Monthly Archives: July 2007

Paper Tigers

Trenton South Ward Councilman James Coston said Monday that City Council continually deals with an administration that withholds information, forcing council to utilize Open Public Records Act requests and other methods to acquire information that department heads are legally required to provide council.

“Utilizing OPRA and repetitive voicing of this lack of cooperation between branches seems to be the only options at hand,” said Councilman Coston in a statement on his Web site. “More to the point, why does the Administration stifle, a la Dick Cheney, the distribution of information?”

“Open discussion with a free flow of information will, in most cases, bolster Administration policy and action,” he added.

People familiar with the situation, working in previous governments, called the situation embarrassing, saying it shows the current City Council is not doing its job as the voice of the people.

For the protection of the city residents who elected them – and help for council in crafting the appropriate legislation – City Council is armed with the ability to demand timely information and reports from department heads.

They even have the power to fire personnel with a majority vote, which is something that is an important check and balance and a very “American” feature of the government.

Yet City Council members allow the other branch of the government, especially Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum, to withhold information and force Councilman Coston to use OPRA requests as a mean of getting information he requires to DO HIS JOB.

If I were City Council, the next time a Palmer administration department head forced one of my peers to use OPRA, I would provide them with this tidbit:

“The next time I am forced to use OPRA to get information from your office will be the last time you work as an employee of Trenton City.”

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Bloods in the ‘Burbs

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer believes that surrounding municipalities in Mercer County have looked the other way when it comes to the burgeoning gang problem that has begun to make its presence felt in Ewing lately in the form of gang-related shootings.

“It’s a crying shame that now that this is going to suburban areas, that it is coming to the attention of people that should have been concerned a long time ago,” said Mayor Palmer, in a statement in the New York Times. “For years, a lot of municipalities in the area have literally put their head in their sand and pretended it didn’t exist.”

But many Trentonians blame Mayor Palmer himself for ostrich-like activities when gangs first took root in the capital city during his mayoral tenure in the 1990s.

While Mayor Palmer casts blame on the surrounding communities for ignoring the problem, for years Trenton residents, politicians, and law enforcement officials have blamed Mayor Palmer for years of ignoring the gang problem as it was growing during his 17-year reign as mayor.

Officials now estimate Trenton contains 2,000 gang members operating a slew of criminal activities and putting young Trenton residents in body bags in near-record numbers.

It has been said by many officials familiar with the situation that the problem will be addressed more efficiently once more of Trenton’s wealthy neighboring suburbs begin feeling the ill effects of the gangs sitting in their backyard.

Princeton, and Ewing have both had their share of gang warfare, with shootings in residential neighborhoods in Ewing populated by many College of New Jersey students and working class families, and shooting incidents in the John Witherspoon neighborhood located near Princeton Medical Center.

Hopefully suburban municipalities will begin to learn that a healthy Trenton free of gangs means a healthy Mercer County, and hopefully Mayor Palmer and his administration can begin to make some headway into the gang problem plaguing Trenton City.

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First Draft of Potential Guiding Resolution

Whereas the residents of Trenton City are American citizens deserving of a functioning democratic government governed by the United States Constitution and New Jersey state law, and

Whereas the state of public safety is generally regarded by residents, and not by some members of the city government, to be ever more perilous with the continued presence of violent crime and gang activity, creating an environment of vulnerable residents and business operators, and

Whereas the state of the city continues to become ever more economically stagnant, demonstrated by the flight of business, the near-empty downtown business section outside of normal 9 to 5 weekday hours, and the life of poverty lived by many Trenton residents, and

Whereas the condition of much of the city’s dwellings and infrastructure continues to be deficient and left in disrepair, and

Whereas the state of the city’s education system is woefully deficient, evidenced by declining test scores, dropout rates, and negative department of education reports, and

Whereas all of these problematic conditions existing within the Trenton City limits can be linked to the current government of Trenton City, hereby deemed to be malfunctioning, ineffective, and in desperate need of remediation for the good and safety of all Trenton residents, business owners, and general stakeholders, and

Therefore, be it resolved, by representatives adhering to this Guiding Resolution on this, the fourth day of August 2007, to be the stated goal of this organization to ensure the presence of an effective, well-functioning city government which executes and upholds all present and future laws governing the City of Trenton, operating in a manner adherent to national and state laws and governed by those overriding principles inherent in the American system of government.

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Trenton City Clerk

According to Councilman Jim Coston’s Web site, the window for accepting applications for the Trenton City Clerk position is already closed, and the position was only advertised from July 20 to July 25 in the newspapers.

Being a very important position within the city government, it seems a more lengthy and prudent search for the appropriate person for the position would have been the better road taken.

Perhaps this action vindicates the wild speculation that the position had already been handed to Cordelia Staton of the Douglas Palmer slate.

Residents will just have to wait and find out if there was really a deal made behind closed doors between the multiple council persons interested in the position and the administration, resulting in the placement of a true Palmer girl into a position of power that controls elections, and is the “secretary” of the corporation of Trenton City.

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Palmer Deflects Blame for School Performance

In what is surely an indictment of the Palmer administration’s handling of the Trenton public schools, the state handed down a scathing report this week that detailed the deplorable conditions of the city’s public education program.

The state report found Trenton students to be woefully deficient in math and reading abilities, and many Trenton school teachers lacking the appropriate certification, or in some cases any certification at all to be teaching to students.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer remained optimistic about the future of the schools despite the report’s negative content.

“This is an opportunity to work together to pull this district up by its bootstraps and make changes that are critically important to the students and the future of this city,” said Mayor Palmer of the report Thursday.

Mayor Palmer, who has been in power for 17 years, has the power to appoint the school board and thus heavily influences the situation within the city’s school district.

The poor condition of the Trenton public schools have dogged Doug since he came to to power in the early 1990s, as he continually searching for the right leader to improve the district and get it out of the cellar of school performances in the state.

Mayor Palmer has continually found and then removed superintendent after superintendent who were hailed as the panacea for all the district’s ills.

Rodney Lofton is the current superintendent, following the departure of disgraced Superintendent James Lytle, who left the district for a job at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006.

Earlier this year, it was discovered Lytle and other associates within the district had falsified student records, giving them credit for classes that they didn’t take.

The malfeasance required many graduating seniors to have to wait additional time to receive their diplomas.

Mayor Palmer blamed some of the report on Mr. Lytle.

“Quite frankly, I am very disappointed. This just shows a total lack of leadership and the lack of accountability during (former) Superintendent Lytle’s tenure,” Palmer said in a statement in the Times this week.

This statement directly contradicts many of his earlier statements about Mr. Lytle, who Mr. Palmer believed would be instrumental in turning around the district upon his appointment in 1998.

“In Lytle I saw everything that I was looking for as an educational leader (who) could move the district forward,” Palmer said in Star-Ledger article in 2000. “He can work with everybody and has the vision, integrity and guts to make the tough decisions.”

While Mayor Palmer cannot control the actions of his appointments and his school board, he is at least partially responsible for the actions that took place within the district under Mr. Lytle’s leadership.

Having direct control over the school board appointments, surely some of his friends on the board suspected things going awry within the district over the past nine years.

Accountability is something that has disappeared from many parts of Trenton’s government.

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Once again, Trenton Admin. Takes the Lead

The Douglas H. Palmer administration unveiled a new approach to the city’s housing inspections programs this past week, in a plan that the administration says will improve the capital city’s housing woes.

The plan will realign how the city is divided into geographic inspections areas and allow the city to get more inspectors into so-called “hotspots” of infractions and code violations.

While the overhaul may be a step in the right direction, it still leaves the most serious chink in the city’s housing code armor exposed: frequency of inspections.

City code as it is currently written only provides for inspections every five years in a system that allows absentee landlords to juice money out of a property without reinvesting profit into the upkeep of the housing, creating slums and diving property values.

The City Council needs to use its so-called great working relationship with the administration to develop a plan to increase the numbers of inspections.

At the last meeting Mayor Palmer said the city couldn’t afford to hire any more inspectors, faced with an $8 million shortfall in state funds provided for the programs.

Perhaps the city could cut ties with a redundant legal position frequently seen in City Council chambers, since the man doesn’t yield very many legal opinions to the City Council anyway.

The city could then hire two full-time inspections positions, or several part-time staffers with this attorney’s $95,000 salary.

If City Council did its job and passed legislation instead of simply paying bills and paying the administration lip service, perhaps more of the city’s great housing stock would be saved from the reach of the urban blight creeping around the city.

Malfunctioning governing bodies, they’ll get you every time.

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"Johnny" Came Late and Still Saw the Problems

Council President Paul Pintella fired a return shot Saturday at the growing activist population who made their present felt at Thursday’s long City Council meeting.

The movement happens to include young Trenton residents who are voicing their concerns about the city after only recently arriving on the scene. It seems like they saw problems in Trenton that people on City Council haven’t.

Mr. Pintella reflected in the Times of Trenton Saturday that six out of seven of the current council members had won reelection, demonstrating the city’s confidence in them as a governing body.

He then made a veiled reference to some of the younger residents who have been demanding action from their government, calling them “Johnnys-come-lately” who know nothing about where the city has come from.

Myself – Trenton Makes writer Greg Forester – and activist Paul Harris of the Trenton Rising blog are surely part of the group targetted by Mr. Pintella’s “crafty” political reponse.

Lately we have enflamed the political atmosphere of New Jersey’s capital.

Mr. Harris has even organized residents who are fed up with the condition of the city and the government leadership by holding a meeting at the State House, which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed.

So it comes as no surprise to anyone with even a small amount of intelligence that a council member who currently leads the ceremonial legislative body of Trenton City would attack these newcomers to the scene about what would seem to be their most obvious weakness.

The only problem with this attack is that like the council leader, it is quite superficial and even a small amount of logical thought and investigation quickly debunks Mr. Pintella’s comments.

First of all, any resident, regardless of standing and time actually living in Trenton has a right to speak their minds and be listened to as a resident with legitimate and credible concerns.

Secondly, it follows that surely even newcomers to the scene would investigate the facts surrounding Trenton’s situation before rabble-rousing and diving fully into remediating the situation.

Since this reporter arrived on the scene in Trenton, he has heard nearly nothing positive about the council members who have been reelected so happily by the one out of eight Trentonians who actually vote. He also used a set of eyes, ears, and what he thinks is a pretty good brain, and came to some conclusions.

This city is not what it should be.

It hasn’t been for years.

And it is continuing to slide. Crime is worse, the economic situation seems to be worsening, and the city is still a nine-to-five place where nothing is going on downtown on the weekends.

One out-of-towner asked if a neutron bomb had gone off downtown when he walked from one end of State Street to the other without seeing a moving car or another human being.

I don’t know where the city has come from since Paul Pintella got onto City Council, but there still isn’t much to show for it. The Johnnies may have arrived a little tardy to Pintella’s Trenton gig, but they are here now, and they see some serious problems.

These late guests – who seem to have crashed the party at 319 East State Street – plan to put the fire to council until they address these issues…

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