Monthly Archives: May 2008

Get your priorities straight

Trenton’s city government certainly does not have its priorities straight in cutting costs and reducing expenses in light of a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

Instead of making common sense changes to governmental activities and policies, the city residents are being made to bear the brunt of the budget axe, through the elimination of city police assets and units like the closing of once highly-touted police precincts during the late night hours and the elimination of the Metro and Vice units.

As Old Mill Hill has pointed out, these police precincts – some of which still languish in various stages of construction – were opened to great fanfare by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago, as evidence of keeping promises and focus on public safety issues.

Now, while favored city employees play bumper cars with Crown Victorias and waste gasoline 20 miles outside of the city, city residents in certain wards face the prospect of having their own area precincts closed at some of the most dire hours for public safety emergencies.

Police detachments like the Metro and Vice units are being closed down, with the same cost-cutting needs cited as the reason. These units maintained very public presences, either physically, in the case of downtown Metro officers, or virtually, in the case of the Vice unit’s numerous arrests of high-ranking gang members and drug dealers.

Instead of these questionable plans, here are some suggestions:

– Cut numerous positions in the city’s top-heavy administration, which is sized more appropriately for a city of 500,000, and not one of 84,000. There are mayor’s aides, the chief of staff, multiple department directors, and numerous other positions ripe for elimination.

– Get rid of either the current city attorney, or the special counsel. Having both is totally unnecessary, and the salary would be better used in hiring a larger staff of in-house lawyers that would further cut the costs of contracting legal services out to to exotic law firms from Camden County.

– Institute a strict vehicle policy that keeps city vehicles in town, and more tightly controls the usage of city gasoline, at a time when gas is set to go over $4 a gallon.

– Redistribute the mayor’s unnecessary personal protection detail to the police department and cut down on the $8 million police overtime bill.

Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago need to end the rampant waste and questionable financial decisions* frequently made by both men before considering any of these cost-saving measures that threaten public safety, in a city that already has a public safety problem.

*(It must be recognized that Mr. Santiago did make a good decision in shutting down the police department’s horse unit, which was a gigantic waste of money and manpower.)

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Trenton Water Works mismanagement: Part 2

Trenton water utility employees over the years have made it a habit to perform plumbing work while on the city clock for residents in the water utility’s coverage area, with the de facto approval of city officials, say angry water employees.

The history of these activities goes back a long way, they say.

When Mayor Douglas H. Palmer first got into office, Public Works officials and the mayor himself made a big deal out of rounding up and firing around a dozen water works employees for assisting residents in securing illegal hook-ups to the city water system. The efforts didn’t last too long, as most of the fired employees got their jobs back soon after the brouhaha.

But things have gotten much worse lately, say water utility workers.

One employee – documented in a piece in the Times of Trenton two years ago – actually got caught two or three times doing plumbing work, without a license, and while being paid on the taxpayer dime to be doing official water utility work. Nothing happened, despite warning being given by water managers to the higher-ups in the Department of Public Works, say utility sources.

They said that water employees have actually been caught securing permits for plumbing jobs at City Hall, while on the clock, and even collecting money from plumbing work performed for Trenton water customers. The only response from city leadership was a warning or a suspension or two, despite the gross violation of the public trust these activities represent.

Water-related equipment frequently disappears from city depots, say employees, because those doing illegal side-jobs actually use city equipment, city gas, and city vehicles to carry on their side jobs, while getting paid out of city coffers, which are a large part filled with money from all over the state.

The “look the other way” attitude of the city has even attracted the attention of licensed plumbers operating businesses in the Trenton area, according to utility sources, who said the real plumbers take money in from water utility employees. They in turn use the plumbers’ names and licensed plumber status to secure permits for plumbing work, with the costs getting passed on to the unwitting customer.

Water utility sources said that when the dozen or so employees were first rounded up and punished for performing similar illegal services in the early years of Mayor Palmer’s administration, the mayor allegedly said: “when we see corruption, we act.”

Guess things have changed around here.

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Irv caught again

Trenton Communication Director Irving Bradley got into a serious car accident in his city-owned Crown Victoria in the early afternoon on Thursday May 22, 15 miles outside of city limits, sources say, at a time when most city employees and other people are at work.

Mr. Bradley was allegedly heading north on the New Jersey Turnpike in the area of exit 8, far outside of his city of employment and legally required place of residence.

Remember, Mr. Bradley was caught months ago in photographs in what certainly looked like the misuse of another city-owned vehicle, taking the Trenton car up to the location of his old residence in Rahway, where his family apparently still lives. Mr. Bradley has taken up a residence in the Broad Street Bank building, likely to try and comply with the city’s residency law.

But the legal definition of maintaining a bona fide domicile within the City of Trenton includes not only moving into the city, but also moving any immediate family into the city, to make the Trenton locations truly the new primary place of residence.

Also, city employees assigned city vehicles are allowed to use them to take back to their place of residence, which in Mr. Bradley’s case should be within the City of Trenton.

What exactly was he doing, again, with tens of thousands of dollars worth of city property, 15 miles outside of the city?

These questions need to be asked of administration officials, who previously responded to questions about Mr. Bradley’s residency with fairly evasive answers like “what employees do on the weekend is none of our business.”

Actually it is their business, especially when it involves now-destroyed city property, and a city employee who is living outside of the law, in a manner that has resulted in the terminations of dozens of other city employees.

This looks like more of the “business as usual” attitude of those enjoying the favor of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago.

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Turner: Kilmer grading issues are unacceptable

State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, last week joined those upset over the fact that a Trenton elementary school has not been giving students letter grades this year because of they have not been taught by properly qualified teachers.

“The situation at Kilmer Elementary is completely unacceptable. The system has failed these students,” said Sen. Turner, in a statement. “These students cannot afford to fall behind, and ultimately they’ve been denied a full year’s worth of education. We need to know who dropped the ball here, and why nobody spoke up for almost an entire year.”

Students in the eighth grade at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School have received instruction in math and language arts from substitute teachers, according to reports, which district officials have attributed to difficulty in filling positions at the school.

Instead of receiving letter grades like in a normal educational system, the students originally received pass or fail grades. Residents and parents became upset over the ambiguity in the grades received by their children, but district official claim they will make efforts to assign letter grades in the near future.

For Superintendent Rodney Lofton and the Board of Education – hand-picked by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer – the grading problems represent just one more conflagration that can only be extinguished by some kind of improvement in Trenton’s failing public schools.

Many of the board members have been around for many consecutive education scandals, and the newcomer, Mr. Lofton, has now been around for several of his own.

But the whole group usually manages to shirk responsibility for many of the problems onto teachers or administrators, rather than themselves – the higher-ups responsible for shaping the district’s overall direction and conduct.

Doesn’t anyone see a problem here?

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Council majority means $650,000 in savings

Action by a resurgent group of City Council members has saved the City of Trenton hundreds of thousands of dollars through the voting down of questionable initiatives coming out of the Douglas H. Palmer administration, an astute online poster pointed out Saturday on one the city’s online forums.

There was the non-renewal of a $200,000 contract to Barry Colicelli, a city gang czar who failed to document what he was actually doing for the city, and the voting down of a $200,000 contract to get new handguns for police officers, despite an offer from the current supplier to provide new weapons for free.

Between those and the voting down of a $250,000 contract for citywide wireless internet that Mayor Palmer originally claimed would be free for the city, the strong group of four councilmen have managed to save $650,000 worth of city dollars, despite the best efforts of administration officials and their allies on council.

Next time you see councilmen Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Gino Meline, or Manny Segura, give them a pat on the back and a “thank you” for all they have to done to safeguard city dollars from misuse on harebrained programs or policies.

Apparently they see that this city is in a budget crisis, despite the actions of a minority of those on council and the administration, who have taken an attitude of superiority over the interests of the common folk of Trenton.

Luckily for us, a majority of those on council continue to fight for the interests of the people who elected them, unlike their counterparts that seem to have fallen deeper and deeper into the pockets of Mayor Palmer.

Hopefully that reality will translate into an easier time in the 2010 election, in getting public officials who have no business working for the people out of positions of power in the government. Only then will things have the potential to improve dramatically here in Trenton.

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A waste of city resources

Trenton police officers guarding the often-empty house of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer frequently decline to leave their post to address other public safety emergencies, say neighbors and law enforcement sources.

One police official said recently that the officer detailed to protect the Hiltonia house of Mayor Palmer refused to leave their post, to assist at a crime scene where a man had been murdered and an increasingly volatile crowd was gathering.

A close neighbor of the mayor’s Buckingham Avenue residence returned home in the nighttime to find a would-be burglar stalking through their yard. But the officer nearby, guarding the mayor’s house, refused to leave their post and instead called for backup from police dispatchers, they said.

This is just one way that the system of having law enforcement officials guard Mayor Palmer’s house puts a serious drain on a police department dealing with an ever-escalating crime problem.

Let’s not forget about the two full-time detectives – taking home around $70,000 a year – who are never on the streets, and instead are chauffeuring around the mayor like some warped, modernized “Driving Ms. Daisy.”

All the while, children in the city are being shot down in heinous acts of violence, while administration officials cry about budget shortages and the inability to properly staff police units.

Recently it was revealed that the reason for the protection detail’s creation was that a deranged man, suffering from severe mental illness, approached the mayor during a funeral years ago and struck him in the face.

It hardly seems reasonable that such an incident justifies the dedication of hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits to the mayor’s protection, in case another mentally deranged man gets close enough to throw a punch. This city has bigger things to worry about.

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Lawyers, guns, and money

Trenton City Council’s majority of responsible representatives voted down another hackneyed city appropriation Thursday.

The now-dead appropriation was the controversial $200,000 city contract that would have supplied the Trenton Police Department with 425 new Springfield handguns, at the same time as the current weapon supplier, Glock, has officially offered to replace all of the department’s current guns for free.

Once again councilmen Milford Bethea, Jim Coston, Gino Melone, and Manny Segura rebuked the misguided initiatives of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and his minions on City Council. That group now finds itself in the minority, with less than the four votes necessary to have any chance of getting Palmer initiatives passed.

This new day of Trenton legislative politics is certainly timely.

Remember, Trenton is in the midst of a budget crisis that threatens every city department’s budget with the potential of cuts and layoffs, for the first time in the 18-year tenure of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

But, like clockwork, City Council members Paul Pintella, Annette Lartigue, and Cordelia Staton rose to support the Palmer and former Police Director Joseph Santiago-endorsed plan to spend $200,000 on unnecessary new weapons.

Luckily the other four, stronger council members saw through the dog-and-pony show-presentations, evasive statements, and excessively vague answers to council questions thrown their way by Mr. Santiago and other Palmer officials, and voted in the financial interest of the people who elected them.

Ms. Lartigue – a mayoral candidate – continued her habit of delaying City Council votes through the repetitive questioning of administration officials, and saying odd things about getting a Web site for “official” council information.

It has become a common perception among council observers that these antics happen with what seems to be an eye to delaying administration initiatives from failing, at the hands of the four councilmen.

On Thursday Ms. Lartigue asked numerous questions of Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and Nothing-Special Counsel Joe Alacqua, but neither apparently neither Palmer shill wanted to lie on the record, so they told the truth.

Yes, they said, an offer for free guns was made, and yes, City Council does have the ability to vote no on the contract and reject the bids, without fear of litigation, as had been constantly hypothesized by Ms. Lartigue.

People really ought to consider this peculiar habit of some on council – in delaying beneficial legislative action from going forward when it’s against the will of Mayor Palmer – especially when voting in the May 2010 mayoral election, in which Ms. Lartigue will be a candidate.

Being long on words and short on action is hardly a good quality in a mayor.

But anyway, be sure to let the new council majority what you think of their new-found legislative wisdom. It could change the very face of Trenton.

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