Because What the Mayor Said Yesterday Doesn’t Count as Information

The NJ Times says that Mayor Jackson “broke his silence” about the payroll matter yesterday. I think he told us nothing that hasn’t already been speculated in the press, and hardly confirmed any of that.

To say, at least two weeks into this mess that “We believe it’s just the one agency” to which Trenton has missing tax payments is like saying two weeks later that “We believe that either the Denver Broncos or the Carolina Panthers won the Super Bowl.” That kind of dissembling does nothing to help your credibility on this, Mr. Mayor.

Last evening at Council was truly a civics lesson. Most of the session that I saw was devoted to the conformation process, eventually unsuccessful, of the Mayor’s 3 new nominees to the City’s Municipal Court. During the extended discussion, Council President Zachary Chester told the packed Council Chamber that his votes on the nominations would not be swayed by all the influence being pressed on him over the last several weeks by the fraternity brothers of outgoing Judge Harold George.

Mr. Chester went out of his way – seriously – to assure the crowd that this political dustup would not lead to long-term Greek rancor. “Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi will still be brother fraternities.”

Honest to God, that was important for him to say in open City Council session. I can’t fucking believe it.

However, when it came to review the resolution asking Council to approve a contract with a new payroll service, to replace Innovation Payroll Services, suspect in missing Millions of Dollars of tax payments to the state and/or Federal governments, Mr. Chester and his colleagues said,

Not. One. Word.

The contract was approved by a vote of 4 to 3. Members Marge Caldwell Wilson, Phyllis Holly-Ward and George Muschal voted against the contract.

I spoke at length on the whole matter, primarily to critizize the Administration for its inexcusable lack of candor, transparency and openness in the matter for the two weeks since it’s been public knowledege. But mine were the only words spoken about the subject last night. Pretty damned shameful.

It is a remarkable demonstration of how utterly screwed up this town is that the President of Trenton’s City Council feels that he has to reassure people – at great length, by the way – that Greek brotherhood will not be affected by the conduct of the City’s business, but that the matter of potentially MILLIONS OF EMBEZZLED TAXPAYER DOLLARS deserves literally not one word of comment or explanation.

Last night was a truly appalling civic display. And therefore,

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Day 13 – And The Beat Goes On

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Cram Course

We are close to two full weeks after the first press reports that up to $8 Million Dollars of Trenton municipal funds paid to Innovative Payroll Services for the purpose of tax payments has gone missing. Two weeks and no one in officialdom is saying a word. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation and is clamming up, understandably. The NJ Treasury Department stated that due to confidentiality laws between taxpayers (such as the City) and the State, they can’t say anything. A spokesman for the state wrote to the Trentonian nearly two weeks ago, “I would refer you to the city’s communications office.” And the City isn’t saying anything.

For the life of me, I don’t know why. It’s not as if it’s any longer a secret that there are funds missing. At this point, why pretend nothing’s happened? After all, whoever took the money knows what happened! It’s no secret to them! Of course, there are things you don’t say during an investigation. You don’t make statements accusing anyone in particular. You don’t disclose any forensic information that could be used as evidence in any future criminal trials. That’s common sense.

But a white collar crime of the scale that is being publicly discussed in the media cries out for disclosure. A responsible Administration, at the outset of this problem, should have (and there is still time, guys!) publicly answered the following questions:

  1. How much is missing? To whom were the payments due? The State? The USA? Both?
  2. Over how long a period have payments not been made? When was this problem first suspected? What’s the timeframe of how the discovery was made?
  3. Was the payroll service bonded for any of this loss? If not, how will the money be replaced? Taxpayers are responsible for missing and/or late payments. In the absence of a payroll surety bond, how will the missing money be repaid?
  4. What assurances are there for City employees, on whose individual behalf these payments were made, about their personal responsibility for missing tax payments? How will their 2015 tax returns be affected?
  5. To what extent, if any, has the recent transition to a new Information Technology vendor affected this problem? The old vendor, ADPC, had specifically identified significant problems in the payroll processing systems in a June 2015 review they had prepared for the City (h/t to Jim Carlucci for that tip). The timing is certainly suspicious: June 2015 – ADPC spotlights payroll system problems. November 2015 – ADPC is replaced by a new IT vendor. February 2016 – Missing tax monies come to light, a problem that could stretch back several months.
  6. What steps are being taken to ensure this won’t happen again? What changes will be implemented? Who takes responsibility? Who is accountable?

However, we are not hearing anything about any of this. The City’s News and Announcement page is full of press releases and announcements  concerning either ceremonial fluff, or matters that the City doesn’t really have any control over in any case. But any useful information about embezzlement of $8 Million Dollars? Crickets.

No one has even had the decency to get up in front of a microphone and say something like, “Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, we cannot make any statement at this time.” Neither the Mayor, nor the Business Administrator, nor Police Director, nor City Attorney, nor Council President, nor anyone else has said anything to the employees or citizens of Trenton. The only thing we’ve gotten is a “decline to comment” statement from the city’s press officer Michael Walker.

And that is just wrong.

So, just what have the people in City Hall been doing these past two weeks? With the Prosecutors Office and other law enforcement on the case, what can they all have been doing?

Covering their collective asses, no doubt. Lawyering up, maybe? Or perhaps boning up on the particulars of White Collar Crime, and preparing for the inevitable fallout,  once the dam breaks and the real story comes out.

As it no doubt will. Sooner. Or later. The truth will out.

Even though no one in Trenton may bear any criminal responsibility for what’s happened – although, given the total news blackout imposed on this matter, that cannot be ruled out – there may be civil liability here, and accountability may yet be imposed on individuals currently in the employ of the City of Trenton. So there’s a lot to learn! Thankfully for those on East State Street, there is a lot of information out there about this non-violent financial crimes.

Here’s a link to a handy primer on the subject. found at random after a quick Google search of the terms “covering up white collar crimes.” It’s the very first result that came up, with the handy title, “5 Rules for Protecting Yourself in a White-Collar Criminal Investigation.”

A quick summary:

1. When you hear the corporate Miranda warning, it’s time to get your own lawyer.

Most executives assume their communications with corporate counsel about a legal problem are privileged, and that they are free to talk about problems at the company. They would be only half right… But the reality is that you likely need to obtain your own lawyer who will look out solely for your interests. Company counsel will never say upfront that you need your own lawyer because his or her goal is to elicit information.

2. Everything you say over email can and will be used against you.

Another rule in day-to-day behavior that will help you steer clear of white-collar prosecutions is to be careful about what you say over email. Know this fact: Virtually every email you send is preserved somewhere and will remain available to the government for years to come… Delicate subjects should be handled face-to-face or via telephone; avoid locker room talk over email; and assume every email you send will be read later in the worst possible light.  [Hmmm, is that why no one in City Hall returns my emails? Mayor Jackson has never replied to anything I've written him. Just wondering.]

3. Be wary of discretionary accounting.

Don’t assume that just because you are not responsible for accounting, you can’t be charged with accounting fraud. If accounting decisions are important to the success of your business, make sure you get clear guidance from the experts on what information needs to be disclosed to the accountants and auditors.

4. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Many white-collar criminal defendants can pinpoint a definitive moment in the past where they thought something was amiss in their business dealings, and they wanted to speak up, but for one reason or another, decided to stay quiet. Inaction can lead to trouble just as easily as enthusiastic misconduct. Prosecutors do not limit their ire to the architect of a crime; rather, they look to ensnare everyone who was complicit… If something feels shady or seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Trust your instincts and affirmatively remove yourself from the situation.

5. The attempted cover-up is usually worse than the crime.

Think of Martha Stewart or Barry Bonds, who were convicted not for the crimes that initially led investigators to their doorsteps, but for their attempts to cover up their actions.

A failed cover-up attempt often becomes the focus of the prosecution because it is easier to prove than the crime, and because the government can use the cover-up as a proxy for criminal intent.

This may all be hyperbole. There may likely be no criminal liability within Trenton’s city limits. But at this point in time, there really is no reason for the continuing, and frankly contemptible, silence on the part of the City of Trenton.

What started as rumors in print about a serious matter of missing public funds is beginning to smell like a cover-up.

This refusal by any of the city’s public officials to speak to the matter makes me think that rather than seeking to inform the public and reassure them that any problem is being addressed, the Eric Jackson Administration is embarking on a cram course on Responsibility Avoidance.

It’s time to level with the public. Now.

Day 12 - The Stonewalling Continues

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This Workplace is an Information-Free Zone

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Payday Blues

And I won’t tell ‘em at the bank

What I’m gonna do with all my dough

I’ll just smile and tell ‘em thanks

For it’s better that they shouldn’t know.

- “Payday Blues,” Dan Hicks 1973

The City of Trenton is having some Payday Blues of its own. And the Administration apparently thinks it’s better that we shouldn’t know.

A few news reports over the last several days – the first ones broke last Friday evening, so you know someone wanted to bury the news – have been reporting that the City has been consulting with the Mercer County Prosecutors Office (MCPO) about possible shenanigans involving the City’s outside payroll service. The Trentonian’s David Foster has written a pair of stories (the second one appeared yesterday) narrating that as much as $8 Million Dollars paid by Trenton to Innovative Payroll Services (IPS), intended to cover employee payroll taxes to the State of New Jersey, has gone missing. That’s a problem.

How big a problem? Cristina Rojas explained in her Trenton Times story last Friday that “Under the [City's] proposed $216.4 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year, salaries make up 38.1 percent.” That would mean that the City’s payroll is  approximately $82 Million annually. At an average NJ tax rate (none of the articles have yet suggested that any Federal tax payments are missing) of 3.5%, that would suggest that state taxes are unpaid for approximately $228 Million of city payroll.

To put it another way, if the figure of $8 Million is correct, and if it represents only unpaid New Jersey income taxes, then that means that the City hasn’t paid the state in about three years. Uh huh. Yeah. Do the math.

I can only hope that some of these numbers are incorrect! I sure to hope to read that the amount of missing money is lower than $8 Million. Or that the sum also represents payments not made to the Federal government as well. Or that the sum includes payments for employee pensions as well. It’s mind-boggling to think that something like this has been going on for THREE YEARS without anyone noticing. Not anyone in the City, nor anyone in the State.

In David Foster’s Friday story, he wrote “A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Treasury declined to provide how much money the city owes the state in payroll taxes. Sources said the department reached out to the city to inquire about nonpayment of taxes.” It sounds like the Treasury Department may have first gotten this ball moving. Is it possible that the State didn’t notice any payment of payroll taxes attributable to the City of Trenton for three years? It’s hard to conceive. However, it’s certainly possible to imagine that the City may have not noticed, considering the incredible amount of chaos, carnage and disruption City Hall has experienced over the last half-dozen years.

Outside payroll services are used by companies large and small, as well as governmental entities. ADP is the largest and most well-known; on its website it describes itself as a 60-year-old worldwide company serving more than 610,000 clients. IPS is a good deal younger and a good deal smaller. According to its website, the West Berlin, NJ, company has been around since 2006. According to the Trentonian, IPS “has provided payroll services to the city since May 2009, when former Mayor Douglas Palmer’s administration added a last-minute resolution on the agenda to award the contract that council unanimously approved, according to the city’s meeting minutes. When reached by phone last Friday, Palmer did not recall the company nor the owner.”

Up until today, everything about this case is pretty much pure speculation. No one is saying Nothing! Nothing has been confirmed by anyone on the record. Last week, the MCPO told The Times “At this point in time, we are waiting for the city to provide us with additional information.” A spokesperson for the  Treasury Department declined to comment, deferring to the City. Trenton’s press officer, Michael Walker, also declined to comment.

Trenton’s City Council discussed the matter last Thursday night, in a closed Executive session. It appears the Councilmembers did so in violation of Open Public Meeting rules. Member Phyllis Holly-Ward was quoted last week in Ms. Rojas’ article saying that the closed session was authorized for one matter, but the IPS issue was brought up by Council President Zachary Chester and City Attorney Marc McKithen without notice to the other Members. According to Holly-Ward, “It’s a very serious subject. It appears that it was an intent to hide it from the public and press.”

Well, the press and the public have the story now, and there are a lot of questions. Understanding that the matter may now be a criminal investigation by the Mercer Prosecutor’s (at least!) Office, there’s obviously a lot that cannot be discussed. Yesterday in the Trentonian we read that IPS’s president John Scholtz has lawyered up. He won’t be talking.

But there is still a lot that can be said, and a lot that should be done, by the City of Trenton.

Without getting into particulars about IPS, the City should announce what steps it is making to change payroll services.

The City and/or State should reassure City employees and taxpayers – to the extent that they can – that even if required tax payments to the State have not been made for several months or even years, that individual employees will not be held liable for those missing payments.

The City should immediately disclose the scope of the problem; if not to talk about the amount at stake, at least to the extent of acknowledging if this problem is limited to payments missing to the State of New Jersey only, or to the Federal government. Are we talking about income tax withholding only, or also pension payments.

The crucially important thing to be done is to level with the City’s employees and let them know they will not be personally on the hook for any missing taxes.Beyond that, there are many, many other questions that need to be answered.

First and most important, was IPS bonded for any failure of service? The IPS website statesIPS is proud to be SAS70 certified. What does this mean to you? It means IPS has taken the extra step in ensuring our clients piece of mind and security that our practices have been audited and found in compliance with industry standards.” But that only speaks to auditing of financial books and records; the website is silent as to whether IPS is bonded. As one example, another NJ-based payroll service [selected by this writer at random] explicitly states on its website, “PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Payroll clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf.”[Emphasis mine - KM]

I don’t see anything about bonding on the IPS website. How exposed were they, and now Trenton, to losses?

Second, what kind of confirmation would be sent by IPS to Trenton of its periodic tax deposits? A 2013 article in the Baltimore Sun, reporting on a similar failure by a Maryland payroll company to make tax payments quotes the local US Attorney on the importance of monitoring one’s payroll service:

“You need to verify that the payments are made as if they were made by a bookkeeper in [your] own office,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. “The first time the payments are not made on time, it’s a pretty good idea to get a new payroll company.”

The IRS last year started requiring payroll service providers when hired — and quarterly thereafter — to remind the employer that it is ultimately responsible for tax withholdings, said Pete Isberg, president of the National Payroll Reporting Consortium, whose members include the largest payroll service providers.

Payroll service providers also must tell customers they can check online to make sure their withholdings have been forwarded to the U.S. Treasury Department, he said.   [Emphasis mine - KM]

Employers can do this through the government’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System at The site will post when the government receives the taxes, usually a day after receipt, experts said.

This article talked about a Maryland vendor, and procedures involving US tax payments. But the principle is still valid for us: How vigilant was the City of Trenton in verifying that its payroll service was making the required payments on its behalf since 2009?

However this story unfolds, it will likely take a long time to resolve. An example of that comes from my industry. In 2008, the Axium entertainment payroll service failed, filing bankruptcy liquidation while it, too, owed, large amounts of back taxes, estimated at the time in the tens of millions of dollars. From January of 2008, it took until June 2014 for criminal charges to be filed. John Visconti was charged at that time in Federal court with tax evasion, “accused of taking millions of dollars from the company he led and failing to report it to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as income,” as reported in Bloomberg Business. As of that time, the Axium company bankruptcy was also described as “still pending.”

IPS is much smaller than Axium was. But it is clear that these things take years to resolve. This one will be no different. There will be investigations. A company may fail. People may lose their jobs. Some may go to jail.

The matter of IPS and Trenton is just beginning. It’s not going to end soon. Without compromising confidential information of an investigation just beginning, the City of Trenton and the State of New Jersey need to publicly and immediately acknowledge the problem and disclose what it can.

Most pressing, the City needs to reassure its employees that they will not be held liable for any missing income tax payments on their behalf. Right now.

UPDATE: 2/11/16 3:50 PMThe Mercer County Prosecutors Office announced the launch of a criminal investigation this afternoon. Still no word on any kind of announcement to City employees about any possible personal exposure for unpaid taxes, nor any word on whether IPS was bonded.

PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Advanced Payroll Clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf. – See more at:
PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Advanced Payroll Clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf. – See more at:
PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Advanced Payroll Clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf. – See more at:
PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Advanced Payroll Clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf. – See more at:
PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Advanced Payroll Clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf. – See more at:
PTM provides clients of Advanced Payroll Solutions, LLC (”Advanced Payroll”) with a Fifty Million Dollar ($50,000,000) fidelity bond. Advanced Payroll Clients are covered by this bond, as PTM electronically moves the tax monies to the authorities on their behalf. – See more at:

Dear Mercer County Freeholders

As emailed today to the Mercer County Board of Freeholders. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to reach out to them yourselves, if you have an opinion on this matter. Email addresses are below. – KM

Good Afternoon, Freeholders -

In connection with today’s media reports about the 2015 Salary Ordinance which your body passed on First Reading last week, I write to express qualified opposition.

I believe that those who enter public service must receive proper compensation, appropriate to their positions and duties, equitably distributed to all workers in comparable pay grades and job classes, and subject to periodic review and increase. No one entering public service should do so expecting to become financially distressed by that service. It should be possible for fulltime workers, including elected officials, to earn a respectable livelihood in the service of the public interest. In the absence of the ability to earn a living, government service – for elected officials as well as civil service employees – will become the exclusive province of those with extraordinary financial resources. Individuals such as these may not need their public salary, but such individuals are not typical of those they represent. I would not be confident in their ability to understand the problems that all face, and to provide the fair solutions we seek from government.

I understand the rationale and objective of this salary ordinance. I get it. I do not agree with how this has been rolled out.

News stories today report that 4% increases for all of the County’s elected officials and some senior Employees are proposed to be retroactive to the beginning of 2015. To my recollection, the matter of such an increase was never brought up as a prospective action during the entire year of 2015. The November 2015 General Election featured races for County Executive, County Clerk, and three Freeholder seats. I believe this represented a perfect opportunity to state the intention to adjust salaries in the new year. The failure to do so among the various legislative and executive candidates in my opinion is unfortunate, and brings this current effort into question.Voters deserve an opportunity to weigh in on a matter such as this, as a check and balance against the ability of public officials to grant themselves unilateral retroactive raises. The manner in which this is being discussed and approved suggests an effort to accomplish this early enough in the new legislative term so that voters may forget about it by the time the next election rolls around.

In this matter, I would suggest an example set by the Founders should apply here. The 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, proposed in 1789 and not ratified until 1992 (demonstrating how unpopular this must have been for elected officials during the entire lifespan of the Republic!) states in its entirety, “No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

This is the way in which raises for elected officials should be implemented: Propose and pass raises as you deem prudent. But ensure that the public has an indirect role in their approval, by not implementing them until after the next County election.

If, upon standing for re-election, voters judge the raise to be fair (along with other issues, certainly), then you may be likely to be re-elected. But if the raises are deemed to be inappropriate (along with the other issues), then the voters’ judgment may tend in the other direction.

In either outcome, the public at least has an indirect, but definitive choice in the matter. A choice which your current effort denies the electorate.

Freeholders, I respectfully request you to please reconsider your position on the matter of raises for yourselves as well as your elected Mercer County colleagues. Separate raises for elected officials from those of fulltime civil service or appointed employees. Designate any raises for yourselves to take effect only after an intervening General Election at which a majority of County offices are up for election.

Thank you.

Kevin Moriarty

Sent to:

Samuel T. Frisby –

Anthony P. Carabelli –

Ann M. Cannon –

John A. Cimino –

Pasquale “Pat” Colavita –

Andrew Koontz –

Lucylle R.S. Walter –

Outside Perspective

My attention was drawn the other day to a headline on “An Urban Island of Batsh*t Crazy.” Hey, I thought. Someone’s writing about Trenton! I clicked on the link, and was rather surprised to find out the article was actually about Bridgeport, Connecticut, instead. You know what? This other post-industrial Northeast city of 147,000 is pretty screwed up, in ways that might even lead jaded Trentonians think, “Wow, I’m sure glad I’m not stuck in a place like Bridgeport!” I’m telling you! Check it out for yourself.

Reading the article got me thinking that it is helpful to hear about other towns and cities from time to time. To read about different localities tackle some of the same problems we experience on the Delaware, and hear other viewpoints may help expand our minds and help us become open to new approaches and solutions, or at the very least help us to validate and our own perspectives. It’s in that spirit that I thought to chat with an outside voice. Someone with limited firsthand knowledge of Trenton, perhaps, but someone whose long experience, keen perception and quick wit has endowed him with a wisdom that surely has much to offer us in our small burg.

I spoke to Sam Clemens, an experienced journalist who has reported for a number of newspapers throughout his career, including the Hannibal (MO) Journal, the Virginia City (NV) Territorial Enterprise, the Sacramento Union, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Buffalo Express. He’s also done some freelance writing under an assumed name. He was gracious enough to share a few moments, and thoughts.

Mr. Clemens, thanks so much for agreeing to chat about Trenton! I want to start by giving you a little context. We are in the second year of the Eric Jackson Administration. When the man ran for Mayor, he made a major promise that his term in office would be distinguished by the highest ethical principles. Sixteen months in, he and his colleagues have, well, fallen kind of short on that promise.What do you think of such high promises being so easily set aside?

Principles aren’t of much account, anyway, except at election time. After that you hang them up to let them season.

I hear you! That certainly appears to be what’s happened around Trenton. Take this whole IT contract business. It seemed to me when the news broke that there was something really wrong about the way the City’s managed to work the bidding process around so that their preferred company won Trenton’s business. A Superior Court judge agreed, and ordered City Council last week to halt the award of a contract until a pair of lawsuits are resolved. A lawyer for the City calls the lawsuits “frivolous,” by the way.

Lawyers are like other people–fools on the average; but it is easier for an ass to succeed in that trade than any other.

The City is adamant that this very small firm, FCC Consulting Services, is the best qualified for the business, even though the company works out of a private house, is a single proprietorship, and not much experience. Compared to the other 11 companies which bid for the City’s business, this is really a case of the underdog winning out over larger companies with more resources.

Let your sympathies and your compassion be always with the under dog in the fight–this is magnanimity; but bet on the other one–this is business.

That about sums it up. But all last week, we read several articles in which the City’s Business Administrator and Law Director kept insisting that FCC’s was the “overall best proposal,” when the evidence doesn’t really support that.

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

The Administration seems to have entirely forgotten what happened five years ago. The City first tried then to ditch the current vendor and replace it with a new one of doubtful ability.

It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.

Man, you’re right about that! This Administration is repeating a lot of the mistakes made during the Tony Mack years. But so is Trenton’s City Council. Six of the seven current members were on Council during the Mack years. The seventh could read a newspaper. They seem to be entirely clueless about how to do their jobs.

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of [Council]. But I repeat myself.

Oooh, that’s harsh.

Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a [Council]man can.

You’re not holding back today. Why do you have such a low opinion of Council?

All Congresses and Parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity.

Well, at least you aren’t singling out Trenton’s City Council for your disapproval. But you are right about them. They do tend to go with the flow. Or, whoever provides the strongest flow at the time, who is usually the Mayor and his folks.

We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove.

That pretty much describes Council from last week. On one matter, a symbolic resolution asking the New Jersey Legislature to introduce legislation that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, only one member moved for a motion to approve. Four other members didn’t utter a single word, pro or con, on the matter. They all sat mute, not an expression on their face like they were waiting for a bus. Two other Councilmembers conveniently left before the matter came up. One later said she was sick and had to leave, but she reportedly spent some time talking to different people before leaving City Hall. Ill, or just “allergic” to talking about Marijuana? It was hard to tell.

…the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes.

Well, some of those words were in fact used that night. It wasn’t a very courageous moment for Council, at all.

It is curious–curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare…  There are not enough morally brave men in stock. We are out of moral-courage material.

As you said at the beginning of our conversation, it seems like the only time we really hear any ideas or principles from these guys is at election time.

If we would learn what the human race really is at bottom, we need only observe it in election times.

Unfortunately. What really bugs me, with Council as well as the Administration, is that they often just seem like so many fools.

Let us be thankful for the fools; but for them the rest of us could not succeed… I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.

But, I know we’re not alone in that. Every city and every town has its share, right?

If you send a damned fool to St. Louis, and you don’t tell them he’s a damned fool, they’ll never find out.

As a journalist, what advice would you have for our elected and appointed public servants?

We ought never to do wrong when people are looking.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? This is a time when local journalism – at least the traditional kind of newspapers, radio and television – is on the wane. It’s harder to depend on local reporting to inform citizens. How are we to keep informed – and keep our local government honest?

[E]very citizen of the republic ought to consider himself an unofficial policeman, and keep unsalaried watch and ward over the laws and their execution.

Do you think there is a role for regular citizens, to make their voice heard when they disagree with the direction of their government?

The citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth’s political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor.

I agree. But there is a lot of resistance in this town to any kind of criticism.

Arguments have no chance against petrified training; they wear it as little as the waves wear a cliff.

But it’s really exasperating when you see the exact same mistakes being made over and over.

Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn’t any. But this wrongs the jackass.

Yeah, but sometimes it makes me angry to see so much going on, and so little learning from past mistakes!

When angry count four; when very angry, swear.

That happens, sometimes, I’ll admit. Mr. Clemens, don’t you get a little worn out occasionally, from all the foolishness you see everywhere you look?

If all the fools in this world should die, lordly God how lonely I should be.

Surely, you jest!

Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool, and all His work must be contemplated with respect.

Thanks for the taking the time to chat, Mr. Clemens. One of these days, we need to see you in Trenton.

Ten or twelve years ago I was surprised and shocked to receive from England — from the Internal Revenue Office — a tax-bill of £48 — an income-tax bill, levied on my English copyrights. I was shocked, but it was not all shock. I was flattered as well as shocked; flattered to be formally taken notice of by a foreign government. It seemed to kind of introduce me into the family of nations; seemed — well, it seemed to sort of recognize me as one of the Friendly Powers — not on a large scale, of course — not like Russia and China and those, but on a — well, on a secondary scale — New Jersey.

Thank You!

Time for a Gut Check, Trenton

heads sand

Profiles in Courage, this wasn’t.

I attended last night’s meeting of City Council, with the intention of delivering remarks on the matter of the FCC Consulting contract. Before I had a chance to do so, while the Members were in Executive Session to discuss the lawsuits (yes, plural. ADPC filed a second suit on Wednesday) brought against the city by spurned Information Technology vendor ADPC, news spread through Council Chambers that Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson had issued a temporary restraining order last evening to block Council from voting on a new contract. According to Cristina Rojas of the Times,

The judge said she was most concerned with the evaluation process, more so than the other technical issues and connections that ADPC had raised.

“It’s clear that there was bad blood between the city and this entity,” she said. “Did that mean they weren’t given a fair share? I don’t know, but I’m not convinced on the basis of the materials that I have seen that the evaluation process was on an even playing field.”

Thank you, Judge Jacobson, for agreeing with what I in this space and others, such as Jim Carlucci have been saying all week since this matter has come up. The entire bid process was irregular, fatally flawed and unfair. So far, the taxpayers of Trenton have avoided another ripoff, but No Thanks to the Administration of the City of Trenton, nor to City Council. Once again, a judge has to intervene and be the only person in authority to exhibit any measure of common sense.

Judge Jacobson, you’ll recall, was the one to finally peel Tony Mack’s fingers off his desk chair last year and shit-can him from office nearly three weeks after his Federal conviction. For some reason, some Judicial Providence has given her the sad penance of having to clean up after Trenton’s frequent messes. Her work is not yet done. Too bad for her.

I ended up delivering my remarks to Council anyway, as did a few other citizens and Joe Harris, the president of ADPC (he also answers to the name “Plaintiff”). None spoke in favor of FCC.

It will be interesting – and not in a good way – to see what happens next. I’d been hearing through the day and into the evening that the situation in Trenton’s IT world this week has not been good. Without any kind of orderly and staged transition to the new vendor FCC, many systems are either not working or under-performing. I heard specifically that Accounts Payable hasn’t been able to output a check run to pay the City’s bills this week.

According to the Times, FCC would continue to work on the City’s IT for the foreseeable future, though it is unclear on what basis that would take place. It’s also unclear whether any overtime being incurred on the job – and if checks are not being printed, you can bet the IT guy (guys? We don’t know!) is not leaving at 4:30 – is being billed at $125 per person per hour, per FCC’s “winning” bid, or not being charged, under the old ADPC contract terms. Either way, the meter is running. Ka-ching!

During his statement, Joe Harris offered that ADPC is willing to come back in to help solve the current mess. He cautioned, though, that after turning over the system – including keys and passwords – to FCC last weekend, he could not vouch for the systems’ continued integrity. Oh, boy.

We will have to wait to see what happens next. In the short run, FCC may continue in place. That won’t last long. The writing is on the wall: the Judge has given a strong signal that this entire purchasing process will have to junked, and started over. Given what is now known about FCC Consulting and its principal’s financial history, they will not be considered a serious contender in any future bidding round – if it is conducted correctly, that is.

After it was clear that no action would be taken on the FCC matter, I and several others stayed around for much of the rest of the session. There were many other matters on the night’s docket, but the one matter that attracted the most attention, and which generated the most comments during the session, both pro and con, was Resolution 15-694, a Resolution which would have recorded Trenton’s support for State Legislative action to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults. This was a purely symbolic measure. No action would have been unilaterally taken by the City to legalize or decriminalize the stuff within city limits. The only effect of this resolution, had it passed, would have been to record Trenton as the second town in New Jersey, after Asbury Park, to support a path for the matter to be taken up by the Legislature.

Now, everyone knows that drugs, both legal and not, are a particular plague to the City of Trenton. From alcohol to marijuana to heroin and likely everything in between, they are everywhere and being abused by Trentonians and out-of-towners alike. I’d hazard to say that illegal drugs represent the largest private industry in the city, and probably is responsible for the employment of more Trentonians than any legitimate business in town. It certainly is a fact that that illegal drugs is the Number One public safety issue driving the City’s crime rate, violent and non-violent alike.Drug paraphernalia litter our streets. Drug customers and the suppliers do business in front of our homes, or they take over abandoned buildings to conduct their trade. If you live or work in Trenton, Drugs are everywhere, every day.

I offer that background as context to the proposition that if you live or work in Trenton, you have an opinion about drugs. You may hate them, you may buy them. You may feel that law enforcement should spend more resources cracking down on suburban customers rather than suppliers (who are quickly replaced by competitors whenever arrests are made). Or you may feel, as many witnesses stated last night, that after 50 years of “The War on Drugs” the nation consumes more illegal drugs than ever, and it’s time to try something different. You may be in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing and regulating marijuana, as 28 states and many cities in the US have done to some extent.

Whatever you opinion, you are likely not neutral on the subject. Few people are. Few people in Trenton even could be!

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to six citizens in Trenton who have no opinion – nothing to say, no ideas to offer, no personal anecdotes, no defense of the current system, not one word – on the topic of legalizing Marijuana in the State of New Jersey:

  • City Council Member Alex Bethea
  • City Council Member Duncan Harrison
  • City Council Member Phyllis Holly-Ward
  • City Council Member George Muschal
  • City Council Member Verlina Reynolds-Jackson
  • City Council Member and Council President Zachary “Slugger” Chester

(That’s a group picture of the distinguished Members at the top of this page.)

Before the matter of Resolution 15-694 came up last night for a vote, Members Harrison and Holly-Ward left the Chambers for the night. They did so without comment. Even though they left before a vote, and therefore could not have voted, considering the public attention being paid to the topic and the number of people in the Chamber who were there to speak on the matter and listen to Council’s response, it might have been expected to have heard them say something like, “Mr. President, unfortunately I do have to leave before consideration of the matter before the vote. But here are my feelings and my position on the topic.” But no, off they went. Without a word.

When City Clerk Richard Kachmar called for a motion to bring the Resolution to a roll call vote, Member Marge Caldwell-Wilson made the motion. The Clerk called for a second, and was met with silence. Not a word was spoken by the other 4 members. There was no second for the motion, so there would be none. Ms. Caldwell-Wilson then moved to table or postpone the matter, and again no one seconded. With no second to take any kind of action, the resolution died. Ms. Caldwell-Wilson, clearly upset, left the meeting.

After other business was concluded, Public Comment was opened. I addressed the Members of Council, the few who were left, and told them they were elected to do the Public’s business. Pro or con, they are on Council to take a stance. To refuse to do so, to sit in utter silence when action is called for, is an act of political cowardice. I then left Council Chambers. I didn’t hear any word of response from the Council dais as I left. I didn’t expect any.

There’s not a lot more to say here. I can’t attend Council meetings that often, so I haven’t seen for a while how dysfunctional this body has become. I’ve read news reports and I’ve heard other firsthand stories from people about how frequently – and without stated cause – Members abstain from difficult votes, or miss sessions altogether to duck having to be put on the record regarding politically difficult or inconvenient matters. I know they do this a lot. But I didn’t seen it happen in front of me until last night. I was angry and disgusted.

Six of these Members were elected five years ago, and served during the Mack years. Early on in that Administration, the Mayor and his cronies intimidated and cowed those Council members, and they were useless for the remainder of his term. I had hoped for an improvement with a new Mayor and one new addition to their number. But I am disappointed. I guess once you’ve lost your moral backbone, like the real thing it doesn’t grow back.

This week, after the FCC matter and after watching Council take up a monastic vow of silence last night, I feel particularly ill-served by Trenton’s leadership.Council has let us down.The Mayor, his Business Administrator, his Legal Director, and all of those City staff who were responsible for the IT fiasco, have let us down.

It’s time for a gut check, Council!

It’s time for a gut check, Mayor Jackson!

What the hell are you here for?

If you can’t handle the small shit – and one symbolic resolution and one IT contract really is Small Shit – How The Hell can you even start to handle the Really Important Stuff?

Speaking of Class Action...

No, really! Even before the news yesterday about the legal troubles facing Trenton Business Administrator Terry McEwen, I was thinking about the movie “Class Action,” the 1991 release directed by Michael Apted, starring the always wonderful Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as father-and-daughter lawyers on opposite sides of a contentious class-action lawsuit. It’s long been a favorite of mine largely it’s because it was shot in my hometown of San Francisco. As such, it features all the usual scenic money shots of The City that you always see on screen. But it also features scenes shot in some lesser-known and less featured spots (Hey, it’s Beach Chalet! Look, it’s Mission Dolores!) as well as some local celebrities (Mayor Art Agnos! Dan Hicks, with the original Hot Licks!!), which are nice little Easter Eggs for folks like me who lived there back in the day.

Otherwise, “Class Action” (the movie, not the civil securities fraud lawsuit filed in Federal Court against 6D Global Technologies in which BA McEwen [as a member of the company's Board of Directors] was named as one of several defendants, and which also included arrests on criminal charges of the Founder/CEO and others in the company although not Mr. McEwen) is a pleasant but otherwise routine courtroom drama that follows the usual formula you know so well. Scrappy, firebrand lawyer represents Ordinary Working People suing a Big Bad Car Company for building cars that blow up. It’s pretty evocative of the period in which it was shot, featuring the Big Cellphones and Bigger Shoulder Pads that ruled the world at the time.

The plot thread regarding the lawsuit follows a fairly routine path, with Hackman going nowhere fast in his lawsuit (and in the broken relationship with his daughter Mastrantonio) until a key piece of evidence is found, a Smoking Gun that proves his case, and leads the Evil Carmaker to admit defeat (and also leads to Father-Daughter reconciliation. The resolution proves that The L:ttle Guy can win, and (more dubiously) that Lawyers Have Hearts.

Of course, the Smoking Gun is found in the last reel, after much drama, and almost but not quite by accident. That’s the formula for courtroom fiction. There’s no dramatic arc if the Smoking Gun is never found, and no drama if it’s found in the first five minutes of the film.

But Real Life isn’t often like that. In our notably litigious society, many suits are brought that have no real validity to them (Hello, Barry Collicelli!). And many are brought whose outcomes are glaringly obvious from the day they are brought (See “ADPC vs. City of Trenton,” 2010-2011), you have to wonder why some defendants even bother to put up a fight at all. Well, I suppose lawyers have to eat.

Trenton’s City Council should keep this in mind today and this evening, as they meet to consider what is likely the next ADPC versus Trenton lawsuit. A civil lawsuit seems to be where we are going, as the result of the latest fuckup by the City in its clumsy attempt to replace ADPC, the vendor which has been supplying supervision and operational oversight of Trenton’s Information Technology assets and operations for nearl 30 years, with a company called FCC Consulting, a small single-proprietorship whose cost proposal for a three-year contract was the 3rd most expensive out of 12 bidders.

The docket for this evening’s Council meeting was revised yesterday to include a new Item V, an Executive Session to discuss “Pending Litigation – ADPC.” I don’t have any information about this, but it seems that the president of the company, Joe Harris, who has been railing for days about how poorly ADPC has been treated by the City, is once again taking Trenton to court as he did 4 years ago. He won then, and he is on track to whip the City’s ass again if he has in fact decided to sue.

In fact, I think his case will be easier to prove in 2015 than in 2011 because in this Real Life case, unlike a Hollywood story, the Smoking Gun is in plain view. I see what is a likely Smoking Gun, with the Seal of the City of Trenton all over it.  It’s the City’s own Request for Proposals document. #CC2015-06, the Re-Advertised version of the original document issued earlier in the summer (NOTE: I will post a link to the document once I can upload it. In the meantime, I will post an excerpt as a screengrab). UPDATE: Here’s the link.

There is a document included with the RFP package sent out to all parties interested in bidding for the Trenton IT contract called “Information System Audit for the Assessment of Technical Support Services for the City of Trenton Information System – June 23, 2015.” This document provides a narrative background to the history and status of Trenton’s IT infrastructure, and provides a rough inventory of all the City’s hardware and software assets throughout every City working location. The document intends to provide a snapshot of the City’s current status so an interested company can prepare a complete and accurate proposal to take over the operation, should they win the competition.

On Page 1 of this document, there is a description of how the City’s IT management has broken down. Here’s the money quote:

rfp excerpt 1

And there it is, your Smoking Gun. If ADPC wants to show a Judge and Jury that they were railroaded out of town and unfairly judged for their performance, they will have to do little more than point to this document. The City of Trenton openly admits that its Business Administrator and Department/Division Directors “were and continue to be unaware of the IT resources available of plans proposed by the contractor (ADPC) even though they have met with no less than six Business Administrators over the past five years to present the long range plan for Information Technology in the City.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

This is astonishing.

Once more, with feeling: “They [ADPC] last presented this plan in July 2014 and it was received and then never discussed or even rebuked, as was the case since 2010.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

Listen. This is the kind of assertion that a plaintiff’s attorney includes in their brief, as a hypothesis they have the burden of proving in court by a preponderance of evidence. This can take months and require a mind-numbing mountain of technical documents that need to be translated into easily-digestible bites by expert witnesses.

That won’t need to happen in the sequel “ADPC vs. Trenton II: A Good Day to Sue Hard.” This will be one short story. ADPC’s attorney’s just have to show up and say something like,

“Your Honor, our clients tried for five years to get direction from the City of Trenton regarding their work. They tried, and tried, and tried, and tried. With no fewer than six Business Administrators they tried, and over a period of five years tried. They kept submitting plans and proposals, and they never got a single reply, not even to reject the plans.

“Your Honor, to prove this we introduce Plaintiff’s Exhibit A, the package issued by the City of Trenton to all the parties that were invited to replace my client. In their own words, Your Honor, they have openly admitted this to the world.”

At this point, I was going to pile on the arguments against the City proceeding to install FCC Consulting to replace ADPC. But I don’t think I even have to go into how the rest of the RFP violates NJ State Purchasing guidelines for the way it laid out the weighted Evaluation Criteria by which all of the proposals were judged.

I won’t have to go into the very shaky financial history of FCC Consulting and its principal. It won’t be necessary to refer to the many business suspensions or court-ordered Judgments filed against F.C. Carothers and his several LLC’s over the last decade, the most recent one being only one year ago, or of personal bankruptcy nearly a decade ago.

No, I don’t need to make any further arguments, because the City’s already given up the game.

If I were a member of Trenton’s City Council in Executive Session tonight, the first question – the ONLY question – I would ask the Administration would be, “How do we cut our losses and get out of this?”

Trenton is screwed. Better to admit this now than wait for the inevitable ruling by a court. In this movie, there’s no suspense.