Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Library

We've been operating here in Trenton without our neighborhood libraries for several months now, but we're finally on the precipice of finding out if they can reopen. I hope they do: libraries are a mark of a civilized culture, and Trenton has lost enough already.

Chances are you've heard or read about the volley between the library director, Kimberly Matthews and the mayor's office; on Monday, the mayor's office went public with the exchange and issued a bizarrely written 2-page press release. Sure, this raised questions; namely: how can the mayor guarantee the money to the library without a) agreeing to the amount, and b) putting that amount in writing?

But for me, there are other pressing issues:
1) Is Lauren Ira really making $83,600?
Laura Ira is Mack's spokeswoman, and she should be ashamed that her name is on that convoluted press release. I'm sure working for someone like Mack is confusing, but she gets paid the big bucks to digest the madness so it makes sense for all of us dummies. I'd be happy to do her job for free*, and though I don't imagine Mack would keep me for more than an hour or so.

2) How is it that Mack cleaned house when he took office, and removed several effective and respected people from their departments; created a complete circus with the firing of former deputy clerk (and former councilwoman) Cordelia Staton; and lined up just shy of 400 city employees — including cops, firefighters, and inspectors — for the firing squad, yet failed to ask the Library's board of trustees to resign? Tony! Hello! You're missing an opportunity for some more theatrics! It's not like the current board has done much to help the library system in Trenton, though, I'm not sure if whatever Mack makes of the mess will be better, based on his current track record.


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* I offered to work for free in the city's sign shop earlier this year, but never heard back from anyone. I suspect I won't hear back from Mack on my offer to work with him on press relations either, even though I can save the city $83+k. I have all the wrong friends.

Overthinking

You'd think this picture was taken outside of one of the local bars, but you'd be wrong.


Glen and I have many large issue opinions in common, but we differ on some of life's smaller, day-to-day dilemmas. For instance, if a cat pukes in our kitchen, and I discover it, I quietly curse the cat, if I'm lucky enough to know which one perpetrated the vileness, clean it up, wash my hands, and move on. Cats vomit. If Glen encounters the same problem, he calls out to me, "Hey babe, one of the fucking asshole cats puked on the fucking floor. Fucking idiots. I fucking hate those fucking ungrateful assholes. Fuck." I call back to him, "I'll clean it up." And he responds, "No, I got it." And then there's another string of expletives, infused with rage, and it does not dissipate for at least 20 minutes.

We keep the cats out of the bedroom mostly because they don't understand that humans are usually diurnal creatures; they're wired to be active at other times of the day. We're the dummies who choose to keep them anyway. Occasionally one will slip in, and it's usually crafty Angus, our nice black cat who came with the house. If allowed, he will sleep on my shoulder all night and not bug anyone. Despite Angus's compatible desire to sleep when we sleep, when he gets in, Glen will often throw the lights on, since it's hard to see Angus with his black fur in the dark; he'll begin swearing, and will crawl around on the floor until he's red with anger and exhaustion, at which time Angus will just head to the door to leave. We've been talking about the possibility that some of his cat-directed anger over the more mundane issues is slightly unwarranted, and Glen agreed. So last night, as Angus got in, and then made his nearly invisible approach to the bed, Glen was silent. Nonetheless, I could practically hear the gears spinning in Glen's overthinking head as he waited for Angus to jump on the bed. Angus settled down on my shoulder, and Glen, feeling victorious, plucked him from me, and removed the cat from the bedroom.

Recently, some jerk dumped hundreds — yes, hundreds — of beer bottles in the alley behind our house, which is a problem because the county handles the recycling here in Trenton, and they pick-up in front of the house; the city handles trash, and they pick up behind the house, in the alley. While this is not an every day occurrence, irritations like this happen several times a month here in Trenton. Well, dumping happens constantly, with pretty much anything that's not wanted: construction debris, rabbits, cats, beer bottles...whatever. But we only encounter it a few times a month, so we're lucky, I suppose. Anyway, Glen handled the "clean up and move on" part reasonably well, and I give him credit because the bottles were funky with old, stinky beer, and it didn't stay in the bottles, so he stank when he came back into the house. Just prior to his clean up, we called the county to get another recycling bucket, and Glen headed over to the office on S. Broad, to get the bucket. He explained the situation to the woman there, and he was able to get 2 new buckets into which he was able to put the stinky Corona and Heineken bottles.

There were so many bottles, though, that he actually filled all three buckets: the two new ones, plus our old one, AND two cat litter buckets. And we weren't able to get our own recycling out this week because of the vast quantity of dumped bottles.

Bright, shiny recycling buckets are nice, and according to Glen, highly coveted. He asked me to mark our new ones with our address quickly before someone stole them. I didn't get to it right away, and he asked again, and again mentioned that he was worried someone might make off with our bright yellow buckets (even though, at the time, they were filled with scores of bottles). I marked them with our address earlier this week, which brought relief to Glen. As he was putting the buckets out late last night, he asked me to keep an eye on them, especially after the county came, so that no one steals them. I suggested that maybe he was overthinking the recycling bucket issue, and that there was a really good chance that no one will ever lift our buckets, because they are just yellow buckets, and if in the off-chance they did get stolen, we could easily get a couple more. He agreed it might be better to not worry about this unlikely scenario, unless it actually comes to pass.

Just to be on the safe side, I kept an ear out for the trucks, which came early today, and I promptly removed the buckets from our curb and brought them up to our porch, where they are empty, and so much more vulnerable.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do-over

We went to the East Ward CPAC meeting on Monday night, primarily so we could wish Detective Bob Russo well on his retirement, even though his retirement most likely heralds a more dismal era for residents here in Trenton. He handed out an 8-page crime report, and asked every other person to take one and share with the person sitting next to us. The city's budget cuts didn't allow him to make enough copies for all those in attendance. He also offered a much thicker document for seniors; he had even fewer copies of that, due to budget cuts, he reiterated. At that time, I counted about 35 people at the meeting; within a half hour, there were 50, most of whom were seniors. The room was PACKED. We had Matthew with us, and Glen and I were swapping in and out of the meeting to hang out with Matthew in the lobby. During my time in the lobby, a woman came out of the meeting, and asked the officer at the front desk if she could make another copy of the thick document for seniors; the officer did, but reiterated that the reason there weren't enough is because the city slashed the department's copy budget.

On Tuesday, council approved Mayor Mack's childish do-over "hire my friend's law firm" proposal. I'm trying to keep an open mind, because I don't serve on council, and I'm not privy to all the legal issues that are facing the city, but I just can't help it: it rubs me wrong that council voted down Mack's proposal to hire his friend's firm last week, yet he asked again, like my toddler might ask repeatedly for a cookie after I've already said no. I thought no meant no when it came to official legislative business? And, as others have pointed out, there might be some pay-to-play issues here, since one of the lawyers in the firm hired, Lloyd Levenson, was the chair of the mayor's inaugural ball committee.

Oh yeah, and the firm is based in Atlantic City (are city taxpayers going to be footing the bill for fuel??), and we already are represented UP THE WAZOO by lawyers. Why do we need another firm — one that is not only at the opposite end of the state, but one whose CEO is a personal friend of the mayor's — when the police department is not allowed to make 50 frigging copies of a couple of documents that will help concerned citizens and seniors? Why are we in a position to lose any police officers, particularly a really helpful one like Detective Russo, when we just took on what seems to be an extraneous law firm? It doesn't make sense from my perspective.

Yesterday I sent a message to my council representative, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, because she voted yes for this new law firm — both times: on Mack's original proposal, and on his "Mommy, PLEASE" do-over last night, and I'm hoping she might be able to explain why we need this firm. I'll post an update when I hear back from her.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A letter to the governor

Dear Governor Christie,

The City of Trenton has squandered much of its gift money from the state (and federal) government over the years that it may not make sense — at face value — to send anything else our way. I understand that. But I'm also a good citizen in one of the better neighborhoods in the East Ward; we have a few problem homes here, but lately — thanks to the cooperative efforts of committed activists and the police — we've been able to stabilize the neighborhood, and we've even seen some positive changes. Our new mayor, who admittedly inherited a damaged city, continues to hurt us more with his every decision. One of those decisions is to lay off a large number of police officers. It hasn't happened yet, but the news has sent ripples through the department, and good officers are leaving while they can. This city and my neighborhood are going to be negatively affected by the reduction of police officers on our streets, and personally, it troubles me because I've invested so much time in helping to make my neighborhood a better place.

If there is anything you can do by way of state aid or executive power to keep our police department intact, you will be helping the decent, law-abiding residents of the city, along with the families of scores of police officers, and that might be enough to make a huge, long-lasting, positive impact on neighborhoods like mine. Saving our police department will be money well-spent over the long haul; yet another blighted hole in this already wounded city will cost us so much more over the years in wasted lives, time, effort, and money.

Please help us.

Regards,
Christine Ott

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yes. Yes, it can get worse.

The idiot neighbors have been reasonably well-behaved in the last couple of weeks, but current events in Trenton are more disturbing than ever. I've been busy with work and life, and luckily haven't had much time to dwell on the unsettling news, but we were driving today, and I saw a large sign in a nearby New Jersey municipality which threatened a $1000 fine for riding off-road vehicles on the road, and that sign triggered an enormous amount of irritation and rage about all things Trenton. All of the bullshit that's been going on in Trenton just exploded in my head, and started to eat at the lining of my stomach. Thank you, Tony Mack.

If Trenton simply enforced the laws we had on our books, not only would we not have assholes riding around on ATVs and dirtbikes, waking up babies and killing spectators at events, but we would be able to generate some much needed revenue while said assholes began to learn that city streets are not the place for off-road vehicles, even if many of the pitted and battle-weary roads here, well, look like the dirt and semi-paved fire roads in the Pine Barrens.

Another bit of semi-annoyance last week was that city council proposed an ordinance that would make landlords responsible for their shitty tenants. A couple of particularly lousy properties on my street are owned by uncaring, absentee landlords; I see and hear those tenants all the time, and I loathe them, along with the people who rented to them. So it's hard for me to feel sympathy for some landlords. If there's a hell, I hope for their sake, it's as Dante imagined, and those shitty landlords suffer somewhere on the 8th or 9th level. You know, the circles reserved for those who consciously commit fraud, treachery, and/or violence against society. But not all landlords suck, and some only deserve the 2nd or 3rd level of Dante's hell: the levels reserved simply for the self-indulgent unrepentant. Hell aside, it strikes me that this proposed ordinance may be a bit redundant: there are probably dozens of laws already on the books that cover shitty tenants, shitty landlords, and shitty people in general; and if, for the love of god, Trenton just frigging enforced the laws, we, again, would not have to deal with assholes up the street (many of whom ride off-road vehicles on the streets), and we'd be able to collect fines from them until they learned how to to behave properly in a civilized society.

But instead, we're laying off inspectors and cops, the people who are the most useful in keeping the lowest forms of humanity from disrupting the rest of us too badly. One such city employee is Detective Robert Russo, one of the most dedicated officers I've ever met: he was recently offered a demotion after 36 years of service. And by service, I do mean service. He served our community extraordinarily well, and now he's retiring, and I have no idea what we'll do without him, but I wish him the best, all the same. I wish things were different. By different, I mean better for all parties involved.

And, while we're down, we might as well get pissed on a bit, right? We found out recently the annual St. Patrick's Day parade will be moving to Hamilton. I can't help but figure that this had to be in the works for several years, since, you know, everyone's pretty much clamoring to get the hell out of Trenton, anyway. Hamilton is a giant mess of suburban spawl, and I imagine the traffic problems next St. Patrick's Day will piss off a lot of Hamiltonians, but whatever. I enjoyed living in the neighborhood that was home to the parade, and walking up every year to listen to the bagpipes and watch the mummers, and it burns a bit that we're losing that wonderful bit of history. But hey, most folks in the US don't live in neighborhoods that host such big parades, so I guess we were lucky for awhile. Rumor has it that some folks here in Trenton are going to march down Hamilton Avenue next St. Patrick's Day, anyway, and I'll be there to watch. Even if it is just one guy. Who's with me?

All of this is small beans, though, compared to the water crisis we experienced this week. I tend not to worry too much or for too long; I let a lot of stuff slide, but our boil advisory caused me to lose sleep this week, something I can ill-afford to do. If you're reading this entry, you probably know all about the fiasco, but if not, I've posted some links at the end. I'm not an alarmist, but as the days of the boil advisory wore on, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell was in the water. I imagined officials furiously and repeatedly testing, and not telling us what was going on because whatever was in the water was THAT BAD. We still don't know. Why? Why don't we know what was in the water? Don't we have a right to know, since we were exposed to whatever was in the water for at least a day, before the alarms were sounded? Because of the lack of forthcoming information, I can't help but assume the worst case scenario: that we were exposed to coliform*, and perhaps pesticide/industrial runoff. I hope I'm wrong. And, based on other reports around town, I don't feel comfortable that we're completely in the clear yet. That a 30+ year veteran of the Water Works would turn whistle blower and give up his career yesterday does not instill confidence, either. I'm still concerned about washing my kid in Trenton water because I do not want genuine or figurative shit particles** and their associated bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and/or parasites anywhere near his perfect little body.

I know Tony Mack was handed a city on life support when he took office, but what he's done in his first three months continues to squeeze life from us. Please, Tony, pack up, or nut up. Please.



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* Coliforms are abundant in the feces of warm-blooded animals; and, according to this entry in wikipedia, as well as my recollection from a fairly recent biology lecture, they are easy to culture (which is why I don't understand why we had to boil water for so long, and had no information), AND indicate that other nasty fecal pathogens are present.

** I must make one exception for his own shit, although I don't particularly WANT those particles near him either, and do my best to separate him from said particles as quickly as possible. Maybe we'll be lucky, and he'll take to toilet training early.

Further reading on Trenton's — and Mercer County's — water crisis:
Kevin Moriarty's blog

The Trentonian has been doing a great following the story. Here's one story on how Trenton Water Works may have caused a Hamilton sinkhole. Here's another one on how worker inexperience may have caused the problems. Check their archives for more stories.