Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving
to all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Downtown Sights

The downtown business district is still a very mixed bag, especially for people who remember Macy's and the earlier retailers who made Plainfield a shopping mecca in the old days.
How's this for advertising? Old-school sidewalk chalk. (Click any image to enlarge.)
"Talent for Survival" coming soon! These buildings have survived since the late 19th Century.
If these bricks could talk!
"Cricket Coming Soon !!!" Almost as cryptic as "Talent for Survival."
So ... the former Strand Theater will be a family entertainment center, for birthday parties and such, I guess.
Melancholy Magic Marker mannequin head ponders it all.
Heading for the senior center to renew my membership, I came across this little garden next to the Neighborhood House.
Walking home on Watchung Avenue, I paused at City Hall to read this message again: "Erected by the people to inspire zeal for the common welfare and dedicated by them to the cause of just and capable government." Let's think about that for 2105.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Ferguson

Everything that needs to be said about the Ferguson verdict has already been said in the hours since it was announced. My hope for Plainfield is that the Human Relations Commission and our many clergy leaders will help people here work out their feelings about the verdict. It certainly brings up a lot of bad memories for Plainfielders and a feeling that justice has yet to be served in too many cases.

I'm sure we will hear both prayers and protest in coming days. Hurt must heal, if possible, without further hurt.

Snowbirds Arrive, Snowstorm to Follow

I have been waiting to see when the first Slate-Colored Junco would show up in our yard and it happened over the weekend. This bird is considered a harbinger of winter and so is also called a "snowbird."

A pair arrived and splashed in the birdbath, no doubt washing off the grime of their long trip south from the Canadian forests where they breed in summer.

My nature notes don't get a lot of page views, but I still like to share these indications of the changing seasons. And later today I will be looking for my snow shovel!

Work In Progress on 80-unit Senior Housing

It was a long time coming, but construction has finally begun on a five-story building downtown that will have 80 senior apartments.

I took advantage of the unusually warm weather Monday to walk over and get some photos.
Developer Steven Chung won permission in 2008 to split a large parking lot behind his building on East Front Street, leaving one portion for use of customers and clients of the commercial tenants and using the north part for new construction.
Not a lot of work was going on Monday, but it was exciting to see the excavation and concrete poured for the base of the building. It is off East Front Street between Roosevelt and Westervelt avenues.
In 2008, The Monarch was being built with 63 condos, but other projects failed to materialize. They included 12 condos on West Front Street and a 224-unit project at Leland and South avenues. Over on Richmond and Third, a developer was allowed to withdraw plans for a 352-unit project.
So it is good to see things happening now.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

More PMUA Details on Wages, Union

Someone asked about union contracts for PMUA employees and when I searched the interwebs for "PMUA Local 97," a Plaintalker post from January popped up, to my surprise. I got the Local 97 reference from PMUA minutes, which I was reading because I was unable to attend authority meetings for several months.

As reported in the post, all PMUA employees, including management, faced a wage freeze in 2014. No one was to receive a cost of living increase or merit pay. The freeze could be lifted if conditions improved.

Still, there was talk of need for a "chief of operations" as the authority continues to expand outside contracts.

Also noted, "Another reason stated for the need of a COO is that about 45 employees, mostly at the transfer station are in negotiations to form a union. The employees aim to join Teamsters Local 97."

So there you have it. Because I missed so many meetings, I don't have an update. You can read the entire post here and you can read PMUA minutes for yourself here.

That January post also broke the news of the lawsuit filed by former PMUA Chief Financial Officer James Perry. There is no update on that right now, either.

Each year, the City Council assigns liaisons to various boards, commissions and other entities including the PMUA. These liaisons are supposed to attend meetings and report back to the council. Some past liaisons have acted more as advocates for the PMUA than members of the governing body charged with bringing back information to the full council. Some just don't attend. Many times there are just a few members of the public in attendance at PMUA meetings.

If you want to see what Plainfield Plaintalker or Plaintalker II posted about the PMUA, go to the links and use the search box in the upper left corner. Plainfield Plaintalker has posts from June 2005 through May 2010 and Plaintalker II covers May 2010 to present. There are some overlaps from when I pressed the wrong  button on Blogger. If you are new to Plainfield or just getting interested in a civic role, the archives may provide background on the issues for you. For me, the archives tell me stuff I forgot! Now that I am officially old (over 75), I can't keep all this stuff (about 5,000 posts) in my head!


All City Unions Due for Contract Settlement

Contracts for all seven city bargaining units should be in place by mid-December and will cover all four years of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's term.

Salary increases must be passed by ordinance on two readings. Final passage on an increase for members of the Plainfield Municipal Management Association took place Nov. 10 and six other contracts passed on first reading, with final passage expected on Dec. 8. The bargaining units as listed on the Nov. 10 agenda are the Plainfield Municipal Employees Association, the Plainfield Fire Officers Association, the Fire Mutual Benevolent Association, the Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 19 (officers and rank & file) and United Service Workers Union Local 255. Increases for all are 1.5 percent annually for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Over the years,  some unions have worked for years without a contract. It seemed unusual to have all contracts settled and Plaintalker asked Mayor Adrian O. Mapp about it.

"First, let me say how pleased I am that we have been able to work in good faith with all of our bargaining units to come up with new collective negotiation agreements," Mapp said. "Our goal was to have all of the agreements settled before the end of my first year in office and to have them in place for a full 4 years to run concurrent with my term. I don’t recall this ever being done."

Mapp cited a spirit of cooperation between the administration and the bargaining units.

"The team was very focused, candid and honest in its approach and gained the trust of the various bargaining units who all wanted to reach agreements that were reasonable and fair, during the very challenging economic times that we face as a City. The success of these negotiations is unprecedented and speaks to the spirit of cooperation that exists between my Administration and our Unions. Fairness, cooperation, professionalism and respect were the determining factors," he said in an email response to our query.

The city also has a roster of non-union employees that used to get raises after all the union contracts were settled. The list includes department heads, the city administrator, the police director, the city clerk, the chief financial officer, the fire chief, the personnel director and several other titles. Raises for those employees used to be passed by ordinance as well, but in recent years that has not been the case. In 2006, only the chief financial officer and the city clerk received raises by ordinance, retroactive for four years. The title of police chief was abolished in 2008 and replaced by the title of police director. However, no salary band was set for police director until 2010.

Plaintalker reported on the increasing disparity in compensation for cabinet titles in 2009. One of the concerns was the ability to attract top staff in the future with such disparity. The list of non-represented officials also changed, as indicated by past responses to Plaintalker's OPRA requests. Perhaps the most curious situation among the non-union employees was having a department head (Public Affairs & Safety) over a police director. In the last administration, Martin Hellwig held both titles, in effect reporting to himself. He received only one salary but also had pension income from Essex County.

Plaintalker will be looking into the non-union contract situation in coming weeks.

Besides settling contracts, another item that can affect the city budget is the amount owed to employees for unused sick and vacation days. The state requires municipalities to declare the amount in budget statements, along with any funds set aside to help meet the liability. Plaintalker wrote about "The Big I.O.U." in 2008, when the so-called Compensated Absence Liability was around $4.9 million for 17,661 days and nothing was set aside for payouts. In 2014, the liability is down by 29 percent to $3.4 million for 12,950 days and $200,000 is in reserve. It is still a lot compared to municipalities that don't allow accumulation of sick and vacation days, but at least it is trending downward.