Good Government in Trenton
“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson
The Perez administration will be committed to the basic tenets of good governance. Good governance is responsive to the
present and future needs of a community, exercises good judgment in policy and decision-making, and takes into account
the best interests of all constituents. Good governance is not some lofty goal. It requires work. It requires diligence. But I sincerely believe that when an administration respectfully brings together well-meaning individuals who contribute their ideas, experiences, perspectives, preferences and strengths at the policy-making table, we are showing good governance. Good governance is achieved through a civil discourse that attempts to capture the perspectives of all those involved, assuring that the interests of those who live in, and interact with our city are addressed and reflected in our policy initiatives. Good governance is reflected in competent, professionally-delivered services by all city employees. Our city has been plagued for too long by a lack of leadership which has led to incompetency, inefficiency, corruption, and an overall deterioration of the quality of life for city residents.
We can no longer accept a city government that requires a visit to three, four, or more offices and may still result in walking away without a definitive answer or without our problem being resolved. We can no longer live in a city where a call to city official results in NOTHING being done or even an acknowledgement that we called. We can no longer tolerate living in a city where the statement, “I have to go to City Hall” elicits eye-rolls of sympathy for the expected experience. Simply put, our city’s internal business model is broken. We’ve forgotten our role is exclusively and only one of service to the community.
Our city must change and so must the way that City Hall interacts with residents. By embracing and modeling principles of good governance, the Perez Administration will ensure that Trenton residents have the government they deserve. I have the qualifications and the experience to lead our city, and will surround myself with qualified individuals who will not only ascribe to these governing principles, but will work with me to turn our city around. Further, all city employees will be expected to carry out their work within the spirit of these principles. However, we cannot do this alone, as our vision for city government is inclusive and participatory. Only when residents are actively involved in their neighborhoods, communities, and in how they are governed, do all boats rise.
These are the principles I pledge to uphold during my administration, and it is the contract I will maintain with my constituents as your Mayor. 1
Accountability and Competency
Being accountable for one’s responsibilities and one’s action is the principal tenet of good governance. Accountability shall be documented in policy statements and internal operations documents naming which positions are responsible for implementation and monitoring. My administration will be accountable to those who will be affected by our decisions or actions, and will fulfill their responsibilities within the applicable rules of law. All leaders and decision-makers, collective and individual, will take responsibility for their actions and decisions in our core areas of work and will document our goals,
objectives, and challenges through regular reports to Council and the community.
Transparency in Government
Working within the constraints of laws governing privacy, we will create a culture that promotes easier public access to all legally available information used in decision making. Examples of steps we will take to foster transparency:
- All city obligations including loans, leases, multi-year contracts, tax abatements, and PILOT agreements will be compiled and made available on-line for download and review.
- The city budget (proposed, approved, modified) will be made available in easy-to- use downloadable files.
- A list of all city-owned vehicles will be published annually noting their year of manufacturer, condition, mileage, and, the department and personnel to whom they are assigned.
- A list of all city-owned non-residential properties noting use and condition will be published annually.
- All agreements with vendors, contractors, and consultants in excess of $25,000 will be published and updated monthly noting purpose of contracts, progress in tasks, departmental budget source, amount of contracts (and amendments), and payments in the current fiscal year.
- New ordinances and amendments offered by the Perez administration will be accompanied by clear explanatory notes that describe the purpose of the ordinance or amendment so that Council and the community are fully informed of our proposed legislative objectives.
- We will monitor requests for information include OPRA submissions to help us determine which types of information and data should be readily available for public access.
Responsiveness and Reliability
City Government is designed to serve the best interests of its constituents within a reasonable time-frame. Our structures, processes, and procedures will be adapted to meet the legitimate expectations and needs of residents. Public services will be delivered in a consistent, professional manner. Directors and their department staff will demonstrate impeccable customer service skills when dealing with the public.
- We will review all points of interaction between city staff and members of the public including the city’s website, automatic emails and announcements, individual away messages, and other public/automated systems and refine them to reflect our commitment to professionalism and responsive service. As appropriate, we will develop a template for departments and staff to use to ensure that messages are up to date and clear.
- We will conduct spot observations and review of personal one-to- one interactions between city staff and members of the public to confirm that the administration’s standards for clarity, professionalism, and responsiveness are being met or exceeded. We will develop appropriate plans for individual corrective action or long-term professional development to help our staff meet our expectations for customer service.
- We will conduct periodic reviews of public announcements and other materials published and distributed on behalf of the city and its departments to ensure that these materials are clear and are being understood as intended. We will use these reviews to improve the clarity and usefulness of our future communications.
- We will develop standards of responsiveness to ensure that those requesting city services or information are receiving prompt and complete responses. We will expect departments to report on how quickly they process requests from residents and others and to set and achieve objectives for prompt responses to requests and inquiries.
Ethical Conduct and the Rule of Law
My administration will abide by the law and all judicial decisions. We will insist upon effective measures to prevent and combat all forms of corruption. Further, we will demand ethical behavior on the part of all staff. Capricious, mean-spirited actions will not be tolerated. We will require that all staff and anyone appointed to a commission or other agency which makes decisions on behalf of the administration declare conflicts interest in a timely manner. Persons with conflicts of interests will be required to abstain from taking part in discussion and decisions in which they have a conflicting interest. Public good will be placed before individual interests, and the full protection of the public will be paramount. Rules and regulations will be enforced impartially.
- All Directors and other appointed city staff will be provided a copy of the Trenton’s Code of Ethics and will be required to signed a statement indicating that they had received, read, understood, and agree to abide by it in their work on behalf of the City.
- All persons appointed by the administration to a board, commission, or other decision-making body will be required to signed a statement indicating that they have received, read, understood, and agree to abide by it in their work on behalf of the city and its residents.
- All city employees will be provided a copy of Trenton’s Code of Ethics and asked to sign a statement that they have received it.
- Department directors will be required to lead and complete a review of the Code of Ethics with all of their employees within 60 days of the start of the Perez Administration.
- All judicial rulings affecting the City of Trenton will be published for community review and will be communicated to Council as well. The administration will describe the city’s response and steps to comply with these rulings and will notify the community and Council when the process of compliance has been completed.
- Each city department will be directed to develop, submit for review, and implement a process by which residents and others seeking assistance, resolution, or information may report instances in which they believe that they were unfairly or unethically treated by an employee or by the department. Directors will be required to log each of these reports to the Chief of Staff in a timely manner and submit a plan for resolution and document resolution in accordance with law and city ordinance.
Sound Fiscal Management
We will be good stewards of the assets and resources of our city. Grants will be tracked carefully and grant reporting will be submitted on time. Further, vendors will be held accountable for the quality of services rendered and the delivery of good and services the city has paid for. In addition, we will manage our resources in a manner that will ensure that necessary service are provided when needed at costs that is reasonable and appropriate. Sound financial principles and management will be used in the contracting and use of loans, in the allocation of resources, revenues and reserves, and in the use of unanticipated revenue.
- All solicitations for contracted services and goods will be completed in compliance with state procurement laws and those making decisions on contract awards will rigorously conform to conflict of interest and Ethics Code requirements.
- Contracts with external vendors for routine services (snow removal, mowing, tree removal, etc.) will be offered for bid, evaluated, and executed in a routine manner before the need of these routine services has occurred.
- Cost-limited, contingency contracts for emergent needs (building demolition, street repair, flooding control, etc.) will also be placed for bid, review, and execution to ensure that there is a not a gap when such services are needed or that that costs are needlessly inflated.
- All city contracts with external vendors will be structured to ensure that tasks are completed, that work quality meets expectations, and that schedule milestones have been met, prior to the release of the final payments of funds.
Rational, Transparent Budgeting Used as a Tool (not as a year-end report)
In contrast to current city budget process, my administration will adopt a new process for using the annual budget planning to ensure our objectives are funded by allocated resources. Our annual budget priorities will be established and shared and
presented to the budget as the fiscal year approaches and not after it has been completed. We recognize that annual budgets are plans, we fully anticipate that they will be revised and refined in light of new information and circumstances. My administration will look for local and regional partnerships to explore sharing of liabilities and benefits, and mitigation of risks and, in the case of public-private partnerships, by sharing risks and benefits realistically and reasonably.
- The Budget and Finance Department directors will work to draft two and three year budget plans under various scenarios of chimerical state aid, property tax, and other revenue.
- Budgets will be transparent and will contain clear statements of budget rationale and assumptions tied to what the administration seeks to achieve through its allocations and requests for revenue.
- Presentations before City Council will describe in detail the assumptions and strategies for meeting Trenton government’s responsibilities for serving its residents and other constituents.
- Budget plans and rationale statements will be broadly available to the public for review and comment.
Efficient and Effective
Good governance means that the processes implemented by my administration will produce favorable results that meet the needs of our constituents, while making the best use of resources at its disposal; human, technological, financial, natural and environmental. My administration will pursue appropriate bench-marking of practices and performance in exemplary city governments and we will examine best practices in these communities to understand how they can be effectively adapted and adopted in Trenton. We will measure our results based on specific, publicly available objectives. We will announce when we’ve met our objectives and will acknowledge where our efforts have fallen short.
Performance management systems will be used to evaluate and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of services. Internal operational audits will be carried out at regular intervals to assess and improve performance. Technology will be integrated into the provision of all city services wherever possible, especially as it relates to constituent services, to facilitate timely and streamlined processes. Where appropriate, we will evaluate the benefits and risks of a fee-for- service structure including but not limited to “fast track” fees for certain types of projects.
- Each department will be required to document and assess the efficiency and quality of its processes for doing its work. Policies, guidelines, rules, and procedures will be examined to find where the work can be done more effectively, faster, and efficiently. Departments will be challenged to explain why procedures for routine administrative tasks (taking and distributing messages, accepting payments, scheduling appointments, responding to request and complaints, submitting documentation to funding agencies, providing mandate reports) differ across department and units. A common method or approach to doing city business is our goal.
- The Perez Administration is committed to documenting and sharing progress on each of its key objectives. To that end, it will regularly require department directors to report to City Council on the status of key initiatives: achievements, failures, and next steps.
- We will examine that status of the myriad “data-base” centers that have sprung up across City Hall and develop a comprehensive plan for integrating these data into an integrated, functional, and productive data base management system. The days of having to enter the same information about the same property again and again across departments is past. We need to move into the current century.
Participation and Inclusiveness
Active citizen involvement and participation in city government and decision making is a cornerstone of good governance. Citizens are at the center of public activity and they are involved in clearly defined ways in public life at the local level. Such broad participation is built on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and needs to be informed and organized, inspired by an unrelenting concern for the best interests of our city and its residents. As such, a collaborative and positive working environment the Perez Administration will be established and promoted among directors, as well as with City council members, to the benefit of city residents.
The Perez Administration expects if directors (and their departments) to function as an integrated team—and not as a set of detached silos of work. We will work diligently to ensure that departmental actions are coordinated and designed to supplement or advance the goals of other departments as well as those of the initiating department. There will be an honest attempt to mediate between various legitimate interests and to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interest of the whole community and on how it can be achieved. Direct input from the most qualified city residents will inform city Boards and committees, and will be used by the administration on issues regarding the welfare of city residents and quality of city services. The Mayor will continue to reach out to all constituencies across the city—including those individuals and groups who are often left out of the conversation.
Similarly, the Perez Administration will maintain an open, on-going, and informative relationship with all city council members so they may make informed decisions to the benefit of all constituents. City Council members have an important and invaluable role to play as key liaisons between the community and the administration. We will rely upon them as co-authors of a revitalization and rebirth of Trenton.
- We review the composition and recent functioning of all city commissions, boards, and other agencies and ensure that their respective membership rosters are full and that meeting and responsibilities are meeting the guidelines established for them. We will appoint interested, qualified individuals to fill vacant positions.
- We will assess the resources and support needs that each existing board or commission requires and ensure that adequate support is being provided.
- We will seek to sunset or eliminate those boards or commissions whose function(s) are no longer responsive to Trenton’s needs.
- We will explore the benefits and risks of developing independent citizen advisory boards for key departments to help the leadership of those departments identify key issues affecting the community and providing an independent voice on the progress of this department in meeting its objectives.
- We will establish a routine process for keeping council members informed of the work of our administration and its departments to ensure that appropriate, accurate information is being shared about critical issues and topics.
Innovation and Change
The touchstone of my administration will be to provide competent, effective service to our citizens by using well designed technology across all departments. My administration will deliberately seek out efficient solutions and approaches to addressing the service needs of our constituents. We will be vigilant in observing where systems and procedures need updating and transferring effective approaches to customer service to other city departments. We will be ready to pilot and
experiment with new programs, and to learn from the experience of others and avoid needlessly expending valuable resources. We will foster receptivity to such changes in process and procedures by providing appropriate, ongoing professional development to city staff—all aimed at serving constituents better and achieving better results for all city residents.
Sustainability with a view toward the Future
My administration must maintain a healthy yet critical balance between the needs of our current residents and the needs of future generations in proposing and evaluating current policies. The sustainability of our community must be at the
forefront of all decision making. Good decision making must consider all costs and not simply transfer future burdens, be they environmental, structural, financial, economic or social, to future generations. Using Trenton 250 as its starting point, the Perez Administration will maintain both a realistic present day objectives and broader long-term goals to guide Trenton today and in the future. A broad perspective will help us assess how best to scale and focus our energy and resources. We will act decisively today while preparing for greater accomplishments and benefits in the future.
1 This paper position paper draws on The 12 Principles of Good Governance and European Label of Governance Excellence (ELoGE), Council of Europe, and its attachments.