Whose interests do Princeton’s policies serve?

Dear Editor:

Princetonians may wonder how it came to be that the Princeton Permit Parking Task Force’s final proposal, announced this Monday, asks taxpayers to subsidize business merchant employee parking expenses when federal business tax subsidies and underutilized paid parking structures are already in place. Why also does it set different parking prices for homeowners whose home purchase included a driveway versus those whose didn’t?  The answer is simple. The task force that drafted the proposal was populated by business merchants and residents who would personally benefit from the policy they were setting. In the paper titled, “Fighting “Small Town” Corruption: How to Obtain Accountability, Oversight, and Transparency”, the Columbia Law School Center for Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) states, “while there are many obviously criminal actions which should be prohibited by the ethics code, there are also non-criminal actions which are ethically suspect and should be included. Conflict of interest provisions often fall into this category.”  

Jack Morrison, who sits on the task force as its most vocal merchant, fails two of the tests set by CAPI’s safeguards. He is both a political donor to Councilwoman Michelle Pirone-Lambros and his business will directly benefit from the plan he helped draft. “Conflict of interest provisions should include prohibitions on taking actions that benefit the official’s household or family members, business clients, debtors, or political donors. The code should contain a recusal provision,…[for people] seeking a benefit from the government.” Numerous other task force members, some of them residents, would also fail CAPI’s basic tests. “Local governments should strive to create one code for all public officials, as well as citizens serving as commissioners or board members.” 

According to CAPI, “[another] component of a meaningful integrity system is transparency. Generally speaking, corruption is less likely when citizens are informed about government activities.”  By contrast, Princeton’s council leaders have sought to prevent discussion on the topic of business subsidies, canceled scheduled public meetings, and held closed-door meetings, with participants sworn to secrecy. Those that oppose the business parking subsidy were excluded.  “Secrecy” is not a demand that public servants should be making of residents. Residents can have a role in calling out these tactics and insisting on inclusion.

What role do other council members have?  According to CAPI, “the code should [also] include an affirmative obligation to report suspected violations of the ethics code and the law.” In Princeton, the mayor and full council are entrusted with the authority to appoint and remove task force members. Council members should hold their colleagues accountable for the policy-making processes they lead, concerned about maintaining confidence in other town decisions. The mayor should implement and enforce minimum ethics standards and insist on transparent processes that prevent self-dealing. “Corruption or the perception of a corrupt government will undermine its legitimacy with constituents, leading to less citizen involvement.” Ignoring the specter of impropriety that surrounds the parking task force process will make it hard for Princetonians to accept that the outcome is truly in their best interest.  

Jonathan Hopkins


  1. BINGO!
    The Cannabis Task Force is also tainted with cannabis industry lobbyists and conflict of interest membership. Hidden agenda in cancelled and now closed meetings of task forces and council should alarm everyone in light of astronomical taxes. Residents deserve to be heard and presented with real facts and supported data. Council rubber stamping their own agenda without clear public support is reprehensible.

  2. I find it outrageous that you accuse residents of personally benefiting from the parking policy. Aside from that, however, is your interpretation of how Council and the task force reacted to public unhappiness with the first iterations of the plan. Yes they cancelled the Saturday public meeting, but they did that because they knew the plan had to be revised and so they set out to revise it and then present it in a public meeting. As you clearly know, the plan initially was revised to keep parking out of your neighborhood, which it seems is the real reason you started Sensible Streets in the first place. Then it was revised to respond to feedback to not charge residents without driveways for permits, to better balance the number of parking spaces available for non residents, and to give a system for overnight parking when needed by residents.

    You do know that Council members serve the community out of dedication to the town, and that they work countless hours to make life better and more equitable here in Princeton. They may make make mistakes in trying to ameliorate issues that plague the town, but their intentions are good. So many people are quick to criticize but not to step up and serve. Ahhhhh – that’s the hard part. In this case, the task force listened to the public and made changes.

  3. Many, if not most people, work during the day when the majority of meetings are scheduled. This is by intention I suspect. If meetings are held after typical work hours maybe more of the public and a better cross section of the population will run for office and more meetings will be well attended for genuine public input for better decision making. Or is the closed door meeting better to push through hidden agenda and rampant spending without public support? I guess that depends on whose agenda is being pushed and who benefits. Serving on council does require hours like a regular job so I do believe that members are well-intentioned residents that perhaps have become influenced too easily to please one group or another. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and sometimes the squeaky wheel belongs to a group that is not well-intentioned concerning Princeton or its residents. I hope the mayor and council make wise and informed decisions free from self-promoted interests.

  4. I thought the task force was set up to investigate and make recommendations to elected officials who represent residents. I did not realize that task forces write regulations for the town especially since task form members are not elected officials. Are the task force members required to be tax paying Princeton residents? They are after all writing ordinances how taxes will be spent and regulations Princeton residents must follow. Maybe I do not understand the role of the mayor and council separate from the role of a task force. Who can be on a task force and who determines who can be on one? is this an honorarium paid position or a volunteer position? Please publish an explanation of this topic so I can discuss it with my children about local government.

  5. @AD I appreciate that the members of the task force are willing to serve. But the idea that they are the only ones willing to do this is wrong. There are many, many volunteers in the community who have been willing to serve, but the Mayor and Council only ever appoints friends and acquaintances from the PCDO. And even if you’re in that in-group, you won’t get appointed if you go against the wishes of the elected officials. This is one of the reasons that the recommendations from the task forces are so similar to what the elected officials want.

  6. The permit parking issue is one of many that I wish I had the time to understand better, but I’m grateful that there are people in town willing and able to dig in and try to find solutions. To assume and assert that the decision makers are simply PCDO insiders who go along with the wishes of elected officials is just wrong, and demoralizing to the many we depend on to move things forward.

  7. It seems per the revised recommendations that the council caters to the Western section, not businesses.

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