"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.