Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has confirmed that Eric Watson is acting director of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development, starting today (Monday, Sept. 15) at an annual salary of $110,000.
Watson can serve up to 90 days in acting capacity before Mapp needs advice and consent of the City Council to make the appointment permanent. If confirmed, Watson's term will be concurrent with the mayor's, ending Dec. 31, 2017.
Watson served in the role previously before becoming the first executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority when it was created in 1995. His PMUA leadership was detailed in this newsletter published in Spring 2011, when, it says, Watson decided to "pass the torch." Watson, the late Lou Jones and David Ervin all served the city before becoming executives at the authority, and the transition also included a large number of employees from Public Works to staff the new entity.
At present, the DPW&UD, one of three departments mandated by the city's special charter, includes the following divisions: City Yard, Recreation Division, Economic Development, Planning Division, Inspections Division, Building Division and Community Development. The department was most recently headed by Eric Jackson, who resigned effective June 30 to become mayor of Trenton. Jackson had served as director since September 2011 and was kept on when Mapp took office on Jan. 1, 2014. City Administrator Rick Smiley became acting DPW&UD director after Jackson went out on unpaid leave in March 2014.
In contrast to the PMUA history as described in the Spring 2011 newsletter, the authority engendered a high degree of public mistrust at times. Resident Philip Charles began encouraging property owners to "Dump PMUA" and opt out of the authority's mandated citywide trash collection program. Charles and others uncovered exorbitant travel and dining expenses, which have since been curtailed.
After Watson and Ervin announced they were stepping down in 2011, supporters came to a City Council meeting to allege Watson had been pushed out. In January 2012, three PMUA commissioners approved a settlement with the pair which brought new controversy. In July 2012, former city Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson became executive director of the authority.
Among items Watson will oversee as returning department head are the restructuring of Recreation programs with new Superintendent of Recreation Roni Taylor, a surge in development that involves Planning and other divisions and a call for Inspections to enforce property maintenance in the wake of a flood of foreclosures and abandonments.