No one in Council Chambers used those words last night, of course, but as a body, Trenton’s City Council essentially threw up their hands last night and gave up any pretense of being the governing body of our City.
Not everyone on Council, of course. But three die-hard know-nothing-and-do-less members once again are hobbling the majority from tackling the hard, tough problems this town and its suffering citizens face.
The headlines in both the Trentonian’s and The Times’ accounts of last night’s session give prominence to the political move – of which more below – to halve the salary of the Current Occupant of the Mayor’s Office by a vote to override the CO’s veto of an ordinance intended to do that. But the main theme of the evening as expressed by the citizens who spoke in Public Comment was Public Safety and the uncontrolled Crime plaguing Trenton.
Residents and business owners spoke one after another, to talk about the problems on their streets, near their homes and businesses, and how they are personally affected and fearful for their safety. “This city is basically under siege,” said one. “It’s a sad day when a man has a business in Trenton and someone is murdered,” from another. And from yet another, “I have never felt unsafe into my house until now.”
Ideas and suggestions were forthcoming from the speakers. A Citizens on Patrol group was planned for Villa Park according to resident Harry Jackendoff. Duncan Harrison of the West Ward suggested hiring part-time special officers to supplement the over-burdened and under-manned Police Department.
How did Council respond to these pleas and suggestions? Council President Kathy McBride passed the buck to the State, and specifically to the Governor.
“We need to and we can march these seven bodies without the mayor or with the mayor, that’s his choice,” McBride said. “This body can actually go to the governor’s office and ask for some immediate relief. I don’t know what they’ll say to us, but it’s a start. We need immediate release, we need help here in these seven miles, and we needed it yesterday.”
Yes, Councilwoman, we need help in Trenton. But you were elected to provide that help, in the form of constructive leadership, thoughtful legislation, careful management of City resources, and – not least – Personal Accountability.
By suggesting that City Council’s best response was a march down to the State House tells me that she still – more than two years on!! – has absolutely no idea what her job is, that she still responds with the instincts of the neighborhood activist she was before she was elected. An appeal to the State, if warranted, should only come after the governing body has exhausted all of the alternatives available to it. Clearly this has not been done.
The primary mechanism for attempting this is the City’s budget. Rather than blithely accept the foolish priorities laid down in the budget submitted by the CO – such as many of the programs and activities in the Recreation Department, but not entirely there – and take those dollars and move them to Public Safety!
Council needs to look at the structure of the City and Administration, reorganize and streamline where possible and necessary – as in finally carving out the Water and Sewer Utilities into its own Department, and reorganize the remaining functions and resources of the Public Works Department. Find some savings – and take those dollars and move them to Public Safety!
Fix the rampant waste, fraud and abuse continuing in the city’s Contracting and Purchasing functions. Get rid of the idiots wasting our money, find some savings and efficiencies – and take those dollars and move them to Public Safety!
Then – and only then – if the City is still short on resources (as I am sure it will be!), will it be possible to approach the State and say with a clear conscience and say, “We have worked and done our best, but we are still short. Help us, please” with anything like a solid position and a good argument.
Needless to say, Council is nowhere near being in that kind of place. So for Councilwoman McBride to talk last night about marching to see the Governor is nothing else than cynical demogoguery and an admission that she is not up to the job she was elected to. She has given up.
Councilman Alex Bethea, from the accounts of attendees last night, provided no useful input to the proceedings, referring to old dockets and asking what matters were being put to a vote. He is lost on that Council.
In the matter of the veto override of the CO’s salary ordinance, it was the turn of the East Ward rep Verlina Reynolds-Jackson to give up. She did – as widely expected – vote against the override, killing the measure. And as expected, her statements last night in defense of her vote focused on the wording of the measure. “From the last time we spoke about this particular ordinance I made it very clear we needed to tighten up the vague language in this ordinance,” she said.
But, as she had failed to do in the many, many weeks since this measure was first introduced, SHE FAILED TO OFFER ANY SUGGESTIONS OR AMENDMENTS TO “TIGHTEN UP THE VAGUE LANGUAGE!!!!!!”
Sorry to yell like that, but I simply cannot understand the Councilwoman’s position. She is a legislator. She was elected to craft legislation, deliberate on it, discuss it with her colleagues and the Public in open Council session, revise and improve on it if necessary, then vote on it. That is a very simple description of her job. She utterly failed last night, as she has for weeks, to comprehend this simple definition.
Even worse, even worse than this failure to act as a legislator, she had the gall and arrogance to suggest to her colleagues that instead of considering any local measures to control the CO, that they should support a measure under deliberation in the State Senate!
Consider this for a moment. This Council member is in the position of being the deciding vote in a measure whose goals she is on record as supporting. She is also on record as objecting to the language of the measure, but has failed at every opportunity for weeks to offer alternatives. Now, at the last minute, she punts her responsibility to the State, favoring a measure with an unknown chance of passage in the Senate, an unknown chance of passage in the Assembly and an unknown chance of being signed by the Governor.
Wow. In her performance last night, Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson said “I Give Up” as an elected representative of the City of Trenton. “I Give Up” being a legislator. “I Give Up” being Accountable and Responsive.
To her credit, North Ward Member Marge Caldwell-Wilson called out her colleague on her weaselly position. “We need to deal with the issue at hand, councilwoman, instead of dealing in stalling tactics so you can avoid casting your vote, and that’s plain and simple,” she said in pointed language directed right to the East Ward Rep.
Last night, the citizens of the City of Trenton cried out to the Governing Body to help. In response, the body said, “Not Our Job, let’s go to the State.”
They Gave Up.