Monthly Archives: June 2008

Roberts and Watson-Coleman on A-500 and killing RCAs

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Study: 20 percent of N.J. households don’t have enough money to live

One in five households in the Garden State are making less money than they need to survive, according to a New Jersey Poverty Research Institute study released earlier this month.

What’s more scary than that simple statistic is that many of these households, 85 percent, consist of families with one or more working adults who are confronted with a world where their work simply does not bring in enough to deal with this state’s spiraling cost of living.

The study also, as expected, found that educational attainment correlated directly with households not making enough income to live on.

But the study went further and suggested that for those households suffering from income inadequacy providing increased educational opportunities was crucial, in addition to those opportunities being available at times built around a full-time work schedule.

The study found that a harmful arrangement for many of the “one in five” households was that education was required to move out of the inadequate income categories, but in New Jersey there are few such opportunities for working households to gain that education while continuing to work and put bread on the table.

The state also needs to provide more plentiful assistance for families with single parents, especially women of color, according to the study.

There are inadequate “safety nets” for that group, allowing many poor single mothers to exist here in one of the richest states in the country without many options for getting a better life.

Sounds like the Garden State has a long way to go in reducing the number of households here that deal with inadequate income, which hurts everyone, either directly or through depressed economic output and social problems.

New Jersey officials need to take heed, and continue the fight to bring opportunity and the American Dream to not just the few, but the many.

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Urban officials should praise the death of RCAs

Legislation that eliminates the use of Regional Contribution Agreements as a municipal tool in complying with state affordable housing law has been increasingly assaulted by various New Jersey stakeholder groups.

The Regional Contribution Agreement is that affordable housing mechanism that allowed municipal officials to trade off up to 50 percent of their affordable housing obligations to other municipalities for cash, instead of actually building the housing within the borders of their boroughs, towns, or cities.

Rich suburban towns are afraid of what actually building their share of affordable housing might do to their tax base.

But even some urban area officials seem equally afraid, over how the elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements effectively kills a revenue source frequently used to repair existing affordable housing and build new housing.

But in doing so, New Jersey’s urban mayors and officials seem to be denying one of the main factors in the complex process that so badly damaged the social fabric of cities like Trenton, Camden, and Newark, which was the flight of middle-class wage earners out to the surrounding suburbs, later followed by good jobs and good businesses.

Public officials like Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer and others should be doing all they can to get those middle-class wage earners, places of employment, and businesses back into Trenton.

But instead many urban mayors used Regional Contribution Agreements as a stop-gap measure to fill shortfalls in affordable housing construction and repair budgets, further damaging the fabric of the city through concentrating more and more poverty there.

Regional Contribution Agreements make no sense for poor urban areas, but they make perfect for suburban mayors, to whom the agreements represent a steal of a deal.

According to affordable housing advocates, a suburban town sending off its affordable housing to a city pays around $35,000 per unit, while the average total cost of building and subsidizing such a unit is nearly four times that, $140,000.

Plus, the people who end up living in those units in New Jersey’s urban areas live in places without jobs, far away from existing jobs, and with poor educational opportunities.

The elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements is an important step for New Jersey’s cities and poorer municipalities in their quest to rehabilitate their economic and social environments, which have suffered since the advent of suburbia.

Without them, cities will stop piling on disproportionately large numbers of the state’s poor, while suburban areas will be forced to provide affordable housing opportunities closer to jobs and closer to opportunity.

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Doug Palmer: All words, no results

Hopefully Sen. Barack Obama won’t be fooled into handing Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer some sort of federal position, should Sen. Obama win the presidential election in the fall.

Despite strong support for Sen. Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary battle, the toothy smile of Doug Palmer has made appearances in numerous photos and press releases with Sen. Obama of late on the city’s Palmer Public Relations portal – the official city web site.

Particular disturbing were direct quotes from Sen. Obama about how Doug suggested a particular program or urban policy that the presidential hopeful took a liking to.

Sen. Obama beware, because, as TrentonKat has pointed out recently, Mayor Palmer’s world is full of words and devoid of any real action.

Trenton’s mayor is little more than a public appearance marionette, quick to travel around the country making speeches about non-existent programs or policies that have little or no effect on those living in his hometown. The same problems are here, day-in and day-out, just as the same phantom policies, speeches, and developments are forever trumpeted by Trenton’s missing mayor.

Wednesday was a perfect example, as reported by Old Mill Hill.

Another highly touted redevelopment project near the Trenton Transit Center was to be the subject of a public meeting held at City Hall, with Mayor Palmer and other city officials in attendance ostensibly to listen to public opinion, on what has become a hot issue with city residents due to the proposed demolition of two beloved Victorian mansions and a very convenient gas station.

But – as has become the custom at Trenton community meetings – the Fearless Leader who was supposed to make remarks and listen to the feelings of the Trenton faithful initially neglected to make an appearance.

A crowd already restless over another potentially ill-conceived redevelopment plan grew more restless, until someone actually roused Mayor Palmer from wherever he was, probably at either a city watering hole or at his home in Delaware Township.

The under-prepared leader finally made a belated appearance but failed miserably to calm the public, who had hoped for a true community dialogue but once again were treated to spoon-fed Palmer nonsense.

The city should just face it. Mayor Palmer has already moved on to bigger and better things, and it’s time for a city as a whole to move on.

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The supreme and autocratic ruler of the City of Trenton

Maybe the City of Trenton is really some sort of complicated monarchy.

Now, normally here in the U.S. public officials abhor the trappings of monarchy, which bestows upon political leaders royal treatment beyond what is reasonably or logically necessary because of a perception of a sovereign and holy ability to know and do what is best for their people.

In many respects this is really what many find so revolting about the way officials in parts of Trenton’s government carry themselves under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who has succeeded in using his long tenure here as an excuse to establish trends and policies that resemble those of a 16th century autocratic nation-state.

It’s well-known that Mayor Palmer is driven around the city, to his child’s school, and God knows where else by a full-service detachment of detective sergeants from the Trenton Police Department who alternate the duty of driving and “protecting” the mayor from all who seek to destroy* him.

Look, all that really means is that King Doug has utilized city funds and a false sense of a threat to his security to bestow treatment that seems to approach that of royalty.

That’s right.

At a time of dwindling police presence and surging violent crime an executive who spends much of his time outside of his city requires armed police to drive him around and attend to him as he carries out his mayoral duties.

The alleged cause of this type of treatment – usually reserved for important public officials and members of royal families – is that a deranged man assaulted the mayor at some point.

Also smacking of some sort of royal existence is the manner in which Mayor Palmer strongly supported the idea that he had the power the bend the city’s residency laws at will, due to his position as city executive.

That’s really just the process of legislating under the strongest form of monarchy. Men rule as holy and autocratic beings with the ability to create, change, and invalidate establish law at will, like Mayor Palmer sought to do, so far unsuccessfully.

Don’t forget how city official Dennis Gonzalez, who enjoys the strong support of the King, actually threatened a city resident and now City Council candidate with a lawsuit after receiving criticism from the gentleman about Mr. Gonzalez and King Palmer’s extremely disappointing record of failure in bringing highly-touted redevelopment projects to fruition.

There is also the unnerving practice in which administration officials repeatedly disrespect City Council members through refusals to submit information and the continued emergence of disrespectful verbal exchanges with the city’s elected representatives.

Trenton needs straight forward and down-to-earth public officials, rather than a egomaniacal holier-than-thou group that thinks it knows better, and is better, than the people living here. The 2010 election is the time to make the change.

*Many seek to destroy him, but in a political sense, not a physical one.

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Boo to the League of Municipalities

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities took it upon itself Monday to send out a press release railing against the recent passage of an affordable housing reform bill in both houses of the state legislature.

In the five-graph release the League of Municipalities singled out provisions in the legislation that eliminate Regional Contribution Agreements, the nefarious practice that allowed richer municipalities to sell off portions of their affordable housing requirements to poorer municipalities.

Provisions like Regional Contribution Agreements only succeeded in allowing rich towns in New Jersey to circumvent the entire goal of state affordable housing law, of eliminating the ability of municipal officials to use zoning and others efforts to preclude low-income groups from taking up residence within their borders.

But the League of Municipalities chose to label the banning of Regional Contribution Agreements as “the elimination of a compliance mechanism,” when the legislature really succeeded in eliminating what amounted to a loophole in compliance with affordable housing law.

Perhaps equally disturbing as the League of Municipalities stance against this landmark legislation is that Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer succeeded in getting one last large-scale Regional Contribution Agreement in place before the loophole is closed.

The size of a Regional Contribution Agreement between Marlboro Township and Trenton was actually increased through negotiations between Mayor Palmer and Marlboro officials, up to 332 units from 252 units.

Trenton will only be receiving a paltry $25,000 per unit, which will likely fail to cover the immense economic and social costs of concentrating more and more of the state’’ affordable housing on Trenton’s streets, which already bear the load of many New Jersey municipalities’ affordable housing obligations.

According to news reports, Trenton City Council already approved this agreement, earlier this month.

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Thanks, Director Chaos

The two murders that occurred within 20 minutes of each other over the weekend in Trenton probably taxed the manpower of the police force to the limit, judging by the massive decrease in minimum police staffing levels the city has experienced over the last two years.

All of this is part-and-parcel of the chaotic and detrimental ruling style of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, who apparently believes the best use of high-ranking and high-paid Internal Affairs officers is for spending hours of overtime to investigate non-favored cops, rather than doing actual police work.

The Trentonian has already reported on the minimum staffing levels situation that is causing the City of Trenton to be covered by ever smaller numbers of officers, despite a continuing crime problem.

As reported by the Trentonian’s Joe D’Aquila, records obtained by police sources show a dramatic fall-off in the actual police presence in the east police district, versus the west police district, where minimum levels and the actual number of officers on the street has not fallen nearly as dramatically.

By early June this year, the east police district’s police presence had basically been halved through orders issued by the hand of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, with the 7 a.m., 8 a.m. shifts’ minimum number of cops down to four, the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. shifts down to six each, and the 3 a.m. shift down to three.

Only the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shifts saw more officers out on the street than the bare minimum, and one shift – the 10 p.m. – actually had less than the minimum, probably because of office duty or some other issue.

Flash back to early June 2007, and the numbers are nearly double. The 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. shifts all were required to have at least 10 cops out on patrol throughout the east police district, and some actually saw more than the minimum out on patrol, up to 12 officers. The 3 a.m. had five officers, up two from the present levels.

While the western district also experienced some minor reductions in staffing levels, the changes were not nearly as drastic as in the east, where through June 8 of this year there had been 420 total crimes versus the west’s 284.

The 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. shifts in the west in June of 2007 saw a minimum level of eight officers, the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shifts, 12, the 10 p.m. 11, and the 3 a.m., six. Fast forward to the present and the numbers have dropped to six for the 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. period, eight for the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m., and four for the 3 a.m.

The means that while the east police district, with its greatly elevated crime levels, saw its minimum staffing levels for all six shifts drop from 35 to 19, in the same time period the less crime-plagued west district saw a cut of 37 to 26.

Mr. Santiago, at a civic meeting last, said he has “succeeded in getting more cops out on the streets” than any of his predecessors. Well Mr. Santiago, these numbers certainly do not reflect that.

A truly scary situation occurred in April when an officer on duty responded to a homicide in the complex of crime-plagued housing projects off of Stuyvesant Avenue, and it bears directly on this whole issue of waning police presence and Mr. Santiago’s wasteful use of Trenton cops.

The victim had already expired, after having his head blown clean off by a murderer’s bullet, but only a handful of officers were able to respond because of Trenton’s Santiago-endorsed staffing reductions.

An ever-growing crowd of irritated project residents began chanting at the officers, apparently because they believed the victim was still alive and the police were not doing anything to help him with his “worsening” medical condition.

The officers and a group of paramedics actually began doing CPR on the murdered man, out of fear that the explosive situation could become violent due to the low number of officers on the scene and the growing number of angered observers.

At this sensitive moment one of Mr. Santiago’s response time-obsessed dispatchers contacted a Sgt. Tony Manzo on the scene and told him to report to the scene of another crime of much less significance. The officer – obviously a little stressed out – told the dispatcher that he was busy, and that if he had a problem they could “take it outside” back at the station.

No longer enjoying the favor of the former director meant that the “take it outside” comment was used by Mr. Santiago as an excuse to order a psychological evaluation, desk duties, and administrative charges.

Equally disturbing was that Internal Affairs officers allegedly spent hours of overtime work listening to the dispatch tape.

All this, while Trenton is seeing reduced levels of cops out on the streets. Thanks Mr. Santiago.

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