Monthly Archives: December 2009

FWW statement on Appellate ruling

MEDIA STATEMENT

December 17, 2009
Contact: Julie Anderson, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500

New Jersey Appellate Court Rules Against Public Referendum Regarding Water Utility Sale in Trenton

Statement by Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. –“Today, the Appellate Division for the New Jersey Superior Court ruled against citizens of Trenton who were pressing for a referendum to determine the fate of the Trenton water system. This ruling essentially denies the citizens of Trenton the right to vote on the $100 million sale of a portion of the city’s water utility to the private corporation American Water and undermines fundamental principles in state law guaranteeing citizen participation in ensuring that water resources are economically and prudently managed.

“The ruling undermined the importance of the ‘Public Trust Doctrine,’ a foundation of New Jersey water law that rests ultimate ownership of drinking water in the hands of the people. Furthermore, the decision failed to recognize the right of citizens in Trenton and elsewhere to vote on large municipal water utility sales in the future. By weakening the avenues for public participation, this decision ultimately strengthens the ability of private companies like American Water to buy water systems in cities like Trenton despite public objection.

“Food & Water Watch, which filed an ‘amicus curiae’ or ‘friend of the court’ brief in support of a citizen’s movement in Trenton, is very disappointed that the Appellate Court chose to overlook key portions of state law. Food & Water Watch will continue to help the citizens of Trenton and the surrounding townships as they continue to fight this sale and believe the New Jersey Supreme Court would be very interested in scrutinizing this decision should the citizens’ group choose to continue pursuing its legal challenge of this sale.”

Food & Water Watch is a non-profit organization working with grassroots organizations around the world to create an economically and environmentally viable future. Through research, public and policymaker education, media, and lobbying, we advocate policies that guarantee safe, wholesome food produced in a humane and sustainable manner and public, rather than private, control of water resources including oceans, rivers, and groundwater. For more information, visit http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org

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Silly, yet important season

Councilwoman and likely mayoral hopeful Annette Lartigue berated a city resident last week, mentioning “the silly season,” when the gentleman brought up the council’s idiotic passage of a $75,000 contract for a friend of Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez during council public comment.

What’s funny about bizarro-world Trenton is that sometimes it always feels like silly season, given the conduct of our elected officials and their associates.

But now it’s actually true, judging from the calls I have received from prospective mayoral candidates.

Yet I don’t want it to be a silly season.

Instead, I would rather have a productive season in which Trenton gets a new city government that is up to the task of revitalizing our city’s economic engine.

Some groups have already emerged with a stated goal of handling that task – see Dan Dodson’s Reinventing Trenton entry for more on that – but like he said, I think their system is set up for failure for many of the reasons he sets forth.

That’s why I think it’s going to be extremely important for Trenton’s civic stalwarts to somehow unite behind a certain candidate who is both promising, and more importantly, ELECTABLE.

There may be several “promising” candidates who emerge as the May 2010 election rolls closer but they will have no shot at overwhelming the gathering forces of the status quo.

Thus they deserve no consideration from anyone serious about changing Trenton.

Unfortunately Trenton’s eventual savior likely faces a status quo candidate who will likely have a sizable financial advantage. More importantly, they will probably be a current member of the city government, either working in the administration or on City Council.

An administration “quo” candidate is frightening because they will have some of the power normally wielded by an incumbent mayor – like using public works employees to remove the campaign signs of adversaries or soliciting assistance from our city’s sizable public workforce.

To defeat such a menace Trenton’s most civic-minded residents, plus A LOT of newcomers, need to democratically unite behind a candidate and then throw all of their weight behind getting that person elected.

Unfortunately the first step is identifying this person.

Any suggestions?

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A $115,000 going-away present

Rumors that Councilwoman Cordelia Staton is to become the next City Clerk have many people hopping mad.

Like the backroom plan to get South Ward resident Carlos Avila into that ward’s City Council seat following the departure of Jim Coston this past summer, it has nothing to do with the person, but instead, the process.

Trenton has loads of problems, and like Councilman Manny Segura said last night, there needs to be a competitive process to fill this potentially six-figure, crucial position with the best candidate.

Ms. Staton may be the best person for the job, but our city needs to find out by advertising the position, vetting candidates, and settling the position based on merit, rather than political maneuvering in the rabbit’s warren of halls at 319 E. State Street.

It doesn’t help that Ms. Staton’s clerk arrangement comes at a time when people working in outgoing mayor Douglas Palmer’s administration are known to be negotiating with potential mayoral candidates to secure employment in the next city administration.

It also doesn’t help that many believe Ms. Staton’s emergence on council represented a patronage power play related to her work on the 1999 city referendum that gave Trenton a police department led by a politicized civilian director rather than an independent police chief.

With all these issues in the background, Trenton’s leaders need to make sure our city sees a fair process for filling the City Clerk’s position, which is of utmost importance in the workings of city government.

This office is supposed to be independent of both the mayor and council, acting like a type of umpire or secretary while maintaining city laws and conducting elections and other business.

Deciding who to put there is no laughing matter.

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Doug abandons ship

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer announced his intention not to run for a sixth term Monday, paving the way for a wide-open mayoral and City Council race in May 2010.

Already formerly timid candidates who where awaiting word from the man who said he “is Trenton” are popping out of the woodwork, with Palmer protege-turned-enemy Tony Mack holding a campaign kick-off event tonight and Councilman Manny Segura following suit next week.

With Palmer’s announcement many look at the Palmer years as the death knell of the city, with most of Trenton experiencing an extended 20-year slide under Mayor Palmer’s leadership.

Many will probably say the city will only decline further and is all but finished in terms of being a vibrant urban place.

I personally disagree.

I can’t say exactly why, except that this totally “gut” feeling was seriously reinforced in a recent round of petition-gathering in some of the city’s more broken North Ward neighborhoods.

Traversing places like Vine and Race streets and East Paul Avenue, talking to city residents who lamented their hometown’s decline as they peer out of their doorways, yet cling to their homes, somehow gave me a feeling of hope.

I sensed something among all those eyes.

Perhaps they were peering towards a better future, with a government that actually works for residents and effectively improves city economic and social conditions.

And their glances, plus their willingness to sign pieces of paper geared towards a better city, gave me this hope.

Trenton can be revived, and the biggest thing blocking its revival just removed himself from the picture.

Time to get to work, Trentonians.

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