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Business as Usual

The headline for Cristina Rojas’ story posted on The Times of Trenton’s website yesterday is “How many red flags were missed over Trenton’s payroll problems?” I am glad that the press is looking at the documentation coming available about the multi-million dollar theft of city funds intended for payroll tax deposits with the IRS and the State of New Jersey, and finding that the Administration of Mayor Jackson’s chronology about its “discovery” of the problem raises more questions than it answers.

I shared the documents that I received from the City in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed last month with Ms. Rojas, and which I also posted online. She, in turn, provided me the copy of the brief filed to support the City’s civil lawsuit against Innovative Payroll Service and its principal, about which I wrote yesterday. Looking at the same items leads Ms. Rojas to make the same observations as I have for weeks now:

The city says it first learned it was the victim of a fraud scheme in late December, but more than a dozen notices from the state and federal governments from as early as April reveal potential red flags about its former payroll company now under investigation…

[T]hroughout the year, there was no shortage of signs that something was amiss when the city repeatedly received notices about unpaid balances, penalties and interest.

“The minute you see a question, you should ask the provider what happened,” said Michael Pires, an industry expert and CEO of JetPay Payroll Services. “But if you see that as a pattern, that could raise a red flag — are my funds deposited in a timely manner and are they protected?”

Armed with this information, The Times – once more – sought a response from the City,  with the same predicatable result as similar attempts to pry information loose the from increasingly tight-lipped Jackson Administration: “City spokesman Michael Walker declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing investigation and litigation.”

Of course. Despite Mayor Jackson’s promise several weeks ago that “we’re going to keep our own council and our community informed,” he has done nothing of the sort. Mr. Jackson, Mr. Walker and the rest of the Administration are hiding behind the veil of “ongoing investigation and litigation” to justify their refusal to talk about critical matters that have nothing to do with the ongoing investigation and litigation. This refusal is increasingly impossible to justify and increasingly maddening.

Nothing has changed in the last couple of weeks since I wrote, about IPS, John Scholtz, and his daughters:

The complete – and totally unnecessary – lack of transparency, candor and honesty shown by the City over this last month shows that the folks running this City are in deep denial about how badly they are fucking up. What will be next to go wrong? [Emphasis mine - KM]

We are now hearing about the next thing going wrong. Yesterday I heard a credible report from inside City Hall that the city’s office equipment vendor was about to repossess several copying machines leased to the City, for non-payment since December. The City hasn’t paid because of any shortage of available cash (at least, this time!), but because Trenton has simply ignored several months of billing.The vendor has had enough, and finally threatened to remove the machines to get some response from the City. Last I heard, City Hall was scrambling to get the bills paid, and the affected copiers were still in place.

Sound familiar? Multiple notices? Several months? Red flags? “No shortage of signs that something was amiss?”

The matter of a few copy machines is admittedly a small one, very small compared with the $5,000,000 at issue with the IPS scandal.

But to hear – well over a month after the payroll news broke, and nearly three months after the initial “discovery” of the embezzlement – of something like this copier nonsense proves that NOTHING IS HAPPENING IN CITY HALL TO FIX WHAT’S CLEARLY BROKEN. There is no sense that crooks were able to steal millions of dollars under the very eyes of the City because of flawed policies and of possibly incompetent employees,  appointed and elected officials. There is ZERO sense of urgency to address the frequent and repeated failures that are stacking up. No collective fire has been lit under the Administration’s collective butts to get their collective asses in gear to get their collective shit together.

As a result, having bill collectors and re-possessors figuratively standing at the City Hall doorway with their hands outstretched waiting for payment while city officials scramble to write a check is now Business as Usual.

Having the city’s computers operate without virus protection, or data backup, and paying millions of dollars more to a startup company working out of a guy’s garage than more reputable and established companies would charge for the privilege of providing those second-rate services, is now Business as Usual.

Being designated as “a high-risk grantee of federal funds” by the United States Department of Justice is now Business as Usual.

Having Millions of Dollars stolen over a period of months without paying attention to dozens of “red flags” is now Business as Usual.

Let’s be absolutely clear on this. NONE of this stuff has ANYTHING to do with “ongoing litigation” or “open investigations.”

ALL of this should be the subject of urgent and drastic action that needs to be immediately taken by the Mayor, his Administration, City Council, as well as the State of New Jersey.

But I don’t see anything happening. And I don’t believe anything meaningful will happen as a result of this disaster. Why?

Because this is now Business as Usual.

And we put up with it.

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