Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Commentary on Bilingual Day Care Issue

All the way back in 2009 and 2010, there was talk of divesting the city of social service agencies.

From November 2010:

The longtime director of the Bilingual Day Care center is retiring and could be an asset in reshaping the operation. The agency predates the move toward free preschool education and in fact the center includes both Abbott (DOE supported) and non-Abbott components. Maybe 30 years ago, Latino families needed a specialized program, but with Latino children now making up more than half the incoming student population, surely the district at large is taking up the needs of their families in the preschool program.

See the full blog post here and note that one possible reason for inaction on the social services issue was a high turnover in leadership of the department, which had social services tacked on to financial operations in a shuffle under former Mayor Mark A. Fury.

The issues regarding the Bilingual Day Care Center and other social service agencies were raised in 2009, as reported in this blog post on the budget process. They came up again  in 2010 as reported here.

Obviously the issue is now going to be part and parcel of the 2015 City Council race, even though the transition was launched at a special meeting on June 24.

It would help if the issue was being discussed factually. To say the program is closing is not correct. It will continue in the same location for two more years. If and when it moves to Leland Avenue, parents will not be forced to enroll children there. Free preschool is provided at locations across the city through the school district's Early Childhood program.

If a candidate resorts to fear-mongering and falsehoods while campaigning, how can voters trust that such a person will represent them in good faith if elected? Will they hear the truth about other issues or be fed misinformation for four years?  Demagogues say they represent an entire population. Responsible elected officials know that constituents are not a faceless block, but are individuals with points of view and specific concerns that need to be heard.

Let the voter beware.

--Bernice

Monday, June 29, 2015

Da Rold to Retire, Rogan Named New Director

From the Plainfield Public Library:


The Plainfield Public Library Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Mary Ellen Rogan to the position of Director, following the retirement of Joe Da Rold.  Mary Ellen, who has been Plainfield's Assistant Director since 2009, was selected after a widespread recruitment by the Board.  From 1991 to 2009 she was employed by the New York Public Library's Performing Arts Library as Senior Archivist, Manager of the Wilson Processing Project, and Assistant Director for Special Formats Processing.  She is active in the Daughters of the American Revolution, currently serving as NJ State Vice-Chair of Lineage Research, and is NJ State Registrar of the Daughters of 1812.  She will assume the Plainfield Directorship on September 1, 2015.

Joe Da Rold has been Executive Director of Plainfield Public Library since 1996.  He began his library career in 1966 with Los Angeles County Public Library System, then became City Librarian of the Santa Fe Springs City Library.  He served as the first Executive Director of the Whittier Historical Society & Whittier Museum and the Hathaway Ranch Museum.  Prior to returning to New Jersey, where he was raised, he was employed by the Burbank Public Library as Head of the Warner Research Library.  He has been the recipient of numerous local and statewide awards, including NJLA's Librarian of the Year, the Susan G. Swartzburg Preservation Award, the Roger McDonough Librarianship Award, and the Gail Stern Award.  He has been active in several NJLA Sections, having served as President of Urban Libraries and History & Preservation and is Past President of the LMxAC Board of Directors.


Waiting for the North Avenue Cleanup

Waiting for work to commence at 117-125 North Avenue. It gets messier every day. (Click to enlarge images)
Mi Buenaventura restaurant was supposed to open at a new location on North Avenue in May, but it hasn't happened yet.
The original site was destroyed on March 21 when debris from the demolition crashed down on it.
See where the ceiling collapsed. The notice to vacate is still taped to the door and a sign says, "Sorry we're closed."
Every day more trash is added to the pile of debris.
A cat was foraging in the rubble last week.
"Whutchu lookin' at?"

Let's hope we will soon be looking at a cleaned-up site.

--Bernice

Sunday, June 28, 2015

South Avenue Plans in Progress

It's still a couple of weeks until the next City Council meeting and both the Board of Adjustment and Planning Board meetings scheduled for next week have been canceled. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a major South Avenue development, with a 90-day window for a "Redevelopment Agreement" expiring in July.

It was about a year ago in July when merchants were told of JMF Properties' concept for for a large development on South Avenue.Several steps in the redevelopment process have been accomplished. The original scope was altered to exclude two existing apartment complexes, an "In Need of Redevelopment" study was performed and approved by the City Council. In February, the Planning Board adopted a resolution forwarding a report to the council on the proposed "South Avenue Gateway Redevelopment Plan."

An ordinance adopting the plan was adopted on first reading in March and on second reading in April. The developer, now known as Sleepy Hollow Developers, LLC, agreed to deposit $25,000 in an escrow account to cover expenses related to negotiating the redevelopment agreement.

Among expenses to be covered by the fund are the following services:

- Redevelopment Counsel: McManimon & Scotland, at the "blended rate" of $325 per hour along with other expenses such as photocopying, travel, mail and messenger service.

- Redevelopment Planner: H2M Associates, at the "blended rate" of $125 per hour, plus expenses as above.

- Engineer: Remington, Vernick & Arango: at the "blended rate" of $140 per hour, plus expenses.

The city will also require a fee of $1,000 for each special meeting held on the proposed project.

So all this is going on while many of us are relaxing with summer fun and travel or just keeping up with the garden and yard work. Redevelopment is a long process and now that several projects are in motion, the city's Planning and Economic Development staff is very busy. Plainfield is changing. Stay tuned!

--Bernice

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Happy Pride!

Last week's Historic Preservation Commission meeting made me recall the many contributions of the LGBT community to Plainfield in terms of saving its housing stock. In the early 1980s, members of a local gay group set up a gazebo on Christopher Street during Gay Pride weekend and invited people to Plainfield for a house tour. Many historic homes were purchased and restored as a result of the interest engendered through these tours.

Plainfield's most valuable ratable category is still its housing stock, and one of the items on the agenda Tuesday was the discussion of signs designating the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood with the idea of attracting New York buyers to Plainfield. The signage issue proved to be more complicated than anticipated, but thinking back to earlier days made me recall the debt of gratitude owed to those who spared no effort or expense to preserve the mansions of yesteryear.

It also recalled to me, quite sadly, another wave of activism that grew out of the AIDS crisis. Patients in the 1980s were treated cruelly and it took a volunteer effort of Unitarians and others to get proper care for them. Dozens of Plainfielders died in the days before medical advances allowed people to live with HIV and AIDS.

A lot of talent and community pride died with those individuals, but there is still a substantial LGBT population that is now engaged on many levels in the life of the Queen City. In public service and everyday life as parents and neighbors, the contributions are invaluable. "Happy Pride" to all, for the past, the present - and the future, now that marriage equality is the law of the land.

--Bernice

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bilingual Day Care Transition Plan Launched

At a special meeting Thursday, four City Council members voted approval of measures aimed at phasing the Bilingual Daycare Center out from city control.

One resolution was for a "transition period memorandum of agreement" with HOPES Community Action Partnership Inc. and the other was to submit a layoff plan to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.
Both had been tabled at the June 16 council meeting after center Director Eva Rosas-Amirault and many others challenged the change.

Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams, Diane Toliver and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "yes" to both. Gloria Taylor, Vera Greaves and Tracey Brown were absent.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp spoke Thursday about reasons for the transition, including imminent staff retirements, the current prevalence of bilingual education in Plainfield and the prohibitive cost of program.

The center began operating in 1978. The 1980 Census counted 3,291 Latinos out of 45,555 residents. The number swelled to 6,996 by 1990, 12,033 by 2000 and 20,105 in 2010, or 40.5 percent of the population.

Mapp said 70 percent of the school population is now Latino. The center's 69 students "will not lose anything," he said. He called HOPES Vice President and CFO Simona Ovanezian to the table to explain additional services the agency offers, such as a nutritionist, nurse and mental health and disabilities specialist. Ovanezian said the agency "serves the whole family."

Before the vote, some speakers pleaded to keep the center as it is. Rosas-Amirault said the program was nationally recognized and called it the "backbone of the community."

"We need time," she said. "Give us a chance."

Norman Ortega, an independent candidate for City Council, said "generations of kids studied there" and called it "part of our culture."

"What you're doing is taking a piece of all of us and throwing it to the wayside," he said.

Elsie Cousins, who with Rosas-Amirault has been at the center since 1978, said she was "being told to retire," but needed to be there to get things done.

"We are not fighting the transition," she said. "That is not the issue - the issue is the time frame."

Resident Alan Goldstein spoke in support of the transition, saying the city was spending almost a quarter-million dollars on a program with 69 students. (The city pays staff salaries and benefits.) He said the city should concentrate on core priorities.

The discussion on phasing social service programs out of the city budget dates back many years and comes up regularly in annual budget talks. Dudley House, a program for men in recovery from substance abuse, is now operated by an outside agency.

--Bernice

Thursday, June 25, 2015

PMUA Board Ratifies Union Contract

New Commissioners Pedro Estevez (second from left), Jacinth Clayton-Hunt (third from left) and Robin Bright (right) join the PMUA board.

Forty-seven PMUA workers are now members of Teamsters Local 97, following contract ratification by the authority's board at a special meeting Wednesday.

The long-sought contract runs from Jan. 1, 2011 to December 31, 2015 and covers workers at the Rock Avenue transfer station.

The board met briefly in closed session to discuss the contract and personnel matters. In open session, the roll call vote to ratify the contract included "yes" votes by Commissioners Henry Robinson and Michelle Graham-Lyons and Chairman Charles Tyndale. New Commissioners Jacinth Clayton-Hunt and Robin Bright abstained. Commissioner Carol Brokaw was absent. As the second alternate, Commissioner Pedro Estevez did not need to vote.

The personnel matter turned out to involve a new candidate for the post of executive director, who will be interviewed between now and the July meeting. The candidate was not named.

The last executive director, Dan Williamson, had a three-year contract ending July 1 and was not offered a renewal. The board chose Somerville Public Works Director Rodney Hedley in May over Brokaw's objection that he was not among finalists in a board review of candidates. Hedley was expected to start in mid-June, but withdrew, causing extension of a contract for Bryan Christiansen to serve as interim executive director.

Christiansen said the next meeting will be on July 9, and the July 14 meeting will be canceled. In August, the PMUA board will have just one meeting on Aug. 11. Check the PMUA web site for agendas.

--Bernice

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Special PMUA Meeting Tonight

From the PMUA web site:

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the “Authority") has scheduled a Special Meeting for JUNE 24, 2015 at 6:00 P. M. at the Authority's office located at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey.
The purpose of the meeting is to hold an Executive Session (closed to the public) to discuss the following:
 Union Contract Matters
 Personnel Matters
And, (in open session) to take possible action on the following matters:
 Ratification of Union Contract
 Appointment of Certain Authority Personnel

Sleepy Hollow Signage Raises Questions

Historic advertisement for Sleepy Hollow
(click to enlarge)
A proposal to erect "Sleepy Hollow" signs as a marketing tool met with some confusion Tuesday at the Historic Preservation Commission's meeting and the group rendered no decision.

The signage is a project of The Friends of Sleepy Hollow, a neighborhood association based in the city's southeast corner. The commission upholds the city's historic preservation ordinance and can issue or deny a "certificate of appropriateness" for exterior changes to properties in the city's historic districts. It can also hold informational meetings to discuss proposed changes.

HPC Chairman William Michelson said the discussion of the signs was informational, but Commissioner Larry Quirk told FOSH board members David Cook and Patrick Florencio, "I don't know why you're here. Is there something you feel will come before us?"

Cook said although Sleepy Hollow was not an historic district, the group wanted to place nine signs in the neighborhood "to make it very identifiable." Two would be in existing designated historic districts. He said the group had raised $10,000 toward the cost. In addition, the group planned to place "beautiful black planters" at the beginning and end of streets in the neighborhood and was putting together a web site aimed at attracting buyers from New York City.

Cook said the group was not looking to create an historic district or to override any existing district.

Besides not being an historic district, the Sleepy Hollow section does not have strict boundaries.

"Sleepy Hollow is an idea, a concept," Quirk said.

"We did look for lines of demarcation," Cook said, but they could not be found.

Although the FOSH board members said they went door to door with the sign design and won the support of 200 residents, Quirk questioned whether that represented a majority of the neighborhood and said, "You are now defining the district with a line on a map."

(It turned out the map in question was drawn by HPC secretary Scott Bauman of the city's Planning Division and Plaintalker did not obtain a copy, but according to the discussion, it extended west to streets including Highland and Evergreen avenues.)

"Those are the streets where the historic homes are," Florencio said.
From a city map, traditional "Sleepy Hollow" at right
Objecting to the discussion, Commissioner John Favazzo said, "This exclusive winding neighborhood has now been quadrupled."

Besides the boundaries, other bones of contention included having the words "Historic Plainfield" on the Sleepy Hollow signs and whether they should be allowed in designated historic districts that have their own identifying signs.

In public comment, resident Charles Lawrence told the FOSH board members, "You want to pit parts of the city against each other."

Lawrence said he lives in the Putnam-Watchung Historic District that they want to make part of Sleepy Hollow. Among other remarks, he said, "You want to make a little Colonial Williamsburg for yourself," and chastised them for suggesting on their new web site that the Drake House Museum be moved.

Nancy Piwowar, president of the Historical Society of Plainfield's board of trustees, also objected strongly to the notion of moving the museum, calling it "a cultural destination" that attracts visitors from all over in its present location. She vowed to form her own "Drake House militia" to fight for the museum.

Evergreen Avenue resident and FOSH board member Stina Nanavati said the signage was intended "to bring pride to the neighborhood' and was "not about greed, it's about unification."

Realtor John DeMarco offered proof of the original Sleepy Hollow by way of a 1920s advertisement that showed Sleepy Hollow Lane looping off Watchung Avenue and boasted "100 acres of beautiful rolling land ..." (see it above). He told a cautionary tale about being too loose with the "Sleepy Hollow" designation, saying a buyer once sued and won $10,000 when misled. He attributed the ad to Charles Loizeaux, a Plainfield mayor and later a state senator who, according to "Prominent Families of New Jersey." also counted "Sleepy Hollow Development Company" among his many endeavors.

Finally, Cook said he found the discussion "very instructive" and the comments "helpful." Michelson concluded by saying, "We're not making any decision tonight."

Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch, who represents the governing body on the Planning Board, was an attentive listener at the meeting and said he will be writing about it on his blog.

(Since it is now past 3 a.m. and I can't read my own writing, I will just stop here.)

--Bernice

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Steer Clear of Deer Flies in the Yard

My enjoyment of yard work has been tempered a bit by the realization that Deer Flies are back. They took over my hose reel a few years ago, to the point that I could no longer use it without one of them coming out after me. One bite sent me to the Urgent Care in Scotch Plains. They do not sting like bees or mosquitoes, they have sharp mouth parts that cut the skin to draw blood. Keep the smelling salts nearby before you look at this photo by Nature Photographer Patrick Zephyr!

To add insult to injury, the Deer Fly's saliva contains an anti-coagulant that can cause serious reactions in the human victim. Deer probably suffer even worse from multiple bites. The fly's saliva can also transmit diseases.

The triangular wings make the Chrysops flies look even more aggressive somehow. We had brown ones earlier, but now there are some of a golden color. View more Chrysops at BugGuide.Net and if you see any in the garden, watch out!

--Bernice

Clerk's Office Finds No Constable Reports


If constables appointed in April 2011 followed state law and filed monthly reports through March 2015, the City Clerk's office should have several dozen on file. Results of an OPRA request: None found.

Failure to file a report for two consecutive months, unless physically unable to do so, means the office can be deemed vacant - that is, if anyone is paying attention. An inquiry a few months after the appointments turned up no reports.

At an August 2014 council meeting, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs defended the constables and did so again in June 2015. She had former Constable Frank Rokins present a report to show the council members and said, "I know there are reports," claiming former Police Director Martin Hellwig had them. Police Director Carl Riley said he was unaware that the city had any constables and he did not recommend them.

Rokins was one of three constables appointed in 2011. The others were Sheldon Green and Tommie Ingram. Green dropped out, but Rokins and Ingram remained.

A call to the Constable Office of New Jersey yielded a callback from Philip Geron, 82, who said he became a constable in 1989. He was a font of information, starting with the distinction that a constable is a peace officer, not a police officer. A constable can be appointed for one to three years (not four) and must be bonded, he said. Activities include serving warrants, recovery and transporting, working with the DEA or serving as game warden, Geron said. A constable may be paid through the court or may become an independent contractor.

Geron said the position can be quite lucrative and added "Anybody can do this."

The municipality gives the constable a badge and collects a $50 fee. The constable must detail all activities and fees on the monthly reports and receives a 1099 tax form at the end of the year from those who use his or her services. But Geron said, "You really have to file a monthly report, even if it says 'no activity.'"

Click to see more about constables.

--Bernice

Monday, June 22, 2015

Questions Remain on Council's Demolition Investigation

At the last City Council meeting, the governing body passed a resolution approving Yanuzzi Group of Kinnelon as the contractor to complete the demolition at 117-125 North Avenue and to clean up the site, despite objections from two minority contractors who say they were left out of the hiring process.

Council members expressed sympathy with the contractors' concerns, but faced with a mess at the site since the failed demolition on March 21, the larger concern was getting the work done and securing the site.

"We can't delay this," Councilwoman Diane Toliver said before the unanimous vote to approve the contract.

Yanuzzi was the winning bidder among three, and the minority contractors said they had not submitted bids, a curious thing in a city where minority enterprise has been supported for three decades with education on how to compete. The bid opening, according to a notice on the city web site, was on May 27 and the resolution passed on June 16.

There was another bid opening on May 29, for independent counsel to investigate how the original demolition contract came about and "other procurement matters." The latter may refer to another controversy, how two $26,000 Explorers were purchased for use of the mayor and city administrator. No action was taken on June 16 on the bid for independent counsel, and in the hullabaloo of that meeting, it didn't even come up. The next regular council meeting is on July 20, so maybe if bids were received, an award will take place then. Or maybe the notion of an investigation was just some pre-primary sabre-rattling by the friends of Column A, who knows?

Looking back at blog posts on the demolition, there certainly are some oddities. A special meeting to approve the demolition contract was preceded by the demolition itself. The black-owned realty firm that won the bid subcontracted to an outside firm. A restaurant next door was crushed by debris from the demolition. The method of the demolition remains in question. Liabilities are being sorted out.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp posted a mass of information regarding the demolition on the city web site and blog commenters, some with professional expertise, have added their analysis of the situation.

The council previously approved a law firm on April 13 to undertake an investigation, so the May bid opening appears to be a correction of sorts. If bids were received, the next step would be an award at the July 20 meeting or at a special meeting if necessary. Meanwhile, there is the hope that at long last the site will be cleared and secured. The uncertainty has already spilled over onto plans to hold the annual arts festival on North Avenue - but that's another story.

--Bernice

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice Greetings



The Wheel of the Year

Blessed Litha
to all our Pagan friends
 who are celebrating the Summer Solstice


Saturday, June 20, 2015

SORROW

I will not add to the torrent of words about the Charleston murders except to say our sorrow is great. Not everyone is feeling the forgiveness expressed by the church members. But in our spectrum of feelings, let us keep their example in mind.

Here is a post from last year that asks, "What Do We Want for Plainfield?" I think it is still a good question.

--Bernice

PMUA: Some Background

In light of all the changes at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, perhaps some history is relevant. This Plainfield Plaintalker post from 2008 gives a quick summary of things to know about the authority and related entities.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Contractors Complain About Bidding Process

Two minority contractors complained they were left out of competition for a demolition cleanup on North Avenue, even though neither bid on the job.
The demolition was underway on March 21 when part of the building at 117-125 North Avenue fell onto an adjacent restaurant, crushing the roof and facade. Work was halted and now must be completed before the site can be cleared.

Contractors Rufus Thomas and Oliver Brown spoke Tuesday before the City Council voted approval of Yanuzzi Group of Kinnelon to complete the demolition at 117-125 North Avenue and remove the debris.
Brown said contracts were going out to "people who don't live in Plainfield" and asked why there was no set-aside for minorities, "especially black folk." He said he can't get a loan, but  "churches line up to put their money in a white bank."

When Council President Bridget Rivers asked whether he had bid on the contract, Brown said, "I didn't know anything about it."

Thomas said, "There are only two of us here," referring to his company, Rufus Demolition, and Brown's firm, Oveter's Construction. He spoke at length about the evolution of his company and said, "My trucks are in the parade every year," referring to the city's July 4th celebration.

Brown said he had suffered "nine bad years back to back," although in 2010 his firm was hired to carry out an emergency demolition on North Avenue, with costs that started at $21,000 but escalated to $200,000.

Brown recalled better times when "Mayor (Rick) Taylor gave us a lot of work."

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, the late mayor's widow, weighed in with a call for "black empowerment," saying she was concerned that black contractors were not included in the current demolition process.
 Actually, a black-owned firm had the March 21 demolition contract but subcontracted with a Newark firm to do the work.

Taylor also called for a set-aside.

In other comments, retired firefighter Sheldon Green said he has been working with the owner of the building that was damaged by falling debris, but he has not been able to find out the proposed scope of work. He called the winning bid "kind of low" and alleged local contractors could not compete because people "bid low" and then the cost goes "up and up" through change orders..

The bid notice was published in local newspapers and also posted on the city web site. Specifications were prepared by the engineering firm Remington & Vernick and the bid opening was held on May 27. The bids ranged from a high of $263,100 to Yanuzzi's low bid of $75,800.

An attempt to table the resolution came into question after Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill explained aspects of the state bidding law. Taylor asked what would happen if the council voted "no," and Rivers asked whether the city could go back out for bids. As Sias-Hill continued to explain, Councilman Cory Storch asked, "Are you saying we're exposing ourselves to a lawsuit?"

Storch told Taylor, "I support your goals, but the timing isn't good on this particular project."

Councilwoman Diane Toliver said going forward the city should make sure citizens know (about bids), but she said the the demolition site needs to be cleared.

"We can't delay this," she said.
After a metal fence blocking off the site was removed, the city put up a makeshift arrangement of sawhorses and orange snow fencing to secure it. But as Toliver noted, debris was being scattered around.

The council finally voted unanimously to approve the demolition completion and debris removal resolution.

Numerous documents related to the demolition issue are posted on the city web site

--Bernice

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ramadan Begins

Ramadan Mubarak
to all our
Muslim friends
and neighbors

(Learn more here and here)


Ponton Advocates Translation of Council Meetings

Carlos Ponton

Spanish translation at City Council meetings would send "a very strong message of inclusion," 
resident Carlos Ponton said Tuesday.

Ponton, a member of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, spoke in public comment before the governing body voted approval of a resolution authorizing translation at council meetings. As reported by Plaintalker last week, the resolution does not spell out the method of translation. Ponton stressed the need for professionalism and said the translator should not be a member of the community. He said there are 19 translators in New Jersey who are "accustomed to this kind of work" and who could assure "unbiased and impartial" translation.

The text of the resolution, as can be seen in the link above, says the "Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA) strongly requests that the City Council provide a certified and qualified translator at all City Council meetings."

Ponton said translation of council meetings would help break down barriers faced by Plainfield's 40 percent Latino population.

Latinos in 2000 were counted as 25.2 percent of the city population and in 2010 as 40.4 percent, a 67 percent increase.

Ponton pointed out Jersey City's Office of Diversity & Inclusion as the kind of  outreach needed in Plainfield. The office was formed to "empower, integrate and celebrate" the immigrant population in Jersey City, considered to be the second most diverse city in America.

Tuesday's meeting had a very large turnout of Hispanic residents in support of the Plainfield Bilingual Daycare Center, a city-run agency which is facing a transition to outside control. For those who did not speak English, Ponton repeated his remarks in Spanish, drawing applause.

The resolution authorizing translation set no timetable for implementation nor did it address possible costs. Tuesday's meeting included passage of the 2015 budget, so translation services may have to be funded in the 2016 budget or through budget transfers later this year.

--Bernice

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blog Hits 10 Years

It was 10 years ago today that Plainfield Plaintalker began, a joint effort by me and Barbara Todd Kerr. Later I became the sole blogger and created Plaintalker II as a successor. Between the two formats, 5,278 posts have been published for your edification and amusement. I hope the blog has spurred your interest in municipal government and land use issues, but if you just look for the flower, cat and praying mantis photos, that's fine too!

--Bernice

Three PMUA Commissioners Appointed

Late in Tuesday's City Council meeting, three new commissioners were named to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority board.

Jacinth Clayton-Hunt a former public information officer for the city and a publicist for the PMUA, will replace Harold Mitchell for an unexpired term ending on Feb. 1, 2016.

Clayton-Hunt's appointment was previously the only item on the agenda for a June 2 special meeting called by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp. Approval required at least four votes, but only Councilman Cory Storch and Councilwoman Rebecca Williams attended. After 15 minutes, Deputy Clerk Sherri Golden declared the meeting adjourned for lack of a quorum.

City Administrator Rick Smiley sought to add Clayton-Hunt's nomination to the agenda on June 10, but Council President Bridget Rivers rejected it as a "walk-on" item. As Smiley tried to explain, Rivers ignored him, saying, "Moving right along ..."

On Tuesday, Rivers said the resolution had been submitted on time, but had inadvertently been left off the agenda by Deputy Clerk Sherri Golden, so it was being accepted as a new item.

The other nominees were Robin Bright, to replace Alternate No. 1 Charles Eke, and Pedro Estevez, filling the vacancy. Bright said she is a buyer in the book industry and she also manages budgets. Estevez said he is a retired businessman.

"You wouldn't happen to be Christian Estevez's father," Rivers asked.

"Yes," Estevez said

Both alternates will serve terms expiring Feb. 1, 2017.

--Bernice

Latinos Rally for Bilingual Preschool

An outpouring of concern from parents and staff convinced the City Council Tuesday to table two resolutions that would shift the Bilingual Daycare Center from city control.

Though it was unique when first begun 37 years ago, the center is now one of many agencies offering bilingual education. While some speakers admitted as much, others called it an institution too beloved to be subsumed under some other leadership. One resolution was to enter into a "transition period memorandum of agreement" with HOPES, which already has four locations in Plainfield. But at last week's agenda-fixing session, Neighborhood House Director Carol Presley gave numerous reasons why her agency should have been chosen instead.
Markette Harris, grandmother of a preschool child, asked the council Tuesday to table the resolution so the city can issue a request for proposals. Others called for tabling, each getting applause from the large crowd of Latinos. Public comment extended past 10 p.m. as speakers asked what will become of the program's staff, who are civil service employees making more than other childcare workers.

City officials have long sought to disengage from providing social services and successfully spun off a city-run  residential program for men recovering from substance abuse.  The WIC (Women, Infants & Children) nutrition program is a federally-funded agency with city employees that officials have often talked about relocating.

Council President Bridget Rivers asked Finance Director Ron West how long he had been talking to HOPES and the Neighborhood House. West said it was over a year ago for Neighborhood House and the Bilingual Daycare, and eight months ago for HOPES.

Even after nearly an hour of comments on the issue, Rivers allowed Bilingual Daycare Director Eva Rosas-Amirault to speak again.

"Table it," Rosas-Amirault said, suggesting otherwise "children will be sitting in front of City Hall" making national news.

"Do it right and we don't have any problems," she said. "Table it and do it right."

The vote to table, with Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor, Diane Toliver, Cory Storch, Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers saying "yes" and Rebecca Williams saying "no," drew a standing ovation from the crowd. The council then had to table the resolution to submit a layoff plan to the state for the daycare employees.

West said putting off the vote will leave the Plainfield Board of Education in a quandary, as they need to know where the children will be. The city's 2015 budget passed Tuesday, but funds will end on Dec 31.

"It would put these 69 children with a big question mark," he said.

Preschool education is federally funded, but administered through the school district's Early Childhood Program.

Cynthia Smith, president of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Association, had asked the council to table the plan"until the employees have an opportunity to have everything explained to them." Smith said maybe the council could hold a special meeting to explain things.

As city employees, the Bilingual Daycare workers would be entitled to "terminal leave," using up all sick and vacation time. If they did so, she said, the program would have "barely any employees."

--Bernice

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Church Fire Contained Downtown

Photo credit: David Alonso
The Plainfield Fire Division used its "Aerial Cat" ladder truck Tuesday morning to reach a fire that erupted in a downtown church over Casanova Pizza.

Fire Chief Frank Tidwell said the alarm came in at 10:44 a.m. Because the division had a "pre-fire" plan at the ready, firefighters entering from the Somerset Street entrance already knew the layout of the building, location of hydrants and other information to attack the blaze.
Photo credit: David Alonso
Tidwell said there were no injuries to civilians, but one firefighter suffered an injured finger and was treated at the scene and later at the offices of the city physician.
Photo credit: David Alonso
The Booster Mobile store had water damage and other stores had smoke damage, Tidwell said. Casanova Pizza was closed until about 1 p.m., a representative said when reached by phone.

--Bernice

Those Budget Amendments

City Hall
The long and tortuous 2015 budget process is slated to end tonight with a public hearing on amendments and likely final passage.

One curiosity is a last-minute change in the amendments. As listed in the agenda sent out on June 5, the "total amount to be raised by taxes for support of the municipal budget" reflected a $300,000 cut from the amount in the introduced budget.

But at the June 10 special meeting, another resolution was passed out reflecting only a $100,000 cut. Maybe someone will explain the effect on the tax rate.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's budget requests for his office, $199,050 for salaries and wages and $21,500 for other expenses, were reduced in the June 5 resolution to $159,050 and $19,000 respectively. On the June 10 resolution, about which Chief Financial Officer Al Steinberg said, "Some changes were only made about an hour ago," there were no cuts for the mayor's office.

It would appear that the governing body had decided not to cut the $40,000 recommended by their own budget consultant. The target was the controversial "chief of staff" position. The council approved creation of the position and also a salary band in late 2013, but once Mapp took office in January 2014, some council members began objecting to it.

The Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee also recommended elimination of the chief of staff position and said in their report that the mayor's budget should be $115,000 for 2015. 

Other amendments that dropped off the agenda between June 5 and June 10 were cuts to Recreation, the office of the director of Administration & Finance and Telephone & Telegraph expenses. On June 10, the Health Division was newly listed for a $64,906 increase. 

The city has been operating on monthly appropriations since January, so the amendments will only apply to the rest of the year.

The only major change between June 5 and June 10 was Mapp's election as chairman of the Democratic City Committee on June 8. On June 9, Assemblyman Jerry Green retained his leadership of the Union County Democratic Committee, of which the city committee is a subset. However, the tone of the agenda-fixing session that followed the special meeting on amendments did not reflect any new love between the legislative and executive branches. If anything, it showed a hardening of the council majority's animosity toward the administration. 

The import of the revised amendments remains to be seen. It's possible that the constituency that handed Mapp 48 of 68 committee seats will demand more collegiality of the governing body, but anyone who views the June 10 meeting on television will see that the administration has to drop the work-arounds and be more upfront with the council majority. The discussion on National Night Out exemplifies the problem, The public will be watching to see what happens on Aug. 4,

--Bernice

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Postscript to Car Issue

There was a time during the 1980s when local officials wanted to model themselves on Newark, where council members had not only cars but staff and offices as well. Apparently the use of city-owned vehicles spread in Newark and is now being reined in, as described in this article.

In its "Best Practices" program, the state asks municipalities about their policies on use of municipal vehicles and whether such use is calculated as a fringe benefit.

The thrice-rejected "manager motors" title may have helped out with sorting out the pros and cons of municipal vehicle use, although here's what the Municipal Code says:  

The City Administrator or his designee shall maintain complete records of the use of all publicly-owned or publicly-supported vehicles and/or equipment consistent with this Section. It shall further be required that all records and information maintained pursuant to this Section shall be provided to the City Council or any member thereof upon request.

The designee could have been the "manager motors," if the council had agreed.

The 2015 budget process will be done with a public hearing and final passage of the amended budget on Wednesday, but in future budget planning maybe the fleet of city-owned vehicles, the roster of designated users and all related costs will be studied.

--Bernice

City Car Use Unauthorized for 2015?

Beside the matter of where city-owned vehicles for top officials come from, there may be another question as to why none of the usual council authorizations for vehicle use were made in 2015.

Having covered annual reorganizations of city government for nearly 30 years, I have a strong sense of what is normally included in their agendas. The governing body sets a meeting schedule for the year, names official newspapers, approves rules of order and authorizes use of city-owned vehicles for five officials each calendar year. The mayor and city administrator usually receive authorization for 24-hour use of unmarked city-owned vehicles. The superintendent of Public Works, who may be called on at any time to address weather-related emergencies and such, usually is granted 24-hour use of a marked city-owned vehicle. Since the elimination of the title of police chief in favor of "police director," the assignment of vehicles for public safety officials has become a bit confused, especially after the head of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety and police director became one and the same in Martin Hellwig. Formerly, the police and fire chiefs reported to the department head, one of three mandated by the city's special charter. Hellwig in effect reported to himself as both police director and department head.

The confusion is apparent in the 2014 roster of those allowed 24-hour use of city-owned vehicles, which assigned cars to both titles (see below).

*R 008-14 COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION APPROVING AUTHORIZATION FOR THE MAYOR’S USE OF AN UNMARKED CITY-OWNED VEHICLE ON A TWENTY-FOUR HOUR BASIS FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 – CITY CLERK.
*R 009-14 COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION APPROVING AUTHORIZATION FOR THE CITY ADMINISTRATOR’S USE OF AN UNMARKED CITY-OWNED VEHICLE ON A TWENTY- FOUR HOUR BASIS FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 – CITY CLERK.
*R 010-14 COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION APPROVING AUTHORIZATION FOR THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS & SAFETY’S USE OF AN UNMARKED CITY-OWNED VEHICLE ON A TWENTY-FOUR HOUR BASIS FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 – CITY CLERK.
*R 011-14 COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION APPROVING AUTHORIZATION FOR THE POLICE DIRECTOR’S USE OF AN UNMARKED CITY-OWNED VEHICLE ON A TWENTY-FOUR HOUR BASIS FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 – CITY CLERK.
*R 012-14 COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION APPROVING AUTHORIZATION FOR USE BY THE FIRE CHIEF OF AN IDENTIFIED OR MARKED CITY-OWNED VEHICLE FOR CONDUCT OF OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 – CITY CLERK.
*R 013-14 COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION APPROVING AUTHORIZATION FOR USE BY THE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC WORKS OF AN IDENTIFIED OR MARKED CITY-OWNED VEHICLE FOR CONDUCT OF OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 – CITY CLERK.

On the agenda for the 2015 annual reorganization, there were no resolutions for use of city-owned vehicles. Could it be that all current users of 24-hour city-owned vehicles are unauthorized?

The issue of providing vehicles to top officials has generated controversy in the past. In 2009, council members pondered whether use of vehicles should be part of an official's compensation package. From a Plaintalker post on the 2009 reorganization:

After a confusing series of votes, the council approved year-long use of a city-owned vehicle only for the mayor and the fire chief. Approvals for the city administrator, director of Public Affairs & Safety and superintendent of Public Works passed only for January, pending further discussion of compensation.

Over the years, there have been other fiascos over car use, including times when a hostile council simply wants to embarrass a mayor in front of a crowd at a reorganization meeting by denying car use to cabinet members.

Perhaps the time to bring up car use issues in 2015 was not in the context of a budget meeting and not by a former mayor who is apparently unaccepting of the 2013 election results. Maybe the question should have come up in January, when car use is usually authorized and in 2015 for whatever reason did not follow past practice. Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill spoke of "past practice" in a discussion of vehicle procurement on June 10. Beyond the customary purchase of vehicles through state contracts, their eventual use seems to be covered only generally by the Municipal Code's section on Personnel, specifically Sec.11:17-4.

If "past practice" is now problematic, certainly the governing body can amend the code to clarify 24-hour use of city-owned vehicles. But the law should be fair and free of politics, for someday it may apply to a current critic who goes on to become mayor.

--Bernice

Friday, June 12, 2015

Council Pledges Spanish Translation at Meetings

Flags of many homelands, July 4, 2013

A resolution up for passage at the June 16 regular meeting authorizes the City Council to provide a translator at all meetings so that the Spanish-speaking population can follow the governing body's discussions and actions.

The resolution does not speak to the means by which translation will take place, except to say a "certified and qualified translator" will be provided. In some past school board meetings, individuals needing translation were given headphones to hear a translator. At recent meetings of the council, individuals have translated for non-English speakers in public comment, and Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez has offered translation after explaining development projects or other items in English.

In addition, public meetings and events are advertised in both English and Spanish on the city web site, and the Historic Preservation Commission is nearing publication of its Design Guidelines booklet in Spanish. Police have relied on translation services such as LanguageLine for instant communication with non-English speakers.

The resolution puts the Hispanic population at 39 percent as of the last census, although the U.S. Census Bureau said it was 40.4 percent in 2010. Under "Business Quick Facts" the Census report puts Hispanic-owned firms at 19.7 percent in 2007, more than double the statewide number. Probably the percentage is even higher today, making more Hispanic "stakeholders" as cited in the resolution.

Here is the text of the resolution, as copied from the June 16 online agenda:
RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE CITY COUNCIL TO PROVIDE BILINQUAL TRANSLATION SERVICES DURING THE CONDUCTION OF ALL CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS FOR THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD INTRODUCED BY THE MUNICIPAL COUNCIL: 
WHEREAS, the growth of the Hispanic community of Plainfield continues to rise (39% of population as of last census), and 
WHEREAS, there is a need to be inclusive of all residents of the city of Plainfield, and
WHEREAS, information discussed at City Council meetings are of great importance to the residents of Plainfield, and
WHEREAS, the primary language of many Plainfield residents is Spanish, and 
WHEREAS, the Hispanic community are stakeholders because they own property and/or businesses in the city of Plainfield, now, therefore
BE IT SO RESOLVED, that the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA) strongly requests that the City Council provide a certified and qualified translator at all City Council meetings. Scheduled by the City Council June 16, 2015.

Please note, the June 16 meeting is on Tuesday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

National Night Out in the Past

While city officials decide how they want to handle it this year, here are some past Plaintalker posts on National Night Out

August 2, 2005

August 2, 2011

August 6, 2013

August 5, 2014

Obviously, I skipped a lot of NNO events. I have a personal aversion to things involving "merch" such as this costume.

In my opinion, neighborhood events are a fine way for residents to get together and take a stand against crime. A city-sponsored event can also show solidarity against crime, though allocating the major part of the municipal budget to public safety shows an ongoing commitment.

In advance of last year's event, I made a pitch for an increase in general civility, which I would like to repeat:

For the rest of the year, I would like to propose a focus on increasing general civility - doing away with those little crimes of littering, defacing buildings with graffiti and riding bikes on the sidewalk. No merch is involved, just a willingness to think of others and how the city comes across to people who might be interested in living here or opening a business in the city.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

SRB and Council Allies Challenge Mapp Administration

As controversies over constables and official cars deepened Wednesday, Council President Bridget Rivers called for the governing body to have its own National Night Out event and newsletter in competition with the administration.

Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs previously urged the council to reappoint two constables and to challenge the purchase of new vehicles for Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and City Administrator Rick Smiley. Both matters came up Wednesday as discussion items for the council.

Regarding the constables, Police Director Carl Riley said he was unaware that the city had any and said he did not recommend having them. Councilwoman Gloria Taylor called on Robinson-Briggs to explain. The former mayor said she sent Riley a letter in April 2014 about the constables, whose terms had expired. She said Riley told her he was reviewing the matter, Robinson-Briggs asked the council to put the appointments on the agenda for the May 16 regular meeting and read a statute on constable appointments after noting that Riley said the police force was down by 17 officers.

Riley said constables can't supplement the police force, as they do not have the same powers, and voiced other concerns, adding, "Nobody's going to tell me who to choose as my constables."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams read another section of the statute on constables that said they must report monthly on their activities or lose their posts, whereupon Robinson-Briggs had a former constable come up and hand over a report.

"I know there are reports," she said, claiming former Police Director Martin Hellwig received them.

On the Explorers that were purchased out of the police budget, the discussion ranged from how to make sure "past practice" aligned with fiscal guidelines to Rivers' telling Smiley, "Maybe you should return the cars to Public Safety, where they belong."

"I won't be doing that," Smiley said.

"I want the mayor here," Rivers said. "I don't believe the mayor would have responded like that."

As Smiley insisted he could get any car he wanted from the police fleet, Rivers said, "I want you to give (the Explorers) back."

Regarding the Aug 4 National Night Out, Smiley first said it could not be held on the steps of City Hall because the administration had an event scheduled on the same night.

"If you have your event in the front, we will have ours in the back," Rivers retorted.

Then it turned out the administration's event was itself a National Night Out Program. Rivers said the administration should have discussed it with the governing body, adding, "If the administration is having one, we'll have one, too."

Councilman Cory Storch reminded the council that neighborhoods can organize their own events, and Smiley suggested that the council could hold them in each ward. Councilwoman Diane Toliver said people love having the event on the City Hall steps, saying to residents it's "like the White House."

In the end, Smiley suggested the two branches of government could work together.

The discussion items alone took over an hour. Near the end of the meeting, Rivers drew one more line in the sand.

"We have money in our budget," she said to the council members. "We need to work to have our own newsletter."

She said it could be used to publicize ward meetings and such, and suggested hiring someone "to do those things."

Mapp's online newsletter had come up in budget talks when some council members suspected a grants coordinator was writing it. Budget consultant Lawrence Caroselli had recommended elimination of the grants coordinator, but Finance Director Ron West said the staffer had brought in $1 million in grants. The newsletter was written by the mayor's chief of staff, who was also targeted for elimination in the 2015 budget.

The meeting was taped for viewing on local cable channels 34 and 96, so tune in to see all the action.

--Bernice

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

PMUA Exec Director Hire Quits, Interim Will Stay On

L-R: Acting Interim CFO Leanna Walcott, Interim Executive Director Bryan Christiansen, attorney Frank J. Borin

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's new executive director has dropped out and commissioners voted Tuesday to retain Interim Executive Director Bryan Christiansen until a permanent one can be hired.

The authority provides solid waste and sewer services to the city and operates a transfer station on Rock Avenue, where by contract several other municipalities may bring vegetative and bulky waste.

Former Jersey City Public Works Director Rodney Hadley was slated to start in mid-June and would have been only the third permanent executive director in the authority's history.

Eric Watson served from the authority's formation in 1995 until 2011, when Duane Young became acting director. Watson had been director of the city's Department of Public Works & Urban Development before becoming the PMUA director and in September 2014 came back to the city as department head.

On July 1, 2012, former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson began a three-year term as PMUA's executive director, but was not re-hired.

PMUA commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to retain Christiansen's firm, The Moorings Group, with compensation continuing at the rate of $125 hourly, plus reimbursement for travel and other out-of-pocket expenses. His initial contract was just for six weeks, through mid-June, but the resolution passed Tuesday says he will stay on at PMUA "until such time as a qualified individual can be hired to serve as its full-time executive director."

At his first meeting as interim executive director in May, Christiansen said he had more than 30 years' experience with solid waste and sewer authorities. He last served as director of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority before forming his own company.

The commissioners met in closed session to discuss items including the search for a new director. It was decided that Christiansen will assist in reviewing resumes already submitted by four or five candidates.

--Bernice

Monday, June 8, 2015

Mapp is New Dem Party Chairman

"It's been a beautiful ride. I enjoyed it."

So said Assemblyman Jerry Green Monday as he acknowledged Mayor Adrian O. Mapp as the new chairman of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee. Mapp's Progressive Democratic Organization won 48 of the 68 committee seats in the June 2 primary, giving Green only his third successful challenge as chairman of the Regular Democratic Organization in more than two decades.
The transition was gracious, in contrast to the campaign that filled city mailboxes with incendiary fliers. Green received applause from newly elected committee members and guests at the meeting. Mapp told Green he wanted him to feel "welcome to be at the table,"while Green said, "As of today, I want to say it loud and clear, you're the boss."

Mapp told members of Green's slate, "You are a part of our party as well as anyone else who is a Regular Democrat." His first official action was to name Dottie Gutenkauf, a longtime Green ally until recently, as parliamentarian. 

Mapp said he would be looking at the party's bylaws, which have inconsistencies, and named a bylaws committee headed by Mary Burgwinkle with Jeanette Criscione, Joylette Mills-Ransome and Ron Scott Bey as members.

Ward leaders for the next two years are Eric Graham, Ward 1; Jim Spear, Ward 2; Robin Bright, Ward 3; and Neville Greaves, Ward 4.

Mapp urged committee members to attend Tuesday night's meeting at L'Affaire to choose a Union County Democratic chairman. Green is the current county chairman and told PolitickerNJ he hopes to serve another term in that role.

--Bernice

Political Moves Looming

On Monday, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi is expected to announce official results for the June primary. While incumbent Councilman Cory Storch got 75 percent of the Second Ward vote in contrast to 25 percent for Charles Eke, the totals are much closer in the unofficial results for the First & Fourth Ward at-large contest, which last week showed 547 for Barry Goode and 517 for Steve Hockaday.

Storch and Goode ran on the Union County Progressive Democratic Organization slate and Eke and Hockaday were on the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County ticket. The RDO has until June 17 to seek a recount, but meanwhile on Monday night the chairmanship of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee is at stake. If  RDO chairman Jerry Green initiates a recount Monday, but then loses the chairmanship to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp or his nominee Monday night, would the county have to honor the recount request?

On Tuesday, the Plainfield City Committee will join those of other municipalities to choose a county chairman. Green has stated his intention to seek re-election as county chairman.

Meanwhile, over at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's meeting Tuesday night, will we find out the status of the new executive director? Is he still on board? Interim Executive Director Bryan Christiansen is heading the authority for the duration.

With the primary over (though not its aftermath), some folks are also undoubtedly thinking ahead to 2016, when the Third Ward and Citywide at-larges seats are up. It's never too early to start strategizing.

Today the term "political convictions" came to mind. No, not the conviction that follow a perp walk, the other political conviction, defined as a firmly held belief, a stance, a position. A lot of voters took a stand on June 2 and will have to hold firmly to their beliefs through the long months ahead.

--Bernice

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Constables Up for Discussion Wednesday



City constables have a friend in former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who championed them first in 2011 and stuck up for them most recently during budget talks in May. On Wednesday, the City Council has scheduled a discussion on constables.

Specifically, Robinson-Briggs asked at a May 6 budget session for reinstatement of constables Frank Rokins and Tommie Ingram, who were appointed in 2011 to four-year terms ending March 14, 2015. Originally the constable roster had also included Sheldon Green, who has since retired from the Fire Division. The constables were appointed over objections from the police union.

In 2011, the position was little known and Plaintalker had to research it for a post on the role of a constable. The constables were supposed to file monthly reports with the city, from which Plaintalker hoped to learn more about their actual work, but inquiries to the city clerk's office in 2011 turned up no reports.

Robinson-Briggs left office in December 2013 after two terms as mayor, but asked at an August 2014 council meeting for the reinstatement of Rokins as an auxiliary policeman, alleging new Police Director Carl Riley ordered his suspension. Officials could not respond in public, as it was a personnel matter.

Other discussion items listed for Wednesday are the procurement process for the purchase of vehicles, another topic Robinson-Briggs raised during budget talks.  National Night Out and 2015-2016 liquor license renewals are also up for discussion.

Please note the agenda-fixing meeting Wednesday will be preceded by a 7 p.m. special meeting and hearing on amendments to the 2015 municipal budget. Both meetings are in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The meetings were previously advertised for Monday, but were rescheduled due to the reorganization of Democratic City Committee, which takes places every two years following the June primary election.

--Bernice

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Flowers and Bugs

Enough about politics - let's look at some flowers and bugs!
Beauty and the Beast! I leaned in to get a good look at this Iris and jumped back when this big spider emerged.
He lurks inside and comes out when he senses prey. (Click any image to enlarge)
So many textures on a blue Iris!
I love the play of light on these flowers.
Rose petals have a velvety glow.
The Yarrow spread  madly and had to be thinned, but the bugs love it.
This miniature Grasshopper was intriguing, but I wonder if he was the culprit chewing on leaves of the Butterfly Bush.
Ladybug on unopened Yarrow flower buds.
They live! I saw several Praying Mantises for the first time since a landscaper clear-cut some of the garden plots. They were only as big as a staple when they emerged from the egg case, now they are about an inch long.
Sundrops! A fine sight after a few gloomy days.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine ...

Tulips, Irises, Forget-Me-Nots are now gone. Next up, Lilies, Black-Eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers. Still planting seeds left over from the summer I missed last year while recuperating from surgery. At least this year I can do yard work - bought a new garden vest from Duluth Trading Co. to celebrate being active.

--Bernice

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mitchell Ouster Fails, No Council Quorum

Wednesday's special meeting to appoint a PMUA commissioner fell through when only two of seven City Council members showed up.

The nominee was listed on the resolution as Jacinth Clayton-Hunt and she was named to an unexpired term replacing Commissioner Harold Mitchell, a holdover since 2011. Had she been approved, Clayton-Hunt's term would have expired Feb. 1, 2016.

Only Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch attended the meeting and after 15 minutes elapsed with no quorum, Deputy City Clerk Sherri Golden declared the meeting adjourned.

Clayton-Hunt was known as Jazz Johnson when she served as Plainfield's public information officer for about two years, ending in 2008. Before that, she served in a similar role at the PMUA. In 2009, she briefly posted a blog about Plainfield called The Plain View. According to her LinkedIn page where she goes by Jazz C., she has been the director of a public relations firm called Creative Blitz since 2009.

Mitchell, a former Plainfield councilman and mayor, was an alternate on the board before being appointed to an unexpired PMUA term in 2008 succeeding William Reid. He has served as chairman and remains as a holdover as permitted by state authority law. He also represents Plainfield on the board of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority.

The PMUA board's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 9 at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. Check the PMUA web site for any updates.

--Bernice

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Commentary on Independents for Council

Of just three Union County independent filers Tuesday for the Nov. 3 general election, two are from Plainfield. John Campbell is running for the Second Ward City Council seat with the slogan, "Young Bold Leadership" and Norman E. Ortega is seeking the First & Fourth Ward council seat with the slogan, "Change for Plainfield."
Screen shot of John Campbell on Facebook
Campbell ran for a District 22 Assembly seat in 2013 as a Republican and made a respectable showing for a newcomer. See 2013 District 22 results here. He is the son of Plainfield Board of Eeducation President Wilma Campbell and former Councilman John Campbell Sr., who left elective office saying he would rather be "kingmaker" than king. He has since backed successful candidates for council and school board and recently was appointed a school board member himself.

So John Campbell the younger - who doesn't use "Jr." - has politics in the blood. School board elections are supposed to be nonpartisan, but if the Campbell clan files a school board slate on July 27, young John Campbell's run may benefit from extra campaign energy.

Norman E. Ortega at a City Council meeting

 Ortega ran for the school board in 2014 on a slate backed by Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green. In 2010, he was an original member of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, which soon disbanded and was only reorganized in 2014. He is involved in Plainfield Latino and the Tri-County   Latino Coalition of New Jersey. For the record, I have had disputes with Norman Ortega.

Whether either "independent" is truly independent or merely a power broker's sub rosa candidate remains to be seen.

--Bernice

Progressive Dems Win Committee Seats, Council Lines

Unofficial primary results show Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's Progressive Democrats capturing 48 of 68 City Committee seats as well as winning the line for both City Council seats.
Mapp's candidates ran as "Union County Progressive Democratic Organization" against party chairman Jerry's Green's Regular Democratic Organization of Union County slate.

"We kept the high road," Mapp said of the hard-fought campaign. "We delivered a message that was embraced by the people of the city."

Incumbent Councilman Cory Storch will be on the Nov. 3 ballot seeking re-election for a fourth term, having bested Green's candidate Charles Eke in the Second Ward, 803 to 272. In the contest for the First & Fourth Ward at-large line, PDO candidate Barry Goode garnered 532 votes to 500 for RDO choice Steven Hockaday.
Mapp reminded the committee winners that they need to show up Monday, when the City Committee elects a chairman for the next two years. As the current chairman of the Regular Democratic Organization, Green must inform the committee winners of the time and location of Monday's reorganization. Mapp also urged the committee winners to attend the Union County Committee meeting Tuesday, where Green is also the current chairman.
Storch called the sweep "a referendum on (Mapp's) mayoralty."

"What did the people say? We are doing a good job. The people want progress," he said.

Obviously elated at winning on his first run for elected office, Goode said he had told Mapp he would "go in and go in hard" on the campaign trail.

"I'm just overjoyed," he said Tuesday.

Mapp called the voters' endorsement of his local slate " a repudiation of what has been happening at the City Council in the last several months."

Green had backed Mapp for mayor in 2013 over incumbent Sharon Robinson-Briggs, but no sooner did Mapp take office on Jan. 1, 2014 than Green made up with Robinson-Briggs and condemned Mapp. Of the seven council members, a majority followed suit and frequently blocked Mapp's initiatives, with Robinson-Briggs egging them on in public comment at council meetings

All results Tuesday were considered unofficial. Official primary results, including provisional and absentee ballots, must be certified by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi Monday.

--Bernice