Trenton “peaked” decades ago. My cursory research into the city’s history points to a high point either the late 1920s when the city’s population was around 140,000 or perhaps in the 1950s when much of America was enjoying a post war boom. However, since then broad, and well known economic and social forces have conspired to challenge industrial cities like Trenton.
Some cities have responded to the challenge and have reinvented themselves. We know about Savannah, Pittsburgh and to some extent Cleveland and Cincinnati. Cities in the South like Winston-Salem and Richmond managed their way through the change. It can be done. Trenton didn’t do it.
Instead of revitalizing, Trenton has sunk to lows unimaginable in America’s new suburban townships. We’ve squandered millions of dollars on publicly owned hotels and parking garages. A Mayor has been sent to a Federal penitentiary. Our graduation has sunk to below 50%. Below 50%! Our murder rate has flirted with being the highest in the nation. We’ve had almost $5,000,0000 stolen from right under our noses. Our water has been unsafe. Our taxes are the highest in New Jersey. We’ve lost population. Over half of the land in the city is tax exempt. We’ve closed our libraries. Our City Council has failed to provide oversight and occasionally Council meetings turn in to fist fights. The list goes on.
However, the people of Trenton are not helpless. We can take control of this problem and provide the ultimate fix.
We can tear down our form of government and start over!
In 1962 Trenton did just that. The Trenton Council at the time formed a citizen’s commission to study the problem of whether the current form of government was appropriate for the times. That group took a year and developed a very considered opinion that “no, it wasn’t”. They therefore recommended that the City adopt the now familiar, Strong Mayor form of government as outlined under the Faulkner Act of the State of New Jersey. The Faulkner Act spells out several different forms of government including a strong Mayor, a weak Mayor and a City Manager approach. So no, we’re not locked in to what we have now which spells out 7 council member (4 of them At Large), a Mayor and a Business Administrator. We can decide that this isn’t working for us. The evidence (population decline, tax base decline, income decline relative to the State, graduation rate decline and high crime rates) would suggest that it hasn’t “worked” for some time.
One of three things can happen:
1) The Trenton City Council can take action to form a citizen’s commission to look in to the matter and if needed propose a change. The change, if recommended would be voted on in a city referendum. This process would take about a year.
2) Citizens can form a committee on their own to force the creation of the citizen’s commission. This action would be similar in scope to Trenton’s recent recall ballot measure, our Pay to Play ballot initiative and smaller ballot measures to simply stagger terms in office for City Council
3) We can do nothing and hope for the best
The most interesting of the several options under the Faulkner Act is the Council – Manager form of government. This would allow our elected City Council to hire a professional manager. Typically, this is used in smaller cities where the local talent pool isn’t likely to produce a professional city administrator. The upside is that we can give this “employee” goals, they can be selected from a national pool of candidates with resumes and the Manager can be fired if they aren’t doing a good job. The downside is that, much like a school superintendent, the positions is very political and the manager serves at the whim of City Council.
It’s worth thinking about. Much has changed in Trenton since 1962. We’ve gone downhill. Our city’s population has radically changed, the industrial economy has collapsed and the Internet economy has been established. Not much has changed in Trenton’s government.
Activist like myself and Kevin Moriarty have talked openly about mounting such an effort. Others have voiced support. But like the recall, it’s a big effort, especially if our City Council stands in the way of at least considering a change. We assume they and the current administration will resist even thinking about it. But that shouldn’t stop the long suffering citizens of Trenton.
Voice your support for the idea of considering a change to our form of government. Let us know. From where I sit, it’s much easier to lead if you know you have support. Better yet, let our City Council know that you want to consider a Faulkner Act change. A Council action to form the commission will immeasurably simplify the effort by avoiding a costly public referendum.