Friday, July 31, 2015

Summing Up Summer

Click to enlarge photo

We had the daffodils and tulips, crocuses and lilacs, lilies and hosta and now it's time for the Black-Eyed Susans. Sometime during last couple of decades I got the original seeds for all the Black-Eyed Susans in the yard by harvesting some seedheads, as recounted in this post from 2007. Saving seeds is one of my favorite activities and I already have some vials and packets for 2016. These flowers are perhaps the most spectacular of the Black-Eyed Susans and I will definitely be saving their seeds once again.

--Bernice

Apply to Boards and Commissions

At the Community Forum Tuesday, someone asked about serving on boards and commissions. Legislation intended to facilitate citizen participation was passed in 2005, but the process is still lacking key features.

To see all the boards and commissions, one must go to the City Clerk's page on the city web site and scroll down to "Agencies, Boards & Commissions." The link takes you to a complete list of all the boards and commissions as well as a list of vacancies and a link to the Civic Responsibility Act that was passed in 2005. Here is a shortcut to the list - just click on Appointments to open up the full list.

The Vacancy link is just a bare-bones list. What an applicant really needs is the Registry as promised in the Civic Responsibility Act:

Registry of appointed municipal positions:


The City Clerk shall cause a register of appointed positions to City boards, commissions or agencies to be prepared and maintained.  Such register shall be made available on the City’s website and shall set forth at least the following:
1.         Title of each appointed municipal position
2.         Brief description of the position’s powers and duties
3.         Any special credentials or qualifications required to hold the position
4.         The length of term for the position
5.         The name of the person currently holding the position, the expiration date of the term and the number of vacant seats on the board or commission.
6.         The dates/times and frequency of meetings which the holder of the position must attend.

One reason why this is not available is that each board and commission is supposed to have a secretary, among other officers. Besides other duties, the secretary is supposed to inform the City Clerk's office of changes in the status of members that result in vacancies, such as resignations or deaths. The City Clerk's office already has the records of appointments and when terms are up, although certain entities such as the PMUA or Housing Authority can have holdovers, commissioners who stay on past the expiration of their terms until a successor is named. Some have stayed on many years past the end of their terms.

Some boards have classes of members, such as the Planning Board:
Class I: The Mayor or Mayor’s designee; the term shall correspond with the Mayor’s official tenure.
Class II: One (1) City Official other than a City Council member; the term shall be for one (1) year.
Class III: One (1) City Council member; the term shall be for one (1) year.
Class IV: Six (6) City residents; the term shall be for four (4) years.
Alternates No. 1 and No. 2: City resident; the term shall be for two (2) years. 
The terms of the alternate members shall be such that the term of not more than one (1) alternate member shall expire in any one (1) year.

It's a good idea to look over the list of boards and commissions and to attend a meeting or two of any that interest you. Meeting times are not mentioned in the clerk's list, but each board and commission must adopt a calendar annually and the clerk's office has a record of them. For example, the Planning Board generally meets on the first and third Thursdays of each month in City Hall Library. The Board of Adjustment meets usually on the first Wednesday of each month, also in City Hall Library.  

The application for serving on boards and commissions is on another link on the City Clerk's page. Click here to go directly to the application form.

If you apply, keep a copy and check back later on the status of your application. Paperwork sometimes gets misplaced or lost. If you are in a group that seeks more representation, share your experiences in applying.

The city web site is due for an overhaul, so some of this information will no doubt change. Meanwhile, familiarize yourself with the various boards and commissions and apply for any that appeal to you. Vacancies come up every year on most of them, so keep trying!

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

H.O.P.E. Forum Inspires Crowd

Plainfield police will have body cameras by this Fall, Police Director Carl Riley said at a community forum Tuesday.
The cameras, which Riley said may be the first in Union County, are part of a move for greater transparency and interaction with the community. Riley described "Freedom Fridays" where officers meet with young people at school and play ball. Officers are now getting out of patrol cars to walk in neighborhoods, and Riley and his staff set aside time once a week just to talk to residents.

The community forum, dubbed H.O.P.E. for Healing, Opportunity, Possibilities and Education, had the goals of "making connections to overcome barriers and challenges" and "closing the gap between community and police." The goals took on reality as Riley and other presenters described specific actions they are taking and answered questions from the large audience at Rose of Sharon Community Church.

In opening remarks, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said Plainfield police do serve and protect well, but "all is not well," he said, when there have been "653 deaths at the hands of law enforcement in 2015 alone." He named several, including Sandra Bland, who died on July 13.
"These are incidents that are happening every day," he said. "We want to make sure we have a better way."

Mapp said inviting law enforcement "into our midst" and forming relationships will prevent incidents "so that we can be living in a Plainfield we can be proud of."

Dr. Gary Kirkwood, president of the Greater Central Jersey Clergy Association, said the group's theme is "respecting the past, embracing the future." He said when Mapp called on him, he felt the forum was immediately in line with the group's mission. Kirkwood spoke of the need to restore hope in people, saying "people whose hearts are broken tend to hurt other people." He encouraged everyone to "look deep inside ourselves and do some deep introspection."

"At the end of the day, we all need each other," he said.

Rev. David Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Hispana Emanuel, said his congregation wants to get involved "not just with Hispanics" and will voluntarily give up services on Sunday, Oct. 11 to go out into the community to serve. He said he has partnered with Kirkwood's Harvest Radio  and has probably the only Spanish radio program.

Carlos Ponton, secretary of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, spoke of coming to the United States from Colombia and living in diverse communities before he and his husband chose Plainfield as their hometown. Embracing Mapp's "One Plainfield, One Future" slogan, he is a community activist who enjoys sharing information such as the opportunity in Plainfield for a business to get a free website for a year.
By the time Ponton spoke, the meeting room was nearly overflowing.

Evangelist Dianne Keel Atkins moderated the meeting and kept questions to a tight two minutes each. About 18 people asked questions or gave suggestions on how to advance the forum's goals. Richard Lear, president of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District Association, suggested capturing some "positive moments" with the police cameras as well as the law enforcement interaction, and advocated more community block parties. Human Relations Commission President George Gore said he wanted to see greater representation of females on the police force. John Brinkley asked what re-entry programs were in place and Finance Director Ron West said the city was working with the Institute of Social Justice on an expungement program.

Mustapha Muhammad recalled how 500 men from Plainfield attended the first Million Man March and urged support of the 20th anniversary "Justice Or Else!" march on Oct. 10.

Inez Durham said, "One of the greatest things to bring about change is education" and suggested greater publicity for the school district. Other concerns were getting rid of the metal grates on stores downtown, cleaning up the city and convincing young men to pull their pants up.

In closing, Keel Atkins said she conducts forums all the time and congratulated the organizers on an exemplary event.

--Bernice

Four to Vie for School Board

Four candidates filed Monday to run for three three-year terms on the Plainfield Board of Education.

As listed by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, they are Emily Morgan, John C. Campbell, Jackie Coley and Richard Wyatt. Coley will be seeking her second term. Campbell is serving as an appointee since April after board member Mahogany Hall resigned, and is the husband of board President Wilma Campbell. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, there is no prohibition on a husband and wife both serving on a school board.

Morgan and Wyatt are first-time candidates for the board. Morgan recently won a seat on the Plainfield Democratic City Committee. Both Coley and Wyatt are city employees, Coley in the Fire Division and Wyatt in the Tax Assessor's office.

Campbell and his wife operate a real estate agency in Plainfield, and John Campbell is a former Plainfield councilman. He has also backed school board slates for several years, with many wins.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Campbell confirmed his 2015 slate and commented on a range of school topics:

Union contract - After three years of district negotiations, he said, "I went to two meetings and we got a contract."

District status - Enrollment and graduation rates are up, Campbell said, and Plainfield High School has been removed from the U.S. Department of Education's Focus list.

School construction - He said the district got the "green light" from the Schools Development Authority for work at Cook and Woodland schools.

In April, Campbell described his appointment as "a trial run," but on Tuesday he said, "My mission is to create an environment where teachers can teach and children can learn."

The school board candidates will be on the Plainfield ballot along with those running for the Second Ward and the First & Fourth Ward at-large City Council seat. Winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2016.

Assemblyman Jerry Green, who showcased his school board slate last year before campaigning for others on the November ballot, said Monday he did not field a slate this year. He said he is concentrating on his work in the state Assembly, where he represents District 22, and also as chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee.

--Bernice

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"South Avenue Gateway" Proposal To Be Heard

Land use mavens will want to attend next week's Planning Board meeting, as the board will be considering a 212-unit proposed development on South Avenue.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 6 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Rather than write about it, I am posting the very comprehensive legal notice that ran yesterday in the Courier News.


CITY OF PLAINFIELD PLANNING BOARD NOTICE OF HEARING PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that Sleepy Hollow Developers, LLC (the “Applicant”) having an address of 80 South Jefferson Road, Suite 202, Whippany, NJ 07981, has filed an application (the “Application”) with the City of Plainfield Planning Board (the “Planning Board”) concerning property located in the South Avenue Gateway Redevelopment Plan (the “Redevelopment Plan”) and designated on the official tax map of the City of Plainfield as Block 625, Lots 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, commonly known as 1340-1426 South Avenue (State Route 28), a portion of Block 625, Lots 60 & 61, commonly known as 1351-1357 East Seventh Street, a portion of the existing Old South Avenue right-of-way, and Block 625.01, Lot 1 (the “RedevelopmentTract”). The Application seeks Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval, and Minor Subdivision Approval, with deviations, variances, and design waivers, to construct two, 4-story residential apartment buildings, containing a total of 212 units, 302 garage and surface parking spaces, and other related improvements on the Redevelopment Tract. The Minor Subdivision proposes to subdivide the rear portions of existing Block 625, Lots 60 & 61, and consolidate those rear portions with Block 625, Lots 18-26, resulting in three lots: (1) remainder Lot 60; (2) remainder Lot 61; and (3) the Redevelopment Tract. Remainder Lots 60 & 61 are located in the R-3 Zone under the Land Use Ordinance of the City of Plainfield (the “Ordinance”).

The Application seeks deviations from the following bulk and design requirements of the Redevelopment Plan: (1) Minimum Side Yard Setback; (2) Minimum Number of Parking Spaces; (3) Minimum Size of Landscape Buffer; (4) Minimum Storage Spaces Per Dwelling Unit; (5) Minimum Requirement for Number and Size of Balconies; (6) Requirement for Screening of Trash/Recycling Enclosures; (7) Style of Fence Required Within Buffer Area; (8) Requirement of Roofline Offsets; and (9) Minimum Amount of Parking Area Landscaping.

The Application also seeks the following design waivers from the Ordinance: (1) Maximum Interval Between Lamp Posts Along Interior Walkways; (2) Maximum Average Illumination Level in Parking Lots; (3) Maximum Average Illumination Level in Pedestrian Walkways; (4) Minimum Pipe Diameter in Storm Drain System; (5) Materials Required for Storm Sewer Construction; and (6) Prohibition of Trash/Recycling Facilities within Setback and Parking Area.

The Application further seeks the following variances from the Ordinance: (1) Minimum Lot Area for Block 625, remainder Lot 60; (2) Minimum Lot Area for Block 625, remainder Lot 61; (3) Maximum Dwelling Units Per Acre for Block 625, remainder Lot 60; (4) Maximum Dwelling Units Per Acre for Block 625, remainder Lot 61; and (5) Maximum Lot Coverage for Block 625, remainder Lot 61.

In addition, the Application seeks such other deviations, variances, waivers, exceptions, interpretations, approvals and/or relief from the Ordinance and/or the Redevelopment Plan, as may be necessary or desirable in connection with the Application.

All interested persons will have an opportunity to be heard regarding the Application at the public hearing of the Planning Board to be held on August 6, 2015, at 7:30 p.m., in the Plainfield City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey 07060. The Application, plans and other related documents are available for inspection at the Division of Planning office at Plainfield City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey 07060, during regular business hours.

DRINKER BIDDLE & REATH LLP Attorney for Applicant 600 Campus Drive Florham Park, New Jersey 07932-1047 
(973) 549-7000 By: Andy S. Norin, Esq. 


A Cool Cat

Mau's strategy for the hot spell: Put a freeze-pack in a washcloth and use it for a pillow.

Monday, July 27, 2015

School Board Filing Today

School board candidates must file today (Monday, July 27) for three three-year seats.

It is the fourth year since the City Council moved the annual election from April to November. In the first year, the general election was marred by the effects of Hurricane Sandy and official results, normally announced on the Monday following the Tuesday election, were a couple of days late. They were also much higher than the numbers from voting machines on Election Night, reflecting special accommodations for people suffering disruption from the storm.

Next year, either the governing body or school board could act to move the election back to April, though it is unlikely. The school budget still passes in April for the following school year and taxpayers don't get to vote on it, as noted in this League of Municipalities letter to mayors on the change.The letter states filing takes place on the day of the June primary, but that proved to be problematic for county clerks and it was moved to the end of July.

School board candidates who win in the general election do not take office until Jan. 1 of the following year and their terms end on Dec. 31 after three years, meaning board members come and go in mid-school year. With April elections, members took office in Spring for the subsequent school year that runs from September to June.

While the school board elections are supposed to be nonpartisan, Plainfield voters may be offered slates backed by political factions. Assemblyman Jerry Green and political "kingmaker" John Campbell have backed opposing slates in recent years. Plaintalker has no intelligence on school board slates for the Nov. 3 election, but will report on any that emerge. Campbell himself is currently on the board as an appointee following the resignation of Mahogany Hall (formerly Hendricks). His wife, Wilma Campbell, is the school board president. He will have to run if he wants to have a full three-year term succeeding Hall.

The other two seats that are up are held by Keisha Edwards and Jackie Coley.

Interest in serving on the school board has varied. The board was appointed many years ago, and when it changed to an elected board, nearly a dozen candidates filed. Later a time came when fewer than three candidates filed, and the last seat had to be filled through appointment by a state DOE superintendent for Union County.

--Bernice

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Four-Way Stops Proposed on Hillside Avenue

Google image
Residents' complaints have led to proposed four-way stops at two dangerous intersections on Hillside Avenue.

Ordinances establishing the stops passed on first reading last Monday and will be up for public hearings and final passage on Aug. 17. The meeting is 8 p.m.  in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The City Council has heard many complaints about drivers speeding on long straightaways such as Hillside Avenue. The ordinances add stop signs on Prospect and Evergreen avenues where they cross Hillside. (Click image to enlarge.)
Each ordinance cites numerous motor vehicle crashes at the respective intersections in the last several years, resulting in injured people as well as thousands of dollars in property damage.

Four-way stops are not as common here as they are in other cities. The first time I saw a lot of them was on a visit to Seattle, and I marveled at how politely the drivers yielded in turn to each other. The success of a four-way stop depends on courtesy, which is sometimes lacking in so-called "Jersey drivers."

Here's the rule for four-way stops, as set forth in The New Jersey Driver Manual:

At a multi-way stop or stop intersection, a motorist must yield to the motorist on the right if both motorists get there at the same time. A motorist should also yield to another motorist already stopped at the intersection

Having frequently seen drivers go through red lights just because they were waiting to go when the light changed, I hope drivers at these four-way stops will actually stop and yield according to the rule.

Are there any other four-way stops in Plainfield? I would like to hear about them, if so.

--Bernice

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taxi Owners Getting Insurance Reduction

Taxi owners will get a break next month on insurance costs if the council approves reductions.

On Monday, the council gave initial approval to cutting insurance requirements in half. It will be up for a final vote at the Aug. 17 regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The purpose is to bring the local fees more in line with insurance costs in other municipalities.

The amendments would lower the amount required for damages to one person from $100,000 to $50,000 and from $300,000 to $150,000 for damages to two or more persons. The state statute referenced in the ordinance only requires $35,000 in insurance, but owners can take out larger amounts of insurance.

The state statute is NJSA 48:16-3.

48:16-3  Insurance; amount; criminal history record background check.
48:16-3.  No such consent shall become effective until the provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section have been satisfied:

a.The owner of the autocab shall have filed with the clerk of the municipality in which such operation is permitted, an insurance policy which shall be issued by an admitted insurance company duly licensed to transact business under the insurance laws of this State or a company registered to do business in the State, the policy providing for not less than $35,000 of motor vehicle liability insurance coverage or the amount of motor vehicle liability insurance coverage required pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1972, c.197 (C.39:6B-1), whichever is greater, to satisfy all claims for damages, by reason of bodily injury to, or the death of, any person or persons, resulting from, or on account of, an accident, by reason of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of such autocab upon any public street; and to satisfy any claim for damages to property of any person or persons, resulting from, or on account of, an accident, by reason of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of such autocab upon any public street.

Nothing contained in this subsection shall prohibit the owner of an autocab from obtaining any additional amount of motor vehicle liability insurance coverage from a company licensed outside the State of New Jersey.

The consent shall be effective and operation thereunder shall be permitted only so long as the insurance policy shall remain in force to the full and collectible amounts as aforesaid.

The insurance policy shall provide for the payment of any final judgment recovered by any person on account of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the autocab or any fault in respect thereto, and shall be for the benefit of every person suffering loss, damage or injury as aforesaid; and

b.Each operator or driver of the autocab for which the owner thereof is seeking the consent to operate in a municipality has submitted to the performance of a criminal history record background check.  The cost for the criminal history record background check, including all costs of administering and processing the check, shall be borne by the operator or driver of the autocab.

A person shall be disqualified from operating or driving an autocab if a criminal history record background check required pursuant to this subsection reveals a record of conviction of any of the following crimes:


New city legislation (deletions underlined.)
Sec. 9:15-36. Minimum amounts of insurance required. (a) The minimum amounts of public liability and property damage insurance required under Section 9:15-35 shall be in the following sums, or as provided in N.J.S. 48:16-3, as amended; whichever is greater:
For damages arising out of bodily injury to, or death of one (1) person in any one (1) accident. $100,000.00 $50,000.00
For damages arising out of bodily injury to, or death of two (2) or more persons in any one (1) accident. $300,000.00 $150,000.00 For injury to, or destruction of, property in any one (1) accident $50,000.00
 (b) In the event any insurance policy provided under this Article shall lapse or be cancelled, the taxicab license shall be suspended. The owner of the vehicle shall immediately surrender the license to the License Bureau.

This Ordinance shall take effect after final passage, twenty (20) days following action or inaction by the Mayor as provided by law, or on override of the Mayoral veto by the Council, whichever is applicable in accordance with law, unless a resolution is adopted pursuant to N.J.S.A 40:69a181(b) declaring an emergency and providing that this Ordinance shall take effect at an earlier date.

--Bernice

Friday, July 24, 2015

Community Forum Tuesday

Displaying Community Forum Flyer copy.jpg


Grumpy Me

If you see a resemblance to Grumpy Cat when you look at me now, it is due to a condition called melasma, which causes dark patches to appear on one's face, especially on the cheeks.

Melasma, not to be confused with the singing style known as melisma, can just show up. I think mine may have had something to do with a walk I took downtown on a bitterly cold day last winter. Afterwards, my face became so dry that the skin began peeling off. I bought every moisturizer to be had at Walgreen's and even went to Westfield ready to pay big bucks for some Kiehl's skin cream.

Being confined to a dark front room all winter and not having use of my enclosed porch with 10 windows might also have had some effect. A doctor found my Vitamin D so depleted that she ordered me to take 50,000 units of Vitamin D for 12 weeks.

I noticed the dark patches in April.
Googling around brought out the notion that it could be related to my hypothyroidism. But that began in 1999, so why now? The bottom line seemed to be that whatever the cause, it might not go away. Covering it up was touted as perhaps the best strategy, so I set foot in Ulta for the first time in my life and bought some very pricey makeup.

Recently a dermatologist checked it out and blamed it on "sun," which didn't really gibe with being indoors through months of cold and ice. She quickly moved on to more fun things like zapping other blemishes with a nitrogen gun.

So now when I look at the stuffed Grumpy Cat that I bought last year for Mau to play with, I still see a reflection of grumpy me. Just one of life's little jokes, I guess.

--Bernice

See David's Message

In case you haven't already seen it, here is a link to David Rutherford's post giving 25 reasons why you should go to the Million People's March on Saturday. he even includes the train schedule to get there.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Insect Pix

The Praying Mantises that emerged in early May had many challenges, but some have survived. Here is one trying to be inconspicuous in the Miscanthus sinensis. (Click on images to enlarge.)
This one is lunching on a bug while high atop a Sunflower. The legs of the bug fell down on the leaves below.
 
 Here you can see the large forelegs the Mantis uses to catch and hold prey, in contrast to the four skinny legs
I have seen Mantises use those forelegs to clean their heads and antennae, like a cat washing its face.
These green Bees with yellow pockets of pollen on their legs are frequent fliers to the Echinacea and Black-Eyed Susans.

I love these garden sights and hope you also like seeing what's buzzing in my yard near Park & Seventh.

--Bernice

Former Employee Questions Recreation Numbers

A former Recreation Division employee said her investigation shows current programs are failing.

In public comment Monday, Faye Clark said a recent "Get on the Bus" trip was unsuccessful and had to be canceled and said, "Teen Camp has no teens." Recreation Superintendent Roni Taylor was not present to respond Monday, but Council President Bridget Rivers told Clark to email the information so it can be verified.

"We had high enrollment - what happened to that?" Clark said, although former Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn consistently declined council requests for participation statistics. Wynn left the position in 2012 and later Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Jackson said participation was just a few hundred.

Clark said she personally distributed fliers for one of the events. She requested figures on current participation.and also questioned current staffing, specifically whether one individual is holding two positions.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said she had "real concerns" that Clark's questions were not being answered.

"Teen Camp with no teens? I have a real problem with that," Taylor said.

Although voicing support for Roni Taylor (no relation, she said), Gloria Taylor told Clark that when she keeps coming and gets no answers, "I have a problem with that. I really have a problem."

Gloria Taylor said she wants information from current DPW&UD Director Eric Watson and from Roni Taylor.

Besides offering programs, Roni Taylor stated goals in 2014 including automated data gathering, dual language signage at recreation facilities, partnerships with schools and churches and computerized registration and fee collection.

Commentary
Over the past decade, the school population has shifted from predominately African-American to mostly Latino, which may signal a need for bilingual staff  in Recreation. By the time the next budget process begins, the division will have two years of data to guide planning for the 2016 season. A youth group in 2013 recommended greater use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media to publicize recreation programs and with a new web site coming soon, perhaps timely information there will increase participation.

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dunn Provokes Mayor, Council Reaction Split

Outspoken resident and sometimes political operative Danny Dunn infuriated Mayor Adrian O. Mapp Monday when he claimed a group of young men said all they want is guns.

In public comment at the end of the council meeting, Dunn launched into a rambling speech that began with recounting an interview he said he had with the group in the West End. Quoting the youths as saying, "We need guns,".Dunn said, "These kids are angry."

In an apparent aside to police, he said , "They are going to take head shots at you," warning that "vests won't help."

Rather improbably, Dunn said the young men also asked him about bumper strips, a traffic-calming device that Dunn has requested for streets around the Hannah Atkins Playground.

Dunn urged establishment of a mini police station in the Fourth Ward and said, "You have to find the revenue to help these people."

Dunn also claimed to be quoting conversations he had with Police Director Carl Riley and the mayor, and said he had given the mayor a book called "The Bad Penny" about how to help kids.

When his five minutes were up, the council granted him additional time at the microphone and on camera for the local cable channel.

Mapp reacted by saying, "It pains me to have a citizen come before the microphone and spend seven minutes poisoning the reputation of our young people. Tell these young people to come to City Hall and talk.

"It does no good to come before the microphone to say all young people want is guns. Young people want jobs," Mapp said.

Mapp noted his administration's efforts to change the city's reputation and said of Dunn's seven-minute remarks, "That's wrong."

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor then told Dunn, "I do not in any way agree with the mayor," calling his response "pontificating" and saying, "Those of us in the city for a long time know it is not a perfect city."

Taylor said, "We shouldn't hide the truth under rocks," later adding, "That's the real world - that's what's going on in Plainfield."

After more remarks, she said, "We cannot ignore these young people who are at risk."

Taylor continued, commending Dunn and saying, "We've got to deal with these issues before they deal with us."

Councilwoman Vera Greaves disagreed.

"I live in the Fourth Ward," she said. "You can't paint everybody with the same brush. I totally disagree with you, Mr. Dunn."

Her voice rising, she said, "Because you think the Fourth Ward is less. Whatever happens in the Fourth Ward affects (Wards 1, 2 and 3.)"

Council President Bridget Rivers, who represents the Fourth Ward, said, "It kind of pains me to see you come to the mic and say that - to say young brothers and sisters are saying they all want guns. I am upset to hear you deliver that message."

"Guns do no one any good," Councilwoman Diane Toliver  said. "To shoot a policeman, that's horrible."

Toliver also said the young men needed jobs, not guns.

"We need to come together and support our police," she said

"I have a young adult son," she said. "My job is to pass on to him what made me successful."

Councilwoman Tracey Brown, a pastor whose church is in the Fourth Ward, said she thought there was something to each view, but that Dunn's account referred to "an isolated incident."
She said she sees Dunn doing positive things all the time.

Taylor and Greaves got into a back-and-forth  talk before resident Flor Gonzalez, president of the Plainfield Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs, spoke on the need for all to get together. She praised the mayor for what he is trying to do.

Resident Kim Montford recounted seeing a recent shooting victim lying in the street and said teens are "slipping through our fingers."

Near the end of the meeting, Rivers said she does believe there is a lot more to do for the youth, but said she is down in the Fourth Ward often and they do need jobs.She said she never wanted to see a child say "I want a gun."

"We want better for them," she said.

(Dunn's comments and the ensuing controversy came at the end of an otherwise decorous meeting which was recorded for viewing on local channels Comcast 96 and Verizon 34.)
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ShotSpotter Renewed, Benefits Explained

A man's story of shooting in self-defense fell apart when ShotSpotter revealed a series of shots as he chased the victim. When two men from Brooklyn and one from South Carolina could only say shootings took place in a park, ShotSpotter pinpointed the location.

These were two examples Plainfield Police Sgt. Larry Brown gave the City Council Monday to describe the efficacy of the gunshot detection system the city has used since 2011. Brown said the system is "cloud-based," so information can be retrieved right in a patrol car. It affords responding officers a sense of what to look for when approaching a shooting. In the past, officers had to ask citizens what they saw or heard, and got conflicting or inaccurate responses.

The council approved a $120,000 contract renewal, from Feb. 1 through January 2016. The system can detect types of weapons as well as direction of shots. Brown told of a fatal shooting where two locations were detected, with a victim shot in one place with a handgun and at another site where, Brown said, the gunman "finished him off" with with a shotgun.Without ShotSpotpolice might not have found both crime scenes.

The system's audio detection feature can even pick up speech, he said. With ShotSpotter and newly installed surveillance cameras, police have advance knowledge on the way to an incident.

"The ShotSpotter does work," Brown concluded.

Plainfield had two recent shootings, on July 13 and 19. On Sunday a man, 27, was seriously injured when shot on East Second Street. On July 13, a man was shot on Liberty Street and the shooter, deemed armed and dangerous, is still at large.

The system was greeted with skepticism when first introduced in 2010 as a $1 million capitol expense. Public safety officials pitched it to the Planning Board, but members wanted more information. In May 2011, it resurfaced as a $165,000 lease plan, to be paid through a federal grant. More recently, the tab has been $120,000 per year.

At the June 13 agenda-fixing session, resident Alan Goldstein asked for statistics, saying over the years he hasn't seen any numbers.He repeated his request Monday, but the answer was anecdotal rather than statistical. The NJ State Police issue annual crime reports, but categories do not include shots fired.

--Bernice

Monday, July 20, 2015

East Third/Richmond Underground Parking Proposed

Parking for new multi-family rental construction has been handled in various ways, and last week a developer came up with a new one - sub-surface parking.

Crown Real Estate Holdings Inc. is seeking approvals for a complex at East Third and Richmond streets with 125 apartments, normally requiring 250 parking spaces, but with 164 proposed. Parking would be split between ground-level spaces and a sub-surface garage, with one space each for 1-bedroom units and 1.5 spaces allowed for 2-bedroom units.

Although the site is a bit farther than the transit-oriented development ideal of a quarter-mile from the main train station, planner David Zimmerman said residents could walk to the station. If the site had been within the zone, he said, the parking formula would have been only one space per 2-bedroom unit. He called the proposed parking space allotment more than adequate "considering the population the apartments will be marketed to," explained later as single persons or young married couples with no children.

The below-ground parking would be secured with a gate opening onto East Third Street and pedestrians would be warned of the exiting vehicles by strobe lights. The developer decided against audible alarms, as they might annoy residents.

Because sub-surface parking is not listed as a permitted use, there is no provision to allow it, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said at Thursday's Planning Board meeting. Councilman Cory Storch, the governing body's liaison to the board, asked whether allowing it now would obligate the board to grant permission to others in the future, and Nierstedt said it would not

Board attorney Michele Donato said while it might be found to be appropriate for the site under consideration, it would not give "carte blanche" to future applicants.

Board members questioned whether flooding could happen, but the applicant's engineer, Donald Guariello, said the property was not in a flood zone. Other questions had to do with residents' safety inside the garage.

The outcome of the proposal may not be known for a while, as a last-minute issue arose Thursday regarding a redevelopment plan from 2006 that still governs the site. But with parking an issue all over the city, it's likely that other developers will be watching to see what becomes of the sub-surface option.

--Bernice

Sunday, July 19, 2015

BOE Filing Reminder

By now, anyone interested in running for the school board should have checked the 2015 School Board Information at the Union County Clerk's office.

The filing deadline is 4 p.m. Monday, July 27 and there are three three-year terms up for election. Candidates will be on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election and winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2016.

Council Meetings - TV or Not TV?

Someone commented that the budget hearings never showed up on local cable and another person asked when the July 13 agenda-fixing might be aired. I do not own a television set, so I can't verify whether council meetings are missing from the lineup, but I looked up the current schedule on the city web site and did not see any listings for council meetings.

Lately meetings have taken an embarrassing turn, especially during public comment. The rules of decorum  are not always followed and observers have noticed selective enforcement, with the gavel coming down on some out-of-bounds comments and not others. Certainly the city is not shown in its best light when speakers stoop to personal attacks on camera.

Every agenda includes the following statement regarding public comment:

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. AN OFFICER FROM THE PLAINFIELD POLICE DIVISION MAY REMOVE ANY DISRUPTIVE PERSON AT THE DISCRETION OF THE PRESIDING OFFICER. PUBLIC COMMENT IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE PUBLIC TO PRESENT THEIR VIEWS – BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE.
Typical meetings in recent months have tended to be long on rhetoric and short on explanations of the business at hand. Resolutions are often named by letter or number only, and the viewing public may not get a sense of what council decisions mean. It is then left up to bloggers and reporters to bring context to these matters, although when and if called on by the council, directors and department heads will explain the reasons why the governing body is being asked to approve specific actions 

There ia always more drama at public meetings right before elections, especially the June primaries. Now that the outcome is known, the council and the public can both work on improving the quality of discourse at council meetings. And for the sake of those who can't get out to the meetings, maybe any problems with airing the tapes can be resolved so residents can see their elected officials at work.

--Bernice

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sports Equipment Up for Auction

City-owned baseball equipment, including bats, balls, gloves, bases and trophies, will be up for auction at the end of the month.

In March, adults involved in youth baseball urged the City Council to hand over baseball equipment purchased for a city-based league and even some items donated by former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Officials said the municipality cannot give away city property. In public comment at the March 9 council meeting, City Administrator Rick Smiley said the items had been inventoried and would be sold at auction. Robinson-Briggs asked that at least the items she donated be given to Rev. Jason Greer's baseball league, but was rebuffed.

The controversy over equipment was only part of a running dispute dating back several years over how youth sports should be conducted. In 2011, a Recreation Commission was approved in hopes of defusing the controversy, but it was vetoed by Robinson-Briggs and the council did not have enough votes to override the veto.

After Mayor Adrian O. Mapp took office and named named Veronica Taylor as the new superintendent of Recreation, Taylor became the target of complaints from past employees who objected to her innovations.

The list of baseball items to be auctioned appeared in Thursday's Courier News appended to lists of surplus police and public works vehicles. The auction will be conducted online and bidders must pre-register with govdeals.com. All items are sold "as-is" and successful bidders may be required to "execute a hold harmless and indemnification agreement."

Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs donates equipment in 2010.

The online auction will begin at 6 a.m.on July 28 and will close on July 31. Items listed include 18 various bats, 22 bases, assorted gloves and catcher's equipment, 97 baseball trophies, 52 softball trophies  and 93 miscellaneous trophies.

--Bernice

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eid Mubarak

EID MUBARAK
to our friends and neighbors
who are celebrating

City: East Third/Richmond Project Must Meet Plan

Just as a 150-unit development proposal was nearing approval Thursday, a last-minute letter from the city's attorney changed things.

Planning Board attorney Michele Donato said a redevelopment plan exists for the site and the applicant, Crown Real Estate Holdings, must meet qualifications as a redeveloper in order to proceed, Elnardo Webster II, the applicant's attorney, said his client is the property owner, not a redeveloper.

Donato said the letter, received only that night, means because the plan is in place the company will have to enter into a contract with the Union County Improvement Authority or the City Council, if the UCIA is no longer the designated entity.

"It's very unfortunate that the letter came in as late as it did," Webster said.

The East Third/Richmond redevelopment plan dates back to 2006. The designated redeveloper, Capodagli Property Company, and the UCIA could not agree on terms of a contract and Capodagli was allowed to withdraw in 2008. However, the plan is still on the books, along with several others that are dormant.

Crown Real Estate Holdings began meeting with the Planning Board in March and returned in following months. Webster also met with the Planning Division's new Technical Review Committee for guidance. The board heard from Webster and several experts Thursday on issues regarding a proposed "sub-surface" parking garage for the 125-unit building, various amenities including a gymnasium, storage space for tenants and a perimeter fence.

The former Cozzoli Machine Company site must also undergo environmental remediation required by the NJ DEP before construction. That is separate from any Planning Board oversight

Regarding the redevelopment plan, it can be rescinded, Planning Director William Nierstedt said after the meeting. The UCIA early on promised to keep the City Council informed on all its redevelopment projects, but not much was heard in recent years. In 2013, the city and the UCIA reached a settlement on costs associated with projects, but the status of several other redevelopment plans is unclear.

Despite all the complications for the East Third/Richmond site, Webster said after the meeting the company expected to start construction in March 2016 and complete the project in 2017.

--Bernice

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Brownfields Remediation on the Agenda

New industries in the 20th Century created millions of jobs and transformed the American way of life. It was not until a couple of generations passed that the nation realized the cost to the environment and the health of workers.

Land contaminated by industrial pollutants is often called "brownfields." Monday's City Council agenda has six resolutions regarding investigations or remediation of brownfields. Locations include a lot at Cleveland Avenue and East Fourth Street, the Disco Aluminum site on South Avenue,  1092-1098 Arlington Avenue, 165-169 North Avenue and 202-222 Lee Place, the former site of a dry cleaning plant. Some of these sites have been targeted for remediation for several years.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor asked the administration to give the council a presentation on the six sites, but for a general overview, the United States Environmental Protection Agency offers comprehensive, up-to-date information on brownfields.

The six resolutions are on the agenda for the regular City Council meeting Monday, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Much of the investigative and remedial work can be funded by grants, but doing the legwork to acquire and monitor grants requires a staff commitment by the municipality. April Stefel of the Planning Division was on hand to answer questions Monday and has been the city's key person for brownfields over several years.

Once a site is cleaned up, development can take place or a site can be preserved as open space. It often takes many years to complete the remediation process, which may have taken a hit after Stefel was laid off in 2010 over protests from some city officials.She has returned on a part-time basis and her work includes another long-term project, a recreational trail along the Green Brook.

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More on the Emergency Appropriation

On Monday, the City Council will vote on approval of a $1.4 million emergency appropriation that is part of a $12.5 million settlement in the wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by Byron Halsey.

Halsey spent 19 years in prison before DNA testing proved he was not the killer of two young Plainfield children in 1985.

The $1,365,200 portion will be paid by the city in four installments of $341,300. It was too late to include the first installment in the 2015 budget, so it will be charged against the 2016 budget as an emergency appropriation. With the second installment also due in 2016, the total owed next year will be $682,600.

Asked about the tax impact of the settlement, Finance Director Ron West described it this way:

"If the first payment of $341,300 had made it in the 2015 budget , the impact for the average home assessed at $110,000 would be $30.69. The 2016 budget will reflect two payments totaling $682,600. Using the 2015 municipal budget requirements as the baseline, the impact of the litigation settlement will be $61.39 per average home assessed at $110,000 in 2016."

However, if revenues increase in 2016, the appropriation will be offset to some degree. For example, a surge in development could yield new ratables. The administration is actively seeking grants and has audited departmental budgets for savings. The actual impact may not be known until the end of the 2016 budget process.

(For more on the Halsey case, see Sergio Bichao's excellent story on the $12.5 million settlement in the Courier News.)

Too Clever by Half

Blogger Dan Damon's July 7 post comparing First Ward Councilwoman Diane Toliver to Donald Trump had already come in for criticism on the Plainfield Latino blog and it caught more at Monday's City Council meeting.

The meeting was recorded for viewing on local cable channels and I will not try to include every detail here. Suffice it to say that activist Norman Johnson called the blog post "yellow journalism" and Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said she would not call it journalism, but just "somebody writing."

Flor Gonzalez, the 2015 Grand Marshal for the July 4th parade, said Monday, "I didn't care about the car, I cared about the action."

She walked the parade route and indicated by doing so, she could interact with people instead of being inside a car.

Damon had hinted at a diss by Diane Toliver to Latinos and offered her some unsolicited advice about dealing with the Latino community. Perhaps predictably, it led some to point out Damon's own unfortunate interaction with a young Latino male.

On the Plainfield Latino blog, Diane Toliver responded to Damon's insinuations of insensitivity to Latinos by describing how she helped a Latina to become a legal resident and gain job skills.

However instructive or clever Damon intended his post to be, it fell flat. He portrayed the perceived missteps as the only thing that marred an otherwise pleasant event, but his officious fault-finding has cast a pall of its own.

--Bernice

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Walk/Run Event Changing Date

The organizer of a popular running event is asking City Council permission to change the date so his event will not clash with the 2015 Million Man March.

Darryl Clark will be marking the fifth anniversary of his Historic Queen City 5K Walk/Run for Life this October. He received permission in March to hold it on Oct. 10, but since learning it would conflict with the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, he is changing the date. He asked the City Council Monday to permit the change to Saturday, Oct. 17. The council will vote on the matter at the July 20 meeting.

In 2013, blogger David Rutherford published a comprehensive Q&A session with Darryl Clark, including an explanation of the five pillars upon which Clark bases the annual event.

The Oct. 10 "Justice or Else!" Million Man March is being widely promoted on social media, featuring numerous messages by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Plainfield's interest in the march goes back to the beginning, and a diverse coalition of community leaders promoted attendance at the fifth anniversary of the march.

Clark said holding his event on the same day as the march in Washington, DC would be "counter to the goal of engaging the community,." so he is seeking the alternate date. 

--Bernice

Mapp Nominates Minchello for Corporation Counsel

David Minchello

Former Corporation Counsel David Minchello is expected to return to the seat next week, when the governing body votes to approve Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's nomination.

Minchello began serving as city solicitor in August 2011 and filled in for former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson after Williamson left City Hall in 2012 to became executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Minchello served as corporation counsel from January 2013 to July 2014, when he left to become law director in Trenton.

He retained the title of Plainfield city solicitor, however, to the present and attended Monday's council meeting in that capacity in the absence of Vernita Sias-Hill, whom Mapp has removed as corporation counsel.

Minchello left the Trenton post this month. If approved by the governing body as corporation counsel, he will serve concurrently with Mapp's term, to Dec. 31, 2017.

--Bernice

Monday, July 13, 2015

Speedwell

This North Avenue building has not only fancy brickwork and a classic (egg and dart?) design at the top, it also has terracotta plaques depicting the Speedwell flower. In nature, this flower is tiny, but its shape is intriguing - three larger petals and one smaller at the bottom. It also has delicate shades of blue, sometimes with darker rays as seen in this old Plainfield Plaintalker post. There are lovely patches of Speedwell in Cedar Brook Park every Spring.

Here's a detail of a very ornate East Front Street facade:

Here's a less fancy one:
And a plain one:

Look up the next time you are downtown and see what early Plainfielders were able to do with bricks, stone and terracotta.

--Bernice

Police, Firefighter Residency Extension Debated

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is urging city support of proposed state legislation allowing municipalities to increase a residency requirement for police and fire personnel from one year to five years.

The City Council will consider a resolution to that end at tonight's agenda-fixing sess, 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Court. If moved to the regular meeting agenda, it will be up for a vote on July 20.

The resolution's goal is to "begin to resolve the heightened tensions" in police/community relations seen in communities across the nation and to foster a "deeper connection" between police and firefighters and those they serve. The resolution names Ferguson, New York, Baltimore and Charleston as places where incidents have "elevated the discourse surrounding police and community relations."

The state bills are A4265 and S2783.

On July 2, the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police and the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey held a press conference urging Gov. Chris Christie to veto the legislation and predicted a negative impact on recruitment if it becomes law.

In exchanges on the Reddit web site, some commenters argued against the residency requirement, citing instances where housing might be unaffordable on a police officer's pay or a school district might not be desirable.

Both police and fire personnel must pass tests and receive training before active service. The city presently requires a one-year residency. After that, it is up to an officer or firefighter whether or not to live in the city. Considerations may include family safety, where a spouse works or perceived animosity toward police.

--Bernice

Sunday, July 12, 2015

City Faces $1.4 Million Tab for Halsey Settlement

A blandly titled resolution up for consideration Monday may actually mark a final chapter in one of the most notorious crime stories in Plainfield's history, at a cost of $1,365,200.

Byron Halsey spent 19 years in jail for the gruesome murders of two children in 1985, but as detailed by the Innocence Project, he was exonerated through DNA testing. The actual killer died in prison in 2009. On the July 13 agenda, the caption, "RESOLUTION REQUESTING APPROVAL FOR 2015 EMERGENCY APPROPRIATION FOR LITIGATION SETTLEMENT," represents the first installment of a proposed settlement

There is plenty of information about the crimes on line, including the false confession itself, numerous news articles and a report on the April 2014 decision that Halsey could sue the police officers involved in obtaining the confession.

Now the City Council is asked to approve an emergency appropriation for the first of four payments totaling $1,365,200 to settle the case. The governing body has already passed the 2015 budget, so the $341,300 payment due on or before July 22 becomes an emergency appropriation that will be charged against the 2016 budget. A 2/3 majority of the council, five of seven votes, is necessary for passage at the regular meeting on July 20.

It appears that the emergency appropriation plus the second payment due in 2016 will add up $682,600 off the top of next year's budget before any other costs are considered.

The last major emergency appropriation that Plaintalker recalls was up to $200,000 for an emergency demolition that took place in March 2010. The debt had to be charged against the FY 2011 budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2010. The city has since changed to a calendar year budget, so the possible $682,600 debt will affect the budget for the year starting Jan. 1, 2016.

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

--Bernice

Saturday, July 11, 2015

More North Avenue Photos

June 24, 2015
As of last week, there was still a lot to be done at 117-125 North Avenue, the site of a botched demolition on March 21. Yanuzzi Group was approved on June 16 to complete the demolition and work began at the end of the month. Here are my most recent photos.

From July 3






From July 7




--Bernice

Corporation Counsel Removed


Under "Communications from the Mayor" on the agenda for Monday's City Council meeting is this item:

FROM HIS HONOR THE MAYOR, ADRIAN O. MAPP, CORRESPONDENCE FILED IN THE OFFICE OF THE CITY CLERK ON JUNE 26, 2015 NOTIFYING MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNING OF THE REMOVAL OF VERNITA E. SIAS-HILL ESQ. AS CORPORATION COUNSEL EFFECTIVE JULY 16, 2015. 

Note the word "removal." Anonymous commenters have suggested reasons for this action and some have speculated on the emotions or attitudes of the parties involved. Some comments cannot be published. Unless the matter goes to litigation, the public may not get any factual details. As the mayor has stated, it is a personnel matter. Comments at the council meeting may be curtailed for that reason as well.

We do know that Vernita Sias-Hill was approved as chief municipal prosecutor in January 2014 and became corporation counsel after former Corporation Counsel David Minchello resigned in July 2014.

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


Friday, July 10, 2015

Daniel Mejias Is New PMUA Director


The new executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority claims 20 years' experience in the solid waste industry and said Thursday he was hired "to bring efficiency back to the transfer station."

Daniel Mejias was unanimously approved to lead the authority starting July 27, at a salary of $145,000 for a term of up to three years, subject to completion of a background check. Although he was present Thursday, he was not asked to speak after the vote. Asked after the meeting about his background, he said he had been employed in the private sector of solid waste management.
Google
The transfer station on Rock Avenue (above, click to enlarge) is the hub of the authority's solid waste and recycling activities, both for the city and an increasing number of outside municipalities. Some categories of waste are sent to other locations for final disposal and household garbage is transported to a Union County Utilities Authority waste-to-energy plant. The transfer station's DEP permit expires in October, Acting Executive Director Bryan Christiansen said, and the authority will be preparing for it in coming months.

Another item on the agenda was correspondence to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp regarding the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority. The city lost its only representative on PARSA when Commissioner Harold Mitchell was replaced by Jacinth Clayton-Hunt in June. Representation on PARSA is important because sewerage from Plainfield and seven other municipalities travels through PARSA's system on the way to final treatment by the Middlesex County Utilities Authority. A large part of the PMUA budget consists of PARSA fees.

Plainfield's Municipal Code allows for a representative and one or two alternates. Mitchell was an alternate. The last regular member was David Ervin, who stayed on until his term expired on Jan. 31, 2015, even though he had left the PMUA as assistant executive director in 2011.

Sec. 3:34-3.  Membership.


    The Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority shall consist of eight (8) members, one of which shall be appointed by resolution of the governing body of each of said municipalities, in accordance with the provisions of said Sewerage Authorities Law, with such resolution being filed with the Secretary of State of New Jersey. Each of the municipalities may additionally appoint one (1) or two (2) individuals to serve as an alternate during the absence or disqualification of such municipality's regular member, pursuant to the provisions of said Sewerage Authorities Law, with the first alternate to be designated as Alternate No. 1 and the second alternate, if appointed, to be designated as Alternate No. 2.
(MC 1995-11, § III, April 17, 1995.)

The City Council's next agenda session is Monday and the regular meeting is July 20. If any problems with the nomination process can be worked out, a representative could be nominated for approval by the governing body this month.

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Minchello Leaving Trenton, Covering City's In-House Law Division

David Minchello, the city's former corporation counsel who left to become Trenton's law director, is back in charge of Plainfield's in-house law division following the departure of Vernita Sias-Hill.

As reported by nj.com, Minchello left the administration of Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson as of July 1.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp declined comment on Sias-Hill's exit, calling it a "personnel matter." He said Minchello, who retained the Plainfield title of city solicitor, is covering the office.

Jackson had been Plainfield's director of Public Works & Urban Development under former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs since September 2011. He was so well-regarded that he was kept on by Mapp when he took office in January 2014.But it was no secret that Jackson wanted to be mayor of Trenton, having come close in 2010 when he lost to Tony Mack. Jackson filed to run for mayor in March 2014. After failing to get a majority in Trenton's May nonpartisan election, he won the runoff election in June 2014.

Plainfield City Administrator Rick Smiley served as acting director of Public Works & Urban Development.until former director Eric Watson was named to the post in September 2014.

Minchello took office as Trenton's acting law director in July 2014 and was confirmed in October 2014.In the nj.com article, Jackson is quoted as knowing Minchello's stay would be temporary. His resignation is reported to be effective on July 31.

 The city lost a third key person to Trenton when Jackie Foushee, the city engineer assigned by Remington & Vernick, became Trenton's first female African-American director of Public Works. Foushee had a comprehensive knowledge of Plainfield's roads and infrastructure.

The City Council is on its summer schedule and will meet on July 13 and 20 and August 10 and 17. Council mavens will be looking for action on the next corporation counsel.

--Bernice

Jefferson Avenue Bridge to be Demolished

I was very interested to see a small news article today about the Jefferson Street bridge over the Green Brook being closed indefinitely due to its poor condition.

On a web site called "uglybridges," there is a detailed history of its ratings, as well as the estimated cost of replacement set at $1.3 million. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now planning to demolish it as part of the decades-long Green Brook Flood Control project.

As a reporter I covered several of the annual ceremonies remembering victims of the 1971 and 1973 floods that led to establishment of the Green Brook Flood Control Commission. The 23-page "request for proposals" form on the link's home page can give a clue as to why the project seems to move at a glacial pace. Another factor is the number of municipalities involved.


Twelve member communities send representatives to the commission and decisions affecting municipalities may need sign-off by the relevant governing bodies.

Minutes of the commission from the May 6 meeting include discussion of the Jefferson Avenue bridge project and mention its effect on adjacent properties. The attendance list does not include any Plainfield representative.

Plaintalker is trying to gather more information. There are many bridges over the Green Brook in Plainfield. Interest in the condition of bridges statewide only recently grew, but as with roads, there are issues of cost. This project at least will be covered by less than $1 million of  $20 million  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has on hand.

Jefferson Avenue is at the city's western border with Dunellen. It was most recently in the (blog) news in 2012, in connection with a PMUA project. The bridge removal will affect pedestrian and road traffic and was interesting enough to me to forget about my "day off.." Hoping to hear from anyone affected by the proposed demolition, which is scheduled for August.

--Bernice

Day Off

Taking a Personal Day!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

See the Nina Simone Documentary

Nina Simone had many roles during her life, some glamorous, some that embittered her and may have driven her mad. However you remember her, see the documentary, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" on Netflix if you get as chance.

In the segregated South, it was two white women who recognized and fostered her talent early on, setting up one of the first ironies of her life. Her musical education, learning and practicing classic works, segregated her from other children of her race. She rose in recognition of her talent, but was denied admission to the music school she wanted to attend. When the private funding ran out, she turned to playing in bars to earn money and had to change her name to avoid shaming her family. A black man who became her protector later beat her and practically enslaved her to a career that glittered on the outside but left her damaged on the inside.

She freed herself through activism and found her voice in battle anthems. But her place in the front line of the struggle for freedom from segregation also seemed to put her on the precipice of personal violence. She took out her own anger on her daughter with beatings. Things fell apart and she left the country.

As her world broadened and she kept company with her creative peers, her inner demons remained unappeased, and she lashed out even at her admirers. Her frowning face projected puzzlement at where she was and where she was going. After the applause and acclaim, she was alone with her anger.

This is a film that will call out from viewers emotions related to their own experiences with power and the lack of it. See it if you can.

--Bernice

Monday, July 6, 2015

Get Ready for School Board Filings

If you are following the 2015 election timeline, the next important date is July 27, when school board candidates must file by 4 p.m. at the Union County Clerk's Office.

Three three-year terms are up. Incumbents are Jackie Coley and Keisha Edwards. Mahogany Hall, formerly Mahogany Hendricks, was the third winner in 2012, but resigned in April. The board appointed President Wilma Campbell's husband, John Campbell, to fill the vacancy.

Although the election is considered to be nonpartisan, in recent history there have been slates backed by Assemblyman Jerry Green and John Campbell, the latter's candidates winning more often than not.

School board meetings are seldom covered by bloggers or the press, despite the board being perhaps the largest employer in the city (see the June agenda where 2015-16 hires are named). The district's budget at $179,216,507 for 2014-15 dwarfs the 2015 city budget by $100 million. Eighty percent of the district funding comes from the state, 17 percent from local school taxes and 3 percent from the federal government. The board thus has perhaps the most fiscal authority of any public entity in Plainfield. Click to see the 2014-15 budget proposal as an indication of where the money goes. Forty-five percent went just for salaries, and while there is no residency requirement, obviously many a city household relies on district salaries to stay afloat.

So board decisions are important not only for the 7,500 children in the district, but also for the local economy. All of Union County's charter schools are currently in Plainfield and received 10 percent of district funds in 2014-15.

All in all,  a board seat is very important. The New Jersey School Boards Association offers an information packet for candidates and those elected are required to take state training on their responsibilities. Board members must adhere to a state code of ethics. Although slates have become the norm in Plainfield, individuals can file to run independently. See filing for school board instructions here.

Good luck to all who decide to run for the school board. The candidates will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot for the general election and winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2016 to serve for three years.

--Bernice