Sunday, November 23, 2014

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.


Friday, November 21, 2014

New Inspections Director Starts Monday

If you get Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's weekly message in your email, you already know that there will be a new director of the Division of Inspections on Monday.

If not, here is the announcement:
"An important part of my Administration is to improve the quality of life for all in the City of Plainfield. The maintenance, upkeep, and development of our residential neighborhoods and commercial corridors impact residents, businesses, and visitors to our great city of Plainfield. My aim is to reengineer the mission and processes of the inspections division. To help accomplish this, join me in welcoming Mr. Phillip Izzo as the new Director of the Inspections Division, as he will be starting on November 24, 2014. Phillip brings with him over twelve years of municipal inspections experience. His expertise ranges from the following: construction, fire sub-code, plumbing, and electric. There will be further collaboration between departments and we can expect great things from Philip."

This is the division that the late Mayor Albert T. Williams said generated the most complaints from citizens. Over the years, this division has expanded, then shrunk. Inspectors during one administration had to be sent for training on how to deal with the public. At times, the division was heavy on patronage. Citizens who reported neighborhood infractions of the property maintenance code claimed they themselves were cited for violations in some sort of retaliation for speaking up. One year, inspectors got laptops intended to reduce paperwork, but then the technology was dropped.

Among other issues over the years, a frequently-mentioned need for inspectors to work evening and weekend hours ran afoul of work rules prohibiting staff to be in City Hall during off hours without a supervisor. The need for expanded hours arose due to a spike in unauthorized construction and repairs on nights and weekends. Sometimes a property owner was later forced to remove a fence or deck built without permits.

A related issue has been education of property owners on city rules for building and repairs, especially in the six residential historic districts. The Latino population increased by 67 percent between 2000 and 2010 and there is a need for information in Spanish.

In all, the new director will find plenty of challenges as he moves to modernize and improve Inspections. New development will place extra demands on the division. Getting things done right in a timely way will yield benefits for decades to come.


Skipping A Day

I have several possible stories that all need a little extra something to become real, so meanwhile I will forsake blogging for alternate activities, mainly crocheting scarves. See you later!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oreo? O Really!

Here's a political bulletin from the front, aka the annual League of Municipalities Conference. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Library Launches Makerspace

With a $7,500 state library grant and additional funding from the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library,  a new Digital Design Studio is taking Plainfield into the "maker" world, a realm of creativity that is sweeping the country. In June, President Barack Obama hosted a first-ever Maker Faire in the White House.

Tina Marie Doody, the library's head of Public Services, views the huge scanner/printer that will produce posters and more.
While 3-D printers have hogged the headlines with their ability to replicate objects including human body parts, the Plainfield library is focusing on 2-D applications such as posters and art. Plans call for non-profit organizations, art students and individuals to use the computer and printer. Doody said the choice was made "because we have such an active art community in Plainfield and so many different organizations."

Diego Licht, the library's Makerspace and IT manager, demonstrated on the Wacom HD tablet how an old photograph can become a large print, enhanced by use of special paper.
Images on the tablet can be modified as needed.
To the right, behind the monitor, is a large print made from a photo taken by Jackie Schnoop for the library's annual photo contest. The framed print was presented to her on Nov. 15 when she won first prize in the contest
Cheryl O'Connor, director of the New Jersey Library Cooperative known as LibraryLinkNJ, gives the tablet a try by drawing her favorite doodle. The organization provided the library's $7,500 Makerspace grant.
Deputy State Librarian Peggy Cadigan was on hand for the Digital Design Studio opening, and also explored the tablet's possibilities. (See more about the New Jersey State Library.)

Licht displays the various-sized pen nibs that are among the tablet's many features.

The Makerspace can be used to create in-house posters for the library's four display areas, such as seasonal reading lists. The Plainfield Symphony is a likely candidate for the two free posters per year the library will allow for non-profit organizations. A continuous paper roll on the printer allows for banners of any length. The computer can even help with quilt design. There will be a fee-based service for some items.

In all, the Digital Design Studio is a 21st Century resource that dramatically broadens possibilities for Plainfield's arts and cultural community. Library Director Joseph Da Rold welcomes all to learn more about the studio.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Sandy Spector on Thanksgiving Menus

A note from caterer Sandy Spector regarding Thanksgiving menus intrigued me, and I asked her to answer some questions for a blog post. I'm sure many family gatherings nowadays will include dietary options that our grandparents never imagined. Here is the Q&A:

Q. When and how did you decide to broaden your menu?
A. We have always provided holiday menus with specialty items, food for major sporting events shared around the TV with friends and family, children's parties, High Holiday observances and so much more.
Because many of our clients have special dietary needs, allergies to certain food items, dietary choices eliminating certain food categories, we have done extensive study and research with recipe testing to be able to delight their culinary senses.

Q. Which alternate category (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan or raw) is most popular? What are some examples of the choices in each category?
A. "Vegetarian" items are probably the most requested...we do our with no fake flavored replacements. There is a growing call for "Gluten Free" items as can be seen in the ever increasing shelf space provided to items that can be included in the diet of Celiac Disease sufferers and those who just feel better by eliminating certain food from their diets.. "Vegan" dishes are a distant third place. "Raw" items are definitely the least requested.
Vegetarian...Eggplant Rollatini with fresh Tomato Concasse
Mushroom and Walnut Pate with Crisp Herbed Croustades'
Gluten Free...Lemongrass Shrimp Soup with Spaghetti Squash
Kale Salad with Butternut Squash and Toasted Almonds
Vegan...Pumpkin and Cashew Curry
Quinoa Fritters with Grilled Pineapple and Roasted Red Pepper Salsa
Raw...Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Avocados, Shitaki Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs

Q. Can a client split menus for different needs? (Example: Parents like traditional, adult children are vegans).
A. Absolutely!! We recommend it...we also recommend that everyone share these special dishes.

Q. How does your service work? Is food delivered in advance or served on Thanksgiving? Besides food, what else can you provide for a holiday gathering? (Tables, chairs, waitstaff, d├ęcor, etc.)
A. We do both. The client can get a delivery before the holiday or arrange a pick up. We also do special holiday deliveries with set up.
We can arrange for rental of tables, chairs, linens, tableware, glassware and flatware. Our clients have hundred of items from which to choose. We also provide staff, upon request. Holiday rates apply.

Q. How much advance notice do you need and can clients arrange it all by phone, online, in-person meeting?
A. We need as much advance notice as possible as we stop taking orders when we feel we our "dance card" is full. Staffing takes more notice than menu. Clients can arrange everything on the phone. (908) 400-9979 We send proposals for client confirmation...upon which we add them to the roster.

Watson's 90-Day Acting Term Ends in December

On Sept. 15, former PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson returned to the role he held before leading the authority, heading the city Department of Public Works & Urban Development. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp named him to a 90-day acting position which expires Dec. 15.

The mayor will have to seek City Council advice and consent to his nomination of Watson if he is to receive a full term concurrent with the mayor's, ending in 2017.

While he had many supporters on the council as PMUA director, it is not apparent how much he might have for confirmation as department head. The council meets on Dec. 1 for an agenda-fixing session, folllowed by a voting meeting on Dec. 8. If no action is taken by then, the council could tsck a special meeting on to the Dec. 15 agenda-fixing session for the January reorganization.

Two council members, Tracey Brown and William Reid, are former PMUA commissioners. When she served as council liaison to the PMUA, Council President Bridget Rivers often defended the authority against criticism by other council members. But a majority this year has frequently chosen not to support Mapp's decisions, so his choice of Watson could falter simply because of council hostility.

The public has no vote in the matter, but has had plenty to say about Watson's return to a city post after receiving a controversial settlement in January 2012.

Also of note, current PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson's contract will expire in July 2015. Williamson was the city's corporation counsel before being hired to head the PMUA. Watson headed the authority from 1995 to 2011, but Williamson received just a three-year contract. His continued employment will be decided by the authority's board of commissioners.