Tuesday's City Council meeting was wide-ranging and not always easy to understand, but here are some of the topics in no particular order:
A resolution to define a neighborhood as Sleepy Hollow drew criticism from resident Sherice Koonce that it was "perpetuating the us versus them mentality."
The neighborhood in the city's southeast corner has long had an air of affluence, with its eclectic housing stock and winding roads lined with mature trees. A group had sought to set it off with signage and planters, but the Planning Board said the neighborhood had the be officially defined before an application for signs could be heard by the board.
When it came to a vote, Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch said it was not an "us versus them," mentioning other named neighborhoods such as Brisbane Estates. But Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers said she saw it as a division and the city "should be a whole." Storch said, "Neighborhood pride does not detract from city pride," and suggested Rivers could do the same in her own neighborhood.
Rivers countered by saying it should be done in the entire city, not just in her neighborhood, and First Ward Councilwoman Diane Toliver agreed, saying, "Let's lift up our whole city." and repeating it several times.
The resolution passed, 5-2, with Rivers and Toliver saying "no" and Storch, Third Ward Councilman Charles McRae, First & Fourth Wards at-large Councilman Barry Goode, Council President and Citywide at-large representative Rebecca Williams and Second & Third Ward at-large Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome saying "yes."
The city's ordinance forbidding officials and employees from taking part in political activity was more restrictive than state law on the subject, in effect denying them their First Amendment rights to freedom of political speech and activity.
Or so said an amendment that would permit even cabinet members such as the city administrator to attend political meetings, circulate petitions, express political views and join political clubs and organizations.
Rivers said she had objected to the prior limit ($300 for contributions from vendors, when the state limit is $2,600) but as time went on, she came to regard it as "the best thing that ever happened to Plainfield."
She said she now wonders why "the same colleagues" that brought what she first considered the worst thing were "now changing it to help vendors."
"Why are we going back to the drawing board?" Rivers asked. "My colleagues were able to convince me how great this was."
Storch said he was "very ambivalent about this," alleging that the state Senate president and the speaker of the Assembly, among others, were "all raking in the dollars."
"That's why you have political bossism at the county," he said.
Storch said former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams was disenfranchised by a county boss who threatened all the vendors and told them they would not get county work if they did business with McWilliams.
River repeated her points before saying, "We all know the reason why this legislation is being put forth," later adding, "It's about this next election that's about to take place."
Formerly controlled by one faction, the all Democratic council now has a majority favorable to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who is running for re-election.
The vote to approve the ordinance on first reading was 4-3, with Rivers, Toliver and Storch voting "no" and Williams, Goode, McRae and Mills-Ransome voting "yes." It will be up for second reading and final passage on February 13.
Pricey Concession Stand
Council members demanded more information about a concession stand and restroom upgrades at Rushmore Playground at a cost of $232,800. Toliver said it was "too much" and asked for details of the proposed construction.
The contractor is Hahr Construction of North Plainfield. Toliver asked what other concession stands the company had built and Rivers said she looked up the company online and didn't see where he built a concession stand.
City Administrator Rick Smiley said he could get the council "the schematics and what the contractor proposed."
The discussion included a mention of another concession stand (see details here) that cost $193,952.
"Maybe we should table this until we see what we are getting for our money," Rivers said. And tabled it was, unanimously.