Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Layoff Plan Advances, Outsourcing Costs To Be Reviewed

Planning Director William Nierstedt addresses the City Council as April Stefel, Scott Bauman and Ron Johnson stand by.

The City Council agreed Monday to move a Planning Division layoff plan to the Oct. 13 agenda for a vote, but will not approve outsourcing the division until further analysis of four bids received on Oct. 1.

Numerous speakers disagreed with the proposed outsourcing of the Planning Division, which serves four city land use boards in addition to seeking and monitoring federal, state and county grants and answering queries daily from developers and property owners. Many speakers were incredulous that the bidders could handle the workload at the costs quoted, and predicted change orders and other ploys to increase billable hours.

Corporation Counsel David Minchello and City Administrator Rick Smiley defended the proposed outsourcing as a means of cost saving and greater efficiency. Smiley said the current Planning Division staff, with salary and fringe benefits, costs $408,027 annually and another $75,000 is budgeted for consultants, for a total of $483,027. He said the four respondents to the request for proposals all projected "significant savings" greater than $200,000 to $300,000.

Planning Director William Nierstedt spoke for himself and the three others who would be laid off, reading a 12-minute statement on what the division does and challenging the notion that an outside firm could replicate it. The others, April Stefel, Scott Bauman and Ron Johnson, each ceded their three-minute allotment for public comment to Nierstedt. Among them, he said, they have 46 years of experience and work 6,697 hours a year.

Nierstedt said their compensation averages out at $50 per hour, while a consultant gets $140 an hour. Paying that rate for the workload would cost nearly $1 million, he said.

The city will only get an unlicensed junior planner for eight hours a week at the rate projected for outsourcing, he said.

"There is no economy or savings here," he said, surmising that the goal of an outsourced firm would be "escrow dollars."

Nierstedt and numerous other speakers said people will not be able to get their questions answered, but will have to wait for callbacks or maybe go to an out-of-town office. Other losses would be institutional knowledge of the city and its structures, easy interaction with the Inspections and Building staff, and even defense against developers who might want to skirt the rules.

An attorney who often represents clients at the land use boards told the council, "You want someone strong working for the city of Plainfield."

"Your legacy will be how Plainfield develops while you're on the council," attorney Daniel Bernstein said.

A speaker who claimed 30 years of owning property in Plainfield called the city "an untapped gold mine" where development is imminent. As demands on the Planning Board increase, he said, "You want to give them premier service. The last thing you want is another level of bureaucracy."

Only one speaker lashed out at Nierstedt, claiming she has has "nothing but problems" with the Planning Division and alleging "unprofessionalism and bias" on his part.

Among council comments, Cory Storch said, "It seems to me the way we are saving money is by drastically reducing services."

But Eric Watson, director of Public Works and Urban Development, said there would be "no diminishment" and the Planning office would be staffed "five days a week, eight hours a day," with four to five people.

Storch said he would not support outsourcing unless he got a much more detailed explanation of the bids. Minchello said the bids are public documents available to anyone.

Of the six council members present Monday, Storch and Rebecca Williams were not in favor of moving the layoff plan to the Oct. 13 agenda, while Vera Greaves, Diane Toliver, Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers agreed to move it. Gloria Taylor was absent. The resolution will be to send the layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission for approval.

The regular meeting is 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 13 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

41 comments:

  1. Bernice, Thanks for the reporting! Are you able to post the bids for all to see? And confused by the dates since its already past September, did you mean October or November?

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    1. Yes, I was rather bleary by the time I finished. I looked at the meeting list attached to my computer desk and picked the wrong dates. Fixed them to read Oct. 13. If I can get the bids, i will try to post. Maybe they will turn up on the city web site first.

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    2. Nishuane Group- $106,920
      Harbor Consultants- 138,800
      BRS, Inc.- 139,320
      CME Group- 262,150

      But buyer beware. Each proposal comes with a large list of hourly charges for this that and the other thing, none provide staffing to the degree the Planning Division currently offers, and all of them indicate they do not cover all the services presently available. The administration is grasping at straws, and though it offers the notion that many Union County municipalities don't have planner employees, not once has it even come close to saying what their actual planning-related costs are with or without consultants. There are simply no viable comparisons that have been spoken to. It is unethical and misleading to compare the full cost of services provided by our Planning Division to the bare-bones base proposals of these respondents. Telling the public the difference will be a savings is just a pure fabrication.

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  2. When I walked into the Council Chambers and saw that Councilwoman Gloria Taylor was absent I knew at that point it was a done deal.

    See Taylor previously spoke out against the outsourcing – why wasn’t she there?

    Much like when the council last month turned down the largest investment to ever come to Plainfield, the $50 Million South Ave project, the same three Councilwomen put the nix on this. Unfortunately they aren’t independent thinkers so that deal was doomed also before the Council chambers doors open.

    But this time it is the Mayor’s office. And they try to sell it to us by saying that there will be cost savings. The evidence isn’t there to support this and to think that there will be any kind of savings without a huge sacrifice in services is naive. Remember the Planning Division has a $365k budget out of the City’s $78 Million. The only way your taxes will ever reflect a savings is by as reduction in cost in our Public Safety division – Fire and Police.

    So it’s not the cost savings that is driving this.

    It was admirable to see the Mayor’s ‘supporters’ on the Council vote against moving the lay off plan forward, but this was in the 11th hour after the fix was on. They need to do more – they need to get their Mayor, our Mayor to withdraw this.

    Jim Spear

    Good Politics is not the same as good Governance.

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  3. The laundry list of hourly rates in each of the proposals will offset any savings by a huge margin. The layoff plan is predicated on the reliability of these proposals, but each one is deficient at its base, and open to so many add-on itemized costs to make them next to worthless. That the administration has the gall to represent savings only in relation to the base rate is simplistic at best, and unethical at worst. For anyone on the City Council to buy into the convoluted logic and whole-cloth fabrications provided by Rick Smiley, Eric Watson, and David Minchello is a testament to the failures of our city government. Coupled with the fraudulent payout to Yates Real Estate for the demolition of 117-125 North Avenue that was also on the agenda, it is apparent there is a conspiracy afoot to rob us blind and undermine our ability at providing oversight and avoiding official misdeeds. It is a topsy-turvy world. The three aforementioned individuals should be on the chopping block after last night's performances. I couldn't help but notice Minchello's raised eyebrow nod to Watson acknowledging the fast one he had just pulled by getting the Council to add $54,000 to the Yates demolition tab. Far from saving money for the city, since Mapp hired Watson the administration looks like it is on a path to pay every piper and huckster out there.

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  4. When you have facts on your side you present them - details, numbers, factual comparisons etc. When you are playing a game that you can't explain transparency goes out the window and you hide behind incorrect data, factual errors and misrepresentations of the process and general obfuscation. Unfortunately it is the latter in this case. The numbers don't add up, the comparisons to other municipalities in Union county is laughable and the claim related to future levels of service under an outsourced model are complete fabrications.

    This proposal is ridiculous enough on its own but having Smiley and Watson "sell" it just made this entire thing that much worse. They couldn't get their facts straight or even come up with a half-assed presentation to save their lives. Smiley struggles with communicating in general but when it comes to finances it just sad. Watson was not only unprepared but he oversells it when he gets caught with a question he can't answer - a question a five year old would have anticipated and prepared for.

    I am not sure if I am more bothered that Mapp is pushing this plan or by the fact that he hired Smiley and Watson to work in his administration.

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    1. Watson cannot and should not be trusted. Hiring Watson could be the demise of Mapp’s chances for a second term.

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    2. Anon 10:13, I agree. Given his employment history in Plainfield, hiring him was a huge mistake. Keeping him on, after he has demonstrated his willingness to cut corners to aid friends and engage in activities that smack of conflict of interest, is an even bigger mistake. I support Mayor Mapp, but I cannot continue to support him if he continues to support Watson.

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  5. The administration proposes the layoff plan, but the "pro-Mapp" council members (Storch and Rebecca) vote not in favor of the proposal. Very strange...

    And then the council members (typically out of favor with the Mapp's administration) votes for it. More strange.

    To think that some firm, Plainfield has no prior experience with, will provide the same quality of services as provided for $100-200k a year is willful ignorance.

    What happens when Plainfield realizes that the outsourced services are subpar? The City can not easily undue that problem.

    Watson, a few months ago in the 2015 Budget hearings, said he wanted to "get an assistant engineer in-house" because the outside company was insufficient. http://ptalker2.blogspot.com/2015/05/public-works-inspections-discuss-budget.html Now he advocates for the opposite.

    Governing bodies, please learn from past mistakes.

    Richard Stewart

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    1. Seems like Jerry and Mapp made a deal thats all

      The domino effect of things to come from this will be interesting. Was this Mapps or Jerrys idea what was traded to get this done.

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  6. It is so sad to see that Mapp has sold out to a special interest - because that is the only way to explain this nonsense proposal. It is sad that Watson and Smiley are so incompetent. It is sad to see Rebecca Williams climb up on her soap box to fight for what is right, to ask ONE LAME QUESTION and then retreat to looking at her iPad and pushing out a meager no vote. It is sad to see Cory Storch do his acting routine like he is looking for the facts, when in reality he is putting that on for show. The other members can test this by changing their position on this and see how quickly he starts twitching. I bet I am not alone in the feeling that I now have to find other people to vote for the next time Storch, Williams and Mapp are on a ballot.

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    1. The unfortunate part is that there aren't any good, alternate choices. All the candidates always belong to some boss, not true independents. Very sad.

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  7. Can anyone ever site an example where outsourcing makes something more efficient than doing work in house.

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    1. It can actually make sense in certain circumstances - and when it does make sense you can easily see it when the facts are presented. That is missing from this process as the facts will show this to be the terrible idea that it is.

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    2. To 10:05am - if you work for a non-government entity, look to see who processes your paycheck. Many companies outsource that function. There is a town in California who outsourced their police department. Many marketing, PR, and help desk functions are outsourced. It is done all the time in Corporate American.

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  8. Why don't we ask Neirdstadt if this works, He sat on the council is his area as the Council President at the time and VOTED and SPEAR HEADED the out source of the planning division because of a cost savings in his community. Now he wants to come to our community and say this will not work. Go figure. Plainfield residents don't be fooled.

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    1. You should help Watson with his presentation since you are as ridiculous with facts as he is. Garwood is likely an ideal town to outsource planning. It has a population of ~4,300 people (Plainfield has ~50,000) and is about 450 acres in size (Plainfield is ~3,800 acres). My guess is Garwood is 98% developed and the need for a full-time planning department is non-existent.

      Now - as for your fact about him spear heading the process, that would require more information but even if it was the case a logical person would not find that hypocritical in the least.

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    2. News Flash! The municipality of Garwood never had a Planning Division.

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    3. I don't know if what you say is fact or fiction, but let's get real. Garwood is 425 acres small and has a population of about 4,300. On the other hand Plainfield has a population of 50,000 and is 6 miles square, or 3840 acres. Proportionally, Garwood would require less than half an employee. Even so, Garwood has a Kings, a Pathmark, a ShopRite, and a Home Depot.

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    4. Actually, Westfield and Cranford have a Kings, a Pathmark, a ShopRite and a Home Depot. They just happen to be located in Garwood. This is important to know because it's analogous to the South Avenue Gateway development which, if ever built, would do little for Plainfield but be a boon for nearby businesses to the east.

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  9. Follow the money trail: Adrian Mapp, John Stewart, Frank Cretella, Yates, Frank Cretella, John Stewart, Adrian Mapp.

    Back room dealings - Rivers, Taylor, Toliver, Greaves, Brown, Mapp, Brown, Greaves, Toliver, Taylor, Rivers

    In that order, or close to it.

    It's hard to believe that any of these people, with their history local politics and the patronage job mill game, have anything good in store for the people of Plainfield, other than self-serving agendas.

    The Mapp administration wants Planning out of the way to push through their agenda as they see fit.

    A haiku for you:

    Political Games (5)
    The same people voted in (7)
    Why do we not learn (5)

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    1. As for Back room dealings - not so sure I wouldn't include Williams and Storch in that. It was very obvious last night that their defense of this plan was half hearted. They are in on the fix for sure.

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    2. To Anon at 12:14 PM: I know of no "back room dealings" regarding the proposal to place a layoff plan for the Planning Division on the agenda last night. I am not in on any "fix," as your conspiratorial mind seems to think--what you say doesn't even make sense. I voted "no" because I have not been convinced of the efficacy of the outsourcing idea. If my protest was "half-hearted," in your eyes, just chalk that up to exhaustion and illness. Thank you for your concern.

      Rebecca "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" Williams

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  10. The citizens show up last night and and saw the corruption of champions in this council. The Election is coming in November,so don't VOTE for the same people who want to dismantle the City for their own greedy self.

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  11. We need to show up at the next meeting and give a vote of no confidence to the Mayor and Council. This whole area surrounding Real Estate dealings,demolition,John Stewart,Eric Watson all smell of rotten eggs!

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  12. I smell lawsuits coming. If the Council wants to really save money then let then get rid of John Stewart! He is a non essential employee only there as a payback at the taxpayers expense.

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  13. This is about John Stewart, and Frank Cretella. They are the driving forces behind this decision. Please pay attention Plainfield.

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  14. anon 11:12 don't forget Cory Storch. He is aware of the decision of this administration long before it was bought to the surface. Don't let him try to fool you guys with his trick questions. Rebecca is just as ridiculous as Cory. They sat around the table, eating from each others table and try to fool the residents. At least you know where the others are going. The gang of 2 Storch and Williams are just like Mapp and Stewart. You can believe that.

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  15. The Planning Division staff should list their respective duties and the hours associated with each and calculate totals (should have been done already). Then that list can be used to compare the services being provided by each firm, with extras marked as such and "not available" marked for the others. Totals can be calculated for each proposal and compared to existing. Comparisons should be made for equal levels of licensing/certifications, e.g., licensed planner to licensed planner, etc. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? It's the only way to make a proper comparison and determine if the costs will be less than existing staff.
    I have some experience in this area - worked 33 years in municipal government and oversaw a department with planning, zoning, construction code, engineering and public works divisions. We used professional planner consultants but also had in-house staff doing much of the grunt work. Even so, we had mixed results with the consultants, as you might expect.
    In my opinion, Plainfield should stick with its staff people. I cannot imagine that the alternative will be as effective in the long term as a dedicated staff.
    I would also discount both of the negative speakers. They apparently have undertaken work without proper approvals and suffered the consequences.

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    1. You are correct!

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    2. That would make for a truer comparison, but as with innocent until proven guilty, the onus should be on the administration to make the case. Thus far its case is bogus and lacking analysis. An easier case would have the Planning Division blowing the whistle on Watson, other public officials, developers and fake demolition artists who want to cut corners.

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    3. Correct. I should have said more clearly that the comparisons/analysis should have been or be done by the administration. But if not, then the planning folks should do it. The numbers will blow this proposal out of the water.

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  16. Sammy the SmokehoundOctober 6, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    If the show of support for the Planning Division is indicative of how the majority of voters feel, is it possible to create a petition that will stop the Administration from following through with this nonsense.

    Shame on Adrian Mapp and his cronies -- out of the fryer into the frying pan!

    Pathetic, each and every one of these greedy politicians.

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  17. The only meaningful bid would have been one which was $483,207 minus the purported $200,000 saving, a sum of $283,207, or less, absent all qualifications. That is, the bidder guaranteed that it would perform the litany of work described in the Bid Documents, in a timely manner, after posting a Performance Bond, for this amount bid and no more. It is doubtful that any reputable firm would make this assertion without first doing a detailed analysis of the scope of the work currently performed. This would require not only a study of the department's records, but very probably embedding someone in the Department fro a period of time; neither occurred. The $200,000 saving being touted is baseless fiction. A number pulled out of the air. The additional irony is that the front man for this assertion is Eric Watson. Putting aside the PMUA stories, concurrently with this outsource travesty, is the North Avenue demolition project proposed payment.. Mr. Watson awarded the work in a manner so conspicuously "irregular" that it warrants an investigation. Not withstanding, the Council is evidently now preparing to pay for the work performed on the basis of a bill submitted by the Contractor rather than following the well established protocol of auditing the cost of the work which the Contractor completed. This is standard procedure when a Contractor is dismissed for cause prior to the completion of the contract as was Yates. If an investigation, which should precede any payment, were to conclude that the award was made illegally then the potential exists to forfeit payment in its entirety. It was hoped that Mayor Mapp would bring substantive change. What is surfacing is that there appears to be alliances on certain issues between the Green team and the Mapp team. The boundary is blurred. The public is adrift in the haze. Bill Kruse

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  18. To repeat some of my statement last night, there are four towns in Union County that had in-house planning departments, and as far as I can tell, all four still do - Plainfield, Elizabeth, Rahway and Westfield. I'm not aware of any others that ever had one, and going by population, 30-40,000 was always the cut-off point.
    Eric Watson was being obliquely untruthful when he told the Council that there would be fulltime staffing "in the office" by an outside firm. They mean the outside firm's office is fulltime - there would only be 8 hours a week in OUR office, in City Hall, Plainfield. Due to the per-hour charges that an outside firm will put on most tasks, I do not believe there will be ANY savings by using one. But worst by far is the level of service we can expect, compared to our current Planning staff. I still think this whole thing started because two people, whose names have appeared in other postings today already, got mad at Bill Nierstedt for doing his job, and went screaming to the Mayor to get rid of him. Council members, don't do it - this is the dumbest proposal I have ever seen in Plainfield, and I've seen many.

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  19. It is very funny how all of this out Sourcing nonsense came up after the north Ave demolition screw up was wiped under the table and now Mr Yates is getting paid and no investigation was ever done I think it's the time for the Union County Prosecutor's and state attorney Generals office to get involved and start an investigation.

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    1. You can ask your City Council members about that. They were hot over getting an investigation going about the demolition. Now, you don't hear a word. Wonder why.

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  20. Watson presents it and Jerry's buddies support moving it forward ??? Yeah... that's a guaranteed backroom deal that Mapp made. If , IF, IF, IF there were a penny of savings, whatever deal was made will cost the city even more.

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  21. Sammy the SmokehoundOctober 7, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    I move to outsource Mayor and Council.

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  22. Interesting note - 3 months after voting to fire Garwood's former DPW head - he now finds himself defending himself in the same manner...

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  23. Outsourcing engineering was a disaster. Every time you turn around its a different engineer. Who's going to be the lead for what the firm does and does not?

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