The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, long beset by vacancies, gained a commissioner and an alternate in split City Council votes Monday.
The council approved former Councilman Malcolm Dunn to fill the vacancy created when PMUA Commissioner James Green died in 2009. Council members William Reid, Vera Greaves, Bridget Rivers, Adrian Mapp and Council President Annie McWilliams voted “yes” and Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch voted “no”’ on Dunn’s appointment to the unexpired term ending on Feb. 1, 2014.
Entrepreneur Cecil Sanders was approved to succeed Alternate No. 2 Eugene Dudley in a 4-3 vote, with McWilliams joining Storch and Williams in voting “no” on his appointment. (Dudley’s unexpired term runs to Feb. 1, 2012, but Sanders was given a two-year term to Feb. 1, 2013.)
Each candidate was asked to describe himself and then answer questions from council members. Sanders said he is a 35-year resident of the city who has been in business for 43 years in the fields of construction design and management. He said he learned about budgeting, working with boards and commissions and “how to make things happen” while serving on the Union County Improvement Authority.
Among council questions, Mapp said, “So you see yourself as a fiscal watchdog?” and Sanders said, “Yes.”
Storch alluded to a prior interview Sanders had with the council which did not result in an appointment and said the authority needs people who can make tough decisions. Noting layoffs of city staff, Storch said, “I think that’s what facing the PMUA.”
Williams asked Sanders whether he envisioned any conflict of interest with other commissioners that he had done business with in the past, but Sanders said he did not think he had any such conflicts.
On the somewhat sore subject of the authority’s inability to garner outside revenues for its services, Sanders told Williams he would use marketing to push for contracts.
Williams also questioned whether he would support pay-to-play reforms and Sanders said he was familiar with the rules.
McWilliams noted there had been a change of leadership at the PMUA since the last interview and that new Executive Director Duane Young has a sharp financial mind, a trait Sanders professed to have as well.
“You quite clearly have a skill set that would be valuable,” McWilliams said, next asking what innovations Sanders might bring to the table.
Sanders mentioned analyzing costs, saying, “I think that’s my strong point.”
Dunn, owner of a family-run maintenance business, said he was a city resident since 1970 and had served as a commissioner on the Housing Authority of Plainfield and later as a councilman.
Asked by Greaves what expertise he would bring to the PMUA, Dunn said, “fiscal understanding.”
To Mapp’s question, “In one word, can you tell me you are happy with the PMUA?” Dunn said, “No.”
Dunn wove numerous anecdotes and personal sayings into his interview but also set forth views including his opinion that the PMUA’s sewer service could “go back to Public Works.” Before the authority was created in 1995, the city had a sewer utility and costs were tax-deductible.
When Storch asked what he would do for the rate-payers, Dunn repeated he would change the sewer back to city control.
PMUA workers are non-union, but Dunn said, “If you don’t address the esprit de corps soon, you might have a problem of unionization that might ripple through the city.”
Storch asked Dunn whether he would sponsor pay-to-play rules for the PMUA and Dunn said was in favor of such rules, but Storch said that didn’t answer his question. Dunn spoke of his own contributions to state campaigns, but was reminded that the issue at hand was vendor donations to candidates.
Asked by Williams whether he had any potential conflicts of interest with anyone serving on the PMUA, Dunn said no.
Regarding marketing PMUA services, Dunn said he would first have to go there and see “whether or not the tools are there to market properly.”
Dunn concluded his remarks with a list of his family members’ service to the community and said they had “never taken a dime.”
The evening included remarks from resident Alan Goldstein regarding Dunn’s political donations and Reid’s position as campaign treasurer.
“If you vote for these candidates, you are voting for the power of money in politics,” Goldstein said, alleging that Reid was “up to his ears in conflicts.” But Reid said he was just the equivalent of a “bookkeeper,” doing paperwork on campaign funds for those who ran on the Democratic party line.
Dunn responded by saying he didn’t doubt there was a record of his family’s donations, but said one can give money to the city committee.
“I’ve been investigated by the FBI three or four times,” Duun said, “but here I am.”
Dunn’s son Jeffery, who is president of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, also came to the microphone to defend his family after resident Mariam Shastri said she sought help from the elder Dunn over her PMUA billing problems. Shastri said Dunn told her that people who can’t afford to live in Plainfield should move.
According to a list of PMUA commissioners on the city web site, Chairman Harold Mitchell is a holdover on an expired term and there is a vacancy for another alternate. Mapp commented on the holdovers and Williams said she wants “wide net cast” for people to serve on boards and commissions.