Saturday, January 31, 2015

Crownover Nominated Again

Once again, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is seeking City Council confirmation of Thomas Crownover to represent Plainfield on the regional sewerage authority, this time while also asking to put the city, not the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, in charge of the appointment.

Mapp has put Crownover's name up to serve on the PMUA several times without success. The nomination now is for a five-year term succeeding David Ervin as representative to the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority, which serves eight municipalities in conveying sewer flow to the Middlesex County Utilities Authority for treatment.

Crownover's nomination was proposed earlier this month but withdrawn due to a conflict over the appointing entity. A proposed ordinance amendment would change language in the Municipal Code which now says the PMUA's director or a PMUA commissioner must serve on the PARSA board. The amendment would bring the code into conformance with the city' charter.

However, the ordinance amendment would have to pass on two readings, meaning it would not take effect until March, so it appears Crownover would not be eligible until then. In addition, if the change is disputed by PMUA attorney Leslie London, there could be further delay for Crownover's nomination. Perhaps the timing will be explained Monday.

The agenda-fixing session Monday is 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave,

Plaintalker has often reminded the public that an archive exists on the blog. It can be checked by putting a keyword in the box at the upper left. If you are so inclined, you can review all the posts on Crownover by putting his name in the box. With this post, you will see 16 stories in all. Take a look.

--Bernice

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Latinos, Apply to Boards and Commissions

Latino residents do not need to go through a political broker (don't laugh just yet).

Despite Plainfield's reputation as a political quagmire, you can apply to serve on a board or commission on your own by filling out and submitting this document.

There is a vacancy on the PMUA. The board has five commissioners and two alternates. Commissioners have five-year terms and alternates serve for two years. If you fill out the form, specify "PMUA Alternate No. 2." and put in your information. Submit it as directed and check back to make sure it has been received. To learn more about the PMUA, look at the web site at pmua.info and explore all the links. 

Give it a try before you rely on someone else to "help" you. Sometimes those who would help are just trolling for a quid pro quo, and they will try to collect sooner or later.

From the Oxford Dictionary:
if I do this for you, what's the quid pro quo?
si te hago eso ¿qué recibo yo en retribución or a cambio?



More on "Manager Motors"


The city's vehicle fleet is worth $7.1 million and employees earning a total of $322,000 are monitoring it.

"We need to centralize this," Personnel Director Karen Dabney told the City Council Monday.

After more from Dabney and other city officials, ordinances that would put one person in charge at a starting salary of $70,887 passed on first reading and the public will have a say before final passage next month.

Dabney said there are a number of vehicles that should have been sold at auction, some dating back to 1977 and still under insurance coverage. Another problem is verifying who was at the wheel of a vehicle in an accident or one that may have 'blown through" EZPass, she said.

Public Works Director Eric Watson backed Dabney up on the need for an inventory and a way to know "who's using what." He said the condition of vehicles must be determined for trade-ins and also in case of a "lemon," for which he used the example of a $1 million fire engine.

Watson said when he headed the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, he found there were "certain people who always damaged trucks." Noting the state has a central motor pool, he called it "an economic situation."

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said highly paid public safety staff should not be doing vehicle maintenance.

Giving fleet management to one person, he said, "will more than pay for itself."

Police Director Carl Riley joined the discussion, saying there were 50 vehicles in the police fleet that are over 20 years old. He said a lieutenant is assigned to support services and, along with two mechanics from city yard, came up with a preventive maintenance plan. He pointed out that the city recently acquired surplus military vehicles as well and said he would rather have the lieutenant work on public safety and let a civilian manage the fleet.

Riley also heads the Department of Public Affairs & Safety, which includes the Fire Division. He said a similar situation exists there, with a truck down and a lieutenant spending time getting quotes to replace it.

Among council quotes, Councilwomen Diane Toliver and Tracey Brown asked whether the manager position could just be part-time. Council President Bridget Rivers suggested that secretaries in the different departments could add fleet management to their tasks. Councilman Cory Storch said he was not against the proposal, but didn't think the administration had "done its homework." He had asked for the number of vehicles involved, among other things.

Storch and Rivers voted "no," but the ordinance passed on first reading with Toliver, Brown, Rebecca Williams and Gloria Taylor voting "yes."

The public can speak on the ordinances at the Feb. 2 agenda-fixing session and at a public hearing before the final vote on February 9.

--Bernice

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More on PMUA Appointments

2014 PMUA Reorganization

Before the vote Monday to replace Malcolm Dunn and Cecil Sanders as PMUA commissioners, Dunn's brother Danny urged the City Council not to make a change, citing the pair's business acumen and calling Sanders "a successful architect."  He also praised Union County Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green for various contributions to the authority's success, including the expansion of service contracts with other municipalities.

"The chairman is the person we have to go to," Dunn said.

So are Green, Dunn and Sanders a package deal? Danny Dunn seemed to think so, saying it would be going backwards to put new people in.

The council moved on to interview commissioner candidate Henry V. Robinson, a 31-year veteran of the Plainfield Fire Division and 50-year city resident. Having retired as a battalion chief, Robinson said he felt "people have to take ownership of something."

"The city is part of my fabric," he said.

Councilman Cory Storch said while no one complains about the PMUA workers, people are very concerned about the rates.

"What's your perspective?' he asked Robinson, who said he agreed with Danny Dunn that the cost could be brought down through the shared services contracts.


Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, taking part by telephone, objected strongly both to Mapp's offering names at a special meeting and to holding the meeting itself on a stormy night.

"This is a fraud and not an acceptable way to do this," she said, calling it a "sneak attack."

"We have no knowledge of who these people are and should not be doing this." 

Actually, the council had previously interviewed the other candidate, financial analyst Michelle Graham-Lyons.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said it was "past time" the council took action, as terms had expired and there was a need for "fresh eyes."

Malcolm Dunn's term expired on Feb. 1, 2014 and Sanders' term expires next week.

As expected, Taylor voted "no." Councilwoman Tracey Brown, a former PMUA commissioner, abstained. Storch, Williams, Diane Toliver and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "yes." The new commissioners will be seated at the Feb. 10 PMUA reorganization. Graham-Lyons will serve until Feb.1, 2019 and Robinson's term is to Feb. 1, 2020.

Mapp previously tried to change the makeup of the authority by offering four names in January 2014, but all were rejected. In February 2014, on the eve of the PMUA reorganization, Mapp won council approval of his nominee Charles Tyndale to replace holdover Alex Toliver.

Mapp attempted further changes in April, October, November and December of 2014. His predecessor, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, made a lame-duck attempt in 2013 to secure long terms for Dunn and Sanders and also to appoint her confidential aide to the PMUA.

The board has five commissioners and two alternates who can only vote if needed for a three-person quorum. One alternate seat is vacant and as of Feb. 1, Charles Eke will become a holdover in the other seat.

--Bernice

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dunn and Sanders Replaced at Special Meeting

A dark and stormy night for the region was a bright one for Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who saw City Council passage of all five items at Monday's special meeting, including replacement of PMUA Commissioners Malcolm Dunn and Cecil Sanders.

The new commissioners, financial analyst Michelle Graham-Lyons and retired Plainfield Fire Battalion Chief  Henry V. Robinson, will take office just in time for the authority's annual reorganization on Feb. 10. Dunn is a holdover whose term expired on Feb. 1 last year and Sanders' term ends on Feb. 1 this year. The vote was 4-1-1, with council members Cory Storch, Diane Toliver, Rebecca Williams and Council President Bridget Rivers voting "yes," Gloria Taylor voting "no" and Tracey Brown abstaining. Vera Greaves was absent and Taylor and Williams took part by telephone.

Dunn and Sanders, along with former Commissioner Alex Toliver,  gave the three votes necessary in January 2012 to approve a controversial settlement with former PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson and Assistant Director David Ervin. Interestingly, another resolution approved Monday confirmed Watson as director of the city's Public Works & Urban Development department concurrent with Mapp's term to Dec. 31, 2017. Mapp had named Watson acting director in September 2014, to the surprise of many, and in December the council agreed to another 90-day acting term. The vote Monday was 4-2, with Taylor, Toliver, Brown and Rivers voting "yes" and Storch and Williams voting "no."

Another move that previously met with skepticism, establishment of a vehicle fleet manager position, also won approval, as did creation of a salary band from $70,887 to $102,079. The ordinance for the "manager motors" position passed 4-2, only after Personnel Director Karen Dabney, Watson, Mapp, City Administrator Rick Smiley and Public Safety Director Carl Riley testified at length on the need for it. Storch and Rivers voted "no" and Taylor, Toliver, Willliams and Brown voted "yes."

When it came to the accompanying salary ordinance, Toliver, who had hesitated before voting for the position, abstained.. After it was explained to her that the two ordinances went together, she changed her vote to "yes," joining Taylor, Williams and Brown. Storch, who said his questions about  the new position were not fully answered, abstained and Rivers voted "no.". With the change from a failed 3-2-1 vote to 4-2, the ordinance passed on first reading. Second reading is expected at the Feb. 9 regular meeting.

The last item, renewal of Comcast of the Plainfield's franchise for 15 more years, passed unanimously and the matter will now go to the state BPU for approval.

--Bernice

Cable Franchise Renewal is Due

Cable franchise renewal was probably more important in the days before competition from FiOS and internet providers, but it is now time for the city to grant renewal to Comcast.

An ordinance granting "renewal of municipal consent" is on the agenda for a special meeting called for 6 p.m. tonight by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, although the meeting may be called off due to a snowstorm.

A draft of the ordinance includes a few changes.

- The previous franchise in 2000 called for a 10-year term, with a 5-year automatic renewal; the new one is for 15 years from the date of expiration of the past one, which was August 2014.

- The franchise fee remains the same, 2 percent of gross revenues, though it can be more and is listed currently as 3.5 percent.

- The old franchise included 24-hour telephone response in addition to regular 9-to-5 business hours at a local office. The new one cites only "standard business hours" for a local office.

- A commitment to provide free basic internet access via high-speed cable modem on 10 non-networked personal computers in the Plainfield Public Library is omitted from the new ordinance, although cable television will be provided as in the past to schools, municipal facilities and the library.

The Public, Educational and Governmental Access section of the new agreement continues provision of a system-wide public access channel.

A new section, Competitive Equity, allows for adjustments to the franchise agreement if the city grants any other cable franchise with terms "materially less burdensome or or more favorable" than those in the ordinance.

Rates are not part of the franchise renewal process, as noted by Comcast's Director of Government Affairs Charles Smith III when he appeared at a public hearing in March 2014.

The special meeting, unless canceled, will be held at 6 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. For more than you ever wanted to know about cable television, see the FCC's "Evolution of Cable Television."

--Bernice

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Regarding Monday's Special Meeting

For some reason, no background material has turned up for this special meeting noted below, so there can be no advance stories for the public. The nominees for PMUA are not known, nor is the nominee for director of the DPW&UD. The ordinance creating the title of "Manager Motors" and the accompanying salary ordinance were offered previously on Jan 12, but the council did not have a consensus to move the ordinances to the Jan/ 20 agenda for votes.

As for the cable television ordinance, a draft exists. It is mostly boilerplate identical to the one passed in 2000, with some changes which Plaintalker will post tomorrow.

Note that this is a special meeting called by the mayor. Here is what the city's special charter says about calling a special meeting:

Special meetings upon at least 2 days public notice may be called by the mayor whenever he deems necessary, and shall be called by the city clerk upon written request signed by a majority of the councilmen. The call for a special meeting shall specify the purpose of the meetings, and no other business may be conducted at such meeting.

In 2012, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs exercised her prerogative to call a special meeting, but only three of seven council members showed up and the meeting failed due to lack of a quorum. The current chill between the executive and legislative branches portends a possible repeat of that scenario.

CORPORATION NOTICE
CITY OF PLAINFIELD

NOTICE OF SPECIAL MEETING

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 MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD AT 6 O’CLOCK P.M. ON MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 2015  AT THE CITY HALL LIBRARY, 515 WATCHUNG AVENUE, CITY OF PLAINFIELD, FOR THE PURPOSE OF CONSIDERING AND ACTING UPON THE FOLLOWING:


1.       RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE APPOINTMENTS TO THE PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL UTILITIES AUTHORITY.

  1. RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE APPOINTMENT OF DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT. 

3.       AN ORDINANCE AMENDING THE SCHEDULE OF SALARIES AND WAGES ADOPTED PURSUANT TO ARTICLE 14, CHAPTER 11 OF THE MUNICIPAL CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD, NEW JERSEY, 1971 (MANAGER, MOTORS).

4.       AN ORDINANCE CREATING THE POSITION OF MANAGER, MOTORS FOR THE PURPOSE OF CENTRALIZING AND MANAGING THE CITY’S FLEET OPERATIONS.

  1. AN ORDINANCE GRANTING RENEWING OF MUNICIPAL CONSENT TO COMCAST TO CONSTRUCT, CONNECT, OPERATE AND MAINTAIN A CABLE TELEVISION AND COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM IN THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD, NEW JERSEY.


FORMAL ACTION MAY BE TAKEN.

BY ORDER OF THE MAYOR OF
THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD
ADRIAN O. MAPP

/S/S/  ABUBAKAR JALLOH, R.M.C.  
   MUNICIPAL CLERK

DATED:     PLAINFIELD, NEW JERSEY
                     JANUARY 22, 2015.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

OSC to Probe Dubious Use of Public Money

From PolitickerNJ's Losers list for the week:

The Union County Alliance
An Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) investigation found that Union County paid in excess of $1.5 million over a four-year period to a non-profit agency that produced a biannual newsletter and little else in return for the public’s money. The agency, Union County Alliance (UCA), relied almost entirely on public funding but operated with virtually no oversight or recordkeeping, OSC found. Charged with promoting economic development, the UCA was headed by a Union County official, now deceased, who left the county payroll to become employed directly by the agency as its president, according to the Comptroller’s Office. The investigation won’t end with the release of the report…

Turnover Alone Warrants Forensic Audit

Regarding the need for a forensic audit, I offer, for those who missed it, the following record of turnover in the past administration:

Commentary on Forensic Audit

The Bottom Line

New Jersey State Constitution

Article VIII, Section III, paragraph 2


No county, city, borough, town, township or village shall hereafter give any money or property, or loan its money or credit, to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, or become security for, or be directly or indirectly the owner of, any stock or bonds of any association or corporation.

Friday, January 23, 2015

New Building Plan Draws Crowd

Rendering of "Bella Vista Estates"

An Orange Place homeowner fears a new six-story building will block her sunlight. A Westervelt resident is concerned about lack of parking. Another questions how senior shuttle buses will operate at the age-restricted complex.

During a brief recess while the board discussed hiring an attorney for the year, film maker Alrick Brown told Plaintalker his mother, Doris Halstead, has lived on Orange Place since 1986. The building will rise just south of her home and will cast a large shadow, he said.

The issues came up at a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing Thursday in City Hall Library, where the board heard testimony on Plainfield Madison Park LLC's application for the 100-apartment structure. The Planning Board initially approved the project as a five-story building with 80 apartments in 2008.

The block bounded by East Front Street, Westervelt and Roosevelt avenues and Orange Place was then part of the Central Business District zone, but is now in the TOD-D (Transit-Oriented Development-Downtown) TD (Transition District). The change sent the case to the Zoning Board.

Construction was delayed as developer Steven Chung sought financing, but now he wants to add 20 units and make it a six-story building. As Attorney Lawrence Vastola explained the change, a man in the audience began shouting, "Too much!" Chairman D. Scott Belin told him to be quiet, but the man kept yelling as Belin banged his gavel. Finally Belin told him he would have to leave or police would be called.

The man stayed on until two officers arrived about ten minutes later and removed him from the meeting.

Architect George Sincox described the building as having commercial space, a community room, a trash room and a lobby on the first floor, with identical layouts of 16 1-bedroom and four 2-bedroom units on each of five upper floors. Citing Thursday's disastrous Edgewater fire, Sincox said the proposed building will have a full sprinkler system and standpipes, and each floor and every unit will be "compartmentalized" to halt the rapid spread of fire for an hour or more.

Enginer Elizabeth Dolan said between commercial and residential use, the building needs 76 parking spaces and the developer is providing 69. Belin came up with different numbers and said the total was off by 65 percent, but Dolan said the formula he cited was developed under the prior plan. A discussion ensued on how much parking might be needed at various times of day and night and on weekends. The building would share parking space with a strip of buildings on East Front Street which has commercial tenants, restaurants and a church.

Planning Director William Nierstedt said there are many ways to look at parking in the case, but it is deficient however one looks at it. One idea to ease the parking burden was to ask employees of the various establishments to park at a nearby city parking lot.

In public comment, resident Lissette Herrera described parking congestion on Westervelt Avenue and called it a "very unsafe and inconvenient place" for the proposed building. Her brother Josue questioned how much extra parking might be needed for parties in the community room.

The board also heard from engineer Robert Gazzale on utility requirements for the site, with Belin suggesting that moving an electric transformer might yield more green space. The discussion continued until about 11 p.m. with more time needed to hear from additional experts. The hearing will continue at the March 4 meeting, 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice


Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's Not About Rev. Brown

The issue at hand is the propriety of giving public funds to a charity. What are the guidelines and parameters? Should $10,000 be put in the budget for a charitable cause?

It is not about Rev. Tracey Brown. I have seen her good works since the days of her youth involvement at Washington School. She was affiliated with a city church and then was able to found her own. Her congregation increased dramatically. She met the pressing needs of her community, including many a funeral for a young person cut down by gun violence.

I know her world extends far beyond Plainfield as well, in her missionary work.

Sitting at the dais, she often has a thoughtful look that makes me think she is weighing her decisions from her very enlightened and spiritual outlook.

I believe she understands stewardship, and as an elected official acts from a moral basis.

She did not talk about the council putting $10,000 in the budget for a charity program. One of her congregants did so and incidentally invoked her pastor.

The simple issue here is whether a governing body can lawfully allocate government funds to a charity and if so, what is the mechanism that will satisfy the Local Finance Board within the Department of Community Affairs? When I get the legal citation on how this is prohibited or under what circumstances it is allowed, I will publish it.

--Bernice

SRB: Give Charity $10,000


Source: Ruth Fellowship Ministries
Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said Tuesday the city had given $8,000 to a "Feed the Children" program sponsored by a local church for 400 to 500 children and suggested the amount be "rounded off" to $10,000 in the 2015 budget.

If this is true, it may not have been a legal use of government funds. It is also a bit presumptuous of a former mayor to try to dictate terms of the next mayor's budget or to expect the governing body to amend the budget in this manner.

The Feed the Children program gave its founder, Larry Jones, an $800,000 settlement after firing him. The charity had revenues in 2012 of over $613 million. Even if it was legal, would $10,000 of the taxpayers' money really be needed?


Sour Ball

As other bloggers have reported, Tuesday's City Council meeting was dominated by yet another chapter of the youth baseball league saga, this time featuring the on-camera embarrassment of a longtime supporter of youth sports.

The "discussion" prior to council business was largely a rehash of attitudes and opinions already heard over the past six years. The subplot appeared to be an outright attempt to discredit the Mapp administration. When one commenter insulted City Administrator Rick Smiley, instead of allowing Smiley to respond, Council President Bridget Rivers cut him off, saying "There is a speaker at the mike." This despite the council's own rules: "No speaker shall engage in any personally offensive, derogatory or abusive remarks. The President shall immediately call to order any speaker who violates this provision."

Another speaker gave several anecdotes before saying, "Not to beat a dead horse, but to beat a dead horse ..."

Roland Muhammad, a former employee of the Recreation Division, reprised his routine with charges that some people are afraid to go to the West End, a recitation of all the youth centers of his childhood and digs at new Recreation staff. He has become as predictable as others who have set speeches at council meetings, though he did not whistle "Taps."

New Councilwoman Diane Toliver led off a funding ploy by saying she would be the first to donate $100 to "adopt a kid" for a city baseball league.

"Let's start fundraising," she said.

While volunteer leagues rely on contributions of money and time, it is unclear how a city league would operate with donated funding. Supporters of a city league estimated there would be 300 participants at a cost of $30,000. Several people commented on a timetable that should have included registration starting weeks ago.

Check the other blogs for details on the controversy. Or just wait until the Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 meetings - it's likely to come up again. And again. And again.

--Bernice

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hearing Friday on Muhlenberg Donations Use

Muhlenberg activist Nancy Piwowar urged Plainfielders to attend a hearing Friday where Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center and the Muhlenberg Foundation will seek to use past charitable donations for relocation of the satellite emergency room and for the school of nursing that remains on the campus.

The hospital closed in 2008 and activists argue that donors specified the use of their gifts, so they should not be turned over for other purposes.

Piwowar said in public comment at Tuesday's City Council meeting that she has just been hit with a $175 filing fee for documents she submitted in support of her cause. She also deplored a decision by the Office of the Attorney General offering no objections to use of the charitable funds for the uses proposed by MRMC and the foundation.

Attendees can arrive at 8:30 a.m. in the Union County Superior Court, Chancery Division in the New Annex Building, First Floor, Elizabethtown Plaza, Elizabeth for the hearing. Piwowar said the judge will arrive at 9 a.m. and there is no specified time for the hearing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PBA Donates Defibrillators to Squad

 
L-R: EMT Dan Klibaner, Probationary Plainfield Rescue Squad member Kiante Haley, PBA Local 19 President Andre Crawford,  another Rescue Squad member, Plainfield Rescue Squad member Preston DeGrasse, Police Lt. Troy Edwards, Plainfield Rescue Squad 2nd Lt. Timothy Lowe Jr., P.O. Rene Marte

Plainfield PBA Local 19 donated two defibrillators to the Plainfield Rescue Squad at Tuesday's City Council meetng. PBA President Andre Crawford said the squad was having "hard times" and Local 19 bought the two defibrillators "to assist."

The agenda noted only a "discussion item" and Plaintalker had wondered what the topic might be. Before the meeting, Crawford declined to comment except to indicate it was something positive. The squad members accepted the defibrillators in the council chambers and gathered outside for a photo.

Thanks to the PBA and the squad for their service to Plainfield!

Tonight's Council Meeting - Long or Short?

Sixteen of the 21 resolutions on tonight's City Council agenda are slated to be passed in a single vote, which normally should speed up the meeting. But then there are three discussion items that potentially could slow it down to a crawl.

The prime suspect for verbosity is titled, "Unresolved Baseball League Concerns." Last week, just a few speakers held forth on the subject for half the meeting. If a crowd shows up, just get as comfy as you can on the hard court bench, because these issues have been largely unresolved for years and there will be a lot to hash over.

"Plainfield P.B.A. Local 19 - Discussion" sounds kind of open-ended as well. Council watchers will just have to wait and see what the actual topic is. The contract was settled, or so we thought, so that could leave working conditions, policies, leadership, community relations or even the police chaplain concept as the topic.

"City Council/Administration Retreat" could be as simple as naming a planning committee or even just naming a date and place.

A non-consent item that may draw speakers is a resolution removing two of three lots on the Muhlenberg campus from the "in need of redevelopment" study, as they do not fit the criteria for redevelopment. Those who are following all aspects of the Muhlenberg situation were upset to learn recently that the Office of the Attorney General has no objections to removal of restrictions on certain charitable funds that the Muhlenberg Foundation wants to convert to use for the proposed new satellite emergency room in Kenyon House on the campus. This opinion comes in advance of a Jan. 23 hearing on the matter of repurposing the funds. (If I stated this incorrectly, feel free to comment.)

By the time the council gets around to the sole ordinance, on issuing $14.5 million in refunding bonds, I hope there will be time for a brief overview of city debt and how this bond issue fits in.

Dr. Yood wrote that he has never missed a President's State of the Union address and he is feeling torn about priorities for tonight. The meeting is at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court and the address is scheduled for 9 p.m. Barring any squirrel mayhem in my apartment, I will attend the council meeting and later watch a video or read a text of the speech (or both).

--Bernice

Tired of Squirrels

It is now Day 42 of the Great Squirrel Invasion and I am really tired.

I can't even explain this situation except to say the humans only have 392 square feet of space and the squirrels have 270 square feet. The ceiling repairs last week failed because the roof leak has not been fixed and the squirrel holes have not been sealed.

I am really, really tired.

--Bernice

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Arrive on Time for Council Meetings

But for the lengthy discussion of baseball league issues, last Monday's City Council would have been over in record time.

A frequent speaker at council meetings arrived just as the meeting ended. The same fate will likely await any tardy attendees on Jan. 20.

How did the switch from marathon meetings come about? Councilwoman Tracey Brown is now chairperson of the Committee of the Whole, and she briskly moves through the agenda, in contrast to the former chairman, who speechified on almost every item.

Back in 2007, the city's business was dispatched with alacrity, so much so that Plaintalker fretted.

Does the public, both in the courtroom and watching on television, need a bit more elucidation on resolutions and ordinances than just the letter or number of each one? Has the pendulum swung too far towards brevity? Does anyone care?

Certainly municipal government is not routinely covered by the newspapers any more, but bloggers do try to research what is on the agenda and to inform the public of significant items. Residents can also contact their elected representatives with concerns over proposed actions.

Meanwhile, if you want to be heard in public comment at council meetings, be on time or you may miss your chance.

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



Friday, January 16, 2015

PMUA Rate Hearing Announced

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will hold a rate hearing next month for a proposed reduction in the sewer rate and an increase in the sewer connection fee.

The rate hearing will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the PMUA office, 127 Roosevelt Ave. The proposed reduction in the sewer rate is 3 percent, from "5.63 per ccf to 5.46 per ccf." According to the PMUA rate explanation, there is a minimum sewer fee of $56.30 per quarter. (Being a renter, I leave it to property owners to comment on the impact of this change.)

The increase in the sewer connection fee will be from $2,140 to $2,300. As explained at a recent PMUA meeting, this charge is per dwelling unit, so for example a proposed 200-unit new development would require an additional $34,000 in fees over the 2014 rate.

Also on Feb. 10, the PMUA's regular board meeting has been rescheduled from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the same location. This is the annual reorganization, at which a chairman and other officers are chosen, a calendar is adopted for the year and various other designations are made.

As of Feb. 1, three of the five commissioners on the board will be in holdover status due to expired terms. One alternate will also be a holdover and the other alternate's seat remains vacant.

--Bernice

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Board Approves South Avenue House of Worship

A former day care center on South Avenue will become a house of worship for five families with Planning Board approvals granted Thursday.

Zahid Rashid, president of the Al Baseera International Institute, told the board he expects about ten people to meet there primarily on Fridays at noon, but also on weekends and some may visit daily. He expects the group to increase to no more than 52 members, as that would be the number allowable based on parking at the site.

Proposed renovations include a large prayer room in the front of the building, with two multipurpose rooms to the rear. There will be no office or secretary at the site at 1345-49 South Avenue, which is between the White Castle to the west and the remaining portion of the day care center to the east.

Rashid said other activities will include community services such as youth counseling and marriage counseling. The institute has no affiliation with a larger body, he said.

Board member Emmett Swan asked what engendered his interest in Plainfield and Rashid replied that he lived nearby and "happened to land in this beautiful city."

In a discussion of parking, which is based on seating in a house of worship, members asked Rashid whether he had chairs or pews for worshipers. Rashid said they would use the floor.

The transition would allow the building to become tax-exempt, which was a matter of concern to some board members, but Planning Director William Nierstedt said a house of worship is a permitted use in the zone. Nierstedt said he knew the board wanted all commercial uses there, but he said it was "not realistic."

The neighborhood is targeted for redevelopment and Nierstedt suggested perhaps some of the new residents might want to worship there. Councilman Cory Storch, the governing body's liaison to the board, said he thought the board had to approve the application, but he felt it "goes against the vision for the area."

"Schools and churches are going up all over," he said.

Storch predicted a change in property values once development takes place, but the house of worship would remain tax-exempt.

With all discussion concluded, the board gave unanimous approval to the application. Rashid will have to seek separate approval for signage on the building.

--Bernice

Candidates, On Your Mark!

Interested in holding a public office in 2015?

Whether you want to run or just want to keep tabs on who does run, you need to bookmark Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi's 2015 Election Dates

This list, which should soon be available also as a brochure, tells the filing dates for the June primary and for the presumably nonpartisan school board election in November. This year, it is the Democrats' turn to reorganize locally, so there will be 68 city committee seats up for grabs and the winners will choose a chairman for the Plainfield Democratic City Committee. The seat, long held by Jerry Green, will be filled at the committee's reorganization on the Monday following the June 2 primary. The chairman serves a two-year term. The committee is deemed the most grassroots of all local elected offices, as the male and female members represent constituents of 34 districts in the city's four wards.

Also up this year are two four-year City Council seats. Second Ward incumbent Cory Storch has already expressed his intention to seek re-election. The other seat is for the First and Fourth Wards at-large, currently held by Vera Greaves. The Democratic Party or more likely just the chairman will determine who gets the party line just before the March 30 filing date for the primary. Anyone intending to run off the line should already have started campaigning, lining up petition signers and raising money for the June 2 primary.

Then there are three three-year school board seats. The filing date is July 27 for the November 3 election. School board candidates have another link for information at the Union County Clerk's Office,  which includes qualifications needed and instructions for petitions. Even if you think you will be running on a slate backed by a political leader, you should learn what running for the school board entails.

Of course, there will be three county freeholder seats as well as state Assembly and Senate seats on the ballot this year, but if you are just getting into politics, the local elections are usually the place to start.

There has been a lot of talk about Latino representation in local government. If you are Latino/a, now's your chance to learn how to do it. Groups such as the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials can help. Latinos may be courted by local power brokers, but can arm themselves with knowledge for their own integrity. A well-known politician introduced his slate one year generically as "a black female, a Latino, and a white male gay."  The "Latino" was a Latina actually. Don't be a generic candidate, be yourself whatever your identity, and good luck in 2015.

--Bernice

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Business Owner Calls for Help

A 23-year city business owner called Monday for more police attention to the Park & Seventh business district,, where he said "loosies," liquor and littering are problems.

"I'm saying to the council, I need your help," David Holmes said in public comment.

Holmes said he has spent $2,000 on replacing glass in his store window and police patrols have not been consistent. He gave the governing body photos of trash dumped behind his store and said he has found feces on his back wall. His son, who had a restaurant next door, has left Plainfield, he said.

"I'm tired of it," Holmes said. Although he has customers from neighboring towns, he said, the perception of the Park & Seventh district is that it is not safe.

"Unfortunately, Plainfield has tolerated too much for too long," he said.

In other towns, he said, "We know exactly how to act."

Public Safety Director Carl Riley assured Holmes that he will receive help and said he is working on getting surveillance cameras in the area. Riley said police officers have been assigned to "directed patrols," where they get out of patrol cars and walk around.

Other speakers backed up Holmes' plea for help, describing similar problems with trash, illegal sales of loose cigarettes, loitering, public urination, drinking and groups blocking the sidewalk.

The Park & Seventh district is part of the Special Improvement District along with the downtown and the South Avenue business corridor. A surtax is assessed to property owners in the SID and it is used for promotions, graffiti removal and a quarterly publication that includes a directory of all the businesses.

--Bernice

Monday, January 12, 2015

Council Rejects Fleet Manager Ordinance

Creation of a fleet manager title faltered Monday as the proposed ordinance failed to gain consensus for a vote at the Jan. 20 regular meeting.

Council members Cory Storch, Diane Toliver, Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers abstained from consenting to move the ordinance to the agenda, while Vera Graves said "no" and Rebecca Williams said "yes." Gloria Taylor was absent.

In public comment, resident Kim Montford asked whether someone was being considered for the job and if so, who that might be. City Administrator Rick Smiley said the job would be posted. The manager would be in charge of repairs, maintenance and replacement of all city vehicles, he said, in answer to another of Montford's questions.

Rivers asked whether department heads should take care of their own vehicles, but Smiley said, "We need somebody to manage all those vehicles."

A separate salary ordinance setting a pay range from $70,887 to $102,079 was dropped once the council job title ordinance was rejected.

Rivers suggested the job could be part-time at half the cost and also asked whether the manager would make repairs or just send work to a body shop.

"It sounds like a duplication of service," she said.

Greaves questioned what the savings would be and why it had not been done before.

All the issues became moot when the measure failed to gain consensus to be put on next week's agenda.

--Bernice

Youth Baseball Saga Continues

To an outsider, the we-said/they-said accounts of what went wrong with youth baseball are as murky and boring as listening to a couple in the throes of an ugly divorce. The minutiae of who did what when are of interest mainly to the combatants and the arcane point-scoring is really beside the point to a third party, who has no way to verify the facts and usually just wants to get away from the fray.

But of course, with youth baseball, it's "for the children" who, but for the program in question would end up being little felons and miscreants.

Once again public officials are being drawn into a situation that has already consumed countless hours of talk at the taxpayers' expense. One speaker demanded an answer on the spot from the City Council on providing $30,000 for a city-based program, as if the governing body by fiat at an agenda-fixing session could authorize such funding. Municipal government just does not work that way.

As in this account from 2010, the youth baseball issue dominated the meeting for as long as it later took for the council to conduct its own business. Council President Bridget Rivers urged the parties to work out a solution for this year and then work toward being independent of the city next year. But if, as stated, talks have gone on for six months already, it is unclear what more discussion would produce.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has already made clear the administration's position - fields will be maintained by the city for team use, but the city is not sponsoring a team. That is the answer. But speakers mentioned tactics such as threatening to disrupt another team's registration or to bring children to the next council meeting to make things go their way. To quote Yogi Berra, "It ain't over 'til it's over" - especially in Plainfield.

--Bernice

Many Appointments on the Agenda

Tonight's City Council agenda includes a slew of appointments, but the timing may be off for a couple of board members.

The agenda-fixing meeting tonight (Jan. 5) is 7:30 p.m. and the regular meeting will be 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 20, both in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Years ago, appointments for boards and commissions were made at the council's annual reorganization on New Year's Day, along with numerous others. Each group was then able to start the year with its own reorganization, setting a calendar and choosing a chairman. But in November 1988, City Clerk Laddie Wyatt was targeted for removal and was out of her office during the weeks when preparations for the New Year were normally made. As a result, many boards and commissions lacked members in the following January and were disrupted. Wyatt regained her post through a history-making legal decision and went on to serve for many more years, but just to be on the safe side, boards and commissions began including later January dates in their calendars.

For 2015, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will meet on the second Wednesday of January instead of the first. But longtime Chairman D. Scott Belin's reappointment may not take place until the council's regular meeting on Jan  20, leaving him in limbo for the reorganization. According to a legal notice today, the meeting is rescheduled to Jan. 22. Similarly,  Planning Board member Gordon Fuller may have to sit out that board's reorganization on Jan. 15.

One bright spot among the appointments is that Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez is up for a one-year appointment to the Planning Board. The board has several categories of membership, including one listed variously as "city official" or "municipal officer." When Plainfield had an in-house engineer, that individual was assigned as the city official. More recently, "municipal officer" was perhaps taken too literally and a police officer was named to the board. (If this writer may say so, it makes a lot more sense to have Sanchez filling that slot.)

Among other nominations, Rich Sudol and Robert. K. Graham are up for reappointment to the Zoning Board of Adjustment; Oscar Riba, Barbara Sutton Spellmeyer and Lynne Wallace are named to the Shade Tree Commission; and Sandy Gurshman, William Michelson, Reginald Thomas and Gary F. Schneider  are named to the Historic Preservation Commission.

Addendum: An example of the problem from 2006

--Bernice



Here's Looking at Yews

Yews are growing next to the fence.

A Yew hedge that was drastically cut back in 2013 is starting to grow back. It was originally slated for removal, but after an outcry from members of the Shade Tree and Historic Preservation commissions, then-Public Works Director Eric Jackson agreed to pruning the hedge as part of a renovation.

Knockout Roses and Coreopsis were planted around the redesigned plaza in front of City Hall to add color while the Yews were growing back. Jackson and Public Works Superintendent John Louise led the restoration project. Jackson, who won many friends in Plainfield during his tenure, left the city in 2014 to become mayor of Trenton

--Bernice

Sunday, January 11, 2015

City Seeks Manager for Fleet

A proposed ordinance would put a manager in charge of the city's vehicle fleet and an accompanying ordinance would set a salary range of $70,887 to $102,079.

As described on the Civil Service Commission, the title of "manager motors"  covers not only being in charge of repairs, but also being involved in purchasing vehicles and keeping track of the condition of the fleet. The city fleet includes police, fire, public works and inspections vehicles. Certain officials are also furnished with city-owned cars. In addition, the manager here would be expected to manage the city's underground storage tanks and the fuel system. According to budget figures, the city spent $350,000 on gasoline last year.

Currently, various city departments take care of vehicles separately. The change would establish a "centralized approach to the acquisition, maintenance, repair, replacement and purchase" of city vehicles and related equipment, according to the ordinance.

If moved to the Jan. 20 agenda at Monday's City Council meeting, the ordinances could pass on first reading this month, with second reading and final passage to follow in February. It would then take effect in 20 days. The salary for 2015 would be $70,887.

Usually the council authorizes use of city cars for top officials in January, but neither the agenda for the Jan. 5 reorganization nor the Jan. 12 agenda includes such authorizations. The mayor, city administrator, public safety director, superintendent of Public Works and the fire chief normally are provided with city-owned cars.

--Bernice

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Crownover Nominated for PARSA

Thomas Crownover, a frequent nominee to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, is now Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's nominee to succeed David Ervin on the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority.

The nomination is on Monday's agenda for discussion and possible placement on the Jan. 20 agenda for a vote. Monday's agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Crownover is an attorney who serves as executive director of the Metuchen Parking Authority. He has been nominated to PMUA several times, though not confirmed. While PMUA provides solid waste and sewer services to Plainfield, PARSA handles the sewer flow of eight municipalities in three counties on the way to treatment at the Middlesex County Utilities Authority.

Ervin, the retired assistant executive director of the PMUA, retained his post as PARSA commissioner representing the city of Plainfield. If confirmed, Crownover will have a five-year term starting Feb. 1 succeeding Ervin.

Crownover served on a task force that examined the workings of the PMUA and reported at a public meeting in 2012. From Plaintalker II's post:

"Comparisons with similar municipalities found PMUA services to be more expensive and to require many more employees than others. But setting aside the option of doing nothing, the task force suggested fixing PMUA by finding $8 million in savings to bring authority costs in line with others, having fiscal and forensic audits and a managerial analysis and by being more selective in choosing commissioners. A suggestion to take back a recent $1 million settlement with former executives drew applause."

Nominated as a PMUA commissioner in January 2014, Crownover said in a council interview the authority was "one of the most important agencies in the city" and was "such a substantial body that it ought to be handled with great consideration."

Asked what he would do the make it better, Crownover said he would get rid of a recently-imposed wage freeze by perhaps making the authority more efficient.

But along with Nan Anderson-Bennett, Charles Tyndale and Thomas A. Kaercher, Crownover was rejected by the council. In February 2014, Tyndale was approved to replace PMUA Commissioner Alex Toliver. In April 2014, Mapp sought Crownover's appointment as a PMUA alternate, but the nomination was not moved to the regular meeting agenda. He was among nominees Mapp offered in October, but then withdrew. Mapp last named him to replace holdover Malcolm Dunn in November. .

Due to reorganize in February, the PMUA will have three holdovers among its five commissioners and both alternate seats will be vacant. PMUA Chairman Harold Mitchell, a holdover since 2011, is also a holdover since January 2014 as a Plainfield alternate to PARSA. The other alternate is William Reid, whose term on the City Council expired on Dec. 31 and whose term on PARSA expires on Jan. 31.

--Bernice

Friday, January 9, 2015

Plainfield Garden Club to Mark Centennial


One of the city's most enticing features is the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park. It is maintained by the Plainfield Garden Club, in conjunction with the Union County Parks & Recreation Department. The Plainfield Garden Club was established in 1915 and has its own rich history. Take some time to explore the Plainfield Garden Club web site and learn more about the women who did so much to beautify Plainfield over the years.

Plaintalker has been pleased to write about the club and the Shakespeare Garden. Read about renovations in 2010, a special planting, a tribute and last year's opening - and be sure to look for details of a centennial celebration as June approaches.

--Bernice

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Commentary: Queen of Denial

Those who found Monday's meeting to be peaceful and congenial may have missed the end of it, in which former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs invoked the royal "we" and indulged in a bit of revisionism.
Then her supporter Roland "I say things the mayor can't say" Muhammad took a few jabs at Mayor Adrian O. Mapp before declaring, "This is a new year - this is the year of the people," and "We're going to make a change."

Mapp had delivered his State of the City address, including this statement:

"When I took office in 2014, the state of Plainfield’s finances was no secret. I inherited a derelict city
government that was devoid of fiscal integrity. This was not the fault of our city employees, who
were doing the best job they could with outdated technology – or no technology at all -- lack of
employees in key positions, and no accountability from the former administration.
Simply put, the City’s finances were thought to be of no significance and thus, were ignored and
were not considered a priority for seven years prior to me taking office."


Robinson-Briggs, who was shaking her head while Mapp spoke, first told new Councilwoman Diane Toliver, "We welcome you."

Fretting over Mapp's  depiction of her tenure in the televised meeting, she said, "I have to stand in support of the previous administration."

She said the employees worked hard and she was "extremely proud of the job they did."

However, it is a fact that the city went without a permanent chief financial officer after Peter Sepelya left in 2007. The mayor and entire council were facing state fines of $25 per day for not filling the post when Ron Zilinski was hired in November 2010 to serve 28 hours a week. Zilinski left after one year and the city began relying on the business administrator/CFO of South Plainfield to spare five to seven hours per week to help out.

After Sepelya retired, some dubious fiscal moves led to an investigation and even the mayor's campaign treasurer, Bill Reid, commented on the lack of leadership in the administration.

Judging by the comments that have come in since the meeting, the Sharonistas out there are convinced that Mapp deserves all the blame for whatever went wrong between 2006 and 2013. Here's one:

Why does mapp constantly bash Sharon, she was not allowed a COS or CFO. He blocked everything she tried to do, and now has the audacity to bash her and talk about her failed tenure.

"COS" is apparently short for chief of staff, a position the council majority deleted from Mapp's 2014 budget. The former mayor did have a confidential aide and, for a time, two bodyguards. 

Even though she said Monday, "Together we'll have a great year in Plainfield," somehow the "we" did not sound all-inclusive. When someone in the audience muttered, "Sit down," the former mayor bristled and tried to identify the malefactor.

There is an agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. Monday and a regular meeting at 8 p.m. on Jan. 20, both in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Believe it or not, Mapp is now in the second year of a four-year term.

--Bernice

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

School Board Reorganizes, Remembers Rasheed Abdul-Haqq

Three new Board of Education members were sworn in and officers were elected for 2015 in a meeting Tuesday that also included tributes to former board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, who passed away on Saturday.

Board Secretary Yolanda Henry administered oaths of office to Terrence S. Bellamy Sr., Carletta Jeffers and David M. Rutherford, who won the November 2014 school board election.They will serve three-year terms to Dec. 31, 2017.
Terrence S. Bellamy Sr. is sworn in.
Carletta Jeffers is sworn in.
David M. Rutherford is sworn in.

L-R: Keisha Edwards, Wilma Campbell
Wilma Campbell was again elected board president and Keisha Edwards will be vice president for 2015.
In remarks to the public, each recalled Rasheed Abdul-Haqq's legacy. After requesting a moment of silence in his memory, Campbell recalled his enthusiasm for hydroponics and his wish to see a greenhouse supported by the district. He also sought to have different academies, she said. She urged support "to make sure the work he started will not go undone."

Edwards was overcome with emotion as she cited Rasheed Abdul-Haqq as an example of "the difference one person can make." She said anyone who knew him understood he was "simply about Plainfield" and added she hoped everyone would "take that attitude."

"If we take it upon ourselves to be that one person, Plainfield can meet all its goals," she said. "We really did lose a champion for Plainfield. We owe it to our children to develop our next true champions of Plainfield."

Campbell, Edwards and the entire board recited in unison the New Jersey Code of Ethics for School Board Members before going into executive session.

The board will meet at 8 p.m. on Jan. 13 for a work and study meeting in the Plainfield High School conference room and will hold its first 2015 business meeting at 8 p.m. on Jan. 20 in the Plainfield High School auditorium. For more information, see the district web site.

--Bernice

Three Kings Greetings



Feliz Dia de los Tres Reyes!

Mapp Gives Second "State of the City" Address

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp

After a greeting in Spanish to the city's 40 percent Latino population, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp described his first year in office as one dedicated to achieving fiscal stability, reducing crime, welcoming new development and pushing for the much-desired one-seat train ride to New York City.

Promises for 2015 include technological advances in Recreation Division registration and other city operations, a new and improved city web site and 30 cameras deployed across the city to further reduce crime.

One thing he won't have to worry about is union negotiations, as all seven bargaining units settled in 2014.

The entire State of the City Address is online already, so rather than report, I suggest you read it in its entirety. 

--Bernice 

City Council Reorganization 2015

Councilwoman Diane Toliver was sworn in by Assemblyman Jerry Green for a four-year term representing the First Ward.
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp administered the oath of office to Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who was re-elected for a second four-year term representing the Second & Third Wards at-large.
Councilwoman Gloria Taylor was sworn in by Judge Joan Robinson Gross for an unexpired term to Dec. 31, 2016, representing the Third Ward. Seen here with her son, R Marcos Taylor.
Assemblyman Jerry Green administered the oath of office to Bridget Rivers for her third term as City Council President. Freeholder Linda Carter holds the Bible.
Councilwoman Tracey Brown was sworn in by Judge Joan Robinson Gross to serve as Chairwoman of the Committee of the Whole for 2015.

--Bernice