Trenton, N.J., Begins Running Out of Toilet Paper in Spat

Police headquarters in Trenton, New Jersey, the capital of the third-wealthiest U.S. state, has exhausted toilet-paper supplies as a spat that began over spending on paper cups entered a fifth month.

City Council members are set to vote today on a $42,000 order for paper goods, with public buildings down to just 11 rolls. The head of the city’s police union said the restrooms used by headquarters workers have no tissue or paper towels. Councilman George Muschal said he expects approval of the order, provided Mayor Tony Mack answers some questions.

Trenton, midway between New York and Philadelphia, has the money to buy the items and plans to do so as soon as the council approves the purchase, said Lauren Ira, a spokeswoman for Mack. She said supplies are “certainly dwindling and very lean.” The dispute between the mayor and council may affect at least 15 city buildings, including five senior centers, four for recreation, two museums and police, fire and water headquarters.

“This is crazy,” Muschal, a retired Trenton policeman who represents the South Ward, said by telephone. “It’s a blame game right now. Blame the council; blame the administration. But it all started with $4,000 for some paper cups.”

Feud Over Cups

The feud began in November when Mack included $4,000 for the cups in the purchase order. Muschal said he and others grew concerned that the price for the containers was inflated, possibly because employees may have been taking goods home.

“There’s probably a good 60 people or so who work in this building who, unless they bring their own private stock, are out of luck,” said George Dzurkoc, president of the police union, said by telephone from headquarters. “It’s a basic necessity the employer should provide.”

Beat officers are instead taking advantage of restrooms in local businesses, including a downtown hotel. The police station has been without paper towels for at least three weeks, while tissue ran out yesterday, Dzurkoc said.

The spat has drawn global interest as news organizations including the British Broadcasting Corp.’s BBC covered the looming end of Trenton’s tissue supply. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered the city a free six-month supply of toilet tissue provided it accept rolls with a message imploring people to give up consuming animal products.

Free Rolls

“Whether or not the city reaches an agreement on this, we are ready with this offer,” Alicia Woempner, a project director at the group also known as PETA, said in an interview.

“We’re always on the lookout for ways we can help cities in need and raise awareness,” she said, citing it as a method of highlighting unsanitary conditions on some farms and in slaughterhouses.

“Provided the resolution is approved tonight, then the supply will be delivered tomorrow,” Ira said by e-mail. “If the resolution is not approved, and all remains the same, then supplies may be depleted by this weekend.”

If need be, Muschal said he’s willing to buy a temporary stock out of his own pocket to tide over workers.

The dispute echoed a 2010 threat by Newark Mayor Cory Booker to stop buying “everything from printer paper to toilet paper” in the state’s biggest city by population. Booker never took those steps, while Marcal Manufacturing LLC offered to park a trailer near City Hall to give free toilet paper to employees.

Mack took office in July 2010 and the city has gone through at least six business administrators and has been sued twice by whistle-blowers, including a parks department employee who said he was fired for questioning Mack’s bidding and hiring practices.

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