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, June 27, 2013

NJ activists, pols celebrate DOMA ruling, contemplate next steps

A legal wrinkle has shown up in New Jersey amid celebration and consternation at the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Aside from the immediate reactions to the landmark 5-4 Supreme Court decision, activists are already talking about the next steps for the issue in the Garden State. The recognition of same-sex marriage for states that already have it also presents a pickle for married couples living in New Jersey, according to several proponents.
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the recognition of same sex marriage by the federal government, was unconstitutional. It allows more than 1,000 federal rights, responsibilities and guarantees to go to same-sex couples who are married in the 12 states — now 13 with the court’s ruling on California’s Proposition 8 — that allow same sex marriage.
Rep. Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) said the ruling was a step forward for the movement to give same sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. Gusciora led the push for last year’s bill that would have made same-sex marriage legal in New Jersey, which Gov. Chris Christie vetoed.
“It’s great for the 13 states now including marriage equality in their laws,” he said. “But it really doesn’t give anything for New Jersey. It’s certainly a starting point for public debate, but unless the legislature, the courts or the governor act, things won’t change.”
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hamilton Board adopts long-term plan, changes stance on polling places

Hamilton School District has a variety of problems, and after a presentation Tuesday night, it has an official plan meant to deal with them.
The administration presented its “Five Year Strategic Plan” at the Board meeting, which marks one of the largest projects of Superintendent James Parla’s first year in office. It defines goals for improving student state test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates and SAT/ACT scores, among others. The plan, developed by board members, staff and community members
“This is helping us chart the future in Hamilton Township,” said Michael Gilbert, the director of Curriculum and Instruction for the district.
Parent Teacher Association member Jennifer Kraemer said she was glad the administration had reached out to parents for input on the plan, and said it was a step forward for the board.
“We have our most prized possessions invested in the success of our school district: our children,” she said. “It is our hope that you continue to hold paramount our students’ interest at heart as you earnestly work to rebuild trust between the community and the school district administration.”
The plan also sets such goals as “Recognize the diversity of all students in each of the schools,” and “Enhance forms of communication,” that are slightly more nebulous than test scores. Parla said he will give updates to the board throughout the year as more data on student achievement.
Board member Patricia Del Giudice said the board had not always followed through on its plans and goals in the past, but thought this one was different.
You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Birdsall allegedly made donations to Mercer County pols

The engineering firm at the center of a statewide Pay-to-Play violations case has hit closer to home after a report on the firm’s political contributions was released.
According to a database made public by the Star-Ledger, employees of the company, Birdsall Services Group, were reimbursed for donations allegedly made to several Mercer County politicians, including Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, County Executive Brian Hughes, former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo and other politicians on both sides of the aisle.
The database shows tens of thousands in donations that were made to the local party committees and individuals, including more than $13,000 to the Hamilton Township Republican Committee and $5,000 to the election fund of Mack. Hughes, whose campaign received $5,100 between 2008 and 2012.
“I followed all the rules, I filed all my reports on time. I did all the things ELEC asked me to do,” Hughes said. “Birdsall was the ones going around the corners in the dark of night paying their employees for donations they may or may not have wanted to make. What I did was legal, what they did was not.”
Read the full story here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hamilton Board of Education votes to create elementary Spanish program

Hamilton’s elementary school students got one step closer to having a restored Spanish program after the board approved money for the teachers at its meeting Wednesday night.
The board voted for salaries for four Spanish teachers out of the district’s annual balance of money. The board took $500,000 out of a recommended $3.5 million transfer to capital reserve that Superintendent James Parla said would go toward replenishing funds depleted by emergency repairs.
Board President Jeff Hewitson said the district had several priorities in the situation, including longterm facilities problems and lagging student achievement. The idea, forwarded by Board Member Al Gayzik, would also include more money for positions supervising extracurricular activities.
“Our education has been suffering and our facilities have been suffering, both,” Hewitson said. “Language is so important, it helps them with our other courses as well.”
Board Member Jennifer Barnock-Ridell and Parla recommended the board hold off until the administration had a better plan for the program. Barnock-Ridell was the only board member to vote no.
“There’s an attitude of ‘Let’s put it here let’s put it there’ without anything real well thought out,” she said.
Board Vice President Joe Malagrino said the district will work with its food provider, Chartwells, to improve the quality of the schools’ food service. He said the company will provide higher quality ingredients and rotating cooking workshops at the middle and high schools in the district.
You can read the full story here.

Princeton man indicted in second animal cruelty case

From reporter Scott Ketterer:

TRENTON — A Princeton man already indicted on animal cruelty charges in the death of a German Shepherd mix he was hired to train was indicted for a second time in another animal cruelty case involving his own pets.
Michael G. Rosenberg, 31, of Princeton was indicted by a Trenton grand jury on two-counts of fourth-degree animal cruelty on Tuesday.
In the latest indictment against Rosenberg, authorities allege that he “purposely, knowingly or recklessly, tormented, tortured, or unnecessarily or cruelly beat his own mixed breed dogs Kaiser and Sanford.”
Rosenberg repeatedly picked his dogs up and threw them across the room, slamming them into a concrete floor, according to a signed complaint by Princeton Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson on Jan. 31, 2013.
Rosenberg could face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The 31-year-old was previously indicted on animal cruelty charges for allegedly whipping and killing a three-year-old German Shepherd mix named Shyanne in August of last year.
According to a criminal complaint signed on Nov. 16, Rosenberg, who was hired as a dog trainer, hit Shyanne with a crop whip, picked up and slammed the female dog on the ground, jabbed his fingers into the dog’s ribs and did not seek medical attention for Shyanne.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hamilton police searching for driver who struck cyclist

From Police reporter Brian Dzenis:
HAMILTON — A township man is in stable condition after becoming the victim in a hit and run accident Monday night.
A nurse from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton was on her way to work just before 11 p.m. when she found Shaun Elmer, 22, lying on the ground on Klockner Road near Negron Drive. According to Hamilton police, Elmer was riding his bike northbound on Klockner Road when he was struck from behind by a vehicle travelling in the same direction. The driver of the vehicle then fled the scene.
Any witnesses to the hit and run can contact the Hamilton Police Traffic Unit at 609-581-4024.

Hamilton council passes capital budget, contracts at meeting

Hamilton council talked mostly money matters at its meeting Tuesday night, passing several multi-million dollar contracts and capital bonds.
Council approved a $13.7 million contract with Central Jersey Waste and Recycling for trash disposal that runs through 2018. The company gave $1,000 to Mayor Kelly Yaede’s campaign for election on March 25, the same weekend as Yaede’s largest fundraiser of the year so far, the Mayor’s Ball.
Business administrator John Ricci said the contract was not subject to the township’s Pay-to-Play ordinance that restricts political donations for professional service contracts to $300. The contract with Central Jersey Waste and Recycling was done through an advertised bidding process, and above the $17,400 cap for the Pay-to-Play statute, he said.
“Once we go out for advertised bids, the Pay-to-Play ordinance does not apply,” he said.
Central Jersey was the lowest of three bidders, Ricci said; it beat out both Waste Management and another company called Republic. Ricci said the new contract, which is with the same company, will save the township $120,000 annually and trash collection will stay at twice a week, and was $1.5 million less than the second bidder, Waste Management.
Former Councilman Vinnie Cappodano said the donation and contract did not live up to the spirit of the Pay-to-Play law, even if it did not violate the letter. The contract is still subject to state-required contribution disclosures through the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“They’ve got loopholes in their professional services ordinance that you could drive a garbage truck through,” he said. “I don’t think any company doing business with the township should be donating $1,000 to the mayor. I think that is totally wrong,”
You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Robbinsville mayor announces bid for reelection

Robbinsville Mayor David Fried has launched his bid for reelection.

Fried, first elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009, said he has a number of projects in the township that he wants to make sure are seen through to completion, including the expansion of Town Center South and the rehabilitation of the Foxmoor shopping center.

He also said the town si starting to reap benefits of decisions made in previous years, such as ending lifetime health benefits for new employees and taking over the township’s fire district.

“It’s a really good statement on some of the tough decisions we made over the years,” he said.

Fried is the first elected official whose term is running out to announce his bid for another term. Council Vice President Vince Calcagno and Councilwoman Sheree McGowan’s terms are running out this year. The petitions are due Sept. 1 and Fried made his announcement in a letter Friday.

Fried is the CEO of Tricore a payroll and human resources firm based in Robbinsville. Before the governmental restructuring in 2005, Fried served as a committeeman in the former Washington Township.

Fried will also be on the ballot months after the township council approved a budget with a four percent overall tax cut. Most of that tax cut was attributed to the $20 million, 20-year PILOT program for the Internet commerce giant Amazon to open up in the township.

“I have to thank Amazon for the tax cut,” he said. “but having it happen when you’re up for reelection doesn’t hurt either.”

Princeton holds workshop on bear safety after black bear sightings

Princeton residents got an education about dealing with their native bear population Monday night.
After several bear sightings over the past month, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife held a workshop on dealing with the animals that spokesman Bob Considine said would contain “mostly common sense tips” like not feeding the animals. It was held in the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon Street in Princeton.
The advice sometimes amounts to “don’t feed the bears; don’t poke the bears” but Considine said they will provide other tips as well. He said residents should use bear-proof trash containers — advertised as such — and regularly wash trash and food containers to keep smells from spreading.
Considine said the knowledge is most important in spring and early summer, when the bears have come out of hibernation and started replenishing themselves.
“This is the season where bears are emerging from their dens,” he said. “People see them more now than any other time in the year.”
You can read the full story here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shelters overloaded with stray, abandoned animals

Smooch, a domestic shorthair cat, reaches out to manager Elaine Thaxton at Trenton's animal shelter. 

Last month, when police ended the hostage situation on Grand Street where Gerald Tyrone Murphy held three children, animal control officers rescued four dogs from the house. Two have since been adopted, and two were euthanized.
Elaine Thaxton, the manager of Trenton’s animal shelter, said two pit bulls rescued from the house were too aggressive to be adopted and had to be euthanized. The other two, smaller dogs had been treated, resocialized and adopted by family members of the hostage victims. Thaxton said that was one of many decisions the volunteers and employees of Mercer County’s animal shelters have to make about animals in their care.
“They were very thin when they came in,” she said of the two smaller dogs from the house. “We were lucky that we were able to socialize them again. At first they were scared to approach anyone, but by the end they were just running up to people.”
Thaxton said the four dogs had all been held in the “horrible” situation in the house along with the children. Murphy allegedly killed 44-year-old Carmelita Stevens and her son, 13-year-old Quavon Foster by stabbing them multiple times in the chest in late April. Their bodies were not discovered for roughly two weeks until police conducted a wellness check at the home on May 10. After police discovered Foster’s body, the standoff began and 37 hours later, New Jersey State Police stormed the home and killed Murphy.
A few of the animals in Trenton’s shelter come from such police raids, and some are so abused or neglected that they need to be put down, Thaxton said. Less than 10 percent of the more than 1,000 dogs and cats that came through Trenton’s shelter in one 12-month period came from police. More than 500 come from calls for strays, according to data provided by health officer James Brownlee.
Regardless of where they come from, Brownlee said, they try to find the animals stable homes, foster homes or spots with a rescue group.
“The goal is to move them out of the shelter as soon as possible,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Robbinsville council approves real estate tax deals, talks suit over trees

Robbinsville Council debated whether it got a rough deal in the two real estate tax deals it passed Thursday night.
Councilman David Boyne, the only member to vote against the two Payment in Lieu of Taxes deals in the Matrix Business Park, said he felt the township had given up too much potential tax revenue in the agreements. The deals will bring in an average of $300,000 over the 20 years of the agreement, about half of the estimated value of the proposed buildings.
“The numbers worked a lot better on the Amazon deal than this deal here,” he said. “The tax revenue we are getting from these properties are too low.”
The Internet commerce giant signed a 20-year PILOT program earlier this year to pay the township $600,000 a year for a million-square-foot warehouse in the Matrix park.
Mayor David Fried disagreed, saying the township needed to keep perspective in evaluating the deals.
“You can’t compare to what you could have somewhere else. You have to compare it to what you’re getting today,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Robbinsville police sergeant resigns, enters intervention program

The Robbinsville police sergeant diagnosed with a neurological condition after an incident last fall at an independent living facility for the physically disabled has resigned and entered a pretrial intervention program.
Mark Lee, 45, plead guilty to five counts Thursday, including endangering the welfare of a child, official misconduct and three counts of aggravated assault for the Sept. 17 incident at Project Freedom in Robbinsville, according to an email from prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio. He also forfeited his employment in Robbinsville and any future government employment.
His participation in the PTI program requires him to continue medical and psychiatric treatment and having no contact with any victims in the case. He will be under supervision for a three-year period.
The former sergeant had his bail reduced last October after a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation showed he was diagnosed with a neurological disorder which involves calcium deposits on the brain.
Mercer County Judge Pedro Jimenez reduced his bail from $250,000 to $10,000 after the court-ordered evaluation at Anna Klein Forensic Center.
Lee was prohibited from returning to Robbinsville Township and Project Freedom, the development where he was arrested.
You can see the full story here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

This Week in Mercer -- Trenton City Council President Phyllis Holly-Ward

This week on the show I'll be joined by Trenton City Council President Phyllis Holly-Ward. You'll be able to listen live here or an archived version on this site later.

We'll be talking about crime in the city, the Trenton Marriott Hotel, her vision of how the city can pull through. In addition, we'll go over her tenure as president of council and her take on the city as a whole.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Princeton University evacuates after bomb threat

PRINCETON — Princeton University is evacuating the Ivy League campus after receiving a bomb threat.
University spokesman Dan Day says the threat is against multiple buildings.
Employees were told to leave campus just before 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
No classes are in session, though Day says there are some summer programs on campus.
Witnesses near the scene are saying the buildings are emptying out in a relatively calm fashion, but the resulting traffic of cars is creating gridlock in the streets around the campus.
Hamilton resident Tera Juerling said her mother, who works at the University, was among the evacuees.
“She said it is total chaos over there,” Juerling said. “No one knows where to go.”
Check here for more updates.

Princeton Council reduces municipal tax rate; OKs budget

Princeton residents will get a break on the township portion of their tax bills, after the council approved its budget at its meeting Monday night.
The final budget reduced the municipal tax rate by 2 cents, to 41 cents on each $100 of assessed value of property. The $61 million budget is $3 million less than the previous year’s budget, which takes into account both the former borough and township budgets.
MayorLiz Lempert said the savings came as a result of the savings from this year’s consolidation helped reduce the tax burden on residents.
“This year we are literally doing more with less,” she said. “I don’t know the last time the municipal tax rate was actually lowered.”
Police Capt. Nicholas Sutter, who is running the department at least until the October retirement of Chief David Dudeck, gave a presentation on the agreement between Princeton police and Princeton University police.
He said the agreement, which was based on the two authorities working more closely together, should clarify some controversies from the past, such as reporting of serious crimes like sexual assaults. He said prior discrepancies in the reporting of those crimes came from differences in the statutes that governed the two departments, the Unified Crime Reporting system for the police departments and the Clery Act for the university itself.
You can read the full story here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hamilton Board of Education settles with Horizon for $1.5 million

HAMILTON — Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield has found out how much money it takes for its problems in Hamilton to go away: $1.5 million.
The insurance carrier reached a lawsuit settlement with Hamilton’s Board of Education for that amount earlier this year, which also let several other players in the case off the hook. That information was obtained through an Open Public Records Act request made by local activist and Assembly candidate Steve Cook.
Cook said the board should try to have the agreement nullified and actually file suit, saying the insurer is “knee-deep in liability.” He said the school district could have saved $20 million going back to 2006, the extent of time the settlement covers, by going with the cheaper, state-run insurance plan, according to an analysis from the Citizens Campaign, a government reform group of which Cook is a member.
“Imagine a client being told by their attorney that their client is entitled to $10,000 for a car accident but you should settle for $250 so we don’t have to file charges,” said Cook. “That is what happened to Hamilton taxpayers.”
You can read the full story here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

New Jersey Sen. Lautenberg dead at age 89

WASHINGTON (AP) — The next time a flight attendant reminds you there’s no smoking on the plane or you witness a teenager getting carded at a liquor store, think of Frank Lautenberg.
The Democratic senator from New Jersey left his mark on the everyday lives of millions of Americans, whether they know it or not. In the 1980s, he was a driving force behind the laws that banned smoking on most U.S. flights and made 21 the drinking age in all 50 states.
Lautenberg, a multimillionaire businessman who became an accomplished — if often underestimated — politician, died after 4 a.m. EDT on Monday at a New York hospital after suffering complications from viral pneumonia.
At 89, he had been the oldest person in the Senate and the last remaining World War II veteran.
You can read the full story here.