Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Elmwood Gardens Plans Progressing

In January, the redevelopment plan for Elmwood Gardens is expected to be up for City Council review.

The former public housing complex on West Second Street is currently awaiting environmental remediation and demolition. All tenants have been relocated. The Planning Board approved the redevelopment plan on Dec. 4. The Housing Authority of Plainfield will have to return to the board for site plan approval before construction.

In September, HAP representatives startled Planning Board members by presenting a plan for senior housing instead of the low-income townhouse development that had been previously discussed. In December, the redevelopment plan was back to low-income housing in six buildings with two-story rental units built over one-story units, each with their own entries for security.

HAP is still seeking financing for the project, Executive Director Randall Wood said.

The now-vacant Elmwood Gardens complex was once home to the late Mayor Richard L. Taylor. It was also featured in a book by Plainfield author J.M. Benjamin, and in a film based on the book.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

City Council 2015 Meetings

City Council 2015 Schedule - All meetings in Municipal Court
Jan. 5, 2015 Reorganization 8 p.m
Agenda Fixing Session 7:30  p.m.
Regular Meeting 8 p.m.
Jan. 12
Jan. 20 (Tuesday)
Feb. 2
Feb. 9
March 2
March 9
April 6
April 13
May 4
May 11
June 8
June 16 (Tuesday)
July 13
July 20
Aug. 10
Aug. 17
Sept. 8 (Tuesday)
Sept. 14
Oct. 5
Oct. 13 (Tuesday)
Nov. 9
Nov. 9
Dec. 7
Dec. 14
Dec. 21 for 2016 reorganization

Three Years Later, Fire-Damaged Hulk Remains

It has been three years since a fire ravaged this building on North Avenue. It was under consideration for demolition, but the owner said he planned to repair it. After the fire on Dec. 17, 2011, the block was closed for a month, with police and fire personnel on watch.

In May 2012, the city placed a lien on the property for $66,385.29 to cover the cost of the round-the-clock public safety watch.

From the front, the boarded-up building looks solid, but the image above shows the rear view. No action has been taken to repair or demolish it. The building is located in the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, near the main train station.

What will it take to resolve this situation?


Holiday Denouement

Defying Winter

Here it is, the end of December, and wild asters are still in bloom in my back yard.
The coming cold snap may finally end the growing season.
This is a weed called Common Groundsel, related to daisies and dandelions but it produces no petals.

Two months of winter and we can start looking for early spring flowers!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

No Longer a Beat Reporter, Only a Sightseer

One of my favorite radio shows, "On the Media," re-ran a program this week on the decline of beat reporting. Jackie Schnoop had just posted a comment last night on Facebook about the fire on South Avenue and it made me recall how, in the past, I would have to respond and get the breaking news story no matter how late it was. Now retired for 11 years and no longer driving, I was not inclined to go over there on foot in the dark to get a story for the blog. But I certainly felt the tug of the beat, after covering Plainfield for three decades in weekly, daily and blog formats.
Today I did walk over and found that the fire was not at the Edward P. Paul building as Jackie thought, but at another of what looks like three industrial buildings spanning the long block between Berckman and Richmond streets. I always thought the leaning Plane trees in front of the Paul building would fall over before any other disaster happened.
Here's a more durable sign than the one Jackie photographed at the link above.
The next building to the east had a lot of broken windows, but no sign of a fire.
These buildings abut the Raritan Valley Line and it looks like most of the windows on the train track side are also broken.
The last building had an open window above some old razor wire on the west side.
The east side, along Berckman Street, had broken glass and debris along with a lot of gang signs and graffiti.
It looked like all the action took place in this part of the building.
Someone left this slogan on a metal door.
Somehow I don't think this is a kitty cat.
Why yes, it is quite shady under the railroad bridge.

So my walk yielded no news, but a lot of interesting sights. Good thing I didn't have to report to the newsroom or I would have had to know the time of the alarm, number and type of responding fire equipment, .estimated damage, mutual aid responders, any injuries, when was the fire out, possible cause, will there be an arson investigation, comments from neighbors, etc., etc. But since I no longer have a press badge, we have to wait for the working press to tell us all that.


Top 2014 Posts

The most-viewed post on Plaintalker in 2014 was about the indictments of two Plainfield Police Division superior officers on official misconduct, theft and conspiracy charges. But the most enduring saga all year long had to do with the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

PMUA topics ranged from Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's attempts to replace commissioners to the September hiring of former PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson as acting director of Public Works & Urban Development, incidentally the second most-viewed post. In January, "PMUA Changes Shot Down" drew 23 comments and there were two posts about former PMUA CFO Jim Perry's lawsuit against commissioners, in which he alleges racial discrimination.

February's PMUA reorganization returned Commissioner Harold Mitchell to chairmanship and found new Commissioner Charles Tyndale replacing Alex Toliver. See background on Tyndale's nomination here. PMUA also picked up North Plainfield as an outside customer for bulky waste.

April brought a PMUA plan to aid pool owners and the mayor's unsuccessful nomination of Thomas Crownover as an alternate on the board of commissioners. Despite various attempts, Mapp was unable to get any other PMUA nominations passed in 2014. In December, Watson received City Council approval for another 90 days as acting DPW&UD director.

Other big stories in 2014 included the city's designation as a transit village, a goal since 2006; the Muhlenberg study and final report;  the sale of Liberty Village despite political machinations; a long-awaited surge in development; a punishing blow to Mapp's first budget; and council rejection of a forensic audit despite findings of fiscal disarray. .

Readers, feel free to nominate other top stories in 2014.

On to 2015! The City Council's annual reorganization is 8 p.m. on Jan. 5 in Municipal Court. Let us hope for progress and peace in the New Year.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Kwanzaa

Adinkra symbols convey messages without words.

The late Pepsi Charles and I shared a love for this one. 

Happy Kwanzaa!



"Cage Match"

PolitickerNJ offers this item under the category "Cage Matches" in its 2014 Year in Review:

Jerry Green versus
Adrian Mapp
The Union County Democratic Chairman
prevented the mayor of Plainfield from picking
up more seats on the local governing body

How would you interpret this?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Holiday Notes

Dill and Yarrow still green on Christmas!

I hope all who celebrate Christmas had a good holiday and all who had the day off courtesy of the majority population enjoyed themselves as well. 

We had a mixed-up day not worth a report. The highlight for me was having a new Tom Bihn messenger bag and delighting in all the small treasures Audrey and Peter sent from Seattle. The mix of cultures out there adds a dimension to shopping that I don't think is easily matched anywhere. Who knew there were page markers in the shape of Monarch butterflies? The cat was very interested in the purple mini LED lights. Some little items were from the the International District, where the Daiso variety store and the Kinokuniya book store are located.

As seen above, the feathery fronds of Dill and Yarrow around the birdbath have yet to wither. The Forsythia bush produced a few yellow blossoms at this late date. The snow storms are ahead of us, in January and February, no doubt.

Enjoy the long weekend if you have one. As a retiree for 11 years now, I have no such distinctions unless I declare them for myself! Reading about the re-enactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware made me glad to be retired, as I recalled being assigned to cover it one year on a day so cold and windy that the river police banned the crossing. I was happy to be home, even with a wayward squirrel in the building.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Joyeux Noel

Feliz Navidad

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Amahl on Park Avenue

This holiday favorite awaits you at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, where the community theater group Act 4 is based.
The church and its Parish Hall are located at 724 Park Avenue and there is parking across the street in Municipal Lot 7, which has access from East Seventh Street also.
The church is marking its 125th year in Plainfield. Job Male, Plainfield's first mayor, was a benefactor in its founding.


And on Earth, Peace

As New York City and the nation try to understand what happened in Saturday's police ambush, I was reminded of a similarly horrific incident in Plainfield several years ago. It brought out the same mix of fear for the safety of police officers and concern for peace in the community that is now being discussed in all media. The scenario differs in that the officers survived, but the tear in social fabric is similar.

Having noticed an increase in the "us vs. them" rhetoric in Plainfield in recent years, I posted this plea in January 2014. It drew a lot of comments and the Human Relations Commission did receive some new members, though more needs to be known about their work.

Let me say the "us" could be based on race, class, heritage, ideology or membership in some group or another, with "them" being the perceived opposite or different ones. In the aftermath of Saturday's killings, many lines are being drawn and many harsh words have been spoken.

When I was writing in the early 1980s for the weekly "Plainfield Today," I once figured out there were at least a dozen constituencies in Plainfield. Today, there are likely even more. While diversity was (and still is) a draw for people to want to live here, sometimes individuals in one group clearly disdained another. Yet within groups, enough people agreed to be Plainfielders first that there was community in the Queen City. I decided the broadest distinction might be between people of good will and those of ill will, the latter preferring to stir the pot whenever possible.

In this season, at this time in history, it is most important to make the choice in words and deeds: Be of good will.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Recipe for Failure: Add Squirrel, Delete Coffee

Compared to other problems, mine are minimal, but still enough to disrupt my normal activities.

One problem is a squirrel in a dropped ceiling in my apartment. As in many old buildings converted to apartments, this one has some odd configurations. My apartment is listed on the city property card as having two and a half rooms. It has two 14-by 14-square foot rooms and I suppose the "half" is the 9 by 30-square foot enclosed porch that has a dropped ceiling made of the kind of tiles more often seen in commercial uses. This porch space has ten windows, something I really appreciate in winter, when the living room gets really dark with just one window on the shady side of the building.

For 23 years now, a part of the porch has served as my personal space. Over the years, we have had incursions by bats, squirrels and once a raccoon, who made her home in the outer wall and raised three offspring in there over a period of months. We haven't had a squirrel since Mau the cat joined us in November 2008, but a couple of weeks ago I heard the scampering over my head that meant a squirrel had got in.

Once a squirrel or squirrel crew invades the dropped ceiling, it is only a matter of time until it or they get into my space. Only half an inch of ceiling tile or about an eighth-inch of clear vinyl under light fixtures stands between their newly-claimed space and mine. I have never gotten used to squirrels in the ceiling, though one group just came in at dark and left at dawn. Others crashed through the tiles and wrecked the premises.

Even though it has been years since a squirrel got in, the sound of one overhead on Dec. 9 triggered major anxiety in me. All in a tizzy, I called the management and got an answering service. My distraught call brought no results and meanwhile I moved my most necessary stuff to the living room and set up camp on the ancient futon. Time passed and then I had to stop drinking coffee for three days for a medical test. I think that put me over the brink.

So today I am promised some help with this problem, but between being displaced and deprived of caffeine, I have been barely functioning the past few days. My apologies to readers. 


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Planners Approve Hub Stine Improvements

Professional Engineer Bernard Lamm 

Planners approved a $3.5 million renovation plan for Hub Stine Field Thursday with the proviso that the Board of Education must hear from neighbors regarding new lighting.

Renovations were originally proposed in 2012 and school Board Secretary Gary Ottmann said the funds have been held in reserve.since then. He said plans call for starting the project in June and having it ready in time for the first football game of 2015.

The multiple-use athletic field will have athletic turf on the football field only. A new stone drainage system and four new lighting poles will be installed. 
Planning Board member William Toth asked whether neighbors had received notice of the new lighting plan, but board attorney Michele Donato said no notice was required for a capital review. Planning Director William Nierstedt raised a concern over who was going to approve it first, the planners or the school board. Asked whether any hearings had been held with neighbors, Ottmann said, "Not since the last time."

Nierstedt said what happens in such situations is that "neighbors come out in force" and say they weren't told. He also asked how the lights would be controlled. Testifying for the school district, Professional Engineer Bernard Lamm said there would be two levels of lighting, one for events and a lower one for community purposes. (The track is heavily used by local residents, as noted in Dan Damon's 2012 post on the issue.)

Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey said he wanted the lighting to be locally controlled, as opposed to timers.

"I've been in situations where events go 45 minutes longer than the lights are on," he said.

The planners also discussed some of the pitfalls of artificial turf. Board member Gordon Fuller cited a situation where players had to get off the turf because the sun made it too hot. Scott Bey said an older form of artificial turf was believed to lead to more injuries, but a newer form did not. He said he hoped the new field would "emulate Rutgers."

Donato asked about "toxicity" and Scott Bey said any cuts suffered on artificial turf had to be treated promptly.

"The quicker you deal with it, the better," he said.

Toth returned to the lighting issue and said he thought it would be "a big disservice to neighbors" to install the new lights without discussion. Nierstedt asked Ottman and Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles to let him know when a hearing was scheduled.

In public comment, Dan Damon asked where the funding was coming from, the state or the taxpayer. Ottman noted the district receives 80 percent of its funding from the state and said one could "extrapolate" on the source.

The Planning Board was still awaiting a report from its own engineer, but approved the capital review plan pending receipt of the report and with the understanding that neighbors will be able to comment on the lighting and that it will be controlled locally. Donato asked whether the plan conformed to the district's mandated "long-term facilities plan" and Ottmann said it did. Donato said Planning Board approval on land use elements did not really mean the plan would happen "whether the neighbors want it or not." She said it has always been held by the court that the board could consider "legitimate local concerns."

 Planning Board member Ken Robertson traced the history of the case and said, "It seems to me we can approve of this and let it go, and (the school board) will do the right thing."

Toth voted "no" and Fuller, Robertson, Horace Baldwin. and Scott Bey voted "yes."


Muhlenberg Foundation Hearing Documents Available

My online version of the Courier News today contains a legal notice regarding a proposal for Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center to use funds held by the Muhlenberg Foundation to help pay for the new satellite emergency room. The hearing will be held on Jan. 23, 2015 in Union County Superior Court. The amount cited is "less than $250,000," although Muhlenberg activists Nancy Piwowar and Deborah Dowe have said they believe it to be more.

The notice includes an offer for a free copy of the pleadings filed in support of the Order to Show Cause. Anyone desiring a copy by email can email and a copy of the pleadings will be emailed back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Memories of Holiday Cookies

My son and I were recalling the days when making holiday cookies was a favorite activity in our house.

From my Fanny Farmer cookbook of the 1960s, I made date-nut bars and gingerbread cookies, among many others. With my cookie press, I made dozens of shapes with cream cheese dough, including wreaths decorated with bits of candied fruit for leaves and berries. Dough made with lots of sugar and butter made star or flower shapes to top with icing or sprinkles.

I think my son found this recipe for stained glass cookies, because Zoom was one of his favorite childhood TV shows. The recipe involved making quarter-inch rolls that could be shaped to enclose the crushed hard candy "glass." The more modern way is to use cookie cutters, as seen here
I always made some Fanny Farmer peanut butter cookies for my father, to present along with some of his his favorite Jack Daniels.

My old cookbook became so worn that I finally dumped it. Our family eating habits had changed a lot and even though I learned much about cooking from it, a lot of the recipes seemed out of date. My tiny kitchen in this apartment precludes major baking, though for a time I made the Fanny Farmer Allspice Orange Nut Bread to use as

My children are now middle-aged and there are no grandchildren for holiday baking adventures, but I hope some of you are enjoying the fun of making and decorating cookies with youngsters. It's also educational - reading a recipe, measuring, following the steps, watching the timer, all teach valuable lessons. And you can eat the rewards!

Happy holidays to all and good luck with your baking!


City Preservationist Resigns, Feted by HPC

Gail Hunton, the city's historic preservation consultant since 1983, has resigned and a search is on for her successor.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission thanked her Tuesday night for her years of service.

Hunton said she came here initially due to the enthusiasm of some city residents for preserving Plainfield's historic housing stock. As she leaves, the city has ten historic districts and 19 sites with local, state or national designations. The HPC was formed to uphold a land use ordinance on preservation and can issue a "certificate of appropriateness" for changes to historic buildings. The commission has also developed design guidelines, all with the help of Hunton's expertise.
Historic Preservation Commission and Gail Hunton (center, rear)
Hunton credited local activists including Rosemary Haness and the late William Hetfield for work in the late 1970s and early 1980s that resulted in designation of the North Avenue, Hillside and Crescent Area historic districts. Besides consulting on new designations and legislation, she has traveled from her Monmouth County home monthly for the HPC meetings, where she provides guidance as the members hear applications for certificates of appropriateness.
Detail of cake for Gail Hunton's farewell at the HPC
As Hunton noted, many of the early preservation advocates have moved from Plainfield or passed away. She expressed hope for a new generation of activists for the cause.

As someone who arrived in Plainfield in 1983 and began writing about the city soon after, I can say that with all the changes in the historic preservation movement, Gail Hunton has been the constant. Her service has been invaluable to Plainfield, where interest in its eclectic Victorian housing stock has drawn hundreds of visitors, many new homeowners and much positive attention.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah 
to all our
Jewish friends
and neighbors!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Watson Gains 90 More Days

Eric Watson

When Eric Watson was director of Public Works & Urban Development 20 years ago, he had an assistant director, four superintendents and a complete, in-house engineering division. The staff is thinner now and engineering is outsourced. So when he says there are more people to deal with, he is referring to the many new cab drivers and commuters who rely on the condition of the city's 110 miles of roads and developers who are keeping the land use boards busy with plans for new buildings.

Watson left City Hall in 1995 to become executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.for the next 16 years. He came back to his former job in acting capacity on Sept. 15, succeeding Eric Jackson, who resigned to became mayor of Trenton in July.

City law allows the mayor to name someone to an acting role for 90 days, after which the individual can serve another 90 days with consent of the governing body, or the mayor can seek confirmation for a permanent term. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp chose the former and Watson will stay on in acting capacity until March 15 after a 4-2 vote at tonight's special meeting. Council members Tracey Brown, Vera Greaves, William Reid and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "yes" on the appointment. Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams voted "no" and Gloria Taylor was absent for the vote.

Besides coping with busy and crowded roads and an estimated 1,000 housing units in the works, Watson says he has his fingers crossed on the weather. Some may recall the winter of 1994, when Mayor Mark Fury and Watson no sooner took office than they had to deal with 17 snowstorms in a row. This year's storms created an inordinate number of potholes and Watson said the department now has new road repair equipment for whatever may come in the next few months.

The department has eight divisions, including Inspections and Recreation, both of which are being revamped. Phil Izzo, who has city roots in the historically Italian East End, is the new director of Inspections and Roni Taylor, most recently a teacher and coach in the Plainfield school district before becoming superintendent of Recreation, are both looking to serve the city's changing 21st Century population. Inspections activities will soon be modernized and correlated with other services. Taylor has already implemented new programs and more up-to-date registration and money-handling practices.

Watson says he is trying to make the department "more user-friendly' for Plainfielders, developers and business owners. Just as he spoke to this writer, a resident in the room called out to thank him for taking care of a tree problem, which made it seem he's on the right track.


"People Against Killing"

A frequent commenter, "Mr. X," asked last week why a group called "People Against Killing" was not invited to last Thursday's community forum. Maybe he or someone else can give an update, as the group's information online seems to date back to 2011. See the agenda for a People Against Killing event here.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Watson's Next 90 Days Need Council Approval

At a special meeting Monday, the City Council will decide whether former PMUA director Eric Watson will get another 90 days in office as head of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp named Watson to the post in acting capacity as of Sept. 15. The Municipal Code allows for one more 90-day stint or a permanent appointment, either requiring council confirmation. The initial appointment brought a flurry of questions on why Mapp would choose Watson to head the department after a controversial PMUA settlement that sparked outrage at the time.

Watson previously headed the PW&UD before he became executive director of the PMUA in 1995. The department, one of three mandated by the city's special charter, includes Inspections, Recreation, Economic Development, Planning, Community Development, Engineering and Building divisions, in addition to the City Yard division, which takes care of roads, leaf and brush removal, trees and signs.

The 90-day span up for council approval is important for preparation of the 2015 budget, which will be Mapp's second since taking office on Jan. 1, 2014. The administration and governing body have also discussed a possible joint meeting soon with current PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson and staff in coming weeks.

If Watson is approved to serve until March 15, at that time Mapp would have to nominate him for council advice and consent to serve a permanent term to Dec. 31, 2017. If the council rejects the nomination or if Mapp declines to make it, Watson will be out.
The special meeting at 7 p.m. has nine other items. It will be followed by an agenda-fixing session for the Jan. 5, 2015 Annual Reorganization.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Regarding Comments

Some of the comments I am receiving on the forum need to be set apart for special scrutiny. Here they are, in order of posting:

I was invited to this forum and told it was going to be in response to Ferguson and the murder of Eric Gardner.I was very disappointed that it was just a political event orchestrated by Mapp, whom really have no idea in regards to the African American experience, and who also feel more comfortable with people in the 2nd ward and not the 4th ward.Rev. Thomas is a pastor that looks down on other pastors and people in his own community.It was said when building his new church he did not want the front door facing the projects.Riley is a joke he has a lot of people fooled, his true character will soon be revealed.It was a great opportunity to confront police brutality but was missed by all of the political posturing. 

I totally agree with Anon 3:46 AM, the right people were not at the table.Was the council president who represents the 4th ward invited, or better yet Rev. Brown the councilwoman at large, who just spoke up recently in the courier and Star Ledger in reference to David Yearby a young man from plainfield killed at the hands of white sheriff officers from the Middlesex sheiff Dept.Most of the people at the table should not have been there. I am a cop in plainfield and know for a fact that Riley and the two officers laugh behind Mapps back. 

Bernice,my comments were the truth,but I guess it would shed light on those you always protect, So much for unbiased reporting. 

All these were posted anonymously, so I don't know which the last one was referring to. In my opinion, these comments lack merit for various reasons.

Bloggers have some choices. They can decide not to print any comments at all, as Assemblyman Jerry Green does and Dan tends to do. They can publish only those signed by name of the commenter, as Councilman Cory Storch does on the principle that people should own their comments. Dr. Yood and I have taken anonymous comments. I try to avoid ad hominem attacks and name-calling. Commenters who make race and class distinctions don't advance the discussion.

If your comment is not published for whatever reason, please realize I am the ultimate arbiter of what shows up on this blog (or as someone once said, I run this ------------. Posting comments is not the same as reporting. Insults do not "shed light" but add to the darkness, in my opinion. And, as many a blogger has said, if you feel so strongly about some issue or cause, you can start your own blog. At one point there were 30 blogs in Plainfield. This blog or any other could stop at any time and anyone interested can take my place covering government, development and backyard nature study.


Forum Aims for Peace in City

Panelists at a community forum Thursday named body cameras, ongoing training and more interaction with the community as elements to keep peace in Plainfield as national protests spread over police shootings of unarmed civilians.
"Our focus tonight is moving forward," Rev. Rufus McClendon Jr. said as about 150 residents gathered at Shiloh Baptist Church..

McLendon moderated the program, which included remarks by Shiloh pastor Dr. Gerald Lamont Thomas, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, Plainfield Police Director Carl Riley, Rutgers University student Analis Rivera, Omega Psi Phi chapter president Byron Ward, Lts. Troy Edwards and Craig Venson of the Plainfield Police Division, U.S. Assistant Attorney Dara Govan and Chaplain Gary Holden.

Thomas said people must stand in solidarity for the shooting victims.

"The wrongdoers and guilty must be held accountable," he said. "It's time to take a stand. We can't wait any longer."

Mapp also spoke of the urgency felt after the grand jury outcomes in Ferguson, Miss. and Staten Island, N.Y. He said when he took office in January , public safety was "job number one" for him.

"We cannot afford to wait until something happens in Plainfield," he said. "We have to be proactive."

Riley said city police officers have already been mandated to get out of patrol cars "to hear the voices of the community." He called patrol car cameras "obsolete" as they cannot capture an officer into a building and said he is discussing the possibility of acquiring body cameras. Venson and Edwards advocated training beyond the initial police academy courses.
Govan compared the need for better relationships between police and the community to an unhappy marriage where a break-up forces the need to learn co-parenting.

"Like any other marriage, we have to learn how to communicate," she said.

She also called for periodic re-evalutions of officers who may be affected by all the negative things they experience over time.

"Let's work together and make this a happy family," she said.

Holden had another means of helping officers through difficult situations, by having local clergy work with police who must notify families of deaths or respond to domestic violence situations. As chaplains, clergy can stay on with the families while police respond to other calls. He said he has spent as much as seven or eight hours with a grieving family. His team of 14 chaplains in Vineland acts as case managers for young people who are arrested and assign them community service, he said.

Holden said he wanted to help Plainfield start a similar program.

Rivera said she wanted to be "a voice for youth" and to share what she had seen on campus and around New Brunswick.
Although some panelists alluded to the victims of police shootings, McLendon asked members of the public to pose questions specific to Plainfield and its future and not to rehash the tragedies. About 17 residents spoke, though not all asked questions until prodded.

In answer to what is being done for youth and are there any community centers, Mapp named Washington and Emerson schools as community centers and said the Recreation Division under the leadership of Superintendent Roni Taylor had started a number of new programs. he said a new city recreation trust fund will help improve facilities for young people.

When a resident complained he never sees white police officers at youth sports events, Govan gave a phone number by which she said law enforcement staff could be invited to events.

Riley answered concerns about use of force by saying laws vary by state, but New Jersey was on the cutting edge..

Regarding how to teach young people what to do when stopped by police, Ward said the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) has a workshop at Second Street Youth Center on that subject. Mapp called for reactivation of the Youth for Action Movement (YAM), a local group, and also said there should be a presidential commission on the subject.

Another speaker suggested the guidelines should be written on a handout in Spanish and English or even on a refrigerator magnet as a reference.

Thomas concluded by announcing a youth basketball tournament and said of the forum, "We will do this again and again and again." To a speaker with a new job in the city who asked whether he should move his family here, Thomas said, "It's safe in Plainfield, New Jersey."


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Holiday Season

Walking home from the post office today, I noticed two new candelabras flanking the holiday tree.
One was for Hanukah and one was for Kwanzaa.
I suppose the wreaths on City Hall could represent my favorite winter holiday, the Winter Solstice.
The Christmas tree (or holiday tree for the PC) in the rotunda is a vision in gold and silver.
One of my neighbors from Block 832 saw me and insisted on borrowing my camera to snap my picture.
My bag was empty - all my crocheted snowflakes and some crocheted infinity scarves are on their way to Seattle.

I hope all are enjoying the season, whatever holiday is your focus.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Watson Reappointment on Special Meeting Agenda

The City Council will hold a special meeting Monday with 10 items, one being the extension of Eric Watson's appointment as acting Public Works & Urban Development director for another 90 days.

The 7 p.m. meeting precedes an agenda-fixing session for the Jan. 5 City Council reorganization. Both will be held in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

As noted in a Plaintalker post, the Municipal Code allows for one 90-day extension of a 90-day acting appointment. The other option is putting the name of the individual up for advice and consent of the council, which for a department head usually means serving a term concurrent with the mayor's. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's term runs until Dec. 31, 2017.

Watson previously served as the DPW&UD director during the administration of Mayor Mark Fury. He became the first executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority upon its formation in 1995 and served through 2011. He was named acting DPW&UD director on Sept. 15, succeeding Eric Jackson, who went on unpaid personal leave in March and became mayor of Trenton in July. City Administrator Rick Smiley was acting director in the interim.

Among other items on the special meeting agenda, the council will be asked to vote on a contract award for payroll services at a cost not to exceed $88,552 and a 3-year agreement with Comcast for ethernet services at $78,834 annually. Plaintalker will publish the full agenda later.


Bilingual Assistance Ongoing in Clerk's Office

For 25 years, both English and Spanish speakers relied on Lourdes Jiminez for assistance in the City Clerk's office. Always professional and gracious, Lourdes helped people gain information necessary for many aspects of their lives. As a reporter, I was always glad to see Lourdes on duty, because I knew my questions would be answered efficiently. She recently retired and we wish her all the best.
Fernando Yanez
There is a new face at the counter, a young man who can also help people in two languages. On Wednesday, he was assisting someone who wanted to apply for a taxi driver license. The clerk's office is a hub for many activities, from voter registration to permits for garage sales or block parties. Now that Plainfield's diversity includes a Latino population over 40 percent, having public information available in Spanish is increasingly important. Fernando Yanez is ready to help!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Commentary on Forensic Audit

 Why have a forensic  audit?

 Some speakers characterized  the proposed forensic audit as an attempt to harass former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs for political payback. In Plainfield, politics can be a blood sport, but what are some more rational reasons to examine fiscal practices of any administration?

The years in question were marked by a very high degree of turnover, for one thing. Under the city’s special charter, the city administrator conducts day-to-day operations. Reporting to the city administrator are three department heads to whom all division managers report. That is the chain of command.  When all these gears are meshing, the city runs like clockwork. But in the span of time between January 2006 and December 31, 2013, the city sometimes looked more like a Rube Goldberg contraption that may or may not have actually worked.

Let’s look at the rosters (sometimes including dual roles):
City Administrator
Carlton McGee, January 2006 – November 2006
Marc Dashield , January 2007-December 2009
Bibi Taylor, January 2010-December 2010
Dan Williamson (acting), January 2011-March 2011
Sharon Robinson-Briggs (acting), March 30, 2011- May 10, 2011
David Kochel (acting), May 11, 2011-August 8, extended to November 2011, also consultant to Dec. 21
Al Restaino (acting), two weeks in November 2011
Eric Berry, November 28, 2011-September 23, 2013
Sharon Robinson –Briggs (acting), September 23 –October 6
Al Restaino (acting), October 6-December  16
Sharon Robinson-Briggs (acting), balance of December 2013
Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services
Norton Bonaparte, January 2006-March 2006
Carlton McGee (acting), March 2006–November 2006 (overlap)
Raiford Daniels, December 2006- November 2007
Marc Dashield (acting ), November 2007-April 2008 (overlap)
Douglas Peck, April 2008-December 2008
Bibi Taylor, July 2009-November 2010 (overlap)
Al Restaino, November 2010 – December 16
Public Affairs & Safety
Martin Hellwig, January 2006- December 2013
Michael Gilliam, December 2013 (Hellwig on terminal leave)
Public Works & Urban Development
Jennifer Wenson Maier, January 2006-January 2010
David Brown, January 2010-November 2010
Eric Jackson, September 2011-December 2013

With this amount of turnover, cabinet members had to get used to new partners frequently and if the mayor or corporation counsel was filling in, perhaps there was not the optimal depth of knowledge in municipal government and dealing with the state Division of Local Government Services and other outside agencies.  Is it possible that “winging it” passed for leadership in some instances?

Also, in cases of the top brass believing  certain lower-level staffers could do no wrong, would that not set the stage for misplaced power and lack of oversight? Records could reveal patterns of too much carte blanche at the division level, but certainly if records could not be produced when requested by the governing body, accountability was lacking.

As Finance Director Ron West explained, the company proposed to conduct the forensic audit was going to work with city officials in phases. If one phase revealed need for a closer look, the auditors would commence the next phase.  The $60,000 cost was the outer limit and was fixed.

Having reported on five administrations before the current one, I do not recall any with the level of churn in the cabinet as that noted above. Things can be missed and bad habits can become ingrained among the cadre of staffers who serve for decades as the cabinet door revolves. Maybe this is a sort of political midlife crisis, which requires a look back and new resolve for the future. What do you think?


Park & Seventh SID Winners

Congratulations to the businesses
at Park & Seventh
that were winners
in the
Special Improvement District
Readers' Choice contest! 

They are 
Park Florist
Park Hardware
Breadbasket Bakery
Family Dollar
Rapps Pharmacy

Come visit and shop!

Council Majority Rejects Forensic Audit

A proposed forensic audit failed to win council approval Monday, an outcome Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said.he found "sad and appalling."

Council members Tracey Brown, Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor, William Reid and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "no." Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams voted "yes."

Reid said he felt Mapp, City Administrator Rick Smiley and Finance Director Ron West could do the job of finding irregularities, while others asked why Supplee, Clooney, the firm that conducts annual city audits, could not conduct the forensic audit. A council majority appeared to be willfully ignoring the administration's explanation that a forensic audit was not the same as an annual audit based on information provided by the city, but examined all fiscal operations for fraud and waste.

The audit would have covered fiscal operations from 2006 through mid-2014, including several years where the city had no chief financial officer. Brown, who is the pastor of former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, condemned the forensic audit as an attempt to embarrass and harass her administration. She called the $60,000 cost "a lot of money to desecrate someone's character."

Taylor alluded to "political shenanigans" and said, " I am not going to be part of that backbite and dirty politics."

"If there's fraud, you begin to deal with it from now on," she said.

Williams offered examples of possible mismanagement, the spending of "$460,000 in three weeks" to outfit the Tepper's basement, the "$125,000 Quad Tech deal" and alleged fraud in the Recreation Division in 2012.

Smiley said the forensic audit was not "backbiting" but was about "financial integrity."

Storch said he did not see the audit as political and he wanted it to cover the years when there was no CFO.

In public comment, Dr. Harold Yood said the vote gave the public the impression that those who rejected the audit were "co-conspirators."

"I'm very ashamed of your vote," he said.


Council Questions PMUA Rates, Operations

PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson

Monday's City Council meeting had more acts than an Ed Sullivan show, but perhaps the most intense was the governing body's grilling of PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson. The hoops-of-fire question was when will the rates for the authority's solid waste and sewer services go down, and Williamson had no ready answer. 

It was the second time this year that Council President Bridget Rivers asked Williamson to address the council on PMUA matters. He gave a brief presentation in August and Monday's session ran to nearly 90 minutes, but  the council and PMUA may still hold a joint meeting to follow up on the issues raised.

Williamson began by describing past rate reductions, an increase in senior discounts and a water usage credit for pool owners as well as cost savings through layoffs and furloughs, reduced office rent and negotiations with vendors. He described the expansion of services to nearby towns which netted about $250,000 in new revenue and other strategies to increase income. The tightrope-walking began when council members raised concerns ranging from patronage and a state investigation to why workers have gone four years without a raise.

- Councilwoman Rebecca Williams asked whether the authority had a lot of vandalism or theft, and when Williamson said no, she asked why PMUA needed a "security chief." She also brought out the fact that the person holding the title supervised only two employees. She also queried why the "shared services" fee 
assessed to all property owners was so high when it represented only a fraction of the solid waste tonnage. 

- Councilwoman Tracey Brown said no one questions the good service given by the PMUA, but recalled being told when she was a PMUA commissioner that rates would go down, but they did not.

"That's something that's always on the radar," Williamson said.

- Councilman Cory Storch also probed reasons for rates not going down. Though thankful for past cuts, he asked, "What can we expect of rate adjustments in the near future?"

Williamson said announcements would be made "at the appropriate time," which turned out to be when the 2015 budget was finalized next week.

"I'll wait for a week," Storch said.

When his questions on future cost savings met with equivocal responses, Storch talked about reading between the lines "because I don't think you guys are giving us clear answers."

"Are you proposing furloughs for 2015?" he asked Williamson, who said, "No."

"Thank you - we got an answer," Storch said.

"We gave answers, maybe not the ones you want," Williamson retorted.

- Councilman William Reid , also a former PMUA commissioner, asked about a state investigation into a $1 million settlement with former PMUA executives. Williamson described the probe as a "performance audit" and said he hoped by spring it would be completed.

In answer to Reid's question on the 2015 budget, Williamson said the authority expected to hold a rate hearing on Dec. 22. 

Reid tried to ask PMUA Commissioner Charles Tyndale if the performance of the commissioners was such that there was a need to change them. Tyndale is the only one of several nominees offered by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp to win council approval this year. He declined to comment, saying "This is not the forum to discuss that."

- Councilwoman Gloria Taylor spoke at length about the authority's "rather unique employment model" in hiring formerly incarcerated residents, which she said gives them an "opportunity to improve their lives." She said she only learned of it at the recent League of Municipalities conference. She said the authority needs to reach out to the public as "a lot of what we get is rumors."

- Councilwoman Vera Greaves thanked the authority for cleaning up the city but also fretted about rates being a burden on seniors and low-income persons.

- Council President Bridget Rivers asked about raises for "front-line workers" who had not received wage increases for four years.and were "at poverty level or below."Williamson said workers will get raises retroactively when union negotiations were completed. He said he thought there would be an agreement or the matter would go to arbitration. Meetings have been ongoing, he said.

After more discussion, Storch said, "Everything we're talking about is relevant, but we're nibbling around the edges of the problems."

He said an "independent commission" is needed.

"We need to get people on the commission who will take a stand," Storch said.

Only one PMUA nominee, Michelle Graham Lyons,  was up for a vote Monday, but the resolution failed with Brown and Greaves abstaining, Taylor and Reid voting "no" and Storch and Williams voting "yes." Two other nominations failed to make it to the agenda.

Mapp said he was "enormously disappointed" that the governing body had chosen not to act to bring about reforms to the PMUA.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Watch the Weather This Week

Nor'easter slush art
Another nor'easter storm is on the way, not as heavily hyped as the last one that turned out to be just some slush, but probably enough to keep people home from the Monday council meeting. 

This type of storm is specific to our coast. When Audrey moved to the Pacific Northwest, I asked her about weather systems there. It turns out she is not as keen as I am on meteorological stuff (I would have my own weather station if I could afford it), but she did describe some recurring patterns. I found out one is called the Pineapple Express, because it generates from around Hawaii and dumps rain on the West Coast. See an animation of the Pineapple Express, also known as an atmospheric river or, if you want to get fancy, the Madden-Julian Oscillation..

But let's return to the East Coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has an advisory on nor-easters and their dangers- Sandy was of that genre - and recommends preparations just in case it is not a fizzle like the last one. So line up your rain boots, snow shovels, bread, milk, munchies - be prepared, no matter what is in store.


Williamson to Update Council on PMUA

A new item for Monday's City Council meeting is an invitation for PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson to speak. It brings to mind the fact that the council every year names liaisons to various entities and these liaisons should be able to update the council as well - that is, if they in fact attend the meetings of the organizations to which they are assigned. Soon a new roster of liaisons will be named, in addition to assignments for six council committees, only a few of which have given reports in 2014. The assignments are buried in a huge "Rules of Order" document that is passed each January and honored largely in the breach for the rest of the year.

For example, one rule is this:

1.3 Getting the Floor
Every City Council member desiring to speak for any purpose, whatsoever, shall address the
Council President, and upon recognition, confine him or herself to the question under debate,
avoiding personalities and indecorous language.

How often has that been ignored by certain council members?

Here is the whole 2012 Rules of Order, if you want to see it for yourself. Most of it, except for meeting dates and assignments, stays the same.

Anyway, it will be interesting to hear what Dan Williamson has to say on Monday. Here is the item from the agenda:



Saturday, December 6, 2014

Whither Watson?

Monday's agenda arrived with no mention of action on Eric Watson's status. As some may recall, the former executive director of the PMUA and recipient of a large settlement for his service, was named acting director of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development. Watson held the same post before he became head of the PMUA in 1995. His starting date as department head was Sept. 15, 2014.

I kind of expected to see a resolution appointing him permanently on the Dec. 8 agenda, but there was none. The next council meeting will be an agenda-fixing session Dec. 15 for the annual reorganization, which is scheduled for Jan. 5, 2015. The only way action could be taken that night is if there is a special meeting in addition. Watson could be confirmed as director to serve for the balance of Mapp's term, or the council could approve another 90-day temporary appointment. But something has to be done by Dec. 15 if Watson is to stay on.

If I missed something regarding this appointment, please let me know. Here is what the Municipal Code says:

Sec. 2:3-4.    Interim appointments.

    (a)     Whenever a vacancy exists in any office required by the Charter or ordinance to be filled by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council, the Mayor may temporarily fill such vacancy in the absence of any contrary provision in the Charter or ordinance by appointing an acting officer, including the designation of himself or a Department Director as Acting City Administrator or the designation of the City Administrator as an acting department director. Any such appointment shall terminate no later than ninety (90) days after the date of appointment. Provided however that before the completion of an interim appointment as described herein and upon the written application of the Mayor, the City Council by a majority vote, may approve an extension of such appointment for an additional period not to exceed ninety (90) days. No person shall be eligible for a temporary appointment who has previously served a temporary appointment in the same office during the previous twelve (12) consecutive months.
    (b)     Such appointee shall have all of the functions, powers and duties of the office for ninety (90) days or for such longer period as may be approved and provided for pursuant to Subsection (a) above.
    (c)     In the event the City Administrator is designated as an acting department director, the provisions of Section 2:5-9(d) shall apply.
(A.C. 1969, 3.4, as amended May 5, 1969; MC 2001-46, § 1, December 19, 2001; MC 2004-24, § 1, October 30, 2002; MC 2011-07, August 8, 2011.)


Friday, December 5, 2014

Yvonne Begone

"Yvonne," a new commenter who seems to be an agent for Jerry Green, used my mention of Park-Madison in an anecdote to launch an attack on the Park Hotel. Gee, there must be an election coming up, as this is one of JG's favorite targets, dating all the way back to 2007, when he made an election pledge to close it..

I looked into the matter at the time and posted some facts regarding the status of the Park Hotel, along g with notes on other issues affecting the neighborhood. I also got an interview with the head of a social service agency that works with Park Hotel residents

Of course, that was in 2007 and some things have changed in the neighborhood, notably the departure of the juveniles who were always creating some kind of trouble.We still have quite a few homeless people and petty criminals at Park & Seventh.

As for the Park Hotel,  JG and his minions have long used it as a political brickbat against certain candidates and it appears 2015 will be the year to bash Cory Storch.

I am printing the comment here so people can judge for themselves where "Yvonne" is coming from.

Speaking about Park-Madison, let’s talk about the Park Hotel boarding home. The place is a rat hold; it needs to be closed down immediately.

The site has become a safe haven for criminals and hoodlums.

The people residing there come from other cities, serving no purpose or need to the residents of Plainfield. Plainfield is in crisis and needs all the support it can get.

Besides, the word out is that Councilman Cory Storch has cunningly used this facility to benefit himself. He works for Bridgeway, a rehabilitation center.

He is taking those individuals off the tax rolls. If they are not contributing tax dollars, that’s what happens.

But I wonder if they did anyway? They would probably see a refund as noted by the writer above.
"Yvonne" submitted two previous comments , one with a link to Jerry's blog. Jerry has cleaned up his blog and is trying to behave in a statesmanlike manner after his 2013 Election Day tantrum, so it appears he has handed off the mudslinging to others. If I do publish comments from "Yvonne" in the future, just take them for what they likely are - campaign stinkbombs.