Thursday, March 30, 2017

Unused Back Pay Impacts Municipal Budgets

Today nj.com is featuring an NJ Spotlight article on  NJ municipalities and school districts owing almost $2 billion in unused sick and vacation pay.

Plaintalker pointed out Plainfield's situation regarding Compensated Absence Liability in 2008 ("The Big I.O.U"). The past administration was not putting away anything toward the cost of payouts, but this one has been doing so. Last year, $150,000 was allotted for accumulated absence and $67,300 was paid. This year, the administration wants $75,000 set aside.

As of 2010, new employees can only receive a maximum of $15,000 in unused sick or vacation pay. For a municipality with a mature workforce at the top of the pay scale, a bunch of retirements can cost a bundle in payouts. By contrast, some towns don't allow carryover of sick and vacation pay and so have no problem.

I could not find a page in the 2017 Municipal Data Sheet that showed Plainfield's total liability. In past data sheets, it was spelled out by categories and stated both the number of days and the amount owed. Update: Finance Director Ron West says the amount is in the User Friendly Budget and it is $3,882,593.35.

I was surprised to see this article, because the topic might be considered a bit arcane. Perhaps there is a new interest in how public money is spent, or maybe a wish for even greater reform.

--Bernice

Repairs May Cause Spotty Blogging

Finally some action on the Friday, Jan. 13, leak that wrecked the kitchen ceiling!
The super scraped the ceiling in the kitchen and living room, but said repairs will take a week, starting Monday. This is a very small apartment and we can't move everything out, so it will be Dropcloth City until things are fixed.
Blogging will be impacted by this situation. Unfortunately for me, it is one of those weeks with several meetings - City Council agenda-fixing Monday, Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday, Planning Board Thursday.

Mau the cat spent most of Wednesday in hiding. He's a pretty tough guy, except when it comes to having strangers in the apartment. After much cajoling, he emerged and became his usual bossy self instead of being a fraidy-cat.

The leak that went on for more than an hour starting at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 13 came from a broken pipe in the apartment upstairs. We used every receptacle possible to catch the leaks, but water was coming through in so many places that it was impossible to avoid the damage. The super was in transit from somewhere and could not immediately respond. A lot of our stuff got damaged and had to be thrown out, even though we tried to cover things with plastic drop cloths.

.A new property manager took over at the end of February, so maybe things will improve. We hope so! This location is perfect for us and we really don't want to move.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Checks and Balances

Image result for checks and balances chart

It's this time of year that politicians tend to be focused on checks and balances - no, not the ones you learned about in Social Studies, the other ones: How many checks are being written and how big a balance there is in the campaign war chest.

Some local candidates have been holding fundraisers for months already, but Monday is filing day for the June 6 primary and candidates will strongly urge you to put your money where your mouth is.

In Plainfield, a Democratic primary win highly correlates with success in the November general election. This year the field is crowded and voter backing means a lot on the way to the primary as well as at the polls. So check your bank balance and see whether you can spare your favorite candidate a few bucks for fliers and buttons. Voter apathy may have played a role in the 45th presidential election. Don't let it happen here!

--Bernice

PNC Bank Sets Round Two With HPC

A inconclusive  haggle Tuesday over how much green space to put around the Titsworth-Sutphen House will mean PNC Bank representatives must return to the Historic Preservation Commission next month.
.
The pre-Civil War structure sits on a portion of the bank's parking lot on West Second Street. Plans to subdivide three lots to create two new ones include adding some green space around the building, but commissioners wanted more and suggested reconfiguring the proposed lots to allow as much as 20 feet of "greensward" around it.  Commissioners also suggested relocating two proposed ATM machines to make more room around the building.
Attorney Diane Hickey of Riker Danzig said the plan included a "facelift" for the building, mainly a new coat of paint. The suggested changes in lot lines led to Hickey asking for two recesses to confer with engineer Robert Streker and project manager Joseph F. Haley.
At times the discussion veered off into what might become of the former Appliance-Arama building adjacent to the parking lot, now that a proposal for 148 apartments on the lot is defunct. On another topic, Larry Quirk wanted the bank's proposed ATMs to look more historic.

"The drawings look rather futuristic," he said.

It was revealed that the bank will relocate to the large office complex across West Second Street and close the ornate building that once was the headquarters of United National Bank, Developer Frank Cretella had in 2010 proposed retail use for the bank's first floor, with nightclubs above

Cretella's 148-unit apartment complex was to have required use of eight parking lot parcels, while the bank wanted just three melded into two for the ATMs. The PNC Bank team hinted Tuesday at possible development on the rest of the sprawling parking lot, but gave no details.

"The ultimate vision is a viable development on the property," Streker said.

After more back-and-forth over how much green space was sufficient, HPC Chairman Bill Michelson suggested that the team "articulate or come back" next month. Hickey first raised the issue of having to meet April 5 with the Zoning Board of Adjustment, but later said she would ask for the matter to be carried to the Zoning Board's May 3 meeting. The HPC agreed to carry the matter in turn to their April 25 meeting for further discussion and possible approval. 

--Bernice

Monday, March 27, 2017

CBAC Schedule Released

This year's schedule for budget deliberations is a tight three-session review of the city's three charter-mandated departments, with one extra session if necessary.

The 2017 budget prepared by the administration is expected to be introduced was introduced at the March 13 regular council meeting. A public hearing on the introduced budget will be held at the April 10 City Council meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court. Once it is introduced, the governing body can modify it before adoption. The largest portion of the budget, for Public Affairs & Safety, covers the Police and Fire divisions and will be reviewed by the council and CBAC on Tuesday, April 11 at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. On April 12, it's Administration & Finance and on April 13, Public Works & Urban Development,. same time and location. Click the links to see all the divisions in the latter two.

The additional deliberation date, if necessary, is Tuesday, April 25, also in 7 p.m. in City Hall Library. The CBAC Presentation/Recommendations will be part of the City Council's May 1 agenda-fixing session, 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Court, followed on May 8 by possible adoption of the budget and/or any amendments at the regular council meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court. If necessary, the adoption date may be May 15, at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Past deliberations have been drawn out over several weeks and were sometimes confrontational, but with a council majority favorable to the administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, the process will likely be smoother.

Each council member named a person to serve on the CBAC, They are Siddeeq El-Amin, nominated by Council President Rebecca Williams; Geraldine Agurs, nominated by Councilman Barry Goode; Sean McKenna, nominated by Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome; Alsan Diouf, nominated by Councilman Cory Storch; Robin Bright, nominated by Councilman Charles McRae; Ray Edwards, nominated by Councilwoman Bridget Rivers; and Jane Peterson, nominated by Councilwoman Diane Toliver.

The CBAC usually names a chairman who delivers the group's recommendations after the deliberations are finished. The public is welcome to attend any of the meetings.

--Bernice

"Tax March" on April 15

https://www.taxmarchplainfield.org/


Tax March - Community Unity Rally - Voter Registration Drive
Plainfield, NJ - Union   County

Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield, NJ will be the site of the Tax March & Community Unity Rally on Plainfield.  The event will take place Saturday April 15th from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

The rally is being organized by an all volunteer, grass roots committee. The event is nonpartisan. The vision of the all volunteer, grassroots committee is to offer the residents of Union County an opportunity to come together and meet one another.  We hope to have a diverse slate of speakers and entertainment - to provide a day of education, peaceful activism and enjoyment for all.  Originally Westfield was considered as a possible location, the committee decided on Plainfield in the hopes that people will cross the suburban/urban, racial and socio-economic lines people often do not cross. 

We hope to offer a program which includes a slate of politicians and thought leaders who can speak to the importance of transparency and accountability in government, a responsible federal budget, the programs funded by our federal budget that Union County citizens rely on and other topics such as the importance of civic engagement and free press.

Scheduled speakers to date include:
Mayor Adrian Mapp of Plainfield, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Jim Johnson, Assemblyman Jerry Green (D22), a representative from the Andrew Goodman Foundation and Gubernatorial Candidate Ray Lesniak.

Invitations to speak have been issued to all gubernatorial candidates as well as organizational leaders in the arenas of transparency in government, freedom of the press, social justice, education, healthcare and immigration. 


Print vs. Digital News - Or Both

Paul Grzella's note to readers last week on handling breaking news echoed a dilemma I faced in 2016 when I was freelancing as well as blogging for a while, namely the loss of immediacy in print.

Paul is the editor and general manager of the Courier News and I knew him for all of my 16 years at the newspaper. After retiring in 2003, I realized that changes in the newspaper industry were making routine coverage of governmental meetings a luxury rather than a necessity. With the help of Barbara Todd Kerr I found a way to get out news of major land use and City Council decisions - the Plainfield Plaintalker blog. which we launched on June 17, 2005.

There came a time in 2007-2008 when newsroom staff was so short that I could contribute as a freelancer for pay while still blogging for no pay (the Pressgrrrl/Bloglady era). One night I was freelancing and got a big story too late for deadline at the newspaper. It was very tempting to break the news on the blog, where readers would see it first thing in the morning, than to file it and have it appear in print two days later. I stuck with my obligation to the newspaper. (Read my blog post on the dilemma here.)

Years later, when Mark Spivey covered Plainfield and reporters had cellphones, I would return from a meeting we both attended and see Mark's story up online before I even wrote a blog post. It still would take a day or so to show up in print.

Paul's note to readers Thursday acknowledges the fact that nowadays news breaks in minutes on cellphones or Facebook feeds, so he says the Courier News is "leaving the breaking news coverage to our digital products" and enhancing the print edition with "content you'll find more satisfying and in-depth" rather than repeating headlines readers have already seen.

There is more to the promise, along with assurance that popular features such as comics, puzzles, weather information and horoscopes will remain in the print edition. There will also be a "Daily Rundown" summarizing local news.

Paul says, "Most importantly, our journalists will continue to provide strategic coverage of news from your community - news focused on making the most of your life in Central Jersey. This includes being watchdogs of government and engaging partners in improving our community."

He concludes with an invitation to tell him what you think, either by calling him at 908-243-6601 or by email at pgrzella@gannett.com

I have subscribed to the digital E-edition for several years now and I also check the online Courier News for breaking stories. It's a different world for news and more changes are no doubt in store.

As for blogs, the Plainfield blogosphere once had 30 participants and now has only a few bloggers who post regularly. Recently some new ones have appeared. Mine is now almost twelve years old, even though I vowed to close it down at the 10-year mark. There is just always more news - often good news - to tell.

--Bernice

Friday, March 24, 2017

Voters, Please!

A chart attached to notice of the April 15 Tax March in Plainfield reveals that 45.05 percent of those eligible to vote in the November general election did not go to the polls.

The chart includes all Union County municipalities and shows 23,692 registered voters in Plainfield, with 13,019 votes cast and 10,673 not voting. So only 54.95 percent of those eligible actually voted.

This year there is a mayoral election in Plainfield and currently a crowded field of candidates. It will thin out in the June 6 primary, where Democrats will vie for the party line (no Republicans have announced candidacy, to my knowledge). The primary winner and any independents who file will be on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Some of the campaign messages so far are confusing. One candidate quoted the Declaration of Independence, appearing to advocate for separation from ... what? It made me wonder how the candidate, if successful, would take the Oath of Office as mayor, in which the winner pledges "true faith and allegiance" to the Constitution of the United States and the State of New Jersey. It doesn't talk about parties or city wards or whatever other divisions may exist.

Similarly, when a candidate vows to "take Plainfield back," what does that actually mean? It implies some sort of ownership. Are we forgetting that elected officials are stewards of city resources for a specific time frame? Voters decide to whom they want to entrust that responsibility - or at least those who go to the polls decide.

I saw another call to unseat the whole school board and the whole seven-member council. Well, only three of nine school board seats come up for election in a given year, so it would take a while to convert the whole board. As for the seven-member City Council, there is one four-year term and one unexpired term on the ballot this year. Next year there are two, the First Ward and the Second & Third Ward at-large seat. In 2019, Ward 2 and the 1&4 Wards at-large seats are up, then in 2020 Ward 3 and the Citywide at-large seat. In 2021, it's again Ward 4 and the mayor. So it is a long-term, multi-year project to "vote the rascals out," as the saying goes.

Of course, the shortcut is to gain a majority on either board. If you don't like the current configuration, organize, strategize and get your partisans to the polls. Rhetoric alone won't do it.

My hope for this year is that candidates will inform themselves and speak to the issues of municipal governance, rather than deal in personalities and name-calling. And I hope voters will hold candidates to a high standard, make sure they are properly registered, and go to their voting locations on June 6 and Nov. 7.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Regarding Larry Leverett

For newcomers to the Queen City or others who don't hear the angels sing at the mention of Larry Leverett, he is revered for his service to the Plainfield school district and is considered by most to be the ne plus ultra of school administrators.

Leverett was sought out by the Greenwich, Conn. school district and served there from 2003-2006 before becoming executive director of the Panasonic Foundation. He retired at the end of 2016.

In "Engaging the Public: A Superintendent's View," published on Edutopia, Leverett describes his approach to Plainfield. It is long, but a very worthwhile read.

The Panasonic Foundation's scope and Larry Leverett's "extraordinary leadership" are noted in an article on the foundation's search for a successor.

Larry's friends and admirers would be thrilled if somehow he returned, even for just a while.

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Women's History Event

Local Author Book Talk with Betty Livingston Adams
 
Saturday, March 25, 2017
2 to 4 pm in the ALD Room (lower level)
Plainfield Public Library
800 Park Avenue, Plainfield, NJ  07060
 
 
Plainfield Public Library is pleased to present 2017 Wilbur Non-Fiction Award Recipient, Betty Livingston Adams, who will discuss her latest publication, Black Women’s Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb, on Saturday, March 25, 2017 at 2 pm at Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Avenue, Plainfield, NJ  07060.
 
Ms. Adams examines the often-overlooked role of non-elite black women in the growth of northern suburbs and American Protestantism in the first half of the twentieth century. Focusing on the strategies and organizational models that churchwomen employed in the fight for social justice, she tracks the intersections of politics and religion, race and gender, and place and space in a New York City suburb, a local example that offers new insights on northern racial oppression and civil rights protest. As this book makes clear, religion made a key difference in the lives and activism of ordinary black women who lived, worked, and worshiped on the margin during this tumultuous time.
 
Betty Livingston Adams holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University and a Master of Divinity degree from Drew University. Her scholarship explores nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American/American religious and social history through the lens of gender, race, and class.  Adams is a recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including a post-doctoral fellowship at Rutgers University and a Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship. She is currently a Fellow and Visiting Faculty at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis (RCHA). In addition to serving as an Associate Minister, Adams also serves on the Executive Board of the Theological School Alumni/ae Association, Drew University.
 
This is event is free and open to the public. For more information, online at http://www.plainfieldlibrary.info/ or contact the Local History Department at (909) 757-1111 Ext. 136.

South Second Financial Agreement Revised

In a brief meeting Tuesday, the City Council approved changes to a "payment in lieu of taxes" plan for a 90-unit residential development on South Second Street.

Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez explained that the city will not lose revenues in the change, as a PILOT for a related commercial project is expected to be modified in a council vote on April 10.

The revisions are related to changes in the state's HMFA Low Income Housing Tax Credits program, Sanchez said.. Earlier this year the plan changed to a minimum rate of 5 percent, he said. The city's initial arrangement called for a 6.28 percent rate for the first fifteen years of a 30-year PILOT, which will be revised to 4.9 percent. It will yield $240,000 less than before, but the revision to the commercial portion will make up the difference, he said.

The changes will make the application "a little more competitive to the state," Sanchez said.

The commercial part is complete. See details of the initial agreement in this January 2016 post.

See an image of the residential project and more details here. It is described as a $22 million project and the "largest transformative development in the Fourth Ward of the City of Plainfield in 40 years."

--Bernice



Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy Vernal Equinox

A quick review of Spring posts revealed that our fast turn from balmy to bitter weather also occurred in 2011.

See "Spring Will Be A Little Late" from 2011.

In 2012, my Spring topic was earthworm castings.



The Green Man for 2013.



March snow in 2014.



Confederate Violets, Spring 2015.



Crocuses to welcome Spring 2016.

--Bernice

Finding the Villain in School Costs

A student walk-out and a new blog call attention to school budget woes, but where does the problem lie? Is it because of charter schools? State policies?

Blogger "Anonymous Gadfly" points to charter schools and wants a survey of parents who have chosen to send their children to charter schools. The blog also has a link to a news article about possible changes to state policies that could make it easier to expand charter schools.

I admit I have not been able to cover school board meetings, but I would like to call Plainfielders' attention to the mass of information already on the state website regarding local charter schools. The city currently has five charter schools with 1,155 students in four and one apparently just starting with kindergarten. The pattern has been to start with selected grade levels and then to build enrollment. For example, Queen City Academy Charter School began in the 2000-01 school year with 72 students and for the 2014-15 school year had 248 students in grades K-8. Union County TEAMS Charter School is working toward an enrollment of 360 students in grades K-12.

Plainfield still has the only charter schools in Union County. Two are new and have not posted performance statistics. Two previous ones are no longer in operation. The state directory currently lists five in operation.

Between the state profiles of these charter schools and their own websites, there is a lot of information on hand already. See the state Performance Report for Queen City Academy as an example.

The charter school issue and budget problems are not new. See this 2006 "Budget Crisis" post.

--Bernice

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tales of the Voting Districts

From a 2005 post:

This is Plainfield: “Democrats hold a slight edge in registered voters over the Republican Party in Plainfield. Increasingly, the city has supported Democratic candidates in state and national elections, while the two parties remain quite competitive in local elections. From 1974 through 1981 Plainfield has had a Republican mayor but a Democratic majority on the council.”

Actually, that was Plainfield in 1982, the last year the League of Women Voters was able to produce its informative “This is Plainfield” booklet. A scant generation later, registered Republicans are outnumbered 8 to 1 by Democrats and more than 7 to 1 by voters who don’t belong to either party.
In 1982, the LWV booklet listed 42 voting districts. Now, due to voter apathy, that number has dwindled to 34. That means voters were once able to choose a male and female representative in each district for a total of 84 grassroots elected representatives and now there are only 68 City Committee seats for each party.

The ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans is now around 14 to one. When Republicans reorganized in 2014, they only filled 15 of the 68 seats. I don't have 2016 number, but it's likely similar.

There was a time when Democrats didn't bother to fill every last seat, but after former Mayor Harold Mitchell did so one year and had enough votes to challenge longtime Chairman Jerry Green, both Green and any Democratic factions have aimed for 68 committee nominees.

In 2015, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's slate for the Union County Progressive Democratic Organization lacked only three candidates. Green's Regular Democratic Organization of Union County had a full slate of 68. Mapp's team won 48 of the 68 seats and he became chairman.

By wards, Mapp's team won six of 16 First Ward seats, 22 of 22 Second Ward seats, 18 of 18 Third Ward seats and two of 10 Fourth Ward seats, roughly matching a perceived class difference. Both Ward 2 and 3 are actually diverse racially and economically, but Ward 4 is especially economically challenged. Ward 4 also had more voting districts several years ago, but lost them to low voter turnout.

Campaign teams can give you chapter and verse on voting habits of each district, but I have not gone that granular, mainly because the public just wants to know who won and by how much. Politicians sometimes throw shade by citing opposing winners' margins, though a win is a win.

In two weeks candidates must file for the June 6 primary. Whether you are new to Plainfield or a longtime resident, please pay attention to what candidates say. In these times, it is my opinion that those seeking municipal office must focus closely on stewardship, constituent service and advocacy for the city in an increasingly hostile political atmosphere at higher levels. That goes for primary winners as well as independents who file on June 6.  Good luck to all!

--Bernice

Deja Vu From 2010 - On Snow and Flowers

Had to remind DPW Friday that the sidewalk on the East Seventh Street side of Lot 7 needed clearing. Thanks for the quick response! I was able to make my way to Twin City on foot with no snow or ice in my way.

This winter anecdote from 2010 echoed the issue. The DPW always does a great job on Lot 7, just sometimes needs a nudge to clear that sidewalk for us old ladies.

Alas, the last of the double pink Impatiens succumbed to a mysterious blight a few years ago, cutting off my longtime supply of free plants. I nicknamed my propagation hobby "Plant Parenthood" and gave a couple of talks on it to Habitat for Humanity new homeowners and to members of the Senior Center. Here's a blog post on dividing to multiply iris plants.

It's a great way to share Hosta and Lily of the Valley, too! Give it a try in your block association or neighborhood group.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stigma-Free Zone Event

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The Showrunners

Monday's meeting included some topics I still have to write about, but there was one I missed until I read Max Pizzaro's report.

I saw someone snap a photo of John Campbell Jr. at the microphone in public comment, and I also spotted another self-proclaimed "political operative" in the crowd. I missed the third person Pizzaro named as a campaign manager, but appreciated his story for filling in some blanks in my knowledge of the 2017 mayoral campaign. Having heard the term "showrunner" one time too many and finally looking it up, I think it is somewhat equivalent to what campaign managers and political operatives do in Plainfield, especially when there is a mayoral race.

Campbell, a 2013 Republican candidate for a District 22 Assembly seat and a 2015 independent candidate for the Plainfield Second Ward City Council seat, is the scion of "kingmaker" John Campbell and former school board ruler Wilma Campbell. He is managing the campaign of Democrat Rev. Tracey Brown, former PMUA commissioner and most recently the Citywide at-large City Council representative, a seat she lost to current Council President Rebecca Williams.

Stroud guided Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's success in 2013 and is apparently the manager for Mapp's current re-election bid. His LinkedIn page notes involvement in Somerset County and Congressional campaigns. His consultancy's title is "Dude I'm Right Here, LLC." As Pizzaro's article notes, Mapp has the Democratic line for mayor, thanks to Assemblyman Jerry Green, who is the Union County Democratic Party chairman.

Pizzaro names Maurice Clark as manager for Councilwoman Bridget Rivers' mayoral campaign. Clark captured on video one of Rivers' spats with Williams and posted it on Facebook, saying "Councilwoman Rivers can't be silenced." Other posts featuring Rivers' outspoken manner are captioned, "The Councilwoman goes off" and "This is what a leader sounds like."

The only other announced candidate for mayor is Mustapha Muhammad, a Nation of Islam partisan who intends to file June 6 as an independent.

Besides the mayoral seat, there are two council seats to be filled this year, one four-year term for Fourth Ward and an unexpired term for the Second & Third Wards at-large seat. Mapp's running mates are Steve Hockaday for Fourth Ward and Joylette Mills-Ransome, now an appointee for the unexpired term. Rivers and Brown have not announced full slates, as far as I know, but all shall be revealed on April 3.

The other possible contest this year is for chairmanship of the Democratic City Committee. There are 68 seats, a male and female for each of 34 districts in the city's four wards. Mapp won the seat in 2015, unseating Green. According to blogger Dan Damon, the committee is hosting a breakfast Saturday to collect petitions, even though the filing date is more than two weeks away, on April 3. The winners of committee seats on June 6 will meet on June 12 to vote for a chairman, officers and ward leaders to serve until June 2019.

--Bernice

HPC Hearing Foretells Project Changes

A legal notice regarding the Pre-Civil War Titsworth-Sutphen House points to possible changes in a developer's largest Plainfield project.

The historic building on West Second Street was slated to be moved to make way for a five-story building with 148 apartments and 12,300 square feet of retail space. Called "West Second Street Commons, it was the largest of nearly a dozen projects proposed by Landmark Developers, eight of which have been completed. The Historic Preservation Commission discussed the proposed relocation of the Titsworth-Sutphen building in 2010, but it remains on a portion of the PNC Bank parking lot. On March 28, the HPC will hear plans for exterior changes to the building, namely painting. The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

The notice also mentions PNC Bank's application to the Zoning Board of Adjustment to consolidate three lots into two, one for two remote drive-through ATMs and the other for parking. The lots on Block 245 were among eight approved in 2010 for the Landmark project.

No date for the Zoning Board hearing is mentioned in the legal notice, but it only meets once a month, on the first Wednesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library. The next meetings are on April 5 and May 3.  Click to see Plaintalker's September 2010 post on the West Second Street Commons.

--Bernice 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Q&A: Downtown Plainfield,

A few weeks ago, I ran into Ron Johnson downtown and we had a brief conversation about Plainfield. Ron is the city's Zoning Officer and has a keen interest in its future. He recently updated me on some initiatives and I asked a few questions, which he just answered. He agreed to let me post them and his responses as a Q&A. Tomorrow (March 15) he is launching a new website (see below Q&A). I wish him the best.


- How would you define millenials in Plainfield and what products might they want downtown?

I would define millennials in Plainfield as curious, ambitious and some of the most prominent shoppers in Downtown after our large latino population. While they may not appear particularly appealing for older generations, the urban clothing stores in our downtown (Ped-Eze, Hot Spot and some others) are particularly well used by younger population for the newest streetwear, shoes and accessories. It's important that a downtown as large as Plainfield's has variety for shoppers of all kinds and ages. We should embrace these stores as they have some of the nicest displays, signs and storefronts in our downtown, easy to work with (from a zoning standpoint), regularly invest in their storefronts, stock the most current trends, and help establish our Downtown as a destination for not only people in our community but around it. The stores appropriately reflect the demographic that they're trying to sell to. It's also important to realize that these types of stores cannot be found in any community anywhere near here, (with the closest being Elizabeth and Newark) which translates to offering something unique for clientele and more sales. We need to start thinking outside the box about economic development and educating all stores about how to be successful. I've noticed that Plainfield at times can be very hard on ourselves. We should embrace our uniqueness and find new ways to market that to people to where it can help us in our ultimate goals of becoming a live, work, play community.

In addition, Landmark Developers is working on opening a temporary pop-up art gallery on North Avenue in the short-term future that will reflect artwork from local artists. We've already seen the utility box art installations pop up around town featuring local millennial artists. The city's Mural Arts Committee is actively engaging and seeking out artists in our community for more utility box art and murals. This is the first time in quite a while the city has effectively engaged young people. The utility boxes made their way to Instagram, Facebook and snapchat and has received far more "likes" than we ever would have imagined. I can see our millennials being attracted to this.

I've met so many amazing and talented millennials from Plainfield with entrepreneur ambitions. What I've found is that many need guidance on how to accomplish their personal and professional goals. We have individuals from many different backgrounds that simply need someone to talk to about their ideas and how to move on them. I wish to help any fellow millennial I can and guide them with their goals no matter if it's downtown or elsewhere.

- How would your group interface with Paramount, owner of about 45 storefronts downtown? Also the Korean merchants association, Latino business owners, SID, developers Cheung, Cretella, Camino? 

I come with existing contacts and strong relationships with all of our developers. I work with Landmark, Paramount, Cheung and Camino on a regular basis. Despite the negative perceptions, Paramount has been an absolute DREAM to work with. They're very quick to make the necessary adjustments to bring their properties or storefronts up to code and are very easy to work with from a zoning standpoint. Camino is another that is very ambitious and is taking a "slow and steady" approach to developing their buildings. They emphasize quality over hasty development. Downtown Plainfield Alliance (DPA) is putting together a strategy on how to directly engage with the developers moving forward and to ensure their voice is also heard. These are partners in our community that put their money on the line every single day because they believe in us. We need to believe in them also. The existing relationships I bring to the table will make moving forward with them much easier than an upstart group.

As far as the SID is concerned, our group has no interest in competing with or overshadowing the efforts they've made thus far. It takes commitment and people who care to change our downtown and the SID certainly is committed and cares. There is still much value in the SID and I believe working with them on the conditions of Downtown should be a goal of the city as well as Downtown Plainfield Alliance. The SID is a tax collecting organization while DPA is not, and that sets them apart from us. They're also a merchants group, to which we are not (DPA is a nonprofit beautification, marketing, economic development and volunteerism organization --very different). We're interested in marketing the SIDs events, pushing collective decision-making and overall cooperation on all accounts. The city is far too small to have infighting between groups. We come with our best intentions and will be reaching out to the SID shortly.

- Do you consider Block 247 part of the downtown? (The block bordered by West Front, Central, Madison, West Second)

Yes. Block 247 is an integral part of our downtown and always has been. In fact, I always include the block directly west of central avenue bounded by the Green Brook, Central Avenue, West Front Street and terminating near New Street as downtown as well. This block has primarily Latino businesses that I've also built up a relationship with and frequent from time-to-time. They hold tremendous value in that community and is an extension of the more built-up blocks to its east. The TOD Downtown boundary isn't necessarily the "written in stone" boundaries of the Downtown in my eyes.

- Do you have any thoughts on a business registry?
Downtown Plainfield Alliance has created a business directory for the downtown that lists all the businesses, their phone number, address and websites (if applicable) all organized based on what service they provide. In order to bring Plainfielders and shoppers outside our community back into our Downtown, people need to know what is Downtown. People will start adventuring back Downtown once they find one or two stores or restaurants that they tend to like and have a positive experience visiting. The thought of "let's stop the car and try this place" will keep popping up if people's first experience at one establishment is positive. We need to work on making every experience positive.

- Any thoughts on the UEZ?
The loss of the UEZ is certainly harmful to the downtown as far as the sales tax is concerned. As you know, Plainfield has a lump sum of money from the UEZ (how much is left, I do not know). The city has purchased new parking lot meter systems for some lots with the UEZ funds. Using the funds for projects that would make the biggest difference and be the most efficient and especially effective should be key.

The sign and facade program was an excellent program that few businesses took advantage of. Despite the program being in existence for well over two decades (if not longer), the program was not advertised effectively, bureaucratic, and took a long time to get approvals. Many tenants never even knew the program existed. The Economic Development Office is looking at ways to continue funding the program using UEZ money. This is great to hear, however it needs to be done right this time. DPA is looking to find a matching grant to cover the remaining 25% of signage costs (the Sign and Facade program only covers 75% of signage or facade costs).

- How do your plans relate to municipal government, specifically land use policies?

We directly support the municipal government and the developers downtown. Land Use-wise, Plainfield continues to attract developers big and small to the Downtown and cooperation on all fronts will help cement further investment. We see our organization as the community engagement arm to economic development and planning policies in our Downtown. Smart Growth, transit-oriented development, new urbanism and 21st century urban design appears to be at the forefront of the city's goals we support them tremendously! The municipal government has been very receptive to our plans and we cannot wait to get down to business and help each other out in our time of need.

- Any models for what you envision (how to attract major retailers and/or reflect new buying habits?
The city's strategy over the course of the last decade or so has been to wait for businesses to come to us, then market the town to them. As you know, this has not worked very well over the years. We have the rise of online shopping, the decline of department stores and other factors at play on the national and state level that are tremendously taxing on the health of our downtown. We need to start reaching out directly to stores, putting together facts that will counteract the negative online perception of Plainfield, and redirect businesses from being built around us (mainly on Rt. 22) and instead into the downtown. We've reached out to businesses already and are very proud to report that Blink Fitness gym and Yami-Yami Grill, the first Japanese Sushi restaurant in downtown Plainfield, will be new tenants opening their doors mid-year on our main street, Front Street. These are world-class, high quality businesses that will help attract people to Plainfield and rewrite the narrative. Yami-Yami Grill has one location already in Watchung and the fact that they believe in downtown enough to open their second location here over places like Scotch Plains, Westfield and Greenbrook speaks volumes on the effectiveness of this strategy. Be proud Plainfield, we're just getting started!

Also, I can share that DPA is putting together business success kits for existing and new businesses, business recruitment kits and developer recruitment kits to further market our city and strengthen our business community is in the works. Amazon.com is experimenting with new retail store prototypes in many cities, and attracting one of the concept stores or small warehouse distribution centers to our community would put Plainfield ahead of the curve. We will be reaching out to Amazon soon to start a dialogue. A part of attracting businesses is crunching census data for the downtown and finding the most positive numbers so we can market them and show progress. This is an ongoing task.

- How to deal with transitions at City Hall?
Transitions are a part of life in any city. As employees and politicians come and go, we have to stay steady and work towards our goals as a community. A new generation is awakening. New ideas are flowing. We have a tremendous opportunity to engage our entire community and all walks of life. Politics is in every town in NJ, but many towns are able to overcome the challenges by communicating and not letting politics get in the way of the town's goals. In some towns, the Mayor and council get together once a week at the bar or out to dinner and simply talk their issues out. Communication is even more important during transitions to ensure knowledge is passed down.

- Whom do you see as major partners for your vision?

The Planning Division, DPW, PMUA, SID, HPC, Planning and Zoning Boards, Shade Tree Commission, NJ Transit and Inspections Division are all vital groups for a redeveloping community. I've worked with most of them at varying capacities. Outside of the city, banks and philanthropic organizations should be scouted to make our dreams a reality.

--------

I welcome everyone to join us tomorrow, March 15 at 12 noon on www.downtownplainfield.com as we unlock our website to the public. This is a three year project that was almost derailed by the Planning Division layoff (I was on the layoff list). We plan to launch Plainfield Permits (www.plainfieldpermits.com), a permitting solution to help educate Plainfielders about the zoning code on April 15, 2017. Also, we'll be having a Downtown Cleanup event on Earth Day -- Saturday, April 22, 2017. I look forward to releasing more information about this soon.

My late-cousin Rashid Abdul-Haqq used to talk to me constantly from the time I was a little kid until adulthood about how I can "be that rock" for my community (in his words), and use my education to come back home and help my community. I love Plainfield as he did, and wish to carry his legacy forward. I welcome everyone to follow me personally on my website iplanurban.space as I continue to build tools for the entire Plainfield community.

Readers can contact Downtown Plainfield Alliance at info@downtownplainfield.com or myself at iamronaldjohnson@gmail.com.






































Taxi Towing Penalty Passes


2009 - Out-of-town taxis waiting for fares

An eight-year battle between city-licensed and outside taxis went to DEFCON 1 Monday with a towing penalty added to an already stringent schedule of fines.


The City Council vote for final passage of the towing penalty was 5-2, with Barry Goode, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Cory Storch, Charles McRae and Council President Rebecca Williams voting "yes" and Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver voting "no." Rivers and Toliver sympathized with North Plainfield taxi owners and staff who said they live in Plainfield and the penalty would take bread out of their children's mouths. 

More than a dozen people spoke before the vote, rehashing arguments for and against the penalty. Some said customers deserved to choose any taxi they wanted, while others said the outside competition was harming those who played by Plainfield's rules.

City taxi companies must submit to inspections, carry specific amounts of insurance, pay for Plainfield licenses and meet many other standards. Fleet owners initially won City Council support for fines on out-of-town taxis, then for harsher fines and now for allowing police to order towing of outside taxis, with owners liable for towing and storage costs.

"The owners have complied," a dispatcher for Liberty Taxi said Monday.

He said drivers once made $80 to $100 per shift, but taxis not licensed in Plainfield are causing that "river of revenue" to dry up.

But a dispatcher for Soria Taxi of North Plainfield said, "We want justice," and claimed Soria had the "right to work in Plainfield."

"I live in Plainfield and I have the right to work in Plainfield," he said. "I beg for your help."

In opposition, a Plainfield taxi employee said the outside companies are out "not only to share the market, but to snatch it." 

A representative of Queen City Yellow Taxi told the council, "We're being invaded."

In 2009, fines for outside taxis soliciting fares ranged from $300 for a first offense to $800 for a third offense. In 2014, fines increased to a maximum of $2,000. Still, there was a perception that business was so lucrative that the outside companies considered even high fines just another cost of doing business, hence the towing penalty.

Opponents of adding the towing penalty raised the specter of a family or elderly person and all their groceries being dumped out if a police officer ordered a taxi to be towed. Increased fear of deportation under President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigrants added to the fear of getting stranded.

The ordinance will take effect in 20 days.

--Bernice

Monday, March 13, 2017

Volunteer Fire Division? Not A Hot Idea

A couple of readers suggested that the Fire Division could be converted into a volunteer organization. I didn't post the comments, I am responding here by saying I'm not sure an urban center such as Plainfield can be properly served by an all-volunteer Fire Division. Most volunteer fire companies that I have heard of are for smaller municipalities.

I think these comments arose because of a proposed study of the Fire Division. There have been a couple of other comments about restructuring the chain of command. Previously there were several other comments about Fire Chief Tidwell, which I did not post as I could not verify them. Chief Tidwell himself posted on March 8 on Facebook that he had been under investigation but was cleared:

For 7 months I bore a heavy burden, until yesterday. I was under investigation for allegations of misuse of authority, misappropriating funds and ethics violations.
The prosecutor's office was involved and Internal Affairs.

"The investigation is concluded and there will be no disciplinary action."

Tidwell gave thanks for the outcome.

Regarding other forms of fire safety, there are fire districts that use volunteer companies. They are governed by boards of commissioners and their budgets are funded by taxpayers. When I lived in Millington, I learned about the klaxons that sounded alarms for volunteers to respond to fires. Instead of being at a firehouse, they would come from home or work. Certainly they did not face the challenges of high-rise senior complexes or multi-family apartment buildings such as we have in Plainfield.

Fire and police have different hierarchies. I remember when it was mandated that a police chief had to get a certain percentage higher salary than captains, while no such rule applied to fire chiefs until they also won the right to a differential. Police, as far as I know, are part of a hierarchy of law enforcement that spans several levels of government, while fire responders appear to be more localized.

Plainfield police are undergoing an accreditation process to assure adherence to best practices. Surely it is in the public interest to take a look at the Fire Division, even though both entities have ongoing training for personnel. Management can often gain from an outside assessment as well. Police and Fire expenses are currently 60 percent of the city budget, so any cost-cutting improvements should be welcomed.

--Bernice

Holiday Wishes

Hoping all our Indian friends enjoyed a happy Holi festival and all our Jewish friends had a lovely Purim celebration with your favorite hamantashen!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Taxis, Landlords, Decorum, Spring

Events of the week have left me feeling out of sorts. Despite that, I will try to post some thoughts.

Taxi Ordinance
Because all my health providers have moved out of Plainfield and I gave up driving a while ago, I rely on taxis to get to their offices. Ironically, most were on Park Avenue and are still on Park Avenue, just further down. It cost me $30 in taxi fare to get to the dentist who used to be in the 1000 block, but is now in the 3800 block in North Edison. I call the same Plainfield taxi company to take me there and pick me up later. The same goes for the doctor's office in South Plainfield on Park Avenue ($20 round trip) and the surgeon in Edison and the medical lab ($30 each). If those towns had an ordinance restricting out-of-town pickup, I would have a big problem.

It is a fact of life for many Plainfielders that they must use taxis to go shopping, visit medical offices or just get together with friends. The economic battle between licensed Plainfield drivers and out-of-town taxi companies is unfortunate and complicated. If increasing the number of licenses would help, maybe it should be tried before going to the extreme of ejecting passengers and towing at the owner's expense. Some commenters suspect the matter hinges on political donations, which I hope is not true. There must be a common-sense solution that will be fair to all the taxi companies as well as to the hundreds of customers that need taxis. I think those who called for more time to study the situation have a point.

No Overnight Parking on Certain Streets
As I understood this discussion item Monday, some landlords are not permitting parking on the premises, forcing people to park on the street. The vehicles then get in the way of street cleaners and snow plows or otherwise interfere with use of the streets.

At some point, any multi-family residential building was required to provide parking. New landlords may try to monetize parking, but is it legal? Each landlord is supposed to file contact information with the city. These documents used to be on file in the City Clerk's office. Probably the original requirements are lost in storage somewhere, but just by the number and type of units there should be a minimum number of parking spaces that can be calculated. Multi-family owners could be made aware of the parking requirement rather than leaving the poor car owner to be tossed back and forth between the city and landlord over parking.  Here again there is a perception that landlords can sometimes do what they want if they pay tribute politically, but what about the tenant who lives here and votes?

Collegiality
Elected officials who badger professionals at council meetings and fight with colleagues on camera may think they are showing strength, but the public by and large is sick of the drama. Sure, they can get a few whoops and murmurs from their buddies, but those who choose to put on a show do little for the image of Plainfield. All members of the governing body should be considerate to each other.

Spring Ahead
This weekend we go back to Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. Saturday. One big nor'easter may hit us on Tuesday and then maybe we can head into Spring on March 20. I for one will be very happy to get out in the yard and welcome the season. It is also the date of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, a holiday observed by many nations and cultures that was also celebrated at the White House annually during the Obama administration. Look it up, it's interesting, though probably not going to be at the White House this year.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Final Passage or Revision for Taxi Ordinance?

The taxi towing penalty issue is now in its sixth month, heading for yet another vote on March 13 with overtones for the mayoral election.

Last year it was rejected with "no" votes from two council members who are now running for mayor, only to be revived this year with a council majority favorable to incumbent Mayor Adrian O. Mapp. Depending whom you ask, the issue is protecting city taxi business owners who pay for licenses and submit to other Plainfield rules versus a kind of free enterprise approach giving customers the right to call out-of-town taxis if they wish. Councilwoman Diane Toliver on Monday endorsed the argument that the towing penalty harms out-of-town taxi company owners and drivers who live in Plainfield and will take bread out of the mouths of their families.But won't allowing out-of-town companies to poach on city customers do the same to Plainfield residents employed by Plainfield companies?

An attorney for a North Plainfield taxi company tried to make a case against the towing penalty in three minutes during public comment, saying in part that there are no city licenses available and if other towns passed such laws, city taxis would encounter barriers in all surrounding towns. The towing penalty "adds insult to injury" by attempting to "destroy the ability of Soria or any other (company) to do business in Plainfield," attorney Michael Blacker said.

The rhetoric Monday included warnings of a "war" between Plainfield and North Plainfield taxis and many repetitions of how the penalty will take bread out of the mouths of children and families. The latter argument always seems somewhat fatuous to me, in that it appears to say breaking a law is OK if it is done to put bread on the table. It seems to echo the popular maxim, "Do what you gotta do" to get along, whether it is lawful or not.

In this case, perhaps a better route is to study the taxi ordinance and revise it, rather than escalate to draconian enforcement strategies. I repeat my call from last month to take a look at the taxi ordinance and revise as necessary.

--Bernice

International Women's Day 2017

For International Women's Day, I am posting a remembrance of the late Councilwoman Helen Miller, one of the first activists I met after moving here in 1983.

The International Women's Day theme for 2017 is "#BeBoldforChange."

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Important Dates" - For Candidates

If you didn't file to run for the school board Monday, never mind. The election was moved back to November, so you have until July 31 to file petitions.

Check the Union County Clerk's "Important Dates" page if you want to run for public office in 2017. 

Commission Will Study "Plainfield Promise"

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said Monday he will establish a seven-member commission to review his "Plainfield Promise" proposal and to report back in six months. Its charge will be to "take a new look" at the tuition and financial literacy proposal, especially regarding sale of the city-owned Bierstadt paintings as a funding source.

"It has been said that a politician plans for the next election, but a statesman plans for the next generation," Mapp said at Monday's City Council meeting.

Mapp first announced the Plainfield Promise in his State of the City Address on Feb. 9, tracing his own educational journey and suggesting a $500 bank account for every kindergartner to foster financial literacy, as well as tuition for college-eligible students who can't afford to pay on their own.

But when Plaintalker sought details, Mapp declined, saying only the plan was modeled on "Oakland Promise." 

Last week, multiple news articles revealed that Mapp was seeking a court ruling on whether the city could sell the Bierstadt paintings, deemed to be worth millions but given to the city by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles with terms precluding sale, according to several past city attorneys. On Friday, Mapp explained more about his intentions in his weekly newsletter to residents, but his remarks Monday apparently mean the matter must now wait on the outcome of the commission's study.

In public comment Monday, Dr. Harold Yood said he was "very happy" to hear Mapp was appointing a commission, but said after reading Mapp's explanation in the newsletter  he was "now more strongly convinced" that it was not in Plainfield's best interest. Yood questioned the cost, the projected contribution of JFK Health System and why, if one painting has been deemed to have racist overtones, a copy will be made and hung for public view.

Mapp is seeking re-election to a second term as mayor and critics, including supporters of other candidates,  have called Plainfield Promise a ploy. In his remarks Monday, Mapp seemed to be setting the proposal apart, saying the coming election is important for the city.

"Whoever is elected will have an impact on the next generation," he said, but added "we cannot fail our children" by focusing on short term things such as the next election.

So far, Mapp, Councilwoman Bridget Rivers and former Councilwoman Tracey Brown have announced they will run for the four-year mayoral term. All are Democrats, pointing to a primary contest on June 6. Mustapha Muhammad has indicated he plans to file as an independent on June 6 and if so, he will be on the Nov. 7 ballot with the Democratic primary winner. No Republicans or other independents have announced campaigns. Party members must file on April 3 to run in the primary and independents file on June 6.

--Bernice

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Council Relocates, Overlaps Town Meeting

Monday's City Council agenda-fixing session has been relocated to Municipal Court, perhaps in anticipation of another crowd for and against the taxi towing penalty ordinance. The 7:30 p.m. meeting also overlaps a 6 p.m. Town Hall with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman at the Senior Center, 400 E. Front St.

Interested citizens will have to choose or split their time.

The taxi ordinance is moving toward final passage on March 13. City-licensed taxi drivers object to incursions by out-of-town taxis and have already successfully lobbied for increased fines for unlicensed taxis picking up fares in Plainfield. The new amendment adds police power to order an out-of-town taxi towed, with owners liable for any towing and storage costs.

Opponents include owners, drivers and family members of two North Plainfield taxi companies. In public comment, they have alleged their service is more reliable and responsive than city taxis and that the ordinance  will take food off the tables of Plainfield residents who work for the out-of-town companies. They say they cannot get city licenses, as none are available.

Other important matters that the council may move to the March 13 meeting for a vote are introduction of the 2017 municipal budget, appointments to the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, and final passage of a bond ordinance for road repairs.

Since news of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's move to see whether city-owned paintings by Albert Bierstadt can be sold, some residents are planning to raise objections in the public portion of the council meeting. If they can be sold, Mapp wants to use the proceeds to fund "Plainfield Promise," a scholarship and financial literacy program for students.

In his weekly newsletter to residents, Mapp included FAQs on Plainfield Promise:
Q. What is Plainfield Promise?
A. The Plainfield Promise represents Mayor Mapp's multi-faceted plan of action to help prepare our children and young adults for tomorrow. The plan of action eliminates finances as a reason for not pursuing higher education; provides job skills and vocational training opportunities; and stimulates financial literacy of our youngsters and their families, including as an incentive a savings account for each and every Plainfield child entering kindergarten and remaining a resident of Plainfield through his/her graduation from high school;

Q. How will Plainfield Promise be funded

A. Plainfield Promise will be financed from various sources, which include proceeds from the sale of City owned artwork and donations from City partners, educational institutions, and philanthropic organizations.

Q. What artwork will be sold and why is the City selling them
A. There are two Bierstadt paintings which were donated to the City in 1919 by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles of Scotch Plains in memory of his father, Abraham Coles. "The Landing of Columbus in San Salvador" and the "Autumn in the Sierras." The City's continued ownership of the paintings has become impractical as social conditions and perceptions have impaired the usefulness and benefit of the gift to the citizens of Plainfield. The painting entitled "The Landing of Columbus" is controversial and offensive in nature as it portrays Columbus disembarking from his boat with a group of his companions, as Native Americans kneel and appear to be bowing and worshipping Columbus.
In 2001, a New York Times art critic documented the City's struggle with the racist implications of the painting.
It is felt that the value of educating children far outweighs the continued ownership of the paintings.

Q. How long will the Plainfield Promise be around?
A. The intent is to fund Trust Accounts for the College Savings Accounts, College Scholarships and Vocational and Job Training initiatives which will exist for at least 20 years each. The creation of an endowment fund is also under consideration for the College Scholarships.
The income earned from the remaining balance would be made available annually in support of civic, social and cultural initiatives in the City, but the principal will remain in perpetuity. Any administrative and management costs associated with all the initiatives will be covered by the Trusts.

Q. Who are some of the partners supporting Plainfield Promise?
A. JFK Health System will soon be announcing its support of the Plainfield Promise by providing scholarships to the Snyder Schools of Nursing and Allied Health. We are currently engaging with other parties but are still negotiating the level of their financial commitment.
Several announcements in support of the Plainfield Promise are anticipated in the near future.

Q. Will there be replacements for the art that is sold?
A. If the sale of the artwork is approved, all the accounts will be named after the Coles Family from Scotch Plains, and full-sized copies of the paintings made and hung in their respective places in the Courtroom, or at the Plainfield Public Library

Q. How will the Trusts be managed?
A. A Dedication by Rider Trust account will be initially created in order to receive funds. The Trusts will be administered by outside entities. A third party financial agency in conjunction with the bank. At no time will the City have any access to these funds for any purpose other than that for which the Trusts were established.

Q. How will Plainfield Promise impact our taxes?
A. Plainfield Promise will have no impact whatsoever on Plainfield residents taxes. As mentioned above all the funding will come from sale of artwork and contributions from partners and philanthropic organizations.

Q. Will the community be given an opportunity to voice its concern or support for the proposed sale?
A. Yes! If the Superior Court grants permission to sell the two paintings, the community will be given an opportunity to provide input during a public forum or via the City's website.


Hikes, Not Bikes in Watchung Reservation

On Tuesday, hikers will speak out on a plan to allow mountain bikers in the currently tranquil Watchung Reservation.

The Union County Department of Parks & Recreation will present the Watchung Reservation Trails Master Plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Trailside Nature & Science Center, 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside. Thirteen and a half miles of new trails restricted to mountain biking will be constructed. Portions of the Sierra Trail and other existing trails will be shared with mountain biking.

Not knowing a lot about mountain biking, I just viewed a video on bikemag.com and I can see how it is incompatible with hiking on foot and nature study. Mountain biking emphasizes speed and high-impact tricks that are the polar opposite of the hiking experience.

Our own Billy Toth often shares his hiking experiences on Facebook, showing beautiful vistas from parks around Central Jersey, including many from the Watchung Reservation. He is quoted extensively in the Courier News today in a front-page, A-1 over-the-fold story that lays out the hikers' specific case against mountain bike use in the Reservation.

If you agree with him, give your input at Tuesday's meeting or let your Union County freeholders know how you feel about having mountain bikes being permitted in the Watchung Reservation. The news article notes that when given a chance in 1995-96, "reckless wheelers blew the opportunity because they frightened hikers and horses with sudden approaches and didn’t work to maintain the trails."

The article states that other nearby counties have mountain bike trails, so fans of the sport do have choices. Must the Watchung Reservation be despoiled for the sake of this raucous sport? I personally share Billy Toth's reverence for the natural world and agree that mountain biking is incompatible with hiking and nature study.

--Bernice

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Muhlenberg, More From Joint Land Use Meeting


Residents who turned out for a joint meeting of land use boards Saturday heard that a "medical mall" will be part of Muhlenberg's redevelopment and that the developer will require some medical care-related housing on the shuttered hospital site.

The three-hour session also revealed concerns about group homes in historic districts and the news that the city currently has 67 projects in various stages of development.

Regarding the 10-acre Muhlenberg campus, residents will have their say at open public meetings on plans as the project progresses through many stages. Heyer, Gruel & Associates, a Red Bank firm that conducted a city-funded study of the site in 2014, will be writing the redevelopment plan, officials said. Residents in 2014 vehemently opposed any type of residential use on the site, which is surrounded by a neighborhood of 1- and 2-family homes.

One group home concern was about  Abbott Manor in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. Owner Andre Yates received Historic Preservation Commission approvals in 2012 for a new roof on the former nursing home and has since conducted a fundraising campaign for a veterans' home.
According to HPC Chairman William Michelson, the roof has not yet been repaired. Among general concerns with group homes were the types of needs to be met and impact on districts. Michelson said as boards hear applications for such uses, residents must attend and express their views.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp praised members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, HPC and Shade Tree Commission for their voluntarism. (Information on all the boards, including members and schedules, may be seen at the Planning Division link.)

Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez described his efforts since 2014 to make Plainfield more welcoming to developers, noting 19 new developments completed in the past year. He said another task is getting more residents to use the downtown.

--Bernice


Friday, March 3, 2017

Sign Your &*#@ Name!

Dear Anonymouses, 

Some Big Boys want you to sign your full name to comments on my blog!

Now, I have been lenient with Anonymice unless they say bad words or call names. At this time I am also holding a great many unsigned comments. Unfortunately, this has led to Timothy overload - two, count 'em, two Timothys are dominating the comments. 

Throw off your cloaks, Anonymous ones, and declare yourselves! You have a lot to say - own it! Or will you just cede to the Timothys?

Update - Anonymouses who apparently have city jobs and fear retribution if they use their real names are now calling me a sell-out to the administration!

Study of Fire Division Sought

A legal notice in today's newspaper asks for proposals to conduct an "operational audit" of the Fire Division. Here is an excerpt:


The City of Plainfield is seeking a qualified consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of the Plainfield Fire Division. The intent of this engagement is to perform an independent study for the purpose of identifying changes to the practices and organizational structure of the Fire Division in order to reduce costs and/or improve service without affecting public safety. We are seeking to identify areas for improvement and looking for recommendations to the Administration based on benchmarks and best practices as well as suggestions for an implementation strategy.


The full text can be seen by going to njpublicnotices.com and putting "Fire Division" in the search box.

See more about the Fire Division on the city web site.


I do not recall any previous study of the Fire Division, though the Police Division is undergoing a multi-year study for accreditation by the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police.

Plainfield lost its own police chief title in 2008, when it was abolished in favor of the title of police director. The director is also the head of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety, which includes the Police and Fire divisions, in effect reporting to himself.

Fire Chief Frank Tidwell took office in 2011. 

In 2016, 60 percent of the $79.4 million city budget went to Police and Fire divisions, so optimum functioning of their operations is certainly a concern.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Go High" in 2017

On my love/hate meter for blogging, the needle is currently veering to "hate," as the comments get ugly.

This happens before every primary, but even after 16 years of reporting and more than 11 years of blogging, the virulence still catches me off guard. I declined to post many recent comments because they contained vulgar language or were otherwise unprintable. One tried to use my blog to promote a notorious troll who gears up before primaries and just spouts venom.

Please, people, make your points without calling names. I think the issue in 2017 is how well a candidate is committed to delivering responsible municipal government, because I feel local government will be under attack from state and federal levels soon. It is a time for resolve, not drama. There is plenty of that from above.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sell the Bierstadts?

Well! While I was having a relapse of my late-winter cold, I came across Jenn Popper's news story on possible sale of the Bierstadt paintings. First I thought she had a scoop, but then I found out the Courier News and Queen City Pride also posted the press release online.

It seems Mayor Adrian O. Mapp wants to sell them and use the proceeds to launch "Plainfield Promise," a scholarship and financial literacy program for students. The idea of selling them goes way back, but city attorneys have always said terms of the gift by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles in 1919 prevented a sale.

For many years, Columbus Day in Plainfield brought out friends and foes of the painting that shows the explorer landing in San Salvador and being greeted by kneeling indigenous people. Resident Kay Cotignola went to extremes to stick up for Italian heritage, while Rasheed Abdul-Haqq repeated his distaste for what he saw as a racist encounter. See Plaintalker's 2005 post "Columbus Day in Plainfield." Both protagonists are now deceased, and the subject has seldom come up again.

Mapp wants to start a trust called "Plainfield Promise" that will include establishment of a bank account for every child entering the school district and financial aid for eligible college students who cannot afford tuition.
He mentioned it in his State of the City Address in February and I asked for more information, but was told it was not ready yet. See my Commentary on Plainfield Promise
.
There is a sort of precedent for scholarships in the Adele DeLeeuw fund established with $1 million the late Plainfield author earned. Plainfield Promise has many hurdles to cross before becoming real, so let's wait and see what the court says first.

--Bernice

Joint Meeting Saturday on Land Use

Four city land use boards will meet Saturday to share information and common concerns.

The meeting is from 9 a.m. to noon in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. and will include the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Historic Preservation and Shade Tree Commission. A legal notice says the purpose is to review the master plan, land use regulations, development proposals and the roles of the boards. Agenda items of high interest are the status of the former Muhlenberg Hospital tract and the status of a 212-unit, $50 million development project on South Avenue.

The agenda kicks off with a welcome from Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and remarks by Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez and Public Works & Urban Development Director Oren K. Dabney. Chairmen of each board will give brief opening remarks before a discussion of ongoing planning and zoning initiatives including a reexamination of the Master Plan and what's coming in redevelopment.

Guests will be Michael Bange, Manager Operations of New Jersey American Water; Sheridan Balmeo, Regional Public Affairs Manager of  of Public Service Electric & Gas; Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority Executive Director Daniel Mejias; and Housing Authority of Plainfield Executive Director Randall Wood.

Topics for an open discussion for board members and the public include board jurisdiction, group homes/historic districts, the annual ZBA report and future planning and zoning initiatives.

Issues of mutual concern among the boards and commissions are listed as "information on city web site - current, additions, public notices" and "Social Media - prior to, during and after meetings." Regarding public notices, Gov. Chris Christie has suggested doing away with paid legal notices in newspapers in favor of posting online, a concept that newspapers have vigorously challenged. As for social media use around land use meetings, hearings usually are matters of legal record, which would seem to preclude any offline exchanges. Both topics represent new challenges related to technology..

--Bernice