It seemed like a good idea, maybe even worth highlighting on a public television station's nightly news.

But when a reporter and camera crew showed up at Trenton City Hall to feature the city's innovative "workfare" program, the workers, five welfare recipients who were supposed to be serving as security guards, were nowhere to be found.

About two dozen of Trenton's more than 1,200 general assistance recipients had been lined up by the city's new workfare coordinator to patrol City Hall four days a month in exchange for their $119 monthly checks.

Two were supposed to man desks at the front and rear entrances, while three roamed the building, looking for potential thieves, muggers and other undesirables.

On Wednesday, however, the third day on the job, one called in sick with a doctor's excuse for a bad back and three didn't show up, according to Joseph Nitzberg, Trenton's supervisor of administrative services.

The fifth, 21-year-old Andrea Wright, came to work, but after the camera crew had left. Wright said she had spent the morning reporting an attempted break-in at her apartment.

Nitzberg stressed that absenteeism would not be tolerated in the new program, which got under way with much fanfare and the blessing of Mayor Arthur J. Holland last week. Nitzberg said the absences will be investigated, and those workers who don't have valid excuses will be terminated from the city's welfare rolls.

The program, sponsored in part by the New Jersey general employment assistance program, was proposed by the Holland administration earlier this year to ease the city's unemployment and to make city workers feel safer.