Blogs > Hamilton in focus

Covering Hamilton and Robbinsville townships in-depth for The Trentonian. I can be reached at (609) 989-7800 ext. 207 or (609) 468-6962. Email me at or follow me @awisefool.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

This Week in Mercer: Barbara Plumeri

On This Week in Mercer today, we had on Democratic candidate for Hamilton mayor, Barbara Plumeri.

We talked about a variety of issues, including why she jumped into the campaign, (hint: it begins with a "B" and ends with "go") economic development, township ethics and a variety of issues.

There's also a short piece by fellow Trentonian reporter Sherrina Navani to close the show. You can listen below:

Have ideas? commentary? Show suggestions? go ahead and let me know @awisefool or

This Week in Mercer: Democratic candidate for Hamilton Mayor Barbara Plumeri

The second incarnation of This Week in Mercer this Thursday will feature an interview with Democratic candidate for mayor in Hamilton, Barbara Plumeri.

The municipal Democrats nominated her to take on Mayor Kelly Yaede in the special election this fall. Plumeir will talk about her run against Yaede and her plans should she be elected.

So make sure to join host Michael Macagnone on 1490 WBCB at 4:30 this afternoon, listen live here. or check out the show later at

Trenton man gets 30 years for crime spree

TRENTON — Jeffrey Garrett was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday for a crime spree in 2011 on the day of the Trenton earthquake in 2011.
Garrett, 34, also has to pay more than $380,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to charges relating to two armed bank robberies, carjacking, and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.
Garrett, 34, robbed the Chase Bank in Hamilton on Nov. 10, 2010, handing the teller a note that said, “I have a gun, give me all the fifty and hundred dollar bills.”
According to court records, Garrett displayed a black handgun before fleeing with the cash. Surveillance cameras revealed clear images of Garrett, and FBI agents determined that Garrett used his own Visa card at the bank’s ATM just moments before the robbery.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Document: Key witness against former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo Marliese Ljuba gives up brokerage license

Marliese Ljuba, the key witness against convicted former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo, has given up her insurance brokerage license in New Jersey.

You can read the consent order itself below. More to come later.

From the Times: Star witness in Hamilton mayor corruption case forfeits insurance broker's license

From the Times' Mike Davis:

The insurance broker whose bribing of former mayor John Bencivengo led to his conviction on federal charges has agreed to state penalties for running a business that depended heavily on widespread municipal corruption.

Marliese Ljuba will lose her insurance broker’s license and pay $75,000 in civil penalties as a result of multiple violations during the years she brokered health insurance for the school district, according to a consent order received yesterday by the state Department of Banking and Insurance. Her license is scheduled to expire tomorrow.

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Complaint: Yaede’s appointment as Hamilton mayor planned in advance

HAMILTON — Kelly Yaede’s appointment as Hamilton mayor at a special Nov. 30 council meeting was decided in advance at a political caucus two weeks ahead of time, according to one of two complaints filed with the state.
The complaints, filed by former councilman Vinnie Cappodano, originally went to the township before being forwarded to the state. He filed the first against all members of council, including then-Council Vice President Yaede, for violating the state’s Open Public Meetings Act in discussing Yaede’s selection as mayor at a Nov. 15 caucus meeting.
“She (Yaede) was going to get it no matter what, but you do it properly, you don’t do it with a backroom deal,” he said. “I feel they violated the Sunshine Act when they met to plan the November 30, 2012 council meeting to appoint a new mayor.”
You can read the full story here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

This Week in Mercer 2/21 with Dr. James Parla

After a bit of technical wrangling, we're off the ground. In case you missed it, last week was the first episode of This Week in Mercer, the new weekly radio show hosted by yours truly on 1490 AM WBCB.

This week I had James Parla, the superintendent of Hamilton Township School District, on to discuss the budget for next year, along with technology in the classroom, flagging test scores and facilities improvements.

In case you missed it, you can listen to the feed itself below and remember to tune in this week.

From the Times: Experts say Hamilton ethics reforms might no be enough

From the Times' Mike Davis:

Hamilton mayor Kelly Yaede's ethics reforms a good start, but not the entire solution, experts say

Experts say Mayor Kelly Yaede’s ethics reforms are a good step in the right direction, but they aren’t sure that they will truly root out corruption on the municipal level.

Announced earlier this month, Yaede’s ethics program is aimed at strengthening the township’s ethics requirements and allowing outsiders, such as state agencies and auditors to investigate the township at will.

You can read the full story here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hamilton Mayor announces run for re-election

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede (r) greets supporters at a rally to annouce she`s running in the mayorial election this fall. Gregg Slaboda photo

HAMILTON — Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede promised to build on the “new day” in Hamilton when announcing her run for re-election Thursday night.
Yaede, entering to the call of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” shook hands in the crowd of more than 100 supporters at the Hamilton Hilton event. In her half-hour address, she covered a variety of issues, including her accomplishments as mayor and promises for a stable tax rate, sustained services and economic growth.
“I want to put Hamilton Township back in the headlines for our promises and successes,” she said.
She also touted her hiring of nine police officers to replace retirements, an expanded township audit and a controversial reform of the township’s ethics practices. She also took some time to anticipate her opponents’ attacks on the campaign trail, saying they would promise services without saying how they would pay for them and criticize the record of public officials.
“They will tear Hamilton Township down in order to tear down our record of success,” she said. “This campaign should be about the future of what we can do together for all Hamiltonians, not about negativity or about personal attacks.”
You can read the full story here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New radio show: This Week in Mercer, Thursdays at 4:30

Starting today, I'll be hosting a new show on 1490 AM WBCB called This Week in Mercer.
This show covers all things Mercer County, including the suburbs and boroughs outside Trenton. You’ll hear news and interviews with newsmakers in the area with me at 4:30 in the afternoon.

The guest this week will be James Parla, the superintendent of Hamilton School District. We'll be talking about his administration's proposed budget and the issues the district faces. You can listen here and we'll have a version online later.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hamilton bidding reform ordinance signed into law

Courtesy Hamilton Township

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede has signed the township's reform of its public contracting, according to a release from the township.

The ordinance codifies existing township practice of going out for competitive bids on services not required by state law, such as insurance brokers and attorneys. Town council unanimously passed the ordinance Tuesday night.

"Building upon our existing policy of competitively awarding professional service contracts, today, the Hamilton Township municipal government continues to move forward with this new law to protect the best interests of our current and future taxpayers,” Yaede said in a release announcing the signing.

Contractors for bids for professional services, which are exempt from state requirements for bidding, have to submit competitive proposals for projects beyond a $36,000 threshold, where price will be one factor in determining who is awarded the contract. The ordinance also weighs other factors, such as the contractor’s experience and ability to do the work. 

The ordinance came up in council two months after the resignation of former Mayor John Bencivengo. Bencivengo was convicted in November of five federal charges related to the school board corruption case against him. Marliese Ljuba, the government’s cooperating witness in the case, testified she bribed him with $12,400 in exchange for his influence with members of the Hamilton Board of Education.

Hamilton break-in leads to major drug bust

HAMILTON — Tuesday’s home invasion in Hamilton had more to it than police first suspected. Nineteen bricks of heroin more than they first suspected, actually.

Police arrested Jocelyn Hopson, 22, of Rex Court and Jamal Little, of Rex Court in Hamilton on charges of possession, possession with intent to distribute and possession near a public park after police executed a search warrant on the apartment Tuesday night and found 19 bricks of heroin. Hopson and Little are both being held on $250,000 bail, according to police.

Police caught onto the drugs after two men broke into an apartment on Rex Court Tuesday afternoon. Police responded to a burglary in progress call, according to a press release from the department. They found that the suspects, described as two black males, one wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and the other a black one, had fled the apartment after kicking in the front door.

After searching the area and a brief foot chase, officers arrested two men fitting the descriptions of the suspects, according to the release.

Edward S. Thorpe, 21, of Christoph Avenue in Trenton, was charged with robbery, burglary, weapons offenses, aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. He is being held on $350,000 cash bail, according to the release.

Desean D. Howard, 24, of Boudinot Street in Trenton, was charged with robbery and burglary. He is being held on $300,000 cash bail, according to the release.

Police said they later found out that the two men were searching for money and drugs when they broke into the apartment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Police arrest burglary suspects in Hamilton after chase

Police in Hamilton arrested a pair of burglary suspects after a foot chase that apparently involved a weapon and an assault on a police officer.

Police responded to a burglary in progress call just after noon Tuesday on Rex Court in Hamilton, according to a press release from the department. They found that the suspects, described as two black males, one wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and the other a black one, had fled the apartment after kicking in the front door.

After searching the area and a brief foot chase, officers arrested two men fitting the descriptions of the suspects, according to the release.

Edward S. Thorpe, 21, of Christoph Avenue in Trenton, was charged with robbery, burglary, weapons offenses, aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. He is being held on $350,000 cash bail, according to the release.

Desean D. Howard, 24, of Boudinot Street in Trenton, was charged with robbery and burglary. He is being held on $300,000 cash bail, according to the release.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Hamilton Police Division tipline at (609) 581-4008.

Last hospitalized student from Hamilton bus crash undergoes surgery

A school bus ended up in a ditch after an accident on Merrick Rd in Hamilton on Monday afternoon. gregg slaboda photo

The last student injured in Monday’s bus crash in Hamilton has gone through surgery after being transferred to a second hospital

Saint Gregory the Great posted an update on its Facebook page this morning saying “Our remaining hospitalized student had surgery on her arm this morning and will have an MRI exam of her head today.”

Seven children and one adult, the bus driver, went to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Monday afternoon following the accident. The bus veered into a ditch after the driver tried to avoid a deer, according to the school’s principal, Jason Briggs.

A statement on the school’s website said that six students had been taken to the hospital with “non-life threatening” injuries from the scene of the accident. The statement said the children’s parents had been notified and school officials were monitoring the situation.

“All of the Academy students are stable and their injuries are non-life threatening. Their parents are with them and all are expected to be released from the hospital,” the statement said.

By 8 p.m. a hospital representative said all but one fo the children had been released. That child, a girl, was transferred to Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, the representative said.

The hospital representative said a seventh student had been a “walk-in” in the emergency room, while the other six had been taken in by ambulance

Hamilton council to finalize bidding ordinance at Tuesday meeting

Hamilton council will not take on the mayor’s proposal to get rid of the local ethics board at this week’s meeting, but the yet-to-be-official proposal does have support in the body.

This week, the council will have its second reading of the new bidding ordinance, based partly on proposals from the government reform group, the Citizens Campaign. Council President Ed Gore said Mayor Kelly Yaede’s proposal to abolish the local ethics board won’t be “dead on arrival,” as urged by former Council President Kevin Meara.

The council will also vote on a resolution to have the county and local fire districts adopt similar bidding ordinances to Hamilton’s, Gore said.

In a step out of the norm, Meara announced his displeasure with the proposed dissolution of the ethics board through a press release earlier this month.

Meara also urged Gore to make sure the proposal was “DOA” once it came to council

Gore said he did not receive any official proposal from Yaede’s administration yet, but said it would likely be folded into the annual budget process. He said he would review any proposal from the mayor equally, and said he would not reject the proposal out of hand.

“I have not lost faith in the people of Hamilton Township, though I understand why they may have lost faith in their government and I believe that there is a wealth of residents with the integrity to sit on the Township Ethics Board,” he said.

You can read the full story here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Eight hospitalized after bus crash in Hamilton

HAMILTON — Seven students from St. Gregory the Great Academy were sent to the hospital Monday after a bus crashed on a side road in Hamilton.
A representative from Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in Hamilton said the seven children and one adult hospitalized after the accident were expected to be released tonight. By 6 p.m. two of the children had been released and a third would be released soon, the representative said.
School principal Jason Briggs said the bus driver, who was hospitalized, swerved to avoid a deer before ending up in a ditch off of Merrick Road around 3 p.m.
Briggs said his office notified the parents before he left to visit the scene. He said the Chesterfield bus accident, which killed one 11-year old girl and and injured more than a dozen others last February, flashed through his mind.
“All I can say is the children’s guardian angels were with them,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Candidates spar over former Hamilton mayor before fall campaign

The two mayoral candidates in Hamilton are fighting over their predecessor — whether he is relevant in the election and, if so, how much — though voters don’t cast their ballots for nine more months.

Mayor Kelly Yaede, in her State of the Township speech last week, staked out her position: former Mayor John Bencivengo and his federal corruption convictions are in the past and should stay there.

“It makes me angry when the collective actions of a few individuals have given Hamilton a collective black eye,” she said last Tuesday. “But it makes me even angrier when others solely for their own personal political agenda seek only to deepen the wound that has been inflicted on Hamilton Township rather than to help our community and guide our residents forward.”

The sole Democrat vying to challenge her in the fall, Barbara Plumeri, has, since announcing her candidacy, tried to make the conversation about Bencivengo and its fallout.

In December, Plumeri called for an additional mandatory ethics pledge for township employees. In February, she criticized Yaede’s administration for using the accounting firm Hodulik and Morrison, a contractor used during the Bencivengo administration.

“A new era should include an ethics board. After all this township has been through this past year the township should have a local ethics board,” she said.

Though it is still months before the bulk of campaigning begins, the conversation about the ousted mayor still seems to matter. How the two women position themselves on Bencivengo and other issues could matter less than the candidates themselves though, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rutgers University.

You can read the full story here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

From the Times: Hamilton Democrats to hold convention to pick mayoral and council slate

HAMILTON — The Hamilton Democratic Municipal Committee will meet on Feb. 23 to host a convention and pick its candidates for this November’s mayoral and council races.

The convention will begin at 10 a.m. in the lower-floor meeting room of the Hamilton Township Free Public Library to nominate and select candidates for the Democratic slate this fall. There will be a special mayoral election and four council seats up for grabs.

You can read the full story here.

Proposed budget would cut taxes in Robbinsville

Robbinsville could make a cut to its taxes this year, according to a budget presented by its mayor to council Thursday night.
The cut, actually at .02 cents for each $100 of assessed value on a home, now goes through a council approval process before it can become official. Robbinsville residents will have a tax rate of 52.3 cents on each $100 of assessed home value. Homes valued at about $380,000 would see a drop of $76 in their taxes.
Mayor Dave Fried said the township’s PILOT deal with Amazon, which brings in more than half a million a year to the town’s more than $21 million budget, allowed them to make the tax cut.
“This is going to be one of those times we are able to bring in a big ratable and actually have it have an effect on everyone’s taxes,” he said.
You can read the fulls story here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Zoning board approves controversial development at former gun range

HAMILTON — A controversial 52-lot housing development on Kuser Road in Hamilton got the township Zoning Board approval Tuesday night, bringing it one step closer to breaking ground.
Sharbell Development Corporation’s plan for a 52-lot housing development will still need approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection before construction begins. Tom Troy, vice president of Sharbell, said the company wanted to finish remediation and begin construction by this fall.
A number of community groups and residents oppose the plan, though, including Save Hamilton Open Space and the Delaware River Keeper Network. Representatives from those groups and resident Mark Meara turned out to question the application.
That resulted in a tense exchange between Meara and Troy over whether enough testing for lead and other metals had been done at the site, which used to house firing ranges for the Italian American Sportsmen’s Club.
You can read the full story here.

Hamilton cops chase home invasion suspects

From Trentonian police reporter Brian Dzenis:

HAMILTON — Residents on Evelyn Avenue were startled by the sight of Hamilton Police running through their front and back yards on Wednesday.
“I was outside my house working and I just see the cops running by with their guns out,” a Hamilton man said.
Police were called to a home on the first block of Sandalwood Avenue on reports of a burglary in progress. Police placed one man under arrest at the scene at the scene and as they were setting up a perimeter around the scene, police arrested a second suspect on Basin Road following a foot pursuit.

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Zoning board to hear 'megachurch' and development on former rifle range in Hamilton tonight

Tonight the Hamilton zoning board will tackle two controversial development proposals in the township.

A planned 70,000 square foot "megachurch" and community center on Kuser Road and a planned development in the former Italian American Sportsmens Club will go before the body tonight.

The planned church would include seats for 1,000 parishioners and have an additional community center, built later. Plans call for variances such as parking setbacks and require general approval from the body.

The hearing on the Italian American Sportsmen's Club development is for the approval of the site plan, separate from the needed environmental cleanup. Sharbell Building Corporation has proposed building a 55-lot development on the more than 10 acre site.

The area, which served as a shooting range for decades, is contaminated and requires cleanup before it can be developed.

Township engineer Rich Williams said the remediation of the site needs to be approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection before any construction begins and is separate from the township's zoning process.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Robbinsville to cut property taxes because of Amazon warehouse

Robbinsville residents will get a little bit of a windfall in their taxes next year, thanks to plans to build a warehouse for Internet commerce giant Amazon in the township.

The cut, actually at .02 cents for each $100 of assessed value on a home, will be announced at the 7:30 Thursday budget presentation. Robbinsville residents will have a tax rate of 52.3 cents on each $100 of assessed home value. Homes valued at about $380,000 would see a drop of $76 in their taxes.

Mayor Dave Freid said the deal with Amazon, which brings in more than half a million a year to the town's more than $21 million budget, allowed them to make the tax cut.

"Robbinsville has become a vital economic engine in Mercer County and everyone in our town will reap the benefit of reducing taxes, trimming our debt and still maintaining a high level of service. This is a responsible budget that lives up to the promises we have made. It is a budget that not only provides relief this year, but also lays the groundwork for possible stabilization in 2014. It is a budget that focuses on our strengths, our needs and invests in the future of our Township in 2013 and beyond," he said in a release announcing the budget.

The warehouse, which will employ more than 1,400 people when finished, covers more than a million square feet and is projected to open in early 2014. Township and county officials are also looking at reworking some of the county's public transportation to accommodate the influx of people.

Robbinsville spokesman John Nalbone, in announcing the deal in January, said it will bring in about $22.1 million in tax revenue for the township, school district and Mercer County. The site, at the Matrix Business Park off of turnpike exit 7A, is the first of two planned warehouses for Amazon in New Jersey.

Amazon will start collecting sales tax from New Jersey residents in July after reaching a deal with the state. The company previously did not collect the taxes because it did not have a physical presence in the state, which local merchants have argued gave the Internet giant a  competitive advantage.

Friday, February 8, 2013

County braces for winter storm

In the face of an impending snowstorm, Mercer County and its townships have started gearing up.

The National Weather Service has forecast between four and five inches of snow overnight in the Trenton area, according to meteorologist Patrick O’Hara at the agency’s Mount Holly office.

He said they have revised their predictions for as much as nine inches because “much of the heaviest precipitation has stayed offshore.”

O’Hara said the farther north, the worse the storm will be. Morris and Somerset counties could see eight inches or more , he said. The Boston area, along with much of New England, has a forecast for more than a foot of snow.

He said much of the snow will have finished falling by Saturday morning and likely melt by early next week.

County spokeswoman Julie Wilmot said the county will salt and sand when it can to keep more than 475 lane miles of county roads clear. She said almost four dozen pieces of equipment, including plows, trucks and snow cats, would be on the road.

“We’re going to try and get them in the roads in the hours before really heavy bands,” she said. “We’re just keeping an eye on the storm.”

Several county facilities have already announced reduced hours or closures, she said.

Those include the County Connection office in Hamilton, which will stay closed Saturday, and the Equestrian Center, which will open at noon. Further updates can be found on the county website.

Hamilton Business Administrator John Ricci said crews, working in shifts, will start plowing township roads once the snow reaches about three inches.

He said should the snow start reaching past half a foot, they’ll get “everybody in public works eligible to drive a piece of equipment” onto the roads to help keep them clear.

The town, he said, won’t be able to salt or brine roads because the rain will wash it away before it could do any good.

“The roads are obviously messy and we’d prefer people stay off the roads as much as possible,” he said.

The forecasts have varied from as little as two inches to as much as nine inches of snow overnight. Ricci said he was hopeful it would stay on the lighter side.

“Hopefully it is going in the right direction and we’re going to get less snow,” he said.

NYC, New England brace for up to 3 feet of snow

BOSTON (AP) — A storm poised to dump up to 3 feet of snow from New York City to Boston and beyond beginning Friday could be one for the record books, forecasters warned, as residents scurried to stock up on food and water and road crews readied salt and sand.
Before the first snowflake had fallen, Boston, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and other towns and cities in New England and upstate New York towns canceled school Friday, and airlines scratched more than 2,600 flights through Saturday, with the disruptions from the blizzard certain to ripple across the U.S.
“This one doesn’t come along every day. This is going to be a dangerous winter storm,” said Alan Dunham, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. “Wherever you need to get to, get there by Friday afternoon and don’t plan on leaving.”

Full story here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Alleged drug dealer arrested for killing Hamilton woman

EWING — Ewing police and the Mercer County Prosecutors have arrested Keyon Powell, 21, of Trenton, Tuesday night for fatally shooting Danielle Schrenk following a botched drug deal.
Schrenk, 21, was in her black Honda Accord with three male friends on the corner of Morse and Rosedale Avenues around 12:15 a.m. on Sunday looking to buy marijuana from Powell. When Powell entered the vehicle, the car’s occupants took the marijuana off Powell and ordered him out of the car. That’s when county prosecutor’s said Powell pulled out a handgun and fired two shots, one hitting the pavement and the other entered the car’s rear window, hitting Schrenk in the back.
You can read the full story here.

Meara opposes Hamilton’s switch to state ethics board

HAMILTON — It appears the Hamilton mayor’s plan to disband the town’s ethics board in favor of the state’s Local Finance Board will not enjoy unanimous support from the town council.
Councilman Kevin Meara, former council president and temporary mayor, said he could not support the proposal to end the local board in a press release.
“I have not lost faith in the people of Hamilton Township, though I understand why they may have lost faith in their government and I believe that there is a wealth of residents with the integrity to sit on the Township Ethics Board,” he said.
The release, a break from the way council members normally voice their opposition to proposals, was sent out Wednesday morning. He proposed reconstituting the local ethics board instead of going to the state one.
He also addressed one of the criticisms Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede had of the local board; that it would be the “fox guarding the henhouse” with appointees investigating the officials who appointed them.
“At some point you have to have faith in human nature: that people can serve in these judgement-type positions whether it is a local judge, a local prosecutor or a person on an ethics board,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hamilton School Board to discuss potential suit

The Hamilton Board of Education, according to its website will be having a special meeting Thursday night to discuss potential litigation.

This is the latest development since a January meeting where Board Member Will Harvey hinted the body would file suit soon against an unnamed party. You can read the relevant portion below. Harvey said the rush was because of statutes of limitation that would soon run out.

Board Member Will Harvey also hinted that they need to get the new lawyer into his job as soon as possible, as the district could be filing legal action in the coming weeks.
“Given the nature of some of the litigation we might be entering into, we may need a couple of extra days of lead time,” he said.

Hamilton council member wants ethics board switch 'DOA'

Hamilton Councilman Kevin Meara has put out a statement saying he opposes the mayor's plan to abolish the town's local ethics board in favor of a state one.

"I have not lost faith in the people of Hamilton Township, though I understand why they may have lost faith in their government and I believe that there is a wealth of residents with the integrity to sit on the Township Ethics Board.," he said in the statement.

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede proposed getting rid of the town's ethics board as part of an ethics reform package announced Monday.

She also highlighted the plan at her State of the Township address Tuesday. It will also involve expanding the town's gift policy to cover its boards and commissions as well as annual training for managers and supervisors.

Only the abolition of the township's ethics board needs to go before council, which it could as early as Feb. 19. Yaede's plan would have the town use the state's Local Finance Board instead of the local one.

The full statement is below. I'll be working on more information soon.

Hamilton Township Councilman Kevin Meara today announced that he would not support Mayor Yaede’s proposal to abolish the Hamilton Twp. Ethics Board in favor of oversight by the DCA Local Finance Board. “I have not lost faith in the people of Hamilton Township, though I understand why they may have lost faith in their government and I believe that there is a wealth of residents with the integrity to sit on the Township Ethics Board. There are many Maurie Perillis, Peter Inversos and for that matter Ileana Schirmers living here and it is our duty to make serving on the Board rewarding enough for them to come forward”, said the Councilman.  Meara, while initially considering Yaede’s proposal, indicated that he was in favor of “home rule” and after hearing public comment at Tuesday’s Council meeting investigated the proposal further. The Councilman continued, “I think Kelly had the right intentions and with time in the job, the Mayor will learn that while Hamilton may have some “foxes”, there are high-quality people residing here and with all due respect, I would put Hamilton’s residents up against the membership of the DCA’s LFB any day of the week.”  Meara was referring to Yaede’s press release where she referred to a local board as “the fox guarding the hen house” in addition to media coverage of Local Finance Board member Idida Rodriguez of Paterson who was part of a Passaic Valley Water Commission investigation by the attorney general, where she was investigated for steering contracts. “This is just the type of “cloud” that we in Hamilton are trying to steer away from”, added Meara.  Council President Ed Gore announced at Tuesday’s Council meeting that the Council would take up the Mayor’s proposal when she presented more information, but Meara sees no need now. “I will recommend to Council President Gore that this proposal should be DOA,” concluded Meara.

Hamilton council takes up bidding reform ordinance

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede delivers the state of the township address at the Mercer Ballroom on Tuesday. gregg slaboda photo

HAMILTON — Hamilton Township has come one step closer to what would codify the way the town awards contracts to private vendors.

The body introduced legislation that would formalize the administration’s practices of bidding its professional contracts, such as engineering, health insurance brokerage and others at its meeting Tuesday night.

Councilman Dennis Pone said the township has already been practicing the bid processes in the ordinance. The model for the ordinance came from the Citizens Campaign, a statewide reform advocacy group.

“Politicians around the state have been talking about doing it forever and we’re making it law,” he said.

The ordinance would require the township to go out for bids on all of its contracts and take the bidders’ price into account as part of its decisions when awarding those contracts.

The council approved a contract with the township’s auditor — and an expanded audit — with the firm Hodulik and Morrison. The auditor contract was not solicited or bid out, Business Administrator John Ricci said.

“We have had good success with this firm, since 2006,” he said. “Council and administration are both pleased with the service and because it is a professional service, bidding is not required."

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Suspect identified in Schrenk murder

From Police reporter Brian Dzenis:

EWING — Ewing police and the county prosecutors have an identified the alleged killer of Danielle Schrenk, but have not released his or her identity, officials from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said Tuesday night.
Schrenk, 21 of Hamilton, died from a single gunshot wound to the back on Sunday just after midnight. Schrenk and three friends were in her black Honda Accord that Schrenk had received as Christmas gift last year near the corner of Morse and Rosedale Avenues.
Sources have told the Trentonian that the group had gone to Ewing to buy drugs. One of the friends got into a dispute with the dealer and the dealer fired a single shot. The bullet was meant for the friend but missed and hit Shrenk near her shoulder.
The full story here.

Hamilton gambling ring busted after Super Bowl

HAMILTON — An illegal sports betting ring that was run out of a deli was busted by county law enforcement officials the morning after the Super Bowl.
At 10 a.m. on Monday, detectives from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office with the assistance of local law enforcement, searched the Caribbean Fried Chicken Deli on the 1700 block of East State Street, The prosecutor’s office acted on numerous citizen complaints to Hamilton Township officials that had been coming in since January, The owner of the deli, Miguel Azcona, 45, of Trenton, was found behind the register and was arrested without incident. He was found with a loaded 9mm handgun, $127 in cash and numerous gambling slips and receipts.
You can read the rest of the story here.

Police roundup: Hamilton woman shot and drug bust

From Trentonian police reporter Brian Dzenis:

Hamilton woman murdered in Ewing

EWING — A Hamilton woman was taken off life support early Monday morning after she was shot just after midnight on Sunday.
Danielle Schrenk, 21, of Hamilton, was sitting in a parked car on Rosedale Avenue between Morse and Parkside Avenues with a friend when she was shot from outside her black Honda Accord.
The exact circumstances of the shooting remain under investigation, but a source told The Trentonian that the early signs indicate a drug deal gone bad. Schrenk and her friend were at the corner of Morse and Rosedale Avenues for the alleged purposes of buying drugs. A dispute broke out between the dealer and friend that led to the dealer firing one or two shots at the friend. Those bullets missed the friend and struck Schrenk in the back.
You can find the full story here.

Vermont man arrested with $25,000 in coke in Hamilton

HAMILTON — A traffic stop resulted in the seizure of $25,000 in powder cocaine and a handgun last Wednesday.
The Mercer County Prosecutor Office’s Special Investigations Unit received information that Eric Deltoro, 38, of Websterville, Vt., was coming from his home state to Hamilton to purchase a large quantity of cocaine. Hamilton police saw Deltoro buying gas at a gas station on South Broad Street and arrested him without incident following a traffic stop. Deltoro’s wife and young son were with him in the vehicle at the time of his arrest.
You can read the full story here.

Bidding ordinance hits Hamilton council tonight

The town council will take up tonight a new ordinance to formalize the township's bidding practices on professional service contracts.

Currently, the township statute does not require council to seek bids on many contracts or go with the lowest bidder. The new ordinance would codify that requirement, which is already practiced by the township.

The council actually will not be addressing the mayor's plan to do away with the local ethics board, which has lapsed in recent years. Mayor Kelly Yaede highlighted the proposal as part of her State of the Township address earlier today.

Though it isn't on the agenda, the proposal could still come up.

You can find a link to tonight's agenda here.

Hamilton mayor makes pitch for ‘new day’ in State of the Township speech

HAMILTON — Hamilton’s new mayor promised, after a turbulent year involving a convicted mayor and axed department heads, the township is ready to move forward at her state of the township address.

Mayor Kelly Yaede made the speech to more than 250 people in the Nottingham Ballroom Tuesday afternoon, making her case before the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce that the township will move past last year’s scandal surrounding former Mayor John Bencivengo and several of his subordinates. She also promised to keep the town’s economy developing and balance the budget.

“Now is the time to leave the past where it rightly belongs, in the past,” she said. “Our community of neighborhoods is too great to be held back by those who want to hold onto the past.”

Yaede also reiterated a number of steps she has taken to “move past” the Bencivengo scandal, including an expanded audit of the township’s finances and three-step ethics reform package announced Monday. That plan would involve abolishing the local ethics board in favor of a state one, expanding the township’s gift policy and annual ethics training for township managers and supervisors.

“The state of Hamilton Township is strong, fiscally sound and the future of our community is bright,” she said.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hamilton mayor announces ethics reform plan

HAMILTON  —  The mayor of the township has taken another step to reform the practices of the township in the wake of the scandal that ousted her predecessor.

Yaede, in the second press conference of her administration, unveiled a three-part reform of the town’s ethics programs involving ethics training, gifts policy and repealing the town’s ethics board in favor of a state one. She said the changes will not cost the township any additional money.

“This program will again reassure the residents of Hamilton that our government is sound and we can move forward,” she said.

Yaede said she will ask the council to end the town’s current ethics board, which has not heard any cases in the five years it has existed. In addition, the board has lapsed in the past few years. She said the township will now fall under the purview of the State Local Finance Board, which is part of the Department of Community Affairs.

“It’s very important to me to remove the politics from the process,”  she said.

Full story to come later.

Hamilton woman murdered in Ewing

EWING — A Hamilton woman was taken off life support early Monday morning after she was shot just after midnight on Sunday.

You can read what we have so far here.

Press conference this afternoon for Yaede

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede's office has announced a press conference for this afternoon, but hasn't said why.

The previous one, about the township's expanded audit, had that as its announced subject. I'll look to find out more later and post here.

Volunteers scour Mercer for homeless

Approaching the homeless can be a delicate process; most individuals don’t, after all, look any different from anyone else. Thursday afternoon, volunteer Ben Thornton took a roundabout approach.
“Hi, we’re doing a survey of people who are homeless,” he would say. “Do you know where anyone like that is staying?”
Thornton, who has volunteered for the past six Point in Time counts, said even if they aren’t homeless they can provide a tip to someone who is. He, along with volunteers around the country, search for a number, even a rough one, to describe the country’s population of homeless every January.
Teams of volunteers on shifts went out Wednesday and Thursday to various parts of Mercer County in vans packed with blankets, food and clothing for the cold weather. Driving past the empty lots, parks and wooded areas of Trenton and beyond, they looked for telltale signs: tarpaulins, tents, backpacks and people rustling through garbage cans.
Tarry Truitt, the director of projects and communications for the Mercer County Alliance to End Homelessness, helped organize the count, as well as an employment-focused workshop called Project Homeless Connect on Tuesday.
She said the volunteers collected more than 100 surveys from people on the streets. The rest of the count will come in the next few weeks from more than a dozen agencies and emergency shelters throughout the county.
You can read the full story here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sentencing for admitted Bencivengo middleman moved to the ides of March

Robert Warney

The middleman and former “best friend” of former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo has had his sentencing hearing has been moved, again.

Rob Warney, the town’s former director of Community Planning and Compliance, was scheduled to be sentenced on one charge of money laundering, which carries up to 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, back in October. Warney resigned his post in June before pleading guilty to the charge.

But that was moved to December, then to January, then to March 7, and now to the morning of March 15 before Federal District Judge Anne Thompson
, according to court documents

The former mayor, found guilty of five charges related to a case involving the local school board, will be sentenced March 13. Bencivengo was scheduled to be sentenced in February, but it was pushed back.

Warney’s attorney, William Hughes, said in January that cooperating witnesses, such as Warney, generally do not face their sentencing until after the “principal in the case:” Bencivengo.

Warney testified that in 2011 he was given a $5,000 check for a “cherry bedroom set” from the husband of the prosecution’s chief witness in the case, Marliese Ljuba. The check, made out to Warney’s wife was then cashed without her knowledge.

Rob Warney said he then took out that cash in increments and paid them to Bencivengo. Warney was recorded on tapes made by both Ljuba and Bencivengo for the FBI where they are talking about the check.

Prosecutors said that Warney had reached a deal with them in exchange for his testimony in the case.

Bencivengo was convicted of taking $12,400 in total, $5,000 check included, from Ljuba in exchange for his influence with two Hamilton Township Board of Education members in their votes on her lucrative health insurance brokerage there.