Regarding Mr. Chester's Comments of 1-16-18

Sorry for the delay in making available online the audio recording of last Tuesday night’s Trenton City Council meeting. Here it is.

Having posted last week, without annotation, comments made by West Ward Member and Council President Zachary Chester at that meeting, I’d like today to offer some questions and comments. These aren’t by any means the full range of comments I could offer. But you all have other things to do today, as have I. Here are what I subjectively consider to be notes on the more notable things said by Mr. Chester last week. His comment begins around 1:02:08.

[T]here are a lot of things that has transpired that the Public doesn’t have privy to.

We begin in absolute agreement. Mr. Chester and I see eye to eye on this. There is an awful lot that the Public has not been informed about. Not just the immediate topic at hand, the crisis at the Trenton Water Works (TWW), but about so many other aspects of City government over the last four years.

And just why is that the case, Mr. Chester?

Why is the public “not privy to” so much? Why did the public not know about the deteriorating conditions at the Water Works, over the last few years? Why was the public unaware of the deadlines set by the State Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for seeking an outside contractor to take over management and operations of TWW?

Why has the City been so late with notifying the public about incidents affecting water safety? Why do Trenton’s residents hear from their City so many hours after Townships have notified theirs?

Why did it take Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests – often heavily resisted and prolonged – to find out so many details about the state of the city-owned utility?

Why has it taken other OPRA requests to find out about the City’s poor relationship with the US Housing and Urban Development Department? Or about all of the missed warnings the City received while its payroll vendor was stealing the City blind?

Why has it been so damned difficult to get information from you and the Administration?

Have you forgotten the promise you made on July 1, 2014, as you were sworn in as Council President? Do you not recall that you said, “We will do things transparently. We will do things in the open. We will let Trentonians know what their government is doing. This is my pledge to you.”

We know we need a management company. But DEP and the Governor wouldn’t let us do it when the Administration wanted to do it.

But then they waited until the Governor was on his way out, and tried to force us to do it. And I think a lot of this was when they couldn’t get the Administration and the Council to move, because outside Counsel had advised us not to, because what DEP was asking us to do, DCA was saying you can’t do it way. So they went in conflict within the Christie Administration. And we held tough.

Mr. Chester here paints a picture of the brave City of Trenton valiantly resisting the lame-duck Christie Administration’s last-minute attempts to ram outside control down the City’s throat. And just moments earlier in his remarks, Chester said that what NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin wanted “the City to do was illegal. And we couldn’t do it. And we didn’t do it.”

Mr. Chester never explained last week what he thought the State wanted the City to do that was “illlegal.” And if that proposal was “illegal,” I don’t understand why Mayor Eric Jackson, in his 11-2-17 letter to Commissioner Martin, (Page 4) wrote that he “found the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (‘Department’) to be an invaluable partner” in the effort to fix TWW.

Yep, that’s sure “hanging tough,” Mr. Chester. Call the bully “an invaluable partner.” That’s killing them with kindness, I suppose!

By the way, in that same letter Mayor Jackson went on to say, “[Martin’s] letter [of October 30 2017, Page 7] addresses several matters throughout the history of our interactions between the City and the Department, which both you and I, as well as our staffs, have discussed at length on several occasions throughout my time as Mayor.” [Emphasis mine – KM]

In fact, NJDEP had been in frequent discussion with the City and TWW on many issues – primarily focusing on staffing and management – since the City signed an Administrative Consent Order in January 2014 (Page 5 and following), which bound the City to a timetable to fulfill several TWW obligations, many of them going back to 2009.

So Mr. Chester believes “they waited until the Governor was on his way out?” Unless the folks at NJDEP considered themselves “on their way out” in January 2014, this claim is pretty thin.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, if someone from the State went to employees at the Trenton Water Works and asked them to sabotage the Trenton Water Works, and to cause all these problems so that then the public gets upset. Because if you can’t do it the way you’re supposed to do it, then you upset the Public and the Public come in and force the hand. That’s what I believe. That’s my belief.

That is probably the most incendiary comment made last week by Mr. Chester, and certainly the most news-headline-worthy. It is also a claim for which the Councilman offered no evidence beyond his “belief.”

I know it is now election season, and many of the Councilmembers seeking re-election are entering into campaign mode. Standards for public speech on the campaign trail by candidates are certainly different – generally much lower – than they are when those same candidates are acting in their official capacity.

Rather, they should be. Mr. Chester’s unsupported allegations of TWW “sabotage” by the State, made from the Council dais, are nothing short of irresponsible slander. There is no reason for the Councilman to use the same methods as those in the national Administration in Washington. Behavior that is ethically outrageous when seen in our national President is no less unacceptable and unprofessional when seen in our city’s Council President.

My neighbors in Hiltonia, they don’t even drive down Stuyvesant Avenue. They take the back way to 29. My house sits right there. I sit on my porch. I see who ride past my house.

Frankly, I haven’t a clue as to what he was going for here. Not a clue. Anyone???

But no one’s going to help us if our own people are fighting against us, and not trying to understand.

And I say to all of them, all of those, all of those who want to post the picture of me and the Gravy Train, “What have you done for your City? Which elected official up here have you worked with?”

Because I know when I had an election, and I ran against folks, and they said, “No matter who, we”… We were in a meeting, a debate, and everyone said “No matter who wins, we’ll work with that person.”

I wait. Because we can do more working together, than always fighting, and putting misinformation out there. Because individuals in this City believe Black and Brown folks in this City are not educated, and we don’t understand.

Because if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy.

Now this is a comment that I happen to take rather personally. Because in Spring of 2010, I was also running for the post of West Ward Council Member, in the campaign that Mr. Chester won.  And yes, I also remember being in two separate debates where Mr. Chester, two other candidates, and I do recall on both occasions all of us stating that we would work together after the election, no matter who won.

Another thing that I recall is that, after the election, I tried to do just that, only to be rebuffed by Mr. Chester. Does the Councilman recall that?

Thanks to Trenton emigre Jim Carlucci, who still (probably despite himself!) cares deeply for this town,  for providing old emails proving that. On top of that, it’s rather ironic and entirely relevant to our current discussion that the matter on which Jim and I were trying to engage Mr. Chester and his colleagues was How to Save  The Trenton Water Works. Seriously. The same thing we are trying to do now.

Here’s a screenshot of an email sent to Council members on December 29, 2010:

12-29-10 112-29-10 2

Jim and I had sent the same Members a preliminary outline of our proposal a few weeks earlier, on December 15. And you know what? Over seven years later I still think it’s pretty relevant:


So, what do you think, Councilmembers? Are some ideas here that, even at this late date, might be worth discussing? This idea never went anywhere seven years ago. Perhaps you all are more incentivized now? Maybe?? And hey, that line, “Trenton made this problem, Trenton will make the solution.” Pretty good, huh?

Anyway, I include this to show that, despite Mr. Chester’s pointed comments directed my way last Tuesday night, I have attempted, repeatedly, over the years to work with him and his colleagues on matters of policy, with little or no response The last time I received even the courtesy of a response acknowledging that I had reached out to Mr. Chester was back in 2015. Other individual Members have been somewhat more responsive, but not him. So, when he plaintively asked the other night, “if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy” – a great line, by the way – it doesn’t matter worth a damn if we call him but he doesn’t reply.

For the record, Councilman, I have never posted the picture of you with the Gravy Train bag. Although I do have to say, it is pretty damned funny.

Finally, although I could discuss many other of the Councilman’s comments, I will only say that I think it despicable to make the kind of racialist comment Mr. Chester did as quoted above. Whether on the campaign trail or on the Council dais. Especially on the Council dais!

I assume – for purposes of amity, if nothing else – that the Councilman was not referring to me when he said that.

I don’t recognize that attitude in any of those who speak about, and criticize, and oppose actions and policies of the City when we have thought they are wrong and damaging, when they fail to move this City and its people forward as it is Mr. Chester’s job to do.

It’s outrageous to hear that kind of a comment made by one of our city’s elected officials, about his constituents. I hate to compare Donald Trump to Zac Chester two times in one piece, but once again, what is not to be tolerated in a US President isn’t any more acceptable from a Trenton Councilman.

As much as I would hope the Councilman would apologize for his slur, I actually expect one to come no sooner than an apology would come from Mr. Trump.

Dang, that’s three times in one piece!!

As I write this, calls to reform Trenton’s Water Works are coming from the people and mayors of  the surrounding Townships making up TWW’s service area; they are coming from State Legislators; they are coming from the local press; and, oh yeah, the people of the City of Trenton.

Mr. Chester, his Council colleagues, Mayor Jackson and his Administration, all need to face the reality that events are spinning out of their control. Rather than waste everyone’s time by petitioning the State for one more “investigation” and one more “report,” as they unanimously voted last Tuesday to do, they need to take responsibility to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

If not – and the last four years provide pretty strong evidence that this won’t happen – then they all need to go.

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