User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: October 2010

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Clown Show at Trenton's City Hall Goes On

Old Nucky Johnson has to be rolling in his grave right now.  The TV show  Boardwalk Empire brought the story of this county political boss who also doubled as the head of Atlantic City's Irish mob in the 1920s to a whole generation of Americans after his memory finally faded into history, making Nucky once again one of this country's most notorious gangsters.

 While the point is made in many gangster picture that Las Vegas does not have a single monument in honor of Bugsy  Siegel Theenforcer from New York that was sent to the West Coast by the Mafia and set up the first modern casino-hotel in Las Vegas.  That's right, not one museum, statue or even a plaque honors the memory of the man who created Sin City.  Well, Atlantic City is different.  Atlantic City's city council recently named a street named in honor of Enoch Johnson, the Republican County Committee chairman from the 1920s who wielded the kind of power even George Norcross III could only dream of having.  He also doubled as the head of Atlantic City's Irish mob, a criminal organization which even the Italian Mafia feared.  He used the power of the city and county governments to protect his gambling and bootlegging operations and keep the Italians and honest law enforcement officials at bay. 

When asked why City Council named a street after a gangster, one official commented that he was a positive influence which was responsible for the town's golden age as a resort.  He also said that Atlantic City always had its share of shady political figures and admitted that there may still be a few crooks in power now.  That's right.  Gangsters are part of the heritage of both gambling Meccas, it is just that the New Jersey city has the guts to admit it and embrace its past.  Yes it may just be honesty, but it is also a great marketing ploy.  Now tourists drawn to the town by watching Boardwalk Empire can walk down a real street named after Nucky and can see the Ritz Carlton Hotel where Nucky ran his real life empire.  It still standing on the boardwalk  near the Atlantic City Hilton and is now a condominium tower.

So why bring up Nucky in an article about the current situation in Trenton municipal government?  Well, Tony Mack is a different kind of colorful politician who is rapidly becoming notorious in his own way.  He may even inspire a new TV series, this one would be called How the Bleep Did He Get Elected. 

So far our new Mayor who took office this July has gotten the city into the news quite frequently.  He wanted to appoint a convicted felon and con man to the position of economic development director, but backed down when articles about the man's criminal record appeared in the newspapers.  His personal residence is in foreclosure proceedings.  He bought it in the early 1990s for a little over $100,000 and now owes well over $300,000 on it.  I know I bought mine for $83,000 in 1992 and now owe about $14,000.  Hey mayor!  Your mortgage is supposed to go down over time if you just make the payments and don't keep refinancing it.  I'm glad to know what when our city is running a large deficit, we have such a shrewd financier in charge.  He also got a second mortgage from a flea market vendor to finance his election campaign.  (Because no bank would lend him any more money, probably).

Besides these two blunders, he dismissed the former operator of the city water works and brought in a friend and supporter that was unfamiliar with the plant to operate it.  The new plant manager allowed the filters to clog up during a rain storm earlier this month.  This shut down the whole system and caused the reservoir to drain dangerously low before extra water was pumped in from a neighboring private water system.  When the city's pumps were finally turned on, an incorrect start-up procedure was followed which blew out a water main under a main thoroughfare in nearby Hamilton Township,collapsing the street and causing muddy water to flow to thousands of homes.  We had to boil our water for a week.

Perhaps you can't blame the following incident directly on the mayor, but he appoints the police director who IS responsible for the police department.  Earlier in the week it was revealed that a 25 year old cop was romantically involved with a 14 year girl and that he was charged with statutory rape.  The police officer in question was reassigned to desk duty and lost his right to carry a firearm until the matter is resolved.

Yesterday, an article appeared in the paper about municipal court judge Renee Lamarre Sumners, who was appointed to the municipal bench by Mack.  She, and court administrator Nate Jones have both refused to submit to police background checks, drug testing and fingerprinting.  Although Mr. Jones was not in the paper in Friday, I am going to comment on what I know of him first.

He was principal of Rivera Munoz elementary school in the late 1980s.  At the time I ran into him there as a substitute teacher, he was fairly old and had white hair.  He was a short, portly gentleman who had white hair and wore a Cheney University pin on his lapel.  He also was of the habit of carrying a baseball bat in the hallways.  He must have seen the Lean on Me movie too much.  Although he may have wanted to be like the principal in Lean on Me" he struck me as quite the opposite, basically I though he was lazy and not too bright.

I had a fourth grade class one day.  Normally the kids try to take control of the classroom when they get a substitute.  That a familiar time hone red tradition everywhere.  The way you nip it in the bud is sent the first two or three trouble makers to the Principal's office.  He usually scolds them, then gives them to another teacher to watch for the rest of the day.  Mr. Jones didn't do that.  He immediately sent them back and told me on the inter column to handle them myself and not to send any more.

That could have been a prescription for disaster, but it was June and the school wasn't air conditioned and I remembered a technique fron the nuns at St. Raphael's.  I shut the door and all the windows and told the kids they wouldn't be opened until I got quiet.  It worked.

But "sockless wonder" Nate wasn't satisfied.  He told me during lunch period to take the kids outside in the playground for the afternoon.  I followed instructions and they immediately jumped the fence and left the property for the rest of the day.

Since retiring in the early 90s, Nate has been a perennial candidate for West Ward city councilman, but never gets more than a few hundred votes.

I guess he helped Mr. Mack on his election campaign.  Nate had to be 60 back in the late 1980s.  That puts him over 80 now.  That man should be in a rest home, or at least at home on retirement.  Certainly, if he was a tired old man back in the 1980s, he hasn't gotten any more ambitious since.  Mack should have not brought him out of retirement.

Now for the judge.  We already have the mayor who can't pay his mortgage.  Now we got the judge who bounces checks and keeps getting her law license suspended for nonpayment of the licensing fee.  I guess financial deadbeats flock together like birds of a feather.

Sumners was put on the ineligible to practice law list in 2001, 2004 and 2006 for failure to pay her annual renewal fee to the state Lawyers Fund for Client P{protection.  She also missed her payment this year because she paid with a check that was returned to her for insufficient funds.

Since it is necessary for judges to be lawyers in good standing, it is likely that Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg will remove her from the bench for failing to meet the requirements for holding her job.

I was wondering why she didn't want a background check.  Our new judge can't be a judge because she is not really a lawyer allowed to practice in New Jersey.

I wonder what other surprises Mack has up his sleeve for us.

Which bring us back to Nucky.  Old Mucky may have been a crook, but he certainly was a smart man and an effective leader.  Mack doesn't have enough brains to run the toilet, let alone a city government.  And it is becoming more obvious each day.

No, Tony, you can't make a pimple on Nucky's ass.

A 19th Century Solution to a 21st Century Problem

The Colt 1860 Army Revolver was used by both sides on the battlefields of the Civil War.  Later, it saw action in the wild west.  It is fired using black powder and shoots a 45 caliber lead ball.  This is a real Colt, however you can also buy Italian-made replicas online without a New Jersey firearms ID for a little over $200, and lots of places will gladly ship one directly to your home.  These pieces really fire and would be a fine tool to deal with home invasions.

In the Trentonian an article appeared this week about a home invasion on Stuyvesant Ave. in Ewing.  The Ewing police said this was the second home invasion to happen there in recent days and the two may be related.

Home invasions are a common problem in Trenton.  Normally the perpetrators know the people they are robbing and the "victims" are involved in drugs or some other kind of criminal activity.  Suburbanites look at these reports and just laugh.  After all the victims brought it on themselves.

Except occasionally the victims are truly innocent.  Perhaps the invaders got the wrong address for the drug house of for the bodega owner that hides his tax-free loot in the safe in the closet.  Criminals have increasingly gone to breaking into occupied houses in states with gun control because they know the occupants will be unarmed.  They can terrorize the residents and force them to give up the locations of valuables, making the job easier than an ordinary burglary.

However wouldn't it be fun to disrupt the criminals' carefully orchestrated game plan.  Here is my fantasy.  I am sitting down in my living room munching on some chips and sucking down cold ones watching Cops.  Suddenly at around 11:00 PM I hear several loud kicks on my front door.  I reach for my weapon, a loaded 1860 Colt .45.  The front door burst open and three men dressed in black armed with silver handguns burst in. 

I pull my trigger at the door bursts open.  My gun belches a flash of smoke and flame over a foot long.  A heavy lead ball nearly a half inch round strikes the chest of the lead assailant.  The black-clad invaders are stunned.  They don't know what happened, but at first stop cold and turn white as sheets with fright.  The lead man topples over, His chest was struck by the heavy projectile, caving it in.  A stream of blood shoots out.  The others, scared as hell, turn and run.

Game over.  The score:  Homeowner 1, criminals 0.

Now here comes the hard part.  The police come.  I get arrested for unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.  After the interrogation, I get to spend the night in the police lockup, quickly make bail and return home. 

The news hits the paper.  Homeowner does the right thing and gives home invaders their just deserts.  The county attorney declines to take the case before a grand jury and your lawyer gets the judge to dismiss charges.

Now I know I live in the Nanny State where citizens need to be protected from themselves and can't be trusted with dangerous objects like guns, but wouldn't it be nice if the politicians would allow us to keep loaded black powder weapons in our homes for protection.

After a few cases of thugs getting blown to bits in the doorway, the bad guys will wait to their targets are out of the house before breaking in.  They would be too scared of breaking into any place with people at home.  After all, SOME homeowners WILL arm themselves and home invasions would then be too dangerous to contemplate.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Eagle Has Landed, Don't Worry Corzine's Golden Pheasants Fared Well

This family man is none other than Hermann Goering, who was a long-time Hitler associate and head of the German Luthwaffe during the war.  He was also a poster child for what a top-level corrupt official can achieve for himself in a one-party state.  Despite being an absolute failure as an air force commander from late 1942 onward, the man who could not keep Stalingrad supplied and could not protect German cities from allied bombing raids kept his job.  He also managed to keep his ample belly filled with gourmet food, his arm well supplied with pure heroin and Carinhall, his palatial residence, well stocked with the best artwork the Nazi forces could steal.  To find out more about Goering, click here.

Top-level Nazi officials were sometimes referred to as "golden pheasants", after the golden eagles which appeared on their personal banners which often flew proudly from their cars, offices and residences.  The term also signified the lifestyle one could secure for themselves in such a position with a little guts and creativity.  True, some of the Nazi leadership was relatively honest when it came to stealing for personal gain.  Hitler and Himmler for example, led relatively modest lifestyles.  Others, like Goering above were less restrained when it came to using their position to secure whatever it took to satisfy their personal desires.

And of course, corruption did not just exist at the very top level in Berlin, it extended downward to the gauleiters and their underlings.  The Third Reich was not unique.  In the Soviet Union, the ruling elite also had their share of thieves that lived high off the hog while ordinary Russians suffered.

We have our own golden pheasants right here in New Jersey, however unlike Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, they must remain nimble enough to find new gigs once a new governor arrives on the scene and their politically-appointed positions come to an end.  Not every political appointee lost their position when Christie tool over last January.  That would have disrupted day-to-day government operations.  The new governor gradually replaced  some of the Corzine people with his own, while others left 'voluntarially", knowing their days on the job will soon be up if they chose to stay.

Since they initially flew into their jobs and must be prepared to someday fly away, all state political appointees are like birds.  However, within this group there are distinctions based on how important the position is to government operations and the political connections of the individual involved.  Some, like the graduate student Max who lost his job in my unit last July are like quail or sparrows.  They have no power and little value and can be tossed out on the street like last week's trash.  Others, well they are more like birds of prey.  In other words, very powerful, must be handled with care and are very able to fend for themselves.

Take for example our former Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development under Corzine, David J. Socolow.  Incidentally, his last name in Russian means "eagle".  He was asked to resign from his position when the new governor took office and was gone by the end of the day of the inauguration.  Don't feel too sorry for him, however.  He is now a Vice President of Pinnacle Foods in Cherry Hill.  This company purchased Birds Eye foods last year and also owns Vlasic Pickles, Log Cabin Syrup, Duncan Hines and Aunt Jemima among other food brands.

Perhaps you are wondering why this "bird" got to land in a top job at a food manufacturing company.  Probably not for his many years of experience in the food industry, do you think?  Well here's a hint.
Pinnacle moved to a new headquarters in Cherry Hill.  The company which was previously located at a smaller office in Cherry Hill had been shopping around with other states for incentives to move the office elsewhere.  The New Jersey Economic Development Authority responded by granting Pinnacle $1.1 million in tax incentives over 10 years to keep the headquarters in the state.  I don't know for sure, but I bet Mr. Socolow either was given the job as a reward for his part in securing this assistance or perhaps because the company sees value in his political connections.  You know, kind of like our banker genius right here in Mercer, Peter Inverso.  Perhaps his former position as a Republican state senator got him his job as Roma Bank CEO.

I also worked under other former birds which landed well.  Take for instance Yustina Saleh, who was Director of the state labor department's Division of Planning and Analysis under Corzine.  During the time she was employed by our agency she developed a product called Real Time Jobs in Demand which is a report prepared from an analysis of job listings posted on private job boards on the Internet.  In case you aren't aware, most people now check Internet job boards for available positions in the same manner they used to check newspaper want ads before the Internet largely replaced the newspaper ads.  Ms Saleh analyzed a list of listings obtained by a private company, Employon, which used web spidering software to obtain the listings.

In recent months, Ms. Saleh left her job at the labor department to accept a position at a private company called Burning Glass Technologies.  Burning Glass recently acquired Employon now has a contract with our labor department to develop and provide software for analyzing private job board listings, and matching candidates with jobs.  Gee, I wonder why they hired Ms. Saleh.  Maybe it was her good looks and not her contacts at the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Now we are supposed to have an ethics policy for state employees that prohibits state workers from accepting positions with other firms where they can make use of knowledge of department procedures or contacts in state government.  I guess this only applies to the little guys, not to golden pheasants.

Remember that in the bird world, it is the sparrows and quail that starve or wind up on the dinner table while the eagles and golden pheasants get to feast and live large.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Don't Drink Shit and Die. How To Avoid Becoming Another Trenton Water Works Victim.

No, that's not coffee.  That's what came out of my cold water pipe at my house.  It seems the folks at the Trenton Water Works created a lot of drama when they forgot to have someone around during the rainstorm last weekend to change the filters at their treatment plant, and we all got a good dose of gook in our drinking water.  Although Mayor Mack now says it is safe to drink the water, trust me the problem is not over yet.

Just when you thought it was safe to drink the water, I come along and post this picture of the water I got out of a tap in my basement last night.  That was Friday evening, a day after I got an autodialer call from the mayor which said we no longer have to boil our water and that it is safe to drink.  I don't know, but on my part of Planet Earth, drinking water is supposed to be clear, not black.

As you can imagine, there is a little more to this picture and that the water that comes out of the spigots in the bathtub and sinks upstairs does not look quite as bad as this, but you would have to admit black stuff shouldn't be coming out of the drinking water pipes in any part of your house.

To bring everybody up to speed, here is what has been going on in River City which led to this crisis.

Last weekend, we had a heavy rainstorm which caused some local streams and the river to swell.  When this happens the water in the river gets very muddy.  Since the City of Trenton's water utility pumps its water directly from the river, this presents operational problems for the operators of the system.  Steps need to be taken to insure that sediment is properly removed from the water before it is delivered to homes and businesses, and this requires extra care during periods when the river is muddy.

Our new mayor, Tony Mack, who took office in July replaced the manager of the water works with a political crony who does not even live around here.  It seems nobody told the new guy about what to do when the river gets muddy.  He stayed home and left his cell phone off during the rain storm and could not be reached.  The old manager never had a problem during storms because he kept someone back at the filtration plant to monitor the situation and change out filters every hour or so.  That didn't happen this time, and the filters clogged up and the pumps shut down.

After several hours of no water being pumped into the system, the reservoir was drawn down and by last Saturday, the water pressure dropped down to practically nothing.  I was wondering why water flowed at a trickle from my bathtub.

Nothing was told to the public until Monday evening, when I got an auto dialer call telling me to boil my water.  According to the  Trentonian, the water works people were trying to rectify the problem of low water levels on Monday, but there was a series of screw-ups which led to the muddy water in the tap water.
First, a neighboring private utility, American Water, was advised to star pumping water from its system into Trenton's pipes, but this did not happen right away.  These is some dispute as to why this did not immediately happen, but it did not and that allowed pressure to fall further throughout Monday and some of the city's schools had to close because they did not have enough pressure to allow toilets to operate.

At the same time, the Trenton plant's workers were changing out the filters, cleaning out clogged pumps and readying the system for restart.  When it was restarted Monday afternoon, the valves were not opened in the correct sequence, which flushed thousands of gallons of muddy water into the water mains.  It also caused a large water main under East State Extension in Hamilton to blow out, causing the interruption of water service for several hundred customers, street flooding and the collapse of the roadway over the pipe.  The pipe, which is many years old may have ruptured due to the sudden increase in water pressure.

According to Tuesday's Trentonian,  problems with muddy water were widespread across the city.  It even disrupted business at the laundromat owned by the South Ward city councilman.  Muddy water was flowing into the washing machines and the customers couldn't get their clothes clean.

As you could imagine, being told to boil your drinking water and having mud flow from the tap is not something that is expected in the United States.  Maybe in Haiti or some other third world country, but not here.  Unlike most problems that affect the city, this one could not be ignored by our neighbors in Ewing, Lawrence, Hopewell and Hamilton townships, where many residents are also served by the Trenton Water Works.   So, welcome to the ghetto my yuppie friends, sometimes what affects us in the city finds its way to your half-million dollar houses outside the city limits.

So, you are probably wondering what can be done about this problem.  It is becoming more obvious by the day that Trenton has selected a mayor even more incompetent than the last one, and we will probably be stuck with Mr. Mack for almost four more years.  Let's face it, the man can't even keep up with the mortgage on his home.  If he lets his own home fall into foreclosure, how can we expect him to be any good at handling the city's finances.  Here is a guy who got fired from a job as a school board business administrator because he misplaced over $1 million.  He couldn't even pay his help on time after the election.  The mayor has a track record of picking his friends and supporters for key jobs, regardless of how incompetent they are.  I mean, this guy's hiring practices would even make Boss Tweed blush.

So we now have a water works in the hands of morons who fed us a diet of contaminated water last week.  The system hasn't been properly maintained because Mayor Palmer, who was in for 20 years prior to Mack refused to invest sufficient money into keeping up the system, and now we can expect to have pipes blowing out on a regular basis.  (What do you want from a mayor who also allowed the city's streets to turn into a potholed mess that resembles the Ho Chi Minh Trail.)

Well, maybe we can't expect the system to be run any better for the foreseeable future.  But you can take steps to protect yourself.  About 10 or 15 years ago I got tired of taking baths in Coca Cola colored water and installed tow whole-house filters in series on my water pipe.  They are the large sized General Electric filters that are available at any Home Depot.  Here is a picture of my system.

Replaceable filters go inside each cup located on the bottom of the apparatus.  These cups screw off with a spanner wrench which is supplied with the filter housing kit.  You have the choice of using a paper filter which is less expensive, last longer and traps most particles (mainly iron and mud), or you can go with a charcoal filter which eliminates smaller particles and also removes chlorine and makes the water taste more like bottled water.  These don't last as long.  What I do is place the paper filter in the first canister, closest to the street, and the second one gets the charcoal filter.  In normal circumstances, you can go three months on a set of filters.  This time my filters were overwhelmed after one month, because the lines were full of mud.
Here is what a set of clean filters look like.
When I changed my filters yesterday, the cup which the paper filter (top) goes into was filled up with a brown, thick liquid with an oily sheen on top.  I took a picture of it, but somehow it got deleted.  But I do have a picture of the dirty filters, and here is what they looked like after one month of service.

As you can see, the filters must be taking something out, because they are nice and brown.  In normal circumstances, the filters catch some of the calcium which clogs up the cold water taps over time around here so you don't have to take them out as much to chip out the lime deposits.  They also keep the iron chips from making it to your sink so you don't have to clean them out of the strainer on the tap.  In the city, as I said previously there has been a longstanding problem with water quality over the summer months or when there is a fire nearby.  On hot days, people open the fire hydrants and this knocks the rust loose in the water mains and you get a dose of rusty water for several days thereafter.  The filters have solved this problem and my bathwater no longer looks like Coke.  I also had the city come out and replace the pipe which runs from the water main to the curb and that improved my water quality.  The old pipe was made of galvanized steel and was rusted out.  They put in a new copper pipe.  The pipe from the curb to my house is also copper, as is all my indoor supply pipes.

Because there is a lot of sediment in the water mains even under normal circumstances, I have installed blowout valves at the end of my hot and cold water lines.  When I change the filters, I crack open the valve to "blow down" the system.  When I first put in the blow down when I installed the filters, the end part of my cold water pipe was clogged with mud and I had to shove a screwdriver up it to get it to flow.  Blowing down the system prevents sediment buildup.  here is a picture of my blowdown setup.

Here is what I got when I blew down the cold water pipe yesterday.  Because of the problems with the water main, I must have filled up the bucket at least 10 times and was unable to get it to run clear, but the water was a lot cleaner when I got done than on the first bucketful.  Here is what the first bucket of water looked like.
True, nobody should have to put up with a third world water utility in an American city.  Unfortunately, we are stuck with one.  However if you filter the incoming water, regularly blow down your hot and cold water pipes and periodically drain your hot water tank, you can insure the cleanest possible water for your family.

And of course, remember to write the Governor to ask for more tax dollars to fix up the state's physical infrastructure, including the Trenton Water Works.