A capacity crowd at Monday's City Council meeting
Two controversial pieces of legislation won City Council approval Monday, though not without many comments on the pros and cons before and after the votes. A large crowd, mostly Latinos, gave the City Council a standing ovation for approving creation of a municipal ID card, but merchants were still at loggerheads with advocates of paid sick leave after the governing body gave it initial approval.
The Plainfield municipal ID card required a public hearing before passage on second reading. Backers of an existing ID program started by the Latino group Angels in Action raised numerous objections to the city plan, including speculation such as what if someone tried to use an expired visa as proof of identity. But they were outnumbered by supporters of the city ID, including officers of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the chairman of El Centro Hispanoamericano and some pastors. The dispute echoed a longstanding split between Latina activists Carmen Salavarrieta and Flor Gonzalez over who truly represents the community.
Salavarrieta, head of Angels for Action, said the city was supposed to seek her advice on setting up an ID program, but never did. Gonzalez, the president of PACHA and the Latin American Coalition, read a prepared statement on the need for a card and said "We are ready with all our forces," adding that sixty people are already waiting for the city ID and that it had the backing of churches, businesses and some banks.
Before voting, the council asked Corporation Counsel David Minchello to respond to some of the allegations, such as one that the phrase "one or more" documents required for the city ID left an opening for someone to harass an applicant by demanding five, if they didn't like the applicant. Minchello said one would suffice.
Several speakers against the city ID raised the issue of trust in authority, saying many Latinos have experienced harsh governmental treatment in their homelands, so would not likely go to City Hall for an ID. In another trust issue, one speaker said, "You have to have the complexion for the connection."
The council members took a five-minute break before voting in order to read the ordinance.
In remarks before the vote, Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said the city ID would he helpful not only to undocumented persons, but also the homeless and young people who need an ID card.
"Everyone needs an ID," Councilwoman Diane Toliver said.
Toliver said she wanted to make it clear that the council supported the ID card from its inception. She suggested Angels for Action could help convince people to get the city ID cards.
The vote was 6-0, with Storch, Williams, Toliver, Tracey Brown, Barry Goode and Bridget Rivers saying "yes." Gloria Taylor was absent.
The paid sick leave ordinance had sides more sharply drawn. Special Improvement District President Nimrod Webb told the council, "We came up with an alternate proposal - you all ignored it."
David Biagini of FirsTEAManagement said a survey of 53 business owners showed that 93 percent felt paid sick leave would affect them, and statewide only 11 of 567 municipalities approved it. He called it "not a well -thought-out law" that was facing challenges even where it had been adopted.
Business owner Lenin Aguirre asked for further meetings on the law, saying "It's almost as if we're being told, not asked."
He said the law will "knock out Spanish businesses" and said Plainfield is "not a business-friendly town."
Supporters, including NJ Working Families and church leaders stressed the public health aspect of people going to work sick and possibly passing illness to co-workers and the public, but Plainfield Chamber of Commerce President Jeffery Dunn assailed that argument as a smokescreen.
"This is a union issue," he said after the vote for passage on first reading. "Unions are doing it for their own recruitment."
Brown, Goode, Rivers, Williams and Storch voted "yes" for the paid sick leave ordinance and Toliver abstained.
Rivers called developer Patrick Terborg out of the audience to ask whether he would be opposed to the law. Terborg's firm and another received approvals for financial breaks Monday related to development of a five-acre city-owned site in the West End.
Terborg said both firms have sick leave policies, as do most large contractors.
"I'm not against the sick leave," he said. "I think it's a great idea."
Terborg said communicable diseases "make everybody sick."
The paid sick leave ordinance will be up for a public hearing and final passage on March 14 and if passed will not take effect for another 120 days, to allow for business owners to be informed of their obligations under the law.