Thursday, October 31, 2013

LWV Forum Draws Large Crowd

LWV Moderator Marlene Sincaglia and mayoral candidates D. Scott Belin, Adrian Mapp, Mustapha Muhammad and Sandy Spector

(While I was on the phone with my daughter in Seattle Wednesday night, Dr. Yood filed a fairly complete summary of the goings-on at the Plainfield League of Women Voters candidates' forum. My blog post will also be an overview. The meeting was taped and residents are promised it will be on local cable Friday night or Saturday morning.) 

About 125 residents turned out Wednesday night for the last of three candidates' forums for the Nov. 5 general election. The Plainfield League of Women Voters hosted the meeting at Emerson School. 

4th Ward City Council, four-year term
Incumbent Democrat Bridget Rivers and Republican Barbara Johnson are on the ballot, but Johnson was absent Wednesday. Neither provided answers to LWV questions published here, but Rivers was permitted to read a statement at the forum.

Board of Education, three three-year seats 
This portion could be sub-titled "Fumbles and Zingers," as some candidates seemed unprepared and, as Dr. Yood noted, passed or gave generic responses to audience questions read by moderator Marlene Sincaglia of the Berkeley Heights LWV. Incumbents Wilma Campbell, with nine years' tenure, and Frederick Moore with a year of service had the edge in answering questions about board responsibilities. Their running mate, David Rutherford, joined Campbell in tossing barbs at the slate Democratic party chairman Jerry Green announced generically on June 4 as a ”black female, a Latino, and a white male gay.”. By coincidence, just as Green walked into the meeting, Campbell was declaring, "The Green team would not have a clue about education." 
Of the three, Deborah Clarke, Anabella Melgar and Richard Lear, only Lear presented information gleaned from the state Department of Education on test scores and other indications of a need for change on the board. But Campbell refuted his statistics, saying they were outdated, and cited an increased graduation rate and other numbers as proof of district improvement.

Rutherford noted Green's slate had little or no prior attendance at board meetings and asked, "Would you want a deacon who never attended a service?"

'If they are allowed to win, this comedy will become a tragedy," Rutherford said.

Lear brought up a state comptroller report that questioned $59,000 in legal bills and said the district pays $71 per pupil in legal fees while the state average is $36.

"Au contraire!" Campbell thundered, defending the board.

"People, wake up - the children are watching," she said, calling the rival slate "a motley crew."

Campbell's slate is backed by her husband, John, who is also backing their son John for an Assembly seat in District 22, where Green is seeking re-election.

Mayoral seat, four-year term 

Independents Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin are challenging Democrat Adrian Mapp and Republican Sandy Spector in the mayoral race. Mapp defeated incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in the June primary, setting the stage for a new administration after her eight-year tenure.

All four contenders have been campaigning for months. Mapp stressed his experience as a councilman and freeholder Wednesday, while Belin and Muhammad said they are lifelong Plainfielders and Spector cited a need for bipartisanship in the city. The forum was heavy on slogans: Muhammad's "New Beginning," Mapp's "One Plainfield" and Belin's "Put Plainfield First." In her call for bipartisanship in a place where Democrats now outnumber Republicans 15 to 1, Spector said, "Open the doors, open the windows, open the curtain."

Perhaps the top issue is what will become of the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center campus, which has only a satellite emergency room since the hospital closed five years ago. JFK Health Systems has proposed a 600-unit apartment complex on the site and the city recently approved its own study of possible uses for the site. While all rejected the apartment development, the candidates differed on what should happen at the site. Belin said it is in limbo, but he wants to "leverage the fact that they do owe us money," referring to a possible tax liability on the property.

"The tax hammer we can use at any time," Mapp said, suggesting development of something like the Summit Medical Group, though detecting "no desire on the part of the owners to have the facility provide medical service."

Muhammad said the city needs transparency on the subject, as he believes there is privileged information on the issue that "doesn't get beyond a select few."

On the subject of bringing new business to the city, Mapp said he will "market the city of Plainfield like it has never been marketed before" and vowed to hire a deputy economic director.

Spector agreed on the need for an in-house economic director.

Belin said for change, "The first step is to elect me."

Muhammad said the key was "unity in the community."

On how to halt the foreclosure rate, Belin said it was not the mayor's job.

"The mayor's not a banker," he said.

Mapp agreed that the administration can't stop foreclosures, but can provide advice that can help people.

Muhammad concurred on the need for information and so did Spector, saying, "Information is power."

For full coverage, Plaintalker hopes voters will look for the forum to appear on Channel 96 or 34  as city Media Manager Lamar Mackson pledged. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 5. Winners will take office on Jan. 1.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Watchung Mall Attraction

Curiosity about renovations at the former book store in the Watchung Square Mall was heightened by a flyer in the mail today from Stein Mart. A quick Google search turned up this article from USA Today on what this retailer is all about.

Personally, I am one of the worst shoppers and any store depending on the likes of me for patronage will not do very well. But if you are a bargain hunter like my late mother, you may want to check it out.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lenders Announce More Sandy Relief At City Cafe

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in the kitchen at It's-A-Wrap Cafe

A city cafe that became a haven for Superstorm Sandy victims was the location chosen by The Intersect Fund and Capital One Bank to announce ongoing disaster relief Monday.

Capital One Bank will give a $50,000 grant to the microlender Fund that is still working with businesses struggling to recover, said Daniel Delahanty, Senior Vice President for Community Development Banking. In addition, the bank will add $400,000 in low-interest loans for Sandy relief and other lending.

Rohan Mathew, president and CEO of The Intersect Fund, said his board met three weeks after the storm and decided unanimously to launch a loan program at reduced rates for people dealing with physical damage, spoiled inventory and flooded residences.

Cafe proprietor David Holmes III was one of the loan recipients. Just before the storm, he had renovated and refurbished the cafe on Park Avenue. But when a homeless man asked him where he could get something to eat once the storm passed, Holmes, known as "Chef D," decided to open the cafe to those in need. For ten days, he hosted about 250 city residents daily for breakfast and lunch. He bought extra power strips so people could charge cell phones and access the Internet.

Holmes said the emergency did away with distinctions of race and class and people just conversed and got to know each other as they enjoyed the warmth of the cafe. About 20 volunteers a day helped out.

"By day five, it was rough," he said. "We spent the night right here."

When the immediate storm ordeal passed, he had to renovate all over again and deal with his own loss. He had a loan from The Intersect Fund in one week, he said, and was able to reopen by Dec. 1.
David Holmes III, "Chef D," hosts Capital One Bank and The Intersect Fund representatives.
Officials from the Fund and Capital One Bank were obviously taken with Chef D's story and the warmth with which Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs welcomed them to the city. The audience included Chef D's father and grandfather, volunteers who helped during the storm, cafe staff and Chamber of Commerce President Jeffery Dunn.

A year after receiving his loan, Holmes said he has hired more employees, is expanding his business and has plans for a second location. 

According to a press release, since its beginning five years ago the The Intersect Fund has disbursed more than $1.2 million in microloans with a repayment rate of 98 percent. Mathew said 61 of 62 loans to Sandy victims were current. Besides Capital One Bank, Fund partners for Sandy recovery include the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, The Robin Hood Foundation and The Catholic Campaign for Human Development. For more information on The Intersect Fund, click here.

To see Plaintalker's November 2012 story on Chef D, click here.

--Bernice

Candidates: See and Judge for Yourself

It took me a very long time to come up with my report on the mayoral portion of the NAACP forum for several reasons. One, I was battling fatigue and the brain fog that goes with it. Two, I despaired of getting it right and wasted many hours trying to figure out a format.

Even so, it is not word-for-word and I didn't include a couple of the questions. If it was verbatim, that would be a transcript, which I can't produce (and shouldn't, for a simple blog report).

As comments today already attest, people pick up nuances that register with them and help form their opinions on who deserves their vote. It might be body language, choice of words or political shadings that either attract or repel the audience member. I had a few reactions myself that I will keep in mind behind the curtains of the voting booth.

It is the importance of the change that makes me feel every voter possible should see and hear the mayoral candidates. The city will have a new direction for the next four years - what will it be?

I am wondering how I can comprehensively report on the upcoming forum and am almost convinced that I can't. Unless you already have your mind firmly made up, you, the voter, have to be there yourself and see what you think.

Candidates' Forum
LWV of Plainfield
6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Emerson School

Mayoral Candidates Share Views At NAACP Forum


Mayoral candidates D. Scott Belin, Adrian Mapp, Mustapha Muhammad and Sandy Spector fielded questions Sunday on crime, the city's image and finances and the Muhlenberg property before an audience of 75 residents at the annual NAACP candidates' forum. 

Spector heads the local Republican committee and is the only female candidate. Mapp, a Democrat, serves on the City Council and was a Union County freeholder. Belin, chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and Muhammad, a community activist, are independents. One of the four will emerge as mayor in the Nov. 5 general election, which will also decide who represents the 4th Ward and which three of six school board candidates will serve, all taking office on Jan. 1, 2014. 

On Muhlenberg: All agreed the city needs a health care facility of some sort since Muhlenberg regional Medical Center closed five years ago. JFK Health Systems has proposed an upgraded emergency room along with 600 residential units on the site. Spector said the city should not be "held for ransom" by such a deal and awaits results of a city-sponsored study on best uses for the 17-acre campus. Mapp suggested a "medical enterprise zone"  that would offer benefits to practitioners and resemble the Summit Medical Group, saying an emergency room alone is not enough. The JFK apartment project is "not in the best interest of the city," he said.

Muhammad warned against "party politics" in finding a solution for what he saw as a nationwide issue on hospitals and approved the study, saying "information is power." Belin agreed that 600 new apartments is not a good plan for Plainfield and endorsed a Summit-style "medical mall" with a 24-hour care component.

On crime: Answering the question on how to curb crime without adding more police officers, Mapp called for "the right leadership." (The city has had a police director since the title of police chief was abolished in 2008.)  Mapp also suggested more walking "beat cops" and better technology, including surveillance cameras in more locations than just downtown. Muhammad recalled the days when officers lived in the community and "knew our parents." He also saw a need for different leadership. Belin said "the mayor alone" can't bring back the chief of police, but as mayor he would work with the City Council to do so. He said more police on the street as well as increased traffic patrols would make the city safer.

"Turn the lights on - brighten up the night," he advised, "so we can see things before they happen."

Spector deplored having a police director who not only lives outside the city, but does not even live in the state. She said the city should "go back to the system we had ten years ago."

On the city's image: Spector said an improved school system, much safer streets and more industry, achieved through "hard work and diligence,"  would result in "not the Queen City of 50 years ago, but the Queen City of the new millennium." Mapp said the city must have "zero tolerance for things we see happening on a daily basis," especially among young people. He said he would work on "recasting the image of Plainfield" through advertising and other promotion. Muhammad said the city does have a very negative image, but saw it as "by design" to disenfranchise and gentrify the people. Having lived in Plainfield for over 50 years, he said, he believes if there were more youth opportunities, people would make much more "wholesome choices" and the city's image would change. Belin said electing him, an "educated, qualified, homegrown, positive mayor" instead of voting the party line would improve the city's image, though he said people know the city for its beautiful homes and do not hold a negative image.

On improving the city's bond rating: Belin said the city must reduce debt and look for ways to fuel revenues by spuring economic development and showing that "Plainfield is ready to do business." Muhammad suggested reviewing audit reports for the last four years, but said Plainfield is not doing badly as far as business is concerned. The problem is creating an environment to attract the kind of business that would change Plainfield, he said, warning of "hidden powers, hidden hands" that manipulate conditions.

"Plainfield business is not in the red, it is in the black," and bound to go up, he said.

Mapp said those who give bond ratings look for "warning trends" such as the tax collection rate and debt as a percentage of the budget. He said he intends to pursue a "forensic audit." Spector said the city is "hemorrhaging money and we don't know from where." City entities need to sit down together and "all need to put their cards on the table." She said the city needs the prestige of a good bond rating in order to attract business.

On the budget: Spector called the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, which provides solid waste and sewer services to the city,  a "cash cow" that should be tapped even though it "has the protections of an authority." Mapp said under the city charter, the mayor is responsible for the budget, "but it is a collaborative process" with the governing body. He said of the PMUA "there is too much fat in that organization" and said he wants homeowners to receive one bill from the PMUA as part of the tax bill.
Muhammad said the bottom line is transparency and accountability and called for sacrifice across the board. Belin said in the budget process the mayor presents the budget and it goes to the council, but the mayor needs to present a budget that is "even."

On how long it will take to name appointees: Belin said if he wins he will start a transition in which some current administrators may stay. he said he brings no gripes about Regular Democrats or New Democrats, so it should be a smooth decision. Muhammad said he has a campaign team that is already working on "exploratory outreach" and he has started vetting a team with a view toward selecting people with Plainfield's interests at heart. He said he hoped it would happen "sooner rather than later" and invoked his slogan, "Plainfield's new beginning." Spector said she has already spoken to people regarding the process, not specific people. She said she would start the process on Nov. 6 and will present 'quality persons" who will be "well-vetted" with the residents' best interests at heart. Alluding to a high turnover in the present administration, she said she will aim for "not a revolving door" but those who will serve the four full years of her term. Mapp said he will start immediately after the election to have a new government to begin on Jan. 1. He said he wants to be able to present a slate at the annual reorganization. (The mayor seeks advice and consent from the council for city administrator, three department heads, chief financial officer, corporation counsel and other titles, concurrent with his or her four-year term.)

In closing remarks, Spector called for voters to "step out from under the machine" and "bring everybody to the table." Mapp promised to surround himself with "decent, qualified people" and said his leadership style is to "make people feel they are part of the administration." Muhammad said "leadership means everything in this case" and said the mayoralty is a "full-time job, 24/7." Belin said much of what was said at the forum imitated what is on his campaign website and concluded, "I am the best candidate to take Plainfield into the future. I am the best candidate to negotiate for Plainfield."

Peter Briggs, president of the Plainfield Area NAACP and husband of present two-term Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, ended the session with a call for prayer for the families of the candidates.

"Nobody knows what it's like to be in public office," he said. "It really takes a toll on everybody."

 Voters can learn more about the candidates at their websites and also at the Plainfield League of Women Voters candidates' forum on Wednesday (Oct. 30), 6:30 p.m. at Emerson School. View the League website  here.

Candidate website links:


Monday, October 28, 2013

LWV Posts Candidate Info

The Plainfield League of Women Voters has posted notice of the forum Wednesday as well as candidates' answers to League questions and other information for voters.
Click here to read

Candidates Meet Public At NAACP Forum

Candidates for the school board, mayoralty and 4th Ward City Council seat shared their views with about 75 people at the Plainfield Area NAACP's forum Sunday at the Mohawk Lodge.

The event yielded many more pages of notes than Plaintalker can process in one post. Here is part one.


4th Ward City Council seat, four-year term
Council President Bridget Rivers, seeking her second term on the governing body, spoke first. Among her priorities, she named more programs for children, more jobs, a strong police director, a lower crime rate and affordable housing. Moderator George Gore offered questions from the audience, starting with one asking what Rivers would do to encourage the council to work together. She said she believes the council members do work together. Another asked what she would do to make residents aware of the 58 social service agencies in the city. Rivers said they are advertised on the local cable channel, but because some people don't have television, she would like to use newsletters to inform the public.

Rivers is running as a Democrat. Gore said her Republican opponent, Barbara Johnson, was absent due to health problems.

Three three-year Board of Education seats 

Of six school board candidates, only David Rutherford and incumbents Frederick Moore Sr. and Board President Wilma Campbell were on hand initially, Richard Lear arrived slightly late, saying he had the wrong time. Gore said Anabella Melgar was busy at her church and Deborah Clarke was out of the country, though Melgar appeared later.

Moore said he has served in education for 47 years. He said he believes the district should offer students all opportunities to grow and give them all tools to grow.

"Some will grow, some will not," he said, but all need the opportunity.

Rutherford said he was born and raised in Plainfield, but after studying in Philadelphia to be an architect he taught English and worked as an architect in France. Through his experiences, he said, he "developed into more of an activist." He cited his profession as valuable for the district with many capital improvement projects coming.

" I have friends from all corners of the world and they all know I'm committed and a hard worker," he said.

Lear said he lives in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and it was through an essay contest the group sponsored that he became interested in students' needs. Meeting with them, he said,  showed they were bright despite low test scores.

"It made me angry," he said, that they had not received the education needed to do well in college. He called it "appalling" that the district ranked 529 of 558 statewide and the high school was last in Union County.

"I want the education here to be phenomenal," he said.

Campbell said she was "blessed to serve for the past nine years" and cited gains in test scores as well as in  the graduation rate. She said the district had just graduated its largest class in 10 years.

"That's an accomplishment," she said. "I don't want anyone  to leave here thinking our schools are abysmal."

Melgar said she wanted to be a bridge between the Spanish-speaking and larger community.

On other issues, Lear said the student body is 40 percent Latino and called for restoration of a vocational program in addition to academics. Rutherford said he will continue to advocate for a "true dual language program." Campbell said she wanted STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs in place as early as the elementary level. Melgar said the board had to "work as a team" to lift test scores. Moore called for early intervention to help students with academic or social problems become engaged in their education.

After Lear brought up newspaper reports on a controversy over $59,000 in payments to the district's law firm, Campbell said the district did not receive direction from the state on the issue until June 25 and Moore said an over-billing issue "really does not exist." Campbell chided Lear for his "attack mode," saying he did not really know the facts. (See state comptroller's report here.)

Rutherford cited a new energy-saving plan that will save the district an estimated $600,000, but said "going green" in Plainfield also had a "darker, more sinister meaning" when referring to Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green.

Although school board contests are supposed to be nonpartisan, Green announced Lear, Melgar and Clarke as his slate in June, while Rutherford, Moore and Campbell are backed by political activist John Campbell, Wilma's husband. Green was present Sunday but not permitted to speak, as Plainfield Area NAACP President Peter Briggs explained the forum was only for local candidates. Green is seeking re-election to his District 22 Assembly seat and the Campbell's son, John, is a Republican challenger in the same race.

(Part two, on the mayoral race, will follow later.)

Candidates for local school and municipal races will also take part in the Plainfield League of Women Voters forum at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Emerson School.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Strandbeest

As Oliver Hardy once declared, "I have nothing to say!"

Therefore I commend you to this website and ask whether you would like to see such a thing at the Jersey Shore.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

LWV Forum Wednesday

Dan's blog today has the wrong location and time for the Plainfield League of Women Voters Candidates' Forum. Please note:

Plainfield LWV
Candidates' Forum
Wednesday, Oct. 30
Emerson School
6:30 pm - School Board
7:30 pm - 4th Ward
8:00 pm - Mayoral Candidates

Can Biz Mix Be Guided?

Star-spangled bunting and a "Grand Opening" sign called attention to two new businesses on Park Avenue yesterday, reminding Plaintalker of the decades-long issue of how much control the city has over enterprise.

Long ago there was the Plainfield Redevelopment Agency and a vision of a return to high-end shops of the sort that made downtown Plainfield a shopping mecca in the mid-20th century. Toward the end of that century, the cry was for some way to limit nail salons and dollar stores from moving in. But just as outside forces sent shoppers from downtown to malls, the shift to cheap goods here seemed inexorable.

But even dollar stores can fail. The subject of this 2009 post closed down and the site now holds fitness equipment and classes. The idea of a business registry to help regulate the mix dates back to the administration of the late Mayor Richard L. Taylor, but was never implemented. In this 2006 post, it draws criticism from merchants and the governing body alike.

Paramount Assets, which acquired 45 downtown storefronts, might have some valuable insight into what types of businesses have succeeded and how to improve the mix. The Special Improvement District board may be able to suggest strategies based on its experience in promoting the downtown and South Avenue business districts. The problem is not a lack of shoppers, it is fulfillment of the long-held wish for a higher-end tone to Plainfield's retail climate.

More homework for the next administration.

--Bernice



Friday, October 25, 2013

Year Two For November BOE Elections

On the face of it, the November 2012 Board of Education election fulfilled the promise of greater voter participation, with the top vote-getter drawing 4,419 votes to an 867 high in the April 2011 election.

The move from April to November was controversial for which entity made the decision, namely the City Council and not the school board. See Plaintalker's post on the vote here. But now the controversial issue may be whether the school board election is just a proxy contest for political power brokers. Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green announced a slate at party headquarters on June primary night and it became evident that the other three June 4 filers for school board seats were backed by "kingmaker" John Campbell.

Green announced his slate generically as  ”a black female, a Latino (sic), and a white male gay.” They were named as Deborah Clarke, Anabella Melgar and Richard Lear. Board President Wilma Campbell, David Rutherford and Frederick Moore Sr. also filed for the three three-year terms.

Voters can pick any three, regardless of slates, and it is up to candidates themselves to pitch for votes based on their reasons and qualifications for serving on a board that serves more than 8,000 students and governs a $177 million budget. The winners on Nov. 5 will take office on Jan. 1 under the new election rules.

While it is obviously easier to run on a slate with political backing than to run on one's own resources, there is the lingering notion that the backers will have some say and influence in board decisions and possibly have access to privileged information. Board members can invoke their code of ethics, but the old saying, "dance with the one who brung you," may come into play.

The election is less than two weeks away and while Wilma Campbell  is seeking her fourth term on the board, Moore has less than one year's experience and the others are all newcomers. Voters will have to glean what they can from mailers and forums to make their three choices.

This year marks the halfway point in the experiment with November school board elections. After four years, a district can revert to April elections if desired. Last year, the change resulted in an extra eight months' service for outgoing members who were elected in April 2009. That pattern will continue until those elected in April 2011 leave office. If the board or City Council should decide to revert, the terms would be truncated until all nine board members were on the same election timetable.

--Bernice

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Needler Makes A Point

Huh. So Dan actually has a rationale for fooling his readers. And here I thought it was just "tricks for clicks."

Somehow I don't think we will see QR codes downtown anytime soon. I will make sure I keep some nickels and singles on hand to pay the exact fare ($1.05 for seniors) to Westfield when I want to go shopping.

Cranky? Yes! Last night I was waiting for Off the Hook to come on WBAI when country music broke out and an announcer declared the station was now bringing the genre's best hits to NYC. I can still remember some other overnight conversions at favorite stations, such as WRVR back in the day, and I was in shock last night until the OTH host, Emmanuel Goldstein, came on and warned listeners what might happen if they didn't come across with pledges. Whew!

There's a saying that the only constant is change, and being a full-blooded Taurus, I hate change. Although ... if downtown Plainfield changed back to the days when I could go shopping at Macy's on East Front Street, I wouldn't mind. A Trader Joe's was a fleeting promise for the PNC Bank. I could have gone for that, too. Meanwhile, the 59 bus remains my ride to a shopping experience that echoes the days of the Queen City as a regional retail draw. Reminding us old folks about what we're missing is a bitter joke.

Mapp Launches Campaign Website

In a couple of weeks we shall know who the next mayor will be - and how many of Plainfield's nearly 22,000 voters took part in that decision.

There are four candidates for mayor, two for the 4th Ward, six for the Board of Education. Your sample ballot will also include candidates for freeholder, state Senate and Assembly and governor, and two public questions.

Perhaps the most interest locally is in the mayor's race. Candidates are Democrat Adrian Mapp, Republican Sandy Spector and independents D. Scott Belin and Mustapha Muhammad. Plaintaker just received word late Wednesday of a campaign website for Mapp (click here), while Belin has had a website up since August. Muhammad put up a website in June and Spector's website dates back to April.  Mapp has the advantage of being a public figure as councilman for the Third Ward and having run a mayoral campaign previously in 2009.

Besides checking their various websites, you can attend two upcoming candidates' forums to learn more. On Sunday, Oct. 27, the Plainfield Area NAACP will hold a forum at 5 p.m. in the Plainfield Elks Mohawk Lodge, 1357 W. Third St. The League of Women Voters of Plainfield will hold their candidate's forum at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave.

This is a very important election. Plaintalker makes no endorsements, but encourages every voter to go to the polls prepared to make an informed choice. Vote on Nov. 5!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sandy Scenes Recall The Trauma

Gov. Chris Christie may still be pondering whether the Star-Ledger endorsement was a trick or a treat, but so far he says Halloween will happen for the kiddies this year. Hurricane Sandy knocked it out last year and in 2011 a snowstorm kept the costumed children indoors.

Reading about his remarks on Halloween Tuesday made me want to review the 2012 episode that left us without power for 10 days.
Here's the message on a boarded-up store on Watchung Avenue. Click here to see more images.
A snow squall added to the misery of the aftermath. Click here for more images.

We all learned the importance of preparations for a weather emergency. I'm guessing there are many more households now with generators, food and water supplies, batteries, headlamp flashlights and communication plans than ever before. And now we have a Community Emergency Response Team! 

--Bernice




Bee Times Three

Hanging out in the yard Tuesday, I had the old Canon camera in my one of my garden apron pockets and caught a bee making an Indian Summer visit to the Cosmos flowers.
I love the contrast of the bee's fuzzy body with the delicate, translucent wings.
The Cosmos plants have largely gone to seed, but the remaining blossoms attract busy bees.
Just look at those wings!
Bonus image - this fancy Nasturtium showed up among the solid orange ones. Click on any image for a closer look.

--Bernice

Sunk By The Sink

I had to stick around the house Tuesday while my kitchen sink got fixed. The day just got away from me and I didn't go to the Historic Preservation Commission meeting. Hoping to catch up later in the week on any news from the meeting.

--Bernice

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Goin' to the Chapel ...

Planning a marriage? Check this information from the State of New Jersey.


All Aboard!

Councilman Cory Storch is on the right track with his call for greater recognition of the need for Plainfielders to advocate for a one-seat ride to Manhattan on the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line.

for the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition
and read Cory's post here.

Cory has consistently urged support for the work of the RVRC and participation in its meetings. He has not always enjoyed cooperation from the administration regarding economic development, but has diligently brought news to the council and public on ways to advance Plainfield's chances in the overall competition for development in Central Jersey. The coming year is a very important one for Plainfield and Cory deserves your close attention as a guide to best strategies to position the Queen City for development opportunities.

--Bernice

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flowers Linger On

Any day now, frost will hit the garden, but meanwhile there is still a lot of color to be seen. The big cleanup is  not yet necessary. 
Nasturtiums, Coleus and Purple Queen are hanging on in this part of the garden.

My major garden task lately is collecting seeds for next year. It is very  pleasant to sit in the sunshine and sort seeds from chaff, then pack up the cleaned seeds in little envelopes.

I hope all my fellow gardeners are finding the time to enjoy these last days of the growing season.

--Bernice

Just Married!

At this first hour of Monday, Oct. 22, gay weddings are taking place across the state. Mayors Cory Booker of Newark, Steve Fulop of Jersey City and Brian Levine of Franklin Township are among those who promised to officiate at weddings just after midnight.

Congratulations to all!

--Bernice

Metal Security Doors On HPC Agenda

Photo
Roll-up security doors and grilles are among many topics on the agenda for Tuesday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting,

Commissioners briefly discussed the doors at the Sept. 24 meeting but needed to research whether permits are required for them. The doors are supposed to be 60 percent open, not solid, and are intended to be integrated with the facade and not have large metal boxes at the top.

Thoughts on their efficacy are mixed in various online articles. Many observers considers them ugly and feel they give business districts the perception of being high crime areas, even while possibly preventing crime.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, one commissioner said some gates can be mounted inside facades for a less forbidding look.

The HPC meeting is 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Veterans' Center - A Promise Not Kept?



As Veterans' Day event planning for 2013 commences, Plaintalker recalls past promises of a center for veterans along with a senior center on the ground floor of The Monarch condo development.

Click here to read a Plaintalker post from 2007 on plans for the site at 400 East Front Street. The center was built and occupied in 2009, but the veterans' center never opened. Is this a dream deferred?

Fall Photo Roundup

Milkweed Beetles on Milkweed pod, Cedar Brook Park. (Click on any image to enlarge.)
My bags on bench at Westfield train station after shopping expedition.
City Hall message with fasces on either side.
Praying Mantis on stucco wall.
End-of-season Black-Eyed Susans.
"NO BIKES" sign with bike in squatter building.
Thunbergia on chain-link fence by Lot 7.

--Bernice

Friday, October 18, 2013

County Leaf Pickup

Do you live on a county road?
Check here for the 2013 Union County
Leaf Pickup dates.
(Scroll down to Plainfield)

Developers Seek 86 Apartments Downtown


A conceptual plan for 86 apartments downtown has one major hurdle to clear first - the city owns the lots where the developer wants to build.

One is Municipal Parking Lot 9, which extends from the corner of Central Avenue and West Second Street and jogs north to West Front Street. The other lot is at the corner of West Second Street and Madison Avenue.

"Cut your deal with the City Council before you come to us," Planning Board Chairman Ken Robertson advised the team that includes Wendell Martin of Matrix Real Estate Group, the Plainfield Housing Authority and the Plainfield Community Development Corporation.

Martin said an appraisal of the property had been completed and negotiations with the governing body will begin soon.

Planning Board members had many other questions in the session Thursday, regarding the project's effect on affordable housing numbers, emergency access to the buildings, traffic flow, trash removal, loss of downtown parking at Lot 9, the small size of the proposed one-bedroom units and access to open space for residents.

Presenting themselves as West Second Street Association LLC with the tentative name "Cove Apartments," the team said the $23.6 million project will be financed by a combination of low-income housing credits, NJ HOME, NJHMFA and other sources. Once completed, the mortgage will be $6.5 million, Martin said. He predicted the project would have "tremendous economic impact" on the downtown area.

The proposed 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units will have rents ranging from $850 to $1,550 and each unit will have a washer and dryer and its own "Magic Pak" heating and cooling system. The three buildings will be five minutes from the main train station.

Of the three 6-story buildings, the one on the lower part of Lot 9 would have 67 units. The second one would have retail space on West Front Street and 22 apartments. The third, on the southeast corner of the block, would have 15 apartments and a commercial laundry.

The conceptual hearing was for discussion only and was non-binding on either the Planning Board or the presenters. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said the small lot was part of a redevelopment plan and might need an interpretation by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Any future land use application for the project will be subject to the new Transit-Oriented Development Downtown zoning ordinance and to rules governing apartment size in the Central Business District. One-bedroom units must have 750 square feet, while the plans discussed Thursday called for 600 square feet. Nierstedt said that amount fell between a one-bedroom and a studio at 500 square feet, and would require a variance.

The block where the developers hope to build already has a large apartment complex on the Madison Avenue side. On a block just east of the site, developer Frank Cretella has proposed 148 apartments. Most recently, newcomer Mario Camino has announced plans to built three stories of apartments above a former bank building on Park Avenue. Nierstedt said the Planning Division is tracking all the approved and proposed apartment developments downtown.

--Bernice

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Booker Wins

Plainfielders came out 15 to 1 for Cory Booker over Steve Lonegan in the special election to fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat.

According to unofficial results from City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh, Booker received 5,812 votes, while Lonegan got only 382 in Plainfield.

In two and a half weeks, city voters will take to the polls again, for the Nov. 5 general election for governor, state Assembly and Senate, Union County freeholders, Plainfield mayor and 4th Ward City Council representative. Save the sample ballot you will soon receive, check your polling place and come out on Nov. 5 to vote!

What Next For Muhlenberg?

"It looks like war. JFK has eliminated the Moving Muhlenberg Forward website which was still up last week. The study should have been done years ago. Now may be too late. JFK could pull the plug and break camp entirely."

So says Anonymous. JFK has no comment, VP for Governmental Affairs Adam Beder tells Plaintalker.

The story of Plainfield's plan for a study of the Muhlenberg site was online at the Courier News Wednesday afternoon, with no comment from JFK spokesman Steven Weiss.

Is it time to be on tenterhooks? The drawing of sides on this issue echoes the standoff in Washington. One can feel incensed that it has come to this, but those of us on the sidelines, without the clout to force an outcome, may just have to wait and see what happens.

The spectrum here has 600 luxury apartments on one end and, some insist, nothing less than a full-service hospital on the other. In between, what? JFK ties an enhanced emergency medical facility to the residential development, a package deal. It will be six months before the proposed city-funded study is complete, so we don't know what it will recommend or how viable it will be.

http://maggieblanck.com/Land/WE.html

Tenterhooks. We're on them.

--Bernice

Check Out Family Dollar

I visited the Park Avenue Family Dollar Wednesday  and discovered a lot of new offerings, as well as some decent discounts on name brands. It made me wonder whether they are publicizing the changes in the store. I did not notice any circulars, but when I got home I went online and found a Family Dollar weekly ad featuring sale items. A ZIP code locator shows that Plainfield has two Family Dollar stores, the other being on East Front Street. The online site included a way to click on items and add them to a printable shopping list. Besides what I had picked up at the store, I saw a few more products I use on the flyer and so I will be going back for them.

When the CVS closed and the dollar store moved in around six years ago, I was seriously miffed and didn't set foot in there for a long time. The climate in Plainfield was one of great disdain for dollar stores and nail salons, with talk even of trying to limit their numbers through a business registry. But in a land of entrepreneurs, it is the market that decides what kind of stores succeed in a given area. Apparently the recent upgrade of the Park Avenue Family Dollar means the company finds it to be doing well.

Not all the merchandise is to my liking. As readers know, I often get on the 59 bus or the Raritan Valley Line train to go to Westfield for the categories of goods and groceries I call Things You Can't Buy in Plainfield. But it's good to know that there are some household products that I can get just half a block away and on sale, at Family Dollar. My forays to the Watchung Square Mall come at a price for a driver, since I decided not to get another car when the last one died. I do not want to impose on others for rides, so every once in a while I pay to have someone take me around to several stores up there and lug all my purchases home.

Obviously anyone with a vehicle can roam Central Jersey to go shopping, but Park & Seventh can be a destination as well. If you see anything interesting on the dollar store flyer, you could also pick up a calzone or some garlic knots at Ferraro's, browse Park Hardware for tools or fix-it supplies and take home a slice of Tres Leches cake or cheesecake from The Bread Basket as a reward for doing those weekend chores.

I happen to live very close to Park & Seventh, but it's not that far from other neighborhoods, including a couple of historic districts. I will close with a link to a 2007 blog post on the topic of walkability, and hope that readers will also occasionally explore what's nearby. It could be a pleasant surprise.

--Bernice








Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Muhlenberg Study Wins Approval

The City Council approved hiring a planning firm Tuesday to make an independent study of uses for the Muhlenberg campus, with many residents voicing support before and after the vote.

The vote was 4-0, with council members Bill Reid, Vera Greaves, Rev. Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers voting "yes" on the contract with Heyer Gruel and Associates. Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Adrian Mapp were absent. Deputy City Clerk Sherri Golden tried unsucccessfully to reach Mapp by phone for the vote.

The owner of the tract, JFK Health Systems, has already asked the council to rezone the property to permit development including 600 apartments. Although some residents said they will settle for nothing less than restoration of a full-service hospital on the site, others objected to the high-density residential proposal as out of scale with the neighborhood.

Before the vote, resident Dottie Gutenkauf asked the council to approve the study so the city "can take an honest and objective look at the property." Bill Michelson, a lawyer and planner, said he is "one of the die-hards who still wants a hospital, but agreed with Gutenkauf that JFK should apply to the land use boards like anyone else. He said the planning firm should wait for the application before making the study.

Dr. Harold Yood saw the study as a chance to "get a productive use" for the property where the hospital closed five years ago.

"We have a chance to be proactive," he said. "Let's do it."

But resident Tony Rucker said a study should wait until the new administration comes in on Jan. 1.(Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs lost the June primary after serving two terms and voters will choose a new mayor in the Nov. 5 general election.)

A dozen speakers in all weighed in on the Muhlenberg issue. The meeting was recorded and will be aired on local channels Comcast 96 and Verizon 34.

Several people came to the microphone to complain about the condition of Seidler Field. Improvements are needed both for the sake of Plainfield youth in sports and to provide a better welcome to visiting teams, speakers said. Storch, who came in late, said a capital improvement plan includes $800,000 over two years for artificial turf at the field.

Storch arrived just in time to provide the fifth vote necessary to add a new item to the agenda, namely permission to use city streets for a Nov. 2 Plainfield High School homecoming parade. Once it was moved to the agenda, the measure passed unanimously.

The next meeting is November 12 and will combine an agenda-fixing session and a regular meeting, to permit council and staff attendance at annual League of Municipalities conference the following week.

--Bernice




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eid Greetings

EID MUBARAK
to all our friends
who are celebrating
Eid al Adha

Muhlenberg Study Up For Approval Tonight

A high-interest item on tonight's City Council agenda is a proposed contract with a Red Bank planning firm to study the 17-acre site that includes the shuttered Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center.

The hospital closed five years ago, leaving a satellite emergency room in the building. The owner, JFK Health Systems of Edison, has been promoting a plan to put 600 units of rental housing on the Plainfield campus, but city residents have expressed disfavor with the plan ever since it was unveiled at a March 2012 town meeting.

A prominent clergyman's comments at a September council meeting rekindled the controversy. The  Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas spoke about working for the last 14 months with JFK Health Systems "to keep a hospital presence as well as developing the land." (See post here.) Thomas warned that JFK would leave if the apartment proposal was not accepted by the governing body.

Adam Beder, JFK Health System's vice president for governmental affairs, granted Plaintalker a Q&A interview on the issue (see here), reiterating JFK's stance that a zoning change to permit the residential development is necessary.

"Our plan would create over 700 temporary jobs, 100 permanent jobs and attract over $100 million of private investment in the city. This investment would generate nearly $2.5 million in annual property tax revenue and help to support the growth of the community at large," Beder said.

Meanwhile, the city issued a request for proposals for a planning study of the Muhlenberg campus and five firms responded. The Planning Division recommended award of a professional services contract to Heyer, Gruel & Associates of Red Bank and that is the resolution up for a vote tonight. The proposal calls for a six-month process involving the community at four public meetings. The cost of the study is not to exceed $48,000.

The proposed study drew applause and positive comments from residents at the Oct. 7 agenda-fixing session. The public can speak on the resolution or any other matter up for a vote tonight before the governing body takes action. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court and the full agenda may be seen here.

--Bernice

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Commentary on CDC Tax Abatement

Something that won't be on the agenda at Tuesday's regular City Council Meeting is a request for taxes to be reimbursed and waived on two properties up for development by a local community development corporation.

Plainfield Community Development Corporation Executive Director Lewis Hurd told the council the waiver on properties on Berckman Street and Watson Avenue had been discussed two or three months ago. The CDC is the city-contracted developer of the properties through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is aimed at providing affordable housing to low- and moderate-income persons.

Councilman Adrian Mapp asked Acting City Administrator Al Restaino to explain the resolution Monday, but Restaino said he couldn't, as it was his first day on the job. (Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs designated him acting city administrator for 90 days effective Oct. 7.) Mapp suggested that the resolution not be placed on the Oct. 15 agenda, as it would result in refunding of tax dollars to the CDC, which he said is not tax-exempt. He asked the administration to take another look at the request, and Corporation Counsel David Minchello said he wanted the tax assessor to "weigh in" on it.

The two addresses sounded familiar to Plaintalker. A check with Tax Collector David Marshall confirmed that both were on the list for Thursday's tax lien sale. According to the list, the PCDC owed $3,952.17 in 2012 back taxes for the Berckman Street property and $3,241.21 for the Watson Avenue property. The administration needs to see how that fits into the equation

The resolution was offered by the city's Office of Economic Development, which is in effect being disbanded as its two employees are expected to be laid off in November. If NSP projects are being monitored by this office, it is yet another issue for the new administration to deal with in 2014.

The PCDC is not the only community development corporation in Plainfield. Thinking about it later, Plaintalker came up with about six others, all of which may have dealings with the city for housing or other projects. If any special tax consideration is given to PCDC, a precedent will be set. So beyond dealing with PCDC's request, any new administration will have to become familiar with these other CDCs and what projects they have in the pipeline.Whatever entity in the new administration is charged with monitoring economic development, getting to know the CDCs as well as private developers will be part of their homework.
.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Driver Crashes Into Family Dollar

A driver plowed into the front of the Family Dollar store in the Twin City plaza Saturday morning, triggering a response from Plainfield police, fire and rescue personnel.

Plainfield Police Lt. Dan Passarelli said the driver was a woman in her sixties and the vehicle was a medium-sized SUV. She was taken to JFK Hospital by the Plainfield Rescue Squad and the vehicle was towed from the scene. The extent of her injuries was not known.
The store was closed for business, but Battalion Chief Michael McCue of the Plainfield Fire Division said the accident caused no public safety hazard.
A store manager said there were seven employees on duty at the time of the accident. He referred all other questions to Family Dollar's public relations office in North Carolina. The company is expected to take care of securing and repairing the premises.

"Our process is in place currently, right now," he said, though declining to give his name.

Family Dollar replaced a CVS that moved from the location several years ago. The store was recently renovated to increase its variety of stock. The plaza at 600 Park Avenue is owner by Moorehouse Seventh Street of Somerville and includes a laundromat and pizzeria in addition to Family Dollar and the Twin City supermarket. The Park Avenue entrance was closed for about an hour and a half while officials investigated the accident. The West Seventh Street entrance remained open.

--Bernice

PPD Welcomes Two New Captains

The Plainfield Police Division has two new captains, for a total of five leading seven bureaus.

With the retirement of Captain Ruth Selzam last month after 30 years of service, Plaintalker asked Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig about her replacement. He said Lts. Brian Newman and David Guarino were named captains in a recent ceremony.

Captain Newman is in charge of the Criminal Investigation and Narcotics bureaus and Captain Guarino heads the Community Relations and Uniform bureaus. Other bureau leaders are Captain Michael Gilliam, Administration; Captain Edward Santiago, Service; and Captain Steven Soltys, Information Technology.

The Police Division previously had four captains, Hellwig said.

"The additional captain was deemed necessary due to increased demands and responsibilities of the Administration Bureau. A new Administrative Bureau was formed a few years ago as a result of combining the Service and Administration Bureaus In a cost cutting effort. That operational change placed an extraordinary burden on the Administration Captain," Hellwig said.

To see the responsibilities of each bureau, click here.

Plaintalker also asked Director Hellwig about what appeared to be a large number of new officers, some of whom are fluent in Spanish. He said thirty new officers have been hired over the past three years and four are bilingual.

 


Friday, October 11, 2013

Best Practices Score Assures Final State Aid Payment

An improved "best practices" score will assure that the city receives its final portion of state aid for 2013, officials said Monday.

Acting City Administrator Al Restaino said the city scored 82 percent on the state's 2013 Best Practices Inventory and will receive a "good percentage of return." Last year's 66 percent score meant the city received only 1 percent of the final 5 percent of state aid.

The Christie administration developed the 50-question review as an incentive for municipalities "to embrace practices that promote financial accountability and transparency."  Restaino said Chief Financial Officer Glenn Cullen and Treasurer Diane Sherry "worked diligently" on the inventory, which the council had to discuss publicly as part of the process. Click here to see the state Division of Local Government Services notice on the 2013 inventory.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams asked several questions about specific items and Councilman Cory Storch asked Restaino how much state aid was involved. Restaino did not have an exact figure, but said it was "tens of thousands."

Storch commended the city clerk's office for adding many required items to the city's web site.

Click here to read Plaintalker's post on last year's best practices results.

--Bernice

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Money Matters Dominate PMUA Meeting

Today's tax lien sale will likely bring the Plainfield Municipal Utility Authority's collection rate up to 98 or 99 percent, Chief Financial Officer Duane Young said at Tuesday's meeting of the authority, which provides solid waste and sewer services to the city.

The tax lien sale is for delinquencies in 2012. The published list names more than 1,200 property owners owing sewer bills and about 200 owing property taxes. City Tax Collector David Marshall arranged the sale and the authority reimburses the city for its portion of expenses incurred. Each entity gets paid by investors who buy the liens at up to 18 percent interest. The property owner then owes the lien holder, who can move to foreclose if not paid back in two years.

Young could not provide a collection rate Tuesday without the sale, but for about 15,000 households in the city, the PMUA delinquency rate appears to be about 8 percent. He said some ratepayers have paid up in advance of the sale.

Also on sewer bills, PMUA attorney Leslie London said she met recently with members of Association of Environmental Authorities to ask support for proposed legislation that would give property owners tax write-offs on sewer fees. She said the group expressed support and she will send letters to sponsors of the legislation as well as to relevant committees. PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson said some people thought the proposal was "an illusion" or a political move, but he said it is real.

"It may take a while, but it's moving," he said.

PMUA announced the proposal in July 2012 (see Plaintalker post here).

In another money matter, PMUA commissioners approved a rate change for accepting leaves, grass, logs and brush (known as Type 23 vegetative waste) at the Rock Avenue transfer station. For municipalities only, the new rate will be $45 per ton.

The change is yet another adjustment as the authority seeks to attract and retain outside business. In 2012, the authority changed a $94.20 per ton rate, or the equivalent of $28.54 per cubic yard, to $6.50 per cubic yard as a draw for new customers. At the time, the authority had a contract with a Lawrenceville firm to accept unlimited cubic yards of Type 23 waste at a flat monthly rate. But Hurricane Sandy's massive tree damage upset the formula and the disposal site balked at receiving the unprecedented tonnage.

Since then, PMUA began charging $60 per ton, but Williamson said Tuesday some municipal clients found that cost too high and dropped out, so the authority sought the lower rate of $45 per ton to attract them back. Click here for some background on the effort to attract new business at the transfer station.

The next scheduled PMUA meeting is on Nov. 12, the  same date as a City Council meeting that combines an agenda-fixing session with a regular meeting. The council is combining the two meetings to allow for members to participate in the League of Municipalities conference the following week. Check pmua.info near the date for any updates on the authority's schedule.

--Bernice

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brown: Kickstarter Time Running Out

Alrick Brown meets Plaintalker Tuesday night

Plainfield's pride in filmmaker Alrick Brown is not manifesting itself in support for his Kickstarter campaign - at the halfway mark yesterday, donations had yet to hit a quarter of the $60,000 he seeks.

Meeting him on Front Street by chance on my way home from a PMUA meeting, I asked Brown what he thinks is causing the lag. He was a bit puzzled, considering all the publicity the campaign has received in local media and all the good wishes for success.

Maybe it was the listener-supported radio syndrome, where people think somebody else is going to donate and keep it going, he surmised. He said he has also run up on the "crabs in a barrel mentality"

"People are asking what I can do for them," he said.

While he can't help every other aspiring author or filmmaker, he does expect his project to help students who become interns and businesses that supply its needs, but first he has to get it financed.

What's holding back the Kickstarter campaign?

"No passion, no fight, no drive," he said.

The enthusiasm he received from church congregations and other groups is not catching fire.

One of the ministers nodded, he said, but didn't express faith in the project.

"I shouldn't be a tough sell,' Brown said.

His web site, "Alrick's Porch," tells the story of Sundance success with his earlier film, "Kinyarwanda." The Kickstarter site sets forth the levels of participation in launching "My Manz and 'Em," which is based on Plainfield author J.M. Benjamin's novel of street life, prison and redemption. Click here to read the whole pitch and see where you can help out.

The campaign ends on Oct. 23 and if the $60,000 goal is not met, the project gets nothing. It's an all-or-nothing deal. In this prime example of crowd-sourcing, where Spike Lee turned to finance his new film and even surpassed his goal, Brown hopes Queen City fans will join the crowd - and help him hit that $60,000.

--Bernice

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Residents Applaud Proposed Muhlenberg Study



Applause rang out Monday as residents cheered the City Council's decision to support a study of the 17-acre Muhlenberg tract.

The council will vote on the study at the regular meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15 in Municipal Court.

The proposed study will take six months and will include several community meetings. Meanwhile, JFK Health Systems, the owner of the campus where Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed five years ago, has been revving up support for a 600-unit apartment complex on the site along with enhancements to an existing emergency room.

Before public comment, Councilman Adrian Mapp urged his colleagues to give full support to the study, which he said will impact generations. Councilman Cory Storch voiced support, but asked whether it would examine "what other failed hospitals have done." Corporation Counsel David Minchello said the study firm, Heyer Gruel & Associates, was chosen in part because of their experience with a similar situation in Asbury Park.

"This study does look at the JFK study, but is in no way bound by it," Minchello said. Noting there will be several meetings with the public, he said, "We are looking for an expansive study that looks into all the best uses."

In public comment, residents deplored the idea of 600 new apartments, citing the likely impact on traffic, municipal services and schools. But Dr. Harold Yood said a study should have been done when Muhlenberg closed.

'This is about five years too late for this resolution," he said, but thanked the council for moving it to next week's agenda. He said of the tract, "Although JFK owns the title, it really belongs to all the people."

John Campbell Jr. said his experience in real estate tells him that 600 units is not feasible in a residential area. The surrounding neighborhood is zoned for low to moderate density residential use and a zoning change would be required for the proposed 600-unit project. JFK has petitioned the council directly for the zoning change.

Amomg other concerns, resident Nancy Piwowar said an animated tour note: content changed by JFK of JFK's proposal left her "totally shocked" because the people portrayed "don't reflect the community."

John Campbell Sr. asked Mapp about "CREAM," which Mapp said was an idea he had for a community-based group where ideas would "bubble up from the bottom" on what to do with the Muhlenberg tract. The acronym stands for "Community Residents Engaged About Muhlenberg," he said. But Mapp said JFK created its own citizen groups.

"Can we get CREAM rolling again, or did it get sour?" Campbell asked.

Resident Brenda Gilbert said she served on a grassroots committee to help 1,100 workers displaced when Muhlenberg closed. She said the land was not supposed to be used for anything but medical uses and also said claims that the owner could not find buyers for the tract were not true.

To Mapp she said, "If you get your little CREAM commitee going on, I'll be the coffee in the cream."

Warning the council to be wary, she said, "Don't let the snake in the garden."

Mustapha Muhammad voiced confidence that the city can have a medical facility again.

"If we don't have a medical center, it will be the final chapter of the gentrification of Plainfield," he said. Also citing the animation, he said any proposal must reflect the demographics of the city.

"There seems to be a hidden hand that wants to get rid of the so-called undesirables," he said. "I hope and pray that we can work together," he added to applause.

"Please do your homework," resident Sandy Spector said as she urged the council to consider the impact of JFK' project on schools, sewers and roads. She said, "This city wants a medical facility," not 600 apartments.

--Bernice

Monday, October 7, 2013

Save Dates for Forums

While you are marking your calendar for the panel discussion at Masjidullah on Oct. 13 (see item below), note these others:

At 5 p.m. on  Sunday, Oct. 27, the Plainfield Area NAACP will hold a Candidates' Forum at the Plainfield Elks Mohawk Lodge, 
1357 W. 3rd St.

The Plainfield League of Women Voters will hold a Candidates' Forum starting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at Emerson School. The forum will include school board, Mayoral and 4th Ward candidates.

A Man of Many Hats



As of today, Al Restaino will have three titles when he becomes acting city administrator in addition to heading the largest of three city departments and also retaining his original title as director of the Office of Community Development in another department.

As acting city administrator, he will be in charge of all day-to-day operations in the city through the end of the year, as appointed by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who appointed herself for the role after the Sept. 23 departure of City Administrator Eric Berry.

As department head, he is in charge of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services, which includes fifteen divisions. Originally just including fiscal operations such as tax collection, tax assessment, audit & control and purchasing, the department received health and social services in a reorganization under former Mayor Mark Fury. Most recently, IT and media were added to the department.

The Office of Community Development is responsible for submission of Community Development Block Grant requests to Union County. Click here for a link to all aspects of the division, which is in the Department of Public Works & Urban Development and was formerly Restaino's full-time job.

Restaino will receive one salary for all the varied responsibilities. Normally when a director is also acting city administrator, he or she receives the salary connected to the higher office. All three department heads report to the city administrator.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mosque Hosts Mayoral Debate

Masjidullah Plainfield Inc. and The Muslim League of Voters, New Jersey Chapter will hold a mayoral panel discussion on Oct. 13.

The event will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at the mosque, 321 Grant Ave. A question and answer session will follow the panel discussion.

Mayoral candidates in the Nov. 5 general election include Councilman and Democratic primary winner Adrian Mapp, Republican Sandy Spector and independents D. Scott Belin and Mustapha Muhammad. Organizers of the panel discussion said all were invited, but Mapp has declined due to a prior commitment.

For more information, call Mahdee Najeeullah at (908) 208-1704.



Muhlenberg Study Needs Six Months

The planning firm up for consideration Monday for the Muhlenberg study projects a six-month process that includes four community meetings, two of which will broadly involve the public and stakeholders in a visioning process.

Public outreach is named as "Task 1" in the scope of services proposed by Heyer Gruel & Associates. A kickoff meeting with city planning staff will have three goals, according to documents in the packet for Monday's meeting: "to refine and confirm the work program and schedule; to define the community participation including preliminary identification of stakeholders; and to preliminarily identify key issues as the city and community sees them."

The early work will also include "a tour of the site and surrounding area with city officials and key project personnel to get a sense of the issues in the field."

To many in the quiet residential blocks around the shuttered Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, the main issue is rejection of  the 600-unit apartment complex proposed by JFK Health Systems, owner of the property. JFK began promoting its plan last year and recently asked the City Council to agree to zoning changes that would permit the project. Last month, Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas of Shiloh Baptist Church told the council he and others have been working for the last 14 months with JFK Health Systems "to keep a hospital presence as well as developing the land."

But not even possible loss of remaining medical services on the site has overcome the objections of residents who see the development as too much for the neighborhood.

The full document detailing the proposed scope of services for the study is available in the City Clerk's office and also in the council packet for Oct. 7 at the Plainfield Public Library's reference desk.

JFK Health Systems has made its rationale for development clear in this section of the Muhlenberg Moving Forward web site more than a year ago. Thomas conveyed a sense of urgency last month in his remarks, warning that JFK would leave if its proposal was not accepted. The proposed city-backed study may prolong the decision-making progress, but residents who have their back up over pressure from JFK are calling for a large turnout Monday in support of the study.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice