The Mack Method

Many of you will have heard of “The Peter Principle.”¬† If you haven’t heard of it by name, it’s an easy concept to grasp.

In the late 1960’s, Dr. Laurence J. Peter, a professor at the University of Southern California, popularized a theory that says, “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.

I told you it’s an easy concept to understand. We’ve all seen it, many times we’ve been affected personally by it. The idea basically means that normal, talented, effective individuals who are good at what they do tend to receive awards and promotions. If they continue to do good work, they keep getting promoted. Onward and upward… until the last promotion puts the person in a position Just A Little Higher Than They Can Handle. As a result, they end up floundering, either visibly (in which case they don’t last long, as their incompetence is apparent to all) or invisibly (in which case their subordinates end up doing all the work and covering for them).

“The Peter Principle” was originally publicized in a semi-humorous book of the same name. The book may have started out partially as a lark for the good Professor, but it’s still in print, and there have been several versions, corollaries and spinoffs over the decades. One can look at TV shows like “30 Rock” and “The Office” and see their roots in The Peter Principle.

Let me add one corollary to The Peter Principle. I will call it “The Mack Method.” Whereas the Original Idea states that reasonably competent people will eventually rise beyond their talent, The Mack Method would state something like “Fundamental Incompetence and Lack of Talent is No Problem to Being Hired and Further Promoted by the Tony Mack Administration.”

If you’ve read the newspapers and this space for the last year and a half, you know what I mean. We now have a new account of The Mack Method, which can already be considered The Definitive Account of all that is wrong with the Mack Administration.

For the March issue of The Trenton Downtowner, Community Editor Jim Carlucci (with whom I collaborate on a series of monthly interviews for this space and the newspaper) has written a powerful and damning account of the inner circle of Mayoral Aides hired by Mack since he took office in July 2010.

Based on public records brought to light by Mr. Carlucci’s several Open Public Records Act (OPRA) filings, the article reviews the professional backgrounds of these aides, their lack of formal job descriptions and responsibilities, their incomplete attendance and sketchy accountings of time – one aide was being paid on City time while conducting a Prayer breakfast in his other job as a clergyman, for example – and the general absence of accomplishment for each and every one of them.¬† Some have moved on: one person left her job and is now suing the City for discrimination. Many are still there, and have even been promoted: one person without qualification or accomplishment was promoted to Acting Business Administrator, where he has proceeded to sow Havoc in whatever he touches.

In every case, these Mayoral Aides were brought in to City employment by Tony Mack. At a time when initially dozens, then hundreds, of loyal talented City Employees were being laid off or forcefully retired, Mack went out of his way to hire new people, with no effort made to place any person on the layoff list.

Recruiting, hiring, promoting and managing people at all levels of the City Government is easily the single worst skill that Tony Mack has demonstrated as Mayor. And that is saying something! I won’t say any more about this excellent article. It’s all there for you, and well worth a careful read.

Correcting these personnel failures and trying to salvage something out of the trainwreck of The Mack Method has been one of the main objectives of our relationship over the last year with the State’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The most recent Memorandum of Agreement (MOU)with the Department by which we were awarded $22 Million in Transitional Aid included a formal system by which DCA would take the lead in recruiting, interviewing and vetting candidates for Department Head and other senior positions. This MOU was signed in October of 2011.

Since then, we’ve read periodic and positive accounts about how hundreds of individuals have submitted resumes and applications for the many unfilled critical positions in our City government. Sounds like the process got well under way right after the MOU was signed.

So, where is everyone? The MOU was signed four months ago. The Times editorial talking about the 200 resumes is five weeks ago. What is happening with the personnel process? We continue to read of more, new and ongoing, accounts of failures of personnel management in the City, mostly caused by the serial incompetence of people brought in to their positions by The Mack Method.

So what is DCA doing? Where are their selections for Buisiness Administrator, for Police Director, for Law Director, for Housing and Economic Development Director? And for all of the many other positions currently being occupied¬† going on Two Years by “Acting” appointees serving illegally long past their allowed terms.

I wish I knew!

3 comments to The Mack Method

  • ed w

    i have read that book myself and its an apt description. i’am ashamed to live in trenton.

    keep up the good work


  • Jo Carolyn

    Read the book many years ago. Read Jim’s great but sad article and like you, have been wondering when we will get some “REAL” professional leaders in City Hall! Great writing!!

  • Thanks for refreshing us oldtimers on one of the great obeservations of corporate America (published when we were coming up through it) and thanks for calling attention to Jim’s excellent Downtowner piece.

    I wonder what the career outlook is for a candidate vying for the job of “advising” a Mayor noted for ignoring and rejecting the best advice available to him, beginning with Bill Guhl’s. Nothing in the MOU requires him to listen.