It has been only two weeks since the City of Trenton and Thomas Edison State College (TESC) announced a proposal by which the City plans to sell the parcel of property at 301 West State Street to the College to construct a new Nursing Center.
It has been quite the two weeks. There have been City Council presentations and public forums, many newspaper articles, opinion columns pro and con, online rants on Facebook and elsewhere (OK, Guilty as charged!), and above all, Claims, Counterclaims, Promises and Grand Visions.
If you read this space, I will make an assumption that you are interested and invested in the affairs of this town, informed (as much as one can be in these crazy and chaotic times) about goings-on, and not least, highly opinionated.
Over these two weeks I have written several times about the TESC plan for the Glen Cairn Arms site. I do not favor it, as currently proposed. That is a bit of an understatement, if you’ve peeked in to this space once or twice during this time. Perhaps you agree with me. Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you think that, despite whatever misgivings you may have, you feel that assisting TESC’s educational mission is the best thing Trentonians can do, and that the deal on the table is the best we can possibly hope for with the Wreck of the Glen Cairn.
If you do feel this way, I would respectfully ask you to read two documents today. And ask yourself some questions.
This Thursday, February 7, City Council will vote on the second reading of the proposed Ordinance that would approve the sale of the Property to TESC. The first reading was passed by a vote of 5 to 2, on January 17. What we haven’t done in the days and weeks since is read the Ordinance.
Here it is, in the form that must be voted up or down – with no chance to amend it – on Thursday. It is short, barely a page and a half. It is accompanied by three other documents: two memoes from the City, one from Business Administrator Sam Hutchinson and one from Acting Housing and Economic Director JR Capasso; and a summary of their proposal from the Office of TESC’s President, Dr. George R. Pruitt.
All of the documents cite the College’s commitment to provide approximately $1.4 Million in finds to demolish the Glen Cairn and perform any required environmental remediation before the new Nursing Center can be erected.
But, despite the City’s announcement Press Release of January 11, and everything we have heard since about the additional, one-time payment from the College of $300,000, to offset the city’s loss of future property taxes, there is no mention of that $300,000 in any of these documents presented to you today.
There is no $300,000 in the proposed Ordinance. In fact, the only other dollar figure stated in the text is this: “Thomas Edison State College has offered to purchase the subject property [301 West State] for $1.00.”
That’s right. One Dollar.
Later, there is this mention: “The purchase price of $1.00, as identified herein and in consideration of the assumption of substantial remediation and demolition costs [the $1.4 Million], is hereby deemed to be reasonable.” [Emphasis mine - KM]
Even if you favor this proposal, you must ask, “Where is the $300,000?”
It’s not mentioned by the City. Mr. Hutchinson doesn’t say a word about it in his memo. He just refers to the $1.4 Million and concludes, “This proposal meets and/or exceeds our expectations for this site.” Really? It does?
Mr. Capasso agrees with my reading of the Ordiance, and concludes his memo by stating “[T]he Ordinance specifies that the developer will pay for demolition and remediation, and that the property will be transferred for no additional compensation.” [Again, Emphasis mine - KM]
Again: WHERE IS THE $300,000??
It is not, repeat NOT, in the Ordinance that has already been passed, 5 to 2. Where is it, and why has no member of Council yet asked where it is?
Elsewhere in the Ordinance, there is mention of other documents, apparently not yet written or finalized. The language reads (Paragraph 5),
“The Mayor is hereby authorized to execute a Disposition Agreement and all documents necessary for the conveyance of the properties, upon such terms as the City of Trenton and Thomas Edison State College establish by mutual agreement.”
Is, perhaps, the $300,000 in this Disposition Agreement, or other “documents necessary?”
We don’t know. And we, along with Council, likely won’t know. Because Paragraph 5 allows the Mayor and the City to negotiate the further terms as they see fit. Without any – I have to stress again, ANY – further input or approval from Trenton’s City Council.
This Paragraph is a blank check, written by City Council and payable by the Citizens and Taxpayers of this town, to the Mayor and Thomas Edison State College.
There is no other way to read this. “The Mayor is authorized” to conclude terms as he and TESC may decide. The Ordinance doesn’t mention the $300,000, or any other payment. What if they decide to delete that payment? They can, with no further notice or approval. What else might be in this Disposition Agreement or other documents? We don’t know.
Why any City Council, in the best of circumstances would write this kind of a blank check to any Mayor and Administration – with no further checks or balances – I could not understand. It represents an abdication of authority, and a totally irresponsible action on the part of an elected legislature.
Why Our Council would give this kind of Authority to THIS MAYOR, at THIS TIME, is an idea that simply boggles the mind.
If you need any further proof of what a horrid proposal this is, look at today’s Trenton Times. We read this headline:
Today’s story by Erin Duffy is an update to a tale that’s been in the works since the first days of the current Administration of the Indicted Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office, and which I have written about several times. A site leased in the last days of Mayor Doug Palmer was to have been the location of a new municipal court house on Hermitage Avenue in the West Ward. It was a bad deal when originally proposed, and the new Administration actually had the good idea to seek to back out of it. But rather than enter into mutual negotiations to end a bad deal, the city just stopped paying rent. The owner of the shopping plaza where the court house was to be located filed suit, and the resulting court case and settlement may now cost the City over Eight. Million. Dollars.
The article makes one reference to this deal that is pretty relevant to what we are talking about now. “The full terms of the settlement, approved by city council in November, were not immediately available because the final agreement had not been signed by both parties.”
This makes me think that Council acted in this instance of the Court House in the same way they are being asked to act on Glen Cairn: give its advance approval to the City, then leave the Administration to work out the details as they saw fit.
Seems to me, if that’s the case, it didn’t work out too well. In fact, Eight Million Dollars badly!!
So, in the light of this morning’s story: even if you favor the TESC deal, do you really trust this Mayor, this Administration, this Department of Housing and Economic Development, this Law Department, to make the best deal possible for the citizens and taxpayers of this town?
If you oppose this TESC proposal as written, please let your Council members know.
If you favor the plan as we see it, or if you are still undecided, please, please ask your Council members these questions?
Where is the $300,000?
Even if we can still expect to see a dime of that money, is it enough?
What other terms are in the Disposition Agreement? Why will Council have no further chance to review or approve it? Why will the Public not have a chance to see it?
Is this the same way the Court House deal was resolved? If so, why do you think this deal will end any better for us?
Over the last two weeks we have Heard a lot of Promises, we have Heard a lot of Claims, we have Been Told that this plan will revitalize its neighborhood and Downtown.We have Been Offered a Big Deal.
On the other hand, We See a bad Court House deal go bad, Eight Million Dollars worth. We See Wells Fargo moving out of town, leaving a 46,000 square foot office building empty.
And We See a promised $300,000 payment Nowhere in writing.
If you oppose this project, this should be further evidence to you why this is a bad idea.
If you favor the project, please read these documents and consider that even if the idea might be a good one, This Deal, This Ordinance and This way of making the deal happen are crucially and fatally flawed.
Let’s vote this proposal down, and work on a better deal.