My blog has moved!

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Barry is back

Barry Colicelli is back as Trenton’s official gang consultant, after City Council voted Tuesday to award the former Newark police officer’s company a $71,000 contract to coordinate the city’s YOUTHSTAT program.

The vote comes nearly one year after the same City Council voted not to renew a similar contract for Mr. Colicelli, citing a lack of accountability and other issues. This time around Mr. Colicelli’s contract is being paid out of a $300,000 federal grant instead of the city’s coffers, and Trenton is not providing the consultant with a vehicle, cell phone, or office.

Mr. Colicelli will be required to make quarterly reports to City Council regarding progress in the various youth programs he will be coordinating, after his previous tenure with city included little or no appearance at council for extended periods of time.

Despite increased accountability in this new contract, its awarding is quite a disappointment. Many in Trenton feel that this gang consultant works here solely because of his relationship with ex-police director Joseph Santiago and current Police Director Irving Bradley, Jr., who also came from the Newark Police Department.

Also disappointing is the fact that a well-qualified city resident with experience that would have been very helpful in the gang consultant’s position applied for the job, and was passed over by city officials because of Mr. Colicelli’s police experience.

That rationale doesn't hold much water, considering the fact that this position is more about youth services and experience coordinating social service agencies - something the city applicant - than experience fighting criminal gangs. The request for proposal advertising the new contract didn’t even mention police experience, and even if it did, many officers say that Mr. Colicelli’s skills are average at best.

What is scary about Tuesday's vote is that administration officials have still not informed City Council about how Mr. Colicelli was paid for several months and retained the use of a city car and cell phone even though his contract expired, during late 2007 and early 2008.

Perhaps the injection of some additional accountability into the new contract is a good thing, but giving this contract to a Trenton resident would have been better.

City Council members should have demanded answers about the shenanigans that occurred at the end of Mr. Colicelli’s last contract and insisted on awarding the contract to a city resident. Doing so would have provided real accountability.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Santiago's new boss implicated in corruption probe

It seems that Joseph Santiago, Trenton’s former police director and the current police director of Irvington, is in good company up in Essex County.

There a politically connected gentleman by the name of Keith O. Reid has implicated the man who brought Mr. Santiago into the Irvington fold, Mayor Wayne Smith, in a state corruption probe that netted numerous New Jersey public officials for bribery, according to published reports.

Mr. Reid said that he accepted $5,000 in bribes from undercover agents to be delivered to Mr. Santiago’s big supporter, Mayor Smith, in return for ensuring the awarding of a Irvington municipal contract to a fake government insurance firm set up by the feds.

A Star-Ledger piece today stated that tape recordings of the proceedings demonstrated that Mr. Reid organized a meeting between representatives from the fake firm and Mayor Smith in August of 2007. The representative, Bruce Begg, offered the Irvington mayor a $5,000 payment for the contract – calling it a “pre-commission” – but the mayor told Mr. Begg to give it to Mr. Reid, according to the report.

Back in Trenton, City Council is holding a marathon doubleheader meeting today where few city residents will be in attendance, since the meeting begins at 1 p.m. Sadly there are some very interesting items on the meeting docket.

Palmer administration officials have scheduled a city vehicle policy discussion, in response to Councilman Jim Coston, who has been calling for an examination of the policy and the institution of a vehicle ordinance to better regulate the municipal fleet.

Councilman Coston has also been brandishing a potential ordinance, although it is likely that administration officials and their allies on council will block the passage of the ordinance. Thankfully, citizens can take this matter into their own hands through an ordinance initiative.

Also, a contract for former gang consultant Barry Colicelli is up for discussion and possible passage. Council members ended his relationship with the city 11 months ago, but it appears that the majority on council that did so has weakened and what represented a positive step towards better government accountability could be reversed today.

Council members cited a lack of accountability and demonstrable work product in eliminating the contract last year, so one wonders what has changed to warrant reexamining this unnecessary expenditure.

More on this tomorrow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fix state pensions

It is easy to see why lawmakers might be concerned over the fact that New Jersey’s pension fund has lost $23 billion this year, but they don’t appear to be doing anything really substantive about it.

The pension fund is now at $57.8 billion - less than half of what is owed to eligible public employees - after the markets went into a tailspin this year, but lawmakers don’t seem to understand that. They are convening talks on why the massive decrease occurred, instead of convening talks on how to begin weaning state employees off of this sucking wound of a pension system.

That’s what they really ought to be doing, because this system is killing off the rest of the state.

This problem goes beyond all the state tax revenue that goes into the pension sinkhole each year, instead of state services. In addition to those billions, this year alone New Jersey’s municipalities owe $1 billion in funds for the pension system. That figure will have to be levied through local taxes, in a place that already has some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine may have proposed allowing towns to put off paying out half of that figure to a later date, but all that represents is a delay of the property tax hikes that will inevitably follow municipal payments into the pension fund.

This downturn and what it has done to the pension system is a wake up call to state officials. Instead of convening talks to discuss how the pension fund got here, which is quite obvious, they need to seriously consider reforming this system before it completely consumes New Jersey’s economic well being.

A good start would be looking into a more traditional 401(k) program for new hires. State worker unions will cry foul, so it will be up to the rest of the state’s residents to make it quite clear that a lack of reform will result in a lack of votes when it is election time in 2009.

It is time for lawmakers to begin putting the interests of all of the state’s residents ahead of the interests of state employees and their unions. That starts with actual reform of this maligned system, instead of holding discussions on how we got here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gang czar contract resurfaces

With what appears to be a solid City Council majority of rubber stampers in hand, Palmer administration officials are poised to bring forward a resolution awarding former city gang consultant Barry Colicelli a contract to work at his old position once again.

The resolution, which is on City Council's Tuesday docket in the amount of $71,149, probably would not have been placed there were Mayor Douglas H. Palmer not totally assured of its passage, so its emergence likely means that one of the councilmen who voted against the contract earlier this year has flipped his position.

That man could be Councilman Gino Melone.

Mr. Melone demonstrated a new outlook on administration initiatives earlier this fall when he voted for the confirmation of Police Director Irving Bradley, Jr., despite lingering questions about Mr. Bradley's residency, Mr. Melone's own formerly strong position on residency, and other red flags about the appointment.

It should be interesting to hear Mr. Melone's comments, if there are any, during this vote, in light of what he said when he voted against the contract last February.

"I feel we have capable individuals" to fulfill Colicelli's role, said Mr. Melone, who also cited cost and accountability during his previous negative vote on the contract, according to The Times of Trenton.

A lot has changed since that article, when the contract last surfaced.

The city faces a potential $28 million budget deficit, and every municipal department has experienced 10 percent budget cuts and the threat of layoffs. Crime, according to Mayor Palmer, is continuing to drop, so there appears to be little need to take on another expense.

Yet this is the time Palmer administration officials have chosen to bring back a hefty contract that City Council strongly rejected only 10 months ago.

With a yes vote this time around, council members better be prepared to tell their constituents exactly what has changed since the last time this albatross of a contract came up in City Council chambers.

Without justification, approval simply means that Mayor Palmer has wheeled and dealed and once again co-opted a majority of City Council members out of being the proper check on administrative power that they are supposed to be.

That is certainly a sad state of affairs for Trenton.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dollars and development

Trenton’s future rests on using the power of the city government to pursue realistic redevelopment projects to increase ratables and city revenue.

But the current fiscal condition of the city presents a major roadblock to this, perhaps the city’s only salvation, and correcting these fiscal imbalances should be the first priority for any future administrations or aspiring politicians, not pie-in-the-sky laundry lists that are completely unrealistic.

Without pursuing this fiscal sobriety, nearly any other worthwhile initiatives or causes will be severely compromised, because Trenton simply has no money to properly fund them.

Trenton doesn’t even have enough money to cover its own service costs in a good year, and when things get bad, the problem grows to epic proportions. Just look at how annual, more modest shortfalls have morphed into a $28 million budget shortfall today.

Although the city government has to make ends meet and cover current service costs before it can even begin to consider pursuing any kind of redevelopment projects, such a path seems to mortgage the prospect of any future improvements.

The process is similar to the struggles of families in poverty, where persons have to pay off daily or monthly costs that leave them penniless to pay for the education, career advancement, or other pursuits that could lead the way out of poverty.

Similarly to how Mitt Romney described starving off automobile research and development to cover regular costs, this forced fiscal neglect to development because of a need to pay off operating costs is like a population relying on agriculture for future sustenance making a decision to eat the seed corn.

We need to start using our seed corn to plant future improvements, and that reality leads to the conclusion that Trenton’s government and its public officials’ way of life is too grandiose and too costly for the city’s own good.

The city can’t even pay for its own services and is forced to resort to begging for emergency funds from state and federal governments that are now experiencing their own fiscal problems. The spigot of emergency money might soon get shut off, and then the city will really be up a creek.

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to free up capital for development purposes, although some may be painful for the cadre of entitled public officials that have prospered under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s leadership.

They may not like it, but all perks must end.

A good place to start would be the elimination of the provision of municipal vehicles to employees without any overall policy dictating their use. Those vehicles need to be taken away and sold off to the highest bidder, eliminating fuel, insurance, and maintenance costs and freeing up millions for other purposes.

All unnecessary staff working in support of city administrators must be put to work in more critical city departments or be taken off the payroll, and layoffs need to fall on support staff that are overpaid and provide little obvious service to the city instead of other low-ranking municipal workers.

The funding of unnecessary pet programs and junkets for municipal officials must stop as well. City gang czars and police officials that are perfectly well-educated must not be allowed to attend lengthy crime seminars and governmental meetings in faraway places on the city’s dime.

There are surely other areas of great savings to be found within the city’s municipal budget. If they’re found and eliminated, the city government might actually be able to pursue redevelopment projects and other revitalization that will actually increase ratables and work towards addressing the city’s underlying fiscal problems.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mortgaging the city's future

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but for a city like Trenton, laying off 69 low-ranking municipal workers is a poor way of dealing with a million-dollar budget deficit.

Yet that is exactly what the city administration under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has proposed to deal with a budget deficit that could become as large as $28 million, should a proposal to sell outlying Trenton Water Works infrastructure fail to pass muster with the state Board of Public Utilities.

The layoff plan, like the water deal, is highly indicative of the type of the reckless problem-solving offered by those great minds in the Palmer administration. It would be much better to cut a much lower number of high-paid and unnecessary positions in the administration - perhaps 10 - than to cut this rather high number of low-ranking positions.

Trenton has a residency ordinance, so it is safe to say that a high proportion of those 69 employees who face being laid off probably live within the city limits. The higher ranks may make more money but they also likely have tenure in excess of 15 years of service, exempting them from required residency and joining the taxbase.

Despite being at a lower position in the municipal hierarchy, the layoff-prone employees' municipal work makes them relatively well-off given Trenton's income levels and cost of living. It probably means they are contributing to the tax base through the ownership of city homes and property.

But due to Trenton's overall economic and social conditions, it is also safe to say that many of those employees will seek work and shelter elsewhere once they are laid off and freed from residency.

In sum, the city is reducing future tax revenue to deal with a shortfall in present revenue, by allowing property owners and taxpayers to flee the city when there are better-paid and unnecessary positions available for cutting. These higher positions are just one of a host of other cost-saving measures that don't carry nearly the same economic penalty as layoffs. Culling the city's municipal vehicle herd is a good example.

This whole layoff plan is very similar to the strategy the city is employing in eliminating the future revenue generated by the outlying water infrastructure from future use to fulfill a need for present revenue, by selling off that same infrastructure.

Both plans illustrate a reckless disregard for the city's future financial stability, in that both are examples of dealing with long-term financial problems with short-term, one-time solutions.

It may be fine for Mayor Palmer and his cronies, who seem to have already begun departing to faraway places where they won't have to deal with Trenton's fiscal woes. But sadly, their solutions fail to take into account the welfare of the 80,000 people who will remain in Trenton. What about us?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bryant goes down

Former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, who was one of the state’s most powerful legislators at one point, was convicted Tuesday of using his clout to steer millions of dollars in extra aid and support to a state medical school in exchange for receiving a no-show, pension-padding position there.

R. Michael Gallagher, the former dean of the University of Medicine and Dentistry New Jersey's School of Osteopathic Medicine, was also convicted of numerous charges in connection with his hiring of the legislator for the no-show job after Mr. Bryant used his power to make Mr. Gallagher dean at the same school, U.S. Attorney Chris Christie announced Tuesday.

Under federal sentencing guidelines each defendant faces over 15 years in prison, although U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson has discretion to impose sentences outside of the range provided by those guidelines.

The investigation revealed that Mr. Bryant, who had past connections with some powerful Mercer County Democrats, took salaries from the medical school, the Gloucester County Board of Social Services, and Rutgers University Camden, despite doing little to no work for any of the institutions.

At the Gloucester County Board of Social Services Mr. Bryant worked a little over 14 hours from 2002 to 2006 yet received $200,000 in compensation, plus contributions to his state pension. Similarly, Mr. Bryant worked roughly one day a week at the medical school and successfully boosted his pension from $28,000 in 2002 to $81,000 in 2006 through this fraud, Mr. Christie said.

Mr. Bryant becomes the latest in a series of high-ranking public officials to go down on federal corruption charges brought by Mr. Christie.

The U.S. Attorney, who has secured a conviction or guilty plea from every person he has prosecuted, is resigning his office at the end of this month to make room for President Barack Obama’s eventual attorney appointee and perhaps pursue a run at the Republican gubernatorial nomination for 2009.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Then and now

A rather interesting New York Times piece that was written just before Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's victory in the June 1990 runoff election has the man who remains the city's mayor telling the Times that he was running to make "Trenton what it used to be in the 50s and 60s, a city of safe streets and decent housing."

Such statements make it clear that few can honestly say that the mayor has had any real success in achieving that vision, and other content in the piece indicates that a chasm of discrepancies have developed between Mr. Palmer then and Mayor Palmer now.

What was promised then and what is happening now demonstrates an ever-lengthening record of reversals and failure.

The man who regularly lobbies the state government for handout dollars and assistance used to say that the city “was too reliant” on such assistance and that the city should turn away from that support through its own development, according to The New York Times.

But his pursuit of private development resulted in a record of dismal failure for the majority of development projects, whether they originated under the city’s direction or the direction of other entities.

Projects that experienced some success, like Waterfront Park and The Sovereign Bank Arena, were county-sponsored and orchestrated, and no similar successes are evident in the Palmer redevelopment portfolio.

The mayor has since turned back to the state and federal government. Besides the usual begging, he has frequently said the state does not delivers its fair share in payments in lieu of taxes for all the so-called “valuable” downtown property state buildings occupy, although one wonders what downtown - and Trenton for that matter - would be without the presence of the state.

More recently, the mayor told the feds that they have not done enough to support urban areas and should therefore pony up dollars to bail out city governments like his. So much for independence…

Also, since those early days, the mayor has become more and more a man that Trenton supports instead of a man who supports Trenton.

Perhaps out of recognition that fixing Trenton requires too much effort for his welfare and that national positions provide greater power, recognition, and less effort, the former county freeholder, school district purchasing agent, local guy, and Spring Street resident has taken to the national stage.

From there he pushes policies that have not benefited many in Trenton, while spending most of his time outside the city.

The domestic policies the man supported in his earliest days have failed, and he has since reversed both his identity and positions. He alternately clings to the city as a means of support, power, and fame and then abandons it for extended periods to bask in the exposure of the national stage, where his domestic failures are hidden.

While this has gone on, the city has continued suffering down the exact same road it was when he made grandiose promises about this “new vision for Trenton.” Perhaps it is time for both the city and the man to move on.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A so-so record

Some Trenton City Council members planning on running for reelection or for election to other municipal seats in 2010 are probably going to have a tough time pointing out their legislative achievements when confronted by worthwhile opponents.

The body hasn't really passed much of anything in the form of its own legislation recently, as many of its members have effectively served as a rubber-stamping operation for most of the past three years, save for a few triumphant and memorable moments.

Those "good" moments include standing up to the administration on the issue of renewing former Gang Czar Barry Colicelli's unneeded service contract, questioning former Police Director Joseph Santiago's residency, and saying no to purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of unnecessary police service weapons.

However, City Council has already begun to backtrack on many of these former triumphs.

In the case of residency, they recently went in reverse by affirming alleged residency breaker Irving Bradley as police director, and in Mr. Colicelli's case, word is that the administration is planning to once again bring the ex-Newark cop and Santiago crony back in the fold, perhaps with the approval of a majority of council members already guaranteed.

Even on issues that council members themselves have promised to take action, little has been done. Councilwoman Annette Lartigue publicly vowed to push for reforming the city's municipal vehicle usage, but she dragged her feet for so long that it was actually Councilman Jim Coston who finally began pushing legislation on the issue after weeks of stonewalling from the administration.

An even greater example of council inaction is the library funding debacle, in which Mayor Douglas H. Palmer nearly forced the closure of four of the city's beloved branch libraries through a 10 percent cut to the library budget.

While many council members have expressed their support and even undertaken activities aimed at keeping the libraries open, few have spoken openly of properly using their statutory powers to control budgetary practices in injecting funds into the library system's coffers.

Doing so would augment all of the wonderful private organizing and fundraising efforts that have emerged because of the closures, but apparently the current council members don't see things that way.

This tendency to be reluctant or timid about using the powers of an elected office and remaining rather inactive are not the best attributes for elected officials. Maybe Trenton should look for people who have a contrary record when it comes to the makeup of the next City Council.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Residency is about the law, and not the person

Politicians of dubious value don’t usually last very long in the public arena without having a knack for implementing keenly developed strategies when it comes to pushing for a particular initiative, policy, or even a personal whim.

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer is providing a perfect example of such skills right now, through the public relations campaign being orchestrated around the employment of Police Director Irving Bradley.

Mr. Bradley’s predecessor, Joseph Santiago, was ousted for blatantly violating the city’s residency ordinance with the strong support of Mayor Palmer. A lawsuit, filed by citizens including me, showed the weakness of such a position when two different courts ruled that Mayor Palmer did not have king-like abilities to waive employment requirements for employees, and that Mr. Santiago had to go.

Following that spectacular defeat, Mayor Palmer’s political skills are fully on display. First, a few weeks ago he convinced a majority of formerly combative City Council members to confirm Mr. Bradley, despite lingering questions over the director’s residency and that body’s formerly strong stance on residency.

After a majority of council members demonstrated that their previous position on residency was ephemeral in nature, a lawsuit that everyone knew was coming was immediately filed over the new director’s residency, which is questionable at best, given that his immediate family lives 40 miles outside the city.

With the lawsuit now hanging over Mr. Bradley and Mayor Palmer, the mayor is skillfully suppressing his hatred of city police officers and pushing Mr. Bradley to be everything that Mr. Santiago was not: a good, attentive, and responsive leader, a leader respectful of the police rank-and-file, and a leader not constantly out to put police officers in their place.

Mayor Palmer is trying to make Mr. Bradley look like one of the greatest police leaders the city has ever had, probably to make the people trying to oust the director look misguided and driven by interests other than the betterment of the city.

He is trying to turn the people who disliked Mr. Santiago, because of his leadership style and policing decisions, against the citizens seeking Mr. Bradley’s ouster. Those people should know, however, that the minute the lawsuit or any other kind of threat dissipates Mayor Palmer will likely begin making the lives of Trenton police officers difficult once again.

For people like me, solace comes from the fact that supporting residency has always been about the law and not personal attributes or relationships. Regardless of how poorly Mr. Santiago ran the department, and how well Mr. Bradley could now run the department, our position remains the same.

We don't particularly care about who is the director of police, as long as they're a resident. What we do want is a mayor who follows the laws, and enforces the laws equally, regardless of an employee’s stature or relationship with the mayor.

Friday, November 14, 2008

STATEHOUSE UPDATE - Economic assistance bill advances

A General Assembly bill that would appropriate $22.5 million to fund food banks and soup kitchens, home heating assistance programs, and free legal services for low-income persons is advancing through the legislature, having been released by the Assembly Budget Committee this week.

The bill, if passed, would provide a tremendous boost to services that could be utilized by many of economically disadvantaged residents living in the City of Trenton and the rest of New Jersey.

The bill, No. 3374, provides approximately $3 million to the Department of Agriculture for what is known as the Hunger Initiative/Food Assistance Grant Program.

The program is one of the main avenues of support for many of the facilities that provide food for the state’s poor. The facilities have been increasingly stricken by falling donation levels and a surge in the number of families requiring help with food, as the economic crisis has worsened.

The second section of the bill provides $10 million to the Department of the Treasury to fund grants in the New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services program, which helps fiscally-strained individuals with paying their utility bills.

The program, which is administered through approximately 150 community agencies, is the nation’s only statewide program that provides such grants to New Jersey residents, many of whom fall in an "in-between" income bracket that makes them ineligible for other types of utility assistance.

The final section of the bill provides $9.5 million in funds to the Department of the Treasury for the Legal Services of New Jersey, a non-profit group that provides low-income individuals and families with badly-needed legal services.

This non-profit agency has become especially helpful because of the mortgage crisis, which has resulted in thousands of foreclosures for many families that lack the financial resources to secure their own legal services while dealing with foreclosure proceedings.

The bill, which is part of a package of economic assistance requested by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, still needs to head to the full Assembly for an eventual vote for passage.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The proof is in the timing

On the same night that the Trenton Library Board of Trustees voted to temporarily halt a plan to close four of the city’s branch libraries, West Ward councilwoman and potential 2010 mayoral candidate Annette Lartigue held a fundraiser to support those libraries.

The odd timing of the fundraiser, however coincidental, and what it symbolizes is somewhat reminiscent of how some Republican presidential candidates were forced into carefully dealing with a highly unpopular President George W. Bush, despite prior party affiliation and support.

Like the outgoing president, Mayor Palmer has become increasingly unpopular in the community, especially through budget cut proposals and the branch library closure plan. How unpopular the cuts and closures are is evidenced by how Mayor Palmer, after eyeing the public reaction, actually worked to reverse the closure plan brought on by his own cuts.

Such unpopularity, with a 2010 election looming for some potential mayoral and council candidates, is a good catalyst for shifting the perception of support and association. A peek at what such shifts could look like is the odd timing of Councilwoman Lartigue’s Trenton fundraiser, which was aimed at closing some of the $350,000 budget gap imposed on the libraries by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s budget cuts.

This rather awkward timing appears to demonstrate an acknowledgement by some in the community of their feelings about what this board of Palmer cronies has done to the management of the libraries’ finances. Even among board members Councilwoman Lartigue's timing raised some eyebrows, like the pair that belongs to longtime Palmer family friend Adrienne Hayling, who told The Trentonian that the timing was “embarrassing.”

Such a reaction from the trustees, who voted on a plan to reduce hours and staffing at some of the libraries to allow them to remain open, shows they were quite aware of how they have been placed out of the loop when it comes to fundraising efforts like, Councilwoman Lartigue’s event.

The unfortunate thing for Palmer supporters who may end up on the 2010 ballot is that spearheading these events to prevent physical association with the mayor and his policies will probably not be sufficient to sway many voters.

Like a national electorate fed up with years of Bush mismanagement, many citizens in this city are on the lookout for a significant political shift indicated by a turn away from the broken government and policy that has become the hallmark of the Palmer administration. That just has not happened yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another city revenue source

Trenton’s city officials ought to begin lobbying the city’s legislative delegation to get those representatives to push for amendments to state law that allows municipalities to enact payroll taxes.

A statute currently exists that allows municipalities in New Jersey to pass a 1 percent payroll tax on certain businesses and operations with a payroll of greater than $2,500, but unfortunately for the state capital, the 20,000 state workers employed in the city are exempt from that tax.

That could change with some diligent work by the city’s legislative representation, which includes some of the more powerful legislators in the state of New Jersey. They could use their standing to push for amending the statute to allow Trenton to tap the enormous wealth that goes into state worker paychecks and then flees the city's borders for the suburbs.

Yes, it may prove unpopular with state unions, but that opposition could be tempered with popular support, because of the fact that such a measure would allow Trenton to generate additional revenue and reduce its reliance on the state for millions of dollars in handouts every single year, which comes out directly from the pockets of all taxpayers.

Right now Trenton faces a multimillion dollar budget shortfall that will likely require, like last year, an emergency infusion of state tax dollars. Such an event could have been precluded if the city had access to what could amount to millions of dollars in payroll taxes.

Also, plenty of other cities outside of New Jersey have enacted similar measures, and in allowing Trenton to join those cities the state government would be working to address a perception in Trenton that the state, as a city stakeholder, does not share the load when it comes to city services.

Local opposition to such a plan could emerge because of such a tax’s perceived impact on the city’s smaller businesses, but perhaps the tax ordinance could be amended to have a greater payroll requirement, therefore saving many of the city’s smaller businesses, but not the state, from being subject to the tax.

Trenton residents not working in the city or at large businesses should also be comforted to know their city would have another revenue source besides the one coming directly out of their collective pockets, which has been increased for seven consecutive years.

It is time to creatively look for money in places elsewhere than the pockets of city taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Doug wants a do-over

Mounting public pressure has apparently caused Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer to cave in and hold off on his proposal to close four of the city’s branch libraries because of the city’s fiscal problems.

The mayor, during a press conference held Monday, said that the city’s library director and board of trustees had worked out a plan where the libraries would remain open, albeit with reduced hours and staffing.

Unfortunately for the city’s residents, who so valiantly came out against this proposal and began raising money to close the libraries’ $300,000 budget gap, there is nothing in yesterday’s public statements indicating that the city has moved to address the underlying cause of the library system’s problems.

The board of trustees, filled with Palmer-appointed cronies including the mayor’s sister and a longtime family friend, is apparently maintaining its current makeup, which resulted in the frittering away of millions of dollars and the institution of horrendous accounting and auditing practices.

While one accounting firm with longtime ties to the library system will be let go, another auditing firm will continue on to finish the most recent audit, operating under what city officials called “the more standardized and appropriate procedures generally utilized in the municipal area.”

That’s especially disturbing if it means the library will work like the city does, when it comes to finances, accounting and auditing.

In Trenton’s case, “standardized and appropriate” fiscal practices usually mean misappropriated money given to contractors without contracts.

These same practices, as implemented by the City of Trenton, have resulted in money being wasted on unnecessary perks, and the hiring of auditing firms that give “clean” audits, defined as audits that show Public Works employees are incorrectly filling out time sheets and that finance officials routinely misplace millions of dollars in grants that are never received.

Yesterday’s announcement may mean that the city’s branch libraries have received a temporary stay when it comes to potential closures, but what happened yesterday was nothing more than a political do-over, in the face of mounting public pressure.

And since Mayor Palmer and other city officials did not do anything to address to real underlying causes of the mismanagement at the libraries, these problems are sure to emerge again, in the not-so-distant future.

Thanks for your valuable help, Doug.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fix the fire director issue

The city government in Trenton needs to start following its own rules.

That's not being done right now, thanks to people like Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Councilwoman Annette Lartigue, who either don't know or don't care about the some of the law that governs the way things are supposed to be done in Trenton.

A perfect example of this is the continuing saga of acting Fire Director Hank Gliottone. While occupying a civilian directorship that requires adherence to the city's residency ordinance, he also happens to be an actual firefighter, which exempts him from residency.

But also calling his continued employment as director into question is that City Council and Mayor Palmer have allowed Mr. Gliottone to continue in his position long after the statutory 90-day period for acting appointments expired.

At some point, a civilian director living in Trenton should have been found, but since the city declined to do this, Mr. Gliottone has continued in the position and has been commuting back and forth from his Jersey Shore home to Trenton in a city-owned and city-fueled vehicle, according to some officials.

Of course, Mayor Palmer and some council members chose to let this sleeping dog lie, until it became politically beneficial for Councilwoman Lartigue and others to use their administrative screw-up as a method of attacking residency supporters in the city, like me, for not calling Mr. Gliottone's employment into question when we have scrutinized others.

However, such a strategy ignores the fact that Mr. Gliottone's employment as both a firefighter and director exempts him from residency. It also ignores the fact that an arrangement that puts a non-civilian in a civilian's position, however silly, is the fault of no one but Trenton's elected officials.

Recognizing that, Councilwoman Lartigue, Mayor Palmer, and others who have questioned why residency supporters haven't gone after Mr. Gliotonne should be officially on notice that city residents expect them to immediately rectify any inconsistencies regarding the residency of the director and the apparent expiration of his 90-day appointment.

They should do this by either making Mr. Gliottone director and requiring him to move into the city, or by finding another city resident willing the lead the department and make a much shorter, less-costly taxpayer-funded commute.

When it comes to this problem, the only ones who should be sharing the blame are the city officials who created this situation, and not a group of vigilant residents who have no power whatsoever to rectify the specific issues raised by the fire director situation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

More spin at 319 E. State

City Council has once again been receiving false information from administration officials regarding city business.

Last week, South Ward Councilman Jim Coston proposed an ordinance setting the number of positions of various ranks in the Trenton Fire Department, as a safeguard against further tampering with the already stretched-thin organization by administration officials seeking to cut positions as a cost-saving measure.

During deliberations prior to the ordinance's eventual tabling, City Attorney Denise Lyles told City Council members that while they had an ability to set the number of various ranks within the city's police department, they did not have similar powers when it came to the fire department.

Such a position is plainly false, and it calls into question the validity and soundness of nearly any vote taken by City Council following the delivery of advice from Trenton's Law Department.

Dozens of New Jersey's cities have organizational ordinances setting the number of various ranks within those cities' fire departments. Any fool with a computer and a Web browser can find those ordinances in city codes online.

That same fool, if they were to dig hard enough, would find state law that clearly explains that the governing body of any municipality does indeed have the power to regulate the fire department, through the adoption of ordinances that mandate numbers of certain ranks and positions.

This fire department misinformation bit is the latest in a long line of incidents where high-paid members of the city administration provide questionable information to council members, in what appears to be an attempt to influence the city's representatives into making certain decisions about certain pieces of legislation.

The only problem is that council members don't seem to care about this, and nearly never call out these law department officials to hold them accountable.

When that happens, all of Trenton loses.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

City spins deer paddock elimination

It is always interesting to see how the Palmer administration tries to spin faulty decision-making, when it comes to eliminating city amenities because of fiscal mismanagement.

The City of Trenton's chosen public relations strategy in closing down the deer paddock in Cadwalader Park relies on the notion that park designer Frederick Law Olmsted never wanted to have the deer there in the first place. That much is clear from a public relations questionnaire put out on the city's Web site, which also details that maintaining the paddock and the animals costs the city around $50,000 a year, or approximately 66 percent of the annual cost of one of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's two police chauffeurs.

Expanding on Olmsted's apparent dislike of these four-legged park residents, the city goes on to state that many well-liked amenities have been removed from the park, because of the designer's desire for a park that was "more pastoral, and less programmed."

But the bottom line with the elimination of this amenity, and other budget-related decisions in Trenton, is that the city administration is simply not looking in the right places to make cuts, and is instead looking at eliminating important or well-liked services or amenities, like the city's branch libraries, and to a much lesser degree, the city's deer paddock.

Some people, including me, could care less about the deer paddock, and many have advocated for its removal, but it is also quite clear that there are many thousands of residents who enjoy having it and appreciate its existence here in this city.

For only $50,000, the city could easily keep the deer paddock in existence, just like the branch libraries, which face closure because of a $300,000 shortfall that represents an amazing service for many of the city's residents, for less than 2 percent of the city's entire annual budget.

It is obvious that there are plenty of sacred cows in the Palmer administration that should be feeling the budgetary axe before the libraries, and less so, the deer paddock.

But for this city government, a bloated administration flush with unnecessary perks and unneeded employment positions is more important than services and amenities that residents use and love.u

Friday, November 7, 2008

A fool's council

Trenton's West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue likes carrying water for Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, even when it means demonstrating to the world just how inadequate she and her colleagues are when it comes to doing their jobs.

That was especially evident today in reviewing a Times of Trenton account of Thursday night's City Council proceedings, in which Councilwoman Lartigue continued repeating the Palmer line on the city's residency law regarding Fire Director Hank Gliottone.

This constant line of attack is based on the idea that citizens who have held the line on the non-residency of recent police director appointees failed to do so when it came to this fire director and a recent interim police director, and are therefore somewhat hypocritical, according to Palmerites like the West Ward councilwoman.

Fools like these think they are gaining some sort of cheap political capital doing this, but the problem with this line of reasoning - which proves how inadequately prepared Councilwoman Lartigue is for her job - is that state law prohibits residency requirements for these directors, because these men are sworn police or fire personnel.

Every resident, including me, would love it if these men resided within the city and contributed to the tax base and community, but it would simply be unlawful to force them to do so through any kind of lawsuit.

Of course, City Council members could have used their powers to force the administration into appointing civilian residents for this fire position, but that wouldn't be appropriate for this Trenton City Council.

They declined to do so, which is a failure on their part, until the Palmer administration and Councilwoman Lartigue and her obedient council buddies began to question the arrangement, as an attack on residency-supporting citizens.

But instead of producing political capital, all this really proves is that city officials and council members are woefully inadequate for their employment, and that people who call these officials out on one area of failure better call them out on all areas of failure.

If they don't, they risk being painted as hypocrites for not touching on every one of the thousands of instances where people like Councilwoman Lartigue have failed the city.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The honeymoon is over

After a wonderful honeymoon away from the era of faulty governmental practices, it appears that Trenton City Council members are allowing the Palmer administration’s traditional, disrespectful relationship with their body to reemerge.

Councilman Jim Coston today reported that once again he is having trouble getting information from the Palmer administration regarding important city matters necessary for City Council to do its job, as city representatives and legislators.

But unfortunately for the city, it appears that when it comes to what administration officials or Mayor Douglas H. Palmer say or do, a majority of City Council members have reverted to a submissive and meek demeanor. This sea change seems to have occurred sometime in the days preceding the appointment of alleged residency breaker Irving Bradley to the police director’s position.

Prior to that date, councilmen Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Gino Melone, and Manny Segura stood together as a united bulwark against the administration’s old abuses, as the four men were labeled “the gang of four” in local newspaper accounts.

They regularly challenged Palmer initiatives, and even ground a council meeting to a complete halt when administration officials failed to provide information necessary for proper deliberations on a specific piece of council business.

But now, Councilman Gino Melone appears to be back in tow with council president and Palmer lackey Paul Pintella, Councilwoman Cordelia Staton, and Councilwoman Annette Lartigue.

No one knows exactly what happened, but when it came to Mr. Bradley’s highly questionable appointment, the former residency supporter and “gang of four” member, Councilman Melone, flipped and voted for Mr. Bradley’s appointment without serious questioning or any of his previous skepticism of Palmer initiatives.

This was odd indeed, coming from a man who only months earlier was pushing and prodding residents to start an effort to recall Mayor Palmer and to begin organizing a return to a police chief-led police department.

But regardless of what happened to the Gino Melone that made those requests, the entire city is now worse off.

City Council members cannot get the information they want and they cannot do their jobs effectively. The members who would do so no longer have the ability to use their powers to cut funding, remove officials for cause, or stop meetings, because there simply aren't enough votes to do so.

The result is clear: this City Council, as it is currently constituted, is simply not doing its job, and the next batch of members elected in 2010 must be required to do so.

Mortgage fraud concerns emerge

Talk of a bailout for homeowners facing foreclosure in the current sub prime mortgage crisis has sparked fears among New Jersey Realtors that some homeowners may abuse the bailout by intentionally defaulting on their mortgages.

State Senate President Dick Codey, D-Essex, met with around 200 Realtors last week, and after being informed of their concerns, issued a letter to the state Department of Banking and Insurance calling for some sort of intervention to prevent homeowners from purposefully defaulting, in order to take advantage of a mortgage restructuring or other financial assistance.

“A number of real estate representatives expressed concern that this threat is a very real possibility because many banks are telling their clients that they are unwilling to discuss restructuring unless they are already in default on their mortgage,” said Sen. Codey, in a statement. “This poses a serious concern for both homeowners and lending institutions. We need to investigate the severity of this threat and identify steps that can be taken both to prevent this practice and find a suitable compromise that will keep people in their homes and banks in business.”

In a related matter, state legislators have become concerned about a spike in the mortgage rates offered to first-time home buyers through the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s Smart Start program.

Rates for those first-time home buyers increased from 6.9 percent to 7.8 percent, sparking comment from state Realtors that the state program was becoming less lucrative for some buyers while pricing others out of purchasing a home.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's election could become even more historic

As the most historic election in recent memory was underway Tuesday there were many a gleeful face in Trenton, as residents gathered at a variety of polling places to get their chance to make history and cast a vote in support of the man who will now become the nation’s first African-American president

Many Trenton voters probably didn’t think about the other way this election could be historic, in a more localized manner, in that last night’s Obama victory may end up provide an opportunity for a down-to-earth executive ready to tackle the city’s issues, by relieving the city of the duty of having to put up with Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

Apparently Sen. Barack Obama has the potential to tap Trenton’s maligned mayor for some sort of urban affairs position, thereby moving Trenton’s larger-than-life absentee mayor onto the national scene.

No one knows how likely such a proposition is, and it certainly appears to be a funny one, considering how Mayor Palmer was one of the few Trentonians - if you can describe him as such - who was actively pushing for the nomination of Sen. Hillary Clinton instead of Sen. Obama.

That was presumably because of his closer relationship with the Clinton clan and the greater probability that with Sen. Clinton’s election Mayor Palmer could ride her coattails out his hometown and into Washington, D.C. But the primary in Trenton didn’t go Sen. Clinton’s way, despite Mayor Palmer’s efforts, and neither did the rest of the national primaries.

Despite all that, and if the rumor and gossip is true, perhaps presidential hopefuls like Sen. Obama are willing to forget many of the stupid decisions made by other party faithful during the primary and offer up federal positions to those who supported others, like Mayor Palmer.

Maybe Mayor Palmer could do better work in some federal position, which would allow him to finally feel like he was in a position appropriately important for his own ego, without abusing the interests and tax dollars of 80,000 residents.

In that case, this election will be doubly historic – Sen. Obama becomes President Obama, and Mayor Palmer would be headed on out of Trenton. That may not be a good thing for the nation, but it would certainly be a welcome thing for this city.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Palmer shows true colors, again

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer showed his true colors in a Trentonian article that came out Tuesday, regarding a city proposal to cut positions and demote some staff in the Trenton Fire Department to offset years of fiscal mismanagement by the city administration.

Many in the Trenton Fire Department brass have come out against the proposals, saying during a press conference Monday that with implementation the cuts will result in a public safety problem for both city residents and firefighters.

But the vindictive Mayor Palmer responded in usual fashion, ignoring the expertise of the firefighters and their knowledge of their own jobs.

Instead, he equated their position on the cuts with a similar position taken during a round of firehouse closings in 2002, and focused on some perceived paranoid perceived slight that happened six years ago, when firefighters protesting the earlier proposal picketed the mayor's wedding.

"These firefighters should be ashamed of themselves because they are attempting the same demagoguery and fear mongering that they used when we were forced to close several firehouses," said Mayor Palmer, to The Trentonian's L.A. Parker. "Residents know I would never do anything jeopardizes the safety of our citizens or firefighters."

Those are funny words from a man who is doing just - jeopardizing the safety of citizens and firefighters - by proposing significant staffing cuts to an already stretched-thin city fire department, in a city with old housing stock and a high frequency of house fires.

Those words are perhaps even funnier when one remembers how quick Mayor Palmer and his own supporters are to engage in their own fear mongering, like when the mayor and others invoked the specter of phantom racist cops and a "good ole' boys" network" when city residents like me went after his pet police directors for blatantly breaking the city's residency law.

Mayor Palmer, quite simply, is an opportunist and career politician willing to take any position on any issue for his personal benefit, whether it's residency, Barack Obama's candidacy, or even the public safety of his own city residents.

Articles like today's make that reality clear for all to see.

City responds to Bradley complaint, albeit weakly

The City of Trenton's response to the lawsuit challenging Police Director Irving Bradley's residency status is rather weak, according to some legal minds who had a chance to review the response after the city filed it in court Monday.

Written by City Attorney Denise Lyles, this initial response first questions the legal validity of the complaint, sponsored by a group of citizens including me, by claiming that the complaint had no basis in fact and was instead based upon hearsay contained in inaccurate newspaper articles and little else.

That position is augmented by a rather simple certification in which Mr. Bradley states that he is a resident of the City of Trenton and that the complaint should be dismissed.

Such a position ignores the preponderance of evidence, which is now common knowledge within Trenton, that Mr. Bradley was not a resident of Trenton when he first attained employment and remains as such, and that his family continues to live outside of the city in a home in Rahway where Mr. Bradley has been seen both last year and more recently in September.

Next, the city tries to counter the argument that once again Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his administration officials ignored residency rules when it came to the hiring of Mr. Bradley.

In that part of the response, the city counters the allegation that Mr. Bradley was not a resident when first hired by stating that the city's residency ordinance had a waiver provision at the time of Mr. Bradley's original hire.

It follows that the provision could have been used for Mr. Bradley, who did not attain an apartment in Trenton until several months after his hire, according to the flawed logic used by the city.

The filing ignores how city officials like Chief of Staff Renee Haynes and others constantly defended Mr. Bradley's illegal non-residency by saying he could do what he wants on the weekends, apparently forgetting about the dozens of employees who were fired for the exact same type of living arrangements.

The only solace Trenton residents should take out of this response by the city is that it was actually written by the city's own attorney.

Apparently the city decided against using the same highly-paid army of lawyers that defended former Police Director Joseph Santiago in the last residency court battle, in which the residents emerged victorious after Mr. Santiago was ousted and Mayor Palmer went down in a humiliating defeat.

The next step in this battle is for lawyers for the defendant and the plaintiffs to show up in court Nov. 21 for an initial hearing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bleak budget numbers for Trenton

South Ward Councilman published some of Trenton’s latest budget numbers on his Web site this past weekend, and the numbers certainly weren’t pretty.

A maelstrom of shrinking state aid and sagging local revenues have left the City of Trenton - under the great mismanagement of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer - with an $18.6 million decrease in total city revenue, from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2009.

One of the more peculiar drop-offs illustrated on Councilman Coston’s Web site was a sudden $14.3 million drop in an item called “Local Revenues”, which comes in at just over $19 million after sitting at the $33.6 million range in last year’s budget.

Coming in second, as far as revenue declines are concerned, was a drop in “Additional State Aid”, from $21 million to $19,100,000. Another state aid line item for over $16 million remained the same, but that only means that Trenton falls further behind as rises in costs and inflation mean last year’s dollars go even less further this year.

Perhaps most disturbing was that another in a long succession of property tax increases, this time for 13 cents per $100 of assessed value, only netted the city an additional $2.8 million in property tax revenue, from $48.2 million to $51 million.

Not only did this increase amount to little more than a dent in the city’s overall budget gap, but the city’s overall lack of revenue growth means that city residents will probably be subjected to similar tax increases for years to come.

The only other options the current government seems to be pursuing are requests made to the the already financially distressed state and federal governments for more dollars and the selling off of valuable city assets, like outlying Trenton Water Works infrastructure, for one-time infusions of cash.

This government simply won’t take the most obvious step and go in and reduce the size of the city’s bloated administration, through the elimination of some of the high-ranking and high-ranking support staff of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, and their salaries, benefits, and municipal vehicles.

Until that happens, the city will continually be forced into levying ever-growing tax burdens, driving away residents and businesses at a time when Trenton needs to be attracting them.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Doug goes to Congress

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer had the city's shiny tin cup out again this week, as he spoke to members of Congress and advocated for a bailout package of billions of federal dollars for America's cities.

Mayor Palmer pulled out his usual talking points, like how Trenton suffers from having less taxable properties due to the presence of the state government and how the state takes up downtown properties for use as surface parking.

The mayor even pulled out the latest piece of hardware from the beggary arsenal of public officials: the mortgage and credit crisis. That problem, which has sparked the nation's recent economic downturn, had led to a 46 percent increase in foreclosure filing, according to the mayor.

These issues were then linked by the mayor to the city's current fiscal crisis, which comes in the form of a $26 million budget gap that has could lead to the slashing, through layoffs or the elimination of vacancies, of 10 percent of the city workforce.

Reading over the mayor's prepared comments, one nearly becomes frightened over the ability of public officials to make presentations, prepare reports, and lobby for important legislation based on positions that are partial misrepresentations of reality and deny all personal responsibility.

While the general statistics and other portions of the positions taken by the mayor are true, he of course did not go into the wasteful and haphazard manner in which his administration operates, which makes him partially responsible for the current fiscal crisis.

He didn't talk about how his administration, through its activities, constantly opens the city up to costly litigation, or how he allows taxpayer dollars to go towards the funding of lavish and unnecessary perks for favored employees.

Mayor Palmer said nothing about the abject failure his economic redevelopment pursuits have experienced, or how he has moved to sell numerous, long-term city assets to plug short-term budget gaps.

Of course, one cannot blame the mayor for trying in this manner.

A federal bailout would be much better news than a state-sponsored bailout, which would surely come with a demand for state oversight of city finances and an end to the salad, accountability-free days of this administration.

But should such a federal bailout be put into place based on the testimony of men like Mayor Palmer, then some attentive observers will lose some of the confidence that they may have in federal decision-making.

Someone needs to go tell the Feds a little bit about this slick-looking man from Trenton, before he ends up in D.C. himself.