Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mayor Takes Over Day-to-Day Operations

City residents may have been startled by the news that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has named herself acting city administrator, but the city's special charter allows for such action under Article III, Section 3.7, "Emergencies."

The 90-day term of Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson as acting city administrator expired today. Williamson had recently voiced the expectation that former City Administrator Bibi Taylor would soon be returning from maternity leave, but instead she took a position in the Union County administration.

As quoted by reporter Mark Spivey, the mayor expresses hopes that her tenure in the acting role will be brief, as there are candidates to be interviewed.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pension Deferral Debt Coming Due

It was two years ago that the governing body agreed, not without reservations, to accept a pension deferral plan offered by the state. It saved the city $2.7 million for the 2009 fiscal year, but incurred a debt to be paid back over 15 years starting in 2012.

From the March 31, 2009 post:

"Facing a $3.2 million shortfall in the yet-to-be-passed budget for the year ending June 30, the alternative would have been to make drastic cuts in police, fire and public works staff, City Council President Rashid Burney said.

"The city hopes to create a reserve that will lessen the impact of the future debt by allowing early repayment, officials said."

Some might say the drastic cuts were only deferred and the debt remains to be paid. As far as creating a reserve, did that happen? Given the turnover in the cabinet, does anybody know for sure? Perhaps this debt figures into the new shortfall identified, but not yet publicly explained, by new Chief Finance Officer Ron Zilinski.

Click here to read Plaintalker's post from two years ago.

The current council has proposed an early start on budget deliberations for the 2012 fiscal year, but the departure of Bibi Taylor may slow things down. Dan Williamson's stint as acting city administrator is up and unless there is a candidate to replace Taylor as city administrator through 2013, the mayor must name another acting city administrator.

The council meets Monday for an agenda-fixing session, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. Perhaps there will be an update on the budget situation.

--Bernice

JG: Do As I Say ...

Jerry Green takes a stand against the naysayers thusly:

"Often it reads like you guys are so busy loitering in the gutter that you don’t focus on the good that is happening. I will continue to challenge the naysayers in the blogging community to bring forth their actions… what are you doing to make Plainfield better?"

In an earlier post, he writes:

"There is no mention of the city council members in today’s blog. Are your readers aware that council members are paid $10,000 plus full medical benefits? Are they aware that a majority of the council members don’t do anything at all except show up for their paycheck?"

To the latter, may we point out first that council members took a voluntary cut in their compensation, so they are not paid $10,000. As far as showing up, through December and early January they held eight meetings in a row and their usual meetings run to four and five hours, excluding closed session. They also spend countless hours on aid to constituents and participation in community events.

To the former, speaking just for myself as a blogger, I began writing about redevelopment issues that were not being covered by other media. The blog format also allows for detailed coverage of governmental matters without space limitations. My main goal is to provide Plainfielders with information that they can use to leverage their participation in civic affairs. It is not always evident from a printed agenda what decisions are up for action by the governing body or what is going on in the administration. Legal notices for important hearings may be overlooked in the newspaper, but can be amplified and contextualized on blogs so residents have a better chance of taking part.

I have also highlighted local businesses and attractions in the Queen City, as well as vignettes that convey what makes Plainfield unique. There is now a five-year searchable archive on these topics and more on Plainfield Plaintalker and Plaintalker II.

Personally, I don't think city bloggers in general need to prove themselves to Jerry Green. It is certainly his prerogative to respond or comment on the content of any blog. I just wish the quality of his verbiage would go beyond blanket condemnations and scatter-shot name-calling or labeling. One expects more from the political leader of our corner of the free world.

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on County Committee

The county committee members elected in the June primary are also known as the municipal or city committee. There used to be a larger number of seats. Click here for a Plaintalker post on how voter apathy erodes the numbers.

Somebody asked who is on the current Democratic committee. Click here to see. The officers' list at the top is not correct, nor do we have eight City Council members. But the ward and district names are correct, as far as I know. One member, Hugh Smith, recently passed away.

Over the years, a number of husband and wife teams have run for and won district seats. Perhaps the rule that there must be one male and one female in each district was meant to overcome early all-male representation. I took a fast look at Title 19 and saw the requirement in the statute, but could not pinpoint when it came about.

In 2009, I wondered whether the time would come when Title 19 would be amended to permit same-sex partners to run for committee seats. Certainly Plainfield has a large number of gay or lesbian couples who are very much engaged in civic matters and who would be good committee candidates. Or maybe readers think two committee members from the same household, straight or gay, is or would be just hogging the representation if they win.

Many years ago, the Democratic City Committee roster for the June primary had quite a few "no nomination made" lines on the ballot. That changed when Harold Mitchell ran a full slate of challengers to Jerry Green's candidates. Since then, the RDOs have tended to field candidates for every possible seat. That was the case in 2009. The New Dems had a slate of 54 candidates to the RDO's 68. The winners were 27 New Dems and 41 RDOs, with RDOs coming out on top in Wards 1 and 4 and New Dems taking 14 Second Ward seats to the RDOs' eight. In the Third Ward, New Dems took the edge, 11-9. Of course, now they are all RDOs by dint of winning and all are supposed to support the party line. Heh, as somebody on Facebook likes to say.

--Bernice

Computer Status iffy Again

Our very enjoyable respite from weird messages and frozen cursors may be over today, as one pop-up has returned to plague us. Just FYI in case our home cures don't work and Plaintalker goes dark for a while.

--Bernice

Run for County Committee

If you are a registered Democrat and you want to enter politics at the most grassroots level, you can run this year for a seat on the county committee. Plainfield has 34 voting districts within its four wards and each district has a male and female representative elected in the June primary. On the Monday after the primary, the committee members elect a party chairman, ward leaders and other officers. All the committee people and officers serve for two years. As a committee person, it is your job to help get out the vote in your district and to bring the concerns of your neighbors in the district to elected officials. Petitions should be available soon in the City Clerk’s office and must be returned by 4 p.m. April 11. Not a lot of signatures are required, but you should get several more in case any of the signers are challenged. They have to be registered voters in the district you wish to serve. Committee candidates can run under any slogan, but if you win, you will become a member of the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County. For example, people who ran as "New Democrats" and won are now officially RDOs. The Citizens’ Campaign, an organization that aims to increase civic involvement, has more information on becoming a committee person. Click here to learn more. --Bernice

Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Condolences to All

Plainfield has suffered many losses in recent days. May all those who are bereaved find solace in days to come.

--Bernice

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind

Pedestrians and bike riders may be singing a protest song when they encounter these big, new signs on Park Avenue. They hang over the sidewalk and make it hard to see what's ahead.

Innovations like this may not be covered by any sign laws on the books. They seem to be more suited for highways than downtown streets.

This one is smaller, but not very attractive, plus it appears to be bound to a street tree. What is the point of requiring streetscape design approvals and then allowing stuff like this? City Hall is very short-staffed lately, so maybe no one has yet seen these new signs.

Actually, this issue came up last year regarding various kinds of illuminated window signs that are not permitted, but there is no one with the time to investigate, cite owners and see the process through to removal of the offending signs. Click here to see Plaintalker's post on the topic.

I guess we are in for more of the same regarding this new category of signage.

--Bernice

Bread and Sunflowers

Saturday was sunny but with a cold wind blowing. It took me until mid-afternoon to decide that a trip to Westfield for bread was in order. Local markets have plenty of Wonder Bread and many Latino varieties of pan, but none of the multi-grain stuff I am supposed to eat.

The 59 bus came right on time at 3:37 p.m. and I enjoyed seeing the earliest buds of yellow forsythia and red maple tree flowers along the way.

Trader Joe's was bustling and I soon had a cloth bag full of goodies with 20 minutes to spare before the return bus was due. Besides groceries, there were lots of flowers for sale, including a startlingly cheerful array of sunflowers. Out on the street, winter-hardy purple and yellow pansies in planters looked a little battered by the harsh winds.

I had time to browse for another pair of the pants I got last week on sale at the Gap. Now that I have lost enough weight to fit in size 10, I thought I might as well have two pairs. No luck there.

The bus going back to Plainfield was due at 4:30 p.m., but it was late and the wind was fierce. I had plenty of time to ponder the need to travel afar for groceries you can't get in the Queen City.

So ... when will that promised Trader Joe's open in the PNC Bank building? You can bet I will be among the first in line!

--Bernice

Scavenging on the Increase?


My neighbor and I have noticed what may be a sign of the current hard times, namely frequent visits to our block by scavengers picking through trash and recyclables.

One person arrives often on a bicycle with a small trailer attached. He goes through the recycling bins looking for cans and will also strip copper from cast-off appliances, computers and television sets. He told me recently that he goes all over Plainfield, as well as to neighboring municipalities, in search of scrap. Despite new rules about disposal of electronics, people still set out old TVs and such and one often sees them smashed as scavengers seek out valuable wires and other metal components. After I spoke to our scavenger, we no longer see the debris strewn about, but we still have the carcasses of these appliances sitting around. Sometimes residents of our six-family stuff them in the trash bin, which is supposed to be for household waste.

Out of the six households, only a couple in our building adhere to all the solid waste and recycling regulations. My neighbor and I are the longest-term residents and we generally end up cleaning up after the others.

There is also a couple that arrives in a small blue pickup truck to probe the bins. It is unclear to me what they hope to find in there. I have not tried to interview them. They move bags of trash to see what is underneath - not very sanitary. A woman who sometimes does the same alone puts her finds in a shopping cart. She very energetically plows through the garbage and quickly moves on, while the couple take their time.

Over the years, especially when curbside bulk waste pickups were done, we used to see people going through the debris. Back when aluminum was more valuable, I used to chase folks away from the recycling cans when I lived on Putnam Avenue, because once materials are set out, they technically belong to the official municipal collector. We have also seen scavengers take aluminum rain pipes right off buildings, and we have all heard of copper being stripped from vacant homes and buildings for scrap. The big blue building at Park & Seventh has had metal stripped out of it.

Scavenging, or garbage picking, is well-known in poorer nations. I found this article about how people try to organize it in various locales. Dumpster diving for fun and profit also became an activity in the U.S., both for squatters living off society's castoffs and for hackers seeking corporate information. Authorities have warned that people engaged in identity theft can sift trash for bills and other paperwork with useful account numbers.

In the spectrum of treasure to trash, useful but no longer wanted items can be donated to groups such as the Visiting Nurse Association, which holds massive rummage sales to raise funds, or more simply can be set out on the curb or front lawn for takers. I have put household items including an old typewriter, a deacon's bench, a printer and other items labeled "Free" and they are often gone within minutes.

Garbage picking still has a stigma compared to browsing curbside household castoffs. It's kind of sad to see someone rifling through bags of refuse in hopes of garnering something worth a few pennies or dollars. Are you seeing scavengers in your neighborhood? If so, how do you feel about it?

--Bernice

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Missing the Good Old Days?

Back in the day before rappers, us old folks had the rhymes of Robert Louis Stevenson, such as, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." But now the world is so much more full of things that it sometimes feels overwhelming.

I recently shared with someone my view that I would like to turn back the population clock to when I was growing up. The world seemed more accessible or manageable somehow when there were fewer authors, fewer politicians, fewer consumer choices, fewer claims on our attention in, say, 1950. Click here to see how population has grown in the state and in the nation.

Obviously this is the musing of a fuddy-duddy one step from senility, a person who doesn't "get" Twitter and other modern phenomena. But yesterday I picked up a copy of "Curation Nation," in which author Steven Rosenbaum posits the need for and value of "curators" who will wrangle all the onslaught of information, marketing and communication for us. I started jotting notes of concepts and links I never heard of and then decided I just have to buy this book so I can mark up the pages and make notes (does Kindle let you do such a thing?).

The book mentions a job title, content strategist, that I never heard of until it turned up on a business card of my firstborn. Indeed, I need to read this book if for nothing else than to chat knowledgeably about SEO and such with Audrey.

I know the days of neighborly dialog over the backyard fence or on the front porch settee are probably gone forever in favor of texting, and one no longer has to wait for Sunday evening to hear (not see) the best in family entertainment. The world is not going to roll back to simpler times. Maybe this book will serve as my field guide to the overcrowded, overloaded, overstimulating world in which we all live today. Just think, sixty years from now, for 12-year-olds in 2011 this will be the "good old days" and they may find their new world just as perplexing.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Lattimore Leaves Us

This writer was among Plainfielders who were shocked and saddened by the death of Police Lt. Ron Lattimore.

Our sincerest condolences to the entire Lattimore family and Lt. Lattimore's colleagues in the Police Division. He will be missed.

--Bernice

Park Avenue Apartments Shaping Up

After many months of work, plans for apartments over Park Avenue commercial space are nearing fruition. It was interesting to see these new windows over the dollar store.

The developer is also creating apartments in the building next door, which also has new windows. A couple of tenants, including a floor covering store and what appeared to be a house of worship have come and gone on the ground floor.

Here's a rear view of the adaptation to apartment usage.

Plans for one of these projects date back to 2008. Click here to read Plaintalker's report.

Apartments - you know, where renters live - were considered anathema back when about 200 people took part in a two-year effort to make a strategic plan for the city's future. One of the stated goals was to reduce rental dwellings by 10 percent. About half of city residential units at the time were rentals.

How times change. Not only did these two projects get approved, many of developer Frank Cretella's proposals involve apartments rather than owner-occupied units. The target renter lately is one who is committed to the use of public transportation or who will settle for offsite parking. Plaintalker will be watching to see how things work out.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Next for PW&UD?

As we await new developments in assigning or hiring someone to run the Department of Public Works & Urban Development, it might be instructive to look back at how things were when David Brown II resigned last November. Click here to read Plaintalker's post.

Not much has changed since then. The next person will still have all the same issues to deal with, some chronic and some episodic. Some that should be minor issues or non-issues seem to be always on the front burner, leaving less time to deal with important, long range programs. Layoffs have reduced staffing, creating a strain on those left to cope with the day-to-day onslaught of work, especially in the Planning Division.

The current chill between the administration and the governing body will be another factor a new person will have to deal with, as well as meshing with whomever emerges as the new acting or permanent city administrator.

In November, Plaintalker voiced hopes that someone would see the job as not just a challenge, but also an opportunity. Any takers out there?

--Bernice

One Year Since North Avenue Demolition

Before the demolition.

It was one year ago that a wrecking crew took down a building that had stood on North Avenue since 1886.

I watched in troubled fascination as heavy machinery bashed it to bits in one day after bricks began falling from a parapet. Some wanted to find a way to preserve the facade, as the building was integral to the streetscape across from the main train station and was part of the North Avenue Commercial Historic District.

It was not to be.
Clearing the site took another two months at a cost of about $200,000. Plaintalker pointed out vaults under the sidewalk that were not sealed off, and on this anniversary once again let us raise a concern about how the fill is settling into the vaults. Large holes have developed along the chain link fence that separates the lot from the sidewalk.
The same thing happened when another building was taken down many years ago at North Avenue and Gavett Place and there is still settling going on at that site. However, the 2010 demolition was done under the scrutiny of city engineers who surely must have realized the need to wall off the vaults before filling the excavated basement. Let's hope somebody is monitoring this site, as it could present a liability in its present condition. Click here for an October 2010 post on the subject.
--Bernice

Spring Will Be A Little Late ...

Never mind the first day of spring on the weekend - the National Weather Service today put out a "winter weather advisory" to warn of a rain/sleet/snow event that could give us one to two inches of slippery stuff.

These miniature daffodils were looking perky when it was 70 degrees a few days ago, but now they are bowing humbly to Mother Nature and her whims. Time to cue the sad Frank Loesser ballad ...

--Bernice

Upcoming Dates

Tonight a series of City Council Town Meetings will begin with with the First Ward forum at 7 p.m. in Emerson School.

Shortly the Regular Democratic Organization's slate for the June primary will be announced. The council seats up for election this year are those for the Second Ward and the First & Fourth Ward at-large. The filing deadline for all candidates is 4 p.m. April 11.

The next City Council meeting is April 4, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. The regular meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. April 11 in Municipal Court.

As Plaintalker and others have noted, the 90-day acting period for city administrator will be up by the end of March. Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson has been holding the city administrator post while James Ventantonio has been serving as acting corporation counsel. In addition, time will be up for Jacques Howard to serve as acting director of Public Works & Urban Development. The mayor need only appoint others in acting capacity if there are no permanent successors up for advice and consent of the governing body.

The school board election is April 27. Keep an eye out for various candidate forums before then. The League of Women Voters of Plainfield has scheduled its annual candidates' forum for 7 p.m. April 21 at Washington Community School.

As you can see, there is much to be revealed in coming weeks. Plaintalker will endeavor to gather the hyperlocal news as it happens.

--Bernice

Household Malaise

My son and I are both under the weather and the computer has a problem. All in all, getting things done properly is not in the cards right now. Blogging will be erratic at best for the time being.

--Bernice


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BOE Candidate Drops Out

Plainfield Public Schools Business Administrator Gary Ottmann confirmed today that the field of candidates for three three-year school board seats has narrowed to four.

In answer to Plaintalker's inquiry, Ottmann said Ellen Carter-Haygood has withdrawn from the race. That leaves incumbent Agurs Linward "Lenny" Cathcart Jr. and three newcomers, Alex Edache, Dorien Hurtt and Jameelah Surgeon, who are running as a slate.

The school board election is April 27.

--Bernice

Computer Goblins Are Back

Posting may be spotty as something is trying to mess with computer operations again.

Will post as able.

--Bernice

McWilliams Assures Recreation Continuity

There will be “no gaps in service” for recreation programs in the city, Council President Annie McWilliams said Monday at a press conference aimed at defusing rumors that peaked this month as an April 15 layoff date looms.

McWilliams said council members have assured her that there are enough votes to maintain recreation. Two votes to increase funding for the Recreation Division failed on March 14, but the matter will be taken up again next month, possibly at a special meeting, she said.

As Plaintalker has noted in past posts, the issue of management of the Recreation Division has been a festering controversy for many months. Supporters of Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn have faced off against volunteer sports organizers who allege Wynn has not cooperated on use of municipal playing fields and otherwise marred their efforts. Wynn supporters have vilified council members who approved a new Recreation Commission and were backed by the mayor, who vetoed the commission plan. On March 14, a move to overturn the veto failed, along with the funding resolutions.

While assuring the audience in City Hall Library that recreation programming and community events will continue, McWilliams said the council will “not accept anything less than the best from Recreation,” and that she will seek outreach to seniors and to more than the 600 children currently served. The volume and scope of Recreation Division programs has been another criticism of Wynn’s management.

McWilliams was blunt in referring to flyers and letters that helped bring out a capacity crowd on March 14.

“Our children are being fed lies,” she said.

Since then, lunchtime rallies have taken place in elementary schools based on the same allegations of a recreation shutdown at the hands of the council. McWilliams was specifically targeted at a rally last week outside City Hall.

After explaining once again that funding for the Recreation Division was not cut but reallocated among three budget lines, McWilliams took questions from the audience.

Referring to Wynn and a staff member, resident Roland Muhammad asked who would run programs if those two were laid off. Although the anticipated vote to restore funding would avert layoffs through June 30, McWilliams said it was “never a secret” that formation of a commission was intended to “adjust the management structure.” Noting people were saying, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” McWilliams said, “The problem is, we all have a different viewpoint” including one that there was room for improvement.

McWilliams fielded more concerns and encouraged everyone “to be calm and clear-headed” about the situation.

“The reality is that this is not a disaster,” she said.

The entire press conference was taped for viewing on local Channels 96 (Comcast) and 34 (Verizon FiOS).

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Storch Weighs In on Recreation Issue

Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch has offered information on his blog that bears consideration as elected officials continue to deal with the Recreation issue. In case you missed it, click here to see Cory's blog post.

--Bernice

Dornoch in Rahway

Dornoch is in the news at Rahway Rising. Click here for the blog post.

Oh boy. If Rahway officials can get to have talks with Rahway and subsequent action is made public, why can't we over here find out what is going on with The Monarch? The developer claims the city owes about a quarter-million dollars to his company. Meanwhile, condos are being rented with only a minuscule amount of taxes assessed on unsold units.

There is such a backlog of unfinished business now that it is hard even to remember what questions to ask, let alone going back periodically to review the status of various matters. The Good Ship Plainfield, as Rick Taylor once called it, seems to be swirling in the maelstrom.

--Bernice

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Computer Lunacy?

Once again we are having funny business with the computer.
Maybe the Super Moon is doing it!
Hope I can get a glimpse of the phenomenon anyway.
If Plaintalker goes dark over the weekend, it's just one of those things.

--Bernice

No Special Meeting Packet

A trip to the Plainfield Public Library today yielded no further information on the special meeting called for Monday to deal with "emergency appropriations." There was no packet at the Reference Desk. Most likely all interested parties will just have to wait for the meeting itself to find out more about the nature of the proposed appropriations.

--Bernice

TAP Names Names (Except His Own)

True American Patriot has submitted a comment linked to a blog post in which he alleges widespread conspiracy in a case of injustice. Although he does not give his name, he uses every one else's name, including mine. His point is that because people "friended" on Facebook the alleged perpetrator of this injustice, they are all complicit.

I never heard about the 2009 incident he cites and I am sorry for those who feel they have been dealt an injustice despite court findings to the contrary.

Having said that, his allegation brings up something I have been thinking about for a while. The social media phenomenon has possibly resulted in a breakdown of the arm's-length position that used to be a rule for news gatherers. Now almost everybody is being told to get on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, even journalists and legislators. It is suggested as a good strategy for bloggers as well. So now are we all to be implicated in the misdeeds of anyone else to whom we are linked by social media?

TAP also accuses numerous elected officials of having "helped" the accused individual out of the charges against him, as well as some people who patronized his business. This is really far-fetched, as most people don't look for a dossier on a given merchant before making a transaction.

But it is the social media aspect that is under question here. What sort of bond does linking to someone imply? I do not accept TAP's premise that being "facebook buddies" (sic) means a wholesale condoning of alleged or actual behavior of the other party.

Nor do I accept the notion that a blogger has to post every comment from an anonymous reader.

So TAP, I must disappoint you you on two counts. I did not participate in any cover-up of injustice in Plainfield and I am not going to post the comment linked to the blog where you make your anonymous accusations.

--Bernice

Time Out for Dissension

What should be a season of hope and renewal is, on local and global levels, a time of sadness and uncertainty. We can hardly comprehend the multiple disasters facing the Japanese people, even as we admire the character with which they facing massive loss and disruption on personal and national levels.

Here at home, things are in flux at City Hall and our elected leaders are at odds on important matters.

While we can send prayers and help to Japan, is there something we can do here in the Queen City besides take sides in the mounting disputes over how to run city affairs? We hear talk of transparency and collegiality, but if anything positions have hardened and common ground for decision making is becoming more scarce.

Somehow there has to be an increase of engaged citizens who can foster or even insist on thoughtful review of the current problems and a reasoned approach to their solution. The city's reputation and its future hinge in part on the quality of its interactions as a socioeconomic entity.
When people ask, would I want to live there, work there, invest there, those in power are accountable if the answer is "no." But so are those who put them in power.

Now more than ever, residents need to pay attention and reward leaders who are seeking the highest and best for the city. And leaders themselves must not fall prey to apathy or cynicism. Have you ever heard someone say, "That's Plainfield for you," as if the die is cast? Who is rolling the dice and gambling with your future as a Plainfielder? Give it some thought.

--Bernice

Town Meetings Start Wednesday

The Plainfield City Council's schedule of Town Meetings in each ward has been revised from what was published at the beginning of the year. Please note the new schedule, all at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays:

Ward 1, March 23, Emerson School

Ward 2, April 6, Cook School

Ward 3, April 20, Cedarbrook School

Ward 4, May 11, Clinton School

The governing body is pitching these meetings as open forums for residents to share their concerns with local representatives. The entire council has been asked to be present for each of the ward meetings, so if a date is inconvenient, it may be that you can stop in at another of the meetings with your concerns.

Council members' contact information, with the exception of First & Fourth Ward appointee Vera Greaves, is also posted here on the city web site, if you wish to call or e-mail with a concern. The link also includes council committee and liaison assignments as well as their terms. Get to know your council members, they want to know you better.

--Bernice

Abandoned Beauties

On the scale of current human events, the poignancy of an abandoned garden is very minor. Still, it was both a small revelation of beauty, and a reminder of life's transience, to come upon patches of Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) in the side yard of a boarded-up office/apartment structure near City Hall last week. Someone planted these little bulbs at a happier time and they have spread vigorously, with now only a curious passerby to admire them. It was tempting to think of "liberating" them from their neglected situation, but they do belong to somebody, even if the present owner doesn't know or care that they are on the property.

--Bernice

Friday, March 18, 2011

Details on Bibi Hiring

It's official.

Bibi Taylor will succeed retiring Union County Finance Director Lawrence Caroselli.

See details here.

Taylor came to Plainfield city government as director of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services in July 2009 and was named city administrator in January 2010. She retained the department head position in acting capacity in addition to being in charge of day-to-day operations of the city. Although acting titles are not supposed to exceed 90 days, it was not until November 2010 that Al Restaino was named director of AFH&SS. See Plaintalker's post here.

What happens next in terms of filling the city administrator post is anyone's guess. Perhaps former city finance director Ron West, who was briefly considered to fill in for Taylor during her maternity leave, will accept the post. West knows the city well and was always ready with the facts and figures when serving as finance director in the administration of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, the late father of Council President Annie McWilliams. West and CFO Ron Zilinski might make a very good team to take on the predicted heavy challenges of the FY 2012 budget.

Good luck to Bibi at the county. She garnered many fans in Plainfield during her tenure here.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Special Meeting Monday

OK, it's time to drag out the old Charter of the City of Plainfield.

Let's see, Article II, THE CITY COUNCIL
2.6 - Meetings. (Skip to the part about special meetings.)
"Special meetings upon at least two days public notice may be called by the Mayor whenever he deems necessary, and shall be called by the City Clerk upon written request signed by a majority of the councilmen. The call for the meeting shall specify the purpose of the meeting, and no other business may be conducted at such meeting."

So the mayor calls the meeting and there has to be a written request from a council majority?

Wait a minute. A notice has been sent out that refers to a special meeting called by the mayor for 7 p.m. Monday "pursuant to Article 2, Section 2:2-10(A) of the Administrative Code of the City of Plainfield." Oh drat. Rashid took down the online code book from his web site and AJ hasn't set it up yet on the city web site.

Hmmm. Let's look up a special meeting notice on the New Jersey Press Association web site. OK, here's one for Dec. 27. Same citation, Article 2, Section 2:2-10(A) - but it says the meeting is "hereby called by the Plainfield City Council" and at the bottom it says, "By order of the Plainfield City Council."

The one for Monday says, "hereby called by the mayor" and "by order of the mayor of the City of Plainfield."

WTBleep. Is this a council meeting or what?

The business noted is "Emergency Appropriation." No amount or purpose indicated. Kind of sketchy.

Meanwhile, Council President Annie McWilliams has called a press conference for 6 p.m. Monday in City Hall Library.

Whassup?

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Constable Nominations Yanked

A resolution to name two city men constables was withdrawn Monday by the administration and tabled by the City Council for good measure.

The resolution would have been effective immediately for a four-year term, even though constables have to show proof of being bonded and the term on the books is only one year. There were many more questions raised by bloggers and others about what being a constable entails. Perhaps when there is more information, the item will come back.

Read Plaintalker's previous post on the issue here.

--Bernice

News Flash! (Maybe)

As many were looking forward to the return of City Administrator Bibi Taylor following maternity leave, it was a bit of a shock to read this:

"I was notified by the county manager yesterday that the County of Union has decided to hire Bibi Taylor as their new financial director of the finance department of Union County. She will be the first black woman to hold such a position in Union County. So I am hoping that she can move on with her career and the Mayor and Council can find someone else so that we can deal with this year’s budget, because the Mayor and Council are going to have to make some tough decisions."

So wrote Jerry Green today, along with a reminder to me to stop trying to ruin his life, as if a lowly pensioner with a hyperlocal blog can bring down the third-highest ranking person in the Assembly.
Anyway, a call to the Union County Public Information Office did not yield confirmation of Bibi Taylor's hiring, only that she is a "candidate of interest." Guess we have to wait until Union County reads Jerry's Page.

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Commentary on Rec, Purchasing Requests

Amidst the hype and hyperbole of Monday's meeting, one fact may have been lost: Any allocations for the Recreation or Purchasing divisions or other parts of government at this time will be charged against the FY 2012 budget (the one already projected to have a $3.5 million shortfall).

The FY 2011 budget process was over with in December, with final budget passage. The City Council held open budget deliberations and hearings that anyone could have attended and that were also televised. The ramifications of budget decisions - possible layoffs - were clear.

Given all that, two different things are going on here. The Recreation Division issues started rumbling many months ago, when a volunteer-run baseball league began complaining about treatment at the hands of city Recreation management. To compound the friction, the Recreation Division began its own league at lower cost to parents, although commenters have alleged the start-up cost to taxpayers was as much or more than the amount now lacking to avoid layoffs. A committee formed in part to help settle the dispute found itself stonewalled by Rec management and led to the concept of a Recreation Commission.

To someone versed in public administration, some of this may have seemed like the long way around to settling a management issue, i.e., put it to the manager to resolve it or get a new manager.

Instead, the drama began taking on a cast of hundreds - parents, children staying up late at council meetings, top city cabinet members embroiled in who would turn the lights on and off at city ball fields, elected officials and a throng of supporters for Dave Wynn. It was from this last faction that the governing body heard insults and platitudes Monday night. One person dragged out the old chestnut, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but surely any issue that has caused such dissension since late 2009 reflects a brokenness that needs to be fixed.

The Purchasing Division issue is different in that it involves not just staff, but a new cabinet member whose professional opinion of the city's finances is vital to future operations. For three years, nobody has been providing the oversight that a chief finance officer brings to a municipality. This position is so important that it is mandated by the state. The person now in place has to correct past lapses while building a sound basis for the future. The City Council acknowledged this by attempting to keep on Purchasing staff at his behest.

The $33,000 in question to keep Purchasing at full strength at least until the end of the fiscal year was on the table Monday, but its conflation with the Recreation issue appears to have doomed it for the moment. There may yet be a special meeting at which these funding issues will be taken up again.

The real problem here is that the mayor also wants to add on a few other positions for salvation, as she keeps reminding the council. It is not $58,000 that is lacking, but more like $137,000. Two of these positions are for former legislative aides to Jerry Green who came to City Hall when the mayor did. The state Civil Service Commission, which approves layoff plans and outlines "bumping" rights, apparently did not get the memo that these two jobs - one in the mayor's office, one in the Police Division - were off bounds. There are a couple more that the mayor and others would like to add to the list.

Even though a special meeting and approval of funding for only some operations may not suit everyone, it is still an extraordinary step to re-do budget decisions after the fact and should not become the "new normal," as the latest buzzwords have it. The work of putting together a budget for FY 2012 should be done carefully, with maximum citizen input at the appropriate time. It is, by all accounts, going to be a daunting task with some unhappy outcomes. A look around at the larger world will tell us that not all jobs can be saved in this economy and none are guaranteed to individuals, no matter how well they may be connected.

Whatever the council decides in the next couple of weeks, let it be final. It is time to take on the challenges of FY 2012, not to continue rehashing the past for the sake of a favored few.

--Bernice

Watson Supporters Appeal to Council

"He was resigning not because he wanted to, but because of badgering ..."

So said Jeannette Nesbitt, one of several speakers who came before the City Council Monday night to voice support for PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson, who along with two other top PMUA executives announced retirement plans last week.

"I'm here to support my boss," PMUA employee Philip Thomas said.

Noting Plainfield is called the Queen City, Thomas asked, "What happened to the Queen? She up and left and the servants took over. We need to support Eric Watson."

PMUA employee Kim Montford gave a discourse on the authority's mission, which includes trash removal and maintenance of parks and public grounds, invoking the memory of no-nonsense educator Joe Clark.

"Stand by this man, because he's given you what you want," Montford said.

The accolades for Watson came after more than two hours of public comment largely in support of Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn. Because it was after 11 p.m. and the council had yet to start voting on its agenda, Council President Annie McWilliams asked other Watson supporters to forego comment. When McWilliams asked council PMUA liaison Bridget Rivers to respond to the concerns about Watson, Rivers cited "meddling." Alluding to a council request for Watson and others to meet with the governing body, Rivers said, "The commissioners want the council to come before them."

The PMUA commissioners have declined twice to meet with the council. McWilliams and others have asked for a discussion before voting to fill vacancies on the board of commissioners. The PMUA has been under fire from a citizens' group over spending, trips and aspects of services it provides and several council members have asked for vacancies on the board to be filled by commissioners who are amenable to change.

The PMUA is meeting tonight (Tuesday, March 15) at 6 p.m. in its headquarters at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. Last week, board chairman Harold Mitchell sent the governing body a letter defending the authority against the citizens' group's allegations of continued excess expenditures and said he hoped the governing body would "seriously consider all of the facts" before coming to any conclusions on the allegations.

--Bernice

Recreation Commission Sunk, Rec Layoffs Pending

The City Council failed Monday to overturn a mayoral veto of legislation to create a new recreation commission, but late in the evening other council votes also failed to ward off April 15 layoffs in the Recreation Division.

A capacity crowd had turned out for the meeting, most in support of embattled Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn. Over more than two hours, speakers praised Wynn or rehashed arguments going back to Fall 2009 about management of the division. See Plaintalker commentary here.

A Recreation Committee had been reconstituted last year to help sort out the problems, but after members reported a lack of cooperation from Wynn, the council proposed a Recreation Commission with powers to set policy and take charge of recreation programming. Instead of a superintendent, there would be a coordinator hired by the commission to manage operations. The ordinance creating the commission won final passage in February, but was immediately vetoed by the mayor.

On Monday, some Wynn supporters reviled council members by name and promised revenge at the polls. Applause broke out often as the lengthy public comment went on, broken up at one point to acknowledge numerous student athletes whose recent successes were tied to having been coached early on in Recreation.

As midnight approached, Council President Annie McWilliams suggested that the council could forego both the vote to override the veto and resolutions to allocate funds to Recreation in favor of further talks with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who has staunchly supported Wynn.

"I would love for us to have collaboration, but I am talked out," the mayor responded.

The vote to override the veto then failed, with council members Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams, Adrian Mapp and McWilliams voting "yes" and Vera Greaves, William Reid and Bridget Rivers voting "no."

As the audience realized there would be no Recreation Commission, many applauded, and the mayor said, "Thank you to the three council members."

Most of the crowd was gone by the time the council moved on to resolutions for funding that could ward off April 15 layoffs in the Recreation and Purchasing divisions. The council took the three resolutions in reverse order, starting with one for $58,000 that would allocate $25,000 for Recreation and $33,000 for Purchasing to keep staff on until the end of the fiscal year on June 30. That one failed, 4-3, with Greaves, Reid and Rivers voting "yes" and Storch, Williams, Mapp and McWilliams voting "no."

A series of votes and reconsiderations of votes followed. A resolution that would have furnished $33,000 for Purchasing and $10,000 for Recreation failed 5-2, with Storch and Rivers voting "yes" and Greaves, Reid, McWilliams, Mapp and Williams voting "no." (Correction: It failed 4-3, with Storch, Rivers and McWilliams voting "yes.") A move to reconsider the vote for $58,000 failed, leaving only the last option, just $33,000 for Purchasing. That vote then failed 4-3, with Rivers, Storch and McWilliams voting "yes" and Greaves, Reid, Williams and Mapp voting "no."

With all funding rejected, the mayor said, "What you have done is stifled the activities of youth in Plainfield."

The council reconsidered the resolution for $33,000 for Purchasing, but it failed again with the same 4-3 vote. The mayor said that meant the city's new chief finance officer, who objected to the layoffs it would cause, would most likely leave city employment. That would in turn put the city back where it was in November, when the state Division of Local Government Services ordered the city to hire a CFO by the end of the month or else the mayor and each council member would face daily $25 fines.

The mayor said if the CFO leaves, her fine should be levied against the council.

In addition, she said due to the layoffs, "Effective April 15, you have shut down the city."

When Recreation Committee Chairman Dwayne Wilkins got up to speak in a second public comment portion, the mayor offered thanks "on behalf of the city of Plainfield" to all who serve on the committee.

"Since we won't have Recreation staff on April 15, we won't have a committee, so we just want to say thank you now," she said.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Random Images

"You spring ahead - I'll just fall back over here."

Is this the graffiti artist Droner, perhaps? Glad he got caught.

Watchung Avenue clothing box raiders at work - nothing fit, I guess.

Invisible sign in front of City Hall.

Invisible 50-foot flagpole. Nobody saluting.

The flowering quince by City Hall Annex was not yet ready for its close-up, needs a few more sunny days.

--Bernice

Bovella's in Westfield


Italian heritage, including special foods for holidays, was once much more evident in Plainfield than it is now, as documented in A. J. Wood's book, "The East Enders."

The signs for St. Joseph sfinge and zeppole reminded me of that heritage, which I first encountered in my late in-laws' extended family. Are there still any Italian bakeries left in Plainfield?

--Bernice

PBA Opposes Constable Plan

Plainfield Police Benevolent Association President Andre Crawford said Sunday his union is not in favor of a proposal to name two city men constables Monday.

The City Council will be asked to approve Sheldon Green and Frank Rokins as constables at the regular meeting, 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court. The matter came up in correspondence from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs last week and since then bloggers and others have been busy trying to learn more about constables and what they do. Click here for Plaintalker's previous post.

Crawford said he was at a convention in Connecticut when he got a call about the proposal. His reaction? "We are adamantly opposed to anybody being able to do any police functions," he said Sunday.

Aong concerns about the proposed resolution, Crawford said state legislation is pending that will require six months of training for constables. He also questioned why Green, a city firefighter, would seek a constable position.

"We are not attempting to be firefighters," he said. of his members. "We have real issues with the whole situation."

Crawford said PBA representatives will attend Monday's meeting to get more information.

"The whole thing doesn't sit well," he said.

--Bernice

Council to Decide on Budget Restoration

The City Council faces a choice among three resolutions Monday, restoring $33,000, $43,000 or $58,000 to the city budget "to ensure the successful administration of Purchasing and Recreation divisions."

Discussion of these options began earlier this year with the mayor's request to restore money to these divisions to prevent April 15 layoffs arising from passage of the FY 2011 budget in December. The budget had gone all through the process that calls for the administration to present the governing body with a budget which was then introduced, studied, modified by amendments and passed, as City Council President Annie McWilliams noted when the mayor made the request. The affected jobs are those of the purchasing agent and recreation superintendent, although the mayor added on a job in her office and Councilman William Reid wanted to add a specific civilian job in the Police Division to be preserved by restoring funds.

The matter was discussed last month (see Plaintalker post here) with even a higher amount indicated.

As Plaintalker understands it, the layoffs would be averted until the end of the fiscal year on June 30. However, the city would then begin another budget year July 1 and the jobs would remain on the books until further action on the FY 2012 budget.

Speakers on March 7 linked the layoffs to a restoration of $156,000 for the Plainfield Public Library, which had to reduce hours of operation and curtail staff in early 2010 due to budget cuts. Some residents argued on March 7 that city children needed recreation more than the city needs a library, although others have pointed out that a library is also a resource for children. (Disclaimer: My son works 15 hours a week at the library.)

The shift in salaries and wages for Recreation paralleled an initiative by the governing body to establish a Recreation Commission. The ordinance passed on two readings, but the mayor has vetoed it. The council may override the veto if five of seven council members agree on Monday, but council watchers only count likely four solid votes.

The council has suggested that Purchasing functions could be done through the office of the chief finance officer, which was recently filled after a three-year vacancy. But the mayor gave the council and the media a letter from new CFO Ron Zilinski in which he said his office could not handle that change along with all other duties at this time.

The title of the resolution does not address the two other jobs at risk.

The meeting Monday is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Snowdrops Signal Spring

I have been watching the Grace Church yard for these flowers. When the snow finally melted, there they were. One of spring's earliest blooms, they are called snowdrops.

Having spotted them through the fence again today, I walked to the gate and found it open.
Here is a closer look at the flowers. The six white parts are not petals, but tepals, and the inner three have green markings.

There used to be a clump of snowdrops in front of Municipal Court, near the steps, but I have not checked this year to see whether they remain. To learn more about snowdrops, click here.

--Bernice

The Constable Question(s)

The mayor's request to appoint two individuals as constables has set off a flurry of questions regarding the role of a constable and how a person gets to be one.

When a quick scan of the Civil Service Commission's job titles came up blank, Plaintalker made an inquiry which resulted in the citation of NJSA 40A:9-120 as the statute covering constables. It actually included a few more, up to 40A9-127, but there it was: Information on appointment, terms of office, annual charges payable by constables, badges, vacancy, oath, bond, actions on bond, reports and "actions for money payable to or by constables."

The law still didn't say exactly what constables do - catch fugitives? round up deadbeats? - but obviously somebody pays them for their work. They only pay a municipality $50 a year and the municipality has to fork over a badge. The appointing body is the municipal council and the constable must submit to the governing body comprehensive monthly reports on all activity, including fees collected.

Plaintalker did not want to post the entire statute, but will send the information to anyone as an attachment if contacted by e-mail at the address on the right-hand side of the blog.

As Olddoc reported, there is a resolution on the March 14 agenda to appoint Sheldon Green and Frank Rokins as constables. Green has been a firefighter since 1987 and has also had OEM responsibilities. No information was made public on Rokins.

Newark has constables and there is a rather lengthy vetting process before appointment. Click here to see the process in Newark.

Given that Acting Corporation Counsel James Ventantonio did not fully explain the constable position when asked on March 7, but that it appears to be an opportunity to make money with the governing body's blessing, shouldn't there be interviews at least with these two to get their take on what they will be doing if appointed? After all, the council interviews citizens who just want to serve on bodies such as the Historic Preservation Commission. Should these two people be appointed to a little-understood but possibly lucrative position just on the mayor's say-so?

--Bernice

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bibi Back Soon?

In a little ray of sunshine from Monday's City Council meeting, Acting City Administrator Dan Williamson suggested that City Administrator Bibi Taylor might be back on the job within a week or two.

Taylor has been out on maternity leave since the end of last year. She was due to deliver her third child when in a surprise move Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs fired her. The City Council overturned the mayor's action. See Plaintalker post here.

Plans to hire an interim city administrator or to allow Taylor to work from home apparently fizzled out. Williamson, the city's corporation counsel, was named acting city administrator at the Jan. 3 annual reorganization. Under city rules, acting appointments may be made only for 90 days, so Williamson's tenure would have been up at the end of March anyway.

Hopefully, Taylor will be able to step back in and perform in the manner for which she has drawn widespread praise since joining the city cabinet in July 2009.

--Bernice


Thursday, March 10, 2011

WBLS Issue Drags On

Controversy over a city payment to radio station WBLS for an Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting surfaced at Monday's City Council meeting with a mayoral request for legal representation.

Those who filed OPRA requests last year for details on overall costs and authorizations for the event were told to hold off for a council investigation, but Jacqueline Drakeford, the attorney selected by the council, declined the assignment after questions arose over her past affiliation with the city as its corporation counsel. The year elapsed with no further action and in the opinion of close council watcher Dr. Harold Yood, the matter would have to be taken up anew this year.

The council has investigative powers under the city's special Charter, but nothing new has been announced for 2011 nor has the council engaged another attorney. So the request of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs for her own legal representation raised questions Monday.

The request was to hire attorney Steven Edelstein at a cost not to exceed $6,000. Edelstein represented the mayor in a 2006 residency challenge, which she won.

Council president Annie McWilliams noted the matter was not going to court, so asked why the mayor needed a lawyer. After Acting City Administrator Dan Williamson explained that both sides in the matter are allowed to have representation, Councilman Adrian Mapp also questioned the need to have an attorney "just in case" of a lawsuit.

But Williamson supported such a request "if there's a cloud over you for any reason."

Councilman William Reid said since Drakeford withdrew, nothing has been heard about an investigation of what he called "this $5,000 expenditure." Although the city check to WBLS was for $20,000, the mayor has alleged that an unnamed individual gave $15,000 toward the cost. The check was drawn against the city's account for "hardware and software maintenance."

Reid said unless the council declared, "Ms. Mayor, we are going to investigate your butt," the matter should be dropped as it was "not so important."

McWilliams said the Charter permits a council investigation and said an attorney for the governing body would be representing the city's interest. Hiring one for the mayor would be "very different," she said.

After more discussion about whether or not an investigation was looming or whether one was warranted, Acting Corporation Counsel James Ventantonio noted there is a conflict because under the charter, the corporation counsel is supposed to represent both the administration and governing body. The mayor should have someone on her side, he said.

But the request failed to gain a consensus of four out of seven council members to put the matter on the March 14 agenda, so there will be no vote on it. The meeting is 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Commentary on Day Laborer Center

A proposed day laborer center in a vacant storefront downtown may or may not be needed, but as it is framed, it raises a number of issues.

First of all, it relies on cooperation and coordination among several entities: A legislator, a property owner, a commercial tenant and an as-yet unidentified group or individual to operate it.

We can guess why this eye-catching proposal is hitting the headlines a month before the filing date for the June primary, in which said legislator is likely to be seeking re-election. (Clarification: I'm told this story was in the works for some time and it has no intentional relation to the filing date.) The property owner, like others in Plainfield, might tend to be agreeable to any suggestions from the third most powerful person in the State Assembly. The tenant surely would warm to the idea of having the rent paid through a sub-lease arrangement. But judging by the length of time this issue has been unresolved, the last party - an operator/manager - might be hard to find.

Having sat through some recent Planning Board meetings where new or currently illegal uses for commercial property have been explored at length, Plaintalker finds it hard to envision conversion of a storefront from a retail use to a place where many people come for a quasi-social service. It's unlikely that a certificate of occupancy could be issued for something that is not on the books. If this was an application before the board, questions especially on traffic circulation most likely would arise. Could this proposal be accomplished by handshakes all around without reference to the Property Maintenance Code?

We also don't know when the present lease is up and thus how long this plan could be in effect at the proposed location. What community organization would sign on to such an unknown, open-ended commitment? In July 2009 when this type of proposal was last explored, a Hispanic group felt it was best to teach day workers to organize themselves, not slot them into some program.

So the location, duration and operation of this proposed center are problematic. The headlines look good, but what would be the reality on the ground?

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BOE Filers Revealed

In 2005, out of a field of 11 school board candidates, Agurs Linward Cathcart Jr. grabbed 20.4 percent of the votes with a solid 1,320 turnout. In 2008, as one of five contenders, he won 24.2 percent with a more modest 658 votes. Now, he is the only eligible incumbent running this year for one of three three-year seats.

According to Board Secretary/ Business Administrator Gary Ottmann, Cathcart will be joined on the April 27 ballot by Ellen G. Carter Haygood, Alex Edache, Dorien Hurtt and Jameelah Surgeon. Incumbents Keisha Edwards and Katherine Peterson, whose terms are up this year, did not file.

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield will hold its annual Candidates' Forum at 7 p.m. April 21 at Washington School. Several other groups normally hold forums before the school board election, so all candidates will have opportunities to share their views with voters.

The winners on April 27 and the other six board members face heavy decisions on budgeting, selection of a new superintendent, regrouping of the school population and finding ways to increase parental involvement and student performance in coming years.

--Bernice

Current Wards OK for Primary

Administrator Dennis Kobitz of the Union County Board of Elections told the City Council Monday that the timetable for drawing new ward lines will run past the June 7 primary, so the current wards will apply to those who file for the primary on April 11.

"Nothing will be done before the primary," he said.

Plainfield has two municipal races in the June primary, for the Second Ward seat and also the First and Fourth Ward at-large seat. The primary winners will run in the Nov. 8 general election. Kobitz said even if wards change, winners of the general election will serve until their terms are up.

Kobitz said a ward commission consisting of two Republicans and two Democrats will look at the ward lines with the goal of having not more than a 10 percent population difference among the wards. In case of a tie, the municipal clerk has the deciding vote.

District lines will be done later and will be based on voting, not population.

The commission must call a meeting by April 15 and will have three months to do its work. It will reward by the end of June or the beginning of July, Kobitz said.

George Gore, chairman of the Plainfield Human Relations Commission, challenged Kobitz by saying a 5 percent difference, not 10 percent, had been used in past rewarding.

"What has to be looked at is what's best for the city - one man, one vote or voter turnout," Gore said.

Gore said the Human Relations Commission would be holding hearings on the process.

"Yes, the county is responsible," he said, but added, "You, the citizens have the right to look at the map and say, that's the map you want."

Kobitz repeated that the rewarding would be done by one man, one vote and districts would be drawn by voter turnout.

In public comment later, Gore mentioned the fact that the city came up 192 short of 50,000 in the census and said the NAACP and other groups will be working to get "full status." He said people of color are now 47 percent of the city population and predicted "anarchy" if residents don't come together.

Jeffery Dunn, president of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, echoed Gore's remarks about the need to attain a count of 50,000 and alleged "some type of conspiracy" in the shorter count.

The city administration has announced an appeal of the census count and has 180 days to complete the appeal.

If the city can prove its population meets or exceeds 50,000, it can receive federal block grant funds directly without having to go through the county.

"It's about money," Dunn said.

--Bernice Paglia

Snow Extremes

The Mountain

The Molehill

--Bernice

PMUA Up For Changes

Courier News reporter Mark Spivey broke the news Monday that Eric Watson, David Ervin and James Perry of the PMUA were all planning to retire.

Actually, in a November story Mark quoted Watson as saying he was "very near" retiring and possibly moving back to his native Delaware.

At the City Council meeting Monday night, copies of a "press statement" from PMUA were set out for public distribution. The statement deplored the "relentless negative criticism" that the "hardworking dedicated workers" of PMUA had to endure, and listed eight initiatives for improvement. The statement goes on to trace the careers of Watson, Perry and Ervin and their plans to retire.

"The dynamic trio will be sorely missed," the statement adds, along with an expression of appreciation and word of an impending search for candidates for the posts of executive director and deputy director.

Council members also received a letter from PMUA Board of Commissioners Chairman Harold Mitchell which Councilman Adrian Mapp called "very insulting" to the governing body. Council President Annie McWilliams said Monday she had invited PMUA officials to come before the council this month, but the response from Mitchell was that the commissioners were not going to do so.

There is a lot that can be said about this new turn of events, but perhaps the most concerning thought is that the board of commissioners will likely be the deciders on the successors to the three. The board is not at full strength and, given the impasse on appointments, it may be that a very few will be involved in naming the next leaders. The collegiality the council claims to be seeking with the authority and also with city administration remains elusive. While all have their distinct roles, one would hope for more consistency of outlook than what is evident now.

And what is the role of citizen ratepayer activists in all this? The press statement cites "unprecedented negative criticism," but PMUA has changed its ways to align more with the vision of these activists for operations marked by economy, transparency, communication and service that recognizes a diversity of consumer needs. Indeed, the eight new initiatives themselves reflect aspects of the activists' vision, as do innovations over the past year or so.

So change is in the air, but from here we don't know what the PMUA will look like in years to come. The first thing needed is apparently some common ground for dialogue without rancor or recriminations. Can it be found?

--Bernice

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wards and Districts To Be Discussed


As a result of the 2010 Census, city wards and districts may be realigned, as may larger political delineations such as state legislative and Congressional districts.

At Monday's City Council meeting, Dennis Kobitz, administrator of the Union County Board of Elections, has been invited to give members of the governing body a brief synopsis of the rewarding/redistricting process.

The city has four wards, each containing several voting districts. The City Council is made up of one representative for each of the four wards, one representative each for the First & Fourth and Second & Third wards at-large and a citywide representative. Any changes in ward maps will affect elections for members of the governing body.

This year, the First & Fourth at-large and the Second Ward seats are up for election. Next year, the Third Ward and Citywide seats will be up, followed by the Fourth Ward and mayoral seats in 2013 and the Second & Third at-large and First Ward seats in 2014.

The filing date for the June primary is April 11, but if the rewarding/redistricting process is not complete, candidates for state Senate and Assembly seats have been warned by state election officials that they may have to amend their petitions. Local elections may similarly be affected.

The deadline for filing for the annual school board election is 4 p.m. Tuesday (March 8), but candidates for that election are not affected by ward and district boundaries.

The City Council meeting is 7:30 p.m. Monday (March 7) in City Hall Library. Plaintalker is looking forward to hearing from Mr. Kobitz on the rewarding/redistricting process.

--Bernice

Taxi Licenses Improved, Liquor Licenses Up

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh has developed a new, tamper-proof plastic ID card for taxi drivers.

The card replaces a paper document with a photo affixed, a less secure form of ID.

"It's more efficient, more accountable and will serve as another source of revenue as we increase the fees," Jalloh said.

The city has experienced a boom in the taxi industry in recent years, increasing the workload in the Clerk's office.

Both taxi owners and drivers must register with the city. An ordinance increasing fees is on Monday's agenda.

The city is also preparing to increase fees for liquor licenses. There are more than 30 establishments where liquor is available for sale or consumption in Plainfield, many being "grandfathered" in to state requirements for a certain proportion per population. (See a 2008 post here.)

Acting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control board, the City Council approves or denies license renewals each year. The state sets a schedule of fees for renewals, and municipalities that are not at the maximum can increase fees. Click here to see a handbook on all the ABC laws.

The issue of having so many bars, clubs and liquor stores has been a sore point in the city for many years. Keeping fees to the maximum allowable is one thing the city can do to offset the burden on the Clerk's office in the annual renewal process.

--Bernice

What's Missing?

I was admiring some of the stonework on the front of City Hall last week when I noticed something was missing.

The exterior had undergone a restoration last year that took several months. The facade was cleaned and looks much nicer.

But what happened here? The numbers "515" that locate City Hall on Watchung Avenue are missing. Obviously they were removed for the cleaning and never put back.

Time to check around and see what became of them.

There is a lot of interesting imagery around the front of City Hall. Most people enter from the rear parking lot, but if you get a chance, check out the detail on the front of the building.

--Bernice

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sunshine Week Coming Up

Plainfield City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh is letting the sun shine in City Hall.

Appointed on Feb. 14, Jalloh has taken steps to increase the amount of public information online and has plans to do more. Besides the City Charter and several forms, there are now lists of resolutions and ordinances under the Information/Downloads section of the city's web site.

His goal is to have the entire Municipal Code online in a searchable form. Visitors who want to check the code currently have to look through two very large binders kept in the Clerk's office.
The same company that compiles and prints the Code will provide the electronic version that can be easily updated as new laws pass or those on the books are modified.

The City Council will be voting on a proclamation for Sunshine Week, March 13-19, described as "a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know."

Click here to see more about Sunshine Week.

--Bernice