefully in these trying times, as any sign of complacency, indifference, or plain laziness in concretely addressing these dire problems is a sure sign of a need of replacement, at the next suitable election.

Those living in great power or wealth, or both, tend to ignore the problems of the average or lesser person, but all of the trouble the average people are going through will surely translate into problems for the wealthy and powerful.

People need to get away from handling problems with an "out sight, out of mind" attitude and join together to make those tough choices necessary to bring everyone out of this time of troubles unscathed.