West Ward Council Responses

There are four candidates for the West Ward city council position. In alphabetical order, they are Zachary A. Chester, Joyce Kersey, Kevin Moriarty and John Vaughan, Jr. 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?

Chester – Question 1: I see part of the role of City Council in advancing Trenton’s success:

Economically – attracting, promoting and supporting responsible businesses

Educationally – Monitoring the Trenton school system

Culturally – Promoting and supporting the many organizations that highlight the rich culture, history and resources that are too often overlooked in the Capital City.

Kersey – Question 1: The role of City Council is to check and balance the executive office, not merely to rubber stamp the Mayor’s agenda. City Council plays a critical role in approving the city budget.  The economic, educational and cultural success of Trenton begins with the budget.  As a member of City Council, I would analyze the proposed budget for wasteful and inefficient spending and reallocate those funds to programs and functions that fortify and strengthen the crumbling bedrock of our city.  As a councilwoman, I would bring a more prudent and effective approach to the budget process.

Moriarty – Question 1: Thanks for mentioning the “investigative” role of Council. The powers Council has to investigate, to ask questions and to hold the city Administration accountable, has been underused. I will add one descriptive – “representative.” As elected officers of the City’s people, Council members individually and collectively represent the people – as homeowners, students, tenants, business owners and citizens – and speak on their behalf to those parties that impact our lives: city, state and federal departments and agencies; banks; utilities; landlords; neighbors. Providing good constituent service is one of the key responsibilities for Council members.

It is essential for Council to work to put the City’s finances in order – to deliberate and plan with the Mayor on how to reverse years of budget neglect and loss of control. A bankrupt City will not be able to attract the investment needed to advance any degree of economic, educational, nor cultural success.

Vaughan – Question 1: City Council is obligated to advance the economic, educational and cultural success of Trenton by restoring hope in the governmental process in the heart of Trenton residents. Over our life time, we’ve been flooded with unfulfilled and broken promises from some member of our government. My goal is to help restore your trust in government by bringing all voices to the table and uniting together to transform the West Ward. I will work tirelessly to help bridge the gap between residents, city officials, and local government to ensure prosperous communities. Every child, every senior, every mother, every teenager, every resident has the power to transform their neighborhood one street at a time. As your West Ward councilman, I will roll up my sleeves and work with you, and together we will encourage, motivate, and empower one another to make our West Ward goals become reality.

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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?

Chester – Question 2: As an elected official, it will be my responsibility to serve as a voice of the community I represent.  I plan to regularly meet with residents of the West Ward to understand their thoughts and concerns and to be better able to represent my fellow residents.  In addition to regular meetings, I feel it is critical to be as accessible, including by phone and email.

Kersey – Question 2: The critical duties of representing the West Ward on City Council revolve around responding to the needs of West Ward residents.  I would hold town hall meetings around the West Ward to identify key issues concerning the community.  I would empower the community to talk to each other and take ownership of their neighborhoods. I would help create linkages between nonprofit groups, churches, neighborhood associations, and residents to stimulate a network of community action. As the West Ward representative on City Council, I would tap into the needs of the community and hold the city accountable for responding to the needs of West Ward residents.

Moriarty – Question 2: The West is perhaps the most residential of the city’s wards, and the least dense in population. Property owners here will face the heaviest impact of any property tax increases; I own a house with a large assessed value myself, and will feel the pain. I will seek to minimize the impact of any necessary increases.

Within the Ward, there are a great number of abandoned city-owned properties blighting neighborhoods. It is well beyond time for the city to get these properties back on the tax rolls. If it will help the cause, I will be in favor of selling them to small developers and homesteaders for very nominal sums.

One huge issue will be what happens to Capital Health’s Mercer campus. We can’t afford this tract to remain vacant for long. I will work unencumbered by any conflict of interest in seeing the best reuse for this property.

Vaughan – Question 2: The number one priority and critical responsibility of an elected official is to listen and maintain open government as a liaison on behalf of the people we serve. My service as a West Ward City Councilman is dedicated to you, your concerns, and the issues about our West Ward and City that are near and dear to your heart. I am a public servant, and that is where I will remain. I am here to serve you and your family, and I expect the people to hold me accountable to that standard. I will work together with West Ward residents and other City Council members to schedule and attend community, social and neighborhood association meetings. Regardless the issue, I will be open, honest, accessible, and responsive–we will find a solution together.

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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?

Chester – Question 3: While advising the Mayor on key employees of the City of Trenton, City Council should have confidence that appointees are the best people for the positions.  During the evaluation process, there may be questions and even differing opinions, but as in any hiring process, it is best to be thorough.

Kersey – Question 3: City Council plays an essential role in scrutinizing the Mayor’s proposed department heads.  As a councilwoman, I would examine whether proposed candidates have the required experience and background to get results for Trenton residents and break the pattern of waste and abuse of city resources.  As a future member of City Council, I am committed to voting for the most qualified candidate based on that candidate’s demonstrated ability to get the job done.  The era of appointing executive department heads by political arm-twisting must end.

Moriarty – Question 3: I believe that the Mayor should have great latitude in selecting department heads best able to assist him or her in serving the citizens of Trenton. I view the selection and confirmation process as opportunity for Council to examine qualified candidates and set goals and objectives for their terms of office. During their terms, department heads will be held accountable by those metrics. I will make sure they regularly and frequently report to Council on their progress in meeting those goals and objectives; Ditto for the Mayor. We have no Parliament such as other countries, but I very much like the idea of regular Question Time.

I also believe in using the power of the purse to check and balance the performance of department heads: successful departments and services will be supported to the best of the budget’s ability to do so. Less successful ones, not so much.

Vaughan – Question 3: Criteria for approving any and all nominations before the City Council, specifically a nomination for the City of Trenton department leadership position, should at the very least begin with whether or not the potential candidate is a Trenton resident. Department heads and other officials nominated by the Mayor must love Trenton deep in their heart which should be visibly clear upon review of their years of experience, dedication, commitment, and service to the community they wish to represent. In addition, City Council members must ask the nominees to present clear evidence coupled with their love and passion for moving Trenton forward, that the candidate is able to effectively articulate their plan of action and knowledge of how they will move Trenton forward in this tough economic climate.

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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?

Chester – Question 4: Overall, I believe the Office of the Clerk and the Department of Vital Statistics are working well.  I have had personal dealings with these departments that have been quite positive.

I believe the Office of Inspections and the Administration both need improvement.  The Office of Inspections has struggled to properly service our community, in part due to recent reductions in staff.  In Administration, I have witnessed the lack of transparency, accessibility and common courtesy to residents.

Kersey – Question 4: Economic Development and Law Enforcement are two areas that have slowly improved over the years. Out-of-towners visit Downtown because of the Marriot Convention Center, MicroJazz, Gallery 125, Classics bookstore, and restaurants like Settimo Cielo.  However, Trenton must multiply these business success stories by creating incentives for small business owners.  Police presence Downtown has increased over the years, particularly during evening events on Warren Street.  However, response to crime throughout the city remains a concern.  Enabling Law Enforcement to do more with less is not an impossible task with increased involvement from concerned citizens.  Education and Housing are two areas in critical need of improvement.  With massive cuts in state aid for Education, Trenton must rely more heavily on charter schools.  The city must partner with organizations like Isles and Habitat for Humanity to transform abandoned, neglected properties into beautiful homes that uplift the community.

Moriarty – Question 4: As mentioned above, I believe that setting clear goals and objectives for city departments – and holding managers accountable – is crucial. In Newark, Mayor Booker set a goal for his Police to work for the largest decrease in the rate of violent crime for any city its size. One result is that in March Newark achieved its first murder-free month in 30 years. Specific, achievable targets by department are essential.

That being said, I think it’s unfair to single out specific departments. As a private citizen, there are many departments whose work hasn’t been visible to me. Thankfully, I haven’t had personal need of the services of the city’s fire nor police departments. I see them and know they are doing a fine job, but I can’t provide any detail. From my time on the Zoning Board, I know that the Planning and Inspections Departments are working well for us.

Vaughan – Question 4: As a prospective candidate to serve as West Ward City Councilman, my plan of action includes evaluating all the City of Trenton departments in the areas of efficiency, best practices, and quality of services delivered. Then, I intend to analyze and assess this review with the help of public input from West Ward and all City of Trenton residents. It’s my intent to use my tenure as a public servant to continually invite residents to the table in evaluating underperforming departments and city services.

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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?

Chester – Question 5: I suggest that City of Trenton begin the 2011 budget process using a zero based budget model for all departments within the law to find savings.  For additional revenue, opportunities for grants and possibly increasing fees for services should be explored.   The City has two elected federal representatives,   Congressman Rush Holt and Congressman Chris Smith, and should work closely with them both for assistance in applying for federal funding for our parks, roads, equipment for police and fire, public safety and job training.  The City of Trenton should also increase the use of shared services with the State, County and other municipalities.

Kersey – Question 5: In order for Trenton to increase its revenues and decrease expenditures, a comprehensive audit of the operating budget must be conducted.  All ineffective, inefficient, and wasteful programs must be identified and eliminated.  By trimming the fat, budget expenditures will be reduced. Essential areas like Education, Law Enforcement, Housing, and Economic Development must be modified and enhanced.  Strengthening the city’s approach to Economic Development and Housing will generate revenues.  Lending small business assistance creates jobs and generates commerce.  Renovating Trenton’s housing stock creates jobs, incentives for home ownership, and revenue in the form of property taxes.

Moriarty – Question 5: Trenton has a hardy and resilient population, true, but many assets? In a 2005 (the most recent available) report on all 566 municipalities compiled by the State, Trenton ranked 7th in tax-exempt properties as a percentage of total properties. Those above us are either very small communities, or towns such as Princeton Borough and East Rutherford whose main tax-exempt properties nevertheless produce huge economic benefits for their towns and PILOT fees. The only town on this list comparable to us is Camden.

The State of NJ, as we have seen this spring, is a fickle and undependable source of financial support, from whom we must become more independent. Long term, we must increase viable commercial investment and development. Short-term I would favor a payroll tax targeting non-resident workers. I support Senator Turner’s proposal to tax state properties as if they were commercial, but see no prospect of that becoming law.

Vaughan – Question 5: West Ward residents deserve to place our trust in a City Council who believes fiscal responsibility translates into action and not some lofty ideal. Balancing our budget on the backs of hardworking residents is not and cannot be an option. Through common sense, we can find solutions together, line-by-line that balances our concerns with effective action.

Trenton’s beautiful and historic sites should be an attraction to not only those who live here, but to those who would want to locate their businesses or move to our city. My Common Sense Economic Recovery Plan will advance higher education, job training, special skills, career development, entrepreneur opportunities, partnerships, youth and young adult internships, and personal financial growth and education for every resident of the West Ward. These goals will become reality and empower our citizens and businesses to prosper over the long term.

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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?

Chester – Question 6: There are a number of things that can be done to market the many offerings available as far a history, arts and cultural diversity throughout Trenton.  I would:

1.         Continue to attend and support as many events and activities throughout the city as possible and invite friends and family from inside and outside of Trenton to do the same.

2.         Work with organizations that have missions to promote the history, arts and culture of Trenton including, the Trenton Historical Society, Artworks, Trenton Downtown Association and the Cadwaladar Park Alliance to name a few.

3.         Look into reinstating the now dormant commissions listed in the City’s ordinance Article XIV including the Citizens Advisory Committee on Parks and Recreation, Landmarks Commission for Historic Preservation and the Human Relations Commission.

Kersey – Question 6: As a councilwoman, I would take three steps to support and market Trenton’s history and culture.  First, I would increase marketing and expansion of Patriots Week. Trenton is ground zero for revolutionary battles and historically significant events that facilitated the birth of America. The foundation has already been laid for what could be a nationally recognized commemoration. Second, I would create and maintain a mural program.  Hundreds of gifted artists consider Trenton their home. Implementing a citywide mural program would beautify our neighborhoods, give artists a public platform to display their work, and provide a positive activity for at-risk youth. Finally, I would enhance and fortify the resources of existing initiatives that promote arts and culture such as Artworks, Trenton Review, Trenton Community Music School, Gallery 125, and Ellerslie Museum.  I would foster an art friendly environment in Trenton that would promote collaboration between artists and the community.

Moriarty – Question 6: First, I will work to help the Old Barracks stay open. The State’s budget knife has extended down to eliminate the annual subsidy paid to keep this irreplaceable piece of American History open and available to all. Trenton’s place in American history is synonymous with the fight for independence; it’s ironic that we still have to struggle to preserve our last survivor from that fight over 2¼ centuries ago.

Second, my own record demonstrates how strongly I feel that the Trenton Free Public Library helps with the preservation of our history and the promotion of learning, arts, literature and cultural diversity for all its citizens, young and old. I will fight for the Library.

Marketing this town has always been poorly supported. I would hope to see more active promotion, but will have to settle for helping the city become solvent: that will be the best promotion we could provide.

Vaughan – Question 6: Trenton must use our history, arts and culture to better market and capture the community as a vibrant place to live. We must cultivate this natural beauty and history; we must take charge of our environment through actions, such as: cleaning up contaminated or polluted land for the creation of more parks and gardens; restoring abandoned and dilapidated houses and storefront businesses; restoring Brownfield sites, like former industrial sites, warehouses or factories; and developing affordable housing when appropriate. The West Ward in particular has one of the most elegant and famous parks in the state of New Jersey. Cadwalader Park is the only park in the entire state designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture. Cadwalader Park is an underutilized treasure totaling 100-acres-this gem must be restored to its full value.

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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?

Chester – Question 7: As a Trenton resident, I have been active in the civic associations in the neighborhoods which I have lived in as well as the Trenton Council of Civic Associations (TCCA).  I know firsthand how critical an organized and mobilized group of concerned citizens can be.

In addition to supporting the established civic organizations and their efforts, I hope to assist revitalize groups that have not been as active and establish new civic associations.

Kersey – Question 7: As a councilwoman representing the West Ward, I would hold town hall meetings to foster communication between residents and the city.  Creating linkages between outreach organizations, churches, and residents would be my top priority.  Residents are empowered when they become stakeholders in their community.  Through community action and involvement, residents are able to take control of their neighborhoods and implement positive changes.  As a member of City Council, I would help residents fight for their needs.

Moriarty – Question 7: When I and my family first moved to Trenton, we were struck by the number and variety of civic associations. Grassroots democracy is alive and well here. What is often missing is a sense that these groups are heard and appreciated by City Hall.

Take my experience working to establish the Library Foundation. We had a tremendous response from citizens and donors from around the City and County. We also encountered, and did not expect, massive resistance in trying to conclude a deal with the Library Board, backed by City Hall. A citizen-initiated effort offering a public-private partnership in support of a public institution was stonewalled, sadly.

I still believe that this business model would work for the Library and other institutions around the city, such as the Cadwalader Park Alliance. I will enthusiastically support such efforts, as well as the Ward CPAC, as well TCCA and its member associations.

Vaughan – Question 7: Our approach must be two-fold: The City government must be fiscally responsible while at the same time promoting Trenton as a viable environment for business, as a place where quality of life is successfully integrated with opportunity. The City government must also help create an environment where we feel safe and confident to do our jobs as citizens by supporting our local businesses, downtown area, growing theatre and arts community, and by becoming encouraged and inspired to launch our own business plan right here in Trenton’s West Ward. Together, I believe we will open doors for urban renewal and revitalization and grow employment opportunities for the hardworking residents who are the hallmark of the West Ward.

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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?

Chester – Question 8: As a proud graduate of the Trenton public education system, I would also like to reach out my fellow alumni who have achieved success to be an example to students.  I will also encourage greater parental participation in our educational system.

Kersey – Question 8: As a product of the Trenton School District and former Trenton School Board President, I know the city’s education system from the inside out.  Given the drastic budget cuts in school aid, Trenton is faced with a monumental crisis in Education.  As a councilwoman, I would seek alternatives to the city’s traditional approach to Education by expanding use of charter schools. More importantly, I would impose greater accountability on administrators and teachers to improve student performance.  Further, I would ensure that school buildings and grounds meet environmental safety standards.

Moriarty – Question 8: Council has a remarkably small role to play in Trenton’s schools. The Board of Education, appointed by the Mayor, has authority over the system’s personnel, facilities, contracts, curriculum and budget; a budget, incidentally, larger than the rest of the entire City of Trenton. However, with a State Monitor newly in place at Clinton Street overseeing all BOE business and with authority to approve or veto all contracts and expenditures, one could argue how big of a role the BOE now has!

Council is, as you helpfully reminded us all in your first Question, a deliberative and investigative body. I believe it is the role of Council to regularly and frequently ask the Superintendent to speak at Council to report and answer informed questions about policies and developments in the city’s schools.

Individual accomplishments by students and teachers should be frequently and publicly acknowledged, encouraged and applauded by Council.

Vaughan – Question 8: All education does not occur in a traditional classroom. As a community, we have the responsibility to motivate and inspire our youth to reach the height of their potential. The West Ward is incredibly diverse, and, we must nurture all youth, from each socioeconomic, cultural, racial, and religious background. Education is the key to unlock many “unspoken” doors of life, and we must encourage and stand with our youth to reach higher and dig deeper to produce a genuine love of learning.  The City should inform every parent of all available social programs, civic and community events, paid and unpaid internships, educational opportunities, and volunteer positions. Although life teaches many lessons, we can begin to teach our children, our neighbor’s children, or youth we see every day in our community by modeling the person we expect them to become -one day at a time.

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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?

Chester – Question 9: I suggest we work to have City Council meetings televised, as Trenton Board of Education meetings are.  Personally, I will attend and conduct meetings in the West Ward to be able to be directly in touch with my fellow residents.  I will also be accessible via phone and email.

Kersey – Question 9: I believe City Council representatives have a responsibility to reach out and include the community in the decision making process.  As the West Ward representative, I would hold town hall meetings throughout the West Ward to enable residents to voice their opinion and receive feedback.  I would bring the concerns and demands of West Ward residents to the council and work toward implementing solutions.  I believe that establishing a vibrant network of concerned citizens, outreach organizations, and churches is also a critical component of community empowerment.  My mission as West Ward councilwoman would be to show residents how to work together to meet the needs of the community and hold the city accountable for allocating taxpayer’s money.

Moriarty – Question 9: Following up on my reply to Question 7, I think Council needs to be more responsive to and appreciative for the work and efforts done by citizens through  their neighborhood and other civic associations.

In general, I find that Council meetings are very open to public involvement and participation, and that individual Council members are accessible and responsive to citizens outside of City Hall. This is really a small city, and I would expect that Council members be on a first-name basis with many of their constituents.

For myself, I’ll continue to report frequently to constituents via my website and blog, a practice for which I acknowledge former Councilman Jim Coston’s fine example. I also plan to have frequent and regular open “office hours” at local pizza parlors and coffee shops to meet Ward residents, hear their ideas and concerns and get feedback to how I’m doing on the job.

Vaughan – Question 9: The political process affects us all, and my priority as a public servant is to bring all voices to the table. It’s time we are heard. I plan to organize educational and fun events to teach residents on the political process, how to organize and lobby for or against an issue, and how to run a meeting with Robert’s Rules of Order. West Ward residents should share the same knowledge each member of City Council and the Mayor have about governing the City of Trenton. Additionally, I am committed to thoroughly and adequately making swift action on all concerns and issues raised by residents.

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1 comment so far

  1. Kevin Moriarty on

    Thanks to Beautiful Trenton for putting such a thoughtful and well-considered questionnaire out there. I put a lot of thought and work into my answers, and I can see many other candidates did as well.

    Too many of these crowded live events seem more like Speed-Dating than a political process. I’m glad Beautiful Trenton provided a chance for voters to hear more from a candidate than simply “Vote for Me. ”

    Thanks.


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