How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

The Dysfunctional Trenton Municipal Government

Over the past thirty plus years I have worked with a wide range of nonprofit organizations in the City of Trenton whose missions are to assist those who need a helping hand. Municipal government could learn a lot about how to operate from observing the way Trenton’s charities work collaboratively.

Trenton’s leading charities meet regularly to share information, exchange ideas and discuss their differences. They realize that cooperation rather than competition is the way to reduce duplication, stretch resources, maximize program impact and improve the quality of services rendered. These charities have forged many partnerships built on mutual trust and the subjugation of individual egos. They do not worry about who has the power or who gets the credit.

It seems like a day doesn’t seem to go by without a member of the Trenton Council criticizing, lambasting or rejecting outright a project or action taken by the Gusciora Administration. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing if it is done in a civil manner. In fact, oversight is a clear statutory responsibility of Council. It is often not what was said, but how you say it that matters. Frequently the language used by Council members is derogatory and disrespectful. Far too quickly, Council members make unsubstantiated accusations that suggest the Mayor and/or the Administration are incompetent, disingenuous or corrupt.

Various Council members would, no doubt, argue that the Administration has not earned their respect because it has not been appropriately transparent and has not acknowledged the Council’s oversight authority, e.g., when the Mayor gives salary increases to his department heads without securing approval from the Council and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) as required by their MOU with the City. This faux pos may cost the City $260,000.

Similarly, the Administration could have done a better job of acknowledging the Council redevelopment oversight role in the review of the Princetel proposal to develop Building 62 in the Roebling Complex; but this is still not justification for the Council rejecting the project by a 5-2 vote. At-large Councilman Jerell Blakely and West Ward Councilman Joseph Harris, who voted in favor of the project, were correct when they called the vote to scrap the $4 million project that would bring 400 jobs to the site, “bafflingly and bizarre.”

There are a number of possible explanations for the high level of hostility that exists between the Council and the Administration. First and foremost, there is politics. Mayor Gusciora’s margin of victory was fairly narrow and there are lots of folks plotting the best way to defeat him in three years. Death by multiple wounds is a slow but oftentimes an effective means of bringing down your prey or at least substantially weakening him.

Second, the Administration has been inept in filling key director roles. In the case of Police Director, the candidate initially proposed was not properly vetted and the Council was correct in rejecting her. The inability to secure the votes necessary to fill key staff positions has reinforced the Council’s perception that they can run roughshod over the Administration whenever the feel like it without any consequences.

Third, provincialism continues to reign supreme in Trenton. There are too many provincial voices on social media and Facebook that see all those who are not born and raised in Trenton as a carpetbagger. Trenton should be seeking out the best and brightest talent it can secure without reference to whether they were born or raised here. This is not to say that individuals should be hired who do not understand the uniqueness of Trenton and the needs of its people. However, the recent opposition to the appointment of Rolando Torres Jr. to serve as a Municipal Judge by some members of Council because he resides in Hamilton was wrong-headed.

Fourth, I believe the underlying cause of the dysfunction of Trenton’s municipal government stems from a lack of empathy on the part of some Council members. Empathy is the ability to accurately sense and understand the feelings and reactions of another person. It is an essential decision-making skill.

According to Caliper Corporation, a Princeton-based consulting firm that does hiring assessments for many Fortune 500 companies, “The individual with empathy is able to accurately and objectively perceive the other person’s feelings without necessarily agreeing with those feelings. This invaluable indispensable ability to get powerful feedback enables him/her to appropriately adjust their own behavior in order to deal effectively with others.” I believe a lack of empathy has prevented a working rapport from developing between the Council and Mayor Guscioria. The Council needs to do a better job of listening without an agenda so that they can better understand the Mayor’s perspective.

I’d urge the Mayor and the Council to reach out to an area foundation and seek funding to retain outside expertise to attempt to do some serious team building in Trenton. This effort should include key representatives from the DCA.

One of the major problems that Trenton faces is the omnipotence of gangs. Gangs stick together and watch out for one another because they feel they have no one else. For too many years Trenton has been treated like a second-class citizen by the State of New Jersey. As a result, a rigid, dogmatic gang-like “us against the rest of the world” mindset appears to have set in. If Trenton is going to bounce back, a new spirit of collaboration needs to triumph over the status-quo mentality.