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Opinion: Recall Trenton Mayor Tony Mack before he causes further damage to city

The Times of Trenton Newapaper
By Irwin Stoolmacher

In its editorial “Hold off on recall” (June 7), The Times indicated that “It’s been increasingly difficult for Trenton residents to stand by and see their city steadily slipping into a morass of financial, legal and ethical problems. Each time Trenton’s leaders appear to be gaining traction and heading for solid ground, another slipup sends the city sprawling backward.” Nevertheless, The Times recommended holding off on a recall effort of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack.

The time has come for all individuals, elected officials and entities that care about the future of Trenton to publicly support the recall effort. We need to heed the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, who said, “Never for the sake of peace and quiet deny your own experience or conviction.”

I do not reside in the City of Trenton; however, I have been a Mercer County resident for more than 40 years, and for more than two decades, I have worked in Trenton assisting various nonprofits that serve the city’s truly needy. My work brings me to Trenton most days each week. To the best of my recollection, I have never met nor spoken with Mayor Mack. I have nothing against him and, in fact, I find his personal story very compelling.

There has been much further slippage in the city since the June 7 editorial was published, including the departure of the city’s law director, Marc McKithen, who, according to City Council President George Muschal, was pressured to resign because he “wanted to abide by the [Open Public Records Act] rules and regulations, and apparently the administration wanted him to do things that were illegal” (The Times, June 15).

However, what prompts me to call for the recall of Mayor Mack is the resignation of Eric Berry, the city’s business administrator, the seventh person to hold that key role since Mayor Mack took office. In its June 17 editorial, The Times wrote: “Mayor Mack has a most unfortunate track record when it comes to filling the top spots in his administration. Some of those the mayor advanced for the jobs had shady pasts; at least one of them imploded of his own volition. As the mayor begins his second year in office, he should strive for greater stability, more continuity.”

By all accounts, Berry was diligent, conscientious and honest. I have no doubt that he will land on his feet. I have real doubts as to whether anyone who is competent will be willing to come to Trenton in light of the astronomically high turnover rate among key city officials.

I believe that holding public office is a sacred trust. When you are afforded the opportunity to serve, you are obligated to do the best job you can, given your strengths and weaknesses. No one can be an expert on every area of municipal management. What we can expect is that leaders will surround themselves with people who have experience and that they will seek out people who have expertise. Mayor Mack, by and large, has not been able to attract quality people, and when he has, he has not been able to keep them. This is a tragic flaw.

From a management perspective, there is nothing more difficult nowadays than to effectively manage our nation’s cities, especially at a time when the federal government and, increasingly, state government, are abdicating their responsibility for providing a social, health and human services safety net. To successfully govern our cities, our leaders need to assemble, motivate and lead an effective management team. It is impossible to effectively manage a large organization with the kind of high-level turnover that has occurred in the Mack administration.

Recall is a long and complicated process. Given the fact that Mayor Mack won the June 15, 2010, election runoff with 62 percent of the votes cast, the bar for recalling him should be very high. To collect the 9,800 signatures (25 percent of the city’s more than 39,000 registered voters) during a 160-day period will be very difficult. It will be less difficult if there is a clarion call from all quarters of Mercer County in favor of the recall.

Four arguments have been posited against a recall. First, it is too expensive ($100,000, according to former Trenton Business Administrator Eric Berry). I’d argue that $100,000 is a small price to pay for quality government. I have no doubt that a competent administration will quickly pay for the cost of the recall.

Second, it could hurt the city’s bond rating (again, according to Berry). The city’s bond rating could also plummet if the current problems plaguing the administration continue or escalate over the next three years.

Third, it could be extremely divisive to the Trenton community. What is currently going on is already extremely divisive to the fabric of the Trenton community.

Fourth, it could “drain energy from fixing the city’s problems” (June 7 editorial). However, on June 17, The Times pointed out that “too much energy has evaporated in attending to the constant [staff] changes.”

A recall of Mayor Mack is justified and necessary, as he has failed to effectively lead the city of Trenton.