Moneyball, Trenton NJ

“Okay. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”

- from “Moneyball,” (2011)

I don’t want a Mayor and City Council to buy players. We bought players.

We bought an Arena, a Ballpark, a new Nursing School, and a frigging Hotel. The Arena has a total of seven – count them, seven – bookings between now and the middle of April. That’s like one event every 12 days. The new school is nice. If you stand in Pennsylvania and look at Trenton, the school is a nice addition to the skyline. But it hasn’t done one damned thing for the surrounding neighborhood. The Hotel? That’s a real sore spot, you know? The less said, the better.

OK,  the ballpark is great, the Thunder is a winner. But it’s empty 2/3 of the year, and really doesn’t help the town that much.

We tried to get a Dunkin Donuts plant, but that plan died stillborn. No one wants to be reminded of that anymore.

Trenton did welcome a new business to town last year, which doesn’t happen all the time. But it cost the State of NJ $17 Million in tax incentives, and the City over a Million. Hey, I’m glad Maestro is here. It’s good they moved in. I just don’t believe that business will impact this City very much at all.

I don’t want a new Mayor and Council to spend all their time and effort buying new players. I want a new Mayor and Council to work on getting more runs.

How do you do that? Help the lives of the people who already live in Trenton. Who already own businesses in Trenton. Who already own homes in Trenton. Who already rent in Trenton. Who already raise kids in Trenton. Who already have those kids in Trenton’s schools. I think, if you can get the hang of taking care of the people already here, getting more people and businesses will take care of itself.

That’s a real big order! Again, how do you do that? Start in a few places. Get some runs on the board.

First off, throw out that blasted property revaluation that was completed last year. That was a big slap in the face and knock in the wallet to every person who tries to keep a home or business in this town. The first impact felt last year was one of shock and outrage.  This year, drive around town and look at all the new “For Sale” signs posted. Watch how long they’ve been there. And been there. And been there. The current Mayor and Council did no one any favors by the way they botched that process. Throw it out. Start over!

Let’s get some runs here!

Adding insult to injury, the current Mayor and Council then turn around and give new tax abatements to politically-connected friends and contributors, for properties that have already received multiple, generous abatements in previous years.

On top of this, as icing on the cake,  the current Mayor and Council endorsed a screwball plan from the former Governor to put new state office buildings in parking lots far from downtown, where they would have done some good for that poor bleak place, and put holes in the ground where the current, old buildings are.

The current Mayor literally had the former Governor’s back on this, remember?

christie jackson

This picture speaks thousands of words about Trenton’s past. None of them good. Let’s move ahead, shall we? Finally???

I want a new Mayor and Council who will listen to the people who already live and work Downtown, and who know a few things about the place. I hope the new Governor and his new Administration pay attention to the master plan of the Capital City, and acknowledge that the New Jersey government has big-footed around for far too long.

Let’s get some runs here!

I want a new Mayor and Council to help the people who live in this town to feel safer. Who recognize that a huge portion of the violence that permeates this town to its pores is due to the illegal drug industry here. Efforts to interdict the supply side by arresting dealers and confiscating stashes doesn’t do a damn thing to interrupt business when new dealers and product show up without missing a beat to replace those arrested and jailed. I want a new Mayor and Council to realize that meaningful crime reduction in Trenton means meaningful reduction in the demand for illegal drugs. Legalization of marijuana in New Jersey would be a good start. Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920’s. It’s not working in the 2010’s. Tougher drugs like opioids will take harder solutions. But let’s start somewhere, shall we?

Let’s get some runs here!

I’d like a Mayor and a Council to make some improvements in our schools. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot that these guys can do. The School District is its own major entity, with a budget and infrastructure that is pretty independent of the City. But a Mayor does appoint School Board members. I want a new Mayor to clear out some of the dead wood on that Board. Members who don’t even know how their system is funded have no business sitting on a school board. I want Members on the Board who will question why so much money - hundreds of millions of dollars – buys so little education and fails so many students!  We’ll finally be opening a new High School building in a few years. Perhaps that prospect might lead to good things systemwide.

Let’s get some runs here!

I want a new Mayor and Council to demonstrate they are professional and competent. I don’t want millions of dollars stolen under their noses while they ignore months of warnings. I want them to rebuild relationships with our funders and partners in the federal government. (And I want a new federal government, too, by the way. Another topic for another day!)

I want a new Mayor and Council to rebuild the Trenton Water Works so it becomes once more a safe and dependable public utility.

I want a new Mayor and Council to spend the taxpayers’ money more wisely. No more multi-year contracts to companies that cost more and offer less than their competitors.

I want a new Mayor and Council to recognize their own shortcomings and hire, appoint, and contract people and vendors who know what they are doing, regardless of personal and political connections. I don’t want failures from the past brought back to run operations with which they have no prior knowledge nor experience.

A lot of this stuff is hard. A lot of it won’t work. A lot of it will work but not have much impact. That’s ok. Give me more ideas. Let’s try again. Let’s work harder.

Let’s get some runs here!

In short, I DO NOT want anyone like the current Mayor and Council. I DO NOT want people who have nothing to offer but good intentions and a ready smile.

I don’t know who they are, just yet.

There are a lot of people who have announced campaigns. The names of others are floated into the media and conversation. Some, to me, are interesting and show potential. Some sound like more Trenton fools.

Some have pulled their petitions from the City Clerk’s Office. Some have filed with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission. Some have done both. Some have done neither. This time around, to be taken seriously, candidates will have to show they know how to comply with the law. What a concept, right? We’ve tolerated failure and willful non-compliance in this regard before. See where it got us?

Some have run for office before. Some have been elected before, but have not been part of the civic conversation in this town since they left office, or since they lost the last time. Some, however, have stayed in the game. Good for them. Keep going. If you haven’t played in the game between elections, don’t dare come to me like a vampire waking up every four years, and ask for my vote. We’ve had enough blood sucked out over the last dozen years!

I have an open mind and open heart. You have until May to convince me.

Tell me how we get some runs.

Dear Mayor Jackson


Good Afternoon, Mayor Jackson, Director Cherry, and Councilmember Chester -

I notice that the City has this afternoon posted a notice on its official website announcing the end of voluntary Water Conservation in the Trenton Water Works Service Area. Thank you.

I also notice that neither this notice nor recent earlier ones have provided any information about the services that I understand are being provided to the City and the Water Works by the Wade Trim firm,

It appears to be the case that personnel are working at TWW’s Filtration Plant, in at least a consulting capacity if not an actual managerial one. The company also appears be posting notices for open professional positions at the Water Works, such as:
Is this information correct?
I am not aware that City Council has granted a contract to this firm. Is this work being done on an Emergency Basis, either at the City’s initiative, or at the direction of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection?
Can you please provide an update on the operational and managerial status of the Water Works in the aftermath of the most recent incidents affecting the Utility and its customers throughout Mercer County?
Thank you.

Kevin Moriarty

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It?

“Mayor Jackson leads this government and is fully-engaged in its myriad processes. Under his tenure, the city has produced accomplishments that are tangible, quantifiable, sustainable, and impactful.” – Michael Huckabee Walker, as quoted in the Trentonian, January 23, 2018

– # –

From the “Trenton City Profile Report (Page 6), published April 2014, prior to the beginning of the Eric Jackson Administration:

trenton 2014– # –

From “The 35 poorest towns in New Jersey, ranked,”, January 24, 2018 (Source for statistics: “The ranking was based on median household income data from U.S. Census Bureau”):

trenton 2018– # –

Median Income per Household, in this City then: $37,219. It is now $34,412. That is a decline of $2,807 per household, or  8%.

THAT, Mr. Walker and Mr. Jackson, is an accomplishment that is truly “tangible, quantifiable, and impactful!”

You should be ashamed. Instead you boast to the press. You call this “tremendous progress this administration has made in partnership with our stakeholders to advance the city’s transformation.”

Are you delusional?

Show Some to Get Some

Three men, shot down on the streets of Trenton in the middle of the day, two of them dead. No one cares.

I don’t mean that literally.

Of course, these men have friends, loved ones, and neighbors. They will feel the loss of these two dead like a piece ripped out of their souls.

They sure care.

People who live on the block of Ashmore Avenue in Chambersburg, where the shootings took place, they care. If they’ve been there for any length of time, they care that their neighborhood has become increasingly dangerous in less than five years. Remember, back in 2013, after another daylight killing, this one in front of the Italian People’s Bakery, then Police Director Ralph Rivera tried top explain that horror away as an aberration. “The area People’s Bakery is in is normally a quiet and safe area. This shooting is no reflection on the area.” The news story about yesterday’s shootings don’t even mention what a “quiet and safe area” the neighborhood used to be.

You bet the people in Chambersburg care.

People throughout Trenton care that people are being cut down in broad daylight in Chambersburg, because they know that the kind of sudden violence that happened yesterday on Ashmore can just as easily happen on their block at any time, without warning. To their friends, loved ones, neighbors. To them.

The people in Trenton sure as hell care.

But outside the City? Maybe not so much. How come? Well, perhaps there is a sense that what happens in Trenton is contained in Trenton, that uncertain, random violence and despair won’t somehow translate across the city line. That what happens in Trenton somehow has nothing to do with them.

Which is more than a little ironic. Because lately, it seems that the rest of the world looks upon this entire country the same way that the rest of the country looks upon Trenton. Lawless, dangerous, poorly led, unpredictably violent and threatening to bring the whole neighborhood down. Such views depend on one’s perspective, no?

But perhaps, just a little bit, the indifference – or worse – directed towards Trenton has something to do with the attitude shown lately by many of Trenton’s public officials towards our neighbors. I speak of course about the Trenton Water Works (TWW), and the cavalier, oh hell let’s not be coy, the contemptuous way Trenton has been treating the customers of our city water utility who live in our neighboring Townships. We have a close relationship with the Townships and the 2/3 of TWW’s customers who live there, and it’s not been good lately. It’s been bad.

This isn’t anything new. Back when this space was still pretty new, several pieces in the Fall of 2010 (the Stone Age!)  were devoted to talking about how failures of the Water Works were pissing off our neighbors. For instance, this entry from October 8, 2010 describes (sorry, the original newspaper article I linked to isn’t available) how then-Mayor Tony Mack failed to show up for a meeting convened by Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes with the mayors of Ewing, Lawrence, Hamilton and Hopewell in attendance to discuss that month’s TWW snafu. Nothing but ill will towards Trenton resulted from that fiasco.

Ill will that continues to this day. In just the last week, we’ve seen local mayors complain about the Water Works, as well as traditional friends to the city such as Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (”As the days continue to pass, Trenton Water Works customers are being faced with increasingly alarming alerts about contamination levels, boil water directives and conserving use. What they are not being told is how the problems will be fixed in the immediate future, and how permanent solutions will be put in place to prevent such public health risks in the future.”) and State Senator Shirley Turner (“The health and well-being of our residents is too important to allow another debacle to occur like the one we saw this week and in the past. Consumers should be notified immediately when a boil water advisory is in effect so they can take steps to protect the public’s health.”)

Note to Trenton’s Administration: When you lose Shirley Turner, you’re done!

In the midst of all this, to be frank justifiable, criticism, the City’s response has really been one of disdain. Last week a statement issued in the name of Mayor Eric Jackson (but almost certainly not written by him) blew off all of TWW’s critics. “The Mayor” simply dismissed as meaningless “the highly-charged rhetoric and misinformation being circulated by individuals and news outlets with no technical background or knowledge.”

In other words, Piss Off, Mercer County!

Below the Mayor, there is also reluctance to share information. I wrote last week how, at the end of City Council’s meeting last Tuesday night, Public Works Director Merkle Cherry came up and invited me for a conversation about the Water Works. I followed up the next day by telling him I would be glad to, if the conversation was on the record and recorded on video. He backed out of his invitation at that point. He was only interested in talking off the record, if our conversation was not an interview. That’s something I find to have no value at this point. If a Director is unwilling to speak on the record, or grant interviews, he’s not dealing straight with the public.

And, of course, City Council President Zachary Chester was nothing but defiant last week when he spoke about the City’s and TWW’s critics. He didn’t mention TWW’s customers by name, as neither did “The Mayor,” nor Director Cherry, but neither did they mention them nor their legitimate concerns. The omission is telling.

The thing is, you have to show some empathy to get some back, and this Administration and this Council have not been noticeably empathetic towards their TWW customers. Not in 2010, not now. There are few public services as intimate and as important as providing clean and dependable drinking water. Trenton hasn’t done a good job of that for a decade, and it’s acting like it just doesn’t care. That’s not endearing the rest of this County and State to this City right now.

Can one draw a solid straight line from the disregard shown by those outside Trenton about its street violence to the carelessness with which Trenton and its Water Works shows its customers?

Perhaps not, but they are definitely strongly related. Inside Trenton, there isn’t much we can actually do about others’ perceptions of the City. But we can, and need to, change the way we’ve been treating and talking about those who this City serves as customers. We need to be more mindful of their perspectives, their legitimate criticisms, their offered solutions. They need to be  better treated by TWW and the City than they have been up until now.

If we ever want to improve others’ attitudes towards Trenton and seek their help in re-building this town, we need to show more empathy toward them in this matter. We have to show some to get some.

Regarding Mr. Chester's Comments of 1-16-18

Sorry for the delay in making available online the audio recording of last Tuesday night’s Trenton City Council meeting. Here it is.

Having posted last week, without annotation, comments made by West Ward Member and Council President Zachary Chester at that meeting, I’d like today to offer some questions and comments. These aren’t by any means the full range of comments I could offer. But you all have other things to do today, as have I. Here are what I subjectively consider to be notes on the more notable things said by Mr. Chester last week. His comment begins around 1:02:08.

[T]here are a lot of things that has transpired that the Public doesn’t have privy to.

We begin in absolute agreement. Mr. Chester and I see eye to eye on this. There is an awful lot that the Public has not been informed about. Not just the immediate topic at hand, the crisis at the Trenton Water Works (TWW), but about so many other aspects of City government over the last four years.

And just why is that the case, Mr. Chester?

Why is the public “not privy to” so much? Why did the public not know about the deteriorating conditions at the Water Works, over the last few years? Why was the public unaware of the deadlines set by the State Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for seeking an outside contractor to take over management and operations of TWW?

Why has the City been so late with notifying the public about incidents affecting water safety? Why do Trenton’s residents hear from their City so many hours after Townships have notified theirs?

Why did it take Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests – often heavily resisted and prolonged – to find out so many details about the state of the city-owned utility?

Why has it taken other OPRA requests to find out about the City’s poor relationship with the US Housing and Urban Development Department? Or about all of the missed warnings the City received while its payroll vendor was stealing the City blind?

Why has it been so damned difficult to get information from you and the Administration?

Have you forgotten the promise you made on July 1, 2014, as you were sworn in as Council President? Do you not recall that you said, “We will do things transparently. We will do things in the open. We will let Trentonians know what their government is doing. This is my pledge to you.”

We know we need a management company. But DEP and the Governor wouldn’t let us do it when the Administration wanted to do it.

But then they waited until the Governor was on his way out, and tried to force us to do it. And I think a lot of this was when they couldn’t get the Administration and the Council to move, because outside Counsel had advised us not to, because what DEP was asking us to do, DCA was saying you can’t do it way. So they went in conflict within the Christie Administration. And we held tough.

Mr. Chester here paints a picture of the brave City of Trenton valiantly resisting the lame-duck Christie Administration’s last-minute attempts to ram outside control down the City’s throat. And just moments earlier in his remarks, Chester said that what NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin wanted “the City to do was illegal. And we couldn’t do it. And we didn’t do it.”

Mr. Chester never explained last week what he thought the State wanted the City to do that was “illlegal.” And if that proposal was “illegal,” I don’t understand why Mayor Eric Jackson, in his 11-2-17 letter to Commissioner Martin, (Page 4) wrote that he “found the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (’Department’) to be an invaluable partner” in the effort to fix TWW.

Yep, that’s sure “hanging tough,” Mr. Chester. Call the bully “an invaluable partner.” That’s killing them with kindness, I suppose!

By the way, in that same letter Mayor Jackson went on to say, “[Martin's] letter [of October 30 2017, Page 7] addresses several matters throughout the history of our interactions between the City and the Department, which both you and I, as well as our staffs, have discussed at length on several occasions throughout my time as Mayor.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

In fact, NJDEP had been in frequent discussion with the City and TWW on many issues – primarily focusing on staffing and management – since the City signed an Administrative Consent Order in January 2014 (Page 5 and following), which bound the City to a timetable to fulfill several TWW obligations, many of them going back to 2009.

So Mr. Chester believes “they waited until the Governor was on his way out?” Unless the folks at NJDEP considered themselves “on their way out” in January 2014, this claim is pretty thin.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, if someone from the State went to employees at the Trenton Water Works and asked them to sabotage the Trenton Water Works, and to cause all these problems so that then the public gets upset. Because if you can’t do it the way you’re supposed to do it, then you upset the Public and the Public come in and force the hand. That’s what I believe. That’s my belief.

That is probably the most incendiary comment made last week by Mr. Chester, and certainly the most news-headline-worthy. It is also a claim for which the Councilman offered no evidence beyond his “belief.”

I know it is now election season, and many of the Councilmembers seeking re-election are entering into campaign mode. Standards for public speech on the campaign trail by candidates are certainly different – generally much lower – than they are when those same candidates are acting in their official capacity.

Rather, they should be. Mr. Chester’s unsupported allegations of TWW “sabotage” by the State, made from the Council dais, are nothing short of irresponsible slander. There is no reason for the Councilman to use the same methods as those in the national Administration in Washington. Behavior that is ethically outrageous when seen in our national President is no less unacceptable and unprofessional when seen in our city’s Council President.

My neighbors in Hiltonia, they don’t even drive down Stuyvesant Avenue. They take the back way to 29. My house sits right there. I sit on my porch. I see who ride past my house.

Frankly, I haven’t a clue as to what he was going for here. Not a clue. Anyone???

But no one’s going to help us if our own people are fighting against us, and not trying to understand.

And I say to all of them, all of those, all of those who want to post the picture of me and the Gravy Train, “What have you done for your City? Which elected official up here have you worked with?”

Because I know when I had an election, and I ran against folks, and they said, “No matter who, we”… We were in a meeting, a debate, and everyone said “No matter who wins, we’ll work with that person.”

I wait. Because we can do more working together, than always fighting, and putting misinformation out there. Because individuals in this City believe Black and Brown folks in this City are not educated, and we don’t understand.

Because if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy.

Now this is a comment that I happen to take rather personally. Because in Spring of 2010, I was also running for the post of West Ward Council Member, in the campaign that Mr. Chester won.  And yes, I also remember being in two separate debates where Mr. Chester, two other candidates, and I do recall on both occasions all of us stating that we would work together after the election, no matter who won.

Another thing that I recall is that, after the election, I tried to do just that, only to be rebuffed by Mr. Chester. Does the Councilman recall that?

Thanks to Trenton emigre Jim Carlucci, who still (probably despite himself!) cares deeply for this town,  for providing old emails proving that. On top of that, it’s rather ironic and entirely relevant to our current discussion that the matter on which Jim and I were trying to engage Mr. Chester and his colleagues was How to Save  The Trenton Water Works. Seriously. The same thing we are trying to do now.

Here’s a screenshot of an email sent to Council members on December 29, 2010:

12-29-10 112-29-10 2

Jim and I had sent the same Members a preliminary outline of our proposal a few weeks earlier, on December 15. And you know what? Over seven years later I still think it’s pretty relevant:


So, what do you think, Councilmembers? Are some ideas here that, even at this late date, might be worth discussing? This idea never went anywhere seven years ago. Perhaps you all are more incentivized now? Maybe?? And hey, that line, “Trenton made this problem, Trenton will make the solution.” Pretty good, huh?

Anyway, I include this to show that, despite Mr. Chester’s pointed comments directed my way last Tuesday night, I have attempted, repeatedly, over the years to work with him and his colleagues on matters of policy, with little or no response The last time I received even the courtesy of a response acknowledging that I had reached out to Mr. Chester was back in 2015. Other individual Members have been somewhat more responsive, but not him. So, when he plaintively asked the other night, “if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy” – a great line, by the way – it doesn’t matter worth a damn if we call him but he doesn’t reply.

For the record, Councilman, I have never posted the picture of you with the Gravy Train bag. Although I do have to say, it is pretty damned funny.

Finally, although I could discuss many other of the Councilman’s comments, I will only say that I think it despicable to make the kind of racialist comment Mr. Chester did as quoted above. Whether on the campaign trail or on the Council dais. Especially on the Council dais!

I assume – for purposes of amity, if nothing else – that the Councilman was not referring to me when he said that.

I don’t recognize that attitude in any of those who speak about, and criticize, and oppose actions and policies of the City when we have thought they are wrong and damaging, when they fail to move this City and its people forward as it is Mr. Chester’s job to do.

It’s outrageous to hear that kind of a comment made by one of our city’s elected officials, about his constituents. I hate to compare Donald Trump to Zac Chester two times in one piece, but once again, what is not to be tolerated in a US President isn’t any more acceptable from a Trenton Councilman.

As much as I would hope the Councilman would apologize for his slur, I actually expect one to come no sooner than an apology would come from Mr. Trump.

Dang, that’s three times in one piece!!

As I write this, calls to reform Trenton’s Water Works are coming from the people and mayors of  the surrounding Townships making up TWW’s service area; they are coming from State Legislators; they are coming from the local press; and, oh yeah, the people of the City of Trenton.

Mr. Chester, his Council colleagues, Mayor Jackson and his Administration, all need to face the reality that events are spinning out of their control. Rather than waste everyone’s time by petitioning the State for one more “investigation” and one more “report,” as they unanimously voted last Tuesday to do, they need to take responsibility to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

If not – and the last four years provide pretty strong evidence that this won’t happen – then they all need to go.

Zachary Chester in His Own Words

I see that today’s Trentonian edition contains a story about Tuesday evening’s extraordinary City Council meeting, which I discussed earlier this week. It was an extraordinary meeting to me due to the unexpected unanimous support for the current Administration and management of the Trenton Water Works (TWW) in the midst of some pretty heavy criticism and expected regulatory intervention by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

The meeting was extraordinary to for the action that Council took to approve writing a letter to NJDEP asking for a full investigation and report on the situation at TWW, disregarding the multiple investigations and reports that have already been produced over the last 3 years alone about the utility.

And it was remarkable for some of the comments from our Councilmembers. Trentonian reporter Isaac Avilucea excerpted some of those comments in his piece for the paper. The tone of some of the comments is hinted at in the headline:


To answer your question, yes, Council Member and President Zachary Chester really did say that, as Mr. Avilucea reports.

He said several  other remarkable things. I think they are remarkable enough to post in their entirety. They follow below. I transcribed his Comment, made at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, from a CD of the recording made by the City Clerk. Paragraph breaks and punctuation are my subjective choices. The number at the beginning indicates that his comment started at One hour, 2 minutes and 8 seconds into the meeting recording.

The words are solely Mr. Chester’s.

I intend to post the audio recording of the full meeting later today. I will post that link in this space.

These comments are quoted with zero annotation or comments from me, although there are many I would like to make. So today the comments are provided whole and unedited. Following in the next few days will be some commentary on Mr. Chester’s words.

– # –


So, in the absence of Councilman Duncan Harrison, there was to be a presentation given on Thursday [1/18] by the Trenton Water Works to give us an update as to what was going on there. And it has been rescheduled for February 1st.

I am concerned about what’s going on, too. And there are a lot of things that has transpired that the Public doesn’t have privy to. The Public isn’t aware of Governor Christie’s and the Commissioner of DEP’s actions on his way out. And I’m compelled to say that, that Governor Christie wanted to force the City of Trenton’s hand.

And Mr. Moriarty read comments from the Commissioner, that he advised the City to do X,Y, Z. But what he failed to say in that letter that he sent to the City, that he was asking the City to do was illegal. And we couldn’t do it. And we didn’t do it.

And I look at everything that’s going on with this Water, from the time that we received communications from the Department of Environmental Protection, and I go back to when I came on Council, in 2010. I came on Council and we all came on, everyone sitting up here in 2010 came on Council under the previous Governor who had restricted us from hiring.

This wasn’t something that just happened. We know we need a management company. But DEP and the Governor wouldn’t let us do it when the Administration wanted to do it.

But then they waited until the Governor was on his way out, and tried to force us to do it. And I think a lot of this was when they couldn’t get the Administration and the Council to move, because outside Counsel had advised us not to, because what DEP was asking us to do, DCA was saying you can’t do it way. So they went in conflict within the Christie Administration. And we held tough.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if, if someone from the State went to employees at the Trenton Water Works and asked them to sabotage the Trenton Water Works, and to cause all these problems so that then the public gets upset.

Because if you can’t do it the way you’re supposed to do it, then you upset the Public and the Public come in and force the hand. That’s what I believe.

That’s my belief.

And so I strongly urge that we really didn’t need to vote on it. We did it. I support sending a letter asking them to come and do the investigation. Unfortunately, the Commissioner is no longer there. Right? He’s gone now.

1:05:45 OTHER VOICE Fortunately.

1:05:47 CHESTER

No, Unfortunately! Because I wanted to have him. And as I asked the Councilman and we asked the Chief  and asked the DEP to come to this presentation. Because we want to hear on their end. Because the thing that I don’t understand, and DEP needs to answer to this: if the City cannot send out an advisory to the Public without their Approval, then why is DEP talking to the newspaper?

That’s the question that I have!

And so we want to come down, ur community, want to come down, on the Administration, but never ask the question about the role of Governor Christie leaving. And it’s my belief.

I’ll say it! The Mayor can’t say it. I’ll say it. The Chief of Staff won’t say it. The Public Works Director won’t say it. I’ll say it. Because they work for the Mayor.

I don’t work for the Mayor. I work for the people. And it’s my belief that Governor Christie, on his way out, wanted the City of Trenton to hire his people. The company he wants to pay off, on his way out, to give a contract to.

That’s what I believe. And I said it. And I’ll say it again. Because it’s the Truth.

Because when this Administration didn’t want it to, they said no. We had Laborer positions in Trenton Water Works that local Trentonians could be hired and the State said No.

And then we have folks in this City who don’t believe that the MOU is real.

And then we have folks in this City that say, “Oh, you don’t need the Ten Million from the State!” But as soon as your taxes go up, then you’re complaining that your taxes are going up by Ten Million Dollars if we didn’t receive it.

And so we have to be real here. Because if we’re going to put blame, then I say let’s bring the State in and have the State answer to their role for the past four, no, not four years, the last eight years.

We’re budgeting for positions and we can’t fil them. We lost police officers. We lost sanitation workers. Public Works is doing the best that they can with what they have.

And we need to be real about our situation in this City. We all live here. The people who work for this City live here. They work hard.

But that we as a Community find everything wrong with this City. And then I ask folks, “Help out!”

My neighbors in Hiltonia, they don’t even drive down Stuyvesant Avenue. They take the back way to 29. My house sits right there. I sit on my porch. I see who ride past my house.

But then we talk about our City. We live here. This is our City. Today is a new day for our City. We have a new Governor. A Governor that stated that he would help the Capitol City.

But no one’s going to help us if our own people are fighting against us, and not trying to understand.

And I say to all of them, all of those, all of those who want to post the picture of me and the Gravy Train, “What have you done for your City? Which elected official up here have you worked with?”

Because I know when I had an election, and I ran against folks, and they said, “No matter who, we”… We were in a meeting, a debate, and everyone said “No matter who wins, we’ll work with that person.”

I wait. Because we can do more working together, than always fighting, and putting misinformation out there. Because individuals in this City believe Black and Brown folks in this City are not educated, and we don’t understand.

Because if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy.

Because I don’t do this because I just want to be important. I do this because this is the City I grew up in, this is the City I love, and this is the City I know will thrive when we all work together, no matter what the issue is, whether it’s taxes, potholes, infrastructure.

Do we have problems? Yes, we do. Do the Administration have problems? Yes, they do. Do the Council have problems? Yes, we do!

We all have problems. Personal problems. We all trying to survive, we all trying to live. Many are trying to raise children, family. But we can work together. We can work together.

And on this Water issue, we can come together. But we have to ask all of the questions. Because when you’re pointing fingers at the Administration, then point fingers at the State, too.

Ask the Commissioner some questions. Because I still go back to, if we can’t send out or if the Administration can’t send out an Advisory without approval from DEP, then why is DEP speaking to, why are they speaking to, the newspapers? Why would they do that?

To me, it seems like they just wanted to get people riled up and upset. And they do. They did.

They just ran out of time, folks. Christie. Ran. Out. Of. Time. And he couldn’t get what he wanted.

He ripped through Atlantic City. And he wanted to rip through Trenton. Just like he wanted to rip through our School District. Same thing. Same program. Same playbook.

But many people buy into it, drink the Kool Aid, whatever you want to call it. And it puts Trentonians against Trentonians. And then we get stuck with nothing at the end.

We got a high school that’s going to take five years to build. As we played around, “Do we keep it? Do we tear it down? Do we this? Do we that?” Christie came and took the money away, and then gave you a portion of it back. Kept $50 Million.

So, if folks in this community really want to have a conversation, then come out on the First, and let’s have a conversation. Let’s hear from the Trenton Water Works. Let’s hear from DEP. Let’s hear from both sides.

But let’s ask the Questions to these individuals as my Council colleagues said. Because I truly believe that was a City Employee that took that video.

And Chief, and Sergeant, the Police Department should be looking into that, to find out who took that video. And that person should be held accountable.

And if the person isn’t held accountable, then Shame on the Administration. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Because we don’t know what we were looking at. How many of us know what the Filtration Plant does?

We don’t know what we were looking at. All the water coming out if the Delaware River, is contaminated. We know that! That’s why you have a Filtration Plant, to clean the water! So we looking at dirty water, because it’s coming from the Delaware.

I’m not going to be playing these games. Let’s get serious about our City. Let’s get serious about our City, and now say to my colleagues, let’s get serious. Let’s ask the questions. Let’s be serious about this.

Because if anybody come to anyone up here with information, you should compel them to come and tell it. If they can come to you, and I say it to employees all the time: if you’re not willing to come before my colleagues or before the Administration, and state what you just said, then I can’t help you.

Because none of us up here can go on He said, She said. If you have something to say, then say it. And let’s hold people accountable. And let’s fix what’s wrong. Let’s do that.

Is there any other comments from my colleagues?

Meeting adjourned at 1:16:25


“Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR WATER WORKS!” – “Eric Jackson,” January 18, 2018

The above is a quote from a Press Release issued yesterday from Trenton City Hall, from Mayor Eric Jackson.

Well, OK, you’re right. It’s not a quote from the Press Release. It’s obviously a quote from the 1995 Mel Gibson film, “Braveheart.” But as surely as those movie words were not written by Eric Jackson, neither was yesterday’s Press Release.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the words above as from the most famous speech in the film. Mel Gibson, as William Wallace, the leader of an uprising of Scots against the occupying and oppressing English King and his barons. Gibson is here rousing his troops into a fighting rage as they prepare to give battle to the bloody English.

Yesterday’s Press Release is trying to do the same thing. Except this time, Mayor Braveheart is trying to whip up indignation and rage against an oppressive State Department of Environmental Protection and its “barons” (local mayors of the neighboring Mercer County townships served by Trenton’s Water Works, TWW), who seek to, in the stirring and forceful words of “Mr. Jackson,” “force us to sell or privatize our utility for personal or other political gain.”

This effort to seize the Water Works, as far as this Press Release tells us, comes in the midst of “some temporary operational issues,” leading to a disturbing series of recent water quality and water safety incidents made more visible by the several Boil Water Advisories and Conservation Notices sent to the system’s 225,000 customers in the City as well as parts of nearby Ewing, Lawrence, Hamilton, and Hopewell.

I don’t need to go over all of the system’s recent problems again today; you can browse many of the links contained in posts written in this space since the beginning of December. All I will say this morning is that, far from being “temporary operational issues,” as claimed by “the Mayor,” the current crisis with Trenton Water goes back a decade at least, and much of the current tension with the State and Townships rise from the lack of compliance by the City and TWW with agreements and pledges signed by the City in 2014, and reiterated several times since then. And, the lack of compliance with those agreements has been caused in large part by the chronic manpower shortages and personnel problems in the utility ever since Eric Jackson (the real one) ran Public Works a decade ago.

That ain’t a “temporary” problem. That’s pretty darned permanent, seems like.

So why do I keep saying that Eric Jackson didn’t write this Press Release? Because its tone of condescending defiance (or, if you will, defiant condescension) doesn’t sound remotely like Eric Jackson. Eric Jackson, as much as I have criticized his flawed leadership for many years, has been a candidate in a few election campaigns, and one thing most candidates learn how to do instinctively is how to read a room, or a public mood.

If your audience is behind you, you give them more reason to back you. If the mood is skeptical, you try to convince. If they are angry at you, let them know you don’t mean them harm, and turn on the charm. At least that’s what the more successful campaigners do. Jackson’s won his most recent campaign, so he learned all that to some extent. He can read a room.

But the writer of this Release can’t. Otherwise, he (or she) would have realized that after a year of almost-monthly occasions of purple water, lead in the water, having to boil water, and having to conserve water, you don’t say that you want to “debunk the highly charged rhetoric and misinformation being circulated by individuals and news outlets with no technical background or knowledge.” You don’t write stupid and tone-deaf stuff like that if you know, as a guy who’s run for office knows, that those “individuals” you are positively sneering at are otherwise called “citizens,” “voters,” “customers,” “fellow mayors,” “Assembly members,” and “State regulators.”

That’s a really big crowd to deliberately piss off.

To be fair, it is possible that Mayor Jackson wrote this release. If so, it’s possible to have written it while under the influence of the powerful painkillers he may be taking for the ascribed back problems accounting for his long and continued absence from City Hall and other public events. But to me it’s more likely that this release was written by the City’s public spokesperson Michael Huckabee Walker. The florid, yet content-free, style sure does sound like Walker to me.

If this was indeed written by Walker, the question then becomes: did the Mayor approve this before it went out? It was a statement in his name: does he stand by these words? Does he dismiss the charges and complaints from throughout the County as “highly charged rhetoric and disinformation?” Does he hold all of these people – all of us – in such low regard? If not, he needs to say so. If so, he should reaffirm his statement and his sentiment in person. Mr. Jackson, and TWW, are in a perilous situation at this point.

Does the Mayor remember how “Braveheart” ended? There are perhaps some cautionary lessons here for Jackson’s defiant stance.

Wallace’s rebellion, while initially successful, is betrayed from within. The Scottish nobles who had backed him are bought off by the English king, and they abandon him on the field of battle. Wallace is captured, tried, and executed.

Jackson may be in a similar situation. Even though he shouts “FREEDOM!” and “I will not allow the sale or privatization of our utility,” the weapon of his betrayal is already in place and ready to be used if the English, in this version the State of New Jersey (fewer castles), choose to.

Do you by any chance remember the “New Jersey Water Infrastructure Protection Act?” Passed by the Legislature at the end of 2014, and signed by former Governor (yay!) Christie in February 2015 – both actions during the current Jackson Administration, and therefore within recent memory – this law “removes the public vote requirement to sell water systems throughout the state under emergency conditions that many systems currently meet,” in the words of a news article from 2015. In the opening section of the law, it states,

There are public water and wastewater systems in the State that present serious risks to the integrity of drinking water and the environment because of issues such as aging infrastructure systems. the deterioration of the physical assets of the systems, or damage to infrastructure so severe that it is beyond governmental capacity to restore;

Under the appropriate circumstances, the transfer of these threatened water and wastewater assets to a capable private of public entity with the financial resources and expertise to improve management, operation, and continued maintenance of the assets could help ensure the protection of drinking water; and

It is in the public interest that public entities have the option to transfer, lease or sell water or wastewater assets that threaten drinking water or the environment.

(N.J.S.A. 58:30-2 b. through d.)

Sure does sound like it was written with Trenton in mind? Perhaps that’s no coincidence. The 2015 news article reported “A notable political contribution was made in between the vote’s passage and Christie’s signing of the measure. American Water of Voorhees, the largest publicly traded U.S. water and sewer company, contributed $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association in the final days of the New Jersey governor’s chairmanship of the organization.” We know how much NJ American Water has long wanted to get its hands on our water system. And they, and their competitors, know how to play a long game.

They may yet get their chance. Even though Christie is gone, the law is still on the books, and many of the Legislators in both Democratic-controlled Houses who passed the bill are still there; this law is going nowhere soon.  It is still a loaded pistol – or sword, to continue the Medieval analogy – pointed at the City of Trenton.

Make no mistake. The City – whether through its mayor or another speaking in his name – may strike a defiant pose and claim no one will take our Water, but that’s all it is. A pose. The mechanism to take the Water Works away from this city – a move that would also be politically very, very popular in the Townships where around 2/3 of our customers live – is there to be used.

Knowing all this, the Press Release issued yesterday reads more sad and pathetic than strong and defiant.

I’d almost hope that it was written by a mayor too ill to rationally consider his situation and the severely negative impact this sentiment would have. I’d hate to think this statement came from someone in full health and a clear head.

Remarks Made at Trenton City Council, January 16, 2018

NOTE: As I wrote yesterday, I attended Trenton’s City Council meeting on Tuesday, intending to speak in opposition to proposed Ordinance 18-1, a measure to appropriate $6 Million Dollars in capital funding to buy equipment and pay for other infrastructure-related improvements for the troubled Trenton Water Works (TWW).

As it happened, before the meeting was opened to public comment, Council President and West Ward Member Zachary Chester called for a motion to introduce the proposed Ordinance. No one spoke. There were only four members in attendance at that time – besides Mr. Chester were Marge Caldwell Wilson, Phyllis Holly-Ward, and George Muschal; Alex Bethea would join slightly later – but none offered a motion. Without such a motion, the Ordinance died. For now.

Since it was not defeated, simply not introduced, a similar measure could be introduced successfully at a later time. That being the case, I proceeded to read my prepared remarks anyway, to get my opposition noted for the record.

Once I receive an audio recording of Tuesday’s session, I will transcribe some of the truly remarkable comments made that night. Until then, as Second Prize, I give you my own poor words.

– # –

Mr. President, Councilmembers – I oppose Ordinance #18-1 at the present time, approving $6 Million Dollars of Capital funds for the Trenton Water Works.. Even though this is the First Reading of this Ordinance, and it is still subject to a Second Reading and Public hearing, to approve this Ordinance this evening would be an endorsement and vote of Confidence in the current Trenton Water Works management, Trenton’s Department of Public Works, and the current Administration. A vote of confidence they do not deserve.

News articles have informed us that since the current Administration took office in 2014, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has cited the Trenton Water Works for 16 violations, 12 of them in 2017 alone.

In October of last year, NJ DEP took the City to task for staffing the Water Works at “only one-third the number of staff needed to operate its system.” Just last week, outgoing DEP Commissioner Bob Martin wrote the City and said, “The City’s inability or unwillingness to act with the urgency the current situation requires potentially puts at risk the health of the 225,000 people” served by the Water Works in Trenton and elsewhere in Mercer County.

Even after that stinging notice, over the last weekend, the Water Works screwed up again, issuing a Conservation Advisory and Boil Water Notice on its website and sending out Reverse 911 calls to Trenton residents only well after neighboring Townships informed their citizens of the problems, which are still in effect in parts of our service area.

Over the last couple of months, TWW customers have made terms like “turbidity,” “haloacetic acid,” and “permanganate” part of their vocabularies. Outside of college classrooms, there really is no reason an average citizen should have to know these words and what they mean. But it’s now part of everyday life in TWW’s service area to know the chemistry of treated water and how it impacts the ongoing safety of our drinking water.

Incidentally, Councilmembers, as an aside speaking of safety, today there is a Facebook home video, seen almost 15,000 times, before it was removed, which appears to show a person trespassing on the TWW Intake Plant on the River, and walking unimpeded for several minutes throughout the plant, inside and out. Not a door is locked, and not a security measure in place to stop this apparent intruder. This failure of onsite security is just the kind of thing that the federal Homeland Security department would consider a real problem, that the water system of a state capital supplying a quarter-million residents including a governor, legislature and thousands of public employees would be so compromised.

Tonight you are being asked to approve the first reading of Ordinance #18-1, to appropriate $6 Million Dollars to acquire equipment and perform various capital improvements for the Water Works. I strongly request you to postpone this matter for the time being, for three reasons.

First, I submit that TWW, and Public Works, and the Administration has lost all credibility and trust in the way it has managed and operated the Water Works. Any request for funding at this very significant level should frankly not be trusted at this time.  The current players have all broken Trenton’s Water Works. Now, you should now believe that they know how to fix it?? Nope. Not a chance.

Second, it’s not clear that spending Six Million Dollars on Capital is what’s needed here right now. From what we’ve come to know over the last month, the main immediate threats to water safety are managerial and operational in their causes, not due to deficient capital infrastructure.

The final reason goes back to the subject of Commissioner Martin’s letter last week. He wrote to express the state’s frustration and impatience with the City’s utter lack of movement in proceeding to seek and contract with an external entity to take over the management and daily operations of the utility. In a Trenton Times article dated January 12, Kevin Shea wrote “Martin’s Friday letter said the DEP has been ‘exceedingly patient’ with the city, but that Trenton officials are not following the steps he outlined in a Oct. 30, 2017 letter, nor in ‘several telephone conversations’ as recently as last week.”

The State has run out of patience with the City. As the Times put it in the same Jan 12 article, The DEP said it has chosen not to file a Superior Court compliant, due to the few days left in the Gov. Christie administration, but Martin said he’s already informed the new DEP commissioner nominee, Catherine McCabe, of the TWW situation, and the options she has for the ‘much needed corrective actions needed at TWW.’”

Councilmembers, despite the city’s footdragging, sooner or later – probably sooner, much sooner – an outside entity will take over the Water Works. With that prospect a near certainty, it’s going to be the case that this new management will generate its own list of capital equipment and project priorities. Don’t handicap them by approving this Ordinance containing what is, frankly, a capital project list tainted by a failed TWW Management and failed City Administration.

Councilmembers, please do not approve this First Reading. To do so tonight will put on the record the mark of your personal, individual endorsement of this failed Management and Administration. Don’t use the excuse that this is “only a First Reading.” You and I know well that after the First Reading of an Ordinance, the Second Reading and Public Hearing is only a formality. It’ll be a done deal if you approve this tonight.

Table this Ordinance for the near future. The new Management will undoubtedly come to you with its own list of priorities, which you will deal with on a swift and timely basis, either on your own voluntary initiative or in response to the order of a judge or DEP mandate.

Don’t do this tonight. Don’t do this now. Not with this current Administration and TWW Management in place. Not after all the recent failure after failure after failure. Postpone this.  Please. Thank you.

Notes From a Debacle

I attended Trenton’s City Council meeting last night, intending to speak in opposition to proposed Ordinance 18-1, a measure to appropriate $6 Million Dollars in capital funding to buy equipment and pay for other infrastructure-related improvements for the troubled Trenton Water Works (TWW). This proposal was scheduled for the First Reading. If approved at First Reading, ordinances are then scheduled for a Second Reading and Public Hearing at a later date. This two-step process is intended to ensure that proposals to be made into law (an Ordinance) are thoroughly examined and debated by Council, and provides for adequate public input at the Public Hearing.

As it happened, before the meeting was opened to public comment, Council President and West Ward Member Zachary Chester called for a motion to introduce the proposed Ordinance. No one spoke. There were only four members in attendance at that time – besides Mr. Chester were Marge Caldwell Wilson, Phyllis Holly-Ward, and George Muschal; Alex Bethea would join slightly later – but none offered a motion. Without such a motion, the Ordinance died. For now.

Since it was not defeated, simply not introduced, a similar measure could be introduced successfully at a later time. That being the case, I proceeded to read my prepared remarks anyway, to get my opposition noted for the record. I will post those remarks separately. I need to discuss what took place at last night’s meeting first.

One of my arguments was that for Council to fund now any list of capital projects prepared by the current TWW management might conflict with the priorities of any new management that might be installed at the insistence of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  This is the state agency responsible for overseeing local water utilities in the state, which has been sharply critical of the operation of TWW for years, leading last week to threats by the Department’s outgoing commissioner Bob Martin of a lawsuit if the City did not comply with its demand to turn over management of the Water Works to an outside contractor. As of the beginning of this week, it sure did look like the State would force the City’s hand on giving up control of the Water Works, especially after the rash of several water safety violations affecting TWW’s 225,000 customers in Trenton and county-wide.TWW was cited for a total of 12 violations in 2017 alone, and a total of 16 for the entirety of the term of Mayor Eric Jackson to date.

My concern on this matter was confirmed somewhat by a reading of the actual Ordinance, a copy of which was made available inside Council Chambers, and is available here. According to several documents released to me by DEP in December after I filed an Open Public Records Act last fall, and confirmed as recently as January 5 by Commissioner Martin as reported by Kevin Shea in the Trenton Times, a major capital priority for the State has been repeatedly ignored by the City since at least 2008. As Mr. Shea writes, “In yet another reminder, Martin said the city is far behind and failed to make progress on a January 2014 administrative order to cover the utility’s open-air reservoir in North Trenton.” This reservoir upgrade would, among other things, allow the Water Works to avoid such drastic measures as the system-wide conservation order issued two days ago and still in effect. DEP has been pestering the City to get the Reservoir covered over three different mayoral Administrations. It is that important to them.

As seen in the Ordinance, the City has a vastly different shopping list. Among the items listed in the Ordinance are the following: “the acquisition and installation of water meters, the upgrading and enhancement of computer equipment, the provision of engineering services including general engineering services and engineering services for the Mercerville Tank and the Super Pulsator, interior improvements to the Cortland Street Building [TWW's headquarters], GIS and web design, the acquisition and installation of fire hydrants throughout the City, repairs to various water mains, the acquisition of a building for cold patch and salt, various distribution parking lot improvements and paving, and the acquisition of a mechanical sweeper.”

This capital list is remarkable for a few reasons: none of the cited purposes has anything to do with the Reservoir cover project, subject of “a January 2014 administrative order” as mentioned in the January 5 DEP letter; and it is heavily Trenton-centric, with few obvious improvements for the Mercer County customers outside Trenton’s City limits (other than the Mercerville tank).

This list and this Ordinance seem purpose-made to drive both the State Environmental Protection folks and our neighboring Township customers batshit crazy. The Reservoir project would benefit Trenton almost exclusively, too, but it at least has been mandated by the State (and Federal government, too, although I have not received any documents from the State or the City to document this) for close to a decade.

After the business of the Council was completed, the floor was opened to comments by the Councilmembers. They all spoke about the Water Works.

I took notes during the meeting, and live-blogged some of them. But I cannot do justice to the comments I heard until I receive the audio recording. I’ll be able to properly post the audio and transcribe the remarks of all five Councilmembers who were at the meeting.

For now I will characterize the mood of the meeting as outright defiant, and frankly denialist . They all defended the current TWW management and the Administration, frequently singling out for praise Public Works Director Merkle Cherry and Acting TWW Superintendent Sean Semple by name.

They for the most part refused to accept that the state of the Water situation was as dire as the press and the State made it out to be. The members, especially Mr. Chester, were anxious to pin personal blame on now-former Governor Chris Christie for ramping up the situation to crisis mode. According to the members, this was a deliberate attempt on the part of the State top force Trenton to cede control of the Water Works in favor of shadowy, unnamed friends of Mr. Christie.

The conversation was capped by a motion, passed unanimously, for the City to prepare a letter to the State asking for a full investigation of the problems in the Water Works, an effort to separate fact from fiction, and find out exactly what is going on.

To me, this conversation was more than a bit surreal. This motion to ask the State to investigate the Water Works ignores the fact that the State has, in fact, investigated the Water Works several times over the last few years. So have consultants hired and reportable to the City and the Water Works. Council spoke and acted last night as if none of these had happened.

They ignored the report prepared by the City’s consultants Hatch Mott McDonald in 2014, copies of which were requested several times by the State:

dep 8-28-14

They ignored the report delivered in August of last year, written after a Boil Water incident that June:

mott 8-11-17

They ignored this letter from the State dated July 21, 2017, about that same Boil Water incident, which detailed 10 very specific steps TWW had agreed to take as a result of that violation. The City also agreed to follow up on those items “in a detailed report that is to be submitted to this Bureau within fifteen (15) days of receipt of this correspondence.” Needless to say, the City failed to submit such a report.

dep 7-21-17

They ignored this letter of November 3, in which the State reiterates that the City agreed to bring in an outside contractor to run the Water Works on an emergency basis. It was the City’s failure to comply with this agreement by January 5 that led the outgoing Commissioner Martin to write his angry letter.

dep 11-3-17

In short, in their discussion last night, and their unanimous decision to ask the State to prepare a “report,” Trenton’s City Council willfully ignored the last four years – at least! – of history. They are essentially asking for a Reset for their relations with the State, looking for a fresh start with the new Murphy Administration. They believe that all the fault with the Water Works is due to the State and the Stars, and not ourselves, and that all will become well now. There was also a very heavy dose of railing against the Administration’s internal critics, among whom numbers yours truly. A lot of if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us and how-can-we-prevail-against-outside-forces-if we-are-not-internally-united talk. Much of this kind of talk is only to be expected. But there were uglier undertones in some of the comments that were new, and uncalled-for.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much. Council was truly delusional last night.

The way ahead is not going to be as easy as Trenton’s Councillors think, mainly because of the 225,000 customers cited by Commissioner Martin, nearly 150,000 of them live outside the City, in parts of Lawrence, Ewing, Hamilton and Hopewell Townships. They’ve received the Lead Notices, the Boil Water Advisories, the Discoloration notes, and the Conservation Orders, and they are pissed. They are pretty convinced that most of the problems lie in Trenton, and are due primarily to chronic understaffing at the Water Works for the better part of a decade. The Murphy Administration represents them, too, and they will not be so amenable to letting Trenton skate out from under its obligations. They won’t think another “report” is needed to figure out what’s going on.

What’s next? Council has scheduled their February 1 meeting to be devoted to an extended discussion of the Water Works, inviting representatives from the State as well as TWW management to make presentations and open to questions from customers, which should include those from outside Trenton. The time is tentatively 5:30 PM, the same as usual. It’s bound to be some evening.

After Council had adjourned, Public Works Director Merkle Cherry, the subject of much of my criticism lately, came up to speak to me. He graciously invited me to make an appointment with him to hear the City’s side of the current situation.

I’d be glad to, I told him. But hasn’t the situation with the State gotten to the point where it might be too late to talk about the City’s “side?”

No, he replied. He didn’t think that this path we are going down with the State will end up with Trenton losing control. Since he came in a year and a half ago, TWW had made a lot of progress, and the problems the State was talking about were overblown.

Let me ask you one question before we go, I said. Of the 12 violations TWW was cited for in 2017, how many did he think were illegitmate?

He took some time to answer me. Well, he said, they were all legitimate. But, he assured me, they were the sort of problems that every water system, even the best regarded, run into now and then.We shook each hands and we left Council Chambers. I intend to follow up on Mr. Cherry’s offer to chat, although I will insist it be on the record.

The sort of problems every water system run into every now and then? Even the best ones?

Perhaps. But 12 times in one year?

Now, I don’t attend every Council meeting. But I have attended several over more than a dozen years. Many have been non-productive acts of political theater, mainly during the Tony Mack years, and especially when the Felonious Former Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office himself participated. There were many times where I wondered how in the world Trenton could function as well as it has. as barely as it had.

But I have never seen a meeting like last night. There was other business attended to, of course – by the way, the 10-year Tax Abatement for a property owned by Robert Torricelli was approved, 3-1, with George Muschal the sole vote against – but the overall tone was dominated by the situation at the Water Works.

And Council, to a one, was in denial about the severity of the problem. They were overly optimistic about the City’s future prospects, and more than willing to apportion most of the blame for TWW’s current state to the former Christie Administration, especially the former Governor himself; leaving plenty to spare to the Administration’s many critics.

To be continued, without a doubt! What happens next is sure to be interesting. I’m not sure how much will be good for the City of Trenton, its taxpayers, and the customers of its Water Works.

Trenton City Council Discussing Trenton Water This Week!

RESCHEDULE NOTE: At 11:39AM, the City Clerk’s office sent a Revised Agenda notice, removing the Presentation on TWW by Public Works Director Cherry. No further information was provided regarding any new date for any such Presentation.

As far as I can tell, Council is still due to consider the $6 Million Capital Request at tonight’s session. Still worth opposing that.

ORIGINAL POST, edited: A note on City Council’s docket for Thursday night’s meeting:
Tonight, Council will have the First Reading for an Ordinance to appropriate $6 Million in capital funds for Trenton Water Works.

Council should not consider giving another dime to the current management of the Water Works and of the Public Works Department until they can explain just what the hell is going on with our water!

Some on Council will say “This is only the first reading” of the Ordinance. But giving ANY approvals to spend more millions of our tax money to the same people who have screwed things this badly would be an endorsement of negligence.

Not a penny more to this crew until things are straightened out.

If you are a Trenton resident, please try to attend tonight’s  meetings and let your voice be heard by these same people who are asking for your vote in four months. Let them know they do not deserve it.

If you are a Trenton Water Works customer in Ewing or Lawrence, or those parts of Hopewell Township and Hamilton Township served by TWW, our Council needs to hear from you too. If you haven’t been downtown for a while, City Hall is at 319 East State Street, well accessible by US Route 1 and State Route 29. Tonight’s meeting, again, is at 5;30 PM, in the Second Floor Council Chamber.

city hall