Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson has a problem.
Under considerable pressure by citizens to say something and do something in response to a severe uptick in violent crime in Trenton over the summer months, and facing criticism for being mostly silent and invisible during the weeks when frequent shootings were wounding and killing people at a frantic pace, Mayor Jackson convened a press conference on Tuesday morning “to announce a new plan for confronting the deadly gun violence that spiked within Trenton in recent weeks,” in the words of a press account of the event.
In the previous post in this space, I described the high expectations for this “plan” that the Mayor and his Administration created. In the runup to the press conference, Mr. Jackson told Trentonians “In lieu of just coming out and saying what we the city are doing to combat this spike in violence — specifically shootings — I’m going to take a different approach. I need to come with something that I think will help create a systemic change.”
I also described how I feel that Mr. Jackson, and the other public officials who attended and spoke at Tuesday’s event, fell far short of that marker in the proposals they outlined to the press. I noted on Wednesday, 24 hours after the event, the City’s website contained no reference to any proposals that were discussed and any actions to be implemented. As of this morning, now 72 hours after the event, there is still nothing on any page of the City’s website talking about any such “different approach” or any proposal that “will help create a systemic change.”
This is bad enough on its own. After weeks of steadily escalating crime on Trenton’s streets – violence that continues seemingly unabated this week, as we read of yet another young man seriously wounded by multiple gunshots this past Wednesday evening – Jackson delivered far less than what he promised. Trentonians were disappointed, and those other public officials who showed up to voice their solidarity with Trenton’s mayor and its people must also feel disappointed and embarrassed by their support of a “plan” that offered very little more substantial than Jackson’s pledge that “There is no option we are not going to look at” to fight an intolerable situation.
This is bad enough, but Eric Jackson has another problem.
As one might expect, the entity at the leading edge of confronting Trenton’s crime problems head on, day in and day out, is the city’s Police Department. What little detail and few proposals we heard on Tuesday involved TPD. Police Director Ernest Parrey described how his immediate plan for confronting the upsurge in violence involved a tactical effort to concentrate on a half-dozen areas in the City, to “light those areas up” in order to suppress criminal activity in those areas.
Mr. Parrey also announced an outreach effort to local communities, starting with, as Greg Wright reported in the Times, “engaging children in schools to have conversations about the perception of officers amongst community members, saying police and the community need to be on the same team. ‘It’s not us and them, [Parrey] said. ‘It’s us.’”
This outreach would further one of the few main goals announced by Jackson and “nearly every speaker” at the event. And that was,
“calling for a cultural shift within the communities where citizens see crimes occur but don’t report them.
“On Sunday, 19-year-old Lance Beckett was shot several times in broad daylight. Witnesses say that the shooter then stomped on his head. Jackson pointed out how there were witnesses, yet nobody called police.
“‘Take back our streets,’ State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) said. ‘Say something if you see something.’
“Officials acknowledged that cultural shifts are difficult and slow to develop, which is why they were not without their own solutions.”
And that’s the problem that Eric Jackson has: the main “solution” he and the other officials offered has its own major problem.
And that problem is the Trenton Police Department.
The very same day, mere hours afterward, that Mr. Jackson and all the “bevy of officials” spoke so emphatically of the need to fight Trenton’s endemic violence, relying largely on the Trenton Police Department to bear the initial heavy load of that fight, the news broke that members of the Department were under investigation by both TPD Internal Affairs and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) for what, from initial reports, seemed could turn into a major sex scandal involving at least one and possibly several more serving officers. Several press accounts, including incredibly unprofessional and needlessly salacious reporting by the Trentonian’s David Foster, alleged on-duty sexual indiscretions with an accused prostitute at a Police Department facility.
The initial reports were shocking enough, and turned sadly tragic when the officer at the center of the investigation, a 22-year veteran of the Department and the specific subject of what should be career-ending reports by Mr. Foster, took his own life on Wednesday. His family and colleagues in the Department grieve this week, and the Trenton Police Department now faces what is likely to be intense scrutiny and further investigation.
And that’s a big problem for Mr. Jackson’s proposed response to Trenton’s criminal activity.
First off, as described in the more responsible reportage in the Times, the MCPO investigation began last week upon the arrest of the alleged prostitute. In other words, the investigation was well under way days before the Mayor’s press conference, which stressed police department outreach “engaging children in schools” and appealed to community members not to remain silent about crimes of which they had knowledge, but to reach out to the police.
How in the world did Mr. Jackson go ahead with those parts of his proposal? Did he know that a major sex scandal in his police department was about to burst in the open? If he knew, I believe it was a major failure of judgment on his part to have spoken as he did, when he did. And it was an embarrassment to all of the other officials, such as Senator Shirley Turner, to have spoken so extensively and warmly of TPD as they did, when they no doubt had no inkling of the pending scandal.If I were an official such as Senator Turner, I would frankly be livid at Mayor Jackson for being corralled to show up at a supposedly important event like Tuesday’s, speak in solidarity with Trenton’s citizens and public safety departments, and then see that department blow up later that day.
If Mr. Jackson, on the other hand, did not know about the investigation under way, then Director Parrey owes him and the public some major explanation about that major breakdown in communication.If the Director did not tell his boss about the storm about to break, and allowed him to make a fool of himself on Tuesday morning, we need to know why.
This scandal couldn’t come at a worse time for Mr. Jackson’s already thin “plan,” and will likely leave it in tatters. To the extent he had any strategic objectives to push this week, the Mayor’s proposals leaned heavily on an appeal to Trenton’s citizens to end a culture of silence in the presence and knowledge of criminal activity they either witness or have knowledge of. That appeal – both implicitly and explicitly - is addressed to the public, asking them to open up to the police about what they know. That appeal is a much harder sell in the wake of this scandal.
It may be weeks or months, if ever, before we find out how many officers were involved in this scandal, and how much on-duty, on-city-premises indiscretion is involved. Even if there end up being no officers other than the one at the center of attention this week who were personally involved, it is no stretch of the imagination to think that there may have been some in the department who knew about what happened, and said nothing. If more than one officer was involved, and it’s revealed that this happened more often or repeatedly, it’s likely than even more people knew, and said nothing.
How can the Mayor and his Administration possibly appeal to the public to tell the police what they see on the streets if the public knows that the police hide behind their own “blue wall of silence?”
Even further, the appeal to the public made of Tuesday also relies on an implicit pledge to them that whatever they tell the police and other officials will be held in strictest confidence and confidentiality by law enforcement, not least to protect them from intimidation and retaliation. This scandal, and other recent history, renders that implicit pledge rather hollow.
Earlier this month, former Mercer Sheriff’s officer Christopher McKenna was sentenced to two years of probation after being convicted this May of illegally leaking last year confidential records of a minor who was involved in a officer-related Trenton police shooting last year. That leaked information – which, since it concerned a 14-year-old, should have been legally sealed – was published, as it turns out, in the Trentonian.
The information in David Foster’s Trentonian reportage this week, highly detailed information of a confidential investigation in progress, could only have been leaked by someone internal to either the Trenton PD or the Mercer Prosecutor’s Office. Regardless of the source, the Trentonian – again – irresponsibly published the information with far too much unnecessary detail.
Both of these occasions send a message to the community far stronger than the one delivered on Tuesday by Mayor Jackson, Director Parrey, Senator Turner, and the others.
These officials are telling the people, “Come to the police. Tell us what you see and what you know. We will keep your information confidential, and we will keep witnesses safe.”
What the people have are perceptions that there are police who themselves keep quiet about improper activities among their own; that law enforcement on several levels in Mercer County who feel free to betray confidences and their oaths, releasing closely-held material when it suits their own purposes and agendas, whatever they may be; and that there is at least one local media outlet that does not hesitate to inappropriately and unprofessionally publish that material.
Which will have the bigger impact on most Trentonians: the earnest but empty words spoken by Mayor Jackson and the others on Tuesday? Or the actions of Mercer law enforcement and corrupt media?
I think I know the answer, and so do you. And that’s why Mayor Jackson has a problem. And that’s why we all have a problem.
As Wednesday night’s shooting suggests, the bad guys have not yet been impressed by Mayor Jackson’s “bold” proposals. I believe, both because of its lightweight, inadequate ideas and because of the serious internal weaknesses of local police as revealed most recently by this week’s scandal, the Mayor’s and Police Director’s initiative will quickly sink without a ripple, as Tony Mack’s Comprehensive Crime Initiative also did four years ago.
Too bad for all of us!
For my own part, I am disgusted by the Trentonian’s reporting this week. For the last several years, I have been among their roster of Community Blogs directing readers to this space. Although it is a very limited and indirect association, it is one I can no longer stomach. This morning I sent an email to the Trentonian, asking its “editors” – a very loose term, as this week demonstrates – to strike my name and blog from their roster. Good Luck and Good Riddance to them.
There was quite the building-up of expectations for yesterday’s presentation on public safety in Trenton by Mayor Eric Jackson. Expectations created and managed by Mr. Jackson and his Administration. A Monday headline in the Trentonian proclaimed, “Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson to take drastic measures against violence.” In the article under that headline, Mr. Jackson sure talked a good game. He was quoted in the piece by David Foster as saying, “In lieu of just coming out and saying what we the city are doing to combat this spike in violence — specifically shootings — I’m going to take a different approach. I need to come with something that I think will help create a systemic change.” [Emphasis mine - KM]
It sure sounded like he was casting a wide net of people to consult in coming up with his new approach. In that same article, we read “On Friday morning [September 16], Jackson met with State Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, interim Trenton Public Schools Superintendent Lucy Feria, and Mercer County Sheriff Jack Kemler, as well as representatives from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, State Police, Trenton police and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.”
That sure sounded like he was canvassing a lot of the relevant players in city, county and state governments to devise a plan that would have an immediate, meaningful impact on the City’s recent rash of violent, and often particularly brutal, crime. Mr. Foster put the situation in context: “So far this year, there have been 21 homicides in the city with the latest coming on Sunday afternoon. In that killing, 19-year-old Lance Beckett was shot numerous times and witnesses said they saw a man stomp on the victim’s head as he lay dead on the ground.”
The City’s murder rate for 2016, always a bellwether metric for the other categories of violence, is on track to reach close to 30, if the current pace continues and Mr. Jackson is unsuccessful in finding his “different approach.” That number of slain would be nearly twice as much as last year’s 17 violent deaths, which was itself closer to the long-term 30-year average from 1985-2015 of 18. To reach the threshold of 30 murders this year would take us back to the bad old days of 2013 and 2014, which saw the nauseating totals of 37 and 34 for those two years.
Last year’s reduction in the murder gave Trentonians some evidence that new leadership in the City and new resources in Public Safety, such as Federal grants to hire new officers for the city’s Police Department, was finally having an effect. This latest upswing in 2016, which over the last couple of weeks have included incidents such as Lance Beckett’s death as well as one hectic night last week in which no fewer than six people were shot in a span of only twelve minutes. So, with all that as context, it’s more than a little disappointing to write that what we got from the Mayor yesterday didn’t add up to very much, at all.
In the Trenton Times, an article by Greg Wright reports “A bevy of local political and community leaders came together in front of a city firehouse Tuesday to announce a new plan for confronting the deadly gun violence that spiked within Trenton in recent weeks.”
Now, the word “plan” has, in the context of Trenton’s public safety problems, been thrown around a lot in the last couple of weeks. Last week, in the absence of any action by Mr. Jackson, At-Large City Council Member Duncan Harrison convened his own press conference to discuss his “plan” to specifically address the violent acts committed with guns that drive Trenton’s crime rate up. Mr. Harrison presented many ideas, several of them worth of serious consideration. The main points of his strategy, as also reported by Greg Wright: “Harrison called for the city to take four steps to reduce violent crime: 30 new police officers; 100 new surveillance cameras; 500 streetlights; and an expansion of the city’s ShotSpotter gunfire detection system.” Good ideas, Mr. Harrison. But not really a “plan.” In my mind, a Plan consists of an Idea, plus a credible path to turning that idea into reality. An idea needs resources of money and or manpower, and it needs a timetable for making it happen. A Plan = Idea + Resources + Calendar.
Mr. Harrison had some good ideas, but they were nowhere near implementation. As Mr. Wright reported last week, “Few doubt that these measures would lower violent crime, but there is a large funding hurdle for the proposal to overcome. Harrison said he anticipates that the money could be made available through capital funding, a Community Development Block Grant and the city’s general operations budget. He estimates the total costs somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000. Officials at City Hall say that those estimates are too low and point out that hiring 30 new officers would cost around $1.8 million after medical benefits… Harrison said that his proposal is not yet fully developed and that he would have more details in the future.” [Emphasis mine - KM]
I felt the same way reading the account of yesterday’s press conference. Mayor Jackson and others had some good ideas, but it’s nowhere near a “plan” ready to be implemented. It’s not “drastic,” as the Monday headline in the Trentonian teased (The Trentonian, teasing, you say? Unheard of!). It sure doesn’t sound like the “different approach” suggested by the Mayor, nor does it look to provide the “systemic change” he also said the City needs. And is certainly not “bold,” the description given by Councilman Harrison at yesterday’s event.
So what does the Administration intend to do?
The most immediate and tangible measure on tap, according to City Police Director Ernest Parrey, is to concentrate on six “hot spots” of activity in the City, and target them for close attention. “We will light those areas up,” said the Director. Although this kind of action will certainly be welcome in the areas involved, and are likely to result in some immediate results, the action seems conventional, strictly tactical, and not likely to have a long-term impact on city crime statistics. Activity in six targeted areas will likely move to other, less-covered areas, as it has in the past. Criminal activity doesn’t usually have a fixed base; bad guys finding their usual areas “lit up” can easily move back into the darkness, unfortunately.
Another specific proposal, with the prospect of new resources, came from the Acting Mercer County Prosecutor, Angelo Onofri. According to Mr. Wright, the Prosecutor “announced the availability of money for the school district to hire truancy officers to aid in increasing school attendance in city schools.”
But, oddly, the Interim Superintendent of Trenton’s School District, who attended the event, responded by basically saying “Thanks, but No Thanks.” The Times reported, “Interim Superintendent of Schools Lucy Feria was grateful for the announcement, but said that she only wants to use truancy officers a last option. She prefers the school take ownership of truancy rates by identifying which children are chronically absent, why they are absent and then take steps to solve that problem. Feria said that all city schools are working on individual plans, similar to the one in place at Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School, to reduce absentee rates.” [Emphasis added - KM]
That strikes kind of an off note to the account of yesterday’s event. With the “bevy” of officials and community leaders on hand, the underlying message of such an occasion was surely intended by the Mayor to be one of unity of purpose and plan. The press account describes an event, and the underlying initiative the event was called to promote, that was kind of unfocused and all over the map. Along with the proposal to “light up” those six areas, and the truant officer funding that Ms. Feria is definitely cool to, we heard about a police outreach effort in the schools, sending officers to meet with students and “have conversations about the perception of officers amongst community members, saying police and the community need to be on the same team.” We also heard appeals from several speakers to community members to speak up and report crimes when they see them, to step up and be counted when attempting to bring criminals to justice. State Senator Shirley Turner said, “”Say something if you see something.”
Drastic? Bold? To be honest, not really. Is this all even a plan? There again, I don’t think so. From the Times: “After the conference, Mayor Jackson acknowledged that funding for law enforcement and various initiatives the city would like to implement or expand is an issue. He said the city needs to bring in more tax revenue through economic development, but also needs more grant funding and aid from state legislators and the governor’s office” [Emphasis added- KM].
So, just as we saw at Mr. Harrison’s press conference, we heard ideas and proposals, but without a credible path to implementing them, without Resources, without a Calendar, we simply Do Not Have A Plan. What we have is earnest expressions of compassion with the citizens of Trenton, and frustration with the existing situation, but not much more than that.
This is what we waited to hear the Mayor say, during those weeks when the shootings and the deaths ramped up to critical numbers? This is what the Mayor spent a lot of time and energy to say to us about “a situation he calls ‘unsettling’ and ‘unnerving?’ ”
Mr. Jackson’s overall message yesterday was summarized in his statement that “There is no option we are not going to look at.” Unfortunately, when I read that in the paper, I heard “There are no option that we have yet decided to concentrate on.” I am afraid that the soft, unfocused presentation we heard yesterday will result in soft, unfocused results.
You may notice that my description of the Mayor’s proposals came exclusively from a press account in the Times. That’s entirely due to the fact that as of this Wednesday afternoon, more than 24 hours after this press conference, there is nothing on the City’s website that details the Mayor’s proposals or those of the rest of his Administration. No press release, no charts, no timetables, no list of bullet points. There is a press release advertising yesterday’s event, but nothing after. No followup of any kind. Nada. Zilch. I find that highly disappointing.
Even Tony Mack, with his so-called “Comprehensive Crime Initiative” of 2012, a stillborn plan that failed primarily because he failed to involve anyone else – including those departments and individuals who would have been charged with actually implementing his proposals - with creating the plan; EVEN TONY MACK!!! published his plan on the City website for all to see.
Where’s Eric Jackson’s Proposal? I shudder to think that, at roughly the same point in his Administration that Eric Jackson is now, Tony Mack was more disciplined and productive in his messaging and communications with the public!
I think referencing Mack’s “Comprehensive Plan” from four years ago serves another purpose. I think it shows that we have, over the last half dozen years and more, become so accustomed to progressively poorer results and performance from our City government, that our expectations have also sunk lower and lower. We are likely to judge the effectiveness of this current Administration and Council more on the basis of their good intentions and empty acts of political theater such as we saw yesterday; and less on any real results and progress, which we are coming to believe we are unlikely to see.
But ideas are not enough. Impassioned cries of “There is no option we are not going to look at” don’t cut it. We need a Plan, not platitudes. People are dying in Trenton, while this Administration struggles to find their direction forward.
If this Mayor and Council do not understand the difference between Ideas and Plans, then we need a new Mayor and Council.
Last night, Trenton’s City Council met in a regularly-scheduled session. As had been reported the day before, Council did not discuss or vote on the Salary Range Ordinance #16-50 or the implementing Resolution #16-591, having postponed the matter until its upcoming October 20 meeting. However, a few members of the salary petition Committee attended the session. Mike Ranallo and I addressed Council, Jacky Vargas and Dan Dodson did not. City Clerk Richard Kachmar attempted to prevent us from speaking during the portion of the meeting reserved for Public Comment only on docket items scheduled for the evening session; he wanted us to wait until the end of the meeting, during the General Comment period. I replied that public notice of the session included the salary measures as scheduled docket items, so I was going to speak about them. My comments are posted below.
Council did not reply directly to Mike’s or my comments, nor did they speak about the salaries question at all. However, Member Alex Bethea did make some remarks that addressed our remarks in general. In doing so, he proved once again that he is perhaps The Dumbest Person in Trenton public life, and that is a crown for which there are many, many contestants.
He said he appreciated our comments and our interest in the matter, but that we didn’t understand the need for the City employees in question to receive some salary increases, a little “bump,” after so long without any raise. He totally mischaracterized our position on the matter, since we – last month and this – expressed our endorsement of reasonable Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA’s), as long as they were not retroactive, and implemented only with the adoption of a formal full-year City Budget. This distinction was apparently meaningless to him, but no matter.
What moved his comments from the category of merely annoying to offensive was his defense of the record of the Administration. He parroted Mayor Eric Jackson’s line about their record being less than “perfect,” and he did acknowledge what he stated as “some mishaps here and there” (I’m asking for a CD of the audio recording of the session so I can get his exact statement).
Some. “Mishaps.” Here and there.
Really. He said “mishaps.” I was tempted, at the end of the evening, to reply to him and ask him what he considered to be some of those “mishaps,” listing a few of the likely candidates. If he considered things like: messing up the IT and swimming pool contracts; or getting rapped on the knuckles in an audit identifying $105,000 of disallowable expenses during 2014; or getting swindled, in slow motion, of $4.7 Million Dollars by our payroll company. If he considered episodes like those to be mere “mishaps,” I’d be curious to know what he’d considered out-and-out unambiguous fuck-ups!
But I resisted the temptation. After watching Council work for a few hours, I was anxious just to leave, you know?
Anyway, the next step in the salary matter for those citizens who expressed their support in opposing the City’s initial proposal of granting 15% increases over the next three years will be to wait and watch.
As you will read below I, on behalf of our Committee, stated that we will continue to oppose any revised plan by the City that proposes to grant any discretionary increases to management personnel (and these non-contractual increases are, in fact, purely discretionary) that are retroactive in any way, and which would be implemented before the City adopts its Annual Operating Budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1, nearly 3 full months ago. Proposed discretionary raises must be considered in the context of all of the other budget items the City proposes, and all of those set against the anticipated revenue resources we expect to earn or otherwise receive this year.
If Council passes next month an Ordinance and Resolution that allows retroactive payments of their bumps, and if they pass these before an Annual Budget is adopted – even if the increases are nominal Cost of Living Adjustments – we will circulate a petition to overturn that Ordinance.
Stay tuned to this space.
Comments as delivered to City Council, September 15, 2016:
Mr. President, and Members of Council – On behalf of 160 citizens of Trenton, I present to you this evening a petition, which was hosted on Change.org, objecting to the adoption of Ordinance #16-50. This petition has, of course, no formal legal force, but I hope will provide some sense of public opposition to the plan as it was introduced last month.
We understand that further action on this Ordinance and accompanying Resolution #16-591 has been continued to Council’s October 20 session, to allow further deliberation an research, a decision I applaud. Please be advised, however, that should you and your colleagues on Council approve this Ordinance 16-50 and Resolution 16-591 in substantially their present forms, implementing specific salaries for the Mayor and several officials retroactive nine months to January 1 of this year, these 160 – and more – Trentonians will sign an official petition to overturn the Ordinance.
Mr. President, last month the Administration presented – and Council approved 5-1 ! – a proposal to grant salary increases amounting to over 15% above current compensation to these officials over the next three years. It was extensively described by Business Administrator McEwen as a move predicated on fairness to employees who have not seen raises in their classifications in over ten years, even though, of course, many of the current incumbents in these job titles have only had their positions for slightly over two years. The BA said, and I quote, “All we are looking to do is take the 2005 salary grid that we are currently at, look to implement the 2008 Ordinance that was approved by Council at that point in time,” unquote, before that Ordinance was later overturned in Court.
During your discussion on the topic, you all – Council and the BA – spent a great amount of time revisiting those events of 2008 and 2010. Now, I remember 2008 and 2010. There are a lot of things I miss from that time that aren’t around anymore: Pontiac. Oldsmobile. “Battlestar Galactica.” “Celebrity Family Feud with Al Roker.” Capital City Aid.
All these things are all gone now. They may continue to fill the airwaves and roll down our streets, but they are gone. Irrelevant to how things are now. The world, including our small piece of it, has changed utterly since 2008. Your discussion on August 18 was, somehow, bafflingly, conducted entirely without recognition of this basic fact.
The City’s finances have transformed since 2008. Capital City Aid, and its near $40 Million in financial assistance to the City’s annual budgets, was canceled in 2010 by our Current governor. It’s gone. Replaced by “Transitional Aid,” which you remember, by its name, is something that is designed to go away eventually. As it stands now, the City receives financial assistance at only about HALF the level it did in 8 years ago. Transitional Aid is definitely not your father’s Oldsmobile. As you review the Administration’s proposal over the next month, you must keep that in mind. What we have to work with as our benchmarks are not 2008 salary ranges, nor 2008 revenues, but the resources and expenses we have in 2016. Here, and now, is where we must start.
Despite that, the Administration – the Eric Jackson Administration – presented a plan, in writing, OVER the name of the Business Administrator but IN the name of the presiding Mayor, which definitively and unambiguously detailed raises totaling 15% above current levels, over the next three years, for the Mayor, the BA, the Chief of Staff, the Chief Municipal Judge and other Municipal Judges, as well as all Department Heads and Division Directors.
The Mayor has spent much of the last several weeks disowning his plan. He hadn’t read the memo, he said. It was a mistake, he said. He “no way in heck” didn’t intend the raises to be 15%. He always intended these raises to be a small cost-of-living adjustment for this and next year. 1.5% this year. 1.5% next year. City Council, you guys, would have the power to do this or not. It was all a misunderstanding. There was “confusion.” So he says now.
Let’s be entirely clear. The proposal, in writing – in this memo – was unambiguous: Mr. McEwen wrote, “Upon second reading [of Ordinance 16-50], presuming no substantial changes, it is our intention to also introduce a Resolution fixing specific salaries within the ranges as noted below.”
All of those salaries were pretty carefully calculated for all employee categories over three separate years. By 2018 salaries were 15.5% higher than the current salaries for all but the Chief of Staff, who was awarded a 19.7% increase.
That memo addressed to City Council was dated July 15, a full month before the matter was discussed in open Council session. That’s a long time for the Mayor to “not have read the memo”. A long time for a BA not to have discussed a salary plan with his boss that personally benefited the both of them. And a very long time for all of you not to have made any comments nor raised any objections.
On August 18, you voted for that plan. Five to 1. That was no “mistake.” That was not “confusion.” That was a bad decision.
This was, simply, a proposal that would spend more than the City can afford at present. A proposal made without an approved City Budget against which this can be evaluated. A proposal made when the City’s finances are more fragile than ever. And a proposal that would, in its effect – as I said to you last month before you voted to do the very thing – reward the very same Administration for all of the failures and legitimate “confusion” and “mistakes” of the last two years. And this was a proposal that the Mayor abandoned when he was challenged on it. By every citizen who spoke here on August 18, by the press, and by any citizen who wondered what the hell you all were thinking for proposing 15% raises in this climate, and how the hell you guys voted 5 to 1 in favor of it!
Mr. President, you and your Council colleagues now have an opportunity before you to take the Administration’s revised proposal, and fix it.
Yes, let’s try to provide cost-of-living adjustments, but not retroactive in any way. Tie the approval of any COLA’s not to the beginning of the calendar year, which would – by the time you consider the revised proposal next month – provide for almost 10 months of retroactive back pay increases– but to the adoption of the City’s Fiscal Year budget, and make them effective from the date of that budget’s adoption. You need to ensure that discretionary increased costs – and to be frank, that’s what these non-contractual increases are – can be paid for. In last month’s discussion on the topic, you barely touched on the implications of this plan to the budget. That was another failing of this plan as originally proposed. Now, and even next month, is not the time to build in further encumbered costs to a budget that doesn’t yet even exist.
And yes, by all means, let’s try to attract better managerial talent. Competitive compensation is an important factor in accomplishing this, but more important is the talent we try to recruit.
In a day and age when officials such as Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, David Vitter and members of the United States Secret Service show us how not to conduct themselves in public service, surely we should be able to attract stronger and more qualified candidates to head our Departments than those who ended their last tenure with this City by exhibiting highly unprofessional and entirely inappropriate personal behavior, with a City colleague, on the office furniture in City Hall. We can, and must, be much more professional than that in our recruitment and hiring, regardless of compensation packages.
I thank you, Mr. President and your colleagues on Council for calling for a much-needed pause on this proposal. I, and the members of my Committee, sincerely hope you will use this opportunity to make this proposal a fair one for the current city employees involved and prospective recruits, as well as an equitable plan for the city’s finances and its taxpayers.
Be assured, we will support such a fair and equitable plan – one that provides only Cost-of-living adjustments, is considered as part of the approved Annual Budget, and which only goes forward from the date of adoption of that Budget, providing for no retroactive payments. We will oppose a plan that does not do these things.
Hi, there! Thanks for stopping in. My name’s Eric, and I’m the Owner and CEO around here. Take my business card! You are absolutely correct, it’s a Twenty Dollar Bill! It’s got my name on it, right there. Easy to remember! Be sure to tip the valet on the way out, ha ha!
I see you have your eye on this little beauty over here I don’t blame you, it’s a classic. 2008 model, they really come into their own after 125,000 miles. You’ll see. These were all easy miles. Weekend driving. In the spring. It’s got all original factory parts, this baby could be the star in its own museum! I’m telling you.
The sticker? You’re right, that’s the original price all right. These babies hold their value. Quality costs money, I always say. Am I right, or am I right?
I had a group of guys here this morning, they loved this beaut. Couldn’t wait to put an offer in. Didn’t ask any questions, they appreciate Quality when they see it, I gotta say. They said they’d be back. Taking a walk around the block, asking the wife for permission, something like that.
Hey, until they come back, you and me, we can still make a deal. You think about it. I’ll go inside for a couple of minutes, while you just picture yourself rolling down the River Drive in that thing, top down, your lady by your side, the wind in your hair. Man, that’s the life!
How do you like your coffee?
Hey, where you going? Don’t take off, I got your coffee right here! Light cream, two Splendas, right? I’ve got a good memory. Say, don’t I know you from somewhere? Sure, I sold you your new pool! How’s the service I recommended for you working out? Oh, sorry to hear that. I know some other guys, they’ll do a great job. They cost more but, say it after me, “Quality Costs Money.” Yes it does! Enjoy your coffee, I’ll be right back.
Wandering away? C’mon, get back here! Listen, I have to tell you something. My sales manager, he started a sale on all our best units. Not what I would have done, of course, but I just didn’t get the memo. Ha, they never tell me anything around here!
Did I give you my business card? How about a frozen turkey?
Now, let me tell you what the price on this gorgeous piece of motoring history should be! There’s no way in heck I’d price a 2008 model, with this kind of mileage, for this kind of money. You see this price on the sticker? This one right here? The one on the windshield? The one in our newspaper ads for the last month?
We made a mistake! Take a zero off the sticker! That’s right! What’s a decimal point among friends!
This must be your lucky day!
Financing? Sure! Buy Here, Pay Here. Easy low monthly installments! In fact, to keep your monthly cost low, we start charging you nine months ago. How about that! Listen, you’ll hardly notice the installments, they’ll be lumped in with all of your other bills. Easy!
Make the check out to Capital City Motors. Leave the amount blank, we’ll fill it in for you.
It’s been a pleasure doing business with you! As always! Buh bye now!
“The relocation of the state’s Health, Agriculture and Taxation office buildings, Christie argued, would spur ‘private-sector employment, innovation, modern housing and recreation’ in New Jersey’s 10th largest city, which for years has been plagued by poverty and crime.
“‘It’s a good day for the city of Trenton,’ he said.” – 9/7/16
Light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were
“Efforts are underway to capitalize on the $75 million Trenton station improvement project that is scheduled for completion this summer… The city recently released its new Downtown Master Plan. The extensive plan, in the works since 2003 and recently completed by the planning and engineering firm, URS Corp., will help advance economic development in the city and serve as a guide for planning and developing projects in six downtown neighborhoods, including the Downtown Transit Village (the area around the Trenton Transit Center).” – 7/27/2008
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were
“The governor stood in the shadow of a building that sat vacant for nearly two decades, but is now a ‘project that is a symbol of economic development’ as it’s transformed into apartments. The Roebling Lofts builders have future plans for a restaurant and retail space for the site, Christie said. ‘It has been, at times, a difficult road,’ he said. ‘But there are good leaders in the city, now, who are willing to step forward.’” – 9/7/2016
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?
“The Capital Real Estate Group, lead by Trenton-born, former Wall Street financier Dan Brenna, envisions the Trenton station area as a regional destination, situated an hour by rail from New York City, 30 minutes from Philadelphia and 1½-hours from Baltimore via Amtrak—the mode of travel preferred by the elite business community. His firm has proposed several phases of development, beginning with the construction of a 25-story Class A, office building on the Greenwood Avenue (south) side of the station… The developer believes the office tower would serve as a signature building for Trenton, easily seen from both Route 1 and Route 129, and as a beacon, would draw attention to the rail station. – 7/27/2008
Mem’ries, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
“‘Through the demolition of existing state office buildings, we are paving the way for the West State corridor to welcome new private investment, generate economic development opportunities that will create jobs and help build a dynamic downtown environment,’ Christie said.” – 9/7/2016
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember…
The way we were…
The way we were…
“Nexus Properties of Lawrenceville, NJ has proposed commercial development to the north of the station—two 25-story office towers and a parking garage on the block bounded by East State Street, South Clinton Avenue and Raoul Wallenberg Avenue. Nexus is currently in planning and design stages for its “Loft for Living” residential project in the Lee Overall Building, at 576 East State Street – a quarter mile from the station. Units will include studio, one- and two-bedroom units, at 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. Nexus anticipates units to be completed by mid-2009 and to be priced starting in the mid-$200,000 range.
“The Matrix Group of Cranbury, NJ, proposed both commercial office and new residential development during its April 8th presentation to the city council. Early planning for the project calls for an eight-story office building, 1,400-space parking garage, housing and retail space on East State Street between South Clinton and Chestnut avenues, located about a quarter-mile from the station.” – 7/7/2008
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember…
The way we were…
The way we were…
Thanks, Babs. For the Memories!
A couple of weeks ago, Trenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson called himself “a chief executive officer of the capital city.” There’s a recent example in the world of business in which that comparison is not so far out of the realm of possibility.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Mylan Corporation and more specifically its CEO Heather Bresch, has come under an avalanche of condemnation over the drastic price increases the corporation is charging for its injectable epinephrine product, EpiPen. The price increases on that product, more than 400% since 2007, were criticized as being motivated by little more than corporate greed. As CEO, Bresch is the public face of the company, and the chief target of the public’s outrage. The fact that, in seeming lockstep with EpiPen’s product price, her salary increased, 671% in the same timeframe since 2007.
Faced with a firestorm of public criticism, how did Mylan and its CEO respond? How did she and her company attempt to defuse the situation?
With a classic bait-and-switch. Rather than admit to bad decisions attributable to corporate greed and reduce its price, Mylan announced a new, cheaper, “generic” brand of its EpiPen, with a price half that of its marquee product. The generic has the same drug with the same delivery system. It’s the same product, but it’s “cheaper,” see?
Reaction to this move hasn’t been kind. An article in Business Insider captures the mainstream response:
[T]his authorized generic of the EpiPen, a device used in emergencies to treat a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, seems to be more confusing than anything else.
“I and others who study these issues full time cannot understand why Mylan thought this would work to quell the widespread indignation over its pricing practices,” Rachel Sachs, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote in a Harvard Law blog post about how the company’s decision “baffles” experts.
Professor Sachs, meet Eric Jackson, Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey!
A few weeks ago, the Jackson Administration unveiled a proposal that would grant senior city officials including the mayor a retroactive – to January 1 of this year – 3-year 15% salary raise. City Council approved the first reading of the plan during its August 18, with the second reading and vote to adopt scheduled for September 15. The Mayor and Administration must have hoped this plan would have sailed through Council without much attention, appearing as it did as one item on a busy docket of City Council’s only August meeting.
However, the plan has been opposed. Several citizens, including myself, spoke against the plan at Council’s meeting. None spoke in favor. Since then a committee of citizens, including myself, has formed as the nucleus of an effort to conduct a petition campaign should the plan be adopted by Council, a petition that would lead to a special election to vote on a referendum to overturn the raises. Given the multiple and continuing failures of management and leadership as demonstrated by Mr. Jackson and his colleagues, I and we feel that 15% raises will in effect reward these people for their poor record in office. As of this morning 135 persons, registered Trenton voters all, but for a handful, have signed an online petition pledging to sign such a petition should Council grant those raises. This opposition seems to affected “CEO” Jackson in much the same way as bad press and a dropping stock price affected CEO Bresch. Eric Jackson has backed off his 15% plan by “clarifying” it.
That’s the term used in the headline of a Trentonian piece by Penny Ray posted yesterday evening, and not the mayor’s word. Mr. Jackson may as well have called this plan his “generic” raise proposal. “I’m proposing a 1.5 percent increase for each year because that’s the average increase the unions received,” the mayor told the Trentonian. This seems much more reasonable on first impression, constituting an approach that grants the kind of nominal, cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) that I and other speakers at Council stated would be more reasonable and more acceptable.
But the devil is in the details, as it is with most things, and there are many details that remain to be explained here. For instance, Mr. Ray reports “Jackson’s proposed pay increases retroactively cover fiscal years 2015 and 2016.” That says to me that the revised, “generic EpiRaise” plan would be retroactive to two prior budget years. Meaning a 1.5% increase for Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2015, another 1.5% for the year just ended June 30 of this year, 1.5 % for the new budget year we are now in that started July 1. Since those increases can’t be charged to those prior fiscal years, the net effect of the new plan would be a 4.5% increase effective this year, and a 1.5% increase for the next fiscal year, the last one of the current mayoral term. So, to review, the revised EpiRaise proposal would total 6% over two budget years, effectively 3% a year.
This sounds much more reasonable, and 6% probably will be more palatable to squishy and easily-swayed Council members – who voted 5 to 1 in favor of the 15% raises last month, remember! – who will be expected to pass the plan next week. But, to paraphrase the good Professor Sachs, I and others who follow these issues cannot understand why Jackson thought this would work to quell the widespread indignation over its management practices.
If anything, the Mayor’s comments only reinforce how poorly he and his Administration have been leading this City over the last two years. The Trentonian’s account paints a picture, in Mr. Jackson’s own words, of a man very out of touch and way out of his depth.
Penny Ray reports in his piece “Mayor Eric Jackson said he previously asked McEwen to draft an ordinance increasing salary ranges for certain personnel because raises were last ordained in 2005. But he hadn’t read the memo McEwen attached to the ordinance until after the proposed increases were reported by the press. – [Emphasis added - KM]“ He hadn’t read the memo?!?!? A plan that would proposed significant raises to:
- His Business Administrator;
- His Chief of Staff;
- His Department Heads;
- His Division Directors;
- City Council Members;
- The Chief Municipal Judge; and
- The other Municipal Judges;
and HE DIDN’T READ THE MEMO?? How can this be? Is it credible? Is he trying to say he was unaware of the size of the increases, and how they would be rolled out? Is he telling us that he didn’t know they would be retroactive? Is he telling us that he doesn’t know the impact to the City’s budget of these raises and that he doesn’t know how we can pay for them?
OK, he isn’t alone in that last bit. No one in the City has yet told us the answer to how these raises hit the City’s budget.
Is it credible that the Mayor did not know the details of this plan? Is it credible that he left it to his Business Administrator to develop the plan and present it to Council for approval without his knowledge? That’s what the man told a reporter!
Sadly, it is credible. In Mr. Jackson’s own words, he has described himself as “a hands-off guy” when it comes to a lot of day-to-day municipal administration. I have in this space taken him to task for his repeated tendencies to be hands-off of his own Administration. In May of this year, I wrote a post of which 4 months later I don’t have to change a single word.
I don’t have to change a word, but I can add to this list. Eric Jackson must also been “hands-off” during his first year of office, when in a recent city audit “the city was also cited for over-expenditures tallying nearly $105,000, failing to maintain proper payroll records, and hiring consultants and professions without the required state approval.”
And, we see today, he claims to have been “hands-off” of a proposal to give himself and his senior managers a 15% raise. He didn’t even read the memo until he read about it in the press, if we are to believe him. Actually, you have to wonder if he even “read” about this in the press, or had the story told to him. Because the man doesn’t seem to stay up with current events around him, let alone within his own City Hall.
In the same Trentonian piece today, Mr. Jackson offers a pathetic defense of his record. He picks Chris Christie, of all people! to validate his effectiveness in office.
Jackson proudly told Mr. Ray, “When I took over in 2014, the administration was in a mess and we had a governor who wouldn’t come into Trenton for anything except to go to his office. Now the governor communicates with us on a regular basis. We’re promulgating regulations for the capital city’s benefit, and Gov. Christie has even signed legislation on our steps. He and I don’t agree on all issues, but we have a working dialogue, which is something that didn’t exist before. It took work for that to become a reality, it wasn’t magic.”
The Mayor is awfully proud of his relationship with the Governor. To me, that’s very strange, because the Governor doesn’t share the love back with Trenton. Just last week, Christie canceled the state’s Urban Enterprise Program (UEZ), which benefits Trenton and other cities in the state by allowing a lower sales tax rate to be charged by businesses here. The Governor’s veto of a bill to extend the program will hurt this City. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, sponsor of the extension bill, told NJTV, ““We have over 100 UEZ businesses in the city of Trenton, and it’s just going to reverberate. There’ll be less employees, less business.” Thanks, Governor Christie.
Maybe the Mayor didn’t read that memo. And maybe he missed the stories earlier this summer which reported the Governor was using the state’s Transitional Aid Program as a political football in his dealing’s with the state’s Legislature. Christie sequestered $100 Million in funding, of which Trenton desperately relies on around $20 Million to balance its budget. Last week the Governor released $54 Million of that amount, but it seems the remainder of that money is still being held hostage.
Canceling the UEZ Program. Freezing Transitional Aid. Doesn’t sound like “a working dialog” to me between East State Street and West. Sounds to me that Trenton represents to this Governor is what it’s always been: a chance for an upwardly-grasping politician with his eyes set on a national job to polish his resume by alternately rewarding and punishing urban municipalities as needed to keep his own political future alive. It has nothing to do with Mr. Jackson, and never did.
But I’m sure Jackson didn’t get that memo either.
With the report today of Eric Jackson’s claim of obliviousness to his plan for significant raises – a claim that rings all the more hollow when read with his argument just a few weeks ago that “Leadership does cost money.” He wasn’t talking about any 1.5% cost-of-living-adjustment with those words, just as his “chief executive officer” claim wasn’t trying to justify a nominal COLA.
No. Just as CEO Bresch is transparently trying to do damage control after a disastrous series of bad corporate decisions and PR blunders, our own “CEO” Mr. Hands-Off Jackson is attempting damage control to rescue his own poorly-conceived plan to reward himself and his colleagues for a job well done.
This revised plan to grant generic “EpiRaises” under another name is still flawed. Unless and until more details are provided, and any retroactive portion be dropped, I cannot support this plan. It’s also clear that an omnibus approach – lumping all of the categories listed above under one plan – is not fair. Council has already exempted themselves from the bill. The revised bill needs to be defeated, and separate proposals for each class – mayor, department heads, directors, judges, and so on – made.
It remains to be seen whether Mylan, more specifically, Heather Bresch, can survive the disaster they brought down on their own heads.
In Mr. Jackson’s case, I think his claim of being left in the dark about his Administration’s policies, and his record over the last two years, sadly proves that he presides over yet another failed Mayoral Administration in the City of Trenton.
“[O]ur city needs a leader who does not require on-the-job training, a leader who has worked in every aspect of municipal government, a leader who has never abandoned Trenton when the going got tough.” – Candidate Eric Jackson, Op-Ed piece, Trenton Times, June 2, 2014
Well, that’s good. Because the going is getting tough.
“In the city’s fiscal year 2015 audit, the city was cited for expending money on employee meals and entertainment, like [Trenton Chief of Staff Francis] Blanco’s meeting snacks…. This was the first audit that applied to the Jackson administration since the mayor assumed office in July 2014. The audit ran from July 1, 2014 until June 30, 2015… In the audit, the city was also cited for over-expenditures tallying nearly $105,000, failing to maintain proper payroll records, and hiring consultants and professions [sic] without the required state approval.” – Trentonian, August 30, 2016
So, maybe the folks in the Jackson Administration do need “on-the-job training?”
“Trenton Business Administrator Terry McEwen said Tuesday in a phone interview that he did not “want to go in too much specifics” when questioned about the unauthorized expenses.
“’These are areas that we need to improve in,’ McEwen said. ‘This was done in 2014 … and so we’re improving in all of these areas.’
“City spokesman Michael Walker added that one of the reasons the annual audit is conducted is to ‘bring these kinds of things’ to the city’s attention… ‘I think that we are careful as to how we pay for them and the source of the funds, and that is demonstrated by the fact that we hire the auditor to come in to rate our financial performance and to test individual transactions to ensure that they comply with our own standards and those standards of DCA.’” – Trentonian, August 30,2016
Hmmm, I thought the City “hires the auditor to come in” because it’s required by law?
Look, the prohibition against spending City funds on food and entertainment isn’t something that, as BA McEwen is implying, was something brand new to the City of Trenton when he, his boss Eric Jackson, and the rest of the new Administration came into office in July 2014. By the time they did so, this prohibition had been on the books, and in state Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) for four years.
Since the very first Transitional Aid MOU was signed between the City and the NJ Department of Community Affairs in December, 2010,
language – pretty clear and unambiguous language, to boot - to that effect was included in the text of the MOU.
So, even though folks in the brand-new Jackson Administration might not have known the terms of the MOU – rather hard to believe, since the State’s Transitional Aid had become crucial fiscal life support for the City’s finances for four years, and one would figure that anyone not needing “on-the-job training” would already be familiar with its terms and the history of its Administration. After all, the history of the 2010-2014 Mackatastrophe would be incomplete without the many instances of conflict between the City and the State about the City’s fidelity to the terms of the Agreements.
One would figure. One would be wrong, apparently.
UPDATE: Thanks to Trenton ex-pat Jim Carlucci, we have the Fiscal Year 2014-2015 MOA, which Mayor Eric Jackson signed on his very first day in office, July 1, 2014. The language hasn’treally changed since 2010. No excuses, then!
So Mr. McEwen just dismisses the problems revealed in the audit by saying, “This was done in 2014 … and so we’re improving in all of these areas.”
He and his colleagues are “improving in all of these areas.”
Just as you would imagine people would improve over time. After, you know, two years of “on-the-job training.”
Except, they really aren’t “improving.” This audit is only the most recent demonstration of the poor leadership and management record the Jackson Administration is compiling.
- A bad Information Technology deal.
- A bungled pair of contracts for the City’s public swimming pools.
- Being designated by the US Justice Department as a “high-risk grantee of Federal funds.”
- Getting swindled out of $5 Million Dollars of tax deposit funds over several months, despite many written warnings and red flags
- And more.
One of the major selling points of Eric Jackson’s 2014 mayoral campaign, as referenced in the opening quote, was that he represented Experience. Competence. A firm and steady hand tempered by years spent in public service, especially in Trenton. Which he knew like the back of his hand. And not just him personally. All of his senior managers and appointees. That’s why he wrote in that 2014 Op-Ed, “That is why I am running to be the next mayor of Trenton. It is a city where I was born and which I have never left. It is a city that has seen good days and bad – and I have been here for every single one of them.”
And now Mr. Jackson, and many of the same Department Heads and Division Directors, Business Administrator, and Chief of Staff who have presided over the last two years, have approached City Council with a plan to grant themselves a handsome raise of 15% over effectively the next two years (between now and 2018).
Although it is not being presented as such, this kind of increase over this span of time, in this kind of impoverished city, represents nothing more than a hefty raise to be paid to them ALL for their “on-the-job training.”
Is there any other way to look at this?
I don’t think so.
Generally, new employees receive nominal increases – if any – while they are training. It’s only after that training is successfully completed – and there really doesn’t seem to be much evidence of that in Trenton, New Jersey’s City Hall, don’t you think? – that salaries are raised to a more reasonable level.
The Administration of Eric Jackson begs to differ. They are looking forward to their 15% raise, thank you very much. If City Council approves this plan on September 15, as Council is scheduled to do, they will get it.
Unless enough of Trenton’s citizens collectively say,
“No 15% increases for On-The-Job Training!”
You can say that, and say it LOUD, by signing a petition, which will be circulated during a very short 20-day period following September 15, if Council approves the Administration’s proposal.
You can also say the same thing, NOW, by signing your name (if you are a registered Trenton voter), to this petition on Change.org. This pre-petition, if you will, allows a Committee of Trentonians in opposition to this plan to know who you are, and how to find you easily to sign the actual written petition, in the last half of September. State law doesn’t give us a lot of time to make an effort like this easy, so we are using the time between now and September 15 as a head start.
If you don’t believe in giving 15% raises for On-The-Job Training, sign this petition online now, and the written one next month.
As sent from Trenton City Hall:
For use in case you see any City workers in any of our public parks this Fall:
Yesterday evening, I was one of about a half-dozen citizens speaking on the matter of the proposed Trenton Salary Raise Ordinance. All spoke against the proposal, including myself. Most spoke on behalf of themselves. Paul Mitsis also spoke on behalf of the Glen Afton Civic Association. Most spoke well. One, Daryl Brooks, spoke incomprehensibly, of how when Donald Trump is elected President towns like Trenton will be governed well, He also self-promoted a new TV show he will be on. SMDH, my friends. SMDH.
None spoke in favor. Despite the clear expression of public sentiment on the matter, which apparently fell on deaf ears, the Clowncil voted to approve the First Reading of the matter.
Second Reading, which will include a public hearing on the ordinance, is scheduled to take place at their September 15 meeting.
This is Trenton. I’m sure a lot will happen between now and then to provide further context for this proposal. This being Trenton, I doubt much of it will be good.
My comments, as delivered, are below.
Good Evening, Mr. President, Councilmembers – I am here to oppose Resolution 16-50. In the city’s present condition, and after a series of failures of management and leadership to date by the Mayor and many of this Administration I strongly feel that the 3-year 15% raise that is under consideration tonight is inappropriate.
Tonight’s proposal is presented to you as cost-of-living increases. I don’t oppose nominal adjustments for cost-of living, say in the 1-2% range from current rates. There is no realistic way we can afford to catch up a dozen years of frozen salaries in the next three. Anything over 1-2% from current salaries constitutes de facto merit increases for the Mayor, Council, and others, as does making these increases retroactive to January 1, in a prior fiscal year. Not only can this city not afford merit raises, in my opinion the current Mayor and senior Administration officials simply do not deserve them.
“Leadership does cost money,” the Mayor tells us. That may be so. However, the lack of leadership has already cost us much, much more money. We have been paying so much out due to the failures of management and bad decisions by this Administration that we cannot afford the kind of “Leadership” Mayor Jackson proposes.
To be sure, competitive salaries are helpful for recruiting and retaining quality managerial talent to head Departments. I once worked for a company whose President told the New York Times, “We have the best employees in the business, for the money.” No one wants to feel they are the bargain basement talent. And no one wants to recruit in the basement. I get it. I get it.
But it is at least as important for recruits to Trenton’s government to feel they are coming to a city that is well and competently managed, with good morale and clear policies and procedures that are consistently and fairly applied. Instead of the situation that we actually have now. “You couldn’t pay me enough to get involved with that” is a phrase that I have heard, many times, applied to the City of Trenton, by those inside and out of the place. Don’t try to tell me you haven’t heard, or used, variations on that theme yourselves. To many, it’s a literal truth. For a lot of people a lot of the time, especially those who choose public service, it’s not just about the money. It’s about the job. We’d certainly like to do better by people, but here, now, cost of living is all we got.
Regarding his own position, the Mayor told the Trentonian,“A chief executive officer of the capital city, that’s what I am.” Since many of this country’s CEO’s over the last few decades have, through their management and corporate policies, been greatly responsible for gutting the American economy from the inside, don’t compare yourself to a CEO and ask me to be impressed. Far from it.
As a brief aside, for a self-described municipal CEO, Mr. Jackson continues to have ongoing CEO-type issues with his mayoral campaigns. Campaign finance reports due with the state for his 2010 run were outstanding as the 2014 race got under way. After public and press criticism on that matter were made by me and others, Mr. Jackson hurriedly caught up on his reports in time for the most recent campaign. However, with that election behind him and comfortably installed in City Hall, old habits apparently came back. The last legally-mandated quarterly report was filed with NJ ELEC in November 2014. We’ll probably see the next batch of filings delivered in Spring 2016. Or next week, if the press picks up on this tidbit this evening. This action-only-in-response-to-public-spotlight kind of thing makes one think more of CEO Donald Trump rather than CEO Steve Jobs. Don’t try to pass yourself off as a CEO, Mr. Jackson.
Just be a Mayor. Try to be a good one.
The posted salary for the mayor’s job didn’t deter Mr. Jackson from aggressively seeking this job in both 2010 and 2014, nor did it keep all the many others from running in both of those years. Salary wasn’t an issue in either election, and I don’t see how it’s become one of a sudden. What, will this, or another future Mayor, tell us: “I’d really like to take the offer, but Princeton is offering a better salary and more vacation time?” Really?
In the Mayor’s 2015 State of the City Address, he told us, about his governance strategy supported by eight pillars, among which were: Communications, Accountability, and Transparency. The actual record of the Jackson Administration to date is full of publicly documented instances where those “pillars” have been either ignored, or distorted beyond all imagining, not just by the Mayor but throughout the Executive Branch. The promulgation of these “pillars” by Mr. Jackson proved to be no more than lip service for a citizenry desperate to think we’d put the bad days of Tony Mack behind us. We’ve been sadly disabused of that over the last couple of years. We don’t need a 3-letter agency to come in and tell us so. A lot can be wrong even if it’s not illegal.
Example: The City selected as its Information Technology vendor a company that submitted the third most expensive proposal out of 12 submitted companies. The winning company did not come with the experience, depth and credentials of its competitors, nor was it of a size that included the kind of overhead to justify its extremely high cost structure. Since its selection, the IT processes and infrastructure has experienced frequent and debilitating problems, and costs much higher than they needed to be.
Example: In September of last year, the US Department of Justice listed Trenton “a high-risk grantee of Federal funds” due to its failure to make required changes in its operations to cure problems discovered in audits of past grant programs. This kind of judgment is never lightly taken and was a major critique of the city’s quality of management and leadership at all levels. This announcement that didn’t get the attention it deserved, lost as it was in the background noise of other events at the time.
Example: This summer, the City contracted with a company to manage the City’s swimming pools. Due to bad communications from both sides throughout the entire process, this company and the City parted ways, mid-way during the summer. Another, far more expensive vendor has been brought in to finish out the season. This vendor, in turn, is imposing – on its own initiative – additional costs on the City in excess of the conditions outlined in the original RFP, and the City is paying those costs. Due to Trenton’s miscues and the mismanagement of its vendors, this summer the City is now spending 65% more than 2016’s original contract amount, and about 50% more than the 2014 contract. Allowing a 50% increase in costs over two years for what is, however valuable and desirable, a non-essential service is unacceptable.
Final Example: The final example, of course, is Innovative Payroll Services. There is not enough time in the entire evening to review what an unbelievable disaster this has been. I will simply summarize in the three main phases of this scandal the Administration’s past and ongoing Management and Leadership failures.
FIRST - From no later than April 2015 to the end of that year, and possibly much earlier, multiple and frequent notices from State and Federal tax authorities were sent to Trenton, notifying the City of late and missing tax deposit payments. These notices usually led to communications and inquiries between a City analyst and IPS, correspondence that throughout were copied to the City’s Chief Financial Officer and known to her, at least, from April to the end of the year. From all the public statements and city documents released to date, there is no evidence that these frequent, serious red flags led to any investigative or corrective action at all on the part of any Senior Manager in the City of Trenton. In fact, on two occasions during 2015, in June and December, the City actually extended the contract with IPS, despite the existence of these red flags from the tax authorities.
SECOND – The period from roughly December 2015 to February 2016 describes the period during which the City finally realized the problem for the emergency it obviously was. This is the time when attention was fully paid by the Administration, when law Enforcement on the state and federal level was involved, and when the matter was first revealed to the public. During this time, several public statements were made by officials including the Mayor and the President of Council that described the problem, its timeline, and the actions taken by the City that are at serious variance to documents that have become publicly available since that time; namely, copies of the tax notices and emails, and court documents filed against IPS and its principles. The discrepancies between those public statements and the documented record have not yet been publicly reconciled, from then to now. Which leads to,
THIRD – In the aftermath to this scandal, after the change of payroll vendors, after the criminal complaint and indictments, after the civil lawsuit, the dust settled. The Mayor announced in March that the City was “taking an internal audit, [and] we’re having an outside legal firm look at the processes that not only took place during that period, but the organization that’s set up so we can avoid having similar things.” Since March 14, we have heard nothing more about either the City’s internal audit, or this outside review. Neither the Mayor nor any other Administration official have made any more statements on the matter. Council has not been involved with any effort. And we know of neither any personnel nor policy or procedural changes instituted by the City to prevent someone else from again swindling Millions of Taxpayer Dollars from under the noses of our public officials. We have no assurance that anything is happening in this regard. Five months on, the Mayor’s announced “audit” and “legal review” and his promises to keep Council and the Public informed look to be as credible and legitimate as the legal review of Bridgegate commissioned by our Governor.
In this respect, the aftermath to IPS represents to me the worst – and still ongoing to this day – Failure of Leadership on behalf of Mayor Eric Jackson and his Administration. What happened to Communications, Accountability, and Transparency? His Eight Pillars are Eight Empty Promises.
Even Tony Mack didn’t lose Five Million Dollars! For all his faults, Tony was just a penny ante crook, remarkable only in that he betrayed so much public trust for such little illegal personal gain. We’re in the Big Leagues now: Five Million Stolen by just one scheme.
So, a 15% raise over the next 3 years for those during whose watch this took place? Please!
If they were perfectly honest with us, and with themselves, the Mayor and his Administration would tonight say to us, paraphrasing William Shakespeare and Edward R. Murrow, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our compensation packages, but in ourselves.”
In summary, Mr. President, I want to state again my strong opposition to Resolution 16-50, in its specific terms and in general to the idea of any Merit raises for the Mayor and the named officials over and above nominal cost-of-living adjustments as of July 1, 2016.
As an alternative plan, I would suggest looking into a variation of the 27th Amendment for Trenton, in which any proposed raises would not take effect until after the next new Council/Mayoral term of office begins.
Let current officeholders, including yourselves, stand behind their action on this issue when they seek re-election. Thank you.
“We’ve had good, consistent, managerial, quality leadership. We haven’t been bogged down in scandal, we haven’t had any of the three-letter agencies running into our government.” – Trenton Mayor, Eric Jackson, as quoted in The Trentonian, 8/16/2016
It seems Rudy Giuliani isn’t the only one with a highly selective memory. At least Rudy conveniently forgot something that happened 15 years ago. Eric forgot this small matter from only six months ago!