Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Struggle Is On

Last week I heard a radio interview with Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City and was impressed by how articulately he described his city, its strengths and its needs. His comments reminded me that mayors in the current climate must be their cities' best ambassadors to state and federal government and other funding entities. In another interview Cornett and other mayors said political infighting must be set aside for the sake of maintaining and advancing their cities.

Having covered seven administrations as a reporter or blogger, I have seen a broad range of approaches to the role of mayor - diplomatic, kleptocratic, shunning phonies, hiring cronies,  acting regal, barely legal, governmental, kind of mental, up to the task, don't even ask! Some think the title is all about them, some understand they are stewards  for a term. Iron fist in velvet glove, or acting purely out of love ...

Well, the filing date for the June primary is April 3. The mayoralty and two City Council seats are up for election this year. In this heavily Democratic city, folk wisdom is that winners of the primary will take the general election in November. Plainfield Republicans are outnumbered more than 14 to 1 by Democrats, but there could be a GOP candidate or two this year. On Primary Day (June 6), independent candidates can file to be on the Nov. 7 ballot. I would not be surprised to see some spoilers emerge to water down votes for the primary winner(s).

If you think "fake news" is bad, wait till you get a load of fake campaign charges in the local elections. Last year a Facebook troll created an account and added all kinds of "friends" before the primary, then started slinging mud in the name of "truth." It retreated into its lair after November, but has slithered out again, so make sure your ish-detector is in full effect of you go on the local Facebook page.

One of the phrases I have heard about Plainfield politics over the years is "crabs in a barrel" - people just clawing over each other to reach the top. In the Trump era, individual ambition may have to yield to a united front for survival as resources dry up and vital programs are gutted. We are already seeing the people marching and resisting as those in power take aim not only at entitlements, but basic human rights.

Here's another phrase I am hearing in 2017: "Trump, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!"

--Bernice

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster!


Happy Lunar New Year
to all who are
celebrating!


Friday, January 27, 2017

Child Care Center Approved At Senior Building

A new 80-unit age-restricted apartment building downtown will have a child-care facility on the ground floor.

Bella Vita Estates spans a former parking lot between Roosevelt and Westervelt avenue, with the entrance on Westervelt. On Jan. 19, Neighborhood House Director Carol Presley asked the Planning Board to approve use of retail space for a child care center for up to 120 children.

Neighborhood House has child care centers on West Fourth Street and also on East Front Street in a retail strip owned by the developer who built the new apartment building. Presley said the new center would have eight classrooms with 15 children and two teachers each, for a total of 16 or 17 adults. The application also included a playground "down the street," she said.

Parking requirements for the center would be based on the number of employees and would differ from those for retail use, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said. Presley said employees of the East Front Street center would also be parking on the lot, bringing the total to 29 spaces needed.

She said there would also be six spaces reserved for drop-off and pick-up, as parents must personally escort their children into the center. Not all parents would be driving, however, she said, as some walked to the location and others were dropped off by vans that also transported parents to work.

Hours for drop-off would be from 7 to 9 a.m. and children would be picked up between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m..

The playground, built through the Kaboom! program, is on a lot that Neighborhood House owns, Presley said. Some questions arose over how the playground was initially approved. The board asked for screening, lighting and trees for the playground as part of the approvals granted on Jan. 19.

The Planning Board usually meets on first and third Thursdays of each month. The January 19 meeting included the annual reorganization. The next regular meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. See more about the Planning Board.

--Bernice

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Signage For DQ and The Coffee Box

A four-decade business and a brand-new one will both benefit from a Planning Board Zoning Board decision on signs.
Image may contain: outdoor
Dairy Queen
Attorney Albert Cohen called the Dairy Queen on South Avenue "part of the fabric of the community for 40 years" as he presented the signage application to the board last week. Donna Albanese-DeMair, whose family has operated the popular business, appeared with Jeff Spelman, proprietor of The Coffee Box to tell why the new signage is needed.
Image may contain: kitchen and indoor
The Coffee Box
The building that houses both businesses is set back 100 feet from the street, which was not a problem until a developer received approval to build a 15-unit apartment building next door, all the way out to the sidewalk. The signature red roof of the Dairy Queen will not be seen by west-bound drivers. An existing street-side sign for the DQ and the new business, The Coffee Box, would also be harder to see.

Though bound by requirements of the Dairy Queen franchise, Albanese-DeMair worked out a plan with the board to alter the signage for more visibility.

The board allowed one year to complete the work, by which time the two businesses may have a lot of new customers who will only have a short walk for lattes and croissants or the latest DQ treat. Eleven properties were acquired and cleared to make way for 212 new luxury apartments right across the street.

--Bernice

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

See Historic Homes The 21st Century Way

Plainfield's six residential historic districts attract hundreds of visitors with their house tours, both for the architectural marvels and the exquisite interiors. But thanks to a 21st Century innovation, you don't have to wait for a walking tour of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District.

A discussion of a "walking tour app" at Tuesday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting sent me to the VWB web site to check. There it was, with an introduction to the district, maps of each location and details of each home's origin and architecture.

If you have free time on the next unseasonably warm winter day, call up the link and try it out. By chance, I used to live in one of those mansions, when it was a communal household in the early 1980s. I loved the old clawfoot bathtubs and  beautiful woodwork in that place. When we were disbanding, I took a flashlight and looked in all the nooks and crannies. I consider the turtle to be my totemic animal and was thrilled to find a small pewter turtle in a kitchen cabinet.

But enough about me and the turtles. Visit the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District web site and click on "Walking Tour." I believe it was adapted from a print version of a self-guided walking tour several years ago.

Other districts may be interested in developing apps for walking tours, and HPC commissioners mentioned possibly having one for Plainfield's downtown, which has several 19th Century buildings. I know when I am downtown I often stop in my tracks to admire a facade with fascinating details.

 
Next time you are walking on East Front between Park & Watchung, look for this 1888 building.

And say hi to "downtown guy" for me!

--Bernice

Monday, January 23, 2017

UEZ Rehabs To Reap Tax Breaks

The city's entire Urban Enterprise Zone is in need of rehabilitation, the City Council agreed in approving a resolution that paves the way for five-year tax abatements for UEZ property owners.

Upon completion of improvements and approvals from tax officials, "Taxes remain the same for five years," Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez explained at the Jan. 17 council meeting.

Elissa Cohen, whose family operated Suburban Jewelers in the UEZ for many years, questioned the resolution in public comment, saying an impact study should be conducted before any such action. But Sanchez said her concerns were covered in the original impact study on the tax abatement.

Sanchez said the five-year abatement itself was "not new" and had been on the books since 1978.

The process of declaring the UEZ in need of rehabilitation  goes back a way itself. From the resolution:

On August 14, 2016, City Council adopted resolution R-324-16 directing the Planning Board to conduct an investigation as to whether the Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) satisfies the statutory criteria of the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law in order to be determined to be an area in need of rehabilitation. On October 20, 2016, the Planning Board conducted a public hearing and concluded the UEZ as well as adjacent and contiguous areas separated by public rights-of-way do satisfy the statutory criteria. 

The UEZ formerly brought revenues into the city for improvements within the zone. Certified UEZ retailers were allowed to charge only half the sales tax, which the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority then returned to the city for approved projects in the zone, such as new trash receptacles, security cameras and street furniture. But after a study found the state was getting a return of eight cents for every dollar expended on  UEZs, Gov. Chris Christie wanted the program phased out. Fund balances were returned to UEZ municipalities and most recently, designations for five including Plainfield expired at the end of 2016.

While eliminating the 3.5 percent state sales tax benefit, Christie reduced the 7 percent sales tax to 6.85 percent.

Sanchez said a property owner in the UEZ who rehabilitates a building can apply to the tax assessor  for an abatement. He said new development can also be eligible for the 5-year abatement, with council approval. For more information, inquire at the Office of Economic Development.

The next City Council meeting is an agenda-fixing session, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice





Sunday, January 22, 2017

2017 Calendar

Here is the City Council schedule for the rest of 2017:


Agenda Fixing Session
City Hall Library
7:30 p.m.
Combined
Municipal Court
7 p.m.
Regular Meetings
Municipal Court
8 p.m.
Feb. 6

Feb.13
March 6

March 13
April 3

April 10
May 1

May 8
June  13 (Tuesday)

June 19

July 10


August 14

Sept.5 (Tuesday)

Sept. 11
Oct. 2

Oct. 10 (Tuesday)

Nov. 2 (Thursday)

Dec. 4

Dec. 11

La Lucha Continua! Stay Woke

Congratulations to all Plainfielders who took part in Saturday's peaceful demonstrations for women's rights. Marchers carried signs indicating they have not forgotten the atavistic and demeaning attitudes of the new president, as caught on film and in public remarks.

The volume of marchers in nearby Westfield as well as in major cities across the U.S. and the world should let the new president know he cannot just dismiss women's concerns.

If you did not hear the inaugural address when it was given, you can read the full text online. The BBC web site is one source. 

Proposed changes to federal policies and priorities could be damaging not only to all women and girls, but to Plainfield itself in many ways. Current funding for education and public health could shift in drastic ways for urban centers. Local government and citizens at large need to pay attention and react to harmful changes.

The struggles of the 1960s are still not over, nor are those of the 1980s. Hard-won rights can be lost and new ones blocked. Plainfielders, don't let it happen.

 .


Friday, January 20, 2017

Road Repair Redux

A bond ordinance approved Tuesday provides for $5.6 million for road improvements, a new chapter in the city's long saga of road repair.

A five-year plan launched in 2005 fell behind to the point where officials eventually stopped referring to plan years and talked instead about "phases."

As the work fell behind, the city spent nearly $1 million to re-prioritize the original schedule of repairs.

Tuesday's ordinance gets the ball rolling again. This excerpt lists the intended locations:

SECTION 3. The improvements hereby authorized and purposes for the financing of which said bonds or notes are to be issued are for, as applicable, the milling, paving, surfacing, and resurfacing of, and the construction of curbs and sidewalks for, the entire lengths or portions of various streets located in the City, including, but not limited to: Central Avenue from Wadsworth to Seventh Street, Stelle Avenue from Plainfield Avenue to Hobert Avenue, Hillside Avenue from Randolph Road to Berckman Street, and West Third Street from Clinton Avenue to Prescott Place; and milling and paving, as applicable, of the entire lengths or portions of various streets located in the City, including, but not limited to: Pemberton Avenue from Parkside Road to Grant Avenue, Pineview Terrace from East Front Street to East Third Street, Berkeley Terrace from East Third Street to the border of Watchung, Raymond Boulevard from Front Street to the border of Watchung, Field Avenue from West Fifth Street to the border of South Plainfield, Ironbound Avenue from Aletta Street to Sheridan Avenue, South End Parkway from Park Avenue to Woodland Avenue, and Norwood Avenue from East Front Street to the border of North Plainfield, and shall also include the following, as applicable, surveying, construction planning, engineering and design work, preparation of plans and specifications, . 13permits, bid documents, construction inspection and contract administration, environmental testing and remediation and also all work, materials, equipment, labor and appurtenances as necessary therefor or incidental thereto.

The ordinance passed on first reading Tuesday and will be up for final passage on Feb. 13.
--Bernice

NJSBA Posts School Board Election Timeline

If you are thinking about running for one of the three school board seats up this year, make sure to look at the New Jersey School Boards Association website.

Here is one of their guides for prospective candidates.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Three of Many Council Items - More To Follow

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:

Sleepy Hollow
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."

Political Activities
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.

--Bernice

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Take Notice

"No holder of a public office or position shall demand payment or contribution from another holder of a public office or position for the campaign purposes of any candidate or for the use of any political party." This notice is given on January 17, 2017 by Lt. Governor/Secretary of State Kim Guadagno to all State employees and each county and municipal clerk pursuant to the requirements of New Jersey Elections law, P.L. 1975, c. 70. 1/17/2017 

Priano Apologizes, Explains

I am putting this comment from Timothy Priano up as a guest post. 

I apologize if my words are not always explained correctly when i present them and if i have offended anyone I also apologize, I speak from my heart that We all can work together, please I ask to be forgiven.

So, after the anger in the blog yesterday I called to have a conversation with my 91-year-old mother who is where I was taught from an early age to be of civic mind.

I am 8th born of 10 children from first generation parents, my father’s family was descendants of Italy at 46-year-old, he had a massive heart attack was unable to work and passed away at 54. 

My mother is of Syrian decent, had faced her entire life as a woman from a minority in the city that where we lived. My Mother had to raise 10 children after my father could not work full time, she held down 3 jobs to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. We had to go on public assistance and food stamps, but those services where very short lived in the 70’s. We had to live in the winter without heat when we could not afford to pay the bills, if my grandmother was not there to help we would have been homeless. I understand what it is life to be without then and today.

My mother during the protests for civil rights and the Vietnam war, supporting my 2 older bothers that may not be here today if they were drafted… She was ridiculed and insulted due to the color of her skin, called many names that were and still to this day are hateful for anyone to hear.

The discussion yesterday was about 2 of her grandchildren and my nieces, how they have to still today have to deal with racial slurs, their father is African American and they are not the look that societies accepts due to their color and body shapes still today. 

We also planned my daughter's trip this weekend to attend the Women’s March in DC, my mother would have loved to attend so that she could relive her youth as an activist, but old age and slow movement will not allow her. 

Our daughter will represent our entire family this Saturday for the strong women that we all came from and for the future of our country. We are a family of many faces, nationality and ethics heritage, this is why we moved to Plainfield, we wanted diversity.

As far as my distaste for government bodies, I will explain what we went through in the 60’s and 70’s, I grew up in Tonawanda NY, a small city north of Buffalo NY, we watch our government destroy block and blocks of business and homes, my aunt and uncle had a restaurant and bar in our city, our friends had homes and apartments in the downtown area, we had a lively downtown area that we all supported, from the army navy surplus, to WT Grant, our little main street was wonderful and showed a true community. 

Then before our eye, the Mayor and his band of henchman decided to destroy of way of life for “Urban Renewal”, still today, the land that our community was all about, is a waste land of parking lots and lost dreams. So, when I beg for everyone to get involved, shop our local business so that they have our support and will not be turned into another parking lot or a project that does not get off the ground for years it is my frustration that this can still happen in every city in the country. 

Respectfully if you would like to take a coffee or tea, my email is timothypriano@gmail.com
I only want to be part of your community and make it the best it can be. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

New Council Title and Powers in Proposed Ordinance

Under proposed legislation, the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole would become Vice President of the City Council and the Council President's powers will expand.

So what is that first title, anyway? It comes from Robert's Rules of Order and allows a chairman to lead a discussion among the the council members, such as whether or not to move an item to the regular meeting agenda for a vote. Here's one summary:

committee of the whole is a device in which a legislative body or other deliberative assembly is considered one large committee. All members of the legislative body are members of such a committee. This is usually done for the purposes of discussion and debate of the details of bills and other main motions..

The proposed language states that the Vice President would, in the absence of the City Council President, have all the powers and duties of the President.

The amended ordinance would also give the council president, in addition to the mayor, the power to call special meetings.

Combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 in Municipal Court

City Employees Allowed Some Political Speech, Activities

An ordinance amending the rules for political activity by city employees is on Tuesday's agenda. Employees would still be barred from such activity while on the job, but citing First Amendment guarantees for freedom of speech including political speech and activity, it opens the door to certain partisan political activities.

click to enlarge

If truth be told, the original rules were quite often transgressed. Under previous administrations, I have seen a bag lady collecting political contributions in City Hall. Many employees belong to and work for political organizations. In the past there have been certain pressures on employees to support candidates, especially if the employee holds a patronage job.

So maybe this amendment clarifies and supports the First Amendment rights of city employees or maybe it just legitimizes past practice. Employees are still forbidden to do political work on city time.

The combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 17) in Municipal Court. Don't forget, you can contact your council representatives by email if you have an opinion.


Look! Queen City Pride!

This is a new online source for information about Plainfield, developed by Timothy Priano:

Happy MLK Day

Remembering Dr. King today
as well as some Plainfielders:

Marshall Brown
Freeman Whetstone
Rev. Frank Allen

If you remember, tell the children 

Sleepy Hollow Boundaries On Tuesday's Agenda


Historic advertisement for Sleepy Hollow

The much-used phrase "Sleepy Hollow" will represent a specific area if the City Council approves a resolution Tuesday to set boundaries.

In June 2015, representatives for the Friends of Sleepy Hollow sought an opinion from the Historic Preservation Commission on their plan to erect signs identifying the neighborhood, but board members said the first step was to define it. The term "Sleepy Hollow" has been used broadly at times by real estate agents to add cachet to a home. Besides nine signs, the group proposed to place "beautiful black planters" at the ends of streets and had raised $10,000 for the improvements (See more details at the link above.}The group plans to put together a web site to attract buyers from New York City.

The area discussed in 2015 overlapped two historic districts which have their own signage.Tuesday's resolution is accompanied by a map with the designated neighborhood highlighted in green.

Once boundaries are established, the group can return to the Planning Board to seek approvals for the signage.

Councilman Cory Storch wrote about the issue the day after the June 2015 HPC meeting and broke out four points on his blog (click on link).

The city has six residential historic districts that were created through an intensive process of documentation and approvals from the state and the city. The designation of a neighborhood by resolution appears to be a first for the city.

Tuesday's combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Three-Person ABC Board Proposed

Liquor license approvals may be decided by a new three-person Alcoholic Beverage Control Board instead of the City Council, if the governing body passes an ordinance to make the change.

The proposal was floated in April 2014, but rejected firmly by then-Council President Bridget Rivers. Now that Mayor Adrian Mapp has a favorable majority on the council, passage is more likely.

The city has more than 30 liquor licenses that must be renewed annually. Bars, restaurants and stores must undergo various inspections for adherence to state ABC law, but over the years the council has split between members wanting strict control and those who sympathize with owners of the establishments. In April 2015, the owner of a Richmond Street bar received a negative police report, but won approval to open a "gentleman's club" after promising it would not be sexually oriented. A liquor store that was denied renewal in 2014 still had the support of several council members, but the owner lost an appeal to the state ABC authorities and had to close.

The proposed ordinance calls for a three-person board, with only two of the same political party allowed, that would meet on its own schedule and have a secretary. Members would serve three years, though initial terms would be staggered. A member could be removed for cause by the governing body, and no member could have an interest in the liquor industry or receive any gifts from applicants or licensees. The ordinance would have to pass on two readings, but if so, would become operative in time for the 2017 liquor license renewal process.

Plainfield has social clubs, liquor stores bars and restaurants that have specific licensing requirements. If an establishment passes Police, Fire, Health and Inspections reviews and pays state taxes and fees on time, license renewal is routine. Other licenses may be held up until all city and state requirements are met. The council has the power to hold hearings on proposed denials and the proposed board would presumably have the same power under state ABC law.

The council will hold a joint agenda-fixing and regular meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday (Jan.17) at Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Friday, January 13, 2017

My Friday the 13th Disaster

The pre-dawn sound of running water in my apartment woke me up fast. Water was pouring through the kitchen ceiling from the apartment above. The volume of water overwhelmed all the buckets and pails I had on hand and my son and I lugged many down the stairs to dump outside. The ceiling, already damaged from a previous incident, started falling. The water began dripping in the front room as well, as I searched for plastic drop cloths to protect what I could.

It's now 8:23 a.m. and everything is a big mess. The cat is in hiding and we are looking at a massive cleanup ahead of us. Wish us luck - and be careful out there, the day seems to be living up to its reputation.

Rivers Questions Budget for Mayor, Recreation

One of the many items approved at the City Council's annual reorganization was a three-month temporary budget to operate the city. Councilwoman Bridget Rivers said Monday the budgets for the mayor's office and the Recreation Division reflected an increase of $1,000.

"One thousand dollars can lead to a lot of extra slush fund," Rivers said.

For the mayor's office, the salary & wages line in the temporary budget is $55,000 and the amount in the adopted 2016 budget was $208,957. The "other expense" line is $7,500, compared to $25,500 for 2016. The temporary budget for Recreation is $52,000 in salary & wages, compared to $195,392 for 2016 and $44,000 in other expenses for January through March contrasted to $167,400 for 2016. The three-month amount is supposed to be 26.25 percent of the prior year's adopted budget.

Rivers asked Finance Director Ron West to explain. West said the budget was less than a 2 percent increase over last year and $1,000 was a "reasonable amount for the first quarter."

Rivers said if you start calculating "a thousand dollars here and a thousand dollars there," it's a lot of money.

"You have to be careful of that," she said.

Council President Rebecca Williams explained to the public that the council routinely receives a number of check registers and other documents regarding city finances..

Councilman Cory Storch asked to see the amounts in the three-month temporary budget expressed as percentages of the previous year's  budget. Storch said he asks every year for the percentages.

The 2017 temporary budget was submitted by Richard Gartz, who only became the city's new chief financial officer last June. The resolution ran to three pages, with two categories of spending for over 30 offices and divisions as well as boards and commissions and other expenses. The largest first quarter amounts were for public safety, including $2,950,000 in salaries and wages for the Fire Division and $4,750,000 for Police Division salary & wages.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Speaking of Corruption ...

I mentioned a sting operation in a recent post and tonight I came across one involving a former mayor of Orange.

If you have time, read about this 2007 case involving the mayor at that time. Read all the way down to the bottom.

In all, eleven officials were caught in this FBI operation over time. The list included two Assemblymen, some school board members, two mayors and more. I guess the lesson here is to have principles and stick to them if you hold public office. These individuals were enticed by the same entity that later came after them.

--Bernice

New Thoughts on Meeting Coverage

I have been covering City Council meetings for about 30 years, at a weekly newspaper, then a daily and now on the blog. Since deciding to do without a car in 2008, I have walked to meetings of the City Council, school board, PMUA, Planning and Zoning boards and numerous others. This year, I decided I am not going to walk if it is icy outside. I will probably skip other meetings that are beyond walking distance. Meetings are now covered by other bloggers and also by TAPinto Plainfield. Concerned citizens can also simply attend any public meetings and bring friends to see how public entities operate. When possible, I will post previews, especially of land use cases, as well as dates and locations of meetings.

I am asking people to direct their event notices and such to TAPinto Plainfield or to Dan or Facebook. Requests for me to post things got pretty much out of hand for a while and I realized on my "break" that I had strayed from my goal of posting original content only.

--Bernice

Hold The Schadenfreude

"This should be good," somebody commented on news of an FBI investigation in Orange, where Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is the chief financial officer..
My error - he is the Director of Finance and QPA
I can tell you from my years as a reporter that salivating over possible scandal may be standard practice for critics of elected officials, but a person could be soaked with drool before the FBI tells exactly what is going on and who will pay a price.

"We can neither confirm nor deny ..." is a phrase I heard often when making calls to an FBI spokesperson.

There was a case years ago involving a prominent Plainfielder where months went by before an outcome. The person in question had been caught in an FBI sting operation and the word on the street was that his arrest was a tactic to catch even more prominent people. He did become one of the first guests at a brand-new federal prison and served time. When he got out, he was honored with a $400-a-plate dinner, apparently for not giving up the bigger fish the FBI was really trying to net.

The FBI has also raided Plainfield City Hall under various mayors with no one ever being charged, let alone sent to prison. If the seized documents lead to a strong case, it will go forward. If not, nothing happens.

An investigation can target current officials or prior office holders. The only way  to find out who did what is to wait for the FBI to say so. I have often joked that one of Plainfield's favorite sports is jumping to conclusions, so those who are all a-flutter with frissons of joy at someone's possible misfortune may just have to keep calm and carry on about something else while the FBI operates at its own pace.

--Bernice

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Rivers, Toliver Question Safety of City Hall Library

Two councilwomen expressed fears Monday about a plan to return agenda-fixing sessions to City Hall Library in 2017, citing a chaotic scene that took place there in September 2015.

"People could get trampled," Councilwoman Bridget Rivers said as she recalled the situation. Rivers said the room has only one door, with another to the mayor's office usually locked during meetings. Rivers insisted all council meetings should take place in Municipal Court, which is connected to police headquarters.

She asked Police Director Carl Riley whether City Hall Library is safe. Riley said two officers will be on duty and will have a metal-detecting wand. (Municipal Court has a metal detector that people must walk through.)

Councilwoman Diane Toliver said Monday, "It happened to me - I was assaulted by a citizen."

Toliver said she was concerned not only for herself, but for everyone.

"I heard people say I acted un-normal when the incident happened," she said, then alluded to possible behavior of "abnormal people" before adding, "I don't think I acted un-normal."

Riley reiterated the safety measures planned for the site, but Rivers repeated her concerns about having only one exit besides a capacity of only 50 people.

Councilman Cory Storch said over his two decades of service on the school board and council, he recalled "only one major verbal altercation" at Maxson Middle School in addition to the council incident. He said meetings must be accessible to the public and noted the large parking lot behind City Hall Library. He also said the agenda-fixing meeting is a "work session" for the council. Lined up with council members on the dais in the courtroom, he said, "I can't see Joylette (Mills-Ransome) and I can see part of Charles McRae's nose."

In City Hall Library, council members sit at a large table where they can look across at each other, he noted.

Rivers repeated her concerns, saying "Sometimes we can continue to do the same thing and get the same results" and that the council has to "cater to all the residents of Plainfield, not just some."

"People will be trampled all over," Rivers said.

The meeting schedule resolution then passed, 5-2, with Storch, Mills-Ransome, McRae, Barry Goode and Council President Rebecca Williams voting "yes" and Toliver and Rivers voting "no."

The next council meeting is a combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting on Jan. 17 in Municipal Court. The first agenda-fixing session scheduled for 2017 in City Hall Library is 7:30 p.m. on February 6.

--Bernice

Monday, January 9, 2017

Job Plea, Clark Apology Emerge at Reorg

The ceremonial nature of the City Council's annual reorganization gained drama Monday with an apology from Clark's mayor for a possible bias incident, and a plea from friends and relatives of a former public defender to restore her job.

The agenda included swearing-in of Rebecca Williams as the council's Citywide at-large member and Charles McRae for the Third Ward. Williams also won the council presidency for 2017 and Councilman Barry Goode is the 2017 chairman of the Committee of the Whole. Both votes were 4-2, with Williams, McRae, Goode and Cory Storch saying "yes" and Diane Toliver and Bridget Williams voting "no." Toliver had nominated Rivers for council president and Rivers had nominated Toliver to chair the Committee of the Whole, but the first votes settled the matter.

Joylette Mills-Ransome was chosen to fill the Second & Third Wards vacancy created when Williams, the former representative, won the Citywide at-large seat. Again, Toliver and Rivers voted "no."

It was after those formalities that Mayor Adrian Mapp introduced Clark Mayor Salvatore "Sal" Bonaccorso, who apologized for an incident in which visiting Plainfield High School basketball players found a black figure that appeared to be hanged. Bonaccorso said he did not have details and didn't know whether it was "done with malice," but it will be investigated for bias by the Attorney General's Office and the Union County Prosecutor's Office. The incident has drawn media attention and much comment on Facebook . Most recently, a parent said the figure was part of an art project and was intended to resemble Lebron James.

Friends and relatives of former Public Defender Joy Spriggs implored the council to restore her job, echoing a similar outpouring of emotion that blogger David Rutherford covered in December 2013. In both instances, speakers characterized Mapp as uncaring for Spriggs' situation. The first instance was based on Spriggs' need for insurance because of her husband's serious illness. On Monday, Spriggs, now widowed, alleged Mapp said  now that her "crisis" was over, he needed to place someone else in the position. But friends said she now needs the insurance for her children.

Despite the pleas, the council approved the appointment Monday of Douglas Mitchell as chief public defender.  Toliver and Rivers voted "no," Goode abstained  and Williams, Mills-Ransome, Storch and McRae voted "yes."

The council approved numerous appointments to boards and commissions, in addition to the court appointments.

Mapp said he will deliver his State of the City address at a date and location to be announced. The next council meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan.17 in Municipal Court.

--Bernice

New PW&UD Director Appointment, More on Reorg Agenda

Tonight's City Council Reorganization agenda includes a resolution to name Oren K. Dabney (former head of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority), as director of Plainfield's Department of Public Works & Urban Development. Also included are numerous appointments to boards and commission; a new meeting schedule for the governing body, a three-month temporary budget to run the city; and appointments of various judges and prosecutors.

The two winners of the November general election - Rebecca Williams for the Citywide at-large seat and Charles McRae for Third Ward - will take office, and an appointee will be named to replace Williams in the Second and Third Wards at-large seat.

The meeting is 7 p.m. in Municipal Court.

--Bernice

Sunday, January 8, 2017

New Cat on Block 832

I saw this cat when it was just a kitten, but couldn't get a photo. It seemed to have unusual markings. A few days ago it sat still for a portrait. Does it remind you of anybody?

--Bernice

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Time Flies! Capsule Opening in Three Years




A commenter went off topic on my Three Kings greeting and asked about a time capsule downtown. The answer is it is supposed to be opened in 2020. Read about the time capsule in this blog post from 2014.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy Three Kings Day



Happy Three Kings Day

La Befana

Twelfth Night

Epiphany

to all who are celebrating

UEZ Benefit Expired, Mapp Urging Extension

Plainfielders can no longer pay just half the state sales tax on purchases in the city's Urban Enterprise Zone, but Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said Wednesday he and mayors of four other affected cities will urge Gov. Chris Christie to extend the UEZ perk, retroactive to its Dec. 31 expiration date.

Shoppers at certified UEZ retailers had been charged only 3.5 percent sales tax instead of 7 percent. The Urban Enterprise Zone Authority held the sales tax in a fund that could be tapped for improvements within the zone. In 2011, a report found the UEZ program was returning only eight cents per dollar of state investment and recommended a shutdown, though the lower sales tax would be preserved. Eventually the balance of funds in Plainfield's account was returned to the city to manage.

Now, as reported by 101.5, the sales tax has been lowered statewide to 6.875 percent, but there is no longer a reduced sales tax in Plainfield and four other cities (Bridgeton, Camden, Newark, Trenton)..

Mapp reviewed the changes at Wednesday's meeting of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, saying Christie had vetoed a 10-year extension of the program for the five cities and wanted a study on whether the UEZ program was still needed. Christie can still sign other legislation for a shorter-term extension and Mapp said he drafted a letter, signed by all five mayors, to urge Christie to do so.

Two of Plainfield's former high generators of sales tax revenues, Appliance-Arama and Macy's, have closed, but several approved projects within the UEZ include commercial development. Mapp called the reduced sales tax a needed "enticement" for business in the affected cities.

One of the sticking points for certification has been a requirement to create employment, but many Plainfield businesses fall into the "mom and pop" category and can't hire more workers. For whatever reason, the 2011 study showed only 195 of 731 eligible businesses became certified.

--Bernice

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Democrats Pick Three Nominees for Council Vacancy

Nominees to fill the Second and Third Wards at-large vacancy are Michael Pyne, Inez Durham and Joylette Mills-Ransome.

The Democratic City Committee voted on the three as a slate tonight (Wednesday) and the City Council is expected to choose one at the Jan. 9 annual reorganization meeting, 7 p.m. in Municipal Court. If for any reason the governing body does not pick one, the choice reverts to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic City Committee.

The appointee will serve until the next general election and if a winner then, will serve the balance of the term to Dec. 31, 2018. Challengers for the seat may run in the June primary or file as independents on June 6 to run in November.

Pyne is a longtime member and past president of the Plainfield chapter of Frontiers International, an African-American community service organization that presents the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day breakfast and program. He has also served on the Citizens School Budget Advisory Committee and the city's Citizens Advisory Committee that recommends awardees for Community Development Block Grant funding.

Durham, a psychologist, was a 2016 Living Legacy Honoree of the Central Jersey Alumnae, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.She served on the school board and is treasurer of the Plainfield Public Library Board of Trustees.

Mills-Ransome is retired from the Newark Public Schools system and has served as a school board member. She is active with the Plainfield League of Women Voters, among other civic roles.

--Bernice

Block Association Guide Is Online

David Rutherford's blog post today is required reading for anyone who wants a better city.

Regarding community involvement, I just came across a 2012 online guide to forming and keeping up a block association. I'm trying to find out whether there is still an active city support group for block associations, but meanwhile see the block association guide here.

Please note the pages are out of order. It looks like it can be printed and collated. I don't know whether the booklet exists in City Hall or the Police Department.

Many of the active block association leaders have passed on, such as John Hayes and Melvin Cody. Plainfield has  changed a lot in the past decade and new challenges, such as language barriers, have emerged. Old barriers such as absentee landlords and high mobility of renters remain.

I will update when I find out the current status of the Plainfield United Block Association.

--Bernice

Appointee Selection Kicks Off 2017 Political Fray

Tonight the Democratic City Committee will meet to come up with three possible appointees to replace Rebecca Williams, who vacated the Second & Third Ward at-large seat on the City Council at assume the Citywide at-large seat that she won in the November general election.

According to Dan, the meeting is 7 p.m. at Democratic headquarters, 31 Watchung Avenue.

The council must select one of the three, and that person will have to run in June in order to be on the November 7 ballot for the balance of the unexpired term, to Dec. 31, 2018. If the appointee doesn't win, the general election winner takes the seat in November.

As Dr. Yood noted, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp will enjoy a majority of likely supporters in 2017, with the addition of Charles McRae as the Third Ward representative. However, his team will have to also secure a majority of seats on the Democratic City Committee in June if Mapp is to retain chairmanship of the committee. That decision takes place on the Monday after the June 6 primary, at which the 68 committee seats will be on the ballot.

Mapp has already declared a run for re-election. The two local contests will be for mayor and the Fourth Ward City Council seat. Democratic and Republican candidates must file for the June 6 primary on April 3. Independent candidates must file on June 6 to run in the Nov. 7 general election.

If Facebook comments are any indication, 2017 will be a very competitive year locally. The rhetoric is already in full effect. Both voters and candidates will have to be on alert for misinformation. Politics is a blood sport in Plainfield, so get ready.

--Bernice

Sunday, January 1, 2017

It's 2017!

Wishing everyone
a happy and prosperous
New Year!