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Almost Complete Safety

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As an extremely regular visitor to the City of Camden, I am very pleased that after three weeks and five days, a fence has at last been partially erected beneath the Radio Lofts building at Second and Cooper Streets.

I am concerned, though, as to why it took such an extremely long and drawn out process to simply prevent the public from risking serious injury by walking near the deteriorating building.

Due to how long it took for the city government to half-act on it’s own ordinance to close the sidewalks, I wonder how long it will take to completely close them, as the city’s own ordinance demands.

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The city ordinance, date August 29th, calls for the complete closure of the sidewalks, both length and width, along the distance of the building plus 15 additional feet. That same ordinance, from my perspective at least, encompasses the RiverLine station.

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The train station does sit higher above what is normally walked upon as a sidewalk. This fact unfortunatley does not create some sort of force field that would shield a RiverLine passenger from falling debris.

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I know that closing the northbound Cooper Street location would be very inconvenient, but so is a brick crashing into someone’s skull, followed by copious amounts of liability issues.

If the City of Camden’s code enforcement officials would end up taking another three weeks to extend the protective fence, I would then urge the NJ Transit and RiverLine officials to take action on their own station in order to protect their riders.

This issue is not one of opinion due to the city’s own documentation of the building presently being a danger to human life. This is the reality that exists on Cooper Street.

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The Radio Lofts: Ordered To Be Demolished

I received a phone call today from the City of Camden’s Municipal Clerk’s Office. They advised me that my Open Public Records Act request was now available regarding the condition of the Radio Lofts Building at 2nd and Cooper Streets. I shall now share the report with the citizens of Camden as well as the city’s visitors, while simultaneously raising brand new issues about the same building:

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The Cooper Grant neighborhood and I are very pleased that an inspection has finally taken place. As it turns out, the inspection has declared that the Camden Redevelopment Agency has been ordered to demolish the Radio Lofts since it poses a hazard to human life. We now have official documentation rejecting the claims of the City’s Business Adminstrator, by which Robert Corrales stated, “The Building is solid”. It is not, by any means, structurally solid. However, still there remain some very big questions to be answered. My first question is: Why are the sidewalks still not closed for the entire length and width of the building, plus fifteen additional feet, along Cooper Street and Front Street as the Emergency Sidewalk memo demands? These photos were taken earlier today, as you can tell by the iPhone within each picture, used as proof of both time and date.

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Based upon the date of August 28th, 2014 by which the report is said to have been completed in accordance with the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code, a fence was to have immediately been erected in order to prevent a hazard to human life. The report also says that failure to do so could result in fines up to $2,000 per week. I am confident that the inspection itself did not take place until September 9th, 2014 base upon my own physical observation:

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And to prove that I took this photo on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, here is a screenshot of my iPhone’s timestamp in my photo album:

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Something remains to be very fishy about the exact date by which things have been completed. I don’t know why the dates would be deliberately fudged since in the end, it would result in fines and potential lawsuits. Maybe they have been fudged in order to make it not seem like the sidewalks were closed only following my filing for the open record. Who knows. But, to me at least, the fines are not what is important here. What is important is that these sidewalks still remain accessible to the public, and the RiverLine station beneath the Radio Lofts is still in operation despite this official report, which is said to have happened two weeks ago.

I urge the City of Camden to appropriately close these sidewalks so that under no circumstances can a pedestrian become harmed by falling debris. I also urge NJ Transit to close it’s station beneath the building that has been deemed structurally unsound so that under no circumstances can one of their riders become injured from the building’s falling debris. I also urge the Camden Redevelopment Agency to act upon this report’s demands so that no motorist on Cooper Street, pedestrian, or RiverLine passenger can become harmed in the future.

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Downtown Danger: Follow-Up Part 1

Earlier this month, I published an article that displayed several structural safety concerns of the Radio Lofts building, located at the corner of 2nd and Cooper Streets in Camden. Thanks to my readers and Facebook friends, professors, and fellow urbanists, the article went viral locally, and the City of Camden told Philly.com’s journalist Kevin Riordan that an inspection would take place.

Today I took a step to ensure that an inspection has taken place, or, that it will take place in the future. I filed a Municipal Records Request Form with the Office of the Municipal Clerk in Camden. I have to wait 7-10 business days for an answer, but either way, the citizens of Camden and those who will begin using Cooper Street as a regular means of transportation next week are 7-10 days closer to knowing what exactly is going on with the Radio Lofts building. OPRA

Prescribing Our Addictions

As of August 2014, there exists a holy plethora of data and statistics that show the strong correlation between prescription opiate drugs, heroin, and addiction. Sadly, the high school graduating class of 2011 and I are watching the data come to life, right in the middle of suburbia. Opiate drugs have infected my town, turning many young Cherry Hill residents into full-fledged drug addicts.

New Jersey, and many other states, have launched specific task forces with the sole objective, “to educate young people on the dangers of prescription pain killers”. Hundreds of young people are prescribed percocet, tamarol, oxycotin, cyclobenzaprine, and others, for sports injuries and common procedures like wisdom teeth removal. I myself was prescribed several forms of opiate pills and muscle relaxants for one back injury.

It is important to note that I was completely immobilized by my pain, and I was taken to the hospital via ambulance, so some form of pain relief was in order. However, within three days of my injury taking place, I had been prescribed 80 days worth of opiate pills and relaxants between what I was given at the hospital and then at the physician’s office. Professionalism aside, that’s a stupid amount of pills for one injury. I only took the drugs for five days, but if I took them more regularly,  who knows, maybe I’d be next in line for heroin. After all, I was given 80 days to get hooked.

The sure ease of getting copious amounts of opiates is one aspect of our medical system that needs to change. A lumbar disk displacement should not result in that many pills of 4 different varieties.

The second aspect that needs to change when it comes to prescription opiates is that they all together, collectively, need to go away. New Jersey’s Legislature has the ability to outlaw their use either all together. Or, less extreme, the Legislature can outlaw the use for certain age groups, or more strictly specify what injury or pain should yield their prescription. The Legislature can also move forward with an initiative that better regulates the amount given to a patient within a specified time period. All four of those options are possible for New Jersey with a vote, and with such an addiction epidemic that is stemming from the use of opiates, one has to wonder why the vote wouldn’t happen once proposed.

But what would people do for intense pain if things like percocet are banned in New Jersey? The bottom line is that New Jersey can no longer stall with making medicinal marijuana an accessible treatment. A non-habit forming approach to treating temporary pain is what the Garden State needs. The only hold up seems to be the Governor’s refusal to speak about the taboo topic. Until he decides to entertain such a conversation or he eventually no longer holds office, New Jersey residents will continue to be subject to addiction following injuries and procedures. Everyone holds the right to not risk addiction as a side effect of every accident, injury, or procedure they endure. Opiates do not need to be claiming our children’s lives, but we are acting as if they are the only options when it comes to treating temporary pain.

As citizens, we also need to take some initiative and dispose of our unused poisons in a proper way. Flushing them down the toilet is not safe for our water systems, and leaving them in our medicine cabinets is another way in which our children get hooked. I’ve destroyed my unused medications based upon the guidelines by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, so they’re long gone and disgusting (read the hyper-link, I have a big dog who needs to go potty a lot).

It’s time to get serious about the root causes of so many young people’s addictions. For a society that classifies addiction as a disease, why are we essentially prescribing a disease? It is time to say that the temporary relief that non-addicts receive from opiate drugs is just not worth such damage to society anymore.

-Brian K. Everett

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Downtown Danger

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When it comes to Camden City, it is widely assumed, and known, that the Downtown Business and University District is the safest area of the city. After all, Rutgers University is right on Cooper Street with its own police force, L3 Communications has a security team, the Delaware River Port Authority has some jurisdiction in the area, and of course, the Camden County Police Force patrols within Downtown’s vicinity. The Adventure Aquarium and the Susquehanna Bank Center are also a part of Downtown Camden, and they both draw thousands of visitors throughout the year which in turn creates a need for high police presence. All of these locations are reachable by taking the PATCO or RiverLine.

However, the biggest danger that currently faces this section of Camden can not be tamed by any police force, no matter what jurisdiction of the law it may hail from. Downtown Camden, from a ground perspective at least, is facing the potential threat of a large building’s collapse.
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The Radio Lofts building says that “Condominiums (are) Coming Soon”, however these banners have been displayed for roughly a decade with no sign of condominiums coming anytime soon.  The Radio Lofts property is owned by Dranoff Properties, a redevelopment firm that owns and has constructed several high rise apartment and condominium structures in Philadelphia, as well as the Victor building in Camden.  On their website the firm displays virtual images of a proposed refurbishing project of The Radio Lofts in an effort to bring luxury housing to the Camden Waterfront.
The images of what could have become of the building are magnificent, even breathtaking.  However, I believe they are simply images of an abandoned dream now. Given the current physical state of the building, I do not see how Dranoff Properties can even touch the building without it falling in on itself.
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More importantly, though, is the safety risk that this seemingly forgotten project poses to pedestrians, motorists, and RiverLine passengers. There are several obvious locations on the Cooper Street facing side of the building where bricks and decorative cinder stones have detached and fallen to the ground.
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 At least two corners of the building display large separations of bricks of which appear to be growing.
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At some point in time, wooden support beams were installed in the window units, but now they are completely weather-beaten, and they are either falling in or out of the building.
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What appears to be most alarming about the visible dilapidation of The Radio Lofts can be seen from the cracks between a large gate blocking the entrance from the sidewalk. It appears that the ceilings are beginning to cave in, most likely from years of rain, snow, and wind. Most abandoned buildings in Camden have ended their existence following the destruction of the ceilings and roofs. That is when physics will take full effect and the buildings collapse.
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The City of Camden and Dranoff Properties need to act immediately. A building collapse of this size can cause dozens of deaths and serious injuries to motorists, pedestrians, and the RiverLine riders who wait at the foot of the building for the train to come. This is a threat to public safety without much time left to act, and monetary responsibility can no longer be an impediment to action.

National Power Over Dinner

According to an nj.com article published on July 11th, George Norcross III will be hosting a dinner fundraiser for his brother, Donald Norcross, on August 4th at Caffe Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill to raise money for his Congressional Campaign in New Jersey’s First District. Nj.com did not publish the article simply to advertise for the event, but rather it was published because US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be in attendance. Also, in order to attend, you’ll need to scrounge up $2,600 for dinner.

Given the price of dinner, I wonder why such a fundraising initiative is being attempted, especially while considering the Norcross camp does not seem to need the money. According to ballot results from the June 3rd primary and the finance contribution totals provided by ballotpedia.org, one can safely assume that Donald has the election won as it stands now.

Donald received 72.1% of the Democratic vote and his campaign reportedly spent $25,254.11 as of April, with a remaining $353,285.70 left to spend. With a solid $378,000 reported in one period, and roughly $25,000 spent before the primary, I think it’s safe to say that Donald’s campaign has more than enough money to finish out the race.

After all, New Jersey’s First Congressional District is overwhelmingly democratic. Ballotpedia also reports over 25,000 people voting in the Democratic primary, and just over 8,700 for the Republican primary. What may be concerning though to the Norcross brothers, is that their campaign has spent over $25,000 for 18,305 votes, but Garry Cobb, the Republican primary winner, reportedly has not spent a single cent nor raised any money at all for 6,602 votes, roughly 27% of all cast votes.

So, based upon the math, why is a $2,600 fundraiser even happening? My guess is so it filters back into the Camden County Democratic Committee‘s agenda for future elections around the state, and now even around the country. This particular plate is more expensive than some presidential fundraisers from 2012. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama attended several dinners for just $1,000-$2,500 a plate. They both also attended dinners upwards of $30,000 dollars, but that was also a very tight race for the White House, unlike this rather uncompetitive congressional race.

The dinner at Lamberti’s is “invite only”, so most likely only those who can afford it have already been asked to join. However, it still remains a mathematical question as to why such an expensive plate is being offered for this particular campaign. My last guess on the topic would be that the dinner has solely been planned to make cross-country allies with Harry Reid. After all, as the nj.com article states, the former chief of staff of Reid’s campaign had ties with George Norcross and a super PAC that maintained democrats in their legislative seats. Maybe the next time nj.com, or anyone for that matter, writes a story about George Norcross and his fundraising and powerful political strategies, the story won’t just be confined to New Jersey. The Norcross influence has now begun to extend throughout the nation.

Brian K. Everett: Now Introducing Rutgers University-CAMDEN

 

rucpicYesterday, the Courier Post published an article written by Camden’s mayor, Dana Redd. In the article, it is obvious that her intent is to promote the city’s willingness to accept businesses into the city which may find it worth their while to take advantage of New Jersey’s Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) and relocate to Camden City. This makes sense, due to Camden’s perpetual budgetary shortfall. However, it is definitely clear to big businesses, according to the mayor’s regional announcement, that Camden’s doors will swing wide open with a velvet red carpet should a corporation wish to relocate it’s operations to the city. After all, the mayor “applauded” the $82 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Imagine what $82 million could have done for Camden’s Public Schools…

It is a nice change though, hearing a welcoming atmosphere being brought to the city. Previously, and for decades, Camden County’s affordable housing responsibilities were sent to Camden without much input from Camden residents at all. The wealthy suburban municipalities did not want them in their towns. Also, nobody heard about the placement of the unit locations! It has been a classic case of “out of sight, out of mind” for suburban Camden County. That is why Camden struggles to generate a sufficient tax base in order to balance the operating budget. Camden does not struggle, as the mayor stated, just because of “disinvestment”. It struggles because the County has placed 76.8% of it’s poorest families into one Camden City.

Mayor Redd also failed to mention an important anchor institution while she mentioned a list of, “committed partners […] and anchor institutions”. She forgot to mention Rutgers-Camden and the 7,000 students and faculty that go along with the campus. Now, as a student, this omission is not just insulting because of the literal fact that Rutgers-Camden has been, and continues to be an anchor institution, located within a rock’s throw from City Hall. It’s more so insulting because it appears that the mayor does not realize the extraordinary amount of work that the university does for her city.

This argument can begin and end with Rutgers-Camden’s Office of Civic Engagement, even though several other offices and groups are determined to make a difference. The self-describing office provides many services and programs that engage students and faculty with Camden residents through after school programs, soup kitchens, day care centers, health care providers, teen-mentoring efforts, non-profit organizations, as well as religious and environmental entities, all determined to make a collective beneficial difference in Camden. In some cases, the work by the Civic Scholars has preceded the authoritative efforts by Camden’s mayor.

For example, Mayor Redd said that her administration will be working with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development in order to, “provide customized job-training courses in work ethics, job coaching and personal finance management”. Although more volume is needed, this effort has already been in effect for more than year now, with the charge being led by Amy Mallon and Katherine Nguyen. Their program, NOW HIRING!, is a collaborative effort between Rutgers-Camden’s Human Resource department and the Civic Scholars. NOW HIRING! prepares Camden residents for the interview process, edits résumés, and has earned several residents a much needed job.

Katherine is also regular volunteer at Project H.O.P.E, INC, where she supports an effort to better men and women’s health for those who are at risk or experiencing homelessness in the city.

Madison Rogers also participates in helping Camden residents prepare for the workforce. She has created and mastered a curriculum for her ESL program which is offered to the parents of Molina Elementary School. As an extension of the Ignite after-school program, Madison and her team have empowered several classes with the English language skills required to communicate in the American workplace. The next class begins July 7th in Armitage Hall.

The work of the Civic Scholars and the Office of Civic Engagement does not only serve Camden’s adult population. Russell Tichian has participated at Holy Name School’s after school program for three years now, helping children with their homework and mentoring them along the way. Brian Gregg has also participated in a similar effort, where he regularly mentors teenagers and actively participates in their school life. This type of work is the beginning to a strong and prosperous workforce, and Rutgers-Camden is making it happen.

Marcus Biddle has even been honored by his service site, The Neighborhood Center, with an award. Within the facility he has performed just about every service the multipurpose non-profit offers. He has also begun work with Dr. Stephen Danley to create a newspaper for Camden residents to report their own stories, rather than have outside media sources continue to cast a dark light on all aspects of the city.

Take Angelica Shaw as another example. She has directed and planned several programs all throughout the year for TeenSHARP. It is so important to know that every single one of the 40 active Civic Scholars perform these works as community service while also balancing their classes, and at least one paying job. Faculty of Rutgers-Camden are also regularly engaged with community service efforts while balancing their research and teaching responsibilities. Chris Countryman, the program director of the Civic Scholars, regularly volunteers with TeenSHARP and visits every one of the 20 Community Partners of Rutgers-Camden.

I guess the mayor became too distracted by the mega dollar signs that have been making headlines in the city lately. It seems odd, and actually worrisome, that Mayor Redd omitted Rutgers-Camden from her article, especially when considering her own roles with Rutgers-Camden. She graduated from Rutgers-Camden, and she sits on the Board of Directors as well as the joint Rutgers-Camden/Rowan University Board of Governors which individually holds eminent domain powers in Camden City. In fact, it was the Civic Scholars who were asked to help set up the Camden Night Garden festival, which the Mayor attended and helped to organize as a effort to “witness the rebirth”. Maybe it was just a slip of the mind, it happens, but considering everything that Rutgers-Camden offers to the city, we should try to not let such efforts be overlooked again. Plus, I haven’t even touched the research power the campus holds…

 

Cherry Hill Remains Intolerant to New Jersey’s Poor

I find it fascinating that I have lived in Cherry Hill for my entire life, 21 years now, and it took a college education to show me the critical social injustice that my own town is and continues to be responsible for in New Jersey.

I calculated the injustice previously in my research, showing that Cherry Hill Township has 180 units of affordable housing available for poor families within the entire township, less than 1% of Camden County’s entire affordable housing total for low income families. This truth exists while Camden City has 76.8% of Camden County’s affordable family units. This information was obtained by calculating the data provided by the New Jersey Guide to Affordable Housing for Camden County, but those are simply the numbers.

An article published by philly.com  on June 16th demonstrates the true emotional and ignorant intolerance that some Cherry Hill residents have towards allowing low income residents the opportunity to live in a place of prosperity. The article, written by Suzette Parmley, displays a somber looking elderly white man moping about the Woodcrest Country Club as if his own opportunity to a successful life is about to be taken from him by having the golf course turned into an apartment complex that would include 169 units of low income housing. The contrary is the reality in this situation. Mr. Cohen, who is 69 years old, and the hundreds of families who have spent tens of thousands of dollars to block any sort of COAH mandated housing development in Cherry Hill are responsible for keeping low income families confined to only live in a select few municipalities in Camden County simply due to the location of these family units. Therefore, because of the locations of businesses and job opportunities, blocking these affordable family units in Cherry Hill is a direct sentence to remain of low income status.

The reoccurring suburban battle cry has been sounded; “Not in my backyard!”. Well, for my fellow Cherry Hill residents, at least you have a backyard. We have created a living culture in Camden County that continuously prevents low income children from learning in diverse and safe environments, therefore continuously yielding low tests scores and high school dropouts. The research by Dr. Doug Massey, found in his book “Climbing Mt. Laurel”, shows that low income children are much more likely to rise above the poverty line while they are able to grow up in thriving communities, rather than a poverty stricken city. Children and families of low income who might have the chance to live in these new units in Cherry Hill would have much better access to public transportation and to a more successful job market that already exists in the township.

It seems like my Cherry Hill neighbors are much more comfortable to allow all New Jersey tax payers to continuously pay more in state property and income taxes due to the rising amount of people who are forced to rely on public assistance programs such as food stamps, emergency room healthcare, and housing, rather than lose their backyard’s view of an empty golf course which in turn would give hundreds of families and children the opportunity to one day rise above the poverty threshold in a safe community.

I will agree with my Cherry Hill neighbors that such developments should not be built in the blink of an eye. Infrastructure needs to be taken into account so that flooding or sewage issues do not worsen. However, I do invite them to visit Camden during any rainstorm if they’d like to see flooding and raw sewage issues of epic proportions. That is a constant reality that low income families must endure while simultaneously being unable to purchase fresh foods or drink clean water. Cherry Hill residents have the luxury of purchasing fresh foods from either Wegmans, Whole Foods, ShopRite, Acme, Wawa, The Asian Food Market, and several corner placitas that sell fruits and vegetables. Cherry Hill’s water also does not contain chromium. Camden residents predominately rely on sugar and fried food vendors and soup kitchens for their meals simply because those are the only food sources available.

To end this article, I’d like to apologize to the children and families who currently live in places of food scarcity, high crime, and poor infrastructure, because I am not the stereotypical Cherry Hill resident. I do not have tens of thousands of dollars to fight on your behalf to have these developments built. I wish that wasn’t even necessary, and in turn, I wish I could purchase tens of thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables and meats. I want my town to be more accepting to those who simply need better access to the basic building blocks of life, like a grocery store, street lights, mass transit stops, and clean water. I want my town to no longer be so uninviting to low income families simply because their potential new homes of opportunity might scorn the view that their kitchen windows currently display. To me, that is just pompous, and it is exactly what Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant, mentioned in his commencement speech at Rutgers-Camden. “The city [of Camden] burned down because another generation couldn’t figure out how to get along”, he said in his closing remarks. And I say on behalf of my generation, that people of all economic backgrounds are welcome to have a chance to live in Cherry Hill.

Organized Voices

I have documented a decent amount of research and statistical findings over the past semester. Much of it was based upon the concentrations of affordable housing units which yields impoverished cities and decreases opportunities to rise above the poverty threshold.

I have not contributed much opinion at all, so I will do so right now:

During the past semester at Rutgers-Camden I held an internship with the Fifth Legislative District of New Jersey. My work was varied amongst office “busy-work” and miscellaneous assignments from any of the three legislators; Senator Donald Norcross, Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson, and Assemblyman Angel Fuentes.

Amongst everything that I was able to learn about the legislative process, I think I learned that the most important aspect of New Jersey politics is that some people as individuals and some people as groups are very good at getting their voices heard. Other individuals and groups who may share an equally burning inner protest about a social issue are not very good at all at getting their opinions heard by the appropriate powers that be.

For example, the pro gun rights lobbyist groups are fenomenal at organizing themselves into a network that directs individuals to call every legislative office in the state. I personally must have taken 200+ calls from individuals who opposed Assembly Bill A2006, which reduces the maximum capacity of firearms in New Jersey from 15 rounds to 10 rounds. My coworkers at the Fifth District must have taken even more calls than I did plus the hundreds of automated faxes that all opposed this one bill.

Another very good example of organized voices came just after Senator Nicholas Scutari revealed his Senate bill, S1896, which aims to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana. It was clear that there was not such an organized effort by any specific marijuana lobby, however we still received quite a number of phone calls, emails, letters, and faxes in support of Senator Scutari’s bill.

Unfortunately, amongst all good examples, there are bad examples. There was a lot of commotion coming from Camden City during my time as an intern specifically about what is happening to the city’s public schools. The newspapers and newscasts showed hundreds of families and students upset and protesting the Superintendent’s decision to layoff over 200 schools teachers and employees. The same media sources showed equal discontent when the state announced the plans for less public schools and more charter schools. The missing link here, in Camden’s case, was that the legislative offices were not receiving any amount of letters, phone calls, or anything. The Fifth District would receive calls from the teacher’s union and other entities within the educational realm, but pretty much nothing directly from the citizens. If it was not for media outlets documenting the student protests, the legislators that represent them in Trenton never would have known the event took place.

Voices of opposition from Camden City will be heard if they are spoken. I remember the swift organization that took place amongst Rutgers-Camden students and faculty in order to protest and then ultimately defeat the proposed merger between Rowan University and RUC. There were thousands of letters written to legislators of both the State and Federal levels, an online petition was created that received more than 10,000 signatures, and most importantly, the entire State and Delaware Valley were paying attention to what was happening.

Camden City residents can still make a very big statement, and they can stand up for their united beliefs by making sure that they direct their voices to where they are supposed to go. If public school students are tired of having their teachers fired, if parents are tired of their children being forced into alternative schooling types, if Camden residents are fed up with anything about their City, they should start writing some letters and making some phone calls. There are more than 14,000 letters that can be mailed from public school students and parents, and it would be nice to see half of that happen.

Until the calls are made and the letters are written, the Mayor’s office, the Senator, and Assemblymen will not have any documentation that shows how the public feels about these life changing issues. Because of this disconnect, the elected officials will support and oppose legislation without the input of Camden’s residents.