Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Zombie Property (aka "The Pit Stop"), Part II!

Hey Everyone!

On April 10, 2019 I started this blog with an article on the Pit Stop.  To refresh your memory, you may read the article again now.  I will wait...…...

Alrighty then... After 3 years of diligent work involving engineers, NJDEP staff, environmental consultants, grant applications, title searches, research, negotiations... you name it... it happened, we received a check in the amount of $239,524 from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Municipal Grant Program.  This grant money is purposed for us to continue with the environmental assessment of the property which includes the razing of the long vacant building (to study the ground soil underneath it).  We do have our environmental company on the ready, and we hope to have this work started in the next couple of months.  I will make sure to inform you all when the building is scheduled to come down.  Maybe a little party with some refreshments are in order as we watch?

To follow up on my April 10, 2019 article, the end-game for the Township is to get the property cleaned through grant funding, acquire title to the property after clearing title, and then create a passive park area for the community to enjoy and be proud of.  For far too long, this site (so prominently situated in our Town) has languished because of its complicated title history.  Millions of dollars of liens against it, and an owner that is a now defunct LLC with it's only member deceased.  To say this was quite a... errr.. "situation" is an understatement!

But I do want to publicly thank the governing body (Mayor and Council Members) who pushed for and supported the work that it took to make this happen.  I also want to publicly thank our Municipal Engineer James Parvesse and Brenda Kraemer (Engineer and Grant Wizard!) for their focused work to bring us to this point.  In addition, the staff at the NJ DEP have been excellent to work with.  They agreed with us very early on that this is exactly the type of project that the grant money is designed for...and they helped us greatly to make it happen.

The work, however, is nowhere near done.  We have much to do to get us to the end line!  There was a lot of work happening out of sight of the public...now you all get to see the work that will be done at the site as proof that progress is being made.  Stay tuned!






Thursday, July 16, 2020

Appreciating the Firefighters that serve our community...

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."  Nelson Mandela.

Yesterday, our community experienced a very involved fire at a home on Lanningan Drive.  Our career and volunteer firefighters responded to the call and came upon what most people would seem terrifying.  But these guys just geared up and did what they were trained to do.  I can't imagine what it is like to enter a building that is on fire, and I wanted to take this moment and express deep appreciation for the men and women who serve our community in this way.

We had a younger fireman experience entering a building with a fully involved fire for the first time.  I asked Jack Oakley, our Director of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, what it was like to do this...enter a building on fire...because I wanted to reach out to the fireman (a rookie no more) and to acknowledge his actions yesterday.  Jack described it to me as follows:

"Upon arriving at the scene, the adrenaline is pumping, you are gearing up and stretching the line (the hose) to the front door.  Crawling in the house...it's hot and smoky, and putting water on the fire produces steam which lends to zero visibility.  But once you are done, you are tired but you have a sense of accomplishment that you put out the fire and saved people or property."

(Jack didn't know I was posting this....so I hope it is ok)

This reminded me of one of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes on courage that I started this post with.

I am told that the fire was put out swiftly limiting the property damage, and family pets were saved as well.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this all with you...and publicly acknowledge and thank our firefighters for their service to our community.  Well done!


Monday, July 13, 2020

The Municipalities File Their Motion to Intervene...(NJDEP v City of Trenton and TWW)

I wanted to take a moment to inform you that Lawrence, Hamilton, and Ewing have joined together to file a motion to intervene in the case captioned NJDEP v. City of Trenton and TWW which commenced last month.  The details of which I explained in a blog article dated, June 19, 2020.  

A "motion to intervene" is a legal process in which a party (or parties in our case) request to participate in a civil action that has been filed by one party (the "Plaintiff(s)") against another (the "Defendant(s)").  The "intervenors" must prove to the court that they have an interest in the case, and that any disposition of it (i.e., settlement or judgment) will impact them in some substantive way and, therefore, they should have the opportunity to protect their rights and participate in the case.  

There are, of course, other legal considerations for a Judge to consider before making a decision, but what I have described is the main element.  It is my opinion that the facts and circumstances involved clearly indicate that the Court should allow the Townships to intervene and participate in the matter.  But I am not the Judge, so we wait for a decision.  

I am providing you with a copy of the "letter brief" that the Townships submitted along with their motion to intervene.  A letter brief is a document submitted to the Court by a party that provides the legal and factual arguments to convince a judge to decide in that party's favor on whatever issue is being presented. In our case, the issue is whether to allow the Townships to be permitted to participate as a party in the civil action against the City of Trenton and TWW.  

The link to that document is here: https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:495868b6-a952-4473-9b07-4d1211e1bc54

The letter brief includes the following observation, "The right to clean water is a human and constitutional right.  This is not negotiable.  It is clear that Trenton and TWW have repeatedly and egregiously missed benchmarks in fulfilling their obligation to provide safe and clean drinking water for the customers of TWW, which include residents of Plaintiff-Intervener Municipalities.

For those of you who want to review the pleadings (i.e. documents filed by a party in support of their motion), I am providing the following links:

The Motion to Intervene:  https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:d5d680de-2c99-4f1c-bbc8-71a7965eeb2f

The Certifications of Counsel in Support of Motion:  https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:d45a3103-90fd-404b-9534-281f6cab4726

Exhibits attached to Motion (including Complaint): https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:e48bedc7-b523-4d3d-9fe4-c6bc5ce9066e

If you want to know the specifics regarding what the Townships are demanding, you should review the complaint which is provided in the above link.  

I will keep you informed as we progress through this process.  As of today, August 13, 2020 is the date set by the court as the hearing date.  Stay tuned!






Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wearing a Raiders face mask is just cool!

Hey Everyone! Pardon me while I do some journaling... 

So....if it isn't clear to you all now, it will never be. The world health pandemic known as Covid-19 or the Coronavirus is real. It is in our community, county, state, and country. Through yesterday, our Health Officer (Carol Chamberlain) reports that our community has had 442 cases with 73 deaths from the virus.

First, before you write a comment that most deaths are old people or people in assisted living facilities....please know I reject that completely and emphatically! I reject marginalizing or diminishing the loss of any of life because you think they are already old and have no value.  Of course, all lives should be valued and their deaths grieved.  And, months into this virus, it is clear from the data that it is taking its toll on people of all ages.  If you think you are so young that if you get the virus, you will be fine....that's a dangerous game of chance to play. 

Second, before you write a comment that wearing masks doesn't help or it violates some civil right you think you have.....please know I reject that as completely and emphatically as I reject the first comment. For some bizarre reason this public health crisis has become political in our country...and we are paying dearly for it. The U.S. compared to almost the entire world is failing miserably because so many citizens reject science and are comfortable risking the health and safety of our fellow residents, friends and family thinking they are making some "statement" of protest.  

Wearing a mask is critical to slowing the spread of the virus. This simple statement is supported by every credible, non-political, health professional with knowledge and experience on the matters of contagious diseases. Wearing a mask protects you and others. It is not 100% protection, but it does reduce the risk. It is not a civil rights issue, it is a civil responsibility issue. You should feel a sense of responsibility to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus...and it also respects the efforts of our healthcare workers and first responders by doing our part to give them the ability to handle the care of the many sick people they are responsible for.

Wearing a mask should be a symbol that you care about yourself and others. Unfortunately, this virus will be around for some time. We do not get to say we have had enough. We will have had enough when we develop a vaccine. Until then, we hunker down, understand our responsibilities, fight for as long as it takes, stop feeling sorry for ourselves because it is hard, remember the challenges and sacrifices prior generations have gone through and have made, and know we have the same strength and resilience as they had. And, most importantly, know that we will eliminate this virus from our lives at some point.

We are doing really well right now in NJ, but let’s not get complacent. Let’s continue to respect the virus and know we have to be smart in our actions. Wear a mask when you are out in public when you know you cannot control whether you come in close contact with others. May I suggest a Raiders mask?!!!!!

PS. Our municipal buildings remain closed to the public, but our municipal operations continue to run at full strength. Thank you to all that have been patient and understanding when coming to the municipal building to do business with one of our departments. Our box at the North Entrance remains active and effective, and our staff (wearing a mask) meet outdoors if the need for interaction arises. Where there is a will, there is a way during these trying times.  I am in no rush to re-open the buildings.  Restricting the buildings to municipal employees only protects our employees and the public, and has no negative impact on our ability to deliver the services expected by our residents, businesses and visitors.
 
PSS. We have re-opened the playground equipment at our local parks and posted signs regarding the risk of using it. The equipment will be cleaned weekly. Parents, please make good decisions for your children regarding the use of the equipment. Keeping a safe distance from others, and making sure your children know to keep their hands from their face while playing. And bring sanitizer to wash their hands before and after playing. We would provide the dispensers, but as a matter of routine, they are stolen immediately after being replaced.

We got this people! 👊👊✌️


Friday, June 19, 2020

To those who want to better understand the NJAG's civil action against the City of Trenton and TWW....

As I shared with you earlier this week, the New Jersey Attorney General filed a civil action on behalf of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection against the City of Trenton and Trenton Water Works (hereafter, "TWW") in the Superior Court of New Jersey.  As a customer of TWW and as the Municipal Manager for the Township, these past 3 years having been one of great concern for myself, my family and for the residents of Lawrence who are provided water by TWW.  I am sure those who are customers of TWW share the same concern.  

Based upon some of the comments made by residents on the community FB pages, I thought I would take some time to further explain what is going on, and to provide you with links to important documents for those wanting to take a much closer look at the issues being confronted on your behalf.  The following is not meant as an all inclusive research paper, but rather a summary for your general knowledge.  I hope I accomplish this for you.

In order to better understand the present situation, we do have to go back several years to review the actions taken by the NJDEP against the TWW that resulted in several Administrative Consent Orders (i.e., an ORDER approved by the Court and entered into by NJDEP and TWW and the City of Trenton) that had the overall purpose to set a framework to systematically address long-standing problems with the infrastructure, management and operations of the water utility.  The February 5, 2018 order is here and provides a great history to the problems and proposed actions to be taken:  

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:c4d72ea0-f54c-4e53-b5ab-429960a3cd7a

Over the course of the last couple of years, the NJDEP and the officials of municipalities being serviced by TWW (Lawrence, Ewing, Hamilton, and Hopewell) have worked to get the water utility to meet its obligations it had agreed to under the Consent Order.  To be honest, and I have said this publicly several times, TWW has done a lot to improve its management and operations to the benefit of its customers since entering into the Consent Order.  However, it has missed several critical deadlines relating to infrastructure improvements, such as the replacement of lead service lines and capping the reservoir.  Both of which are critical to producing clean and safe water for us to drink and use now and in the future.  

What prompted the action taken by the NJAG, however, is the Trenton City Council's voting down the necessary funding ($83 million) for improvements required under the Consent Order.  Without this funding, it is a complete impossibility for the water utility to do what is required for its overall improvement, and a sustained ability to deliver clean and safe water to its customers.  Here is a link to the NJAG's complaint that it filed with the Court that spells out very specifically why the action was necessary:

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:7434cbcf-63ae-447c-96be-e337afeb1298

And here is the link to the legal brief prepared by the NJAG in support of the complaint that was filed on an emergent basis to compel the Court to act quickly for the protection of us all:  

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:da61c1f9-c5df-41c4-b722-1af999a1fb49

For those of you who may not know, TWW is owned and operated by the City of Trenton.  It provides drinking water to over 200,000 customers in Trenton and sections within the surrounding towns of Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell and Lawrence.  This is an asset for the City.  The operation of the TWW creates revenue that is used by the City for its overall operations.  So when Trenton City Council votes to increase water rates to the customers, and then votes "no" to spend the money all experts agree is necessary to make required improvements to deliver safe drinking water....well, that's a problem.  And this is why we find ourselves where we are right now...in Court seeking a ruling to compel the City to fund the water utility so it can make the improvements that are necessary.  

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Residents have called to ask if they can just switch to another water utility (like you can with cable service or power service).  The technical answer is "yes" but it would cost billions of dollars to do.  TWW owns the water lines running under our streets that you connect to from your homes.  It owns the facility at the Delaware River that processes the water, and it owns the reservoir that holds the water for our use.  To get another water utility to service a portion of our community as an alternative to TWW would require a company to build a complete water utility system (facility, reservoir, water lines from the facility to the street adjacent to your home, etc.).  So the realistic answer is "no" it is not practical.  The fight needs to be: (1) to improve TWW;  or (2) to get TWW to sell to another water company; or (3) for the State to take it over and operate it.  

Here is the link to the "Final Order" filed with the complaint that very specifically explains what the NJAG is looking to the Court to achieve:

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:b255956a-d721-432a-af3c-a19788637631

As an attorney, I really do appreciate when pleadings are well crafted.  The documents prepared and filed by the NJAG are top notch in my opinion.  The followings is an excerpt from the complaint (par. 3) that succinctly describes why we are where we are now:

"The Department [NJDEP] has tried diligently and repeatedly to convince Defendants [the City of Trenton and TWW] to comply with their obligations to protect consumers from lead exposure and to make other required improvements within the drinking water system.  Further, the Trenton City Council recently failed to approve critical and necessary funding for many of the improvements the law demands.  The Department now seeks a preliminary injunction requiring Defendants to address lead service line replacement to protect consumers, and an order to remedy their failure to protect the health and safety of their consumers."

What makes this situation so disconcerting is that the Trenton City Council has demonstrated complete dysfunction over the past couple of years in my opinion.  The decisions it has made in many matters (unrelated to TWW) seem to be made for reasons other than what is in the best interests of the City and the residents.  In this matter, the refusal to fund improvements to the water facility that provides water to its own residents also affects residents who live beyond its borders in surrounding towns.  As a result, we cannot allow the City Council to work against the interest of providing clean and safe drinking water to us even if they don't seem to be concerned about their own residents and the water they drink and use.  

I have met with Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora several times regarding TWW and its operations and plans for the future.  He is absolutely committed to doing what is right and what is necessary to fix the water utility.  Unfortunately, what he wants isn't enough in Trenton's form of government.  Issues relating to funding fall within the authority of the City Council.  If those council members are not committed to improving TWW in a meaningful manner, there is no alternative but to seek a Court Order to compel them to meet their obligations to their own residents and to the customers who reside outside of their City.

Officials from Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell and Lawrence are meeting next week to discuss interceding  in the complaint (i.e., entering the civil action as a party) to join the NJAG and to advocate for our residents.  Stay tuned everyone.  I will report back to as we proceed.  I hope you found this helpful.  



  



  

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

NJ Attorney General Requires Public Disclosure of the Identities of Officers Who Commit Serious Disciplinary Violations

I didn't want to wait on this news...

Let me just say....this is a significant reform.  An excellent start that I candidly did not see coming as something to address that would be impactful.  But it is impactful.   Gurbir S. Grewall, the NJ Attorney General, concluded after careful deliberation that "it is in the public's interest to reveal the identities of NJ law enforcement officers sanctioned for serious disciplinary violations."  He further reasoned,

"The public's trust depends on maintaining confidence that police officers serve their communities with dignity and respect.  In the uncommon instance when officers fall well short of those expectations, the public has a right to know that an infraction occurred, and that the underlying issue was corrected before that officer potentially returned to duty."

I agree with this completely.  For far too long, officers who do not serve their community with dignity and respect have been protected by the confidentiality of "internal affairs" records.  This is not me taking an anti-police officer position.  Far from it, I respect the responsibilities and risks police officers undertake every day to protect and serve their community.  Those officers who take their oath of office seriously, and perform each day with it in mind, will always have my support. 

The complete text to the Attorney General's memorandum to "All Law Enforcement Chief Executives" dated June 15, 2020 can be found here:
Of course, this is simply a starting point to address one of many issues that are needed to improve how we approach law enforcement today and in the future.  Stay tuned for updates as I receive them.

The Zombie Property (aka "The Pit Stop"), Part II!

Hey Everyone! On April 10, 2019 I started this blog with an article on the Pit Stop.  To refresh your memory, you may read the article again...