Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green snidely dismissed a controversial videotape as fake, but in a whiplash the original turned up online. The net effect appeared to be embarrassment (one of his most-used words) not only for the chairman, but for his candidates in Tuesday's primary.
But seriously folks, it is very important that all registered Democrats (13,105 at last count) come out and vote. I believe the unaffiliated voters (8,073) can declare at the polls if it is the voter's first primary. The New Jersey Department of State's Division of Elections has answers to many questions about voting.
Look at your sample ballot. You can choose by rows, not just columns. For instance, four people are running for Member of the House of Representatives. You can pick any one. Two people are running for council in my ward and district and I can pick either one. In the First Ward and in the Third Ward, there are three Democratic candidates each. With that said, you can always vote by slate. See the primary slates here.
It is against the law to intimidate voters or campaign inside the polls or within the 100-foot mark outside the polls. Vote your conscience and report any pressure tactics to election officials.
A special meeting Thursday to pass a single resolution disapproving Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's May 19 video stretched to two hours as speakers endorsed it, condemned it or called for the war among Democrats to end.
In the video aired on cable television and YouTube, Mapp blames Assemblyman Jerry Green for interfering with his new administration and thwarting his plans for Plainfield's future. At a special meeting Tuesday, the City Council passed a budget that eliminated Mapp's chief of staff and his communications specialist. Council President Bridget Rivers then asked Corporation Counsel David Minchello what could be done regarding the video. Minchello said it was not illegal, but the council could express disapproval of it by resolution, leading to the second special meeting Thursday.
Green is chairman of the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County and also Plainfield's Democratic party chairman, while Mapp headed the New Democrats club for several years until taking office as mayor on Jan. 1. He is endorsing a slate of New Democrats headed by incumbent Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who succeeded him as president of the club. Green as chairman selected a slate of Regular Democrats. The factions will square off in the June 3 primary, with control of the City Council at stake.
Among the fourteen people who spoke before the vote Thursday, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq said of the mayor, "It seems to me you should want to have a mayor's corner to speak to the people."
But Charles Eke, who is running against Williams in the primary, said he did not find anything in the video "that would bring people to Plainfield." He said Mapp should have spoken as a private citizen.
Alan Goldstein and others equated the video with President Barack Obama's talks where he calls out Republicans for blocking his initiatives.
"It's good to have a mayor who speaks his mind, a mayor who tells the truth," Goldstein said.
Roland Muhammad called Mapp "a ringside fighter" and said he was tired of people talking against Green, while Jeff Dunn said Mapp was wrong to air "dirty laundry in public."
Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who lost her bid for a third term to Mapp in 2013, passed out information from the state Ethics Commission, where the resolution of disapproval will be sent by the council.
Sharon Smith said she would sell her home if she could and get out of Plainfield because of the bickering over the past nine years.
"We as a community have got to have more respect for each other," Carrell Martin said.
Dottie Gutenkauf, who worked with Green for 30 years before backing Mapp's team now, said, "This excuse for a meeting is the silliest thing I have seen from this council."
Council President Bridget Rivers said the council was paying for Thursday's meeting to be taped because Mapp had put the media staff on "flex-time" instead of paying overtime. She proposed an ordinance requiring all meetings to be taped.
The vote on the resolution voicing disapproval was 4-1, with Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor, William Reid and Rivers voting "yes" and Williams voting "no." Cory Storch and Tracey Brown were absent.
Eight people spoke after the vote. Eke alleged the video had been edited and said he put in an Open Public Records Act request for an unedited copy.
Thomas Crownover gave thanks to police and fire personnel who recently saved his life when a stucco ceiling collapsed on him. He called on people to appreciate Plainfield's public safety staff "and don't dwell entirely on the political things."
At least until the primary is over, Crownover's advice may be disregarded. Plainfield's politics are drawing statewide attention and punditizing, with even Senate President Stephen Sweeney getting into the act on Green's behalf and Politicker NJ describing the situation as a "bloodbath."
So today I get a phone call from Assemblyman/Plainfield Democratic Party Chairman/Union County Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green complaining that I said he only has two supporters for his City Council slate, Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Mustapha Muhammad. He wants me to put on my blog that his City Council slate is endorsed by Senator Steve Sweeney. I express doubt that the Senate President is tracking local races in 566 municipalities, but meanwhile I am racking my brain to know what he is talking about.
Green goes on to hassle me some more and then starts getting into my personal life, asking about my marital history (I am divorced) and suggesting, "Why don't you get a young buck?" among other comments.
I suspect he is just goofing on me for the benefit of others in the room from which he is calling and tell him so. It reminds me of the kind of sexist comments women face on the street from males who have not yet left the 20th Century.
I am mystified by this entire call, starting with the reason for it and ending with the weird foray into my business. Later, someone tells me that it was Dan Damon who posted about support for the local slates on his blog. The only thing Dan and I have in common is that we are both Caucasian and both bloggers. So Jerry had someone in his office call me and ask whether I would speak to the Assemblyman, presumably also in his office, on the wrong premise! It was not my blog at all, but because the Assemblyman does not go online, he didn't know the difference. How such an important person had time to delve into the personal life of a female elder is another mystery.
I had stopped talking to Jerry in 2008 after he tried to rope me in to some attack he wanted to make on a school board member. Recently, I have had some calls from his office and have answered them. But after this, I think I am done once more with "official" phone calls from Assemblyman Jerry Green.
The latter drew 28 comments, which reminded me of the fact that although an Independence Day committee exists on paper, plans were often made on an ad hoc basis without the oversight the committee might have provided. We already have a minor controversy regarding the 2014 concert - a promoter came to the microphone at the May 15 council meeting to dispute the selection of the one who was approved.
But back to the need for a PIO or media director to draw positive attention to the city. It is important and is a bulwark for economic development, which involves a different set of skills. Of course, when the SRB years began, there was a roster of about 18 economic development proposals and most faded away, so there was not much need for publicity. To their credit, the council has approved a review of several past redevelopment plans and, as noted here, economic development appears to be picking up. Who will tell the story?
At right, Chief of Staff John Stewart and Mayor Adrian O. Mapp
Despite some residents' pleas to restore key members of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's team, the City Council passed the 2014 budget Tuesday with reductions that other residents said were needed to keep taxes down.
The governing body also called a special meeting for Thursday to voice disapproval of a video Mapp made stating his need for staff to re-brand the city and seek state and federal support for its revitalization. The meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.
Among the speakers in support of Mapp's initiatives, Alan Goldstein told the council, "You're cutting the muscle and leaving in all the fat."
The staff eliminations "will put us in jeopardy," he said.
Tom Kaercher asked the council "to keep the promises you made in January," when many members voiced support for Mapp. He also noted Mapp's mayoral win last year with 70 percent of the vote.
"To really make a dent in changing direction, we really need ratables," he said.
The council did approve the salary for Carlos Sanchez as economic director, but Kaercher said, "We also need to market the city in a very pro-active way," for which Mapp said he needed a media director and the chief of staff.
"I'm asking you to restore the two positions you cut last week, to give the mayor the tools he needs," Kaercher said.
Though ailing, activist Dottie Gutenkauf came out to castigate the council for cutting the two positions.
"Shame!" she said. "I don't think you can look yourself in the eye."
Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs
But former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who beat Mapp to win a second term in 2009, told council members they should "look in the mirror and be proud." Robinson-Briggs has attended recent meetings to denounce Mapp for his actions as councilman before he won the mayoralty in 2013 elections.
"Stop with the political," she said, taking offense at recent praise for Sanchez instead of "Mr. Jacques Howard" of her administration.
"It's wrong to cast aside the work he did," she said.
Candidate Charles Eke, who is running against incumbent Rebecca Williams, also praised the elimination of the two positions. Williams, who holds the Second & Third Ward at-large seat, succeeded Mapp as president of the New Democrats political club, while Eke is running on the Regular Democrats line.
Ozella Brundidge contrasted the addition of two new positions with the former mayor's lack of staff in her office, which Robinson-Briggs also complained about.
The last word before the vote was from Dr. Harold Yood, who said the council was "being short-sighted by not trying to get new ratables" and said they were "cutting off the city's nose to spite its face."
Williams was absent for the vote. Councilman Cory Storch, also a Mapp supporter, said he would vote "yes" on the budget even though he felt the cuts were ill-advised.
"They make no sense for the future, they only relate to the past. The past is something we need to go way beyond," he said.
Storch said although he is on the Finance Committee, he felt he had no say and "everything seemed to be predetermined."
He urged his colleagues to "get past dysfunction and move to the future."
Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, who is running on the regular Democrat line for Mapp's unexpired Third Ward term, countered by saying,"If we don't know the past, we can't know the future. Collaboration has to go both ways."
She charged that Storch had an "open door" to the mayor that she does not have.
The vote to pass the $74.6 million budget was unanimous, with Storch, Taylor, William Reid, Vera Greaves, Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers voting "yes." Williams arrived after the vote.
Regarding the controversial video, Rivers expressed disapproval of it and asked Corporation Counsel David Minchello "what can be done." Minchello said he reviewed the Municipal Code regarding political acts during city work time and city property for personal use as well as the bylaws of the television board.
"It is not illegal," he said, but the council could express disapproval by way of a resolution.
"I look at it as unethical," Rivers said, noting she also looked the the bylaws.
Rivers said she felt the video should not have been done on city time and asked how others felt.
Greaves said, "If you have an issue, face your opponent" and not use "public radio (sic)."
"If you're man enough or woman enough," she added.
Reid began a lengthy speech by saying, "We are with the mayor. We have not said anything disparaging about the mayor."
Taylor said the mayor should be the "cheerleader" and she felt some of what he said was excellent, but parts were "below the belt."
After challenging Minchello's view, she said the council had a right to investigate the video.
"Did he do it in the mayor's seat?" she asked. "When a city leader does this, it should not be tolerated."
The resolution up for a vote at the special meeting is to voice disapproval of the mayor's comments and to refer the matter to the state Local Government Ethics Board.
In the 17-minute video, Mapp alleges Assemblyman Jerry Green, the chairman of the Plainfield Democratic Party, has attempted to obstruct his administration. Green sent out a mailer in early May that denounced Mapp, even though he had given Mapp the party line in 2013 instead of Robinson-Briggs, who was seeking a third term. Green and the former mayor have since joined in opposing Mapp.
After the meeting, Mapp said the council has a right to call a special meeting, but he said he hoped it would be "focused on doing the work of the people." He called the notion of an investigation "laughable" and said he will continue to use the resources of the city "to communicate with the people who elected me, and to make sure the public knows what challenges are facing me."
"If the council has a problem with me giving the truth to the public," he said, "there's nothing I can do about how the council feels. I will continue to provide the public with the information it needs and deserves."
My sample ballot for the June 3 primary election arrived today and I hope you received yours as well. As the message in red says, please take note of your polling place before discarding the sample ballot. Your ward and district are just above your polling place, in case you don't know it already.
You can choose among the various columns as long as you select within categories: One senator, one member of the House of Representatives, one Union County Surrogate, three freeholders and, if you live in the First or Second Wards, one City Council representative. The Third Ward has two council choices, one for Second & Third Ward at-large and one for the unexpired Third Ward term.
The City Council Democratic contests are as follows:
First Ward (four-year term) Diane Toliver, Siddeeq El-Amin or Emmett Swan.
Second & Third Ward at-large (four-year term) Charles Eke or Rebecca Williams
Third Ward (unexpired term) Gloria Taylor, Charles McRae or Rasheed Abdul-Haqq
Toliver, Eke and Taylor are running on the slogan, "Regular Democratic Organization of Union County."
Swan, Williams and McRae are running on the slogan, "New Democrats for Plainfield."
El-Amin is running on the slogan, "Plainfield First - Plainfield Forward!" Abdul-Haqq is running on the slogan, "Let's Get Rid of Jerry Green."
Republicans running unopposed are Randy Bulllock in the Second & Third Ward at-large race and Charles A. Jones Jr. in the Third Ward.
Plaintalker does not endorse candidates, but urges all registered voters to go to the polls on June 3 and exercise your right to vote.
From the early days when she carried around a basket of candy to later years when she added dinner to the annual holiday tree-lighting, the administration of former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has been linked with food. On May 20, perhaps a final reminder of her penchant turned up in the form of an amendment to the 2014 budget for $3,500 in past-due bills to a North Plainfield caterer.
The former mayor was present at the special meeting where the City Council approved amendments one by one. When the $3,500 came up, Council President Bridget Rivers said, "I added it into the budget."
There will be another special meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall Library for a hearing on the amendments and possible final passage of the budget. It is interesting that the council got the former mayor off the hook while sticking it to the current mayor in the budget process. No doubt the former mayor will attend the next meeting as part of her new campaign to discredit the current mayor and cheer mayor/council dissension.
Lest we forget how the city came across to the rest of the world during the past administration, here is a 2012 post on Plainfield politics. Rather than trying to rewrite history and tell the new mayor what to do, the former mayor would be better advised to pen the next chapter of her own life, beyond City Hall.
With the approach of Memorial Day, feelings of thankfulness and respect will fill the hearts of the American people, as the community comes together to remember, honor and show their gratitude to U.S. veterans and active military of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
MONDAY, MAY 26, 2014
9:00 am Plainfield Avenue Cemetery (West 5th Street)
9:30 am St. Mary’s Church (West 6th Street)
10:00 am Plainfield Memorial Flag Pole (Watchung Avenue)
It's too bad that those involved in the budget process could not or did not include considerations such as the fact that the new administration is taking various steps to bring in money that will ultimately influence the bottom line, such as a special tax lien sale to bring in $617,726.
Asked whether the revenues from the liens on the 14 properties would go toward surplus, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said, "It will have a positive impact on year end results from operations and will help to boost our surplus. The more we collect from the sale of municipal liens the better. It also helps with the tax collection rate."
The "Jones Act" tax lien sale allows a municipality to sell off problematic liens held by the city. There will also be a regular tax lien sale (the kind with delinquent property owners' names in it) in October, which will help stabilize the city's finances. Having an astute finance director and, as Mapp says, one of the best chief financial officers in the state will result in the use of any and all possible means to improve the city's fiscal standing. It certainly is a big step up from having a previous finance director who could not even state the tax rate when asked at a public meeting.
The council was determined to pass the budget before June, which makes sense because by now the city has already been paying employees and spending money since January out of temporary appropriations. But adjustments will take place as revenues continue to come in through the remaining months of 2014. Maybe for next year there could be a budget tutorial so that council members feel more comfortable with the overall process, although that would still not obviate political moves to damage the administration.
A March 2010 blog post on layoffs does not jibe with former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' charge that Adrian Mapp got rid of the city's only media person when he was a councilman. The layoff list actually came from her administration. In comments at a special meeting Tuesday on budget amendments, Robinson-Briggs said Mapp suggested that the city get rid of Laurence Rice and outsource media. However, the vote on layoffs at the 2010 meeting was 4-3, with council members Rashid Burney, Linda Carter, Cory Storch and Council President Annie McWilliams voting "yes" and William Reid, Bridget Rivers and Adrian Mapp voting "no." As noted in the blog post, the administration submitted the layoff plan to the council after the budget had been amended and passed: Laurence Rice, who produces content for Channel 96, noted the long hours he puts in recording events and suggested he was being targeted for his loyalty to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. But McWilliams said it would not only be immoral and unethical to make such decisions on the basis of politics, it would be illegal.
After the vote, McWilliams said the budget had already been adopted and amendments to it had been unanimously approved. The administration had then submitted the layoff plan. The council could not then decide not to support the plan, she said.
The former mayor has been attending public meetings lately and making various allegations against Mapp, who won the 2013 Democratic primary and thus deprived her of being on the November ballot for a third term.
Local political parties organize on alternate years, and in 2014 it's the Republicans' turn.
According to Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi's list online, only 15 people out of a possible 68 filed for seats on the Plainfield Republican committee. In 2008, there were 1,118 registered Republicans in Plainfield, but as of May 2014 there are only 868.
By contrast, there are 13,105 registered Democrats and 8,073 unaffiliated voters.
No one filed to run for a Republican committee seat in the First Ward. The Second Ward had nine filers, the Third Ward had five and the Fourth Ward had one.
Still, the party managed to file City Council candidates in two races this year. Randy Bullock is running for the Second & Third Ward at-large seat and Charles A. Jones Jr. is running for the unexpired Third Ward seat. Being uncontested in the June 3 primary, they will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot along with Democratic primary winners and any independents who file on June 3.
The local Republicans will reorganize on June 9, selecting a chairman and other officers for two-year terms.
Budget amendments passed at a special City Council meeting Tuesday spared the economic development director's job, but cut the mayor's chief of staff and public information officer.
The municipal tax levy was reduced from last year, but because city revenues continue to decline, there will still be an increase of $94.84 on the average home assessed at $113,000. The administration had proposed a budget reflecting a tax increase of $101.96 with no cuts to the team assembled by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who took office Jan. 1. Council members who approved the cuts said the jobs weren't needed, but others said the city's future hinges on improving its image and communication with potential investors.
In public comment before the votes on budget lines, resident Lillian Jamar said, "I'm here in support of the mayor getting the money he needs to run the city. The people put him in there. He does need help. I hope that you will consider helping this mayor."
But resident Mustapha Muhammad said, "We seem to have amnesia," citing recommendations for cuts from both the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and a budget consultant hired by the council. One point of contention was the administration's proposed use of $4.9 million in surplus to balance the budget, which was amended to $3.9 million.
Councilman Cory Storch, who with Councilwoman Rebecca Willliams voted "no" on the cuts, said communication, both inside and outside the city, was one of its big challenges. He said he had hoped for collaboration between the administration and council, "but unfortunately my colleagues did not see it that way."
Storch said the city's image had to be changed.
"Our image is tarnished," he said.
But Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said the council was doing its job and called objections "one-sided" and "slanted."
Storch also objected to a cut to the Planning Division, saying it had been understaffed for years and needed to be ready to handle anticipated transit-oriented development.
The amendments will be published before another special meeting next Tuesday that will include a public hearing on them before possible final passage of the 2014 budget. The meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.
Among the dozen speakers before the council began voting on the amendments, Mario Camino of Arkad Group Investments LLC drew applause after recounting how he "took a huge gamble" on Plainfield and was gratified to have "someone on my side" in economic director Carlos Sanchez.
To succeed in his business, he said, "I have to sell people on how good Plainfield is" and with Sanchez, he said, "We got a good thing going."
Another speaker was former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who lost the June 2013 primary to Mapp. She recounted cuts to her administration that Mapp supported when he was the Third Ward councilman and asked for one person by name to be rehired in Recreation.
One line in the amendments was to pay a catering bill for $3,500 left over from her administration.
After the amendments were passed, speakers again called for improvement of the city's image. Richard Stewart, chairman of the CBAC, said the city was at a crossroads and won applause with his call for positivity.
Resident Jean Black chided those who keep talking about the past.
"I hear people talking about what happened years ago. Times changed - the town has changed," she said. "It's not like it used to be, and you have to get used to it." --Bernice
Word has come of the passing of Rev. Donald Nichols Sr., the longtime pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church. His passing is a great loss to Mount Olive, to the faith community and to Plainfield. Our condolences to the congregation and all who will miss him.
One of Chairman Jerry Green's favorite phrases is, right or wrong?
I heard him say that when he thought it was a good idea to put the seniors in the basement of the Tepper's building when the lease on their old center ran out . He said the same thing when he tried to convince the seniors to agree that the center should be in the Armory. The seniors' answer was, "Wrong!"
Now he and his City Council faction want to do away with Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's "new hires," a misnomer because some are new people in existing titles. The net effect is to cripple Mapp's plans for the future of Plainfield. Green's new paradigm since apparently casting off the spell put on him by Charlotte DeFilippo to support Mapp in 2013 is that he and his followers are right and Mapp and his supporters are wrong.
He tried it with Liberty Village and thank heavens the council realized they had to do the right thing by the residents.
The issue now is the 2014 budget. Is cutting out Mapp's team for leadership in economic development, public safety and communications right or wrong? Right, if you want to save $9 on a tax increase for the average homeowner. Wrong, if you want to get Plainfield ready to compete for investment that will offset declining revenues.
The worst part of the current situation is that outsiders, including those with money to invest, don't really have time to figure out who is right or wrong. All they see is a city where the politics make it too difficult to do business, so they take their money elsewhere.
To use Councilman William Reid's term, developers and investors don't want to get involved in a lot of "who shot john,"
There is a special meeting tonight on budget amendments, 8 p.m. in City Hall Library and another one next Tuesday for a public hearing and possible adoption of the 2014 budget. The outcome may signal three and a half more years of political dissension or demonstrate the ability of the executive and legislative branches to collaborate for the city's future.
PURSUANT TO ARTICLE 2, SECTION 2:2-10(A) OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD, 1971, A SPECIAL MEETING IS HEREBY CALLED BY THE PLAINFIELD CITY COUNCIL ON TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014 ANDTUESDAY MAY 27, 2014 AT 8:00 P.M. IN THE CITY HALL LIBRARY, 515 WATCHUNG AVENUE, CITY OF PLAINFIELD, FOR THE PURPOSE OF CONSIDERING AND ACTING UPON THE FOLLOWING:
1.POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE CY 2014 PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL OPERATING BUDGET.(MAY 20, 2014)
2.PUBLIC HEARING ON BUDGET AMENDMENTS & POSSIBLE FINAL ADOPTION OF THE CY 2014 PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL OPERATING BUDGET. (MAY 27, 2014)
Trying to find the right words regarding the passing of Donna Vose, who served on the Plainfield City Council and on the Planning Board. In her own words, here is a guest commentary from 2007 that gives a sense of her passion for Plainfield.
Please note, I was not informed of this meeting by the NAACP, someone wrote to tell me it was happening.. I checked the NAACP web site.and found the image below. NAACP President Peter Briggs has now informed me that he received a letter from the New Democrats saying they will not take part due to prior commitments.
Will the council eliminate all new positions and wreck Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's plans for the future of Plainfield?
The answer may come as early as next week, when a special meeting on possible budget amendments is set for 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 20 in City Hall Library. Another special meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, also in City Hall Library, for a public hearing on amendments and possible passage of the 2014 budget.
Mapp won the mayoral contest in June 13 primary and received 70 percent of the vote in the November election. At the Jan. 6 reorganization, Plainfield Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green pledged that he would be "working closely with the mayor" and deplored the situation in Hillside, where he said the mayor and council were at odds.
Green now says he only gave in to former Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo's orders to back Mapp and that the mayor is "every bit as bad as I feared." Green's followers on the council now appear to repent of the support they voiced for the mayor and new administration in January.and may express their disdain by slashing the budget.
In an unprecedented show of suspicion, a council majority went so far as to hire a budget consultant to review a one-month temporary budget appropriation. Normally, a consultant helps the council review the entire budget once it is introduced (passed from the administration to the governing body).
Backing up an April vow of the council majority to cut all new hires, the consultant recommended the same.
The positions in the cross-hairs are a mixed bag. The council approved the current deputy city administrator, filling a title that was vacant for eight years while the former mayor relied on a division head instead of a cabinet-level person for economic development. Now that council meetings are on YouTube, anyone can look up the PCTV video of the Jan. 6 meeting and see the enthusiasm expressed for the individual who was hired. The proposed elimination would leave no one in charge of economic development at a time when the city desperately needs it to increase revenues and compete with other towns along the Raritan Valley Line.
The police director, also approved by the council, serves in addition as head of department of Public Affairs & Safety, drawing only one salary for both jobs.
The council approved the title and salary for the chief of staff in 2013. Because the ordinance spells out the fact that the mayor appoints the chief of staff, one wonders whether defunding the position is a tactic to nullify his choice.
The Planning Division supports economic development by handling the land use aspects and has suffered staff cuts in recent years. It is a needed complement to attracting economic development in that it makes sure projects conform to the city's master plan. At one of the budget hearings, Councilman William Reid suggested tearing down the city's historic downtown commercial district to create a strip mall. Without the oversight of a properly staffed Planning Division, such proposals might just slip through.
All the budget material, including findings of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, the consultant's report, the mayor's 2014 budget and, for the first time, the state-required Municipal Data Sheet, are on the city's web site on the new News & Media page. On the subject of media, cities can no longer depend on newspapers to tell what is going on with local government. Cities basically have to communicate with the citizens through such means as web sites, email blasts and social media to inform citizens. Eliminating media is, as the saying goes, hiding your light under a bushel.
Anyone who is concerned about the budget can read the documents online. All the budget sessions are on PCTV cable and on YouTube, if you have time to view them. All the City Council contact information is online, if you can't make the upcoming budget meetings. The budget process for 2014 is in the final stages and the outcome will likely set the tone for future fiscal dealings between the administration and the governing body. Let your elected representatives know what you think.
If people sent me actual write-ups instead of posters about events, I might feel more inclined to post them. Here is an example of how it's done: Almost 100 homes in Plainfield have signed up to participate in the annual Friends of Sleepy Hollow Garage Saleon Sunday, May 18, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Maps showing locations and some of the items for sale are available at any participating home. There is a major concentration of sales along the Watchung Avenue axis from Leland to Woodland avenues, as well as along Watchung to Crescent Avenue, but interesting items are available further afield. For instance, a homeowner on Hollywood Avenue, not far from the PHS track and football field has military collectibles. There are also large sales on streets running of Woodland Avenue, such as Evergreen Avenue, and a smattering in the VanWyck Brooks Historic District.
FOSH advertizes the garage sale in newspapers from the Hudson to Delaware Rivers, as far north as High Point, and also at the Shore and in the Princeton area.
FOSH obtains City permits for each participating home.
The unresolved issue of veterans having their own gathering place predates this blog, but one of its early entries (on Veterans Day 2005) was on the subject. It came up again at Monday's City Council meeting.
At present, the designated space for a veterans' center at 400 East Front Street is unavailable to them due to terms of the development agreement that calls for it to be turned over once all the building's 63 condos are sold. The agreement was signed in 2007 and celebrated in an event at the old senior center, which was to be replaced by a new one on the ground floor of the condo complex.
Nonetheless, at Monday's council meeting, Robinson-Briggs (now the former mayor) dabbled in revisionism by attempting to lay the problem at the feet of Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, saying Williams blocked sale of the Armory where Robinson-Briggs proposed housing veterans in the garage. Insisting the veterans would have had a home, Robinson-Briggs pledged, "I'll go and cook free one day a week if you give them a home."
Veterans Leroy Sampson, Alex Toliver and Shawn Weeks spoke Monday about the need for a meeting place. Councilman William Reid said the administration would "look into it," but Finance Director Ron West reminded the council of the terms of the development agreement signed in 2007.
"We sold it for a dollar and we can't have a veterans' center?" Council President Bridget Rivers said.
Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said she would volunteer to work on the issue.
I know it is campaign season, but recent comments have been too harsh. Please comment on the issues and avoid personal attacks or characterizations on the blog. We are seeing more than enough of insults and slams on the cable telecasts and YouTube videos of public meetings. Individuals may score points with negative remarks on camera, but it takes a toll on Plainfield's image and even in residents' ability to have faith that the business of the city is being conducted in a civil manner. --Bernice
Eric Jackson, Plainfield's director of Public Works & Urban Development, was the top vote-getter in Trenton's mayoral contest Tuesday, according to unofficial election results. Jackson bested five opponents but needed 50 percent of the total votes to win outright. He had 30 percent, and so will have to compete on June 10 in a runoff with Paul Perez, who received 20 percent of the votes. The winner of the runoff will take office on July 1.
Jackson has served Plainfield as one of three department heads under the city administrator since September 2011. Last year, he and Public Works Superintendent John Louise oversaw a much admired renovation of City Hall and its grounds.
When the administration changed in January, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp kept Jackson on as department head.
In March, Jackson went out on unpaid personal leave and City Administrator Rick Smiley became acting department head in addition to his role of being in charge of day-to-day operations of the city.
Jackson has many fans in Plainfield who no doubt are wishing him well. He has been perceived as a highly competent official who has brought a professional atmosphere to City Hall. Plainfielders will be watching how things unfold in June in Trenton.
Damage to a PMUA building caused by a drunk driver
Executive Director Dan Williamson opened Tuesday's PMUA meeting by informing commissioners of an accident that displaced workers and left a Cottage Place building structurally unstable.
Williamson said that at 2:30 a.m. on May 10, a drunk driver crashed into a garage building and destroyed support for an I-beam. The building is now "off limits to us," he said pending findings of a structural engineer and other engineers. Vehicles were relocated to other PMUA facilities across the street and staff was reassigned there as well.
The driver survived the crash, he said.
In PMUA business:
- The Borough of Roselle has become the latest outside client of the authority, for disposal of bulky waste and vegetative waste. The Roselle Board of Education recently contracted with the authority for recycling pickup. There are now seven or eight outside contracts, Williamson said. For most of its more than 15 years of operation, the authority only served Plainfield with sewer and solid waste services. Commissioner Malcolm Dunn brought out the fact that all the long-sought outside contracts have come about during Williamson's tenure since July 1, 2012.
- Repairs to the Rock Avenue interceptor that handles 50 percent of the city's sewage will cost $1.25 million and will be paid from renewal and replacement reserves.
- The authority expects to receive $2,200 per unit for sewer hookups to an 85-unit apartment building on East Front Street between Roosevelt and Westervelt avenues.
- Officials are in the process of setting up a timeline for the demolition of Elmwood Gardens, for which the PMUA will remove debris.
- The authority has five meters that can be used to measure water for filling in-ground or above-ground pools so that the flow is not added to the property owner's sewer bill. PMUA will try to get the word out through its City Council liaisons, contacts with block associations and letters to pool owners who are registered with the city. Besides its quarterly newsletters, the authority is also setting up a system whereby customers can get news and announcements by email. There is a form on the PMUA web site to sign up for "eNews blasts and Important Service Announcements (ISAs)."
In public comment, resident Dennis McKenzie complained that he observed a neighbor having bulk waste picked up by two workers illegally, while he had paid a fee to have a pickup. Williamson said the workers were reprimanded, but McKenzie felt his fee should be refunded.
"I do it the right way," he said.
Williamson said personnel matters were confidential and thanked him for bringing the matter to the attention of the authority, but his fee would not be refunded.
Resident Corinne Jordan of the east Sixth Street Block Association asked whether the PMUA would furnish shovels and rakes for a cleanup. Williamson said he wanted to reach out to block associations and would attend one of their meetings. Jordan also asked about a stipend that groups used to earn for cleanups, but Williamson said those funds were turned over to the PMUA during the administration of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams and were now used for such things as the PMUA's annual Environmental Fair.
Another resident complained about two trash bins behind 1010 Park Avenue that appear to be targets for illegal dumping. A hauler empties only one or the other weekly, but not both, she said. The resident said City Administrator Rick Smiley was talking to the property owner one day and she tried to find out who is responsible for enforcing rules against illegal dumping. Williamson said he will be meeting with Smiley this week and will discuss it. The resident said she did not understand why Public Works did not get involved,but Williamson said they cannot write up summonses. Williamson cited "so many conflicting interests in Plainfield," but said he was trying to work with Inspections.
Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs also spoke during public comment and suggested that the residents with concerns attend the June 17 City Council meeting to seek help.
The big sign on Watchung Avenue makes it easy to see how long a council meeting took. Monday's regular meeting might have been shorter but for some pre-primary politicking.
All the proposed festivals and events won approval, though an unsuccessful bidder for a concert in Cedar Brook Park convinced the council to rescind the resolution to hire another organizer. Corporation Counsel David Minchello pointed out there is no guarantee the the unsuccessful organizer will get the contract if re-bid.
Plaintalker will follow up later on the subject of "festivals and decibels," as retired Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin dubbed it. Details were lacking on the proposed parade along Front Street in September and El-Amin suggested more should be provided to avoid "a rolling fiasco."
Veterans pleaded for their own building, as they have for some time. A Veterans Center at 400 East Front Street has never been used due to contractual terms of the development that included a new senior center and condos. Veterans are using the senior center for meetings, but have to be let in. They want their own place with their own key and suggested there might be a vacant city-owned property they could have.
Most importantly, Council President Bridget Rivers said she wanted to have a special meeting to pass the 2014 budget this month, but just in case it doesn't, the council passed a temporary budget for June as a new item.
The council's budget consultant recommended eliminating all new positions, which supporters of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp see as a mortal blow to his vision for the city. The budget has yet to be amended and a hearing must be scheduled on any amendments, after which the budget may be passed.
Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs testified on Mapp's perceived lapses as a councilman and again said he should choose between having a job and being mayor. (The mayoralty is part-time and all previous mayors except Robinson-Briggs have held jobs outside City Hall. ) There was more, but no doubt it will turn up on YouTube or PCTV cable channels.
Habit for Humanity officials won permission City Council Monday to close off a portion of West Third Street for a week - the time it takes to build an entire house in a "Home Builders Blitz."
The Rev. Jeremy Montgomery, executive director of Greater Plainfield Habitat for Humanity, told the governing body it normally takes a year to build a house. The "blitz" will require use of the street to stage the operation, which will involve use of a large crane to lift the components into place on the foundation. Montgomery showed a video demonstrating the method.
The street closure will only affect three driveways and he has agreements with all three, he said.
Construction Supervisor Wayne Smith also asked for help with timely inspections to meet the schedule. The organization is willing to pay a state-licensed inspector to be on site if the city can't accommodate the schedule. Smith said many times it takes two to three weeks to get a city inspector to a site.
Because the Plainfield Home Builders Blitz received partial funding through the Neighborhood Enhancement Program under CDBG-DR funds administered by the Department of HUD and the State of New Jersey, preference for the new home at 1036 West Third Street will go to a family displaced and/or affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Greater Plainfield Habitat for Humanity has built 35 homes in 25 years of operation, with six under construction this year. Besides the one to be erected on West Third Street between June 9 and 13, there are five others being built on West Seventh Street. The chapter welcomes volunteers and donations.
Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller and his wife Linda. The nonprofit Christian ecumenical housing ministry now has 1,500 affiliates in the United States and over 200 affiliates overseas, according to the local chapter's web site.
The last day to register to vote in the June 3 primary is Tuesday, May 13. Plainfield City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh will hold evening hours Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m. at City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave., for voter registration. In addition to this stateVoter Registration Information, keep in mind that you have to re-register if your name or address have changed. There are Democratic contests in the First Ward, Second & Third Ward at-large and Third Ward races this year. Party candidates filed on March 31. Candidates in the First Ward are Siddeeq El-Amin, Emmett Swan and Diane Toliver. In the Second & Third Ward at-large contest, candidates are Charles Eke and incumbent Councilwoman Rebecca Williams. Candidates for an unexpired Third Ward term are Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Charles McRae and incumbent appointee Councilwoman Gloria Taylor. The primary winners will face Republicans Charles A. Jones Jr. in the Third Ward and Randy Bullock in the Second & Third Ward at-large race in November, along with any independent candidates who file on June 3. School board candidates must also file for the November 4 election on June 3. --Bernice
Six years ago, nightclub owner Edison Garcia held a three-day fiesta celebrating Central American Independence. In 2012, owners of another club went head-to-head, or block-to-block, with their own fiesta across the street. This year, besides holding their third fiesta on the same weekend as Garcia's sixth, the Maree Group/Voluntad wants to add a parade from Rock Avenue along Front Street to Roosevelt Avenue on Sunday, Sept. 14.
Garcia, owner of Los Faraones at 111 Front Street, began holding fiestas in the two city-owned parking lots behind his building to mark both Independence Day in July as well as Central American Independence Day . The Maree Group, affiliated with Chez Maree on Watchung Avenue, began holding its festivals in the city parking lot between Watchung and Roosevelt avenues.
The dual events draw thousands of Latinos and others to the city for the weekend. Resolutions permitting this year's fiestas are up for City Council approval Monday at the regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.
Garcia is seeking approval for the July 4 through 6 fiesta from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on all days. He wants to hold his Central American Independence event on Sept. 12, 13 and 14 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Music is to stop at 10 p.m. in July and 9 p.m. in September, according to the resolutions.
The Maree Group/Voluntad productions wants to hold the September fiesta from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12; from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13; and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14. The parade is supposed to start at 11 a.m. and arrive at the fiesta at 1 p.m.
Formerly events received public safety clearance after council approval, but in an innovation this year, organizers had to be cleared by the Police Division first. Each event received a condition that six police officers be hired. The parade was not included in a draft resolution reviewed by the council at its May 5 agenda-fixing session. It is unclear whether further public safety arrangements, such as police approval of the route and traffic coverage must be obtained, nor is the exact nature of the parade spelled out, i.e., will it include bands, floats, vendors and such.
The May 12 agenda is relatively light, with many items listed to be approved in a single consent vote. Perhaps that will provide time for the council and public to hear more about the fiesta details before the votes on those resolutions.
This fuss about the Health Officer reminded me that many municipalities belong to public health consortiums, such as the Westfield Regonal Health Department, which serves eight municipalities and the Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission, which serves five municipalities. When it comes to filling the gap that exists in Plainfield's public health coverage, quibbling over residency makes no sense. Ruby Hodge served Plainfield for many years while living elsewhere, as did more recent Health Officers. So now the out-of-towner has been hired and has a year to move to Plainfield. Deal with it, or maybe we would rather deal with an outbreak of contagious disease or further lapses in delivery of vital public health services here. --Bernice
After the last two summers, say "festival" to a Plainfielder and the immediate association may be "noise."
The festival roster for the summer of 2014 will again have a double feature in September, with events in city parking lots on both sides of Watchung Avenue. The City Council will be voting on those as well as seven other summer events at Monday's meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.
The September festivals last year were so noisy that Planning Board members said sound could be heard a mile away. One member thought perhaps it was reverberating off downtown buildings, as music in parks did not seem to carry as far.
The September 2014 events span the weekend of Friday, Sept. 12 through Sunday, Sept. 14. Nightclub owner Edison Garcia wants to hold his "6th Annual Outdoor Fiesta Days Celebrating the Independence of Central America" in Municipal Lots 8 and 8A, between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with music to cease at 9 p.m. The Maree Group/Voluntad Productions proposes to hold its "3rd Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival" on the same weekend from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.on Sunday in Municipal Lot 1, between Watchung Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue.Each event organizer will be required to hire six police officers.
Other events up for approval Monday include:
- An Outdoor Latin Dance Concert/Cultural Affair in Library Park sponsored by the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library (date needs clarification).
- A Health Fair on June 29 sponsored by Supremo Food Market.
- A Fiesta celebrating the Independence of the United States on July 4, 5 and 6, sponsored by Edison Garcia.
-Four events sponsored by the Plainfield Special Improvement District on June 12, June 28, July 17 and Aug. 22.
Some of the information on the agenda needs clarification. Plaintalker will provide details later.
Between April 15 and 30, there were 13 public meetings.
Ordinarily, the only scheduled meetings would have been the regular City Council meeting, the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission. But the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority held a special meeting, there were five budget deliberation sessions, three meetings to gather comments for the city's Muhlenberg study and an urgent meeting on the Liberty Village issues. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp set a press conference for his 100-day report, but canceled it in light of all the other meetings.
Many residents attended multiple meetings. I made nine of them, with an Arbor Day celebration and the opening of the Shakespeare Garden thrown in for good measure. Most meetings were captured on PCTV, so others probably logged several hours watching the action on television or YouTube.
After all that, interested residents faced a choice on May 5 between a council meeting and a Town Hall featuring Rep. Rush Holt. At a special meeting preceding the council's agenda-fixing session, the contentious issue of the Liberty Village "payment in lieu of taxes" plan was resolved, warding off the possible loss of subsidized housing in 96 residential units.
I hope everyone is shaking off the tension caused by trying to participate in all these meetings. It's a good time to get out for some gardening, hiking, shopping or whatever else you enjoy in Spring. If you devoted time to these important civic matters in April, you deserve a break now. (My sympathies to those who are on the campaign trail or supporting candidates in pre-primary activities for the June 3 election - your break will come later.)
Wednesday's Zoning Board of Adjustment opened with a tribute to Melvin Cody, a 10-year member who unexpectedly passed away at home in April.
Chairman D. Scott Belin recalled Mr. Cody's style of questioning applicants who came before the board, saying while it was their duty to consider the positives and negatives of a case before rendering a decision, Mr. Cody always looked at the positive impact and how it would serve the community.
"For that, we should always be grateful," Belin said.
Councilwoman Vera Greaves, a Fourth Ward resident who knew Mr. Cody well, accepted a framed resolution after it was read aloud and agreed that the city should appreciate his loyal and outstanding service.
A tilted chair at the table marked the board's loss of his presence and participation.
Two PSE&G substations will receive upgrades to support an anticipated 12 percent increase in electricity demand over the next 10 years.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment granted preliminary site plan approval Wednesday for improvements at substations on West Second Street and South Second Street. Newer and bigger equipment will increase capacity from 2,600 volts to 6,900 volts to meet increased demand.
The projects are part of 69 upgrades mandated by grid operator PJM, project manager Michael Luciani said. Both substations were built in the 1950s and are at the end of their useful lives, he said.
The improvements also include lightning masts, new fencing and landscaping.
Zoning Board Chairman D. Scott Belin objected to a type of fencing that he said looked like a cage.
"I have the feeling you want to put a cage in our downtown," Belin said.
Proposed to replace chain-link fencing with barbed wire on top, the non-metallic fencing had holes too small for a toehold to climb. Belin repeatedly insisted it was cage-like and wanted a decorative fence instead, as the site is downtown between a proposed 148-unit housing development and the historic Titsworth-Sutphen house. The applicant agreed to put decorative fencing on the three sides that do not abut the railroad tracks to the south.
Board member Jim Spear wanted cameras at the site, but Luciani said PSE&G has never done that.
A large tree will be removed and new ones in containers will be used, as the sidewalk cannot be opened for planting. As for noise, the improved facility will be quieter than it is now.
On the South Second Street site, board concerns included keeping out trespassers, as someone was found sleeping inside the substation. The board also wanted more of the front to be landscaped, because it faces homes. A retention basin will be created on the Clinton Avenue side of the site. The board debated whether a large number of trees on the site should be kept or removed. Originally, 176 trees were to be clear-cut, but some will be saved. Flowering trees will be planted along the South Second Street side.
Lightning masts will be 55 feet high at the South Second Street substation and 45 feet high at the West Second Street substation.
Attorney Glenn Kienz had hoped for PSE&G to receive preliminary and final approvals for the two projects Wednesday, but the board only voted for preliminary approvals which will be memorialized at the June 4 meeting. The board will not meet in July, so the soonest final approvals can be given is at the Aug. 6 meeting. Construction is expected to take 12 to 15 months and PSE&G must also seek other approvals, but Nierstedt said the company could begin construction at its own risk while awaiting final Zoning Board approval.
The work is not expected to affect traffic at either site except for arrival of heavy equipment and PSE&G will coordinate everything with the Plainfield Police Division, Kienz said.
Among recommendations of the 2014 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee: Get rid of the "unelected pseudo-mayor."
CBAC Chairman Richard Stewart referred to Chief of Staff John Stewart (no relation), a target since Mayor Adrian O. Mapp took office on Jan. 1, even though the City Council approved the title and a salary band late last year.
Duties of the chief of staff (click to enlarge)
John Stewart is part of a team Mapp says is essential to re-branding the city and getting it in gear after eight years of a prior administration marred by extreme turnover at the top and dubious fiscal practices. Besides Stewart, Mapp's team includes the first full-time, permanent chief financial officer since 2007, a public information officer and a cabinet-level economic development director.
Critics, including the council members who approved the job, say the chief of staff is a stand-in for the part-time mayor, who holds a full-time position as finance director in another municipality.
Richard Stewart called for elimination of the $80,000 chief of staff post Monday, as part of the CBAC report which also faulted the budget review process and deplored the Health Division's failure to inspect two-thirds of city food establishments.
He said the CBAC got late notice of the meeting schedule and only got to review a fraction of city divisions. In addition, only two of seven council members attended all six budget deliberation sessions, he said. The committee's report found both Police and Public Works top-heavy with supervisors and dismissed the explanation that superiors worked together with lower-ranking and lower-paid employees.
Overall, the committee found a lack of measurable outcomes and data to support budget requests and called for a full-time grant writer to seek outside funding.
The council also received a report Monday from budget consultant Lawrence Caroselli of .Government Strategy Group, calling for elimination of all new positions except for the Recreation superintendent. Caroselli and Government Strategy Group CEO Kenneth DeRoberts offered an alternative to the administration's proposed budget that would increase taxes on the average $113,000 home by $129. Their plan, which included reducing use of surplus and insurance funds, would result in an increase of only $93, they said.
Chief Financial Officer Ulrich Steinberg and Finance Director Ron West asked Council President Bridget Rivers to allow a rebuttal, but she refused, telling them to 'put it in writing and put it on the internet."
The meeting Monday also included a public hearing on the introduced budget. West rose to speak as a resident and said last week Caroselli had called the budget "reasonable." West called Caroselli's urging to eliminate the person in charge of economic development among items that made no sense.
The next step is for the council to amend the budget and hold a hearing on the amendments before final passage.
I have been reporting on Plainfield for more than 30 years, first at the Plainfield Today weekly, then at the Courier News and after retirement on the Plainfield Plaintalker blog and its successor, Plaintalker II.
For feedback, questions, or corrections, send a note to: bernice.paglia "at" gmail.com.