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What Are Political Relationships Really Worth?

Mercer County’s Deputy County Clerk Walker Worthy on Wednesday announced his second candidacy for Mayor. He also ran in 2014, finishing third. He and his political supporters believe he has a better chance this time around.

In his announcement speech, according to David Foster’s account in the Trentonian, Mr. Walker gave what appears to be the main argument for his candidacy:

“I’m the only candidate that the has the real relationships … that can help our city. I don’t want to hear I’m the county puppet. The city needs the county, the city needs the state, the city needs the federal government. We all need each other and we’re going to have to build our relationships so we can work together to build back this great city and I am prepared to lead.”

In this passage, I think we are hearing Mr. Worthy’s answer to the age-old question, “Are we a nation of laws, or a nation of men?” That is, what should be more important in our democracy, at all levels? That each and every person is equal under the law, and that the letter of the law determines and constrains how our government functions?

Or, that what is more important to the functions of public life is the complex web of personal relationships and personal reputations of those in power. In other words, it isn’t what you know (or what the law is) but who you know, how you know them, and how they know you.

This, says Mr., Worthy, is what should put him at the head of the table. It’s substantially similar to the pitch he gave us in 2014. In March of that year, I wrote about the candidate’s platform for that election. His website from back then is no longer online, so please bear with me when I selectively quote from a proposal that you can’t fully evaluate.

OK? With that said, here was one of the money quotes for his “Plan for Jobs & Economy:”

Use my experience and relationships with key state and county officials to create public/private partnerships and promote the benefit of doing business in Trenton.

Sounds like he’s saying the same thing in his campaign announcement this week, right?

Here was my take back then:

Hmm, Mr. Worthy only talks about his ”experience and relationships” with public officials in the state and county. OK, I will grant him that he might be able to leverage those connections into something of benefit to Trenton.

But relationships with public officials, as good as they might be, are only one-half of any possible “public/private partnerships.”

What kind of ”experience and relationships” does Mr. Worthy have with those in the private sector, and how might they be relevant to developing future opportunities in Trenton? If he has few or none in the private sector, then wouldn’t that require him to be dependent on those “key state and county officials” to gain him entree to the private sector? And will those officials have Trenton’s best interests in mind?

I doubt it. Mr. Worthy’s experience is substantial in public service, on the county level at least which explains why the Mercer Democratic establishment (most of whom reside outside of Trenton) is supporting him so strongly. But he has shown he has no depth of  ”experience and relationships” of the kind in the private sector that could benefit Trenton. So,

Fail.

I really don’t have much more to add to that. According to Mr. Foster’s Trentonian account, Worthy did not talk about private partnerships, or initiatives not involving the city, county, state and federal governments. He seems to have dropped that, at least for now.

I wasn’t persuaded by Mr. Worthy’s argument in 2014, and I am not persuaded this time, based on the coverage of Wednesday’s announcement.

In 2014, I wrote that the candidate needed to really explain HOW his “experience and relationships” could benefit Trenton. He didn’t in that campaign, and that is the challenge he faces this year as well.

What exactly does he mean when he says “We all need each other and we’re going to have to build our relationships so we can work together to build back this great city and I am prepared to lead?”

HOW will his belief in “building relationships” – the rule of men, not law – serve to do this?

And, specifically, how will his “relationships” with people such as many of the folks in attendance at his announcement – many of the same people who have been in and out of Trenton’s city government for the last 30 years – help to accomplish in Trenton what these same people have been unable to move forward for most of those last 30 years? Mr. Foster names some of those who I refer to.

The 2014 third place finisher was surrounded Wednesday during his mayoral announcement by former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, Mayor Eric Jackson’s mayoral aide Andrew Bobbitt, Trenton Democratic Committee Chairwoman Raissa Walker and former city Councilman Manny Segura.

These are among those whose “relationships” with Walker Worthy will help to rebuild Trenton if we elect him Mayor? If so, why haven’t they done it before now? What was stopping them then? Hey, if you liked the Hotel Fiasco and the way Trenton Water Works was allowed to deteriorate in the 1990’s and 2000’s, by all means give these guys another chance! Otherwise, no thanks!

I await more ideas and arguments for his candidacy from Mr. Worthy.

One final point. In 2014, Walker Worthy was new to the Trenton city scene. Yes, he’d been in the County Clerk’s office for years and active in Mercer County Democratic affairs. But no, he really didn’t have much of a voice or history of involvement in purely city matters or issues at that time. A lot of voters took that into account, and gave him a pass on that, in large part perhaps due to his being a newcomer to city affairs. He did finish third., after all.

However, in 2018 he is not a newcomer. We haven’t heard anything from Walker Worthy in the last 4 years. If, after the last election, he had any thought of running again, wouldn’t he have continued to be part of the civic conversation? It’s not as if nothing’s happened in four years, after all! Wouldn’t we expect to hear his opinions and positions from time to time, if he still wanted to be considered as a potential city leader?

I, for one, think so.

Perhaps he was constrained by his day job, his position in the County Clerk’s Office. Perhaps he, as did other Mercer County elected officials, stilled his voice so as not to embarrass or anger the current mayor and his Administration, who had been on good terms with the County? Perhaps he was being a good team player? If that’s the case, is that kind of person who we really as Trenton’s Mayor right now? After the failures of the last two Mayors?

I’ll leave those questions right there, for now. We still have a couple of months for him and the other candidates to make their case.

For now, we have Walker Worthy’s campaign announcement, leaning heavily on the value and utility of his political “relationships.”

How much are political “relationships” really worth, to a city such as Trenton? How much will those “relationships” really help improve the lives of its citizens? Will “relationships” make up for poorly written grant proposals? Will “relationships” offset flawed property revaluations? Will “relationships” be more important than competent, ethical and professional stewardship of valuable public assets and resources? Will “relationships” end pink water and lead notices in our drinking water?

The answers to those questions may determine the fate of Mr. Worthy’s candidacy this year.

More Notes on Paul Perez 2014 ELEC Reports

On Monday, I posted a piece looking into the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) finance reports filed by Paul Perez on behalf of his 2014 campaign for Trenton Mayor, which he didn’t win. He is running for Mayor again this year, and is considered a front-runner after Eric Jackson announced he would not run for re-election. As the apparent front-runner, it’s appropriate I think to look more closely at Mr. Perez’s first campaign. In my last piece I discussed several apparent errors in his filed reports, ranging from a large un-reconciled Cash withdrawal from his campaign bank account, to incomplete donor information to reports signed as Treasurer and submitted by a person not registered with ELEC as the campaign Treasurer.

The items I discussed on Monday were several, and created for me the impression that at the very least Mr. Perez’s 2014 financial reporting was sloppy. Mr. Pererz called me yesterday to admit several mistakes in 2014. This morning I was emailed by his attorney. More on that, below.

During my phone conversation, Mr. Perez acknowledged mistakes in his 2014 reports, assured me that he “has people fixing them,” and described these mistakes as having been the result of “a novice campaign.”

I appreciated the call from the candidate, and his frank and open admission that there were several mistakes made in his 2014 reporting. But his explanation that this sloppiness was due to “a novice campaign” was rather unsatisfactory. Mr. Perez ran in 2014 and is running this year on his image as a seasoned and experienced manager in Federal public service in the military and several civilian agencies. The lack of detail and transparency as indicated on his reports doesn’t suit a candidate who offers the sound and professional management of City affairs that has been so lacking over the last four years.

Today, I have to say there are more items to report from Paul Perez’s 2014 ELEC reporting.

In Monday’s piece, I discussed a June 9, 2014 Bank Withdrawal of $3,000 in cash reported on July 11, 2014 with the notation “Pay Workers June 10th,” the date of that year’s mayoral run-off election. I noted that ELEC rules prohibit paying campaign workers in cash, only by check.

There was an another, earlier sizeable withdrawal of cash is recorded in an ELEC report filed May 2, 2014. On Page 8 of that report, there is an entry dated April 23, 2014, for a cash withdrawal of $3,500 with the notation “[Illegible] Contracts (2).” Whatever Contracts these may be, cash payment is prohibited under ELEC rules.

perez cash 5-2-14

As much as the 2014 Perez campaign withdrew and presumably spent a great amount of cash, another curious feature of each of Mr. Perez’s 2014 reports is that the Campaign reported absolutely no contributions received in cash. None.

According to ELEC regulations, small campaign contributions under $300 do not need to be itemized and separately reported. But only if those small contributions are made by check. ALL currency contributions need to be itemized by donor, with name, address and the aggregate amount of any other contributions made, by cash or check, by each person to assure that contribution limits are observed. The two samples of ELEC’s report cover sheet and Schedule A are from one of the Perez reports chosen at random.

cover pageschedule a

That looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? ELEC’s Candidate Compliance manual is also very clear on the subject:

elec2

In most of the 2014 reports, the campaign did show a great deal of “Monetary Contributions/Loans of $300 or less.” Is it conceivable that the person who prepared these reports (who, we also know from the Monday article in this space, was NOT the registered campaign Treasurer) lumped all cash contributions in this category? Perhaps. That might serve as an explanation. But again, that would not be a great recommendation for a candidate running on his management savvy.

One other curious feature of these reports is a certain, how do I say this, a certain disconnect between public campaign events and their financial aspects. What do I mean by this? Here’s an illustration.

On the “Paul Perez for Mayor” page on Facebook, there are several photos from events connected to this year’s campaign as well as 2014’s. Here’s a shot of an ad for an event held at Trenton Social restaurant on May 3, 2014.

perez 5-3-14

One can see that this is an official campaign event by the notation at the bottom: “Paid for by the Friends of Paul Perez for Mayor.” Admission to the event was a $20 donation, payable “In Advance Or At The Door.” Pretty clear, right?

However, in the ELEC reports covering that period, there are no expenses nor income specifically connected to that event. None.

A report filed April 15, 2014, reporting all campaign activity in the first three months of 2014, contains no entries that might indicate they were pre-event expenses such as deposits or pre-payments. The same is true of the next two reports filed after the Trenton Social Event, on May 2 and June 10. There are no expenses listed for this event. Not even a room rental charge for the restaurant, or any record of an in-kind contribution from the restaurant, if the restaurant didn’t charge anything for the event. There is a $203.71 debit card charge on 5/6/14 with a note that this was for a “Business Meeting,” which seems not connected to the May 3 “Night of Music.

There are no obvious expenses, and even stranger, no obvious income. With a posted $20 donation price, wouldn’t you expect to see several donations of $20, cash and check, from that event? There are none.

Is it possible that all donations for the event were lumped into the category of Monetary Contributions/Loans of $300 or less? Possible. But, since there were no disclosed obvious expenses for this event, I really have to wonder what income was disclosed. Surely donations were received, probably a lot in cash. From whom? How much? We don’t know. We do know that $3,411.03 in non-itemized donations were listed on that report.

Another earlier event has a little more transparent information on the expense side. The report filed on January 15, 2014 references several expenses seemingly associated with an event at the Masonic Temple. Page 6 of the report lists a $500 payment on 11/4/2013 to the Masonic Temple for a “Meet & Greet fundraiser.” There are some other expenses you can see, for items such as catering, a musician, an ABC alcohol sales permit, and a $547 “Miscellaneous item Meet and Greet” debit card expense, among others.

perez 1-15-14 expenses

What there doesn’t seem to be is any donations received from that event. On that same ELEC report covering the last three months of 2013, only $700 of itemized donations are disclosed. But there are $11,377.54 in non-itemized donations during that time. Can we assume that whatever donations were received from that Masonic Temple event are included here? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I think you get the picture. What’s troubling about these reports is that, with so much money reported in the non-itemized category, there is absolutely no way to tell who made the donations and if they are legal.

Were they made by people doing business with the City? We don’t know.

Were donations made in excess of the contribution limits? We don’t know.

Are the non-itemized amounts listed on the front pages of each report even the accurate totals? We don’t know. Could the real amounts be even higher? We don’t know!

After four years of Eric Jackson as mayor, three of them served without his filing a single ELEC report, I’d hope that the candidates running to succeed the outgoing mayor would give the voters reason that they would do better. Be more conscientious. Be more buttoned-up. Be more professional. Based at least on his 2014 campaign finance disclosures, it looks like Paul Perez falls short of those hopes.

I wrote above that the candidate called me yesterday to acknowledge his faulty 2014 ELEC reporting. I also mentioned that his lawyer this morning sent a letter to me. Here it is, as emailed to Jim Carlucci and me this morning.

palombi 2-15-18The note extends  the “novice campaign” theme of yesterday’s phone conversation. “Activities undertaken by various members” of the campaign. “Even the best and smartest people are human beings who are not perfect.” “Mistakes may have occurred.”  And a positively Trumpian sentiment: Paul Perez “was motivated by his unmitigated desire to return Trenton to its citizens and restore it to its former glory.”

A little florid, I’d say. The candidate is clearly making a good-faith effort to acknowledge the shortcomings of his campaign, and that is worth something. It is far more than the outgoing mayor has done in the last four years. The closest he ever came was blaming his 3-year lapse filing ELEC reports from his 2010 campaign on being distracted. For three years. “My mind was other places losing. You’re despondent,” you may remember him saying. Perez is going further than that.

But the implicit attempt to shift some blame for the 2014 “mistakes” with his reporting on his campaign workers is really kind of small, don’t you thinlk. He was the candidate.  And his name and signature are on each and every one of his 2014 ELEC reports. He is responsible for his people and his campaign’s successes and shortfalls, for better or for worse.

With 2018’s municipal election season well under way, if not yet in full bloom, will Paul Perez show his more professional side with his campaigning and reporting, now that he is no longer a “novice” and the presumed front-runner? Are there still any other land mines from his first campaign that may yet explode before May 8? Hidden expenses and or donations never disclosed? Will there be any new mistakes or problems to derail his run this time?

I guess we’ll all find out together, won’t we?

The TWW Emergency Contracts

Tomorrow evening, Trenton’s City Council will deliberate the two Contracts entered into last month on an emergency basis by the outgoing Administration regarding the Trenton Water Works (TWW). Since the Administration already signed these contracts, as pressured by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection after months of frequent operational and safety violations at the Water Works and a marked lack of corrective action by the City, Council approval of these deals is a foregone conclusion. However, there are still a lot of details and questions raised by these contracts that deserve public scrutiny and Council’s attention. The two deals are here for your review, today.

Here is the contract with Wade Trim Operations Services, along with several forms and certifications by the City, totaling $1,312,269.

And here is the contract with Banc 3 Engineering, totaling $755,322.00.

A couple of observations here, and then a few questions.

Below is a form required by the State to accompany contracts executed on an emergency basis, before Council has an opportunity to review and approve it. Take a look and see if you notice the same thing I did.

wadetrim emergency

The first form, the “Emergency Procurement Report” for Wade Trim” was prepared by a Danielle London, Senior Administrative Analyst with the City, and signed by Public Works Director Merkle Cherry. Signed by Mr. Cherry even though several fields were empty of what I would consider pretty important information.

The Dates and Times the Emergency situation occurred and when publicly declared? Blank.

The question, “When was the notification [of Emergency] reduced to writing and filed with the Purchasing Agent?” was not answered.

Also, there is no response to the question, “Has the public agency adopted a ‘chain of command’ procedure pursuant to N.J.A.C. 5:34-6.1?”

Mr. Merkle signed anyway. There’s that famous attention to detail that this Administration is widely known for!

To the question on another form, asking if there is “adequate funding” for these two deals, both forms indicate that “Water De” – for Department – funds will be used. So that’s the answer to one question people have had since these deals came to light last month: these contracts will presumably not be paid under the City of Trenton’s budget, but by TWW’s operations, from the utility’s customer income.

That’s it for the observations. Now, the questions.

OK, first, as I just mentioned above, these contracts totaling $2,067,591, are to be paid by the Water Works. According to the City’s Introduced Budget (8 months into the fiscal year, we still don’t have an Approved Budget – Standard Procedure, maddeningly, for the City), the Water Works is projected to earn a surplus of $3,150,000.

TWW 2018

These contracts will eat up over two-thirds of that surplus. A surplus, remember, that is used to help balance the City’s overall budget.

Will these contracts be paid for by reducing the year-end surplus, massively affecting the City’s bottom line? Or will Water Rates be raised across the entire customer base?  That’s my first question. UPDATE: For that matter how many of these positions are already accounted for in the budget, but not filled? How much of this $2.067 Million is incremental cost, and how much already accounted for?

Next.

Wade Trim’s Scope of Services is defined in their contract with this language (Page 6):

“The Contractor will provide Operational Assistance Services expertise with the requisite qualifications and experience in their respective areas of responsibility including, for example, treatment plant operations, collection, distribution, customer service and maintenance. These experts will assist in the identification of approved cost reductions and operational enhancements. It is not expected that the contracted services or staff will replace or supersede any existing TWW or Trenton Sewer Utility [this is the first time this department has been brought into this situation. Up until now, we've heard that TWW's problems have not yet extended to the Sewer Utility. - KM] staff to achieve the long-term goals.”

The language in the Scope of Services section of the Banc3 Agreement (Page 7) is almost identical. So, that raises one obvious question: How do the services to be provided by these two separate companies differ from one another? Why do we need two companies to provide the same operational staff?

The rest of these contracts don’t help to answer that question. This is the list of positions to be filled by Wade Trim (Page 16):

wade trim schedule BAnd here is the similar list of positions to be hired by Banc3:

banc3 schedue APretty similar list, right? They seemingly overlap on four positions.

So, once again, how are these two deals with these two different firms supposed to be different?

When I first wrote about the City’s arrangement with Wade Trim on January 24, I noted that there were several Help Wanted notices posted on that company’s website, seemingly advertising for the TWW positions. One of the notices is linked here. Banc3 has a similar advertisement on their website, here.

So we are paying both firms to provide several operating staff positions that TWW desperately needs to fill. However, neither of these companies seem to be able to fill at least several of these positions with their own personnel. They are advertising for new hires that they can provide TWW. Neither firm currently employs the talent that their contracts with the City require them to provide. They have to attract that talent.

Which begs the next questions: Why do we need two companies to recruit and hire for us? Trenton Water Works couldn’t recruit on its own? Is there no way TWW can’t attract on its own the same talent that these two outside firms are advertising for? We have to spend $2 Million Dollars for what sounds essentially like an employment service?

Finally (for now), what happens at the end of these contracts next year? Both Wade Trim and Banc3 will provide the professionals for these positions (that they have to recruit for!) positions at TWW. All of these folks will be on the payrolls of these two firms. Both contracts state “

The next question I have is: After both of these contracts are completed next January, what happens then? Please recall from the excerpt above that both contracts state “It is not expected that the contracted services or staff will replace or supersede any existing TWW or Trenton Sewer Utility staff to achieve the long-term goals.” – [Emphasis mine - KM]

So, what happens? Will the Wade Trim and Banc3 employees then become TWW employees? If that’s the case, will those new hires “replace or supersede” TWW and/or Sewer Works staff next January?

If that’s not the case, and the Wade Trim and Banc3 contract employees leave, what then? Both contracts are silent about what happens next year after the contracts are done.

Are those two firms going to recruit permanent staff for the city’s Utilities? No? Will that be the City’s responsibility, then? When is the recruiting for permanent staff supposed to happen?

What obligation does the City have to the State to involve the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and/or Department of Community Affairs in the staffing process for the permanent staff?

I don’t see any of these matters addressed in these agreements. These documents read, as I have no doubt they are, agreements hurriedly negotiated and concluded in order to solve problems gone white-hot critical in the last few months of 2017. Agreements which are essentially one-year Band-Aids on problems that the next Mayoral Administration will be left to deal with. Since these deals don’t appear to describe permanent solutions past the expiration of their term, they are woefully incomplete.

There are now two Council members with aspirations to head up “the next Mayoral Administration,” and most of the rest are seeking re-election after letting the current TWW crisis develop unimpeded for the last four years, along with many other sad accomplishments.For that reason, I’d say that Council should be pretty motivated to ask these questions, and more, tomorrow evening.

Will they? Based on past performance, I doubt it. The outcome tomorrow is likely to be rubber-stamped approval of both of these contracts. Which will solve the problems at TWW, hopefully, for the next 12 months. Which will put a new Administration and new Council -and the 150,000 customers in Mercer County who depend on Trenton’s Water Works for clean and safe drinking water – in this exact same place in January 2018.

Prove me wrong, Council.

Will the REAL Eric Jackson Please Stand Up?

Which is the Real Eric Jackson?

The one who, on November 2, 2017, wrote the following to NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin:

“As Mayor, it is my sworn duty to provide for the health, safety and welfare of all Trenton residents, as well as the tens of thousands of workers and visitors that come to my city each day [Not mentioned here, of course, are the 160,000 or so customers in Mercer County who live outside of "my city. I guess they don't count. - KM]. Therefore, the Trenton Water Works’ (’TWW’) delivery of clean and safe drinking water is, of course, a matter I have always approached with the utmost seriousness and care. It pleases me to say that I have found the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (’Department’) to be an invaluable partner in this effort.”

jackson 11-2-17

Or the one who said this in a letter to the same Commissioner Bob Martin, on January 18 of this year, two days after Mr. Martin left office:

“I am taken aback and strongly disagree with both your recitiaton of the facts and mischaracterization of the city’s conduct in addressing the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) concerns with the TWW in your letter. Curiously, you deemed it necessary to send your letter to the press at the conclusion of your tenure as commissioner of the NJDEP, which inexplicably omits any of the city’s efforts to comply with NJDEP’s directives. Contrary to your assertions, you are certainly well aware of the fact that the city has made every effort to address NJDEP’s concerns to ensure the safe and effective operation of the TWW, some of which have been acknowledged by your counsel.”

So, which Eric Jackson do you think is the real one?

The smarmy, kiss-ass sycophant praising his “invaluable partner” on November 2?

Or the fire-breathing champion of the City of Trenton, seeking to recover a tiny bit of his self-respect before his failed term ends, on January 18?

Your choice.

Here We Go Again??

The electoral landscape for Trenton’s May 8 election is still very much in flux since the current mayor of Trenton announced on February 2 that he is now the outgoing mayor of Trenton after declining to run for re-election. Even before his announcement, a number of other challengers were lining up to declare their candidacies. Others have since joined the race.

February is usually a quiet time in the election season. Candidates for Mayor and Council scramble to secure enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the May 8 ballot. Until the March deadline to submit petitions to the City Clerk’s Office, don’t expect too much news.

So with this temporary lull in the process, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the field of candidates as it is shaping up. This morning, Jim Carlucci posted on his blog an excellent overview of the 2014 campaign finance reports to the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) of the mayoral and council candidates who are either standing for re-election this year, or seeking another chance at the brass ring.

Sadly, Mr. Carlucci finds that many candidate campaigns from the last election have left dangling many financial loose ends and potentially troubling issues as they are revving up for this year’s races. The outgoing mayor was well known for his difficulty with ELEC over two separate elections, as he failed to file required quarterly financial reports for three years’ running, after both his unsuccessful 2010 run and his successful campaign four years later. It’s not known how much, if at all, these ELEC problems influenced his decision not to run again this year. But I would think that he had at least some difficulty raising funds from donors who were aware of his multiple lapses. After some point, a candidate becomes radioactive, and that may have been the fate of this mayor. His failure to run his campaigns conscientiously within the law, as this space predicted years ago, foreshadowed the way he ran his Administration: negligently managed, non-communicative, quick to take offense, and irresponsible with public funds. And so Eric Jackson prepares to ride into his political sunset.

Candidates – and voters – this year should learn some of the lessons taught by Mr. Jackson’s campaign. Failure to do so might lead us once more to make more mistakes this May.

Starting with the presumptive mayoral front-runner, Paul Perez. I call him the presumptive campaign front-runner based on his performance in the 2014 race. After moving back to Trenton around 2013 after many years in Federal service, Perez mounted an effective campaign that brought him to a June 2014 runoff election with Eric Jackson, where he earned a respectable 44% of the June vote. That finish four years ago positions him pretty well for a race for the open Mayor’s seat this spring.

In his blog piece, Mr. Carlucci writes,

Paul Perez lost the runoff election to Eric Jackson in June of 2014. He last filed a report for that campaign account in July 11 of that year and showed a balance of  $1,421.49. It was not marked as his final report. Perez filed his D-1 and two R-1s for the 2018 mayoral run in October of 2017. He has a new treasurer and a new campaign account at a different branch of the same bank.

The first Perez R-1 for the 2018 election cycle does not indicate what happened to the prior balance of $1,421.49. The new reporting starts with a $200.00 contribution on the first page and shows no money transferred from the prior election.

So, the first thing that we know going into this election cycle is that Paul Perez still has unfinished business from the 2014 election. Since he never officially closed out his 2014 election reporting, and had a cash balance as of the end of his campaign that has not been reconciled with his new campaign. That means, technically that Mr. Perez has failed to file quarterly reports to ELEC since 2014, the same problem the outgoing has. The amount is not huge, true, and as an unsuccessful candidate, the filing obligations for Mr. Perez are not as stringent as those for a sitting mayor. But still, Perez’s loose end here raises an eyebrow.

However, that unreconciled balance is not the only eyebrow-raising problem with Paul Perez’s reports. Let’s look at a few.

Here’s a screenshot of the last (though not final, since the box at the bottom is blank) 2014 report he filed. It shows the open balance of $1,421.49.

perez post-elec 2014

Please note the name and signature of the Treasurer. It appears to be a “David Morales.” This person signed all of the 2014 campaign reports filed on behalf of Mr. Perez. Perez also signed the reports, as the candidate.

However, when Perez first filed papers with ELEC for the 2014 campaign, in May of 2013, another person was designated as Treasurer. Luz Senieda Bramlett was, not Morales. You can see in the screenshot below from the same form linked above that Morales was designated as a person authorized to sign campaign checks, but he was not named Treasurer. From the time that Mr. Perez started his campaign through its completion, David Morales signed every financial report. Perez never filed any paperwork to change his Treasurer. So every report signed by Morales is technically not in compliance with ELEC standards.

perez post-elec 2014 2

“OK,” I hear you saying, “these are technical problems. Is there anything of real concern in these reports?”

I think so. Here’s one. The screenshots below come from a “20-Day Post-Election Report” filed on July 11, 2014, after the June 10 runoff election that Eric Jackson won. The first line on the first page has the entry dated June 9, 2014, showing an apparent Cash Withdrawal from the campaign bank account with the notation “Pay workers June 10th.”

perez post-elec 2014 1perez post-elec 2014 2

Using cash to pay campaign workers violates ELEC rules and NJ campaign finance law. Campaign workers, whether working for the run of the campaign on Election Day, must be paid by a check from the campaign bank account. You can see in the screenshots that 18 “Challengers” were each paid $50 by check, totaling $900.

So, who was paid from that $3000 cash withdrawal, and why were payments made in Cash, in violation of NJ law? We don’t know, based on the campaign’s filed reports. You may recall that back in 2010, Tony Mack paid many of his campaign workers in cash, which attracted some press attention and gave us all a sneak preview of the following 4 years of the Mackapocalypse.

Are you concerned that Paul Perez followed in some of the same election day footsteps as Tony Mack? I am!

There are a few other obvious problems with this report. In the section itemizing contributions, we see this information for two contributions:

perez post-elec 2014 3

“Richard Rivera” is listed as having made a $400 contribution. There is no other entry which includes other required information: Home address, Employer, and the aggregate amount of any other contributions he might have earlier to Mr. Perez. That’s problematic.

“400 Market Street, LLC” contributed $750. ELEC rules forbid an LLC company from being a donor to campaigns. Donations from an LLC’s bank account must be recorded in the name or names of the individuals who own the company, the better to track their overall donations to ensure they fall under the legal limits. That information isn’t here. Neither is the aggregate amount from this donor.

These notes are all from a single filed report. And they are not the only problems and errors with this filing. There are several others, but these are representative and give the reader a picture of the quality and accuracy of this report. This is before any vetting of the numbers: adding them up, tallying against earlier reports for consistency, and so forth. I guess that comes next. Based on this one report, I think it’s important to take a closer look at Mr. Perez’s other filed reports, and to post some of the more notable discoveries that may be found. You can look as well, at Paul Perez’s or other candidates’ filed ELEC reports, at this link.

These items concern me. They should concern you, too. Here we go again, do I hear you saying?

Our last two mayoral elections were won by candidates who had serious problems with the way they ran their campaigns, as demonstrated by their error- and violation-filled ELEC reports. Despite this evidence being visible to voters well before each election, Trenton went ahead and voted them in anyway. We then found out, on both occasions, that these guys ran their Administrations just about as well as they ran their campaign finances.

Poorly.

Are we repeating ourselves for the third time in a row? I hope not. I’d hate to think we might be in for another verse of the same old Trenton Blues. There’s of course no reason to say we are definitely repeating the same mistakes we made 4 and 8 years ago. But, as a quote often attributed to Mark Twain (not a stranger to this page) once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

We have a little under 3 months (4, if you include the almost-inevitable runoff election in June) to find a new tune for Trenton.

Priceless

Borrowing to cover money stolen by your own payroll vendor? — $4,700,000. Plus interest.

Losing future Community Development Block Grant funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban because you missed three years of deadlines? — $3,300,000.

Hiring an outside firm on a one-year contract to restore trust in the Trenton Water Works after a record number of environmental violations? — $1,300,000.

Reading comments made by your Public Information Officer on Facebook, trashing a high-profile downtown business upon news that it is up for sale?

walker 2-4

Priceless.

I guess when you are the public spokesperson for a lame-duck Administration, you just don’t have any more fucks to give.

The Inevitable Result of Decades of Neglect

Before the regular session scheduled for last night, Trenton’s City Council held what was essentially a hearing on the status of the Trenton Water Works (TWW), an initiative suggested by At-Large Council Member Duncan Harrison. It was decently-attended by residents of Trenton (including many mayoral and council wannabes) and several from the surrounding Townships served by TWW.

It was as sad and weird as anything I’ve seen in Trenton for years. It featured unprepared representatives from the Water Works, the Administration and some of TWW’s longtime consultants from the Mott McDonald firm. Heading up the list of speakers was Public Director Merkle Cherry, who started off the proceedings with a presentation anchored by a slide show. I could tell things were off to a rocky start when Mr. Cherry, in describing the basic facts of the Water Works, said “I think [TWW] is one of the 10 biggest water utilities in the State.”

Dude, you think? That should be one of the most basic trivia facts you should have researched before making a presentation to Council. Mr. Cherry was, throughout the evening, unable to answer most questions from Council without either deferring to others on his team, or telling Council that he would have to check on their questions and get back to them. His lack of a grasp on what should have been fundamental operational and process questions was matched by Filtration Plant Superintendent William Mitchell, who fumbled his way through an unsteady response to the question of how many people worked in his plant.

The evening was not made any easier by Councilmember Harrison. He had a list of 12 questions, which he proceeded to ask Mr. Cherry, and it was obvious this was the first time he was hearing those questions. It would have been more helpful (ok, only marginally more helpful given Mr. Cherry’s grasp of the basic facts of his operation), as well as standard operational procedure to have provided those questions to the Director in advance of the meeting, to allow a well-researched and prepared response. But, what’s SOP elsewhere is once again unknown in Trenton.

The presentation (which has been made available on the City’s website, here) was, to me and many others in the audience, notable for what it did not include. Mayoral candidate Paul Perez noted that something as basic as an Organization Chart, laying out TWW’s management, crew and chain of command, had not been offered. I noted to Council that, although two slides did show a total of $100 Million Dollars in capital infrastructure spending (Pages 12 and 13) for the last 4 years and the next 5), those figures were shown in isolation, although there was some vague mention of paying for this with a combination of “bonds” and “loans.”

The presentation did not offer – and not a single person on Council asked for – financial statements. Without a Balance Sheet, it’s impossible to see how that $100 Million of debt fits in the overall financial condition of TWW. How much other debt is TWW carrying? What are the utility’s assets looking like these days? Does it have enough cash to handle its obligations? Or, because the back-office business operation is just as screwed up as its production operation, are we owed millions of dollars of unpaid customer payments? And without an Income Statement, there’s no way to know the overall income and expenses of the place in a given year.

For a large business operation like the Water Works, serving much of Mercer County outside City Limits, it is unacceptable to me that basic financial information was not offered by the Administration nor sought by Council. But there could be a good, deliberate reason for that.

I will show you two slides from last night’s presentation.

liningdecade

This slide provides some historical context for TWW’s operations. It shows how much pipe maintenance, expressed as pipe “lining,” has been performed by the utility over the last 60 years, expressed in decades. I think this is a good stand-in thumbnail summary of TWW’s overall maintenance activity during those decades (Heck, these two slides were the only historical info provided last night!). When much of the pipes were relatively new, in the 1950’s and ’60’s, maintenance was relatively scant. By the 1970’s, lining work was performed on 32 miles of the system’s pipes. In the ’80’s, a somewhat larger amount, 38 miles, was done.

By the 1990’s and 2000’s, this work dropped dramatically, to only 11 miles and 18 miles, respectively. In the graphic below, you can see that no money at all was spent on this kind of work in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

liningyearThe 1990’s and 2000’s were the years of Douglas Palmer’s mayoral term. As the charts above clearly show, these decades were when TWW was first starved, a practice that continues to this day. Starved of basic capital maintenance and starved of manpower. Starved of competitive salaries that would attract the kind of highly-skilled professionals critically needed to run a safe operation.   Expenses – even on necessary items – were cut to the bone in order to improve the net profitability of the Water Works, so that utility profits could be used to subsidize the City of Trenton. Whether directly using TWW’s surplus to pad the City’s bottom line, or paying City Hall employees on the Water Works payroll, the water utility has been a cash cow for the City of Trenton. These financial benefits, let’s be clear, which accrue only to the City of Trenton, are paid for by customers throughout Mercer County.

This is important enough to repeat, with emphasis. These financial benefits, artificially boosted by starving TWW of decades of resources, accrue only to the City of Trenton, are paid for by customers throughout Mercer County. These practices have gone on for nearly three decades.

The worst of these practices were begun during the Administration of Douglas Palmer, aided and abetted for much of his term by his Director of Public Works. Who is now the outgoing mayor. Also aided and abetted by this Council, who have known for years about both the long-standing problems at the Water Works, and the practice of putting personnel who had nothing to do with TWW, working elsewhere in the City, on the Water Works payroll.

The outgoing mayor, by the way, was conspicuous by his absence last night. His Department Heads were there to provide information, as poorly as they did, and answer questions. I suppose the Buck Stops Well Short of the Mayor’s Office these days.

The current crisis of competence at TWW is the inevitable result of decades of deliberate neglect by successive Administrations and Councils. We are now seeing what happens when you squeeze a cash cow for far too long.

Trenton voters have to take some of the blame for this situation, too. In 2014, voters had plenty of information about the former Public Works Director, and his responsibility for the environment of ongoing corruption and mis-management at TWW when he was in charge, but they voted him Mayor anyway. That he continued his old ways should have been predicted. Well, as a matter of fact, it was, well before the 2014 election.

On Christmas Eve 2013, I wrote the following:

For me, if Eric Jackson cannot show that he at some point in his tenure brought in law enforcement to investigate the situation at TWW, that will sink his candidacy. He cannot be seriously considered as a potential Mayor if he allowed a culture of corruption to survive unchecked at the utility without trying to call in the cops.

Beyond the candidacy of one man, though, the integrity of the Trenton Water Works is vital to Trenton’s residents. Right now, TWW smells like a sewer. The past four years has been enough for many critics and angry water customers outside of Trenton to argue that the Works should be taken out of city hands and regionalized at the County level, at least. Every new revelation of past corruption, and waste, and theft that precedes the Mack years hurts the City’s case for its future stewardship of much of Mercer County’s water supply for its residents.

And were we in May’s elections to select individuals from that past to lead Trenton past 2014 might prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the Water Works as Trenton’s.

The final nail has not yet been hammered in. But there are some in the box already. As I wrote above, what’s happening now is the inevitable result of decades of neglect.

We saw it coming, and still allowed it to happen. Shame on us.

So, What's New?

A couple of days ago, columnist LA Parker wrote in the Trentonian about “an emergency contract with an engineering company to oversee operations at the troubled Trenton Water Works facility.” He wrote, “Trenton has signed a 12-month agreement with engineering firm Wade Trim in an attempt to rectify serious problems at the facility that delivers water to 225,000 residents in Trenton, Hamilton, Lawrence, Ewing and Hopewell townships.” Mr. Parker stated that City Public Works Director Merkle Cherry “could not comment” on that deal. The outgoing mayor “could not be reached for comment,” either. The Trentonian had better luck getting comment in a later piece.

This morning, Rob Jennings reports the same news in the Trenton Times. But Mr. Jennings had more luck than the Trentonian initially did. He quoted the Administration’s spokesperson Michael Huckabee Walker, who confirmed the reporting in both newspapers, saying the deal “is all part of [the outgoing mayor]’s plan to bolster” the ailing public utility. It’s all part of a plan, folks! They planned this!

If you read this space, you heard a week ago that the engineering firm of Wade Trim was hired by Trenton to assume managerial and operational control of the troubled Water Works. I had as much luck as LA Parker getting anyone in the City to respond to me, which is none.

So, as Hank Williams sang, “The news is out all over town,” that Wade Trim’s been seen out running around.  Guess who hasn’t yet heard about the new hire?

Yep. You’re right. Any of the 225,000 customers of the Trenton Water Works. Unless they read the papers or local blogs, that is.

Don’t get me wrong. The City of Trenton has posted notices about the Water Works recently. Lots of them. If you look at the front page of the Trenton city website, you will see the headlines of 20 notices. No fewer than 8 of them are about Trenton’s water. Boil water notices, lifting of boil water notices, conservation notices, lifting of conservation notices, pink water notices. A lot of notices.

trenton news 1-29-18

To put this in some perspective, of the 20 current notices on the City’s front page, the next highest number, 6, concerned items connected with extreme winter weather. So, in the middle of winter, just consider there are more notices about the man-made screw-ups and crises at the Trenton Water Works than there are about the severities of Mother Nature’s extreme behavior lately.

How about that! Outstanding job, guys.

A lot of these notices were issued after long delay, which rankled a lot of people. But the delays in those notices were measured in hours. News about Wade Trim coming in as a potential solution to TWW’s current problems for over a week now, and we’ve heard nothing official from anyone in the City of Trenton or the Water Works.

Why in the world is this so?

I haven’t a clue.

Perhaps it’s because the outgoing mayor announced last Friday “that my work as mayor is complete,” and he no longer has to worry about such things as citizen and customer engagement and communication.

The link to the outgoing mayor’s “Mission Complete” announcement last Friday is right up there on Trenton’s front page, appropriately alongside all of the other man-made and natural disasters.

This isn’t acceptable. Hiring Wade Trim and getting them on the ground at the Trenton Water Works is the first critical step in restoring to reliability and dependability the utility that close to a quarter million Mercer County residents in the City and in the surrounding Townships. It’s a move that customers would like to hear and know about. This affects their lives, after all.

But they aren’t hearing about it from the City. Which is, sadly, all too typical of the City of Trenton.

Which is one of the big reasons why the current mayor, is now the outgoing mayor of Trenton.

Moneyball, Trenton NJ

“Okay. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”

- from “Moneyball,” (2011)

I don’t want a Mayor and City Council to buy players. We bought players.

We bought an Arena, a Ballpark, a new Nursing School, and a frigging Hotel. The Arena has a total of seven – count them, seven – bookings between now and the middle of April. That’s like one event every 12 days. The new school is nice. If you stand in Pennsylvania and look at Trenton, the school is a nice addition to the skyline. But it hasn’t done one damned thing for the surrounding neighborhood. The Hotel? That’s a real sore spot, you know? The less said, the better.

OK,  the ballpark is great, the Thunder is a winner. But it’s empty 2/3 of the year, and really doesn’t help the town that much.

We tried to get a Dunkin Donuts plant, but that plan died stillborn. No one wants to be reminded of that anymore.

Trenton did welcome a new business to town last year, which doesn’t happen all the time. But it cost the State of NJ $17 Million in tax incentives, and the City over a Million. Hey, I’m glad Maestro is here. It’s good they moved in. I just don’t believe that business will impact this City very much at all.

I don’t want a new Mayor and Council to spend all their time and effort buying new players. I want a new Mayor and Council to work on getting more runs.

How do you do that? Help the lives of the people who already live in Trenton. Who already own businesses in Trenton. Who already own homes in Trenton. Who already rent in Trenton. Who already raise kids in Trenton. Who already have those kids in Trenton’s schools. I think, if you can get the hang of taking care of the people already here, getting more people and businesses will take care of itself.

That’s a real big order! Again, how do you do that? Start in a few places. Get some runs on the board.

First off, throw out that blasted property revaluation that was completed last year. That was a big slap in the face and knock in the wallet to every person who tries to keep a home or business in this town. The first impact felt last year was one of shock and outrage.  This year, drive around town and look at all the new “For Sale” signs posted. Watch how long they’ve been there. And been there. And been there. The current Mayor and Council did no one any favors by the way they botched that process. Throw it out. Start over!

Let’s get some runs here!

Adding insult to injury, the current Mayor and Council then turn around and give new tax abatements to politically-connected friends and contributors, for properties that have already received multiple, generous abatements in previous years.

On top of this, as icing on the cake,  the current Mayor and Council endorsed a screwball plan from the former Governor to put new state office buildings in parking lots far from downtown, where they would have done some good for that poor bleak place, and put holes in the ground where the current, old buildings are.

The current Mayor literally had the former Governor’s back on this, remember?

christie jackson

This picture speaks thousands of words about Trenton’s past. None of them good. Let’s move ahead, shall we? Finally???

I want a new Mayor and Council who will listen to the people who already live and work Downtown, and who know a few things about the place. I hope the new Governor and his new Administration pay attention to the master plan of the Capital City, and acknowledge that the New Jersey government has big-footed around for far too long.

Let’s get some runs here!

I want a new Mayor and Council to help the people who live in this town to feel safer. Who recognize that a huge portion of the violence that permeates this town to its pores is due to the illegal drug industry here. Efforts to interdict the supply side by arresting dealers and confiscating stashes doesn’t do a damn thing to interrupt business when new dealers and product show up without missing a beat to replace those arrested and jailed. I want a new Mayor and Council to realize that meaningful crime reduction in Trenton means meaningful reduction in the demand for illegal drugs. Legalization of marijuana in New Jersey would be a good start. Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920’s. It’s not working in the 2010’s. Tougher drugs like opioids will take harder solutions. But let’s start somewhere, shall we?

Let’s get some runs here!

I’d like a Mayor and a Council to make some improvements in our schools. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot that these guys can do. The School District is its own major entity, with a budget and infrastructure that is pretty independent of the City. But a Mayor does appoint School Board members. I want a new Mayor to clear out some of the dead wood on that Board. Members who don’t even know how their system is funded have no business sitting on a school board. I want Members on the Board who will question why so much money - hundreds of millions of dollars – buys so little education and fails so many students!  We’ll finally be opening a new High School building in a few years. Perhaps that prospect might lead to good things systemwide.

Let’s get some runs here!

I want a new Mayor and Council to demonstrate they are professional and competent. I don’t want millions of dollars stolen under their noses while they ignore months of warnings. I want them to rebuild relationships with our funders and partners in the federal government. (And I want a new federal government, too, by the way. Another topic for another day!)

I want a new Mayor and Council to rebuild the Trenton Water Works so it becomes once more a safe and dependable public utility.

I want a new Mayor and Council to spend the taxpayers’ money more wisely. No more multi-year contracts to companies that cost more and offer less than their competitors.

I want a new Mayor and Council to recognize their own shortcomings and hire, appoint, and contract people and vendors who know what they are doing, regardless of personal and political connections. I don’t want failures from the past brought back to run operations with which they have no prior knowledge nor experience.

A lot of this stuff is hard. A lot of it won’t work. A lot of it will work but not have much impact. That’s ok. Give me more ideas. Let’s try again. Let’s work harder.

Let’s get some runs here!

In short, I DO NOT want anyone like the current Mayor and Council. I DO NOT want people who have nothing to offer but good intentions and a ready smile.

I don’t know who they are, just yet.

There are a lot of people who have announced campaigns. The names of others are floated into the media and conversation. Some, to me, are interesting and show potential. Some sound like more Trenton fools.

Some have pulled their petitions from the City Clerk’s Office. Some have filed with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission. Some have done both. Some have done neither. This time around, to be taken seriously, candidates will have to show they know how to comply with the law. What a concept, right? We’ve tolerated failure and willful non-compliance in this regard before. See where it got us?

Some have run for office before. Some have been elected before, but have not been part of the civic conversation in this town since they left office, or since they lost the last time. Some, however, have stayed in the game. Good for them. Keep going. If you haven’t played in the game between elections, don’t dare come to me like a vampire waking up every four years, and ask for my vote. We’ve had enough blood sucked out over the last dozen years!

I have an open mind and open heart. You have until May to convince me.

Tell me how we get some runs.

Dear Mayor Jackson

AS EMAILED:

Good Afternoon, Mayor Jackson, Director Cherry, and Councilmember Chester -

I notice that the City has this afternoon posted a notice on its official website announcing the end of voluntary Water Conservation in the Trenton Water Works Service Area. Thank you.

I also notice that neither this notice nor recent earlier ones have provided any information about the services that I understand are being provided to the City and the Water Works by the Wade Trim firm, http://www.wadetrim.com/

It appears to be the case that personnel are working at TWW’s Filtration Plant, in at least a consulting capacity if not an actual managerial one. The company also appears be posting notices for open professional positions at the Water Works, such as:
wadetrim1-
-
and,
-
-
Is this information correct?
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I am not aware that City Council has granted a contract to this firm. Is this work being done on an Emergency Basis, either at the City’s initiative, or at the direction of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection?
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Can you please provide an update on the operational and managerial status of the Water Works in the aftermath of the most recent incidents affecting the Utility and its customers throughout Mercer County?
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Thank you.
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Sincerely,

Kevin Moriarty