Monday, October 20, 2014

Oh Deer!

Lacking any other topics, I am posting a reminder from the DEP by way of Union County to start watching out for deer on roadways, as the rutting (mating) season has begun. The most dangerous times for a car vs. deer encounter are the morning and evening commuting hours.

Even though Plainfield is called an "urban center," it is home to plenty of wildlife, including herds of deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, opossums, skunks, groundhogs and rabbits. We have had incursions of deer even at Park & Seventh and they don't look both ways when crossing the road.

Please read the advisory and note the time change on Nov. 2.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is It Deja Vu All Over Again?

It was nearly six years ago that I wrote a
and drew
In lieu of a new post today,
these links give a look back at the past.

Is the Queen City the place where time stands still?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Library Board Seeks Budget Help

City officials assured Plainfield Public Library board members Thursday of the administration's budget support in 2015, though not offering a way to offset 2014 costs that led to curtailed hours as of this week.

The library board of trustees held a special meeting in City Hall Library with City Administrator Rick Smiley and Finance Director Ron West. Board President Anne Robinson said a $220,000 charge for health benefits plus unforeseen emergency expenses forced the reduction of hours and could cause staff layoffs.

"The library has hit a significant wall," Robinson said.

West said Mayor Adrian O. Mapp intends to reverse in 2015 a five-year policy of charging back health benefit costs to the Plainfield Public Library.

"Our plan is to fully fund the library," West said.

As for the remaining months of this budget year, West made no promises. Budget transfers may be made in November, but West told the board, "The transfer piece is tight."

Smiley called a transfer of funds to the library "highly unlikely."

"Let me make a small plea," Robinson said, noting grants and other funds were not enough to offset the "extraordinary expenses" this year caused by a "contaminated environment" at the library. West suggested that library officials contact the Health Division for help.

Library Director Joe Da Rold said the library has to close and address such problems immediately as they occur. He said the library used to be able to keep a "sinking fund" for emergencies, but that is no longer allowed in the budget.

Robinson said the library has raised fines for overdue books and fees charged for meeting rooms. The next cost-cutting step would be layoffs.

The coming year will start off with a temporary budget, West said, and then the City Council will be reviewing the administration's proposed figures. In 2014, the governing body did not review all divisions, but the administration will soon be holding departmental meetings on 2015 budget requests. West advised the board to state its needs, but said he already knows there will be a tax increase due to the number of abandoned buildings in the city.

The governing body has the power to amend the introduced budget before final passage.

In public comment, resident Alan Goldstein suggested that because the library  building is city-owned, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority should provide trash removal a no cost as with other public buildings. Robtinson said she would pursue his suggestion "with gusto."

Goldstein also inquired about having the library open on Sundays. Robinson agreed on the need for seven-day access, especially to library computers for job searches and communication with distant family members. She said library officials are researching ways to open a portion of the library to permit computer access without having to staff both floors of the building. The library's computers have become more needed, she said, as job postings now are mostly online.

In other business at the special meeting, the board elected Donna Sandorse to serve as secretary and Pat Fleming for secretary for 2014-2015. The board's next regular meeting is 11 a.m. on Nov. 20.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Commentary on Taxi Rules

Random image: Black-eyed Susan Vine

The crackdown on out-of town taxis drew praise last month from a city group of owners and drivers, but on Tuesday a North Plainfield group protested the move as unfair.

To Plainfielders with cars, the topic may be of little interest, but as one who decided in 2008 not to get a new car, I feel some solidarity with the many people who rely on taxis to get to stores, medical offices or other locations not served by buses or trains.

The issue now is an increase in fines to as much as $2,000 per incident for taxis not licensed in Plainfield to pick up fares. I live near Twin City supermarket and it was not uncommon to see a North Plainfield taxi pull up to take someone home with a load of groceries. The owner of those big yellow vans told the council Tuesday he couldn't get a license in Plainfield if he wanted to, because Plainfield has more than the number of taxis allowable under a state law permitting just one per 1,000 residents.

Since 2008, I have been able to do most of my traveling on public transportation, but the taxi debate hit home for me regarding medical and dental appointments. There was a time when I could walk down Park Avenue to go to the doctor or dentist, but gradually they all moved out. They are still on Park Avenue, just in South Plainfield, North Edison or Edison. It can cost me $8, $10 or $15 one-way to reach a practitioner. My endocrinologist, formerly at Muhlenberg, is now at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, a trip that is in a whole other category of expense.

So say I go to the dentist in North Edison and need to get home after some expensive crown work. I call the same Plainfield taxi company that dropped me off and they come and get me. I would not know how to get a local taxi or even if there is such a company in North Edison. The same goes for South Plainfield.

I do think there is a different situation when it comes to Plainfield and North Plainfield. I'm guessing there are many more people in both the city and the borough without cars than in surrounding towns. There is a lot of back-and-forth to Twin City, the train station and the Plainfield Health Center, among other draws.

Of course, there is a rationale for the taxi rules.

Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill explained Tuesday that the state delegates police powers to municipalities, which have the responsibility to regulate the taxi cab industry. She said the city-issued licenses are actually franchises and the city does not allow unlicensed taxis to pick up fares here.

"You can be dropped off, but not picked up," she said. "I encourage compliance with this."

While that is the law, I believe most people think in terms of a round trip. If Soria Taxi brought them to Twin City, they are likely to call Soria to take them home (unless they take the store's van) But now they may be ordered out of the taxi by a Plainfield police officer, so they better have the phone number of a city taxi company and a couple extra dollars for the fare across the Plainfield border.

This is a legal situation, but also a human situation. It warrants further discussion.

And by the way, if we are going to go by the letter of the law, it might be interesting to look into how well our city taxi operators obey Plainfield's rules for fares and extra passengers. In 2008 I wrote about my experience with fares.  There is also this rule:  Unless the person first employing the taxicab shall consent, no additional passengers shall be picked up or permitted to ride in a taxicab on the same trip. I have never been asked whether I minded having a few other people jammed in or trundled around to other locations on the way (or out of the way) to my destination.

It could be educational for an elected official or even a candidate to experience a taxi trip occasionally and see how the other (carless) half lives, especially now that developers insist that people in transit villages don't need parking spaces, because many won't have cars.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Special Library Meeting Thursday

Library funding will be discussed at a special meeting of the Plainfield Public Library board of trustees Thursday (Oct. 16).

The meeting is 11 a.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. and is open to the public. The board expects to be meeting with City Administrator Rick Smiley and Finance Director Ron West, library director Joe Da Rold said.

At the Oct. 6 City Council meeting, several residents expressed concern about shorter hours imposed at the library starting Oct. 14 "due to budget cuts."

Asked about library budget cuts, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said by email Monday that Da Rold raised concerns in late August about the amount charged back to the Library by the City for library employees’ health benefits contribution.

"Although this method of charge back goes back to 2009, it was the first time any concerns were expressed to me. It is my view that those concerns should have been expressed during the budget process, not after the horse had been out of the barn with the doors closed. The situation could not be remedied at that point. Nevertheless, the news of reduced hours comes as a surprise to me." Mapp said..

He added, "Although I have an appreciation for the concerns expressed by the Library, I should point out that the budget cuts that were made by the governing body have created a shortage of almost $400,000 that must be found in order to avoid an over expenditure in violation of the budget statute. This gap is one of the effects of budget cuts that should not have been made.

"However, there are certain expenses that are the responsibility of the Library and must be borne by the Library. With that said, my Administration remains firmly committed to supporting our Library at the appropriate level of funding."

The administration presented the 2014 budget to the governing body in March. The council held deliberations in April and amended and passed the budget in May.

Da Rold said the library has made staff cuts three times and may have to close one evening without a budget increase.


(Disclaimer: My son has a part-time job at the library.)

NP Taxi Owner Wants Ban Reconsidered

The owner of a North Plainfield taxi company asked the City Council Tuesday to rethink a crack-down on out-of-town taxis here.

Plainfield has stringent rules for taxi owners and drivers, along with various fees to be paid. Members of a city taxi group complained that unlicensed drivers were poaching on their territory and in 2009 the council approved fines for outside taxis found to be operating in Plainfield. In August, fines for taxis without city licenses were increased, from $300 to $500 for a first offense, from $500 to $1,000 for a second offense and from $800 to $2,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

On Tuesday, the owner of Soria Taxi and his supporters said Plainfield police were forcing people to get out of  the taxis. Fabian Soria said he started out in Plainfield but now can't get a license, a situation City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh corroborated, as the city is only permitted a certain number of licenses and they are all in use. In fact, he said, the city has exceeded the number.

Although Soria and his supporters felt their rights were being violated, Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill explained that the state delegates police powers to municipalities, which have the responsibility to regulate the taxi cab industry. She said the city-issued licenses are actually franchises and the city does not allow unlicensed taxis to pick up fares here.

"You can be dropped off, but not picked up," she said. "I encourage compliance with this."

An advocate for Soria said the company offers 24-hour service but some Plainfield cab companies close at midnight and open at 6 a.m. In addition, a passenger must pay $5 to take a Plainfield taxi to North Plainfield, but Soria only charges $4. He asked for the ordinance to be reconsidered.

Resident Tamar Pritchard said 20 years ago, Plainfield had very few taxis. With apparently a greater demand now, she suggested there might be "reciprocal agreements" with North Plainfield.

The increase in taxis paralleled an influx of Latinos in Plainfield and environs. Plaintalker wrote about the taxi expansion in 2008. Many are Latino-owned and serve a population that does not own cars. All regulations and fees are on the city web site in the Municipal Code.


Seniors Support Center, Director Against Critics

Image from a slide show on senior activities 
An outpouring of support for the Senior Center at Tuesday's council meeting was marred by an outburst from a member who alleged unresolved issues of sexual harassment.

Both the effusive praise and the pleas of the self-described victim were caught on tape in yet another chapter of controversy dating back three years or more over what goes on at the center. On the positive side, center official George Gore gave an overview of activities and events that he said made the Plainfield program "second to none" in the state. Member Suzy Koonce praised the "warmth and acceptance" she found there after relocating from Portland, Ore.

"I was accepted," she said. "I was made prom queen and was president for four years."
George Gore at the microphone
Member Mazie Wormley said she always found center director Sharron Brown to be "extremely fair" and volunteer Roz Bradshaw said, "I found a place where it's heaven."

But then a woman who previously complained of being sexually harassed launched into an emotional speech alleging a cover-up of her complaints. As she became more and more agitated, a police officer escorted her from the courtroom.
Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill then explained an outside law firm had been hired to perform "a thorough investigation" of the complaints. After interviewing witnesses and examining "voluminous" documents, including a 32-page single-spaced email, Sias-Hill said, the firm found the complaint was unsubstantiated.

Resident Sandra Taylor Williams, a critic of the center for more than three years, had brought the woman forward a couple of months ago and on Tuesday called out, "Tell it, tell it," as the woman spoke.
Sandra Taylor Williams
The testimony in favor of Brown and the center echoed a 2011 council meeting where seniors came out in force to counter Taylor Williams' constant criticisms. In 2011, she vowed on camera to go to Trenton or Washington if she could not get satisfaction locally and called the center a "Nazi boot camp." Each council meeting contains a portion for public comment and Taylor Williams has unrelentingly complained at nearly every one.