Wednesday, November 30, 2011

World AIDS Day Tomorrow

The first day of December has come to be known as World AIDS Day, when activists and health agencies make a special effort to increase awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS. This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are focusing on the need for testing among certain segments of the male African-American population. Read more about the "Testing Makes Us Stronger" campaign.

Last December, Plainfield was confronted with an unusual situation when an activist and health professional wanted to speak at a City Council meeting about HIV/AIDS, and the mayor asked for the camera to be turned off. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams responded by publishing on her blog the facts the mayor apparently did not want to face. See Plaintalker's commentary here.


Please take a look at this United Nations advisory  on the "Getting to Zero" campaign.

--Bernice

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Procession Sunday Launches Observance

A religious observance with great meaning for the city's Mexican population will begin Sunday with a procession honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The City Council granted permission on Nov. 21 for the procession from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, starting at the Plainfield Public Library and going along West Eighth Street to Liberty Street and ending at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church.

Past processions have included prayers, hymns, mariachi  musicians, Aztec dancers (Clarification: These dancers are from a 2007 event described here) and bearers with statues and images of La Virgen de Guadalupe and San Juan Diego. On the evening of Dec. 11, there will be another procession from 10:30 p.m. to 12 a.m., around the block where the church is located. The faithful sing songs called mananitas in praise of the Virgen de Guadalupe, with a Mass at midnight. To learn more about the history of the holiday, click here.


The event usually attracts a large number of Latinos of Mexican heritage from around Central Jersey.

--Bernice

Monday, November 28, 2011

VWB District Tour Set for Sunday

An upcoming tour of historic homes will provide the perfect breather from holiday preparations and may even give you ideas that will make your family celebration more memorable. Named for the childhood home of author Van Wyck Brooks, the  historic district includes some of Plainfield’s most stately homes, created in the days when founders spared no expense on engaging prestigious architects and using the finest materials.

On Dec. 4, you can see for yourself why the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Tickets for the nine-home tour are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Tour hours are from noon to 6 p.m. You can purchase a calendar featuring district mansions for enjoyment throughout the year. For more details on the tour and information on the district, click here.

Plaintalker posed some questions which district resident Brian Munroe answered:

Q. Some of the city’s most architecturally significant homes will be on the tour, including examples of Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, Shingle Style, Second Empire, and Colonial Revival design. Three of the homes were designed by architect Charles H. Smith. What are some distinctive elements of the Smith homes?

A.  Correction: There are only two houses by Charles H. Smith. They are both highly decorative inside and out featuring a more feminine side towards the appearance. However, some of the wood species used in the houses also act as a more masculine look. Also, both homes are loaded with exquisite leaded and stained glass windows. One house even has pocket doors that are all stained glass. Both homes express a high interest in the Queen Anne look and spare no expense to build these homes.

Q. Tours in this district have been very popular, perhaps for providing a glimpse at the Queen City’s “Millionaire’s Row.” What generally is the draw to this district and what do you do with proceeds of the tours?

A.  I feel the draw are the multitude styles of mansions in the area. People are fascinated with the old look of the homes and love to see how today's person can live in "yesterdays" home. This year a portion of the proceeds will go towards a scholarship for a graduating Plainfield high school student.

Q. What do you think visitors will take away from their visit? Decorating ideas? Holiday themes? A better appreciation for Victoriana?

A.  I think decorating ideas overall is a good take away. The rich design in architecture people will take away. We hope they take a holiday ball and calendar with them to show that Plainfield has a lot to offer and little to lose.

(Mark Spivey's excellent article on the tour was published today. Click here to read it.)

Season's Greetings?

Having gone in and out of City Hall unimpeded for some time, I was surprised today to be stopped by a new "greeter" in the rotunda, who asked where I was going and insisted that I sign in.

Detecting my disdain for the process, the greeter asked me whether I didn't think it was important to have someone monitoring who enters City Hall. No, I did not.

This system of greeters began during the mayor's first term, when the large counter was also installed in front of the memorial plaques. The counter blocks names of some who made the ultimate sacrifice, which some residents found offensive. The greeter program faded away for a while, but the counter remains. Sometimes in the summer, young people serve as greeters, though individuals have been found fast asleep while on duty.

The new greeter did introduce himself and offered a handshake, but I still question a new hire for this on-again, off-again task.

Another somewhat disconcerting sight was the proliferation of flags and banners left over from Veterans Day, now surrounding the Christmas tree. I don't know where all these new flags came from, but their stands were still being assembled well into the Veterans Day ceremonies on Nov. 11. Two large banners are also competing for a visitor's attention in the rotunda, making for a very busy visual effect.

The large flag stands may even prove to be somewhat of a hazard when the annual Christmas Tree Lighting crowd throngs City Hall on Friday.

Call me a Grinch, but I prefer dealing with one holiday at a time, especially when the other one is three weeks past.

As for the greeter, the administration has the right to hire and fire employees without City Council involvement, but the governing body will have a role in dealing with the 2012 calendar year budget. Maybe the need for greeters can be clarified in budget talks. Or maybe they should go the way of the bodyguards.

--Bernice

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some Words for Dark Days

Way back in November 2007, I wrote about some ways to cope with the gloom of winter. Well, lately one would never know winter is right around the corner. The beautiful weather recently has people going around in shorts and tank tops as if summer never ended.

But just for historical interest, here are some musings from that time (prompted by a search for Tweed Gallery, which turned up the blog post).

--Bernice

A Quick Trip to Westfield

Waiting for the eastbound train.


Someday there may be a Trader Joe's in downtown Plainfield, but meanwhile I decided to go get some Tuscan Pane Saturday from the one in Westfield. Having picked up a new directory on my last trip, I also wanted to visit the Hip Thrift and Art Gallery on South Avenue.

The directory includes a map, showing all the parking lots - something I wish Plainfield had. I usually shop in the stores north of the train station and I had to get a Google map to pinpoint where the thrift shop was. So armed with my map and directory, I caught the 10:57 a.m. 59 bus at the stop outside City Hall.

It was a beautiful day for late November and along the way I could see lots of roses and other plants that had not yet been hit by a killing frost. At Trader Joe's I got the bread I like so much, and a couple of take-out dishes for a day free of cooking.

The thrift shop was intriguing, but I still find the amount of stuff in thrift shops overwhelming, though I did make one purchase.I mainly wanted to report back to Audrey, who is very skilled at finding treasures in such places. Seattle's Goodwill just held its Glitter Sale, perhaps the pinnacle of thrift events in a city that highly values recycling of everything, including second-hand Christian Louboutin shoes.

Soon it was time to catch the 11:59 a.m. train back to Plainfield and that's when I saw the eastbound platform jammed with people, some holding bags from shopping in Westfield, others no doubt bound for Manhattan shopping or holiday sight-seeing.

As for me, it was time to get out the rake and clear the fallen oak leaves off the lawn and garden on the northeast side of the building. I hauled out the old Toro blower/mulcher to reduce the piles of leaves to half the volume, then headed inside for some Trader Joe's treats.

My final thoughts on this trip were wishes that Plainfield had a current directory and especially a map of downtown parking. The business directories displayed in City Hall are very attractive, but out of date. We don't have anything as sophisticated as the Downtown Westfield Corporation, but the Special Improvement District does send out a publication with listings of businesses. A parking map would be a nice addition.

And how about a Trader Joe's downtown? It was touted as a future occupant of the PNC Bank building. way back in 2008. Meanwhile, NJTransit to the rescue for us non-car-owning Trader Joe's fans to make a quick trip to Westfield.

--Bernice

Cyber Monday

Yikes! Yet another merchandising ploy, Cyber Monday after Black Friday?

Actually, the name was put on a trend noticed in 2005, when online sales increased as people returned to work and used high-speed computers there to shop (see New York Times article).

Nowadays, it seems, you can run up your credit card by using an app on your IPhone to compare prices for an item and then purchase it on the spot. Employers have gotten wise to online shopping at work and people have been fired for Cyber Monday antics, so be careful out there.

--Bernice

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday Visitors on Block 832

This group of Black Vultures came around our block Friday to do a little "shopping" in the Dumpsters behind the apartments next door.

Black Vultures are supposed to feed on carrion, but a neighbor on the block says they are not above stealing cat food that she puts out for the feral felines. Somebody from the apartments set down some holiday scraps for the cats and one of the Black Vultures hopped right over to dig in.

These guys are quite large, with an impressive wing span. In 20 years here I never saw Black Vultures in the neighborhood and I don't know how they picked our block as a hangout - just one of Mother Nature's little surprises.

--Bernice

Friday, November 25, 2011

Serve Your City

Six years ago, the City Council approved the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005. The idea was to increase citizen participation in government and the legislation was shepherded into effect by the Citizens Campaign.

Just this year, a full list of boards and commissions was posted on the city’s web site, with rosters of membership. However, upcoming vacancies are not listed separately, meaning an interested citizen would have to scan through the rosters to see which terms are about to expire.

This is what the ordinance requires:
The City Clerk shall cause a register of appointed positions to City boards, commission or agencies to be prepared and maintained. Such register shall be made available on the City's website within a year after the enactment of this Article and at the City Hall within (30) days of enactment of this Article and shall set forth at least the following: (a) Title of each appointed municipal position (b) Brief description of the positions' powers and duties (c) Any special credentials or qualifications required to hold the position (d) The length of term for the position (e) The name of the person currently holding the position, the expiration date of his or her term, and the number of vacant seats on the board or commission (f) The dates/times and frequency of any meetings which the holder of the position must attend 

At the Nov. 21 City Council meeting, Sandra Chambers was approved to serve as Alternate No. 2 on the Planning Board. In an interview preceding the vote, Chambers said she had been trying for a couple of years to get appointed to a board or commission. Although the resolution did not say who she is succeeding, the roster says Sidney Jackson last held the seat. Jackson has since been appointed to a four-year term.

The appointment process was not without its quirks. First of all, the term was listed on the resolution as ending on 12/31/2013, but Jackson’s alternate term was stated on the roster as 1/1/09 to 1/1/11. This business of 12/31 versus 1/1 is misleading. Terms end on Dec. 31 of the final year, so this one ended at the end of 2010. Therefore, Chambers should have received an unexpired term to 12/31/2012.

In addition, for some reason Councilman William Reid said to Chambers, “We hope you can assist the city in solving juvenile problems we have in the city.”

Chambers responded by talking about a PAL program she would like to see revived, and Councilwoman Vera Greaves said, “I’m happy to know she is interested in working with the youth. I think she will be an asset to the Planning Board.”

Lovely, except being involved in youth activities is not among the duties of a Planning Board member.

There are two other Planning Board terms about to expire on Dec. 31 (or 1/1/2012, as the roster has it). Members sitting in those seats should notify the mayor and clerk if they want to be reappointed. Others interested in the seats should fill out the downloadable application form on the city web site and submit it to the mayor and clerk (keep a copy).

According to other lists, there are three terms about to expire on the Historic Preservation Commission and one full and one alternate term expiring on the Board of Adjustment.

Some boards and commissions on the list have many vacancies, because they are defunct but have never been dissolved. The Environmental Commission may sound interesting, but no members have ever been appointed since its establishment in 2001.

So these are some of the pitfalls of getting involved: Making sure you are applying for a seat that really exists, competing with sitting members who want to re-up and getting through a council interview that may take some strange twists. Some applicants have reported that their information got lost and they had to resubmit several times.

But persevere and if you are selected, you will be rewarded with both an interesting experience and the knowledge that you are contributing to the progress of government.

--Bernice

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Commentary on Black Friday

Sign in downtown Plainfield.
Despite high unemployment and foreclosure rates, merchants are pinning their hopes on Black Friday this year as never before since the concept began in the 1960s. The retail day started at the stroke of midnight or even earlier for some, with hordes of consumers expected to vie for a limited number of sale items. Black Friday web sites promise inside information on deals, while Thanksgiving Day newspapers were stuffed with “doorbuster” ads.

This mad pursuit of happiness through the aisles of Walmart and Target brought to mind the 1998 exploration of consumerism known asAffluenza.”  It was produced at KCTS in Seattle, where my daughter Audrey was working at the time. As an advocate of voluntary simplicity, I found it compelling. Its message is echoed today in the Occupy Wall Street protests and deserves a second look. It includes a diagnosis and a treatment that have relevance for today.


The sign above shows that even small downtown stores here want to get in on the Black Friday craze.

Though shoppers may be tempted to compete for bargains, the fact is that retailers mainly want to get you into the store. If you have waited in line but missed out on the best sales, you are likely to stay and spend money (or run up your credit card) anyway.

Black Friday previews and stories are staples of newspaper coverage, but when I was a reporter it was an assignment I hated second only to the annual re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. After Macy's closed and the influx of dollar stores started here, there was not much to write about in downtown Plainfield, where shoppers tended to wait until the last days before Christmas to shop for gifts. In other places, the standard question was whether the shopper was spending more or less for the holidays. As online shopping became more popular, interviews downtown or in a mall told less of the story.

There are statistics on how long it takes Americans to work off the cost of taxes (Tax Freedom Day) and you can now also calculate how long it might take to pay off holiday debt. Of course, the best strategy is not to incur more debt than you can handle. Take a cue from the Jolly Old Elf himself - make a list, check it twice, and as a consumer try not to be naughty, but nice - to your wallet.

--Bernice





Happy Thanksgiving

Happy
Thanksgiving
to all!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Commentary on CDBG Program

A normally perfunctory vote to submit Community Development Block Grant requests to Union County took on a bit of drama Monday when Councilman Cory Storch voted "no" over being snubbed in the review process.

The CDBG program consists of an annual submission of proposals from social service and housing agencies for  federal funds. After review and ranking by a city committee, the requests are passed along to Union County's Bureau of Community Development for final rankings and approval. Storch, who is chairman of the council's Economic and Community Development Committee, voted "no" on the resolution to submit the CDBG requests because he was not informed of the review meetings.

Al Restaino, who directs the Office of Community Development that administers the program locally, said invitations were sent to the council, vendors and the public. He said it was just "one week ago" that he heard there was a council representative. Restaino, now also the head of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services as well as acting city administrator, then characterized the Citizens Advisory Committee as "thirty-three people from community organizations that no longer exist."

Restaino said the city's share of CDBG revenues in Union County went from 16 percent of the pot to 28 percent of the pot last year.

The response apparently annoyed Storch, who said, "I just voted for you as acting city administrator. Don't make me regret it - don't make excuses."

In a 2009 post, Plaintalker voiced concern about the review process, which that year was conducted by five citizens and two City Hall staffers. It is true that some of the organizations named in the CAC ordinance are defunct, but others, including the Plainfield Public Library, the Housing Authority of Plainfield, the Board of Education, the Planning Board and Chamber of Commerce, could be tapped for participation. There could be as many as 14 citizens on the CAC, one each appointed by the seven council members and seven by the mayor with advice and consent of the council. In addition, the council president is supposed to be a member.

Surely as Economic and Community Development Committee chairman, Storch should have been included, even though the council committees are a 2006 innovation created by the late Councilman Ray Blanco. At the City Council's annual reorganization in January, Council President Annie McWilliams and Councilwoman Bridget Rivers were also named representatives to the CAC.

Restaino was hired in January 2005 with the title of confidential aide to the Public Works & Urban Development director. He was later named director of the Office of Community Development in the PW&UD department, with the CDBG program as a primary assignment. In November 2010, he was named director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services, one of three departments mandated by the city's special charter. But he retained what had formerly been his full-time job in the other department, and for two weeks has also been serving as acting city administrator.

The cycle of the CDBG program includes submission of applications for funds in the fall. A legal notice was published this year with a deadline of Oct. 7 for submissions. Sometime between then and Monday's council meeting, the applications were reviewed and ranked. The county review takes place in the spring and the funding will come through later in 2012.

If there is any interest in having more than a handful of people reviewing and ranking millions of dollars worth of CDBG proposals, there is plenty of time to amend the ordinance and appoint people. Storch will begin his third term on Jan. 1 and will likely retain his roles on the Planning Board and the Economic and Community Development Committee. He should at least be apprised of the 2012 CDBG meeting dates when they are set.

The complete list of applicants for the current year's CDBG program funds is on file in the City Clerk's office, if anyone wants to take a look. The full text of the CAC ordinance is posted on the city web site under "Agencies, Boards & Commissions."

--Bernice

Teflon Dan

The Teflon Don buried his mistakes. Teflon Dan just gives them really long funeral orations.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (and not letting the turkeys get you down), I will consider the matter closed.

--Bernice

Berry is New City Administrator

Former Trenton Business Administrator Eric Berry won City Council approval Monday to become Plainfield's city administrator.

Berry will earn $125,000 and residency will be waived. He starts on Monday, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said.

Berry was the seventh business administrator since July 2010 in Trenton Mayor Tony Mack's administration. He took a job with the state Division of Local Government Services after resigning from the Trenton municipal post, according to the Star-Ledger. He will be the eighth person to sit it the city administrator's seat here since 2006.

Under the city's special charter, there are three departments that report to the city administrator. They are Public Affairs & Safety, Public Works & Urban Development and Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services. All city divisions, such as Recreation, Inspections, Police and Fire, report to the department heads.

Plaintalker wishes Mr. Berry good luck as he takes over day-to-day operations of the city on Monday.

--Bernice

Council Approves Dunn, Sanders for PMUA

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.

 --Bernice

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rent vs. Property Taxes

I'm sure every one of the roughly 500 tax delinquents on the list published Thursday has a story to tell.

The economy or personal setbacks could cause a person to get behind on tax payments. It is embarrassing to be on the list, but while things are getting worked out, a homeowner most likely will still have a roof overhead. Renters face a bleaker fate if they get behind on payments. Non-payment of rent is grounds for eviction.

Renters, who constitute half of the city's households, also must pay increases unless a judge agrees that the increase is "unconscionable" - a subjective term meaning the increase would shock the conscience of the average person. What tends to happen in real life is that the renter sucks it up and pays, taking the difference out of costs for food or other necessities, or has to find a new place.

True, homeowners also have to face the bank and eventually may find themselves out on the street, but not on the same timetable as the average renter. Recent stories in the news tell of homeowners who are years behind on their house payments but still in the house. Renters get a few weeks or months at best.

When it comes to property taxes, owners howl even at single-digit increases. But landlords can easily impose double-digit increases on tenants. Business owners downtown even saw their lease rates triple in recent years.

The only luxury renters may enjoy when it comes to owing money is that their names don't get put in the paper. A few years ago, there was an elected official who managed to get around being on the tax lien list, but a resident asked him point-blank in public about the delinquency and he had to own up. He ostentatiously paid the entire balance just days before the filing date to run for re-election, but his constituents were not impressed and his re-election bid failed.

I'm told those who owe taxes get notices before the list is published. There may also be special circumstances that lead to being on the list while things are getting worked out. But property owners are held to higher scrutiny than tenants, and once you are on the list, your name is out there for all to see.

--Bernice


Sunday, November 20, 2011

PMUA Nominees To Be Interviewed

Monday's City Council agenda includes interviews of two nominees for the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's board of commissioners.

One nominee, Cecil Sanders Jr., was interviewed for a commissioner's seat in January, but did not get appointed (see post here). Both Sanders and nominee Malcolm Dunn are longtime advocates of minority enterprise and both are members of the Democratic City Committee. Sanders was part of a group, BOSS Tunnel Vision,  that had hoped to take part in the massive ARC Tunnel project that Gov. Chris Christie rejected. Dunn was on the group's executive board

Dunn is nominated to succeed James Green, who was a holdover in 2009 when he died. The mayor favored former Councilman Don Davis to succeed Green in an unexpired term to Feb. 1, 2014. However, the term is listed on Monday's agenda as ending Feb. 1, 2015. In January, the council rejected Charles Eke as Green's successor, also for a term ending Feb. 1, 2014. This confusion over terms is one of Plaintalker's major peeves about boards and commissions in general, because successions get all mixed up when individuals are given incorrect terms.

Sanders is named this time to succeed Eugene Dudley as an alternate, to Feb. 1, 2014. This contradicts the information posted on the city's web site, unless the appointment will not take effect until Feb. 1, 2012:

"The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority shall consist of five (5) members, each of which shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council. The term of each regular member is five (5) years.
The Mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council may also appoint two (2) alternate members. The term of each alternate member is two (2) years."

While the council's stated reservations about nominees center on getting "the right person," as stated in January, My concern is also seating people in the darn right terms. Whatever happens Monday, I hope this concern will be taken into account. The City Clerk's own database confirms that Green's vacancy goes to Feb. 1, 2014 and Dudley's to Feb. 1, 2012. So why the discrepancies?

--Bernice

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tax Lien Sale Set for Dec. 6

A list of tax delinquents ran to nearly three pages in Thursday's Courier News, with individual amounts owed ranging from $79.47 to $30,713.14.

At a Dec. 6 tax lien sale, the city will try to recoup revenues by taking bids on the debts. Lien purchasers will pay the city the amount owed and property owners will then owe the purchaser, with interest up to 18 percent annually. Bidders must pre-register by Nov. 28 for the sale, which will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 6 in City Hall Library.

Thursday's delinquent list included a City Council member, a school board member, a charter school, a couple of community development corporations and a prominent developer. The charter school missed a filing deadline to become exempt from taxes and is appealing the assessment, officials said.

All the amounts owed this time are for municipal taxes and Special Improvement District taxes, unlike previous sales that have been primarily for money owed to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

Property taxes are the bedrock of Plainfield's budget, and the tax collection rate is important because the lower the rate, the higher the amount of reserve for uncollected taxes the city must keep on hand. In 2008, Tax Collector Maria Glavan was able to claim a 96.08 percent collection rate, up from a low of 93.32 percent in 2007. Rashid Burney, a councilman at the time, urged Glavan to reach for a 97 percent collection rate.

According to budget documents, the SFY 2010 rate dropped to 95.87 and the SFY 2011 rate was 94.85.

The city is in the process of shifting from a fiscal year budget running from July 1 to June 30 to a calendar year budget starting Jan. 1, 2012. The current six-month "transition year" was necessary to make the change.


--Bernice

Friday, November 18, 2011

Photo, Video, Media RFPs Posted

BC Productions at 5K Race.

The city is requesting proposals for videography, photography and media services, due at the Purchasing Division on Dec. 14. NOTE: All info is on the city web site here

I am not sure whether contracts were ever approved for media and photography in the 2010-11 fiscal year, but BC Productions did receive a contract for $100 per hour for videography. This meant, for example, that it cost $500 to videotape a five-hour City Council meeting for viewing on the local cable channels, with the same hourly rate applicable for numerous other events throughout the year.

The total was not to exceed $30,000 for the year beginning July 1, 2010 and ending June 30, 2011. However, the videographer continued to work after the six-month transition year began on July 1. As I recall, the explanation was that the contract would simply continue at the same rate through the end of the year.

It is good to see that the RFP process will be followed in 2012, the first year in a reversion to a calendar-year budget. One hopes that some enterprising person with a camera will come up with a less costly proposal, as the current videographer earns more than the hourly rate for special counsel to provide legal services.

"Media" was listed as part of Chris Payne's purview along with Information Technology when he was hired, but as I recall, it was never defined. Does it mean TV production? Public information? Web site notices? All of the above?

There has not been a staff photographer at City Hall since the former one was laid off many months ago. Does the city need a full-time photographer?

Plaintalker will be looking for the results of these RFPs for 2012. Perhaps the City Council will get an explanation of the scope of services needed in these categories before being asked to vote on contracts.

--Bernice

Thursday, November 17, 2011

PMUA Rate Hearing Dec. 13

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will lower sewer rates by 2.6 percent and make no change in solid waste rates, effective Jan. 1

A legal notice published today describes the rates in advance of a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Dec. 13 at PMUA headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Ave.

Transfer station rates allowable under new DEP regulations are also included in the notice and there is also a significant reduction in rates for roll-off service (large containers for uses such as one-time renovations).

The early notice reflects a new transparency from the PMUA, which drew the wrath of residents in March 2009 when rate increases of 14 and 20 percent were approved retroactively to Jan. 1. A group called DumpPMUA began investigating the authority’s policies and exposing alleged excesses for meals and travel that contributed to higher rates. The group also taught property owners how to opt out of using the PMUA for solid waste service.

The authority had the same leadership since its inception in 1995 until this year, when its top officials all resigned or retired. New executive director Duane Young appeared before the City Council on Sept. 12 to promise a new relationship with the governing body, which had sought unsuccessfully to meet with its leadership for many months.

Another point of contention over the past year or so was the inability to fill vacancies on the PMUA’s board of commissioners. Almost all the commissioners were in holdover status due to lack of reappointments or replacements. On Monday, the names of former Councilman Malcolm Dunn and entrepreneur Cecil Sanders will be offered for City Council advice and consent to become commissioners. The council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

"Enough is Enough"

After the swearing-in of Fire Chief Frank R. Tidwell Monday, I stopped in the City Clerk's office to look at the agendas for the two City Council meetings to be held later. Someone said there were news cameras outside and some kind of rally going on.

When I left City Hall, I took a look. Six people were holding up posters that read, "Enough is Enough." Kind of generic for a protest, I thought. They tried to get me to join them on camera, but I was not interested in becoming "part  of the story," a role forbidden to reporters. Anyway, I had no idea what the story was.

It turns out this rally, recorded on the group's own camera, not that of some news outfit, was in support of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and in protest of the inquiry into the use of $20,000 in city funds for the Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting featuring The Rev. Al Sharpton. The money was paid to radio station WBLS for a live broadcast

The early evening rally, a couple hours too early for the council meetings and unrelated to the swearing-in ceremony, had no audience on the street. The protesters repeated the question, "What is $20,000 compared to the cost of a life?" and condemned those who would ask about the mayor's decisions in regard to use of the money. But it seems that City Hall was just the backdrop for a 15-minute videotape that is now online as a YouTube video that you can see for yourself.

The City Council, after receiving no cooperation from the mayor in explaining the use of the funds, used subpoena powers granted to the governing body in the city's special charter and held three investigative sessions, the last on Nov. 9. A report is expected in December. Plaintalker and other bloggers have reported extensively on the investigation, as has Courier News reporter Mark Spivey.

The Rev. Zechariah Jackson is the creator of the video and many others related to protests. I leave it to the readers to assess the efficacy of this protest. Anyway, if you want to see it and hear what the protesters have to say, take a look at the link above.

--Bernice

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Old Doc Hits a Nerve

Dr. Yood mentioned the high volume of comments on his recent post about Rashid Burney's statement and I went back to take a look. This is a very high response rate for a hyperlocal blog. Click here to read the comments and/or go back to OldDoc's blog to read the whole thing.

--Bernice

On Trying to Follow the Action

A couple of us bloggers lately have the habit of stopping at the Plainfield Public Library to go through the City Council packet, as the background documents flesh out the real story of what is up for discussion at agenda-fixing sessions or for votes at regular meetings.

Due to "unforeseen circumstances," we did not have that opportunity Saturday. On Monday, I brought a laptop to the meeting, thinking maybe I could check the background material and make notes. Alas, paying attention to the meeting that was going on while reading through the packet did not work. I did see things such as a $40,000 tab for a contract with the Anglin Group for what is billed on the agenda as "development of a comprehensive economic development and growth strategy for the City of Plainfield." Councilman Cory Storch commented briefly on the item as a positive development that may have something to do with new Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Jackson coming in, and if I heard correctly, he cited it as an example "for those who say the mayor and council cannot cooperate."

There was a presentation on the Anglin study at what I felt was a badly-managed public forum in July. The format did not allow for a really good look at the group's work, but I was able to get the complete report for review and found it very impressive. I hope all council members get at least the executive summary so they can see the worth of it and I hope the public can learn more. One of the things I feel the city has lacked for some time is an analysis of factors affecting its economic future and this group addresses that need.

People in Plainfield have seen more than their fair share of studies that end up on a shelf, including the 1990 charter study and innumerable parking studies. This one and the action steps it includes must not be dismissed as just another study. It could make the difference between a haphazard, laissez-faire approach of trying to make do with whatever turns up downtown and a solid basis for making Plainfield once again a "brand" as it once was for professional and commercial activity.

I hope the full report will be made available to the public and that a broad range of individuals will be recruited to refine and carry out its goals. It is worthy of your attention.

--Bernice

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More on City Council Later

Plaintalker filed reports on Monday's special meeting and on the swearing-in of Fire Chief Frank R. Tidwell, but a report on the agenda-fixing session will be delayed.

The City Council considered 38 resolutions and four ordinances at the agenda-fixing session and will be voting on all but one at the Nov. 21 regular meeting.

--Bernice

Budget Transfers Approved at Special Meeting

Budget transfers, including funding for former Acting City Administrator David Kochel to serve as a consultant through Dec. 21, won approval at Monday's special meeting.

The resolution calls for $18,000 in funds for salary and wages from the City Administrator's budget line to be split, with $15,000 going to "other expenses" for the office and $3,000 funding additional staff expenses in .the mayor's office.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has also agreed to let Kochel consult with City Council committees. On Nov. 1, she had suggested instead that committee members sit in on daytime cabinet meetings, which council members said was impossible due to work schedules.

The resolution also transferred $10,000 from the Information Technology "other expense" line to salary and wages, with no explanation of the need.

Kochel was on hand in his new role as consultant for the special meeting and an agenda-fixing session.

The mayor had named Al Restaino, director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services, acting city administrator for the two weeks before former Trenton Assistant Business Administrator Eric Berry is expected to become city administrator. His nomination will be up for City Council advice and consent on Nov. 21.

--Bernice

Pay-to-Play Reform Ordinances Pass

Three of four fair play ordinances passed unanimously Monday, but Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' ploy to have one tabled was called "ridiculous" by two council members.

As explained by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, the mayor wanted not only vendors to be limited to $300 political contributions when doing business with the city, she wanted to limit private political contributions to the same amount.

Council President Annie McWilliams urged the council not to table the ordinance "for anything as ridiculous as this."

"I'm offended that this was even suggested," McWilliams said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams concurred, saying, "It's kind of ridiculous to bring it up."

Councilman Cory Storch said he was willing to hear what the mayor had to say, but not to table the ordinance, which was up for second reading and final passage at Monday's special meeting. But Councilwoman Bridget Rivers asked, "Has the mayor had the opportunity to sit down with the author of these ordinances?"

Storch said he was the sponsor, but the Citizens Campaign was the author.

Rivers pressed again to know whether the mayor had the opportunity to discuss the ordinance. Storch said the mayor was present at discussions, but Rivers persisted, asking twice again whether the mayor had input and whether Storch met with the mayor.

"These discusssions take place in a public forum. According t the Sunshine Law, we we are supposed to put our cards on the table at a public meeting," Storch said, but Rivers once more asked, "Was the mayor given an opportunity to weigh in on these ordinances?"

Williamson said he didn't know, but recalled making a comment that it was important for the mayor to have input.

Noting the ordinances passed on first reading on Nov. 1, Rivers said, "There have been several cabinet meetings since. Is this the first time for the mayor to weigh in?"

"My understanding is at the meeting two weeks ago, just four people met. The mayor did ask questions. I'm not in favor of tabling at this late hour," Williams said.

During the subsequent roll call votes, the first ordinance, on awarding professional services by competitive negotiation, passed unanimously. The second one, which the mayor wanted to table for further consideration, first brought questions from resident Alan Goldstein, who wanted the Plainfield Municipal Utilities to have the same constraints. Referring to terms of the city's interlocal service agreement with the PMUA, Goldstein said, "If PMUA screws up, the city is on the hook."

Goldstein said the pay-to-play ordinance should include "all agencies where you appoint commissioners" and called the PMUA "a hotbed of pay-to-play abuse."

But Williamson said the PMUA is an autonomous authority.

Another resident implored the council "not to pollute the good work" of the pay-to-play legislation and not to table it.

Williams asked Williamson whether there was anything to preclude the PMUA from adopting its own pay-to-play rules and Williamson said there was not.

At the roll call vote, Councilwoman Vera Greaves began commenting, but when told she could only vote at that point, Greaves voted "no."

Councilman William Reid, taking part by telephone from home, voted "yes." Rivers voted "no" and Storch, Councilman Adrian Mapp, Williams and McWilliams voted "yes." The ordinance, MC 2011-11, thus passed, 5-2.

The other two ordinances, one requiring zoning board applicants to disclose political contributions and one requiring a bidding process for insurance, passed unanimously.

The mayor has 10 days in which she can veto any or all of the ordinances. The council could overturn any veto with five votes.

The full text of each ordinance is available from the City Clerk's office.

--Bernice

Hail to the Chief

Police Director Martin Hellwig and Fire Chief Frank R. Tidwell.
Congratulations
to
Fire Chief Frank R. Tidwell!

Frank R. Tidwell is New Fire Chief

New Fire Chief Frank R. Tidwell signs papers making his title official as Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs looks on.

Well-wishers including fire chiefs from across Central Jersey crowded City Hall Library Monday to witness Frank R. Tidwell’s swearing-in as the city’s 29th fire chief and the second African-American to achieve the title.

Tidwell, his sons and several colleagues credited his faith and constant studying for his success, but he said it was a .38 caliber bullet that set him on his path. Tidwell recounted being shot in his native Chicago and learning of new opportunities in the Garden State. “God said, ‘I want you to go to New Jersey,’” he told the crowd. “My beginnings began with God. To God be the glory for this destination tonight.”

From being a rookie in 1980, he moved up the ranks to lieutenant from 1989 to 1996, then served as a captain until 2002 when be became a battalion chief. In 2009, he was named a deputy chief and when Fire Chief Cecil Allen went out on final leave in December 2010, Tidwell became acting chief.

After Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs administered Tidwell’s oath of office, a stream of speakers came forward to praise him.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that you have the right man for the job,” East Orange Acting Fire Chief Charles Salley said.

Newark Fire Director Fateen Ziyad noted Tidwell’s “faith, spirit, humbleness and belief,” while Trenton Division Fire Chief Leonard Carmichael Jr. alluded to Tidwell’s constant studies and training by saying, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Firefighter Geoffrey Plummer, president of the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said, “I’m sure Chief Tidwell will be one of our great chiefs.”

Sons Terron, Timothy, Franklin and Thomas cited the example their father set for them, and his “significant other,” Stacie, presented him with a plaque for the occasion. Allen pinned on Tidwell’s chief’s badge as he had requested and called him “a good person” and “an upright man.”

Tidwell told Plaintalker he will be sharing his plans for the Fire Division with the City Council in coming weeks.

As acting chief in May, he told the Planning Board that the Fire Division’s capital needs include new pumpers, a fire command vehicle and a heavy duty rescue truck to replace outdated equipment. Also needed are parking lot repairs, security cameras, plumbing upgrades, hose replacement, computers and a public address system to serve all three fire stations.

Somewhere down the road, Tidwell told the board, he hopes for a new fire station that will be "more green, more hybrid, more computer-friendly."

--Bernice

Monday, November 14, 2011

Not Exactly Muzak

I was picking up milk, cereal and a few other things Friday in the Twin City supermarket when I heard some shocking lyrics come out of the sound system.

Well, I was shocked, though most people were not registering any reaction at all to the repeated phrase "what the f.***" as part of a club-style song that went on for quite a while.

A Google search quickly turned up the song and confirmed the lyrics. If you look up Sak Noel Loca People, you can check it for yourself.

Now, I know that "WTF" is a common acronym online. And a faux children's bedtime story shot to the top of the charts with the phrase, "Go the f*** to sleep." I have heard even young schoolchildren tossing F-bombs in their conversation when school lets out. We were also informed recently that somebody likes to assert power by declaring, "I am the f***ing mayor."

Still, it briefly struck me as the nadir of civilization to have this phrase turning the air blue while I was grocery shopping in a neighborhood market full of children and elders.

I don't know what music service the store uses, but maybe they should take that particular catchy tune out of the rotation.

--Bernice

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Special Meeting Precedes Monday Session

The City Council will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall Library to vote on these items:

1. RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING TRANSFERS BETWEEN TY 2011 APPROPRIATIONS OF THE GENERAL FUND OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD.
2. SECOND READING OF AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND AND SUPPLEMENT THE MUNICIPAL CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD AT CHAPTER 2, ADMINISTRATION, ARTICLE 10. BUDGET AND PURCHASING PROCEDURES, BY CREATING SECTION 2:10-18, AWARD FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BY COMPETITIVE NEGOTIATION. - MC 2011 – 10
3. SECOND READING OF AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND AND SUPPLEMENT THE MUNICIPAL CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD AT CHAPTER 2, ADMINISTRATION, ARTICLE 10. BUDGET AND PURCHASING PROCEDURES, BY CREATING SECTIONS 2:10-19 THROUGH 2:10-22, INCLUSIVE PROHIBITION ON AWARDING PUBLIC CONTRACTS TO CERTAIN CONTRIBUTORS. - MC 2011 – 11
4. SECOND READING OF AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND AND SUPPLEMENT THE MUNICIPAL CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD AT CHAPTER 17, LAND USE, ARTICLE III, ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT, BY CREATING SECTION 17:3-15, CONTRIBUTION DISCLOSURE STATEMENTS. - MC 2011 – 12
5. SECOND READING OF AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND AND SUPPLEMENT THE MUNICIPAL CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD AT CHAPTER 2, ARTICLE 10. BUDGET AND PURCHASING PROCEDURES BY CREATING SECTION 2:10-23, INSURANCE PURCHASING. - MC 2011 - 13

Item 1 may be a re-do of a vote taken at the Nov. 1 special meeting, where only four City Council members were present. Five votes may be required to make these transfers. The ordinances were passed on first reading on Nov. 1 and are a package of "fair play" reforms to fiscal policies. They need to be passed on second reading before the end of the year, with some leeway for an additional vote if vetoed by the mayor.

The agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. As Dr. Yood has noted, bloggers and the public in general will not be able to see background material in advance of the meeting. The summaries on the printed agenda do not always tell the whole story on a piece of legislation and bloggers like to give their readers a heads-up on significant votes by offering context gleaned from supporting documents.

--Bernice

Mayor Seeks Council OK for Berry

Former Trenton Business Administrator Eric Berry will be Plainfield's next city administrator, if the City Council confirms him this month.

Monday's agenda-fixing session includes consideration of a mayoral nomination to hire Berry. If confirmed by a vote at the Nov. 21 regular meeting (or sooner if a special meeting is called), Berry will take charge of the city's day-to-day operations.

Berry was mentioned as a candidate for the post on September 12, just as the governing body was about to retire to closed session to discuss personnel. But when council members emerged later that evening, nothing more was said. Berry, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack's seventh business administrator since July 2010, subsequently quit his Trenton job as reported by nj.com and took a post with the state.

Plaintalker had commented on the possibility that Berry might join two other former Mack cabinet members who came to Plainfield. In January, former Trenton finance officer Ron Zilinski became chief finance officer and city treasurer here. Former Trenton Assistant Business Administrator Eric Jackson became Plainfield's director of Public Works & Urban Development on Sept. 26.

Confirmation of Berry would give him tenure until Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' term ends on Dec. 31, 2013. It would also preclude the possibility that the mayor might again name herself acting city administrator. She served in that role from April 1 to May 10. David Kochel then served as acting city administrator until Nov. 5, but at the Nov. 1 special meeting, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the mayor could again name herself to serve the balance of a 90-day term. The council voted that night to approve keeping Kochel on as a consultant through Dec. 21, which approximates the balance.

--Bernice






Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Photos

For 11/11/11, organizers of the Veterans' Day observance went all out with a parade from Police Headquarters to City Hall. 
Sgt. Trevor Clarke of the Union County Sheriff's Office played the bagpipes with son Adam joining in. 
Plainfield Police Veterans
Plainfield High School ROTC.
Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion members took part.
 A restored World War II Jeep.
At the War Memorial.
Plainfield High School cheerleaders.
Plainfield High School Marching Band.
World War II Veteran Tennyson Moore Sr. 
Public Works Supervisor John Louise grilled hot dogs.
Sgt. Clarke is wearing the Ancient MacLean of County Cork tartan.

The program began at 9:30 a.m. but included an extended break for socializing before resuming at 11 a.m. Mark Spivey wrote a great story featuring two nonagenarian veterans. The cold, windy weather drove me home early.

--Bernice

Thursday Walkabout

As usual, a walk downtown and back yielded some interesting sights on Thursday.
I was pleased to see that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority is hoping to get people to sort their discarded items. This new container was on Park Avenue in a block heavily traversed by students and others who buy lots of snacks and drinks. Let's hope recycling bottles and cans catches on!
The fancy lettering had me puzzling over the signage at new apartments on Park Avenue. If they meant to say "Celtics Apartments," the extra "t" in Celtics could have been applied to "apartment." Or if they said "Celtic Apartments" and left out the extra "e" ... whatever.
Are these fake date palms? Is "Chao Mein" a Guatemalan dish? This new restaurant is eye-catching not just for the greenery and the menu, but for a very attractive interior.
Behind the scenes on Park Avenue, a lot of work is taking place on the former Thomas Furniture building. Developer Frank Cretella is planning eight apartments. Next door, he has four apartments ready for occupancy.
No sooner is graffiti covered up on Gavett Place than somebody comes along with a spray can of shocking pink paint to add more.
This North Avenue lot where a building was demolished has deep holes due to settling of fill. Now the fence is peeled back and it is even more of a liability. See more about the problem here.
Car and Bike Show Sunday! By the train station. Find out what Latin Rides are.
The beautiful Police Memorial plantings are being invaded by little weed trees, maples and lindens. Some are more than a foot tall already. I can say from experience in my garden, the sooner you pull them up, the better.
These roses are a great addition to the front of the Municipal Court building. Still in bloom with Thanksgiving on the way!

--Bernice

Real or Phony?

Somebody left two comments on the last WBLS investigation post, both supposedly in favor of the mayor but with spelling and grammar errors. The last time I posted a similar comment, a reader took me to task for publishing them, apparently deeming the wording to be deliberately misspelled as some kind of slur.

So, dear readers, the writer left two comments on the WBLS investigation suggesting that I will censor them because they support the mayor. Judge for yourself:

"Yeah Sharon Miss Mayor Good for you I know they dont post this because I agree with you this site be censored like you dont know"

"It is a total waits of time leaves the mayor aloan she dos good for the city she do good for the communisty why when is support the mayor youall take my stuph downs"

What are we seeing here? A comment in good faith or trickery?

--Bernice

Veterans Day Observance


Veterans Day will be observed today starting with a parade from the Plainfield Police Station at 9:30 a.m.

The schedule calls for a wreath laying at the flag pole monument at 10:15 a.m., with the national anthem played by the Plainfield High School Marching Band. At 10:55 a.m.there will be a ceremony at the Veterans Monument on the grounds of City Hall.

City church bells will toll for two minutes at 11 a.m. Veterans' groups will lay a wreath at the monument, followed by a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps by Bugler Larry Schillings.Chaplain Craig Smith will give the invocation and Union County Police Sgt. Trevor Clarke will play the bagpipes.Plainfield Firefighter Rudi Davis will toll the bell once for every war and major conflict.

The program will also include awards and recognitions, speakers, announcement of essay contest winners, closing remarks and a closing prayer.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

WBLS Session Closed to Public

The public learned nothing more about the WBLS investigation Wednesday, as testimony was held in executive session and the public was excluded.

A sparse group including residents, bloggers and reporter Mark Spivey waited until 7:35 for the 7 p.m. meeting to begin, but City Council President Annie McWilliams soon read the call for closed session. Present besides McWilliams were council members Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams, Vera Greaves and Adrian Mapp. Willliam Reid and Bridget Rivers were absent.

Testimony was to be heard from Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson and former City Administrator Bibi Taylor. Williamson spoke in closed session at the first meeting on Sept. 21, while Taylor gave explosive testimony on Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' push for a $20,000 check on the Friday before the Sunday broadcast on Aug. 1, 2010. The mayor countered Taylor's testimony at the second session on Oct. 19 and said the Town meeting on gang violence constituted an "emergency." But Purchasing Agent David Spaulding said at the time he was not informed that issuance of the check was related to an emergency.

Minutes of the closed session may be released by the next council meeting, depending on the nature of the testimony (if I heard right).

McWilliams said Wednesday the closed session was expected to be the last meeting on the topic. A report may be issued by December. The probe has been characterized solely as an investigation permitted by the city's special charter. Previous attempts to get information from the administration yielded little, leading to the governing body's move to invoke its subpoena powers and call individuals including the mayor to testify.

Click here  to read Plaintalker's post on the forum, which featured an appearance by The Rev. Al Sharpton.

--Bernice

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

WBLS Probe Continues Tonight

Just a reminder, the City Council's investigation into the use of city funds to pay WBLS for broadcasting an Aug. 1, 2010 "Town Meeting" continues tonight, 7 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Voting by Wards

Plainfield's turnout at the polls Tuesday -3,981 of 20,738 registered voters - comes out to 19 percent.

Ward by ward, the turnout varies. In the First Ward, 865 people voted out of a possible 4,789, for a turnout of 18 percent. In the Second Ward, 1,420 of 6,095 registered voters came out, for 23 percent. Of 5,801 registered Third Ward voters, 1,216 went to the polls, for a turnout 0f 21 percent. The Fourth Ward had 4,051 eligible voters, but only 480 voted, for a turnout of 12 percent.

Only First, Second and Fourth ward voters had to make a City Council choice this year, but residents in all wards could vote for three Union County freeholders, one State Senator and two State Assembly representatives.

Democrats won all those seats, but city voters apparently differentiated between Assemblyman Jerry Green, who is also the Democratic Party chairman, and his running mate, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, favoring Stender by 381 votes. In District 22 overall, Stender edged over Green by 732 votes.

Unofficial results citywide by ward and district are posted here, for those who like to look at numbers.

On to 2012! The Third Ward and Citywide at-large council seats are up. Filing will be in April, primary contests in June and the general election in November. And of course, the not-so-small matter of the presidential election. Locally, 2013 is the year that has prognosticators guessing their best. Voters will be asked to choose a mayor and a Fourth Ward representative, as well as one state Senate and two state Assembly officeholders. Predictions already abound. Is there an app for that?

--Bernice

Storch, Greaves Win Four-Year Terms

Councilman Cory Storch won his third term serving the Second Ward and Councilwoman Vera Greaves secured her first full term representing the First and Fourth wards Tuesday, each to serve from Jan. 1, 2012 through 2015.

Storch overcame a June Democratic primary challenge from Tony Rucker, who also lost to Storch in the 2007 primary. In 2007, Storch ran on the party line in the primary, but this year Rucker had the party's backing. Storch previously served on the Plainfield school board and has served as the governing body's representative on the Planning Board for many years.He chairs the council's Economic & Community Development Committee

On Tuesday, Storch defeated Republican William Michelson, who promised on his blog to be involved in city affairs, win or lose.

Greaves was unopposed in her bid to succeed Linda Carter, who won election in November 2010 to the Union County freeholder board. Greaves has served as an appointee since January. In 2009, Greaves was the running mate of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, but lost the Fourth Ward Democratic primary to Bridget Rivers by six votes. Since being appointed, Greaves has headed the council's City & Neighborhood Services Committee.

Results are unofficial and will be confirmed by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi on Monday. Thanks to City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh, the complete unofficial results by ward and district are posted on the city web site.

--Bernice

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Thought on Social Security

Listening just now to a radio interview with photographer Annie Leibowitz on WNYC, I heard Brian Lehrer ask if she had visited the Occupy Wall Street site yet. She had not, but it made me think of the move away from certain banks to credit unions, and that made me recall the Social Security Administration's plan to sign up all beneficiaries for direct deposit.

The SSA tried this a while back but met with a backlash from seniors, especially those who don't have bank accounts for various reasons. Now SSA requires Direct Deposit for new beneficiaries upon signup, and all others who don't already have it must comply by 2013.

If you are of an age soon to receive benefits or have relatives due for benefits, maybe you want to consider options ahead of time, such as credit unions. The controversy over banking practices is not likely to go away any time soon, and if you think banks have become too heavy-handed with fees and minimum balance requirements, look into the the possibilities.

Meanwhile, make sure you "occupy" a voting booth today to have a say on state legislators for the next two years and on other important offices

--Bernice


Monday, November 7, 2011

General Election is Tuesday

If you are a registered voter, you should have received your sample ballot for Tuesday's election.

You can vote for a State Senator, two State Assembly members, three Union County Freeholders and if you live in the Second Ward or in the First and Fourth wards, a City Council member.

Don't forget, in a general election you are not bound by party affiliations and can pick any individuals you like, across party lines. The Courier News has endorsed one Democrat and one Republican for the two Assembly seats. You can pick any two of the four candidates.

There is also one public question, about sports betting. The text as well as an interpretive statement are at the top of the sample ballot.

Your polling place is listed on the sample ballot. Comprehensive voting instructions are on the reverse of the ballot.

As many have reminded us, people have died for your right to vote. Don't squander this chance. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

--Bernice

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eid Al Adha

Eid Mubarak
to all our friends and neighbors
celebrating
Eid Al Adha

Take a Look at PW&UD

Random image: Spiderwort in November.


I used up my extra fall-back hour by sleeping late, but if you follow city government and still have time today, I suggest you take a quick look at part of the 2010 State of the City report today.

As soon as Eric Jackson came on as director of Public Works and Urban Development, I thought of a number of things that I hope he will be able to address between now and Dec. 31, 2013, when his term ends along with the mayor's. For all of the mayor's first term, the PW&UD director was Jennifer Wenson Maier. She was not reappointed, but then there was some mix-up over her successor and she agreed to stay on for a couple of months. As it turned out, she left for Hoboken and David G. Brown II became director March 1, 2010. But he left in November 2010.

To refresh my memory about the scope of the PW&UD department, I looked at the 2010 State of the City address and found that of the three departments - Public Affairs & Safety; Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services and PW&UD, the last one took up half of the report. Its divisions include Public Works, Recreation, Planning, Economic Development, Inspections and Community Development.

Instead of giving a traditional speech on the state of the city, the mayor's style has been to give a slide show listing details of each division's accomplishments.Even if you just scroll through the online report, you will see the wide-ranging responsibilities that Jackson has inherited. What it doesn't show is the disproportionate focus some divisions have required, notably Recreation with its ongoing controversies over management and interaction with a volunteer baseball league.Nor does it show the effects of layoffs on Planning and Inspections, for example.

These grocery-list reports do not give a sense of the overall direction and most pressing priorities of PW&UD. The reader (or listener, if the 2012 one follows the same format) must glean them, if possible from the piled-up statistics. The report also documents the past as opposed to summing up major goals for the New Year.

If you read the report (I did not use 2011 because it is sideways on the city web site), you will undoubtedly think of some goals you would like to see addressed in 2012 or items for which you would like an update. As a citizen, you can always speak during public comment at City Council meetings or you can call - (908) 753-3375 - or write Jackson's office at City Hall. My pet project would be refurbishment of city parking lots, most of which are in poor condition. See my Plaintalker post here.

This year is rapidly drawing to a close. What will the next two years bring for the city and especially for Public Works & Urban Development?

--Bernice

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Bonfire

I went to Plainfield High School Friday night to see the bonfire, not so much to take part in the Homecoming Events as to see an actual bonfire.

The elemental power of fire has been used over the centuries in many diverse cultures to add a mystical dimension to an event. As I have explained in other posts, I am a sports illiterate and only have the vaguest notion of what goes on in football, but I can relate to the bonfire as a way to focus positive energy and support for the team. I think the organizers are on to something with these events to build up school spirit.

The blazing fire and sparks flying into the night sky made an impressive sight.

It also reminded me of the days long ago when autumn was marked by the smell of fires set to burn fallen leaves. My adult children are old enough to remember those days of raking up a huge pile of leaves and seeing it consumed in flames.Fire used to be a partner in many basic household and farm tasks, from warming the home to clearing fields.

Traditions come and go, but I think a bonfire for school spirit is a worthy one to bring back to Plainfield High School.

--Bernice

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cultural Events on Park Avenue

Looking to expand your cultural horizons without even leaving the city?

You can enjoy a fine example of community theater with Act IV's latest production, "Talking with ..." by Jane Martin. A seasoned troupe of actors and stagecraft veterans will launch the show tonight at at 8 in the Parish Hall at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, 724 Park Ave. Tickets are $17, or $14 for students and seniors. Performances continue Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.and next weekend on the same timetable.

"The production consists of 11 intriguing monologues in which 11 rather extraordinary women of various ages talk about their lives, their hopes or their regrets," according to a publicity release.

Fans of Act IV will recognize the name of Barbara Van Savage as director. The actors include Cass Cochrane, Elaine D'Addazio, Judy England-McCarthy, Maryanne Ficker, Sheila Harding, Renee Litwin, Kathy Mattingly, Sherie Novotny, Gail Sweeney, Anne Troop and Chloe Williams.

Call (908) 756-0750 to reserve tickets..

Over at the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave., winners of the annual photography contest will receive awards and the exhibit will open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. "Plainfield on the Go!" is the theme and the show will be on view through Dec. 31 during regular library hours.

The photographs will become part of the library's permanent collection and as such will also become part of the cultural legacy that Library Director Joe Da Rold has been building for future generations. Go take a look and meet the photographers Saturday!

--Bernice


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Scary Times

There have been times when I felt attending City Council meetings was deleterious to my mental health.

Incivility, misrepresentation, mendacity ... it's hard to stomach when you see it in elected officials.

My stomach responded Tuesday with a case of agita that wouldn't quit.

But because it was no doubt psychosomatic, there was no point in going to the local doc-in-a-box.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior in those we rely on to run things is not confined to the local level.

Reporters and bloggers can only document it. It is up to the people at large to call b.s. and demand that those charged with governance live up to their oaths of office.

Can I get an amen? And a cup of peppermint tea?

--Bernice

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Closing of the Garden Saturday

You can’t “friend” the Shakespeare Garden on Facebook yet, but you could be a friend by taking part in the “Closing of the Garden” Saturday.

Participants are welcome to be there at 10 a.m. with garden tools to help the Plainfield Garden Club wrap up its work for the season. Members of the club maintain the garden from early spring through late fall, for the enjoyment of Plainfielders and other visitors from all over. The garden is located in Cedar Brook Park, part of the Union County park system and is open from dawn to dusk year-round.

Club members are hoping the event Saturday will stir interest in starting a “Friends of the Shakespeare Garden” group. Initially, they just want some helping hands for their work, but eventually a “Friends” group could support the club in other ways.

Meanwhile, Plaintalker posed some questions for an update on the Shakespeare Garden:

Q. The Shakespeare Garden here has links with similar gardens all over the world that feature plants mentioned in the author’s works. What is something you want to let people know about Plainfield’s Shakespeare Garden?
A. We have the 1924 Olmsted Brothers drawings and are currently renovating several areas in the garden to reflect the original designs.

Q. This year’s unusual weather presented some big challenges for all local gardeners. How did the extreme heat and prolonged rains affect the Shakespeare Garden?
A. The rain has contributed to a very bad disease in the Boxwoods and we unfortunately lost about half of our historic peonies due to poor drainage.

Q. In early June, the Plainfield Garden Club traditionally holds a “Shakespeare-in-Bloom” event when the garden is at its peak. Docents guide visitors around the garden and explain the significance of its flowers and plants. Have you set a date for 2012?
A. No, we have not set a date for June 2012, but it is on our agenda.

Thanks to Plainfield Garden Club President Mandy Zachariades and Communications Chair Susan Fraser, who co-chair the Shakespeare Garden, for their answers.

--Bernice