Monthly Archives: April 2008

Some budget cut suggestions

The City of Trenton faces a potential $7 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2009 budget, Palmer administration officials told City Council Tuesday. Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum said even that shortfall would come, even with an anticipated 13-cent tax increase, following the tax hike Trentonians saw this year.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his city business officials ought to seriously deliberate on cutting major positions and department sectors to make up the deficit, instead of consecutive, large-scale tax-rate increases.

This suggestion comes out of the reality that Trenton’s city government is extremely top heavy, especially in the amount of gratuitous positions of employment attached to Mayor Palmer himself.

There are mayor’s aides, and a chief of staff who is only needed because of Mayor Palmer’s infrequent presence inside Trenton’s borders. There are three separate drivers assigned to the mayor, all of which earn about $70,000 or more that a Trenton Police Department detective earns annually.

Despite having significantly less population, Trenton’s city government is way larger than it was under the Holland administration, and significantly larger than the government of Hamilton Township, which has several times more area and about 6,000 more people in population.

Judging by Mayor Palmer’s recent treatment of longtime city employees as cannon fodder in the ongoing residency case, it is likely that the monetary axe will fall on lesser employees, and not any of the high-ranking and highly unnecessary positions that currently suck salary and benefit money out of the city coffers, at an increasingly prodigious rate.

City Council should seriously consider using its statutory budget powers to fleece the hell out of the crowd of unnecessary city employees that make a living off of performing unneeded work for the mayor of a relatively small urban municipality. A couple hundred thousand dollars could be made up in that area alone, through some careful cutting and elimination of positions.

This is Trenton, and Mayor Palmer is not the mayor of a massive city that requires an equally massive administrative bureaucracy. Paired with Trenton’s size, such an organization only serves to interfere with the rest of the city’s finances.

Council members, please take an axe to such an edifice.


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Are we a bunch of idiots?

Only in Trenton’s topsy-turvy world of city government would City Council be on the receiving end of two harebrained schemes asking for hundreds of thousands of city dollars, following a presentation on just how cash-strapped the city’s fiscal future is looking.

Rumors about the city’s dismal finances have abounded for a long time, but in recent days they have grown into a crescendo of nervous whispers here in New Jersey’s capital.

Those voices talk of 10-percent budget cuts, layoffs, firehouses closing, and other symptoms of a city government whose finances have finally broken, after 18 years of mismanagement under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

But to add injury to insult, at tonight’s council meeting representatives from a wireless internet company trying to sell council on the merits of a citywide Wi-Fi system – which council members have already rejected once – will make another desperate appearance to try and get a city contract worth over $200,000 from the doubting city representatives.

That is scheduled only an hour after council members receive a nightmarish briefing on the city’s failing finances.

At around the same time Tuesday as that dandy, Police Director Joseph Santiago will try and convince council about the necessity in paying $200,000 to another gun company for handguns for Trenton’s police officers, despite the fact that the current supplier has offered to replace the whole weapons cache for free.

What is wrong with this picture?

A good way of looking at the behavior of Mayor Palmer and his officials in their treatment of city residents and the legislative branch of city government is that they act like they’re talking to a bunch of idiots.

They say one thing, then do another, which nearly always contradicts their earlier positions and policies. Whether it’s finances or residency or any other issue, it has become quite apparent that many Palmer administration officials – including the mayor, a Trenton native – have little or no respect for the rest of the city, or its government.

Maybe it’s time for a change.


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BREAKING: residency news…

Court papers filed today only further revealed the despicable conduct of officials in the Douglas H. Palmer administration, which has grown worse in recent weeks.

According to papers filed in Mercer County Superior Court today, Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and others began threatening about a dozen or more longtime city employees with termination a few weeks ago, in a ploy to bully City Council into amending the city’s residency ordinance to save the hide of Police Director Joseph Santiago.

Attorney Jim Manahan has now filed an order to show cause, which seeks to save the livelihood of the employees and have the court block Mayor Palmer’s unthinkable decision to terminate them, only to save Mr. Santiago.

Mr. Manahan, in section of 17 of his brief, said it best:

“In fact, this course of action by the City is not based upon any legitimate and honest interpretation of the ordinance in light of the court’s decision…but rather is a politically motivated action designed to coerce the City Council of the City of Trenton to revise the ordinance in such a manner as to legislatively overrule the court and allow the public official (Santiago) named in that action to remain in office.”

Mr. Manahan hit the nail right on the head. Once again, Mayor Palmer’s officials seem to have lost all touch with reality, willing to stop at nothing to save the Police Director from the judge’s gavel.

What is ridiculous about the city’s position is that the employees in question were not granted a residency waiver under the city’s own ordinance, but actually had their residency waived by the Department of Personnel, which manages the hiring and testing of city workers.

Note to Palmer and his lawyers: state law supercedes Trenton’s law, no matter how the two might conflict, and Judge Feinberg did not throw out the state statute regarding waiving residency, just Trenton’s.

Also, it is unthinkable that Judge Feinberg, in throwing out the city’s waiver provision, was calling for any employees waived under that rule to retroactively be subject to termination.

In a letter to City Council that later morphed into a Times of Trenton Op/Ed, Mayor Palmer said administration officials had begun reviewing the files of city employees, and only recently “discovered” some had received waivers under the city’s ordinance, and now faced termination.

All of these statements were broad lies made to the entire public.

Not only did Mayor Palmer and company know about these waivers, as evidenced by employment certifications that disclosed in no uncertain terms that these employees had their residency waived, but they knew they were state-waived, and not waived under the provisions of the city’s own residency ordinance.

But, despite all of this, Palmer administration officials were ready to fire these city workers tomorrow morning, on the tenuous theory that because a judge threw out Trenton’s residency waiver provisions last month, these Department of Personnel-waived employees were subject to termination.

In fact, sources said the only reason they didn’t terminate the employees weeks ago was that union representation, before turning to Mr. Manahan, actually told administration officials they would lobby City Council to amend the law to save the workers.

Smelling blood in the water, Mayor Palmer and Ms. Feigenbaum apparently delayed the termination date, until tomorrow.

Even that date now faces a delay, because with the filing of the papers today Judge Feinberg has scheduled a 10 a.m. conference on Thursday, where she could potentially confront city officials and ask exactly what power gave them the ability to terminate these state-waived employees, retroactively, because of her own decision.

Should get interesting in those chambers. Stay tuned.

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Hypocrisy: Mayor Palmer and "Live where you work"

Talk about “do as I say, not as I do.”

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer advocates for the “Live Where You Work” program, which he unveiled at his State of the City address last fall.

That program seeks to have highly-paid executives and other people working in Trenton actually move into the city, through incentives like reduced mortgage rates and assistance from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

But Mayor Palmer does not really practice what he preaches, as evidenced by the whoe Police Director Joseph Santiago affair, and the mayor’s treatment of other high-ranking and highly-paid city officials who should be living here, under the city’s residency law.

Trenton’s economic and social problems coincide with a decline into an impoverished state, with fully one-fifth of the city’s population living under the federal poverty line.

Getting executives to move into the city is a good idea, but an even better and easier idea is to force well-compensated city officials to abide by the residency ordinance, which is a much more effective method of economic redevelopment than simply offering incentives and hoping for individuals to bite.

These employees are being paid straight out of the city’s own coffers, rather than being a group of people working in Trenton for the state or some other business.

Let’s start with enforcing the residency ordinance, and getting city employees to live in the community of Trenton, and then go after the others.

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Dennis "Rasputin" Gonzalez deserves termination

Considering the bungling conduct of Douglas H. Palmer administration officials when it comes to city redevelopment projects, it should come as no surprise to people living near this city that another project seems headed to the scrap pile.

The record of these officials speaks for itself, now that it looks like it is becoming the time to hand out blame for the failure of yet another project, the proposed K. Hovnanian project at the old Champale site in South Trenton.

The only thing that has been successful with this project is emminent domain, controversy, and the creation of anger, coming from city residents screwed over by the City of Trenton and the developer.

Mr. Gonzalez and the Palmer administration are probably one out of seven when it comes to real redevelopment projects in the city, with the lone project counting as a success being the Broad Street Bank building, which has only recently begun to get off the ground after around a year of the usual city government screw-ups.

Despite this extensive record of failure, Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez and other Palmer administration officials continue with name-calling and arrogance when dealing with City Council, like they did in today’s Times of Trenton.

“Coston is the biggest perpetrator,” said Mr. Gonzalez, of council members being responsible for alleged but unsubstantiated falsehoods and lies, that are usually more often the material of Mr. Gonzalez and company.

City Council candidate Zachary Chester was right to call out Mr. Gonzalez last year on his failures in bringing tangible results to Trenton.

And what did Mr. Chester get in return?

A threat of a lawsuit and demands for an apology from Mr. Gonzalez, who ended up failing to follow through on any of his apparently empty threats.

This same kind of disrespect has been experienced by both City Council members, and residents living around the Champale site, who have had their lives turned upside down for years now, all because of the blind desire of Mayor Palmer’s officials to get the project off the ground.

Enough is enough.

City Council should find a new developer, and tell Mr. Gonzalez and the others that they have screwed up for the last time.

Remove this man from his position.

All it takes is a five-person City Council vote.


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Revisit residency editorial

The Times of Trenton misrepresented events in the Police Director Joseph Santiago residency controversy in an editorial Wednesday.

The most glaring factual errors in the piece were statements regarding the reasons behind the invalidation of a residency waiver granted to Mr. Santiago by the court. The editorial states that happened because Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ruled that the residency’s waiver provision was inconsistent with state law.

The real reason why the waiver was tossed was out of recognition that Mayor Douglas H. Palmer never had the ability to grant such an extra-legal waiver.

All Mayor Palmer actually did was issue some piece of city stationery that stated Mr. Santiago did not have to abide by the residency ordinance, unlike nearly every other city employee.

Judge Feinberg saw that such an action had no legal weight at all. It did not even follow the path prescribed by the City of Trenton’s old residency waiver provision, which was eventually thrown out.

She correctly recognized that Mayor Palmer granted no waiver, but rather simply decided that Mr. Santiago did not have to follow the law, because that was the supreme will of the mayor at the time.

Responsibility for the total elimination of any waiver provision lies squarely on the shoulders of the attorneys for Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago, who saw that the best defense was to take a stance that the ENTIRE ordinance was invalid and should be thrown out, after apparently recognizing the earlier waiver was illegal.

They based this defense on the notion that the city’s residency waiver provision was not perfectly consistent with the language of state law that delineates how residency laws and waiver should work.

All that succeeded in doing was having the entire waiver provision thrown out, leaving Trenton with the super-strong residency ordinance that worked so well for nearly 20 years, without waivers or exemptions, when the city had around 60,000 more inhabitants and a much better economy.

Unlike what was stated in today’s editorial, what has actually happened was that Judge Feinberg stated to the world that Mayor Palmer is not some sort of superhuman god who can bend and change the law as he sees fit.

She saw that he is a democratically elected official who swore to uphold the residency law, without regard to his preference for certain employees over others.

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Broad Street Bank building event today

A long-awaited grand opening celebration at the Broad Street Bank building today hopefully signals the start of renewed efforts by the officials from the City of Trenton in ensuring the historic building and architectural landmark will enjoy some measure of success in attracting tenants to live in downtown Trenton.

George Fakiris of Bayville Holdings LLC – the company that pumped $34 million into renovating the building – was right on with some of his comments in today’s Trentonian about the city’s efforts on both Bayville’s building itself and the city government’s overall efforts in the downtown area.

“I’m not putting anyone down, but we expected more from the City of Trenton,” he told the Trentonian Tuesday. “We thought they would take care of the abandoned buildings near our property. Who wants to look out of their window and look at buildings that not being developed?”

These are the words of a frustrated man from a company that saw the prospects of getting a good return on an important investment for both Bayville and the City of Trenton itself dwindle because of the dragging of feet by city officials, in helping the company secure both a Certificate of Occupancy and parking for future tenants of the building.

Numerous tenants – like me – originally signed up for apartments in the building but delays stemming from paperwork problems caused many prospective Broad Street Bank building residents to find housing elsewhere, and now only eight apartments out of 124 are filled.

These complaints are similar to those coming from other developers who try and work with the city, like Full Spectrum LLC, which wanted to undertake a massive development in the same area as the Broad Street Bank building.

Judging by the condition of Trenton’s downtown – as a business and living area that all but dies after 5 p.m. and on weekends – it would probably behoove city officials to go out of their way for people like Bayville, whose project offers the best hope of returning downtown to its condition decades ago, as a regional shopping and business center.

Trenton needs projects like the Broad Street Bank building to help bring the city back to an acceptable level of economic and social activity. City officials should treat the developers of such projects accordingly. Hopefully assistance from the Trenton Downtown Association and Richardson Commercial, along with renewed effort from the city government, will do the trick.


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