Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Instant Reaction

Interesting that a blog post published technically at one hour received a response within seconds of its actual appearance at quite a different hour.

Somehow I have not yet figured out how to have the publication date match the posting date. Probably due to my technical ineptitude.

As for the content, the fine points remain to be seen.


Emergency Council Meeting Thursday

Image: Liberty of London piggy bank. Happy New Fiscal Year!

The City Council will hold a special emergency meeting Thursday (July 1, 2010) at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library.

The meeting is being held to adopt a resolution "authorizing approval for transfers between the State Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations of the general Fund of the City of Plainfield."

As presented at the June 21 council meeting, the resolution calls for transfer of a total of $690,200. The biggest item to be reduced is $340,000 in employee benefits. Another $130,000 in salary and wages is to be taken from the Division of Public Works. Items to be increased are workers' compensation for $275,000 and police salary and wages for $200,000.

The council deferred the item to Monday's (June 28) special meeting in order to seek ways to shift some funding to the Plainfield Public Library, but it was not on Monday's agenda. The special emergency meeting was announced today.

At the June 21 meeting, Library Director Joe Da Rold gave a presentation detailing the harm that proposed cuts could do to library operations. The library already had its budget cut by $300,000 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year to $1.556 million, resulting in cutbacks in hours and staffing. If continued in the FY 2011 year, the ongoing reductions would force layoff of six fulltime employees and eight part-time employees, eliminate on of two custodians and demote two fulltime employees.

(Note: The cuts only kicked in after the FY 2010 budget was passed on Feb. 16. If maintained, the cuts will affect the full fiscal year beginning July 1.)

Based on talks with the city administrator, Da Rold said, a likely scenario for FY 2011 is reduction of library funds to their legal minimum, about $1.2 million. That amount would eliminate 12 of 19 fulltime employees,6 of 12 part-time employees, cause closing at 5 p.m. every day, close Literacy and Local History programs and make the library unavailable for community meetings or programs, among other effects.

Da Rold called for a restored $1.9 million budget in FY 2011, which would still have some repercussions.

Da Rold said on June 21 there was "a movement afoot to disenfranchise the library from city government" by the administration. After his presentation, numerous people testified on the need for the library and its value to the community. But Councilman Adrian Mapp insisted the governing body had the right to restore funding.

The split over the library as a priority is one of several bones of contention between the council and administration recently. A four-hour retreat including both sides was held Monday afternoon in an effort to air the differences.

--Bernice Paglia

Tunnel: An Opportunity for PMUA?

At Monday's special meeting, Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority Executive Director Eric Watson made a passing reference to the "tunnel dig" as a possible revenue enhancer. Watson was responding to council questions about the authority's long-awaited expansion to providing solid waste services to other municipalities.

For the past 15 years, PMUA has provided solid waste and sewer services to Plainfield through an interlocal services agreement. Since its early days, there has been mention of increasing the authority's income by contracting with nearby municipalities for various services. Watson said Monday the authority is working with six other municipalities on such arrangements, but could give no details as agreements were in negotiation.

The "tunnel dig" is a whole other story.

This massive project is expected to double rail capacity for NJ Transit and Amtrak lines into New York City and is estimated to cost $8.7 billion. Local entrepreneur Malcolm Dunn was tapped early on as a consultant for the project, and he and son Jeffery have created a web site on the project with the aim of educating prospective contractors to the opportunities of participating in the project.

So what role might a local solid waste and sewer authority play in this venture? Plaintalker understands that there will be a great need for removal and disposal of soil as construction proceeds. Obviously, this would be a new venture for PMUA outside its original mission.

When and if this opportunity comes about, the City Council and all interested citizens should be given an explanation of how it will affect the authority's bottom line and what impact it might have on local ratepayers. The same goes for any new solid waste contracts.

This should be an update question for the next joint meeting of PMUA and the governing body, tentatively scheduled for September.

--Bernice Paglia

Heat is Exhausting

The recent spate of days with temperatures over 90 degrees has worn out this senior.

This trend began back in April, with a record-breaking hot day. State Climatologist David Robinson detailed the unusual heat in April and May in his report on Spring 2010 weather. I can't wait to hear what he will report for June.

Up until recently, July was the month where stretches of 90 degree weather prompted health warnings and setting up of "cooling centers." It is definitely a challenge to carry out daily activities on extremely hot, humid days without air conditioning.

As I write, it is still about 84 degrees in the room, but down to 70 degrees with cool breezes on the former sleeping porch that was enclosed sometime after the 1976 revaluation. Thank heavens for the porch!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trees Are Ungirdled

Thanks again to Michael Townley, Signal Bureau, John Louise and anyone else who helped get the banner cables removed from trees at Park & Sixth. We hope the trees will heal in time.

Across the street, the cables seem to be cut but still embedded in the trunk.
The current banner at this high-traffic spot advertises the Fourth of July celebration. This year, fireworks will begin at 9:30 p.m. July 2 in Cedar Brook Park. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. on July 3. The route is along East Front street to the Park-Madison plaza.

Council, PMUA Meet on Goals

Monday (June 28) was overloaded with events, as Mark Spivey noted in his Courier News report.

There was the 1 to 5 p.m. City Council retreat, the 6:30 p.m. rally at City Hall Library to confront gun violence, the 7 p.m. special City Council meeting and the special Board of Education meeting at 8 p.m.

Plaintalker arrived at City Hall in time to find a large crowd preventing entrance to the library and left coverage of the rally to Mark.

The council meeting began late at 7:38 p.m. in City Hall Library with a discussion of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority’s actions since a joint meeting with the City Council about a year ago. For the last 15 years, the authority has provided solid waste and sewer services to the city through an interlocal services agreement. But last year, a citizen group challenged a number of the authority’s practices and the governing body has sought to call the authority to account for its perceived faults.

The first thing PMUA Commissioner and Chairman Harold Mitchell did Monday was to dramatically present City Administrator Bibi Taylor with a check for $1.5 million dollars, which Taylor said represented the Authority’s typical budget contribution for revenue sharing toward the end of the fiscal year.

PMUA attorney Leslie London then went into a lengthy account of the authority’s accomplishments over the past year, including several reductions in charges. But in addition, she noted many costs associated with the citizen litigation and the impact of having to provide services to apartment buildings owned by Connolly Properties without compensation while the landlord faced foreclosures, bankruptcy and property auctions. About $950,000 is still owed to PMUA, she said.

City Council President Annie McWilliams and others sought to receive factual updates on goals from last year, and found some lacking, specifically proof of the rationale for certain PMUA charges. But PMUA officials said outside experts had verified typical charges for trash pickup and disposal rates.

While many of the changes sought by the citizen group “Dump PMUA” were met, the authority claimed they were voluntary, such as rollbacks of fines for containers left out past a deadline or for lids left open. A judge had dismissed all of the Dump PMUA claims except for the issue of shared services, where ratepayers are assessed a charge for cleaning parks, municipal buildings and other places used by the general public. On that issue, Judge Karen M. Cassidy ruled in favor of the PMUA, London said.

But speakers Monday still probed the cost. In public comment, Philip Charles, leader of the Dump PMUA movement, asked why ratepayers are assessed $4 million for shared services and why the service cannot be let out for bids. On the latter, London said it is simply part of the city’s agreement with the authority and as for the cost, she said, it was borne out in an analysis by outside experts.

Even though strict new PMUA policies have reduced spending on travel, Charles still challenged bills for recent trips, flowers and meals, saying, “It’s like a piggy bank.”

Resident Bill Kruse called for reduction of PMUA commissioners from five to three to save money, but London said five commissioners are required by statute and the board can also have two alternates. At present, the PMUA board has four holdovers, another point of contention. McWilliams urged the administration to make appointments as soon as possible.

James Pivnichny, a former mayoral candidate now running for the Second & Third Ward at-large council seat, blasted the authority for, in his opinion, giving the same performance as a year ago, namely “a lot of excuses and no indication of positive results” in addressing concerns. Pivnichny said he was “outraged” and called for the authority to be abolished.

While PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson was less defensive than at the previous joint meeting with the governing body, he still lashed out after public comment.

“I can’t respond to rhetoric,” Watson said. “To set up and hear a lot of folks yell and scream - I can’t respond.”

But McWilliams summed up the outstanding issues raised by the council and public – including rolling some costs into tax bills, seeking outside municipal clients for solid waste services, naming a “point person” each for the city and authority to share information, increasing transparency on the authority’s web site – and called for a follow-up meeting in September.

Also on Monday’s agenda, the council approved 23 liquor licenses, but will require hearings on three and declined approval on several others.

End-of-year budget transfers were also on the agenda, but the council decided to let the resolution on transfers die in favor of proposing action on a revised resolution to be acted on at a July 1 special meeting. The administration has held that no changes are possible in the transfers, but the governing body wants revisions. There was some confusion Monday over procedure, with McWilliams saying the council had expected the administration to come back with changes Monday. Councilman Adrian Mapp, who had called for the proposed resolution to be tabled “indefinitely,” said he would entertain a modified version, but alleged the administration was “drawing a line in the sand.”

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson countered by saying both sides had drawn a line in the sand.

The council and administration held a joint retreat Monday afternoon to increase collegiality in addressing city issues and will hold another one Wednesday.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 28, 2010

Garden Cuties

A volunteer purple petunia showed up to join the Thunbergia. Some portulaca plants also turned up in the pot, promising more color as they open. My neighbor and I used some of my 60 gallons of sifted compost to fill up plant containers this season, and because the compost pile did not get hot enough to kill seeds, we have these little serendipities happening.

Whatever else is going on in the world, I can count on the garden to provide cheery surprises.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Monday Council Meeting

Random image: Daylilies
So far, no agenda for Monday's meeting has appeared online on the city web site. So here is Plaintalker's take on the meeting.
The part about liquor license renewals could involve anywhere from two to three dozen license renewals, depending how many have met all the requirements. Besides needing to pass a bunch of city inspections, bars and liquor stores must meet all state tax requirements. Each year, some need to follow through later with such details.
Those who don't get renewals by June 30 will need to get day-to-day interim license renewals to continue operating. This is an annual exercise.
The budget transfers might take less time to discuss and approve, although the issue of funding for the Plainfield Public Library may re-emerge. City officials previously resisted the council's notion that the budget transfers could be recast to benefit the library.
As for the joint meeting with the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, no format has been announced. It might be an update on whether City Council's past concerns have been addressed or whether there are more issues.
Plaintalker will attend and report on the council meeting. Still pondering the worth of going to the 1 to 5 p.m. retreat, also at the City Hall Library.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fun Saturday, More Next Weekend

I posted a slide show below from the Special Improvement District event on Front Street between Park and Watchung. Move your cursor to the image to see captions.

Next week, there will be a two-day fiesta on July 3 and 4 in Municipal Lots 8 and 8A north behind stores on the same block.

Don't forget, the city's fireworks will be on July 2 starting at 9:30 in Cedar Brook Park and the parade is on July 3, starting at 10 a.m. on East Front Street.

Happy Independence Day to all!


Downtown Block Party

A Plea to the Signal Bureau

A favorite spot for banners announcing city events is Park Avenue and Sixth Street. Plaintalker happened to look up at that location recently and noticed that a large Sycamore or Plane tree is girdled by old wires or ropes from past banners. Maybe the next time the bucket truck is on site, these old ties can be removed. Just speakin' for the trees.


City, Paramount Need to Talk

A popular downtown business has moved out of town, citing difficulties with its landlord, Paramount Assets.

The reason is spelled out in a large sign in the now-vacant storefront, one of many owned by the company that purchased all 45 storefronts formerly owned by the Pittis Estate for many decades. City residents knew Graphix One Vice president Jeffrey Yingling not only as a businessman, but a good corporate citizen who recently spearheaded a drive to help the Plainfield Rescue Squad. That makes it a double loss to the city.

Yingling was frank about his company's need to relocate, citing the reason in an interview with Courier News reporter Mark Spivey:

"Yingling attributed the move to a string of what he said were unpleasant experiences with Paramount Assets, the real-estate firm that owns Graphix One's former Park Avenue property and many others in the city's downtown business district."

But since Paramount's acquisition of the bulk of commercial real estate downtown, several other businesses have quietly folded or moved when faced with tripled rent. As leases expire, more business owners will have to decide whether to stay or go.

Paramount's advent into Plainfield roughly paralleled Connnolly Properties' acquisition of much of the city's multi-family residential real estate. Over the past year, headlines have tracked Connolly's troubles with managing the residential portfolio. Paramount has not garnered as much attention to its commercial holdings, but maybe a closer look is warranted.

Any time one entity acquires so much real estate in a municipality, economic health must become a shared concern. The city can't tell a company how to run its business, but officials can set forth some hopes and expectations for partnership in the city's future. Business attraction and retention is a key factor in a viable downtown. Instances such as Graphix One's departure point to the need for better communication with Paramount for the overall good of the city.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 25, 2010

Meeting Location Clarified

City Council President
Annie McWilliams
has confirmed that
Monday's special meeting
will be
7 p.m. at City Hall Library,
not at the Plainfield Public Library.

A public notice issued by the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority erroneously stated the location as the public library.


Meeting Confusion

Advocates of reform to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority have alerted residents to this meeting notice:

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the "Authority") has scheduled a Special Meeting for Monday,
June 28, 2010, 7:00 p.m. at the Plainfield Library, Park Avenue and 8th Street,
Plainfield, New Jersey:
This is a Special Joint
Meeting with the City Council for the purpose of discussing PMUA operations.
Eric C. Watson,
Executive Director
DATED: June 22, 2010
($9.68) 163166

Meanwhile, this notice has also been published:


7:00 P.M.
JUNE 21, 2010.
($52.56) 163320

So what is the public to believe? Today is Friday. It may be too late to correct whichever of these notices is wrong. Some folks are bound to wind up at the wrong place. Plaintalker will attempt to get the facts, but publication on a blog is not a proper legal notice.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer: Two Views

Summer is now official in West Seattle, where the temperature broke 75 yesterday.

And then we have New Jersey, which may have to start a siesta program with all these 90-plus degree days. Our yard thermometer registered 100 in the shade earlier this afternoon.

Not having any fixed schedule, the cat and I have in fact instituted siestas as the only way to get through until night cools things off. I'm glad I am no longer working in a newsroom kept at 60 degrees in the summer, then out to the car which was 113 degrees inside, and off to an assignment under the broiling sun.

Today I did yardwork and errands early and then dozed off in breezes on the 10-window porch. An overcast sky prevented the porch from heating up in the late afternoon as it usually does. Then, the only respite is from a fan in the front room, or maybe sitting in the shade outside or shopping somewhere air-conditioned.

Even seniors who have their own air conditioners tend to tough it out rather than run up the electric bill.

Of course, we seniors grew up in the days before such amenities anyway. And men were expected to wear suits no matter what the weather, while women suffered wearing girdles and pantyhose under their dresses.

Hmm. Maybe a little heat won't hurt us after all, now that the dress code is long gone.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Special Meeting June 28

The proposed June 28 special meeting promises to be chock-full of items, if discussion so far is to be believed.

Ostensibly to be devoted to the annual approval of liquor licenses, the meeting will also include a discussion with representatives of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority as well as a possible reconsideration of a resolution asking state intercession to get a certified finance officer.

Budget transfers may also be on the agenda, as council members questioned why money could not be restored to the Plainfield Public Library rather than to other entities.

Details of the meeting have not yet been announced.

Regarding liquor licenses, the city has more than 30 venues where alcohol may be purchased or consumed, far in excess of a state formula passed several years ago. Because the sites predate the state legislation, they are considered to be “grandfathered” and not subject to the formula. This situation has raised many questions from residents who feel that the profusion of alcohol-related businesses contribute to public intoxication and other nuisances.

Each venue is subject to investigation by the Plainfield Police Division for infractions and must also prove that owners have satisfied state tax sales requirements and other regulations.

The format of the PMUA discussion is not known at this time. The authority has come under fire for certain charges to property owners as well as travel and conference expenses, some of which have been curbed since public outcry by a watchdog group, DumpPMUA.

As details emerge, Plaintalker will report to the readers.

--Bernice Paglia

New Garden Fave

I have wanted to try growing Thunbergia for some time. When my neighbor wanted to plant fava beans, I found Thunbergia in the same seed catalogue. I planted some in one of those green hanging bags and more in a hanging pot. This week, we saw the first flowers. It is also called Black-Eyed Susan Vine, though it is in a totally different family from the composite Black-Eyed Susans.

The first flowers were yellow, but some orange ones are coming. This is a cheerful-looking plant that is quite decorative. Click here to learn more about Thunbergia.

"Luxury Condos" Rehab Approved

A City Council vote Monday set the stage for rehabilitation of the former Mirons furniture warehouse for condo development.

The building had been part of the North Avenue Redevelopment Plan and was slated for much more ambitious construction, but the economic times being what they are, the developer sought to rehabilitate it instead. Click here for an earlier Plaintalker post on the subject.

The building gained the nickname "luxury condos" from a prior development proposal which failed. It is now owned by a subsidiary of Landmark Development.
There are several other Landmark acquisitions within the North Avenue and North Avenue Extension development areas. The administration of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams placed economic development activities under the deputy city administrator, but since 2006 the director of Public Works and Urban Development has been in charge. From 2006 through 2009, Jennifer Wenson Maier was the department head, but was not reappointed. Readers may recall that the new appointee, David Brown II, did not come on board when Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs began her second term on Jan. 1 of this year. Instead, Wenson Maier stayed on until taking a job in Hoboken. Brown had not been expected until April 1, but took office in early February.
By now, Brown has had time to become familiar with the state of various proposed projects in the city. Perhaps at a future City Council meeting, he can provide the governing body and the public with an update on economic development. Or alternatively he could meet with the council's new Economic & Committee Development Committee and the committee can report to the council and public.
At one time in Robinson-Briggs' first term, there were a dozen or more economic development proposals in the works. Many have fallen by the wayside, but those remaining deserve close attention. Another committee, Administration & Finance, has suggested that the city return to the model of having a deputy city administrator in charge of economic development. The post has been vacant since the end of 2005.
--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SID Block Party Saturday

I am departing from my policy of not posting event notices for this item as submitted:


The Second Annual Downtown Plainfield Block Party will fill E. Front Street between Park and Watchung Avenues this Saturday, June 26, 11 am - 6 pm, with international entertainment and more than 20 vendors. Sponsored by the Plainfield Special Improvement District (SID), this free event will feature Latino music and dancers, a car-and-bike show, and local vendors. The vice consul of Ecuador is also expected to attend.

Rain date for the event is Saturday, July 10.

The Plainfield SID represents more than 800 businesses and commercial property owners in downtown Plainfield and South Avenue.

For more information, individuals may call the SID office at 908-756-1088.

Hispanic Affairs Commission Formed

More than a dozen people held up blue placards reading "Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs" at Monday's City Council meeting before the governing body voted approval of five appointees.

Norman E. Ortega, Edgar Freire, Doris Cera, Silvana Mullen and Darwin Rosario are the first members of the commission, which was created by legislation in 2005.

The governing body also named Councilwoman Linda Carter as council liaison to the commission, leaving only one more seat, that of a mayoral designee, to be filled.

Click here to read Plaintalker's previous post on duties of the commission.

Of the five members, two were listed as living at an East Front Street address and two more at a West Eighth Street address. Freire said Monday he lives on Grant Avenue, not at the East Front Street address. Cera and Mullen are mother and daughter, both living at the West Eighth address.

The launch of the commission was not without controversy, as Ortega in a comment to Plaintalker's earlier post claimed that its formation was opposed by community activists Maria Pellum and Christian Estevez. Both objected to the characterization. In addition, Ortega's comment that the commission was opposed by "old and new Democrats" drew a rebuttal from Rebecca Williams, campaign manager for numerous New Democrats and winner of the June primary for the Second and Third Ward at-large Democratic line. See all comments at the link above.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 21, 2010

Library Woes, CFO Search Dominate Meeting

Rifts between the governing body and the administration were evident Monday over two main issues, one being the viability of the Plainfield Public Library and the other being the city's fiscal health without a chief finance officer or a director of Administration & Finance.

Plainfield Public Library Director Joe Da Rold said there was a "movement afoot to disenfranchise the library from city government," addressing the City Council at Monday's meeting. Da Rold presented three scenarios, one in which the library had its budget restored for the 2010-11 budget year, which would still result in some reductions in service. The second scenario, funding at the current reduced level, would result in curtailed hours, layoff of six full-time and eight part-time employees.

Finally, the scenario involving the legal minimum funding for the library, which the administration advocates, would put funding at levels that would have "catastrophic" results on library service, decimating staff, closing departments and reducing access to the library for workers and students. Twelve of 19 full-time employees would have to go, plus six of 12 part-time employees. Local History and Literacy programs would be closed.

Speakers found the current budget cuts cuts ironic in that Da Rold was named by his peers in the New Jersey Library Association as "Librarian of the Year" for 2010.

A parade of library advocates testified on the impact.

Inez Durham took the microphone to plead for "5,500 children" who have library cards, as well as many others who take part in library programs, including those in charter schools and pre-school programs.

Alisa Barnes of the Barack Obama Green Charter School noted the availability of conference rooms at the library for important community meetings.

Others testified on the importance of the library as a reference resource and a venue for literacy and English as a Second Language courses.

Rebecca Williams cited the "impact of the library on all our cultural lives," while several others called the library a "gem" of the community.

Although the library received cuts in the FY 2011 budget, Councilman Adrian Mapp insisted the governing body had the power to restore funding.

The issue may come back up at the June 28 special meeting. (Details to follow.)

Disclaimer: My son has held a part-time job at the library for 18 years.

The issue of not having a CFO since the end of 2007 prompted a council resolution calling for the state Department of Community Affairs to appoint one immediately, but the measure failed, 3-2, when put up for a vote. Council President Annie McWilliams and members Cory Storch and Adrian Mapp voted "yes," while Councilmen Rashid Burney and William Reid voted "no." Councilwoman Linda Carter joined the meeting minutes after the vote and Councilwoman Bridget Rivers was absent.

The city has had several state-imposed deadlines to come up with a CFO, the latest extension being to July 19. Burney said he recognized the need for a CFO, but was only willing to support the resolution after the deadline. But McWilliams suggested that the deadline might pass and another 90 days' extension would be granted unless the governing body took a stand.

"We need to take action and we need to press forward," she said before the vote, dismissing the administration's longtime claim that it is difficult to find a CFO. "We will be the ones that people will point a finger to if something goes wrong."

McWilliams' forceful comments drew applause, but Taylor said the administration flatly opposed the resolution, saying it usurps the mayor's power to make appointments.

Mapp, who holds a CFO certification, said he had discussions with the administration about taking the job, but insisted no job offer was ever made to him. Taylor pointed out that the mayor did bring forth a qualified candidate earlier, whom the council rejected.

Speaking in favor of the resolution, Mapp said, "We must make sure the house is in order - it has been out of order for some time."

McWilliams said she hoped to bring the resolution back in July if no one was appointed by the deadline. An employee who recently took the CFO certification test failed to qualify, according to the administration. Meanwhile, Burney called for a phone conference with DCA officials to discuss the problem.

Monday's meeting also included several other important matters, which Plaintalker will cover in upcoming posts.

--Bernice Paglia

How Could I Forget!

When my computer fell ill with a virus, one of the things that got scrubbed in the cure was my Favorites list on AOL. I had no record of the sites and my brain could only come up with certain ones.

Somehow over the weekend I remembered "Not Martha" and I couldn't believe how I could have forgotten it! The mental trauma of the computer crash must have been worse than I thought. I find this web site quite intriguing for the food, the crafts, the commentary on life and the general joie de vivre it represents. This web site is guaranteed to make you forget all your cares and go on a picnic.

Another thing I lost was my favorite photo editing program. The computer came back with a lot of other programs, but not the one I liked so much. People have suggested others, but those who recall how long it took me to set up a new monitor will understand my reluctance to plunge into (for me) unknown territory.

Now I am wondering what else I am missing. Let's see, I have the Boing Boing, Gannett Blog, all the local links - so what about Bent Objects? Paghat's Garden? Garden Rant? Ape Lad's Laugh Out Loud cats?

It's all coming back to me ...


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Remembering My Father

Robert Meriwether Fortune

June 13 would have been my late father's 98th birthday.

Plagued by heart attacks and other ills, he only lived to be 71.

He was father to me (named Bernice for his mother), my sister Jane, my brother Robert and sister Ellen. Jane was his favorite and she was heartbroken by his death. She died two years later, at the age of 47. Robert died suddenly at the age of 60.

My father was born and raised in the South and always retained the ways of a Southern gentleman, despite living many years in the North. He was courtly and believed in such maxims as "moderation in all things," although his fondness for Jack Daniels was an exception.

When we were little, my father would cook us a breakfast of "dippin' eggs" and toast on Sundays and then take us to the playground at Elmwood Park in East Orange, where we grew up.

My sometimes Southern accent is not contrived, but inherited from him.

He was a true company man, bringing home blueprints for his engineering work on weekends. It was sometimes hard to get his attention, absorbed as he was in his work. But as many executives found out in the wave of conglomerations in the late 1950s-early 1960s, loyalty meant nothing and acquisitions displaced lots of people with corporate titles.

Although he commuted before from East Orange by trolley to his job in Harrison, his new employment required using a car to travel the U.S. Mid-States to visit clients. It was with his newfound driving skill that we went to visit our relatives in Tennessee one summer. We got over being called "the Yankees" and even learned how to ask for a"cold dope" instead of a soda at the local store.

In retrospect, my father was striding two worlds and, I think, preferred the culture of the South over the North.

When we knew he was ill and he had expressed a wish to move back down South, my sister Jane and I conspired to overcome my mother's objections and get him there, even if it meant kidnapping him away from her. But it proved too late, as his illnesses took over and he died up North. We did travel as a family to scatter his ashes in the very small town where he was born in Tennessee.

Among his own siblings, Harry Noble Fortune was an attorney, James Herman Fortune became a chemical engineer, Mary Evelyn Fortune won honors as a worldwide social worker and Charlotte Bernice Fortune Hethmon was a pioneer in public television. Baby Billy died in infancy.

With the recent death of my Aunt Charlotte, all of my father's generation is gone.

My children and I will remember him as long as we live as a wonderful example of a father, sometimes flawed but always caring to the best of his ability. My siblings among ourselves called him "the old boy" and our children called him "granddaddy." May he rest in peace.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What's Up with ARRA?

Hearing President Barack Obama speak today about the stimulus program reaching 10,000 projects today made me wonder where Plainfield was fitting in.

City officials published a list of possible projects on the city web site a while ago, but there has been no update.

The list no longer appears on my link to the city web site, so what is going on?

Some of the city's listed projects were somewhat preposterous, but still, others might have been viable.

This writer has no knowledge of whether any specific project would succeed.

Is it possible that the administration needs to give an update or summary of ARRA proposals?

--Bernice Paglia

More on Hispanic Affairs Commission

On Monday, the City Council is expected to confirm five nominees to the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Legislation enacting formation of the commission was passed five years ago. Checking the language, Plaintalker found that in addition to the five residents (Norman Ortega, Doris Cera, Darwin Rosario, Silvana Mullen and Edgar Freire), there is supposed to be a council member and a mayoral represntative appointed as well. Too bad those appointments are not being made at the same time, so the commission can be fully operational after all these years.

From the Municipal Code:

The Commission shall consist of seven 7 members who are residents of
the city or serve as Chair of Plainfield-based Hispanic organizations that represent various Hispanic communities throughout the City. The Commission members shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council, consisting of one 1 Council member, one 1 representative of the Mayor, and five 5 members of the public. The Council appointee shall serve during his/her term of office and the Mayoral appointee shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor or until cessation of employment with the City, whichever first occurs. Public members shall serve for a term of four 4 years from the date of their appointment and until their successors are appointed and qualified; except the initial appointments hereunder shall serve staggered terms as follows: one 1 shall be for a term of one 1 year, two 2 for 2 years and two 2 for three 3 years.
MC 2005-09, April 18, 2005.

Among other provisions, the commission may submit a budget request of no more than $5,000.

The commission is charged with advising the mayor and council on the "needs, concerns, accomplishments and contributions of the Hispanic community as well as the impact of legislation or the lack thereof and its effect on the Hispanic community." In addition, the commission is supposed to "elicit input" from the Hispanic community by visiting community center, meeting with community leaders, attending and sposoring community meetings," among other actions.

The commission is expected to make an annual report to the mayor and council.

The commission is to work with city government to find ways of including Hispanics in policy-making positions; foster improved communication with the mayor, administration, council and Hispanic community, identify and analyze important issues and recommend strategies for responding to them; educate Hispanic residents about opportunities to serve and get involved in city boards and commissions. (Full text available under Boards and Commissions portion of Municipal Code on Rashid Burney's web site.)

Interestingly in this U.S. Census year, the ordinance states "This Commission shall dissolve itself a year after a U.S. Census Department reports that Plainfield's Hispanic population has risen to fortyfive 45% percent of the total Plainfleld population and a minimum of thirty-five percent 35% of the Plainfleld's registered voters are Hispanic."

Estimates of the percentage of Hispanics in Plainfield have ranged from 30 to 50 percent, based on such indicators as a recent incoming kindergarten class being 55 percent Hispanic. It is unclear how the percentage of registered voters would be analyzed. The Union County Board of Elections issues summaries of voter registration affiliations, but not breakdowns by ethnicity.

Now that the commission is finally being launched, Plaintalker extends wishes for success and will follow along as the commission's work begins.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Housing Regulations: Good or Bad?

"It's not only about the value of property, it's about the value of people who live there."

--Oscar Turk, Director of Inspections
A longstanding clash between those who favor strict regulation of the city's housing stock and those who want a more laissez-faire approach emerged again this week when Councilman Rashid Burney said, "I am suggesting we completely do away with the Certificate of Compliance ," and Inspections Director Oscar Turk testified passionately on the need for city oversight.
The city has already seen the repeal of the Safe Housing ordinance, which was intended to prevent overcrowding. Residents regularly come to the public microphone at City Council meetings to talk about houses where the number of cars outside indicate a lot more occupants than the two or three families allowed. As a reporter, I saw instances where a fire revealed that a home had not only a mom, dad and kids, but also a lot of other relatives bunking in. I also saw fire scenes where the illegal use of attic or basement space led to deaths.
For some background, see this 2005 Plaintalker post.
The special Safe Housing Inspections unit has long since been disbanded. The late Jocelyn Pringley won support in 1995 for the Certificate of Compliance program, which is now under fire by Burney. Turk's point at Monday's meeting was that external house inspections ordered by prospective home buyers do not address the actual living conditions inside the home. Must a tenant put up with dangerous electrical flaws, bad plumbing, faulty radiators? Should a buyer find out only after the sale that chronic leaks exist?
I would recommend to any prospective buyer that a peek inside the Inspections folder for the property be taken before purchase. Get an Open Public Records Act from from the City Clerk and then take it to Inspections on the third floor of City Hall and ask to see the folder. There was once a property on my block where a resident who tried to take a bath was subject to possible electrocution due to a combination of bad plumbing and electrical connections, as described in the folder for that property.
A lot of the property code violations in Plainfield are due to half-measures by previous owners or landlords who hire unqualified people to address plumbing, electrical or structural work. Under a past landlord, much work was done by those willing workers whose hiring hall is a downtown street corner, not a union venue for licensed tradespeople.
Although the Certificate of Compliance program is flawed in that either the buyer or seller must voluntarily request the review, it is still a valuable tool to maintain the viability of the city's housing stock. In the absence of major industrial or commercial development, the housing stock is still the city's main asset. Weakening oversight of its well-being, in Plaintalker's view, opens the door to exploitation to the benefit of outside investors who do not really care about how people have to live in its homes or rental properties.
--Bernice Paglia

July Fourth Notice Posted

The city has finally posted information on the July Fourth celebration on its web site. Click here for details.

According to Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn, there will be no grand marshal this year. Only 40 units will take part, down from about 60 last year.

Entrepreneur Edison Garcia, who is staging a two-day fiesta on July 3 and 4 downtown, was unaware that plans called for the parade to take place on July 3 when Plaintalker reached him Tuesday. He had arranged for a later start to the fiesta on July 4 to accommodate parade spectators parking in Municipal Lot 8, off Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue. Garcia said Tuesday he planned to check with city authorities to see whether he should have the later opening of his event on Saturday of the holiday weekend rather than Sunday.

Support for both the parade and the fiesta will involve city Police and Fire divisions, as well as Public Works and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. For the fireworks display in Cedar Brook Park on Friday, July 2, similar assistance will be needed as well as coordination with Union County authorities. The city will post an $8,350 cleanup bond to assure the county park is restored to normal conditions after the event.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

City Inspections Fast-Tracked

Responding to concerns of local realtors, the city’s Inspections Division has streamlined home sales approvals by cutting back turnaround times for reviews from two or three weeks to five or six days and by reducing the list of actionable items from 132 to 71, Director of Inspections Oscar Turk said Monday.

The city has two levels of review, one for a certificate of occupancy and one for a certificate of compliance. The former reflects state habitability guidelines, while the latter demands proof that a property or apartment meets the city’s property maintenance code.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Turk outlined recent changes in responsiveness by his department to facilitate sales in a climate of foreclosures and “short sales,” a situation in which a lender may accept less than the value of the property in order to ward off a foreclosure.

The City Council is currently considering an ordinance that would allow an exemption from the Certificate of Compliance for short sales, with the proviso that at the time of closing on a future sale the ordinance would be invoked.

Turk said such an exemption could be approved within two or three hours. The new property owners would then be responsible to bring the property up to code.

But while thanking Turk for his presentation, Councilman Rashid Burney called for elimination of the Certificate of Compliance ordinance, calling its enforcement “a poor allocation of our very limited tax dollars.”

“I am suggesting we completely do away with the Certificate of Compliance,” Burney said.

Turk responded by saying the city has a 60-40 percent ratio of rentals to ownership and said it was “extremely important” to maintain the city’s housing stock. The Certificate of Compliance ordinance came about in 1995, he said, against a backdrop of property “flipping,” in which properties exchanged hands without regard to regulations such as prohibitions on attic or basement apartments.

Although Burney insisted there were other factors in successful house sales, such as location and amenities, other council members raised issues of safety and other concerns.

Some members did not agree that a standard home inspection would suffice, because it only addressed exterior issues. Councilman Adrian Mapp said Inspections does not address the question of indoor safety.

Mapp called it a “very bad idea” that private inspections would take the place of Certificate of Compliance inspections.

The short sale ordinance and much other legislation will be up for a vote at the City Council meeting on June 21 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Little Katydids

This little katydid is well-camouflaged in the grass. It was only its hopping that alerted me to its presence.

Climbing onto a strand of Black Mondo Grass, the katydid is much more photogenic.

Its out-sized antennae and angular legs make it distinctive.

Even under a leaf, it is recognizable.

A chunkier cousin is climbing here on a coral bell stalk.

Oh dear! Guess what this ferocious-looking little spider is eating!

Weeding in the back yard always seems to be accompanied by some entrancing sights or even a little insect drama - a relief in a way from the human variety.


Expert Sees Bright Future for City

Urban redevelopment expert Richard Polton of Value Research Group said Monday Plainfield has assets that will blossom when coupled with an anticipated one-seat ride to Manhattan.

Polton is working with the city's visioning study group to shape the city's future in the 21st century. The city already has great architecture, a tradition and history of diversity and a level of sophistication in the community, all of which should be taken advantage of while awaiting transit development that will provide a one-seat trip to New York City, Polton told the City Council.

Opening up of the Raritan Valley Line within the coming decade could make Plainfield's housing market part of the regional market, he said, stressing the need for "great housing," based on home ownership or rentals. He urged the council to let the market decide.

"I'm suggesting you keep an open mind," he said.

Polton said downtown residential density could succeed through a "balanced approach" based on access, parking, neighborhood amenities, good architectural design and proper scale. Possible residents might include young couples, college graduates and empty-nesters.

To work, creation of a downtown community might require from 200 to 400 new residential units, he said. The most important thing is to "create the framework" for development, he said.

Asked by Councilman Adrian Mapp what the governing body should consider to help decisionmaking, Polton said if a developer proposes a self-financed project , city land use boards would say whether it meets the city's plans or not. Otherwise, the city might have to offer municipal land, tax abatements and other inducements, which he said was more likely to be the case.

When Councilman William Reid asked whether Polton had any idea when the city would attract developers, Polton said, "If I really knew, I wouldn't be sitting here, I would be out making tons of money."

Polton said he did not think the city would see development until the transit situation improves dramatically, targeting 2014 as the time when the one-seat ride may be realized.

The visioning process is ongoing. To learn more about its inception, go to the city's web site and scroll down to "New Vision for Plainfield. "

--Bernice Paglia

Parade Update

Image from past July Fourth parade.
Plainfield's July Fourth parade will step off at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 3, Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn said.
About 40 entries will take part, he said. The parade route begins at Johnston Avenue and proceeds along East Front Street to a reviewing stand at the Park-Madison plaza downtown.
A fireworks display will begin at 9:30 p.m. on July 2 in Cedar Brook Park.
Wynn said the details might be on the city's web site as early as today.
Nightclub owner Edison Garcia has already received approvals for a two-day Independence Day fiesta downtown on July 3 and 4, in Municipal Lot 8 north of stores between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue. Garcia's plans call for an all-day festival on Saturday, July 3 and a delayed start at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 4, to allow for the parade. Now that Wynn has revealed the schedule, adjustments may have to be made. Click here to read Plaintalker's post on the fiesta.
--Bernice Paglia

A Few Council Notes

Monday's City Council meeting started half an hour late and then went on for four and a half hours, producing more subject matter than this writer can do justice to at this hour.

Mark Spivey and I stayed on to the end, to see what the council would do with a proposed $5.5 million bond ordinance to purchase the YWCA. But the administration withdrew the ordinance without any explanation of why the city would consider such a purchase. It remains a mystery, unless Mark was able to pry out some more information from the administration after I left.

The baseball league controversy reared its head again, as speakers took half an hour to bemoan the contention between a city-run league and one operated by volunteers. The speakers were all in support of the Recreation Division program and targeted Councilman Adrian Mapp for previously suggesting the way to end the controversy was to revoke funding for the city program and privatize it.

Mapp had responded by saying the ballfields were for all kids, and that anytime an employee creates an atmosphere where kids can't play, the governing body must do something about it. Supporters of the volunteer Queen City Baseball League recently alleged they were barred from fields and otherwise inconvenienced. At the end of the evening Monday, the league's executive director, Karen Glencamp-Daniel, said problems are ongoing. Click here for a Plaintalker piece on the controversy.

A discussion item related to the proposed "short sale" exemption from Certificate of Compliance rules led to Councilman Rashid Burney calling for repeal of the entire Certificate of Compliance ordinance, which led to an impassioned response from Chief Code Enforcement Officer Oscar Turk on the need for the ordinance. More on this later.

That's about all I can cover right now at 3:35 a.m. (the time stamp may not be correct). I will have to continue writing in a few hours.


CFO Resolution Up for Vote June 21

A consensus of City Council members agreed to put a controversial resolution up for a vote next week, despite Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson's opinion that the governing body does not have the right to ask state intercession to get a chief finance officer.

The key city post has been vacant since December 2007. Although the state Division of Local Government Services has asked the mayor to meet a deadline for nomination of a permanent CFO, the city is now under a third extension to do so. The proposed resolution asks the Department of Community Affairs, of which LGS is a branch, to appoint a temporary certified municipal finance oficer immediately.

The lack of both a CFO and a director of Administration and Finance has led to growing concern about fiscal oversight.

Councilman Cory Storch said Monday Williamson's memo "missed the whole point" of the resolution. The council is not getting monthly finance reports and audit findings, he said.

"We're flying blind," Storch said. "To make an argument that we don't have authority completely misses the point."

But Councilman William Reid pointed out the current deadline to hire a CFO is July 19 and called the resolution "premature."

"Let July 19 run out and see what happens," Reid said.

If the deadline is not met, he said, the state may then take action.

Councilman Adrian Mapp echoed Storch's comment, saying the council was flying blind by not having a finance director and a CFO reporting to the director.

Past reasons for not getting a CFO include a scarcity of available candidates and not offering a sufficiently attractive pay scale. But Williamson said despite the council's intimation that the mayor was not seeking one, the governing body had rejected one candidate, and talks to hire Mapp, a certified CFO, did not pan out.

City Administrator Bibi Taylor, who is also the current acting director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services, told the council, "The mayor takes the responsibility to appoint very seriously."

Asked what the council could do to help the process, Taylor asked for "patience."

A city employee who holds CFO certification has been signing off on expenses, but Local Government Services told the city last year that there could not be an "acting" CFO. Williamson said the state also rejected a proposal to hire a firm to provide CFO services, because the CFO must be an employee. A city employee recently took the CFO test, he said, but results are not yet in.

"We've just been unlucky" in the quest for a CFO, he said, adding the mayor "takes umbrage" at suggestions she has not been looking.

Mapp, Storch and City Council President Annie McWilliams favored putting the resolution up for a vote next Monday, while Reid and Councilman Rashid Burney opposed it. Councilwoman Linda Carter spoke at length about the pros and cons of the situation and somewhat reluctantly agreed to move the resolution to Monday's agenda. Councilwoman Bridget Rivers was absent.

The regular meeting is 8 p.m. June 21 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 14, 2010

County Clerk Posts Official Primary Results

Final results for the June 8 Democratic primary show Rebecca Williams racking up 831 votes in the Second & Third wards at-large race, with incumbent Rashid Burney drawing 568 votes and former Councilman Don Davis trailing with 200.

Republican challenger and former mayoral candidate James Pivnichny was unopposed and received 131 votes.

In the First Ward race, Democratic Councilman William Reid was unopposed and received 263 votes. He faces a November challenge from Republican Sean Alfred, who received 14 votes.

The two Republicans are among 11 people who won seats out of 68 slots on the Republican Municipal Committee, which is scheduled to reorganize tonight, selecting officers for the next two years.

Republicans number only 1,012 of the city's 21,731 voters, according to the latest figures from the Union County Board of Elections. The party had a count of 1,108 in October 2008, but the number has steadily declined through the past two years.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Council Wants State to Name CFO

A City Council resolution up for consideration Monday asks the state Department of Community Affairs to appoint a temporary certified municipal finance officer immediately, citing a lack of response from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on the issue.

The city has had no chief finance officer since Peter Sepelya retired in December 2007. The post is a statutory one, required of every municipality in the state. The city has also lacked a permanent director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services for some time, leading to fears that fiscal responsibilities may not have been adequately upheld.

Although the administration sought to convince Councilman Adrian Mapp, a certified CFO, to take the post, Mapp has resisted. The gamble Mapp would have had to take to accept the offer would be that he would relinquish his council post and its benefits for an admittedly higher-paying job, but one from which he might be dismissed at any time. Mapp has been at odds with the Regular Democratic Organization for several years due to his loyalty to Plainfield's New Democrats faction. By taking the job, he would be at the mercy of the RDOs.

Although the mayor said she expected to have a CFO by April 1, the administration has had an extension to July 19 to come up with a CFO.

The succession of Administration & Finance directors since 2006 has included Norton Bonaparte, a former city administrator who left in March 2006 to become the first city manager of Topeka, Kans.; City Administrator Carlton McGee in acting capacity until he left in late 2006; Raiford Daniels, who left in December 2007; new City Administrator Marc Dashield in acting capacity; Douglas Peck, from April to December 2008; Dashield again in acting capacity until Bibi Taylor was hired in July 2009; and Taylor again in acting capacity as well as being city administrator since January.

AFH&SS is the largest department, with 13 divisions. As Plaintalker has previously stated, it needs its own permanent director (and maybe a realignment of divisions).

Although these are two different but related issues, action is needed. It may seem presumptuous of the governing body to override a non-responsive administration and go directly to the state for relief on the lack of a CFO. And the move is likely to provoke a response from the mayor. But how long can the city go on with such important staff lacking?

--Bernice Paglia

Fireworks Expected on July 2

According to a proposed City Council resolution, the annual fireworks display will be held this year on Friday, July 2.

Monday's agenda includes a resolution to pay Pyro Engineering $13,500 for the display at Cedar Brook Park. Another resolution allots $8,350 to Union County for a clean-up bond at the county park.

So far there has been no announcement of July 4 parade plans. The parade usually proceeds from Johnston Avenue and East Front Street to a reviewing stand at the Park-Madison plaza downtown. The holiday is on Sunday this year. Last year it was on a Saturday and the city split off the fireworks display to a weekday to save on overtime costs.

There is no mention yet of the 2010 event on the city web site.

The city has been without a public information officer since March 2009. More recently, under a reorganization in which information technology, communications and local access television were placed under the new IT division, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said media and communications would report directly to her and not be placed under any of the three departments mandated by the city's special charter.

As soon as there is any information, Plaintalker will pass it on.

--Bernice Paglia

On the Agenda: Short Sales Exemption

The City Council's agenda-fixing session Monday is packed with important discussion items along with lots of proposed resolutions and ordinances. Click here to see it.

As usual, some of the captions tell little about the true subject matter. Take this one, for instance: MC 2010 – 21 AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND AND SUPPLEMENT CHAPTER 6 BUILDING ARTICLE 5 CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE OF THE MUNICIPAL CODE OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD NJ 1971. INSPECTIONS DIVISION.

According to information the council packet at the Plainfield Public Library, the proposed amendment would permit an exemption from the Certificate of Compliance rules for "short sales," where a bank may be selling a property as is, for less than the amount owed, rather than go through a lengthy foreclosure process. Some such homes may even be vacant.

Plainfield's Certificate of Compliance ordinance calls for a house or apartment to be brought into compliance with the city's Property Maintenance Code, either by the buyer or the seller, before it changes hands. The amendment states that after closing, it would be subject to all rules of the Certificate of Compliance. This suggests that a buyer or investor might be waiting in the wings for the lender to complete the short sale, then to snap up the property at a low price. Perhaps it is just a way to get things moving in a slow market, although online sources paint investment in real estate short sales as a fairly complicated transaction among the seller, the lender and the investor.

It would be interesting to hear who called for the exemption and what guarantees there are that a house would be brought up to code eventually. Certainly neighbors don't want a vacant house in their midst, which might attract squatters and vandals. On the other hand, Plainfield's main ratable base is residential property, so a lot of short sales could bring down the value of a neighborhood.

Plaintalker welcomes any comments or explanations from those knowledgeable on real estate short sales. Here is one viewpoint, here is another.

There are many other items of interest. Plaintalker hopes to post more later.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Timely Treat

Arturo Marroquin's Breadbasket Bakery on Park Avenue is a destination for clever and tasty confections. Plainfield Plaintalker first highlighted the bakery when Marroquin offered a unique cocodrilo (crocodile) pastry with icing teeth and various filllings.

More recently, Marroquin installed a case near the front window that featured an ever-changing display of fancy cakes, many of the Tres Leches variety with fruit fillings and fanciful decorations.

In conjunction with the new craze for World Cup soccer, Marroquin offered these celebratory cakes as the games opened.

Being somewhat sports-challenged (well maybe a lot), this writer turned to outside sources for context. Click here for more about the big game which resulted in a 1-1 tie.

Next up for Mexico is a contest with France.

My understanding of the World Cup began a while back when one of my neighbors who was Colombian was totally excited about the contest and even more when Colombia won. I was still working as a reporter then, and as I recall, I pitched the story to an editor to explain the importance of the event to a large portion of the potential readership area.

It was still kind of arcane then to the general public, but for whatever reason it has now grabbed the attention of almost everybody.

Recently I learned more as WBAI programmer Hapte Selassie explained the 32-team structure on his show, Labbrish, that starts at 3 a.m. on Fridays. To a non-sports person, it sounds tremendously complicated, but to fans, it is obviously fascinating. Click here for the schedule.

My standard joke is that my only sport ever was spelling bees, but I must say the new global excitement over the World Cup is contagious and even if you are not a sports fan, it is worth a look into the soccer/football craze to see what your your fellow world citizens are enjoying.


Happy Weekend!

Have a great weekend and rest up before next week's big meetings!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Busy Bees, Political and Otherwise

Metallic Green Bees collect pollen from a Purple Coneflower.

These colorful bees made a perfect foil to the lovely petals of the flower. Bees are very busy nowadays in the garden.

In the political realm, it seems that even though Cory Storch has 10 months to go before he has to file for re-election, if that is what he chooses, the political spinmeisters are already buzzing with potential issues to pin on Cory.

Storch ran last time on the Democratic party line, but according to political lore, Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green was sweating the decision up to the last minute. Once elected, Storch spoke in his own voice on city issues. He also endorsed New Democrat Rebecca Williams in the June primary, in opposition to the party's choice, Rashid Burney.

So Green may think he clutched a viper to his bosom by giving Storch the line, but others might say they are glad to have a council representative who weighs the issues and asks questions before voting.

Comments this week on Plaintalker II paint a picture of unresponsiveness by Storch to constituents. Plaintalker II cannot corroborate these allegations, but anyone in the Second Ward could test the theory by e-mailing or phoning Storch with a concern and then seeing how long it takes to get a response.

Green touted Burney a year previous to the June primary for the Second & Third Ward council seat. If he does not want Storch, when will the chairman declare his anointed one for the Second Ward in 2011?

--Bernice Paglia

Who Serves on Democratic Committee?

To the reader who mentioned not hearing from his committee representatives, here is the official chart from the Union County Democratic Committee.

Please note that the list of City Council members is incorrect (eight members?) as is the leadership roster, which changed in June 2009. But the list of committee people by ward and district is correct, except for spelling errors.

The committee is supposed to be the most grass-roots of all elected officials. Theoretically, members bring neighborhood concerns of citizens to the attention of higher-level elected officials. In real life, the committee tends to be the pool from which many appointments to boards and commissions are drawn, assuring allegiance to party goals. The June 2009 committee includes 28 people who ran as New Democrats and 40 who ran on the Regular Democratic Organization line. They will serve until June 2011.

There is no contact information for the committee, but a citizen can always reach out directly to City Council members. Here is a list from the city's web site. Residents of the city's four wards each have three representatives on the council, starting with the wards, then with those holding the First & Fourth or Second & Third ward at-large seats, and finally with the citywide at-large representative.

There have been times when I have felt somewhat disenfranchised due to an unresponsive or ineffective elected representative. The council member I will always remember as the best for constituent service was former Councilman Frank Meeks III. The late Councilman Ray Blanco tried to help me out with some serious problems in my building in 2006, but as I noted on the blog, the Inspections folder simply disappeared. I have since had a better response from the administration on issues including no heat, squirrel invasion and water damage, but the elected officials can only do so much if the administration will not follow through.

Back to the committee: Running for a committee seat is relatively easy. One does not have to be on a slate to run. There is a male and female seat in each district within the four wards. In June 2009, 53 New Dems and 68 RDOs ran for the 68 seats. One person who was rebuffed by Chairman Jerry Green for the RDO line ran as a "Real Dem." Once a person wins, he or she is considered to be part of the Regular Democratic Organization, but New Dems have tended to keep their political independence.

Of course, many residents disregard everything connected with local elections and politics, as evidenced by low turnouts at the polls. Some say political infighting turns them off, others just live here without ever becoming engaged in what goes on with the school board or City Hall. Certainly the city could benefit from broader citizen involvement in local government. What do you think about it?

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Commentary on Primary

The voters have spoken.

Rebecca Williams will be on the Democratic line in November.

Traditionally, this is a time for healing. But are the wounds too deep? Party Chairman Jerry Green told Democrats a year ago whom they should support – incumbent Rashid Burney - and reiterated it this year without giving the committee a chance to vote on the three people who appeared at the screening.

Burney led a gentlemanly campaign, but Green took potshots at Williams from the sidelines and ignored the third candidate, former Councilman Don Davis.

Except for a couple dubious mailers, Williams stayed mainly on the high road, while blogger and Williams supporter Dan Damon got out his pointy stick and tried to flick dirt at Burney on his blog.

Despite Burney’s frequent declarations of independence from party lock-step, Burney had to figuratively don an “I’m NOT with Stupid” T-shirt after Green’s last-minute letter assigned baggage to Williams and urged voters to choose the incumbent.

Each side accused the other of lies, lies, lies.

Can they all come back under the tent and make nice?

If Williams wins over Republican Jim Pivnichny in November, there will be a 4-3 New Democrat majority on the City Council on Jan. 1, 2011. Green is serving his ninth two-year term in the state General Assembly and will have to run for re-election as well as to retain his party chairmanship in 2011.

Councilwoman Linda Carter was among three Democrats who won the Union County freeholder primary Tuesday and will have to give up her First & Fourth Ward at-large council seat if she wins in the general election. The Democratic City Committee must then offer three names to the City Council in order to have an appointee named to serve from Jan. 1 (or earlier, if Carter steps down) until the 2011 general election. The winner of the general election will then assume Carter’s seat at once.

If the New Democrats mount a vigorous 2011 primary campaign, not just for the council seat but for a majority of the 68 committee seats, they could change the party leadership and secure even a bigger margin on the council. They have already garnered two of the city’s four ward leader slots.

The other council seat up next year is that of Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch, a New Democrat who endorsed Williams in this year’s primary. Storch serves as council liaison to the Planning Board and is also heavily involved in a visioning process for the city’s future. His re-election could also help cement the New Democrats’ hold on leadership.

With these possible threats to his power, Green may not be interested in making nice, and the New Democrats may not have to try to negotiate everything with him

According to a Courier News story that appeared online this afternoon, he is furious over a prank in which Williams campaign signs were lined up in front of his Prospect Avenue home.

Considering Green’s past assaults on candidates’ spouses, means of livelihood and personal lives, the campaign sign thing seems almost irrelevant.

As usual, comments are welcome.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Williams Wins Primary

Rebecca Williams and City Council President Annie McWilliams celebrate the New Democrat candidate's victory Tuesday.

Unofficial results from two campaigns Tuesday showed New Democrat Rebecca Williams as the winner over incumbent Councilman Rashid Burney in the primary contest for the Second and Third Ward at-large line in the November general election. Former Councilman Don Davis came in third, according to the unofficial reports.

"The people of Plainfield have demonstrated that they need new leadership that comes from the ground up, and that is what I hope to provide if I'm elected in November," Williams said at her campaign headquarters after the polls closed.

She will face Republican James Pivnichny on the Nov. 2 ballot.

No independents filed for either of the two Plainfield City Council races Tuesday, according to the Elections Division of the Union County Clerk's Office.

Asked to speak on what became a contentious and at times vitriolic campaign season, Williams said, "Candidates are ultimately responsible for the tone of their campaign and anyone who presumes to speak on their behalf. I signed off on every piece of literature that came out from my campaign. That was focused on my opponent's record, and the people of Plainfield responded."

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Tests of Candidacy

As Olddoc related today, an extremely scurrilous letter came in the mail to voters today.

Plaintalker has previously related the tendency of the Regular Democratic Party to add imaginary baggage to political opponents, but the current attempt beats all.

This type of attack reminds me of those cattle shutes where innocent animals are herded into a death machine.

Just by setting foot on the path to Election Day, the upstart opponent is assured of an onslaught of misleading and inaccurate attacks. All sorts of social ills are laid at the feet of the demonized opponent. No wonder that in a city of many talented and capable people, few come forward to run for office for fear of being in the cross-hairs of this kind of attack.

My hope is that people contemplating elective office will study the methods of winning elections and will act accordingly. The challenge is to side-step the tactics of paid strategists.

Voters, take time to think about what you are doing. Use your best instincts to exercise your very hard-won franchise.

--Bernice Paglia

A Pea Patch by the Train Station

Wildflowers can be found anywhere, as fellow blogger and photographer Jackie will attest. Passing by the station today, I saw a patch of ground that was host to at least five members of the Pea family. The one that caught my eye first was a quirky yellow plant called Crowtoes, or Birds-Foot Trefoil. The brown seed pods splay out in the shape of a - guess what ...

In the same patch, I could see White Clover, Red Clover, Alfalfa and another yellow one that might have been Smaller Hop Clover.

The Pea family is very large. Its members range from roadside weeds to tall Locust trees and the beloved garden delight, Sweet Pea. Click here to learn more about this plant family.

--Bernice Paglia

How Many Deciders for Primary?

Three people want your vote Tuesday if you live in the Second or Third wards.

Incumbent Rashid Burney, former Councilman Don Davis and veteran campaigner Rebecca Williams are vying for the Democratic party line in Tuesday's primary.

According to the latest Voter Registration Summary from the Union County Board of Elections, there are 7,384 registered Democrats in the two wards. There are another 4,322 unaffiliated voters in those wards who can declare a party affiliation up to and including Primary Day. Click here to see the entire summary.

Burney has the backing of Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green, Councilwoman Linda Carter and Councilman William Reid, while Williams, running as a New Democrat, has been endorsed by Councilmen Adrian Mapp and Cory Storch. Councilwoman Bridget Rivers is the campaign manager for Davis.

The winner of the primary will face former Republican mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny in the November 2 general election.

The First Ward City Council seat is also up for election this year. Reid, the Democratic incumbent, will face a November challenge from Republican Sean Alfred.

Independents can file for either of the two seats on Primary Day.

If you are eligible, please be sure to vote Tuesday. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why No Finance Director?

Six months into 2010, there is still no permanent director of the largest of three city departments, Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services.

In the mayor's first term, this post was filled by an array of directors and sometimes by the city administrator doing double duty. During the last six months of 2009, Bibi Taylor held the title and impressed the governing body with her expertise.

As the mayor's second term began, Taylor was named acting city administrator and acting AFH&SS department head, initially just for January, as she was expected to leave for an administrative job in another municipality. Council members were pleased when she decided to stay on as city administrator and quickly confirmed her for the job.

As for holding the additional post of department head, nothing was spelled out, but Taylor tacitly kept that responsibility as well.

For some time, there has been a rule that acting positions should be held no longer than 90 days before a permanent person is named. This rule has been ignored at times in the mayor's first term and it is now past time this year to find a permanent department head.

The city charter calls for three department heads to whom all divisions report. Besides AFH&SS, there is a department of Public Works & Urban Development and one for Public Affairs & Safety. During the Mark Fury administration in the mid-1990s, several divisions were moved from Public Affairs & Safety to other departments. Besides the offices of the tax collector, tax assessor and chief finance officer, AFH&SS included purchasing, the municipal court and audit and control. The realignment under Fury put the finance director additionally in charge of the Health Division, the Women, Infants & Children nutrition program, Animal Control, the Bilingual Day Care Center, the Senior Center, the Healthy Mothers/Healthy Babies program, Personnel, Dudley House and Communicable Diseases.

Fury's reason at the time was that he wanted to put a person with a social services background in charge of Administration & Finance. The individual soon proved to be not up to the task, but the new arrangement remains to this day.

In the mayor's first term, AFH&SS had several directors, and two different city administrators held the post in acting capacity for many months. Coupled with the lack of a permanent chief finance officer since the end of 2007, the situation set the stage for lapses such as the $1.7 million error in the FY 2009 budget.

The state Division of Local Government Services has set a deadline for the city to come up with a chief finance officer, a statutory position required for municipal government. The department head is required by the city's special charter, so it may be up to the governing body to press the mayor for action on filling the post permanently.

Taylor has come across to the public as extremely qualified for either of her current roles, but the burden of dual responsibilities can wear anybody down. And surely in these hard fiscal times it would be good to have the checks and balances envisioned in the charter by having three separate department heads reporting to the city administrator.

As for taking another look at the arrangement of divisions under the three department heads, that is an issue that needs to be examined separately. It is 20 years since a Charter Study Commission gave its report to the City Council, which at the time declined to act on any of its recommendations. Since then, Public Affairs & Safety has had all its former divisions removed except Police and Fire. The Fire Division still has a chief, but the police chief has been replaced by a police director. The department head and the police director are the same person currently. Inspections and Recreation are now under Public Works & Urban Development.

Because the charter was created by state legislation, any major changes must be made the same way. It would take two years or more to do so, even if the city started the process now. Meanwhile, the current mayor's second term just began in January and runs through 2013. Finding a qualified permanent finance director (and hiring a CFO) early on could bring more stability to city government in these uncertain times.

--Bernice Paglia