Scapegoating Has Begun


Look. One thing to remember is that, when it comes to actions taken during his Administration of the City of Trenton, Eric Jackson lies.

The outgoing mayor has never truthfully leveled with the public about the many fuck-ups he has presided over, during the last four years. Why should he start telling the truth now?

In the aftermath of the latest “debacle” (good word, Jackson’s using it, it fits) over the City’s failure to secure funding from the NJ Transportation Trust Fund for local infrastructure maintenance because it had never submitted an application, the one-term mayor is apportioning blame for the snafu where he thinks it belongs: on a so-far unnamed lower-echelon City Employee. He didn’t speak to the local press about the matter, he made his accusation where it is sure to be seen statewide: on television to a News12 NJ reporter.

The one-and-done mayor made it clear that neither he nor his Public Director Merkle Cherry were to blame for this embarrassment. How was he so so sure? Because Mr. Cherry had told him so! Jackson told the News12 crew, “My public works director shared with me that it was a staffing oversight. I didn’t take that lightly nor did he … The director told me the employee would face immediate disciplinary consequences for that oversight and what I call a ‘debacle.’”

The average News12 viewer can be excused if they take the mayor’s words at face value, and believe his explanation that it was the fault of a lower-level employee. After all, what do they know about Trenton?

We know better. This incident reminds us pretty strongly of how the outgoing Mayor reacted to what was surely the biggest (we hope there will be none bigger!!) such scandal in his single Administration, the Great Payroll Heist.

Remember how he explained this to the Trenton Times? His story is worth quoting at some length.

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, speaking for the first time about the city’s payroll issues, said officials took immediate action after learning there was a problem.

The city’s payroll company, Innovative Payroll Service, withheld payroll taxes from employees’ paychecks, but never turned them over to the government.

The mayor would not specify the amount of money or whether both state and federal payroll taxes were involved — “We believe it’s just the one agency” — but said he first learned of the unpaid taxes several weeks ago.

“Staff internally reconciling, looking at recordkeeping documents said something looked awry and began to look further and said to their director, ‘Something doesn’t look right here. We’re finding some inconsistencies’ and they kept elevating,” Jackson said Thursday following an event at the Statehouse.

When it was brought to his attention, his administration double-checked to make sure there weren’t any omissions or mistakes made by employees before meeting with representatives from IPS. The city then alerted the authorities.

“We took immediate action to make sure that we knew what we knew and what we thought what was going wrong, so at that point, we went to law enforcement and we put it in their hands,” Jackson said.

We found out very soon after this article that just about everything the Mayor said was bullshit.

The City didn’t “take immediate action.” They ignored months and months of warning notices from the Internal Revenue Service and New Jersey’s Taxation Division. Oh, yeah, that was two agencies, in spite of what Jackson said. And it wasn’t “some inconsistencies,” it was FIVE MILLION DOLLARS of stolen tax deposit money. Most of what we heard from Jackson and other City officials about that scandal was wrong.

There’s another reason I bring this particular matter up in connection with the Trust Fund foul-up. Stay with me a little longer.

A year after The Great Payroll Heist, after staying radio silent about anything to do with this failure of city procedures and policies, I asked Eric Jackson in person what he and his Administration had done to make sure no screw-up like that ever happened again. His answer was mostly focused on improvements in financial controls and changing the procedures of making tax deposits. But he made it clear that throughout his Administration he and his Administration were improving communication and accountability so that workers, managers, department heads and he were communicating better and with more responsibility and accountability.

We see now how well that’s worked out!

In the aftermath of this latest (the last? Can we be brave/foolish enough to hope that is the last time??) foul-up, reading the defense that the soon-to-depart Mayor made to a reporter, we are left with considering a couple of competing scenarios.

One: Even with the improved communications standards introduced after The Great Payroll Heist, a lowly city employee failed to inform his supervisor of deadlines for entry of an application for a state grant we’ve applied for and received annually for many years.

Two: Despite telling me and my neighbors that he’d done so, Mayor Jackson never improved communications and accountability within City Hall, leaving everyone to blithely do their own thing until the next screw-up happened.

Three: The Mayor and/or the Public Works Director had been made aware of the deadline for the grant application – as suggested in yesterday’s Trentonian news piece by Isaac Avilucea linked above – but dropped the ball and are now shifting the blame downward.

If this last scenario is correct, then the letter to the Mayor sent by the State Department of Transportation last summer, as alleged by the unnamed City employee – and mayor-nominated scapegoat – Mr. Avilucea spoke to for his piece, should show up soon. If it, or anything like it exists, someone will surely have it and produce it publicly.

Regardless of which of the above scenarios (or none of them. This may be the result of something entirely different) may explain what really happened with the Trust Fund grant failure, Mr. Jackson’s enthusiasm in his very first, and so far only public comments, for blaming a low-ranking city employee strikes me as awfully petty. Great way to have the backs of your city employees, Mayor! I’m sure they’ll return the favor, if they ever have the chance.

In the meantime, I take Eric Jackson’s statement of outrage with a huge grain of salt. His soon-to-be completed single term in office has been notable for its repeated failures of leadership and communication from the top down. Whether it was The Great Payroll Heist, or the loss of federal HUD funding, or the critical staffing problems at the Trenton Water Works, Eric Jackson has never given us the true and complete story. What he has told us is usually after the fact (and only after revelations appear in print), incomplete, partially or outright wrong, and usually self-serving.

Eric Jackson’s reputation – earned, not given – over his entire term is is that he lies. We have no reason to believe he is telling the truth about this latest failure.

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