The Elephant in the Room

Candidates are making their final pushes and pitches for next Tuesday’s elections in Trenton. Expect more speeches, rallies, caravans and hand-grabbing in the next five (!) days, as each incumbent and challenger will attempt to seal the deal by making their best arguments about their vision and qualifications to tackle the City’s immense set of problems. The Road to Recovery will begin on Tuesday when voters will have a chance to put an “X” beside their name. Here we go.  Unfortunately, given the experience of the last couple of months, not many of the candidates will acknowledge, let alone really address, one of the biggest immediate impediments to any new Trenton Administration. Without even talking about the Elephant in the Room, most (not all) of the candidates are failing to level with Trenton’s voters, and creating expectations and making promises they will not be able to keep.

To illustrate, let me take yesterday’s Opinion piece in the Trenton Times by mayoral candidate Walker Worthy. Mr. Worthy lays out a bold plan for “Immediate Action” for his first 100 days as Trenton’s new mayor. Among his promises: “appoint a cabinet of qualified, dynamic diverse and dedicated professionals who understand the challenges facing Trenton as well as the necessary solutions. Each of my cabinet members will abide by the highest standards of performance and ethics.”

The trouble is, it may not even be possible to get rid of the current set of Department Heads and Directors in 100 days, let alone “appoint a new set of qualified, dynamic, diverse and dedicated professionals.”

In the new (and as of yet, unsigned) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)between the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the City of Trenton for this year’s Transitional Aid Award, the State insists that any termination of a senior city appointee or employee – even those whose terms are up by City Ordinance because of the end of the term of the preceding Administration – will require State DCA approval, which might not be given until a suitable (to DCA, that is) replacement can be found.

That means that Mr. Worthy will probably not be able to put his stamp on city management in his first 100 days.

That means that “Acting” Mayor George Muschal’s current lawsuit against City Council and all his current directors is even more ridiculous and frivolous than first thought, and that is saying something!! Rather than argue over the meaning of the phrase “unexpired term” or how much power an “Acting” appointed Mayor has, the real argument should be over how Trenton’s home rule is slipping away to a State agency. And slipping away to a state agency that in the last few years has demonstrated that it is too under-funded, under-staffed, over-worked, distracted, and generally ill-prepared to take on this kind of responsibility without accountability.

DCA’s prior experience in personnel recruitment and oversight during the Mack Administration saddled us with several of the problems that the City is still dealing with, including Business Administrator Sam Hutchinson and Fire Director Qareeb Bashir. According to the terms of the MOU – which signed or not pretty much represent the terms and conditions of the new relationship between the City and State, unless they are re-negotiated – a new Mayor Worthy, or any other, will have to deal with a BA Hutchinson and Director Bashir, and all the rest, for a good part of their new term.

This means that as of July 1, a new mayoral administration will be saddled with a whole team of department heads and directors not of their choosing. City agencies and departments will have to work under managers who are lame ducks, not appointed by the new mayor, and who cannot be dislodged from their desks until new replacements can be recruited, vetted and hired. No one knows how long that will take. And when new people are finally hired and installed, their loyalties may not lie with the Mayor who hired them or the Council who confirmed them, but with the state Agency who vetted them for this job, and who they may rely upon for their next one.

Mr. Worthy did not acknowledge any of this reality in his Times Op-Ed. He hardly mentions the role of the State in the City’s governance anywhere in his platform on his website at all, other than to call for a renegotiation with the State to restore a permanent dependable Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from NJ in recognition of its huge physical and  tax-free presence within our borders.

Eric Jackson fails to acknowledge the role of the state, other than a few nods to its role in providing public safety resources and funding to supplement the city’s Police. Paul Perez talks extensively about his future hiring and recruitment policies on his website, but fails to mention the folks on the other end of State Street.

Jim Golden is the only mayoral candidate to acknowledge in his platform the need to negotiate the city away from Transitional Aid, by developing a plan for permanent and stable funding from the State based on specifically-designated funding sources. This is good. But he, along with the other gentlemen discussed above, fails to acknowledge the drag on his new administration that DCA will be.

The only candidate to draw attention to the elephant in the room, to his considerable credit, has been Council At-Large Duncan Harrison. He seems to be the only candidate, to my knowledge, who has read the MOU, and who understands the implications to the City of the burden placed on the city’s management and any new Council and Mayor.

As he made clear in comments posted on Facebook and reported to the Trenton Times, he fully understands what this means.

Why is Mr. Harrison the only person talking about this? Every candidate for Mayor, and every other Council candidate, should be talking about how they think the City should be dealing with the State. To me, that relationship has to be addressed on two levels.

The first is the reality of the current situation: how we should deal with an agency that is surely too small, under-staffed  and over-worked to devote the time and quality of care to the affairs of this city that we need. And moreover an agency of a state Administration that is fast becoming overwhelmed with budgetary, ethical and political crises of its own that are distracting it from attending to the desperate needs of citizens of Trenton and other cities like it.

Second is what we want that role to be in the future. What is the proper relationship of the City of Trenton with the State of New Jersey in a post-Transitional Aid future? A future in which the State has, at least for much of the next 20 years, mortgaged away a lot of Trenton’s potential future tax dollars in an attempt to lure commercial development? A future in which the state continues to occupy huge swaths of the city’s real estate without facing up to an obligation to support the city on an ongoing basis.

The State of New Jersey is the elephant in Trenton’s living room that few of the candidates are paying any attention to.

I thank Duncan Harrison for drawing our attention back to it. In the last days of the campaign, I hope you demand that other candidates talk about it as well.


“[Nineteen year-old Cagney] Roberts was shot to death April 9 in the area of Saint Joes and Girard avenues. Two other men were wounded. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said today that shooting remains under investigation and no arrests have been made.

“Roberts did not belong to the Galilee congregation, nor did most of the hundreds of attendees of the service, [Reverend John] Harris said. The reverend wanted Roberts to have a funeral and wanted attendees who did not regularly attend church to have an opportunity hear a sermon, he said.

“‘When I got to the sermon,’ Harris said. ‘Shots rang out.’”

An unselfish act of charity and inclusiveness was paid back in madness and violence that makes no sense yesterday, at Trenton’s Galilee Baptist Church.  In a city that’s become genuinely hard to shock – sadly becoming accustomed to this kind of random violence on street corners, city roads, stores, gas stations and private homes – the shooting that marred a funeral yesterday and sent several people to the emergency room (thankfully there were no deaths) did just that. Shock and dismay flooded around Trenton yesterday.

Much of the shock came from the fact that a sacred (and, before yesterday, what was considered a safe) place was violated. And dismay, from the sad realization that to have thought that any place in a town so plagued with a senseless and endless cycle of violence, retribution and revenge as ours might be still sacred and safe is probably a fool’s hope.

So finally, perhaps, we may come to see that if no place in this town is safe, then we can have no doubt that this is a situation that calls on all of us to respond to make things better. If no place can truly provide Sanctuary, then we can no longer shrink from the obligation to struggle to restore that in our city, to give Mutual Aid.

Days like yesterday show that what Benjamin Franklin said at the outset of another life-and-death struggle – and that certainly is what is out on the streets of Trenton today, a life-and-death struggle – is still true for Citizens today: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

The Trenton Police Department responded splendidly yesterday, it has to be said. Two of the department’s valuable and few patrol units were stationed in the church parking lot, so they were able to react quickly after gunfire broke out. They immediately detained and arrested a driver leaving the scene, who was found to be in possession of a loaded weapon With that quick arrest, investigators got a good head-start in searching for what is alleged to be additional shooters.

The police did a great job in their initial response, so it is sad to say that the city’s political leadership failed in theirs.

There is an ongoing leadership vacuum in Trenton that is a madness of its own. Although, to their credit, Acting Mayor George Muschal and several Council members and candidates either went to Fuld Hospital or made statements of support for the victims, their families, and all the mourners who attended Cagney Roberts’ funeral, on the whole yesterday represented a major failure of our so-called “leaders.”

How did they fail? What should they have done? The best narrative of that is from Darren “Freedom” Green, one of Trenton’s true citizen leaders, who was at the church for the funeral. Here are his words, as posted last night on Facebook, and used with permission:

Let me illustrate how important LEADERSHIP IS. TODAY a small population of Trentonians showed that they have NO morals and anything is possible, they opened fire inside of a church. Now, what should happen now? Don’t people have questions….wouldn’t U like to have an update on all that transpired today…..wouldn’t U like to know what we as a community are going to do with this CRISIS we are in?

Lets examine what should be occurring. The Acting Mayor should have a press conference with the Pol Director and all of his Adm. We as a community should be updated on what occurred today at Galilee. We should be updated on all events, injuries and arrests. We should be updated on where they are at in the investigation, of course without jeopardizing the investigation. Next, the ENTIRE COMMUNITY should be challenged to look at where we are. We are and have been in a CRISIS and we need to work with our Mayor and elected officials to “POLICE” our city. The police officers CANNOT do this alone and we have to communicate and work with them. Now, guess what will happen……NOTHING. Yet, guess what message is sent when NOTHING is said or done, how about that TODAY is the NORM. That its ok for people to violate churches, families, and communities. That its ok to have NO regard or respect for HUMAN LIFE. Ill repeat this again and again PROBLEMS don’t solve themselves, LEADERSHIP, the PEOPLE, and the POLICE must work together to solve them. This next election is either the life or death of our future.

The Baby who was with me today said do me a favor Free, I asked what….he said DONT go back out today. I promised him I wouldn’t. He makes me check in from the house phone…..Love Him.

I can’t find fault with anything that Mr. Green says. Police Director Rivera was on the scene at Galilee Church yesterday as he briefed the media. But yesterday was so shocking and so violent, and so shattering of remaining any illusions that we are making progress in reducing last year’s unprecedented pace of murder and other violence, that the occasion did demand an address to citizens by the Acting Mayor and Council leadership, an address that did not occur. With that failure to do so, Mr. Green feels our leadership sent a message yesterday that, as tragic and shocking as yesterday was, is not as extraordinary as we feel it is, but part of a new normal.

Instead, the Acting Mayor and Acting Council are engaged in a feud of their own, a feud that has proceeded to the point where Acting Mayor Muschal has filed suit against his Council colleagues, a suit that demands that, among other things, requests Judge Mary Jacobson to rule, in the words of the mayor’s brief that “there is no substantive difference between a successor mayor appointed by the City Council and a successor mayor elected by popular vote.” The Acting Mayor wants, among other things, the court to validate his assertion of power regrading personnel moves such as the ones he took last week against the city’s Law and Fire Directors.

It is profoundly sad and unfortunate that things have gotten to this point. It is conceivable that Mr. Muschal may win a narrow ruling that could affirm his formal authority, while doing nothing to earn the political capital  from his Council colleagues and from citizens to back whatever initiatives that may be desirable and possible to take before his regency ends.

I have come to firmly believe that the role of Mr. Muschal should be exactly opposite to the path he has chosen to take. He has acted, and is seeking to act, in ways that intend to make major personnel and policy changes, and leave them as done deeds for his successor in July. His actual ability to do any of this may be very limited after last week’s events, but this does seem to be his intent.

What I think he should be doing is to be more of a calm and steady hand after the chaos of the last four years. In the aftermath of blatant incompetence and criminal corruption, he should quietly and calmly set an example of honesty, integrity and simple (but vastly important) basic competence. As well, he should prominently and quickly come forward in times such as yesterday, to inform the city, reassure its people and express resolve. The very sort of thing that Mr. Green called for last night.

And, for damn sure, he should drop that stupid lawsuit. Today.

Instead, Mr. Muschal and what passes for city leadership are in a pissing match while the city is torn up. Madness.

As I mentioned above, the city is in a leadership vacuum, from the top down. But, like Darren Green, I think that yesterday’s horror shows that we must demand more from our city’s Leaders than what they are giving us. We are a crucial part of this solution. We have to lead our leaders and drag them into action and engagement.

The best way we have before us right now is to select the best possible city leaders we can in next month’s elections, and give them a proper mandate to take the kind of meaningful action that needs to be taken.

A Mayor selected by seven Council members can not possibly have such a mandate.

A Mayor and Council elected by only a quarter of registered voters can not have such a mandate.

It’s hard to see how problems of the sort that plague this city can be solved if only a handful of the people care to take the most basic essential action to engage in seeking solutions;  that is, Vote.

There is a direct line between the poor civic engagement we have demonstrated in this city, to the kind of leadership we have settled for over the last decades as a result of this poor engagement, to the totally inadequate actions taken by this leadership that contribute to sustaining the environment that produces what we saw happen yesterday at Galilee Church. And that will happen again if we don’t work to change things.

Freedom’s right. This next election is a matter of the life or death for this city’s future.

But only if we can put this Madness behind us.

Money Troubles

Trenton’s Municipal election is three weeks from today. It’s the home stretch for candidates to make the case for themselves, as well as kick dirt on their competitors.  Mayoral candidate Walker Worthy kicked a lot of dirt on Eric Jackson yesterday, on the subject of Mr. Jackson’s personal financial history.

Mr. Jackson’s personal history may or may not be relevant, taken on its own. But considered along with a history of difficulties with campaign finance regulations and reporting – which extend to his most recent report filed just last week – I think it is fair to look at all of the existing evidence and ask whether Eric Jackson is the right choice to lead Trenton out of the very, very dark place it has been in for far too long.

Mr. Worthy, currently the Mercer County Deputy Clerk, held a press conference yesterday to reveal a string of personal financial difficulties experienced by Eric Jackson over several years. These include a personal bankruptcy in 1996 discharged in early 1997, and several more recent liens, judgments and foreclosures, the most recent occurring in 2007.

According to the Trenton Times, Mr. Jackson responded with a statement attributing his 1996 bankruptcy to financial difficulties during one of his two divorces. He did not address the more recent occasions, and according to the Times “did not return calls for further comment.”

To raise this kind of history is certainly appropriate and relevant. As we so unhappily saw over the last four years, the considerable smoke surrounding the Felonious Former Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office – that was well known before his 2010 election – proved to be caused by the raging financial fire in the life of Tony Mack that set this entire city ablaze. Had voters paid more attention to these suggestions that all was not well in the personal financial dealings of the candidate four years ago, we might have ended up with someone who might not have been tempted to augment his income through graft and bribery.

I want to be clear I do not accuse Mr. Jackson of any similar impropriety. I simply want to say that his financial history – given our recent history in this town – is extremely relevant. I am disappointed that he failed to voluntarily disclose any of this information himself.

I will leave discussion of his personal finances here. I am more concerned today, as I have been for several months, with Mr. Jackson’s campaign finances, and the slipshod and careless way in which he has complied with campaign financing and disclosure requirements as laid down in New Jersey election law.

Last month I wrote about how Mr. Jackson had never closed out his accounting and reporting for his 2010 mayoral run. And I remarked in February on the story broken by the Trentonian about a donation accepted by Mr. Jackson for his campaign this year from a city contractor, the City’s bond counsel McManimon Scotland, in violation of Trenton’s strict Pay-to-Play campaign financing law. These campaign problems raised the question for me as to whether Mr. Jackson was living up to the high standard he set for himself as the only candidate prepared to run his administration with a “zero tolerance for corruption” and high ethical standards.

To be fair, over the last few weeks, Mr. Jackson and his campaign corrected some of these lapses. On April 1, his campaign filed with the State Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) the financial reports required to close out his 2010 campaign, four years late. And in his most recent report sent to ELEC, the 29-day Pre-Election document filed on April 17, he disclosed that his campaign returned the $850 McManimon Scotland contribution that violated Trenton’s pay-to-play law.

So far, so good. However, Mr. Jackson’s 29-day pre-election report raises new questions of sloppy reporting and, it appears, contributions that exceed legal limits.

ELEC regulations clearly state “A partnership, a limited liability partnership (LLP) or a limited liability company (LLC) may not make contributions as an entity.” Instead, those contributions must be recorded as contributions from the owners, partners of members of those entities. ELEC is quite emphatic about that. The bold print I use above for the quotation from the official Compliance Manual for Candidates is used in the manual.

Considering how emphatic and unambiguous ELEC is about not accepting contributions from these types of entities, it is surprising to see no fewer than four LLC’s listed as contributors on Jackson’s April 17 report. “Brookfield Construction LLC” gave $500. “Capital Telecom LLC” also gave $500. “Bail Bonds of America LLC” donated $1000. And “Woodrose Properties CWA LLC” gave $1000 on 3/25/14.

This last entity, Woodrose, is interesting because it is one of the companies owned by former US Senator turned Trenton property developer Robert G.  Torricelli. Mr. Torricelli is listed as the only member of that LLC, meaning all contributions from that company should be counted as coming from him.

On the same April 17 report, Mr. Torricelli is listed under his own name as having given a $600 donation; this goes along with a 12/24/13 donation of $2000. All together, then, Mr. Torricelli has given Jackson’s campaign $2600 under his own name, and $1000 under his LLC, totaling $3600

Since the maximum donation allowable from any one individual for a campaign is $2600, Mr. Torricelli has exceeded the legal maximum by $1000. Mr. Jackson now has to refund an excess of $1000.

While he is at it, Mr. Jackson should also revise his reports to properly reflect the individual owners of the other LLC’s reported on April 17. Je should probably also look at doing the same for the other LLP’s and LLC’s previously reported in January of this year.

Jackson’s ELEC report of April 17 also shows that his campaign is drawing the interest and support of other entities around the state. Some of these are somewhat curious. The report discloses a contribution of $2600 from the Bridgeton Democratic Organization on February 25. I’ve been the treasurer of the Trenton Democratic Committee and have some familiarity with those finances; a contribution to another county candidate of $250 is a major expense, I can tell you. That a Cumberland County town of barely 25,000 can support a contribution of $2600 to a non-partisan mayoral candidate in Trenton is remarkable.

I tried to find out more information about the Bridgeton Committee, for a clue as to where that money came from, but that committee has not filed an ELEC report of its own since 2008. That report showed total revenue for the entire preceding year of 2007 as $7300. So unless the finances for that committee improved tremendously in the last six years – and we don’t know since the committee has filed no reports in six years – the Jackson donation might represent something like a third of their annual revenue.

Curious, isn’t it?

Also curious is a donation of $8200 made on 2/25/14 from an entity listed as “ICE PAC” in Woodbury NJ. ELEC’s records list that name as a PACronym for an entity called “Initiate Civic Empowerment,” which has been listed as a statewide Democratic-affiliated organization since 2012.  ICE PAC has, like the Bridgeton Democratic Committee, filed no financial reports with ELEC since the earliest year reported, 2012. So I could not find any more information about the source of that donation to Mr. Jackson.

In 2012, ICE PAC did file a form listing its Chair and Treasurer as being associated with a Woodbury law firm having the same address as the PAC. Long, Marmero is a law firm that according to its website does a great deal of ts work in municipal law and local land use. Among its listed clients is the Bridgeton Zoning Board.

South Jersey’s interest in Mr. Jackson’s campaign is certainly remarkable, further evidenced by a $7200 donation from State Senator Stephen Sweeney’s campaign fund. It is matched by interest from North Jersey, too, including a $8200 donation from the Jersey City Democratic Committee, which strikes me as a very sizable donation, the maximum allowable, from a local municipality far away. Its interest in local Trenton affairs is fascinating.

Apart from the Torricelli donation, I don’t see anything that is obviously problematic, although some donations are probably worth a further look. But the Woodrose/Torricelli donations do certainly appear to be over the legal limit, as is the reporting of donations by LLC’s and LLP’s in violation of ELEC rules.

These latest campaign finance slip-ups come right after several weeks during which Mr. Jackson’s campaign has had to play catch-up ball with its reporting lapses for the 2010 campaign as well as this year’s pay-to-play problem. It appears that Jackson’s campaign is not getting its act together as the campaign has proceeded.

When viewed along with the disclosures made by Mr. Worthy about the candidate’s personal financial history, this portrait of Mr. Jackson as perhaps not the most buttoned-up person to take on Trenton’s money troubles has to be seen by voters as very troubling.

We went down this road four years ago with the last guy. Do we really want to do this again?

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

At last night’s meeting, City Council voted to reverse the hasty and administratively improper decision of Trenton’s Acting Mayor George Muschal to terminate the employment of Fire Director Qareeb Bashir. Mr. Bashir was restored to his position for the remainder of the current mayoral term at the end of June.

Most of the Council members present – all except Mr. Muschal – objected to the fashion in which the Acting Mayor cashiered the Fire Director in violation of City Ordinance 2-9. This Ordinance, covering the Removal process of Departmental Directors, specifically directs that termination of a Director can occur no less than 20 days following written notification by the Mayor (or Acting Mayor in this case) to the employee in question and to Council. Mr. Bashir was terminated last Friday, well before 20 days.

Since I believe the Acting Mayor exceeded his authority and his mandate in this matter, Council was entitled to take the action they did last night.

However, not being content with that action, a number of Council members threatened to take retaliatory action on Mr. Muschal for his attempted removal of Bashir, by promising to remove Mr. Muschal from his other official position as City Council President.

I don’t think they have that power, according to City Ordinance.

Tempers were apparently very high at last night’s meeting. According to theTrenton Times account by Bridget Clurkin this morning, “Several council members said they thought the dual roles Muschal is holding gave him too much power and they mentioned that they ‘have the option’ to strip him of his council president responsibilities, saying that the vote may happen at next week’s meeting. ‘There will be a new council president,’ Councilman Zachary Chester said. ‘We won’t have that vote tonight, but we will have that vote.’

Trouble is, Trenton’s Ordinances do not provide any mechanism for removing the Council President.

Here is what the relevant Ordinance, A316-2, Rule IV A, has to say about the process of electing a Council President:

A. Election and Duties. The presiding officer of the Council shall be the President, who shall be elected at the organization meeting.

The “organization meeting” is held at the beginning of Council’s term. The Ordinance is silent on the topic of rotating, or removing the President. This Council elected George Muschal as President at its org meeting in July of 2010. Their practice of rotating the position each year to different members, and their practice of electing a Vice President – a position not authorized by City code – was done in violation of Ordinance.

Similarly, this Council would be in violation of City Ordinance were they to remove Mr. Muschal in advance of the next organization meeting. The only provision our Ordinances allow is the selection of a President pro tem, but only in the specific instance of the absence of the duly-elected President from a particular Council session.

These members of Council demonstrated last night once again that they have learned precious little over their four years in office about the proper exercise of their authority over the City’s affairs and over the administration of their own body.

It is very ironic that Mr. Chester and his colleagues  threaten Mr. Muschal with punishment for his improper exercise of authority – by promising an improper exercise of their own authority.

I’m afraid to say that Council is stuck with Mr. Muschal as their President until July 1.

Just as we are stuck with these sorry-assed excuses for Council members until that same date. I can’t wait.

After watching the “Acting” Mayor this week, and Council last night, I have to ask one more time, “Can’t ANYBODY here play this game?”

So, What Exactly Has Changed in Four Years

“He is no longer an employee. If you are no longer an employee you cannot come in there.”

– “Acting” Mayor George Muschal, on the events of April 16, 2014, during which Trenton Police Officers were called to Trenton Fire Department Headquarters after Fire Director Qareeb Bashir showed up to work after he was terminated from his position.

“It’s a disgrace City Hall’s got to do this and have this publicity right now.Everybody is upset by this. She served in the city all these years very well, and then to turn around and basically trash the lady and drag her out. What did she do so wrong to humiliate her like this?”

Councilman George Muschal, on the events of August 4, 2010, during which Trenton Police Officers and Mercer County Sheriff’s Deputies were called to City Hall after Deputy City Clerk Cordelia Staton was terminated from her position.

“At worst, our temporary mayor gave a criminal order worthy of Vladimir Putin to our police department to have director Bashir escorted from the Trenton Fire Department headquarters.”

– Councilwoman Kathy McBride, on the events of April 16, 2014


– Councilwoman Kathy McBride, on the events of August 4, 2010

So, someone please tell me,  What Exactly has Changed in Four Years?

All's Cheerless, Dark and Deadly

Several years in the past – less than four, although they seem an age ago – I felt something positively Shakespearean in the drama then unfolding in Trenton’s City Hall. Looking at the man who had after years of planning and grasping for the job had finally achieved the office of Mayor, I felt echoes of the title character of the Scottish Play in his administration. Better suited as a candidate than an incumbent, Tony Mackbeth brought a whole cast of almost theatrical villains into office along with him, and proceeded with his four-year long drama. No, “villains” isn’t quite right.  To observe some of them in action, I think the Bard would have cast some of them as Fools.

In any case, the curtain came down on that particular play, as Birnam Wood (in the unlikely form of a State Street parking lot) finally tripped them all up. Exeunt Stage Left.

After Mack’s resignation, I had thought that the intervening months between that event and the inauguration of a new Mayor and Council would have been mostly uneventful. I had thought that Acting Mayor George Muschal would have his hands full with catching up with unopened mail and unpaid bills, and turning over rocks and seeing what scurried away. I had thought things would be mostly calm for a few months, quiet other than whatever entertainment the mayoral and Council campaigns might provide.

Oh, I was wrong.

Instead of a peaceful interregnum, we now have an updated version of “King Lear.” Minus the daughters, of course.

No, really! Listen, all Lear had to to do at the end of his reign was to peacefully arrange for his succession. He might have waited until he died, but being son-less there was no obvious successor. In that event, he could have simply named his eldest daughter, or another, his heir after his death. He could have then carried on as King, secure in the fact that he knew that he would leave his kingdom and his people in peace and prosperity.

Had he done that, of course, there would have been no play.

Instead, he had the bright idea to divide his kingdom up among his daughters, according to how much they would say they loved him.

You can guess how that turned out: “[A]ll’s cheerless, dark, and deadly.
Your eldest daughters have fordone themselves, and desperately are dead.”

Everybody’s dead! Lear, all his daughters, lots of other characters and nodoubt thousands of innocent civilians killed in a war that didn’t have to happen. All because Lear’s plan of succession failed, miserably. The Single Big Thing that Lear had left to do, what many kings before and after him had done without a problem, pass his kingdom along peacefully, he screwed up.

You follow me now?

George Muschal was not elected Mayor by the people of Trenton. He was appointed by his colleagues on Council, in accordance with New Jersey law and Trenton City Ordinance, the “Acting” Mayor. He is in office only to fulfill the remaining weeks in the term that had been Tony Mack’s. He leaves office at Noon on July 1, as Tony Mack surely would have after his one and only term. His main job is to hand off the City, peacefully, to the next guy, hopefully no worse off than when he took it on two months ago.

He has no mandate for drastic action, no legitimacy to enact major changes. And, to be fair, neither does this lame duck City Council.

Apart from several important tasks facing him – as mentioned above, catching up on City business too long ignored by a hapless and distracted Mack, Muschal’s main role should have been as a trusted caretaker, doing as little as possible to rock the ship of state, just sailing steady and back on course. Instead, “Acting” Mayor Muschal has presided over much drama, most of which was avoidable, and a good deal of it of his own making. At the same time he seeks to take on so much in the few weeks he has remaining to him, Muschal has succeeded mostly in tripping over his own feet and burning through whatever good will he had from citizens that accompanied him into office.

We saw last month the farce regarding candidate petitions for office that threatened to postpone the scheduled May election. That snafu was primarily the responsibility of City Clerk Richard Kachmar, who owned up to his error. In the midst of that problem, Mr. Muschal was quite forgiving of Kachmar’s mistake.

Of a situation a special attorney hired (shortly after, fired) to clean up the mess that he characterized as “the first mistake of its kind in state history,” Mr. Muschal called it “a minor setback.”

While several Council members called for the Clerk’s resignation, Kachmar was ok by Muschal: “He owned up to [the petition snafu]. I respect him for saying ‘George, I made a mistake.’”

No harm, no foul for Mr. Muschal, I suppose. Many candidates, and several citizens were upset that Muschal failed to press Kachmar for his resignation, or even to publicly discipline or criticize him.

In fact, the “Acting” Mayor actually had the arrogance of attempting to deflect criticism from the City Clerk, suggesting that certain private citizens had known about the problem with petitions in advance of city officials, and through their failure to notify the city “created a major problem here that should never have been a problem.” Shamefully, the “Acting” Mayor has never apologized or retracted those groundless accusations.

All of this makes his abrupt actions this past Friday to dismiss Law Director Caryl Amana and Fire Director Qareeb Bashir from their positions hard to comprehend.

There may well be matters and issues regarding both department directors that may have led to their dismissal. But Mr. Muschal did not make that case for either of them, and now cites the confidentiality of personnel issues to explain that he will not do so.

There are also proper procedures for terminating the employment of heads of departments, as required both by City and State laws and regulations as well as the additional terms and conditions agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Trenton and the NJ State Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

But Mr. Muschal has failed to observe those as well.

During last night’s Council session, several members objected to the dismissal of Ms. Amana and Mr. Bashir, claiming that Muschal failed to provide advance written notice of his intentions to Council 20 days before the dismissal as provided by City Ordinance.

And DCA rebuked the “Acting” Mayor for violating the terms of the MOU, at least regarding the abrupt dismissal of Ms. Amana. Curiously (at least to me), DCA had no problem with Mr. Bashir’s dismissal. In a letter to the City, DCA Local Government Services Director Thomas Neff stated “The division has no role to play in Director Qareeb Bashir’s termination”, even though they had a lot to do with his hiring back in 2011. To some extent, it sometimes seems that DCA is making up a lot of stuff as they go along. But I digress.

The uproar over Ms. Amana and Mr. Bashir is entirely of George Muschal’s own making. He has only 76 more days in office. As egregious as their perceived faults were, if Mr. Muschal was willing to forgive Kachmar’s sins, then he certainly could have lived with Bashir and Amana until the next mayor – the next duly-elected mayor, that is – takes office and has opportunity to build his or her own Cabinet.

Mr. Muschal claims that he did things by the book. He is quoted in today’s Trentonian as saying, “Following the direction of the law, which I rely on, the information was given to me from law that the firing of Mr. Bashir is legal and to the point,” Muschal reiterated Tuesday before the meeting ended abruptly due to a medical emergency. “I have to rely on the law department to lead me in this direction.”

But, remember.  that is the very same Law Department whose Director he is trying to sack, and who, among recent items, submitted a legal brief on the election snafu that the judge hearing the case found “deficient” and called by the Trentonian “riddled with errors.”  I’d take any counsel and advice from them with a grain of salt.

Muschal has a lot of good instincts, but often exhibits questionable judgment. His charges against private citizens was one recent example. His quite bizarre accusation a few years ago that Tony Mack’s brother Ralphiel drove by his laundromat business in order to photograph the Councilman, uh, well, there’s no other way to say this, “pleasuring” a dog, was another memorable one.

Likewise, some of Muschal’s other announced initiatives would be better left to be considered by the new Council and Administration.  At the beginning of the week, he suggested that he would work to have City Council reverse the 1999 voter referendum that created the position of civilian Fire and Police Directors in favor of restoring Chiefs for both departments, selected from the ranks of those public safety departments. And a few weeks ago, he announced that he is working to re-open the city’s four neighborhood branch libraries, closed since 2010 by order of the previous Administration.

Mr. Muschal would be well advised to avoid both moves, as well as any other similar over-stretch. As much as I would love to see the neighborhood branches re-opened, Mr. Muschal has not presented any financial analysis to show that the City can afford to re-open the branches and keep them in operation. Surely that case has to be first made.

And his plans about the police and fire directors positions sound positively anti-democratic. Even though these positions were created by voter referendum, Muschal wants to bypass the voters and let Council vote to abolish the Director positions. There’s no reason to let the voters decide when council can decide. The council is put there for checks and balances to make the right decision.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

Perhaps. Perhaps if Muschal were a duly-elected Mayor, who ran on a platform to abolish those positions, and if Council members were elected on the same basis – openly discussing the pros and cons of the matter and promising to work for that goal if they are elected – then and only then would I feel comfortable to say that in that case the Mayor and Council had a mandate to take the action themselves.

But Muschal was elected only as the Councilman for the South Ward. He was not elected Mayor. And none of the seven council members, including Mr. Muschal, ran on a platform that promised to restore the Chiefs.

I think the issue is a valid one to discuss. As important as public safety is to this City, and how dire it has become, I think it entirely appropriate to ask candidates what they think of appointed civilian Directors versus uniformed Chiefs. I hope we hear more on the issue.

But Muschal has to drop the matter for now. He is an appointed Mayor. He has no mandate for this kind of action, despite his possession of awesome executive power, on paper. He has enough to do with just running this city without wrenching it in new directions that the citizens of this town will not follow.

Lord knows I believe that this City needs bold action and decisive decisions. But those have to be taken by representatives duly elected by the people to do their specific jobs. Which won’t be done until next month.

I know that must be aggravating to the man. His intentions are good, and dedicated towards improving this City.

But he simply has no moral authority, credibility or mandate to take any major action in the short time remaining to him, other than what he may be  compelled to do by events. All the “cheerless, dark and deadly” drama swirling around him and this city this week proves that. Most of this is of his own doing.

The end of this drama, or at least a great reduction, can also be his own doing, should he choose it.

He could do the City a great service if he just steps back from the bully pulpit a bit, tinker around the edges and let the heavy lifting be done by a new Mayor and Administration.

After four years, I have frankly had enough of Shakespearean drama and petty soap opera!

Playing Endorsement Games

Last week on April 2, the campaign of mayoral candidate Paul Perez staged a press conference on the steps of Trenton City Hall to announce the endorsement of Mr. Perez’s candidacy by former Trenton Board of Education Toby Sanders. This endorsement by one of the City’s leading educational figures was considered a big one by the mayoral hopeful. The occasion was reported in a note in the Trenton Times by reporter Jenna Pizzi, a full article with accompanying short video clip by David Foster in the Trentonian, and a release on Mr. Perez’s website.

Mr. Sanders spoke glowingly of Mr. Perez and his career to date, his current candidacy, and his plans for the future of Trenton. He was chock full of praise for the man.

“This man is absolutely a hero — the most heroic of all the candidates… His candidacy of all the candidacies that are out there is the most thoughtful and the most visionary about the future,” as quoted on the campaign website.

Mr. Sanders wanted to make sure that people knew that he came to his decision after careful consideration of all the other candidates. According to the Trentonian, “Sanders said he met with every candidate before making his decision. ‘None of them have the specificity, a vision, the creativity, and the attention to detail that the Perez campaign has,’ he said. ‘Their platforms leave a lot to be desired.’

And, just to be sure that we understand that Mr. Sanders makes his endorsement on the basis of his experience and Moral Authority, he also said (as recorded on the video clip accompanying the Trentonian’s print story):

“I come to you as a citizen of Trenton, as an Activist in the city, as one of the Educators here, as one of the Leaders here, one of the Pastors here.”

What the man did NOT say – at least in any of the video or print reports I have read – is,

“I come to you as a relative of Paul Perez, as the husband of his niece, a niece who helped to write part of his Platform, the very same platform I praise so highly while I criticize those of all the other candidates!”

Kind of puts quite a different spin on Mr. Sanders’ endorsement, doesn’t it?

Another Jenna Pizzi article in the Trenton Times, a profile of Mr. Perez in today’s edition quotes one Leslie Sanders. Ms. Pizzi calls her “Perez’ niece” and goes on to say “The two have worked together to help craft Perez’s education policy, with Sanders, who is a school literacy leader in the city’s public schools.”

The article today, and all of the press over the last week, fail to note that Leslie Sanders is also the wife of former School Board President Toby Sanders.

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with Mr. Sanders endorsing the candidate of his choice. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with Ms. Sanders offering to help on the policy formulation of the candidate of her choice. And I don’t believe that Paul Perez did anything wrong in accepting a personal endorsement.

What I do mind, and think is frankly pretty sleazy – even by Trenton standards – is that this endorsement was made and reported without any disclosure of any of these pre-existing bonds among the Sanders and Mr. Perez.

Without disclosing these bonds, I can only resent the self-righteousness of Mr. Sanders when he said last Wednesday, “I don’t stand here as a church, I stand here as a citizen. I have every right to offer my opinion about what’s best for Trenton. What’s best for Trenton is Paul Perez.”

Yes, Mr. Sanders, you have the absolute right to your opinion. But when you share that opinion with us, you also have an absolute obligation to let the public know of this background. You stood on the City Hall steps “as a citizen,” but also as Family. And, what’s more, Family with both former and current professional, employment and policy-making relationships with Trenton’s public schools and its Board of Education.

We should have been told that.

Had Mr. Perez and Mr. Sanders let us know of these connections – and had the media reported them – at the time of the endorsement, the public would be fully informed and able to make up their own mind as to whether Sanders’ backing was influenced at all by bonds of family or by his wife’s work on the Perez platform he is so very fond of.

But he did not. And therefore this endorsement, and Mr. Perez’s campaign strategy, must be viewed as suspect.

I expected more from both of these gentlemen, than to see them both play these kinds of games.

When Eric Jackson accepted the endorsement of a large group of local clergy, among whom were several who had previously endorsed Tony Mack, and one who actually took a job from the man after the election, I criticized his campaign for it. Now that Mr. Perez seems to be playing his own endorsement games, he should be called on it as well.

At this point, Mr. Perez needs to open up and fully disclose his connections with the Sanders, and whether there is any expectation that their bonds of family and their contributions of support and endorsement may follow through with any roles, formal or informal, in a future Perez Administration.

Similarly, it is probably appropriate at this point in the campaign for Mr. Perez, and all of his fellow candidates, to fully disclose any and all familial connections they may have who either currently work for the City and its various departments, or who we may expect (0r not) to see working for the City under their Administrations.

We are just coming off of four years that featured not only the excesses of Tony Mack, but those of his brothers Stanley Davis and Ralphiel Mack. All three got in to the game and grabbed what they could, while they could, until they were caught.

I for one do not want to see even a hint that we are going back to those bad old days.

Again, I want to stress that I do not believe that what Paul Perez and Toby Sanders did this week measures up at all with the outrageous criminal excesses of the Mack Family.

But it was and is entirely inexcusable for a man to offer public support to a candidate, and offer it so extravagantly! - This man is absolutely a hero — the most heroic of all the candidates!” – without letting us know that his “hero” is an Uncle by marriage, and that at least some of those “most thoughtful” and “most visionary” ideas came from his own wife!

More Nuts and Bolts

In the section of his mayoral campaign platform on Economic Development, Eric Jackson concludes with a strong statement titled “Focus on the Fundamentals:”

We will work relentlessly to provide ecient, eective municipal services, from public safety to education, from garbage pick-up to development plan approvals, from building inspections to snow removal and pothole repairs. My Administration will seek to restore the morale of the city work force by providing the focused, ethical leadership that public employees deserve.

My administration will build Trenton’s reputation as a city that works hard and works smart for its residents, businesses and visitors. Success at the fundamentals will be key to realizing my larger vision of economic progress and growth.

This is a sound statement, and one which is appropriate and realistic at this point in Trenton history. The City and its government is broke and broken. An emphasis on fundamentals, the nuts and bolts of day-to-day municipal business, is what’s needed. I am pleased to see this acknowledgement and pledge by Mr. Jackson here.

However, I would have been more pleased had that principle of Focusing on Fundamentals been applied throughout his platform. Alas, this is not the case. In other areas of his plan, Mr. Jackson lays out ambitious – in some key instances, over-ambitious in my opinion – proposals for new initiatives. These typically take the form of new departments and offices in City government, at a time when the existing ones need to be rehabilitated.

The first example I will cite is Mr. Jackson’s proposal for a Cabinet-level “Mayor’s Office on Education.” He sees a mission for a new department to coordinate and “align the actions and resources” of the City with every major educational player in the City: the city’s School District as well as charter and parochial schools, parents and neighborhood associations as well as non-profits and other city agencies. He would have this done via yet another new entity, a “consortium” to be operated out of the Mayor’s Office.

Now I don’t claim any special understanding of city educational issues. I do know that the city’s students and schools are generally under-performing, with test and achievement scores low, and dropout rates high. I would suggest that a more realistic, and I will also use the word “humble,” goal for the first term of a Jackson Administration would be to work on fixing the City schools first. If after four years you can point to some real measurable successes, perhaps then and only then might you presume to be able to offer something to all of the other schools and students in the city.

Mr. Jackson proposes a closer working relationship with the state’s School Development Authority, as it proceeds with rebuilding Central High School and other facilities in the city. That’s the sort of effort that could be meaningful and practical. Before we start talking about new Cabinet-level “Offices” and “Consortia,” how about we Focus on Fundamentals, OK?

In his section on Ethics, Mr. Jackson wants, again, to establish a new position to restore competence and integrity to City Hall, an “Independent Inspector General.” I discussed this proposal a few weeks ago, when the candidate wrote an opinion column for the Trenton Times. Along with a similar proposal by Paul Perez that I discussed yesterday, I find such plans unnecessary for a city as small as ours. I flat out disagree with Mr. Jackson that “An Inspector general will ensure that taxpayers’ hard earned dollars are not wasted and expended in compliance with all applicable laws.”

THAT’S what we elect a Mayor to do. THAT’S what we appoint a Business Administrator to do. Those are responsibilities and trusts that cannot and should not be delegated away to another office in a small city of 85,000. For Mr. Jackson and Mr. Perez to suggest otherwise of one of the most important – if not THE MOST important – duties of a mayor essentially negates their viability as candidates. Why should we elect them, if they will abdicate one of their most important duties and delegate it to another?

In Mr. Jackson’s case, a proposal to charge the “authority to investigate of corruption, fraud and inefficiency throughout city government” to another officer resonates strongly with his previous tenure with the city as Director of Public Works. Over the last several years we have read a lot of press stories about deep and widespread corruption at that department, for years pre-dating the Mack Administration. Last year, in courtroom testimony at a case involving allegations of punitive and illegal treatment of Trenton Water Works employees, Mr. Jackson spoke of many instances of just such corruption, fraud and inefficiency.

In his testimony, Jackson explained how he handled each matter with internal disciplinary hearings and actions. What Mr. Jackson did NOT describe was any action he took to refer allegations of items we now know were severe and criminal to either our City Police Department, or the County Prosecutor. I remarked on this last December, and asked several questions about Eric Jackson’s tenure as Director of Public Works that have not yet been addressed by the Candidate, and which are still highly relevant to this campaign.

In that context, I find his proposal for an “Independent Inspector General” not only redundant to the proper responsibilities of a good Mayor, but also as potentially stonewalling real, credible investigations into any future misbehavior. Rather than calling for a new city bureaucrat, I would have welcomed a strong statement from the candidate that “Allegations of corruption, fraud and other illegal behavior that are referred to the Office of the Mayor or to the Business Administrator will be swiftly referred – in every case – to Police and Prosecutors.”

We do not hear, and do not read such a call from Mr. Jackson. Jackson is asking voters to consider his candidacy very strongly on his call for restoring Ethics and Integrity to Trenton;s government. From his Times Op-ed to his platform, his concept of the Inspector General is key. To me, the idea is a Fail. As a result, I suggest that his candidacy may be evaluated very substantially on this one plan alone.

In another area, Jackson’s platform suggests yet one more office for the City. He announces his idea for an “Office of Public Engagement,” whose two main responsibilities would be both to provide information on city services to citizens, and receive feedback from Trentonians about local problems and conditions. Among other duties, he says, “This Office will be required to evaluate the City’s use of technology and recommend improvements that will enhance services and reduce costs.”

Mr. Jackson does not state so, but I hope that this new Office reduces costs enough to pay for itself, as well for the New Inspector General, and the New Office on Education!

With all of these new initiatives, there isn’t a lot I can find in Mr. Jackson’s platform that discusses in any detail how he intends to “Focus on the Fundamentals.”

In the concluding paragraphs of his platform, he promises “We will work relentlessly to provide efficient, effective municipal services, from public safety to education, from garbage pick-up to development plan approvals, from building inspections to snow removal and pothole repairs.” Most of these tasks are actually performed by employees of our Public Works department, the agency Eric Jackson ran for many years. It’s the department he presumably knows the best. It’s also the department, as we know too well, that has seen more than its share of problems including instances of crime and corruption as well as basic technical competence.

Mr. Jackson specifically mentions garbage pick-up and snow removal and pothole repair as the fundamentals, but he doesn’t talk about them at all other than that brief mention. He doesn’t address the very, very serious situation at the Trenton Water Works that frankly threatens the future of city ownership of this vital utility. He does mention Trenton’s “Strategic Location” as being key for attracting business and residential development, and promotes the city’s “exceptional transportation infrastructure.” But, surprisingly for someone with his background, he omits to say anything about reassuring potential investors that our water mains won’t break and that our water will be clean and clear, not brown. I’d like to have heard some promises that roads and streets will be kept clear of snow on a timely basis, and that private cars and commercial trucks won’t have wheels and axles destroyed by running on our city streets, many of which resemble a Tough Mudder obstacle course!

I wanted to read something in his Public Safety section about how the Police Department is structured. Apart from his call for “effective partnerships with County, State and Federal Agencies to leverage and enhance the capacity of the Trenton Police Department,” what can he do as Mayor to improve our Department? We’ve had appointed Police and Fire Directors for several years, rather than Chiefs. How does he think that’s been working out? Does he think we need to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with our police officers, who are long overdue for one?

We don’t read anything about that in his written plan. This morning, we read that Jackson will give a speech on his crime plan Monday. Perhaps he may give us more details on his Fundamentals at that time.

I hope also that Mr. Jackson may improve his grasp of certain “fundamental” facts. I previously remarked that in his Times op-ed last December he called for the City to adopt an ethics plan – despite the fact that the city’s brand-new Ethics Board has already adopted one. In his section on Public Safety, Jackson promises that:

“I will explore the practice instituted in several other New Jersey cities which relieves the police department of the obligation to detain possible undocumented immigrants for deportation by federal immigration officials, allowing for more appropriate use of our limited law enforcement resources.”

Mr. Jackson is describing the “Sanctuary Cities” program, a loose nationwide network of towns and cities that do exactly what Mr. Jackson proposes. Such Sanctuary cities operate under these policies in open, but tacitly acknowledged, violation of several federal immigration regulations and laws. Mr. Jackson seems to be suggesting that he will examine the experiences of Sanctuary Cities in New Jersey such as Camden, Fort Lee, Jersey City and Newark for lessons that could be learned in Trenton.

However, Mr. Jackson doesn’t need to look very far. Trenton appears on a list of “Original Sanctuary Cities” right along with the other towns named above, meaning it has adopted and been operating under these policies since at least 2007.

Had Mr. Jackson expressed an intention to examine and review Trenton’s record under this program, I could understand that. But by referring to “exploring” the experiences of other New Jersey towns, he sounds like he is proposing their policies as models he may consider introducing under Administration while neglectful of the fact that they have already been in force for the better part of a decade!

Out of touch on a brand-new Ethics Code is one thing, but missing a major policy affecting thousands of city residents for 7 years is something else!

Overall, Mr. Jackson has made a great effort to address his plans and priorities for a Jackson Administration. He covers a great deal of the problems and challenges facing the City after a singularly catastrophic four year term, but also in the context of decades of decline. His platform is an admirable effort.

But the several contradictions built into his plan – the unacknowledged and unreconciled tensions between a “Focus on Fundamentals” alongside over-ambitious new initiatives; failure to devote much attention or detail to his plans to rehabilitate and restore functionality, competence and trust in essential municipal departments and duties; and embarrassing gaps in basic city knowledge – as well as important but unanswered questions about his previous tenure in Trenton’s government, lead me to conclude that Mr. Jackson’s plan – and his candidacy – are good, but not nearly good enough for what we now need in Trenton.

Discussing Mr. Jackson’s proposals has taken more space than I had originally planned. I intend to talk about Jim Golden’s plans, and those from Council candidates, but I don’t want to cause any more eyestrain for my readers on a beautiful weekend.

To be Continued.

Nuts and Bolts

If our Municipal Election is held as scheduled – a big IF this morning – we are now only 39 days away from selecting a new Mayor and (hopefully mostly) new City Council. Most of the mayoral candidates have by now issued some kind of campaign platform, laying out what they believe are the important issues and how each of them are uniquely suited to solve Trenton’s problems.

I say “most” because of the six people running for mayor, five are running campaign websites or hosting other presences on social media. Only Oliver “Bucky” Leggett appears to be missing any presence online. There is nothing that I can find or have seen from the man or about him. He has been pretty good at maintaining an extremely low profile during this election so far.

Considering that the man has been invisible in this city since his last election loss to Doug Palmer in 2002, I’d say he’s certainly staying in character. That is inexcusable in a candidate to replace Tony Mack. I hope we are racing for the top this year, and not the bottom.   There is not one single thing to recommend Bucky Leggett as our next mayor, so I will not say one more word about him for the remainder of this election unless he can present some ideas and plans.

After the last four years, we hardly need any more reminders about how bad things have gotten around here. But over the last few days, we have seen two more stories about the abysmal state into which the City of Trenton has fallen.

Yesterday, the Trenton Times reported that the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has criticized the city for the many extreme delays and bottlenecks in its contracting process. “The city needs to find a way to address bids on a more timely basis,” DCA told us in February, as they were asked to green-light proposals for projects based on bids and proposals several months old and, in the term used by the state, “stale.”

Wednesday, in another Trenton Times article, we read that due to years of delayed or faulty maintenance the Trenton Water Works (TWW) loses a full 28 percent of the water it pumps every day from the Delaware River to leaks on its way from the source to the faucets and pipes of the utility’s business residential customers around Mercer County.

And another article yesterday, this one in the Trentonian about TWW describes the great difficulties the utility is having just recruiting and training qualified service personnel from the City of Trenton.

These stories show just how bad the normal, everyday, basic but essential functions performed by the City have become. By no means, however,  are all of these problems the sole responsibility of the former disgraced Administration of the former felonious Occupant, although he and his cronies greatly accelerated trends that pre-dated them.

These stories show just how acute these problems have become. The City’s failures to properly manage its contracting and purchasing systems will mean a further deterioration in the city services we still receive; they will be harder to deliver and more expensive. And experiencing yet more problems at the Water Works further strengthens the argument that TWW is too important to the public health and economic life of Mercer County to leave it in the hands of a bumbling, in competent City of Trenton. As I have said for most of the last four years, we are in danger of losing city control of the utility and the income it provides for this broke town unless we can clean up our act!

So, we are 39 days from the election. Who among our Mayoral candidates acknowledges how significant the problem of providing essential yet routine city services has become? Who has the best feel for the nuts and bolts of running a small Northeastern post-industrial city?

Not many, I’m sorry to say.

We’ve already dismissed Leggett. Let’s continue with the candidateI most recently discussed, current Council Member Kathy McBride. Turns out she is the easiest one to talk about, because she says so little on her website about the problem.

On the Platform page of her website, she fails to discuss any issues having to do with Trenton’s city government. The closest she comes to the subject is to talk about “Infrastructure.” This is her platform plank on the subject, in its entirety:

Kathy believes that infrastructure investment will enhance the quality of life for Trenton residents, and create safe, clean and aesthetic neighborhoods. As Mayor Kathy will…

  • Re-build city bridges
  • Repair damaged roads

And that’s it. She doesn’t explain how she will do this: she doesn’t explain any financing for this, any timeline for this, any sets of priorities for this, or even whether she believes this work will be done by city employees or contractors. It comes across, as does most of her platform, as a set of buzz words offered to allow her to say that she has a “plan” for her mayoralty, but without suggesting that she knows anywhere near enough about the problems themselves in order to offer credible solutions.

Based on this, do I believe Ms. McBride would be able to untangle the mess in our contracting and purchasing functions? No way.

How about Walker Worthy? His platform does contain a section labeled “Governance,” although it describes several laudable objectives very general in nature: “operate a clean, honest , transparent government;” appointing competent Cabinet members (what a novel idea! and how sad that such a thing has to be explicitly stated); talk to the State about restoring significant and permanent revenue flows to the city in the form of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS); stabilize city property taxes; “restore revenue generating departments,” such as Inspections and Parking Enforcement.

These are all good objectives, but I don’t get a sense that Mr. Worthy has a real road map in mind on how to get there. Along with his other areas of concern – “Jobs and Economy” (discussed by me here), “Education,” and “Crime and Public Safety” – Mr. Worthy displays a pretty good sense of what needs to be done. I just don’t think he knows how to go about it.

Paul Perez’s platform is slimmer than Mr. Worthy’s, although he has a few more concrete ideas about city operations:

  • Provide professional development programs for City Hall employees that includes performance measurement, supervision and leadership training.
  • Create an Office of Integrity and Accountability responsible for oversight of city programs and combat Fraud, Waste and Abuse.
  • Restore the public’s trust through transparency that promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what the city is doing.

Mr. Perez is getting a little closer to the mark. But these and his other platform proposals, while good and desirable, sound to me awfully generic. For instance, in what town would citizens NOT want to “Transform City Hall into a customer friendly operation?”  Where would a city NOT want to “Provide professional development programs for City Hall employees?”

The main criticism I have of Mr. Perez is that as a recent returnee to the City, he is not familiar enough with the particulars of our specific situation and our specific problems to be able to effect meaningful solutions. As a manager with long and distinguished service in the Federal government, is his experience and training in environments as vast as the Federal bureaucracy truly appropriate for the small scale of our city’s operation? Local government, after all, is not simply a scaled-down US Government; it is an entirely separate world with real-life constraints that an executive manager whose nearly entire career with the Feds might not be well-equipped to handle, frankly.

Take, for instance, his proposal for an Office of Integrity and Accountability. That his remedy for the rampant corruption and incompetence seen in city departments over the last few years is yet another city department strikes me as unnecessary. We are a small city of only around 85,000 souls. The City of Trenton’s government is not so large that we need another functional department whose stated purpose would be oversight of City programs and to fight abuses in the system.

In a town like ours, we elect a Mayor to ensure Integrity. We elect a Mayor to oversee the city’s departments. We elect a Mayor to fight abuse, supported by a Business Administrator.

The fact that we elected a disaster four years ago does not negate what the office of mayor is for. The fact that we have gone through a series of ineffective and unproductive Business Administrators does not prove we need a brand-new layer of additional overhead.

We don’t need to create new positions; we need to elect and appoint the right people in the first place. If we don’t, a “Director of Integrity and Accountability” won’t make a dime’s worth of difference.

Mr. Perez’s lack of specific references to Trenton’s conditions, and his overly generic platform solutions, such as his earlier expressed proposal to provide high-speed Internet throughout Trenton, bother me.

I’ll move on to Jim Golden and Eric Jackson’s plans tomorrow.

You First, Mr. Bethea! After You, Ms. McBride!

Oh, this is rich!

One of the persons least justified in climbing on a high horse in this Trenton election season is Councilman-at-Large Alex Bethea. On a body blessed with an abundance of mediocrity and mendacity, with a pitiful 4-year “record” of accomplishment to show for their terms, Bethea surely stands out as being the most useless. And that is saying something!

But, there he is in this morning’s news. In a Trentonian article by David Foster, he is described as having “seen enough” of the ongoing election snafu in the City: Bethea “called for embattled Clerk Richard Kachmar to submit a letter of resignation by the end of the business day Wednesday due to ‘his incompetence’ stemming from his election mistake. ‘Let’s hold people accountable,’ Bethea said after the council meeting. ‘If you’re not doing the job, then submit the resignation.’”

I am not a fan of this Clerk. His fumbles in office, along with those committed on an ongoing basis by Trenton’s Law Department headed by City Attorney Caryl Amana, deserve their dismissal in favor of someone who knows what they are doing.  But I can’t stand to hear Bethea of all people on this subject.

Had only Mr. Bethea taken such a stance earlier in his term, we might have heard similarly stern and impassioned calls to resign directed at the incompetence of other City figures. But a Google search for such items won’t turn up other statements blasting the incompetence of the likes of Anthony Roberts, Harold Hall, or Tony Mack.

In fact, what will turn up for Mr. Bethea is a long record of statements and votes supporting the Convicted Ex-Occupant.

For instance, in August of 2012, weeks after the FBI raids on Mack’s house and City Hall that would lead to federal felony indictments and convictions of several people, Bethea claimed “We don’t have the right to tell the mayor how to do his job.” God forbid he should have suggested of the mayor, “If you’re not doing the job, then submit the resignation.”

I could go on at GREAT length about Mr. Bethea, but will only add this one reminder that on one of the few occasions when City Council attempted meaningful action to rein in the Administration of the Felonious Punk, Bethea had Mack’s back. Remember the effort in Fall 2012, when Council voted “No Confidence” in the mayor, and also voted to cut his salary in half? Guess who voted against both? Yep, Alex Bethea.

To be fair, Mr. Bethea has little to no chance of being re-elected to his at-large seat in the spring election – whenever that will be – so I won’t bother to call for him to do the honorable thing and resign. It will be soon enough that we won’t have to put the words “Councilman” and “Alex Bethea” together again. Good riddance to him! That day can’t come fast enough.

You can say the same thing about his colleague and fellow Council obstructionist Kathy McBride. One can say with an absolute certainty that she won’t be a Council member after her term is over. But in her case the reason is that she feels that her record on the Council is so good that she is running for Mayor.

She is joining her colleague Bethea in calling for the resignations of Mr. Kachmar & Ms. Amana, and has even requested the state Department of Community Affairs (who vetted and approved the appointments of both) to intervene and terminate the employment of both.

Like Mr. Bethea, McBride was a firm and active backer of the Convicted Fraudster and Bribe-taker, who also blocked the 2012 votes of No Confidence and mayoral salary reduction. She, too, is a born-again Good Government type as the election is getting closer. Her calls for Council and State to do the right thing regarding ridding the city of incompetence are increasing in number at a rate that seems to be inversely proportional to the number of days before the election. So for 3 1/2 years, we have heard and seen little from her other than support for the previous Administration. Now, she hopes we all have short memories.

In her campaign for Mayor, I think she knows she can’t run on her Council record. Instead she is running on her record as a community activist and private citizen. Here is a select list of what she presents on her campaign website as her “Record” over the last four years:

  • Hosted an expungement seminar that provided Trenton residents with information about the expungement process.
  • Advocated for union workers to maintain their employment with the Lafayette Yard
  • Raised awareness of mental health problems in collaboration with former NBA basketball player Luther Wright. All proceeds were donated to the Greater Trenton Behavioral Healthcare.
  • Hosted an annual movie night for the entire community.
  • Sponsored a trip to Orangeburg, South Carolina for high school and college students to participate in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Election. The goal was to introduce students to the political process.
  • Celebrated and united Trenton’s various cultures by hosting an annual Multi-cultural/Holiday program. This program offered an olive branch to different ethnicities to highlight the rich diversity of the City. During this event, hundreds of children received gifts for the holiday season.
  • Worked closely with the Police Benevolence Association during Hurricane Irene to provide clothing and gift certificates to displaced families.
  • Educated Trenton students about municipal government and guided students on a tour of city hall.

That’s right, Trenton. Kathy McBride thinks she should be Mayor of this city because she’s hosted Movie Night, and guided students on a tour of City Hall!

She is, apparently, quite serious.

In her defense, she does state quite clearly that this record describes her “service on the Council and as a Community activist,” so she is not claiming all of those milestones solely as her Council legacy.

Her expressed dissatisfaction with the City’s Clerk and Law Department is just not credible, given her record – on Council – of enabling the incompetent and criminal excesses of the previous regime, and obstructing all efforts of her body to control and reverse the worst of them.

Given her “record,” then, what does she propose to do as Mayor? Her platform is full of vague objectives vaguely expressed and poorly argued. Her website claims that, “As Mayor, Kathy will…”

  • Maintain safer streets and safer neighborhoods.
  • Improve community policing policies that are geared towards reducing our crime rate.
  • Work to increase foot patrols and enhance the channels of communication between police personnel and city residents.
  • Secure funding to provide adequate staffing and resources to the Police Department.
  • Offer Police Officers and Fire Fighters salary incentives to establish and maintain residency within the city.
  • Work with the Board of Education for system wide improvement of the school district.
  • Provide additional resources to schools with innovative programs that strive to advance academic growth.
  • Heighten our children’s preparation for the workforce with quality career and technical educational programs.
  • Attract educators who are STEM literate (”Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”), and incorporate STEM learning in every subject.
  • Promote bilingual education city-wide through peer tutoring programs.
  • Work with business interests to make the city amenable for investment opportunities.
  • Partner with corporations to attract new business and create employment opportunities for Trenton residents.
  • Sell abandoned city-owned properties to qualified developers and city residents.
  • Continue to work with the State of New Jersey to redevelop surface parking lots into commercial real estate.
  • Impose wage contribution for all employees who live outside of the city.
  • Re-build city bridges
  • Repair damaged roads

Nowhere in her platform does she explain just how she proposes to do any of these things, or if she even comprehends how some of these actions can even be attempted.

For example, does she really think she could “impose wage contribution for all employees who live outside the city?” What does this even mean?

How will she “secure funding to provide adequate staffing and resources to the Police Department?” Her last “plan” on the matter was to  incoherently beg the Governor to “deputize” law enforcement officers from outside the City to patrol our streets.

Is she the best person to “Attract educators who are STEM literate (’Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’), and incorporate STEM learning in every subject?”

Her only public foray into science education, after all, was her attempt from the Council dais to warn Trenton’s citizenry about the danger of that dangerous new public health threat, Blue Waffle Disease?”

What, you thought I could resist an opportunity like that? Not a chance!!

Alex Bethea and Kathy McBride are two Council members who have no business lecturing us about the need for incompetent Trenton public officials to resign.

If they want to be taken seriously on this matter, the first resignations to be tendered would be theirs.