Thursday, October 20, 2011

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.

--Bernice

14 comments:

  1. ::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." - I clearly remember the citizens of West Caldwell being concerned about the shootings in Plainfield
    :: "task force" forays into hard-hit neighborhoods to hand out anti-crime flyers - I clearly remember back in the late 80's early 90's that this was single handily listed as the reason for the crime and murder reduction in NYC
    :: In public comment, resident Mike Muhammad blasted the council for questioning the mayor, saying it was "like a modern-day lynching." -- Dear Mike...don't disrespect those who truly perished and suffered from the process of lynching. IF THERE WERE a lynching involving the Mayor, she brought the rope, the reason and the lies that are leading up to the event. Whoever snowed you and the rest of her Red Shirt Posse into believing she is a victim ought to be punished for influencing the feeble minded.
    I would love to have a quantitative report on the number of lives...THIS BELOVED MAYOR SAVED. Beloved?? More like Mommy Dearest...

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  2. Although the causes and remedies for violent crime are varied, to consider this forum as an emergency response is a joke.

    At the exact same time the forum was being planned, the city had been sitting on nearly $270,000 in federal grant money for almost a year, funds that could have played a role in the response. Dozens of Plainfield residents could have been enrolled in legitimate job training programs, such as commercial driver's license training, that would have given them a nationally recognized credential and a leg up from poverty and despair. Some of the funds could have been used for emergency aid for those in need of rental, heating, and prescription medication assistance. Some of the money could have been utilized to create permanent resources to enable all Plainfield residents to better network for employment and assistance opportunities of all kinds.

    But the city sat on the money, lied to the state that it was actively recruiting eligible residents, and ignored the increasing number of individuals coming to Plainfield Action Services seeking help.

    By the time the forum was held in August, none of money had been spent, despite the requirement that all services paid out of the grant needed to be completed by the end of September.

    In fact, a contract with a vendor to provide job training was not signed until August 8th. And the vendor was not even eligible to receive job training funds on the basis of federal and state law, a point that was ignored by the purchasing agent and the two other members of the bid review committee, one of whom is our current Director of Administration and Finance, a position he was unanimously approved for by the City Council even after it was aware that he was the point- man for the illegal contracting. Needless to say, the vendor's president is a former City Councilman.

    So let's not talk about emergencies, unless we agree that the appropriate response is to attend funerals, hand out leaflets, and otherwise be loved.

    It is clear that both the Administration and the City Council are reactive, and sadly, they are reactive to one another as competitors for power within the local Democratic Party. That's all this WBLS business is about. (The forum was well-attended by the public, and the dais was filled with a congressman, freeholders, the mayor, the city council president, the school board president, along with numerous others whose stature in this topsy-turvy world correlates to the extent of our misery).

    Doing what's best for Plainfield, in a coordinated and intelligently thought out manner, doesn't even enter the mix. There is a lot of talk and hand-wringing, but real action that actually makes a sustainable difference is missing. Almost always, without fail.

    We can be entertained by WBLS because it is part and parcel a daily soap-opera of what ails us. But it is a reminder that the main feature, the Big Picture, is the serial indifference our politicians bring, and it's reason enough for a thorough housecleaning at each and every opportunity.

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  3. An "emergency" response is the radio?

    Really?

    The word "emergency" means when a natural or man-made disaster or EVENT has occurred -- like hurricanes, oil spills, floods, riots, earthquakes, tornados, war, wildfires -- where large numbers of people are in immediate danger.

    Once could argue the shootings put all of us in danger; but, like many cities with crime and poverty, the danger goes up when you are in the criminals' neighborhood.

    If the many shootings were truely deemed an emergency and posed an immediate danger to us all, then why didn't the mayor:

    1. Declare a state of emergency, whereby all normal governmental checks and balances can be suspended while the situation is dealt with.

    2. Call in the National Guard to patrol the streets.

    3. Bring in county and state law enforcement, since it was an "emergency" and our police could not deal with it.

    4. Impose curfews inforced by the police.

    5. Call for evacuations (just like hurricanes, floods, tornatoes) for people to seek safe shelter.

    6. Conduct house-to-house searches for guns and drugs (since we're in a state of emergency, and everyone's life is threatened).

    7. Conduct on-street searches for concealed weapons.

    The fact that the mayor didn't declare a state of emergency -- means there was no emergency.

    Instead -- she handed out flyers and did a radio program, which is the typical "make a lot of noise and do nothing effective" politician's response.

    It's an excuse.

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  4. So what is the true cost of this investigation? If there are enough charges to refer to the prosecutor then do it. If not give her a public scolding and move on.

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  5. Absolutely absurd to qualify this as an emergency. I am sure that if it was such an emergency, the Mayor would have had her bodyguards put back on duty.

    It took this long to get an answer from her as to why the funds were spent? Is that the best she can do? If it was such an emergency, why didn't she just say so in the first place? The City is definitely in a State of Emergency, and will be until this bimbo is out of office.

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  6. Robinson-Brigss is an example of what's wrong with politics what is wrong with Plainfield, and why the weakest among Plainfield residents have suffered so much for so long.

    She is a manipulative and deceitful individual using her constituents for self-serving purposes. She may have good intentions but, for the wrong reasons.

    Last night she demonstrated she had her bible in front of her during the entire proceedings. I suggest she keep it handy; it's a good long read, has various editions and soon enough she'll have a lot of time to analyze the true meaning of the book.

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  7. How much did Shady Sharonda pay Muhammad to stick up for her. He is one of the few, as Sharon has truly soiled herself here and I don't think WBLS was the place Plainfielders would go for answers to our woes. I haven't heard of the mayors of other towns and cities taking this route. Sharon is shadier than ever and Muhammad is not a credible person.

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  8. Bernice,

    Thanks for reporting on this drama. While there are no surprises that the "emergency" lever was pulled, I am far more interested in learning what the council will do at this time with the information they have been provided with. I truly hope the council informs the community about its next step. Thanks again. Maria

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  9. State of Emergency, yet less than 500 out of nearly 50,000 frightened residents attended. (HOG WASH) the only emergency I noticed was the way she tried to not answer the questions, how she couldn't recall who made the decisions with her, how she spoke with special counsel Lucas Phillips who we were told at earlier meetings in 2010 that he was never hired. Just to find out the previous employee who said he was hired and showed an opra response that had him on the payroll was true.

    All I hear is a bunch of lies and her supporters who feel as if the council members are doing something wrong and to that I say Council Members be encouraged, keep your heads up and your hearts for the the citizens of Plainfield without deceit.

    Last night was disappointed like Mr. Storch said the reason this is being dragged out is the mayor and her administrations ability not to cooperate. If she truely knew who she is and whose she is , as she stated in her opening then she would come clean and answer the questions. I think that's just something folks say. I'm over 50 and I can remember who I spoke with and what we talked about last year and since I know the mayor is younger than I, if she has a memory problem she shouldn't be mayor anyway.

    Let's all pray that the truth comes out, whatever it might be.

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  10. Doesn't Mr. Muhammad work for the City? Recreation Department?

    If so isn't the Mayor his Boss?

    His comments should be disregared as he as a HUGE conflict of interest. When she is no longer Mayor, he no longer has his seasonal job !!!

    If he is so concerned about Plainfield way does he not attend the debate for the candidates in his own Ward.

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  11. Her feathers are all ruffled because somebody challenged her authority???? Obviously Sharon believes she is accountable to nobody.

    I wonder why the outcries from the community warranted a radio show back then and don't today. I have no idea what the Mayor is doing to reduce violent crime. Have things gotten better? I don't think so. Will things get worse when the back office job deals she gave to gang members expire?


    What happened to the integrity the citizens of Plainfield expect from the Office of the Mayor? This is all absurd. While I don't think all this drama is necessary, it proves what an EVIL and UNDERHANDED woman the Mayor can really be. Shame on her and the minions that surround and support her. I don't think she really cares about the city, the citizens or the City Council. While she puts on a good front, she really could give a rats aaa..., behind...about anything but her own agenda.

    I praise the council for the work they do to keep our Shady Mayor honest. I would like to see this get wrapped up sometime soon though. I know there are a lot of other things that need addressed; it's unfortunate that the Mayor wants to keep dragging this out. It's a little to late to save face.

    Maybe the voters will see fit to do away with her and her evil empire. Shame on them if they don't.

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  12. If Sharon felt it was an appropriate action, why did she wait one year to tell us?

    Her reasoning also perfectly displays her lack of ability to manage, control, and think. All major cities have crime. They do not put themselves on the radio and announce to the world what is going on. Frankly, it sounds like something her lawyer came up with and told her to say.

    Sharon is a self serving figure who cares only about herself. She reminds me of Sarah Palin who all of a sudden has attention being paid to her. Sharon likes it and will do whatever it takes to keep herself in the limelight. Maybe Dancing with the Stars is next.

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  13. This "mayor" is a disaster, focusing on helping only a fraction of the residents of the city she alleges to represent. This issue can be "spun" to be about politics, but more importantly its about accountability; and this woman needs to be held accountable for dragging Plainfield through the mud for years now. Her bible waving, holy-er than thou administration needs to come to an end. The people of Plainfield deserve better.

    As a politician, if you're going to be corrupt and lie and cheat and steal, at least have the decency to clean up the streets, crack down on crime, don't negotiate with gang members, cut down on the number of ex-cons you hire into your administration, work on attracting economic development to your city to create jobs and make it seem as though you care about all of your citizens; then, maybe, just maybe, people will look the other way on this
    type of incident.

    The first step in getting rid of this tumor that calls herself a mayor is by voting out her puppeteer Assemblyman Jerry Green in the upcoming election, then Plainfield can start moving in the right direction.

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  14. Plainfield Peace CoalitionMarch 15, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    We the proud residents of Plainfield will never forget the violence which left so many youth maimed and murdered...Our homes continue to have bullet holes in them... Our Children were forbidden to play on the street like normal areas...Our Children who wanted summer jobs were denied due to the neighborhood they so happen to reside in...I watched several assasination attepts by multiple perpetrators, whom successfully downed a youth by the name of "Quran" and a good neighbor who is related to DR.Ben Chavis, tried to render CPR to him but unfortunately his head collapsed due to severe bullet induced trauma...We saw the shock of this on her as piecies of his brain oozed out onto the sidewalk and God knows she will never ever forget this...she has been so instrumental in advocating for our youth to
    apply for jobs!!!! We have been a bit successful in facilitating a Block Association
    as per Mayor Robinson-Briggs' theme for UNITY
    In which she ran and won!!!
    I know that this is a normal event for our seasoned Combat Veterans who I am proud of knowing here in the City of Plainfield....
    But no a generous sensitive woman with bad knees, with a love of animals, who takes in homeless cats in the neighborhood, and who has trained her dogs to co-mingle with the cats
    I can not even begin to explain that but its true,,,She tried to save a life rather than staying in her home. Wake up and realize that 2010 was what Mayor Robinson-Briggs deemed
    EMERGENCY.
    Stop prejudging the people of the west end and
    help us create a better Plainfield

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