Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wards 2&3 Continued

William Michelson, Rebecca Williams
Republican William Michelson and incumbent Democrat Rebecca Williams, candidates for the Second & Third Ward at-large City Council seat, took part in the League of Women Voters forum Tuesday. Plaintalker posted some of their responses to audience questions yesterday and here are more:

- On how they will work with other council members to resolve issues, Michelson said "pretty much the same" as he has done in his 30-year law practice. He said he thinks he can be "more dignified and professional" than the current council and will rely on "give and take" methods.

Williams said if a measure was "truly in the interest of the city," she would support it and do her best to convince her colleagues to support it.

- Regarding how to deal with communications in case of another disaster (such as Superstorm Sandy), Williams recounted how she went during that emergency to a Dunkin Donuts to use wi-fi and her smartphone for constituent service, calling in downed wires and such. She said an emergency communications systems advocated by some council members was never put in place until the administration changed and put in a Nixle system.

Michelson said he was not going to pretend there would have been a solution to that emergency, when the phones went out. He said PMUA and city Public`Works staff  performed beyond their ability in the storm, which he said had no precedent.

- On how to make the PMUA more accountable, Michelson said he was not opposed to the PMUA in its early days but later on objected to such things as the "golden parachute" for executives. He said he wants to get rid of the PMUA's law firm of 20 years, for what he believes is "legal malpractice." He mentioned the council's failure to appoint commissioners and said the PMUA used to be pretty good and there's no reason it can't be again.

Williams called PMUA costs "incredibly expensive" and saw waste in contracts. She said the authority could probably get rid of an "entire layer of middle managers" to help get rates down to comparable operations. 

- To reduce taxes, Williams suggested the city needs a wider variety of businesses, including light manufacturing in the light industrial corridor and in the West End. Michelson said high taxes are "systemic" throughout New Jersey.

"The problem is what we are getting for it," he said.

Michelson said there are too many people in certain departments and he feels the city should leave the civil service system. Also, the city needs "not just development, but redevelopment" and must improve its image.

- In response to a question on blog comments "denigrating" the East Second Street neighborhood, Michelson said the Neighborhood Commercial district was "not viable."

He said when compared to a map where crime occurs, "the correlation is frightening."

Williamson said she has spoken to a number of residents in the district and looked at sidewalks and lighting. Though named as an area in need of development, it will "take more than the city has."

- On revitalization of the Netherwood area, Williams noted a proposal for residential development and said she understands many of the homeowners in the Transit-Oriented Development area are in favor of selling their property to a developer. Michelson said no one wants apartments by the train station as they would be too noisy. Criticizing what he called a "willy-nilly" approach to development, he said one building is being demolished and will not have any parking. 

- Regarding road repair, Michelson said it is really a budgetary issue, but the problem is that when people complain about a particular street, "nothing happens." He said he thinks he could "pester" Public Works into making repairs. Williams said road repairs depend on weather and the budget, but she said some "significant roads" have been repaired. An original assessment of road conditions might be subject to "changing conditions" and the city has to depend on its engineers, she said.

- On what precludes giving contracts to local businesses, Williams said she didn't think anything precluded it if they comply with state regulations. Michelson said nothing precludes use of local contractors but cited "cronyism" as an issue.

In closing statements, Williams, who is seeking re-election to a second term, said she didn't go into politics to be a politician but hoped to make a change. She named constituent service as a strength, saying, "People reach out to me and I reach back." In addition, she said she has been a fiscal watchdog and fostered a pay-to-play ordinance. As someone with an independent job, she said, she will not be beholden to anyone. Williams urged voters to support three public questions that are on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Michelson said he agreed with Williams about supporting the three public questions. He said he "probably comes across as a technocrat."

"Maybe I lose people sometimes," he said, but added "I think I have a lot to offer."

"Vociferousness is a bit dangerous and may not be constructive," he said.

Michelson said he loses his temper "about every two years" and thinks he can add a dignity and professionalism to the council.

"I deserve a try," he said, reminding people they can split their ticket in the Nov. 4 election.

Two other council seats are on the ballot. Democrat Diane Toliver is unopposed in the First Ward. Democratic appointee Gloria Taylor is running for the unexpired Third Ward term and is opposed by Republican Randy Bullock.

Any registered voter may take part in the general election. The only restriction for council elections is that you must live in the ward(s) up for council seats. Polls are open on Nov. 4 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sample ballots should have been received and voters should familiarize themselves with the choices, including the three public questions and candidates for school board at the bottom. Polling places and voting instructions are included. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Spammer in the Works

Someone sent this blog eleven dopey, repetitive comments after the forum last night. They were all written between 10:28 p.m. and 12:03 a.m. by a person with little grasp of punctuation or sentence structure. Maybe it was more than one person, but the tropes and typos made me think otherwise. This morning there were a few more. So until the election is over, you can send whatever you want, but only cogent, signed comments will be considered for publication.

--Bernice

Candidates Speak at LWV Forum

When Dorien Hurtt won a seat on the school board in April 2011, he expected to see a lot of people at the first board meeting after the election.

Barely a dozen turned up, he said, pointing up one of the issues discussed at the League of Women Voters candidates' forum Tuesday.

"No one comes out," Hurtt said in his opening statement. "You can't expect transparency if there's no eyes."

The issues of transparency and involvement came up again among questions from the audience at Emerson Community School. Candidate Tania Center said those who have questions at board meetings must ask them all at once "and that's it."

"It's not a very inviting forum," she said, and her running mate Michael Horn agreed that questions don't get answered.

The third member of their slate, Norman Ortega, called the meeting venue "dark" and characterized the board as "queens and kings" acting "draconian."

Terrance Bellamy, a candidate who leads the Woodland School PTO, said he found the secret to getting parents out there was to "feed them." He said he has seen large numbers of angry parents turn out for board meetings, but not lately, maybe because "things are running a little better."

David Rutherford, who is running on a slate with Bellamy and Carletta Jeffers, disputed the notion of board sessions being "parent meetings." Jeffers noted the district has a lot of single parents who can't easily attend meetings and suggested using a newsletter to 'ask them what they need."

Hurtt modified his initial comment on involvement by saying he was not just talking about board meetings and mentioned an educational film series that drew interest.

The seven candidates, who are vying for three three-year seats, are on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Plainfield City Council voted in 2012 to move the school board election from April to November.

Among other topics, the candidates responded to a question on what the district has done well and what it has done poorly

Ortega said the district has done well with "port of entry" students, QSAC scores and a new science lab.But he said much more must be done for low-performing students and the district should hire the "best and brightest" teachers.

Jeffers said the best thing was the hiring of Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles, which has created stability, but communication was "not working."

Hurtt said district accomplishments were "mostly facility-related," but felt the main focus should be on education. He cited a higher graduation rate for the high school, though with "low proficiency" that would hinder students in college.

Horn named a number of sports achievements, such as state champions in basketball and a winning soccer team, but said education was most important. He said as soon as students get to eighth grade, many leave the district.

Center found success in the robotics team, the core curriculum and the science lab, but said the district is "not engaged in clear, open, honest communication with the community."

Bellamy said security has improved "drastically" and the superintendent has brought stability, but communication was not done well.

Rutherford said teachers could use a new contract.

"It's been two years now," he said.

The best things, he said, were increases in state Department of Education scores from 8 percent for government and 11 for fiscal operations to 100 percent and 95 percent respectively.

In closing remarks, Horn said the district needs to bring back instruction in the trades. Jeffers said she intends to be "the squeaky wheel and a thorn in the side." Bellamy said he wants to bring "a parental perspective to the board." Rutherford said he wanted to "take a big picture view" of the school board..

"A lot has changed, but there is a long way to go," he said.

Center said, "This is a failing district" and said the board was backing the slate opposing hers.

"We have to close the achievement gap," Ortega said, claiming all schools were performing below average.

Hurtt had the last word. He said he decided to run again, but not on a slate, "to give this board back to you."

The audience burst into applause for Hurtt, drawing a quick admonition on fairness from moderator Dawn Clarke, LWVNJ vice president for voter services.

What she may not have known was that the supposedly nonpartisan school board race this year had become practically a proxy war between political rivals Jerry Green and John Campbell. Green is an Assemblyman and the Democratic Party chairman of Plainfield and also of Union County. He is backing Horn, Ortega and Center. Campbell, whose wife Wilma is the school board president, is backing Rutherford, Jeffers and Bellamy. The rivalry has become intense in recent weeks.
After a short break, the forum resumed with City Council candidates. Although there are three contests, only
the candidates for the Second & Third Wards at-large seat were present. First Ward candidate Diane Toliver is running unopposed. Third Ward Democratic candidate Gloria Taylor did not submit a bio or responses to League questions and was not present, nor was her Republican opponent, Randy Bullock.

Republican William Michelson is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, a Democrat, for a four-year term. Michelson, an attorney, described himself as "a guy that loves Plainfield." He cited his service on the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission as well as his role in rewriting the city's master plan. Williams is a college professor who served on the Cultural & Heritage Commission and was educational director for the Historical Society of Plainfield

Among their answers to questions from the audience:

On municipal checks and balances, Williams said the council provides them to the executive branch. The council reviews the bills list and check register "to make sure the administration stays on the straight and narrow." She said many oversight issues that recurred year after year arenow being addressed by the new administration.

Michelson said he often sees checks and balances used in a negative way, alluding to quid pro quo practices among council members. But he said as an attorney he is used to bringing people together.

"I try to knock their heads together and get things settled," he said.

On youth centers, Michelson agreed with Williams that there are many resources for young people and it might not be necessary to build another one. Williams named the Boys & Girls Club, Shiloh Cultural Center and community schools as existing resources.

(Plaintalker will post more on this part of the forum tomorrow.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nature Note

Bare on one side, this Maple tree on Block 832 still has colorful foliage on the other side.

The deceptively still-green middle is actually a Wisteria vine that has survived several attempts to kill it. The property owner over on Crescent cut the vines back, but as anyone familiar with Wisteria knows, it enjoys a challenge. Cut it back and it will flourish all the more.

In 2010, the vines on another tree in this yard were cut down, but as this Plaintalker post recounts, Wisteria ensures its future by dropping "zillions" - well, at least hundreds - of seed pods. (Click on the image to see the flower clusters.)

The vines that climbed the Maple tree are heavily laden with these pods and at the proper time they will split and shoot out the seeds.

One year when the pods were bursting, I thought there were kids outside with cap guns. That's how much noise they make. The shiny brown seeds are about the size of a dime. Each one is capable of growing into a massive, climbing vine that can drag the gutters right off a house in time. The Wisteria on the fence between our yard and Municipal Lot 7 comes back with a vengeance each year. My neighbor and I used to patrol our side with double-tooth saws and a machete, but as noted above, Wisteria always wins a fight to get rid of it.

In Sierra Madre, California, residents have made the most of having the largest wisteria vine on record by throwing an annual festival for visitors to view the vine, which weighs 250 tons and covers more than one acre. It started out as a 75-cent nursery plant in 1894, but by the 1930s it was so large that it caused collapse of a home it covered. Now thousands come to see the vine and enjoy an Art and Craft Faire and other activities when it is in bloom. Is this like the lemons/lemonade maxim or what?

--Bernice

LWV Forum Tomorrow Night

The League of Women Voters Candidates' Forum is tomorrow night, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 6:30 p.m. at Emerson School. See more LWV Forum information here.

Voters: You Are In Charge

The reason for the June primary is to let voters decide among Democratic or Republican candidates which ones should be on the party line in November. It has been many a long year since there was a primary contest among GOP candidates, but there have been Democratic primary contests often.

The primary winner may not be a party darling, but if it was solely up to the party chairman to anoint a candidate for November, there would be no need for a primary. At this time , the primary system is the law in Plainfield, so whether the chairman embraces the primary winner is not as important as the fact that the people - aka voters - legally have the right to choose who wins. The voters then have their say in the November general election where party primary winners and independents are on the ballot.

Soon voters will receive their sample ballots. The actual choices will be on that ballot. If a voter receives an image of a ballot in the mail, it may be altered for political reasons. The sample ballot from the county clerk is the real list of candidates.

Apparently in Plainfield and Linden Democratic primary winners are being rejected by the party chairman. If you are a Democrat, you can verify the official candidate here or look at your sample ballot when it comes in the mail.

Until such time as voters decide that Plainfield should hold nonpartisan elections, there will be June primaries and the winners as chosen by the voters will be on the November ballot.

Now, in the general election voters can select their choices from anyone on the row for a particular seat. A Democrat could vote for a Libertarian or a Green Party candidate or even write in "Mickey Mouse," as has happened in the past. Voters can skip a row if they don't like any choices, or if there are two or three seats to be filled as in Freeholder candidates every year and Assembly candidates next year, voters can just pick the ones they really like and skip the others.

It must be a strain for a chairman who doesn't agree with his own party's voters on primary winners. To what lengths might he go to avoid endorsing the voters' choice for the November party line? Would he hook up with the GOP behind the scenes to try to thwart the legitimate primary winner?

This is a confusing year for Democratic voters who are getting mixed messages from leadership. Voters need to be on the alert for gimmicks and shell games. If a party chairman tells you some primary winners are more equal than others, watch out. Inform yourself and then vote as you will - you are in charge at the polls.

--Bernice

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Taxi Company Vows Improvements

Two days after Soria Taxi representatives asked the City Council to reconsider hefty fines for out-of-town taxis picking up city passengers, the company hit the local headlines Oct. 16 when a Soria driver struck a pedestrian.

That driver no longer works for the North Plainfield company, Soria said in a press release that also detailed steps being taken to improve customer service. Calling the accident "an unfortunate and isolated incident," the company announced a five-point plan to ensure customer safety, improve service and "ensure the professionalism of our drivers."

1. All of our current and potential drivers will be required to take a defensive driving course by a New Jersey  State-approved defensive driving course provider and online refresher courses every six months.

2. Potential and current drivers’ credentials will be verified with the Motor Vehicle Commission of the State of New Jersey to ensure that our employees are properly licensed to drive our taxis.

3. Soria Taxi will provide customer services training to all staff and re-evaluate our employees' customer service relations on a consistent basis.

4. Soria Taxi will establish a dedicated Customer Service Website for our customers to report issues related to our services, appearance of our taxis, professional behavior of our drivers, and any other matter customers feel the company should address to improve services.

5. Soria Taxi will commission an independent review of current company policies and follow its recommendations.

The press release ended by stating Soria Taxi has "strong values in work ethics and safety."

"However, as our customers have shown us, there is always room for improvements. Soria Taxi is taking steps to improve our services and the experience of our customers."

The company's good intentions may not sway Plainfield Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill, who on Oct. 14 upheld the city's right to bar outside taxis from picking up customers in Plainfield, though passengers may be dropped off. Company owner Fabian Soria said he wanted to get a license in Plainfield but could not, as the city has exceeded the state ratio of one taxi per 1,000 residents. At a previous council meeting, Plainfield taxi owners and drivers applauded the increase in fines to a maximum of $2,000 per incident for outside companies picking up passengers.

--Bernice