In order to find a way forward to resolve the water infrastructure sale impasse, I attended a meeting with the Mayor, the Business Administrator, the City’s financial adviser, an Attorney representing the city and an observer from the Governor’s office. I had communicated with the Mayor’s spokesperson, that in order to persuade me to surrender my role in this petition, I would need to see some kind of plan for solutions to address Trenton’s structural budget issues that created the problem in the first place, so we would not be right back in the same place next year, without one of the few remaining income producing the assets that we have now, resulting in a greater dependence on property taxes to balance the City’s budget. The meeting was agreed to. I had resolved to attend this meeting with an open mind, fully prepared to accept a reasonable solution or a compelling argument to change my position.
When the Mayor came into the meeting, he stated, “this is the most important meeting in the history of Trenton”. Because we were only a few hundred yards away from the Alexander Douglass house where General George Washington himself had planned the 2nd Battle of Trenton and The Battle of Princeton that literally saved the entire country from British subjugation; I thought to myself, that the Mayor was not yet done exaggerating.
I was gratified that the meeting proceeded in a serious fashion. The discussion centered on budgetary issues and what possibilities existed to address them. Finally, the Attorney representing The City offered what I considered to be a serious proposal. He offered to provide the petitioners with a plan of action going forward to address the structural problems in upcoming City budgets. They also promised to provide my fellow petitioner with a spread-sheet that showed the figures comparing the financial results of the infrastructure sale vs. no infrastructure sale so that our discussions proceeded on a factual basis.
The City’s Business Administrator went on to discuss how several Million dollars in savings could be realized going forward as evidence that this could be done. When I asked about the selling bonds related to the anticipated income from the selling of water to the suburbs that earned a surplus, if the proceeds of those bonds could be applied to next years budget and any carry-forward funds be moved back into this year’s operating budget to fill the imminent $20 Million dollar gap, The City’s financial adviser suggested that he didn’t like to advise municipalities to do that kind of borrowing, but “it was possible”.
I thought that if this was indeed the financial emergency that the Mayor was spreading the alarm about, then it was worth it to take an uncomfortable step such as this to give us time to fix the budget problems and keep our income producing assets intact. The Mayor was the only one who seemed a little cool to the idea stating rather flippantly that, “that might make you seem like heroes”. At the time, I regarded it as a wise-crack and paid no attention to it. I was relieved that we seemed to be getting somewhere. The meeting ended with solemn promises from the Business Administrator and the Attorney that we would have the documents we requested by the close of business on Friday. I said that, “if I am asked, I will say that we had a constructive meeting”, to which all agreed. I left the meeting with the feeling that we had indeed accomplished something, and that there was light at the end of the tunnel, and wondered why city council had not done this all along.
Friday came and went without any contact from the Administration what-so-ever. No documents, nothing. Not even a phone call to explain why nothing had been done. I was astonished. I could not figure out why the administration would behave that way when a solution to the impasse was in sight. All they had to do was supply the documents they already had and if the figures proved to be compelling, we would consider withdrawing our petition.
Why wouldn’t the administration leap at this possible resolution to the problem? I puzzled about this all day, I just couldn’t figure out why if they had a solution in hand, why wouldn’t they take it? Then I thought about it in political terms, and it all began to make sense. There was no solution wanted. What they wanted was a scapegoat. Now it came back, the Mayor did not want “to make us seem like heroes”. Rather than take responsibility for the financial mess they had created, they could blame it all on the petitioners. He wanted political cover – not a solution. If they provided the information we asked for, it would mean admitting that there were other ways to approach the budget gap. He wanted this water deal, and only the water deal, even if there were better ways to do this. They wanted to stick to the line that “there is no other way”.
So it is politics after all.
Now I’m convinced that the administration is playing a political game of chicken with the lives and property of all of us. The worse thing that could happen from the administration’s perspective now would be for us to drop our petition, then they would have to own their mistakes with no one else to blame. That would be the shrewd political move, but it would mean the loss of the very asset we were trying to protect forever and subject hundreds of thousands of water rate- payers in Mercer County to the inevitable water rate hikes at the hands of a private company. It would be politically shrewd but morally wrong. My conscience will not allow me to do that.
So when the administration asserts that the petitioners are the cause of this impasse, remember that they had a way out and refused to take it, and you are dealing with some people who have a conscience and an administration that does not.
On Sunday I met with a group of citizens formed to oppose our petition. They had asked the administration for factual information to refute our petition’s efforts. They could not get any information either. We found we had more in common than we had differences. Now we’ve released a joint press release calling for transparency from the administration regarding this deal. Ironic isn’t it?
You can fool most of the people some of the time.
You can fool some people all of the time.
But you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.
Some of us are not fooled.
Algernon Ward Jr. – Petitioner #5
688 Dr. Martin L. King Blvd., Trenton NJ 08618