Saturday, April 30, 2016

May Day 2016

MAY 1, 2016

Happy International Workers Day

Joyous May Day
File:Beltane Fire Dragon.jpg
Blessed Beltane

A good day for Morris Dancing

BOE Organization Time, Place Changed

click to enlarge
A public notice in today's Courier News lists the Board of Education Organization Meeting as 7 p.m. May 3 in the Plainfield High School Auditorium, but the schedule at the BOE website still says 8 p.m. in the PHS Conference Room.
The notice today also lists other meetings in May and for good measure appears twice, in one format for $25.80 and in another for $14.19.
Saturday's online calendar 
Given that hardly anyone reads legal notices regularly except small-print aficionados like me, confusion could ensue.
Update: Page changed and agenda published
In situations like this, I tend to go with the most recent information. So just to be on the safe side, attendees should get to the PHS auditorium by 7 p.m. on May 3.

The winners of the April 19 BOE election - Carmencita Pile, Dorien Hurtt and Lynn Anderson - will be sworn in and officers will be chosen to serve for one year.


Friday, April 29, 2016

PMUA/Council Talk May Top Monday's Agenda

Of three City Council segments Monday, the joint session with PMUA officials is likely to be the show-stealer.

A special meeting will take place at 7 p.m. for the purpose of considering amendments to the CY 2016 Municipal Operating Budget. The budget as prepared by the administration was introduced in March, after which it became the governing body's budget. The Citizens' Budget Advisory and council members met to review it in three sessions this month, with a CBAC report presented last Wednesday. Amendments proposed Monday will be published and on Thursday the council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and possibly adopt the budget.

The agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. Monday includes the joint session with PMUA officials. The authority began in 1995 and manages sewer and solid waste activities for the city, but has been controversial since its inception. Most recently, the CBAC recommended this week that the city Public Works Division should take over PMUA tasks.

In other years, a citizen activist group called Dump PMUA advocated "opting out" of the authority's trash collection by hiring private carters and a study commissioned by the council produced options including dissolution. However, the authority has finally reached its longtime goal of bringing in outside revenue by providing services to other municipalities and has not recently increased its rates to city residents.

Still, residents complain rates are too high compared to other authorities, while PMUA officials say the authority is unique for providing both solid waste and sewer services and cannot be compared to other authorities. Alan Goldstein, the most vocal objector to PMUA practices, sent the governing body nine questions for discussion at the joint meeting. However, PMUA officials had asked for council questions in advance and may not entertain a broader discussion.

The rest of the agenda-fixing agenda is relatively tame, though one ordinance up for final passage has drawn many speakers at prior meetings to urge its support. The ordinance tightens up guidelines for tethering animals  outside, enhancing prior legislation that drew crowds of animal welfare activists in 2015.


Wishing the Best for Board Reorganization

Among the many side effects of changing the school board election back to April, the board on May 3 will have two brand-new members; one with four months' tenure; one with eight months' tenure; one with a little over a year's tenure; three who took office 16 months ago and one with three years and eight months' prior experience (see below).

The majority would have been more seasoned had the election been held in November, with a Jan. 1 organization meeting. Given the circumstances, the new president and vice president probably need to have qualities that will foster collegiality and adherence to state education law at all times while the board gains experience.  All the new members will be required to take New Jersey School Boards Association training and can gain additional skills and understanding of their roles through optional courses.

One thing the new board can count on is more scrutiny than in recent years. Since newspapers and even bloggers dropped routine coverage of school board meetings, even things as crucial as changing the election date have taken place as "walk-ons" without public notice. Calling the district newsletter "Plainfield Insider" while often treating the public at meetings as outsiders doesn't make sense. Just by showing up one night to observe, I was accused of having it in for the Campbells.

Let us hope that the board and public both will look at the current changes as an opportunity to re-calibrate their relationship. Better schools mean a better city. Here's hoping for more openness, less frustration and partnership rather than an adversarial atmosphere. According to Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles, board meetings will be aired on local cable by the end of the current school year. What will we and our neighboring communities see in that mirror?

Board members and their tenure:

Carmencita Pile, Lynn Anderson: Elected April 19, taking office May 3
Emily Morgan: Elected Nov. 3, 2015, took office Jan. 5, 2016
John Campbell: Appointed April 21, 2015. Elected Nov. 3, 2015. Took office Jan. 5, 2016
Richard Wyatt: Appointed Sept. 1, 2015. Elected Nov. 3, 2015. Took office Jan. 5, 2016:
David Rutherford, Terrence Bellamy, Carletta Jeffers: Elected Nov  4, 2014. Took office Jan. 6, 2015.
Dorien Hurtt: Elected April 27, 2011 for three years but because elections were changed in 2012 to November, served until Dec. 31, 2014. Did not win re-election on Nov. 4, 2014. Elected April 19, taking office May 3.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ken Robertson Steps Down from Planning Board

Planning Board member Ken Robertson is resigning after 30 years' service.

In a resignation letter to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, Robertson detailed work done during his tenure:

"It has been my privilege to serve the people of Plainfield in this capacity for 30 years. During this time, the board prepared the first new municipal master plan in more then 30 years and conducted several master plan re-examinations, wrote a new zoning ordinance from scratch, drafted annual capital improvement programs and capital budgets, prepared numerous redevelopment plans, re-zoned the city for transit oriented development, and more.

"This work was only possible because of the support of a talented and hardworking staff and the good sense of citizen board members whose dedication has been an inspiration to me. They have given and continue to give unselfishly of their time and resources."

He was chairman for 16 of those 30 years and as a frequent attendee at Planning Board meetings, I can attest to his constant push to get the work done.

Robertson said he will miss the camaraderie of the board "and the challenge of getting every application perfect," but said he leaves knowing the board is in good hands "with a seasoned chair in Ron Scott Bey" and a group of "smart and dedicated members."

His resignation is effective as of April 30. A resolution of appreciation for his service is expected at the May 9 City Council meeting.

"A Tour of Notable Homes" May 7

House tours as fundraisers have been a local highlight for decades. On May 7, you can experience the thrill of visiting historic and elegant homes while helping a good cause, one that fits in with Plainfield's strong support of orchestral music.

See more on the New Jersey Festival Orchestra here and click the tour link for details on how to take part.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

School Board Changes Post-Election Agenda

Hasty agenda changes, a last-minute "walk-on" item and fears for Plainfield's future sports prowess marked the final meeting for the losing slate in the April 19 school board election.

Outgoing Board President Wilma Campbell was absent due to a family medical emergency. Board Secretary Craig Smith read resolutions honoring Campbell, Frederick Moore Sr. and Deborah Clarke for their service. Moore and Clarke also received plaques and gifts Tuesday.

Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles said the agenda, which was posted Sunday, had been changed to include only routine business.

"Our goal is to be transparent," she said, announcing that all Human Resource and Finance items were being pulled. They will be taken up and voted on by the board after it reorganizes with new members Carmencita Pile, Dorien Hurtt and Lynn Anderson on May 3.

In privilege of the floor, Terri Slaughter-Cabbell referred to state law on school board reorganizations and told members, "Technically, you have no business being here."

She said the new members should have been sworn in Tuesday.

David Graves challenged board attorney Lisa Fittipaldi on the issue, but she replied that the reorganization could take place in the first or second week following the election.

Graves also asked what the process was for getting the board meetings on public television. Belin-Pyles said the district is in the process and will have a cable station up by June 30 to air board meetings and district events.

Inez Durham raised questions about charter schools, saying many had opened over the last 12 years, though some had closed. She said there are currently five, with two more expected in the next school year. Saying the superintendent must forward a recommendation to the state Commissioner of Education by March 20 for charter schools opening in the fall, she first asked Smith how she could get records of recommendations over the past 12 years. Smith said he had only been with the district for a few months and suggested filing an OPRA request for the information.

Belin-Pyles said she "absolutely" had submitted letters to the state commissioner in opposition to new charter schools.

Durham had wanted to ask the board president about her stance on charter schools, but Moore as vice president said he had only been on the board three years and referred Durham to Campbell, who was absent.

Several speakers raised questions about a lack of preparation of athletes at the middle school level, which they said ends up harming the proficiency of high school teams and thus endangering the district's legacy of outstanding athletes. Bernal Harrison, Darren Salter and others described their volunteer work with young athletes and challenged the board to take action.

There was a "walk-on" item that only board members saw until Slaughter-Cabbell and others demanded that copies be given to the public. Business Administrator Gary Ottmann got copies made and the item turned out to be a trip for eight boys and eight girls to attend the 2016 Penn Relays along with four chaperones at a cost of $5,051.25. The dates were April 27 through April 30.
In case you are a sports illiterate like me, here is  the online description:

    Image result for what are the penn relays
    The Penn Relays (also Penn Relays Carnival) is the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States, hosted annually since April 21, 1895 by the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Actually, even I have heard of this event. Not sure why the approval had to be so last-minute.

While awaiting the copies, Moore invited mayor Adrian O. Mapp to speak. Mapp and many members of the Democratic City Committee were present, perhaps in support of the winning school board slate. Mapp spoke briefly about hopes to form a partnership between Plainfield's two biggest entities, which are the district and city government.

The meeting was adjourned soon after the board approved the walk-on item.

Pile, Hurtt and Anderson will be sworn in on May 3 and new officers will be chosen by the board.


Official BOE Election Results

The official results from Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi did not change the outcome of the April 19 school board election.

Here are the unofficial and official numbers:

Carmencita Pile, 1,200  1,204
Lynn Anderson, 1,177  1,181
Dorien Hurtt, 1,150  1,152
James Plummer, 965  972
Wilma Campbell, 955  964
Frederick Moore Sr., 712  719  
Jackie Coley, 291  295
Alice Horton-Mays, 262  264

The Board of Education's Business Meeting happened to fall on the night of the election and was re-scheduled to tonight, Tuesday, April 26 at 8 p.m. in the Plainfield High School auditorium.

If you are interested in a closer look at election rules and information, be sure to bookmark the Elections page on Rajoppi's website. I consider it invaluable both for the information and the gracious way my questions are answered.


Official Results Delayed

Official results of the April 19 school board election were not available Monday from the Union County Clerk's Office.

See the unofficial results here.

The numbers are lower than those I received on April 19 from City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh. His count included absentee ballots, he said.

There were some reports of irregularities at polling places, so perhaps they are still being resolved.

I will post the official results as soon as they are presented. You can also check for yourself at Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi's Election Results page.

You can now expect intensified efforts from June primary candidates. The two races are for the Citywide at-large council seat, with incumbent Councilwoman Tracey Brown running for re-election against the Democratic Party candidate, Councilwoman Rebecca Williams; and the Third Ward seat, with Alma Blanco as Brown's running mate and Charles McRae endorsed by the Democratic Party.

No Republicans filed to run for City Council seats.

Blanco offered a map on Facebook as a guide to voters, but all registered voters would have already received ballots indicating their ward and polling place for the April 19 school board election. Unregistered voters have until May 17 to register to vote in the June 7 primary. Only party members can vote in a primary. Unaffiliated voters will have to wait for the Nov. 8 general election to vote, unless they declare a party affiliation up to and including Primary Day. See information on Political Party Declaration Forms here.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Three Meetings Tuesday

Take your pick:

Meetings for Tuesday, April 26

Board of Education Business Meeting
8 p.m., PHS Auditorium
950 Park Ave.
See agenda here

Historic Preservation Commission
7:30 p.m. City Hall Library
515 Watchung Ave.
Scroll down to download April 26 agenda

CBAC/City Council Budget DeliberationsInformation Technology & Media
Economic Development
7 p.m. Senior Center 
400 E. Front St.

Mission in the Plaza and Other Downtown Sights

I walked downtown Sunday to go to the PNC Bank ATM and to take a photo of the building at 206-208 West Front Street. Hearing music, I was intrigued to see what appeared to be a religious service on the plaza of the building owned by the Union County Improvement Authority.

Turns out it is a mission of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church.

In addition, there were three independent street preachers with bull horns in the vicinity.

It was quite lively altogether. The skateboarders that frequent the plaza were doing their thing as well.

Here's a closer look at the Gran Mision meeting. (Click images to enlarge)
A young man appeared to be testifying. A priest was seated in front of the mission's banner. Given someone's recent comment about store-front churches, I realized there is even another dimension to religion downtown in the open-air mission and preachers.

And here is the building whose owner received Planning Board permission Thursday for two three-bedroom apartments. As blogger Jackie noted, it used to have "The Wizard Awaits You" painted at the top of the facade. The photo reveals how the ornate, tall windows are partially covered. Plans call for restoring them to their full height.
I have not been walking around as much as I used to, due to various health issues, but even though my legs were hurting I was glad to see all the action downtown. Walking across Front Street from Park to Watchung, I also noticed more turnover in commercial occupancy. One new store offers soccer equipment, others are vacant. The fleeting promise in 2008 of a Trader Joe's in the PNC Bank building was just a tease after all.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

New Apartments Approved Downtown

A realty company won approval Thursday to create two new three-bedroom apartments downtown.

FY Realty proposed the development at 206-206 West Front Street, over a Texas Weiner restaurant. The company will provide parking by way of two paid permits in adjacent Municipal Parking Lot 4. (Although the state Residential Site Improvement Standards base parking requirements on bedrooms, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said TOD-D - Transit-Oriented Development Downtown - calls for one per unit.)

Because there is no way to add balconies or other open space to the property, the company agreed to make a contribution to the city to be used for green space elsewhere.

Man Pan Kwok, speaking for the company, said the building will have cable installed, no satellite dishes and will have central air conditioning rather than window units.

Architect Brian M. Taylor said large windows on the facade that had been partly covered will be restored and each 1,250-square-foot unit will have its own laundry facilities. The building shares a party wall with one next door and stairs to the second floor must be accessed through the other building. He said a second means of egress is not required.

Mailboxes for the apartments will be added to existing ones outside the building. Residents will have keys  to the building and cameras for security, but no buzzer system to let guests in.

"That's why people have cell phones," the architect quipped.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, the governing body's liaison to the Planning Board, raised various objections to the proposal. She said the open space contribution should be given to the tenant, not the city.

"Give them a spot," she said, repeating that open space was to be provided to the tenant, "not put in the coffers of the city."

She also has security concerns, telling the architect, "I'm not satisfied with the way you addressed it."

She said criminals could get in and "jump from roof to roof."

"It needs an alarm system," she said.

The board gave preliminary and final site plan approval to the proposal, with Taylor casting the only "no" vote.

Note: The city's downtown has several buildings with unused upper floors. The application struck me as a possible harbinger of more investment to come in restoring space over ground-floor commercial uses downtown. In 2006, when talk of transit villages was new, I posted "Old Urbanism, New Urbanism" on the topic. Take a look if you wish.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Politics and Politricks

Someone commented that Jeffery Dunn could file on June 7 to run against the winner of the Democratic primary.

Given Dunn's testimony regarding the filing of his petitions, it would appear he is not a "legal voter" of any ward right now. He emphatically stated that 320 Park Avenue, the address he used on his driver's license and voter registration to vote in the First Ward, is not a residence. It is his business address. His change of address on April 4 to an actual dwelling is short of the one-year requirement to run for City Council.

I think Mr. Dunn is fresh out of strategies for this election year and next year, when only the Fourth Ward and mayoral seat will be up for election. Presumably he could try to run for mayor in 2017 if he used the SRB doctrine that any four years of residency in the city are good enough to meet the charter's requirement, but he might have to go to court to make it stick. The cycle for 2018 council seats includes the First Ward and the Second & Third Ward at-large seat.

The only way he could get a seat on the council any time soon is if someone resigned and he was appointed to fill the vacancy. But that would depend on the Democratic Party chairman submitting his name as one of three nominees, not likely unless Jerry Green regains the chairmanship in June 2017.

Now on the Board of Education side, people are already thinking the April 26 meeting might offer an opportunity to pull a switcheroo. If someone resigned, the board might fill the vacancy with none other than Wilma Campbell - or even the younger John Campbell, to join his father on the board, if putting Wilma back on was deemed too blatant a move.

The meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Plainfield High School auditorium. It happens to coincide with a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission and also the Council/CBAC budget meeting on Information Technology & Media and Economic Development on the same night. But given the BOE track record of very important walk-on items, some folks are feeling suspicious of last-ditch maneuvers before the May 3 reorganization.

Why shouldn't we just assume that all office-seekers and political power brokers are operating in good faith? See 16 reasons here.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Passover

to all our
Jewish friends
and neighbors

Earth Day 2016


Church Wins Planning Board Approvals At Last

A church congregation that has been seeking Planning Board approvals since February finally succeeded Thursday after pledging to renovate its new building within six months.

Ministerio Internacional Puerta Del Cielo members crowded City Hall Library as attorney Jeff Lehrer initially presented a timetable stretching over two years to meet all the board's requirements. They included repairs to the parking lot of the site on Roosevelt Avenue, interior and exterior improvements and erection of a light pole. Lehrer said the reason for the extended schedule was "all about dollars," but board members were reluctant at first to give any concessions.

Planning Director William Nierstedt reminded the board that site plan approvals are good for three years and added that he had put forth the idea of phasing the work. He said the Planning Division's position has softened in recognition that not every applicant has the money to complete work quickly.

He said the applicant could be required to post a financial guarantee that the work would be done by a certain time. The money would not be returned and the temporary certificate of occupancy pulled if the deadline was not met.

But Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey said once the congregation was in the building, it would be hard to move them out of their church home..

Another issue was off-site leased parking space to augment the spaces around the church. Lehrer said the church had a five-year lease for 22 spaces, with two more five-year renewal options, but Scott Bey wanted a lease for the life of the church. Then the question became how the board would know the status of the church. Nierstedt said either the chairman or the city could become a party to the lease, though he was not sure of the legalities.

After Lehrer said the church would do all the work within six months except for needing a year to acquire the light pole, the board voted 6-2 to give preliminary and final site plan approval. William Toth, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, John Stewart, Ken Robertson, Sean McKenna and Horace Baldwin voted "yes" and Scott Bey and Anthony Howard voted "no."

The approval saga began on Feb. 18 with the board getting partway through a hearing before realizing the address on the application was incomplete. The attorney at the time said he could get the notice published in time for the March 3 meeting, but it was a day short of the required 10 days and had to be carried to the March 17 meeting.

At that meeting, Scott Bey said there were 45 items still to be cleared up, which led to the application continuing Thursday.

Before the decision, Taylor said if the application was denied, the church would come to the council.

"All y'all be the boogie bears, and then we'll side with them," she said.

Taylor wanted all the work done before the church was granted a certificate of occupancy.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Garden Takes Another Hit

Very sad to see what a "landscaper" did in the yard - many plants obliterated by string trimmers, including a lot of White Star of Bethlehem.

.. Also White Columbine, with flowers that look like doves gathering.

Many irises were cut to the ground and will not bloom this year.

Oh well, tenants really have no say over what happens to the garden..C'est la vie.

Thoughts on the April 19 Election

The turnout for the April 19 school board election was only 2,112 voters, out of a possible 22,009 on the rolls as of April 1. That works out to 9.5 percent, if my math is correct. I suspect the Nov. 8 general election, with a presidential choice at the top of the ballot, will do a little better than that.

Please feel free to correct me on any of these points.

If in fact the cost of changing the election was $115,000, then based on the turnout, each voter's trip to the polls cost taxpayers $54.45.

Among other side effects of the change plus election results, Wilma Campbell's final term as president began on Jan. 5, but will end on May 3, when the Board of Education organizes with swearing-in of new members and selection of officers to serve for a year. Those who won in November 2015 will see eight months cut from their three-year terms, as they will end in April 2018 instead of Dec. 31, 2018.

Someone described Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's involvement as a power grab, but having observed mayors over the years, I know the quality of city schools has been a concern of many. Older residents recall the days when the Plainfield district excelled academically. For whatever reason, it has not recovered its former reputation and even school board members have chosen private or parochial schools for their children over the public schools.

Charter schools are being blamed for drawing off funds from district schools, but they are also public schools. Due to expansions, their portion of the budget increased from $6.5 million in 2007-2008 to $16.2 million in 2014-2015, with $19.6 anticipated for 2016-2017. All four charter schools in Union County are in Plainfield. They operate under the Office of Charter Schools in the state Department of Education, not the local Board of Education.

The new board members are expected to take training on their responsibilities and will also have to pledge to uphold the Code of Ethics for School Board Members. If all observe this part of the code, we should not have to worry about any mayor or politician having their way with board members:

 I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends. 


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BOE Organization is May 3

BOE Organization Meeting

Tuesday, May 3
8 p.m.
PHS Conference Room

This is when new members are sworn in
 and officers elected to  serve one year

The last one was in January
click link to see post

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mapp Team Wins School Board Election

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's challenge to the Campbell team was vindicated Tuesday when his slate won the school board election decisively.

Wilma Campbell was seeking her fifth term on the board, with running mates Frederick Moore Sr. and James Plummer. The mayor's team, Carmencita Pile, Dorien Hurtt and Lynn Anderson, swept the field of eight candidates with tallies over 1,000 each. Former board member Jackie Coley and newcomer Alice Horton-Mays trailed with fewer than 300 votes each.

The score:

Carmencita Pile, 1,200
Lynn Anderson, 1,177
Dorien Hurtt, 1,150
James Plummer, 965
Wilma Campbell, 955
Frederick Moore Sr., 712
Jackie Coley, 291
Alice Horton-Mays, 262

The board voted in November to move the election back to April, a prerogative that either the board or governing body had after four years of having the BOE election combined with the November general election. In 2012, the City Council had voted to move the election to November. The difference was that the move was advertised then, while in 2015 the Campbell-led board did it as a "walk-on" item without public notice.

Among contentious items at candidates' forums, the Campbell team purchased a campaign billboard ad at a prominent downtown location, adjacent to a school district billboard ad celebrating the acquisition of two buildings for $1. One is already in use by two schools and the other will become a technology center, the ad says. Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles said the juxtaposition was a coincidence, while critics saw it as use of district funds to benefit the Campbell team's campaign.

The next step for the board is to reorganize. The next board meeting is Tuesday, April 26. Wilma Campbell is currently the board president, but will have to step down when it reorganizes.

Mapp said Tuesday night, "The voters of Plainfield spoke in a very clear voice, they chose change and promise over failure. I am excited for Anderson, Hurtt and Pile and for the students, teachers and staff. It's a new day for the Plainfield School District and I look forward to establishing a true partnership with the superintendent and Board."

Voters also approved a local tax levy of $24,295,492 for the 2016-2017 school year, 907 to 601.All results are unofficial and will be certified by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi by Monday or later.


Vote Today


2-9 p.m.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dunn Is Off Primary Ballot

Would-be Third Ward candidate Jeffery Dunn made no challenge by Monday to his petitions being found "null and void" last week, so ballot preparation for the June 7 primary can now proceed.

Dunn said in a hearing last week that he only changed his driver's license and voter registration to a Third Ward address on the morning of April 4, the same day petitions were due. In a hearing on April 11, documents showed he had voted in November 2014 and 2015 in the First Ward, using his office address at 320 Park Avenue. He said his reason for using that address was for privacy regarding details of his divorce while living in his parents' home at 1038 Central Avenue.

The city's special charter requires a council candidate to be a legal voter and to have lived one year in the ward or wards to be represented. Based on the documentation and testimony Dunn presented at the hearing, attorney Robert Renaud declared his petitions "null and void."

On Monday, City Clerk AJ Jalloh said he had not received word of any challenge to the April 11 decision and that Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi had asked him to proof information for the June 7 ballot.

"Absent a challenge, we're moving forward," Jalloh said.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who is chairman of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee and was the objector to Dunn's petitions, said late Monday, "Jeff Dunn made a wise decision not to appeal the Clerk’s ruling. One may get away with admitting voter fraud to the Municipal Clerk but not to a Superior Court judge."

Two Democrats filed successfully for the Third Ward seat and two more for the Citywide at-large seat. In a Feb. 27 meeting of the Democratic City Committee, members chose Charles McRae to run on the party line in the Third Ward and Rebecca Williams to run for the Citywide at-large seat. McRae faces a challenge from Alma Blanco and Williams, currently representing the Second & Third Wards at-large, will run against incumbent Citywide at-large Councilwoman Tracey Brown.

No Republicans filed for either council seat. The winners of the Democratic primary contests will be on the November 8 ballot along with any independents who file on June 7. If Dunn continues to live in the Third Ward, his next chance to run for council will be in 2018, when the Second & Third Ward seat will be up for election.


Events This Week

Monday, April 18
CBAC/Council Budget Meeting
7 p.m. at Senior Center
400 E. Front St.

VOTE 2-9 p.m.

Wednesday, April 20
Possible ruling on
Dunn Residency Question

Thursday, April 21
Planning Board
7:30 p.m. City Hall Library
515 Watchung Ave.

Friday April 22

Stress Awareness Fair

Displaying Stress Awareness Month Flyer.jpg

Sad Sight on Cleveland Avenue

Someone created an earthen berm to deter dumping of tires and such on this Cleveland Avenue lot.
But one of the cart people has apparently staked out a claim to the place.
This assemblage is kind of heartbreaking, but not all homeless people want to be inside or under supervision. I hope this person or persons will decide to accept some help.


NJ Transit Takes It Higher

 Repairs appear to be complete at the Watchung Avenue railroad bridge.

 It has the city seal and the NJ Transit insignia.
And it's now 12 feet high! But truckers still need to pay attention to make sure they can get through. If your truck is too high, this is what happens.


2016 Redbud Tree in Bloom

My Redbud tree survived the depredations of the workers with only a few broken branches. It is way taller than me now.

It started out as a little sprout in 2010, grown from a seed.

Plant propagation is really fun! Try it sometime.


Flowering Quince, A Spring Favorite

Walking home from a meeting last week, I saw the Flowering Quince in front of City Hall Annex in bloom.
It was dark and I had to use the flash, but in case you haven't seen it, I wanted to share the image.
Here's a close-up:
One website says the Flowering Quince symbolizes rebirth, while others connect it to the goddess Venus and say it means temptation. The flowers start to bloom before the leaves appear and are favorites for Lunar New Year decorations. Whatever you want to think about them, they are a lovely sight, right on Watchung Avenue! Enjoy!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Regarding the Technology Center

"Technology Center Coming Soon!"

It has a certain ring, but what does it actually mean? Does anything come "soon" in school construction/development projects? Cook School and Woodland School discussions date back to 2008. As of 2016, they are still in "scope development," according to the Schools Development Authority's website.

Will the district or the SDA be the lead agency in fixing up the one-story building on West Front Street? How much will it cost? Is any site remediation needed first?

Will it be a technology center with activities as described by the International Society for Technology in Education? The Plainfield Insider Newsletter calls it a "high Technology Center" on the front page and an "Information Technology Center" in the Board President's Message.

Is technology currently integrated into classroom learning, and if so, how would a free-standing center enhance the district? Who would attend and how would students be selected?

It will be interesting to see how this project unfolds.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

House Tour on May 7

Thinking Outside the Slate

Eight individuals are seeking your vote for three seats on the Board of Education.

The school board election is supposed to be nonpartisan, but six of the eight are on slates, three backed by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and three backed by the Campbells. Each of these backers has formidable skills at getting out the vote, so Tuesday's election may end up being another battle of the political Titans.

Personally, I found myself coming away from the Plainfield Education Association's candidates' forum thinking I would vote for one from Column A and one from Column B and one free-standing candidate, because they were the most impressive to me and appeared to offer qualifications and skills needed at this juncture in the district's history.

Now, don't look for columns on the ballot, that was just a figure of speech. There is just one long row of names on the ballot, along with the budget question.I am not going to say which ones appealed to me, but If you were not among the attendees at the three forums, I urge you to look at the information candidates provided to the Plainfield League of Women Voters.

Some of the impressions I had from the PEA forum were corroborated, for me, by what I heard at the LWV forum.

The incumbents claim great strides in the district as their reason why voters should choose their slate. Mayor Mapp knows that the reputation of the Plainfield school district needs to improve, if his plans for city's future are to be fully realized. As for the independent candidates, it takes a lot of conviction to commit to three years of meetings and hard decisions affecting more than 1,000 employees and 7,500 to 8,000 children and their families.

Whatever impressions or feelings you got from the forums or may get from reading the candidate information, please, please go to the polls between 2 and 9 p.m. Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi has announced a new voter app to provide election information and help is also available through the City Clerk's office.

Every voter can choose three school board candidates. Pick a slate or consider individuals, but make sure you vote on Tuesday, April 19!  


Friday, April 15, 2016

Summer Water Usage Among PMUA Topics

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority has come up with a way to credit ratepayers for water usage to fill pools, but giving credit for lawn sprinkler usage is proving more elusive.

Rates for sewer service are based on water usage, but seasonal uses such as pools and lawn care do not incur costs of treatment by the Middlesex County Utilities Authority. In answer to ratepayers' pleas, the PMUA offers a metering plan for pools. at no cost to the ratepayer. On Thursday, commissioners and staff discussed a letter from the office of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp on behalf of a resident who wanted relief from paying for water used in a lawn sprinkler system. Though a meter could be installed at the ratepayer's expense, the water company will not read two meters and the proposal would not be fair to people who use garden hoses.

A comment from Richard Hughes that didn't get through in the Comments section:
There appears be contradictory rules for PMUA's policy on the time period for which sewer rates are to be calculated.
  In the agency's document on Sewer Rates and Regulations, under section IV, subsection C (Schedule of Charges) PMUA states it bases sewer rates on water use "metered by the Elizabeth Water Company or other provider in the four quarters ending September 30th of proceeding year."  This is the practice in use.
 But under subsection G (Water Consumption Readings), page 25, paragraph 1 and 2, the PMUA states its policy is to calculate sewer rates based on water use data from providers
"on a quarterly basis" and and the "service charges will be calculated utilizing the most current water consumption figures available to PMUA."
  That suggests PMUA should calculate each quarterly sewer bill based on prior three months of water use, which would accommodate lawn watering and other individual seasonal practices in a fair and inexpensive manner for customers. There could be additional administrative costs of calculating rates quarterly instead of annually.  
  I may be misinterpreting the language, but clearly there appears to be conflicting policy directives.
  In a written appeal April 1 of our sewer rate, I asked for a review based on that apparent policy discrepancy.  I have yet to receive a response; I admit to being unreasonably impatient.  
  Dick Hughes

The issue may be among topics when the authority holds a joint meeting with the governing body in coming weeks. On Thursday, resident Alan Goldstein suggested billing based on water usage between December and March as an option.

Executive Director Daniel Mejias said the authority has five meters for pools. The first year they were offered, eight people signed up. Last year, the authority received 31 requests. (See.the link above for information on how to apply.)

In other business Thursday, commissioners voted not to terminate Mejias' contract and to approve Commissioner Robin Bright as board secretary. In addition, DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole LLC was approved to continue as legal counsel, with Chairman Henry Robinson and Commissioners Charles Tyndale, Michelle Graham-Lyons and Bright voting "yes" and Commissioner Carol Ann Brokaw voting "no." CME Associates was approved as solid waste engineering consultant.

The board approved numerous two-month contracts for insurance services, among other contracts.

In other news, a shared services recycling contract with Westfield has been approved and the PMUA is once again receiving E-waste at the transfer station from residents only. Applications are being taken for paid summer internships  for high school students. The authority is still combating illegal dumping and caught two instances on its own cameras. The footage was turned over to Plainfield police. Mejias said the PMUA, Plainfield Police Division and Public Works are collaborating to fight illegal dumping, but fines of only $250 to $500 may not be enough of a deterrent when offenders can save $1,000 by dumping on vacant lots.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Women Protest Against Donald Trump Saturday in Plainfield

This is a press release

PLAINFIELD, NJ -- A group of Central New Jersey women are planning the state's first women-led protest against Donald Trump for Saturday, April 16, in Plainfield.
Organizing as "Get Up, Stand Up NJ," the nonpartisan and multicultural group will lead a march and rally featuring local speakers from a variety of backgrounds.
"We will no longer remain silent when someone is denigrating women, Muslims, immigrants, and the disabled,” said Linda McLeod, a member of the organizing committee.  
“Trump uses a public forum to undermine the sense of unity we feel as Americans.  If we don’t accept bullying in third grade, we certainly won’t accept it in candidates running for the presidency of our nation,” Ms. McLeod continued.   
The group hopes to draw women from several central Jersey communities, especially younger women who have reacted to Trump's remarks with a deep sense of shock and outrage.
"Though several of us are active in community affairs, the group is nonpartisan and non-political and has no political or party agenda," said Amelia Mapp, who will emcee the event.
Among the featured speakers will be Faheemah El-Amin. El-Amin is well known in the Plainfield area for having run the popular Faheemah's Child Care Center for many years. She is an African American and a Muslim, and will speak to how offensive Trump has been to these communities.
The march will begin at the Netherwood Train Station on South Avenue atNoon on Saturday. With police accompanying the participants, the march will move down Belvidere Avenue and then proceed eastward on East 7th Street to Terrill Road. At Terrill Road, a rally will be held with several speakers, including representatives of Latino and other immigrant communities.
Music at the rally will be provided by the band "One Step Beyond," under the leadership of Roland Washington. Attendees are invited to bring their own posters and placards. T-shirts will be available to memorialize the event.
For more information, those interested can check out the group's Facebook page (Women Against Trump) or text (908) 419-8759 for more details. 

LWV Hosts School Board Candidates Forum

Acrimony between Board of Education President Wilma Campbell and former board member Dorien Hurtt was in the air as school board candidates met the public for the third time Wednesday at a forum held by the Plainfield League of Women Voters.

Campbell is seeking her fourth fifth three-year term. Hurtt was a Campbell protege in the 2011 race, but hinted Wednesday at disagreements with Campbell and her husband, John, now also a board member. He ran off the Campbell slate in 2014 and lost. His candidacy now as part of a slate backed by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp points up the current political struggle between the mayor and the Campbells.

Wilma Campbell's retorts Wednesday included calling Hurtt "the very talkative, outspoken model board member, Mr. Hurtt" and later saying, "The young man doth complain too much."
L-R: Lynn Anderson, Wilma Campbell, Jackie Coley,  Alice Horton-Mays, Dorien Hurtt, Frederick Moore Sr., Carmencita Pile.
Seven of the eight candidates took part in the forum Wednesday, which was preceded by forums held by the Plainfield Area Branch NAACP and the Plainfield Education Association. Candidate James Plummer was in the hospital. He is on a slate with Wilma Campbell and Frederick Moore Sr., both incumbents. The slate backed by Mapp includes Dorien Hurtt, Carmencita Pile and Lynn Anderson. Former board member Jackie Coley and Alice Horton-Mays are running on their own. Background information for all candidates can be seen on the Plainfield LWV blog. See also the sample ballot.
Among issues covered Wednesday were board transparency, including unpublicized "walk-on" items passed at work-and-study meetings, One such action was a Nov. 10 vote to move school board elections back to April, a week after three board members were chosen in the 2015 general election. The move accelerated Wilma Campbell's re-election bid by eight months, leaving challengers a short window to organize campaigns.

Asked what steps they would take to improve transparency,  Moore called it "a lop-sided issue" because a lot of issues cannot be discussed in public, such as personnel.

Anderson called board members "an embarrassment," .saying if someone asks a question, they should listen and if they don't have an answer, they should at least say, "we'll get back to you."

Wilma Campbell said some issues, such as contracts, can't be discussed publicly. She said attendees during campaign season are "very rude," talking and yelling out and calling staff members names.

Pile said board meetings were very unfriendly, with the board up on a lighted stage and the audience "down in the dark" of the high school auditorium.

Coley said the district website is supposed to handle communication.

Horton-Mays said the board should first change the structure of its meetings and there should be a way to submit questions to the website. She said quarterly the board should make itself available for comment at every school and there should be a newsletter on issues.

Hurtt said community involvement was not what the board is currently doing. He cited action taken at the work and study meetings, such as moving the election.

Other issues included improving the graduation rate, recognizing the district's unique needs including what Wilma Campbell called "port of entry" students who arrive with little English, and how to manage the budget.The forum moderator was Marlene Sincaglia of the Berkeley Heights LWV.

The election is Tuesday, April 19 and the polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. School board elections are supposed to be nonpartisan and all the candidates are in a row. Voters pick three for three-year terms and can also vote for or against the local school tax levy of $24,295,492. (The total budget is $189,643,334.)


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dunn Petitions "Null and Void," But Appeal Possible

The question of whether Jeffery Dunn can run for the Third Ward City Council seat may not be answered until the middle of next week, if he appeals today's decision that his April 4 filing was null and void.

As the seven-page decision notes, Dunn can appeal within 12 days of the filing and the final decision must come by three days later. At issue is whether he complied with the city's special charter, which says a council candidate must be a legal voter of the city and must have lived at least one year in the ward or wards to be represented.

As noted in Plaintalker's report on Monday's hearing, Dunn only changed the address on his driver's license and voter registration to 1038 Central Avenue on the morning of April 4. Candidates had to meet a 4 p.m. deadline that day to file for the June 7 primary. Alma Blanco and Charles McRae filed without any objections.

Although he claims to have lived at the Third Ward address since September 2014, Dunn used his office at 320 Park Avenue in the First Ward as his address when voting in both June and November 2015. City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh made public 36 pages of documentation on the matter today, including Dunn's voting record back to 2007. Based on the hearing, Jalloh as the filing officer said today, "I am ruling in favor of the objector, Chairman Adrian O. Mapp, and invalidating the petitions of Jeffery Dunn, and declare him rejected and the nominations null and void."


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How Does My Garden Grow? Ask Me Later

One of my garden patches had crocuses and daffodils, with tulips on the way and forget-me-nots, white columbine, coral bells and irises in queue for spring, to be followed by black-eyed susans, sunflowers, balsam, purple coneflower, cosmos and nasturtiums in summer.
This rectangle was marked out in February, meaning there was an underground tank below part of that circular patch. I moved some plants over, out of the way, or so I thought.

A backhoe arrived one day recently and dug a hole that just swallowed up the whole thing.
Then workers removed the tank.
They kindly tried to save some bulbs, which I re-planted for next year..
There may be more digging, I'm told, so things are on hold in that part of the yard until it's all over.

As readers know, my little garden patches mean a lot to me, but this year the grounds around the building have pretty much been devastated. Workers who scraped and painted the building left concrete, paint and equipment on top of plants and several shrubs were mowed down by snowplows. It's a disheartening sight, but I guess every good thing must come to an end sometime. I have a lot of seeds saved from 2015 which may help brighten things up once the planting season arrives in earnest..


What Olddoc Said

As Dr. Yood noted on his blog, Monday's City Council meeting was short and sparsely attended. The Sysnet contract was pulled (parliamentarians can argue whether it was properly withdrawn or should have been tabled indefinitely) and new bids will be sought for IT services.

Also on Monday, CBAC Chairman Sal Carrano left printouts of questions that members will be asking of city staff. In my opinion, some of the questions showed a fundamental lack of understanding of the budget process, more than Ron West or any other city official could possibly address in three two-hour sessions. It is ultimately up to the governing body to deal with the budget at this point anyway, so if the CBAC report helps, good; if it turns out to be just a lot of political posturing and puffery, the council can just move on to amendments and final passage and that's that for 2016.

Budget deliberations began tonight and will be held on Monday, April 18 and Turesday, April 26, all at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center, 400 E. Front St. The CBAC report/feedback is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27, also 7 p.m. at the Senior Center.

Possible budget amendments will be introduced at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 2 in Municipal Court, preceding the agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. The amendments must be published and then there will be a public hearing and possible adoption of the 2016 budget at a special meeting, 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 5 at the Senior Center. (There is also a Planning Board meeting scheduled at the same time in City Hall Library.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

LWV Info Up, Go to Forum!

The candidate information is up on the
 Plainfield League of Women Voters website

Click on the link
to read

The forum is
6:30 p.m. 
Wednesday, April 13
Anne Louise Davis Room
Plainfield Public Library
800 Park Ave.

Dunn Hearing Held, Decision on Wednesday

When he moved from the Second Ward to the Third Ward in September 2014, Jeffery Dunn did not change his voter registration. Instead, he used his business address at 320 Park Avenue in the First Ward, and even voted at Barlow School. It was not until April 4 - the filing date for the June 7 primary - that he changed his driver's license and voting address to 1038 Central Avenue.

"I realized I had to dot the i's and cross the t's," Dunn said. "I didn't get around to it. I thought it was important to do it before I registered as a candidate."

Dunn was one of three people who met the 4 p.m. filing deadline that day. The others were Charles McRae and Alma Blanco. Dunn's residency came into question soon after. The city's special charter says a candidate must be "a legal voter" and must have lived for one year in the ward he or she wants to represent.

Dunn testified at a two-hour hearing Monday and the outcome will be known by Wednesday, the deadline for rulings on challenges to a candidate's filing. Former Plainfield Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson spoke for Dunn as a "friend." Attorney Robert Renaud represented the objector, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and current Corporation Counsel David Minchello conducted the hearing. Renaud said candidates are required to comply with the legal requirements of the state and of the city's charter and said he would rely on various documents. They included a voter registration on Nov. 20, 2014 giving an address of 320 Park Avenue, a voter sheet from Nov. 3, 2015 with the same address, voter records dating back to 2007 with Dunn never have voted in the Third Ward. He said the records were "more than sufficient to show that the candidate was not a legal voter."

"It is incumbent upon the prospective candidate to prove he was a legal voter," Renaud said.

Dunn traced events including the short sale of his Belvidere Avenue home to moving his family into the capacious Central Avenue home, then his divorce. His reason for using the Park Avenue address, he said, was for privacy concerning the divorce. When Renaud asked whether he requested to be registered as a voter at that address, Dunn said he did not request. When Renaud asked again, Dunn said, "I responded to the document."

"Let me try this once again," Renaud said, but Williamson objected, saying Dunn did whatever the driver's license required.

Dunn had a crossing guard from Cedarbrook School testify that he saw Dunn leave the Central Avenue address every morning and also had his mother, Flora, testify that he lived there. But Renaud asked for proof such as tax returns, credit card bills, cell phone bill, checks or even magazine subscriptions to prove the Central Avenue address was his "legitimate domicile."

"Despite the testimony, there is no proof," Renaud said.

As the hearing concluded, Williamson questioned the process and said historically there has been a summary decision review. "I understand the fabric of this town," he said, predicting the public "will read about all of this as early as today."

"This wasn't necessary," Williamson said.


Dunn Residency Hearing Today

Each councilman shall be a legal voter of the city and a resident of the ward or wards from which he is elected, in the case of a ward councilman, or of any ward in the city in the case of an at-large councilman, for at least 1 year prior to his election."
--Plainfield City Charter

A hearing will take place at 2 p.m. today (Monday, April 11) in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. on challenges to petitions filed by Jeffery Dunn for the June 7 primary. Dunn filed on April 4 to run for the Third Ward City Council seat, giving 1038 Central Avenue as his address. Challengers are disputing his residency.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

IT Services Contract Up for a Vote Tonight

A computer consulting and services contract that Finance Director Ron West said would put the city in "far better shape" met with criticism from Councilwoman Gloria Taylor last week and might be one of the few controversial items on Monday's agenda.

The request for the services, including Cloud storage and various upgrades, follows a recent "ransomware" attack on Plainfield municipal computers.

In public comment before council review of the agenda, resident Alan Goldstein raised pay-to-play concerns about the $37,600 contract with Sysnet Solutions, but Corporation Counsel David Minchello said it did not fall within the categories of contracts subject to pay-to-play rules.

When the item came up for a consensus to put it on the April 11 agenda, Taylor questioned a $500 campaign contribution and why there was no bidding. Minchello said the company had "proprietary information."

"It appears to be a little shady," Taylor said.

Councilwoman Diane Toliver also questioned West, who said the company had "better tools and better equipment," but Toliver said," So the $37,000 is just the beginning of safeguarding our system. How much more are you going to come back (with)?"

Documents in the council packet note a $2,500 monthly cost in the future for all the services once the initial work is done. The city will not have to purchase new servers for three to five years, will not have to pay for server maintenance and will also save on power and cooling costs.

West said compared to numbers from other companies, Sysnet cost "substantially less while providing more."

"They have the intelligence that will put us in far better shape," West said, adding equipment will be paid for by the vendor and the city will not have to buy it.

Taylor said the deal was "not acceptable" and called for it to be moved off the agenda, linking it somehow to the mayor being on television.

Councilwoman Bridget Rivers said it seemed the city was in violation of its own pay-to-pay laws and accused Minchello of "dancing around" the issue.

West said the company was not subject to the law and Minchello repeated that the ordinance referred to professionals who hold licenses, such as engineers, lawyers and auditors.

"It is not ethical in my judgment, come on," Taylor said.

Council President Cory Storch said he was in favor of moving the resolution to the agenda, noting the city was attacked and had downtime. He likened the situation to "a nationwide advertisement to hackers to come in and attack us." Saying the city would lose a lot more than $37,000, he urged action on the resolution.

"Other municipalities were hacked," Rivers said. "Did the director of IT reach out to other IT?"

West said professionals were consulted.

"A major part of our intent was to get this done," he said. "Otherwise we are at risk because we are not as strong as we should be."

Councilman Barry Goode asked what was in place now, and West said the city has services, "but there is a need for backup."

At that point, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said it was "important not to put a lot of information out there on security."

Asked whether there were any other quotes, West said another one was for $65,000. Rivers asked if there were three and said, "In the future, give the council all that information."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said she thought the resolution should be moved to the agenda as it was "really critical" to protect residents and staff.

The 20-minute discussion ended with Taylor calling for a consensus and all agreed to move it to the Monday (April 11) agenda.