Debacle? Plenty to Share

In further development of a story that the outgoing mayor of Trenton has called a “debacle,” Isaac Avilucea at The Trentonian wrote a followup story that was posted online last night. In this piece, Mr. Avilucea linked to a July 24, 2017 letter sent to municipalities statewide by  Richard Hammer, then Commissioner of the NJ Department of Transportation. This letter solicited communities statewide to submit applications for local infrastructure projects to be funded through the State’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Trenton never submitted an application, and lost out on a participating in a program that is sending $3.7 Million Dollars to every other community in Mercer County.

As we all know, Mayor Jackson and his spokesperson Michael Huckabee Walker have attempted to pin the blame for missing this funding deadline on a single, still-unidentified City Employee who was supposed to have received the July 24 letter, and done nothing about it.

Mayor Jackson told a News12 New Jersey reporter that his Public Works Director Merkle Cherry “told me the employee would face immediate disciplinary consequences for that oversight and what I call a ‘debacle.’”

Huckabee Walker, when asked additional questions by Avilucea about the matter, “called the funding gaffe a ‘black and white’ issue, insisting officials are working to ‘clean up this employee’s mess. I don’t understand why you’re trying to make this situation more complicated than it is.’”

Well, Mr. Walker, the situation IS more complicated than it is.

Take a look at a section of City Council’s Docket for its September 7, 2017 meeting. Take a look at Item # 1o, in the “Communications and Petitions” section, Page 3 (and thanks to Jim Carlucci who suggested looking at Council Dockets from the summer):

Council 9-7-17

Well! How about that!

The July letter, sent by the Transportation Department to the Mayor and the city’s “Municipal Engineer” (not a title we actually have in Trenton, which may explain, perhaps, how it got mislaid), was also copied to the Municipal Clerk.

The Clerk, in turn, included it on the formal Docket of a City Council meeting in September, for all the Council members to see and discuss and deliberate. Did any of the Members, who by the way include two mayoral candidates and a new State Assembly member, make any note or mention about this Letter and the funding it discussed?

Did anyone in the City who was on the Distribution List (excerpted below) for the Council docket see and make note of this State Letter?

Docket distro list

I don’t know. I missed it, I can say that for sure. Apart from this email Distribution list, there are many other City officials – including the Mayor, Business Administrator, Chief of Staff, and all Department Heads – who regularly see these dockets. Several of the people who received this docket, by whatever means, may have even attended the Council meetings where this letter may have been discussed.

The outgoing Mayor actually had two chances to see this letter: because it was sent to him, and because he sees the Council Docket.

Did any of these people notice this letter? Did any of them discuss it with any colleagues? Did anyone recognize this letter as talking about a funding program that more or less happens every year, and that responding to this with a proposal is something that is regularly done?

Did ANYONE take ownership of this, after seeing this on the Council’s Docket?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know who in the City would know the answers to these questions.

But, just to throw a suggestion out there, wouldn’t you think that someone would want to find out the answers to these questions before scapegoating one lone employee and having him “face immediate disciplinary consequences?”

Perhaps this employee does have some responsibility for this failure, this “debacle.” Perhaps, and he or she should be held accountable for his or her role. Fair enough.

However, based on ALL the many different people who had a chance to see this letter from the State, and among ALL those with responsibility for the City’s project grants and financing, I will bet you that there are more than this one single scapegoated employee who need to be held accountable. Blame for this “debacle?” Plenty to go around!

Starting at the very top and working down from there.

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