Monthly Archives: May 2009

Water trial set for mid-July

The next stage of the ongoing Trenton Water Works battle will see both sides take depositions from water experts in late June with Judge Linda Feinberg scheduled to hear arguments in court on July 13 and July 15, if needed.

The schedule comes after attorneys from the City of Trenton and New Jersey American Water Co. submitted testimony from in-house water experts in an attempt to provide a rebuttal to testimony provided by the defendant city residents.

The defendant’s expert testimony concluded that the system set to be sold by Trenton serves more than 5 percent of city residents and therefore makes the sale subject to a city-wide referendum.

When provided earlier this month, the testimony caused Judge Feinberg to reconsider her earlier decision invalidating citizens’ referendum petition and ruling the sale was not subject to referendum.

Interestingly enough, it appears the expert testimony provided by the city does not conclude the system serves less than 5 percent of city residents.

Instead the reports, which were released Friday morning, state the defendant’s expert, engineer Fed Yoerg, could not have drawn such a conclusion from a city report on the water system.

The water company’s expert testimony, however, does conclude that the outside system serves no Trenton residents, a conclusion that would support the city and water company’s position that the referendum is not subject to referendum.

Regardless of Judge Feinberg’s eventual ruling, it appears the Trenton water sale faces many more months of court action. With a ruling for the city, the defendant-residents still have ample fodder to pursue an appeal at the state Appellate Division.



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Here’s to the success of the Roebling project

News that some developers are interested in one of the host of former Roebling & Sons structures in Trenton’s South Ward is of the good variety.

Trenton is filled with wonderful yet long-abandoned structures and it seems the city has had little success generating interest in many of them, despite how attractive many seem for redevelopment purposes.

Luckily in this particular potential project the Mercer County Improvement Authority will have jurisdiction over much of the process, removing the negative pressures that always result when developers are forced to do business with city officials.

And even when the City of Trenton does get involved, some of the developers – like HHG Development – already have experience developing property in Trenton.

If ultimately a city-based company gets to develop the property, official shakedown tactics and other characteristics of the development process in Trenton probably won’t scare off its principals.

While other developers often balk and flee town at the first hint of such activity, Trenton’s established developers have already proven they can play the game and move forward with their developments.

They can do so despite the demands of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and other city officials, who make the already risky process of developing property in Trenton even more difficult with extra demands.

With the existence of such demands it is amazing that any projects have moved forward in Trenton at all.  Conversely, it makes the frequent failure of many a highly touted project that much more believable.

You’d think that they already risky development and business climate in Trenton would drive a city administration to make development as easy as possible.

Then again, it is Trenton.


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Vas hit with more corruption charges

The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that Assemblyman Joe Vas, D-Middlesex, the former mayor of Perth Amboy, was indicted by a grand jury Thursday on more allegations that he abused his office for personal gain.

The report said the 19-count indictment alleges Mr. Vas accepted $25,000 in improvements to his Perth Amboy home from a contractor for free, billed the city thousands for medical costs and $604 for glasses, and laundered political donations  to circumvent campaign finance  law.

“This indictment details a variety of corrupt schemes, but a common thread of arrogance and greed runs through all of them. We will not tolerate public officials who view tax dollars as the spoils of their ascent to power,” said state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

Mr. Vas faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges, according to The Star-Ledger’s analysis.

Trenton personalities, including Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez and Councilman Manny Segura, spent time in Perth Amboy during the Vas administration, which endedwhen challenger Wilda Diaz defeated the longtime mayor in the 2008 election.

Jane Feigenbaum, former city business administrator, now works as Perth Amboy’s head finance officer and police director.

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No force and effect

It is becoming increasingly clear that the City of Trenton and New Jersey American Water Co. completely botched the $80 million sale of Trenton Water Works infrastructure by failing to hold a city-sponsored referendum at the start of the process, way back in 2007.

State law says that sales of public utilities serving over 5 percent of a municipality’s population must be put to a public vote during a general election, yet the city and the water company chose to ignore this rule.

Instead they took the position that the system serves no Trenton residents and thus followed a different process for a sale under the jurisdiction of the state Board of Public Utilities.

The interesting thing about this decision-making is that the argument can be made that the entire approval and amendment process undertaken under the direction of the BPU can be construed as completely illegitimate.

The board’s involvement cannot be labeled as insignificant, since it changed the terms of sale and other significant features of the deal, yet now it looks like the board had no right to do so.

This apparent illegitimacy could open up the process to legal challenge by any party with standing – basically any resident of Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, Lawrence, or Trenton and any governing body in those towns.

Any person wanting to restart the game clock on the Trenton Water Works sale could perhaps do so by simply filing a challenge in Mercer County Superior Court or contacting the state Public Advocate’s office.

A favorable reaction from a judge or some officials on the state level could cast the sale into months or years of litigation, no doubt severely increasing the chances of New Jersey American Water Co. telling Trenton to keep its water utility.

Any takers?

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Feinberg backs city residents

The Trenton Water Works sale could end up on the ballot after all.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg granted a motion on Monday that could allow the group of Trenton residents who have protested the sale to put the question to a vote sometime in the coming months.

The ruling represents a reversal for the City of Trenton and New Jersey American Water Co., both of which attempted to have the citizens’ protest petition thrown out but now find themselves in the position of having to convince Judge Feinberg as to why the sale should not be put to a vote.

The critical issue to Monday’s ruling was whether or not the suburban Trenton Water Works infrastructure set to be sold serves more than 5 percent of the city’s population.  If it does, Judge Feinberg said, the city is obligated to put the sale to a referendum at some point in the coming months regardless of the existence of a petition.

The 5 percent issue reemerged as a critical issue after the petitioners produced expert testimony stating that the outlying system did serve more than 5 percent of the city’s population, requiring the sale to be put to a vote.  Judge Feinberg, when presented with the testimony, reversed her earlier decision pending a new hearing.

Under the new development the city and water company have until Friday to provide the citizens and the court with information about whatever expert testimony the two entities plan to bring into the debate, setting the stage for a plenary hearing that will decide the fate of the ballot question.

City officials have said the deal must be concluded by the end of June otherwise the entire $80 million sale, which will compromise the water works’ ability to generate revenue for the city, will be in jeopardy.


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Bus throwing 101

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has turned throwing people under the bus into an art form over his 20 years in power in New Jersey’s capital city.

The latest victim of his uncanny ability is Adrienne Hayling, the president of the Trenton Free Public Library’s board of trustees.  She has been targeted for blame in the ongoing library foundation saga, in which the board refuses to accept accountability in return for thousands of dollars in desperately needed funding from a citizens’ foundation.

Ms. Hayling, a purebred Palmerite, may bear some of the blame for the persistent stonewalling the library foundation received at the hands of the board.  In reality, however, the board is made up of mayoral appointees.  In fact, it is a badly kept secret that when it comes to the treatment of the foundation the president has been receiving all of her instructions from Mayor Palmer himself.

It comes as no surprise that now, as the shit hits the fan and the foundation prepares to disband, Mayor Palmer is laying the blame at Ms. Hayling’s feet instead of his own.

The foundation, in opting to disband rather than continue on with the delays and maltreatment its members received at the hands of the board, effectively called Mayor Palmer’s bluff and has now made the board look like a ship of fools for refusing to accept assistance.

Now, with Ms. Hayling’s body placed squarely in the path of the oncoming Mayor Palmer Express, it appears the board has suddenly accepted some measures of accountability in an eleventh-hour bid to shield itself from public scorn.

Foundation members, prior to accepting the agreement, need to consider the past eight months of treatment as well as their future prospects for avoiding mistreatment or board-authored shenanigans.

Mayor Palmer and his people certainly don’t have a great track record.

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City workers beaten in savage West Ward attack

The state capital received regional press attention Tuesday when two Trenton Public Works employees were severely beaten in a West Ward attack that left one with a brain bleed and the other with a broken jaw.

Beating the local media to covering the attack was Channel 6 Actions News of Philadelphia, which reported that the Monday attack followed an exchange of words between one of the workers, who was driving a garbage truck, and a woman related to one of the attackers.

Following the exchange, both workers were assaulted outside of a restaurant on the corner of Prospect and Rutherford avenues in broad daylight by a group of men, one of whom was brandishing a handgun as a blunt-force weapon.

Channel 6 reported that At-large Councilman Manny Segura, a likely 2010 mayoral candidate, was the only city official to visit the municipal employees at the hospital, where one worker received emergency surgery to relieve pressure caused by intercranial bleeding from injuries he sustained during the attack.

It appears that not even city workers are safe on the streets of the “Wild, Wild” West Ward.

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