DOJ: Newark misused $3.5 million community policing grant

Washington Examiner: DOJ says Newark mis-used $3.5 million on $3.7 million COPS grant

Auditors with the Justice Department’s Inspector-General say Newark, NJ, officials improperly used every penny of a $2.8 million Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) plus most of an addition $987,000 in local funds.

The DOJ-IG’s lengthy list of deficiencies in how Newark officials spent the COPS funds unusually blunt and deserves being quoted at length.

The report is brutal in its analysis of misuse of the funds.

It’s great that the Mayor can bring in outside support like the COPS grant, but unless proper governance is in place to administer the funds, progress will take one step forward, two steps back.

Booker’s lack of face time in the city has residents grumbling

David Giambusso: The absentee mayor? Cory Booker’s endless travel schedule pulls him away from Newark

Arguably the most prolific tweeter in American politics, Booker has mastered the art of having a presence without being present. And while his detractors take issue with Oprah Winfrey’s characterization of Booker as a “rock star mayor,” based on his touring schedule she might be right.

Great in-depth piece on the psychological impact to Booker’s national agenda in Newark. Less face time in the community means less trust, and it brings to mind early criticisms of the Mayor’s being an “outsider.”

Pizarro on Newark in the Obama Years

Obama, Newark, and the expectations
Max Pizarro covers the Central Ward election, the effect of an Obama presidency on cities like Newark, and whether Mayor Booker will stick around for another four years after his first term (short answer: he will).

Booker says he’s stuck “like a Texas tick in Newark,” and to a person, his Newark and Essex County colleagues say he’s committed to running for a second term as mayor – now with the added boost of a personal relationship with Obama.

“An Obama presidency means that Newark becomes the laboratory for urban renewal,” said state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex).

Coutinho agreed.

“I believe Cory Booker is committed to being mayor and will probably run for governor in 2013,” the assemblyman said. “If vacancies open up in the U.S. Senate, that could change his plans. But short of a vacancy, he’ll run for another term.”

Theraputic Value

Theraputic Value

Nina Pilar was blogging from the Newark Green Summit and offers some insight on how the city is looking to the Green movement to generate jobs for Newarkers.

Carl Heafner of the Trust for Public Land spoke about the new industry – the “Green Collar” sector. (He wasn’t the only one who used the term; it was the first time I heard it out that way.)

Turning vacant spaces and “abandoned” parks into living areas for everyone; the rehabilitation, upkeep, and maintenance requires alot of manpower. And the manpower can be provided by those in transition.

The beauty of it is that green collar jobs are not dead-end jobs. They require skills. So this is not a temporary fix to the problem – it’s a solution in that the jobs don’t bar this demographic from employment.

Newark Green Future Summit – A Rebuttal

As a guy who has lovingly been called a “tree hugger” and a “granola” by his friends, and was told to become a “florist” and a “landscape designer” instead of an architect by his professors, one would think that I approached this weekend’s Green Future Summit with anticipation. Unfortunately, after being at odds with the mainstream for being green before it was trendy, I am now at odds with the mainstream green movement itself!
“Why all this confrontation?”
“We should stand united!”
“Why would one of our own be hindering the progress of The Movement?”

In response, I urge laypeople and green enthusiasts alike to question everything and take nothing for face value in this marketing driven society. If you really think about what the current leaders of the green movement are proclaiming, you will realize that they are just fooling their gullible customers through clever language and statistics. Language like, “reduce carbon emissions 25% by 2040” and “our product contains less toxic chemicals than our competition” make most people comfortable with the progress being made. I guess I’m strange because I am not very comfortable with any toxic chemicals in the products I buy or any toxins being poured into the air and into the earth. I’m sorry to be a party pooper.

People who are successful set very high expectations for themselves. They aim to be the best at what they do, they aim to make no mistakes, and they aim to have a 100% positive impact on society, not a less bad impact on society. The leaders of the green movement should reevaluate their goals. They should aim to eliminate all toxic waste production as quickly as possible. Better yet, they should aim to create waste that has a positive effect on the ecosystem.

You’re going to say that my expectations are too high. I say to you that our goals must be set at the highest pinnacles of our imagination. We rarely achieve all of our goals, so when goals are set low, our achievements are even lower. When our goal is perfection, we just might come damn close.

You might also say that waste is dirty by default – it can’t be any other way. You are wrong. Only the human beings of the past 300 years have produced waste that is poisonous and literally changed the surface of this planet in almost every corner of the globe. An example: what is one of nature’s most effective fertilizers? The answer: earthworm excrement. Chinese farmers know all about it. In some agrarian communities in China it is considered proper for guests to leave an after dinner gift for their host in the rice paddy! It gives new meaning to the cliché; one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, doesn’t it. My point is that in the natural world, everything is food for another, including waste, so don’t let anyone tell you that we can’t produce clean waste.

Now on to the Green Summit. The commissioner of the NJ Board of Utilities, Joseph Fiordaliso gave a rousing speech about his green ideals that was fondly reminiscent of some energy speeches given by the current fascist regime running this nation. I guess the audience was too busy clapping to hear him say “everything is on the table – wind, solar, biomass, and even nuclear.” Wait a second, did he say nuclear? Oh my, he did, and he repeated it for those who thought they misheard, “Nuclear.” Someone forgot to tell him that nuclear energy is quite possibly the most dangerous, unstable, and destructive technology to ever come out of human creativity. Not to mention that the scientists still haven’t figured out to do with the deadly radioactive waste that it gives off.

Cory Booker and Toni Griffin were the positive highlights of the afternoon as usual. The Mayor gave an off-the-cuff speech about his relative ignorance on green issues and his desire to learn from others and change the way he lives and runs the city. A nicely done speech by the Mayor. Ms. Griffin gave an abridged presentation of the Newark Master Plan. She has gone into great depth to uncover the planning issues that plague the city and the social ills that have been impacted by poor planning choices. The statistics about the poverty and unemployment rates in this city are mind-boggling. 40% unemployment in adult males, 31% of children are in poverty, 80% of the residents would have to move to make our neighborhoods as diverse as 100 years ago! These are numbers that go much deeper than planning, but planning has had its role in creating these problems. The goal of the Master Plan is to be fulfilled by 2025. A legitimate timeframe, but how many people will wait for it?

The panel discussion on Green Buildings became lively once the audience was invited to ask questions. The first question was excellent. It was directed to Sandy Wiggins who represented USGBC (the organization responsible for the LEED program). Mr. Wiggins was asked to explain how LEED will evolve in the future to keep up with other less-known certification programs. For those of you who don’t know, LEED is the de facto benchmark for building certification in the US. However, it is by no means the best or most holistic, it is just the dominant program in the market. Mr. Wiggins responded that the USGBC does make strategic partnerships with other organizations and “big changes” for LEED will be unveiled over the next 12 months.

The second question created the fireworks for the afternoon. A representative of Workforce (a job placement organization) asked if the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District attempted to hire any unemployed Newark residents for construction jobs. Before the director of LPCCD, Baye Wilson, could answer, the microphone was usurped by Marty Schwartz, the president of Essex County Building and Construction Trades Council. He used this time to scold Mr. Wilson for not using union labor on the LPCCD projects. Beneath his cuddly, union boss exterior, Mr. Schwartz actually made a fine point which was probably lost beneath his histrionics. His point was that by placing local unemployed men and women in the union, they would be taught the skills necessary to not only get a well-paying job, but have a career and a future. He is right. To be lifted out of poverty, one must be taught the skills that empower a person to build a meaningful and sustaining career without living off of government subsidies for the rest of his/her life.

I will leave you with a few thoughts… are we being the best we can be? Are we attacking the problems at their roots? Are we designing with Nature’s laws in mind? Have we chosen the right people to lead us and teach us? Are we part of the universal cycles that Nature has made for us, or are we an enemy of them, daring Nature to do something about it? I believe Nature always keeps things in balance, and to oppose the natural law is a losing battle, that has already been decided.

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James reports to prison on Monday

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James reports to prison on Monday
James’ sentence begins while he continues his efforts to appeal the judge’s guilty ruling for fraud and conspiracy charges during his last term in office.

During decades spent in public service, Sharpe James collected an array of impressive titles, such as mayor, state senator and college professor.

For about the next two years, however, he’ll be known as federal inmate number 28791-050.

Newark opens line for citizen complaints

Newark opens line for citizen complaints
The city of Newark steps into the 20th century by implementing CRM (that’s citizen relationship management) software and a streamlined, centralized call center. The new call center will field questions from residents for everything from garbage collection to pothole repair — questions that often fall to the city’s overburdened 911 service.

The city of Newark unveiled a new phone hotline yesterday that is supposed to serve as a catch-all for complaints about graffiti, potholes, traffic signal problems and other city services.

The phone number — (973) 733-4311 — is modeled after similar non-emergency call lines that have been wildly popular in New York City and Baltimore. Newark officials hope this phone number and tracking system will give department directors a clear snapshot of strengths and weaknesses in city services.

“Today marks the day where we finally tell Newark citizens we care about what you say,” said James Bennett, the call center manager. “When you call, we will listen.”

More exciting, though, was this information I received from the company whose system the city implemented, QScend Technologies:

“Further, municipalities can offer a full-blown knowledge base and citizen self-help center through their websites, allowing citizens to access key information 24/7, not just when the call center is open,” said LeBeau. “If they don’t find the answer to their question using the knowledge base, they can then submit a form regarding their service request and that request is routed right to the responsible department.”

This would certainly be taking the program to the 21st century. Imagine submitting a complaint online about a pothole on McCarter Highway and not just getting that issue resolved, but getting an email or text message (or twitter?) to close the loop when the pothole is fixed!

Now THAT would be taking the concept to the next level, and sources say that web-based issue tracking is not only technically possible, but part of the next phase of this rollout.

Putting Newark ahead of the curve on services for residents — that’s the kind of thing that will continue to fuel investment in Newark.

Coming Tomorrow: 4311 Call Center for Newark Non-Emergencies

Coming Tomorrow: 4311 Call Center for Newark Non-Emergencies
Similar to New York City’s 311 service, Newark will be unveiling a one-stop-shopping call center for non-emergencies in the city.

Full press alert after the jump.

Newark 4311, the Non-Emergency Call Center, is designed to provide the citizens of Newark with an efficient and effective resolution of non-emergency concerns within the community. The call center’s hours of operation will be Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The number to call is (973) 733-4311.

Continue reading “Coming Tomorrow: 4311 Call Center for Newark Non-Emergencies”

Voters are wrongly told: You’re not registered

Voters are wrongly told: You’re not registered

Working with data and computers, it’s fairly easy to see how something like this might have occurred — knuckleheaded though it was. Not that NJ would swing one way or another in the presidential race by just 300,000 voters, but those kinds of numbers could play into more local election results. The question now is will anyone step up and call shenanigans? (Hat tip: The Baristas)

Glitches in the computer data — some as minor as a missing middle initial — led to notices going to voters who are in fact registered, according to Susan Evans, a spokeswoman for Wells. One source of trouble, she said, was that voters who first registered before a birth date was required are listed in state elections computers as having been born on 01-01-1800 — which obviously does not match the birth dates on their driving records.

Evans said 300,000 letters went out to voters living in Essex, Bergen and five South Jersey counties. She did not know how many were erroneous. Before the mailings resume, she said, the data will be scrubbed — in particular to keep those voters listed as 208 years old from getting the notices “so they’re not unduly alarmed.”

Newark gets $5 Million for prisoner re-entry program

Newark gets $5 Million for prisoner re-entry program
Prisoner re-entry is a cornerstone of the Booker administration, with 2,300 men and women pouring into the city from prison each year, 65 percent of whom are rearrested within five years. This funding gets momentum behind a program that is desperately needed in Newark, and may turn a difficult challenge into an economic opportunity for Newarkers.

The federal government has awarded the city of Newark a $2 million grant to be used for the city’s prisoner re-entry program.

The award, which will be publicly announced today at a noon news conference in Newark, will be matched by another $3 million donation from philanthropic organizations. The $5 million in extra funding will give the city’s fledgling program a much needed boost.