Monday, October 31, 2011

Kochel Deal A Limited Treat

Reading City Council Resolution R 367-11 on Halloween was like getting a bunch of assorted Post-It notes in my bag instead of the treat I had hoped for – useful, but not sweet like a handful of Twix Minis.

The resolution calls for Acting City Administrator David Kochel to give the city an additional 100 hours between Nov. 7 and Dec. 21, with an option to be available by phone and/or e-mail through March 31, 2012.

Boo! I was hoping he would stay on maybe for the whole two-year balance of the mayor’s term. Instead, it looks like he will provide support to yet another person who will be in charge of day-to-day operations of the city.

In the mayor’s first term, Carlton McGee and Marc Dashield each served as city administrator. Bibi Taylor served through the first year of the mayor’s second term, notwithstanding an attempt to fire her on Christmas while she was nine months pregnant. Since January 2011, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson served as acting city administrator for three months, followed by the mayor herself until Kochel came aboard in early May.

The council voted to rewrite the 90-day rule for acting administrators in August so that Kochel could stay until early November. Now, if the council passes R 367-11 at Tuesday’s special meeting, we will have the benefit of Kochel’s expertise for a while longer on a limited basis.

That is the treat. The trick is, who will be the next acting or permanent city administrator that Kochel will help out? Only two years remain in the mayor’s second term. Is there someone in the wings who would consider that “permanent” enough to sign on? Or will the city have a job booth at the League of Municipalities convention to attract a highly-qualified acting city administrator?

Compared to Trenton Mayor Tony Mack’s run of seven business administrators in 15 months, Plainfield doesn’t look all that bad. But add to the mix the many past vacancies in other top jobs and the Queen City doesn’t look very good.

The special meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1 in City Hall Library. Besides the resolution on a new contract for Kochel's services, there is a hearing on amendments to the 2011 six-month transition budget and a resolution to adopt the budget. Any new acting or permanent city administrator will have to deal with the return to a calendar year budget. For the full agenda, click here.


Fear of Ice

The weekend storm left some frozen slush behind, which reminded me of being stuck in the house for days last winter due to ice on the steps, ice on the driveway, ice on the sidewalks ... ice in my way to the store or the bank or the library.

All my shovels and ice-breaking tools were in the garage yesterday and there was ice in front of the garage. I see younger people just skipping over ice all the time, but I don't feel like testing the frangibility of my bones by attempting to walk across even a small sheet of ice, so I decided to rely on promised warmer weather in coming days to melt everything.

There is a city rule about clearing sidewalks of snow and ice, but some property owners simply don't do it. Curiously, the city itself was often lax in clearing the stretch of sidewalk on East Seventh Street in front of Municipal Lot 7 last winter, making quite an obstacle for pedestrians.

My favorite tool to break up ice is the venerable Wilkinson Sword swoe, a garden tool that has a thin blade with sharp edges on three sides. It can get under sheets of ice and break them up with a flip of the wrist. Our driveway is about 300 feet long from the street to the rear wall where the Dumpsters are and even when it is plowed, a leftover veneer of ice presents a problem for taking out the trash or walking to the street. If I were the boss of everything, I would make sure plowing was followed by sprinkling ice melter all over the driveway. At least by breaking up the ice, I can help the sun and wind melt it away.

If you have elders on your block (and you are not one yourself), clearing ice and snow is one of the biggest favors you can do for them. Seniors can suffer broken hips or limbs from slipping and falling on ice. Do what you can to help them avoid such accidents.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cat Toys

L-R: Jingle ball, rainbow ball, jingle ball2, mousie ball, jingle ball3

Cat toys either need to be much larger or all my furniture needs to be flush with the floor.

Mau expects me to get down on my hands and knees with a flashlight to determine where Rainbow Ball landed under the computer desk. And then I have to wield a wooden dowel to knock it out.

Three minutes later, he is peering under the desk again and sticking out a too-short paw in a futile attempt to retrieve the ball. Maybe I can introduce him to a favorite toy of the 1950s, a "Spaldeen."


Saturday, October 29, 2011

'sNo Treat for Northeast

Mother Nature's mischief - an early snowstorm - is likely to keep things calm on this pre-Halloween weekend, although the city has issued a curfew notice and public safety advisory.

Netherwood Heights Neighbors sent Plaintalker a poster that can be placed in a window if your household is not welcoming visitors. The October holiday took on a really scary tone a few years ago when a man was assaulted and vandals attacked some homes. Former Councilman Rashid Burney worked with city officials and neighborhood groups to improve public safety on Mischief Night and Halloween and the effort continues with measures outlined here:


The Plainfield Department of Public Safety wishes to advise all city residents to be especially watchful for any signs of abnormal activity regarding Halloween Festivities during the weekend of October 29, 30, and 31, 2011.

City Residents are asked to observe a voluntary juvenile curfew of 9:00 pm during the entire weekend. Additionally, parents and guardians are advised to accompany their children during any "Trick or Treating" ventures. It is strongly recommended that those activities cease by 8:30 pm on Halloween Night.

On Halloween weekend, extra Public Safety Personnel will be patrolling the city in both marked and unmarked vehicles. Residents are advised to immediately contact the police if they encounter any activity that is a cause for concern.

As Public Safety Director, I wish everyone a happy and safe Halloween. Be assured, both our police and fire divisions will work diligently to prevent or address any challenges to an orderly festive event. The public's support and cooperation, as always, is the key component to the success of our mission.


Martin R. Hellwig


The snowstorm may change the focus to watching out for downed wires due to heavy, wet snow as the storm continues overnight. One news outlet is already inviting readers to make up a name for the storm, in the new tradition of "Snowpocalypse" and "Snowmageddon."

Whoops! A big branch just fell in our driveway! Be careful, dear readers!


Wacky Weekend Weather

Holy expletive, Batman! A "winter storm warning" for this weekend? Two to four inches of snow possible today, with three to five more tomorrow? Gusts up to 29 mph?

Those of us who are still cleaning up the garden prefer to disregard this forecast in favor of 50-degree weather later in the week. Meanwhile, it's off to the store for provisions to go along with those leftover gallons of water from Hurricane Irene.


Mark Veterans Day on 11-11-11

In 2011, the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" time of Veterans Day gains the added significance of occurring in the eleventh year of the 21st Century. At a recent City Council meeting, Board of Education member Lisa Logan Leach called attention to the unique timing and the city has since organized an observance of the day on Friday, Nov. 11.

Click here to read a history of Veterans Day compiled by the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

The observance here will include a brief parade and ceremonies at City Hall. Click here to view the flyer.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue on the status of the Veterans Center in the building at 400 East Front Street.

Terms of a contract with the developer call for the center to be turned over to veterans once all the 63 condos on upper floors are sold. Though signage marks the center, it has been used as a sales office for the condos. However, because many condos are now occupied under a "lease-to-buy" plan, the terms of the contract will have to be changed or veterans will have to wait until all the sales are complete.

Veterans have been meeting in the adjacent Senior Center, but representatives have appeared before the governing body to demand that veterans have their own space as promised.

The Veterans Center issue is one of several questions surrounding 400 East Front Street. Other unresolved issues include payment for outfitting the Senior Center and condo fees for its use. Once operable, the Veterans Center will also have condo status and will be liable for condo fees.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Special Meeting Tuesday

The City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to vote on nine items, including a public hearing on amendments for the six-month transitional budget and possible adoption of the amended budget.

The notice is already up on the city's web site. Scroll down past "Halloween Safety" to see it, or click here.

As usual, some of the titles are cryptic. Bloggers will have to look at the full packets to be sure what they mean, but after reading on the Jersey Professional Management web site that "In virtually every community where Jersey Management has placed a temporary professional, the governing body has offered that individual the permanent position," Plaintalker is hoping that the resolution on "consulting services" means that Acting City Administrator David Kochel has agreed to a two-year "permanent" contract to the end of the current mayor's term. If not, maybe the city is getting another well-qualified individual through the firm.

Two ordinances on "Budget and Purchasing Procedures" appear to be aimed at carrying out pay-to-play measures by the end of the current year, as discussed at recent meetings.

But as mentioned above, only seeing the full text of the resolutions and ordinances will clarify what action is contemplated. Perhaps council advocates of pay-to-play will explain what items 6 and 7 mean before the meeting.

Anyway, the special meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue. The November agenda-fixing session will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in City Hall Library, followed by the regular meeting at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 in Municipal Court. Ordinances approved on first reading Tuesday may be offered for second reading and final passage on Nov. 21.

The December schedule includes an agenda-fixing schedule at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in City Hall Library, a regular meeting at 8 p.m. Dec 12 in Municipal Court and an agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 19 in City Hall Library for the 2012 Reorganization Meeting.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Historic Preservation Needs Boosting

After attending a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday night, I decided on Wednesday to take a brief walk around the Crescent Area Historic District. While some buildings were well-kept, quite a few were in need of repairs or upkeep.

Both the meeting and my walk pointed up an ongoing need for some old-fashioned boosterism to remind folks that preserving the city's historic housing stock is not just some la-dee-da notion for an elite few, but is part and parcel of the city's character. The historic districts where this is well-understood tend to be the ones with greater home ownership and interest in learning more about partnering with the city to uphold the Historic Preservation ordinance.

Districts with high absentee ownership, numerous multi-family dwellings and weak or non-existent district associations have much greater challenges to upholding standards and getting residents and owners to embrace historic preservation.

The Commission and city staff are doing their best to educate and engage the public. Take a look here to see information on the city web site. Some districts are able to organize events, such as the popular house tours that draw many visitors to the city, and to put up their own web sites. The Commission recently held a workshop on replacing wood windows and has its own web site (here).

From what I heard at Tuesday's meeting, obstacles to better support for historic preservation include a possible lack of coordination between city divisions, resulting in owners getting incorrect or contradictory information on repairs. This may be something our new director of Planning & Urban Development, Eric Jackson, can look into.

The Wood Windows workshop ran afoul of a conflict with another event that tied up access to the Plainfield Public Library, pointing up the long-discussed need for a community calendar to coordinate dates where possible.

A real boost to historic preservation would require a broad-based effort from entities including elected officials and the new Media division, as well as individuals and groups within the districts. From all reports, Scott Bauman in the Planning Division continues to be a key asset to the Commission. It would be wonderful if all six residential districts were able to have viable associations, but meanwhile a more general campaign to promote historic preservation must do.

If you are not aware of this movement in Plainfield, please take the time to go through the links above. You may find you live in a more interesting city than you realized!

Thanks to all who are already working on this cause. Plainfield has many fans in faraway places for its historic housing stock - it just needs a few more right here.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Diwali Greetings

Happy Diwali

to all our Hindu friends and neighbors!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

HPC Discusses Van Wyck Brooks Home

I went to listen to the proceedings at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting tonight, but did not take notes. Dan, who posted an advance on the meeting, did take notes, so maybe he will file a blog post on it.

The big issue was supposed to be renovations at the Van Wyck Brooks home that is now a 10-unit multi-family building in need of many repairs. In public comment Tuesday, members of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District association deplored both the owner's proposal to repair failing windows as well as prior actions taken without seeking the HPC's input. Some speakers felt the owners had deliberately dodged HPC requirements and were suspicious that more of the same was to come. After a long discussion, the commission agreed to adjourn the matter to its Dec. 13 meeting, by which time the owner will have secured estimates for various kinds of repairs.

I'm sure Dan will tell you more either tomorrow or before the December HPC meeting.

Plainfield has six residential historic districts. To learn more about the Van Wyck Brooks district, click here.


Last Roses of ... Summer?

While I'm working on shutting down the garden, Mother Nature is not agreeing that summer is long gone and the first frost is on its way.

It was a nice surprise to see this bunch of roses on a sunny but cold and windy day.

FYI, the Plainfield Garden Club is planning a "Closing of the Garden" at 10 a.m. on Nov. 5. The club takes care of the city's renowned Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park, with help for heavy chores from the Union County Parks Department. Wonder what last-minute blooms they may find.

As gardeners know, the time comes when there is nothing to do but clean up the tools and wait for those flower and vegetable catalogs in the New Year. (Seed savers like yours truly have been busy getting a jump on spring.)

And then the growing cycle starts all over again.


Doldrums in the Blogosphere

I know things have been dull lately, but the only blogger for Dan to aggregate today was moi.

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

C'mon folks, it's lonely up in here.


Board of Elections Gives Voter Numbers

City Clerk "AJ" Jalloh will be in charge of his first general election on Nov. 8.

The Union County Board of Elections has published its Voter Registration Summary for the Nov. 8, 2011 general election. Click here and scroll down to see Plainfield's current breakdown by wards and districts.

The total number of registered voters in Plainfield for 2011 is 20,736, down from a November 2008 presidential election high of 22,516. There are 12,080 registered Democrats, 7,721 unaffiliated, 930 Republicans, two each Green Party and Libertarians and one Conservative. For all the talk of the Tea Party, it is not a recognized party for registration purposes.

The only municipal contest is in the Second Ward. Democrat Cory Storch, the incumbent, has 3,574 fellow Democrats in the Second Ward. Republican challenger William Michelson has 497 fellow Republicans in the Second Ward. Of course, the 2,020 unaffiliated voters in the Second Ward may vote for either candidate in the general election, as may the two Libertarians and two Green Party members. The total number of 2011 eligible voters in the Second Ward is 6,095.

Vera Greaves is running unopposed for the first and Fourth Ward at-large seat. Ward 1 has a total of 4,789 voters and Ward 4 has 4,051.

Two District 22 Assembly seats and one Senate seat are on the ballot. The Democratic slate includes incumbents Jerry Green and Linda Stender for Assembly and Nick Scutari for Senate. Republican opponents are Joan Van Pelt and Jeffrey First for Assembly and Michael Class for Senate. View the League of Women Voters of New Jersey questions to District 22 candidates and their responses (or lack thereof).

Your sample ballot should be in your mailbox soon. Check it for your ward and district and your polling place. For example, I am in Ward 2, District 1 and my polling place is City Hall Annex. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. As noted above, in the general election you are not bound by party affiliations and can vote across party lines.

Please remember to vote on Nov. 8.


Monday, October 24, 2011

"Hiatus" at City Hall

The city calendar is officially in what is known as "election hiatus" and the next agenda-setting session will not take place until Nov. 14, with the regular meeting following on Nov. 21. The election is Nov. 8 and there is only one contest at the municipal level, in which incumbent Democrat Cory Storch will face Republican Bill Michelson for the Second Ward seat.

Expect to see a special meeting or two, as the City Council has some loose ends to tie up. We are waiting to see what's next for the post of city administrator, after the inestimable David Kochel leaves us. There were rumblings about restoring the title of police chief. In addition, at least one more person remains to be questioned in the ongoing WBLS investigation.

Meanwhile, residents may be more interested in seasonal household chores and preparations for fall and winter holidays than in monitoring the actions of elected officials. Not to worry, a hardy band of bloggers will be on the case to gather hyperlocal news. While blogger ranks have swelled on paper (or on a digital roster), only a handful persevere in attending meetings and slogging through documents so you don't have to.

Stay tuned and don't forget to look for the "Donate" button on your favorite blogs (mine is at the bottom) if you want to toss a few PayPal pennies to those who keep tabs on City Hall, hiatus or no.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cold Weather Harbingers Arrive

The sight of some Slate-Colored Juncos in a large evergreen outside my window Saturday made me realize winter is on its way.

These little birds come to New Jersey for the winter and leave in the spring, as described in this article. They are very attractive, with their flashing white tail feathers when they fly and their twittering calls.

A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet also visited, on its migratory flight to the South.

We used to see a lot more Fall migratory warblers and such on Block 832 until a neighbor cut down most of the trees in his yard. If you spend time outside at this time of year, look up and you may spot these tiny visitors in the treetops. But don't expect to be able to tell them apart easily. There is a reason why they are known as Confusing Fall Warblers.


Nightshade's Curious Family

These pretty Nightshade berries may be seen on vines growing wild all over. On Block 832, we find them growing on chain-link fences in Municipal Parking Lot No. 7. Their attractive appearance is deceiving, as they are poisonous.

The Nightshade family is large and contains plants we think of as everyday foods, such as tomatoes and potatoes, as well as some plants that contain dangerous chemicals. The Burpee Seed company explains it all here.


Things Are Just Ducky

On a trip to Fanwood last week, this little rubber duckie in the gutter put me in mind of one of my favorite blog posts by Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green.

Don't forget, as Nov. 8 approaches, "... it is time for every duck to fall in line with the premise of order."


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Commentary on Town Meeting Costs

Carnac the Magnificent has answers - but we're still waiting.

In testimony at Wednesday's special meeting, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs mentioned in passing catering "for over 400 attendees" at the Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting. While the focus of the special meeting was on circumstances surrounding a $20,000 payment to radio station WBLS, her comment on catering reminded me that my original Open Public Records Act request was for all costs associated with the Town Meeting:

COST OF AUG. 1 TOWN MEETING, including school rental, speakers’ honorariums or fees, security, setup, including WBLS requirements, cost of videographing, food and supplies, plus any other incidentals.

If indeed food was ordered for the event, how was it paid for? We now know that payments to WBLS included not only the $20,000 from an IT account for "Hardware and Software Maintenance," but also $2,500 from a General Improvement Ordinance 1237 and $2,500 for "Outside Consulting Services." The latter two checks were for appearances by the WBLS "Street Team" and the radio station's van in the July 4th events for 2010. Were other dubious pots of money tapped for food at the Town Meeting?

On other possible costs:

- Plaintalker was advised to check with the school district regarding any costs associated with rental of Washington School for the event. It is possible there was no cost, but rather than ask the district, shouldn't this information be available from the city?

- Based on documentation Plaintalker received last month, both city and school district staff were involved in arranging a special telephone line to be installed for the radio broadcast. The records did not disclose the cost of the installation, nor did they indicate who paid for it, but communications about it went back and forth for a couple of weeks before the event.

- The city requested that the school district provide two security officers for the event. Who paid that cost?

One of the larger questions about this whole episode is why the administration saw fit to devote so much staff time and city resources to something that seems extraneous to core services of municipal government. To say that a panel discussion and a five-minute talk by The Rev. Al Sharpton was a life-saving public safety event - it's a bit of a stretch. Some say the investigation of a $20,000 expenditure is also a stretch, but Plaintalker is inclined to believe that the way the funds were handled reflects on city fiscal policies in general.

With two years to go in the present administration, one hopes citizens will demand more transparency about spending. Certainly residents were able to demand greater accountability from the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. The same should be possible for city government.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Elmwood Gardens Needs Redevelopment

Images of faults in Elmwood Gardens

The Housing Authority of Plainfield cleared a hurdle Thursday when the Planning Board declared the obsolete Elmwood Gardens complex in need of redevelopment.

Based on a study by city planner Scott Bauman and testimony from HAP Executive Director Randall Wood, the board concluded that the crime-ridden, dilapidated housing complex could not be renovated, but needed to be replaced. The 119-unit low-income housing complex dates back to the early 1960s and its eight 3-story walk-up building clusters have structural flaws such as non-functional windows, outdated kitchens and bathrooms, lack of handicapped accessibility and a failing electrical system. In addition, the layout makes it "a haven for loitering, crime and vandalism," according to the study.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding in the study was that firefighters say they will not respond without police backup, because they may interrupt drug deals or find themselves in the midst of a shootout.

Bauman's 35-page study included references to the city's master plan and to eight criteria indicating a need for redevelopment, four of which were deemed applicable to Elmwood Gardens. Reports from Fire, Police and Inspections divisions rounded out the picture of a public housing complex beyond saving.

The City Council had requested the Planning Board to have the study made and now that the findings show a need for redevelopment, the board will make that recommendation to the governing body, which may then order a redevelopment plan to be drawn up.

There will still be many steps for HAP before a transformation of the site can take place, including relocating tenants and identifying financing. Another issue is density, which is currently 119 units at a rate of 31 per acre. The Planning Division is recommending 69 units at 18 per acre.

The "in need of redevelopment" investigation report may be seen in its entirety in the Planning Division office during regular business hours at City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue.


Mayor: Emergency Warranted WBLS Cost

Before testifying in the City Council's second session probing a $20,000 payment to WBLS, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs recited a long list of city shootings that led her to make a "Call to Action" on the radio.

"Families were losing their young family members. People were being shot at and some were murdered," she said. "Plainfield was clearly in an emergency situation."

She then recounted numerous actions she took, including weekly "task force" forays into hard-hit neighborhoods to hand out anti-crime flyers, before holding the Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting that was broadcast over WBLS and WLIB. Its goal, she said, was "the preservation of life."

Robinson-Briggs also exhibited sections of the city's special charter that she said gave her emergency powers to spend the money.

The Town Hall meeting's format was a panel discussion hosted by WBLS personality Gary Byrd and featured a brief appearance and speech by The Rev. Al Sharpton. Click here to see Plaintalker's post on the event.

The issue of how the event was funded came up literally the day after the show, when Plaintalker and others filed OPRA requests. A little over a month later, City Council members began calling for an investigation into the legality of the $20,000 payment that the OPRA request turned up. The issue dragged on in a series of fits and starts over many months until the council invoked its investigative powers last month. By then, the mayor and her supporters had declared the true cost only a little over $5,000, citing a $15,000 donation that offset the cost.

The first investigative session brought forth explosive testimony from former City Administrator Bibi Taylor on a rush to come up with a $20,000 check on the Friday before the Sunday Town Meeting. Wednesday's session focused on how decisions were made to hold the event and the process of approving the expenditure. Besides the mayor, Purchasing Agent David Spaulding gave testimony.

Asked how the event came about, Robinson-Briggs said it was "a matter of finding a way to reach people inside of Plainfield as well as outside." Under questioning by council attorney Ramon Rivera, the mayor waffled on exactly who in City Hall was involved in planning and organizing the event. Its purpose, she said, was to "bring together the community of Plainfield" which was "experiencing a lot of gunfire."

"They were frightened," she said of residents who appealed to her.

She said after deciding the radio would be more effective in communicating than newspapers, quotes were sought from several radio stations. Hot 97 wanted $50,000, she said, while Harvest Radio was unavailable and WBLS wanted $20,000. Rivera asked for written proof of the quotes.

The discussion moved on to the legalities of the bidding process and whether the council was involved. No, said the mayor, because it was an emergency. But she did not answer Rivera's question on whether she was aware of the state's legal standard for emergency service. After some sparring between Rivera and the mayor's attorney, Richard J. Angowski, over what constituted attorney/client privilege, Robinson-Briggs said she got advice from Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson and attorney Lucas Phillips.

Council President Annie McWilliams asked Rivera about Williamson's input and Rivera answered that Williamson, who testified in closed session on Sept. 21, said he did not opine or speak with the mayor. Angowski objected, saying Williamson was not present for cross-examination.

After more discussion of the approval process to cut the check, including how a $15,000 donation from Investors Savings Bank figured in the sequence of events and the mayor's stated reliance on Taylor's expertise, the mayor announced she just had a death in the family, but declined the council's offer of taking a recess so she could make a private phone call.

The questioning next turned to the $5,791 balance that the mayor said remained after the bank's donation and which was apparently not repaid to the city. Noting the session was being taped for broadcast over two local cable channels, the mayor made a pitch to prospective viewers, saying, "If anyone wants to make a donation, please do so."

The mayor's portion of the session concluded with a discussion of two documents with handwritten notations, one in the mayor's handwriting and one ostensibly by Taylor. After Rivera read the latter notation, apparently a record of the mayor's displeasure with Taylor for a "cover your ass" letter with the comment, "I am the f--ing mayor," the mayor said, "She likes to be referred to as the B-I-T-C-H. As a lady, I would never tell anybody I like to be referred to as the B-I-T-C-H."

The last question for the mayor was how the bank's $15,000 donation, earmarked for the city's July 4th celebration, came to be shifted to pay for the Aug. 1 Town Meeting. Rivera requested documentation of the change of intent.
As purchasing agent, Spaulding was queried on his credentials as well as his understanding of the language on each purchase order (see above). He said he did not personally approve purchase orders, but relied on approvals by division and department heads who signed off on them, along with approval of the chief finance officer and city administrator. Once the division and department head signed a purchase order, he said, his signature was "a formality."

Asked if he read the "approval for payment" clause before he signed, Spaulding said, "No."

He said he could not answer Rivera's question on why the check was cut in 2010 on July 30 for an Aug. 1 event. When Rivera asked whether he agreed it was an emergency type of event, Spaulding said no one informed him it was an emergency event. But he said based on what the mayor said in her testimony, he would consider it an emergency, for reasons of health, safety and welfare.

Spaulding faced more questions about the allowable bid threshold at the time of the event and said he would provide documents backing his contention that expenses up to $26,000 did not need council approval.

In public comment, resident Mike Muhammad blasted the council for questioning the mayor, saying it was "like a modern-day lynching."

Contrasting the $20,000 expense with the $100,000 or more cost of housing a prisoner, he said, "This beloved mayor saved so many lives."

Muhammad asked charged council members "where were you at" during the shootings, saying of the mayor, "Every time there's a funeral, she's there."

Resident Roland Muhammad made similar charges of council absence in the Fourth Ward and declared members will be voted out. But residents Joanne Hollis, a former councilwoman, and Oscar Riba called for an end to polarizing and confrontational remarks at the council meetings.

McWilliams said after the meeting that the council had to decide what's next, a report on the investigation or perhaps another session.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

LWV Forum Tonight

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield will hold its annual candidates' forum tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Plainfield Public Library's Anne Louise Davis Room on the lower level.

Five candidates are vying for three Union County Freeholder seats and two are competing for a seat on the Plainfield City Council. The election is Nov. 8.

Incumbent Democrat Cory Storch and Republican William Michelson are running for a four-year term representing the Second Ward on the Plainfield City Council. (Incumbent Vera Greaves is uncontested for the other council seat up for election this year, representing the First & Fourth Ward at-large.)

Union County freeholder candidates for three three-year terms include Democrats Angel Estrada, Christopher Hudak and Vernell Wright and Republicans Edwin O. Ortiz and Andrew B. Smith. Estrada and Hudak are incumbents.


Bump-outs - Busted!

As readers know, I decided not to get a new car after the 1991 Escort expired, so I don't get around as easily as before. But on Sunday I decided to take a field trip to South Avenue and hopped the train to Netherwood to see the bump-out situation for myself.

A person can walk quite a way from the Netherwood station before coming to a cluster of bump-outs. But because there are no cross-streets, the entire stretch from Leland to Terrill will have to be closed at times. Officials have promised to work with merchants to minimize the impact on the South Avenue business district, which is part of the Special Improvement District as well as the Urban Enterprise Zone.

Cafe Vivace, a popular gathering place, is one of the businesses that will be affected.

The reconstruction plans were drawn up a while ago, but discussions over whether the state should pay for the repairs delayed implementation. Although it is part of Route 28, neither the state nor Union County want to claim responsibility for its maintenance. This project will likely be an initiation for Eric Jackson, the new director of Public Works & Urban Development, into Plainfield's sometimes tangled web of bureaucracy. As of Sunday, Donna Albanese of the Plainwood Square Merchants Association did not recall meeting the new director. But you can bet he will be invited to the next meeting with business owners on the project.

Not only do drivers have to be alert on the road while changes take place, pedestrians too have to watch out for their safety.

Customers of Sweet Lew's Bakery and other spots will have to have extra patience while the work is being done.

I'm sure everyone will be glad when the drama is over and the project director calls "Cut!"


South Avenue's Royal Family

If you have not visited the Dairy Queen on South Avenue recently, stop in and say hello to the Albanese family. Not only is the place remodeled and expanded, it now offers a lot more than ice cream treats. And if you want the "dish" on South Avenue, it's also info central as the home base of the Plainwood Square Merchants Association.

If this photo portrait doesn't make you smile, you are probably a certifiable curmudgeon. A cruise ship photographer cajoled Mr. Albanese into taking some dance steps for the camera, with this happy result. It was later used on invitations to Mr. Albanese's 80th birthday celebration and now hangs prominently in the expanded wing of the store.

The scrapbooks compiled by Donna Albanese on her family and its history as a business and force for good will in the community live on in custom-made showcases on the walls of the seating area. The Albanese family is legendary for its support of city causes and more recently for its advocacy of organ donation.

The showcases hold photos and also numerous news articles about the family and its many contributions to Plainfield, as merchants, mentors to youth and civic leaders. It is nourishing to one's spirit to see what this family has done. Even though I have reported on the Albanese family several times, I was impressed all over again!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Party Supply Store Opens on South Avenue

If it's party time at your home or school, it's time to visit A&B Party Supplies on South Avenue.

At least that's the mindset owner Andy Fredas hopes to instill in potential customers since he opened his new store next to Dairy Queen. The synergy of being next to the popular purveyor of ice cream cakes and more for special occasions is already working in Freda's favor, he said.

Freda was in the party supply business 20 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y. before Party City came along and sent him on to other endeavors. He is full of hope that his new store will find favor with local families for celebrations and holidays, and has already signed up up schools in a plan that includes a 20 percent donation back to the institution.

Halloween is coming up and soon and Freda is ready with decorations, trick-or-treat bags and other themed items.

Party goods come in all colors, for coordinated tableware and cups. The store has balloons for every occasion, as well as gift bags, tissue paper and ribbon. Freda will deliver supplies on one-day notice for items in stock and a bit longer for special orders.

Mickey Mouse is on the scene to delight the kiddies while parents browse.

Thanskgiving will be here soon and Freda has all the themed products to make the day extra-festive.

Since opening on Aug. 1, Freda has started to build a customer base. He said his kids have set up a Facebook page for the store. He is hoping the impending reconstruction of South Avenue will not slow down the launch of his business and Dairy Queen owner Donna Albanese said merchants will be working with city officials and the contractor to minimize the impact.

The store is located at 1359 South Avenue. Call (908) 754-0575 or stop by Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Queen City Walk/Run for Life

Participants in the Queen City Walk/Run for Life gathered at City Hall Saturday in sunshine with a brisk wind whipping the city.

Before the race began, Michael Pyne gave a description of historic sights along the route.

Plainfield Planning Director Bill Nierstedt, know for his advocacy of bicycling, put on a runner's tag for the event.

An aide to Jerry Green was the first to finish the one-mile preliminary event.

School athletes took part in both the 1-mile and 5-mile events.

Olympian John Marshall gets participants ready to start the 5-mile event.

The crowd is ready for the challenge.

Organizers drummed up wide support for the first of what they hope will be annual races to highlight Plainfield and a set of goals to improve city life.

The Courier News covered the event and I'm sure we will have a report from Dan. Councilman Cory Storch also put up a post on his blog. Congratulations to all who worked on the event, took part and supported it!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Candidates' Forum

6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Plainfield Public Library

Second Ward
Union County Freeholders

brought to you by
League of Women Voters of Plainfield

Psst! Here's the Password!

I keep passwords in a notebook that is so random, a crook would soon stop trying to decipher it and move on to the next victim.

So imagine my surprise when I found out last week at Staples that my favorite planner book company, At-A-Glance, has a neat new little password keeper.

Hmm .... so then where would you hide it? In your favorite roman-a-clef? Inside a sock in the sock drawer? Mixed in that pile of paper on your desk?

I have accumulated so many passwords by now that even I get frustrated by leafing through my purposely disorganized notebook. It is my own informal baseline memory test to remember the passwords I use most often, but bringing to mind the ones I need only occasionally is a nuisance. The password notebook is so cute and I have no excuse for buying any other notebooks at Staples, I just might have to have one ... and figure out a hiding place.

My favorite planner
I used a specific At-A-Glance planner for 15 years as a reporter. It had a blank right-hand page for notes and a lined page opposite for daily reminders. When I needed one for my last year at the CN, I was crushed to find out they had dropped the format in favor of flowery new designs with no free space to scribble. Grrr. But the company is still my favorite.


Groups Share Lofty Goals

Today's event to raise money for community uplift and to bring about "Five Pillars" of good works reminded me of another event held on May 28, 2010.

Organizers of the "People Against Killing" event also set out to raise funds and bring seven objectives to fruition. According to the web site of "Giving Initiatives and Alternatives," the organization has in fact created a Community Resource Center at 200 Garfield Avenue in Plainfield where people can take barber training, learn re-entry skills, enjoy art lessons and more. Andrea Kee, well-known for her community volunteer work, is listed as the administrator.

Another objective was to start a "no questions asked" gun surrender program. One was held recently in Plainfield, not sure if it was the same group. Other goals were to form a council of elders that would act to resolve issues that affect the community, to form neighborhood-based security teams, to increase security by encouraging business owners to hire police officers to patrol during late hours (which came up at the City Council in the context of liquor license renewals this year), and to have Black History courses become part of the elementary school curriculum.

The web site includes a summary of fundraising for the event, noting total donations of $4,760, but total expenses of $5,220.

The goal of today's event is to raise $10,000. The Five Pillars are:

"To improve the image of Plainfield highlighting its beauty and historic legacy;
To increase unity, engaging everyone to participate in an event for a common cause regardless of differences (of race, politics, religion, geography, education, etc.) setting an example to be followed going forward for all (especially our youth);
To bring about a greater sense of health awareness emphasizing our ability to generally improve our health through simple natural principles (including stopping putting poisons in our bodies and exercising more);
Creating a greater self awareness for our youth of who they are (and what they really stand for), thus increasing their self respect and positive image of themselves;
To raise funds that will provide additional programs for youth advancement (including offering grants and supplies for needy students, and supporting recreational programs for all youth), as well as additional recreational activities for senior citizens to participate more within the community."

One hopes there will be a report at some future point on how well things are going toward achieving these goals. Further, it would be good to have linkages among the various new and old groups that have community betterment as their overarching mission. A consortium of these groups would strengthen their mutual causes and avoid duplication of services.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Read NJDOE Fingerprinting Rules

Take a look here at what is required of school board members, including those serving charter schools.

My, my. It is a complicated process indeed. And it involves an awful lot of people, although the language says registering to go through the process will be considered being in compliance.

How soon will all sitting school board members are fully processed?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carnage in the Yard

Spying a small male praying mantis and a large female nearby, I decided to observe their behavior while sorting oxalis corms. The male crept closer to the female, but I missed the moment when they began copulating.

No sooner was the act concluded than the female attacked the male's head. I realized I was seeing proof of a disputed tale that the female cannibalizes the male after sex.

The female began dragging the still-writhing male away.

A tete-a-tete of the worst kind.

Here the female uses her powerful forelegs to grip the carcass.

Somehow she uses her skinny back legs to keep dragging the male along.

The female grasps a wing.

The hapless male is going to be devoured bit by bit.

The female detached the male's legs and nibbled them like strands of spaghetti.

The wing structure of the male was revealed as he was dragged around by the female.

The mandibles of the praying mantis are scary-looking in action.

My camera's battery failed before the denouement of this encounter.

This saga precedes the formation of an egg case that will be attached to a twig to winter over in the garden. The female dies, and in the spring dozens of tiny mantids emerge from the egg case. Only a few make it through the summer and as we see, the males take part in reproduction at their own risk.

Much has been written on whether female mantids actually kill their mates, but in a back yard on Block 832 Tuesday I saw the evidence that it happens. And now so have you.