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The Single TWW Bid is In!

As discussed at the beginning of the month, the City of Trenton issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for “The Provision of the Operation and Administration Services for the Trenton Water System.” The existence of this RFP was tipped to me by long-time reader and retired water engineer William Pyle.

I thank Mr. Pyle again for letting me know that, as scheduled, received proposals were opened this week, on Tuesday. There was one single respondent.

We have an answer to at least one question posed on May 3, that of wondering how a new vendor would be working alongside the two other engineering firms, Wade Trim and Banc3 Engineering, under emergency contract to the City since the beginning of the year to calm the very troubled waters of the city-owned Trenton Water Works (TWW), providing clean water to a quarter-million customers in the City and throughout Mercer County.

It turns out that the only firm to submit a proposal was… Wade Trim Engineering! A summary of the proposal can be found at the City’s website, at the provided link. Here’s a snapshot of the front page.

wadetrim 5-22-18This graphic is pretty small. In case you can’t make out the numbers, this proposal carries a 3-year price tag of $14,380,449. If additional one-year options are picked up, the total cost to the City will be $24,453,154 for five years.

That’s a lot of money.

Under this contract, Wade Trim would hire new personnel or assign current employees to fill 20 positions throughout the Water Works.

wadetrim 2 5-22-18

There’s not a whole lot more that can be said about this proposal at this point, other than to repeat what I wrote on May 9, when this RFP first came to light:

All of this activity – the 2 current contractors, the proposed new one, new initiatives such as this “Lead Service Line Replacement Program” – seem to be all parts of a grand new plan for the Trenton Water Works.

Does this current, outgoing Administration have any intention of letting the public – the residents and ratepayers of the City of Trenton as well as the tens of thousands of customers in the rest of the County – in on what exactly this plan is?

All of us, as well as those who are seeking to be the city’s next Mayor and Councilmembers, would appreciate – and frankly deserve, after the last several chaotic years – to know what the plan is before it is set in stone.

For the next 2 1/2  weeks, in the lead-up to Trenton’s runoff election, whenever you run into a candidate for Mayor or Council, incumbent or challenger, be sure to ask them what the heck is going on at the Trenton Water Works. There’s an awful lot of activity and money in the works right now, with several long-term contractual commitments being pursued.

It would be nice for citizens and customers to know what it all means!

Desperately Seeking Equivalence?

Someone out there must be getting hot and bothered, as the June 12 mayoral runoff election approaches. A great deal of time and effort is being taken by parties unknown in an attempt to – apparently – smear mayoral candidate and 15th District Assemblyman Reed Gusciora with a guilt-by-association charge.

It’s seriously odd, and from what all I can see so far, it’s a whole lot of nothing.

Listen, I will warn you right now. This is really inside baseball. There’s a lot of hair-splitting, and mountain out of molehill stuff. I record it here only to pass along the circumstances by which this whole thing came up. If you’re not interested, or if it strikes you as petty, fine. Leave it. Move on with your day. You’ve got better things to do.

Just don’t whine, ok?

So, yesterday I come home to a plain white envelope, mailed to me without return address, postmarked (as far as I can tell) May 21 in Titusville NJ (I think). Another Trenton resident had previously texted me to ask whether I’d gotten a similar package. So there are at least two out there, for what that’s worth.  No name, no return address.

Inside is a cover page labeled “Reed Gusciora -Mayoral Campaign contributions and associations.” That’s all it says. Otherwise the package consists of excerpts from recent campaign finance reports filed with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) over the last several weeks; primarily reports filed on April 9 and April 27. The ELEC excerpts highlight some individual transactions, and include additional material.

This is the weird part: the additional material include State Business Registration listings, news clippings, court filings, and pictures of properties in Trenton – seemingly selected for their advanced condition of decay – allegedly owned by companies supposedly owned by some of these contributors.

That’s it.

There’s no narrative, no explanation, just a lot of individual dots left to be connected. There is an organization-chart-style “cheat sheet” graphic intending to show relationships among several individuals and companies, which I suppose is intended to tie the whole thing together, Big Lebowski-style.

There’s not a lot of connection to be made, frankly.

OK, the first set of dots laid out for me regards a $2500 donation on the report filed on April 27, from an entity labeled as “Province Line Ventures, Inc.”

province line 1

My Anonymous Correspondent (going forward, “My AC”) was no doubt pleased to call that out as a mistake or violation. I was provided by a state Business certificate showing that Province Line Ventures is a LLC, a Limited Liability Company, not a Corporation. The contribution should have been recorded and reported to ELEC under the name of the owner (properly, “member”) of the LLC.

province line 2

My AC has that one correct! That contribution, received three days before the report was filed, and fourteen days before the election, was improperly recorded, and will need to be revised.

No argument here.

But from this point on, My AC provides only small beer.

As mentioned above, My AC included a lot of material connecting several contributors to each other using business and family connections. As I mentioned above, some business entities allegedly connected to some of these donors appear to own real estate properties in the City of Trenton.

However, the named individuals highlighted on the ELEC excerpts I received in the mail are all associated with contributions at or under the legal limit set by state Election Law. They are reported properly, from what I can see, and reported on a timely basis. Other than the one business entity listed above, none of the other businesses listed on the Big Lebowski cheat sheet appear anywhere on Mr. Gusciora’s reports.

So, in other words, BFD?

I don’t want to put words into the mouth of My Anonymous Correspondent, but I don’t really don’t see anything egregious out of all this. Are there accusations to be made about the businesses and holdings of some of these individuals? If so, I don’t see it, and I don’t hear it. I won’t make any on my own.

Is there a suggestion that somehow a candidate is required to vet the background of anyone presenting a check at a fundraising event? I’m not hearing it. If there is a longer history somewhere here that puts the present  one-off records of this current campaign in some relevant context, it’s not here.

Is there some problem with family members making individual contributions to the same candidate? As long as the individual donors stay under the maximum contribution limit, and are properly identified in the appropriate timeframe, I say Go At It!

I will not identify any of these persons or businesses any further, because frankly I don’t see any problems by their contributions. Reed Gusciora’s ELEC reporting seems pretty buttoned-up to me, with the notable exception of that one mis-recorded corporate contribution. Notable only because it’s the only major problem surfaced by this mailing.

What I do see in this anonymous white envelope is an attempt by someone – I won’t speculate on who that might be – who feels that my notes on campaign finance reporting discrepancies and failures might be rather too one-sided or biased against one candidate and in favor of another.

The fact is that both of the remaining candidates in our election threaten the status quo that’s existed in this City for far too long. There are too many people defending too little turf to feel comfortable with either Mr. Perez or Mr. Gusciora coming into office in July. There are several folks who might feel that wounding both with mud in the run-up to June 12 might neutralize them somewhat coming into office.

Let me say this again. I will not speculate who My Anonymous Correspondent is. I will not accuse the Perez campaign. I will not accuse any other failed mayoral campaign or supporter. Someone has a grudge, and took the time and effort to take it this far.

Both candidates have faulty and misleading ELEC reporting, so the two sides should sort of cancel each other out? Is that what My Anonymous Correspondent intended?

There’s no equivalence I see here.

This anonymous package is an attempt to smear a candidate by association with individuals whose only links to the candidate that can be seen are legal and timely contributions. That’s all. Period.

Nothing to see. Let’s move along.

Now, on the other hand, if you want to see what a more serious allegation looks like, here’s some other material I was sent some weeks ago. I haven’t published it before, because I could not verify it. Because I couldn’t verify it, I couldn’t stand behind it. But it’s worth printing here, today, to show what a substantive charge really looks like. So to avoid the issue of credibility, I’ve scrubbed these sheets of all individual identifying information, since none of this is about the individuals. These are included here today as an example of what would be good, credible evidence of campaign finance reporting problems.

brushed perez funds1 5-3-18brushed perez funds2 5-3-18brushed perez funding 3 5-3-18

brushed perez funding 4 5-3- 18

What these have been described to me as being are screenshots of a contribution log recorded for an election fundraising event supporting  the 2014 mayoral campaign of Paul Perez. An event with donations recorded both by Check and by Cash.

None of which donations and donors were reported to NJ ELEC before, during or after the 2014 campaign.

Do you now see the difference between the treatments of the the 2018 Reed Gusciora and the 2014 Paul Perez campaigns?

The charges made by My Anonymous Correspondent apparently intend to tarnish this year’s candidate by connecting him – by nothing more than innuendo – to legal, timely contributions made by individuals whose non-campaign-related lives and businesses that may be less than sterling. So what? The candidate and his campaign have Nothing. To. Do. With. That.

Nothing.

The 2014 material alleges that the candidate and his campaign failed to disclose to the State – at least concerning  this one campaign event – individual donations made by check and cash. During a campaign which has claimed for the last four years not to have received ANY cash donations.

This behavior, as compared to that of the 2018 candidate discussed above, continues to be the responsibility of the Candidate – as it has been for the last four years.

You see? These two situations are not remotely similar.

If My Anonymous Correspondent – are you out there? – feels that I didn’t understand what he or she intended to tell me about the Reed Gusciora campaign, I am still open to hearing an argument and seeing the evidence.

You still have unmarked envelopes and stamps?

This Stuff Writes Itself!

UPDATE: As of Monday, 5/21, there will be at least one Town Hall/Debate event featuring both mayoral finalists.

Sunday, June 3, 2018, 4:30PM, on the Trenton Campus of Mercer County Community College.

More details to come.

Hooray!

NOTE: Below is a piece from May 29, 2014. I’ve had to do a remarkably minimal amount of editing to update this this year. Events don’t usually parallel themselves so closely, but hey! This is Trenton, where if something is worth doing once, it’s worth doing over, and over, and over again.

Even if all we end up doing is picking mistakes.

To make it easy to follow where I’ve made edits, I have put the updated text in Bold Red. Just in case you really can’t follow what I’m saying here.

– # –

Would you be ready to marry someone after a courtship consisting of only a half-dozen speed-dates? I wouldn’t!

Yet, Trenton mayoral candidate Paul Perez is ready to call the caterer and get measured for his tux. He’s done debating opponents for this current election, and thinks he’s done all he has to in order to tie the knot with the City of Trenton.

He apparently believes that there is a quota for such appearances, and that he’s reached it.  His campaign must believe – with some justification, it has to be said – that he is a strong favorite to win the June 12 runoff election against Reed Gusciora, and that at this point any further public debates or forums can only provide opportunities to make public mistakes. Better that he limits any further appearances to small papal-type audiences, where he can tailor his message to each person he speaks with, and can be less concerned with communicating a consistent and coherent public message that he would be held accountable for.

His campaign strategy seems to be geared toward mistake avoidance, just planning on coasting from now until June 12. This lack of activity extends to his campaign website and Twitter feed. The candidate has messaged only once since May 8’s election,  only to announce his first place finish on May 8. This seems to me to be a “Rose Garden strategy” for someone who isn’t even an incumbent!

To me, Mr. Perez misses two important considerations. First, his finishing first on May 8, a result that he apparently felt entitled him to state on the record that “Reed has no business standing in my way right now.  He should just go back to the House (sic) and pass some bills that will help our city.”

He neglects to note that his finish in this election came from a total turnout of only 22.80% of the city’s registered voters, a more miserable number than even 2014’s small voter turnout of only 26.93% of registered Trenton voters. The runoff is likely to bring out a number smaller than that.

Mr. Perez is OK with that? In his position I think I’d want to campaign harder and more publicly in order to get the vote out, to engage more voters to show up at the polls. If the June 12 turnout is anything like this month’s, then the new Mayor of Trenton will be elected with only something like 14% or 15% of Trenton’s voters. It will be hard to govern like that. The new guy will find it difficult to claim any kind of mandate, or to be treated seriously by anyone with the State or New Jersey with pitiful election numbers like that. But apparently that’s not bothering Mr. Perez. He’s content with the effort he’s made so far, figuring that should be just enough to get him over the top.

A second relevant factor to look at is the example of how Kathy McBride fared at the mayoral polls in 2014. Her campaign strategy specifically avoided appearances at public candidate forums, because as reported in the Trenton Times, “she also has declined to participate in the forums because the people who will pull the lever for her do not attend candidate forums. She said she is pulling her support from the people in the community who know her personally and have seen her around.” [Emphasis mine - KM] Then again, she has just won an At-Large City Council set this month with very little public campaigning and no town hall appearances. What do we conclude from this? That Trenton’s voters, as fickle and hard to figure as they are, appear to have different, higher standards for their mayoral picks than their Council preferences.

A candidate or his campaign manager shouldn’t have to ponder very long about how well that kind of strategy paid off. McBride’s deliberate choice to avoid candidate forums had to have contributed to her sixth-place finish out of the field of six.  Perez’s stance of disengagement from further public debate is a poor choice to have made.

His new emphasis on individual meetings with voters hearkens back to two other recent examples that I doubt Mr. Perez wants to be associated with, but it is inevitable.

Remember that long ago time in the Fall of 2012 when He Who Will Not Be Named embarked on a series of weekly “Ask the Mayor” sessions? Remember how, after only three of those meetings – held in a City Hall conference room and open to the press and all citizens – abruptly ended after the fourth scheduled event “erupted in protest this morning and drew police involvement after Mack barred the press and unexpectedly required residents with questions to meet with him one-on-one ?”

I’m sure Tony Mack also figured that individual meetings were a better venue to talk about HIS plan to “reduce crime, improve schools, create jobs and restore ethics to City Hall!”

And in 2014, Eric Jackson basically campaigned for the runoff the same way he ended up governing, in seclusion except for occasional photo opportunities. He figured, correctly as it turned out, that he could coast on his May result and hide from the voters. He won, and we were stuck with him for the last four years. History does seem to be repeating itself in Trenton this month.

Are these associations with Kathy McBride and Tony Mack and Eric Jackson the kinds of examples that Mr. Perez really wants for his campaign? I can’t think of any possible reason why, but they are inescapable after this latest announcement.

He really should re-consider his decision to avoid further debates and public joint appearances with Mr. Gusciora.

Come On In, Boys! There's Plenty for Everyone!

The outgoing Eric Jackson Administration and lame-duck City Council are planning on leaving a nice parting gift to the new Mayor and City Council .And they are creating Christmas in May for two dozen of New Jersey’s leading – and politically connected – law firms.

In the published Docket for Thursday’s City Council meeting are no fewer than 25 separate Resolutions that – if all are approved – will provide for contracts with 20 different law firms (some of the lucky firms are looking to get two different contracts) for various legal services to the City in the amount of – wait for it – $1,490,000.

You read that right. Nearly $1.5 Million Dollars in new contracts for work that will be mostly be done well after July 1, the expiration date for this current crowd in City Hall.

Here’s a spreadsheet showing a summary of the Resolutions (which can be read on pages 3-6 of the Docket), the firms involved, the proposed amounts of the contracts, and what they are for. It’s quite the list. Here’s a snapshot:

trenton legal2

Of this amount, $1,350,000 is for new contracts, with $140K added on to several existing city contracts. Considering the significant amount of the amendments, I would say the odds are good that the $1.350 Million worth of new deals will not be the final amounts.

This is a HUGE amount for a city like Trenton to be paying for outside legal services. Let’s try putting this into some context. Every city and town in New Jersey prepares their budgets using the same Chart of Accounts, making it easy to see how much each town budgets for the same items because they all have the same account numbers.

In the Adopted Budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, Trenton budgets  (in Account #20-155-2, for the nerdy among you) $1,464,800 for all Legal Costs other than Salaries and Wages for the in-house Law Department. This, for Trenton, isn’t anything really new. The budget for this line in FY 2014, the year before the Jackson Administration, was $1,302,000. The number for 2010, the last year of Doug Palmer’s Administration, was much lower however, $760,000.

So, we can see that the City’s outside legal bills, while large under Mr. Palmer, really exploded under Tony Mack. And this current Council.

Back to the present. Since, as mentioned above, most of these outside legal services are likely to be actually used during the new Council Mayoral term, the Jackson Administration is either spending all of next year’s Legal budget right now; OR next year’s Budget for Legal will be hugely higher than this year’s.

Either way, whoever the new Mayor and Council will be, they should remember to say “Thank You!” for dumping this on them before they have a chance to settle in to their new offices.

Trenton’s outside Legal costs dwarf those of other New Jersey communities. Next door Hamilton, comparable in population to Trenton, has budgeted in their 2018 Introduced Budget only $107, 050 for their current budget year, which started January 1.

Up Route 1 North, New Brunswick, a city similar to Trenton but with a slightly smaller population of about 57,000 people estimates $371.001.52 for their outside Legal expenses in account #20-155-2. I like the “52 cents” in that budget line; it strikes me as a kind of quaint confidence in their ability to estimate the expenses to the penny. Trenton estimates to the nearest hundred dollars, which I think is also kind of quaint.

From my limited tour of NJ Municipal budgets, I only found Newark with a higher Adopted Budget line, for 2017 (the latest year on the website)- 20-155-2 $2,526,000 This city budgeted $2,526,000 for its Outside Legal, far more than Trenton. However, Newark is the state’s most populous city, with a population more than three times that of Trenton, at about 282,000. That city’s Legal Budget per person (a rough guide, but one that can be calculated apples to apples) comes to around $8.95. For Trenton’s approximate 84,000 residents, that amount is$17.44, almost double per person.

How is it that Trenton spends so much more on legal services than places like Hamilton and New Brunswick, and nearly twice as much per person as the State’s largest city, Newark?

Damned if I know! This has been a long-running problem in Trenton. Every couple of elections, a candidate or two will promise to cut back on the use of outside lawyers, but they never seem to get to do it. During this election, I don’t think I have heard or read of any candidate talking about that. If I am wrong, please correct me!

Are people in and around Trenton more likely to sue this town than others? I don’t know if that’s the case.

Are Trenton’s legal problems inherently that much more complicated than other towns? I kind of doubt it.

So, why does Trenton spend so much money on lawyers?  Part of the answer might be found in looking at who gets these contracts from this City.

Long-time readers of this space will well remember the problems the last two mayoral Administrations had with some of the law firms it hired – or just tried to hire. Who could ever forget Tony Mack’s efforts to bring in the Cooper Levenson firm from Atlantic City, which ended when news broke of an illegal donation made to Mack’s campaign using a local Political Action Committee as the middleman.

Eric Jackson’s young Administration experienced similar complications with its 2015 attempt to award a contract to the firm of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole (remember that firm!). This firm hired the City’s Law Director of the time, David Minchello, as a partner, and he then tried to get his new firm some City business. In the words of a news story of the time, “The news raised concerns about a perceived conflict of interest because the Teaneck firm was awarded an $80,000 contract with the city to provide legal services regarding labor and employment issues at Minchello’s recommendation.”

As  the result of these developments, DeCotiis ended up without a contract, and Minchello left his City job.

This is just a little background on how much Trenton spends on law firms around the state. Now let’s take a brief look at the firms to whom all this contract work goes under this Administration.

One theme throughout this list is the frequent and high-profile connections among several partners of these firms with state and federal Democratic Party players and personalities. Of course, politicians and lawyers often tend to overlap the private and public spheres, all across the country. It just seems sometimes that in New Jersey, the frequent overlap and deep-seated connections have been raised to an art form. Let’s look at a few of the firms who are slated to receive contracts from the City.


One of the name partners at Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor (up for one $50,000 deals), Elnardo Webster, is described on that firm’s website as “active in Democratic politics, most notably serving as Treasurer and Finance Chairman to Senator Cory Booker’s mayoral campaigns.”

If you were thinking that the “Florio” in Florio Perucci Steinhardt & Capelli ($30,000) is THAT Florio, you are correct! James J. Florio, himself, Democratic 49th Governor of this fair state. Another name partner, Lou Capelli, is a Democratic Camden County Freeholder. In a demonstration of political “diversity,” another name partner, Douglas Steinhardt, has been Chair of the Warren County Republican Committee, since 2004, and Chair of the New Jersey State Republican Committee since last fall.  According to the firm’s website, Michael Perucci does not seem to have been involved in state politics for either party, as a practitioner, although he has been a frequent and generous contributor – mostly to Democratic candidates, but some Republicans as well – having donated at least  $27,000 and as much as $47,000 per year for the last half-dozen years to candidates in NJ, Pennsylvania and New York, mostly.

Edward Florio, of the firm of Florio & Kenny ($50,000), doesn’t seem to be related to the former Governor, from what I was able to find out, but he does seem to be another Democratic heavy-hitter. According to his page of the firm’s website, “He has served as coordinating attorney for the John Kerry for President Campaign, the Jon Corzine for Governor Campaign and the Campaign of Robert Menendez for United States Senate. Mr. Florio also was coordinating attorney for the successful campaign for Barack Obama for president of the United States.”

I think you get the idea. I’ll just mention one last law firm for now. Rainone Coughlin Minchello ($175,000) is a relatively new partnership, having formed only at the beginning of 2017. But what they lack in history as a firm, they more than make up with the history and experience of their name partners.

Louis Rainone is described on his webpage as  “one of the most well know and accomplished municipal attorneys in New Jersey. He has served as counsel for many of the state’s largest municipalities, including: Newark, Edison, Trenton, Franklin, Marlboro, Perth Amboy, Clifton, Brick, Piscataway Rahway, Sayreville, Bound Brook and Green Brook… He served as Legislative Assistant to the Chairman of the New Jersey General Assembly Committee on Taxation and in the same capacity to the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee… Mr. Rainone practiced law for 17 years in Middlesex County as the Partner of former Assembly Speaker Alan J. Karcher.” And, one more credential: “Prior to forming the firm Mr. Rainone was the Co Chairman of the Municipal Law Section at DeCotiis FitzPatrick and Cole.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

Hey, you remember them. From that ruckus described above, with then-City Attorney David Minchello!

Well, you won’t be surprised (spoiler alert! He is a name partner in the firm) that David Minchello is also at the Rainone firm, and seems to have finally landed a big contract with the City of Trenton, his old employer, just before his friend Eric Jackson leaves office.

It’s important to mention that the current Speaker of the NJ Assembly, Craig Coughlin-D, is the other name partner. That makes two Speakers who Louis Rainone has partnered with in his career.

This new law firm has been very successful in drumming up business with local NJ communities during its first couple of years. According to Politico.com, the firm has received one $300,000 from Somerset County’s Franklin Township (nearly half its annual budget for outside lawyers) , and one for $250,000 from Marlboro in Monmouth County (almost its entire outside Legal budget) .

Trenton apparently likes to spread the wealth around, with a large number of moderately-priced contracts awarded to several law firms, as in this week’s proposed Resolutions, which seek to hire twenty different law firms. It’s a very different approach, having the City of Trenton figuratively announcing to the state’s Legal Community, including all those politically “connected” firms with which the City might hope to earn some good will, “Come On In, Boys! There’s plenty for Everyone!”

Regarding this week’s proposed Resolutions, it’s very possible that the City does face a number of new situations that may require the kind of specialized legal services offered by many of these firms.

But, 25 of them all at once?? That Resolutions need to be urgently passed and contracts urgently signed before the new Mayor and Council have a chance to look at them?

Something here does not seem right. I think this situation needs attention, and I think this process needs slow the heck down. To be clear, there’s nothing with these proposals that seem on the face of them to be illegal or otherwise improper.

But there are just so many Resolutions! So many law firms! So much money!

Last week, we seem to have elected three new At Large Council members. They might like to attend Thursday’s session to persuade this lame-duck Council to hold off on all of these and give them a chance to review them in July.

There are three Current Council members running for re-election who might want to think if they want to be noted on the record as voting in favor such a big payout to so many “connected” law firms so soon before the runoffs.

And there are two mayoral candidates who may also want to attend Thursday’s session for a quick education on Trenton’s many legal woes.

All the current and potential new officeholders have a personal stake in Thursday’s session. since they – and not the current Administration! – who will have to live and face the consequences of these huge lame-duck proposals on deck this week. Time for them to step up and slow this down.






Un-Worthy

“We must hold our elected leaders to a higher standard and they must demonstrate they are worthy of the voters’ trust.” – Walker Worthy, as quoted in the Trenton Times, April 21, 2014

If we use the “higher standard” that he used against his then-rival, Eric Jackson, then we have no choice but to conclude that Mr. Worthy flunks his own test, and is not deserving of the public’s trust this Tuesday, May 8.

Here’s  piece of last-minute campaign literature produced by the Worthy Mayoral campaign. There’s nothing subtle about it.

worthy2 5-5-2018

worthy1 5-5-2018

One of Us? One of Us? One of Us? One of US?

Sorry for the repetition, but this flyer uses that phrase no fewer than four times, just in case the message wasn’t being communicated strongly enough.

Who exactly is US, Mr. Worthy?

Yankees fans? Libras? Left-handers? Cookies and Cream Ice Cream fans?

If it’s that last choice, then I am definitely with you, Mr. Worthy! You and I, we are US!!!

Somehow, I really don’t actually think that’s what you’re going for here.

In this last. long week of Trenton’s city elections, conventional wisdom (and word on the street says so, for what that’s worth) seems to be that the three leading candidates are Mr. Worthy, Paul Perez and Reed Gusciora.

So, other than Mr. Worthy, that would mean that the other two presumptive contenders are a Hispanic male, and a gay white male.

Hmm, so your use of “Us” might mean…?

Look, I won’t go there. I don’t think I have to.

The use of the phrase “one of us” in politics in this country has a long and ugly past. There’s not a chance in hell that a political operative or consultant worth their salt would not know about it, and its baggage. But the Worthy campaign is using it here, they are using it now.

Mr. Worthy, and his campaign team and consultants, must be worried enough about his prospects on Tuesday that they feel it’s time to play the race card. I think it’s pretty infuriating, and yet one more demonstration that Mr. Worthy has been this year’s candidate least hesitant and quickest to take the low road and fling mud when it suits his purposes. So, I ask the candidate,

Is this what all that donated campaign money is supposed to pay for?

Is this the kind of campaign that your  high-priced consultants planned out for you?

I sure as hell hope not, but that’s what I see with my own two eyes.

This approach may help him eke out some extra votes on Tuesday, perhaps enough to get him in to a runoff.

But to what end? It sure seems to me that playing the race card as obviously as this might earn him electoral success this week, and perhaps even in the runoff next month. Is that worth selling his integrity? Is that worth selling his soul?

Mr. Worthy, if you win the Mayor’s office using this kind of tactic, this kind of appeal, what happens on July 1?

You know, when you have to represent the rest of… us?

Make a New Plan, Stan

Whoever the new Mayor and Council will be, the outgoing officials will be leaving a very large present for them.

rfp 2 5-3-18The City is soliciting proposals for vendors to provide “Operations and Administrative Services” for the troubled Trenton Water Works (TWW). This is in addition to the contracts in place with the Wade Trim and Banc3 engineering firms, who are providing personnel for technical operations with the utility. Unlike those two contracts, which were written for one-year terms, this Request for Proposals (RFP) envisions a three-year term for this proposed deal.

As you can see from the image above, proposals are due to the City by May 22. Conceivably, a contract could be awarded and put in place by the end of June. The new Mayor and new Council may have no input into this contract, and may have to live with it for three years of their terms.

Clearly, much, much more work is desperately needed at the Water Works. Much of the day-to-day chaos at the Filtration Plant and other TWW facilities has died down since the beginning of the year when emergency contracts for Wade and Banc3 were hurriedly written and signed. The pace of water quality incidents and required notification letters has dropped off considerably from last year’s record-setting pace.

Dropped off, but not stopped. This week, some TWW customers in the Mercer County service area received rather alarming letters from the utility. The letter announced a “LEAD SERVICE LINE REPLACEMENT PROGRAM,” and said the following:

tww1 5-3-18The prospect of putting out $2,000 to $5,000 is something that would scare the bejeezus out of any homeowner. It would scare me, although we didn’t get a copy of the letter. Presumably our service line is ok. Presumably.

However, there is some reason to think that not all of the households who received this notification actually have lead service lines. For one thing, I was tipped to this letter, and the RFP, by long-time reader and retired Water engineer William Pyle, who has contributed always useful information about the workings of civil water utilities since this space was started in 2010. He, in turn, found out about the letter, when a homeowner in the TWW service area who received one asked him what he thought. His reply, excerpted:

The letter will lead people to believe that they have lead lined pipes from the water main to the curb and also lead-lined pipes from the curb into their houses. It is unlikely that the utility pipes from the water main to the control valve, also known as a curb valve, are lead lined. There may be some lead-lined pipes but most of the older pipes are probably just unlined galvanized iron pipes. What is likely is that the galvanized pipe is connected to the water main by a piece of lead pipe, which is about 18-24 inches long and is sometimes called a gooseneck.

The property that received this letter does not have a lead-lined pipe from the curb valve to the meter in the house. It has copper. Nevertheless, the occupants wouldn’t necessarily know that and could sign on for replacement of a customer-owned service line that doesn’t need to be replaced. When the City’s contractor attempts to replace the line, hopefully, the contractor would recognize this and the contractor would not replace the line. However, the contractor would then be looking for someone to pay for the contractor’s time and lost profit. Or, the contractor would just replace the line and the homeowner wouldn’t know that it wasn’t necessary.

Although each homeowner’s situation may be different, anyone who received the letter should be concerned, but might not want to shell out thousands of dollars right away, until more details of this Program are known.

And more trustworthy information, too. Just in case Mr. Pyle’s advice isn’t persuasive enough, maybe this detail might suggest to you that this letter might not be 100% accurate: the version on the City’s website, the one linked above, is an online correction to the one TWW’s customers this week. The mailed copy of the letter listed the wrong area code for the Water Department. Yep, the area code given was 973, NOT 609. Oops.

tww 1 5-2If the folks in the Water Works can’t even get their own phone number right, maybe they do need help with their Operations and Administration. Which brings us back to the RFP.

This is a very ambitious plan proposed by the City. There is a very long list of duties and obligations to be assumed by the successful bidder. The language in Section 5 on Pages 23-24 provides a good summary:

The Successful Responder shall be responsible for the direction of the operation, management, administration, maintenance and repair of the Water System in compliance with all permits and Administrative Consent Orders, in accordance with the Agreement. Meeting the terms of the Administrative Consent Order entered into by the City of Trenton and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on February 5, 2018 shall be the priority.

It’s a very good sign that the City seems to be serious about complying with the terms of this year’s Administrative Consent Order (ACO), considering how it essentially blew off the last couple.

Another thing that the City is quite adamant about in this document is that even though operational and administrative responsibility is to be contracted out and privatized, the City of Trenton’s ownership is not in play. On Page 5,

tww3 5-3-18

To actualize this plan, the RFP envisions several management and operational personnel to be provided by the successful bidder. Below is the list of 20 positions as written on Page 33, in Schedule C. Eleven positions are anticipated to be filed at the very beginning of the contract, with another 9 following on in later weeks and months.

tww2 5-3-18The existence of this RFP raises several questions. Among them:

This new vendor will be in place for at least several months alongside two others, Wade Trim and Banc3. Some of the positions to be filled by this new vendor, such as “Senior Operator” and “Operator” sound they may overlap with similar positions provided by the two existing vendors. How are all of these vendors intended to work together?

Will Wade Trim and Banc3 transition out of TWW at the conclusion of their one-year contracts, or will they continue, alongside this new vendor?

The current contractors appear, as far as it’s publicly known, to be providing its personnel from outside the city. Will this also be the case for these 20 new positions? After all this activity started during the last several months, how many city residents will be employed at the end of this process, compared to its start?

How will the addition of all of these commercial contractors and new personnel affect the utility’s rates and budget?

All of this activity – the 2 current contractors, the proposed new one, new initiatives such as this “Lead Service Line Replacement Program” – seem to be all parts of a grand new plan for the Trenton Water Works.

Does this current, outgoing Administration have any intention of letting the public – the residents and ratepayers of the City of Trenton as well as the tens of thousands of customers in the rest of the County – in on what exactly this plan is?

All of us, as well as those who are seeking to be the city’s next Mayor and Councilmembers, would appreciate – and frankly deserve, after the last several chaotic years – to know what the plan is before it is set in stone.

Right now, the only way we are hearing about these new plans is by unanticipated letters in the mail (with wrong phone numbers!), and being tipped off to important purchasing plans located in the depths of the city’s website.

As of today, it looks like this Administration is being consistent with its behavior over the last four years.

It’s taking care of major city business, and making crucially important contractual deals, while leaving its citizens and customers uninformed.

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

An update to last night’s piece:

Based on assurances from the Paul Perez campaign last night, that the Perez campaign was not responsible for producing or distributing a tasteless graphic yesterday featuring the late Ray Charles “endorsing” Paul Perez’s candidacy for Trenton Mayor, I wrote the following: A representative from Paul Perez’s campaign denied that they had anything to do with both the Ray Charles and the MLK graphics. So, as of this evening, this short-lived graphic seems to be a genuine dirty trick, produced by others to embarrass the Perez campaign.”

Sorry about that. I based my statement yesterday on the denial below from campaign representative Michael Ranallo, which appears to have been a false statement

mr 5-2-18That was before another reader sent me the following screengrabs, made before the original posts were deleted from Facebook.  Note: I will not post the full original graphic, so the image below has been cut-and-pasted.

rc composite

Michael Torres, you may recall from yesterday, is the Perez supporter who reported the distribution of Walker Worthy campaign literature at the downtown Motor Vehicles office. Bill Kearney is a Perez supporter who has been producing a number of Perezz graphics for social media. Since Mr. Torres asked Mr. Kearney to make the RC graphic public, and he did so, one may assume that Kearney produced this graphic as well.

You will also note that the candidate, Paul Perez, was tagged in the original post.

This is really a small insignificant incident in the grand scale of Trenton’s election season. Except for a few things.

In my post yesterday, I wrote how Reed Gusciora owned up to and took responsibility for a probably more offensive campaign graphic that he told me was produced and distributed by a campaign supporter without his or his campaign staff’s knowledge. Subsequent to my post, by the way, Mr. Gusciora wrote a note on Facebook explaining the incident in greater detail.

I also wrote how Walker Worthy campaign manager Reese Lennon took responsibility, however awkwardly, for supporters associated with his campaign distributing their literature in the MVC office.

Of the three examples I cited yesterday, two campaigns took responsibility.

Paul Perez’s campaign responded by both deleting the graphic, and intentionally misled me about the role played by the campaign in the creation and distribution of yesterday’s graphic.

Not cool.

Michael Ranallo, responsible for yesterday’s written denial, is a senior campaign worker with whom I have been in contact on other matters, namely regarding the status of the outstanding and problematic campaign finance reports overdue from Mr. Perez’s failed 2014 mayoral campaign. On April 19, he sent me an email assuring me that work had nearly been completed on addressing these open questions. I excerpt that email below (Emphasis mine):

ranallo 4-19

The candidate assured me, both by directly speaking to me and having his lawyer send me a letter, that he took “full responsibility” for both the mess created by his 2014 reports and for the clean-up. Which, as Mr. Ranallo told me several weeks ago, was “complete.”

As of this morning, however, there are no updated, revised reports from 2014 posted to the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) website. Although both Mr. Ranallo and Mr. Perez offered to have me review all of their documents, I told them I looked forward to seeing the updated reports on the ELEC site. Looking through a campaign’s internal reports proves nothing, not until the candidate signs a report and sends it to the State.

Which has not been done.

Which means all of the questions I raised in February – about improper cash expenditures, the total absence of cash receipts, missing in-kind income and/or expenses – are still open. None of them have been answered.

As far as the campaign is concerned, wrote Mr. Ranallo, there’s “no proof” any cash was ever received by the campaign. Any thought that cash may have been received or spent around the many campaign events held around town, is just “speculation.”

We are only six days from the election. Paul Perez’s 2014 campaign reports are as elusive as Donald Trump’s tax returns. We are not likely to see them before the election.

In February, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I trusted Mr. Perez, Mr. Perez’s lawyer, Mr. Ranallo, and the Perez campaign, when they promised to clear up serious campaign finance questions. They haven’t done that. They fooled me once.

Yesterday, about what should really be a silly insignificant matter, relative to much bigger issues, the campaign chose to intentionally mis-state their involvement. On the basis of the written reassurance given me by Mike Ranallo, I wrote that the Perez campaign wasn’t involved. And that does not seem to be the case. They fooled me twice. Shame on me.

The Ray Charles graphic is a throwaway, a stupid idea stupidly executed, laughed over by their creators like junior high school students’ first experiment with Photoshop. Yet they lied about it to me.

The graphic yesterday is not important. That Paul Perez has not answered four-year old campaign finance questions six days before the election, is.

The failure of Donald Trump to release his personal tax returns during of after the 2016 Presidential election was one of many indicators during that election that he was the kind of person that he has proven to be in office: venal, duplicitous, not to be trusted. It was there for all to see. Not enough people believed what they saw. And the man is doing incalculable damage to this country and its democracy.

Paul Perez and his campaign are showing us the same types of indicators of what he may be like in office. It’s there for all Trentonians to see.

Will we believe what we see? We’ll find out May 8.

The Longest, Silliest Week

Yesterday, a couple of graphics were making the rounds on Facebook, appropriating the image of Ray Charles to promote Paul Perez, and a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote Reed Gusciora. The first seemed to appear only online. The second was apparently printed onto handbills that ended up as handbills appearing in several Trenton neighborhoods.

Both are in pretty bad taste, certainly not very funny in the Ray Charles case, and more than a little condescending in the King graphic. Appropriating any historical or cultural figure, especially one who is deceased, to promote a candidacy is to implicitly claim a specific political endorsement where none exists. That’s not ethical at all. It’s not even smart, considering the cheesy way in which these late greats were used.

As of today, one of the graphics has already been pulled down from Facebook, but copies abound. The Internet is forever, folks. Whatever goes up, even for a short time, lives forever.  I won’t post links to either of them.

In fact, the both of these pictures are in such bad taste that it is actually hard to believe – at least that’s what I think – that they were actually the products of the campaigns they supposedly favor. Each of them seem more like trolling efforts by other campaigns seeking to make their candidates look bad, than legitimate graphics commissioned and approved by the campaigns. I reached out to representatives of both the Perez and Gusciora campaigns to ask for clarification.

A representative from Paul Perez’s campaign denied that they had anything to do with both the Ray Charles and the MLK graphics. So, as of this evening, this short-lived graphic seems to be a genuine dirty trick, produced by others to embarrass the Perez campaign.

This afternoon, Reed Gusciora called me. We spoke for a while. Reed told me that neither he nor his campaign commissioned the graphic. Neither did he or the campaign approve it. It is nothing that he ever would approve, and it doesn’t fairly represent the kind of campaign he’s run in the past. That being said, he did say that the flyer with the King graphic was produced by a supporter, working outside of the campaign, who thought he would be doing the campaign a favor by doing this on his own. He regrets that his name is associated with this flyer, and that something like that could be associated with his campaign.

He didn’t name the person who produced it, nor did I ask him to. Mr. Gusciora could have easily disavowed any knowledge of or responsibility for the flyer, but he didn’t. He did say that when he distributes his campaign literature it’s all professionally written and printed, features the “Paid By” language with his name, and he’s sure it’s consistent with the way he’s presented himself as a candidate and public person throughout his career. He regrets that something like this attracts attention at this late stage in the campaign rather than the issues that matter.

On their own, each or both of these graphics on their own likely wouldn’t have seemed so grievous. But since they popped up at the same time as another questionable move, this one made by the Walker Worthy campaign yesterday, it seemed like a sudden rash of suspicious campaign behavior that should be resisted and stopped before it gets any worse.

Yesterday, local resident (and Paul Perez supporter, in the interest of full disclosure) Michael Torres, visiting the downtown state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) office, saw apparent Walker Worthy workers handing out Worthy campaign literature to people, inside the MVS premises. He didn’t take any pictures at the time when the alleged Worthy campaigners were actually distributing the literature before he left, but did go back to record some smartphone video and take some still photographs. This afternoon, another person posted a picture taken at MVS yesterday, adding to the plausibility of this story.

Here is a still photo and screeengrab from Michael Torres’ footage:

dmv1dmv2

The video indeed does indeed show, as the pictures above do, the main customer seating area of the downtown MVC office. And sure enough, there are a number of Worthy circulars featured in the video, on seats, floors, customer service windows, and in a garbage can. Now, NJ State law explicitly prohibits solicitation of campaign contributions anywhere on government property. That’s not what’s alleged here. There may be no state law (that I could find) against distribution of campaign lit at MVC offices, but there are MVC office rules and regulations against any kind of solicitations on their property. Otherwise one would be fighting off hordes of lawyers and insurance companies the whole time you’d be there. Whether or not there are specific legal prohibitions on doing so, it’s generally understood that campaigns

The video looks legit, but since there was no actual distribution of campaign lit seen on camera, it appeared inconclusive as of yesterday that the Worthy campaign was actually responsible for electioneering in a government office.

However, in the evening, a person by the name of Reese Lennon posted a Facebook comment that seemed to admit that it was the campaign that distributed the handbills at MVS. But in the same statement, Mr. Lennon gave what sounded like an “Everyone Does It” excuse.

IMG_3969I followed up on this post with a question.

IMG_3972The rest of the conversation didn’t go that well.

IMG_3970IMG_3974IMG_3975

And, with that, we were done. By this morning, the entire thread containing Mr. Lennon’s and my comments has been removed from Facebook.

This afternoon, I called the Worthy Campaign headquarters. The person answering the phone confirmed that Reese Lennon works for the campaign, with the title of Campaign Manager. That answered my other question, which I did not have to ask. As manager, he certainly can and does speak officially on behalf of the campaign.

The fact that someone associated with the campaign admitted that the MVC visit was indeed made by someone associated with their campaign showed a level of honesty and accountability that was appreciated. It’s too bad that this accountability was negated in the next sentence when he wrote “I’m sure this goes on in every other campaign and in any other election!”

Well, I’ve never been in a Motor Vehicles office, or any other government office, and been given campaign literature! In fact, I found it very unusual. Whatever good will Mr. Lennon earned in his first comments drizzled away as he got more defensive.

Mr. Gusciora was genuinely regretful. He took responsibility for the act of someone using his name and his campaign even though the person  didn’t have his candidate’s knowledge or approval. He owned this incident.

What Mr. Gusciora did not do was blame the incident on “politics.” He didn’t say that “this goes on in every other campaign and in every election!”

This is the last week of Trenton’s every-four-year Silly Season. I do hope that yesterday’s three separate instances of unpleasant campaign stunts are the only ones we see during this next week. Let’s try to stay classy for the rest of this election, and through a likely runoff.

Is that too much to ask?

Ancient History?

Last week, the Trentonian – the only one of the two remaining daily newspapers in town reporting Trenton non-sports news on a regular basis, published a kind of non-story story. The April 18 story by David Foster reported on the news that four City Council candidates – At-Large candidates Elvin Montero and Rachel Cogsville-Lattimer,  East Ward aspirant Taiwanda Terry-Wilson, and South Ward candidate Jenna Kettenburg – had made campaign-to-campaign donations totaling $6600 to a fifth, current Council President and West Ward rep Zachary Chester.

According to Mr. Foster’s article, Councilmember Chester explained that the pooled funds would pay for a Get Out The Vote, as of today unannounced, close to the May 8 election. On the basis of information in the article, there appears to be nothing wrong or suspicious about the funds transfer, or the plans for the event. Mr. Foster found out about the transfers from campaign finance reports submitted by each candidate to the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). It’s public information, properly disclosed.

Mr. Foster quoted South Ward Councilmember George Muschal, against whom Ms. Kettenburg is running, voicing his suspicions that there were some unspecified ulterior motives at work. “There has to be something in it for the people involved in it. You don’t have to have blinders to see what they’re gonna do if they get on. It’s a bad start,” he said to Mr. Foster. However, what that “something” could be remained unspoken by Muschal, and unsuggested by Foster. The rest of the April 18 article reported on the contents of the ELEC reports of all five candidates, discussing amounts raised and naming some of their donors.

So, as I said above, pretty much a non-story.

However, on the day the article was released, there was some chatter on social media that seemed to indicate that many people in Trenton have either never heard, or have forgotten, a story involving Mr. Chester going back to 2012. When he ran for re-election in 2014, no one mentioned it, not even his opponent. Perhaps it wasn’t relevant, then. Perhaps voters considered it ancient history.

Maybe it is. I think, though, that for this election there is legitimate reason to discuss it.

I speak of the crime of embezzlement committed by Mr. Chester’s now ex-wife.  In 2012 Alysia Welch-Chester was the Chair of the Trenton Democratic Committee. Mr. Chester served on the Committee as an elected District Representative from the Hiltonia neighborhood, along with his wife. At the time I was the parliamentarian for the committee. In June of that year, other members of the committee discovered that a sizeable amount of money was missing from their bank account. Available evidence pointed to Ms. Chester.

The following month, in the words of a newspaper account of the time, Ms. Chester “agreed to enter a pretrial intervention program on Thursday after being charged with stealing from the political organization.” The terms of that program were 200 hours of community service, maintenance of fulltime employment, 6 months of supervision, and payment of court fees, per the Trenton Times article by Jenna Pizzi. As part of that deal, “Welch-Chester paid $6,249 in restitution to the committee yesterday and turned over keys to the committee’s mailbox and storage unit.”

As one could imagine, this incident rattled the Trenton Democratic Committee. A new slate of officers was elected. I agreed to serve as Treasurer to help get the finances of the organization back in order. I agreed to do so on a forward basis only. The books and records for the previous several years were frankly a mess. The Committee hadn’t filed a quarterly ELEC report since I had filed the last one from a previous stint as Treasurer in 2007.I served as Treasurer from July 2012 until October 2013, resigning due to work commitments. In that time, I moved the Committee’s financial records to Quickbooks, and filed the quarterly reports for that period, up until the period ending September 2013.

I mention this in order to provide some context to these following statements:

I have seen, in detail, all the items and their amounts, that Ms. Welch-Chester stole from the Trenton Democratic Committee. I could not believe, and still cannot believe, that her behavior could have gone on as long as it did without the knowledge, or at best suspicion, of her husband, Councilmember Zac Chester. The only two explanations that I could come up with then, and now, is that: 1) he knew what she was doing, and stayed silent. Or, 2) he remained entirely oblivious to what was being done by his wife.

To be clear, I never thought that Mr. Chester was involved in Mrs. Chester’s embezzlement, then or now. But, after excluding that possibility, the remaining two alternative scenarios surely didn’t make him look good.

In the Spring of 2014, as I mentioned above, Mr. Chester ran for and won his re-election, and was elected to serve as Council President for the next four years. The record of his wife as Municipal Democratic Chair, and the circumstances of her departure never came up during that election. It truly was ancient history to voters, even though the events were barely two years old.

Why bring this up now?

Because in early 2016, it was announced that the City of Trenton’s payroll services vendor had embezzled nearly $5 Million Dollars in taxpayer money, over a period of at least several months over the previous year. And Zachary Chester’s actions – and inactions – before, during, and after this theft are eerily similar to his actions and inactions during the time of his wife’s embezzlement.

During the months in early 2016 as this theft developed as a huge local news story, City officials – including Mr. Chester – shared very little information about the circumstances of the theft. What meager information they did share was incomplete and often conflicted with facts as revealed by the publicly available evidence. As Chief Executive of the City of Trenton, Mayor Eric Jackson was the public face of the Administration’s dissembling. And, as President of City Council, Zachary Chester participated in what amounted to a cover-up.

There are relatively few overt and public statements made by Mr. Chester that attest to this. On February 19, 2016, feigning ignorance, he told Philadelphia TV WPVI reporter Nora Muchanic, ““Not knowing what the amount is, whether it’s a million (dollars), $800,000, that’s a million or $800,000 that we don’t have in our budget.” That explanation lost all credibility when it later came out that on that very same day the City filed a lawsuit in federal court against the payroll vendor and its owner. That complaint clearly stated that the loss to the city wasn’t “a million or $800,000″ but closer to five million dollars. That complaint could not been filed without the prior knowledge and approval of the Mayor and Council, over which Chester presided.

Mr. Chester’s on-camera comment can only have been meant to dissemble and dismiss the crime as far less significant than it was, and less significant than he surely knew it was.

For several months before the discovery of the theft, there were multiple warnings and notices sent by both the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and NJ State Taxation to the City, which were summarized in the Trenton Times by reporter Cristina Rojas, based on documents released by the City to me in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. During the same month that the City received no fewer than five urgent notices from the IRS, Chester’s Council actually renewed the contract with the payroll service.

Remember, City Council is supposed to review all check registers of payments made by the City, as well as review important correspondence to the City. Did Council fail in their obligations to oversee the Administration’s operations during the time it was being robbed blind? We don’t know, but from all available evidence, it doesn’t look good.

In the period after the discovery of the theft, basically from January 2016 to the present time, we have seen nothing public from the City to indicate that whatever failures led to the theft of $5 Million Dollars, they were being fixed. The Mayor made no announcements, and City Council convened no hearings or investigations to show that action was being taken. A year later, Mayor Jackson made some vague statements about administrative and procedural changes.

But as of today, there still has been No News or information about how the City intended to prevent future similar robberies. It’s as if this incident is Ancient History, even though it’s only been two years since the Great Payroll Heist.

As for Mr, Chester’s role as President of City Council – before, during, and after the Great Heist – I can only think of two likely scenarios: 1) he knew, or had an idea, that something was wonky with the City’s tax payments, based on hearing about or seeing any of the tax warning notices; but did nothing about it. Or, 2) he remained entirely oblivious to what was going on for months.

Again, just as I have never had any reason to believe that Mr. Chester or any other city official or employee was involved in the payroll tax embezzlement, the other two remaining scenarios do not make him look good. At all.

And that’s why I now bring up the crime committed by his ex-wife six years ago. Because his behavior in his personal life in 2012 – likely either a knowing detachment, or innocent obliviousness – was the same behavior he exhibited in his public life in 2015 and 2016.

And this behavior is something that Trenton cannot afford for another four years. Zachary Chester does not deserve another term on City Council.

Because all this is NOT Ancient History. It’s Trenton’s future we are talking about.

Cut and Paste

In my last piece posted on Friday, I wrote about a proposed Ordinance #18-24, dealing with residential Yard Waste. This Ordinance, one of three presented to Trenton City Council in order, as explained by Public Works Director Merkle Cherry, to bring the City into compliance with Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations concerning stormwater maintenance. This particular Ordinance was unanimously tabled, removed from consideration to be re-written. The other two passed their First Reading unanimously. Second Reading and final voting for passage is scheduled for May 3.

Perhaps Council might want to send the other two back to be reviewed, in order to make sure they really do what they are intended to do. Because the City’s Law Director Walter Denson, and in this instance Director Cherry, don’t seem to be taking much care in the drafting of the City’s legislation.

In my Friday piece, I wrote this near the end:

A little bit later, at another opportunity for public comment, I added to my comments that the Ordinance was very poorly drafted, drawing their attention to the fact that although the first page and a half of the measure discussed and defined things like “yard waste” and “containers,” in the section that actually defined the actions to be prohibited by the new law (Section III) the language seemed copied from another Ordinance, #18-23. This language prohibited “The spilling, dumping, or disposal of materials other than stormwater.” Not a single word in this section about leaves, yard waste or bags. This was very sloppily drafted and edited not at all.

At the time I said that to Council, I was only speculating that the language in #18-24 seemed a little wonky. I hadn’t yet seen the texts of the other two proposals, and so couldn’t be absolutely sure that there was any mixup.

Yesterday, I received copies of the other two stormwater Ordinances passed by Council. Number 18-21 can be read in its entirety here. Ordinance 18-23 can be seen here.  Below are a few excerpts.

18-23 top18-23 IIIYou will notice that this Ordinance is intended, as stated in the header, to prohibit “the Spilling, Dumping or Disposal of Materials Other Than Stormwater.” That intention is spelled out in Section III, which lays out what this bill actually prohibits.

It has been duly signed by the City’s Chief Lawyer, Walter Denson, who attests that it is “Approved as to Form and Legality.” Director Cherry signature verifies that the “Factual content” of the legislation has been “certified by” him.

Here’s #18-24, the subject of my last piece and of my comments to Council.

ord 18-24 topThis proposal, as described in its header, is to “Establish Requirements for the Proper Handling of Yard Waste.” Here’s the relevant section explaining what will be prohibited by this new Ordinance:

18-24 IIIYes, you read this correctly. As I had suspected last week, the exact same language in Section III of  Ordinance 18-23 was cut and pasted into Section III of #18-24.

The Exact. Same. Language.

Let me briefly describe the probable path these documents took before they were deliberated in Council lat week.

Since, as Merkle Cherry told Council, these laws are intended to bring Trenton into compliance with EPA regulations, those regs probably were sent to the Public Works Department. They may have also been sent to the Law Department, since city compliance would require writing new local laws. The EPA material sent to Trenton probably also included sample language the City could use in its own Ordinances.

After receipt of the EPA requirements by the City, Mr. Cherry and Mr. Denson probably communicated about what would be needed to meet ther Federal regulations. After those communications, the Law Department wrote these three draft Ordinances. Whether or not Mr. Denson wrote the ordinances himself isn’t known. We do, however, see his signature on all three of the bills. Remember, his signature means these bills were “Approved as to Form and Legality.” Public Works Director Cherry added his signature, approving them for “Factual content,” meaning he is saying that these ordinances will do what they are supposed to do.

After both Mr. Denson and Mr. Cherry literally signed off on these bills, they were sent to each member of City Council, probably at the end of last week, in order that they could review them prior to their Conference Session of April 17. In those working sessions, Council openly reviews all of that week’s Docket in detail, reviewing each matter before them and discussing the legislation and any attachments. Directors and other members of the Administration attend these sessions in order top answer whatever questions Council members may have, and offer any additional relevant information that may be needed by Council that might not be contained in the materials sent to them. The Agenda for last Tuesday’s Conference Session indicates that both Mr. Denson and Mr. Cherry were scheduled to attend last Tuesday. I don’t know if they actually did so.

So, after all this: 1) Law Department drafting and review; 2) Public Works review; 3) review by individual Council members prior to their Conference Session; 4) review by all the relevant parties – Council, Denson, and Cherry – at the Conference Session; 5) two full business days following the Conference; and 6) the Council Session of April 19; not one person noticed that the language for one bill was identical to another, that it had been actually copied from one Ordinance to another.

Oops.

I think it’s safe to say that, had public objection to that particular Ordinance not been made by Charlie Leeder and myself, this Ordinance would have approved unanimously along with all the rest, and would be on track to become City Law after May 3.

It’s pretty mind-blowing that something like this can happen. And if it almost happened on this occasion, it’s likely that it’s probably happened before. Who knows what kind of landmines exist in other legislation and other matters proposed by this Administration and approved by this Council that might blow up in the future, causing unknown amounts of mayhem and damage to the City and its residents in the Future?

It’s impossible to know.What we do know is that in this instance – because you can see the proof above -  both this Administration and this Council failed the most basic tests of their jobs. They failed to read what was put before them, when they had more than ample time do so. And they failed to pay attention.

Look, a lot of what’s done by the City, and any City, can be very complex and complicated for laymen to understand. There are a lot of highly technical systems and procedures that a City is involved with. And to codify all these technical systems often means translating them into legalese, having its own arcane and dense language needing translation for Council. I get all that. It can be hard.

But that is not the case here. This is an instance of three bundled Ordinances of no more than 3 or 4 pages long, with fairly uncomplicated definitions and language. An instance when no one in the chain – Not One Person – noticed that one of the three ordinances was a word-for-word cut-and-paste job from one of the others.

Sheesh.

Keep this in mind over the next couple of weeks. The Brain Surgeons on Council who almost let this go by who are running for Re-Election on May 8 are Marge Caldwell Wilson, George Muschal, and Zachary Chester.

And two of these Rocket Scientists – Alex Bethea and Duncan Harrison – are so proud of the work they’ve done on Council, they think they should be Mayor!

As you stand in the Voting Booth on May 8, remember that, in addition to Cutting and Pasting, you can also Delete.