Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunshine Week: Jim Carlucci & Tony Mack

UPDATE: I called Mack, who did not want to be quoted for this blog entry because he feels it's a waste of breath to discuss Carlucci's never-ending bird-dogging. That made Carlucci respond with this in a Facebook message:

"I request information to find out what is going on in our city government, how is our money being spent? Wisely? Foolishly? Properly?

"Sometimes, I find out that things are not right or proper. And he would be correct, I don't like that.

"If I hadn't kept pushing the issue would mistakes like paying an indicted employee have been discovered and stopped?

"If Robert Chilson hadn't OPRA'd the time cards and payroll for certain Park Rangers (HERE and HERE) would we have found out that they were being paid prior to being approved by DCA?

"An honest, open and effective government would welcome the scrutiny and thank members of the public who take the time and interest to check up on things. Public officials with nothing to hide would respond to requests for documents within the time frame required by state law and not force citizens to have to seek legal remedies."

TRENTON – Sunshine Week was made for people like Jim Carlucci to shed light on the dark underbelly of government.

But Sunshine Week is more of a year-round pursuit for the city activist who hawks every step Tony Mack takes as Trenton’s mayor and scrutinizes every “I” and “t” he tries to dot and cross. But Carlucci makes this much clear: It's not personal.

“This would have been going on regardless of whoever got into office on July 1 of 2010,” Carlucci told The Trentonian on Sunday morning, 24 hours into Sunshine Week, the national effort to educate the public on the importance of open government records. “I made a vow that I would not let things degenerate to the point where they had under Palmer.”

Carlucci admitted that he didn’t file many Open Public Records Act requests during Doug Palmer’s fifth and final term as Trenton mayor because, he said, Hizzoner’s backlash could have had an impact on friends who are important to the city's arts and culture community.

Never again, vowed Carlucci, who is waiting for the city to return two OPRA requests he filed about Mack’s new “CIBA” – which stands for Commission for International Business Affairs. Or does it stand for Council for International Affairs?

Carlucci laughs, but it's not a ha-ha laugh because those seemingly benign questions lead to the deeper ramifications of an issue most Trenton taxpayers know nothing about.

On Jan. 17, Mack announced the creation of CIBA and housed its office on the 3rd floor of City Hall. CIBA, Mack said, would run on $50,000 in taxpayer money and $50,000 in private money. Carlucci smelled bad fish from the get-go. Here's a photo by Kevin Moriarty:

Carlucci's gut feeling about the trade body that would engage with Caribbean and African nations? “We’ve got con men working with con men, and each one is trying to score something off the other one – and they’re dragging some good people in on this.”

Three days later, on Jan. 20, Mack planned a gala to fundraising dinner for CIBA at Amici Milano. That’s why Carlucci said he took “pre-emptive” action on Jan. 17 and filed the OPRA request to find out who was financing the fundraiser. His OPRA request reads:

“It is my understanding that on Friday, January 20, 2012, the Mayor’s Commission on International Business Affairs will be holding some sort of fundraising dinner at Amici Milano after the ceremonies at the Marriott. As this body has reportedly been created by Executive Order (a copy of which I requested previously), it is a public body. I hereby request an immediate accounting of all expenditures (from day of inception) made on by or on behalf of this group for meetings, refreshments, the “swearing in” event and an income and expense report for the dinner at Amici Milano’s.”

Here's what an OPRA request looks like:

Carlucci CIBA OPRA

OPRA requests, by law, must be returned within 7 working days. It has been 61 days since Carlucci filed that OPRA request. He hasn’t received it, which is why he has filed a complaint with the state. To read the complaint documents click HERE and HERE.

“As a taxpayer footing the bill for this,” Carlucci said, “I have a right to know.”

When contacted Sunday, Mack said he would not comment.

OPRA requests are free to file. There are nominal fees (5 cents a page or so) for photocopying services and such. Carlucci said he has paid a few bucks when larger OPRA requests have come back. But they're always worth the money.

To celebrate Sunshine Week, Viktoria Sundquist, an editor for the Middletown Press (Trentonian sister paper in Connecticut) has created a Freedom of Information blog that answers everything you always wanted to know about open records (but were too afraid to ask).

Carlucci, meanwhile, filed another OPRA request on Feb. 8, the day after a Trenton City Council meeting. The request reads: “At the city council meeting held on Feb. 7, 2012, Mayor Mack referred to an executive order issue on or just prior to Jan. 20, 2012, changing his Commission for International Business Affairs to a “Committee”. Please provide a copy of that executive order.

“Also, at the Jan. 20, 2012, event introducing this Commission/Committee, Mayor Mack read a copy of that appointment certificate/proclamation denoting the term of the appointment to the Mayor’s “Advisory Council on International Business Affairs” from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2015. Please provide a copy of the text from that certificate/proclamation.”

Carlucci CIBA OPRA

Carlucci should have received the request on Feb. 17 but has not. He continues to wait for the documents that he, as a Trenton taxpayer, is entitled to. And he continues to shake his head at the whole concept of Mack’s CIBA.

“I’m just a citizen in a city that is strapped for cash, and we have no real … just look at the documents for CIBA: It doesn’t make sense,” Carlucci said Sunday. “What trade are we doing?” He was referring to possible trade pacts with Trinidad and Tobago or Burkina Faso or other countries that most people couldn’t find on a map.

“We’re talking mining and agriculture," Carlucci continued. "We’re a city, and I don’t know of any existing mines in the city, and I don’t know any agriculture in this city other than community gardens – though we don’t have enough to export. So what’s the purpose of this? And how are we going to finance this?”

Carlucci is not the only watchdog in Trenton. Kevin Moriarty and Robert Chilson have filed several OPRA requests since Mack took office. Carlucci said Chilson’s “heart is in the right place. He’s absolutely got a nose for this stuff. Like me, we share this passion to have what is promised – open, honest, accountable government. If we don’t get it, we’re going to use the tools the government has given us.”

Mack has planned in May a trip to Trinidad and Tobago to talk business partnerships Trenton might be able to forge. Carlucci called Mack's trip a "junket" and "Caribbean vacation.”

Carlucci has a ray of hope that his OPRA request will reveal who's paying for the trip before Mack takes it.

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