Posts Tagged ‘Tony Mack’
Our country’s economy and especially its real estate market has been in a slump for 4 years. However, in the next 2 years we’re going to come out of it, no matter who wins the Presidential election.
When that happens, we don’t want Trenton to be left behind.
A normal economy will grow around 2-3% a year. For Trenton with its $1.9B tax base and ~ $70M in property tax revenue that means our revenues could increase $1.4M – $2.1M a year. That’s if we were normal.
The problem is that our Mayor has become a national and regional publicity problem due to his various missteps and most notably his arrest by the FBI on corruption charges. It should be obvious to us that no matter how good the national economy, a developer, potential homeowner or business owner would not want to invest in a city under such leadership.
Tony Mack is a drag on Trenton’s economic recovery.
In addition to the bad reputation he’s given the city, it’s also become apparent that Mack’s administration has no intention of addressing our economic growth. In Mack’s 2 ½ years in office he has not made one proposal to increase our tax base. In his 10/16/2012 budget address to City Council he did not mention ratables or growth in property taxes other than to pitch his proposed $.19 tax hike, which would have a negative impact on economic growth.
Mack is not thinking about revitalization. He’s never mentioned it. There’s never been a plan presented. This city’s budget discussions have never contemplated expenditures related to increasing our tax base and thereby our property taxes, our single largest source of revenue.
If by inaction and negative publicity, he “drags” our economic growth by even one quarter of one percent or $150K per year in growth, we would be better off paying the man to step down. We’d be better off paying Tony Mack his $126,000 a year salary, NOT to show up for work.
For a man facing a difficult legal battle and under severe personal financial distress, this seems a win-win for both Tony Mack and the City of Trenton.
If you’ve driven up the turnpike from Exit 7 to 8A then you’ve undoubtedly seen all of the giant distribution centers.
These are businesses that could have been located in Trenton if we’d gotten our act together.
One of the things you do as an aspiring civic leader in Trenton is go to workshops where you’re asked to list Trenton’s assets. People always give the same answers: its people, its buildings and its location.
Well our people are going to work on the turnpike corridor in places like East Windsor and Robbinsville, our buildings are empty and our location isn’t as good a one would have thought.
Instead Barnes and Noble, Green Mountain Coffee and likely Amazon along with many others have set up shop in modern warehouse space in the suburbs.
Before the apologist tell me that building new construction space is cheap and Trenton can’t compete, let me suggest that we didn’t even try. Doug Palmer was asleep at the wheel and Tony Mack is, well he’s Tony Mack.
The explosion in industry just 10 miles from downtown Trenton happened without our city even lifting a finger to figure out how we might be competitive.
We had at least one competitive advantage over the suburbs. Those warehouse facilities are hiring Trenton people. The Kenco facility that houses Green Mountain Coffee are actually bussing Trentonians to Robbinsville.
What went wrong?
My guess is that the views on business among the city leadership are simply too provincial to understand what was happening. Additionally our culture of corporate extortion limits us to dealing with small time developers. Serious logistics companies like Kenco wouldn’t give a trifling crook like Tony Mack the time of day.
Furthermore we just don’t have a good story to tell. To attract a 500,000 SF logistics operation we’d need to show why Trenton is a less costly option than a “Greenfield” in Robbinsville. We’d have needed all the creative business people we could muster to pull that story together. A difficult task indeed, but we didn’t even make a serious effort.
Trenton misses out on opportunities like this because we are distracted from the job of revitalizing our city. Instead of attracting world class development, we’re busy playing political games to attract housing projects like HOPE VI. We spend our days begging for money through grant writing and we reshuffle the deck chairs in our city budget.
I don’t expect Trenton to develop a plan in the next two years. Rather we’ll need to wait until a new administration is elected. In the meantime, we need to listen for candidates who have a “can do“attitude about engaging the city in developing a real revitalization plan.
JoJo Giorgianni has given us his economic assessment of the value of corruption to a city. His plan was to use Mayor Tony Mack like a puppet to enrich himself as developers bribed his version of Tammany Hall for the right to build in Trenton. JoJo’ and Mack’s thinking was that they were facilitating investment and should get paid. Why else would they have gone to the trouble of getting Mack elected? In his conversation with an FBI informant, JoJo called this “Good Corruption”.
I guess that’s one idea.
But just to spell it out we, need to be clear about why corruption hurts a city.
Corruption distorts a market and creates uncertainty.
Investors HATE uncertainty! When it becomes known that one developer has had to bribe city officials, all other developers become uncertain as to what level of corruption they will face as they consider investment in Trenton. A developer would much rather play by a transparent and clear set of rules rather than the murky give and take of Trenton’s underworld.
Furthermore, in a climate of corruption, it is entirely likely that a developer could face a second round of shake-downs further into the project after there was no turning back. This possibility opens the developer up to a high degree of risk. What was to stop JoJo and Mack from ordering the building inspector to look again at a project, unless the developer had “Uncle Remus” visit again (their code for bribe money).
Our PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) negotiations are another source of risk and potential corruption. Every developer negotiates separate deals with the administration on what taxes they will pay. This kind of uncertainty makes evaluating a deal impossible. Even when options for a “standard” PILOT have been presented to the Mack administration, they have ignored them. Why give up the opportunity for graft.
Bribery and extortion create an unequal playing field that raises the cost of business in a place like Trenton. Developers have other options and we need them more than they need us.
Trenton politicians have a history of shaking down developers
Tony Mack isn’t the first politician to require that developers “check in” with the administration before doing business. Other politicians have required contributions to campaigns as a pre-condition of cooperation. We should all be suspicious of campaign war chests exceeding $200,000. That kind of money doesn’t come from normal citizens hoping for better government. It comes from people who want favors, at our expense.
We don’t want to make it expensive, risky or difficult for developers to build in Trenton. We can see the results: very little development happens in our city because of our corrupt climate and heavy handed administration. I’ve talked to many Trenton developers over the years who’ve refused to work in our city again because of the bad taste it left in their mouths.
We need a completely different approach
In a new revitalization minded administration, we’ll:
- Clean out our Housing and Economic Development and Inspections Departments and start over with a new attitude
- Publish a process for development that does NOT include the Mayor’s office
- Set prices for city owned land in a public Internet based auction system (For the time being, NO more deals).
- Create a standard PILOT hopefully based on Land Value Tax system that rewards investment and discourages speculation
Trenton has been relatively closed to honest business development for many years. Hopefully, with the Mack era behind us we can start fresh and turn our city into the easiest place in Central Jersey to develop instead of the hardest. Given our other issues, we need to be better than everywhere else.
Trenton has more than its fair share of volunteers, arts organizations and civic groups. Many of these active people and groups put on festivals and events either as part of their mission (The Trenton Film Festival, St. Patrick’s Day Parade), to raise money (Trenton Half-Marathon) or both (Art All Night).
Every event put on in Trenton needs city cooperation even if they have to pay for it (groups have to pay for police and park rangers). But generally, no private group needs or really wants the city to do its planning, promotion or operations. They rely on the goodness of their sponsors and volunteers.
But we have to ask ourselves, with such a vibrant roster of volunteer groups in Trenton, why do we need to publicly fund and operate government events?
Tony Mack has announced his “unwavering support” for government festivals such as Heritage Days.
Is it the proper role of government to organize festivals? Especially when the government is nearly bankrupt?
Trenton could support festivals in the city by making it easier for non-profits to work with the city. For instance, the process for engaging the police and public works could be streamlined; city assets available for use by groups could be listed on the web site and rented out (including tents and stages). The administration could eliminate the requirement that groups hire park rangers. The city could be generally more responsive and helpful.
But, organizing and running an event such as Heritage Days or the Thanksgiving Day Parade is simply inappropriate. These events have become thinly veiled mechanisms for a Mayor to self-promote to an unsophisticated public. We certainly don’t want our precious tax dollars going towards that. Politicians love spending your money to make themselves look good and Trenton is rife with examples (the former Trenton Jazz Festival, the hotel, Waterfront Park). I’m asking that Trentonians see this for what it is and help City Council put a stop to it.
Heritage Days cost taxpayers at least $70,000. There were less than 1,000 attendees at the event meaning we spent more than $70 a person. That’s an obscene waste.
The Mayor has committed himself to government festivals. However city council is at least rethinking it. They are having some difficulty however, in getting a proper accounting of what we’ve spent. Requests for a full accounting of the Thanksgiving Day parade and last year’s Heritage Days have gone unanswered leading some of your council people to question every line item in the budget trying to find out where the expenses have been hidden. Some of our more responsible city council members are even considering eliminating the recreation because it’s become a rogue department. It’s come to this.
Trenton is facing a $7M deficit in 2013 and it recently laid off 30% of its police force, in other words, we’re burning. Meanwhile our Mayor insists on playing his fiddle. It’s his top priority.
As we speak, Trenton Mayor, Tony Mack, is criticizing bloggers at a special City Council meeting. He thinks that people like me criticize him too much.
He probably thinks it unfair, that there are literate people living in Trenton who are wise to his inability to manage a city. He says that “He doesn’t want to be part of anything negative”. Our Mayor has a blind eye when it comes to criticism. He’s under the impression that everything he does is right and that everyone who disagrees is trying to “take down” Trenton.
The foolishness of our Mayor really comes through when he says things like this.
Why would tax-paying residents of Trenton, like myself, spend so much time writing, researching and otherwise recommending ways to improve our city, if all we wanted to do was “take down” the city. No, of course that’s crazy. We and the 8500 voters who signed the recall petition have simply had enough. We know there’s a better way to run our city and that our city can be much better than it is today.
Our Mayor, in another display of foolish management tonight, just claimed in public that he was saving money by using Acting Directors instead of real “qualified and approved” Directors. Given that our charter requires us to employee real Directors in order to manage the affairs of the city in a professionsal manner, the Mayor is essentially saying, “I’m saving money by not managing the city well”. Being somewhat of a student of management, I can assure Reinvent Trenton readers that the “Run it into the Ground” school of management has never really caught on.
By far my biggest complaint is our city’s lack of a strategic plan. All of the mayoral and council candidates stressed the need for it in the election, all of them.
So here we are one and a half years later and we have nothing, no plan at all. Not even a bad one.
The Mayor says the “state of city” pamphlet is his plan. It’s a document full of past statistics that are mostly irrelevant. Nothing about it discusses our measurable goals and how we’ll use our limited resources to achieve them. There are no strategic themes around which departments can build their operational plans. There is no new thinking. There’s nothing.
When I complain to the Mayor, he says, “I have a plan, just not one you like Dan”. “Really”, I say, “Could you email me a copy?” I’m still waiting.
The other day it hit me between the eyes how bad not having a plan can be.
Great cities are made by bringing creative people together. This isn’t a new thought and it’s been crystallized for me recently as I read the Richard Florida author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City. I’ve been thinking about what we could do in Trenton to jumpstart own value generating creative juices.
My idea was to help organize an entrepreneur’s conference in Trenton. It’s something I’d be interested in and perhaps we could pitch Trenton as a good business location.
I went to city council meeting on Dec. 13 and my hopes were dashed.
A local business owner and several other speakers were at council to complain about a rise in the business registration fee from $10 to $300. You can pay even more if you’re a more successful business. Basically our city council and administration are planning to institute a business tax. Nearby Hamilton doesn’t have a registration fee and yet Trenton is going to add a new one. We’re adding a business tax in addition to having the highest property tax in the State.
Is this part of the plan? Is making Trenton the most expensive place in the region to do business part of the grand plan?
And now for the dysfunctional part.
At this same city council meeting, our council members were confused about how and why the business tax was so high even though they approved it. Apparently the ordinance creating the tax was put together by the city clerk with consultation from the Trenton Downtown Authority. However, the Chair of the Downtown Authority, John Clarke, spoke at council to oppose the business tax.
It seems as though the tax is some kind of miscommunication. Wow!
Slapping business owners in the face isn’t all our city council has been busy doing. It seems they have been going through the city budget line by line. They’re doing this not because they want to but because they have to.
According to council members and members of the public who’ve been there, the city’s business administrator isn’t aware of the particulars of our budget. It seems as though department heads haven’t been very involved either. In other words, they took last year’s budget, which was based on the budget from the year before that and have just copied the numbers. There’s no new thought in the budget. Imagine that our city’s only important strategic document has no strategy and no new thinking. In fact, council members are finding personnel and expenses simply shifted around.
Trenton’s dysfunctional government is managing our affairs by wandering around aimlessly, with no serious forethought and without a strategic plan. Please someone email me the strategic revitalization plan that includes rehashing old department budgets and increasing the business registration fee by 2900%.
I’ve heard otherwise sensible Trentonians give various reasons for not signing the petition to recall Tony Mack. These range from:
1) I do a lot of work with the city and the Mayor’s vindictive,
2) I don’t believe in recalls,
3) The recall committee didn’t print their reasons on the ballot,
4) I don’t know whose running,
5) It will cost the city money,
6) I work for the Mayor.
The first thing to remember is that the recall petition isn’t even a vote to recall. It’s simply a request to formally put the question forward. It’s quite possible that if the recall petition drive is successful, we’ll have a special election and Tony Mack will win the special election. The recall committee and the 8000 or so people that have already signed think there’s enough doubt though to warrant a vote on the subject.
Therefore I’d like to address the reasons not to sign, one by one:
First “The Mayor is vindictive and he’ll hurt my business”. Well, that should tell you something. Aren’t we done with bullies in this society? If you’re not the one to stand up to a bully, then who is? And who’s to say the Mayor’s not bullying someone else that is less able to stand up to it than you. This is exactly the reason to put the Mayor’s status up for a vote.
Second, “I don’t believe in recalls”. What’s not to believe in? The NJ legislature has provided this very democratic method for correcting terrible mistakes. The fact is that a Mayor can do significant damage to a city through mismanagement without doing anything illegal. In four years that damage can become irreparable. That’s where Trenton is heading. If you think our Mayor has behaved ethically, is managing the city well and has a plan for its recovery, that’s one thing. If you don’t then not believing in recalls is like believing your city is doomed.
Third, “The recall committee didn’t print their reasons on the ballot”. I actually heard this. Hopefully, the committee has hand-outs. But if not, their web site is trentonrecall2011.wordpress.com. Let me also suggest kevin-moriarty.com.
Fourth, “I don’t know whose running”. You should venture out from under your rock. Jim Golden has announced. Eric Jackson may be in the race. I didn’t support Jackson in the first campaign because he was a re-hash of Doug Palmer. However, he was worlds more suitable than Mack and did run the public works department. Golden is interesting. He comes across as thoughtful and it doesn’t hurt that he’s run the police department. I’ve not met with Jim to discuss all of his policy thoughts but from I know so far, we’re on the same page.
Fifth, “It will cost the city money”. A recall election will cost about $100,000. That’s small change compared to the $2M in transitional aid we already didn’t get this year because the Mayor has consistently thumbed his nose at DCA. It’s small compared to the ground we’ve lost in our efforts to revitalize because we don’t have a plan, or the misspending of our budget that’s happened either because of fraud or, more importantly, because we don’t have a high quality set of department Directors in place. Trenton’s budget is $185,000,000 next year. $100,000 is a small price to pay to get a Mayor qualified to spend that amount to our mutual benefit.
Sixth, “I work for the Mayor”. If you do, I apologize on behalf of all voters. You probably shouldn’t sign unless you’re looking forward to getting to know “wrongful termination” lawyer George Doherty a lot better.
There’s hardly a reason not to sign the recall petition. It’s only a petition to request a vote. If during the special election Tony still winds up being the best choice, then so be it. But, if you think Trenton is on a terribly wrong course, then recall is the only rational answer.
We have a difficult choice to make in Trenton’s mayoral race on Tuesday, and not in a good way.
Neither of our candidates, Manny Segura or Tony Mack have a real plan for Trenton. They both talk revitalization gibberish so it’s really a bit of a ugly toss-up from a policy perspective. Read the rest of this entry »