Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Whatever Happened To ...?

Those who try to keep track of things in Plainfield may end 2012 with a feeling that something is missing. Actually, quite a few things are missing, ranging from cabinet members in City Hall to updates on several major initiatives. With only a year to go in the current administration, it may be difficult to attract new staff, but a lot of the other stuff requires only a simple explanation.

The city has had just a part-time chief finance officer for most of 2012 and a temporary corporation counsel since July 1. Vacancies now include recreation superintendent, tax collector, health officer and purchasing agent. Some of these are statutory officers required by the state.

Among the unfinished stories:

--Settlement of the Dornoch dispute. The senior center was built "at no cost to the city" until the developer sent a quarter-million dollar bill to the city. It was supposed to be in negotiation, so what happened?

--Update on road repairs. A very ambitious road program was launched in 2012, so how much was completed?

--Status of the Urban Enterprise Zone funds and projects. About $2 million in the formerly state-administered fund was turned over to the city, but officials' inquiries about its status have gone unanswered.

--Status of PCTV operations. Residents say council meetings are not being shown on the local channel. Its web site is out of date. What gives?

--Status of Plainfield Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs. This group fizzled out and even though Latinos make up 40 percent of the city's population, there has been no word on re-establishing it.

As always, there is a New Year and a chance to do better. The City Council reorganizes at 7 p.m. Thursday in Municipal Court, with meetings this month on Jan. 14 and 22. The Board of Education will organize at 8 p.m. Monday in the Plainfield High School Conference room. The new Charter Study Commission meets next at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8 in City Hall Library. And I'm sure all of us have new calendars and plans for goals and activities in 2013. If you have not been as engaged in civic activities as you wanted to be in 2012, your opportunity is at hand!

Happy New Year to all and may you and the city both prosper in 2013!

--Bernice

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Urban Outfitters Opens

I finally got my chance to look inside the new Urban Outfitters in Westfield. If you have tweens, teens or young women in the family, they will most likely be entranced by the ambiance and the fashions. I myself have been having a "mutton dressed as lamb" phase since Audrey sent me some pricey skinny jeans she had scored at one of Seattle's thrift shops, but it was highly obvious that I am not of the Urban Outfitter demographic. I was more interested in the way the former bank at Broad & Elm had been made over to provide raw industrial underpinnings for the outre couture and funky merchandise.

If like me you grew up in the 1940s and 1950s and have no grandchildren, you can always go there as a field trip on your way to a more staid shopping experience. On the way out, make sure you don't accidentally buy a pair of those mittens with an expletive knitted in. Or if you do, save them to wear to a City Council meeting - 2013 politics may turn the air blue and you'll fit right in.

--Bernice

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How the Dutch Do Christmas Cards

My neighbor is of Dutch heritage and I have come to know about some of her country's traditions. One is creating and exchanging elaborate Christmas cards, like the one pictured above.
Here's another one, involving collage and stitchery.
Here's some of the fine detail. It is a lovely custom and a nice reminder of holiday heritage. Thanks to my neighbor for sharing!

--Bernice

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Cheer

Coleus plants grown from cuttings are the stars of my windowsill garden this winter. I grew the Coleus from seed last winter and it did very well in my 2012 garden. I love the color variations!

--Bernice

Ratepayers Question Shared Services Costs

A category of solid waste charges for "shared services" drew criticism Thursday at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's annual rate hearing.

The authority provides solid waste and sewer services to city property owners, but even those who have "opted out" of PMUA trash pickup are liable for the shared services charges, which cover costs including collection and disposal of waste and recyclables from municipal buildings, parks, street cans and city-owned lots. In addition, shared services include pickup of bulky waste from all property owners in the city, downtown sweeping and litter control, operations of the Rock Avenue transfer station, city vegetative waste disposal and more.

Both low density residential solid waste rates and shared services charges decreased for 2013, but the latter makes up 44 percent of the combined cost and even those with private trash haulers will have to pay $80.30 per quarter for the "community services" funded by shared service fees. The annual shared services fees for 1,440 lots and 2,440 households total $589,156.

In a discussion of how the charges are determined, resident Bill Kruse said he asked for back-up information on the fees but was unable to get it. Kruse said he was told the information could run to 5,000 sheets and would be a combination of facts and opinions, from which the latter would have to be redacted. But Kruse, a retired engineer, said he looked at the engineers' bills and they did not reflect that amount of effort.

PMUA Counsel Leslie London advised Kruse to make an Open Public Records Act request for public documents, but Kruse asked, "What is a public document?"

"There is nothing to fudge," Jeffrey Bliss of the accounting firm Lerch, Vinci & Higgins said in defense of the methods of allocation.

Residents Jan Massey, Alan Goldstein and Dan Damon also queried the presenters.

When PMUA Chairman Harold Mitchell asked London to explain the authority's role, she called it unique in the state for providing solid waste services, except for North Bergen, which does so on a different basis. Bliss said where the North Bergen municipal utility authority only sends one bill to the city, PMUA sends out over 11,000 bills to ratepayers. There is no shared services fee and the cost of collection and disposal of leaves, brush and bulky waste there is paid through taxes, he said.

London noted the PMUA must also support operations of the transfer station.

"Do you think we are doing things efficiently?" Goldstein asked.

Bliss replied by defending the line-by-line budget scrutiny that he said is done.

Commissioner Alex Toliver alleged that PMUA gives the public a "hearsay," while North Bergen doesn't, but officials quickly corrected him, saying all utility rates are subject to public hearings.

With that, London read the new rate resolutions and they were unanimously approved by Mitchell, Toliver and Commissioners Carol Brokaw and Tracey Brown. Commissioners Cecil Sanders and Malcolm Dunn were absent.

The new solid waste rates will take effect April 1, 2013. An increase in the sanitary sewer connection fee, from $2,080 to $2,130, was also approved and will take effect Jan. 1.

Note: Blogger will not let me reply to comments using this laptop, so I am replying here. I am aware that all property owners are subject to the shared services fee. The concern of those who have opted out seems to be that they still have to pay this fee - they cannot fully divorce themselves from the PMUA. Feel free to comment and add what you want. I can't cram all the issues into one blog post.

--Bernice

Sewer Pipe Repair Plan Explained


A failing near-century-old pipe that conveys two million gallons of sewage per day will be replaced by laying new pipe along a vacant street at the Dunellen border.

The project was explained Thursday at a special meeting of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

Michael Dziubeck of CME & Associates said the deteriorating pipe runs along the Green Brook, but replacing it in that location would disturb the brook and new pipe could be exposed through erosion. The alternative proposed was to place new pipe along Second Street, abutting and extending north on Jefferson Avenue.

The proposed site contains freshwater wetlands and the firm will handle the permitting process. Initial phases of the project include surveying and mapping at $6,878, design and specifications for $47,483 and permit acquisition over six months at $12,614 for a total of $66,975. PMUA Chairman Harold Mitchell asked whether the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority was involved and Dziubeck said they had to sign off on the project but were not part of it. (Sewage flows through the PMUA system, then through PARSA's system on the way to treatment by the Middlesex County Utilities Authority.)

The project is expected to be completed by July 2014.

--Bernice

Brown, Perry Honored For PMUA Service

Rev. Tracey Brown and PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson

Rev, Tracey Brown, a Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioner for four years, and James Perry, the authority's chief finance officer for more than 16 years, were honored at  a special meeting Thursday.

Brown joined the PMUA board of commmissioners as an alternate in 2008 and became a full commissioner in 2010. She is leaving as of Jan. 3, 2013 to fill the citywide at-large seat on the City Council. The governing body will reorganize on that date and Brown will be sworn in for a four-year term.

Brown, pastor and founder of Ruth Fellowship Ministries,  received a resolution of thanks for her service and the gift of a clock.

Perry was not present for Thursday's meeting but will receive a plaque and a copy of the resolution honoring him at a later gathering. He was praised for staying on past his previously announced retirement date of September 2011 to assist the authority in a time of transition, as its two former top officials, Executive Director Eric Watson and Deputy Executive Director David Ervin, left the organization in 2011. The three formed the original leadership of the authority.

--Bernice

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Birthday Girl

Happy Birthday, Audrey!
Love, Mom

PMUA Double-Header Tonight

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will hold both a rate hearing and a special meeting tonight, starting at 6 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Ave.

A notice for the special meeting, as well as an amended notice, both had the wrong day listed, but a call to the authority Wednesday confirmed that both meetings are tonight.

Plaintalker detailed the proposed rates as published in a legal notice. The sewer connection fee for 2013 was amended in a subsequent notice. In looking up the old rates just now, Plaintalker found more discrepancies, such as the container disposal rate last year being expressed in tons, but this year by quarter. The lesson is that even a "legal" notice can be faulty, so ask questions if you plan to attend.

PMUA in general was a hot topic in 2012. A review of blog posts found both high numbers of pageviews and comments on PMUA stories. In January, the controversial $1 million settlement atracted readers. Throughout the year, there was a series of failed attempts to appoint commissioners. The appointment of former city Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson as the new PMUA executive director drew interest.

In addition, an interview with activist Philip Charles drew many readers. So did coverage of the reorganization in which Harold Mitchell retained the chairmanship of the PMUA board. A task force raised the issue of possible dissolution of the authority, but a further study was squelched by the administration.

The authority, while finally taking on outside contracts and lowering rates, remains a topic of high interest as 2013 approaches.

--Bernice

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

When Seasons Collide

The year is almost over and we still haven't had a killing frost. Not too many years ago, by mid-October the growing season was finished and all tender plants were dead. Not any more. This delicate wildflower (or weed, depending on your viewpoint) is still blooming on Christmas, as are several other flowers in our yard.

I tried to find frost information on the state climatology site without success, but did find this graphic that indicates a warming trend throughout most of 2012.
The temperature dip in November still has not fazed the Calendulas, which appear ready to go straight through winter without ill effect.
 The Daffodils are also ready to disregard winter and have begun to sprout.

Maybe January and February will tell another tale, but so far it sure looks like climate change on Block 832.

--Bernice

Mother Nature's Surprise

Checking the yard on Christmas Day, I discovered yet one more Praying Mantis egg case, bringing the total to five.

As Plaintalker readers know, these creatures are a source of fascination to me and my neighbor through three seasons. They are ferocious hunters and are considered an asset in the garden. We like to watch their progress from emerging in the spring, devouring insects all summer and mating in the fall. The female dies after laying eggs and sometimes the male is a victim of the mating process, as females are known to attack and eat them.

We saw the gravid females with their swollen abdomens, but did not discover where they placed the egg cases until leaves began falling off a forsythia bush near the building. It was heartening to discover two, assuring a new generation in 2013. Then we found more, including two on the same branch. This fifth one sets a record for our yard.

Those who sell Praying Mantis egg cases to gardeners say one can expect "up to 200" baby mantises. That means a potential 1,000 of them in the spring. Realistically, the number will be much smaller, as the mantises emerge very hungry and will eat anything moving, including their birth mates. Still, it's likely there will be a bumper crop next summer to amuse the humans with their antics.

--Bernice

Joyeux Noel

Merry Christmas
to all

I spent most of Monday sick in bed and listening variously to WNYC, WBAI and my new fave, WFMU. I think I must have heard every known carol and holiday pop tune, rendered vocally by humans and various species including faux chipmunks, or instrumentally on everything from pipe organs to rubber bands. Who knew Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is 70 years old? That means I have heard it every year since the age of four. I have written before about the curse of the alto part, which means having been in a high school chorus, I must render that part in my head whether hearing carols in the supermarket or Jeff Spelman playing Christmas songs on the Grace Church carillon. ("Joy to the World" at midnight on the bells was lovely, Jeff!)

The older generations of my family are gone and we don't have any nearby younger generation, so the holidays tend to be quiet affairs for our small remaining band. Whatever you are doing today (Christmas Bird Count? Big dinner with the family? Volunteering at a church?), have a great day!

--Bernice


Sunday, December 23, 2012

PMUA Rate Hearing Dec. 27

Because I am using a laptop Audrey gave me, Blogger does not recognize me when it comes to replying to comments (she is still listed as the administrator for the laptop). So to the commenter who inquired about the PMUA rate hearing, it is 6 p.m. on Dec. 27 at 127 Roosevelt Avenue.

Here is a link to my prior post. The shared services rate is going down slightly.

--Bernice

Regarding Crime Reports

I am currently suffering from a very bad cold that went from the explosive sneezing/runny nose stage to the cough/tight chest phase overnight and so I have been staying in bed most of the time, but I would like to weigh in on the crime reporting issue.

One of my first tasks when hired by the Courier News was to drive to 11 police stations each Saturday and "pick up the blotter," meaning take notes on police reports. Many times,the desk officer in small suburban or rural districts just said, "Nothing to report," and that was it.

Plainfield had a wire basket with copies of police reports, often a great many. Each had the time,date, location, victim's name, nature of crime, and a narrative by the responding officer that had been reviewed by a superior. It took a long time to look through and summarize the most relevant reports. Most turned up as brief items in a special section of the newspaper. Some needed further inquiry and reporting for a story.

Over the years, reporting changed both at the police station end and in the newsroom. Plainfielders were very sensitive over the contrasts between municipalities where the worst crime in a week was a vandalized mailbox and Plainfield's litany of more serious crimes. Officials sometimes sought to have these reports condensed or eliminated, as they gave the city "a bad name." At times the unlucky reporter assigned to pick up the Plainfield blotter would be turned away or made to wait a long time, because the reports were still being reviewed.

The newspaper always held the "cop run" to be a vital part of reporting - until it didn't. The policy on deploying staff changed and with it went a large chunk of potential information. Living in Plainfield myself, I wanted to know when there was a rash of purse snatchings or other trend to watch out for. In that way, I figured, I could take precautions.

The statististics from these reports did eventually turn up in the Uniform Crime Report, but as with all government data, it was from the past. Nor did it include what reporters saw in the narratives, whether about the Lollipop Burglar, whose m.o. (modus operandi) was to enter a home by the second floor while enjoying his candy, or about the harmless but colorful homeless man, always impeccably dressed, who once politely brought in a newspaper for the desk officer, unaware that it contained a "Most Wanted" description of himself for some infraction in Somerset County.

It was also through these narratives that people knew to watch out for metal thieves, con games on the elderly, and burglary rings targeting neighborhoods.

Times changed. As I understand it, the blotter is now just what police departments send in to the newspaper.    Police assignments have changed here as the number of captains went from five to seven and now to three. (Check Plainfield's assignments here.) Beat deployment has been addressed different ways, especially walking beats. Still, police work with neighborhood groups and a block association consortium to improve public safety.

So what would people prefer, data or narratives or both? Click here to see an example of how police and residents collaborate in the West Seattle crime watch on the neighborhood's blog. Maria's examples seem to have mainly data through a software program. Some neighborhood groups here email crime watch alerts to members. All these options depend on policies and, to some extent, funding. The New Year may be an opportune time to see what leaders will offer to improve public safety and communication between government and neighborhoods.

--Bernice

Saturday, December 22, 2012

PMUA Gets It Wrong Again


For all the big bucks spent at PMUA, you'd think they could be a little more detail-oriented. Plaintalker privately tried to alert the powers that be regarding an error in a special meeting notice that appeared earlier this month, but the same error is in an amended notice that was published today.

The amendment expanded the meeting's business but kept the original error, namely misstating the date. Shall we guess that they mean Wednesday, Dec. 26?

There is another meeting on Thursday, Dec. 27, which also required an amended notice after Plaintalker pointed out the sewer connection fee in the original notice was the same as last year's fee increase.

Need you a proofreader, guys!



PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL UTILITIES AUTHORITY

"NOTICE OF SPECIAL MEETING"
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the "Authority") has scheduled a Special Meeting for WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2012 at 6:30 P.M. at the Authority's office located at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey:
The purpose of the meeting is for the Discussion and Possible Action regarding the following:
"Adoption of the CY 2013 Sewer Budget"
Adoption of the CY 2013 Solid Waste Budget"
Daniel A. Williamson
Daniel A. Williamson, Executive Director
DATED: December 7, 2012
($11.88) 660434 

PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL UTILITIES AUTHORITY

AMENDED
"NOTICE OF SPECIAL MEETING"
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the "Authority") has scheduled a Special Meeting for WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2012 at 6:30 P.M. at the Authority's office located at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey:
The purpose of the meeting is for the Discussion and Possible Action regarding the following:
"Adoption of the CY 2013 Sewer Budget"
"Adoption of the CY 2013 Solid Waste Budget"
"Resolution Authorizing an Emergency Purchase of a New Excavator"
"A Resolution of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority Recognizing and Proclaiming the Achievement, Dedication, Commitment and Exemplary Service of Mr. James R. Perry as Chief Financial Officer"
"A Resolution of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority Recognizing and Proclaiming the Achievement, Dedication, Commitment and Exemplary Service of Rev. Tracey L. Brown as Commissioner"
"Discussion by Executive Director regarding Sewer Interceptor Project"
Daniel A. Williamson
Daniel A. Williamson, 
Executive Director
DATED: December 20, 2012
($21.12) 665080 


PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL UTILITIES AUTHORITY

CORECTED NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the "Authority") has scheduled a Public Hearing for Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. at the Authority's offices located at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey. The purpose of the Public Hearing is to review and take formal action regarding certain adjustments to current solid waste rates, charges and fees and sewer fees.
 
PLEASE TAKE FURTHER NOTICE that Notice regarding the Hearing was previously provided but there was an error in the Prior Notice regarding the amounts listed for the Sewer Connection Fee adjustment. The corrected sewer fee adjustment is as set forth below. All other rate adjustments set forth in the Prior Notice remain unchanged.

CORRECTED SANITARY SEWER CONNECTION FEE ADJUSTMENT

Current Rate (cy2012) Proposed Rate (1/1/2013)

Sewer Connection Fee $ 2,080 per connection $2,130 per connection

The proposed rate change will be effective January 1, 2013 for the Sewer Connection Fee. The Authority shall provide evidence at the hearing showing that the proposed adjustment is necessary and reasonable and shall provide the opportunity for cross-examination on such evidence. A transcript of the hearing shall be made and a copy thereof shall be available upon request to any interested party upon payment of a reasonable fee. The Rate Hearing is open to all members of the public.
 
DANIEL A. WILLIAMSON,
 
PMUA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
 
Dated: December 3, November 27, 2012
($38.28) 656616
 

Happy Holidays

Plaintalker wishes all a good holiday as the four-day weekend begins, culminating in Christmas Eve Monday and Christmas Day Tuesday.

It was interesting to receive a personal greeting card from Rush Holt and his wife, Margaret Lancefield. Holt is our new Congressional representative now that Plainfield is in District 12. A second look at the card revealed that the winter scene on the front was at Drake House, and its history was detailed on the back. It struck me as a very good sign that Rush Holt intends to fully embrace Plainfield as part of his district.

Plainfield formerly was lumped in with a lot of shore towns and it always bothered me to see those campaign signs with a "wave" logo when the only water around here is the Green Brook.

Holt won the new District 12 seat in the November election. To learn more about his governmental role, click here.

--Bernice

Friday, December 21, 2012

Flashback!

A little before 2 a.m., as speakers on the radio were pooh-poohing the predicted end of the world, the power went off here. The pitch-black darkness was an unhappy reminder of the 10 days we spent in the cold and dark after Hurricane Sandy. A storm is raging outside right now, but the power came back.

The storm is supposed to continue through Friday, so keep those emergency supplies handy. By coincidence, I was just drinking my last gallon of spring water left over from the last emergency and I had a flashlight within groping distance in the dark.
I also have a new, super-bright headlamp light and just got a 16-pack of batteries for the portable radio. Still, I would not like to have to use them in another prolonged outage.

So if you went to bed at a normal hour and did not stay up to hear Radio Unnameable with Bob Fass, you may see proof of the mini-outage in those blinking lights on appliances when you get up.

--Bernice

Council Overrides Vetoes, Honors Two

City Council votes Thursday overrode mayoral vetoes of three resolutions aimed at curbing the mayor's power to hold special events such as a controversial carnival she authorized in October.

The override required a five-member super-majority. Councilman Cory Storch took part by phone to join council members Charles Eke, Rebecca Williams, Bridget Rivers, William Reid and Adrian Mapp in a unanimous vote to overturn the mayor's action. Vera Greaves was absent.

The mayor will no longer be able to sign off on permits for carnivals and other special events, which now will require council approval, 45 days' advance notice to the governing body and a new fee of $2,500 per day.

Also at the special meeting Thursday the council passed resolutions conveying condolences to the families of Clarence Walker and Josef Gutenkauf. Mr. Walker was the beloved uncle of Eric Jackson, director of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development. Mr. Gutenkauf  was remembered for his extensive community involvement, along with his wife, Dottie, who shared three anecdotes with the council and public after receiving the resolution.

--Bernice

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Three-Month 2013 Budget Questioned

Questions Monday over funding the new Charter Study Commission led to City Council members asking for full details on a temporary three-month budget for 2013.

The city will enter its second calendar budget year in January, having switched from one that ran from July 1 to June 30. The Charter Study Commission came into existence by way of the November ballot, which included a public question on formation of the commission as well as voters' choice on five commissioners. The temporary budget is based on 26.25 percent of the 2012 budget, but there was no precedent for the commission.

Presented with a $5,000 allocation for the commission, some council members felt it was not enough to cover the group's initial expenses and suggested increasing it to $10,000. Due to a delay in official election results because of Hurricane Sandy, the commission only began its work last week and has yet to draw up a budget. Jeanette Criscione, newly elected treasurer of the commission, told the council the largest anticipated expense is printing and bringing information to the public. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said a single citywide mailing can run into thousands of dollars and called the proposed increase "a reasonable expense." But Councilman William Reid suggested establishing a budget and asking for more money in April.

After another request to increase the Shade Tree Commission's funding from $5,000 to $20,000  was deemed no problem, Williams asked why the administration took issue with the Charter Study Commission increase. City Administrator Eric Berry said the Shade Tree Commission's increase was due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which had just been discussed.

Council President Adrian Mapp also pressed for a reason why the Charter Study Commission's request was not allowed.

"I don't think that's material at this point," Reid said.

Councilman Cory Storch noted "a bunch of items" exceeded the 26.25 percent limit. Berry called on Lisa Marshall of Audit & Control to explain. Marshall said as long as the overall amount did not exceed that percentage, there could be variables, but Storch insisted the administration should be ready to explain each item. Reid said the January through March budget had 100 percent of the annual cost for snow removal, but other lines just had small changes in percentages.

City Solicitor David Minchello also noted that the temporary budget could be amended later, if the council wished to do so.

The discussion ended with Storch calling for the administration to provide explanation of every amount over or under the 26.25 percent.

The temporary budget has 98 lines for salary and wages or "other expenses." Among the larger deviations are 49.85 percent for other expenses in Tax Collection; just 2.05 percent of last year's $487,930 budget for salary and wages in the Health Division; and 56.18 percent for "Green Acres Loan Principal and Interest."

The entire resolution is on file in the City Clerk's office and will be voted on at the Jan. 3 reorganization meeting.

--Bernice

Council Proposes Veto Overrides, Meeting Changes

I missed the beginning of Monday's City Council meeting, but I am told the mayor withdrew her nomination of Cecil Sanders to replace Rev. Tracey Brown on the PMUA. I was also told the council will hold a special meeting to vote on overriding three mayoral vetoes and in fact a meeting has been announced for 7 p.m. Dec. 20 in City Hall Library for that purpose. The vetoed resolutions all have to do with curbing the mayor's power to approve carnivals and similar events, following an outcry from Fourth Ward residents over a controversial carnival in October.

In other business, council members discussed holding all meetings in Municipal Court. The usual practice has been to hold agenda fixing sessions in City Hall Library and regular meetings in Municipal Court. The library is smaller and the council sits around a large table in a dimly-lit room ringed by seats for the audience, but City Hall has a large parking lot. Municipal Court is brightly lit, with rows of benches facing a dais where council members sit. However, parking is relatively sparse. The council may decide on the location at the January reorganization.

Council members agreed on one thing that made City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh happy. After he explained the difficulty of handling the November election and officials' attendance at the League of Municipalities the same month, members agreed to hold a combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting for that month alone. The calendar of meetings will be approved at the annual reorganization.

--Bernice

Rivers In Line For Council Presidency

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers appears headed for approval as the 2013 City Council president when the governing body reorganizes in January.

At Monday's agenda fixing session, the council discussed numerous appointments to boards and commissions and expressed consensus on a number of other matters including official newspapers and meeting arrangements. Public comment included three testimonials for Rivers, who will be concluding a four-year term in 2013 and is expected to seek re-election. Resident Ozella Brundidge first praised Rivers, followed by Rev. Jason Greer, who contrasted her with Councilwoman Rebecca Williams. City Solicitor David Minchello called Greer's depictions of Williams "inappropriate," but Williams made reference to freedom of speech and Council President Adrian Mapp allowed Greer to continue.

While acknowledging Greer's right to speak, Councilman Cory Storch said the selection of a council president was a "private matter of the council."

"Rebecca Williams has done a fabulous job for the city," Storch said, though noting she has sometimes taken "unpopular positions."

But resident Kim Montford also came to the microphone to praise Rivers for her Fourth Ward representation.

Williams said she didn't know Rivers was seeking the presidency, because she did not get a call asking for support. She read into the record her letter to council members in which she gave reasons why she deserved the seat, including attendance at all meetings as well as "ethical leadership, independence, collegiality" and reading each council packet thoroughly.

But Councilman William Reid made a lengthy speech in favor of Rivers, saying he will vote for her on Jan. 3 and  "We all support her."

"I'm not a big fan of all this lobbying for council president," Storch said, again calling it "a private thing" and saying, "We will have to do things differently in 2013."

Rivers won a June 2009 primary contest, beating Democratic Party choice Vera Greaves by six votes, and was unopposed in the November 2009 general election. She left a school board seat to take office on Jan. 1, 2010. Greaves was later appointed to the First and Fourth Ward at-large council seat vacated by Linda Carter, who was elected to a Union County freeholder seat. Greaves won a full term in 2011 and now often concurs with Rivers and Reid on votes.

Plaintalker posted a Q&A with Rivers in 2010 which you can read here.

--Bernice

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mayor Wants Sanders To Succeed Brown

When Rev. Tracey Brown vacates her commissioner's seat on the PMUA board, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs wants to see Cecil Sanders fill it.

Sanders' nomination is among several that the City Council will consider at Monday's agenda-fixing session for the annual reorganization meeting in January. Brown won the November general election for the citywide at-large council seat and will take office at the reorganization for a four-year term. One of her first duties will be to vote on her successor at the PMUA.

The mayor has tried several times this year to move Sanders from an alternate's seat to a full commissionership (see post here). As an alternate, Sanders can only vote when one of the five commissioners are absent, as happened in January when the board agreed to a $1 million settlement with former PMUA executives Eric Watson and David Ervin.

If the new nomination is approved at the reorganization, Sanders will serve Brown's unexpired term to Feb. 1, 2015. His nomination is likely to succeed this time, as Brown, the mayor's pastor, will join three council members favorable to the mayor on the seven-member governing body, achieving a majority.

Among other nominations, the mayor is again submitting the names of Hattie Williams and Eric Graham to serve on the library board. In August, the same names were submitted, but a council majority declined to put the names up for a vote at the Aug. 20 regular meeting. The mayor is also offering nominations for the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and Shade Tree Commission.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

What Do UCR Numbers Mean?

The 2011 Uniform Crime Report has been issued by the New Jersey State Police, with analyses of crime trends statewide and many other details. For us hyperlocal types, the important stuff is on pages 158 and 159, where statistics for Plainfield in 2011 and 2010 are laid out.

So where to look amongst all those numbers? If you want to say violent crime is down, you can. But you could also say the crime rate per 1,000 of population is up 11 percent. Part of that is due to a whopping 56 percent increase in burglaries.

Arson is up more than 100 percent, the murder rate went up 25 percent, but aggravated assault went down 16 percent. Do these rates look better or worse if you compare 19 cases of arson in 2011 to nine in 2010, 10 murders in 2011 to eight in 2010 or 194 aggravated assaults in 2011 with 231 in 2010?

The point is, statistics can be selected to give a favorable or unfavorable effect.

Two overall markers are the Crime Index and the Crime Rate, as defined below:

CRIME INDEX The total of the seven major offenses used to measure the extent, fluctuation and
distribution of crime in a geographical area. The following crimes make up the index:
Murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle
theft; these offenses are referred to as Index offenses.
CRIME RATE The number of Index offenses reported for each unit of population per 1,000.

So in 2011 the Crime Index for Plainfield was 2,155, compared to 1,939 in 2010, an 11 percent increase. The Crime Rate was 43.3 in 2011, compared to 38.9 in 2010, also an 11 percent increase.

It can be hazardous to quote increases when city officials are quoting decreases. In 2009, mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny was escorted out of the Senior Center by police when he cited a high burglary rate. So be careful out there!

--Bernice

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reock Star

City Hall, "... dedicated to the cause of just and capable government."

It was a thrill for me to meet Ernest Reock Jr. Tuesday when he came to Plainfield to advise the new Charter Study Commission at its organizational meeting.

I had heard about him for many years. This article from The New York Times sums up his reputation.

One of his most fervent campaigns over the years was to try to convince school officials that New Jersey does not need a fullblown administration in each and every district, no matter how small. But the notion of "home rule" and just possibly some political considerations have kept this very worthy idea from widespread acceptance.

The Charter Study Commission is indeed fortunate to have his guidance, at no cost to the city, as members study both the existing form of government here and look into other forms for possible change. He is one of a kind.

Much is being made of how certain rock stars are still dazzling audiences after 50 years. At 87, Ernest Reock Jr. still has it going on when it comes to New Jersey government. His influence has been felt in every  branch and level of government starting in 1950, when he joined the Bureau of Government Research. Ten years later, he became its director and stayed on until retirement in 1992.

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh paid homage to Reock Tuesday for his mentorship, being among the newest generation of public officials to benefit from his tutelage. I am guessing that several generations of reporters have also relied on his expertise. It was an honor to be in his presence.

--Bernice

Gun Violence Must Be Addressed

Listening to the radio all afternoon Friday and now following news reports today, I can't help but think the horror of the Newtown tragedy was compounded to some extent by the torrent of misinformation about what happened. Was the alleged shooter a Hoboken man or his brother? Did the shooter kill his mother or his brother's girlfriend? Did someone let him in because his mother was known to school authorities? Did his mother have anything to do with the school?

And so on. As the small victims lay dead, speculation ran rampant. Today's quest is to be first with family vignettes. I for one am willing to wait for these stories to be told. They will be no less heartbreaking a few days or weeks from now, or whenever families feel ready to talk.

Meanwhile, the issue of gun violence got worked over from all angles, but with a growing notion that guns must somehow be better regulated and not fall into the hands of would-be killers. Again, there are multiple aspects to this topic, but I hope the goal will not be thwarted this time. Read what our new District 12 Congressman, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, has to say here.

Plainfield's attempts to curb gun violence have included Operation Ceasefire and now ShotSpotter.
The former fell to state budget cuts in 2010 and the latter is still being refined. The mayor also announced a gang truce last year and led a campaign to leaflet high-crime neighborhoods with advice for parents to know what their children were carrying in their backpacks.

The just-released 2011 Uniform Crime Report does not break out gun violence as an aspect of violent crime, nor does it record the number of shootings, so it is hard to quantify. Perhaps there is another measure that illustrates its harm.

I remember the assasination of President John F. Kennedy a month after my son was born in 1963.  It made me wonder what kind of world I had brought him into. The fatal shootings of Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X added to my fear that society was somehow becoming broken. Now mass shootings of students have become a sad recurrence, Newtown being the worst. At the same time, popular culture glorifies guns and gunpower. Children now prefer balloon assault rifles to cute balloon animals at fairs.
 Some world. How do we change it?

--Bernice

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Charter Study Commission Launches

Mary Burgwinkle and Ernest Reock Jr.

The Charter Study Commission began its work Tuesday with some guidance from New Jersey's expert on government, Ernest Reock Jr., Professor Emeritus at Rutgers' Center for Government Services.

Reock led the five-member commission through an overview of their "time-consuming but rewarding job" in studying the city's special charter, investigating alternatives and deciding whether or not to recommend changes. He furnished a suggested timetable and budget as well as copies of the Faulkner Act.

Consulting at no cost to the commission, Reock named three study or working phases, first a look at the city's present form of government, then looking at all the communities using the kind of government the commission might recommend, with interviews of relevant people for each phase. The group would then put together how city government is doing now and how it might do things, leading to a written report.

The group has an initial nine months of work ahead and organized by first selecting officers: Rick Smiley, chairman; John Stewart Jr., vice chairman; Jeanette Criscione, treasurer; secretary, Mary Burgwinkle; and assistant secretary, Marie L. Davis. Bylaws adopted Tuesday will be published on the city web site and all meetings will be open to the public. The group will launch a blog operated by Stewart that will include links to crucial documents needed for its work. It is expected to be online by Dec. 20.

Reock said one of the biggest challenges will be keeping the public engaged, both by providing information on the group's progress and by soliciting input along the way. Burgwinkle said commissioners may visit neighborhood associations to keep up public interest, in addition to holding hearings. Voters approved establishment of the commission through a ballot question in the November general election,but Reock surmised that by now many may have forgotten about it.

The commission will have to educate the public, he said, "But first of all, you have to educate yourselves. I assume this is going to be a very conscientious commission."

Three City Council members - Rebecca Williams, Cory Storch and Council President Adrian Mapp - joined a small number of residents who attended the organizational meeting. Mapp said the administration has proposed placing $20,000 in a temporary budget for expenses of the commission.

The commission will meet next at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 8.

--Bernice

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pick A Meeting

A double-header tonight leaves me thinking I can't make both.

See the PMUA agenda here for its 6 p.m. meeting.

The Charter Study Commission meets at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library to organize for its nine-month mission.See what they will be doing here.

--Bernice

Stump Removal Planned As Cleanup Continues

Workers have cleaned up 17,000 cubic yards of storm debris, Public Works Director Eric Jackson reported Monday, and 130 tree stumps are now on a list for removal.

In response to Council President Adrian Mapp's request for an update on the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Jackson said Public Works has already made one complete pass through the entire city and, weather permitting, will finish the cleanup by year's end. A schedule for pickup in the city's 10 Public Works zones will be posted, he said. The city will also issue a request for proposals from local contractors to aid in the cleanup. If weather conditions are not ideal, the work may carry over to January.

So far, the city has expended $200,000 on manhours and other costs, Jackson said.

Monday's agenda included a resolution authorizing an emergency appropriation of $600,000 for "extraordinary expenses" resulting from the storm, along with a resolution to issue emergency notes in the same amount. The cost will be spread over five years, but may be amended depending whether costs are less or more than the estimated $600,000.

Once again, officials said they had no knowledge of a $1.125 FEMA grant reported in local newspapers and in a press release from the office of Sen. Robert Menendez.

The council also approved a resolution accepting a $171,501 National Emergency Grant from the Union County Workforce Investment Board that covers hiring of 11 workers for six months for storm-related cleanup activities.

--Bernice

McWilliams Lauded For Service

As friends and family looked on proudly Monday, Councilwoman Annie C. McWilliams accepted the City Council's praise for four exemplary years of service, including two years as president of the governing body.

McWilliams, a daughter of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, took office at age 24, but showed poise and leadership befitting a much more seasoned elected official. She decided not to seek a second term in favor of pursuing an advanced degree, but did not rule out the possibility that one or more of her siblings might follow in her footsteps in seeking elective office.

"You made the council much better," Councilman Cory Storch told McWilliams Monday. "You made all of us more effective."

Storch said he was glad McWilliams was looking toward a career in public service, adding, "Wherever you go, we are always rooting for you."

Council President Adrian Mapp, her running mate in 2008, said, "The people of Plainfield knew what they were doing when they picked you," citing her knowledge and intellect.

Her legacy includes re-establishment of council rules of order and committee system as instituted by the late Councilman Ray Blanco, demanding a rigorous accounting of budget requests from administrators and managers, advocacy for and successful passage of legislation for greater fiscal oversight and accountability and, on her personal time, youth mentoring.

Plaintalker adds good wishes and thanks to Annie McWilliams for the kind of public service that engenders positive news to report.

--Bernice


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Josef C. Gutenkauf, 87

Josef C. Gutenkauf 
(October 13, 1925 – December 8, 2012)

Josef Charles Gutenkauf, 87, a 30-year resident of Plainfield, NJ, died Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at JFK Medical Center, surrounded by his loving family. Born October 13, 1925 in Chicago, he was the son of Joseph and Martha (Madison) Gutenkauf, and spent much of his childhood on the family farm in Clifton, IL. A World War II Army veteran, he served during the liberation of the Philippines and in the occupation of Japan. After the war, he attended the University of Chicago, where he received a B.A. in History. 

Active in the Civil Rights movement, Joe joined the Socialist Party in 1944, and in 1948 served as executive secretary of the Chicago branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), working with Bayard Rustin, Michael Harrington, Norman Thomas, and many other noted political and intellectual luminaries. He was a founding member of what is now Democratic Socialists of America.

At Southern Illinois University, he met fellow Sociology graduate student Dorothy Miller, and they were married in 1964. Joe enrolled in the graduate program at Syracuse University in 1966, joined the faculty at Ithaca College, and later taught at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). After moving to New Jersey, Joe worked at the NJ Treasury Department’s Affirmative Action Office until his retirement in 1992, and was a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Communications Workers of America. He was an avid WWII historian, a voracious reader, and a terrific cook, and loved classic films and European history.

An active member of the Plainfield community, Joe worked on political campaigns for school board and for candidates for local, state and national office. A member of the Democratic City Committee for many years, Joe worked to abolish the death penalty, achieve marriage equality, and keep - and later restore – Plainfield’s Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. He received awards for his commitment to social justice from the Plainfield Area NAACP and Garden State Equality.

Joe is survived by his devoted wife of 48 years, Dottie Gutenkauf; his daughter, Polly Armour and her husband, Jay of Gardiner, NY; and his son, Jon Martin and his partner, Craig Roseberry of New York City. He was the beloved brother-in-law of Alice Gutenkauf of Morton Grove, IL; uncle of Diane Gutenkauf and her husband Michael Hassan of Elmhurst, IL, and Karen Gutenkauf of Broken Arrow, OK; grandfather of Sarah and Josh Armour; and cherished friend to Joan Hervey and Linda Geczi and to his loyal canine companion, Sheba. Joe was predeceased by his dear brother Martin.

At his request, his remains have been donated to the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. A memorial gathering will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the Plainfield Rescue Squad at P.O. Box 707, Plainfield, NJ 07060, and to the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players at 302 West 91st St, New York, NY 10024.

Accreditation No Cure For Internal Strife?

Those who are dubious about the need for a consultant in the police accreditation process will no doubt be shaking their heads over a Star-Ledger series on one local police department where infighting is allegedly piling up more than $1 million in litigation costs.

The department in question gave consultant Frank Rodgers a testimonial that is posted on the web site of his firm, The Rodgers Group. The Star-Ledger series starts today with this article.

In the Plainfield proposal, the accreditation itself is through the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police at a cost of $6,000. The consultant will receive $47,000 for one year as part of the $83,094 total cost, which also includes software and a training program. There is no direct cost to the taxpayer, as the expense is covered by forfeiture money held in a $405,946 trust account.

Approval of a contract with The Rodgers Group is on the agenda for the Dec. 10 meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Happy Chanukah!

By now, almost everyone must know what a menorah is and even a dreidel. To learn more about Chanukah, take a look at this web site.

Plainfield once had a substantial Jewish population that added immensely to the city's economic and cultural life. Ask an older person about the stores, the interfaith programs and the individuals who left their mark on Plainfield. When I first came to Plainfield, Temple Sholom was still holding its Sunday lectures and Orthodox congregants were still walking to temple on West Seventh Street.

Temple Sholom will mark its 100th anniversary next year. To read its history, click here

And no matter how we spell it, a joyful Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah to all our friends and neighbors of the Jewish faith!

--Bernice


Friday, December 7, 2012

Storm Cleanup Grant Turns Up

The city will receive $171,501 for "storm-related cleanup activities," according to a new item that showed up on the agenda for the Dec.10 regular City Council meeting.

The source is the Union County Workforce Investment Board, which received about $1 million for the purpose.

At last Monday's agenda fixing session, resident Norman Johnson said people who applied for the temporary work in Plainfield were turned away if they were receiving unemployment or welfare payments, even if they wanted to go off the rolls and work. Johnson said the funding was part of a $15.6 million federal emergency grant.

At the time of Johnson's comments, there was no proposed resolution on the agenda and no discussion  that this writer recalls.The resolution turned up as a consent item for Dec. 10, meaning it will be approved along with many other resolutions in a single vote. Consent items are considered to be "routine and non-controversial."

If anyone would like to hear more about this grant on Monday, any resident has the right to ask for a resolution to be taken off the consent agenda for an explanation and a roll call vote. Here is the title as it appears on the agenda:

R 484-12 RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE ACCEPTANCE OF A NATIONAL EMERGENCY GRANT FROM THE UNION COUNTY WORKFORCE INVESTMENT BOARD FROM FOR STORM RELATED CLEAN UP ACTIVITIES IN THE AMOUNT OF $171,501.00 -DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION & FINANCE.

There is still no verification of the $1.125 million grant mentioned here.

--Bernice

Sandy Foils CFO Search?

Following the resignation of Chief Finance Officer Ron Zilinski in January, the administration engaged South Plainfield Borough Administrator/CFO Glenn Cullen to serve on a part-time basis while a search was conducted. The City Council also increased the maximum salary from $110,000 to $125,000.

Cullen agreed in February to give the city five to eight hours per week for $800 (see post). In an August update, City Administrator Eric Berry said the city was still actively searching for a CFO. Finance Director Al Restaino said the administration hoped to recruit a CFO at the annual League of Municipalities convention in November.

Seeing that Cullen was still certifying availability of funds for city expenses, Plaintalker recalled that among many other misfortunes caused by Superstorm Sandy, the city had missed its chance in November because the League convention had to be canceled.

Will the city see a permanent CFO in 2013? An advertisement for a CFO is still posted on the city web site, though there is none currently for Plainfield in the League's classified ad section. If one reads the list of a CFO's responsibilities in the city's ad, it is hard to believe the job can be done in five to eight hours a week indefinitely. Of all the positions currently vacant in the administration, the CFO has to be the most vital to the city's fiscal stability. Pending a permanent hire, we must remain grateful to Mr. Cullen for his extended "temporary" service.

--Bernice

Mack Indictment A Lesson

The Star-Ledger has reported that an FBI investigation has led to the indictment of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack. There is more to go in the legal process, but it has gone this far over allegations involving relatively small amounts of money. Why would the FBI allocate its costly resources over what many might call pittances in the overall scheme of things? The answer is that authorities believe laws were broken and the public trust was abused.

Click here for an article on other officials' reaction to the indictment and links to all the stories on the Mack investigation.

--Bernice

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bits and Pieces

A Public Works staffer was busy this afternoon readying this tree for the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday. Once the star was on top, he strung red lights on the tree.
Click to enlarge any image.
Across the street, the mayor has opened new campaign headquarters. All mayoral and Fourth Ward candidates must file in April. The primary election is June 4, 2013, as the signs remind us.
I know I already wrote about these Calendulas, but I just can't get over how jaunty they look on Dec.4!

I was quite taken by this sign. Who knew there was a Spanish word for spaghetti? And here's a recipe for Espagueti Verde to make at home.

And now for a little story. On Monday, I had to lug laundry in a cart to Soapy's laundromat, as we had gone a week without being able to use the washing machine in our building. Update: Washer operative as of Tuesday. While I was waiting around for various cycles to be accomplished, a young girl and her dad came in. The girl was busy working on a play Smartphone and wasn't even looking where she was going, which made me realize how the texting generation was spawned.

Later, she took a small case out of her purse and spread out a bunch of figurines, including what looked like Disney princesses and various dragons and animals. Her father was not the least bit embarrassed to be seen playing along with her as she made up stories about the characters. What a nice Dad to indulge his daughter this way, I thought. I'm sure she will have fond memories of her father showing appreciation for her imagination. When she becomes a famous playwright or author, Dad will be at the awards ceremony!

On a less pleasant note, it turns out that the organizational meeting of the Charter Study Commission will conflict with the December PMUA meeting. The latter is 6 p.m. Dec. 11 at 127 Roosevelt Avenue and the commission will meet at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library the same night. So meeting mavens will have to flip a coin.
Lastly, this collage of storm debris consists of broken pieces from the damaged utility pole that caused our neighborhood to be without power for 10 days. Parts of it are still on the lawn at Viola's Place apartments. I get a shiver every time I go by, remembering those dark, cold nights.

Today was another anomaly, but in a good way. I saw people walking around in the sunny weather with tank tops and shorts, a weird contrast to winter holiday decorations.

--Bernice

A $1.1 Million Mystery

Sitting in for City Administrator Eric Berry Monday, Finance Director Al Restaino found himself in the hot seat on some money questions.

The agenda contained a resolution for a $600,000 emergency appropriation for repair of streets and public property, coupled with another to authorize special emergency notes in the same amount The council agreed to move both to the agenda for action at the regular meeting on Dec. 10. So how did that money relate to a $1.1 million grant reported in the newspapers for post-storm repair? Restaino said he was able to look it up online during the meeting and it was for homeowners. The $600,000 was the estimated cost for overtime, debris removal and commodities including generators and blankets, he said.

That led to Councilwoman Rebecca Williams' question on who was responsible for inventorying items such as generators and where and how emergency items were being stored for the next time.

"The process is somewhat fluid," Restaino said, but assured the council all items were fully accounted for and the serial of the generators were on file. The commodities were stored at the City Yard, he said.

The council also considered two 2009 grants, one for two new police vehicles at $61,298 and one for related equipment at $13,246.78. The grants follow two grants appproved last month, one from 2010 and one from 2011. In public comment, Dr. Harold Yood suggested that all grants should be tracked for timely action. Yood also asked about the newspaper story on $1.1. million for street repairs and whether a correction should be sought.

This writer noted some large grants that had to be used at the last minute before expiring, including the Tepper's grant that resulted in spending over $400,000 quickly to finish a basement designated for city use. Former City Administrator Marc Dashield called the basement "a plain vanilla box" and to this day no use has been found for it.

This led Council President Adrian Mapp to ask Restaino about a promised council tour of the site. Restaino first said he didn't have the key, but vowed to arrange a tour.

Restaino is one of three department heads who report to Berry. The department includes finance as well as social services. See its description here.

Plaintalker later looked up the newspaper articles in question and found they were based on an announcement from Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. Click here to read the press release, which does indeed designate the funds for local government use in storm cleanup and repair. So the questions about who sought the money, how it relates to the $600,000 and how it is being managed remain.

--Bernice




Monday, December 3, 2012

It's-a-Wrap Reopens

Stop by It's-a-Wrap Cafe at Park & Seventh and get some healthful food!

Once again, thanks to David Holmes III for setting aside his personal business timetable to assist the cold, hungry victims of Hurricane Sandy. By allowing people to charge phones and use WiFi, he helped them keep in touch with relatives and access information not available in their powerless homes. A true hero!

--Bernice

May in December?

Roses are still blooming outside Municipal Court and sunny yellow and gold calendulas are still gracing our back yard.
Some plants have wilted, but we haven't yet had the "killing frost" that turns everything brown.

I for one am glad the days of heavy snow and ice are still in the future. It's a lot easier for us devoted pedestrians to get around when it's not too cold and not slippery underfoot.

--Bernice

Council Meets Tonight

As Dr. Yood has noted, the Dec. 3 agenda is somewhat bland. There is no listing for the appointment of someone to fill the Citywide at-large vacancy for December. Perhaps it will emerge as a new item at the regular meeting on Dec. 10.

One item of interest is a pitch from Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig for a police accreditation process.

The goal of accreditation for the Police Division dates back to June 2008 (see Plaintalker post here). Now the City Council will consider Monday a request to hire a consultant to carry out the process.

Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig plans to seek use of $83,094 from a Special Law Enforcement Trust Fund to cover all costs, which include a $47,000 consulting fee to Rodgers Group, a $6,000 registration fee with the accrediting agency and associated software costs.

Plainfield has $405,946 in a Special Law Enforcement Trust Fund and Hellwig is asking permission from Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow to use $83,094 of it for the accreditation.

Other police-related items are two grants dating back to 2009. One is for $61,298 to purchase two new sports utility vehicles and the other is for $13,247 to equip them with emergency lighting , sirens and prisoner transport equipment. Last month, grants for 2010 and 2011, totaling 122,359, were approved. Hellwig called that delay an "oversight."

The council will also consider an item to return $195,000 in various unused funds to surplus. The total includes salary and wage amounts of $10,000 for Information Technology, $10,000 for Recreation and $30,000 for Inspections, as well as $30,000 from the "other expense" line for administrative services and $75,000 for an unused matching grant.

To view the complete agenda, click here.

--Bernice

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Answer Your Own Charter Questions


Everything you ever wanted to know about charter change is in the document at this link, so even if you are not on the commission you can follow along. The Charter Study Commission has nine months to do its work and make a report. Then it is discharged and ...

Read the document and find out.

--Bernice

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hurry to FUSP Craft Fair

One of many talented artists and crafters at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield.

You still have time (until 4 p.m. today) to visit the Craft Fair at FUSP and it will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. The offerings include jewelry, clothing and accessories, things for the home and special treats including breads, pickles, jellies and snacks. The church is located at 724 Park Avenue, with lots of nearby parking.

--Bernice

Do Your Own PMUA Deciphering

Someone asked me about the impact of the proposed 2013 PMUA rates, but as a tenant I do not see a bill, so I cannot speak with authority.

PMUA has a Bill Guide on its web site. However, it does not spell out the "shared services" aspect, which I believe also applies to each household.

Under its FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), PMUA states the following:

What services are included in my PMUA Service Package?
The standard single family residence receives two garbage pick-ups and one recycle collection (for co-mingled & paper items) each week. All Plainfield property owners also receive shared services maintenance which includes up to two Bulk-Waste pick-ups per calendar year. PMUA also provides sanitary sewer services for the entire city.


That would seem to indicate that shared services is a separate charge. A least both that proposed rate and the low density residential rate appear to be lower, if you can make out the 8's from the 9's in the legal notice.

I am reluctant to comment because a city official indicated my post on the new Health Division fee schedule was incorrect, as the 2013 fees were approved a couple of years ago. So the 20 percent increase on food-related fees and what looked like other changes were already covered. Duh. How come I didn't know that? What else don't I know? Maybe I should shut up and sit down.

So those of you who get PMUA bills may have more insight into reality. What? You don't remember that the same Sewer Connection Fee was already part of the 2011 rate hearing? 

See you on Dec. 27.

--Bernice

PMUA Rate Hearing Announced

A legal notice was published with proposed new rates for some PMUA services. I leave it to you, dear readers, to figure out the differences. The Sanitary Sewer Connection Fee is the same as one proposed last year. I could not find any minutes on last year's hearing so I don't know why it is the same.
Correction: The fee of $2,080 is scheduled to be increased to $2,130, according to a subsequent notice.

Here's the notice:
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the "Authority") has scheduled a Public Hearing for Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. at the Authority's offices located at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey. The purpose of the Public Hearing is to review and take formal action regarding the following proposed adjustments to current solid waste rates, charges and fees and sewer fees.

The proposed adjustments to the shared service charges and the other components of the solid waste service fees, and the adjustment to the sewer connection fee, are summarized below.

SHARED SERVICES ADJUSTMENTS
Current Rate (cy2012) Proposed Rate (4/1/2013) 
Per Lot $ 48.72 per Quarter $ 50.61 per Quarter 
Per Household $ 34.03 per Quarter $ 29.69 per Quarter 

Total (Avg Single family) $ 82.75 per Quarter $ 80.30 per Quarter

LOW DENSITY RESIDENTIAL RATES
Current Rate (cy2012) Proposed Rate (4/1/2013) 
Per Lot $ 111.96 per Quarter $ 110.16 per Quarter 
Per Household $ 87.42 per Quarter $ 74.84 per Quarter 

Total (Avg Single family) $ 199.38 per Quarter $ 185.00 per Quarter


CONTAINER SERVICE RATES
Current Rate (cy2012) Proposed Rate (4/1/2013) 
Disposal Fee $ 110.77 per Quarter $ 100.26 per Quarter 
Collection Fee $ 223.11 per Quarter $ 227.65 per Quarter
Basic Container Svc Fee $ 333.88 per Quarter $ 327.91 per Quarter

SANITARY SEWER CONNECTION FEE
Current Rate (cy2012) Proposed Rate (1/1/2013)
Sewer Connection Fee $ 1,500 per connection $ 2,030 per connection

The proposed rate changes will be effective April 1, 2013 for Solid Waste Rates and January 1, 2013 for Sewer Connection Fee. The Authority shall provide evidence at the hearing showing that the proposed adjustment is necessary and reasonable and shall provide the opportunity for cross-examination on such evidence. A transcript of the hearing shall be made and a copy thereof shall be available upon request to any interested party upon payment of a reasonable fee. The Rate Hearing is open to all members of the public.