Physics Lesson

Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be transferred from one form to another or moved. Energy that is ‘wasted’, like the heat energy from an electric lamp, does not disappear. Instead, it is transferred into the surroundings and spreads out so much that it becomes very difficult to do anything useful with it.”

What’s true in the physical world is sometimes true in the public world. Even though politics often seems to operate on its own set of rules, sometimes it can be seen to act in the same fashion as the rest of the universe.

That’s surely true of the example above. Energy that is not used by an electric bulb to illuminate is just wasted in the form of heat, and that energy “spreads out so much that it becomes very difficult to do anything useful with it.”

Trenton’s West Ward City Councilperson Robin Vaughn is, in her first months in office, using her energy to produce much more heat than she does light, and it is just as wasteful. She risks becoming just another inefficient, dim, bulb.

Case in point: two days ago, out of the blue, on her Facebook page she called for the immediate resignation of fellow Councilperson Marge Caldwell-Wilson for, in her words, “all the apparent reasons.” Reasons which, not at all apparent, somehow relate to the Ms. Caldwell-Wilson’s presence on the Board of the Trenton Downtown Association (TDA).

Today’s Trentonian has a summary account of Ms. Vaughn’s charges, and the ruckus it created online, for further background.

I won’t recap all of Ms. Vaughn’s arguments, because I just don’t find them credible, given the complete lack of evidence provided by her, and the absence of any demonstrated support of her position by anyone in authority. But I think it is important to understand what the Councilwoman is doing here, and how ludicrous it is.

Ms. Vaughn raises on her Facebook page a vague charge of “conflict of interest” against Ms. Caldwell-Wilson without stating exactly what that conflict of interest is supposed to be. She provides no reference for her judgment, no authority, and cites no ordinance nor the City’s Ethics Code. I suppose the violations are supposed to be self-evident?

She does point to the fact that TDA is not one of the Boards and Commissions listed in the City’s Ordinances to suggest that the presence on its board of a sitting Councilperson is inappropriate. But, when presented with proof that the TDA is a legally-constituted “District Management Corporation,” as allowed under State Law as well as City Statute (Section 252-9), deflects from the issue and changes the subject. Her response is telling: ” I have raised the concern to the appropriate authorities. I will await their response and findings.”

I read this as an admission that she does not have any specific complaint or charge. She has an uncertain suspicion that something unsavory is going on, somewhere. She has made inquiries of the proper authorities, but did not take care to wait for a response to those inquiries before making a highly specific and highly volatile charge against one of her colleagues, including a demand for her immediate resignation.

In other words, she smells smoke. Smoke from a fire that she deliberately set. And she’s waiting for the fire department to arrive, while pouring more gasoline on the flames. With all of her energy, she’s only producing heat

The Trentonian story describes her as crying “wolf,” which to me isn’t the best metaphor. In that story, a child cries wolf on occasions when there aren’t any wolves around, only to be ignored when one actually shows up.

To me, the West Ward Councilwoman is an arsonist. She is deliberately making incendiary accusations, producing no proof, or support, or even specifics, for her claims. She is getting people riled up, with many on Facebook agreeing with her and complimenting her, without any real sense of what they are actually agreeing with. She is getting the sole remaining daily newspaper carrying city news to give her free media. She is causing people to react to her, to respond to her charges and insinuations, without being held to provide any specific detail.

We already have a national President who does this sort of thing on a daily basis. We don’t need a copycat in Trenton.

This is not what members on Council are supposed to do. Individual members should not be grubbing for attention and attacking their colleagues. Single Council members can’t do anything productive on their own. They have to learn to count to 4 + 1. That is, they need a majority of 4 Councilmembers to approve legislation, plus one Mayor to sign it. Whatever it is that Robin Vaughn is doing, it’s surely not what West Ward voters intended.

Ms. Vaughn was elected because people had become tired and fed up with her predecessor, who throughout his two terms was perceived as uncommunicative, remote, and low energy. Ms. Vaughn is certainly a high energy successor to Zac Chester. And then some.

But unless Ms. Vaughn starts to direct all that energy to becoming a more productive and collegial member of her body, all that energy will do is produce more heat. Which would be a waste.





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