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Dateline 2010

The Last One

This will be the last article posted to the home page of WeLoveVentnor.com as the organization plans to undergo dissolution, after having come at “the right time” to shine a light on city government activities in a town with rising taxes and various problems.   It’s probably never a “right time” for such an organization to also bow out from the scene, but the weighing of cost-benefit to maintain all the red tape attributes of a public charitable organization brought the current Trustees to that conclusion.  The conditions of government secrecy, profligate spending, and mismanagement which prompted people to get behind and support the effort that it took to get WeLoveVentnor started no longer exist to the same degree.   There is better coverage of Ventnor matters by a detail-oriented reporter hired by the Downbeach Current weekly in 2008.  There are numerous citizen advisory groups created in 2008 which opened up new channels for involvement and input by anyone in town, or with a home in town, who wants to contribute.

Although a 2-1 division has developed among the three people who ran on a challenger slate together in 2008, it appears that the best interest of city taxpayers is taken to heart by the majority in office, who appear to be sane, reasonable, and fiscally prudent.  The city has been posting periodic newsletters to this website to avoid the costs incurred each time anything is posted to the city’s own government website, as a cost-saving measure.   For similar reasons (cost savings), the city chose not to distribute the newsletter as a citywide Postal Patron mailing, reaching all homes.    Much more “good news” might be available to all if that had been done, but the fiscal restraint reasons are understood.  The firm having the contract to design and host the city website is a holdover from a choice by the previous Ventnor City Administration to go with closed architecture and customized system, with $45 charges for “each item” posted.  It’s not the direction anyone designing a website in the 21st Century might choose, given “open architecture and systems” options.

What has been underway for awhile has been a joint effort in which Atlantic County is working cooperatively with Ventnor and several other towns to bring about new websites for each, which it is hoped will usher in a new era of more plentiful and up-to-date information being made available to Ventnor stakeholders.  To a certain extent, WeLoveVentnor continued to cover news and probe for information with the goodwill intention of bridging a gap between old and new city websites.  But a transitory coverage of “gap” should not become a permanent crutch.   If enough people interested in staying up to date inquire about the status of a new city website, maybe the effort can be spurred to move ahead more rapidly.  

Since November 2009, and in its Forums, WLV has been publishing a lot of information centered on the Department of Public Works and information obtained through OPRA filings.  Comparison of that Department’s operations with the Public Works procedures of other towns around the state simply does not put Ventnor in a favorable light.   The Department needs serious reform and attention, and its own “good apple”  hard-working and conscientious employees would probably be the first to note the need for, and encourage, reform if given an opportunity.   The details are laid out inside the Forums at various links noted below:

There was a somewhat broad inquiry looking at the headcount in the department, which had been reported at over 40 people, in light of comparable population towns having PW operations with about half that number:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1685

There was a request for documents that might show what all the headcount does in a day, a week, a month:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1710

The various “redactions” to the documents at the time a DPW employee delivered them to the City Clerk’s office found WeLoveVentnor asking noted OPRA-litigator Walter Luers, Esq. to represent us, and demand that the city produce the information in complete form or explain what basis it had under the “24 Exceptions”  allowed by statute to do all the redacting.  Commissioner Stephen D. Weintrob had ordered the redactions; he had not bothered to obtain a review from the City Solicitor about the legalities; the City ended up providing the information that had been requested; and, it raised a lot of questions.   E.g., how could there be 22 workers all “absent” in one fashion or another from their jobs on the day of the Atlantic City Airshow last August if, indeed, the work force levels are “really” necessary at a headcount of about 40?   Problems of bloat, nepotism, and shoddy management practices have been rumored for years in Ventnor.

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1800

Commissioner Weintrob designed a new form – again, apparently without running it past the Solicitor – which attempted to cut off information from being made available through OPRA.  While phone numbers can always be properly redacted  (someone might have an unlisted number), the names and addresses of people reporting on problems of infrastructure needing a call-in cannot.  The addresses inform someone of where the work was needed. 

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1714

The need to reduce city expenditures seems to have a high priority with Mayor Kelly and Commissioner Piatt, who is tasked with Finance under our Commission system which partitions the various departments to one Commissioner or another.   That commitment did not appear to be reflected by the Commissioner in charge of Public Works, Mr. Weintrob, who has sought various hikes in spending of one kind or another, such as this one:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1733

Or hikes in fees charged to residents, such as this one:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1845

There was a little “flap” in November’s OPRA activity as WLV learned that there might be a “friendly little sports betting” gambling operation centered in the Public Works Department which might have found some of its workers using city time and city vehicles to courier bets and wagers from other public offices around the city (such a courier seemed to make rounds in City Hall, and it was rumored that visits might be paid to Fire Department stations).   Whatever the true case might be, the Mayor had issued a terse memo re-iterating city personnel policies and asking fellow Commissioners and Supervisory personnel to sign it.  Commissioner Weintrob was notable for his refusal, as the documents later obtained by OPRA disclosed. The same link delving into that issue also touched upon the finding that Weintrob had given out two “gratis” keys to the pier for recreational enjoyment by two parties not making the same kind of membership fee payments as “most people”  do.   He had been asked to make up the deficiency of revenue out of his personal funds if the key holders weren’t going to pay.

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1702

Summaries of the OPRA filings made in early 2010 are below, with links:

Question about a flat $2,500 pay hike for various DPW employees which was requested by the DPW Commissioner:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1826

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1827

Question about the Inventory Records maintained by DPW.  The documents returned from this request set forth all cars, trucks or other motorized vehicles having VIN numbers, including VCPD vehicles, and it appeared that if this is “all” the record keeping available, then it’s the sort of record that came from an office handling placement of vehicle insurance and “perhaps” the DPW doesn’t bother to keep an actual inventory of items like tools and supplies of various materials.

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1828

Various sources had communicated to WLV that random drug testing of DPW folks might be finding word leaking out ahead of time, with people on the testing list making perspicacious use of sick days called in or other absences.   It is supposedly the policy of the drug testing firm to go to the home of any worker who might be absent from the work site who was scheduled for testing.  The area might deserve further follow-up, but the OPRA filing is linked here:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1830

OPRA #5 of 2010 was filed in connection with the debate between one Commissioner and the other two about the wisdom of retaining Mr. Richard Carter as a full-time city employee and City Engineer, or farming out that job to outside firms for “as needed” services not requiring fringe benefits packages and the like.  It appeared that Mr. Weintrob may have brought in a city resident to speak at a Workshop as something of an “expert witness” in favor of retaining the full-time post, and several Ventnor residents questioned if the credentials claimed were in fact fully supported.   WLV sought any resume that Mr. Weintrob might have relied upon, after the individual in question stated his understanding of his speaking situation at the Workshop and declined to provide the resume to WLV directly, after being contacted by e-mail.

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1834

One final outstanding OPRA filing sought information about all grievances that might have been filed against any city departments or other personnel in the last four years.  

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1836

The City of Ventnor, at the time of OPRA #6’s filing, had been rocked by the news that its former Mayor, Tim Kreischer, had been named as a defendant in the growing number of sexual harassment lawsuits being filed against Harrah’s casino, where Mr. Kreischer held a position in middle management with Human Resources.   WeLoveVentnor contacted the law firms in those litigations to obtain pleadings that might shed more light than what was available from the newspapers, and some of the information was published:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1841

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1849

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1832

Mr. Kreischer has remained a topic in the news, as he continues his active involvement in civic affairs:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1833

Going forward, there has been cautionary information about the financial belt tightening needed in a town where property tax delinquencies are in double digits:

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1838

Mr. Piatt, Commissioner of Finance, can be expected to communicate about issues deserving further inquiry by the interested, such as his meetings with various department heads to discuss cutbacks, via his Twitter account:

http://twitter.com/Ventnorian

Going forward, on a happier note, there were sure signs of spring as the Pickup Posse appeared, ahead of the crocuses and tulips.

http://www.ventnorevoice.com/bulletinboard/showthread.php?t=1852

Stakeholders in Ventnor are encouraged to link up to Twitter to stay abreast of short news bites, and also to consider looking up a non-affiliated but same-named informal group on Facebook if they have memberships on Facebook already, or want to sign up.   Its discussion area might, in the future, find it a place where news updates from around the town can be voluntarily contributed.  The website can be expected to stay “up” through the summer when the domain name registration expires, but it will not be active.  There is a lot of research material which Ventnor residents have asked we keep in place for awhile, and that request is being accommodated.  In concluding operations in Spring 2010 which first began in October 2007, WeLoveVentnor.com extends these final words:

“It’s been a pleasure.”