I don’t know what to say

Like many Trentonians, I approached the 2010  mayoral run-off with trepidation and knew I had two less than perfect options.  But there’s always hope. 

Since then, I’ve largely taken the summer off from Trenton politics because I was too depressed about the election including the city council contest in which most of my choices lost.  But still there’s hope.

Now here we are, a month into our new government, with a well documented litany of bad and possibly nefarious decisions and revelations coming out of city hall.  The regional and national press is covering Trenton’s train wreck.  Citizens are openly discussing recall elections and State takeovers.  Our murder rate has spiked and absolutely NO progress has been made on actual revitalization.

 Mr. Mack is wrong when he says the election is over. He wasn’t the first choice of a large majority of Trentonians in the first place and even if was, he’d have to win them over daily in order to get the city moving.  Great politicians keep campaigning.

Reinvent Trenton and subsequently the Fix Trenton’s Budget group were set up calmly discuss revitalization policy and budget process.  This is hard to do in the best of times but in an environment devoid of trust, I’d say it’s impossible to initiate brave new policies.

For Trenton to take new approaches like the ones I’ve outlined over the years, we’ll need to take leaps of faith in our leadership.  Our leader will need to bring along not just people like me, but all of the citizens in Trenton.  Tony Mack himself once told me, “Dan, I like your ideas, but how will they play in the Wilbur section?”.  I thought it was an excellent question and I gave him what I believe was the good answer, “Rising water raises all ships”.  No matter who we are, we’re better off with more wealth in Trenton.

To get his administration back on the right leadership footing and to earn the ability to lead us in the policy leaps of faith, Mr. Mack needs to do a few things. 

  • Institutionalize transparency,  especially into his own finances

Anyone in Mr. Mack’s financial situation would be desperate.  However, not everyone is mayor of a small but high profile city.   His situation damages his leadership ability but more importantly gives rise to suspicion that he will abuse his power in order to resolve his debt issues.  To abate these concerns, Mack needs to put his finances under official third party scrutiny until he’s resolved his problems.  This is uncomfortable I’m sure, but how else will we be able to establish trust?

  • Develop a revitalization plan that passes the test of economic soundness

None of the candidates offered real revitalization plans and to be fair, it would be hard to do so without the resources of a city administration.  So now, Mr. Mack needs to get down to work on this.  So what is  “this”?  The budget is only part of the problem. When we talk about cuts, we’re really talking about surviving.  We have to talk about not just surviving but thriving.  I’ve said many times,  that this is harder than rocket science and therefore we need a serious effort.  We need a solid team led by a serious person.  While Mr. Guhl may have been a serious person, the idea that the solutions to our city’ core problem would be resolved by a volunteer who could easily resign, is ill-conceived.  I’m not saying volunteers shouldn’t be welcome to work on this (I’ve repeatedly volunteered to help and to no avail) however leadership should come from a cabinet level city employee (or at least a paid consultant).

  • Slow down and begin operating from a core set of management principles

One of the observations I’ve made about Tony Mack over the years is that he seems to manage in the minutia.  I remember him offering marketing tips to the Marriott when his central complaint was about the ownership structure.  People like this are often shooting from the hip.  Great chief executives don’t do this.  Rather, they operate from a well communicated set of core principles (e.g. integrity in government, create a positive business environment, be fair).  Then they focus on developing and managing their subordinates and fostering communication.  I wrote an article,  “Trenton as a Turnaround Opportunity” a couple of years ago that Mr. Mack will find worth reading and perhaps discussing with his advisors.

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One Response to “I don’t know what to say”

  • Good, thoughtful column, Dan.

    I also disagree with the Mayor regarding his stance on his personal situation. It is not about “his family.” It is about him. There are outstanding questions in my mind about how he was able to loan his campaign $20,000 in the midst of foreclosure. The question of that loan – and whether t may have come from a third-party – casts a shadow over him at the beginning of his term. Going forward, to remove any hint of impropriety from his term in office, he will have to be more transparent about his personal finances. It’s not about his family; it’s about his integrity, and that is public business.

    Mr. Mack’s team-building to date has been rather inward-looking and insular. He is not taking advantage of much of the talent available in the city, and many of his appointments and nominations have been questionable. And his personnel termination skills…

    The last week has been a distraction from the critical work that needs to get done in this town; and, after the past week’s events, I frankly don’t think this administration has what it takes. But we have to get moving.

    Your 2009 column on Incorporation is interesting reading. I also read last week that Hopewell Borough is talking about the same thing, for very different reasons. But the point is, what seemed like outrageous fringe solutions last year may have some merit to them now.

    If we can only avoid the kind of farce we’ve just seen, and get ourselves in gear.

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