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For Those Keeping Score at Home

It’s been awhile since we’ve updated the ERA’s for Trenton’s last few mayors including the current one, Eric Jackson. Since Mr. Jackson will presumably look to get a contract extension, we should probably take a look at his current stats, don’t you think?

You may recall that we started calculating this statistic six months ago, as a quick and handy reference to citizens for assessing how much taxpayer money the last several mayors have ended up costing the City of Trenton. I call it the Mayoral “Earned Run Average,” after the baseball term used to calculate pitchers’ effectiveness. I first roughly calculated the ERA’s for Mayors Palmer, Mack, and Jackson – all Starters – and Muschal as a Reliever, at the beginning of the year. When last refined and updated on January 19, the stats stood as follows:

Palmer -7.98

Mack – 5.33

Muschal – 1.53

Jackson – 8.93

I’ve updated the stats as follows: First, there’s $3.3 Million amount of federal funds, that was misspent and to be recouped by a Voluntary Grant Reduction, as first reported in this space on May 31, and picked up by the Trenton Times on June 18. This money, $3,332, 313 that – according to Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson – was disallowed by HUD after examinations made of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program books covering the period 2007-2013. This money will be made up by a Voluntary Grant Reduction, HUD taking that money backĀ  by reducing the grants we normally would have received by $1.1 Million per year for each of the next three years.

And, $2,431,095 is the amount of funding not spent by the City from 2007-2017 as written off by City Council in several actions taken over the last 15 months since March 2016. This is federal money the City could have spent, but didn’t.

I have charged equally to Doug Palmer and Tony Mack. The funds were spent during their tenure, and I don’t have any document in my possession that breaks down the sources of that $3.3 Mill more precisely by year. So, I’m splitting that amount in two.

The $2.4 Million in funds written off as not-spent is harder to score, admittedly. Most of these grant funds predate the Jackson “Team’s” time on the field, true. And a lot of these funds were old enough, from prior fiscal years, that they probably couldn’t have been used by this Administration during its term last three years, anyway. The effort to untangle a decade’s worth of administrative chaos in Trenton’s management of this program was considerable.

And yet. These monies sat on the City’s books for all of the three years of the current Administration, not used, and not otherwise put into play by the City, to possibly – for instance – offset the other, disallowed expenses. For the better part of three full years, during which time the City’s relationship with HUD became much more fraught and frustrating (from at least HUD’s perspective), the only action the City felt it could take was to write off nearly Two and a Half Million Dollars in unused Federal funds. In fifteen separate Council actions, about one a month, since March 2016.

And all of those actions, while on publicly announced City Council dockets, taken as secretively as possible, with no further information or explanation given in the dockets or accompanying Resolutions. With the individual amounts of monies written off small enough to be lost in the background noise of other routine Council business. Which was likely the intended result for the way these write-offs were handled.

And that is why I have charged $2,431,095 to the Earned Run Average of Eric Jackson. He may not have put that amount of money into the game, but in the secretive way he and his Administration handled this entire HUD/CDBG matter for the last three years, he certainly put that money in scoring position. And City Council allowed it to come all the way home, all of fifteen times.

The next item to consider doesn’t fall in the category of taxpayer funds wasted, but rather funds the City could have earned, but didn’t. The term for this is an “opportunity cost,” and in business terms it’s just as real as money in the bank. Except, it never shows up in the bank. Put another way, it’s a sure thing that you screwed up.

In this case, it’s $3.5 Million that the City could have earned over the last three years in Vacant Property Registration Fees. According to a study conducted by the Trenton Council of Civic Associations, as reported by Cristina Rojas of the Trenton Times,

In November 2014, City Council approved an ordinance to create a vacant property registry, part of the administration’s five-point plan aimed at reducing the some 6,000 vacant buildings and lots in the city… [R]records obtained by the Trenton Council of Civic Associations show that many vacant properties have gone unregistered and the city has not followed up. A citywide property survey conducted by [[the local coty Non-Profit organization] Isles in 2014 found there were 3,566 vacant buildings, 339 of which were owned by the city. In 2015, owners of 1,305 vacant properties, or 40 percent, had registered, TCCA’s report says. A year later, that number dropped to 1,175 and, by March of this year, only 370 had registered.

The city collected $876,551 in registration fees over the past three years, but TCCA estimates that had all vacant properties been registered each year, the city could have collected $4.4 million. There are also penalties if an owner fails to register or follows the rules, but the records provided to TCCA suggest that the city has not issued any fines.

The difference between the money the city actually raised in registration fees – $876,551 – and the amount it could have – $4.4 Million – is the opportunity cost. This is Three and a Half Million Dollars that could have been earned from an ordinance and a program that was the Jackson Administration’s own idea!!

Ouch. That sure doesn’t look good for the Jacksons. Compared to the HUD problems which, as I’ve stated before, largely predate the current Administration, this Vacant Property Ordinance and its lax enforcement was an early and high priority of this Administration.

And, they blew it.

In her Times article, Ms. Rojas features quotes by the City’s Director of Housing and Economic Development Diana Rogers defending the City’s record in this matter. But I am not going to bother including any quotes here. You can read them in the Times, if you haven’t yet satisfied your Minimum Recommended Daily Requirement of bullshit today.

So, it’s been almost six months since the last calculation of Mr. Jackson’s ERA. At that point, his average was a poor 8.93, a stat that would surely earn a trip for Mr. Jackson back to the minor leagues, if not into retirement. With another six months now passed, what have these recent charges done to our Starters?

Read it and weep.

trenton era 7-4-17Mayors Palmer and Mack have seen their averages creep up a bit, to 8.95 and 5.38, respectively, when charging off their share of the mis-spent HUD money.

But Eric Jackson jumped into double-digit territory, from his previous dismal 8.93 to a truly Hall-0f-Shame-eligible 15.38!!

With another 12 months in this guy’s term, you have to wonder if there is anything he can do to bring that number down, or whether he (and we) are doomed to to see nothing but more mayoral hits, runs, and errors continually charged to his record.

All kidding aside, we are three years in to the Jackson Administration. As the City prepared for its next round of municipal elections next May, it is impossible to ignore that Eric Jackson’s record of these three years is pathetic. Millions of dollars wasted, from:

  • payroll theft;
  • hiring of unqualified vendors;
  • mismanaging other vendors;
  • screwing up the relationship between the City and one of its main federal funders;
  • tens of thousands of certifiably unauthorized administrative spending;
  • and now this, fucking up one of its own cherished redevelopment initiatives.

Not much of a record to run on, I’d say. One that’s to impossible to defend. That’s the Eric Jackson record.

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