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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Musical chairs, anyone?

New Jersey public officials always seem to be engaging in a wild game of musical chairs, whether it's regarding actual positions of employment or moral or political positions on how the government should be run.

Tuesday’s announcement that Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum was leaving Trenton to take up a similar position up in Perth Amboy, with Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez taking her position, is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Only months ago, many in the city breathed a sigh of relief after hearing reports that stated Mr. Gonzalez – the same guy who threatened city residents who questioned his work with lawsuits – was the one preparing to leave the city to take up a new position, also in Perth Amboy.

His longtime friend but eventual enemy, Mayor Joseph Vas, was defeated in the recent mayoral election, bringing a new administration into power and perhaps opening up a way for Mr. Gonzalez’s return.

Such a move seems to make a little more sense than the Feigenbaum announcement, considering Mr. Gonzalez’s long-time connections up there, after having grown up there, with Mr. Vas, who made Mr. Gonzalez law director after Mr. Vas was elected sometime in the early 1990s.

But, as many do in New Jersey, the relationship soured, after Mr. Vas fired Mr. Gonzalez’s wife and city aide Kim McReynolds in late 1995 for failing to substantiate the reason she had to take off an extended period of time from work, after she had a cancerous lump removed from her tongue.

Then, in 1997, Mr. Gonzalez got the axe, after Perth Amboy City Council voted to change his job to a part-time position. Some council members like Joseph Misiewicz told The Star-Ledger that the move was a personal attack designed to “get rid of Dennis.” With the salary cut in half, Mr. Gonzalez left the position, about a month later.

Things got worse in October, when Mr. Vas filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court Ethics Committee, charging Mr. Gonzalez had violated attorney-client privilege by talking about opinions he had given to the city at public meetings, and later commenting on his wife’s termination to a reporter. Although the committee found no evidence of wrongdoing, relations got even worse.

“I think the fact that he didn’t inform me is cowardly and dishonest,” said Mr. Gonzalez, to The Star-Ledger. “If he had any sense of decency, he would forwarded a copy of the complaint to me.”

Then, in 1998, Mr. Gonzalez went head-to-head with Mr. Vas’ own slate of City Council candidates in the election, running on a slate of anti-Vas candidates. Although he lost badly, his public comments from the time represent another type of musical chairs, in that they contradict the manner in which he and other administration officials in Trenton frequently treat City Council members.

“It’s wrong what’s going on in Perth Amboy,” said Mr. Gonzalez in a Star-Ledger piece about the election, saying Mr. Vas controlled City Council.

Mr. Gonzalez also said he wanted to use his legal prowess and sit on a strengthened City Council to maintain a balance of power in city government, according to The Star-Ledger.

But judging by how Mr. Gonzalez and Ms. Feigenbaum acted down here in Trenton, it looks likes the new acting business administrator had a change of heart in many ways, but especially regarding the importance of having a balance of power and a strong governing body.

That’s probably good for his conscience about his hometown, because people there are probably in for a rough time, with Ms. Feigenbaum’s entrance into the Perth Amboy scene along with reports that the Vas administration's activities are being probed by the FBI.

Welcome to New Jersey....

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