I can’t blame City Council for feeling frustrated by the continuing foot-dragging, ineptitude, incompetence and corruption exhibited by the Executive Branch of Trenton’s City government since July 1, 2010. You could pick up any random newspaper for the last 20 months, or peruse this site’s back pages for examples, to refresh your memory.
Or, you could just look at today’s paper for a new instance. At Tuesday evening’s session of Council, Trenton Mayor Tony F. Mack assured Members that one (of several) long-standing vacancies in the Department of Inspections – that of Plumbling Sub-Code Officer – would be filled, on a part-time basis, by the end of this week. According to a direct quote in the Times, Mr. Mack said “We’ll have somebody on board Friday. It’s probably not enough, but under the circumstances it’s probably all that we can offer.”
Well, it’s Friday. And the new guy? Well, the State Department of Community Affairs, which has to approve all new hires and promotions by the City, doesn’t know anything about any new inspector: “’The Division of Local Government Services is supportive of the city hiring a plumbing inspector,’ DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said. ‘However, the division has not yet received a request for such a hire. As soon as the division receives a request, it will expedite a review.’”
Mack promised, in so many words, someone “on board Friday,” and has not even submitted a request to the State to hire! Yet one more time, the words of Tony Mack have proved to be worthless. I will agree with West Ward Councilman Zac Chester’s judgment that “It’s the mayor once again just making it up as he goes along.”
Mack lurches from one crisis of his own making to another, without planning, thought, details or consideration; stopping along the way to smile and wave for another ribbon-cutting, photo opportunity, or bell-ringing; the public functions he is better at than the hard business of governing.
This mayor is useless, a fool, and he creates more problems that he helps solve. I don’t begrudge City Council getting upset with him.
And yet, this is the wrong way to go about it. In what I can only call a fit of pique, Council Budget Committee members Phyllis Holly-Ward, Marge Caldwell-Wilson and Mr. Chester are working on an amendment to the budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30 – a budget that the State has instructed the City to formalize and adopt by February 22 – that, according to the Times, would
[E]]liminate all salary payments in the mayor’s office through June.
If approved by the full council, the amendment would mean that Mack and seven other employees in his office would go without pay from the beginning of March through the June 30 end of the fiscal year. [Emphasis mine - KM]
This move is independent of, although dovetails with, a new citizens-organized petition that calls upon Council to adopt an ordinance that would officially reduce the mayor’s annual salary by over $46,000 to $80,000. Although officially this would not be specifically directed toward Mack, and as drafted reads as an entirely legal document, I don’t believe for a moment that his successor would not see a new ordinance raising his or her salary back to the old or similar level. As such, this proposed ordinance seeks nothing more than to punish one person and one person only: the current occupant of the office of Mayor, Tony Mack.
There are a lot of things that Council can do to impose its will and direction upon the mayor and his cronies. Namely, there is ample reason to dismiss immediately for cause several of the worst “Acting” officials in the Administration; namely Harold Hall in Public Works and Business Administrator Anthony Roberts. That would be good for a start.
But I believe it an abuse of Council’s authority, and this layman thinks it may actually be illegal as well, to use an Ordinance or Council’s budgetary powers to essentially punish one individual.
Does any member of Council truly believe that a mayor and his aides – don’t think about the specific individuals, think of the Office of the Mayor! – should work for Nothing?
Or, alternatively, do members of Council believe that the Office of Mayor is only worth $80,000, while Department Directors would be earning tens of thousands more?
I, for one, don’t think so. I firmly believe that Tony F. Mack is a useless mayor, and can’t wait to see the last of him. But I don’t believe in using the guise of law to punish individuals. It’s not right, and to consider these mechanisms to punish the mayor and his associates is distracting us from the more important work at hand. I believe Tony Mack has dishonored and has devalued the Office of the Mayor of our town, but it is wrong for Council to use the power of the law to drag the Office down with him. Councilwoman Holly-Ward is being disingenuous when she says, as quoted in Matt Fair’s article, “This isn’t about being personal with the mayor.”
Yes, it is, Ms. Holly-Ward. Yes it is, Ms. Caldwell-Wilson. Yes, it is, Mr. Chester. Don’t pretend that it’s not.
There is a long-standing tradition in this country, extending all the way to the US Constitution’s prohibition against bills of attainder – laws directed at punishing individual citizens – and for good reason. There are lots of other ways to oppose fools, and bending our laws to punish specific people should not be one of them.
I had good wishes for Mr. Mack and his Administration when he took office, but soured on him for good only one month into his term. He has been an utter embarrassment and disaster for this beleaguered town, single-handedly causing mayhem and distress that will take years to set right. Along with everything else this City has to deal with, we don’t need Tony Mack.
But these moves by Council and the citizens group are small and petty. We are better than this.