My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Republicans move to close scalping loophole

Following the brouhaha over Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s plan to resell Bruce Springsteen tickets at sky-high prices for a campaign fundraiser, a Republican state senator has announced that he plans on introducing legislation to put an end to the practice.

The legislation by Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-25, would close a loophole in event ticketing laws that gives political organizations enough legal leeway to sell event tickets at prices many times the original event price for political fundraisers.

Other individuals and entities are normally prohibited from doing so by ticket scalping laws.

“As part of our effort to eliminate the potential for corruption in the political process, we must remove the exemptions that have been carved out in our laws to the sole benefit of politicians,” said Sen. Bucco, in a statement. “Candidates for public office should not be able to purchase tickets to popular concerts and events at face value and mark them up for sale to donors. If members of the public cannot resell their tickets for substantial profit, elected officials and candidates for office should not be allowed to do so either.”

Earlier this month longtime New Jersey politician and Sen. Lautenberg nearly purchased 40 tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert to be held at Giants Stadium for $108 a piece, with his campaign planning to resell them at $1500 each to raise funds for the senator’s campaign against Republic Dick Zimmer.

Sen. Lautenberg’s campaign eventually rescinded the purchase and asked the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to reexamine the way it doled out tickets, to make the process more fair and tickets more available to everyone and not just important public figures.

Drifting rudderless

Former Police Director Joseph Santiago is apparently the master when it comes to who will be chosen to succeed Trenton’s ousted head cop, and it looks like he is doing nothing about it as the police force drifts nearly rudderless.

That much was clear from a piece in The Trentonian today, in which city spokesman Kent Ashworth first avoided providing any information on the city’s succession plan, and then deferred to the director himself when it came to how the next director would be chosen and who the person will be.

This comes after one avenue to Mr. Santiago’s salvation as city police director was closed this week, when the director failed to appeal earlier court decisions that effectively ousted him. That certainly seemed to vindicate the position that Mr. Santiago and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer were wrong in maintaining that the mayor has the power to enforce city law as he sees fit.

About rumors that Mr. Santiago will separate from his wife, establish a pseudo-residence in Trenton, and circumvent a decision that four different judges and hundreds of thousands of city tax dollars determined, Mr. Ashworth once again punted.

"We are way too busy with genuine needs and issues to dignify or comment on rumors," said Mr. Ashworth, to The Trentonian’s Joe D’Aquila. "When there is a real development, as opposed to speculation, however, we will have an announcement - as soon as it is both appropriate and accurate."

Mr. Ashworth also did not provide any comment in portions of the story where police officers said Mr. Santiago has frequently been absent from the city of late, despite the blossoming public safety crisis, a situation which they called the norm during the five years of Mr. Santiago's tenure.

So it appears that Mayor Palmer and his administration are doing nothing to follow court orders and begin preparing for a transition from Mr. Santiago’s leadership – which seems to becoming more ineffective with each day – to the leadership of someone else.

It appears that Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer are acting like a bunch of schoolchildren who just lost a dodgeball match, refusing to acknowledge defeat and move on. This will probably be the path taken, until the very last minute on that day in September when Mr. Santiago will have to pack his bags and move on out of Trenton.

Answers should be provided at the August 7 City Council meeting, when administration officials will likely face questions from council members curious about who will be take over and be forced to deal with a worsening crime wave.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Palmer to Africa, while Trenton burns

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer is taking it back to Africa on a trip with Bill Clinton this week, while his hometown continues to experience a surge in the violent crime that has become so prevalent under its longtime mayor.

Wednesday’s newspaper pages, splattered with various stories about violent crime in some city neighborhoods, also carried stories about Mayor Palmer’s decision to travel to Africa with many accentuated with pictures of Trenton’s missing mayor, in fashionable suits and designer glasses.

One conclusion that can be reached from a review of this bizarre situation is that Mayor Palmer has long outgrown his office here in Trenton. He talks about tackling environmental issues, creating so-called green jobs, and improving the conditions in the nation’s larger cities when Trenton’s streets are unsafe, the schools are ineffective, and there are not even enough people with regular jobs to support a healthy local economy.

It really looks like Trenton needs someone to take over the leadership of this city who is more local and more home-oriented. The city needs a leader that will spend their time here, rather than traipsing around the world talking about non-existent programs that offer no hope for improving the conditions of this city.

To take it one step further, the people living in the surrounding townships and the rest of the state need to also consider pushing for new leadership here in Trenton, and in many of the state’s other downtrodden urban areas.

The Trenton Water Works debacle, in which the city is preparing to sell outside water infrastructure that it never built for $100 million to a company that will jack up water rates to make township residents foot the bill, is a perfect example of the direct cost that Trenton represents to outsiders, whether nearby or far away.

Also, this faulty and ineffective leadership is not only relieving the state of around $400 million for school and municipal budget dollars annually, but it also causes greater potential for the surrounding areas to suffer.

The crime problems that fester under Mayor Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago threaten to consume more of the viable areas of the city, and eventually push over the borders into the surrounding areas.

Let it be realized, that a healthy Trenton makes for a healthy Mercer County, and it starts with the people working at 319 E. State Street.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Santiago and Bradley's boy gets 27 months

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, whose legacy is intertwined with some of his former police officers who are now working for the City of Trenton, was sentenced today to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $100,000 in fines after being convicted of using his office to steer cheap land in city-endorsed deals to his mistress.

Federal prosecutors reportedly asked for 15 to 20 years in prison for the former mayor, but Judge William J. Martini responded with a much lighter sentence and reprimanded prosecutors and those asking for the maximum sentence because of a perceived discrepancy between what they were asking for and the crimes Mr. James committed.

"It disappoints me and it shocks me that government would seek 10-20 year sentencing," said Judge Martini, in reports. "I know in the zeal of prosecution, things sometimes get distorted.”

Trenton’s outgoing Police Director Joseph Santiago and Communications Director Irving Bradley both worked under Mr. James during long tenure as Newark’s mayor, along with Barry Colicelli, Trenton’s now-ousted gang czar.

Mr. Santiago appears to be on his way out of the Trenton scene as well, after losing his court case against plaintiffs including me. We sued over Mr. Santiago’s non-residency in Trenton, and Mr. Bradley appears to be guilty of the same violations, along with being deemed “unqualified” by the state Department of Personnel.

In comparison with other corruption-disgraced New Jersey mayors, Mr. James made off pretty well, although his case was different in that he did not get involved in bribery or extortion or other crimes prevalent with New Jersey political corruption cases.

Terrance D. Weldon, former Ocean Township mayor, received 58 months in prison in 2007 for taking more than $60,000 in bribes from developers. Former Marlboro Township Mayor Matthew V. Scannapieco received 21 months in prison in June of this year for taking $245,000 in bribes from developers and committing tax evasion.

Former Hazlet Mayor Paul Coughlin was sentenced to 24 months in prison in 2006 for taking a single $3,000 bribe from a cooperating witness.

But Mr. James never took any money from anyone, but steered cheap land to his mistress Tamika Riley that netted the Jersey City woman around $700,000 in profits, paid for by developers.

Unqualified, unjustified, and....unnecessary?

Communications Director Irving Bradley already has been labeled unqualified to serve in a state taxpayer-funded position as leader of the city’s Communications Division by the state Department of Personnel.

It also appears that he is also in that position in violation of the city’s residency ordinance, with his family living in Rahway and Mr. Bradley almost never seen at his Trenton residence.

Now it appears that the city has this man in what might be a totally unheard-of directorship, judging by the way that nearly no other large city in the State of New Jersey utilizes a similar position.

A quick review of the city governments of Atlantic City, Camden, Newark, Paterson, and other cities shows that none of those urban areas have something equivalent to Mr. Bradley’s position.

Most of those cities rely on either a lower-ranking municipal employee or a police officer of lieutenant rank or lower to lead the organization that handles emergency communications, dispatching, and other city communications.

In fact, Trenton used to rely on a similar system, with the communications hierarchy existing under the leadership of a Trenton police officer, usually a lieutenant, whose position was already on the books and did not require an additional pension or salary cost.

But some years ago Mayor Douglas H. Palmer decided he wanted the handling of emergency and other communications under the umbrella of the city administration. To the mayor that must have seemed like a better arrangement, rather than what at that time represented an area of the city government that was not under the complete control of the mayor and his lackeys.

After that change a couple of retired police officers managed the City Hall-controlled radio room, and now the organization falls under the leadership of the Newark cast-off, Mr. Bradley, who does not appear to be a resident and is not qualified for his job, according to the DOP.

A great $90,000 arrangement for the city and state taxpayers, indeed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Santiago too busy for Trenton

More mind-numbing violence shattered the peace in some of Trenton’s worst neighborhoods this weekend, once again.

But former Police Director Joseph Santiago was apparently too busy to meet with his command staff on Sunday to implement some emergency measures to address the situation, law enforcement sources said.

Numerous violent episodes plagued the city, but perhaps the most horrific was the shooting of a 16-year-old city resident who happened to be tooling his way down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at around 3 a.m. Sunday morning.

The Trentonian reported that attackers dragged the boy off of his bicycle and unloaded two slugs into his head, making permanent brain damage and the loss of sight of at least one of the child’s eyes highly likely, despite the best efforts of the valiant medical staff if Capital Health System-Fuld Campus.

Mr. Santiago’s leadership in the police department seems to be deteriorating even more rapidly than has become usual for the summer, as the unaccountable director has cut manpower in many of the city’s worst areas while doing nothing to stop the endless summer violence filling the pages of newspapers with each successive day.

Rumors have it that Mr. Santiago plans on announcing a separation from his wife, followed by taking up another kind of pseudo-residency hotel or apartment arrangements that he took up in the beginning of his tenure in Trenton.

Residents need to write to their mayor and City Council and demand the removal of this monster, who like others in the city administration, fail to put real effort into creating viable solutions for a smallish city that probably could be turned around fairly rapidly.

New leadership in both the police department and the city is needed, ASAP.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Time for a full-time mayor, police director

A barrage of violent crime continued to plague some of Trenton's more crime-ridden neighborhoods this weekend, with a variety of shootings, stabbings, robberies, and assaults occurring intermittently while Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago presumably spent their time outside the city, in Hunterdon and Morris counties.

Considering the crime problem and the variety of other afflictions that plague this great city, it really begs the question: when are the residents of Trenton going to move to get people into positions of power that actually care about the city enough to live here and spend their time here, even on the weekends?

The omnipresent crime plaguing the city's worst neighborhoods has not improved under Mr. Santiago. In fact, the argument should be made that the further slipping of once-viable neighborhoods and the cut in manpower on the streets under the director mean he has been worse for Trenton than many of his predecessors.

With regards to Mayor Palmer, the mere fact that he is unwilling to spend more of his time in his hometown and the city he now leads immediately makes him an inferior leader. A leader that spent more time here, assessing the everyday problems and spending more time solving them would be more appropriate to lead Trenton.

These days Mayor Palmer appears to be living the life of a state worker, spending Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., working for the city, then having his city-funded police escort whisk him away on weekend days and at many other times.

Just like many state workers, it appears that Mayor Palmer has refused any thought of leading a life as a full-time Trenton resident, instead choosing to treat the city like so many others: as a place of work, and not a place of life.

It's high time that the city get a new leader who will actually take part in living here, rather than treating it simply as a workweek-long place of employment.

A leader needs to understand what life here is like, and the problems that face the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just like the 85,000 others who actually make this place a full-time place of residence.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Interfere in traffic stops, face consequences

A Newark councilwoman who intervened in a traffic stop involving her nephew back in 2006 could be removed from office for her participation in the incident.

Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow last week filed a court motion and wrote a letter citing state statutes that call for public officials to be removed from office, following serious convictions.

A municipal court found Councilwoman Dana Rone guilty of obstruction of justice for her involvement in the incident, in which she verbally attacked a Newark police officer and told him that she "was a councilwoman," in what appeared to be an attempt to use her office to help out her nephew.

Ms. Rone appealed the decision to a state Superior Court, but the higher court upheld the conviction.

Following the Superior Court decision the Essex County prosecutor cited the removal statute, and has asked for the councilwoman to step down effective on June 27, 2008, the date of the final court decision.

Earlier this month, Trenton Councilwoman Annette Lartigue reportedly told an officer, over a cell phone, to "stand down", after the officer pulled over Ms. Lartigue's daughter for several motor vehicle violations.

During the traffic stop the daughter allegedly told the officers that her mother was a councilwoman and that she "was related to" Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and then managed to get the councilwoman on the phone.

The daughter eventually received several motor vehicle summonses, and Ms. Lartigue got some unneeded media attention because of her involvement in the stop. But luckily, justice was served because the officer rightly went ahead and issued tickets, despite statements about public office and power from some of those involved.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Doug Palmer: playing shell games with your money since 1990

The City of Trenton received state backing today when Department of Community Affairs officials told the Times of Trenton that the city was within its legal rights to transfer $9 million from the Trenton Water Works’ revenue into various areas of the city’s general budget, in what amounts to taxing people living outside of Trenton to pay for city services.

The flap, which has emerged several times over the past several years, comes as Trenton is attempting to sell all of its outside water infrastructure to New Jersey American Water for a reported $100 million. Township officials and residents from Ewing, Hopewell, Lawrence, and Hamilton are screaming bloody murder as they face a 36 percent rate hike with the sale, and the prospect of having their water bill money used to help the private water company pay for the cost of Trenton’s outside infrastructure.

A DCA spokesman backed up the city’s position that in equalizing pay rates in 2006, the city became exempt from Board of Public Utilities oversight, allowing it to raise rates at will and transfer water revenue as city officials saw fit.

Mayor Douglas Palmer, of course, took some jabs at officials from the outside townships, telling the Times of Trenton that he was “offended” by the accusations leveled by the outside townships of impropriety on the part of the city, in transferring the $9 million.

Despite today's reports, the City of Trenton should not be viewed as being exonerated quite yet. Remember that the city only equalized rates in 2006, meaning the numerous questionable transfers prior to that event could be illegal, under state law governing water utilities.

Also, water works employees this week said that the city did not actually equalize the rates, pointing to discounts and other measures that effectively make the rate paid by some city residents lower than those paid by residents living outside the city. These matters certainly needs to be looked into.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Water deal draws ire of many

The $100 million sale of Trenton Water Works infrastructure in Ewing, Hopewell, Lawrence, and Hamilton townships to New Jersey American Water was assaulted by a united front of public officials and residents on Wednesday at Hamilton Township's Municipal Building.

A major sticking point for the criticism was how the City of Trenton has sapped millions of dollars in what was erroneously called "surplus" out of the Trenton Water Works budget and used it to fill budget gaps in other non-water related areas of the city's services.

"This constituted a fraudulent act, and a misappropriation of funds," said Lawrence Planning Board official Falk Engel.

That money should have been used to maintain the water utility's infrastructure, Mr. Engel said, which would have offset the emergence of a need to sell off the outside infrastructure to generate a one-time infusion of funds to maintain and upgrade pipes and equipment within the city.

Instead, the city took more than the 5 percent of the utility's revenue allowed by law and used it repeatedly, to the tune of $9 million, to plug budget holes.

Other municipal officials like Ewing Mayor Jack Ball also attacked the deal, calling it double-jeopardy for suburban residents faced with being forced to pay for the water utility sale and then pay for New Jersey American Water's alleged need in upgrading infrastructure, after illegally shelling out so much to shore up the city's finances.

"All four mayors are vehemently opposed to the sale," Mayor Ball said.

A lone lawyer represented the City of Trenton at the meeting, and both he and a lawyer for New Jersey American Water threatened the suburban townships with 40 percent rate hikes, should the deal not go through, compared with a 36 percent increase should the deal go through, as proposed.

Both lawyers also said the deal would shore up Trenton's finances and result in increased "revitalization" and residential and commercial development.

Trenton City officials were conspicuously absent, and only one Trenton resident, Patricia Stewart, spoke at the meeting.

She said she was totally against the deal and had visions of a future of bake sales at City Hall, should the city sell off one of its last remaining revenue-generating assets.

The City of Trenton was attacked as an organization repeatedly at the meeting, as municipal officials complained of denied Open Public Records Act requests and being kept totally in the dark about the entire process.

One official said Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and City Attorney Denise Lyles avoided communication about the deal, and that an acting City Clerk denied a public records request regarding public bids for the infrastructure.

"I have never heard of a public bid not being available for public review," said the official.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Water Works to get discussion time tonight

A meeting tonight at Hamilton Township's municipal building could really get ugly when people from the surrounding areas get together to discuss the impending sale of the Trenton Water Works’ outside infrastructure to New Jersey American Water, a company that plans on leveling large-scale rate hikes on its new suburban customers.

That’s because of recent media reports that finally detailed for all to see the fiscal mismanagement going on in the City of Trenton, which has been using the city water works as a massive cash-generating facility to plug gaps in the rest of the city’s municipal budget.

Normally that would not be so bad, considering the city actually owns the utility, but such practices are actually unlawful because the Trenton Water Works serves thousands of customers outside of the city. With their rate money being used to pay for other areas of municipal services, it's as if Trenton is taxing people living outside of its borders to fill budget gaps.

Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum deflected criticism by saying that the city’s move, in 2006, to equalize the rates paid by city residents and those living outside of Trenton removed the utility from Board of Public Utilities oversight and allowed the city to use the works for general city revenue.

But the only problem with that, according to Trenton Water Works employees contacted today, is that the nefarious practice of robbing revenue from the water utility has been going for years, untouched and unpunished by anyone, as the city continually removed more than the 5 percent of the works' revenues allowable by law and plugged it into the city budget.

The Department of Public Works, the Fire Department, and other departments that do little to no work related to the Trenton Water Works have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the water utilities budget and the wallets of suburban taxpayers.

For a more personal example level, city communications employee and Mayor Palmer's publicist, Kent Ashworth, has had his entire salary show up on the suburbia-supported Trenton Water Works budget.

It appears that now, with suburban residents facing higher rates that will exacerbate their cost of living issues, have more serious complaints been raised, and a Times of Trenton article written on the issue, which only partially revealed the way the Trenton Water Works has been abused by the Douglas H. Palmer administration.

Suburban residents and officials fed up with getting the short end of the stick from Trenton’s administration and city residents fed up with the same administration’s unlawful behavior should really consider taking drastic action before the sale goes through, which will both hurt Trenton’s long-term fiscal viability while dooming suburban residents to skyrocketing water costs.

Gee, sometimes the interests of suburban residents and those living in Trenton actually do converge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bad deal for Hamilton, New Jersey

The announcement of the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision this week not the hear the Klockner Woods is a calamitous one, not only for what it does to the wallets of Hamilton Township taxpayers, but what it means for taxpayers and the legislative powers vested in governing bodies throughout the state.

In this case, former Mayor Glen D. Gilmore negotiated a horrible price for some acres of woodland near Route 295 in Hamilton - $4.5 million - without ever getting Township Council members to effectively appropriate the money, as they are statutorily empowered to do.

Normally the legislative body of the township, through refusing to allow township funds to be used on the land, should have had the ability to negate what amounted to a horrible deal for the township. But the developer successfully argued in court that the mayor's actions put Hamilton Township on the hook for the money, and the Appellate Division upheld that decision.

The only hope was for the New Jersey Supreme Court to step in and overturn the decision, but with the decision not to hear the case mayor and administrators everywhere have been empowered to negotiate deals with little oversight from municipal legislators.

Now, through the missteps of a now-ousted mayor, Hamilton's taxpayers are going to be on the hook for what the township administrator estimated to be as much as $550,000 in annual debt, in a municipality that has already experienced fiscal shock after fiscal shock.

"I don't know where to take the fight from here," said Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo, in the Times of Trenton. "It's terribly upsetting for me and I'm sure it's going to be terribly upsetting to the residents that they are going to be stuck paying for this."

Municipal vehicle use needs tighter control

The Trentonian is reporting that City Council members have effectively killed a plan to purchase 10 gas-guzzling Ford Explorers for the city police department, citing the fuel efficiency of the vehicles, the current economic climate, and Trenton’s portrayal as an allegedly “green” city.

“If Trenton really intends to move toward being a green city, then we need to begin purchasing energy conservative,” said Councilwoman Annette Lartigue, to the Trentonian. “In fact, we need to re-examine our entire fleet of city vehicles.”

The killing of this $240,000 expenditure provides the perfect segue into a reexamination of the city’s vehicle policy, which currently allows many department directors and other personnel to use take-home vehicles so they can rush to the scene of off-hour emergencies in the city.

Few if any of these city employees actually need such a vehicle, in case of emergencies, since many of them are required to live in the city by law and few of their positions actually require dealing with off-hour emergencies.

There is also rampant evidence that many of these vehicles are being abused by favored employees in the city government, like the SUV used by Communications Director Irving Bradley to commute up to his home in Rahway, and the Ford Crown Victoria that the same Mr. Bradley totaled in a car accident 20 miles outside of Trenton.

Trenton City Council needs to immediately move to pass an ordinance that reins in such abuses, by keeping city vehicles in the city, and forcing employees using city vehicles to maintain a detailed log of exactly how they are using city-owned cars.

Those logs should be included in documents readily available at the City Clerk’s office for view by members of the public.

City employees in positions that really do not require the usage of a city vehicle during non-work hours need to be informed that they will have to report to the city lot to pick up their city vehicle before work and return it at the conclusion of the work day, or stop using city transportation altogether.

Trenton and other cities can no longer afford to provide vehicles and gasoline to city employees who simply do not require taxpayer-funded transportation for carrying out their duties effectively.

They are here to serve the taxpayers, and not to be served with excessive job perks made possible through taxpayer-supported funding.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Turner implements shorter workweek at office

State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, is moving to have her legislative offices in Ewing Township switch over to a four-day workweek, in the interests of saving money in reduced energy and transportation costs.

Sen. Turner said earlier this week that her staffers had agreed to switch from what amounts to a basic 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule to a 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule Monday through Thursday.

The plan eliminates the need for an extra day of work, an extra of heating or air conditioning, and an extra day gasoline costs related to the commutes of all the office's workers.

“The goal is to help my hard-working staff deal with the crisis in gas prices by providing them with a 20 percent reduction in commuting to and from the office,” said Sen. Turner, D-Mercer, in a statement. “The extended hours also will help working people if they need services from the office in both the early morning or early evening hours.”

She said the new work schedule represents a pilot program for the office. Sen. Turner's office will stick to the new schedule through Labor Day, and then reevaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the program before possibly instituting it permanently.

Sen. Turner did not elaborate in a release about whether she intended to expand the program to other areas of the state government, if successful, through legislation in the State Senate.

Many companies and governmental entities are entertaining similar scheduling changes due to the skyrocketing costs of transportation and heating and air conditioning, although fuel prices seem to have leveled out and have actually fallen for a week or two.

But homeowners face a daunting situation this winter, as fuel oil costs have gone up dramatically. Heating homes with fuel oil represents a costly activity for many cash-strapped homeowners, especially in states with colder winters.

The future

Trenton's foormer police director, Joseph Santiago, has allegedly been telling many of those on the Trenton Police Department command staff that he "isn't going anywhere," despite the recent Appellate Division ruling casting him out of office for breaking the city's residency ordinance.

This, of course, could mean a few things: he is planning on moving his entire family into Trenton and selling his house in Stirling; he is seeking a separation from his wife and will establish a residence somewhere in Trenton; he believes the Supreme Court of New Jersey is going to hear an appeal and grant him a stay; or, he believes Trenton City Council is going to swoop in at the last moment and amend the residency ordinance to empower Mayor Douglas H. Palmer to waive residency for certain employees.

Also, it could mean nothing.

Perhaps Mr. Santiago is simply blowing smoke, or merely expressing that he is going to stay on until the very end of the 75-day period instead of throwing in the towel and quitting his position.

But of the options resulting in Mr. Santiago remaining at the helm of the department, the amendment of the city's residency ordinance can be forgotten, outright.

There is no appetite to amend the law now, according to council members, especially following a long and expensive court battle that had City Council members actually fighting to get the residency law enforced, and Mr. Santiago thrown out.

Even if council did move to amend the law, Trenton residents such as myself would quickly organize a petition drive and swiftly crush any ordinance amendment through the an ordinance protest. That could be done quite easily, given the growth in support and the increased mobilization of those supporting residency.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey is likely not going to hear his appeal and grant him a stay, after four different judges all came to the same conclusion.

It is doubtful that after all of these years and the presence of a house worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in Stirling is Mr. Santiago's family going to agree to put the house up for sale - in a bad market - and move on down to sunny, beautiful Trenton.

Finally, it has been speculated that Mr. Santiago could announce a separation from his wife and establish residency within Trenton, prior to the completion of the 75-day period the Appellate Division gave him to pack his bags and get out of Dodge.

That too sounds so unlikely, but if it were to happen, the residents and City Council will have won.

Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago will have been forced to follow a law that they were openly and plainly breaking. No longer will Trenton be dealing with a missing police director who lives 50 miles away, but instead, the city will have a leader living within its borders in compliance with the law.

As questionable as Mr. Santiago's words, actions, and leadership style are, this whole thing was never about Mr. Santiago. It was about a mayor who felt that he could bend the law to his own will, and now the courts have demonstrated such behavior to be unlawful.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Power and the police

Interesting indeed were the media reports detailing the recent motor vehicle stop of West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue’s daughter for talking on a cell phone and other infractions.

According to the officers involved in the stop, Ms. Lartigue told the officers over a cell phone to “stand down” during the traffic stop. Also, the councilwoman’s daughter told the officers that “she was related” to Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, and then asked if she needed to “get them involved.”

The officer conducting the stop – a low-ranking patrolman – eventually called his supervisor in to monitor the situation, which seemed like a good move. It looks like the patrolman got someone with more authority to come in and monitor the situation, thereby providing good oversight and better protection from the political forces at work in the Trenton Police Department.

Naturally the councilwoman is denying much of what has been reported on and what was included in the official police reports detailing the stop. Ms. Lartigue told the Times’ Kevin Shea that she was being targeted for political reasons, and that the entire story was “crap.”

Interestingly enough, a Paterson councilwoman who also interfered with a traffic stop ended up receiving numerous criminal charges for her actions, although the circumstances of that incident were quite different.

A Paterson resident happened to be pulled over by a non-Paterson police officer, but the councilwoman decided it was her business to see what was going on, and then argued with the officers.

A crowd gathered, and Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes ended up getting charged with obstructing the administration of law, obstructing highways and other public passages, disorderly conduct, and a fourth-degree charge of riot and failing to disperse.

It should be interesting to see if and how area law enforcement officials handle this situation.

It looks like a case of an attitude that has become quite common in Trenton among public officials in positions of power, who develop an attitude that their positions come with an ability to influence law enforcement and provide protection to associates not normally afforded to regular citizens.

And, judging by the police account of what Ms. Lartigue’s daughter said, it looks like such an attitude may have become a family affair.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Case against troopers dropped

The sexual assault investigation into the activities of seven State Troopers and a female from Rider University has been closed with no charges filed against any of the officers, according to the news reports.

Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan told the Home News Tribune that the case had been closed, although he would not comment further on the matter, citing privacy and other issues surrounding the trooper.

The matter had originally been investigated by Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini, but the prosecutor was taken off the case after making remarks to Newhouse News reporters that he wished the case "had taken place" somewhere else, citing its complicated nature and the involvement of state police in the matter.

It had been speculated that his handling of the matter and other possible gaffes could have a negative effect on Mr. Bocchini's chances of being reappointed as Mercer County Prosecutor.

Mr. Bocchini has served as a state assemblyman and filled numerous other positions as a prominent attorney and public figure in Mercer County.

It's not called the "Fair" Housing Act for nothing

Municipalities rallying against new affordable housing guidelines put out by the state are complaining that the new rules violate portions of the Fair Housing Act that dictate that the provision of affordable housing shall not require a municipality to expend tax revenues on affordable housing.

The act reads, “Nothing in P.L.1985, c.222 shall require a municipality to raise or expend municipal revenues in order to provide low and moderate income housing.”

Public officials are saying that the new regulations, which basically double affordable housing obligations for towns, violate this clause, because the new rules do not provide revenue streams required to build affordable housing, which requires roughly $100,000 to $150,000 in subsidies per unit, depending on the housing type.

But the use of Regional Contribution Agreements – recently outlawed through some good legislation – allowed many of these same municipalities now running scared over actually having to build their fair share of affordable housing to send off large chunks of their own obligations for somewhere around $30,000 a piece.

That, by their own admission, only covered around 20 percent of the actual cost of subsidizing the units for the urban municipalities that usually agreed to take on the housing. Even worse, that $30,000 did not even remotely cover the service and societal costs incurred when the state’s cash-strapped urban municipalities piled in New Jersey’s poor, in places without jobs or good education opportunities.

That arrangement certainly violated the spirit of the Fair Housing Act, but now that RCAs are gone and these towns face actually fulfilling their affordable housing obligations, lawsuits are being filed and outcry is being heard.

Thankfully paradigm has changed in New Jersey, barring any unexpected success in the courts through recently filed lawsuits against the rules. No longer will rich municipalities be able to exclude the working classes from living within their borders, because the new rules plus the recent legislation signal the end of their ability to force those same people to live in places devoid of good employment and good education.

Those same places – Trenton, Camden, Newark, and elsewhere – now have a better chance to improve, without lining up to the cash trough and eating up all the state’s poor and low-income housing.

The truth behind the recent sex offender ruling

A recent Appellate Division decision striking down sex offender ordinances in two New Jersey towns will likely result in a crescendo of voices clamouring against the ruling. They will no doubt throw their support behind towns that make it nearly impossible for sex offenders to live anywhere within their borders.

But the reasons behind the decision bear closer examination than what has made its way into public comment periods, letters to the editor, and newspaper articles.

The two towns in question - Galloway Township and Cherry Hill Township - enacted ordinances that prevented registered sex offenders from living within a 2500 foot radius of certain structures, like schools, churches, and others.

In the case of Cherry Hill Township, over 90 percent of the area of the municipality was off-limits, while 40 percent of Galloway Township was precluded from providing a residence to any kind of convicted sex offenders.

What is important here - and what has not been reported in many accounts of the decision - is that the court did not rule to throw out the laws because they too strongly impacted sex offenders. One of the major reasons why the laws got tossed, possibly setting the stage for other laws to possibly be invalidated, was that they actually interfered with the complicated and in-depth system New Jersey legislators have designed to deal with sex offenders.

After completing their prison term, sex offenders are subject to numerous rules, depending on the severity of the crime or crimes they committed and other important factors, according to the group of laws collectively known as Megan's Law.

One of those packets of complex rules requires that a very hands-on parole officer approve living arrangements, employment arrangements, and other portions of the offender's life, as the state works towards rehabilitating the offender and creating the best set of conditions to prevent repeat occurrences, like in the case of Megan Kanka.

It is important to note that one thing that has been deemed very important to keeping convicted offenders on the straight-and-narrow is that they have a tightly knit group of people supporting them, and that their place of employment, place of residence, and the location of key supporters all exist in close proximity.

But the laws in Galloway and Cherry Hill prevented that from occurring, and thus interfered with the important and complicated system of support and safety that the state, in creating Megan's Law, thought was the best way to keep such horrific circumstances like those that took Megan Kanka's from happening again.

So when protesters and right-wing commentators call out the Appellate Division ruling without mentioning how the court ruled that these exclusionary ordinances actually interfered with rehabilitation and monitoring of sex offenders, try and remember what much of this court decision was really all about: the proper treatment and monitoring of sex offenders living in New Jersey's towns and cities.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

History points to problems for Katz, Ferriero

It has certainly been an interesting day for public officials in the State of New Jersey.

Carla Katz, ousted Communications Workers of America leader and former girlfriend of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, is reportedly under investigation by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. So is Bergen County political boss Joe Ferriero.

While Mr. Ferriero’s transgressions have been well documented, this whole investigation doesn’t appear to bode too well for union leader Katz, especially if she ends up getting indicted.

The U.S. Attorney has convicted nearly every single person he has indicted, Democrats and Republicans alike, and the first step in such a high-percentage process is the launching of an investigation of which the union leader now finds herself a subject.

What’s also interesting about this development is that the man who is widely believed to be the next Republican candidate for the governor of New Jersey is now probing the girlfriend of the current sitting Democratic governor, whom Mr. Christie will likely be running against in the 2009 election.

That certainly makes for an interesting story line.

Remember, Ms. Katz and Mr. Corzine’s relationship became especially controversial when all of those gifts, monetary and otherwise, that the then U.S. senator and former Goldman Sachs CEO had showered on the union leader were called into question, as the governor and union leaders negotiated state worker packages, which Mr. Christie’s investigation could certainly delve into.

It has become especially common in corrupt to New Jersey to have such a situation, rife with plot twists and turns, where a future political opponent investigates the girlfriend of a sitting governor.

Yes, there is potential for damaging information about Gov. Corzine to emerge during an investigation that, with an indictment, could be released in court documents in an investigation that history says will almost equally result in a conviction.

New Jersey residents should really do themselves a favor.

They need to support down-to-earth and honest people. Put them in elected positions of power, and those in unions, political parties, and other organizations, instead of subjecting the lives and wallets of residents to a never-ending revolving door of elite, career politicians who consistently soil themselves with controversy, convictions, and everything else, all while violating the trust of the public and those who they are supposed to serve.

Cautious optimism in downtown Trenton

Management personnel working at Trenton's Broad Street Bank Building believe that the historic downtown edifice is approaching 40 to 50 percent occupancy, and could be as full as 90 percent by late October or early November.

As a resident of the building who remembers the eerie silence of the hallways in this fairly large structure, such calculations are certainly surprising and help to overwhelm the concern about the future of the building at those times a few months ago, when it felt so empty.

But nowadays there is a fairly constant presence of tenants in the apartments, hallways, and the twin lobbies of the building, along with building staff and the owners of the building, who are seen frequently as they check on and take care of their $30 million investment.

Perhaps the building finally represents a redevelopment success for Trenton.

On the surface it looks like one difference about this project was that it was driven more by an outside development company than by city officials, who have managed to bungle six, seven, or more redevelopment projects that have seen more significant city involvement and promotion.

Other urban areas can look to the work done by Bayville Holdings on the building, plus the relatively careful attention being paid to getting the right kind of tenants into such an important redevelopment project.

Trentonians and others in the city should take notice that some sort of construction work is going on at the Commonwealth Building directly across East State Street from the Broad Street Bank Building.

That structure, while dilapidated, looks like it has bones equally as good as its brother across the street, and should provide even more fantastic commercial or residential space in downtown Trenton, once its transformation is complete.

Also beckoning nearby is the Bell Telephone Building.

With that structure it is pretty obvious that the ceiling heights in its eight or nine floors must be of significant size, given how the top of the building towers over the eight floors of the main portion of the Broad Street Bank Building.

These three structures could provide a significant basis to redevelopment this portion of downtown Trenton, and maybe even the nearby Hanover-Academy portion of the city, which boasts such wonderful housing stock yet suffers somewhat from all of the urban problems plaguing much of the rest of the city.

Bring on the urban planners and the investors.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gun control requires interstate cooperation

Gun control legislation that would limit handgun purchasers to buying one weapon a month has been getting a lot of press attention recently, as high-profile legislators and New Jersey politicians like Newark Mayor Corey Booker push for the N.J. Senate to move forward with passing the law.

The bill, S-1774, which has already passed in the Assembly, would limit run-of-the-mill gun purchasers to a single handgun transaction per calendar month, as legislators try to rein in what are known as “straw” purchasers.

These are people without criminal records who buy guns for illegal street sales or for specific people, who solicit the purchasers to use their legal status to get guns into the hands of those who cannot buy them.

“Handgun violence is on the rise, but taking guns off the streets will help stop the senseless slaughter of our citizens – it’s common sense,” said State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, in a statement.

Mayor Booker, Sen. Cunningham, D-Jersey City, and others have been continually touting the legislation, but for New Jersey’s areas bordering on Pennsylvania it looks like this law might have little effect on the presence of guns in the hands of convicted criminals and other people banned from owing weapons.

Cities like Trenton and Camden are plagued with gun violence, with the overwhelming majority of weapons used in street crime coming in from outside the state. Even with the passage of S-1774, border areas and even the interior of state may see little to no effect on gun crime, with only around 25 percent of crime-related gun usage involving weapons purchased within the Garden State.

“Hopefully, passage of this legislation will encourage other states, especially neighboring states like Pennsylvania and New York, to follow suit,” Sen. Cunningham said.

Only when states with more liberal gun laws begin to move in a direction that allows for more control of weapons purchases will this state see a reduction in the high degree of ease with which a Trenton or Camden street criminal can find themselves a handgun to commit a crime, or settle a score.

The bill needs to be released from a Senate committee and passed by the full Senate before Gov. Jon S. Corzine can consider signing it into law.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A note of thanks

Trentonians should all send thank-you letters out to the surrounding townships in Mercer County for the way their residents - and those of the rest of the state - are willing to pay upwards of three-quarters of all of our municipal and school budgets every year.

Even better, all of Trenton's public officials that spend all of those suburban and rural tax dollars so liberally, without so much as a hoot from New Jerseyans in the rest of the state, really ought to consider buying all those people some sort of greeting card, or maybe even a token gift during the upoming holiday season.

That's right, all those suburban residents feeling all cozy in their nice, automobile-dependent hamlets are paying a massive chunk of change.

Out of a $196 million municipal budget and a nearly $300 million school budget, Trentonians only pay somewhere around 20 or 25 percent, according to old budget documents.

So all those suburban neighbors and New Jersey residents everywhere else pay the vast majority of the money that keeps the Trenton Fire Department putting out fires, the Trenton Police Department fighting crime, the Trenton public schools teaching its students, and all those other municipal services running.

Perhaps a better way to think about it is that Hopewell Township residents have helped pay the majority of the legal costs in fighting former Police Director Joseph Santiago's asinine legal battle.

Hamilton Township residents, with all of their current budget woes, helped everyone else pay somewhere around 80 percent of the salaries of all those Trenton school administrators that were fixing grades at the Sherman Avenue annex.

Lawrence residents have helped pay the gasoline that all Trenton's city employees use up, with little or no oversight, and residents from both Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have helped Trenton pay the bill for Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's Secret Service protection.

Best of all, all these people living in far-flung places all over the state never express any concern in how their money is used, and allow the problems that fester in Trenton and other urban areas to continue to fester, unwatched, and undisturbed. That's what the people who get to use up all of this "mad money" would call a good deal.

Remove Santiago early

The general feeling of glee on the part of many Trentonians following last week’s Appellate Division ruling that former Police Director Joseph Santiago must indeed pack his bags and get out of town was to some degree tainted by the portion of the decision that gives the embattled director 75 days to “transition” the department’s leadership and get out of town.

Part of that sentiment comes from the fact that this transition period feels just like the similar but shorter period granted earlier in the year by Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg, who originally ruled that Mr. Santiago had to leave Trenton because of his violation of the city’s residency ordinance.

In a perfect world it could be admitted that yes, a police leader kicked out of office does deserve time to put together a transition process and help find a transition leader to take over the reins of the department.

But Trenton does not exist in such a perfect world.

This 75 days does not do much besides give “Director Chaos” a chance to wreak more havoc on the Trenton Police Department and give his master, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, time to himself from suffering worst political defeat as a public official by pulling off some sort of scam to save Mr. Santiago's position.

With that being understood, it follows that the body that could have nipped this whole thing in the bud from the very beginning – City Council – could quickly regain any lost face by doing what it should from the very beginning: remove Mr. Santiago from office through the body’s statutory powers as the legislative organ of the city.

Doing so would require the support of at least five of the seven members, who could give Mr. Santiago a dismissal hearing and then remove the man from Trenton.

That would provide the city and its police department with a much more beneficial type of transition that would simultaneously protect the department from any more of Mr. Santiago’s highly questionable organizational moves while allowing the entire city to move beyond the incredibly embarrassing Santiago residency affair.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Will plans translate into reality?

A colorful and detailed Master Plan and the restoration of Stacy Park near the Statehouse have some in Trenton dreaming of downtown redevelopment and revitalization of the city as a whole.

One of the centerpieces of the plans is the conversion of Route 29 into a rerouted, more pedestrian-friendly boulevard that snakes its way through a rebuilt Stacy Park and clusters of new structures and residences built along the Delaware River, on what is currently state offices and state parking lots.

With any plan such as this it needs to be asked if all of this construction and development is actually going to significantly improve a city like Trenton, which suffers from poverty and all of the social problems associated with it.

Sure, a lovely waterfront area with a newly reconstituted Stacy Park, new development, and a boulevard-style Route 29 sound great.

But will redeveloping the waterfront area bring people with disposable income into the city, not just to shop and dine, but to maybe make a home here, contributing to the tax base and the overall economic composition of the city?

Historically, such ambitious plans and developments don't seem to have a very good history of actually delivering economic salvation to the state's poorer urban areas.

When the state began a rapid expansion program following the industrial decline of Trenton earlier this century, the presence of more state workers and a rebuilt downtown of office buildings was supposed to replace Trenton's declining industry and revive the city, but that didn't really happen.

Instead the city was left with a downtown that bustles with activity from 9 to 5 on weekdays, and turns into a place that looks like it was hit by a neutron bomb on weekends and during non-work hours.

What also does not bode well for this latest Master Plan and associated development scheme is that much of the same lofty plans and ideas were contained in a similar development plan created for the city less than five years ago, yet nothing came of it.

Are whatever problems or obstacles that stopped those plans from moving forward still in place today?

The new plans certainly look good, but city officials need to be sure before millions of dollars are spent that such plans will actually help the city make significant economic progress towards climbing out of its current poverty-ridden state.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

City Council needs to take action

City Council ought to give serious consideration to using its powers of interpellation to interview the administration officials responsible for the Irving Bradley case, in which the City of Trenton is employing someone who appears to be an illegal non-resident in a position for which he is totally unqualified.

Chief of Staff Renee Haynes, Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum, and Personnel chief Raissa Walker all need to be questioned over how exactly this is happened, and why they told City Council and the general public months ago that Mr. Bradley was "highly qualified" for his position.

That amounts to an outright lie fed to both City Council and the residents of the city, and a stronger group of individuals on council would take some sort of action on these administration officials, who seem to find it quite easy to pass warped or completely false information to the residents' representatives on council.

Also, with the Department of Personnel's statement that Mr. Bradley is not even qualified to take the Civil Service exam for his position why exactly has the City of Trenton taken it upon itself to pay a man unqualified for his position at the very top of the pay range described for the position?

Cash-strapped Trenton can ill afford to be providing thousands of dollars in salary, usage of vehicle, gasoline, and cell phones to city employee who are unqualified for their positions.

The city needs the best possible employees who are qualified for their positions and can provide the best type of public service to the city.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The plot thickens

Irving Bradley was not qualified to take the Civil Service exam for his city position and it thus not qualified to be filling the position of Communications Director, according to state Department of Personnel officials who spoke to the Times of Trenton yesterday.

The Times’ Kevin Shea, working on a story about how Mr. Bradley will likely be targeted for his apparent non-residency following yesterday’s Appellate Division ruling on former Police Director Joseph Santiago’s non-residency, unearthed the fact from state DOP officials late Wednesday.

They said an exam for the Communications Director position had been scheduled for late June, but the department found that Mr. Bradley was “unqualified” to take the exam.

Interestingly enough, instead of holding the examination for the other candidates applying for the position, the DOP took the fairly uncommon move in canceling the exam entirely.

As some have pointed out, this cancellation looks a little fishy. It appears that politics made their way into the Civil Service process when it looked like Mr. Bradley could not take the exam to maintain his employment.

Instead of allowing the other qualified candidates to take the test – and presumably, the job – the test was cancelled outright, perhaps until Mr. Bradley could rectify whatever inconsistencies resulted in his inability to take the test.

What is truly unnerving about this whole affair is that now it has been proven that an unqualified candidate – being paid at the top of the pay scale for his position – has now been receiving Trenton city dollars, city vehicles, city gas, maybe a city phone, and whatever other benefits for nearly a full year in a position that he is unqualified to fill, according to the state’s highest employment authority.

Even worse, it appears that city administration officials like Chief of Staff Renee Haynes have been openly lying to City Council members when they said that Mr. Bradley was “highly qualified” for his position. He is not qualified at all, and couldn’t even take the examination to allow him a shot at the Communications Director job.

This is a big mess for the city, and council members and residents need to question the administration over how Mr. Bradley has been allowed to continue on in this position while appearing to be a non-resident, legally speaking, while being “unqualified” for his employment with the city.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Santiago and Palmer are two-time losers

By now many have learned that a state appellate court ruled on Wednesday that former Police Director Joseph Santiago has 75 days to tie up loose ends, pack his bags, and get out of Trenton because of his violation of the city’s residency ordinance.

The three-judge panel unanimously sided with a group of residents – including me – and the plaintiff’s attorney, George Dougherty, and rejected all of the arguments made by Mr. Santiago and Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s group of high-paid lawyers.

Attorneys for the two had argued that the city’s residency ordinance interfered with the mayor’s statutory ability to appoint officials, and that the residency ordinance was completely invalid due to inconsistencies with some state residency law language.

But, “We reject both of these arguments. Therefore, we conclude that Santiago is subject to the 1972 residency ordinance and that he must vacate the position of Police Director because he is unwilling to reside in Trenton,” wrote Judge Stephen Skillman.

The 75-day transition period may not be the best thing for the city, but at least now it appears that Mr. Santiago is definitely on his way out the door ending a chaotic five-year reign as police head.

There is little chance of an appeal being heard by the state Supreme Court, and even if it heard, there is even less of a chance of Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer receiving a stay, meaning Mr. Santiago would have to hang around for probably more than a year to await a hearing.

That doesn’t sound very likely.

In the meantime, thanks to Mayor Palmer’s defense arguments in the lower court, Trenton now has an ironclad residency ordinance without any type of waiver provisions, after attorneys argued that the waiver provision was inconsistent with state residency language.

The mayor’s attorneys sought to have the entire ordinance invalidated for that reason, but instead only the relevant ordinance amendment was thrown out by the court, leaving the mayor with no power to appoint any outside help, whatsoever.

Thanks, Mayor Palmer.

So, hopefully this decision means the end of the affair.

City Council could go further in ensuring that outcome, by refusing to appropriate any more defense funds for Mr. Santiago, or even going as far as removing the former director from office themselves. That could be done with a two-thirds vote, before the conclusion of the 75-day period and before the director makes anymore questionable changes to the city’s police department.

The ball is in your court, council members.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Santiago decision to come down Wednesday

The fate of Trenton’s former police director, Joseph Santiago, could be sealed as early as tomorrow as state Appellate Division judges prepare to hand down their decision in the appeal case they heard over a month ago.

A straw poll of legal minds seems to point to defeat for Mr. Santiago and Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who has staunchly defended his wayward director since the first groundswells of opinion on the director’s non-residency emerged last fall.

Should Mr. Santiago indeed be ousted tomorrow, the city’s residency ordinance will remain in place without waivers or exceptions, and that means the next residency violator to be targeted should be city Communications Director Irving Bradley.

In his short tenure here, Mr. Bradley has apparently wreaked havoc upon the city’s radio room, according to city employees, while blatantly violating the city’s residency law in almost as brazen a fashion as Mr. Santiago.

Mr. Bradley has not been seen anywhere near his Trenton apartment at the Broad Street Bank building since he crashed his city Crown Victoria on the New Jersey Turnpike some 15 miles outside of city limits weeks ago.

In another example of the abuse of city vehicles, Mr. Bradley’s city Ford Expedition was seen 30 miles north at his family home in Rahway. That revelation raised several questions about city policies:

Why are city employees allowed to use vehicles in the same manner as Mr. Bradley, in taking cars many miles outside of the city, filled with city gas, to do non-city business?

Why, with an existing residency ordinance that mandates a bona fide residence where the employee’s immediate family must also live, was Mr. Bradley in Rahway at his old family residence?

These questions need to be answered, should the Santiago/Palmer appeal fail tomorrow and the city’s existing residency ordinance remain intact.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Palmer questioned over absences

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer recently got an earful from some of those who assisted with Trenton’s amazingly successful Art All Night event, according to some residents.

Trenton’s frequently absent executive was having a drink at a downtown eatery when some of those who helped run the event arrived, prior to a dinner gathering at the same restaurant.

When asked why Trenton’s “Missing Mayor” didn’t attend the wildly successful event, Doug apparently said he was busy with his U.S. Conference of Mayors duties in Miami.

The event participants asked Mayor Palmer how many people showed up “to his event” down in Florida, and the mayor said somewhere around 1,000.

“We had over 5,000 at Art All Night,” said the organizers, at which point things got a little tense.

The ego maniacal mayor of Trenton got some significant flack for his decision not to attend one of the better city events, which consistently manages to attract thousands of people from outside Trenton into the city for a night centered on the arts.

While Trenton residents have no doubt gotten used to their mayor’s frequent absence from the local scene, it appears the mayor of the city continues to fool himself into thinking that traipsing around the nation touting non-existent programs and non-existent achievements is going to allow him to gain national attention and some larger public position.

Anyone considering handing Trenton’s mayor such a position will no doubt dig a little deeper into the resume of Mayor Palmer, and discover that the man has really not done much of anything, despite managing to rule the capital of New Jersey for nearly two decades.

As L.A. Parker recently pointed out, people in this city seem to believe that chanting the same thing repeatedly renders the statement into reality. Maybe Mayor Palmer thinks that if he keeps saying “I’m a successful public official, I’m worthy of higher office,” then it will be so.

Let’s hope it’s not.

More "green" policies from the Palmer administration

Those walking the streets of Trenton might notice the presence of a massive Chevrolet Suburban emblazoned with "T.R.A.P.P." on the rear parked at various downtown locations, usually in close proximity to streets with lots of city-run parking meters.

That's because Trenton's meter enforcement employees have been tooling around in these $8-a-gallon behemoths as they go about ticketing state workers and city residents that overstay their welcome at one of the city's metered spots.

For some unknown reason officials within the Douglas Palmer administration - which purports itself to be a highly environmentally aware organization - have doled out the city vehicles assigned to various youth programs in the city to Trenton meter maids, to get around on their stop-and-go duty around the city.

This hackneyed occurrence should be filed under all of those other goings-on in Trenton that show the city government and its leader really aren't as "green" as they say they are, along with a lack of recycling at many city buildings and the numerous unnecessary city cars assigned to employees who simply don't need them.

It looks like City Council members will be considering restrictions on city vehicle use in the near future.

Hopefully they tell the meter maids to stop using gas-guzzling Suburbans as well.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Torch" gets burned

It was good to see Bergen Record editorial writer Al Doblin tear disgraced former Sen. Bob Torricelli a new one this week, after the "Torch" launched a full-fledged assault on The Record upon learning that the fine newspaper was closing some of its offices in Hackensack.

Mr. Torricelli wrote a rather ridiculous column about how The Record's closing of offices was caused by business problems that resulted from the newspaper resorting to "mean" coverage.

By "mean" coverage the disgraced politician meant the great work of the newspaper's staff in writing about the scandals and corruption that plague New Jersey, like the scandal that brought down Mr. Torricelli's political career.

That's right.

A notoriously scandal-ridden politician who withdrew his name from the ballot in the middle of a contentious senate campaign due to charges that he received tainted campaign contributions from a now-imprisoned political operative with ties to North Korea took it upon himself to attack the Fourth Estate.

On the occasion of the Record closing some offices - which Mr. Torricelli took as some sign that the paper was finished - the disgraced official attacked the venerable old paper, which provided such detailed and high-quality coverage of the scandal that brought down Mr. Torricelli.

Corrupt public officials have no friends here, but Mr. Torricelli deserves even more ill will due to his involvement with Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer and the numerous sweetheart real estate deals he has received here in New Jersey's capital, which have brought nearly nothing into the city for the average resident.

And for the rest of New Jersey's corrupt political elite - as Mr. Doblin said - journalists will stop writing about corruption when corrupt public officials stop violating the public trust.

For officials tainted by such transgressions to revel in the perceived downfall of a valuable media outlet that holds people accountable is quite simply, ridiculous.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

L.A. Parker implicates master, Doug Palmer

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and private investigators hired by the city borrow tactics from the Ku Klux Klan when investigating unfavored city employees suspected of violating the city's residency ordinance, according to Trentonian columnist L.A. Parker.

The Palmer apologist wrote a column today attacking city residents who openly allege that Trenton's longtime mayor no longer maintains a bona fide residence in the city, but in doing so he unwittingly attacked his own master, who openly uses the same tactics.

Mr. Parker alleged that phantom residents may be engaging in investigative tactics in an attempt to prove the mayor does not fit the legal definition of a resident, and then made the highly predictable and racially-charged leap of faith that those tactics had roots in the KKK.

But Mayor Palmer utilizes the same investigative tactics in a much more insidious manner in having city employees followed, photographed and generally harassed whenever the mayor decides it is time to prosecute an employee not enjoying his favor.

Favored employees - like former Police Director Joseph Santiago - do not need to worry about such harassment, because Mayor Palmer openly espouses a view that he has the ability to apply city law as he sees fit, like a Persian emperor or Russian czar.

What's really interesting about Mr. Parker's column is that he is known to bend the truth, spin a story, and engage in other politically-motivated activities that have resulted in a wholesale rejection of much of whatever is written within his column, and even in many of his objective news pieces.

That leads to the thought that maybe Mr. Parker is also spinning, bending the truth, or otherwise lying in his Saturday July 5 column about Mayor Palmer's residency. That makes the column even more peculiar.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4th: FDR's first inaugural speech, March 4, 1933

This is a day of national consecration. And I am certain that on this day my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; and the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

And yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation is asking for action, and action now.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our great natural resources.

Hand in hand with that we must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land. Yes, the task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities. It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our small homes and our farms. It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, the State, and the local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical, unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities that have a definitely public character. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped by merely talking about it. We must act. We must act quickly.

And finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people's money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

These, my friends, are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the 48 States.

Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo. Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides these specific means of national recovery is not narrowly nationalistic. It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in all parts of the United States of America--a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that recovery will endure.

In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor--the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others--the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress can be made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and our property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at the larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us, bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in times of armed strife.

With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.

Action in this image, action to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors. Our Constitution is so simple, so practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has ever seen. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.

And it is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis--broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

For the trust reposed in me, I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded, a permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Brunswick fights its own government too

New Brunswick residents are fighting their own city government.

They seek to change the makeup of that government from one made up of a mayor and five at-large council members to one of a mayor, six ward representatives, and three at-large representatives.

The residents pushing for such a change managed to file a petition of 1,116 signatures - more than the 357 necessary - to force the city to put a binding election question on the ballot in November which would start the wheels of change towards a more representative government.

Reading the story and engaging in some deep thinking reveals some similarities between the struggles of New Brunswick's residents and Trenton's residents. Both groups seem to be struggling to unseat political machines that have become increasingly ineffective at governing and providing for residents.

Like New Brunswick, Trenton's City Council has a small group of members that purport themselves to be actual representatives of the people, but they are actually nothing more than career bureacrats beholden to the greater area political machine.

Standing in the way of New Brunswick residents are City Council members trying to deflate the residents' efforts by passing an ordinance that would put a different and conflicting question on the ballot.

They know that such an action could potentially invalidate the valiant efforts of New Brunswick's residents, but they are pursuing it anyway. They probably realize that the move to ward elections will throw many of them out of power.

They're in office in an increasingly diverse city where they can only win as at-large candidates. The current system inherently attracts candidates that can throw more money and garner more widespread support, damaging the ability of unestablished candidates to win an election.

Thankfully, it looks like the residents may have won.

They managed to outrun the plodding City Council and get their petition in earlier than the passage of the City Council measure that would have short-circuited their efforts.

In Trenton, residents also struggle with a political machine, led by longtime Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

In New Brunswick the Doug Palmer-figure was former State Sen. John Lynch, who is now imprisoned and disgraced while his political apparatus continues to work within the confines of the city government.

Perhaps Trenton residents could learn a thing or two from those of New Brunswick, who seemed to have banded together across racial and economic lines, organized, and created an effective civic organization that might actually have the power to attain its goals.

In Trenton, progress has been made in the fight against the Palmer machine, but we still deal with a group of three City Council members that continually support the status quo and a city government full of waste and arrogance, yet completely lacking in public service.

There is opportunity for change, with Trenton's municipal elections less than two years away. Already City Council and mayoral candidates are making themselves known, either publicly or in political circles.

But the big fear is that these men and women might not get together and discuss a common political strategy to ensure that Doug Palmer and Co. are forever cast out of this city's government. Winning back the city will require a coordinated effort, lest candidates of merit be swept under a wave of Palmer power and dollars.

Instead, let the city band together in the New Brunswick style and work towards a common goal of liberating 319 E. State Street, instead of working as individuals supporting single candidates.

Police used as valets in Trenton

Anyone surprised by the story in today’s Trentonian about the usage of sworn police officers as car-wash caddies and personal valets by former Police Director Joseph Santiago needs to wake up.

Mr. Santiago and his boss – Mayor Douglas H. Palmer – treat the police department and the city, respectively, as their own little fiefdoms where they are to be treated like royalty.

Mayor Palmer uses multiple high-paid police sergeants as his own personal drivers. They drive him everywhere, even outside of the city. Mr. Santiago is guilty of the same extravagance, in his use of police officers in getting his personal city vehicles washed and filled up with expensive gasoline.

This shared attitude about public service is probably one of the most offensive traits of the two men, and one of the primary reasons why so many people throughout the city would like to see them make a permanent exit from the Trenton scene.

This is America.

From the beginning of this country’s founding people have found all of the trappings of monarchy offensive and representative of inferior forms of government.

Yet some in Trenton seek to be treated in the manner of a king.

Not only is it offensive, but it is truly costly for a city that struggles with budget and crime problems and a mass exodus of population and ratables to areas outside of the city borders.

The drivers assigned to Mayor Palmer would be better used out on the street trying to tackle crime.

The sworn officers abused by Mr. Santiago would also serve the city better by performing crime-fighting duties, rather than serving as the personal stable boys of an egomaniacal police director.

Sources in Newark say this is exactly what was going on in Newark when Mr. Santiago worked in that city’s police department. Mayor Palmer probably knew that and liked what he saw when considering Mr. Santiago for the Trenton job.

They are like two peas in a pod.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

SAFE or unsafe

Lately much has been made in the local media and Trenton political circles of the city's new police initiative, which will put 22 brand-new officers out on the streets in high-crime areas in a very visible manner.

The plan is to utilize foot patrols and stepped-up presence to combat “illegal narcotic activity, illegal street gangs – and, at the same time, address ‘quality of life issues’,” according to a Trenton Police Department press release.

Former Police Director Joseph Santiago – ever fond of acronyms – has chosen to title these new police operations as Selective Area Field Enforcement, or SAFE, and has attached that title to stressing “foot patrols, road checks, and high visibility.”

“Our 22 new officers will be working every weekend, teaming with experienced officers to do road checks and check on ABC violations at the taverns,” said Mr. Santiago, in a statement. “We will use foot patrols in areas specified by the district commanders, because we know from five years’ experience in driving crime down that visibility is key.”

Despite all the brouhaha over the new program, its implementation casts doubt on the validity of the administration's public position that certain police districts must see drastically reduced staffing levels and useful police units must be disbanded, due to budget issues.

In fact, it makes it look like every move of late made by the city administration and Mr. Santiago is highly arbitrary and political.

Remember, right now the Trenton Police Department has cut police presence in the south and east police districts by nearly half. Precincts are closed during the late-night hours. Several different units have either been disbanded or taken off the streets, like the K-9, Vice, and mounted police.

Two of those units – the K-9 and the Vice – brought in thousands of dollars into the city’s coffers through seizures, more than covering their associated cost of maintenance.

The mounted group was disbanded but the city continues to pay for the four horses associated with the unit, despite being justified by police and city leadership through the citing of budget issues.

In announcing the SAFE program at a hyped-up media event, allegedly cash-strapped city police officials paid out innumerable hours of overtime, wasted hundreds of gallons of gasoline in getting cars to a Hamilton car wash for a cleaning, and made a vulnerable city more vulnerable by siphoning off police officers from the street.

All this, at a time of budget problems and drastic cutbacks?

The whole group of events has made it abundantly clear: the fiscal situation, the department’s recent organizational moves, and the new program and its announcement simply don’t add up.

So when city residents well-aware of a reduced police presence and plagued by crime problems hear of a new program designed to “bring crime down even further”, pardon them for being a little doubtful of the value of such a program.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is there anybody out there?

That highly touted economic stimulus check came in the mail today, amid a sea of rising food and energy costs and a bleak economic environment.

Those elements mean that for many Americans, including me, the check will be deposited directly into a bank account for use at a later date, for rent, gas, food, or utilities.

That is definitely not what congressional legislators had in mind when they moved swiftly to provide these checks to the general populace.

But a bad economy, a weak dollar, low interest rates, and rising gasoline and energy costs mean that the everyday people who make up the majority of the population and whose spending forms the backbone of this nation’s economy just don’t have the dollars for spending on consumer items that they used to have.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s inflation calculator shows that inflation has increased costs nearly 5 percent over the last calendar year.

Whatever cost $100 in July of 2007 now costs somewhere around $105.

But that comes at a time when few employees have seen a cost of living increase of a similar magnitude. Many people haven’t gotten any raise at all and are forced to deal with wage freezes stemming from the hard financial times being experienced by most American employers.

The current era remains one where the value of real wages for production and non-supervisory employees has remained stagnant, hovering around levels first attained around 1974. But the wealthy and well off have seen exponential increases in income.

The ratio of compensation for Chief Executive Officers in major companies to average worker’s pay has gone from 24 to 1 in 1965 to 262 to 1 today, according to the an analysis of Wall Street Journal statistics done by the Economic Policy Institute.

Governments, both locally and nationally, need to do everything in their power to reduce the impact on everyday Americans and shore up the welfare of the average family and the average workers.

If they don’t, this country and probably the world face an economic crisis of grand proportions and a permanent change in the way of life for everyone, including the super rich.

If this means more regulation of energy companies and speculators – who seem to share most of the blame for the ballooning cost of oil – then fine, do it. If it means slashing the size of government in a drastic manner to reduce taxes and free up more disposable income, fine.

It most definitely means a move towards greater energy conservation and a greater emphasis on Smart Growth. Pushing that kind of planning agenda could benefit from greater government incentives for moving to urban areas.

There people can live a less gasoline-dependent life than the suburbs, where nearly every activity requires a gasoline-draining trip out of a cookie-cutter neighborhood to a strip mall somewhere else in suburbia.