Category Archives: 2011

RT News: Camden

After decades of public corruption in Camden, New Jersey, the city announced it could no longer afford its own police force and would reduce costs by ending its collective bargaining agreement with the police union. Despite statements by Mayor Dana Redd and Police Chief Scott Thompson that the only way to “put more boots on the ground” was to reduce salaries, Camden announced that it would only be rehiring half of the former officers as part of the new county police force. The new department will be prohibited from unionizing and the qualifications for new applicants were lowered by placing a one year moratorium on civil service testing.

George Norcross: Tales Dubbed “Bogeyman” Bunk are Rooted in Reality (2011)

Brian Donohue with Ledger Live examines how the battle over the pension and benefits reform bill passed by the New Jersey legislature raised questions about the influence of South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross. Assertions by Norcross ally Sen. Steve Sweeney that Norcross plays little role in the legislative process contrast sharply with Norcross’ own words, as captured in 2001 recordings made as part of a state attorney general’s office investigation.

AMERICA TODAY: Heartbreaking Pictures From New Jersey’s Homeless ‘Tent City’


Doug Hardman wakes up every morning with a song in his heada vague memory of his days on stage.

Inside his tepee in the woods outside Lakewood, NJ, at the homeless Tent City, the roosters wake early and the mornings are already cooler. A musician who lost his Florida home in the housing crisis, Hardman says he floats in and out of Tent City, that he’s proud of his kids, and misses the life he no longer has.

He has a lot of company out here.

Click here for the pictures and story >

Tent City made the news recently and while community leader Steven Brigham says the media attention brought in greater donations, it also brought unwanted attention from the local politicians.

After battling with the city for years to have access to the public land here, Brigham found a New Jersey lawyer to represent his case pro bono.

The attorney, Jeff Wild, argued that the homeless population are part of the public and should therefore have access to public lands. Rather than take the case to court, Lakewood City Council settled, and Brigham signed an agreement to put up no more shelters and allow no more than 70 people to stay.

But last winter the community put up three wooden structures to house everyone and keep them warm.

“We didn’t lose anybody last year,” Brigham says, “and nobody got sick.”

This year could be different. After City Council members saw the shelters on TV, they sent demolition crews in. The walls were torn down around whatever was inside, and meager furnishings were left to the elements.

This year, the tent city’s residents will have to put wood-stoves in tents and plastic shanties, increasing fire risk. Brigham says the town is making it impossible to survive there, hoping to get the homeless out, and he’s concerned it will end up killing people this year.

More than 700,000 people are currently homeless in the U.S. and the number has grown 20 percent from 2007 to 2010.

A recent UN report says the way the U.S. denies its citizens access to water, basic sanitation, and criminalizes homelessness is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Brigham can relate. He started the camp five years ago and more people show up every year. Some stay, some find part-time work where they can, move on, and wind up coming back.

“There’s a real glut of low-skilled manual labor in the area,” he says. “There’s just nothing for people to do.”

Brigham works as a high-voltage electrical contractor on the bridges and tunnels around New York, but his mission is here in the Lakewood forest.

“I found this spot that had no underbrush, which is very unusual,” he says, “and this community’s become a living protest.”

I ask him what he means, and he says, “We’re protesting the insincerity of the political system. It’s supposed to be for the people and its not.”

Mass police, firefighter layoffs begin in Camden

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
on January 18, 2011 at 12:35 PM, updated January 18, 2011 at 6:06

CAMDEN — Firefighters began turning in their helmets and police officers their badges today as part of deep municipal layoffs destined to further erode the quality of life in Camden, already one of the nation’s most impoverished and crime-ridden cities.

As many as 383 workers, representing one-fourth of the local government work force, are expected to lose their jobs, including about half the police force and one-third of the city’s firefighters.

Laid-off firefighters walked eight blocks together from the police union hall to Fire Department headquarters, snaking past City Hall, then lined up their helmets in front of the building, picked them back up and started to turn them in along with their other gear.

“It’s one of the worst days in the history of Camden,” said Ken Chambers, the president of the firefighters union.

Eighty-three laid-off police officers put their work boots along the sidewalk near police headquarters to symbolize the lost jobs.

Mayor Dana Redd planned a noon news conference to talk about the layoffs in a city facing a huge budget deficit and declining state aid.

Chambers said residents should not expect to be safe as the number of fire companies is reduced. He said the union will continue to meet with city officials to try to reach a deal where some firefighters could be brought back.

Police officers had begun turning in their badges Monday as it became clear that no last-minute deal was going to save many jobs.

Located directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Camden is rampant with open drug-dealing, prostitution and related crimes. More than half of Camden’s 80,000 residents, mostly black and Hispanic, live in poverty.

A local pastor says “the fear quotient has been raised,” and a police union took out a full-page newspaper advertisement last week warning that Camden would become a “living hell” if layoffs were not averted.

Mayor of Camden announces police and fire department layoffsCamden Mayor Dana Redd and Police Chief John Scott Thomson address the media regarding layoffs. 168 police and 67 firefighters were let go to help close a $26.5 million budget gap. The mayor blamed the unions for not being willing to make job saving concessions. (Video by Andre Malok/The Star-Ledger)

The city was the nation’s second-most dangerous based on 2009 data, according to CQ Press, which compiles such rankings. Camden ranked first the previous two years. In 2009, the city had 2,380 violent crimes per 100,000 residents — more than five times the national average, the FBI said.

The anti-crime volunteer group Guardian Angels also says it will patrol Camden, as it has Newark, where there were major police layoffs in November.

The Fire Department has already been relying on help from volunteer departments in neighboring towns. Interim Fire Chief David Yates, who retired Jan. 1, has warned that that layoffs will increase response times.

Guardian Angels to send members to Camden in light of police layoffs

Large cuts in staff for Camden, Newark police could threaten anti-crime progress

Camden considers the effects of pending police layoffs

N.J. approves plan to lay off more than 300 Camden public workers


  | JUNE 10, 2011

Democratic power-broker George Norcross wants to see eight charter schools in Camden, and Gov. Christie has some ideas, too.

The Lanning Square site in downtown Camden that is slated for the state’s first “renaissance school.”

This time, Democratic power-broker George Norcross wasn’t on stage with the governor, but at the rear of the sweltering crowd gathered yesterday for Gov. Chris Christie’s second visit to Camden in a week.

The governor was introducing his “Transformation Schools” plan, a small pilot program that would permit private companies to take over the management of select poorly performing public schools.

But even though the governor was at the podium, much of the attention was on Norcross.

With good reason.

Norcross — who characterized the Camden public school system as a “prison” and a “sewer”— spoke to reporters at length and said that his family foundation and the Cooper Health System and University Hospital, of which he is chairman, plan to provide resources for what could be a chain of charter schools.

The priority for Norcross is a charter built on the site of the former Lanning Square Elementary School, adjacent to the construction site for Cooper’s medical school in downtown Camden. But that’s just the beginning.

Norcross said he has held meetings with a number of charter management organizations already in Camden, including Mastery and Camden Promise. And he said action on the proposal would come soon, even if no application has actually been filed with the state as yet.

Schools Development Authority

The property itself is in the hands of the state’s Schools Development Authority (SDA), and has been slated for a Camden district school under the court-ordered school construction program.

Those plans have been put on the back burner, and while not speaking about Lanning Square specifically, SDA officials said last week that they are considering a number of different options about a variety of properties.

“We are considering a number of possibilities on all SDA-owned properties as we determine the best approach to meet the facility needs that exist in SDA districts while ensuring fiscal responsibility,” said spokeswoman Edythe Maier. “Until decisions have been made and a public announcement is appropriate, the SDA is not in a position to discuss the future plans for any SDA-owned sites.”

A Man with a Plan

But Norcross sounded like a man who viewed those more as formalities than obstacles. He spoke at length about the crisis in Camden schools and the urgency in providing choices to families. He said some of his plans could also incorporate Christie’s for public-private partnerships, but the central point is a new school that will be located on the Lanning Square site.

“We’re moving ahead regardless,” he said. “There is no question there will be a school there, but the question is will it be a charter or something like the governor discussed today.”

He called some of Camden’s public schools little more than “juvenile prisons.”

And standing outside on South 3rd Street, where the governor’s press conference was held, Norcross said the foundations providing the same kind of financial support to Camden public schools would be equally fruitless.

“See that sewer drain?” he said, to a gathering group of a half-dozen reporters. “That is what giving them money would be like.”

Norcross wasn’t stopping with one charter school either. “I would be happy if we had eight charter schools under the Cooper engagement,” he said, roughly a quarter the size of Camden’s entire district.

Coming Out

The comments continued an extraordinary coming-out in the past few months for Norcross on school reform issues. Known to be a bit camera-shy, Norcross last week stood with Christie at a graduation to push for school vouchers and the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

A close ally of Camden Mayor Dana Redd and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and now a Christie stalwart, Norcross is in good position to press his visions for reform in Camden’s schools.

The new proposal from Christie and his acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf adds some more twists to governor’s own agenda. Under the plan, local school boards would petition to the state to be one of five pilot districts that could use “education management organizations” (EMOs) to run their lowest-performing schools.

New Jersey has more restrictive rules than most, but EMOs can now run charter schools, under some conditions. Christie’s proposal would move EMOs into local district schools as well, and would be the equivalent of the districts themselves remaking their most troubled schools. Still, the new schools would be accountable to the state, Christie said.

It’s not a new idea, either, and EMOs are currently operating schools in 31 states. They have become a prime option with federal turnaround grants as well.

“We’re putting this together with our other education reforms, and hoping that the legislature will pick it up,” Christie said.

Cerf said local buy-in was critical. “It’s a different kind of public school,” he said. “It’s all about local decision-making.”

Still, the proposal will be controversial in itself, especially with both Cerf and Christie, to a lesser degree, having histories in for-profit education. Cerf in much of the 1990s was president of Edison Schools Inc., a pioneering private management company that operated schools in Philadelphia to limited success. Christie as a private lawyer lobbied for the same company.

When asked by a reporter, Christie yesterday dismissed his history with Edison as influencing his proposal, only saying all options should be considered to improve the schools. Edison also has since moved away from school management.

Christie said he was not guaranteeing that Camden would be among those chosen under his plan if the proposal is enacted, but he didn’t hide his preference as he stood before the temporary Lanning Square School.

“Let’s get the legislation passed first,” he said. “And then I can come back to Camden to sign it.”

The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the teachers union, quickly came out to denounce the proposal.

“While the details of Gov. Christie’s plan are very vague, the objective is clear,” said NJEA president Barbara Keshishian in a statement.

“It is part of his ongoing effort to privatize public education in New Jersey. Under the guise of helping students, he is attempting to create a system that would funnel taxpayer dollars to private companies.”

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