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Down the Drain

One is not supposed to make a toast with a glass of water. Let’s make an exception today, OK? Here’s to fresh, clean tap water from the Delaware River, courtesy of Trenton Water Works!! I got my all-clear-to-drink e-mail at 4:45 yesterday afternoon, and a robo-call from Mayor Mack about five minutes later.  Sure is nice that the notification system works… when there’s good news to report. Then Mr. Mack is all over it. Otherwise, what a balls-up week this has been. This fiasco and its aftermath is an embarrassment to the city of Trenton and every one of its citizens.

To add insult to indignity, yesterday our Mayor blew off a meeting convened yesterday by County Executive Brian Hughes with the mayors of Ewing, Lawrence Hamilton and Hopewell Borough, a meeting intended to talk about what happened this week, how to avoid problems like that in the future, and to generally try to soothe the waters after a bad, bad week. What possible reason could Mr. Mack have had to miss an event like that, a blatant insult to all of the township mayors and our County Exec?  Did the recording session for the robo-call take his whole day? He made time for that. It’s not as if the Eagles were playing yesterday.

When a County Executive lectures a city’s mayor, on the record and in print about having to set priorities, that’s bad. Continually having to apologize, as Mr. Mack did yesterday to Mr. Hughes, is also bad.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Protection is wading in to the situation. Along with the all-clear yesterday, the city posted a press release stating that the Mayor will meet (Are we sure it’s in his book? Can we confirm?) with the DEP Commissioner “to evaluate the processes which lead (sic) to the precautionary boil water advisory…to review best practices for preventing future occurrences,” and in the words of Commissioner Martin, “The Mayor has agreed to cooperate fully with the DEP and to correct any deficiencies we identify.” [Emphasis mine]

In other words, Trenton screwed the pooch on this one, and will be on a very short leash going forward. This is the real deal: now that the public health of the neighbor townships was threatened, our administration is no longer a danger only to ourselves! If nothing else, this press release is a tacit admission by the City that the problems this week weren’t caused by Mother Nature, but by human error.

We are starting to see some more fallout from this. Last night, West Ward Councilman Zac Chester called for a city investigation into this incident, joining the requests from area state senators Shirley Turner and Tom Goodwin for a state investigation. Good for Mr. Chester. I think it will be a good thing if we get to the bottom of things ourselves before any state hearings. It’s embarrassing to have to rely on the state and/or county to provide leadership on this.

Also last night, City Council voted against  the administration’s questionable plans to award legal services contracts to three out-of-area law firms politically connected to the Mayor. Glad to see that. At a time when we need Council to act as a watch dog over an increasingly erratic and out-of-touch administration, they are starting to step up to the plate. Most of them, that is: Mr. Bethea seems to be developing quite an attendance problem. Now, Council, can you try to weigh in on all of the Acting Directors still running (or not) all our agencies and departments? Please?

But, there is only so much a Council can do. The problem is with the Executive. What can we do about Tony Mack?

It doesn’t look like a state takeover is in the cards; given what the Christie folks have been doing lately, I don’t think that would be an improvement.In bits and pieces – with the Board of Ed, and soon perhaps when the DEP goes in to TWW – the State is effectively taking the reins in some areas. More than this, though, I can’t say.

Any recall effort is months away, and is such a tough process I don’t have much hope for that as a solution.

We have another One Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty Two days in this administration, which is a lot of time for more stuff to blow up. By the way, today is the 100th day of this Administration. Do you think we will see a surrealistic self-congratulatory press release marking this event, such as one after the First Thirty Days? Hmm, maybe not. There is the triumphal “Inaugural Ball” set for tomorrow at the Marriott, though. What a farce that will be!

Where do we go from here? I don’t really know. I have one idea, but it may not be very practical, for a reason I will mention in a minute. Our ordinances provide that we “may appoint a Deputy Mayor in charge of staff, who shall be called the ‘Chief of Staff.’” [Article II, Section 2-4, C. (1)]. This mayor has nopt appointed a Chief of Staff, relying on a multitude of other, more junior and less capable, aides to work with him. This is not working. If our city Ordinances provide for a Deputy Mayor, someone who could bring some competence and capability, and professionalism, and in general be an Adult, I’d be all in favor of trying that.

The only problem to that is the small detail that the Chief of Staff is appointed by the Mayor, serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any confirmation by Council, and whose job description and duties are largely defined… by the Mayor. Oh. So this solution would require Mr. Mack to admit his shortcomings and his weaknesses, exhibit the kind of honest self-awareness he hasn’t shown us so far, and select someone to frankly do his job for him for the next 3 2/3 years.  Not bloody likely.

That’s one idea. I’m getting kind of hard-pressed today to think of more. Come on, help me out here! What can we do to keep this city from going down the drain? Because that’s where it’s going. Fast.

One thing we’ve learned this week is that in order to cleanse and disinfect things in this town, you have to boil them. Let’s turn up the heat.

3 comments to Down the Drain

  • A Chief of Staff can be very powerful. Renee Haynes ran sh*% in T-Town much of the time, especially due to the fact that we had a “missing mayor.” Picking a good one could go a long way toward halting all these public affairs gaffes.

  • Kevin

    Yep, Mack would be well advised to pick a truly competent chief of staff, give him or her some authority, and start to clean up this mess. If not clean it up, at least mend fences.

    But, the big obstacle is that such an appointment and delegation of real authority would have to come from the Mayor. It takes a strong and confident person, in any line of work, to bring in people more capable than they. Mack’s not that kind of person, unfortunately for us.