South Ward Council Candidate Responses

There are three candidates for the South Ward city council position. In alphabetical order, they are Carlos Avila, George P. Muschal and Crystal A. Smith. After each question, the responses of each candidate are provided.

  1. The City Council is a legislative body with investigative powers. What do you see as the role of the City Council in advancing the economic, educational and cultural success of Trenton? Go to Question 1
  2. How will your role as a Council member elected to represent a Ward of Trenton be reflected in your service on the Council? What do you see as the critical responsibilities and duties in representing your Ward? Go to Question 2
  3. Department heads are appointed by the Mayor “with the advice and consent of Council.” What do you see as the role of the City Council in evaluating and voting on department heads and other officials proposed by the Mayor? Go to Question 3
  4. Some City of Trenton departments and services are seen as effective, while others are viewed as creating obstacles to progress. What two current City of Trenton departments or services do you believe are working well, and what two departments or services most need to be improved? What specific actions will you push for the City Council taking to improve underperforming departments or services? Go to Question 4
  5. A healthy city must be able to meet the needs of its citizens while balancing its budget. Trenton has many assets and a resilient population, but it still relies on the state for almost 75% of its operating budget revenue. What specific steps should the City Council take to increase revenues and to reduce expenditures? What will be the combined benefits of these actions? Go to Question 5
  6. Many successful cities use history, arts and cultural opportunities to capture the spirit of the community and create vibrant places to live. As a Council member, what three specific steps will you take to support and market Trenton’s history, arts and cultural diversity both in our neighborhoods and downtown? Go to Question 6
  7. Trenton is a remarkably diverse city, with many different neighborhoods, blocks and organizations. As a Council member, what will you do to foster and promote citizen action and efforts on the local and neighborhood level? What are examples of citizen-lead efforts you would support, and what would you do to support them? Go to Question 7
  8. Many successful individuals have passed through the Trenton educational system, but we still have low student achievement levels, high dropout rates and a poor community image. What can the City Council do, and more importantly what should the City Council do, to improve our schools and increase the number of students that succeed? Go to Question 8
  9. Civic engagement requires open and honest sharing of information between those elected to serve in government and those who elected them. What will you do to make the City Council more accessible, transparent and responsive to citizens? Go to Question 9

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Question 1
 

The City Council is a legislative body with investigative powers. What do you see as the role of the City Council in advancing the economic, educational and cultural success of Trenton?

Avila – Question 1: As Councilperson I will focus on three vital roles: appointments, reviewing and voting on ordinances proposed by the mayor and act as a catalyst for progress by identifying our challenges and solutions.

The Zoning Board as well as representatives of the Planning Board, Housing and Parking Authorities are appointed by City Council. As Councilman I will assure that the best qualified individuals are appointed so that these entities function in the best interest of the city.  For the appointments to boards and commissions made directly by the mayor, City Council members should nominate residents that have the experience to carry out the objectives of these entities.

I will carefully review ordinances presented by the mayor and seek expert counsel in areas less familiar to me.

I will identify useful initiatives to address our challenges and then convene interested citizens to explore their viability and then proposing them to the administration.

Muschal – Question 1: No response received.

Smith – Question 1: First and foremost is to do our homework. We need to educate ourselves about the:  issues, contributing factors, concerns, needs and values of our constituents, the options available and the probable consequences of each decision prior to our decision making. We must be about the business of long range planning. Budgets must be based on money in hand and distributions determined by their order of priority in meeting long term goals. To the full extent of our political influence we must encourage, promote, assist and when possible mandate that our students get the best possible education. We may need to explore creative interventions to gain responsible, meaningful authority with the Trenton Board of Education. For the good of our people and our city as a whole we must be about promoting pride. We need to help our residents to build on their strengths and the uniqueness of their communities.

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Question 2
 

How will your role as a Council member elected to represent a Ward  of Trenton be reflected in your service on the Council? What do you see as the critical responsibilities and duties in representing your Ward?

Avila – Question 2: As councilman I will have consistent and in-depth communication with South Ward residents in order to have on awareness of ongoing issues and be quickly aware of new concerns as they arise.

I see this as the fundamental responsibility in representing the South Ward. I will serve as a liaison with City departments to meet the needs of the residents.

I want to be an advocate in city hall to assure that the South Ward receives our appropriate share of programs, resources and services.

Muschal – Question 2: No response received.

Smith – Question 2: Ward council members must take time to familiarize themselves with every area of their ward. They should be instrumental in bringing concerns to the attention of city departments responsible to address each particular issue. Each member should research community resources and make sure to inform community groups, programs and interested individuals as to what resources are available and how they may best secure services and or information. Council members can encourage; mediation, collaboration and cooperation between; public, private and non profit organizations as well as government and individual residents. Council can also enact, repeal or amend laws for the good of the city.

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Question 3
 

Department heads are appointed by the Mayor “with the advice and consent of Council.” What do you see as the role of the City Council in evaluating and voting on department heads and other officials proposed by the Mayor?

Avila – Question 3: The Mayor should build a team he or she has confidence in. In carrying out my role of “advice and consent” I want to assure that the individuals selected are of the highest caliber and posses the skills and experience in the specific disciplines that their positions requires. Department heads must be able to perform at the highest level as soon as they accept the position in order to execute initiatives effectively. Council members and the public must recognize that it will take time to recruit and evaluate candidates for these important roles but it is vital that we get this right.

Muschal – Question 3: No response received.

Smith – Question 3: Council members must be diligent in their investigation of credentials and qualifications of any individual appointed by the Mayor. Council members should also report incompetency’s and the consequences of such incompetence as they are made evident in projects, reports and daily tasks that compromise the ability of the city to achieve it’s goals.

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Question 4
 

Some City of Trenton departments and services are seen as effective, while others are viewed as creating obstacles to progress. What two current City of Trenton departments or services do you believe are working well, and what two departments or services most need to be improved? What specific actions will you push for the City Council taking to improve underperforming departments or services?

Avila – Question 4: Public Works and Recreation, Natural Resources and Culture have performed well despite budget cuts.

The Health and Human Services Department is providing quality services but a significant amount of those services are available from other providers and it is redundant and costly for the City to provide these services.  In these dire budgetary times we must concentrate on directing citizens to these providers. We must assure that residents do not go without services they need but eliminate duplicative and expensive staffing and facilities

Because urban development is challenging, Trenton’ Inspections Department must strive to be the very best in the region thereby eliminating one reason good developers stay away.  We must understand that for developers time is money.  For development to happen the Department of Inspections will be central to the City’s success.  Experienced staffing must be the top priority.  We must establish a reputation in the development community for timeliness, professional plan reviews and inspections.

Muschal – Question 4: No response received.

Smith – Question 4: I am not at this point sufficiently informed to make such a determination but I know that a number of city personal seem to be in need of refreshing their people skills. As a resident I have been on the receiving end of less than knowledgeable and not so professional responses to my legitimate requests for assistance. City personnel are no different that any other employees: 1. Expectations must be high, 2.Goals must be clear and outlined with ongoing measurable objectives and tasks, and 3. Performance must be routinely & adequately evaluated with consequences tied to development plans or termination. Council members can put in place and enforce such protocol.

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Question 5
 

A healthy city must be able to meet the needs of its citizens while balancing its budget. Trenton has many assets and a resilient population, but it still relies on the state for almost 75% of its operating budget revenue. What specific steps should the City Council take to increase revenues and to reduce expenditures? What will be the combined benefits of these actions?

Avila – Question 5: We must increase rateables by attracting new development throughout the city. Specifically, we must work with the County in order to spur development on several prime sites in the South Ward and with the State on development of the surface parking lots in Downtown.

I will seek to eliminate duplication of services, and identify opportunities for shared services with the county and neighboring municipalities. We must seek out the best practices being used in other cities and adopt those which will provide efficiencies and cost savings.

Most importantly, we must promote Trenton as a great place to buy a home.  Increasing homeownership will strengthen our budget as well as our neighborhoods.  As councilman I will work to turn tenants into homeowners and attract new Trentonians.

Muschal – Question 5: No response received.

Smith – Question 5: First we need to identify waste and eliminate it. Stop putting up good money to bail out or cover up bad decisions. Cut our losses, do the research, brain storm and be about utilizing our most valuable resource, Human Collateral. Next we need to be in the business of planning our city. We need to use empty properties creatively. Find out what are neighborhoods need and want and cultivate the kind of businesses, homes and resources that make them family friendly, innovative and uniquely special. There are no quick fixes here but with much hard work, discipline and a commitment to the overall welfare of the city, sound fiscal management can be realized.

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Question 6
 

Many successful cities use history, arts and cultural opportunities to capture the spirit of the community and create vibrant places to live. As a Council member, what three specific steps will you take to support and market Trenton’s history, arts and cultural diversity both in our neighborhoods and downtown?

Avila – Question 6: The city currently owns and maintains important cultural facilities in the City and we must continue our support, while actively seeking partnerships and collaborations with non-profit arts organizations which can often take the lead in developing programs and events.  The city should establish policies that provide opportunities for arts organizations and individual artists, allowing them to thrive even as they are required to generate the necessary financial and volunteer resources.  Such policies should be developed through an on-going dialogue with the arts and culture community.  Importantly, the city should not directly produce events, but rather, as with “Art All Night” continue to partner with organizers to share resources.

Muschal – Question 6: No response received.

Smith – Question 6: Trenton is rich with culture. We could market; Multi-Cultural Festivals, Cultural Readings and Plays in the parks, help groups of businesses to design their shopping areas as a cultural mecca to provide a unique shopping experience. We should be serious about fining individuals who own unkempt properties which intern detract from our neighborhoods. We could help our communities come together by providing community bulletin boards in parks, town and other high traffic areas. We should make an effort to mix History with Fun! Plan events at historic sites that incorporate a variety of activities that would intern capture the interest of a wide variety of people, ages and cultures. The options are endless.

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Question 7
 

Trenton is a remarkably diverse city, with many different neighborhoods, blocks and organizations. As a Council member, what will you do to foster and promote citizen action and efforts on the local and neighborhood level? What are examples of citizen-lead efforts you would support, and what would you do to support them?

Avila – Question 7: I would like to balance input received from citizens at council meetings, by regularly attending the meetings of citizen groups.  I know that civic meetings often provide far more insight and are invaluable to the broader conversations about our city.  We have a number of such organizations in the South Ward and the best way to foster effectiveness for these organizations is to encourage participation in them. In South Trenton we have: Jersey Street Civic Association, CPAC, STARS, Franklin Park Civic Association, El Centro and church groups among others to do the laborious work of organizing and carrying out impactful events on a volunteer bases and with very little funding.  Examples of great civic projects are STARS’ urban garden, CPAC’s Christmas toy-drive and Jersey Streets’ neighborhood blood-drives.  As councilman I will work to increase their membership and work with them to acquire funding through various sources.

Muschal – Question 7: No response received.

Smith – Question 7: I always thought that it would be in the best interest of the city to invite local educational institutions to facilitate community organization workshops. Those workshops would assist community members in developing techniques in; leadership, recruitment, project planning, fundraising, grant writing and applying for 501C3. City council members can also provide a list of resources to assist organizations in creating networks, developing cooperative ventures and utilizing existing resources more efficiently. The time has come for city council to help all civic groups to come to the table prepared. Council members should be about educating and empowering our constituents as to their rights and responsibilities. I encourage neighborhood organizations to work in the best interests of their residents and at the same time work cooperatively with other neighborhood groups and also city, county and state organizations.

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Question 8
 

Many successful individuals have passed through the Trenton educational system, but we still have low student achievement levels, high dropout rates and a poor community image. What can the City Council do, and more importantly what should the City Council do, to improve our schools and increase the number of students that succeed?

Avila – Question 8: City Council must have better communication and work relationship with Trenton Board of Education and superintendent of schools. City Council should use its investigative powers to ensure that qualified individuals serve on the board.  If elected I will explore the possibility of having at least one representative from City Council on the School Board. Council should encourage the school leadership to seek out and implement solutions that work in other cities that share the issues that impact us here in Trenton.  Council should become more proactive in encouraging parental participation in their child’s lives through community meetings and classroom visits, council should highlight the students who do well more often.  Increasing the number of successful Trenton students will take accountability of the school administration and more parental involvement.

Muschal – Question 8: No response received.

Smith – Question 8: Council members may be in a position to approve or disapprove of Board of Education members appointed by the Mayor. They may outline expectations and evaluate performance and outcomes. They can identify, promote and encourage participation in professional enrichment activities that equip professional staff to take innovative approaches toward educating our diverse student body. They can inform and encourage parents and guardians to advocate for their students and provide clear action steps to lead them in a positive and beneficial direction. Career and College planning should be a mandatory component of every city wide program. Successful students that choose to give back to their communities and schools can be recognized. We can demonstrate pride in all our students who never give up no matter what obstacles stand in their way. Council can stand as role models demonstrating the value of hard work, discipline, truth and honesty.

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Question 9
 

Civic engagement requires open and honest sharing of information between those elected to serve in government and those who elected them. What will you do to make the City Council more accessible, transparent and responsive to citizens?

Avila – Question 9: Many candidates including myself have used multi-media outlets and online social networks to project our vision for Trenton.  Our aggressive efforts to earn voters’ support should not end on Election Day.  We should use our websites and Blackberries to stay in touch with our constituents daily.  As councilman my constituents will know my phone number, my e-mail and Facebook name, I will only be a text message away.  I look forward to publishing a monthly newsletter and knocking on constituents’ doors with information that will benefit them. I will respond to constituents’ request in a timely manner and share with them my thought process when making decisions that affect them. If their concerns are out of my legislative power I will point them in the right direction.   Furthermore, City council meetings should be streamed live online or be televised perhaps as an opportunity for TCHS students interested in TV production.

Muschal – Question 9: No response received.

Smith – Question 9: Civic engagement is something that must be cultivated. I must be open and honest with residents so they may feel as if they can be open and honest with me. I must reach out and ask for input and give voice to concerns and ideas. I must recognize each individual as a valuable member of our city: one who can be instrumental in the achievement of city wide success. I must set up access and establish a prompt response time. I will reach out to community groups and invite open dialogue. I will request a new site for City Council meetings: a room that provides comfortable space for all city residents who wish to attend. I would like to see an annual report detailing how the decisions of the council helped or hindered the city’s ability to achieve its goals. This is just a start.

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