Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On

Hurricane-blasted mushroom

We had a brief power failure Monday, a small inconvenience compared to what was being reported elsewhere along the trail of Hurricane Irene. I spent some time cleaning up storm litter and tying up wind-dashed plants. It was nice to be out in the sun for a change.

Not having a car, I did not get around to see what Irene wreaked, but there was plenty of coverage by others in the city. With power off at lots of stores, I hope people will be careful with food purchases. If something smells funny, take it back or discard it.

From all accounts, city employees did a great job of clearing the streets of fallen trees, though there were detours due to flooding. It would be interesting to get a summary of how things went in the overall storm response by the city, maybe at the Sept. 6 City Council meeting. UPDATE: A summary is posted on the city web site.

Some odd accommodations had to be made during the hurricane. Because the WBAI radio studio was in Zone A in New York City, it was shut down and programming originated from Los Angeles at a sister station. Information on local East Coast conditions was collected and disseminated and the moderator took calls from people in the hurricane's path, including one from a Plainfielder.

For many householders, the after-effects of the hurricane will continue for days to come. Certainly the commentary on whether it was overblown or understated in the news will continue. The best use of the media after it passed, we thought, was giving practical information on storm assistance and travel. Many lives were turned upside down by the lack of public transportation and updates were invaluable.

Calamity, past and present, is dominating the public discourse this week with the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and plans to commemorate 9-11, world turmoil, and the East Coast earthquake followed by Irene. The 1939 call to "keep calm and carry on" still has relevance for us today.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hopeful Sight

Made a quick trip to Twin City, which was dark inside but welcoming customers. Happily surprised to see this beautiful rainbow on my way back. Still lots of wind to contend with, but tomorrow will be sunny!


Hurricane Aftermath at Park & Seventh

The overnight assault by Hurricane Irene left Park & Seventh without power. The Twin City parking lot that was jammed yesterday was empty except for an electrician's truck. Around 3 p.m., a worker came outside the market and told a couple of passersby the store might be open later.

Traffic lights were out at Park & Seventh and drivers had to be polite or play chicken to get through. Further north, two one-way intersections had police blocking roads. Makes one think the auxiliary police would have come in handy to direct traffic.

Without power, businesses were closed, including most eateries up and down Park Avenue. Given the large number of local residents who depend on takeout or weekly meal plans due to lack of cooking facilities, food was scarce. Peering inside one Chinese restaurant, one could see a cook doing his best in the dark to serve up meals. It made me feel grateful for having both power and a lot of leftovers in the fridge.

A spitting light rain and high wind gusts reminded pedestrians that the storm was not finished and cleanup would have to wait until next week's sunny days. Another reminder was the lack of public transportation - no trains, buses or light rail until things simmer down.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pre-Storm Images

"This storm is a real nail-biter!"

Windows are taped on Park Avenue.

Twin City parking lot is jammed.

Shoppers are stocking up for the weekend.

Don't worry, that shadowy cart in the far left has more water to stock the shelves.

Maximum tape on Twin City windows!

I hope everyone is prepared for Hurricane Irene. I'm sure glad no editor is sending me out to get comments from people stuck in the storm. My recollections of getting thoroughly soaked and coming in out of 80-degree weather to a 60-degree newsroom are not fond ones.


Waiting for the Storm

Waiting for the impact of Hurricane Irene has both mundane and surreal aspects. We pick up groceries as always, but this time wondering whether that big tree in the front yard will crash down on our home soon. Where might we be with our little parcel of possessions in 24 hours? Things are suspended: trains, trips, even time until we can resume our daily routines.

I always have more flashlights and radios than any one person needs, so I did not have to trek to the mall for those items. I did go to the library for extra books, finding two on Newsweek's list of books read by President Obama since the last campaign, "What is the What" by Dave Eggers and "Plainsong" by Kent Haruf. And I am only halfway through a book about Britain's folk music craze and another book it made me want to read again,Thomas Hardy's "The Return of the Native."

Being an elder without a household full of people wanting meals and laundry on time regardless of the weather, I have the discretionary time to dawdle and muse. Since finding out last week that a dear friend from the 1970s has passed, I keep coming back to the thought that whatever we experience in this much-touted storm, he will not share in it. As much as we are all trying to fill the time until we learn our fate this weekend, I keep sensing that void. A lot of memories crowd in.

So while I am prepared for the deluge as best I can be, I will stay off the road and just do a bit of time travel in books and in thoughts, among those buckets of rain.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Research Firm Seeks South Avenue Location

A Staten Island research firm is seeking Zoning Board of Adjustment approvals that will allow use of a South Avenue building to find means of detecting minute amounts of explosives.

At its present location, Energy Research Co. has approvals from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the New York Fire Department for its operations and according to information its application to the Plainfield ZBOA, is the only vendor in all of Staten Island that is allowed to store explosives overnight.

Its work for the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies is to “develop methods of detecting minute quantities of explosives in order to prevent ingress into the country by terrorists bent on committing acts of aggression with the use of explosives.” According to the application for variances here, it is an “inherently beneficial use” and is not a threat to the public.

However, Plainfield’s zoning code forbids the “presence of explosives,” so a variance is needed. Other variances sought include relief from fencing in the front yard, buffering of a loading area and a curb cut and driveway that exceed the maximum width allowed. A public hearing has been advertised for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 in City Hall Library at the zoning board’s regular meeting.

The vacant building that the company wants to purchase is on a block bounded by South Avenue, Atlantic Street and Pacific Street between Leland Avenue and Terrill Road. It is behind a produce market that fronts on South Avenue. Traffic from residences on Atlantic and Pacific streets must pass the building to access South Avenue.

The company plans to have a sprinkler system, containers for explosives, a security system and automatic fire alarms for the building. The application lists more than a dozen explosive solids and eight explosive liquids that would be used in the research.

The current Neighborhood Commercial zoning permits offices, which the applicant said fits in with “75 percent” of the proposed use. Company representatives have held preliminary meetings with officials from the city Planning and Fire divisions, as well as the construction official. All documents for the application are on file in the Planning Division in City Hall and are available for inspection between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., according to a legal notice published this week.


Generators Can Be Hazardous

If the potential for power loss from Hurricane Irene comes true, one house on Block 832 may have an advantage - or maybe not.

Someone in this two-family dwelling on Park Avenue has been using a generator every night, and lately during the day as well. Not only is it noisy as heck, my neighbor and I have worried about its excessive use, as these generators have their limitations and hazards. We would not like to see some of our neighbors in harm's way through improper use of a portable generator.

Here is a 2004 FEMA advisory on generator use addressed to people more often impacted by hurricanes than us Jerseyans. The article states specifically that generators are not to be used in rain (as in downpours from hurricanes) nor should they be used indoors.

We can only speculate why a household needs to use a generator every single night. Maybe they are on the outs with the electricity supplier over back bills. Maybe they can't get hooked up for some reason. Whatever the reason, we hope they know the pitfalls of such usage.

And we hope all those who just bought portable generators to weather Hurricane Irene will read the information that comes with the device. Why add another hazard to what looks like a very dodgy weekend for those of us in the hurricane's path?


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Facebook Use Catches Fire

Community Appreciation Day 2010.

Lt. James L. Grundy Jr. of the Plainfield Fire Division is not an in-your-face kind of guy, but he’s definitely become an on-your-Facebook one.

Grundy has become a one-man publicity machine for the Plainfield Vulcan Pioneers of Union County, a fraternal group whose mission is “to promote fellowship and professionalism for minorities within the Fire Service” and to enhance the lives of the citizens of Plainfield.

The group is a successor to C.O.F.F.E.E., or Community Oriented Firefighters for Eminent Equality, which was well-known for its Valentine’s Day parties and its charitable outreach at holidays, as well as fostering advancement of minorities through leadership ranks. In 2004, Cecil Allen became the city’s first African-American fire chief with COFFEE members applauding proudly.

Grundy’s Facebook involvement began in January when he took part in a day-long social media seminar at the Middlesex County Fire Academy, conducted by a firefighter from Virginia who served as public information officer to his own fire company. Soon Grundy put up a fan page for the Plainfield Vulcan Pioneers, then developed a group page.

Currently, Grundy is using Facebook to invite one and all to a fish fry at Club Cosmo on Saturday (Aug. 27) at noon.

The 25-year Fire Division veteran also posts news, happy or sad, of promotions and other happenings in the firefighters’ extended family, including the recent passings of both the mother and sister of one city firefighter. Earlier this month, a Community Appreciation Day barbecue was featured. The fraternal group has 61 members, including two from out-of-town fire departments.

Grundy calls the use of Facebook “just another tool in the tool box” to communicate with the group’s members. But not everybody may have the knack of using that tool.

“You have to have a certain dedication and knowledge on the computer,” he said.

For those so inclined, Facebook “makes it pretty easy,” he said.

Grundy sees Facebook as an advantage even for municipalities. Posting educational material on social media can cut down on questions from the public and can make a participant “more of a citizen,” he said.

“It allows for contact between organizations and the community you serve.”

Grundy said he would like to see the Fire Division have at least a fan page soon. The division has about 90 members and may be unique in having a married couple in its ranks. Selket Gregory and David Damon met while training to be firefighters and were married at City Hall in April 2009.

Grundy also cited Tuesday’s earthquake as an example where social media would be “a nice conduit on emergency response.”

The legal ramifications of social media for municipal use are under study on questions such as how it relates to sunshine laws and requirements to preserve public records, but the New Jersey League of Municipalities was interested enough to hail 2009 as "The Year of the Social Media Explosion."

Besides being Facebook maven for his group, Grundy serves as its corresponding secretary and is also secretary for the Fire Officers Association No. 207. He wanted Plaintalker to include others on the executive boards of the organizations, which for Plainfield Vulcan Pioneers of Union County are Victor Dakers, president; Corey L. Henry Sr., vice president; Charles S. Mills, recording secretary; David H. Damon, treasurer; and Jamal Thorpe, sergeant at arms. For FOA No. 207, executives are Bernard Blake, president; Kenneth Childress, vice president; Ronnie S. Belin, treasurer; Carlton Owens, assistant treasurer; and Gary Edwards, executive delegate.


Posting Later

Blogging will be delayed today.

Meanwhile, don't forget to take time to smell the Peruvian Impatiens, er, roses.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stay Calm, Read a Book

"Central Jersey Police Departments Urge Calm After Earthquake."

So read the headline in the Courier News on the afternoon of Aug. 23, about the temblor that happened in less time than it took to tweet about it. It was certainly disconcerting to see a tower fan and other things jiggling madly for the 20-second duration of the quake, which caught me with Audrey's laptop on my own lap for the first time (she gave me her Toshiba when she upgraded). It was all over before I could get up.

The novelty of the event and the absurd aspects of public reaction to it in the new era of social media set a tone that matched what I chose to do for the rest of the day. I did indeed stay calm and read every word of a book I had just picked up at the Plainfield Public Library, the weird and wonderful work by Kevin Wilson called "The Family Fang."

I had heard this author interviewed on numerous WYNC shows and got somewhat of a negative impression of the book. I know now that it can't be described properly in such interviews, as there is too much to it. You just have to read the whole thing, and a day disrupted by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake presents the perfect excuse to deviate from quotidien concerns and do so.

Parent-child relationships have spawned millions of words of analysis and advice, but you will find neither in this book, just a story about power, manipulation, excess and emotional cruelty that can have its echoes in even the most sunny-seeming, greeting-card-picture-perfect family when nobody is looking.

If you are a fan of what Amazon calls "literary fiction," don't wait until some fleeting cataclysm gives you a day off, pick up this book and spend some time with the family Fang. It might make the next tedious meeting of your own clan feel like paradise by contrast.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New Start

The opening of a new school year always feels full of promise. New clothes, new equipment (I was going to say notebooks and pens, but maybe it's laptops and calculators) and a sense of possibilities make September a special time not just for students and parents, but for the community in general. After summer's fun, people are getting down to business.

As reported by others, the wholesale switch of principals is adding a note of anxiety to school opening this year, and the district does not yet have a permanent superintendent. Plaintalker regrets not being able to cover school issues in addition to City Hall, as the 2011-2012 year is likely to hold a lot of newsworthy changes. But between reporter Mark Spivey and a bunch of other bloggers, school news will undoubtedly get out to the public.

Regardless of what else is going on, the children have an opportunity to learn in school, at the library and out in the community with its many activities for them. All the best to Plainfield's young people and their mentors for the coming school year!


Monday, August 22, 2011

QCBL/Rec War Rages On

"James" left such a long comment on the QCBL issue that Blogger did not process it as a comment awaiting moderation, but it did come through to my email under the notification system. I am posting it here as an example of how not to comment (too long) and why this issue has become intractable with no obvious solution.

Here is the attempted "comment" - the original blog post is here:

To Anonymous
1. The fundraisers that the head of QCBL complained of, did occur during games, during the 2nd fundraiser some games were cancelled due to the recording breaking weather and the potential effect on the players, you know the CHILDREN, who it's suppose to be about. Which leads me to the question why not confirm information before believing everything that is told.
Here is a novIce idea QCBL concerns it self with their games and fundraiser at the field on their assigned day and minds their own business when Rec is assigned the field. Oh, that would be too easy and QCBL wouldn't have anything to complain about.
2. Covered in #1
3. Once again your "known fact" is no more, the Rec players, the majority of which, did not play with QCBL it's first season, obviously had no desire or interest to play with QCBL. We must not forget mass campaign to spead the word that Rec was not going to have a league didn't work despite the tireless efforts. The children were not split but increased in volume. If your interest was truly the interest of the Childen you would recognize that.
4. Yes please go to the tapes, the bad reality series started with QCBL lining up all their children, or at least the ones whose parents didn't mind having their children out so late, chanting phrases and holding signs in an attempt to influence council to stop a program that aimed at and ultimately reached hundreds of additional children to play baseball. Question: Did any parents parade their children in football uniforms to the council meetings when the 2nd football organization form?
5. Once again, the issue is an adult issue that is shamefully being imposed upon the Children. I would wager that if 5yr old-12year old children playing for either league would state that they don't want to play the other league, it is not because of any opinion that they created on their own. It is the adults making hate statements that would create their opinions. We all need to pray that the hate that has been planted does not escalate with the children creating real issues.
6 That is an easy statement for you to make when we will never find out, if the children don't play each other. I am not one to gossip but I heard that several QCBL coaches want to play and acknowledge their teams would have a hard time trying to beat the Rec teams, but the heads of QCBL say NO, but we will never know.
7 Once again, you are going off topic, play whomever they want. However the
FACT remains that it is adult hatred that is interfering with it.
I have made enough FACT based statements and I must go "make the donuts".

Under the Ramp: Trash!

Visiting the main post office recently, I took a look at the handicapped ramp that was damaged a few months ago - or should I say I looked between the ramp and its outer walls. There is a gap on each side, running the length of the ramp, and below it in a sort of well there is a formidable accumulation of bottles, cans, food containers, snack bags and unidentifiable items. In short, TRASH!

To the right as one enters the ramp, there is an open space where Plaintalker previously noted discarded bottles and such. It is more accessible than the debris under the ramp, but would still require a special effort to get it up out of there. The stuff under the ramp poses a much greater problem for cleanup.

The ramp was damaged a few months ago by an errant driver, but was quickly stabilized with wooden rails while awaiting restoration. I don't know how the USPS bureaucracy works when it comes to fixing the physical plant, but maybe when the rails are fixed, the gaps can also be closed with wire mesh or something to prevent trash from falling down in there.

Ideally, the existing trash could be removed first. And really, really ideally, people could stop tossing stuff down there in the first place.

But maybe that's a lot to ask in a city where some people think it is acceptable to file their trash in places like the shrubbery around the Twin City plaza or down the storm sewers. Solving the litter problem begins with connecting the hand holding the litter to a brain that understands why the city has trash receptacles all up and down the sidewalks. The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority gets big bucks to empty those cans, so why not use them?


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Developer Revises Front Street Office Plan

Developer Frank Cretella will seek to reduce the scope of a 2009 plan to put 50,000 square feet of commercial and office space on three downtown lots.

The plan to convert the former Appliance-Arama warehouse to office use and to build on two adjacent lots would have been the first new commercial development in eight years, officials crowed at the time. In this 2009 post, Plaintalker questioned the addition of new office space to a downtown awash with excess commercial space. For whatever reason, the project did not go forward and now at the Sept. 1 Planning Board meeting, the developer will offer a revised plan for approval.

Instead of the formerly proposed addition to the three-story warehouse and construction of a new four-story building next door, Cretella wants to renovate the warehouse and put a one-story building on the adjacent lots. The Planning Board meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

When Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took office in 2006, the city had roster of more than a dozen development proposals. The new administration added a few more, but by the mayor's second term, most had faded away, leaving Cretella as the city's big hope with seven proposals. The most active is a plan to convert Park Avenue buildings on the PNC Bank block to residential and commercial use. Others have received approvals but no work is evident at the sites.

Over the years, Cretella has switched the focus of his proposals from the North Avenue Commercial Historic District by the main train station to streets a bit further away. The largest is a 148-unit transit-oriented development on the PNC Bank block, known as West Second Street Urban Renewal LLC.

It might be time for the administration to give an update on where all these proposals stand. The Planning Office is keeping track of the status of each project, several of which have been revised. Maybe a short review at a City Council meeting is in order.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Today is National Radio Day

A mention of National Radio Day on WNYC this morning set me to thinking about local radio as well as my favorite public radio stations. How many remember WERA at 1590 AM? The station had studios at 120 West Seventh Street, now used by the gospel station, WKMB 1070 AM. My favorites include WBAI, 99.5 FM where the late Plainfielder Pepsi Charles was once a programmer, and WNYC, 93.9 FM, where author interviews often send me to the Plainfield Public Library for books to read.

WERA under the ownership of Henry Behre was a real community station for decades. Many will recall Barbara Ballard's interviews, Rich Phoenix's mellifluous voice and those snow day announcements, among many other memories. I used to tune in to WKMB for former Mayor Richard L. Taylor's show and sometimes for Laurence Rice's interviews, especially around campaign time. An early Plaintalker post also described Bro. Arthur Bailey III's radio show on WKMB. (Some links may no longer work.)

Radio has been my favorite medium since my school days back in the 1940s, when the the Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy aired along with madly popular comedy and variety shows. Today I like public radio the best for listening at all hours, including the free-form overnight offerings on WBAI, particularly Radio Unnameable with Bob Fass.

My daughter Audrey sent me an IPod for Christmas last year which befuddled me so much that I sent it back to her in Seattle. Just this week she sent it back to me for another try. This shiny device, smaller than a saltine cracker, has her favorite radio station on it, KEXP, which I have listened to online. I am now adding my East Coast favorites but will keep KEXP and maybe add KUOW, a public radio station in Seattle, for when I visit the Northwest.

The best thing about radio, in my opinion, is its portability. The world of ideas is right there for me while I am out in the yard or meandering around Plainfield. Three cheers for National Radio Day!


Friday, August 19, 2011

A Chuckle on the Bus

Heading to Westfield for a little retail therapy Thursday, I noticed this sign that advises passengers to make room on the front seats for "senior citizens, pregnant people or people with disabilities."

Pregnant people??

Well, one never knows when that man who gave birth to three children might turn up on the 59 bus, now does one?


PNC Brightens Downtown

Thanks to PNC Bank for beautifying its corner at Park & Second!

This summer's brutal heat did in a couple of previous plantings, but now the historic bank's entrance is graced with evergreens and cascading petunias. Plaintalker for one appreciates the bank's ongoing efforts to make this important gateway to the city attractive to the many thousands of people who travel past it each day on the city's main north-south corridor.


See You Sunday at Grace

One of the city's most pleasant community events will take place Sunday at Grace Episcopal Church on Cleveland Avenue, just off East Seventh Street. It combines another chance to hear the Pittis Carillon played by an outstanding carilloneur with an old-fashioned summer celebration of nature's bounty, namely ripe peaches combined with cake, ice cream and other ingredients.

Bring a folding chair or blanket for seating and join the convivial crowd for a memorable afternoon. The event is at noon and is free. See the Grace Church web site for more details.


A Reel Dilemma

Two weeks after the deer fly attack, I am still wary of using the hose reel that was the scene of the crime. This piece of equipment has been useful for many years, up until now.

Here is the villain, looking out of its residence in a small hole in the hose reel. I'm hoping there isn't a little family developing in there. Still plotting how to foil the deer fly long enough to detach the hose so I can get rid of the hose reel.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trumpet Your Cause

Image: Trumpet Vine on Block 832

Funny, with more ways than ever to share information and viewpoints, Plainfield seems to have fallen asleep this summer.

Bloggers aren't blogging so much and fewer commenters are posting on what used to be a busy online forum. Maybe folks are on vacation or just otherwise occupied, but the community buzz that led to the start of nearly two dozen Plainfield blogs is now lacking.

One new social media entry is Plainfield NJ Community Connect on Facebook. You have to be on Facebook to access it, but more and more local people are on it.

Why is any of this important? Print media coverage is shrinking. Online connections have the advantage of not only informing people, but encouraging action in a more direct way than the so-called "legacy media." That is, if anyone is paying attention and cares to get involved.

The Plainfield YMCA and the Plainfield Vulcan Pioneers are two examples of groups using social media to their advantage. Maybe autumn and the back-to-school season will bring a little more liveliness to the online scene and coverage of city issues. The New Jersey Hyperlocal News Association has information on becoming a "citizen journalist," if you are so inclined.

Let's hang out over the electronic back yard fence a little more this fall, say what's on our minds and maybe organize around some current city causes.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rec Issues Resurface

Acting City Administrator David Kochel is the latest official to be drawn into the fray between volunteer- and city-sponsored baseball leagues. He promised Monday to sit down this week with Karen Glencamp-Daniel, who in public comment at the City Council meeting detailed more troubles with use of municipal ball fields by the Queen City Baseball League.

Clashes between the volunteer group and Recreation Division Supervisor Dave Wynn have been an ongoing saga at council meetings for more than a year. Glencamp-Campbell said the group missed a chance to have a tournament on Memorial Day and will now miss a similar opportunity on Labor Day.

Kochel only came to the city on May 11 for a 90-day stint, which was just extended for another 90 days through amendment of an ordinance on acting terms. It is unlikely that he had any input on the Memorial Day issue, but Glencamp-Campbell asserted she received an email from Kochel two weeks late to have the Labor Day event.

"You took one side and made your answer," she told Kochel.

She raised another sore point, a fish fry fundraiser just for the city league that took place at a municipal ball field.

Kochel said he would meet with her on Thursday.

Council President Annie McWilliams said she was "sorry to hear" the disputes were ongoing and said she wanted to resolve the issues once and for all "so the children don't feel we are against them."

To read Plaintalker's May 2010 commentary on the situation, click here.


No Golf Tournament Planning?

If Nancy Piwowar's worries come true, somebody has dropped the (golf) ball, bigtime.

Piwowar asked in public comment at Monday's City Council meeting whether public safety measures had been taken in light of a major week-long event at the Plainfield Country Club.

Among her concerns:

"Woodland Avenue will be impassable."
"No Plainfield parking lots will be used."
"How are we supposed to get to the hospital?"
"I hope Somerset and Overlook were notified."
"I hope no one dies."

Not being athletically inclined except for yard work, I missed the announcement on this event. As one can see, the announcement of the Barclay's 2011 event dates back to 2009. There should have been ample time for planning regarding traffic and public safety routes.

But Police Director Martin Hellwig said Monday Plainfield was "not part of the planning process." Kind of amazing, considering one of the city's most ardent golfers heads the Recreation Division. Oh well, so much for communication and regional planning. Hellwig allowed as how there would be no problem getting to Muhlenberg, but Nancy was talking about getting to JFK Medical center in Edison, where the club is located just over the Plainfield border. Hellwig said information will go out to police, fire and rescue squad personnel on the upcoming event.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Council Approves ShotSpotter Plan

In a 5-2 vote Monday, the City Council approved a one-year contract with ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection company that has been wooing the city for a year.

Since a flurry of urgency in 2010 to buy into the system for $1 million, the cost has dropped to $169,000 for a one-year lease, which the city expects to make up with a $250,000 technology grant. Hesitation had centered initially not just on the cost, but whether the city should try more pro-active approaches to gun violence, such as youth education and employment to avoid gang involvement.

On Monday, Councilman William Reid held out for other public safety approaches and voted "no." Councilwoman Rebecca Williams voted "no," based in part on receiving just Thursday the ShotSpotter contract that she said the administration had in hand since July 12. Williams also felt the council had not been given enough information on which to base a decision.

Among those who voted "yes," Councilman Cory Storch said he still had concerns and had hoped for "something more than a half-assed evaluation." Continuing the program after the grant-funded first year "will be at the expense of police salaries," he said.

Councilwoman Vera Greaves said she wanted data at the end of the year on how well the program worked, while Council President Annie McWilliams said she agreed with a resident that the gunshot detection program was "just a small piece of the puzzle" of public safety.

"But it is part of the puzzle," she said, though also wanting to see results from the one-year contract.

Councilwoman Bridget Rivers, an advocate since the first mention of the program, and Councilman Adrian Mapp also voted "yes."

The city will be reimbursed for the program's cost through the $250,000 grant from the state Edward Byrne Memorial Criminal Justice Assistance Grant. In public comment before the vote, Dr. Harold Yood called the system "Dick Tracy gimmickry" and said the key to the operation is security cameras which are not included. Acting City Administrator David Kochel said the balance of the grant, plus Union County Improvement Authority funding, bonding and Urban Enterprise Zone funds, will be used for training and equipment for police cars as well as cameras, with links to CCTV systems including those of the Housing Authority of Plainfield, NJ Transit and the Board of Education.

Resident Owen Fletcher urged approval of the ShotSpotter program, noting a recent incident in which a gunman fired toward a city pool in use by children.

"Frankly, I'm just horrified," he said.

Fletcher said there had to be a "whole community effort" toward public safety and police had to have all the tools they need.

"I don't know that people feel safe - I don't feel safe," he said, adding he would have approved the ShotSpotter program for $1 million.

In another gun-related matter, Police Director Martin Hellwig reported that a church-based buyback program had taken "60 guns off the street." The city spent $5,300 out of $20,000 allocated from the city's special law enforcement trust fund with the state for the program, which took place on two Saturdays and involved six churches as drop-off points.


Twin City Lot Paved, Striped

It only took a couple of days for the large Twin City parking lot to be repaved and marked.

If only there was a way to do the same for the city's crumbling parking lots.


Whatever Happened To ...?

Every so often, one recalls an initiative that sounded worthwhile or necessary, but seems to have dropped off the city's to-do list. One such item is the roster of "shovel-ready" projects for which the city intended to seek American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. It's a couple years later - whatever happened?

Among other things that seem to have dropped off the radar:

-The disputed Dornoch funds for fitting out the senior center. The last we heard, the matter was in mediation.

- The WBLS investigation. It's been a year now since the controversial radio show, which was paid for with city money (or something).

Hiring a director for the Department of Public Works & Urban Development. The City Council will vote tonight on reappointing an acting director.

Appointment of PMUA commissioners. It's been a while.

There are more. What are you wondering about?


Church Shares Bounty, Beauty

Members of Bethel Presbyterian Church are again sharing the produce of their community garden with nursing homes, seniors and other groups. Crops include callaloo, thyme, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans and other vegetables. A recent letter from the Abigail Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star thanked the church for donating cucumbers for a salad served at the group's community picnic in Rahway.

Member Agnes Talbot shows off the floral display near the church entrance, a profusion of giant marigolds and colorful zinnias. The flowers brighten up a busy corner at Roosevelt Avenue and East Fifth Street.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Q&A with AJ on Going Paperless

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh agreed to answer the following questions submitted by Plaintalker on the topic of reducing the amount of paper necessary to carry out his office's functions. Thanks to AJ for giving us this insight into "going paperless" in perhaps the busiest office in City Hall.


Q. One of your initiatives is to achieve a paperless office, to the extent possible. A big paper item is the packet of background information for each City Council agenda. When I was a reporter, I received one of those bulky packages and though it was informative, it certainly used up a lot of paper. At one point, as I recall, there were 33 packets prepared for each agenda-fixing session until the list of recipients was trimmed. These packets still go to elected officials and members of the administration. How many are still necessary and how soon do you envision being able to send them electronically?

A. Council packets are completed and delivered on the Friday prior to each regularly scheduled Monday Council Meeting to the Seven Councilmembers, the Mayor, City Administrator, Corporation Counsel, City Solicitor. The Directors of each Department; Public Works & Urban Development, Administration & Finance, and Public Affairs & Safety including the Police Director & Fire Chief. Created under former Council President Rashid Burney, a full agenda containing supporting documentation is also delivered to the Plainfield Public Library. The paperless agenda/intelligent meeting management concept has been implemented in many Municipal & County Government across this State. I have leaned on the much needed assistance of Chris Payne, Manager of Information Technology, who has diligently researched many different alternatives and suggestions to assist in making this City paperless. I intend to have a proposal to both the Administration & Council within the very near future, but no later than the end of this calendar year.

Q. Members of the City Council currently span about 50 years in age. Former Councilwoman Linda Carter was one of the younger members during her tenure and strongly advocated paperless transmission of the packets. How many current members say they prefer electronic packets? Are you seeing any generational resistance to doing away with paper documents?

A. I believe we have a very tech savvy Council. Councilman Reid, who currently serves as an Interim Executive Director to a Housing Authority in Central Jersey, recently showed me the IPAD their members use to conduct their business meetings. Needless to say, I was impressed by his knowledge and willingness to embrace modern technology. Both Council President Annie McWilliams, and Chairman Adrian Mapp, have expressed to me, on numerous occasions, their eagerness and desire to go paperless. For those Councilpersons and residents who aren’t yet ready to receive information electronically, the option to receive a hard copy can and should remain available.

Q. Have you been able to take a look at paper costs for your office? Have you set any metrics for paper reduction?

A. Paper is purchased centrally from the Purchasing Division for City Hall Offices. Therefore, without researching I am not entirely certain of cost factors. However, for an average Agenda Fixing Session and Regular Meeting, it’s nothing to go through nearly 3,000 - 4,000 sheets of paper for reproduction. A complete council packet for one member can sometimes exceed an entire ream of paper. I’ve heard numerous accounts of municipalities being able to pay for the computer and software purchased to achieve a paperless environment, after going paperless in a year’s time. There is no doubt that this City can save money by going paperless and also be more much more efficient in providing information to the public. Imagine pulling up the agenda on the City’s website and being able to view the resolution and back- up info just by clicking on the title as it appears on the agenda.

Q. Back in the day, a firefighter would arrive at City Hall to pick up packets for delivery to officials. Is the Fire Division still used for packet delivery? Elected officials live in the city, but many appointees live outside Plainfield. Do out-of-town officials get delivery or do they get them Monday morning at work?

A. Yes, the Fire Division is used for packet delivery to the Councilmembers and Mayor only. Out of town officials pick up their packets either on Friday or on Monday in the City Clerk’s office.

Learn More About City Bicycling

The Plainfield Public Library has a very good exhibit on bicycling in its showcase and you can also read about it and view photos here.

One of the most ardent bicyclists I met in Plainfield when I first came here was Ruth Dobson, pictured above. She was involved in a lot of community activities and got around by bike. She has since passed away, but remains an example for elders who want to stay active without driving a car.

This historical exhibit is sure to amaze younger generations and new Plainfielders who never heard of the bicycle races and other attractions so popular here in the early 20th century. Thanks to the library for this comprehensive view of bicycling over time, up to the example of the city's own Planning Director Bill Nierstedt, who frequently commutes to work on his bike.


Watch Out for Deer Flies

After much searching through the interwebs, I found out that the insect that attacked me two weeks ago was not a wasp, but a deer fly.

It had some sort of a hideout in my hose reel and when I attempted to reel in the hose on July 28, it bit me twice on my left hand, causing not only extreme pain and swelling but an ominous discoloration that made me seek medical advice by that Saturday.

The deer fly has no stinger, but instead uses scissor-like mouth parts to bite the victim and injects saliva that can carry disease if the deer fly has previously bitten a sick animal. Having heard tales of flesh turning necrotic from insect stings or bites, I was scared by the wound and glad to get a prescription for an antibiotic.

The swelling went down eventually, but there is still a patch of injured skin on my finger that is very slowly reducing in size. The bite near my thumb is still surrounded by a large circle of faded purplish skin.

The other day I saw the same insect on the hose reel and got a chill thinking of all the damage this small creature was able to do. Gardening has always been a pleasant escape for me, but now I am a bit wary of encountering the deer fly again. Apparently these bugs are resistant to insect spray and so retain the upper hand in their chosen territory.

Late summer is prime time for wasp attacks - add to that danger bites from the deer fly. We knew these biting insects when we lived in Millington near the Great Swamp, but encountering one in the city was quite a surprise.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No Transition Aid Until 2014

A standard part of the municipal budget process for many years was waiting for the state to announce how much extraordinary state aid the city would be granted. Many a budget straggled on into the third quarter of the tax year before the amount was known.

Things changed in FY 2010, when the city requested $3.5 million but received only $250,000 - with big strings attached. The following year, the administration decided not to seek the funding, which was called "transitional aid" by then and subject to even more caveats and proofs of fiscal responsibility.

At Monday's meeting, Acting City Administrator David Kochel said because the city is changing from a state fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) to a calendar year, no aid could be sought for the six-month "transition year" needed to make the change. And because the change is expected to help rebuild the surplus, the city will not be eligible for the state aid for two calendar years, until 2014.

Kochel noted the strict guidelines that now accompany the state aid and said they are intended to wean cities away from reliance on such aid. Given that the last award to Plainfield was only $250,000, he said, for the city it is "not a large weaning process." As noted on this awards chart, it will be harder for cities such as Camden, which received $69 million in transitional aid for the 2011 state fiscal year.

In Plainfield, the lack of state-imposed controls could be a pitfall for officials used to the free hand they enjoyed before Gov. Chris Christie's new rules. It means through the end of the current mayoral term, self-discipline will be needed in order not to spend money on food and drink for public events and to make other thrifty choices. It came out in the wash Monday that $3,000 was spent for baseball uniforms in April without the proper encumbrance of funds, so now the City Council is faced with having to authorize Recreation Division funds after the fact.

Councilman Adrian Mapp asked Kochel, who came to the acting post only in May, to tell employees they are not supposed to order things from vendors without following procedures. Kochel said he had the same concern six or eight weeks ago and spoke to Purchasing Agent David Spaulding. But he said Spaulding has issued reminders "multiple times" and still compliance is lacking.


People on the Go

The theme for this year's photo contest at the Plainfield Public Library is "Plainfield - On The Go," but part of the challenge so far for me is just that - some of the most interesting possible subjects I have seen zipped by before I could get out my camera.

One was a guy on a recumbent bike who went whizzing through a blocked-off section of Park Avenue that I was shooting for the blog. I seldom see one of those bikes on the city streets, but he was gone in a flash.

Another day I saw an older man with tubes in his nose, riding his bike casually down East Seventh Street. The tubes were attached to a portable oxygen tank in a bag hanging fom his shoulder. I was impressed with his will to be so active, and on a busy street at that! But I never even got my hand on the camera in my messenger bag.

The third example had me puzzled until I figured out it was a guy on a bike who was balancing a huge shop vac on the handlebars. It looked all out of proportion visually, like seeing a SmartCar hauling an office safe on the roof. He was also out of range in seconds.

Oh well, I think there are still some weeks till the deadline. Maybe I can set up a roadblock with camera at the ready and get people "on the go" to slow down long enough to snap a photo. I can't wait to see what others submit for this contest.


ShotSpotter Vote Up Monday

A yearlong debate on the ShotSpotter gun detection system may conclude Monday when the City Council will vote on spending $169,000 to lease equipment for one year.

The price tag is a big drop from the $1 million initially proposed, but the company itself created the lease program in response to the widespread economic constraints faced by municipalities. Also on Monday, the city will accept a $250,000 technology grant that will be used to cover the initial cost of installing cameras and monitors for the system. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Plaintalker's file on the matter includes this ShotSpotter commentary from last September, before the lease plan was offered. Meanwhile, the city has had numerous homicides and shootings, including a recent incident in which a gunman fired toward a city pool with children and staff present. At Monday's agenda-fixing session, Police Director Martin Hellwig said the latest homicide and the pool shooting remain under investigation, but a suspect has been identified in the fatal West Fourth Street incident.

Councilman William Reid, a critic of the ShotSpotter program, was absent Monday, but has voiced his view that increased police manpower is needed more than a gun detection system that records shootings after the fact. However, the grant proposed for approval Aug. 15 can only be used for technology.

If the ShotSpotter plan is implemented, Councilman Adrian Mapp asked for "metrics and data at mid-point to see if we are getting what we pay for." Councilman Cory Storch said he wants technology to be used, but asked what is being done to provide jobs for youth and other crime deterrents to avoid a piecemeal approach. He said he is "not completely convinced" on ShotSpotter, raising the issue of possible misdirection in which a planned shooting might bring a police response while another crime is carried out elsewhere.

Hellwig said the program saved one municipality millions of dollars in legal fees when it was able to detect the sequence of events in the case of an alleged shooting of a civilian by a police officer. The system can detect the number and type of guns used as well as the direction of firing, among its attributes.

The company offers lease options from one to three years, Hellwig said. Asked what would happen next year if the program continued after the grant expired, Hellwig said the cost would have to be paid out of city funds.

The new lease option was announced in May, with council action expected in June. But lingering concerns about its efficacy remained. A vote now seems imminent.

"I think we have talked about ShotSpotter for too long," Council President Annie McWilliams said Monday. I think we should move forward."


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Council: Lampkin House Repairs Too Costly

Historically hard times collided with a proposal to save a historic home Monday, as City Council members demurred at the expense.

“I like the idea,” City Council President Annie McWilliams said after a presentation on using $92,500 in city funds toward acquisition of the 18th century Lampkin House. “I think it’s a great concept.”

But McWilliams said, “The problem is not the concept, the problem is the dollars. There are other things we need to be prioritizing.”

She cited “unfortunate timing,” saying things might have been different five or six years ago.

McWilliams and council members Adrian Mapp, Bridget Rivers and Vera Greaves opposed putting the matter up for a vote on Aug. 15, while Rebecca Williams endorsed the proposal wholeheartedly, calling her colleagues’ reluctance “shortsighted.” Councilman Cory Storch suggested moving it to the agenda and if it was voted down, to put it back in the hands of “interested citizens.” Councilman William Reid was absent.

A number of citizens spoke in favor of the project in public comment before a presentation by Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and City Preservationist Gail Hunton.

Pat Turner Kavanaugh said the Planning Board had endorsed it twice and said supporters were asking for the $92,500 to make it possible to apply for matching Union County funds. She said as long as the house was privately owned, advocates could not do fundraising.

Kavanaugh said a friend of the late owner, Virginia Terrell, claimed the house on Terrill Road had been a stop on the Underground Railroad, though it could not be immediately verified.

Douglas DeFreitas said he also knew Terrell and recounted tales of ghosts in three-cornered hats on the premises. Once restored, the house could attract ghost hunters, he said.

Bill Michelson urged council support for the acquisition and stabilization of the house and barn, saying, “The time to do it may not last very long.”

“I know it is a hard sell in these economic times,” Nancy Piwowar said, but noted the Lampkin House was named one of the 10 most endangered historic sites in 2009 by Preservation New Jersey.

Other residents found the proposal indefensible with all the city’s pressing needs.

Owen Fletcher thanked Kavanaugh for her efforts and said historic preservation is very important to Plainfield, but cited current funding gaps and said, “We just can’t afford it right now.”

Lavelle Jones said her initial reaction to the house was that it was a “dilapidated, decrepit eyesore” and doubted it could be refurbished. Jones called for fixing roads and creating part-time jobs for young people before spending money on fixing the house. But Charles Weltner called $92,000 “a tiny amount of money” for a 1700s house and said he thought it would be embarrassing to tell future generations “we spent it on potholes.”

Two young people countered with concerns about present-day gun violence over historic landmarks and a Coolidge Avenue resident said her neighbors were worried about a proposed nature trail connected to Lampkin House that would bring people behind their homes.

When his turn came, Nierstedt enthusiastically described the historic importance of the property as well as the broader scope of the project that would include the adjacent 30-acre retention basin as well as a six-acre working farm. But he reminded the council that they did not “have to go down the full road” at once.

Nierstedt said Union County would most likely allow in-kind services to be charged against the $92,500, bringing the city’s outlay down by $15,000 or more. As for the match in Union County Open Space funds, he said Plainfield had never received a grant since the tax was established, making approval more likely.

Failure to move on the project “will result in demolition of the house and its history,” he said.

But among council concerns, Storch asked whether the Lampkin House proposal would end up competing with the Drake House Museum for funding. Mapp asked what “strings” would come with a county grant and Hunton said typically the property could not later be sold.

Mapp said he believes in historic preservation, but said there were “too many unknowns” in the proposal, which could run from $1.3 to $1.6 million for all repairs.

“In my mind it’s cost-prohibitive,” he said, noting he has constituents who complain their roads “have not been paved in 50 years.”

Despite the lack of a consensus Monday to move forward on acquiring the house, Mapp suggested it could be reconsidered “if supporters of this project can find a way to assure dollars can be found” without taxpayers having to shoulder the cost.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Unity Mural, Video, Party Proposed

Two filmmakers, a musician and an artist plan to collaborate this month in engaging city residents in a unity-building project.

Plans call for Sofia Maldonado to create a mural with the help of local young people. A block party at West Third Street and Muhlenberg Place will be held on Aug. 27 at which the community can see the mural and take part in a music video featuring Plainfielder Kelly "KVO" Jordan's single, "I Stay Fly." Mobius Films partners GianCarlo Fernandez and Salvatore Pesce will make a documentary of the project, which is meant to be "something positive" in light of recent gang violence.

The project is up for consideration at Monday's agenda session, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.


Think Out Lampkin House Proposal

A call for those who support historic preservation to rally for the Lampkin House did not include any details on costs to stabilize and restore the house and barn. According to documents in the City Council packet for Monday’s meeting, the initial proposed funding is $92,500 in Union County Open Space funds, matched with the same amount in city capital improvement funds. Overall, the projected construction cost for the house falls between $959,000 and $1.094 million, and $363,000 to $487,000 for the barn.

Dan has discussed some of the background and concerns about the project on his blog, while Dr. Yood has endorsed it as “a most worthy project.” Those who support it are asked to attend the agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall Library.

There is a comprehensive assessment of the property in the council packet, too detailed even to summarize here. The resolution that will be up for a council vote at the regular meeting on Aug. 15 states the city’s goal to acquire and stabilize the Lampkin House and barn and to link it to the Cushing Road retention basin. The proposal envisions a “historic museum/nature center with access to a nature trail through the Basin area which to date has been inaccessible to city residents.”

In all fairness, the financial aspects of this proposal need to be made clear at the outset. A letter urging support made no mention of costs or funding. As with proposals to acquire the Armory and other buildings, there is no projection of long-term maintenance or operating costs of a new city facility. In Plaintalker's view, the worthiness of trying to save the historic site is not in doubt, just the ability of the city to take it on.

Among thoughts that came to mind after looking through the packet:

- How much has Plainfield contributed since its 2000 inception to the Union County Open Space, Recreation & Historic Preservation Trust Fund and how much has come back to the city for projects?

- A nature trail in the Retention Basin was proposed many years ago by a city resident who is a naturalist and former director of Trailside Museum. What issues came up then regarding public use of this land?

- Was this proposal included in the current CIP? The city has deferred several capital projects in recent years. How does this project fit in?

No doubt attention is overdue to Lampkin House. A private plan to restore it did not work out and every day must bring new urgency to do something to save it. The great dilemma is how to do it comprehensively and not at the expense of other even more pressing needs.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Council Sets Special Meeting Monday

A special meeting Monday will enable the City Council to vote on legislation that will extend the stay of Acting City Administrator David Kochel for another three months.

The meeting is 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. It will be followed by a regularly scheduled agenda session at 7:30 p.m. in the same location.

As Plaintalker pointed out last month, a move to extend Kochel's stay would have fallen short of the expiration of his original 90-day stint, barring a special meeting to accelerate the process. Kochel came to the city May 11 via Jersey Professional Management, a firm through which municipalities can contract for the services of seasoned municipal administrators. But because the city limits acting terms to 90 days, he was due to leave before the regular voting meeting on Aug. 15.

The council will vote Monday on an ordinance amending the 90-day rule to a possible 180-day acting term (see Plaintalker's prior post here). In addition, a resolution to make the ordinance effective immediately will obviate the normal 20-day wait for an ordinance to kick in.

Kochel has been nothing short of a godsend for Plainfield after officials played musical chairs since January to be nominally in charge of day-to-day operations of the city. The difference between a highly experienced administrator and the fill-ins was evident as soon as Kochel came aboard. While his extended tenure will not fill the remaining two years of the mayor's term, at least the city will have the benefit of his expertise to steady the Good Ship Plainfield (former Mayor Richard L. Taylor's sobriquet).

The governing body will also vote on giving Office of Economic Department Director Jacques Howard another 90 days as acting director of Public Works & Urban Development. Howard served in acting capacity from January through March and then was informally treated as department head while the post was vacant. There was a prohibition on the books against the same person holding a second acting term in less than a year. Plaintalker is not sure how it applies to this situation, unless the amended ordinance covers both extended and separate additional acting terms.


Reaping the Whirlwind

In unusual times, evocative Biblical phrases may come to mind. A spin through the interwebs reveals that many thinkers feel our elected officials have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind in dealing with the debt ceiling crisis, although writers disagree on which party did the sowing.

Late Friday, the feared consequence of a lowered debt rating came about as Standard & Poor's declared the U.S. government no longer risk-free, citing “the gulf between the political parties” for causing erosion of confidence in its functioning.

Plainfield has long suffered on the micro level from intractability among its elected representatives. To see such behavior at the highest levels of government is horrifying to a nation already suffering severe economic jitters. But a post from The Economist reminds us that this course was set years ago.

In various translations, Hosea 8:7 says if there is any yield, "foreigners" or "strangers" will consume it. If we have any lunch left to eat, there are world powers out there putting on their bibs.

Can Plainfield learn anything about responsible governance from this situation? Or will political game-playing outweigh stewardship and common sense as important local elections loom? It remains to be seen.


Possum Wants Mom?

Walking on Park Avenue to PNC Bank Friday, what should I see under the railroad bridge but a young possum trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. It looked like it missed getting home in time for daybreak and was now going to be in big trouble with mom. Or maybe it was out on its own for the first time and not sure how to take care of itself.

The Opossum Society of the United States has a lot of information about these seldom-seen creatures. Plainfield has a lot of nocturnal animals, including opossums and skunks, and other wildlife such as coyotes, rabbits and groundhogs that share the urban environment. It's always surprising to see one, such as the bunny that used to hop around the lawn at Municipal Court on Watchung Avenue. Unless you have a camera and manage to get a photo, people may not believe your accounts of finding such animals around the city.


New Store Offers Hookahs, More

A new entry in the downtown mix is "La Hooka," which sells water pipes, flavored tobacco, sunglasses, watches, jewelry and accessories. Owner Fadi says it has been open for about three months.

Feather extensions are a new hair fashion that the evolving business has added recently.

Jewelry and other adornments are on display.

Hookahs in rainbow colors and all the accoutrements are offered at the new shop.

Fadi says his clients are not just young people, but are of all ages. A group of young people petitioned the Planning Board several months ago to permit a hookah lounge in Plainfield, but this shop can furnish everything for hookah smoking at home.


Things Are Looking Up in Clerk's Office

So your neighbors have a yard full of ragweed, you are sneezing nonstop and they don’t care.

There ought to be a law!

Guess what, the city does have a law prohibiting ragweed and now you can look it up and get a copy in the City Clerk’s office, where renovations include access to a computer with the entire Municipal Code online. The innovation is intended in part to cut down on Open Public Records Act requests, in which a member of the public fills out a form and waits several days for a response. Now that is nothing to sneeze at!

The Municipal Code is also the definitive place to get backup on laws governing housing conditions, licenses and permits, animal control, City Council rules, recalls of elected officials and much more. For example, did you know landlords are supposed to supply heat from Oct. 1 to May 1 in Plainfield? A copy of the heat ordinance can settle an argument on that issue.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

About the Flagpole

A commenter on City Hall makeovers asked, "While we are at it ... Can we please get our flag pole back up?"

The very tall wooden flagpole (perhaps 50 feet?) that was in front of City Hall rotted at the base and was cut down before it could fall down. Check out Plaintalker's "Flagpole: Fail" post here. The pole is now reposing along a fence next to the building.

At the time, there was some notion of trimming the bottom and replacing the pole in its concrete base. However, in the intervening 10 months the city has had a turnover at the top of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development and other things have come up, like coping with a couple of massive blizzards. Currently there is no director, and anyway, restoring the flagpole is probably way down the to-do list, what with seasonal chores, road maintenance and all the many day-to-day responsibilities of the department.

Meanwhile, the wooden pole has been lying on the ground and, as will happen in the urban environment, it has become a sort of bench for the group that hangs around the 500 block of Watchung Avenue. While waiting at the 59 bus stop last week, I saw a half dozen or more individuals sitting on the flagpole, socializing. Just before I took photos tonight, a woman was sitting on the pole (a lot easier this way than in the early 20th century form of flagpole sitting).

Ten months on the ground in the elements have taken a toll on the flagpole, which has cracks under its fading paint. It is unlikely that a new wooden pole could be obtained, as most nowadays are aluminum or fiberglass. The cost of replacement with a modern pole could run into thousands of dollars.

The flagpole ball, pulleys and ropes are deteriorated and would have to be replaced even if the original flagpole could be restored to use.

Given the city's budget constraints, a new flagpole is more likely to come about through a citizen effort or special funding than by spending public dollars. It was a citizen effort that resulted in the Veterans' Memorial being erected on City Hall grounds. In 2006, the Special Improvement District organization received city permission to erect a 30-foot flagpole in the Plainwood Square Park.

So, dear readers, now you know about the flagpole. What happens next may be up to you.


Peninsula Completion Date Projected

The peninsula project at Park Avenue and East Ninth Street is projected to be completed by Sept. 15, according to Union County Director of Communications Sebastian D'Elia.

Residents were pleased to see heavy machinery last month at the site, but observers say nothing has happened over the past couple weeks. The intersection of Park, East Ninth and Prospect Avenue has been realigned, and concrete and electrical work for the design created with input from residents has been completed.

Concerned neighbors have reported weeds sprouting in the beds that were designated for plantings, benches and lighting. But D'Elia said Tom Mineo of the Union County Engineering and Public Works Department has targeted the completion date as Sept. 15.

If so, schoolchildren traversing the block may have a bumpy walk for the first week of school. Plainfield High School and Evergreen School children use the crossing, which used to have a concrete island bounded by two intersections. Once it is complete, the peninsula should provide a safer walk.

To see a somewhat outdated county advisory on the project, click here. The project received city approvals in 2007 and neighbors have been eagerly awaiting its fruition.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Clerk's Office Gets Extreme Makeover

The City Clerk's office was stripped to the bare walls and floor Monday for a complete "makeover" that by day's end was taking shape with new carpeting. Visitors were advised that office would offer limited services through Wednesday.

City Clerk Abubakar "AJ" Jalloh carried on using an IPad. Jalloh, formerly the deputy clerk in the very busy office, was appointed to the statutory title of municipal clerk city in February, following the retirement of City Clerk Laddie Wyatt. See Plaintalker's report on Jalloh's appointment here.

All the work is scheduled to be finished by mid-week, as the clerk's office must prepare for the Aug. 8 City Council agenda session, followed by the regular meeting on Aug. 15.

Historic statuary stands in contrast to the jumble of modern office appliances and boxes of documents that will be put back in the office. Jalloh said his plans call for a public seating area with access to a computer, so that citizens can look up the Municipal Code and other documents online in a searchable data base.

Plaintalker will follow up on the remodeling later this week.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

South Avenue Reconstruction at Issue

A reader has posted a comment on my peninsula story that is related to another project, the reconstruction of South Avenue:

Off topic Bernice: Not for show Aug 2nd Legal Noitce to fix South Ave in Courier news. 1. No funds - this was an old trick towns would use to see how much a project would cost as the contractor did all the work to figure out his expenses. Legally a job can NOT be advertised unless funds ARE available 2. Did merchants give input to those islands? 3. Is NJDOT going to take it over at RT 28 like the rest of county towns have done? 4. Town spent a ton of money a few years ago to fix it. Is the designer or builder going to pay for the flawed work back then? 5. What happended to all the paving machines the City bought 5 years ago to do this work on its own? 6. Will it be renamed Bob Fararra Way as he was
constatntly the one pushing for this correction?

Typos notwithstanding, the writer raises some interesting points. At a recent City Council meeting, it became evident that the governing body was heeding the concerns of merchants over the "bump-outs" and not necessarily the opposing view of the civic organization, Friends of Sleepy Hollow, that the sidewalk projections into the roadway gave pedestrians a greater margin of safety in crossing the busy road..

The city did indeed spend a lot of money on the original reconstruction, which turned out to be flawed and had many later patches. The time for pursuing the original contractor may have elapsed. Meanwhile, the city has no permanent director for the Department of Public Works & Urban Development, which may also have complicated the situation. In addition, Councilman Adrian Mapp has been adamant in his view that the state should shoulder the maintenance of Route 28, while state and county officials each say the other is responsible.

I believe the move for action is based on the need for safety and not wanting to spend more months or years on who should be doing what about South Avenue. Your comments are welcome on this topic and I will try to get more background on the blog.