Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Attempt to cut Trenton Mayor Tony Mack's salary by half falls short in council vote

TRENTON — One by one, they approached the podium and spoke of a city under siege.

Residents in the Villa Park section spoke of a recent rash of break-ins that have only increased in the last two weeks.

Business owner Eddie Baldassari Jr. called for a moment of silence for slain Mercer County corrections officer Carl Batie, shot dead while standing on a deck at Baldasarri’s Chambersburg banquet hall Nov. 11.

Pearl Street resident Vanessa Speight complained of open air drug markets operating outside her house, where she lives with three young children she’s afraid to walk outside.

“The crime is the problem,” Speight said. “Once you get rid of the crime, address the crime, everything else will fall in place. When does Trenton stop being the laughingstock of New Jersey? When?”

Residents approached council again and again to ask how and when city officials and the police department were going to combat crime and violence that continues to spike throughout the city. Last Friday, six separate shootings occurred in just 3½ hours, leaving two dead and Trenton’s 2012 homicide count at 22.

As council digested complaint after complaint about crime in the city, the governing body also wrestled with another vote to slash Mayor Tony Mack’s pay by thousands of dollars.

The attempt to cut Mack’s salary ultimately fell flat last night, as council failed to garner enough votes to override Mack’s veto of an ordinance seeking to reduce his annual salary by more than half.

Council voted 4-3 to trim Mack’s salary from its current $126,460 to $60,000 on Nov. 1, citing the city’s budget woes and Mack’s dismal job performance as reasons to cut the mayor’s pay.

The move was swiftly vetoed the next day by Mack, who called into question council’s authority to fix his pay and labeled council members who voted in favor of the ordinance a “rogue coalition.”

Council President Phyllis Holly-Ward brought the salary up for a vote again last night in an attempt to secure the five votes needed to bypass Mack’s veto and make the salary cut law, but the three council members who originally voted against the measure — Kathy McBride, Alex Bethea and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson — declined to change their original “no” votes.

Several council members had sought to sway Reynolds-Jackson, who originally voted to introduce the ordinance for discussion in October, but the councilwoman said the wording of the ordinance was still too unclear.

As written, the ordinance stated council was enacting the pay cut due to “current economic condition.”

“From the last time we spoke about this particular ordinance I made it very clear we needed to tighten up the vague language in this ordinance,” Reynolds-Jackson said last night, expressing concerns once again that touching Mack’s pay could be interpreted as a violation of the mayor’s right to due process as a federal corruption case pends against the mayor.

Reynolds-Jackson said she instead supports a bill from state Sen. Shirley Turner that would suspend elected officials without pay if they were indicted for a crime. The bill has not yet gone up for a vote in the Legislature.

Mack, who was arrested in September on a federal bribery charge, is facing a potential indictment by a federal grand jury, who met last week in Trenton to hear testimony in the case.

Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson, who voted in favor of the ordinance earlier this month, said she did not understand Reynolds-Jackson’s reasoning.

“We need to deal with the issue at hand, councilwoman, instead of dealing in stalling tactics so you can avoid casting your vote, and that’s plain and simple,” Caldwell-Wilson said.
Bethea asked why council was spinning its wheels by taking another vote on an ordinance that remained unchanged.

“What are we doing tonight, we’re just going to keep bringing it back?” he asked.
Council members ultimately voted 4-3 again on the ordinance, not enough to overturn Mack’s veto.

On the issue of violence, several residents wondered why Gov. Chris Christie, the State Police and Mercer County government were seemingly standing by while a Trenton police force stretched thin from layoffs ran from one shooting or stabbing to another.

“Governor Christie, I’ve seen him on ‘Saturday Night Live’ three times, but I’ve yet to see him on TV speaking about Trenton, and his office is right here on West State Street,” Darren Green said.

“The governor has done everything in the world except address the problems of Trenton.”
McBride said council needed to take the reins and demand help from the state in the form of more officers to patrol Trenton streets. Baldassari said he spoke with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno several days ago about getting more manpower for Trenton, but she said the state wanted nothing to do with Mack.

“We need to and we can march these seven bodies without the mayor or with the mayor, that’s his choice,” McBride said. “This body can actually go to the governor’s office and ask for some immediate relief. I don’t know what they’ll say to us, but it’s a start. We need immediate release, we need help here in these seven miles, and we needed it yesterday.”

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