Thursday, March 31, 2016

Buy House Tour Tickets Starting April 2

House tours traditionally draw hundreds of residents and visitors out for a glimpse of Plainfield history. Sometimes the emphasis is purely on the architecture, other times there are themes. An upcoming one is "Brides of the Decades; Love Wins!" in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. The tour date is Sunday, June 5 and it is worth planning ahead to attend with friends and relatives who may not live here, but would like to know more about Plainfield.

Tickets go on sale April 2, as indicated on this page from the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District website

These tours are organized by volunteers and often there is a need for docents or greeters on the tour date as well. If you live here, it's a great way to meet fellow Plainfielders and do something fun for a good cause. Often the proceeds are used to beautify the district or for other good works. A portion of the proceeds from this tour will go toward scholarships.

Plainfield's eclectic Victorian architecture and its many special gardens are an interesting part of the city's tapestry. I once lived in a communal household in a former mansion on West Eighth Street and marveled at the craftsmanship and detail involved in its construction. My thoughts were more with the artisans themselves than with their patrons, and I also came to appreciate the 20th century preservationists and renovators who have saved these homes from decay or loss. Whatever your perspective, a glimpse into historic homes can be fascinating.

Other tours are in the works - I will try to share details as they become available.

--Bernice

Blog Posts Draw Heavy Comments

I was up a little too late last night and cannot come up with a new topic.

Looking at recent blog posts, I saw two that generated 30 comments each and another that received 25 comments. Perhaps, if you don't go back and look at posts on controversial topics, you might be interested in the comments on these three. It's likely that there will be more said when the council meets on Monday.

The first one to get 30 comments was a March 15 post, "Council Votes to Investigate Police Division." The action came at the end of the meeting and the crowd had thinned, except for a group of supporters of Lt. Ken Reid. They applauded Councilwoman Gloria Taylor's call for an investigation, which the council approved unanimously.

However, at a special meeting on March 21, the governing body was asked to overturn the resolution to investigate the Police Division. Officers involved in various aspects of an accreditation process .talked about their work, but the vote to support police failed, with Councilwoman Diane Toliver abstaining, Council President Cory Storch and council members Rebecca Williams and Barry Goode voted "yes" and Councilwoman Taylor voted "no." Councilwomen Bridget Rivers and Tracey Brown were absent..With only three "yes" votes, the vote failed.

You can read the blog post, "Council Vote in Support of Police Fails" and 30 comments at the link.

The third post was about a comment Taylor made at the March 21 special meeting that I found shocking. "Taylor's Shocking Words" got 25 comments, both pro and con.

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

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

School Board Adopts Budget, With Fix for $2.6 Million Gap

Faced with a budget gap of $2.6 million, the district will tap surplus for $1 million and make up the balance with vendor contract negotiations and another $1 million anticipated by June, Business Administrator Gary Ottmann said Tuesday.

At a hearing before adoption of the $189,643,334 budget for the 2016-17 school year, Ottmann said the $2.6 million increase reflected the school board's decision not to cut staff or health benefits. That decision had been announced at a March 15 board meeting attended by many members of the school staff union, the Plainfield Education Association. The union had urged members to come out in protest of staff and benefit cuts, which were listed among eight options to save money

On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved adoption of the budget, with a local school tax levy of $24,295,492 for 2016-17. Ottmann reminded voters to come out on April 19 between the hours of 2 to 9 p.m. to vote on the budget. Three school board seats are also up for election on April 19.

Before public comment, board member John Campbell asked Ottmann how much the election would cost. The board had taken action in November to move it back to April after four years of holding it in conjunction with the November general election. Opponents of the move pegged the cost at $115,000. Ottmann said Tuesday the April election would cost between $60,000 and $70,000, based on information from Union County officials.

In public comment, speakers protested placement of two downtown billboards, one for a slate of candidates including Board President Wilma Campbell next to another vaunting the district's acquisition of a state-owned school building for $1. Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles said the district has used the latter billboard "for promoting district activities" and Wilma Campbell said she paid for the campaign billboard.

School board candidate Carmencita Pile asked how the district could take credit for the acquisition "when it happened 15 years ago," but Belin-Pyles called it "an accomplishment that took place over the last year." She said of the juxtaposition to a campaign billboard, "I did not do that."

(See some background on the West Front Street "swing school" here.)

Among other comments:

- Blogger Dan Damon questioned Ottmann's statement that the district hoped to realize $620,000 in savings on contracts for such things as copy machines and other services. Ottmann said maybe he shouldn't have used the word "hope" and that the number of copy machines will be reduced.

- Candidate Dorien Hurtt questioned the move back to April elections as well as the board's action in splitting Ottmann's former title as board secretary/ business administrator and hiring a separate secretary, which he called "unprecedented" in the state.

"Guess who gets to pick the ballot drawing," Hurtt said.

He also questioned whether board attorney Lisa Fittipaldi's firm, DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, P.C., has any ties to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is featured on the district billboard.

His further questions were cut short when Wilma Campbell said, "Your time is up" and that public comment was not the "time to campaign."

- Speakers Terri Slaughter-Cabbell and Charisse Parker expressed frustrations with the board, Slaughter-Cabbell because her written questions to Campbell as board president were only answered after she contacted the county superintendent and then by Campbell to the county instead of Slaughter-Cabbell directly. Parker asked about district approval for PEA's use of Hubbard School for a candidates' forum on April 6. Belin-Pyles referred her to acting PEA President Eric Jones, but Jones said he had not yet received an answer.

Eight candidates are vying for three three-year board seats on April 19. See an election update here.

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

School Budget Meeting Tonight

click to enlarge
I began a school budget story but upon checking tonight's agenda again since the weekend, I see it starts on Page 5 and refers to a public hearing that already took place. In addition, the local tax levy and total budget numbers have changed. The "public hearing" advertised on March 19 for 8 p.m. March 29 was later advertised for 7:15 p.m. in the PHS auditorium.

I don't know what to say except go early and pay close attention.

For what it's worth, here below is the now-defunct story. It may be of interest to learn about the "fair share" goal if you haven't heard of it before.


A large legal notice published on March 19 stated the anticipated local school tax levy for 2016-17 as $23,606,150, up from $23,143,293 in 2015-16 and $22,731,000 in 2014-15. The total budget proposed for 2016-17 is $186, 511,039.

If $22.7 million sounds like a lot, consider what our neighbors to the east in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood district must come up with out of local taxes: $84,222,883 in support of a total budget of $88,729,645.

It was this type of imbalance that prompted an increase in Plainfield's local tax levy in 2008. City taxpayers had previously paid the same amount toward the school budget for about 16 years. The state began mandating a 4 percent annual increase in the local tax levy in 2008-09, with the goal of eventually reaching a $33 million "fair share" goal. As you can see, that amount is still a long way off.

While asking Plainfield to pay more, the state has also increased its contribution year over year. Last year's total state aid was $122,397,680 and for 2016-17 it is projected to be $125,604,776.

I wish there was an easier way for the public to take part in the school budget process. There was a presentation for the public on March 10. Years ago there was a Citizens' School Budget Advisory Committee that took part in the process.

Anyway, the March 19 legal notice said the public hearing on the 2016-17 budget was at 8 p.m., but a later teensy-tiny notice said it was 7:15 p.m. Tuesday (March 29) in the PHS auditorium. I saw an agenda over the weekend that was different from the one up right now (midnight), which starts on Page 5 and says $2,620,000 was added to the budget "at the public hearing."

--Bernice

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Primary Filing is April 4

The next City Council meeting is on April 4, which also happens to be the filing day for the June primary.

Two seats are up, the Citywide at-large and the Third Ward. The Citywide at-large incumbent, Rev. Tracey Brown, has already been campaigning for months for re-election. More recently, Alma Blanco has emerged as her running mate. On Feb. 27, the Democratic City Committee met and endorsed Rebecca Williams for the Citywide at-large seat and Charles McRae for the Third Ward. Williams is currently in the second year of a term ending on Dec. 31, 2018 representing the Second and Third Wards at-large.

The primary contest is on June 7 and all Democratic and Republican filers will be on the ballot. Independents who file on June 7 and the primary winners will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

General election winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2017.

Voters can expect to be bombarded with campaign promises, accusations and perhaps some tall tales from here on out to the general election. Let us hope the Plainfield election process is less abrasive than the national one.

There are Republicans in Plainfield, though at last count they were outnumbered 13 to 1 by Democrats. Still, this is their year to reorganize. They can elect committee members on June 7 for two-year terms. The city has 34 voting districts in its four wards, and voters may choose a male and female candidate in each district for a possible total of 68 committee members. However, in June 2014 the GOP was only able to fill 15 out of 68 seats. In case you are curious, click the link to the Union County Republican Committee, of which the Plainfield committee is a subset, to see what they profess to believe.

--Bernice

Happy Easter




HAPPY EASTER
to all our
Christian friends
and
may we all share in the  
season's spirit
of renewal and hope

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

Christians worldwide will observe Good Friday today, marking the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Plainfield, congregants of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church will hold a Good Friday .procession starting at 1 p.m. on West Front Street and Park Avenue, then on Madison Avenue, West Sixth Street and Liberty Street to the church for services.

Although Good Friday is not a federal holiday, many institutions will be closed today, including banks, schools, the Plainfield Public Library and city government.

The solemnity of Good Friday is followed by a vigil on Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday is joyous with prayers and feasting to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.


More Stuff on the April 19 School Board Election

Moving the school board elections from November to April will mean holding a second reorganization in less than six months, and eight months' loss of service for several members.

Winners of the Nov. 3, 2015 election were sworn in on Jan. 5 for three-year terms, but instead of serving through Dec. 31, 2018 they may find themselves displaced in the April 2018 election. Those who took office in January of 2014 and 2015 could also be affected, though two are running for new three-year terms on April 19.

The Jan. 5 reorganization also included election of officers, but the board will have to reorganize again in late April or early May. Board President Wilma Campbell and Vice President Frederick D. Moore Sr. are both running for re-election on April 19 and conceivably could be named to the same posts again if they win, but losing will mean being out of office and off the board.

"Kingmaker" John Campbell, Wilma's husband and the organizer of many successful past campaigns, was an appointee last year and also a winner in November, thus eligible to serve until the April 2018 election even if Wilma loses on April 19.

As noted in a post Tuesday, eight candidates are vying for three seats on April 19.

Because the polls are open only from 2 to 9 p.m., some voters may want the use the vote-by-mail option.
For those who are comfortable with apps, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi has announced the "Union County Votes" app with features including countdown to election dates, ability to check whether you are registered, voter information in English and Spanish and information on becoming a poll worker or running for office. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Register by March 29 for School Board Election

Tuesday, March 29 
is the last day to register to vote
in the April 19 school board election.

The City Clerk's office in City Hall,
515 Watchung Ave.,
will have early morning and evening hours
in order to accommodate
last-minute registrants.
                
ON THAT DAY, THE OFFICE WILL BE OPEN
FROM 6:00 AM TO 9:30 PM. 

 You may also download
a voter registration form
from the city website at
http://www.plainfieldnj.gov/docs/voterregapp.pdf

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Election Antics Old-Style

A couple of weeks ago, something that happened in the city made me recall the phrase, "What a revoltin' development this is!"

I couldn't remember the name of the person who said it, so I searched and found it was William Bendix in the show, "The Life of Riley." It started out in the 1940s as a radio show and became a television series in the 1950s.

I looked up the show and happened to get an episode about a school election that Riley rigged to benefit his daughter.

It was pretty funny and eventually Bendix came out with that signature catch phrase. Take a look here if you have time. And feel free to use the phrase when appropriate in 2016.

--Bernice

Taylor's Shocking Words

Sometimes when a long-winded politician gets going at a public meeting, I just write in my my notebook, "blah blah." At Monday's meeting there was a lot of hot air from a couple of politicians, but one remark was so chilling that I just can't get over it.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor launched a big speech that caromed from praise for the professionalism of the Police Division's presentation to her bona fides in public service to the police director's residency to one of the most thoughtless sentences I have heard in 40 30 years of covering Plainfield.

Stating she remembered "a culture of disconnect," she said, "That's why we killed Officer Gleason."

I don't know whether the new recruits were still in the room, but I felt shocked that they or any sworn officers should have to hear those words from an elected official.

"How many officers of color do we have," she asked, then rambled on to something about "not a top-down boss mentality" before reminding the mayor that community members in the current controversy "didn't come to the mayor," but to the council.

In what seemed like a total non-sequitur after her prior remarks, she said, "Let's build community together."

As a former reporter, I am supposed to be somewhat hard-boiled and non-reactive, but this performance had my head spinning. I remembered the 2010 ceremony dedicating the memorial at police headquarters and hoped no one in the Gleason family would see the video of Monday's meeting.

Please take a look at my post on the memorial ceremony. It was a day of respect for police lives lost and hope for the future, despite the horrors of the past. If you happened to have been present Monday and need an antidote to the cruelty of Taylor's remark, maybe the blog post will suffice.

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

School Board Election Update

There are now eight candidates for three three-year seats on the Board of Education.

Board Secretary Craig Smith confirmed that Valeria Yancey is no longer a candidate.

"Ms. Yancey was disqualified due to a challenge by another candidate team on her petition that she submitted. That challenge was then verified to be accurate after consultation with the Union County Board of Elections," Smith replied to Plaintalker's query on Monday.

The remaining candidates are incumbent Board President Wilma Campbell, seeking her fifth term; incumbent Frederick Moore; James Plummer; Lynn B. Anderson; Dorien Hurtt; Carmencita Pile; Alice F. Horton-Mays; and Jackie Coley. Campbell, Moore and Plummer are running as a slate, as are Anderson, Hurtt and Pile.

The last day to register to vote in the school board election is Tuesday, March 29.

The election is April 19 and polls are open from 2 to 9 p.m. Your sample ballot will indicate your polling place. See vote-by-mail requirements here.

--Bernice

The Ultimate "We Said, They Said"

The first round of comments has come in on my post about Monday's special meeting and there is not a lot of middle ground. Those who support Lt. Ken Reid, regardless of whatever he did, support him to the hilt. Those who believe the Police Division is advancing and improving under the direction of Police Director Carl Riley continue to have faith in the effort.

Observers of Plainfield's political scene may also detect the specter of an unfinished battle between Adrian Mapp and Sharon Robinson-Briggs. I was looking online for an image of two armies doing battle in the historic way, each side aligned with flags flying, but Google only showed me a bunch of apocalyptic game wars instead. Revenge nowadays can mean total destruction of a city or country, and the inhabitants become mere collateral damage or are forced to flee.

When is it time to fight the power and when is it time to see if we can all get along? Remember the riots or re-brand the city as a new kind of community? The answer, my friends, ... remains to be seen.

--Bernice

Council Vote in Support of Police Fails

Click images to enlarge
A City Council resolution in support of the Police Division failed Monday after two members disputed wording that an investigation had been handled "in a fair & objective manner."

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said, "You must listen to this community and get feedback."

After supporters of Lt. Ken Reid complained about punishment he faced in an internal police investigation, Taylor on March 14 called for a council investigation of the "procedures and culture" of the Police Division and received unanimous support.  On Friday, council members were briefed on the matter by the Union County Prosecutor's Office and Mayor Adrian O. Mapp called the special meeting in effect to reverse the March 14 action.

On Monday, a two-hour presentation showed many innovations and improvements the Police Division has achieved under Director Carl Riley, but in public comment Reid supporters again cried foul, even though the exact nature of the infraction has never been made public. The vote to support the police and wait for an accreditation process to be completed failed 3-1-1, with council members Barry Goode, Rebecca Williams and Council President Cory Storch voting "yes," Taylor voting "no" and Councilwoman Diane Toliver abstaining. Councilwomen Tracey Brown and  Rivers were absent. Lacking four votes in favor, the resolution failed.

On March 14, Taylor had said to Riley, "I don't want to put our esteemed director on notice, but I have a problem when I hear it's not just this case," adding Reid was the "third African-American in three years' time to be brought up on charges."

On Monday, Mapp countered Taylor's allegation of racial discrimination by saying five officers had faced discipline in the Reid case, three being white and two black.
One of the slides in the police presentation showed the division to be 55 percent African American, 36 percent Caucasian and 9 percent Hispanic.
The presentation also revealed progress in accreditation through the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. The Police Division has attained 83 percent of the the criteria showing it operates at the highest professional standards, with 17 percent still in progress.
Lt. Craig Venson said there are 105 standards for accreditation and police personnel have to prove they are meeting the standards.
School Resource Officers starred in a video that showed them in positive interactions with students, including coaching, mentoring and sharing experiences such as "Carefree Fridays" -  evenings of games and fun for teens.
A slide outlined the process of handling complaints against officers.
Another slide showed a 79 percent decrease in citizen complains against police and a 50 percent decrease in agency complaints, comparing the first quarter of 2015 with the first quarter of 2016.
Among many technological advances, a closed circuit television system helps to pinpoint trouble spots.
Body worn cameras aid transparency in police interactions with the public.
With new tools and ability to analyze police reports, crime is trending down.

In his remarks, Riley said discipline is expected and happens even to the most dedicated officers. He referred to a "disheartening remark" on March 14 and said "inaccurate information was publicly disseminated."

Riley said any disciplinary action taken against any officer has nothing to do with race or religion.

"I'm asking the City Council not to waste important tax payer money on an investigation that is not warranted," he said.

The public also heard from retired Chief Edward Santiago, who described the official channels available for police officers to appeal any charges. Reid's supporters have held rallies, prayed in from of Municipal Court and thronged council meetings, all while the charges he is facing remain undisclosed by law enforcement officials due to their investigation.

Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs came to the microphone to speak in support of Reid while carrying a basket of candy, her trademark while in office for two terms before losing a third-term bid to Mapp. She called Reid, her former bodyguard, a blend of "spirituality and law enforcement." In all, 15 people spoke in public comment, many still calling for Reid to be excused.

Resident Alan Goldstein said he had no idea what Reid was charged with.

"The amount of hypocrisy I have heard tonight is unbelievable," he said, noting praise for the Police Division was mingled with distrust. He questioned how a police officer could go to friends and incite them to disrupt the the process of an investigation. Suggesting people should just let the process continue with the Union County prosecutor and whatever liability there might be, he said, "Everyone in this room will have egg on their face one way or the other."

--Bernice

Monday, March 21, 2016

School Budget Update

In a March 15 update on the 2016-17 school budget, Business Administrator Gary Ottmann said of eight possible areas for budget reduction, an option to reduce fringe benefits has been "taken off the table." In addition, he said, on March 29 the school board wants to adopt a budget that reflects "no reduction in staff."

The audience, which included many Plainfield Education Association members, broke into loud applause.

The union had urged members and supporters to attend the meeting to protest possible staff cuts to save $2.325 million. The health benefit cuts had been projected to save $1.5 million.

A flier rallying PEA members to turn out on March 15 listed several other possible reductions.


In public comment, PEA Vice President Eric Jones said union members want employees "at the table" to know how the district will look after the cuts.

The budget presentation on March 10 indicated next steps as a public hearing on March 29 and an April 1 deadline for final budget adoption. According to a notice in the Courier News Saturday, the public hearing will take place at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29 in the Plainfield High School auditorium.

The legal notice lists a local tax levy of $23,606,150 and a total budget of $186,511,039.

--Bernice

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Happy Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox
to all who celebrate
the
Wheel of the Year

Commentary on the 2016 Budget Process

Interested members of the public are awaiting announcement of budget deliberation dates, but meanwhile a comment by the proposed Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee chairman makes one wonder how objective the process will be.

Some may say everything in Plainfield is political, so what's new?

It is true that politics are the meat in the Queen City's bag of sliders, if I may invoke that image. But sometimes the politics are hard to stomach, especially before the June primary.

At the March 7 City Council meeting, Sal Carrano announced he has been named to CBAC and chosen to be chairman. He complimented the administration on improving the tax collection rate to 97 percent, as noted in a budget presentation earlier in the meeting. On March 14, he reiterated that he was chairman of CBAC, but said, "I don't like double talk. I don't like shell games."

Citing a lot of figures related to the budget presentation, especially regarding an $8.5 million surplus amount, Carrano said, "I don't want my time wasted examining this budget."

Whoops. Has he already decided budget deliberations will be a waste of time? Will entering into budget talks with a high degree of suspicion color the process?

Here's the lineup for the 2016 CBAC:

Eric Graham, named to the committee by Councilwoman Gloria Taylor
Sal Carrano, named by Councilwoman Tracey Brown
Thomas Crownover, named by Councilwoman Rebecca Williams
Delois Dameron, named by Councilwoman Diane Toliver
Leighton St. Patrick Williams, named by Councilman Barry Goode
Alma Blanco, named by Councilwoman Bridget Rivers
Nathan Vaughn, named by Council President Cory Storch

The CBAC members receive the same comprehensive budget information that the council gets and share in the process of interviewing department and division heads before amendments are formulated. The CBAC chairman delivers a report to the council at the end of deliberations. Though not binding on the governing body, the CBAC conclusions hold some weight.

Amendments must be advertised and a public hearing is held before final passage. Once passed, the budget stands for the rest of the year, with some transfers permitted near the end of the year if needed.

At times there have been moves to make a political spectacle out of the budget process, with the aim of crippling the administrative branch or singling out individuals for retribution. On paper, as noted by 2015 CBAC Chairman Tom Kaercher, the process is more straight-forward. From his report:

First, the Council gave the CBAC five specific goals:
1. Compare Plainfield’s budget expenses, revenues, and service to municipalities of similar size and demographics.
2. Identify possibilities for shared service agreements similar communities have agreed to.
3. Identify core services, as defined by residents, and rank in their priority order
4. Identify structural budget imbalances caused by one time measures and recommend strategies to eliminate them
5. Make a set of budget recommendations for the 2015 Calendar Year Budget.


Because the process was compressed to two weeks and only covered 11 of 36 budget categories, the 2015 CBAC could not meet all the goals, Kaercher said. 

This year an earlier start seems possible, but if CBAC members approach the task with skepticism or preconceived notions that it is a sham, why bother? It is, after all, the governing body's duty to deal with the budget once it is introduced:

From Article V of the charter:
5.6 Action by the council.

(a) The council shall consider the executive budget, make available for public distribution copies of the budget document, and cause a budget ordinance to be introduced, published and hearing thereon held pursuant to the local budget law.

(b) The council may increase, decrease, or eliminate any item in the executive budget for current operating expenses, except that it may not increase any item unless, upon separate motion as to each increase, 2/3 of the members of the council shall vote in favor thereof.


(c) The council may include, exclude, increase, or decrease a capital outlay or capital project contained in the executive budget, and may add capital outlays and capital projects thereto. Any capital outlay or project not included in the executive budget shall be referred to the planning board for a report and recommendation prior to council's action thereon. The planning board shall report within 30 days and may recommend either that the project or outlay be approved or that it be disapproved or deferred. In the event that the planning board should recommend that the project or outlay be disapproved or deferred, such project or outlay shall not be included in the budget adopted by the council except upon a favorable vote of 2/3 of the members of the council, upon separate motion as to each project or outlay. If the planning board should fail to report within 30 days, it shall be deemed to recommend approval. The requirements of this section shall be in addition to any imposed by the Municipal Planning Act (1953) and the local budget law.

This year, a lot more people, including developers, have their eyes on Plainfield. What will they see in the 2016 budget process, an objective approach to fiscal responsibility or political "crabs in a barrel"?

--Bernice

Re-Post on City Condos

Somehow this blog post landed on the old archive pf Plainfield Plaintalker instead of being posted in Plaintalker II. Every so often it happens when Blogger switches the location of the two on the main page. It was supposed to have run on Feb. 25. Click to open it.

Some History on the City's Basement Condo


Gutenkaufs Remembered with Scholarship

Saturday's memorial service for Dottie Gutenkauf was very impressive and touching. Dottie and her husband Joe were part and parcel of life in Plainfield in so many ways. If you missed the memorial and would like to show appreciation for their legacy of service to Plainfield, there is a scholarship fund to which you can donate.


Click for more information on the 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some Quick History on Police Division

Eight years ago this month, the City Council broke with a 139-year tradition and abolished the title of police chief.

The sitting chief had learned of the plan nine months earlier in a slide show by Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig. As Chief Edward Santiago looked on, the plan to eliminate his title flashed on the screen.

“What you see is a dangerous politicization of the police department,” Santiago said after the meeting where his choices were spelled out as retirement or staying on as a captain. Santiago ultimately chose the latter and through a quirk in pay scales ended up with a higher salary than he had as chief.

With the chief's title abolished, Hellwig became acting police director in addition to his title as director of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety, in effect reporting to himself. The department, one of three mandated in the city's special charter, once contained an array of divisions, but had been pared down to just Police and Fire divisions in a reorganization under former Mayor Mark Fury.

Whether through haste or sloppiness, the title of police director was created without a salary range, which was added in 2010. Hellwig drew only one salary for both jobs.
As director, Hellwig changed the table of organization one year to increase five captains to seven, later reducing the number to three, forcing Captain Siddeeq El-Amin to choose between demotion or retirement.


Captain Siddeeq El-Amin leaves the building, March 31, 2010
 El-Amin chose retirement.

Hellwig served as department head from January 2006 through December 31, 2013, spanning former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' two terms. He was additionally named permanent police director in March 2009 and served through 2013.

After Mayor Adrian O. Mapp took office on Jan. 1, 2014, there was some discussion of dividing the joint director/department head title, but Carl Riley holds both titles. 

Hellwig sought council approval for an accreditation of the Police Division, but it was not approved during his tenure. It was finally approved in March 2014, to be funded entirely through forfeiture money.

On Monday, March 21, a presentation on the Police Division will be made at 7 p.m. in the Senior Center, 400 East Front Street. A revised notice Friday includes a second item, a resolution in support of the Police Division.

At the end of last Monday's council meeting, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor called for an investigation of the Police Division's policies and procedures and although details such as naming special counsel and funding source were lacking, the resolution passed unanimously.

Taylor made a lengthy commentary which appeared to be related to personnel issues raised by supporters of Lt. Ken Reid, who say Reid is being forced to choose between retirement and demotion. Officials by law cannot openly discuss personnel matters, so the public has heard only the supporters' allegations.  The upcoming special meeting may shed light on the workings of the division, though maybe not on Reid's specific situation.

--Bernice

Friday, March 18, 2016

Special Meeting Date Change

SPECIAL MEETING NOTICE
has been revised!
The meeting called by
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp
is now 
7 p.m. MONDAY March 21
The location is still the
 Senior Center
400 East Front Street
There are now two items on the agenda:
1. Presentation on the Police Division
2. Resolution in support of the Police Division

Formal action may be taken

Planning Board Approves One Case, Mulls Three More

In a marathon session Thursday, the Planning Board heard four applications, approving one in less than 20 minutes, while another involved nearly two hours of testimony with more to follow in April.

The long evening was also new attorney Janine Bauer's first time serving the board, succeeding Michele Donato, who retired after guiding the board since 1985.

Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey changed the order of the agenda to start with the application of South Second Street Redevelopment LLC for a mixed residential and commercial project on a five-acre city-owned site in the West End. Plans call for 90 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments on 1.3 acres at the corner of Grant Avenue and South Second Street and a showroom and warehouse for ABC Roofing on the eastern portion of the lot. The business is already in Plainfield but will be able to expand at the new location.

Engineer John Ferrante displayed a 1956 aerial photo that showed the large building that occupied the site before it was destroyed by fire in the 1980s, However, all the utilities were still there, he said, Slabs covering 75 percent of the site also remain and will be removed, crushed and re-used on the site. Ferrante said a large amount of fill on the site will be used to construct five-foot berms that will be planted with shrubs and trees for green space.

New sidewalks will be constructed around the site, though Ferrante said curbing is in great shape. Board concerns included parking, with one space allotted per unit and no provisions for guests except for on-street parking. The north side of the tract abuts the Raritan Valley Line and no sound-proofing is planned. Scott Bey said firmly no barbed wire, chain link fencing or satellite dishes will be permitted.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor asked about use of local contractors.

"We don't say 'minority' any more, but I'm saying it," Taylor said.

Scott Bey said use of local contractors is part of the redevelopment agreement.

"I just want to make sure," Taylor said.

(The council approved the redevelopment agreement in November, with a 20 percent goal for minority participation, among other provisions.)

Testimony on the application went on until 9:20 p.m. and will continue on April 7 without further notice.

After a break, the board quickly approved Seven Stars Transport's application to subdivide a Manson Place property and construct a one-family home on the new lot. Architect Brian Taylor showed images of nearby homes and described how he designed the new 4-bedroom, 2-bath home to be compatible with the neighborhood.

Next up was the application of Ministerio Internacional Puerto Del Cielo to convert a Roosevelt Avenue building to a church. Treasurer William Ramos said the church has about 70 members and holds services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, with most members attending on Saturday. Board members questioned why pews accommodating more than 200 attendees were needed and expressed concern about parking, with only 19 spaces on site and more on a nearby leased lot which is still under construction. Ramos said only a few members drive and two vans transport most of the congregants, but Scott Bey said parking requirements are not based on how people travel, rather on the number of seats in the church.

Taylor asked what the church name was in English, which Planning Director Bill Nierstedt translated as "Door of Heaven." She also asked whether it was a Christian denomination, but Scott Bey said the board "can't get into that."

After hearing more from architect Robert Hernandez and engineer Andrew Wu, Scott Bey said there were 45 items to be cleared up and "make a more successful application." The hearing will continue on April 21.

Last up was night club owner Edison Garcia, who proposed converting the upper floors of the former bank building at 111 East Front Street to apartments.

Based on board comments at a previous meeting, Garcia had modified his plans to give residents a separate entrance so they would not have to mingle with night club guests. He had also improved safety at the rear of the building, but Scott Bey and others still had many remaining concerns. Conversion of second bedrooms to "studies" with no doors might still not prevent them from being used as bedrooms, board member Sean McKenna said. Other unresolved concerns included parking, trash disposal, removal of neon signs from upper windows, use of a common elevator for residents and club-goers and encroachment on city property at the rear.

Board member Horace Baldwin voiced "a degree of unreadiness" to approve the application, which others shared. But as midnight approached, Taylor moved to grant preliminary approval pending resolution of the problems. That set off another round of concern, but finally Baldwin seconded the motion and it passed, 5-2, with Baldwin, Taylor, John Stewart, Siddeeq El-Amin and Anthony Howard saying "yes" and McKenna and Scott Bey saying "no." Garcia now has up to three years to solve all the problems and seek final approval.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 17, 2016

RIP Charles Nutt


Image result for charles nutt

Very sad to hear that former Courier News publisher Charles Nutt is dead at the age of 67.

After retiring from Gannett, he became the owner and publisher of Free Times, an alternative weekly in Columbia, S. C.

His death by his own hand was reported in The State today;

I had great respect for him as a leader in the newsroom and will always be grateful for the chance he gave me.

One of my first Kindle downloads was his book, "Life Happens: How a Class of Catholic Baby Boomers Coped with a Changing World," which he dedicated to the students and teachers of the Class of 1966 at Morris Catholic High School in Denville. My own high school class is holding its 60th reunion this year, so I found his research and insights on coping with change very intriguing.

My condolences to his family and colleagues.

--Bernice 

Check Planning Board Agenda

Several interesting applications are on tonight's Planning Board agenda, including proposed apartments over a downtown nightclub, a church on Roosevelt Avenue and a mixed-use development on a five-acre city-owned site on South Second Street.

See the March 17 agenda here, though it may be subject to change for various reasons.

Plaintalker has previously posted reports on all three. Click on links for details.

- Nightclub owner Edison Garcia proposed the apartments in November and the hearing began in February.

- The  board's review of the application of Ministerio Internacional Puerto del Cielo was continued to this month due to faulty notice.

- The South Second Street developers are seeking preliminary and final site plan approval tonight. The proposal includes 90 residential units and a 44,000-square-foot warehouse, a major development for the city's West End.  See prior posts here.

Plaintalker II usually publishes reports after land use meetings so that readers can see them the following morning. Dan Damon aggregates bloggers' work and publishes later in the day. Please note you do not have to wait for Dan's blog. You can bookmark Plaintalker II at ptalker2.blogspot.com and see my blog posts first thing in the morning.

--Bernice

Muhlenberg RFP Announced

As promised, a "Request for Proposals" for redevelopment of the Muhlenberg site has been published.

The notice is one of many steps in the process. It was in Wednesday's Courier News and the full text may also be seen by going to the New Jersey Press Association's website at www.njpublicnotices.com and putting Muhlenberg in the search box. Here is an excerpt:

NOTICE REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS Redevelopment of the 10.78-acreMuhlenberg/JFK Hospital site Notice is hereby given that the City of Plainfield will receive proposals on April 27, 2016, at 11:00 A.M in the Plainfield City Hall Building, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ for the following: The City of Plainfield is seeking proposals from interested developers to redevelop a 10.78-acre site. The Site, encompassing the former Muhlenberg/JFK hospital, is between Randolph Road and Moffett Road in the southeastern quadrant of the City of Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey and has been designated an "area in need of redevelopment". This designation allows for flexibility in the development plan not provided under current zoning. The City's vision is for the Site to have a health-care focus with a variety of healthcare and complimentary uses to serve the local and regional community, that are contextually consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. The developer will purchase the site from JFK Hospital and enter into a Redevelopment Agreement with the City of Plainfield. Proposals are being solicited through a fair and open process in accordance with N.J.S.A.19:44A-20.4. Requests for Proposals may be obtained by requesting a hard copy that may be picked up at the Office the City Purchasing, City of Plainfield, Administration Building, Basement, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060 during the hours of 9:30a.m.to 4:30p.m,beginning on March 16, 2016. 

The notice further spells out the city's response to the submissions and that the award of a contract hinges on the city having the funds to allocate for the process. I'm not sure whether any developers read the blog, but if so, they need to obtain the full RFP by means described in the legal notice. My intention here is just to note that this step has been launched through public notice. There are many more steps in the process and indeed no guarantees that the notice will yield a qualified respondent.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Special Meeting on Police Division

REVISED - Now on Monday, March 21

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Commentary on Reid Situation


Cover photo and headline, but no story inside

In 2014, the City Council approved spending more than $80,000 on an accreditation process for the Police Division. Accreditation means the division is operating at recognized high standards for a law enforcement agency. At the time, Police Director Carl Riley alluded to the division "going through some things" that needed to be addressed "so we don't end up in the paper."

The current situation must be pretty serious if, as speakers at council meetings say, those involved were meted out six-month suspensions without pay. As Corporation Counsel David Minchello said Monday, there are avenues of appeal. However, Lt. Ken Reid is apparently saying "none of the above" to options including demotion with penalties or retirement, where he presumably can receive his pension.

On Monday, Riley had to sit through a lot of remarks regarding the Police Division in general and Reid in particular. As director, he could not go back and forth with speakers, even when Councilwoman Gloria Taylor made comments such as "I don't trust what's going on," "I'm concerned about the culture of the Police Division," and "something's wrong when the good ones are being persecuted."

Maybe it's time for an update on the accreditation process. At least it might reveal some stats on training and perhaps even some metrics on how the Plainfield Police Division measures up according to the accrediting agency, which is the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. If Plainfield is still working on getting accredited, wouldn't it make more sense to allow that process to continue rather than hiring special counsel for the governing body to investigate the Police Division's policies and procedures at an additional cost?

It's true that the charter grants the council investigative powers. The last major council investigation took place in 2011 regarding the use of city funds for a "Town Meeting" broadcast on WBLS.
That controversy also generated a lot of heat. Sides were drawn and no amount of testimony seemed to settle what was right and what was wrong. Ask anyone today and you are still likely to hear two sides.

Today police conduct nationwide is under scrutiny, largely for deviations from the rules of conduct. These rules represent a chain of command from local through county, state and federal law enforcement. In emergencies, it is presumed that all echelons agree on the rules.

When members of law enforcement go outside the rules, there are consequences. The accreditation process supposedly enhances an agency's understanding and agreement on rules for the safety and welfare of both law enforcement personnel and the public. Shouldn't it be completed before the City Council investigates?

Update: According to a report on mycentraljersey.com Mayor Adrian O. Mapp will seek an overturn of the resolution to investigate the Police Division.

--Bernice

Plainfield Gains Paid Sick Leave

On Monday, Plainfield became the twelfth New Jersey municipality to adopt a paid sick leave plan, over continued objections from merchants who say it will harm their businesses.

The measure provides one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, and the leave may be also be used for care of ill family members. It will take effect in 120 days, allowing time to educate those affected. In a public hearing before final passage, opponents said information was not disseminated in Spanish, so Latino business owners knew nothing about it. Merchants also decried daily $750 fines for noncompliance and additional record-keeping. Of 22 speakers before the vote, a majority opposed it, citing reasons such as outside influence and "secret maneuvers."

Dairy Queen owner Donna Albanese, who also heads the Plainwood Square Merchants Association and is vice president of the Special Improvement District, asked the council to table the ordinance, saying, "It's not a health law, it's a labor law."

Rev. Tracy Sprowls of First Unitarian Society of Plainfield said she talked about "brokenness" Sunday in church and said in tough times people "want to close our fist and not share," She asked the council to "consider the moral choice" of what the paid sick leave legislation means.

AARP official Evelyn Liebman said she represents 5,000 New Jersey members who "overwhelmingly support" paid sick leave,

When it came to a vote, Councilwoman Diane Toliver abstained, Gloria Taylor said "no," Tracey Brown, Barry Goode, Bridget Rivers, Rebecca Williams and Council President Cory Storch said "yes."

Objector Nancy Piwowar returned to the microphone after the vote and publicly renounced her AARP membership in protest.

--Bernice

Council Votes to Investigate Police Division

Late in Monday's City Council meeting, the governing body voted to investigate the Police Division in reaction to treatment of a 31-year veteran officer.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor spoke at length about the alleged demotion or forced retirement of Lt. Ken Reid and said he was "the third African-American in three years' time to be brought up on charges."

"Things like this have made good cities explode," Taylor said before insisting on a vote that night for an investigation.

 After many exchanges with Corporation Counsel David Minchello about limits on disclosing personnel matters, Taylor sought a probe of the "procedures and culture" of the Police Division.

Her push for a vote followed public comments from several supporters including Reid's niece Yasmin Griffin, who called him "a public hero" and former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, for whom Reid served as a bodyguard, Reid's pastor, Eric Billups, told the council, "We will not allow you to do this to Kenny Reid." Activist Salaam Ismial said the council should "hold a public hearing immediately."

The group had held a rally earlier in the evening and supporters had also spoken out at the March 7 council meeting. Although many mentioned his alleged pending punishment, no one has stated the charges that led to it.

Taylor said she was out of town when she heard about Reid's situation and received an email from Minchello advising not to say anything about it. She claimed Police Director Carl Riley had told her the matter might lead to prosecution, but when she got back to Plainfield she was told differently.

"I'm having a problem. Is that really true or is it back in the hands of Plainfield," she said.

Riley was present but did not speak. Minchello said making details public would violate Reid's own rights, as well as those of any other officers involved.

Taylor invoked the 1967 riots and said her late husband, Mayor Richard L. Taylor, had hired many black police and firefighters.

"Is there some move to move people out?" she asked. "We have marched and marched, and we will march again."

Council President Cory Storch asked Minchello to describe the process regarding charges. Minchello said a hearing officer reviews the charges and if they are sustained, an officer has the right to appeal to the Civil Service Commission and further to the Appellate Division. He said the process does not involve the council or mayor, but is a state matter.

"What should the council do?" Storch asked.

"Allow the process to go forward," Minchello said.

Taylor continued speaking for some time, saying "I'm concerned about the culture of the Police Division" and "something's wrong in the Police Division" before making a motion to investigate the division. Since all council business had been concluded, it had to be introduced as a new item and the form of the resolution had to be stated, including the name of an outside investigator and amount of money to be expended.

The council unanimously passed a general resolution and agreed to hold a special meeting to fill in the details. Reid's supporters applauded vigorously and the publisher of a New Brunswick Latino newspaper passed out copies of one with a cover photo of a rally outside Municipal Court and a headline, "Tears for Lt. Reid!"

--Bernice


Monday, March 14, 2016

Rally for Reid to Precede Council Meeting

As Dr. Yood pointed out, bloggers have covered most of the items on Monday's City Council agenda. Most of the 32 resolutions are on the consent agenda, meaning they will all be passed in one vote. The most contentious item is still likely to be the paid sick leave ordinance. The new news is that a rally for Police Lt. Ken Reid has been announced for 5:30 p.m. Monday, after which his supporters will march to Municipal Court for the 8 p.m. council meeting.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Reid was described as suffering "political assassination" at the hands of city officials.

Speakers at the March 7 council meeting said he was facing demotion or forced retirement, but did not say why. Council President Cory Storch said the situation had to do with an internal police matter and the council could not intervene.

Regarding paid sick leave, many business owners have rejected it outright. Other speakers want the city to wait for passage of state legislation. However, a search on the state website for "paid sick leave" turned up several references to proposed legislation prohibiting local units of government from  mandating increased minimum wage and paid sick leave for private employers.So far, all are listed as being in committee review.

According to a January northjersey.com news article on a paid sick leave bill, the state Senate passed it in December, but Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto refused to put an Assembly version up for a vote. Meanwhile, eleven municipalities have passed paid sick leave legislation, the article said.

--Bernice

Budget Protest Urged at Tuesday BOE Meeting



I did not attend the Thursday budget presentation that Dan Damon reported on. I did receive the PEA flier urging attendance at the March 15 business meeting.

The meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Plainfield High School auditorium. There is nothing on the agenda regarding the budget, but people can speak during privilege of the floor. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for March 29 and the final date for adoption is April 1, both of which fall during the district's spring recess.

Checking the district web site, under "Board of Education" I saw only a link to the 2014-15 budget. Information on 2016-17 is linked on the moving banner on the home page. You have to click on item 3 to see the following and click each one separately: "Proposed FY17 Budget," a 55-page document with line items contrasted in three columns; "Budget Calendars for Both an April Election and a November Election," a 21-page document covering various kinds of districts and timetables; and an 8-page budget presentation in an odd format that is difficult to read. For those who did not attend the meeting Thursday, transparency is lacking in this presentation.

The figures on the flier contain one error compared to the budget presentation, stating $285,000 for reduced usage of substitute teachers instead of $125,000 as presented by the superintendent. I couldn't figure out how the $187,023,334 proposed budget, stated by the superintendent on the PowerPoint as an increase of $2,922,169, came out to have a $6.5 million shortfall as described by Dan.

The current budget presentation seems confusing compared to the 2014 one on the Board of Education page. For example, the 2015-16 one projects an 82 percent increase in charter school costs - by 2020, four years hence. What is the relevance for this year's budget? There is also a foreboding slide titled "Banked Cap," saying "Board has the option to raise taxes up to 19 percent." It is illustrated by a fearful cartoon creature looking at the text and running away. What does that mean?

I hope speakers Tuesday gain some clarification on the bottom line, although ultimately, no matter what voters say on April 19, the budget adopted by the board may not be subject to change by the governing body.The district's needy status has meant that any cuts will be restored by the state Department of Education.

--Bernice

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Judge Joan Robinson Gross Retires


Judge Joan Robinson Gross swears in Adrian O. Mapp as 2012 City Council president.

The City Council will mark the retirement of Judge Joan Robinson Gross Monday with a resolution.

The text of the resolution is not yet available, but according to Ethel M. Washington's book, Union County Black Americans, Judge Joan Robinson Gross became the Plainfield Municipal Court judge in 1985. In 1987, she was named Presiding Judge - Municipal Courts of Union County.

She co-founded the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey and was the first female judge in Union County.

A Plainfield High School alumna, she is a 1971 graduate of Douglass College of Rutgers University and a 1974 graduate of Columbia University School of Law.

Best wishes to Judge Robinson Gross on her retirement!

--Bernice

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Where Are Facts in Reid Case?

A dozen speakers testified at the March 7 City Council meeting on the character of Police Lt. Ken Reid, their point being he should not have to face demotion or forced retirement for an undisclosed infraction,

I reported on what they said in the meeting's public comment portion. Later in the week, a commenter asked, "when do you think we will know what happened for them wanting to suspend him? like from your experience? Because I'm hearing alot of rumors but no hard facts."

From my experience as a reporter for 16 years, I can say when there is an internal police matter or an ongoing investigation, law enforcement officials will not - in fact, cannot - disclose details. I may have heard every last detail out on the street, but as a journalist, I could not write a news story based on hearsay or rumors. If there is an indictment or an official statement on a case, then it can be reported. See a Courier News story about some police cases here.

Bloggers do not have to play by the same rules as newspapers, unless they feel it is important to deal in facts and not hearsay. But bloggers generally do not have press credentials and so may not have the same access to  official sources that a reporter with a state-issued press pass has. In the Hellwig matter, neither Mark Spivey nor I wrote about it when all we had was unverified documents. I got criticized by the publisher of an unsigned article about it, and a commenter claimed there was a "cover-up." See my response here.

It took about four years for a court case to provide corroboration.

Speakers at the March 7 meeting wanted the governing body to get Reid off the hook, but Council President Cory Storch explained it was a police matter outside their purview. Some speakers scoffed, saying the council could help Reid if they felt like it. But as we know, elected officials who "fix" things can get in trouble themselves.

Reid may have to go to court for redress if he feels he is being treated unfairly by his superiors, At least he will have a great many people lending emotional and spiritual support in the struggle, which is more than most others have.

--Bernice

Friday, March 11, 2016

Speakers Argue Pros, Cons of Sick Leave Ordinance

Two pastors and the associate director of AARP NJ added their voices Monday to workers in favor of paid sick leave, while opponents repeated their concerns.

Rev, Tracy Sprowls of First Unitarian Society of Plainfield and Saafir Jenkins of Ruach Outreach Ministries read prepared statements during public comment at the City Council meeting. Sprowls spoke on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey. Evelyn Liebman of AARP-NJ commended the council for support of the ordinance, which will be up for a public hearing and final passage Monday.

Azim Gray, legislative campaigns coordinator for the Working Families Alliance, also urged support of the measure, which permits workers to earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, among other provisions.

Local opponents include Nimrod Webb, president of the Special Improvement District and Jeffery Dunn, president of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce.

"Nobody has ever bothered to ask businesses, do we pay sick leave," Webb said.

Dunn alleged that JFK Health might consider closing the Satellite Emergency Department if they have to pay for sick leave, which led activist Nancy Piwowar to comment that 16,000 people depend on the SED. Piwowar has challenged JFK Health for many reasons since the 2008 closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield.

"I can't believe I'm defending JFK," she said, telling the council, "You need to get an answer from them."

JFK Health Chief Marketing Officer Steven Weiss said Friday, "While JFK remains concerned how the ordinance will affect per diem employees, at no time are we considering leaving Plainfield."

The legislation was first proposed a year and has had ups and downs since then. It was dropped after an outpouring of business owners. Certain portions, such as fines and penalties, were then revised to make the legislation less onerous. Still, opponents say it should be enacted at the state level. Advocates point to its adoption in several New Jersey cities, though attempts have been made to repeal the law in some cities.

Some business owners say the requirements will burden them to the point of shutting down, while others oppose the amount of record-keeping involved. In Plainfield, opponents say not all employers have been informed of the legislation and a majority of those who know about it oppose it.

Monday's regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Code Enforcement, A City Saga

Of all city agencies, the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams said he got the most complaints about Inspections. So in 2005 he hired more inspectors and aimed for greater enforcement. But as revealed in this report by Plaintalker co-founder Barbara Todd Kerr, the effort hit some people the wrong way.

It seems for everyone who wants to city to do more regarding property maintenance, there's someone else who finds enforcement onerous.

Overcrowding also became a point of contention in 2005, but got some backlash as well.

In 2006, illegal construction was targeted. But the functioning of the division itself was also deemed a concern. A plan to increase fees to cover costs of various inspections met with stiff opposition from Realtors and property owners.

A review of 2006 included this: In what some consider a step backwards for code enforcement, an ordinance to keep housing safe and not overcrowded was repealed. Real estate interests also fought increased inspections fees that city officials said were necessary to make operations self-supporting.

In early 2007, Plaintalker advocated for safe housing following a fire that displaced 40 tenants. As the year ended, another post covered the difference between a certificate of compliance and a certificate of occupancy.

As the Spanish-speaking population increased, it became evident that the city lacked adequate bilingual staff for interacting with those residents.

In March 2010, I added a personal note about the travails of being a tenant with an absentee landlord, who later sold the building. .

Later in 2010, inspections were fast-tracked to accommodate "short sales" and other concerns of real estate agents.

The clash between those who wanted less regulation and those who felt it was important continued.

And here is one last post on the frequent dichotomy between landlords and tenants, all the more relevant as development now is all about rental units. What new chapter will be written in 2016?

--Bernice

Sergio's (Re-posted) Ransomware Story

My mistake! In my excitement over Sergio's new job, I gave him credit for more than just re-posting on Facebook. Toniann Antonelli has the byline! No offense intended - I know what a byline means to a writer.


Now that he is with 101.5, Sergio Bichao is still the hardest-working man in the news biz, as witness this story about hackers stealing city files and demanding ransom.

City Fights Increase in Illegal Dumping

The advent of spring means tulips and daffodils to some, but to Public Works Director Eric Watson, it means a spike in illegal dumping.

Watson said Monday a task force involving the Police, Fire and Inspections divisions is addressing the problem and monitoring "hot spots" for dumping. He said tires are a special problem, with as many as 300 found in one day around the city. It costs $6 per tire for proper disposal, he said.

Watson said the city has a number of "fix flat" shops that may be part of the problem.

Although property owners can schedule bulk waste pickups for old furniture and other household cast-offs, Watson said loads of such waste are turning up. City officials are contemplating an increase in fines and possible impounding of vehicles used by illegal dumpers. The victims of illegal dumping -whether churches or private property owners - are faced with the burden and cost of removing junk.

Councilwoman Tracey Brown recalled a time when the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority offered rewards for catching dumpers, but Watson said people who try to intercede have been attacked with bats and knives.

The City Council discussed a joint meeting with the PMUA in the near future. As Watson often recalled when he became director of the PMUA, one of the reasons for its inception was to address dumping. In its early days, the authority held bulk waste pickups citywide and residents may recall curbs lined with trash as residents emptied their garages and basements where it had been stored.

With the increase in dumping, Watson said, "We have to get serious."

See this PMUA advisory on what to do if you see illegal dumping.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Supporters Rally for Police Lieutenant

A large crowd in support of Police Lt. Ken Reid Monday did not take kindly to City Council President Cory Storch's explanation that the governing body could not resolve his situation.

Though first saying they couldn't talk about it, speakers alluded to a possible demotion or forced retirement for Reid, a 30-year veteran of the Plainfield Police Division. Reid's sister Linda said Reid was in a hospital bed when told he might want to think about retiring and "this will go away."

After numerous speakers praised Reid's devotion to the community, Storch said, "We appreciate everything you are saying. At the same time, this is an administrative matter. The mayor has nothing to do with it and the City Council has nothing to do with it."

As Storch noted a "chain of command" for police, someone yelled, "It is your problem!"

Storch said there had to be fact-finding and it was an internal police matter.

"To ask the council to intervene - even if we'd like to, we can't," he said.

With that, most of the group left the meeting.

The supporters had formed a circle and prayed outside Municipal Court while waiting to be let in for the 7:30 p.m. meeting. Inside, they sat calmly for two hours until their chance to speak. As individuals praised Reid's dedication or told how Reid had helped them, the audience applauded. Reid's son, also a police officer, said his father was facing disciplinary action.

"I've never seen my father so discouraged," he said. "I don't understand."

"And we don't either," someone yelled.

The crowd applauded, then stamped their feet and chanted, "Kenny Reid! Kenny Reid!"

Supporters called Reid "a man of God who talks about God all the time," "an agent of change" and "a great cop."

Resident Les Judkins called him "my good friend" who would answer his calls for help at any time.

He told the council members, "You are all citizens of Plainfield and can stand up" for Reid.

"To say you can do nothing, I'm appalled" he said. "Kenny Reid is the face of Plainfield. You just walked half the people out (of the building)."

Judkins closed with a hint of retaliation at the polls.

Corporation Counsel David Minchello has often reminded the council and other officials not to comment on personnel matters. Police Director Carl Riley was present but said nothing regarding Reid.

--Bernice

West, Steinberg Outline 2016 Budget

An $8.5 million surplus and a 97.05 percent tax collection rate are the good news for the 2016 budget, but a $6 million drop in residential ratables is just one of several challenges the city still faces.

The figures came from a presentation to the City Council Monday by Chief Financial Officer Ulrich "Al" Steinberg and Finance Director Ron West, in advance of budget introduction next Monday. The governing body will then begin weeks of deliberations with the help of the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee before a public hearing and final passage..

The process began late last year with departmental requests that were subject to modification by the administration. The budget now ready to hand off to the council totals $79,412,520.58, a 1.74 percent increase over last year's figure. It reflects a $94 increase on taxes for the average home valued at $113,000. Of that amount, $23 is due to the loss of ratables. The total value of all city property declined by $38,266,307 since 2011, now standing at $1,216,502,273.

Sixty percent of the budget is for the Police and Fire divisions, with 33 percent for all other union employees and just 7 percent for department heads and managers.

Councilwoman Bridget Rivers challenged West over the projected $94 average increase, saying the city saved $1.2 million on insurance in 2015 and she thought it would reduce taxes.But she said insurance was budgeted for the same amount this year.

"Yes," West said.

Rivers asked why.

"We are only allowed to budget against the prior year appropriation," West said.

"I still don't like the answer," Rivers said.

After Mayor Adrian O. Mapp took office in January 2014, West and Steinberg did the municipal equivalent of rifling the couch cushions for cash, selling off unwanted city property, claiming dormant grant money and reviewing fiscal practices for economies. A list of key accomplishments includes an upgraded Moody's bond rating, "financial housekeeping" that resulted in recouping $1.5 million and audit findings reduced 75 percent to just four.(In 2013, auditors found 16 problems, nine of which were repeat findings.)

This year, West and Steinberg plan more of the same and want to establish a multi-year forecast to stay on track for tax rate stabilization. A list of key priorities notes "56 projects underway" in economic and community development.

The council still has to set dates for budget talks. Plaintalker will publish the schedule as soon as it is available.

--Bernice