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Quotes from Michael Huckabee Walker

Below are transcribed quotes from the City of Trenton’s Public Information Officer and Aide to the Mayor Michael Walker, on Facebook  little over two weeks ago and addressed to individual citizens of Trenton and other private individuals. As you will read below, Mr. Walker has no hesitation dismissing civic commentary and criticism as “whining,” and insulting specific individuals with language that, even though it lost its sting in sixth grade, is still highly inappropriate and unprofessional coming from any public employee, let alone the Official spokesperson of the City of Trenton, who reports directly to Mayor Eric Jackson.

A couple of weeks ago I filed a formal complaint about Mr. Walker’s comments to Personnel Officer for the City Steven Ponella; Business Administrator Terry McEwen, who heads the Administration Department under which Personnel resides; and Mayor Jackson, who is Walker’s direct supervisor. I included time-stamped screenshots of Mr. Walker’s comments as evidence they had been made. On November 21, in my letter to Mr. Ponella, I asked “Do Mr. Walker’s statements, insults, abuse and condescension reflect the official policies of the City of Trenton and the Office of the Mayor? Does the City defend accusing a group of citizens of ‘whining,’ and discounting any civic involvement short of electoral politics as somehow invalid and worthless? Does the City defend telling a private citizen that his neighbors ‘hate his guts?‘” The next day, when I sent a few more screenshots, I wrote in my cover note,

I leave it to you and your colleagues to decide if Mr. Walker’s continuing comments represent a clear and present danger to the reputation of this Administration and Mr. Walker’s direct supervisor, Mayor Jackson, at whose pleasure he serves.

Count on me to continue to send you further evidence of Mr. Walker’s objectionable behavior, as I have no doubt it will continue in the absence of immediate, explicit direction and discipline from the City, which must include apologies by Michael Walker to [private citizens I will not name here]. The absence of such immediate discipline and direction from the City I will take as implicit endorsement of his comments by the Administration and the Mayor.

Mr. Ponella, I know that the City prefers to handle personnel matters on a confidential basis. I am ready to allow the City to move on this matter discreetly, as long as it is handled expeditiously. The evidence is all there for your timely examination. If the City delays responding to these comments past December 1, and/or allows further comments by the City’s Public Information Officer, I will take this matter public.

Your employee is out of control. Please deal with him.

Well, December 1 has come and gone. I have heard no response from the City, other than to acknowledge receipt of my complaint emails when they were received. In the meantime, Mr. Walker’s offending comments have been deleted, presumably by Michael Walker and he has “un-friended” many of the individuals on Facebook to whom he had directed his comments, including me.

That’s the only action that has been taken in response to a formal personnel complaint registered against a City employee for offensive comments made under the cover of his official City of Trenton title. All that’s been done has been to delete the comments, destroying the evidence. That’s a cover-up, not an apology. Having offered the City opportunity to deal with the matter discreetly, the City has failed to respond to the complaint. I can only assume that the Administration and Michael Walker’s supervisor Eric Jackson condones his behavior and endorses his comments.

So, since that appears to be the case, here’s a taste of what the City of Trenton’s Public Information Officer thinks of Trenton’s citizens. One of Your Public Servants, at work. The selected typical comments are not in chronological order, but since they were made to and about various individuals on various topics at various times, I don’t think they need to be.

Part One – Explaining to Citizens who Michael Walker  is and in what capacity he speaks on Facebook:

[F]or the record, I am off until Monday. Also, I use the Facebook app on my iPhone. And I am always working for the people of Trenton, even when I am off, particularly on myriad constituent issues as I have a dual role in the Mayor’s Office: Aide to the Mayor and Public Information Officer. – November 16, 3:26pm (Edited)

I don’t sling mud, and you don’t know me personally. Yes, I am the city’s Public Information Officer, I also own a home here and pay taxes, just like you and [another Trenton citizen]. – November 21, approx 10pm

[W]ith all do (sic) respect, I will say what I want when appropriate. Yes, I am the city’s Public Information Officer. My job is to convey relevant information about city-related business to internal and external publics as needed…” – November 20, approximately 10 pm

I don’t speak on campaign matters, but rest assured, I will speak as I see fit when I read inaccurate comments about the Mayor and his substantial accomplishments that are cloaked in disrespect and fake righteous indignation. – November 17, 2:29 pm

Part Two – What Michael Walker Thinks About the People of Trenton:

[A]s far as I’ve been able to determine, no one seems to care much about your opinions or for you personally. I am puzzled as to why. But I do know thousands of people love the Mayor and what he has done for the city. You should take your hate someplace else, especially since the good taxpayers of our working and middle-class city made it possible for you to earn a good living and take care of your family. – November 17, 2:35 pm

Many of the people I work with are your neighbors, and quite frankly, they hate your guts, which is unfortunate because you’re the cause of this reality, not them. And although I respect you and even agree with some of your better, less hateful perspectives, you are a serially negative individual with good ideas that people won’t buy into because they simply can’t stand you. Also, if you dislike our great city and its rich multiculturalism, then why do you stay here? – November 18, 9:53 pm

This is not mud, this is a fact: Many of [citizen] neighbors dislike him because he’s a smug, disrespectful, intermittently hateful, know-it-all. He created this perspective, not me. – November 20, approximately 10 pm

If you are so concerned about the quality of  Trenton municipal government and its policy-making, then why don’t you run for Mayor or a seat on the City Council? Wouldn’t that be more productive than whining all day on Facebook? – November 17, 2:23 pm

I’ll say it again, if you’re not happy with what Trenton municipal government is doing, then run for public office. That’s how you change things. – November 20, approximately 10 pm

Let’s face it. You’re full of baloney. It’s way easier to serially whine on Facebook than to bring your know-how and ideas to the table for action. Your actions speak louder than any hateful words you cloak with your obvious contempt for your neighbors and our multicultural community. – November 20, approximately 10 pm

Similar to offensive rhetoric we have heard over the last year from our national capital from the Chief Executive and his spokespersons, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, it seems to me that we may be hearing a lot of projection on to his readers of the actual feelings of our own Michael “Huckabee” Walker, and perhaps his boss.

Who, in reality, has “obvious contempt” for whom, Mr. Walker? Mr. Jackson?

Part Three – Bonus Quote!

[A]s for how the Mayor is watching taxpayer money, we’ve had budget surpluses every year since the Jackson administration took office. For FY 2018, the surplus is nearly $11 Million. - November 17, 2:23 pm

For one thing, Fiscal Year 2018 is the budget year currently under way. It runs until June 30, 2018. We have seven months to go in this budget year, Mr. Walker. A lot can happen in that time. Don’t count your surpluses until they are hatched!

And, for another, we now know that City surpluses (such as they may be in reality, and not just paper ones, but that’s a whole other tutorial) for the last several years have been provided in substantial part due to operating surpluses from the Trenton Water Works (TWW). Which, in turn, have been earned in very large measure by savings on wages made by gutting the manpower needed to run TWW safely. As reported in this space, the New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner quoted the City’s own engineering consultants back to Mayor Jackson by saying, ” although TWW carries a $12 Million surplus, it has only one-third of the staff  needed to operate its system.”

Let me put it this way, Mr. Walker: if you brag about a fiscal surplus earned by jeopardizing the safety of the water supply of tens of thousands of Mercer County people, umm, that’s really not a good thing. At all!

As I wrote above, the City has been silent in response to my formal complaint about Mr. Walker and his offensive comments, other than to delete them and all references to them and reducing his online presence on Facebook. That’s not a remotely satisfactory response to a formal  complaint filed against a public employee – Trenton’s Public Information Officer and  Mayoral Aide – for offensive comments made under cover of his official title. Again, that’s a cover-up.

I’ll finish with the question I asked the City a couple of weeks ago, and which was not been answered:

Do Mr. Walker’s statements, insults, abuse and condescension reflect the official policies of the City of Trenton and the Office of the Mayor? Does the City defend accusing a group of citizens of “whining,” and discounting any civic involvement short of electoral politics as somehow invalid and worthless? Does the City defend telling a private citizen that neighbors “hate his guts,” that they are “smug,” “hateful,” “know-it-alls?”

Is this the kind of rhetoric we are to expect to hear throughout the remainder of the Mayor’s term in office? Is the “bully pulpit” of City Hall to be turned into a pulpit for bullies in Trenton as the White House as been in Washington?

The Progression of Slow: Slow, Slower, Slowest, Jackson

The Kevin Shea article posted online in the Trenton Times Friday evening, and appearing in the Saturday print edition, has some pretty remarkable comments by Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson about revelations made public on Friday regarding the perilous staffing situation at the Trenton Water Works (TWW).  The City-owned utility serving Trenton and several Mercer County communities has been so starved of personnel over several years that, in the words of New Jersey’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection Bob Martin, “although TWW carries a $12 Million Surplus, it has only one-third of the staff needed to operate its system.”

Anyway, as a result of this understaffing, and the potential threat to the safety of TWW’s water supply, the state has concluded “TWW has demonstrated it is unable to properly acquire the necessary skilled people and manage its facility alone.”

The State says “unable.” I might say “unwilling,” but let’s just put that aside for now!

As a result, the State has compelled the City to start a process to transfer day-to-day management and staffing responsibility to an outside firm, for first a temporary basis and then a longer term that could be as long as ten years.

Mayor Jackson said some things to Kevin Shea, either via written statement or phone conversation, or both, that are striking – and strikingly wrong.  Let’s review some of them.

“The mayor said the letters do convey the increased oversight the DEP took after the boil advisory, which was contentious in the past few months, but centered on staffing, not water quality.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

What? As if there’s no connection between the two? Does Eric Jackson believe that a staffing level of 1/3 of what “is needed to operate the system” has no connection to water quality?!?! Would, to use an example I cited on Friday, a police department only working from 9a to 5p have no connection to public safety?

That’s exactly what I hear Eric Jackson saying.

In rebuttal to the Mayor, let me quote Commissioner Martin again, from his letter dated October 30, with which I led off my Friday post:

[O]ver the past year, the City has experienced multiple incidents caused by deficiencies in TWW’s standard operating procedures, equipment, and, most especially, staffing. The City, through its own admission, lacks the appropriate management structure, both in terms of vacancies in key management roles and experienced individuals serving in acting management roles.”  [Emphasis mine - KM]

Still don’t get it, Mayor Jackson?

Let’s look at the Incident Report that was written following the Boil Water Advisory that was issued to all county-wide customers on June 5, 2017 – clearly a “water quality issue.” This Report, prepared by consultants Mott McDonald and dated August 11, 2017, and is one of the items released to me as part of my OPRA request. It is a very, very heavily-redacted document, (censored to remove details of the operations of public utilities not to be made public for interests of security), but I think you can get the drift:

Based on information relayed over the course of this investigation, a sequence of events has been developed, regarding the Boil Water Advisory incident…

At around 11:00 AM, Senior Engineer Theresa Ponella, while taking manual plant process turbidity samples noticed that the sample from the Plant Intake was extremely discolored, reportedly similar in color to coffee. She reported the issue to the Water Treatment Plant Supervisor, William Mitchell. Dixon then received a call from Operator Schoranda Henderson, regarding “dirty water”…

Dixon reportedly indicated that he recalled a similar incident several months ago where this operation was performed and did not affect the plant. He thought there would not be an issue and did not notify the Operators in advance

William Mitchell had been in contact with the DEP regarding the incident as it became evident that the treatment process was compromised and a Boil Water Advsory was issued. [Emphasis mine - KM]

Well. “This operation.” “He thought there would not be an issue.” “The treatment process was compromised.” Sure does sound like the June 5 Boil Water (i.e. Water Quality) Incident was caused in at least large part by human error. There is no indication of any natural or infrastructure-related cause of this incident that can be gleaned from the non-redacted portions of the report.

That makes it Staffing related, Mayor Jackson! Let me make it real easy for you. When it comes to Public Safety, whether Police, Fire, or the Water We All Drink:

ESSENTIAL STAFFING = SAFETY

As to Jackson’s boast that “The water quality of TWW remains at or above regulatory standards,” that’s kind of like boasting you go to Atlantic City every month with the rent (or, maybe more appropriate, the payroll tax) money, and you haven’t lost it yet! You’ve been lucky, not good!

Luck doesn’t last forever. Remember, in the last six months alone, we experienced:

Do you still feel confident, Mayor Jackson? Do you still feel “lucky?”

In his comments to Kevin Shea, Eric Jackson defends his Administration’s actions from state criticism by claiming there hasn’t been enough time for the City to respond to the State’s requests for action:

The mayor said he values the DEP assistance, but when the agency pushed for an aggressive timeline for the emergency contracting, he said he had to remind them that Trenton is a transitional-aid city with oversight from the state Department of Community Affairs. It was just unreachable.

A Nov. 3 letter from a DEP manager called for a Nov. 16 deadline for the emergency contract, from drafting to bid selection.

Government procurement processes, “Cannot move that fast,” Jackson said. – [Emphasis mine - KM]

I call Bullshit.

Trenton wasn’t asked to move nearly that fast.

In his October 30 letter to Mayor Jackson, Commissioner Martin referred to “my meetings with Mayor Jackson of September 29, 2017 and October 20, 2017, and my conference call of October 24, 2017.” He also refers to “ongoing discussion for more than 10 years.” Commissioner Martin gets to the point of his letter by writing “My expectation is that the City will issue an emergency RFP [Request for Proposal] by this Friday, November 3, 2017. My expectation is also that the City will award an emergency contract by November 30, 2017 and that the contractor will begin work as soon as possible.”

The Mayor’s version of an “aggressive timeline” from November 3 to November 16 as told to Kevin Shea is simply not supported by the facts. The City was formally given a full month for this emergency contract process, not two weeks. And Mr. Jackson had been involved in several meetings and phone calls dating back to September when this entire scenario was discussed in great depth and detail.

And, you know, if the State had written a November 3 letter with the “aggressive timeline,” it would have been part of the OPRA document release NJDEP sent me this week. I didn’t get one, so unless Mr. Jackson can produce it, it doesn’t exist.

As of today, there is no TWW-management-related RFP on the City’s bidding webpage. As an emergency contract, it may not show up on the regular page.

Or it could be that Trenton just “cannot move that fast.” As usual.

Moving slow is Eric Jackson’s trademark.

He hasn’t filed a campaign finance report with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission in three years.

He never filed an IRS tax return in the three years since he established his non-profit foundation, and lost its tax exemption. And he didn’t file an annual report in NJ for three straight years, for which his NJ business registration was revoked.

His Administration ignored months of Notices  and Warnings that should have alerted the City that it was being robbed by its payroll vendor, and Eric Jackson himself gave misleading statements and chronologies of the robbery that were at variance with the facts.

By failing for over three years to provide paperwork and contract deliverables to the US Housing and Urban Development Department, the City lost over $3.3 Million in Federal funding and was labeled “a high-risk grantee of federal funds.”

The Jackson Administration even forgot about or lost interest in one of its own initiatives, its Resident Employment Initiative, paying its consultant only about half of his contract and failing to even establish the Trenton Employment Commission it suggested,

Eric Jackson, in his own words, just “cannot move that fast.”

In this case of the Water Works, he’d better learn how! Although Kevin Shea’s Times article today quotes a DEP spokesperson as sounding conciliatory, saying “the city had made recent progress,” the October 30 letter from DEP Commissioner Martin takes a much tougher stance.


If the City fails to follow through immediately on this emergency contract, DEP will be left with no choice but to seriously consider pursuing administrative or legal action to ensure the protection of public health for the City’s residents and the customers in the surrounding communities supplied with drinking water by TWW.

Between the seemingly conciliatory DEP spokesperson and its hard-line Commissioner, Eric Jackson should listen to the Commissioner and “follow through immediately.”

But I don’t have much hope for that, because Eric Jackson just cannot… well, you know.


Is It Safe?

In the movie 1976 movie “Marathon Man,” Dustin Hoffman’s character falls into the hands of Nazi Dentist Dr. Josef Mengele, played by Sir Laurence Olivier. Before, and during, some gruesome dental procedures, Mengele keeps asking Hoffman, “Is it safe?” At this point in the film, Hoffman doesn’t know what “it” is, and therefore can’t tell him what he needs to know.So the gruesomeness continues.

Who would have guessed that the most dangerous part of that procedure might have been when the Nazi Dentist told Hoffman to “Rinse and spit?”

For in our reality in Trenton and Mercer County 2017, we now know that the question “Is it Safe?” refers to our drinking water, as supplied by the Trenton Water Works (TWW).

via GIPHY

Kevin Shea of the Trenton Times has published a piece in his paper picking up on the story introduced in this space of the long-running manpower crisis at TWW that has developed to the point where the utility has only one-third of the personnel needed to operate the system, according to Trenton’s own engineering consultants. Mr. Shea (thank you for the citation , sir!) spoke to Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson to respond to the revelations contained in documents received from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

In the Times piece, Mayor Jackson told Kevin Shea, “The water quality of TWW remains at or above regulatory standards.” OK, so can Mr. Jackson explain this water sample, photographed by Trenton resident Scott Miller of a sample taken from his tap this morning? Is the unnatural purple tint within regulatory standards?

“Is It Safe?”

scott miller 12-2

Trenton Water Works Has Only One-Third of the Staff Needed to Operate its System

dep 11-27-17

The screenshot above is from a 10/30/17 letter to Mayor Eric Jackson from NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Bob Martin. It can be found on page 7 of this linked redacted document released by NJDEP as part of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed by me in early November. This 10-30 letter serves as the summary of findings of critical deficiencies in the ongoing management of the Trenton Water Works by the city of Trenton. These findings have led to a plan that is well underway to transfer management of the Water Works from the City and contract it out to an outside commercial firm. This transfer will initially be done on a short-term emergency basis, but is expected to lead to a longer-term (maximum 10 years) management contract. Not mentioned, but surely on the table, is the possibility of Trenton losing ownership of at least part if not all of the Water Works.

That plan is outlined in a letter dated November 3 from Michelle Putnam, Acting Assistant Commissioner of Water Resource Management for NJDEP to one Henry Amoroso, Exec Director of HJA Strategies of West Orange. His role is so far unclear. That letter can be found starting on Page 1 of the attached.

The key DEP findings, summarized in the screenshot above, indicate that although problems with TWW have been the subject of discussion over the last ten years, over the last year and some months, the City has failed to take required actions it had agreed to, chiefly deficiencies in staffing. The most shocking finding, in the screenshot above right before the redaction, is “that although TWW carries a $12 Million Surplus, it has only one-third of the staff needed to operate its system.”

You will remember that on the very same date of November 3 that the City met with the State agencies, the City of Trenton issued an advisory to its customers throughout Mercer County. This advisory stated “low water pressure” as the reason for the water restrictions it put into place that day. Even though low water pressure may have been the immediate cause of that day’s incident, we now know for a fact that the City of Trenton’s negligence in staffing the Trenton Water Works at all levels in the utility have, in the words of the state NJDEP Commissioner (quoting Trenton’s own consultant’s report) raised “significant concerns regarding its ability to reliably supply drinking water to its customers on a continuous basis without adverse incidents.”

This is only one of 17GB worth of documents I’ve received from NJDEP. They will of course be posted as I start to process them. I am also expecting additional documents from the City in response to a (several times delayed) OPRA request filed there.

This is a big story, as I am sure you will realize. More to come. Thank you.

– # –

COMMENTARY

Would you feel safe in a city where the police force only worked from 9am to 5pm?

How about if the Fire Department only had the ability to fight fires on the ground floors of buildings?

Would you fly on an airline that had only enough mechanics to service the engine, wheels, brakes and flaps on the left side of the aircraft?

Would you eat the food at a chicken restaurant that only cooked its meals half-way?

Of course not! Each of those examples represent a clear and present danger to public safety. None of those instances would be allowed to stand for long.

Yet this is the same exact situation we are being presented with in regards to the Trenton Water Works. We’ve known for years that the utility had staffing issues, and had been undermanned for most if not all of the last ten years. But now we know, in the words of the City of Trenton’s own consultants, as repeated back to it by the State of New Jersey’s Environmental Commissioner, that the Water Works “has only one-third of the Staff Needed to Operate its System.”

Think about that, again, and think about those other examples. The water we in the City, and throughout the County, drink, cook with, bathe in, and give to our children is potentially unsafe at any time, because of critical and long-standing staffing issues. We’ve had service disruptions, and lead advisories, and other problems, several times in 2017 alone. The situation is a clear and present danger.

One thing is apparent to me this morning, even before processing all of the other documents I’ve already received from NJDEP and awaiting from the City. I can understand the existence of intermittent and temporary staffing shortages in any organization, from time to time. Complex technical work can only be performed by experienced and highly trained and licensed personnel. The loss of a key person, or two, or even half a dozen, can take a lot of time and effort to replace. I get that.

But for the Trenton Water Works to be missing two-thirds of the “staff needed to operate its system” can ONLY be the result of years of deliberate policy decisions and administrative action on the part of TWW management and the Administrations of the City of Trenton over the last ten years, not least including the present one.

From this first document disclosed here today, we read that the current situation dates back to at least 2009, when Douglas Palmer was Mayor - and Eric Jackson was Director of Public Works. Back then, Mayor Palmer was accused of hollowing out the Water Works in preparation for selling its suburban assets to the New Jersey American Water Company, a plan overwhelmingly defeated by voters in a 2010 referendum.

It’s clear now that the hollowing-out, and de-staffing of the Water Works has continued since then to the present day. Now we are at the point, the point of a metaphorical gun held by the State of New Jersey, being compelled to turn over management of the Water Works because Trenton has fucked it all up, and can’t begin to fix it, as demonstrated by its failure over the last couple of years or so – under the current Jackson Administration – to take the required and agreed-upon actions to start to address the situation. This failure has surely been aided and abetted by the fact that over the last several months, an extremely crucial period of time seeing several water safety incidents and increased scrutiny from the State, the City’s Director of Public Works has been Merkle Cherry, an individual with Zero prior Public Works Experience. Not the best management decision made by Mayor Jackson, but it’s only been one of so, so many.

This is the beginning of a long, sordid and complicated tale, no doubt. However it ends, I certainly hope it ends with nothing less than the restoration of trust in the safety of our water supply. Because we sure as hell have no confidence in its safety right now!

I will finish by mentioning the other major recent crisis and scandal with a city’s water supply, in Flint, Michigan. In that town, poor government policy and actions, negligence, abuse and corruption led to a public safety crisis still unfolding. Lawsuits have been filed, and government officials are being indicted. People will go to jail for Flint, that is going to happen.

It’s way too early in this crisis – and yes, that’s exactly what it is! – to predict where events and disclosures will lead. But, last night, as I read this document, spitting mad, I thought that Eric Jackson and the current members of Council are probably working and planning on their re-election efforts right now.

My first reaction is that they should be worried about going to jail, the whole lot of them.

Time to lawyer up, guys!

Ten years of bad decisions are coming home to roost. Screwing with the City’s – hell, much of Mercer County’s – water supply won’t and can’t be excused.

Anyone on the City and yes, State level, who over the last ten years (at least that part of them covered by the statute of limitations) planned, oversaw or had knowledge of or other wise enabled the actions that led to Trenton Water Works having “only one-third of the Staff Needed to Operate its System,” raising “significant concerns regarding its ability to reliably supply drinking water to its customers on a continuous basis without adverse incidentshad better start talking to lawyers, because there will be hell to pay for this.


Comments to ELEC

Comments made at this morning’s monthly meeting of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Sometimes being the State Capitol is a good thing; a statewide commission like ELEC is only 5 minutes away!

Good Morning –

As you today note the recent completion of the state election cycle at the beginning of this month, I would like to draw your attention to an outstanding case of local non-compliance with ELEC rules, dating to the 2014 Municipal Elections here in Trenton, that you have had on your plates since February of this year.

Eric Jackson was elected Mayor of Trenton after a run-off election in June 2014. This had been his second attempt at the office, having run unsuccessfully in 2010. In the aftermath of that failed race, Mr. Jackson neglected to file the necessary quarterly campaign finance reports from that race for over three years. At the point when this lack of compliance became a campaign issue, he hurriedly and belatedly filed three years of report mere weeks before the 2014 election, which this time he won.

Since his election, Eric Jackson has again ignored his obligation to file his required campaign quarterly reports, although this time over the last three years he has done so as an elected public official. The last quarterly report he filed with ELEC was almost exactly three full years ago, on November 28, 2014, for the third calendar quarter of 2014.

In February of this year, I filed a request for investigation with ELEC, pointing out his extreme tardiness in both election cycles. At that time, I received a letter stating an investigation would be opened to examine Mr. Jackson’s 2014 campaign reporting. As is the usual procedure with ELEC investigations, no more has been said about its progress or current status. I seek no information about its status today. I simply ask that you consider adjudicating this case as you determine your agenda for the near future. And I ask for consideration of this case to be processed as soon as possible due to the urgency of the upcoming next election cycle.

This city is preparing for its next municipal election, in May 2018. Mr. Jackson has not yet announced whether he intends to run for re-election. If he chooses to run, he will leave the local electorate limited criteria on which to judge his candidacy. After the previously-elected Trenton Mayor was convicted in Federal court of corrupt activity in public office, Mr. Jackson was elected in no small measure due to his promise to be the Ethical Candidate, the person who would bring trust and transparency back to City Hall.

By flaunting his obligations to provide transparency in his campaign finances by failing to file reports for three years, he is continuing to deny Trenton voters the opportunity to – as state law intends – identify his campaign contributors and examine his campaign expenses. This is not the behavior of the Ethical Mayor he promised to be in 2014.

Even if he does not run, he has set an example for other candidates to follow. One other declared candidate for mayor in next year’s election has yet to file even a Treasury Declaration with ELEC for the race.

This is not the only instance in which he has failed to provide transparency. Upon his 2014 election, he created a non-profit organization called “Moving Trenton Together.” In May of this year, the Internal Revenue Service withdrew that organization’s non-profit status because it had failed to file annual tax returns for three consecutive years, ever since it had been formed. Again, there is no visibility at all of the sources of income for this non-profit, nor knowledge of its expenses.

Eric Jackson’s record on “Moving Trenton Together” taken along with his dual 3-year failures to comply with ELEC requirements for two separate elections, has created a troubling profile of financial secrecy and concealment.

After one felonious mayor and one ethically oblivious mayor, Trenton needs to catch a break. The people of Trenton deserve financial transparency from their public officials and candidates, the kind of transparency that New Jersey’s election laws and this Commission are intended to help provide.

I respectfully request the Commissioners and ELEC staff to complete its investigation of Eric Jackson, issue a report, and compel the release of his campaign financial data so that Trenton voters can make their election choices in May in full sunshine and transparency rather than shadow and secrecy.

Thank you.

Chair Eric Jaso replied, thanking me for the statement, acknowledging the urgency of impending elections in the city in which they are physically located.  He regretted the lack of resources that would allow them to attend the many, many matters in NJ that came their way as swiftly as they would all like He also said that the reason that citizens such as me could speak with so much information and data about what was and wasn’t publicly available was a sign that ELEC was doing the job it was created to do. He finished by saying they would look closely at it as soon as they could. I thanked him for his acknowledgement and for the continuing work of the Commission, and left the meeting as they adjourned into Executive Session.

Coming Up Empty

Although the Administration of Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson has long tried to ignore it, hoping (probably correctly) that by the time of next year’s city elections most voters would have forgotten it, the biggest scandal to rock the City in the last four years was the theft of over $4 Million Dollars of city funds by its former vendor Innovative Payroll Services (IPS) and its principal John Scholtz. Nothing else – and, Lord knows, there have been a LOT of other things – comes close.

The amount of money stolen was huge; the number of warnings received – and ignored! -  from state and Federal authorities was high; and the scale of municipal malpractice on all levels of Trenton’s government from lowly finance clerks to the City’s Comptroller up to the Mayor was breathtaking.  The Great Payroll Robbery is on a scale all its own.

However, in the early part of this year, this episode, which consumed most of 2016 as the theft was disclosed and prosecuted, seemed to come to a resolution. The guilty party, John Scholtz, was convicted and sentenced, and the City was well under way with the process of recovering its stolen $4 Million Dollars. In March of this year upon Scholtz’s conviction, Cristina Rojas of the Trenton Times wrote,

“[Mayor] Jackson says the city has recouped some of the money, though he didn’t have the exact amount on hand.

“‘We are still in the process of getting it back and being made whole and we’ll continue to work on that,’ he said.” [Emphasis added - KM]

Those two occasions eight months ago are, to date,  the only two times we’ve ever heard about the City’s attempts to get its stolen money back. It sure does sounds like a (reasonably) happy end after the embarrassment of the massive theft in plain sight, right? The Mayor made it sound, in that newspaper article and in meetings with at least one neighborhood group, that the process of recouping the City’s money was well under way, and achieving results, right? If you read the Mayor’s upbeat comments in the Times, or sat in the Cadwalader Heights living room listening to Mr. Jackson and his then-Finance Director Ron Zilinski, you’d certainly think that we’d only have have gotten more money back since then, right?

Right?

Sorry to have to break it to you this way, but as of this week in November the City of Trenton has not received a dime of restitution from the Great Payroll Robbery.

Not one dollar.

In response to two Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests filed with the City Clerk’s Office over the last two months, Deputy Clerk Cordelia Staton – on behalf of the City – confirmed to me yesterday that no funds have yet been received by the City as even partial restitution for its losses to IPS.

Back in March, I found the Mayor’s statements about the City’s progress in getting money back hard to believe. At that point John Scholtz had pled guilty in Federal Court to stealing money from the City and dozens of other IPS clients, but he hadn’t yet been sentenced. Even more importantly, a final Restitution Agreement which would benefit all victims of Scholtz’s scam hadn’t been written.

Yes, as had been reported earlier this year, several assets of Scholtz’s and his company had been seized by federal court order and ordered sold. Other assets such as IPS bank accounts were frozen. But all of the proceeds from those asset sales, as well as proceeds from Chubb Insurance for what little performance bonding IPS carried, were deposited into a bank account under Federal authority and held until arrangements for restitution to all claimants had been made.

A Restitution Agreement was not issued until August 30 of this year, as part of Scholtz’s sentencing in Court . The City of  Trenton is listed first (page 6 of the linked document) as one of no fewer than 120 separate claimants (including the IRS) in line to claim a total of $9,566,460.79 in judgments. Trenton directly was awarded a claim of $863,317.24, with the federal Internal Revenue Service awarded an additional $3,568,233.16 (page 17) to make restitution for Trenton’s tax losses.

restitution 1restitution 2

I’ll just note here that although Federal Judge Freda Wolfson formally recognized 120 separate IPS victims as claimants, the City of Trenton by itself represented almost half of the Court’s judgment. We were the victims – or, considering all the warnings to the ongoing theft the Jackson Administration received and ignored, the suckers – of Scholtz’s theft nearly as badly as all of the 119 other parties, combined!!

After the Restitution Agreement was issued on August 30, it wasn’t until the end of September that the first movement of money was made to actually begin the process of making restitution to the ten dozen IPS victims, including Trenton, an amount of $755,489.33 “to be put toward the defendant’s [John Scholtz] restitution obligation.” Of that sum, Trenton (and/or the IRS) would be entitled to approximately $347,500, less any possible lawyer, court or other fees. That would represent about an 8% down payment on our restitution.

That is, if we ever see any of it. As I mentioned above, as of this week according to Deputy Clerk Staton in response to the second of two OPRA requests, the City of Trenton hasn’t yet seen one dime of restitution.We’ve come up empty, so far.

So, what the heck was Eric Jackson talking about in March, when he told Cristina Rojas of the Times and he told me and my Cadwalader Heights neighbors, that the city has recouped some of the money, and that he would “continue to work on that?”

Was he talking about the overall collective effort, headed by the Feds and still under way, to seize IPS and Scholtz assets and sell them for cash to distribute to the overall claimant pool?

I don’t think so. The clear implication of the Mayor’s words in March was that The City of Trenton had started to recoup its stolen millions, and looked forward to getting more back through the rest of 2017.

But 2017 is nearly over, and we haven’t received a dime.

So, again: What the heck was Eric Jackson talking about in March?

Clearing the Waters

In response to my piece yesterday, frequent reader W. Pyle wrote a comment that I think other readers may find useful when thinking about the most recent problems with Trenton’s water quality. Rapid increases in water flow and turbidity may have overwhelmed the ability of Trenton Water Works to cope. However, “the plant, which is relatively new, should have redundant or parallel delivery systems to allow continued operations should there be a failure of one of the units.”

Thank you as always, Mr. Pyle, for your informed comments on water systems and supply!

I always appreciate feedback from readers who know what they are talking about, much more than I! Thank you, all.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’ve had no reply from anyone in City Hall. Surprise, surprise!

One of the operational challenges presented to a treatment facility by a surface water supply is maintaining adequate treatment when faced with rapidly changing water quality as measured by temperature, pH, alkalinity, turbidity and other water quality parameters. When those changes occur, on site personnel must adjust the treatment process to achieve and maintain delivered water that meets or exceeds the regulatory water quality requirements. To have a full understanding of the possible scenarios that could have resulted in no output as a result of a plant shutdown or a reduction in output, some knowledge of the treatment process would be helpful. However, to provide a possible scenario and to keep this relatively brief, a mention of the steps of the process includes coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, and filtration with disinfection occurring before filtration and prior to delivery to the distribution system.

So, when the river water enters the plant, a coagulant (chemical) is added to achieve flocculation (bringing together suspended particles to create heavier masses). The amount of coagulant is determined by the river water qualities mentioned above and manual tests are conducted on site to help determine the proper amount. Other chemicals may be added to adjust the pH of the incoming water. After the coagulant does it job, the water is allowed to flow through the plant at a rate that allows the particles to settle out during the sedimentation process. At this point, the settled water would typically have a turbidity of about 1 NTU and could be somewhat higher if the plant influent has a turbidity greater than 10 NTU. The settled water then flows to the top of the filters and is filtered. The filtered water should have a turbidity of 0.3 NTU or less.

Given the rapidly changing water quality as shown on the turbidity graph, on site operators would have had to make effective adjustments in the treatment process to maintain water quality. If the required adjustments were not done or attempted but found to be ineffective, settled water may have had a turbidity well in excess of 1 NTU and may have also created a settled water that was not able to be adequately filtered. If that happened, the filtered water may have exceeded the allowable filtered water NTU level which would have required the plant to stop delivering water. Such an event would have required the plant to continue to not deliver water until it was able to produce filtered water that met the filtered water turbidity requirement. It may be that after such an event it takes quite a while before the plant is able to produce water that meets all water quality requirements.

This also could have occurred if the equipment used to deliver the treatment chemicals experienced complete failure. That is possible but the plant, which is relatively new, should have redundant or parallel delivery systems to allow continued operations should there be a failure of one of the units.

The turbidity graph shows a maximum recorded turbidity level of about 70. As a way to gauge the severity of this “spike” a review of the historical turbidity data will probably reveal that this was not that sever when compared to turbidity levels spiking to over 1,000. Nevertheless, the spike shown in the graph may have indeed been enough of a change over a short period of time to have cause a treatment upset as mentioned above.

Water Issues

As emailed to City Hall this morning, 11-6-17:

Good Morning, Mr. Mayor -

Once again, for the second time in less than three months, I write with concern about the quality of Trenton’s Water Supply, and by extension the management of the Trenton Water Works. And once again, I must ask that your Administration and the TWW management owe an immediate explanation to all customers of the Water Works, both inside the City of Trenton and throughout Mercer County.

The cursory Notice on the City website speaks only of “low water flow” as the reason for which customers are urged to conserve water. Mr. Mayor, recent history of the Water Works leads to justifiable skepticism from all customers. We need and deserve more information. More detailed information, and more timely information.

Is this latest incident the same as reported on the NJ Department of Environmental Protection website? Incident number #657951 dated 10/30/10 is described as “PLANT SHUTDOWN DUE TO RIVER WATER LEVEL AND TURBIDITY. WILL BE FEEDING OFF RESERVOIR. NO SERVICE DISRUPTION.”

dep tww 11-6-17 1

Is this also related to the very high (relative to readings reported during the last 30 days) turbidity values in the Delaware River at Trenton reported by the US Geological Survey on their website?
USGS 11-6-17 1
If so, this turbidity may also be related to the spike in water volume over the last several days at Trenton, also as reported by the USGS?
USGS 11-6-17 2
If so, why do you not report this to TWW customers? With the lack of detailed explanation provided to customers as of this morning, this  only does harm to the level of trust placed in the Water Works.  The general lack of trust has been caused by several things over the last several years, not least of which is the high level of unfilled personnel positions within the Water Works. Your Director of Public Works has spoken to neighborhood civic groups of dozens of unfilled positions. I am seeking detailed information of the status of that problem by an Open Public Records Act request, which the Clerk’s Office tells me will be fulfilled no later than November 20 (It had been due on November 1, but the Clerk requested additional time).
This most recent instance appears, based on the USGS data, to have been caused by changes in conditions of the River itself, rather than operational issues. However, they may be related. We don’t know, as of this morning.
Customers deserve a fuller explanation of this most recent problem than they have received as of this morning. I do hope you and your colleagues will address this today as an urgent priority.
Thank you.
Sincerely,

Kevin Moriarty

Three Short Takes

One – Posted on Facebook this morning:

From: MayorsOffice <mayorsoffice@trentonnj.org>
Date: Oct 13, 2017, 11:45 AM -0400
To: Eric Jackson <ejackson@trentonnj.org>
Subject: Please be my guest at my third State of the City Address

Dear Friend,

Please be my guest at my third State of the City address on Wednesday, October 25th at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall (319 East State Street). Council Chamber doors will open at 5:15 p.m. Parking is available for my guests in the lot behind City Hall.

It is important that you RSVP your attendance by October 18th to Debbie Smith at (609) 989-3032. Ms. Smith, my executive assistant, will follow up with you in the days ahead to confirm receipt of this invitation.

Together, we will advance Trenton’s transformation and capture the resources that our city needs to accomplish this destiny.

All the best,
Mayor Eric E. Jackson
(609) 989-3032

A)  Regarding, “we will advance Trenton’s transformation and capture the resources”:

capture ["kap-cher"]
verb (used with object), captured, capturing.
1. to take by force or stratagem; take prisoner; seize: “The police captured the burglar.”

If Mayor Jackson needs to “capture” resources for Trenton, that means that these resources do not want to be in Trenton! They will try to evade “capture.”

B) About, ” the resources that our city needs to accomplish this destiny.”

This” destiny? What destiny? There is no antecedent here! He hasn’t talked about any destiny before now, in this release! Therefore, there is no destiny!!

Unless it is “destiny” that these unknown “resources” get “captured” by Jackson. In which case, these resources are probably truly fucked.

#

Two - We have a Mayoral race in Trenton! At least, as far as the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) is concerned. After my observations/rants last week that no candidates had filed legally-required reporting with ELEC, the first potential candidate has filed.

elec 10-13-17

Thank you, Paul Perez! Glad to see that someone is taking ELEC obligations seriously. We’ll have to see who else files by the Monday deadline for third quarter reports for 2017…

Now, as you recall reading last week, this filing doesn’t necessarily mean that Mr. Perez is in fact a candidate for Mayor next year. If all he is doing is “testing the waters,” at least he is doing so by complying with state law.

Which is more than Eric Jackson has been doing for the last three years.

But, now that we know that he spends his time trying to “capture” resources for some unspecified “destiny,” perhaps he really is too busy to do so.

#

Three - In a piece back in June about the City’s messed-up relationship with the US Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) regarding Trenton’s mis-administration of federal funds for its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Home Investments Partnership (HOME) programs, I posted a screenshot of a HUD document called the “CDBG At-Risk Activities Dashboard” from February 20 of this year.

CDBG At-Risk 1

That Dashboard listed a total of 60 items and deliverables which were seriously overdue (many overdue by years) for completion by the City for submission to HUD. In February, HUD gave Trenton hard deadlines for completion of those tasks. As you can see in the screengrab above, most of the late items were due on August 9.

It’s now October 13. How’d we do?

Well, to answer that, I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request with the City for any documents to and from HUD in the last several months about the tasks on the Dashboard, as well anything about the City’s current status as a “High-Risk Grantee of federal funds.” (Long story.)

What I received – ALL I received – was an updated Dashboard. Dated September 29, this spreadsheet lists a total of 30 items still overdue to the Feds. Out of the February list of close to 60.

hud 9-29-17

Which means that Trenton – after years of being so late and lax with the administration of federal monies that HUD basically impounded $3.3 Million in funding that we would have received over the next three years in order to recoup bad Trenton spending going back a decade, and after being given what many people would have interpreted as ONE LAST CHANCE to re-build a good relationship with a key Federal agency by hitting all those deadlines  – only delivered half of them on time.

So, do you think Trenton’s glass is half full, or half empty?

Disqualifying

elec 10-4-17

Above is a screenshot taken this morning of the results of an inquiry made of the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) database. It shows that, as of this morning, not one person has filed any documents with ELEC in connection with the upcoming May 2018 Trenton mayoral election.

Over the last few weeks, there have been multiple articles in the local press discussing who the likely prospects might be who would jump in to the race. Last week, for instance, LA Parker in the Trentonian discussed by name the candidacies of current City Council member Alex Bethea (“’I’m running for mayor,’ Bethea said”), unsuccessful 2014 candidates Paul Perez (”‘The real answer is that right now we’re currently in the exploratory phase’… Perez…said”) and Walker Worthy (”appeared in campaign mode while attending a city affair several weeks ago”) , and current mayor Eric Jackson (”expected to seek reelection”).

Here’s the thing. As of today, as the screenshot above shows, Not One Person has as of yet filed any required documents with ELEC. Not one quarterly financial report, not one certificate of campaign organization and designation of Treasurer. Nothing. Even though each and every one of the individuals named above qualify already as candidates under state law.

According to ELEC’s Compliance Manual for Candidates, “Individuals who engage in ‘pre-candidacy’ activity, commonly known as ‘testing the waters,’ are defined by law as candidates” (Page 5). That would qualify Bethea, Perez, and Worthy, at least. The Manual also says, “If elected to office, the officeholder remains a candidate throughout the period of time the office is held” (Page 5).  This most definitely applies to Mr. Jackson. However, as readers of this space well know, the Mayor is three years overdue with his reports. He owes 11 reports at this point, covering the close-out of his 2014 campaign as well as any fundraising and spending he’s been doing for his assumed re-election campaign.

So, everyone who’s running or thinking of running or who’s been serving as Trenton’s Mayor is blowing off ELEC and keeping the public in the dark regarding who’s been supporting these campaigns. I don’t believe that’s acceptable.

In July 2013, in a survey of the lack of ELEC compliance among then-candidates and officeholders I wrote,

I would suggest, once again, that a candidate’s – or office holder’s – record of compliance with the commonly-known and pretty easily-followed ELEC Rules of The Game is a pretty good way to predict how conscientious that person will be to following the rules in office…

If these three can’t handle their own campaign finances properly, can we expect them to do so for Trenton’s?

For the last three years, we have our answer to that question, as it applies to Mr. Jackson. He is three years behind on his ELEC reporting, as he was similarly three years delinquent in his 2010 campaign. The charity he founded in 2014 had its non-profit status yanked by the IRS after three consecutive years of failure to file tax returns.  And those problems have paralleled his poor management of the City of Trenton. I don’t need to go over all of that here, but will point you to this still pretty-current review.

If anyone wants to replace Eric Jackson next year, the bare minimum he or she needs to do to even be considered as serious is show they can comply with campaign finance disclosure. It’s not the only thing they will have to do to earn votes, but NOT doing so will be, simply, disqualifying.

Candidates who can’t manage their campaign can’t manage Trenton, and they have no business trying.

Look, Trenton has been through the wringer for the last several years.

When he left office in 2010, Doug Palmer left the City’s finances in a fragile and vulnerable condition, made worse by Chris Christie’s abandonment of Capital City Aid to Trenton that same year.

Then Tony Mack – say no more!

Followed by three years of the amiable incompetence of Eric Jackson. Which was entirely predictable, to anyone who paid any attention in 2014 to the very visible warning sign he showed us by totally fucking up his campaign finances.

The next deadline with ELEC is next week, October 15. Reporting will be due for the three months of July, August, and September, and any applicable activity before the last quarter. I am very curious to see if we see any filing from Alex Bethea, Paul Perez, and Walker Worthy – or any others. If any of them want to be taken seriously, they need to show they can do this much.

I’ve given up on seeing any reporting from Eric Jackson. Even if he starts filing now, three years late like he was in 2014, it will just be Too Little, Too Late.