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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bailout fails, Republicans blame a speech

Ridiculous logic sometimes emerges at ridiculous moments.

Such was the case today in Washington, D.C. after a massive, controversial piece of legislation that would given the Bush administration up to $700 billion for a bailout of the nation’s beleaguered finance industry failed by a narrow margin in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The result on Wall Street was historic, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average absorbing a 777-point drop that comes in as the greatest daily drop in points in a single day in the history of trading in New York.

Coupled with that collapse was an immediate search for blame among U.S. officials, who immediately sought to interpret what the bill’s failure meant and who was really at fault.

But the most curious blame handed out on this historic Monday came from House Republicans, who chose to fault the defections of some of their party officials from the contingent supporting the bill on a speech given by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., prior to the vote.

In her speech, Speaker Pelosi blamed the nation’s current fiscal crisis on the Bush administration and years of “right-wing” leadership that resulted in little regulation, as greedy investors and bankers lent out billions in bad, high-risk mortgages that precipitated the current crisis.

Because of that, say House Republicans, some GOP legislators that would have voted in the affirmative and perhaps ensured the passage of the bill defected and ended up voting no, contributing to failure of the bill by the narrow, 228 to 205 margin.

But let’s really consider what this means.

For Speaker Pelosi’s speech to have caused the defections of perhaps dozens of Republican representatives from voting for this bill, it would mean that these legislators allowed themselves to be convinced by their own childish anger to vote against legislation for which they were ready to vote.

People who allow their emotions to get in the way of how they ought to legislate for the good of the country and the good of their constituents have no right to be working in Congress.

Given how ridiculous such reasoning is, it is way more likely that the Republican Party simply could not garner the necessary support for legislation that was originally sponsored by the sitting, Republican U.S. President.

Maybe they are fed up with President Bush, and despise his policies as much as everyone else does.

But even if most Republicans simply did not support the bill to begin with and only a handful of Republican legislators defected due to simple political speech, it remains very telling about the way that handful of legislators work and what the American people are really dealing with in terms of some current U.S. legislators.

Tying into this is speculation that many of the officials who were on the fence about the bill and eventually voted against it were legislators facing tough challenges in the November election.

They probably feared that a vote affirming the delivery of $700 billion taxpayer dollars to the very Wall Street tycoons who have taken the U.S. down this road could potentially sway their local elections in the wrong direction, regardless of the presence of significant oversight and stipulations protecting taxpayers in the revised bill.

Considering the general disdain for the bailout, they are probably right.

But wouldn't it be great if the names of some of the Republican legislators who voted no simply because of ill will stemming from Speaker Pelosi’s political speech become public?

Taking such action on a very important piece of legislation is also deserving of electoral retribution from the voters, as legislators should vote based on careful thought and deliberation, and not on personal or partisan anger directed at their opponents across the aisle.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Times gets it wrong again

It's unfortunate that the valiant work done by many on The Times of Trenton’s talented reporting staff is frequently undermined, overshadowed, and ignored by the fools in charge of writing the paper’s editorials.

The reporters and the paper’s readership deserve well-written, educated opinion pieces that actually heed the paper’s reporting, rather than the drivel that occasionally indicates some sort of perverted allegiance to Trenton’s misguided mayor, Douglas H. Palmer.

This kind of garbage emerged over the weekend, with Sunday’s editorial that called upon City Council members to either scrap the city’s longstanding residency ordinance or do the impossible, and circumvent state law that exempts police, fire, and teaching personnel from residency requirements.

This editorial spin comes as the reins of the Trenton Police Department have been handed over to Capt. Fred Reister, who is now leading the department in an acting capacity after former Police Director Joseph Santiago was ousted for living outside of Trenton.

The first indication of spin was that Sunday’s editorial, in questioning Mr. Reister’s appointment as a residency-exempt sworn police officer, ignored the fact that City Council is powerless against relieving the exemptions of fireman, policeman, and teachers from residency.

It is common knowledge that those exemptions are grounded in superseding state law that would require legislation to undo, which is totally out of the realm of Trenton City Council’s power and duties.

Again using the temporary appointment of Capt. Reister, a non-resident, The Times took the position that the city has conducted some sort of search for appropriate police leadership, but came up empty, meaning the residency must be relaxed or eliminated to find suitable leaders.

The Times and Mayor Palmer act as if Trenton has deteriorated so badly that there is no one in the city with the qualifications to lead the police department. But the reality is that a lack of candidates is due to politics, and the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Palmer.

With all due respect to Trenton’s mayor and The Times’ editorial writers, Trenton is actually holding on, and a thorough search would have surely located plenty of qualified candidates. There must be dozens of men and women looking to lead a large department and earn a six-figure salary, even if it meant moving into the city and becoming part of our community.

But no one in the administration made an effort to seek out such candidates.

Mayor Palmer readily admitted that as a court-ordered 75-day period prior to Mr. Santiago’s ouster dwindled and expired last week, the administration made no effort to find a successor with the qualifications to lead the department and a willingness to live in Trenton.

What’s actually occurring, is that a situation brought on wholly by the arrogance and indifference of Mayor Palmer and his minions is being used a political sticking point as to why the residency law should be changed.

In fact, these calls for the amendment or elimination of residency are nothing more than a push to legitimize the double standards and unfair policies that the Palmer administration uses when dealing with employees.

Prior to Mr. Santiago’s ouster, the residency law was used as an uneven tool that, when broken, meant termination for some employees, and nothing for others enjoying the favor of Mayor Palmer. That embarrassing situation, more appropriate for fascist countries, was resolved when the courts did what Mayor Palmer and others refused to do and ousted Mr. Santiago.

Now Mayor Palmer wants to get back to the status quo – a reinstatement of Mr. Santiago or someone like him – and a return to the days when he could appoint anyone to lead the department, regardless of the existence of a residency law

Mayor Palmer, with the support of some loyal faction at The Times, obviously wants City Council’s help in the affair, despite the fact that amending or eliminating the residency law will weaken the city’s economic base and allow for politically-based exemptions and more uneven justice.

It's better to ignore those calls, and remember that such a situation was, and remains, unacceptable to the people of Trenton.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bailout nears completion

A Wall Street bailout package that could potentially see $700 billion in taxpayer dollars go to the beleaguered banking and finance industry is creeping towards completion.

But it appears that U.S. lawmakers have recognized the flaws in the original proposal and have added significant oversight, taxpayer protection, and some assistance for people other than the well-compensated Wall Street titans that got the nation into this mess.

Legislators in Congress could pass the bailout bill as early as tomorrow, after the weekend saw it grow significantly larger than the bill originally proposed by the George W. Bush administration.

That rendition requested unlimited and unchecked power to purchase the toxic, sub-prime mortgage-related assets that are hampering U.S. banking institutions.

Added to the legislation, according to reports, are stipulations that limit excessive compensation packages for finance executives and require that the government receives shares in any company selling assets to the U.S. Treasury.

That way, when the expected economic upswing occurs the government and the taxpayers will be able to recoup some or all of their investment.

An oversight structure, which was sorely lacking from the initial proposal, has been added into the bill currently being drafted in Washington, D.C., along with protections and assistance for homeowners facing foreclosure.

Also, if government-owned stakes do not create the kind of revenue expected, a "Wall Street" tax could come into play in five years, providing a safety valve to recoup money spent on the bailout plan.

At the very least Congress appears to have watered down the Bush administration's original proposal, reducing the inital appropriation to $350 billion, with an additional $350 billion available following intense oversight and review of the initial process.

It is now in a smaller, more regulated form that provides additional bailout oversight with a chance that taxpayers and the government may actually see a return on their investment.

The next step is increased banking regulations. The bankers and the nation's great financial minds, who greedily invested in these bad assets and risky subprime mortgages, have shown that greed triumphs over good judgment.

Until that situation reverses itself, the U.S. government's job is to make sure that judgment is bolstered by law.

Crime stats in Camden taking a "Trenton" turn

Camden is apparently experiencing a miniature criminal renaissance as new police tactics appear to be resulting in reductions in certain crime categories, according to an Associated Press report.

But wedged way down in the bottom of the same report was a note that Camden has recently experienced homicide number 43, a number equal to all the homicides that occurred in New Jersey's worst city in all of 2007.

The murder rate in Camden will likely surpass that of the previous year when the new crime tactics were not in place. That definitely calls into question the effectiveness of those tactics, and for those familiar with recent trends in Trenton's crime statistics, it could raise some suspicion about the Camden Police Department's policies regarding the recording of those same statistics.

That much can be extrapolated from the experience of the City of Trenton, under recently ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago and his pal, current Mayor Douglas H. Palmer. Crime statistics took a similar dive after Mr. Santiago took over the helm of the department in 2003, that is, every statistic except murder.

Murders are unique, because the death of a person is an act that is quite hard to hide or distort. But thefts, assaults, and other crimes that are recorded in the official compilation of crime statistics are less impervious to the willful distortions of police directors whose job performance, and that of their bosses, is based upon the trends in the very same statistics they are supposed to compile.

Officers at a city event recently remarked how Mr. Santiago, who recently left Trenton after breaking the city's residence ordinance, bent and warped crime statistics as best he could, giving the appearance of a city where every single crime rate went down - except murders.

Last year Trenton had 25 murders, and in 2005 the city set an all-time record with 31, all in the middle of a drop in pretty much every other category of crime universally recorded for reporting to the FBI.

That downward trend, however much it was manipulated behind the scenes, was held up as evidence to all in Trenton and beyond that Mr. Santiago's contentious and often wasteful police leadership style was paying dividends for the city, even as every resident knew that the situation on the streets was steadily worsening.

The same is probably going on in Camden, where a tweaking of anti-crime tactics have allegedly resulted in a large drop in many categories except homicides, which promis to soon advance beyond the very level they attained last year prior to the new tactics.

Unfortunately for places like Trenton and Camden, warped statistical work and the actual level of crime within a city often become intertwined with politics, meaning that politicians, officials, and others can point to crime trends as meaning something when they really mean nothing.

That will likely happen in Trenton in the near future.

When normal statistical practices are again practiced following Mr. Santiago's departure, the level of murders will likely stay static, while the rates of other, less heinous crimes formerly manipulated under the old regime will naturally go up.

And when that happens, Mayor Palmer and his associates will likely point fingers, blaming the new department leadership and those who pressured and pushed for Mr. Santiago's ouster for causing a false spike in crime.

In Trenton, and possibly in Camden and elsewhere, crime statistics have fallen victim to politics, and no longer resemble reality.

Just ask the residents.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Get politics out of policing

For a moment there it looked like the political interference undermining the Trenton Police Department was actually over, but Mayor Douglas H. Palmer wouldn't let that happen, proving again that he is the number on threat to the city's future.

Capt. Fred Reister, made the department’s acting director after court ousters forced out Joseph Santiago, was set to make some changes to the department in the wake of Mr. Santiago’s volatile reign.

Mr. Santiago frequently made the placement of police commanders in the various leadership positions throughout the department based on personal like or dislike rather than individual ability, and that resulted in a department with many of the most skilled officers relegated to positions of irrelevance.

Capt. Reister moved to reverse some of those decisions, by pushing for the transfer of Capt. Ernie Parrey from a meaningless midnight shift to his old position of importance, leading the patrol division.

But already Mayor Palmer has stepped in, saying he wants to take to Capt. Reister and enforce the old management decisions made by Trenton’s ex-director.

These actions show Mayor Palmer has little or no respect for the Trenton taxpayer.

High-paid cops like Capt. Parrey have skills best-suited for use in important police affairs, yet Mr. Santiago was allowed to place Capt. Parrey and dozens of others in positions of little value.

There, these officers’ $100,000 salaries and years of street experience are wasted, with less-qualified individuals occupying positions because of loyalty, rather than actually ability. The monetary cost is astounding, with officers at a city event yesterday estimating that Mr. Santiago’s idiotic personnel decisions “cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.”

There is also the other, less clear cost, in how many crimes have been committed, lives changed, or people killed, all because the Trenton Police Department’s best minds are placed behind desks because a mayor and his appointed stooge would rather rein in the department than let its officers do actual police work.

Unfortunately for Trenton, Mayor Palmer’s recent actions prove that while the departure of Mr. Santiago was of great benefit to the city, the real target for removal should be the mayor himself.

He no longer cares about this city and the people living within it, and that’s just an unacceptable trait in a mayor tasked with the important duty of putting this city on the right path.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sound familiar?


President Hoover, Mr. Chief Justice, my friends:

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 shrunk 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 have 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 that 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, 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, to our fellow men.

Recognition of that 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 great -- 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 towards 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 nationally -- narrowly nationalistic. It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in and 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 equal, 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 -- 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 -- 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.

A sea change, or a wind shift

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, according to Bob Dylan.

The same is true in Trenton, where a distinctly different wind has been blowing during a week that saw the departure of one of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's most favored and important cabinet members, former Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Mr. Santiago is the same guy that was allegedly given a special, extra-legal dispensation for following city residency law, according to Mayor Palmer.

But that fell through with the rulings of two separate courts against the two men and the last-minute announcement of resignation by the director, even though everyone in Trenton knew that what really happened was the ouster of the director and the utter and total defeat of Mayor Palmer and his position.

But as Wall Street crashes, and the federal government offers hundreds of billions of dollars to the very investment bankers who got our economy into this mess, the stock of civic activists in Trenton is up.

The Trenton Residents Action Coalition and the larger group of civics-minded citizens who have exerted overwhelming pressure on the formerly impervious Palmer administration have proven that a group of dedicated residents that recognize the malicious activities of their public officials and act accordingly are sure to win, when it comes down to power-based, urban political standoffs.

Yet, with this week's victory for Trenton's resident, it is important to recognize that the battle is not over. Trenton stands on the brink of forcing unstoppable change upon what has until now been a city government of the usual indifferent variety.

To continue that change, citizens should advocate for a unilateral push towards smaller city government, a reduction in the privileges and excesses afforded our current mayor, and a return to efficient, cheap, yet effective government.

That way, the city can move beyond the current status quo and head towards realistic, viable fiscal policies and legitimate economic development that has so far escaped the Palmer administration.

The Ruins of Trenton would like to announce the awarding of Citizen of the Year to its editor and only contributor, me, Greg Forester.

As the above article states, I don't necessarily agree with this choice in the award recipient, but I will accept it, as long as others within this great city take on the task of working towards a more open, transparent, and effective city government.

That is the only possible way that we can advance beyond the Palmer years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Palmer cabinet exodus comes at the right time

The winds are changing for the S.S. Trenton, and many of the bilge rats are getting ready to jump ship and flee their positions in the city government.

Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez, one of the more despised members of the Palmer administration, is apparently shopping his curriculum vitae at his old stomping grounds in Perth Amboy, according to The Trentonian’s L.A. Parker.

Mr. Parker wrote that many of the leading members of Mayor Palmer’s expansive and bloated cabinet are getting ready to high tail it out of Trenton. The longtime mayor is not expected to run for the mayor’s spot in the 2010 election, after five consecutive terms in office have resulted in a mayor that is increasingly disconnected and disliked in the city.

It is probably a good decision on the part of cabinet members and other high executives to get out now, because the looming closure of branch libraries and other cuts in municipal services have many civic activists looking directly at Mayor Palmer’s cadre of administration officials as the right place to slash the budget.

The Palmer administration, even with the temporary subtraction of Mr. Gonzalez’s sizeable compensation, is made of numerous, high-paid employment positions that exist solely to support a mayor who’s ego and image have become too large for Trenton to support.

Mayor Palmer insists upon traveling around the nation, and sometimes the world, attending ritzy political events and hanging out with rich and powerful, all while the shrinking of the City of Trenton’s population and economic activity mean a smaller, more effective, and less costly administration and associated mayor would better fit the city’s needs.

Trenton can no longer afford to have a group of high-paid administrative support positions that only exist because the mayor is simply not in the city enough to take care of business.

People in the community recognize that reality and are beginning to push for the slashing of unneeded positions to save budget dollars and get a more down-to-earth government, led by leaders who care about Trenton more than their larger political ambitions.

With that in mind, maybe the other high-paid cabinet members should follow the example of Mr. Gonzalez or even recently-resigned, but really ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago and get themselves out of employment in Trenton, before the people of the city do it for them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't help Doug

Trenton enjoyed a somewhat delirious day on Monday.

A city afflicted with a serious public safety problem was delivered from its mayor's deliberate politicization of the police force through the ouster of its dubious police director.

Capt. Fred Reister, a longtime officer and police administrator, was appointed acting police director following the sudden resignation of the previous holder of that office, better known as residency-law violator Joseph Santiago.

The Times of Trenton's recollection of events had a mayor beset by grief, forced into appointing a new police leader out of necessity without regard to the very residency law that ousted the very previous director.

Yet that recollection bears further consideration, in that Mayor Douglas H. Palmer is truly the maker of his own bed.

Despite the fact that he was given 75 days to find a suitable candidate to replace Mr. Santiago from the deep pool of city-based talent, Mayor Palmer chose instead to wait until the last minute, and appoint a non-resident, acting director.

His decision on the appropriate use of that 75-day period was to settle on feigning like the decision was forced upon him, due to what is an obviously false lack of administrative skill among residents dwelling within the city limits.

Residents of the City of Trenton, despite the current pleas of Mayor Palmer and the current news coverage, must recognize that the legal wranglings going on about the "acting" director who has now taken power are nothing more than a ploy to secure the power to circumvent the city's residency ordinance for the mayor of Trenton.

This strategy is designed to restore the power to exempt city employees from residency, which the mayor lost through his own legal defense during the residency battle over Mr. Santiago.

Mayor Palmer, in choosing to espouse a view that he can suspend and execute city laws at will, caused a Mercer County Superior Court judge to invalidate the waiver portions of the residency law.

But the mayor is now trying to get the very council he faced off with in court to restore those abilities, through an ordinance amendment, as if the long legal and political battle he waged with council members carried no meaning.

At this point, it would behoove council members to avoid supporting residency amendments and other changes, which appear to be nothing more than the questionable political inclinations of a mayor who has demonstrated a preference for fighting his own constituents in court, rather than addressing his own city's problems.

For now, residency amendments and the like should be put off until the point when the city's lengthy list of problems are addressed, including the possible closure of libraries.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Santiago out

Police Director Joseph Santiago is officially out of office.

The Douglas H. Palmer administration oddly chose to announce that the director resigned from his position on Monday, but he was actually ordered to leave by two separate courts that ruled that Mr. Santiago, with the assistance of Mayor Palmer, had broken the city's residency law and should be ousted for his actions.

Mayor Palmer, a staunch defender of residency whose administration regularly used investigators in the residency prosecutions of other employees, first said he had the power to set aside city law for favored employees like Mr. Santiago, and then unsuccessfully argued that the residency law was invalid.

Neither position got any play in court, with the invalidity argument actually succeeding in getting a judge to throw out the portion of the law that allowed legitimate residency waivers for employees.

Today's announcement comes after weeks of rumor and innuendo that had the mayor using some sort of last-minute gimmick to allow Mr. Santiago to stay on, either through the use of an "acting" or "interim" title or through a feigned move to Trenton.

But Mr. Santiago had not moved into Trenton from his Morris County estate, which remains occupied, and instead chose to label his ouster a resignation, amid continuing criticism and scrutiny from his and Mayor Palmer's many opponents.

Capt. Fred Reister, a sworn officer exempt from residency, serving as acting director until a replacement is found, according to The Trentonian.

Anyone pleased with today's development is urged to attend Amici Milano in Chambersburg any time after 2:30 p.m. on Thursday for a celebration and civic gathering.

Bradley spotted in Rahway

Observers positively identified Trenton Communications Director Irving Bradley in Rahway Saturday evening, reinforcing claims that he is maintaining a primary family residence outside of Trenton and is being employed in clear violation of the city's residency ordinance.

Mr. Bradley was seen twice at a Paterson Street residence, where county land records show the embattled director is holding a mortgage. He was initially seen at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, in the driveway of the home.

Noting the individual was a black adult male generally consistent with the appearance and build of Mr. Bradley, a city resident approached the residence and knocked on the door. No one answered despite the presence of two vehicles that indicated persons were home at the time.

Following a change in location, observers were able to positively identify Mr. Bradley, who emerged from the Paterson Street residence at 5:42 p.m., or approximately 25 minutes after the knocking on the door of the residence.

Mr. Bradley, after exiting the two-story residence, proceeded to the left, down Paterson Street, across East Grand Avenue, passing the small corner deli and making his way across Washington Street and down the remainder of Paterson Street, in the direction of U.S. Route 1.

This latest sighting raises a host of problems for Mr. Bradley, who has been scrutinized by civic groups and by City Council members like Jim Coston, for appearing to violate the city's residency ordinance with the apparent blessing of a Palmer adminstration that seems smitten with the idea of employing double standards.

The city's residency ordinance requires that employees like Mr. Bradley maintain what is known as a bona fide domicile in Trenton, defined as a primary residence where immediate family members live, mail is sent, and voting rights are registered, along with a host of other important personal information.

The law makes it so city tax dollars, paid out in salaries like the $90,000 given to Mr. Bradley, end up staying within Trenton. The law ensures that the city government workforce - numbering in the thousands - ends up being an important and stable bulwark against the negative economic forces at work in many cities like Trenton.

But Mr. Bradley appears to be circumventing the intent of the law, by using an apartment in Trenton while maintaining the old, primary family dwelling in Rahway.

It all started when a city-owned Ford Expedition assigned to Mr. Bradley was photographed, parked in front of the same Rahway home earlier in 2007. Making things worse, Mr. Bradley later called attention to himself when he crashed a city-owned Ford Crown Victoria miles outside of the city's borders.

Mr. Bradley's situation wasn't helped in the public eye doesn't by the dozens of city employees have been fired under the Palmer administration for similar gaffes, but with the blessing of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, Mr. Bradley has been immune to any official sanctions thus far.

Despite the intentions of Palmer officials, Mr. Bradley's earlier, automobile-related debacles served to raise suspicions about the status of his compliance with the residency law, in that they effectively established the possibility of the continued existence of a primary residence in Rahway.

Those suspicions have been augmented by Mr. Bradley's infrequent presence at his downtown Trenton abode in the Broad Street Bank Building.

During a recent fire alarm evacuation at the downtown apartment building that brought hosts of residents outside due to the incessant, deafening interior fire alarms, Mr. Bradley emerged alone, without the family members who should be dwelling in Trenton under the residency law.

Compounding these issues is the state Department of Personnel, which ruled earlier this year that Mr. Bradley is unqualified for his position, so much so that he is not even qualified to take the test to determine how qualified he is for being a communications director.

Although he is appealing the ruling, it cast significant doubt on both his ability and the employment decisions of the Palmer administration which now threaten to cost the city thousands of dollars.

A group of dispatchers working under Mr. Bradley have sued him and the city for what has been alleged as discriminatory practices in the city communications center.

It has also emerged that Mr. Bradley, who has now worked for the city for over a full year, only recently changed his voter registration to fit his Trenton address, after officials and residents began looking into what is a very important component of legal residency after recently compiled county voter lists failed to include Mr. Bradley's information.

In fact, sources tonight said that Mr. Bradley's registration was not changed to Trenton until the second week of September, or a full year after he became a residency-required employee.

If those comments are accurate, any vote cast by Mr. Bradley during that time in Union County would be utterly fraudulent.

Perhaps most damaging is the fact that Mr. Bradley is known to have children. If the director is indeed maintaining bona fide residency in Trenton, then school-age children should be enrolled here, rather than Rahway, as New Jersey enrollment is based upon place of residence and the age of the child.

If Mr. Bradley were to have children attending public school in Rahway, as has been indicated by some, the scheme would be both unlawful and indicative of residency violations.

Thus far, limited activity at the Broad Street Bank Building and activity in Rahway indicate that school-age children are probably dwelling in Rahway, although such determinations remain uncertain. But children going to school in Rahway would certainly make that abode Mr. Bradley's primary residence, and his continued employment in Trenton would be rendered unlawful.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bad leadership hurts

President George W. Bush and his associates are generally despised by many Americans for the way they lied to the nation about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that county’s alleged association with Al Qaeda terrorists.

Years after victory was declared, thousands of American men and women have perished and billions of dollars have been wasted. Only lately has progress been made, but there is little doubt that going to war in the Persian Gulf region was one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in history and that having a lying, selfish president in office has cost the nation dearly.

This week, Trentonians speaking out against plans for the budget-induced closure of four of the city’s branch libraries told a packed City Council chamber that the strategic vision laid out by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer in the beginning of his tenure as mayor was no more.

Similarly to Iraq, in portions of the city the promises of Trenton’s executive have given way to years of despair, economic ruin, and the death of hundreds of young men and woman in an ever-growing maelstrom of violence and crime that has showed no sign of abating.

Like the nation‘s experience, death and unnecessary expenditure have come with an executive who is an advocate of double standards and saying or doing anything to support a position or policy.

Once upon a time, Mayor Palmer and people like Council President Paul Pintella supported the residency ordinance and a police director-led police department, with justification in that a director would be forced to live in Trenton.

But when the residency violations of the controversial and ineffective Police Director Joseph Santiago emerged, Palmer-led factions tried with all their might to shield the director from the force of the law, even going as far as trying to declare the ordinance invalid. This, of course, came after they used the same law to terminate dozens of employees guilty of the same infractions as Mr. Santiago.

In strongly applying this double standard, city leaders like Mayor Palmer wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in a losing court battle and devoted precious governmental policy-making time to supporting a ridiculous position that went against nearly everything they have done or said in the past.

Even worse, they have strengthened the public perception that some in the city’s administration are nothing but a gang of unaccountable officials who support the notion that being a favored member of the administration comes with privileges, including little or no scrutiny for law-breaking and an ability to waste taxpayer dollars in support of that position.

That idea will be strengthened this week, when on Monday Mayor Palmer will announce that Mr. Santiago - after having spent hundreds of thousands of city dollars in a losing court battle to establish that the director is above the law - has suddenly decided to move to Trenton, and will be appointed acting director.

The announcement will come in apparent ignorance of all of those wasted dollars, and Mr. Santiago’s public statements of being unwilling to live in Trenton with his family, as required by law.

But the cost was so great and the hypocrisy so evident that the city residents and the City Council that fought against Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago will not be apt to forget these events, and that will make Mr. Santiago’s reappointment a perilous and costly decision.

The residents - including me - will question the about-face of Mr. Santiago and the legality of his residency, and will almost certainly file papers in court demanding the enforcement of the court order that declared his position vacant.

City Council, which will have to confirm the appointment, will also have to weigh. Its members will probably be skeptical of reappointing of a man who forced a costly legal battle because he would not move into the city, only to change his mind at the appearance of defeat.

Even with another defeat, Mr. Santiago will probably go elsewhere and get another law enforcement position or simply live off of his hundred-thousand dollar pension from his years of policing in Newark.

But for Mayor Palmer, the political fallout of supporting such an action is clear.

City residents have been given a full glimpse of the stark reality of having a mayor who is more apt to fully reverse years of policy at great cost to city taxpayers than to use the same money to head off more important problems, like the potential closure of libraries and an overall reduction in city services.

Like the greater nation, Trenton knows the full costs associated of having unaccountable purveyors of half-truths and double standards in high executive office. It is not a pretty sight to behold, and this painful knowledge should have a profound effect on the future electoral prospects of Mayor Palmer and his minions.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palmer to blame for budget woes

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer likes to blame the city’s fiscal woes on the people at the Statehouse, for this year's freezing and reduction in the level of municipal aid dollars Trenton and other municipalities receive to augment municipal budgets and school budgets.

But this is an argument based upon fantasy. Mayor Palmer and his wasteful administrative habits are really what’s to blame when it comes to the city‘s $27 million budget deficit and looming 10-percent budget cut.

This budget deficit and ensuing reduction in valuable city services comes at a time when the City of Trenton, which gets most of its money from the pockets of state taxpayers, has seen consistent property tax hikes and increases in rates for municipal water in recent years.

Just last year the city received emergency aid money from the state to add to all of these increased revenue streams, yet the Palmer administration just cannot seem to get a handle on anything.

That leads to the conclusion that the current administration is unable to manage the city’s finances. It is time for the other branch of the government, City Council, to take a crack at the budget and make difficult, but necessary cuts.

This process needs to happen quickly, and that means circumventing the administration’s plans of submitting the budget as late as possible.

Allowing that to happen, like last year, will effectively tie the hands of council members behind their backs, as the money and services they decide to cut out of any budget will have already been spent and rendered.

Starting early this time, council could do what most responsible Trentonians would like to see done with the budget: cut the unnecessary and bloated city administration to shreds.

This does not mean the elimination of lower-level positions, which come with insignificant salary and benefit costs, but refers to the deletion of the totally unnecessary lineup of highly compensated administrative positions that solely exist to support one man, Mayor Palmer.

A chief of staff is a prime example.

This position - usually paired with the mayors of the nation's large cities and with national politicians - did not exist in previous administrations.

It only became necessary because Mayor Palmer, he of the frequent absences from Trenton, needs a high-level, high-paid executive to carry out the mayoral functions whenever the mayor is out gallivanting around the country or hamming it up in Africa, on the taxpayer’s tab.

Trenton already has a position that performs the functions of the chief of staff, and it's called the mayor. The city certainly doesn't need two mayors, with each being paid over $100,000 a year with generous benefits.

Another step in the right direction would be a comprehensive new vehicle policy. All municipal vehicles should be sold, except for a handful for those positions where having a city vehicle is actually necessary for the job.

The rest of the modern municipal fleet of hybrids and other cars should be given the heave-ho, with the cash put back into the city’s operating budget. Employees can keep track of mileage incurred while driving on city business and receive a reimbursement for their troubles, instead of having the free use of new vehicles in a system with little built-in accountability.

There are many other areas where Trenton can save money, but it all starts with reining in the administration and fashioning a smaller, less-bloated government bureaucracy appropriate for a city of Trenton’s size.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Trenton could outsource inspectors

A proposal to outsource city inspection work to private firms had leaders of one of the city's local AFSCME unions convening an emergency meeting Friday, according to someone who was briefed on the situation.

The scheme, which would put numerous city residents out of work, was apparently made public by officials from the Douglas H. Palmer administration sometime this week, as they seek across-the-board, 10 percent budget cuts in all departments to address a $28 million budget deficit that promises to hamper government services.

Apparently the administration has decided that the recent layoff threats, a first for the 18-year-old Palmer administration, mean the fiscal axe will fall on city inspectors who could see their city jobs outsourced to some sort of private inspection firm.

The magnitude of cost savings associated with such a move remains to be seen, but given the fact that many inspectors live within the city's borders, eliminating the positions would further reduce the amount of people with decent-paying jobs and good benefits living in Trenton.

The Palmer administration frequently relies on outside, private help for many city services.

Legal contracts that frequently add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars are handed out quite freely by Mayor Palmer, despite the presence of a perfectly good, and very expensive in-house legal team.

Another budget casualty could be the city's valuable branch libraries, which library officials have decided to close due to the budget constraints being imposed by Mayor Palmer and his officials.

Administration, council hear it from Trenton residents

The public comment period at Trenton City Council's Thursday meeting saw city residents making impassioned pleas to their council representatives to start standing up to the city administration, under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

The source of the concern was a plan to shut down the city's branch libraries due to budget problems, but residents used that issue to expand on the various ills they see with the misguided and faltering Palmer administration.

Resident Rafeal Valentin said the closure of the city's four branch libraries would be an abandonment of Trenton's children, which he declared the city's most important resource. Mr. Valentin mentioned that Mayor Palmer, during his first term in office in 1990, unveiled a grand vision for the city that had its basis in the city's youth.

"But that's a vision which is no longer a reality," Mr. Valentin said.

Others attacked the city's bloated administration, noting that a city that has seen decades of population decline and a shrinking of tax ratables continues to operate with excessive layers of bureaucracy, accented at the top with an unnecessary assistant business administrator, chief of staff, mayor's aide, and driver-protection detail for the city's missing mayor.

Regarding the libraries, residents told City Council to step up to the plate and begin demanding answers from the administration, regarding library finances and all of the other city operations. One told council members that they had failed to use their statutory abilities to investigate, interrogate, and hold administration officials accountable through the power of thorough questioning.

Council members were told that while foundations and other entities were being created to support the libraries, little money would be forthcoming until the current membership of the library Board of Trustees was turned over and filled with new faces.

Right now, the cronies and associates of Mayor Palmer filling the membership of the board have run the library system into the ground and frittered away millions of dollars in an endowment that has all but disappeared.

In other council news, members who were set to vote upon $180,000 in contracts to various outside law firms could not get the information they wanted regarding the appropriations from administration officials, and moved to table the measures until the proper information could be secured.

Council members announced that they would hold a special council hearing on the library system on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trenton hands out cash as libraries close for lack of dollars

The City of Trenton, as it prepares to close four branches of the Trenton Free Public Library due to a budget shortfall, will hand out $180,000 in contracts on Thursday to attorneys from outside law firms, including two that defended parties during the Joseph Santiago residency battle.

In total, six separate appropriations paying off lawyers to do work that the city’s own Law Department could handle sit on Thursday’s City Council docket. One calls for the attorney who defended Mr. Santiago during the recent residency court battle, Salvatore Alfano, to receive $20,000.

Another doles out $40,000 to Susan Singer, the attorney who somehow represented the municipal corporation that is the City of Trenton. She was given the illogical and seemingly impossible task of representing a single entity – the City of Trenton – that had one half, City Council, suing the other half, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, and now she will be paid for her work out of the pockets of city taxpayers.

It is unknown whether these various expenditures are being used to pay for services rendered, or are anticipatory contracts. Perhaps they are being awarded in preparation for another looming residency court battle, or for private advice that has been given to Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago for that same purpose.

A battle is coming, as Mayor Palmer is reportedly going to try and skirt the city’s residency law one more time on Monday, by reappointing Mr. Santiago as police director after two courts threw him out of office for living outside of the city and outside of the residency law.

Regardless of what happens next week, the City of Trenton will most likely pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars on Thursday to a handful of lawyers. This appropriation will come at a time when the city has its own perfectly good Law Department, led by not one, but two high-paid lawyers that both fulfill the duties usually handled by a single municipal attorney.

Surely these two individuals – City Attorney Denise Lyles and Special Counsel Joe Alacqua – could handle this work load at a much lower expense than what it costs city residents when the Palmer administration liberally hands out legal contract after legal contract to all sorts of firms, for reasons unknown.

If the city’s own lawyers – as was the case in the previous administration – handled the city’s legal work then the dollars saved could be diverted for use in keeping open city libraries and reducing the number of layoffs currently planned to fix the city’s balance sheets.

Crisis in Trenton government

Trenton is facing a crisis in leadership.

The greatest threat to this city's advancement and revitalization is the man sitting at the top, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who hopes to subvert city law and completely dominate the workings of Trenton, as evidenced by what is going on with the city's libraries, the Police Director Joseph Santiago situation, and beyond.

Of almost equal importance are City Council members who seem hell-bent on forgetting their statutory duties. Even as they have suddenly begun doing the right thing, many on the body allow themselves to be poisoned by the words of administration officials who are so obviously spinning the truth, bending information, or outright lying to advance the interests of Mayor Palmer.

Sometimes council members seem to be ignorant of their abilities and even more ignorant of their responsibilities in checking the power of the administration and investigating city practices.

Right now, there is a city communications director who has been found to not only be unqualified for his position, but also appears to be blatantly breaking the city's residency ordinance. Yet City Council has done nothing about this, with one member apparently having given the excuse that the state Department of Personnel handles such issues.

This group has still not pushed through a vehicle ordinance restricting the use of city vehicles in a government whose employees have frequently been caught with municipal cars, far outside of the city with no legitimate excuse.

And now, with their inability to handle even these major issues, they will be faced with the conclusion of an issue that will most likely determine how people think of them for years to come: Police Director Joseph Santiago's residency battle.

Council is fighting a mayor who fired dozens and dozens of city employees for breaking residency, yet allowed Mr. Santiago to openly flout the same law. When that arrangement was publicly questioned, Mayor Palmer said that he had the power to "waive" city law, and planned to use that mythical, sovereign ability to save Mr. Santiago.

When a lawsuit was filed by city residents, which City Council eventually joined, two separate courts weighed in and ruled contrary to Mayor Palmer's untenable position, and now, $136,000 later, Mr. Santiago has been ousted and is set to leave office Monday afternoon.

But instead of finding a successor and allowing the city to move beyond this sorted affair, Mayor Palmer has allegedly hatched a plot to allow Mr. Santiago to stay on.

This plot will no doubt be met with strong resistance from many in the city, including me, and will end up again in court to be argued by expensive lawyers and decided by a judge.

Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer will end up losing this battle, but the real losers will be the men and women of Trenton, who will be deprived of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the presence of a thoughtful, caring leader who would realize that fighting the Santiago fight is a wasteful and idiotic affair.

City Council must step in and stop the bleeding.

They need to head off any lingering Santiago residency action in an aggressive manner, blocking any abuses of city ordinances by Mayor Palmer and stopping the payment of precious city dollars for Mr. Santiago's legal defense.

Council must enact a vehicle ordinance now, because residency violators using city vehicles might think twice about making long commutes to their illegal residences if the trip is made in their own car, with their own gas, rather than gas bought with the money of Trenton residents.

The same council must immediately move on Communications Director Irving Bradley.

Some on council have said that they cannot fire him, but there are other avenues open to this body, the supreme legislative organ of the city government.

Council could opt to legislate.

They could revise city ordinances dealing with the communications director to eliminate the position - as Mayor Palmer has done with enemies in the past - or they could fire other administration officials for allowing the residency violator and unqualified employee to maintain employment and continue receiving a city salary.

They owe that to the taxpayers, who should be sick of paying unqualified people for work they should not be doing in the city government.

City Council needs to do all these things, because Mayor Palmer has proven - with Santiago, the libraries, and the water utility, to name a few - that he simply does not care about doing what's right for residents, or even following the most basic and logical of city laws.

The best tool to deal with such a mayor is an effective, intelligent City Council, and Trenton needs such a body immediately.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Battle over Santiago's law-breaking set to resume

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer could announce as early as Monday that Police Director Joseph Santiago intends to move into Trenton and will therefore be appointed acting police director, after he emphatically stated that he would "never move to Trenton" and was ousted in court for breaking the city's residency ordinance.

A press conference similar to the one held this week at City Hall is set to be convened on Monday, according to a Times of Trenton report that had a confident Mayor Palmer alluding to Mr. Santiago staying on as director.

Monday represents the final day in office for Mr. Santiago, after an appeals court ousted him for breaking residency and gave him 75 days to transition the department's leadership and get out of Trenton.

Being an acting director, as per city ordinance, would mean Mr. Santiago would have a period of 90 days before the City Council, which also sued over his residency violations, would have an opportunity to officially vote to confirm or deny the director’s appointment.

But a majority of City Council members have said they will not confirm the director unless he establishes true residency, which would include moving his entire family down to Trenton as he has said he would never do.

Palmer administration officials may have told people at The Trentonian on Tuesday that "we have the four votes we need", but this administration has repeatedly proven that they are not the most trustworthy bunch. Also, recent history seems to point to a majority of council being aligned against a reappointment of Mr. Santiago, in any capacity.

Any claims made on Monday of Mr. Santiago having established residency are sure to be scrutinized carefully by both City Council and the group of residents – including me – who sued over Mr. Santiago’s blatant breaking of the residency ordinance.

Should Mayor Palmer try and appoint Mr. Santiago – acting or not – without fully vetting the director’s residency status with council members and the public, then he will only be risking precious tax dollars.

That money is sure to be wasted in court, where Mayor Palmer will be a fighting a losing battle to establish that he and his favored associates are above the law, at a time when those city dollars should instead be used to keep the city's branch libraries open, as the library system faces a budget-induced closure threat.

Simply adding the title of “acting” or “interim” does not exempt city employees from establishing true, bona fide domiciles within the city, and failing to do so means immediate termination.

That even goes for Mr. Santiago and any one else enjoying the favor of Mayor Palmer, and in this case, doing so is a court-ordered prerequisite for Mr. Santiago to continue employment past the Sept. 22 deadline.

In fact, it appears the only thing that has changed since Mr. Santiago said he would never move to Trenton is the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to defend Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer in court.

After all this, it is a little hard to accept that both men have found religion and that Mr. Santiago has decided to move his family into Trenton to follow the law. It is more likely that the wayward director is not moving his family into Trenton, and will instead establish false residency similar to the way he lived in the beginning of his tenure in Trenton - in apartments, hotel rooms, and on the couches of his associates.

But without true residency being established another court battle is sure to ensue.

Council and the residents have come too far to simply give up the important fight to get the director and the mayor to follow the law, like all the other city employees, and that includes the dozens fired by Mayor Palmer for breaking the residency law.

This is a democracy, or at least a semblance of one, and not a monarchy where King Doug is the ultimate decider of who follows the law and who does not.

NJ paper woes continue

The Star-Ledger, the largest newspaper in New Jersey and one the most important in the nation, along The Times of Trenton will be sold or closed by early January if the union representing drivers at the paper does not ratify a new agreement with management by Oct. 8, according to a letter sent to employees from publisher George Arwady that was released Tuesday.

"Although we are making progress toward meeting two of our three conditions, we still are far from an agreement with the Drivers' union," wrote Mr. Arwady. "Accordingly, since it is doubtful that the Drivers will ratify an agreement by October 8, 2008, we will be sending formal notices to all employees this week, as required by both federal and New Jersey law, advising you that the Company will be sold, or, failing that, that it will close operations on January 5, 2009."

Pressures affecting nearly all major newspapers forced the leaders of Advance Publications, which owns the paper, to seek buyouts from 200 of its 700-plus non-union employees, in an effort to cut costs and fix the newspaper finances, which are bleeding millions of dollars annually.

Negotiations with two other unions for agreements required by the ownership for the continued operation of the paper have been somewhat successful, but Tuesday's communication demonstrates that reaching an agreement with drivers' union could represent a major threat to the restructuring and the continued operation of the Newark newspaper icon.

A similar program of buyouts has been offered at The Star-Ledger's sister paper, The Times of Trenton, although the status of that effort is unknown at this point.

Someone familiar with the situation at The Times said that nearly all of the paper's full-time newsroom employees were prepared to take a buy-out, which is believed to consist of a full year's salary.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Law allows first-time violators to keep driving

Judges have leeway in allowing first-time drug offenders to keep their driving privileges to maintain employment, after a bill that was sponsored by a pair of legislators representing portions of Hudson County was signed into law this week by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

The bill, S-1302, eliminates the mandatory suspension of driving privileges for a period of between six months and two years during court proceedings for first-time offenders, as was previously required by state statute.

Judges can now rule one way or the other on preserving an individual’s ability to drive, based on a finding that a lengthy suspension would result in extreme hardship and that alternative means of transportation are unavailable for the offender.

“This new law will help those who made minor mistakes keep their driving licenses so they get to work or look for jobs,” said Sen. Nick Sacco, D-Hudson, in a statement. “It gives discretion to judges so people who made minor mistakes can straighten out their lives.”

The bill revised what is known as the conditional discharge statute, under which court proceedings for first-time offenders can be halted if the offender agrees to be placed under a period of court supervision.

But part of the statute required courts to suspend driving privileges as part of the process, resulting in offenders without licenses and without an ability to get around in many parts of automobile-dependent New Jersey.

“These judicial exemptions will empower offenders to follow through on commitments to get to jobs and support their families,” said Sen. Brian Stack, D-Hudson.

No bail-out for bankrupt Palmer admin.

A day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its greatest one-day dive since the Sept. 11 attacks, Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer will unveil his own doom-and-gloom fiscal plan as New Jersey’s capital deals with a suffocating budget crisis.

Mayor Palmer could also be facing what ends up being a watershed moment in his political career in Trenton on Tuesday.

He seems to understand that reality, as evidenced by the fact that he called a 1:30 p.m. press conference in City Hall in an effort to head off what has been billed as a looming civic revolution.

Many city residents have been seriously angered because the fiscal plan, which calls for 10 percent budget cuts to all city operations, could seriously hamper the continued operation of the city's free public libraries.

The plan directly led to a decision by the mayor’s hand-picked, crony-filled library board to close all of the outlying branches of the city libraries.

Mayor Palmer seems to have made these decisions while counting on the city populace to somehow forget that these fiscal decisions are coming from someone who consistently wastes money on unnecessary employee legal expenses, the gaudy provision of vehicles to employees who do not need them, and the maintenance of a massive, top-heavy, and unnecessary city administration that is a relic of a time when Trenton had tens of thousands more people in population.

But judging from their reaction it is clear that Trenton residents are not only aware of all these things but they also love using their libraries, and demand an administration willing to spend the money necessary to keep them open.

They also don’t seem to buy Mayor Palmer’s excuses that he didn’t know about the library closure plan and that the budget issues are not the fault of his wasteful administration, but are actually the responsibility of Gov. Jon S. Corzine due to cuts in state aid money.

Trenton residents should show up in force at City Hall from this point on to make it clear that they want their libraries open, and that they have had enough of the fiscal decision-making and outright lying of Palmer administration officials who continue to operate in a manner totally ignorant of the public interest.

Like the problematic sub-prime lending practices that precipitated the current crisis on Wall Street, the budget decisions and the library closures are all directly related to the fiscal practices, wasteful spending, and lack of financial accountability that permeates the Palmer administration.

Unlike Wall Street’s problems, the best way to deal with problems in Trenton is not a bailout of the Palmer administration, but rather its all-out rejection and eventual removal from power.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Library spin continues

Public relations efforts undertaken by those in the local media who have become overly friendly with the Trenton establishment reported this week that a surprised Mayor Douglas H. Palmer was diligently working to stave off the looming closures of some of the city’s important, free branch libraries, due to fiscal pressures.

But with more reading and thinking it becomes clear - based on this and other policy gaffes and their handling - that Mayor Palmer and his cronies think the good people of Trenton are nothing more than a community of 83,000 idiots.

That’s evident because any rational person would see that it is rather difficult for a mayor to be surprised about a plan to close what is a valuable city asset when not only did the mayor push the plan into motion through his own budget decisions, but he also handpicked the group of individuals occupying seats on the library Board of Trustees that made the decision to close the libraries in the first place.

Additionally, it has been written that this group of individuals informed the mayor of the consequences of his budget decisions, in potentially forcing the library leadership to close branches, prior to the budget decisions being made.

So when newspapers have the mayor out and about, contacting corporate entities for donations and organizing fundraising efforts out of a sense of surprise and a serious desire to keep the branches open, it’s really just a bunch of malarkey.

Mayor Palmer is totally and utterly responsible for the potential closures, both directly through his questionable budgetary decisions and indirectly through his choices of people for the library Board of Trustees. These pieces of what is clearly questionable decision-making now threaten to suck more social and educational capital out of areas of the city that have suffered the worst under the mayor’s five consecutive terms.

Any reports of surprise or genuine efforts being made to stave off the closure of the libraries and the layoffs of dozens of employees and city residents on the part of the mayor are nothing more than public relations spin meant to throw opponents and those who would stop the closures off balance, and pave the way for the plan to become effective, this Nov. 1.

And remember Trenton, the arrogance of these efforts prove that Mayor Palmer thinks the city is nothing but 7.7 square-miles of densely-packed fools.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

GOP continues to celebrate reported death of Clean Elections

The vigor with which some New Jersey Republicans have danced upon the reported grave of the Clean Elections efforts could be taken as evidence of how they feel about the importance of the will of the voters, versus the importance of the will and financial support of special interests.

That's what publicly financed elections are really all about - limiting the actual or perceived corrupting influence of large campaign contributions in elections, because the voters should decide the race, and not the presence of large amounts of cash from special interests.

But Clean Elections and similar programs throughout the nation are now in jeapordy, because of a federal court decision to halt a similar publicly-financed election system in Arizona that has been hailed as the first of many instances where courts, relying on a recent Supreme Court opinion, will strike down publicly-financed elections.

The Supreme Court decision found the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment" in federal campaign law unconstitutional. The amendment reduces the restrictions on the size of contributions publicly-funded candidates can accept when they face a self-funded candidate who spends enough to reach a certain amount of money.

The court ruled that such a measure hampers the free speech right of a self-funded candidate to spend as much money on their own election as they please, because they know that doing so would give their opponent a possible advantage, in being able to accept larger contributions.

Now portions of state public-finance law that provide extra money to publicly-funded candidates, when facing abnormally large expenditures being made in support of a privately-funded opponent, have been similarly called into question, and New Jersey's Clean Elections system has such a feature.

Since then, a slew of New Jersey's Republican legislators have issued a long stream of public statements, press releases, and announcements calling on members of the Democratic majority to permanently shelve future Clean Elections legislation.

The new Clean Elections bill, A-100, would have expanded and enhanced the program following its success in District 14, where both Democratic and Republican candidates accepted public funds and won closely-watched elections.

The district 14 Clean Elections program succesfully provided public money to the candidates to run their campaigns, instead of relying on private contributions from individuals, firms, or other interests that usually come with an expectation of something in return at some point down the line.

But apparently what happened in that legislative district was not to the liking of Republican legislators like Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex. They continue to celebrate what they hope is death of special interests-free elections and howl to their opponents across the aisle, calling for the Democratic supporters of Clean Elections to permanently shelve the system.

Perhaps the program can be revised to pass constitutional muster, or maybe additional court cases will determine that rescue money and the "Millionaire's Amendment" are not equivalent, saving the Clean Elections program.

Whatever the case, we hope the Assemblywoman McHose and the others don't get what they want. The Clean Elections program is a good idea, and without it, the voters of this state will be worse off during any future elections.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Palmer administration officials dance around Bradley's status

The Palmer administration of Trenton has been known to push and prod city employees into providing assistance to Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s electoral campaigns, in canvassing, working the polls, or at least sticking a Doug Palmer sign in the front lawn of their homes.

Part of those efforts, presumably, is an expectation that city employees are expected to register to vote so that when it comes down to Election Day, they will have the ability to vote to continue the existence of the administration that pays the bills and puts food on the table.

The existence of these efforts and other long-established policy is why the recent reaction of city officials to questions about why Communication Director Irving Bradley’s name does not appear on city voter lists was so peculiar.

Mr. Bradley is the embattled chief of the city’s communications center. He currently faces twin legal threats, in the form of a lawsuit brought by city dispatchers alleging discriminatory practices and continued questions about Mr. Bradley’s legitimate residency within in Trenton, as required by the city’s longstanding residency law.

The voter registration lists in question - secured by some of those working for the Obama presidential campaign - failed to list Mr. Bradley as a registered Trenton voter, despite the fact that the city’s residency requirements mean that the director has now been legally required to live here, along with his family, for over a full calendar year.

When that was brought up to Palmer administration officials this week, someone representing the city’s executive replied that the Board of Elections had been contacted, and it was determined that there are - surprise - several different kinds of voter lists.

The wrong voter list could have been acquired and that would explain the discrepancy, said the official, who instructed the inquisitive party to ensure their request was for the proper voter list from the Mercer County Board of Elections.

What is so telling about this sequence of events is how the administration, instead of taking the initiative and simply requesting the list containing information that would show Mr. Bradley is registered to vote in Trenton, chose to dance around the issue by providing a potential but uncertain explanation for the discrepancy.

This came from officials working for the same administration that has investigated and fired dozens of employees for violating the residency law. Part of the definition of residency is not only where the immediate family of the employee lives, but where that employee is actually registered to vote.

The voter registrations and other information have not only been important to administration officials for the continued election of Mayor Palmer, but they have also been used in residency investigations directed by Palmer officials as crucial, employment-ending pieces of evidence.

But for favored employees like Mr. Bradley and outgoing, residency-ousted Police Director Joseph Santiago, this type of information is simply not that important, judging from the recent reaction of administration officials.

They had an opportunity to dispel all of the innuendo and intrigue swirling around Mr. Bradley’s residency by producing accurate voter registration information on Mr. Bradley, like they have done with so many other city employees.

But instead, they chose to dodge the issue.

This exchange not only casts doubt on the possibility that Mr. Bradley is indeed legally residing in Trenton but it also serves to further add to the constantly growing evidence that Palmer administration policy is filled with double standards and the uneven application of the law.

Mercer's economic canyon

Mercer County, like the rest of New Jersey, is suffering from severe economic and housing segregation and the problem is only going to get worse without some drastic action that provides work and housing evenly throughout the county, according to a study covered in The Times of Trenton Saturday.

The study, put out by the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, found that Mercer’s housing and wealth breakdown indicated that the future of the county was one of poverty for Trenton and the adjacent areas of communities like Lawrence, Ewing, and Hamilton.

But the outer-ring communities like Princeton, Hopewell, and other rich Mercer County municipalities are set to remain as places where little of the lower and middle class workforce occupying crucial service jobs will ever be able to live.

Like The Ruins of Trenton has detailed, Mercer County and the rest of New Jersey cannot continue on in this highly segregated existence, which inevitably results in reduced opportunities and little hope for the super-diverse pool of workers that makes up the backbone of the county’s economy.

Mercer County must embrace new, more stringent Council on Affordable Housing regulations and modified state housing law. Together, they impose greater workforce housing requirements on municipalities and eliminate the ability of wealthy suburbs to sell off their constitutionally mandated affordable housing obligations.

America is supposed to be a land dedicated to opportunity.

But sequestering affordable housing opportunities within the state capital and the surrounding areas results in the hoarding of economic and social resources in the richer, outlying towns of Mercer and the subjection of the neediest people in the inner, Trenton-dominated area to the most adverse and difficult of situations.

On top of this social wrongdoing, the economic and social chaos that ensues creates conditions that are strongly adverse to homeowners, businesses, and industry within Trenton and the rest of the urban core.

The resulting situation saps municipal tax revenue and requires ever-larger state-funded subsidies that only serve to worsen the fiscal burden on New Jersey's overtaxed residents.

It is nothing, if not a lose-lose situation for everyone in the Capital County.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Give the mayor his revolution

Gov. Jon S. Corzine and his slashing of municipal aid dollars this year are to blame for the impending closure of four of the city’s branch libraries.

That was the opinion of Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, according the pages of today’s Trentonian, which had the mayor responding to civic outrage over the plan. The article was penned by Mayor Palmer's favorite mouthpiece, the objective and unbiased L.A. Parker.

The mayor's public response was part of an attempt to head off what Mr. Parker chose to describe as a possible civic “revolution” over the Nov. 1 closure of the libraries, which represent some of the city’s few remaining safe havens for the urban youth in the socially distressed City of Trenton.

Yesterday, at the time of the plan being made public, there was talk among residents about starting an all-out civic movement to keep the branches open. It would likely start with the undertaking of an official petition drive to demonstrate the overwhelming public support these facilities have, throughout the city and in all of Trenton’s social and economic strata.

On a positive note, Friday’s Trentonian piece had new libraries chief Kimberly Bray saying that the library system did have a contingency plan, requiring over $400,000, which would allow the branches to remain open on certain days throughout the week.

The Ruins of Trenton supports the plan and has a suggestion: City Council ought to demand budget information and use it to immediately make an emergency transfer of funds out of the city’s general fund and into the library budget, to head off this crisis.

Money can be found in the funds budgeted for Mayor Palmer’s personal chauffeuring and protection squad, by eliminating the unit entirely. It serves no purpose, since Mayor Palmer is not a highly regarded public official targeted for assassination, nor is he frequently in the city.

He doesn’t even really live here.

Perhaps eliminating the special counsel position occupied by attorney Joe Alacqua or firing City Attorney Denise Lyles is in order, since the two occupy positions that seem to essentially perform the same function.

Outgoing Police Director Joseph Santiago should be ordered to turn over $136,000 to the city to pay back all of the unnecessary and free taxpayer-funded legal support he received during his residency fight earlier this year.

No other city employee being brought up for violating the city's residency law has been afforded such an expensive perk, and the return of the money would go a long way towards putting the library system’s contingency plan into action.

There are many other areas of ridiculous fiscal waste where funds can be found to keep open the city’s library branches. Those areas need to be tapped immediately, so these important city institutions can remain open and continue to provide somewhat of a bulwark against this great city’s social ills.

If this does not occur, then residents rallying around the libraries need to realize that the city government is no longer serving their interests.

Perhaps a recall petition is in order, which would bring Mayor Palmer and the rest of the city exactly what The Trentonian said he is working to head off - a revolution.

Reflections on Santiago's final days

In the waning days of the leadership of outgoing Police Director Joseph Santiago, the City of Trenton has been treated to a litany of incidents that show exactly why this man cannot be allowed to direct city law enforcement efforts any longer.

In 12 days or so Mr. Santiago will have to leave his office, after two different courts declared that his violation of the city residency ordinance meant his ouster, despite the pathetic attempts of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and other administration officials to save Mr. Santiago's employment.

Since those rulings Trenton has been treated to business as usual under Mr. Santiago, regarding crime, management gaffes, and an overall lack of accountability that has many Trenton residents fuming.

There is the usual crime epidemic that has been the hallmark of Mr. Santiago's tenure here in Trenton. Despite Mr. Santiago's constant mantra of "crime is down, crime is down", the mounting reports of assaults, beatings, and robberies in many city neighborhoods put the lie to that slogan.

The manipulation of crime reporting with an eye to showing that Trenton is better off than in any period since the late 1960s doesn't hold water. Trentonians know what is happening on their streets, and it isn't pretty.

Besides the simple ineffective law enforcement, there are the more pronounced lapses of leadership. Of course, leadership is a hard thing to provide to a 300-man police department when the supposed leader doesn't show up for work half the time.

Regardless of Mr. Santiago's lax personal attendance, his leadership style and management decisions have resulted in the elevation of unqualified cronies to the upper echelons of the department. There they wreak havoc on their fellow officers and damage the effectiveness and public image of the city's first defense against criminals and gangsters.

Capt. Paul "Sleepy" Messina continues to provide local newspaperman with great material - repeatedly falling asleep while on duty, sexually harassing female officers, and becoming the target of Internal Affairs probes for verbally assaulting traffic officers in the streets for no apparent reason, in full view of the public.

There's Mr. Santiago's former Newark associate and current Communications Director Irving Bradley, who was brought in with the endorsement of Mr. Santiago.

In the year since he arrived, Mr. Bradley has severely disrupted operations within the city's Communications Division, become the target of a potentially costly lawsuit filed by angry subordinates, and been caught taking city vehicles 50 miles north to his old home in Rahway.

Additionally, state Department of Personnel officials said Mr. Bradley is unqualified for his position, and photographs widely distributed appear to prove that Mr. Bradley is breaking the city's residency law, just like his Newark pal Mr. Santiago.

There has been the skyrocketing of overtime costs, the abuse of city vehicles for personal use and transportation to places far away from Trenton, and the demotion of otherwise effective officers to positions and shifts undeserving of their superior talent.

Now, rumors running rampant in Trenton political circles have Mayor Palmer swooping in at the last moment on Mr. Santiago's last day in power on Sept. 22, and appointing the ousted associate to some sort of "acting" position to continue to lead the department.

Luckily for Trenton, Mr. Santiago must first establish bona fide residency in the city, meaning his wife and children must pack up, leave their current Morris County home, and become part of the city's community.

But this is something that Mr. Santiago swore he would never do, when sued by a group of city residents - including me - and the city's own City Council. All parties demanded his immediate relocation to Trenton, with his family, as called for in the city's longtime residency law.

The director refused, sparking a lengthy and costly court battle that drained the city of over $100,000.

Now, even with a move into Trenton and an attempt at reappointment, Mr. Santiago would still have to pass muster and receive a confirming majority of City Council votes from a body made up of people who have become enemies of Mr. Santiago's during the residency battle.

Add all of this to what Trenton has experienced during the ousted director's tenure, especially of late, and it looks like the deck is truly stacked against Mr. Santiago and Mayor Palmer on this one.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The death of knowledge in Trenton: city to close four libraries

The City of Trenton is in a dire state indeed.

City officials have made the decision to each of the Trenton Public Library branches scattered throughout the city's four wards due to fiscal problems, with the exception of the main branch on Academy Street, according to The Times of Trenton.

In doing so the city will be cutting off one of the best resources Trenton’s people have in accessing knowledge and information that can show help both the young and the old to advance themselves and improve their lives.

The wealth of information these facilities provided, especially in many parts of the city that suffer from social and economic chaos, sometimes represented a font of invaluable assistance in pursuing a way out of a life of crime and poverty for many in the city.

These libraries provide a place where Trenton’s kids can escape from the peer pressures and the problems of the inner-city and read books and access computers that helped many to fashion a way out of a problematic, and ultimately deadly lifestyle.

Yet a city that wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars defending employees of little value in the courts and carting a mayor around in purchased vehicles with armed bodyguards like some ancient emperor, has now ruled that spending money to keep open what are frequently the last vestiges of knowledge and hope in some places is too great a fiscal burden to bear.

Additionally, it has been documented quite thoroughly by Councilman Jim Coston that the city’s library officials have frittered away millions of dollars in funds.

After hearing about these activities, Trenton’s residents are now told that many of these important institutions are going to close, and that the city residents employed at each branch will be informed of their impending unemployment, through e-mail, or all things.

These libraries are extremely important tools in fighting the poverty, lawlessness, and general lack of education that has taken root in some of the city’s neighborhood.

The fight against all of these scourges will be significantly more difficult without the branch libraries, which provide islands of hope in areas of the city that have sometimes become oceans of despair.

The branch libraries must not be allowed to close. If they do, the officials responsible for such a reprehensible act - announced on Sept. 11th no less – must be held accountable.

The best to do so is at the ballot box in 2010.

Another day, another indictment

Another day, another powerful New Jersey politician goes down in flames, netted in a federal corruption probe that, when added to all the others, is probably resulting in the decline of the shock value of the words "eight-count indictment".

That powerful politician was Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, who was indicted on Wednesday along with business and political associate Dennis Oury in a federal corruption probe that most people could have seen coming from at least a mile away.

People in New Jersey should be growing sick of the repeated misbehavior of the political elite.

Their constant corruption and legal, yet questionable activities like pay-to-play, wheeling, and having constant, public conflicts of interest are costing New Jersey residents billions of dollars, yet few seem to be doing anything meaningful about it.

This statement does not refer to public watchdog groups like Citizen Action and Common Cause, which have experienced significant, if limited success in fighting for the public interest.

These statements refer to many of those holding political power, from the politicians currently in public office to those in any position of political power and influence, throughout the maligned, but great Garden State.

Implicated in all of this are the major political parties, both of which are guilty for the current situation.

The Democratic Party has promised real ethics reform for years but has yet to pass comprehensive bans on pay-to-play and wheeling. If enacted they would put a serious damper on the ability of politicians to sap municipal, county, an state coffers in an effort to hold onto power and influence, through deciding who gets government contracts and jobs in return for political contributions and support.

But the Republican Party hasn't to use this inaction to its advantage. The GOP has failed to effectively hammer the ethical flaws of its opponents home to secure additional political power and pass laws to change the system that has empowered those across the aisle.

If they did this with any type of success they would separate themselves from their opponents and probably even scare some Democratic politicians straight with the threat of losing office, power, or both.

The inaction of the parties down the way on West State Street makes it clear that any change in the status quo is going to have to come from the public.

New Jerseyans need to start making it clear that cleaning up the cesspool of corruption that has come to embody state politics is a priority, and that the current situation has long outlived its entertainment value.

Wanted are leaders who will make it their platform to stamp these activities out by making all of them illegal, through comprehensive ethics reform legislation.

Finding out that you're being robbed almost daily by those who are supposed to be looking after your money and your interests is no way to go through life.