“Step Aside From This Issue!”

When I posted yesterday’s piece about the “Staton/Holly-Ward Report” discussed at Trenton’s City Council meeting on Thursday night, I had done so before this story by [Correction!] Kevin Shea had appeared in the Trenton Times.

That was some session, according to the newspaper!

First, council members debated several aspects of the incidents between Deputy Clerk Cordelia Staton and Councilwoman-at-Large Phyllis Holly-Ward and if Holly-Ward should be taking part in a vote on a resolution to accept the $25,000 investigative report.

Later, residents lambasted the council, saying the incident continues to give the city a black eye. And three former city council members rose to the microphone to offer their opinions on the matter.

And then the council sparred over a council-formed committee they revealed had been formed to investigate leaks of information about the incident to a local newspaper.

One councilman left during the meeting without explanation, another said she was not going to “deal with this BS anymore,” and the city clerk rejected a councilman’s request to have something read into the record…

“This is not bringing investors here,” said Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, saying she has just toured the Roebling Lofts project that day. The city does not need this dominating headlines, she said.

“Step aside from this issue,” Reynolds-Jackson said to Holly-Ward.

Whew!  Folks seemed to be awfully upset about this whole kerfuffle.

Except, “the issue” here – that seems to have been entirely forgotten during Thursday’s meeting, at least according to Ms. Rojas’ account – is not the one that Councilmember Reynolds-Jackson wants us to “step away from.”

It seems to me that the Administration of Eric Jackson, which is suppressing the Report and three members of Council – President Zac Chester, Duncan Harrison and Ms. Reynolds-Jackson – are primarily concerned with both keeping a lid on the Report, and tracking down sources of leaks to media. This has been bubbling since late October, when we first heard about this matter when it was disclosed that the Administration requested the Mercer County Prosecutor to investigate Ms. Holly-Ward after she tried to make a photocopy of the Report – a Report which, remember[on Thursday night], is about her – in City Hall. And now, Rojas reported “a council-formed committee they revealed had been formed to investigate leaks of information about the incident to a local newspaper.”

Neglected in all this, by the Administration and by Council, is what the Report actually contains! At this point we do not know any specific details about what this 30-page report includes, but on Wednesday an article (poorly written, but that’s par for the paper) by David Foster in the Trentonian contains some pretty serious hints about what’s in there. “There’s harassment in it, there’s theft in it, there’s talk about somebody taking unauthorized money in it, and the mayor is mentioned in it,” the paper quotes Ms. Holly-Ward as saying. Foster reports, “[Councilmember George] Muschal said the clerk’s office is ‘totally out of control’ and the employees who work in the department are ‘crying’ over the situation. He also said Clerk Richard Kachmar even released a letter stating that Staton faces insubordination charges.”

THIS, I suggest, is “the issue!” Not a word was said of this on Thursday night, nor at any time since at least last October. This report, written at a cost of $25,000 by the law firm DeCotiis Fitzpatrick, has been completed and in the City’s possession for over 3 months. We know it contains serious allegations about improprieties in the City Clerk’s Office, and its findings have now been officially accepted and endorsed by Thursday’s vote at City Council. So it is a legitimate report, professionally investigated and carefully written.

And what has the City done with it? Has any action been taken on the substance of the report, to fix an office “out of control” with several “crying employees?”

Nope! Not a thing.

Instead, the Administration has suppressed the report. It sought to investigate and prosecute the Councilmember who was a subject of the report. And Council formed a Committee to investigate leaks, not the Clerk’s Office.

This sure seems like a classic case of a cover-up to me.

How else to explain that a 30-page independently-investigated report with serious allegations of professional improprieties and malfeasance in a major City Department has sat on the shelf for over 3 months with no action at all, other than to make sure the report stays on that shelf?

A lot of people who spoke at City Hall on Thursday night wanted Council to move on from this matter, and resolve what everyone seems to want to continue to characterize as a personality conflict at its heart. Even some Councilmembers, such as Ms. Reynolds-Jackson want to “step aside from this issue.”

But as long as the Administration and Councilmembers Chester, Harrison and Reynolds-Jackson continue to cover up the substance of the 30-page DeCotiis report; as long as they conceal its allegations and charges from the public; as long as they fail to take any actions to address serious and documented problems in the Clerk’s office, just as they continue to fail to address problems in the City that aided and abetted the $5 Million theft in the Great Payroll Robbery; this is no time to “step aside from this issue.”

Instead, it’s time to Step Up to it.

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