Archive

Call, and a Raise

UPDATED BELOW:

On January 7,the Times ran an op-ed column by  local consultant and political commentator Irwin Stoolmacher on the current state of our local government. This column was picked up and published last week by newjerseynewsroom.com.

Mr. Stoolmacher’s column began “Trenton’s municipal government is in crisis,” and went on from there. He summarized many of the failings of the Mack Administration to date, and bemoaned the private criticisms and public silence of many other officials around the County watching this town flounder.

The column apparently touched some hot buttons in the Administration, because it raised a response from City Spokesperson Lauren Ira, who specifically responded to Mr. Stoolmacher in her own Times column of February 9. You know, the “momentum” “rebirth” and “breakthrough” piece. That one.

Well, in what is possibly turning into a game of newspaper poker, Mr. Stoolmacher saw Ms. Ira’s piece, and raised with another op-ed.  Appearing yesterday in the Times, Mr. Stoolmacher dismissed Ms. Ira’s criticisms of his piece, and calls for “more professionalism” in the city’s government. A professionalism he suggests could be provided by what he calls a Municipal Assistance Council (MAC), composed of a group of citizens, to add another level of advise to Mayor Mack and vetting of potential appointments, in addition to City Council and the State Department of Community Affairs.

It’s somewhat unclear to me what role this MAC would play. The name brings to mind another MAC – the Municipal Assistance Corporation that helped pull New York City out of its financial crisis in the 1970’s. At face value, the situations of the two cities decades apart are vastly different, but Mr. Stoolmacher is surely a student of history and will not have  chosen the name of his group at random. I look forward to hearing more about this plan.

In the meantime, I am glad to see that these op-eds have stimulated what is passing as the only real back-and-forth dialog between the Administration and its critics that we have going on right now.  The Mack Administration is on total lockdown, it seems, with Local Media as well as the other. supposedly co-equal branches of our government.

How many local news reports include some variation on the phrases “Mayor Mack could not be reached for comment, and his voice mailbox was full” and “Lauren Ira did not return messages left with her by press time”? Too many.

As far as City Council is concerned, communication between that body and the Mayor has deteriorated so much that Council President George Muschal is threatening the Administration with the first use of Council’s subpoena powers since the 1970’s in an effort to compel the Mayor and colleagues to appear at Council and address the issues.

In that context, it is good to see that there is at least one open public communication that is generating statement, then response, then another statement. The pacing – with weeks between each installment – is kind of 18th Century: the Federalist Papers, these ain’t! But, until subpoenas are voted and served, this is about all we get, I suppose.

Ms. Ira, Stoolmacher saw your “Rebirth,” and raised a “More Professionalism.” Over to you!

So I appreciate Mr. Stoolmacher’s contributions, and the fact that he has generated at least one substantive response from the second fl00r of City Hall.

But I will, like Ms. Ira – and this is probably going to be the only time you’ll find me having anything in common with her, so listen up! – take serious exception to several of his statements. He says, “It is time for the community to speak up and bring pressure to bear on Mayor Mack to run his administration in a more professional manner…Everyone who cares about Trenton should be respectfully urging the mayor, via telephone, e-mail, blogs, Facebook, letters to the editor and media editorials, to get his act together before he does irreparable damage to the city.” [My emphasis]

His tone indicates that there hasn’t been anyone speaking up or using other media until now. With all due respect, where the hell has he been? He hasn’t been at City Council meetings.  He hasn’t been looking at the many blogs and Facebook pages out there filled with criticisms. He obviously hasn’t heard of Fix Trenton’s Budget, which has been providing much of the very same citizen input he now calls for. And he hasn’t been reading the Trentonian, whose born-again bulldog journalism after too many years of sleepiness has done so much to break news and develop stories.

In many ways, Mr. Stoolmacher sounds like he has been getting all of his news from the Trenton Times and local television, which woefully under-reports goings-on in this town. To be sure, The Times has been doing some great work, and the recent articles on Tony Mack’s Atlantic City connections and the SR Development mess of last month were outstanding. But too often and for too long, the Times is just a few steps behind the Trentonian and local active citizens. Anyone relying on the Times alone for local news is, sadly, missing a lot.

Perhaps I am a little prickly to suggestions that NOW is the time “to speak up and bring pressure,” when many of us have been doing exactly that for nearly eight months now. That kind of statement seems to discount all the efforts to date. Efforts that have been crucial to many positive developments over the last several months.

“Speaking up and bringing pressure” in the last months helped:

  • Block the deal for the SR Development “36 properties for $36″ that was going to pass Council.
  • Demonstrate disapproval of the Cooper Levenson deal at the time it was approved, and to provide the public opposition that led to C-L’s withdrawal
  • Oppose the nominations of several individuals such as Carleton Badger and Danny Soto, causing their withdrawal or defeats
  • Raise the issue of the Lynx technology contract and educate the public on the City’s failed Purchasing process
  • Reveal irregularities with campaign finance reports filed by local candidates and political action committees
  • Shed light on so many other city issues that the state Department of Community Affairs referenced citizen input as a major factor in revising the procedures it will use when administering our Transitional Aid grant from the State.

These are just a few that come to mind. There are more.

So, Mr. Stoolmacher, thanks for your columns. You are serving in a valuable role. But you are wrong to say NOW is the time to speak up.

Some of us have already been here for a long time now! Welcome to the club.

UPDATE:

Hey, Mr. Stoolmacher. Here’s one place we can start:

Our Ordinance already calls for a Board of Review, a Council/Citizen body to review city Purchasing decisions. It does not currently exist in this town. A good place to start with your MAC? I think so!

Discuss amongst yourselves! From our Ordinances:

Board of Review.

A.Establishment. There is hereby established a Board of Review, which Board shall have the authority pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:11-30 to review decisions of the purchasing agent with respect to the qualification, classification or reclassification of persons or business agencies applying for the same pursuant to the state law.

B.

Composition.

(1)

The Board shall consist of one member of the City Council to be designated by motion of the City Council and two citizens of the City to be designated by motion of the City Council. The City Clerk shall serve as secretary to the Board of Review and shall keep a complete record of its proceedings and decisions. All members of the Board shall serve without compensation.

4 comments to Call, and a Raise

  • The MAC reference is definitely odd. I am not positive about it, but I imagine such an entity must be a create of state law. Does New Jersey have such a law on its books? I doubt it. Most of the time NJ simply takes over distressed or failing entities, wastes a bunch of money on them, and then moves in, regardless of whether conditions have improved or worsened.

    /gf/

  • The MAC reference is definitely odd. I am not positive about it, but I imagine such an entity must be a creature of state law. Does New Jersey have such a law on its books? I doubt it. Most of the time NJ simply takes over distressed or failing entities, wastes a bunch of money on them, and then moves on, regardless of whether conditions have improved or worsened.

    /gf/

  • Kevin

    Greg – I googled MAC AND New Jersey, and several other variations, and came up with goose eggs. He is being creative here, I think. Now there may in fact be some kind of role here for a formal Citizens Group – hell, maybe all we have to do is constitute the Board of Review already in our Ordinance! Hey, Moriarty, hold that thought. To be continued!

    But I just found the MAC name too close to the NYC MAC to be coincidental.

    In Trenton’s case, I think it might be a little hard for the State to muck about, then move on. Move on where? They are here, LOL. However, I will never put money on a bet that requires me to underestimate the ability of the State of NJ to make a bad situation worse!

  • Irwin Stoolmacher

    The MAC was not mean to conjure-up images of the NYC City Municipal Assistance Corp. Much more narrow role — just advisory and locally created. Sorry for the confusion.

    Your efforts have been fantastic and have made a real difference. Just wish more folks would speak-up.