Thursday, July 24, 2014

Passing Time Until Better Days

Chinese Forget-me-not

I got home from the hospital on June 24, but have yet to attend any meetings since then. So far I have missed two council meetings, a PMUA meeting, Planning Board and Historic Preservation Commission meetings and several events.

My month-long prohibition on lifting or carrying things is up, but I still ask my son to pull up the garage door. On a lot of days, I don't get any further than the yard and I have yet to take the bus to Westfield to go shopping.

This is all very frustrating to me, but I guess I have to put up with it until I get stronger.

The upside is that I had time to read a very good (and lengthy) biography of John Updike by Adam Begley, and several other books. I have been able to indulge my interest in collecting seeds, even though the garden is a rank mess from lack of care. I took note of the first fireflies and the first cicada. 

Audrey recommends binge-watching "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix to pass the time. Meanwhile, I just bought a 1,000-yard ball of No. 10 crochet thread and a new size 7 steel hook for the purpose of crocheting snowflakes. Hmmm. On second thought, maybe the snowflakes can wait. Bingeing sounds better.

Note: In light of what is going on around the world, I know this all sounds trivial. Believe me, I know.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

File Monday for School Board

 Candidates must file by 4 p.m. Monday for Plainfield's third November school board election.

Formerly held in April, the annual school board election was moved by a City Council vote in 2012 over objections of school board members who felt the board should have decided whether to make the decision. Legislation establishing the four-year trial gave either body the right to move the election. The move had the effect of adding eight months to the three-year terms of incumbents, ending in December instead of May. If, as the legislation allows, the elections are moved back to April after four years, those in office will serve less than the traditional three years.

 The change took place in a presidential election year and did garner many more votes for school board candidates than in April elections. Because of Superstorm Sandy, many voters opted for alternate means of voting and results, though delayed, reflected the difference. The top BOE vote-getter in 2012 received over 4,400 votes, but by 2013 the highest tally was just 2,500.

Each year, three three-year seats are up, plus any unexpired terms caused by a member resigning or otherwise vacating his or her term. Last year, Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green announced his school board slate in June as  ”a black female, a Latino (sic), and a white male gay.” They were named as Deborah Clarke, Anabella Melgar and Richard Lear. A competing slate included Board President Wilma Campbell, Frederick Moore Sr. and David Rutherford. Campbell, Clarke and Moore won.

So far, no public announcements of slates or individual candidacies have been made.

Interest in school board elections has varied widely since the city changed from an appointed to an elected board. In 2010, 10 candidates filed for three seats and four more filed for an unexpired term. In 2011, only four people filed for three seats. It has happened that the roster fell short of three candidates and the county superintendent had to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. On Monday, candidates must file at the Union County Clerk's Office. Information for candidates is posted here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Birthday to George Clinton!

 Audrey sends greetings to Plainfield on the occasion of George Clinton's 73rd birthday, noted in Seattle by Kevin Cole of radio station KEXP. Here is a video she sent.

HAP Board Meets on Disputed Ordinance

So the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners will meet in closed session tonight to discuss the ordinance passed by the City Council last week despite Executive Director Randall Wood's plea to withdraw it. Wouldn't I like to be a fly on the wall at that meeting!



This is the latest twist in the tangled web of intrigue around two city-owned lots on the block currently dominated by the Pueblo Viejo nightclub.
Click image to enlarge

The small lot at lower right was once destined to have 12 condos built on it, but the plan never materialized.
The fenced-in lot has a view to the east of the Park-Madison parking deck.
The other lot is a little-used municipal parking lot that occupies the corner of West Second Street and Central Avenue, spreading north to West Front Street. Last winter, it was mostly bare except for a Pueblo Viejo trailer.
The two lots appear to be a tight squeeze for the 86 apartments the Housing Authority projected at an October conceptual hearing before the Planning Board.
A discussion on conveying the lots to the Housing Authority was on the City Council's agenda in March, but was dropped. The matter appeared again as a discussion item this month, but somehow a full-fledged ordinance had been prepared for council approval. The ordinance was moved to the regular council meeting on July 14 and passed, 4-2, despite a letter from Wood requesting that it be withdrawn. In his letter, Wood states, "My intention was to introduce a draft Ordinance to the Council Members for consideration, advice and consent only."

Well, consideration is one thing and "advice and consent" implies action. There is more confusing language in the letter, which no doubt was part of a July 11 discussion involving Wood, Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez and City Administrator Rick Smiley. Sanchez spoke at the July 14 meeting to corroborate Wood's desire to withdraw the ordinance, but Councilman William Reid alleged he had spoken to Wood just prior to the meeting and Wood wanted the ordinance to go forward.

Council President Bridget Rivers took the stance that the ordinance, having been moved to the regular meeting agenda, was now out of the Housing Authority's purview. The moral of the story for Wood might be to be sure of what the Housing Authority intends before putting it on the hook for action in the first place.

The next regular City Council meeting is on Aug. 18 and a notice has already been published announcing a public hearing and vote for final passage on second reading for the ordinance, MC 2014-16. Can this juggernaut be stopped? Stay tuned.


Monday, July 21, 2014

A Different World Today for News

It will be 11 years on Aug. 1 since I retired from the Courier News. Since then, the delivery of news has been completely transformed, whether for better or worse is debatable.

The thump of the print newspaper on the front porch used to be the signal event for finding out what was new in the world. No more - the "news" comes at us now from many directions, more immediate than ever, so that what appears in print has already been heard and viewed many times over.

Curiously, as the capacity to deliver news has expanded with digital devices, some might say the content has shriveled, especially locally. Routine coverage of school and governmental news is a thing of the past. News with a "staff report" attribution is usually not gathered by news staff, but is a press release or reader-submitted item. Waves of buyouts and layoffs have thinned actual newsroom staff to skeletal proportions. Reporters now must also be photographers and videographers to feed the "digital platform" as newspapers continually try to reinvent themselves.

The array of news gatherers now includes bloggers and many small online operations that compete with the so-called "legacy media" for advertising revenue. Meanwhile, the personal news of one's family and friends on social media is often of higher interest than what is happening in the larger world.

I have no particular point to make in offering these observations. I don't even see any trends in the chaotic world of news delivery. It is simply amazing to me to see these changes in just a decade or so. Any comments?


Sunday, July 20, 2014

HAP-py, the City Council Rendition

A quirk in the City Council calendar leaves nearly a month's hiatus until the next meeting, an agenda-fixing session on Aug. 11. Council watchers will have plenty of time to ponder or recover from the somewhat bizarre events of July, including passage of an ordinance conveying city-owned property to the Housing Authority.

The ordinance, MC 2014-16, passed on first reading at the July 14 regular meeting despite Housing Authority Executive Director Randall Wood's expressed desire to have it withdrawn. Council President Bridget Rivers reasoned that the ordinance, having been moved to the agenda, belonged to the governing body and that Wood had no more right to seek its withdrawal than the council would have to affect items on the Housing Authority's agenda for any of its meetings.

To further complicate matters, while Wood had asked in writing for its removal and Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez confirmed Wood's stand as per a July 11 meeting with the administration, Councilman William Reid said he had spoken to Wood just before the July 14 council meeting and had been assured that Wood wanted the ordinance to go forward. Reid noted Wood's absence at the regular meeting and opined that if Wood objected, he would be present to say so.

I could not attend the meeting, but thanks to David Rutherford, the segment on MC 2014-16 was posted on Plainfield View for all to see. Reid said it could be amended before coming up for a public hearing and final passage on Aug. 18, so not to worry about the council pushing it through on first reading.

The text of the ordinance as passed on July 14 includes several conditions, mainly having to do with the Housing Authority proving it can swing the deal financially. There must be a "memorandum of understanding," or MOU, in place showing the Housing Authority and/or the Plainfield Community Development Corporation's commitment to secure financing for the acquisition of the city-owned property. Failure to secure financing in effect kills the deal.

In addition, the ordinance gives the mayor authorization to execute the necessary "Purchase and Sale Agreement, Deed or Lease" to convey the property. The ordinance may be vetoed by the mayor, though the council can override the veto.

In the midst of all this, the city is seeing a change in the office of Corporation Counsel. The individual now representing both the council and administration in legal matters is Vernita Sias-Hill. Former Corporation Counsel David Minchello is staying on as city solicitor, while also serving as the new acting city attorney for Trenton under Mayor Eric Jackson.

The Charter Study Commission has confirmed the difficulties of having one legal representative serving both the governing body and the administration, but change will come only through action by the state Legislature, so Sias-Hill will have to deal with both branches on this issue.

Among other mysteries associated with conveyance of the city-owned properties known as Block 247, Lots 7 and 9, the ordinance mentions only HAP and the PCDC, but other entities were named at a conceptual hearing on the proposal for use of the land in OctoberHow do they fit in currently? In addition, another developer floated plans for the site.  Should that group be given any consideration?

The July 14 council meeting was nearly four hours long, another reason to be glad for a break before the next one. Must these meetings be so long? For the viewing public, it's the equivalent of binge-watching four episodes of a favorite show, but probably not as much fun. Recent commenters on the blogs have pleaded for the council to stick to business and leave off the extraneous speeches on other matters. Can it happen? Will it happen in 2014? We shall see.


Friday, July 18, 2014

A New Chance for Park & Seventh?

Mario Camino's news that he had acquired this building at Park & Seventh brought on a wave of nostalgia for me.

I remembered the days when people worked there and would cross the street to have lunch at the Pickwick Deli. A mother and daughter ran the deli when I first encountered it. Later Lamar Mackson Sr. owned it. I don't have the timeline straight, but the bustle at Park & Seventh then is wrapped up in my mind with the days when Macy's was still open downtown and the Plainfield Public Library was open on Sundays. A person could go to church, do a bit of shopping downtown and still have time to browse for books at the library.

There were art galleries downtown, along with hat shop windows full of millinery marvels. The radio station WERA was in the Atlas Building at 120 West Seventh Street and so was the "little bank," a branch of United Trust on Arlington Avenue.

Those days are gone, but the acquisition of the office building by the ambitious Mr. Camino brings hope of some kind of new life for Park & Seventh. The building has been vacant for at least 10 years, except for squatters and scavengers who stripped out all the metal, as one can see by peering into the ground floor windows. It will take a mighty effort to restore the building to usefulness, but the current tide of developer interest in Plainfield may lift all boats, as the saying goes.