Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Council Reorganizes on Jan. 9

The City Council will holds its annual reorganization on Jan. 9, 2017 at 7 p.m. in Municipal Court. 325 Watchung Ave.

The governing body will select a president and chairman of the whole for the year and winners of the Nov. 8 general election will be sworn in for four-year terms. The winners were Rebecca Williams for the Citywide at-large seat and Charles McRae for the Third Ward seat.

Williams currently serves as the Second & Third Wards at-large representative. An appointee must be selected to serve until the next general election in that seat, which Williams will vacate upon assuming the citywide seat.

The reorganization usually includes adoption of a calendar of City Council meetings for 2017, numerous appointments and the mayor's State of the City address. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp gave his State of the City address at the reorganization in 2014 and 2015, but delivered it at a separate meeting in 2016.

See Plaintalker's post on the 2016 reorg here.  

MLK Jr. Memorial Breakfast Jan. 16

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Kwanzaa

Habari Gani
on the first day of
 the principle of

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Happy Hanukah 
to all our Jewish friends!

Merry Christmas
to all our Christian friends!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

File in March for April School Board Election

UPDATE: If you are one of the 37 people who read this story so far, please note the state Department of Education has moved the date of the school board election to April 25, as the prior date conflicts with a religious observance.

While some are having visions of sugar plums right now, school board member David Rutherford had an upcoming election date dancing in his head.

"BOE election in under four months," he reminded FB friends.

Each year, voters pick three board members for thee-year terms. Rutherford was the top vote-getter in November 2014, but because the board changed back to April elections in a controversial November 2015 vote, Rutherford and other 2014 winners Terrence Bellamy Sr. and Carletta Jeffers will have to file on Feb. 27 if they want to seek re-election on April 18
.Filing is March 6, election is April 25
Most school boards formerly  held April elections, but in 2012 new legislation allowed either the governing body or the school board to combine them with the November general election. In Plainfield, the City Council moved the BOE election despite outcry from the school board.

No sooner had the Nov. 3, 2015 election taken place than the BOE quietly voted to move the date back to April. The Nov. 10 vote was on a "walk-on" item that was not on the posted agenda, and the general public's first news of it appeared on Rutherford's blog in December 2015. While the council had to notify the board of intent to change the school board election from April to November, the board did not have to inform the council when moving it back to April.

Just as the move from April to November added about eight months to 2012 incumbents' tenure, reversing it reduced terms of the 2014 and 2015 winners by a similar amount.

So if you want to run for the school board or support an incumbent from 2014, enjoy the holidays and then get those`campaigns going!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Happy Yule

Happy Yule
to all who celebrate the Winter Solstice

Wheel of the Year

A Couple of Cat Tales

For lack of a better topic tonight, click the link for a post on Mau, our adopted feral cat, from back when he was called "Mousie"

Here's Mau on the Holiday Rush

Monday, December 19, 2016

Frontiers Breakfast on Jan. 16

The Frontiers International Plainfield Area Club presents their 41th Annual Dr. Martin

Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast. The Breakfast, the longest running tribute to

Dr. King in New Jersey, will be Monday, January 16, 2017 at the Plainfield High

School cafeteria and auditorium starting at 8:30 am.

Guest speaker for the Breakfast will be Lawrence Hamm,

founder and Chairman of the People’s Organization for

Progress (POP) a premiere grassroots independent political

organization. Larry will speak on the theme “"We must

accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

The Breakfast, an annual commemoration of the life of Dr.

King, highlights student groups, awards scholarships, and

recognizes those in the community who have made

outstanding contributions.

This year’s honorees will receive the Westry Horne “Excellence in Education” award

for their contribution to the Plainfield School System, the Community Service Award

and the Service to Youth. Westry Horne, one of the founders of the Frontiers

International Plainfield Area Club, was an avid tennis player and master educator.

The auditorium at Plainfield High School bears his name.

The Breakfast will be a truly special event where the entire community can enjoy a

delicious breakfast with entertainment, honor Plainfield’s finest and pay tribute to

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For more information, contact Andrea Kee at 908-327-8002 or via email or John Brinkley at 908-868-8704.

Storch: "No Need" for Dec. 19 Meeting

City Council President Cory Storch replied to Plaintalker's request for a comment on the cancellation of Monday's agenda-fixing session for the annual reorganization:

"The 3rd December Council meeting has traditionally been held to set the agenda for the new years reorganization meeting. The administration preferred to let the new years Council do that in January which I find to be appropriate. Additionally none of the 2016 Council members sent me resolutions or other items of business after the second December meeting. So, with no items of business, there was no need for a 3rd December meeting."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mapp: Outgoing Council Should Not Set Agenda

Asked whether he had a comment on reasons for the cancellation of Monday's agenda fixing session for the 2017 City Council reorganization, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp responded:

"I have long been of the view that an outgoing council should not be setting the reorg agenda for an incoming council, that should be the responsibility of the Clerk working with the administration. As such, we opted not to submit agenda items for an outgoing council to decide what should or should not be on the reorg agenda, it doesn't make sense. In the same way that the Clerk is responsible for presiding at the beginning of the reorg meeting, the Clerk should be the one responsible for the reorg agenda."

(The two outgoing council members are Citywide at-large Councilwoman Tracey Brown and Third Ward Councilwoman Gloria Taylor. In a larger context, Brown and Taylor along with Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers and First Ward Councilwoman Diane Toliver currently constitute a majority that will shift in January to one more favorable to the mayor.)

Plainfield's Tangled Political Webs

Monday's agenda-fixing session for the annual reorganization in January has been canceled, according to a notice from City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh. No new date was mentioned, nor was any reason given.

I hope this is does not portend more animosity between the city's political factions. People already have the jitters over national politics. But there are some worrisome signs.

--On Dec. 5, correspondence requesting the reappointment of Dollie Hamlin to the Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners was noted on the agenda, but no action ensued.  It would have been a direct appointment by the council, had it been moved to the Dec. 12 regular meeting agenda for a vote. Hamlin was appointed in 2013 to an unexpired term ending July 1, 2016. Besides being the purchasing agent for the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, Hamlin is also on the ministerial staff of Ruth Fellowship Ministries, where Councilwoman Tracey Brown is pastor. Brown lost the June primary and her council term ends this month, but it appears likely that she will challenge Mayor Adrian O. Mapp  when he runs for a second term in 2017. Brown is also pastor to former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who lost to Mapp in 2013.

--Since taking office in January 2014, Mapp has faced opposition from a council majority for some important initiatives.But because Councilwoman Rebecca Williams won Brown's Citywide at-large seat in November and Charles McRae crushed Robinson-Briggs 2,544 to 995 for the Third Ward seat. Mapp will soon enjoy a majority. The Plainfield Democratic City Committee, which Mapp chairs, must offer the council three names for the Second & Third Ward seat Williams will vacate for her new seat..It is the council's duty to choose one to serve until the next general election. When that will happen is unclear.

--Much is at stake in 2017. Besides the mayoral race, the Fourth Ward council seat is up and Assemblyman Jerry Green, who is chairman of the Union County Democratic Party, must run for re-election. Democrats reorganize in 2017, with 68 city committee seats up for election. Right after the primary, the committee must l choose a chairman for two years. Green had previously held both city and county chairmanships. In November, both Green and Mapp opened Democratic headquarters in Plainfield, with Green pointedly omitting signage for City Council races at his location. Clarification: Green says he did tell Democrats to support Democratic candidates for president, Congress and county freeholder as well as "all of Column A," meaning local Democratic candidates in all municipalities in Union County.

The political animosities run deep in Plainfield, but in 2017 the city's diverse populations may face larger threats from the national level. No matter who wins locally in 2017, the city will lose unless the antagonism lessens.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fewer, Quicker Meetings Cut Civic Engagement

Message from City Clerk AJ Jalloh: Monday's meeting has been canceled

On Monday, the City Council meets to set the agenda for the annual reorganization in January.

Old-timers will recall the reorganization meeting as an important occasion, well-attended by citizens dressed in their best, many of whom came to the microphone to give their own "state of the city" speeches after that given by the mayor.

Among actions taken at the reorganization, the governing body sets a calendar for the year, approves numerous appointments to boards and commissions, names attorneys and judges and adopts its own rules of conduct.

Regarding the annual calendar, changes over the past decade resulted (in my opinion) in a drop-off of citizen participation except when very controversial items are up for a vote. When I first began reporting on the council, regular meetings took place on the first and third Mondays and agenda-fixing sessions were held on preceding Mondays.

In 2006, a switch to a Monday-Wednesday schedule caused a drop-off in attendance by the regulars, some of whom no doubt chose Wednesday night Bible study over council meetings. Further changes in 2008, after the annual calendar had been published, may have made it too hard to keep track of meeting dates.(See Plaintalker's 2009 commentary on calendar change here) 

Gradually the calendar got whittled down some months in 2016 to one combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting. Meetings are televised, but the home audience has no clue what the governing body is voting on when items are only identified by numbers or letters without any explanation or context. Example: "Everybody good with A? B? C?"

My hope for municipal government in 2017 is for greater civic engagement, fostered by both the administrative and legislative branches, with a special emphasis on getting more young people involved. And please, let no council member follow in the footsteps of one who missed six of the 12 voting meetings. Unless there was a very valid reason to be absent, that was just an insult to constituents and colleagues alike.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Skate Park Construction Bids Sought

A city skateboarding park is edging toward realization with a notice to bidders for its construction.

The work includes, but is not limited to, the construction of a 7,350 square feet cast-in-place concrete skate park, the notice says. The location is the Madison Avenue playground off West Second Street. Contract documents and plans are available through the city' s Purchasing Division in City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.Bids will be opened on January 11.

Skateboarders campaigned for their own space in 2013 with a video online and public comment at City Council meetings. The initial proposed location had been a municipal lot on East Fourth Street, but when the city hired Hood Skateparks of Gladstone in July 2016 to design the skate park, the location shifted to the Madison Avenue site. Videographer Lamar Mackson, father of a skateboarder, told the City Council the site was too small. (See Plaintalker II post including video link here.)

Mackson's 2013 video featured skateboarders from Plainfield, North Plainfield and Scotch Plains. They were using the plaza in front of the office building at Park & Front and also the building's parking garage ramps for practice, without permission. The young men explained what skateboarding meant to them and how they risked tickets or arrest to perfect their skills.

To see the complete Notice to Bidders, go to and key skatepark into the search box.

The Madison Avenue park, bounded by Madison Avenue, West Second Street, Central Avenue and the Raritan Valley Line train tracks, recently received an upgrade with a prefabricated set of restrooms. See photos of the installation here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Goodbye or Toodle-oo?

At the end of Monday's City Council meeting where Councilwoman Tracey Brown was honored for her service, she had a few things to say.

"I have lived in Plainfield for over forty years," she began.

Brown commended the Police Division, but added, "The reality is, our city is not safe.

"I think it's an insult to say our city is very, very safe," she said, perhaps referring to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's quoted comment in the Courier News after the city's tenth homicide.

"Sometimes our city is divided," Brown said, adding all residents are important, "not just some who live in certain wards."

Saying she prays for violence to stop, Brown alluded to social media threats against her and said, "So far, nothing has been done. I had to speak out before something horrible happened."

Brown is pastor of Ruth Fellowship Ministries and noted she had eulogized several of the homicide victims.

With her term ending on Dec. 31, how come some of her remarks sounded like campaign talk? Councilwoman Bridget Rivers gave a clue when she said to Brown, "We'll see you next year."

That's when the the mayoral and Fourth Ward seats will be up for election. Mapp has already launched his re-election campaign. His longtime nemesis, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, showed up Monday to praise Brown, who is her pastor. Rivers must also run if she wants to keep her Fourth Ward seat.

In retrospect, the "no" votes on the taxi towing penalty by Brown and Rivers certainly endeared them to the many Soria Taxi employees and supporters who live - and maybe vote - in Plainfield.

One good thing about Plainfield politics is that the battles are often settled in the June primary. The 2017 filing date for the June primary is April 3 and the primary election is on June 6. See all 2017 election timelines here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Taxi Towing Penalty Fails

Legislation allowing police to order out-of-town taxis towed failed Monday, sparking a chorus of thanks from staff and family of the targeted North Plainfield taxi firm.

The council vote was 3-3, with Barry Goode, Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch saying "yes" and Tracey Brown, Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver saying "no." Gloria Taylor was absent. After the crowd left the building, Soria Taxi supporters cheered and honked horns outside to celebrate.

Soria Taxi is already subject to fines for picking up fares in Plainfield, but the harsher penalty was intended to add more clout. In public comment before the vote, numerous Soria supporters insisted that Plainfielders favored Soria over city-licensed taxi companies because service is more timely and efficient. Many also said Soria was their sole source of income and they needed the work to put food on the family table.

But representatives of Plainfield taxi owners and drivers said they must be trained, insured and licensed, suggesting that Soria drivers may not be as qualified. Nonetheless, a Soria driver claimed 90 percent of the company's customers are from Plainfield and others alleged Plainfield police call Soria to pick up customer from city bars at closing.

Flor Gonzalez, president of the Latin American Coalition and chairwoman of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, vouched for city taxi companies as having "the best service ever" and said, "We want the residents to be safe."

Her supportive remarks for city taxi owners and drivers drew some groans from the Soria crowd. In all, fifteen speakers weighed in before the roll call vote, which fell short of the four needed to pass.  City Administrator Rick Smiley said the administration intends to bring the amendment to the taxi ordinance back in 2017.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Brown, Taylor to be Honored for Service

Tonight's City Council agenda includes resolutions honoring two members of the governing body for their "dedicated service."

Terms of Councilwomen Tracey Brown and Gloria Taylor end on Dec. 31, but the meeting is the last regular one for 2016. The resolutions were not available in advance, but custom calls for such resolutions to be read aloud at the meeting.

Councilwoman Tracey Brown holds the Citywide at-large seat. She previously served on the Board of Education and the PMUA. She is the founder and pastor of Ruth Fellowship Ministries.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor is the widow of the late Mayor Richard L. Taylor and represents the Third Ward. She is a retired educator.

Thanks to both for their service!

In January, Rebecca Williams will become the Citywide at-large council representative and Charles McRae will become the Third Ward representative, both for four-year terms. Both won in the June primary. Williams was unopposed in the general election and McRae overcame a challenge from former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who ran as an independent.

The Democratic City Committee will offer the council three names and the council must choose one to replace Williams in the Second & Third Ward at-large seat until the next general election. The winner in November will serve the balance of her term until the end of 2018.

See the full agenda here

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mapp Names New DPW&UD Acting Director

 A former Jersey City official is Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's choice to serve as acting director of Public Works & Urban Development.

Mapp has informed the City Council of Oren K. Dabney's appointment as acting director on Dec. 6 and says in a letter he intends to submit Dabney's name for the governing body's advice and consent at the 2017 Reorganization Meeting.

The department includes six important divisions, including Planning, Inspections and Recreation. The post became vacant with the untimely death of DPW&UD Director Eric C. Watson in July. City Administrator Rick Smiley had been serving as acting director since Watson's passing.

According to online sources, Dabney had a variable relationship with Jersey City's Steve Fulop, challenging him when Fulop was a councilman and Dabney was head of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority, but then.being named acting Public Works director by Fulop in July 2014. However, he retired as head of the JCIA in August 2015 with lifetime health benefits for himself and his family and an estimated $77,472 pension. According to Jersey City's official web site, the JCIA was dissolved in April 2016, with the city assuming all its service responsibilities.

Newspaper accounts of the relationship between Fulop and Dabney echo the sometimes tense relationship of Mapp and Watson, who started out as the city's Public Works director but then became executive director of the newly-formed Plainfield Municipal Utilities in 1995. As council president in 2012, Mapp challenged the PMUA and called for its dissolution, but as mayor he welcomed Watson back as acting PW&UD director in 2014. Watson was approved by the council to serve until Dec. 31, 2017, but died in office.

The regular City Council meeting for December is 8 p.m. Monday (Dec. 12) in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Friday, December 9, 2016


My snapshot of the city Christmas tree, flanked by a menorah and a kinara, came out a little blurry, but that's how things are lately. Celebrate what you can, as best you can, in this holiday season.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Talk Tonight on "A Changing America"

If there's any one thing that defines Plainfield, it's diversity. Many people choose to live here specifically because of the city's embrace of diversity in heritage, relationships, abilities and beliefs. Now with a president-elect and impending administration that appear to favor particular groups over others and even attacks or threatens others, Plainfielders may be wondering what will happen in 2017 and beyond to change their lives.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is offering a public forum to discuss concerns of residents. "A Critical Conversation - Questions for a changing America" will take place tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Senior Center, 400 East Front Street. All are welcome.

See more details here

My family is largely gone now, all the elders are deceased and I have no grandchildren. I feel a special concern for young families in these uncertain times. When I saw a Time magazine with Hitler as man of the year in 1938, my birth year, I wondered what my parents thought about bringing children into that world. My son arrived just before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and my young daughter was puzzled by our speechless sadness. We got all got through the chilling events, but not without a lingering wariness. Now it seems we may be in for an attenuated span of worry over the unpredictable. Getting together and talking about it is a good first step.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

From Russia With Love??

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
Blogger image

Yikes! How did I get a huge readership in Russia all of a sudden? That'll teach me to take a break. It sort of looks like a crocodile and as the song goes, "Never smile at a crocodile."

Taxis and Turf

I bet most of my readers do not use taxis to get around, but for a large segment of the Plainfield population, taxis are the primary means of getting to medical appointments, shopping and visiting friends and relatives. The city issues licenses to taxi owners and operators and has hit a limit on licenses based on population. Some North Plainfield taxi companies want to do business here, but face fines if caught. Next Monday, the City Council will vote on an ordinance giving police the additional option of having out-of-town taxis towed in addition to being ticketed.

More than a dozen people protested the new legislation Monday, charging that city taxis are often late and fares need to call the outsiders for timely service. Operators of the banned taxis said they are just trying to make a living and deserve a chance.

As a user of taxis myself, I can cite at least one egregious instance of a taxi being so late that the appointment I had made six months earlier with a surgeon had to be delayed two more months. But by and large, I do not have to wait long for a taxi to the Watchung Square Mall, my dentist in North Edison, a medical office in South Plainfield or even the vet in Fanwood. I will say that fares are expensive (though nowhere near the cost of owning a car) and drivers disregard the rule that the first pickup must be asked whether he or she minds having another fare picked up along the way.

City taxi drivers and owners are organized in a "chofers" group and have come out in force at times, once regarding safety of drivers after a spate of robberies and murders. They also want to protect their livelihood against unlicensed outsiders. Both the city and outside companies are mainly Latino-owned and -operated and serve primarily a Latino clientele, so their concerns may not be shared by the city's other populations.

The possibility of being turned out of a taxi by police so the vehicle can be towed sparks fear for Latinos who lack credentials. What might happen next? Will they be deported or held somewhere? Local advocates for Latino immigrants can tell stories of families being broken up in an instant, and certainly the president-elect supports such action.

There are many aspects to the taxi situation, but unless you are an owner, driver or passenger, you might not care. Amidst all the post-election anguish, one reaction has been a call for more empathy and understanding of what our various neighbors are thinking and feeling. Whichever way the vote goes on Dec. 12, some will be glad and others disappointed. When we see those blue, red, orange or yellow taxis zipping around,  will we have any thoughts for those inside?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday's Council Topics: Roads, Taxis, Cleanups, Crime

The city's capital improvement plan for 2017 will consist solely of $5 million for road repair, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said when called upon Monday to explain a resolution that will be up for a City Council vote on Dec. 12.

Capital improvement plans can include equipment for long-term use and major improvements to municipal properties as well as infrastructure, as described in this 2006 post.

The city 's 2005 five-year plan for road repair faltered several years ago. In 2008, the governing body declined the administration's request to pay an engineering firm $1 million to assess and re-prioritize road repair needs. The current administration has been attempting to revive a program of road repairs.

 In other matters at Monday's agenda-fixing session, Norman Muhammad of the Plainfield Anti-Violence Coalition thanked Police Director Carl Riley for his efforts to reduce violent crime, but challenged Councilman Barry Goode to be more active in combating violence. Goode, who represents the First and Fourth Wards at-large, said he forgave Muhammad for "your lapse of memory" regarding his involvement and added Muhammad can call him at any time.

"I am approachable," Goode said.

A large group attended the meeting to support out-of-town taxi drivers who are facing the possibility of having their vehicles towed after final passage of an ordinance next week. Speaking in English and Spanish, supporters said the owners and drivers, mostly based in North Plainfield, are just trying to make a living. Several alleged it takes an hour or more for city-licensed taxis to answer calls, so they have to call the out-of-town taxis to get to medical appointments and such on time.

Resident Timothy Priano, whose Queen City Pride group has held numerous cleanups, said city Code Enforcement needs to be stepped up to address derelict buildings he has seen along the cleanup routes. Priano alleged courts were not helping and no one was obeying rules or codes.

Council President Cory Storch said Code Enforcement has been an ongoing concern and asked City Administrator Rick Smiley to comment. Smiley said the city will soon have a new director for abandoned property.

"I'm not going to blame it on the courts," Smiley said.

"I just don't find that response acceptable," Storch said.

Muhammad also asked whether a South Avenue developer was hiring minority contractors, as promised when the project was approved. Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez said the project is in the demolition phase and a local contractor is doing the work.

In the absence of Chairwoman of the Whole Gloria Taylor, Councilwoman Tracey Brown filled in and rapidly received council approval to move all 35 resolutions and four ordinances to the agenda for the regular meeting at 8 p.m. Dec. 12 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.