Camden Mayor Dana Redd cut a portrait of discomfort in a long-sleeved suit, scarf, and scowl. Only a crisis could spur an outdoor news conference in 93-degree heat, and this calamity seemed largely of Redd's making.
The poorest city in a filthy rich state has lost its Trenton lifeline. Arsonists want to reduce Camden to ashes. Crime is up after mass police and fire layoffs. (Nearly half of the 163 sidelined protectors were rehired, but most are being paid with temporary funds.)
After Gov. Christie slashed $69 million in transitional aid, Camden began searching for coins in the City Hall couch cushions. So the news that Redd found $100,000 should have been greeted with glee.
Instead, folks gasped at how the mayor planned to spend her mad money. Rather than put boots back on the streets, Redd announced that she'd - hired another bureaucrat!
He's Lanuel Ferguson, a retired state police major collecting an $89,763 pension. Of late, he ran security at a Somerset County church.
In the surprise announcement Monday, Redd said Ferguson would earn $100,000 a year as Camden's new civilian police director.
"We have the money," she assured skeptical reporters. Even better, thanks to that hefty pension, "he did not come in at the high end of the salary range."
I suppose that is good news, given that Ferguson could have commanded $150,000 for a superfluous job that bars him from playing any role in actual crime-fighting.
"Police directors are not sworn law enforcement officers. They are civilians. They may not have access to files, criminal histories, or internal affairs investigations."
That's Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk lamenting outloud, a rarity for the measured and mannered lawyer.
Faulk, who once represented me and The Inquirer, was even more blunt with Redd, saying, "In three years, I've seen two police directors come and go. They really haven't contributed much."
Meanwhile, Camden's Police Chief J. Scott Thomson is winning national awards for innovational leadership in trying times.
It's Thomson, Faulk and others reminded me, who persuaded stubborn, turf-conscious leaders of the state police, FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, and U.S. Attorney's Office to work together, under one roof on the waterfront, sharing data and strategy.
"We have a briefing every morning to discuss investigations targeting the top 10 bad guys," Faulk noted. "A police director could not attend those meetings."
City Council members are also miffed about Redd's untimely team-building. The head of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police called it "an odd thing to do."
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman even issued a statement implying displeasure by omission: "We have a first-class working relationship with the Camden Police Department under the leadership of Chief Thomson, and we hope and expect that will continue."
As guests shifted in their seats in the heat, Redd claimed/feigned support for Thomson, but said Ferguson would speak for her in the coming regionalization debate driven by Camden's chronic management and money woes.
Redd said the men would work in "partnership," which just added to the strangeness of the scene. Because, that very morning, the mayor had dispatched city workers to police headquarters to roust Thomson from his office and relocate him to smaller quarters. They needed to make way for a top cop who's not.