An olive branch vs. a baseball bat

Councilman Jim Coston took a more diplomatic approach with Palmer administration officials and his colleagues Tuesday when he said he would not repeat his actions of last week, in getting a majority of council to halt all council business because of stonewalling on requests for information on the part of Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum.

Mr. Coston said that, in the future, he would simply move to halt consideration of specific pieces of legislation rather that putting a stop to all city business.

Ms. Feigenbaum once again failed to turn over the majority of the information to Mr. Coston Tuesday, in giving him only two answers out of the 11 questions he had submitted to the business administrator weeks earlier.

Many – including me – had hoped for a repeat of last week’s strong action by a majority of council members in stopping consideration of the docket. It had even been speculated that maybe council members would go even further, in bringing up administration officials on removal charges for the stonewalling that has been a feature of the administration’s treatment of council for quite a long time.

But, in the end, cooler heads prevailed.

This is a legislative body that is expected to get things done, so perhaps Mr. Coston decided that more work stoppages and hard-line tactics would be detrimental to not only the administration, but the regular residents living throughout the city.

As one person said, Mr. Coston is sitting in that council chair, and maybe this kind of cool-headed approach is one of the reasons why that is a reality.

But, that being said, in the future any administrative stonewalling does deserve to be met with more aggressive legislative tactics.

Mr. Coston and all the others are expected to legislate in the best interest of city residents, and when they do not have all of the information required for the task they simply cannot do their jobs effectively.

That’s why an executive branch – whether it be Doug Palmer or President Bush – enjoys keeping legislators in the dark, because they are less likely to use their legislative powers to check and balance the negative initiatives proposed by executives.

Council President Paul Pintella said that in the future Mr. Coston and the others need to reach out and “get the information” themselves, or ask Mr. Pintella himself to talk to the administration and get the needed information. But Mr. Pintella has already proven that he is not up to the task, as council request after council request has been denied or ignored, without the council president uttering so much as a word.

Equally disheartening on Tuesday was Councilwoman Annette Lartigue once again throwing wild allegations of extra-legal activities being perpetrated by Mr. Coston and other council members, in having one-on-one conversations prior to last week’s council meeting and work stoppage.

Ms. Lartigue publicly accused Mr. Coston of breaking the Open Public Meetings Act, and Special Counsel Joe Alacqua basically backed her up in her accusations, despite saying that he did not know the exact facts in the case, besides what he had heard or read.

Sources contacted after the meeting said that Mr. Coston’s actions in speaking with three other council members didn’t constitute a violation of the letter nor the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Hopefully one day City Council will consider calling out Mr. Alacqua on what seem to be frequently biased legal opinions designed to either support the administration or rebuke the actions of council persons not enjoying the favor of Mayor Palmer.

Better yet, maybe they could even consider ending Mr. Alacqua’s odd relationship with the city’s legislative body, as a permanent special counsel-city attorney who gets to live outside Trenton while using a city car and a city cell phone.

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