Thursday, April 28, 2011

Clerk Posts BOE Results

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh continued his drive for innovation Thursday by posting the unofficial results of the school board election online, with ward and district breakdowns. Take a look here.

The results gathered immediately after an election are always unofficial - Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi posts the official results the Monday after the election. Click here to see Union County election results.

If you are interested in the number of registered voters, you can check the Board of Elections web site about a week before each election. Go here to see the current figures.

So out of 20,711 registered voters, only 1,320, or 6.6 percent, came out to vote. Every year people deplore low turnouts for school board elections in Plainfield, but the trend continues.

While some are hailing the win of Alex Edache, Jameelah Surgeon and Dorian Hurtt as the seal to a 7-2 majority on the board, this characterization is somewhat demeaning to both the newcomers and the incumbents, implying a lack of individual thought before a vote. There have been important votes where at least one "Grand Slam" board member voted "no."

The fourth candidate, Lenny Cathcart won his second term in 2008 with 658 votes; this time around, he lost with 623, according to the clerk's numbers. A new blogger pins part of the blame for Cathcart's loss on Courier News columnist Jay Jefferson Cooke's harsh commentary the day before the election. Strictly speaking, it was not an "editorial," as the new blogger calls it. Cooke writes (or types, as he says) in a free-wheeling way that goes beyond the pale for editorials, in Plaintalker's opinion. Repercussions, if any, remain to be seen.

Next year, incumbents Patricia Barksdale, Lisa Logan-Leach and Brenda Gilbert will have to file for re-election. Even at that remove, incumbents who were present for the hiring of Steve Gallon III may find themselves fairly or unfairly being assigned blame for the subsequent debacle.

Let's hope the next search will not be so secret and that those who vote on hiring the next superintendent will choose a seasoned administrator well-versed in New Jersey education rules and practices. The Plainfield district needs to be in good hands to get through the rest of this decade; flash and style can be parked at the door in favor of solid ability and experience.


More Deja Vu

OK, so now somebody has gone back to a May 9, 2010 post to add a comment in support of Councilman Reid over his confrontation with the council president!

A question raised at the time was why Mr. Reid chose to challenge Annie McWilliams publicly rather than privately. A similar question has come up recently regarding why he did not speak to a candidate, who is his neighbor, right in their neighborhood.

Oy vey! It's still only April.


January Comments Now? Why?

Somebody decided on April 27 to make comments on three Plaintalker posts from January.

Having just enjoyed reading another book in the series on the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I began mentally sleuthing why a person found it imperative to make those comments now. After all, if published, they will be at the bottom of posts from three months ago, where nobody is likely to look.

Hmmm. The common thread is political representation in the Fourth Ward, so maybe the goal is to get something on the record on this blog and then maybe use the comments later on as quotes. For example, three months after the fact, the poster vaunts reasons why Vera Greaves should be appointed. Helloo! She was appointed in January and has been serving ever since!

Some parts of the comments just don't make sense, but of course that has never stopped anybody interested in tossing around rhetoric at campaign time.

I will hit the "Publish" button for these quotes now, but my advice to the poster is to find a less oblique way to talk about governance in the Fourth Ward. And don't forget, the seat is for the First & Fourth Wards at-large seat, so voters in the First Ward will also have to be convinced of a candidate's worthiness to get elected. We're just sayin.'


Congratulations to BOE Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2011 school board elections, Alex Edache, Dorian Hurtt and Jameelah Surgeon.

Your three-year terms will cover a crucial time for education not only in Plainfield, but statewide as new policies come down from Trenton. Your ally in board service will be the New Jersey School Boards Association, both for basic training and for keeping abreast of evolving outlooks on funding, charter schools, best practices and leadership.

We wish you the best in living up to the challenges of board service and being in the public eye as you perform your duties. The community, and especially its young people, now look to you to give your finest effort in your new role.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BOE Election Today

Polls are open today from 2 to 9 p.m. for voting on school board candidates and the budget.

Candidates are Alex Edache, Jameelah Surgeon, Agurs L. Cathcart and Dorian Hurtt. There are three three-year terms up for election every year. The winners will take their seats at the reorganization following the election. According to the meeting calendar on the district web site, the reorganization will take place at 7 p.m. May 3 in the Plainfield High School auditorium. A president will be named to serve until the next election in April 2012.

The budget question is for $22,285,795 to be raised for the 2011-2012 school year, but as Plaintalker understands it, the increase is mandated by the state. Last year, the budget was defeated and went to the City Council, but the governing body took no action.

From a May 11, 2010 blog post:
"The governing body took no action on the defeated school budget. As officials explained at a special meeting Friday, the council could not cut the $21.8 local tax levy because it was mandated by the state. Council members said attempting to identify changes that could be made among budget lines was pointless, as the council would not have time for a thorough review. The state deadline for changes is May 19."

The local school tax levy was constant at $17,683,906 from 1992 to 2008, with state funding making up about 80 percent of the total cost of operating the schools. The 80/20 ratio between local and state funds was generally just the opposite in neighboring districts. The School Funding Reform Act of 2008 kicked in for the 2008-2009 Plainfield school budget and the local school tax has increased every year since. There is more to this story, but those are the basic facts.

Please take the time to vote today. Many crucial decisions will be coming up in the 2011-2012 school year, including a search for a new superintendent, so make your choices wisely.


April Flowers

I must say, when worldly matters get too oppressive or confusing, I am very glad to have something from the plant world to take my mind off them. It was therefore a big treat to see pretty pink flowers emerging from my African Violet, which spends most of the time just being a bunch of fuzzy, dark green leaves.

The 40 orange tulip bulbs I planted last fall in honor of my neighbor's Dutch heritage are now putting on a show. This one is a peony-flowered variety called "Orange Princess" and is related to the "Princess Irene" tulip. It is featured at the famed Keukenhof gardens.

These delicate flowers will each produce a "silver dollar" seedpod later on. This plant is known as Lunaria, Honesty or Money Plant. If only we could grow $3.4 million in the back yard to make up the budget shortfall! Here is what another blogger has to say about this plant. Both money and honesty are good things to have in city government.


The Only Good Stinkbug ...

The stinkbugs have been emerging from their winter hiding places and are now popping up in odd places around the apartment. This stinkbug died on its own, saving me the trouble of trapping it in a plastic cup for a "burial at sea" down the toilet.

For those unfamiliar with the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, They are a non-native species that have become a serious pest in the Mid-Atlantic region for food crops. Click here to read more about them.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

James E. West High School?

Young people today and maybe even their parents may not have heard much about scientist James E. West, but he co-invented a type of microphone that is in daily use around the world. His interests besides research included fostering diversity in the lab and encouraging youth interest in science. Click here to read an article about him and maybe you will see why Board of Education member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq has suggested that Plainfield High School be renamed in West's honor.

At present it is only a notion, but just talking about it serves as a reminder of the need for more advocates such as James E. West to help open doors in the science community for people of color.

Copy and paste these links to find out why we should all know more about this Plainfielder.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Garden Club Daffodils Bloom

My neighbor and I took advantage of Sunday's sunshine to visit the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park, where last November the Plainfield Garden Club created a sloping bank and planted 350 very special daffodils.

The bulbs were planted in groups of five, with the thought that over the years they will fill in the entire bank. To read more about the planting last November, click here.

The plants look very healthy and the Garden Club members' hard work is evident throughout the garden. We did notice deer hoof prints and nibbled plants in some spots and a newly planted bed where there had been a holly tree. Nature always has some challenges for gardeners!

This garden is one of Plainfield's gems and is worth a visit any time during the growing season. By June, it will be at its peak and the Plainfield Garden Club is planning a "Shakespeare in Bloom" event on June 11. Mark your calendar now and come out to admire the garden and say thanks to the ladies who voluntarily maintain it.


Alrick Brown in Seattle

Browsing The Seattle Times just now, what should I see but a story on someone we know!

Click here to read about Alrick Brown's latest coup.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter

Wishing you

all the joys

of Easter


Little Interest in BOE Race?

The very small turnout for the school board candidates' forum Thursday could have been due to several factors, some of which may in turn affect the number of voters who go to the polls on Wednesday.

First of all, the timing of the BOE election was changed to allow for one very important religious holiday. The normal date fell on the start of Passover, so the election was pushed off not just for a week, but on to a Wednesday rather than the traditional Tuesday. The League of Women Voters of Plainfield plans its forum to precede the election by about a week, which along with a conflict over school use pushed it to Thursday at Washington School.

Not only did those circumstances alter the usual pattern, the forum landed up on the eve of Good Friday, during the Holy Week observed by Christians. Easter can fall in late March, early April or later in April and though schools no longer call it Easter break, there is a school vacation linked to this moveable feast. So for many families, Thursday evening was the beginning of a long vacation involving family activities and possibly travel.

Someone at the meeting surmised that attendance might have been sparse due to the fact that it was in a part of the city that has once again seen violence. Indeed, Monday's strafing of a West End home was followed by gunfire Thursday afternoon at a playground and the gathering Thursday evening of an armed crowd at another West End location. News of these incidents could very well have kept people home.

Whatever the reason, only about 25 to 30 people came out to hear the candidates.

As for Election Day, some of the same circumstances may keep the turnout even lower than the normal single-digit percentage. The field of four candidates for three seats this year stands in sharp contrast to 10 last year, with an additional four vying for an unexpired term.

It may even be that people have just thrown up their hands over the public schools after the roller-coaster ride of hope and dismay engendered by the Gallon administration and the somewhat gloomy prospect of finding a new superintendent to take the helm of a district with chronic, multiple problems.

All this leaves Plaintalker thinking that readers of any religious persuasion would do well to say a prayer this season for the schools, the children, the teachers and future prospects for all. The unchurched could at least cross their fingers that things will get better. And please, check the candidates' bios and views on the League web site and come out on Wednesday, April 27 to cast your vote.


Friday, April 22, 2011

LWV Holds School Board Forum

Three newcomers and a nine-year incumbent vying for three school board seats shared their views with the public Thursday at the Plainfield League of Women Voters candidates’ forum.

Alex Edache, Dorian Hurtt and Jameelah Surgeon are running as a slate, while Agurs Linward “Lenny” Cathcart Jr. is the only one of three incumbents to file for re-election.

Cathcart was an ardent supporter of former Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III before Gallon left the district under a cloud over hiring irregularities. On Thursday, Cathcart said he considered not seeking re-election, but then decided not to “allow one incident to define me,” citing 25 years of community involvement in addition to his board service.

A city resident since 1997, Edache said after people kept telling him the Plainfield school system was no good, he decided to get involved “and be part of the solution.”

“I know it can be done,” he said.

Surgeon said she is a lifelong resident and product of Plainfield schools who wants the current status of the schools to improve in part because her daughter is a district student.

“If you are concerned, you can’t stand by and let something go to ruin,” she said.

Hurtt, a 10-year resident, said he and his running mates share a feeling of “frustration with the state of our schools.” Though relatively unknown, he said, “Personally, I don’t think that a bad thing,” as he is “not someone who has been involved in politics in this city” with predictable views.

Moderator Kathleen Fetissoff of the Union League of Women Voters posed written questions from the audience to the candidates. Topics included the impact of charter schools, qualities of a good school administrator, the district’s most pressing need, how to attract top teaching and administrative talent and the middle and high school’s failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards.

All the candidates agreed that getting a well-qualified superintendent is the district’s most pressing need. Cathcart said a strong leader was needed for Plainfield to “fall back in love” with education. Hurtt said the district can’t keep having the turnover it has seen, which Edache described as “changing superintendents like coats.” Surgeon advised using Google searches to learn more about superintendent candidates.

“If we take the time, we can get the leader we deserve, who can take the district up instead of down,” she said.

On attracting talent to the district, Hurtt said Plainfield should look for someone who already understands the issues and is looking for a challenge, while Surgeon called for “just being honest about where we are.”
“If you don’t agree that you have a problem, you won’t get a solution,” Edache said.

Cathcart said he wanted “someone who is going to want to come here” rather than a person looking for a high salary.

“If you want $250,000, we don’t want you,” he said.

Asked whether they would be willing to take classes to be qualified board members, Cathcart said he has done so previously, but has not been able to do so for the past couple years due to constraints of his job. Edache said requirements to run for the school board include being a citizen and being over 18, but said “to be more effective, you have to have training” and that he was willing to go for classes.

“I am not just willing, but eager,” said Hurtt, who cited his work in the “constantly changing” IT world as making him aware of the need for ongoing training.

Surgeon was also willing and said training was “very flexible” now, with classes on Saturdays or online.

“You want to make sure you are being your best,” she said.

On charter schools, Edache said they were making people look down on public schools, but he said,”There is nothing wrong with public schools.”

Hurtt said there is a reason why charter schools are being pushed in urban rather than suburban schools.

“If we have better performance, there is no need for charter schools,” he said.

But Surgeon said parents at charter schools are “just as dissatisfied” with performance.

“We support education wherever it might be,” Cathcart said, but named safety as a reason why parents look to charter schools.

The next question was how to make district schools safer, and Cathcart said the administration has to promote safety with security systems and training.

Hurtt said there is an overall impression that district schools are not safe, but said there are fights in all schools and advocated more use of techniques such as conflict resolution.

Edache said people go to charter schools because they are thinking about safety, but he said it “didn’t make sense.”

Surgeon called it a “perception” that schools are not safe and called for more “peer mediation.”

The forum concluded with LWV of Plainfield President Rupert Crawford making a pitch for members. To see more information about the League and also to see candidates’ bios and answers to three questions, click here.

Voters will have their say on April 27. Polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. The budget question this year is whether to approve $22,285,795 for the 2011-2012 school year, up from $21,848,819 last year. From 1992 to 2007, the school tax levy stayed the same at $17,683,906, but yearly increases were mandated by the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taxes, PMUA Among Town Meeting Concerns

Weeping Cherry in Library Park.

The third of four City Council "town meetings" brought out residents concerned about taxes, road repairs, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and crime, but council members said a lack of cooperation from the administration is hindering progress on many issues.

Though billed as the Third Ward meeting, the event at Cedarbrook School drew a mix of speakers, including members of half a dozen block associations. Council President Annie McWilliams and members Adrian Mapp, Cory Storch, Vera Greaves and Rebecca Williams were on hand to respond to citizen concerns. William Reid and Bridget Rivers were absent.

Residents pleaded with the governing body to disband or reform the PMUA, citing sewer and solid waste costs they said were out of line with other towns. Bill Gearhart objected to a shared services cost that increased by 61 percent.

"I didn't vote for that," he said. "I didn't agree to that."

Others said they want to go back to being able to pay sewer charges through their taxes. Council members explained that their attempts to meet with PMUA officials have been futile so far. Storch said he has asked for a task force to be formed to look into the city's options regarding the PMUA, which is bound to the city through an interlocal services agreement.

The condition of city roads was another sore point, but council members said a five-year repair plan was way behind schedule. No one from the administration was present to explain the status of the plan or to answer other questions. One Field Avenue resident who said she is known as "the lady with the dip" said the road in front of her house was "in winter an ice rink and in summer a swimming pool." She said she called the city's engineering from every day for two weeks until she got her driveway repaired.

Resident Dorien Hurtt questioned funding for the road repair plan, but Mapp said, "We will never really have enough money to fix all the streets," citing escalating costs since the plan was first tabbed at a projected $65 million.

Another Field Avenue resident who said her family has lived in Plainfield for 100 years deplored the current high taxes as well as the crime rate.

"How can you bring in new people, if Plainfield is viewed as a town that is not doing anything about taxes?" she asked.

She also complained about a highly publicized Aug. 1 meeting that portrayed the city as having a large number of gangs. Later Mapp said he proposed use of Urban Enterprise Zone funds to market the city, but said it could not be done without the administration's cooperation. He also disapproved of the Aug. 1 meeting being publicized throughout the metropolitan area "to say don't come to Plainfield" because of drugs and crime.

Residents will have another chance to raise concerns at the Fourth Ward town meeting, 7 p.m. May 11 at Clinton School.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Peeps Popularity Surges

Somebody asked whether I was going to blog about Peeps this year. Well, the Seattle Times contest attracted 150 entries in 2009, 384 in 2010 and 451 this year, a 300 percent increase from 2009. I started to look at the entries, but my attention span failed early on. If you want to indulge, click here.

O tempora! O mores! This year there is a Peeps app!


Campaign Deja Vu

"Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling ..."

"The pipes" are apparently going to play a role in campaign rhetoric this year, even though few people actually know what the reference means. It is about something that happened in the last administration, at least one speaker has said, so of course whatever it is can be laid at the feet of candidate Storch and Dan Damon. Then there is the "friendship train to D.C.," as mentioned on April 11 by Roland Muhammad, along with the "piping." Candidate Green echoes both in his April 19 blog post:
"We have pipes that were ordered and hidden from the public by the past administration of which Cory was a part of. How much did they cost and how much of a loss did the City take?"

"Oh yes, let’s not forget about the train that the City of Plainfield paid for to Washington, D.C. When the train arrived in Washington, the majority of them arrived drunk. How much did this train ride cost the taxpayers of Plainfield?"

The pipes, the train ... is there a huddle somewhere to make sure these themes are brought up at every opportunity? They would be much more forceful as campaign charges if people knew what they were actually about - except maybe then their lack of relevance to the 2011 primary might be evident.


Computer Foibles

"Aargh! Blankety-blank computer!"

This morning, the computer turned itself off and threw up a blue screen of, if not death, extreme malaise. It is working now, obviously, but may become dyspeptic again, in which case you will not see Plaintalker posts except from the Plainfield Public Library. So don't worry if I drop out of sight without notice. It will not be a case of Jersey Mayhem by offended officials, just the usual quirks and quavers of an old computer.


Armory Issue Needs Open Discussion

Let us retrace how the Armory issue was raised: A person who launched a primary campaign but then did not file to run brings up the Armory issue in public comment near the end of a regular City Council meeting. The mayor adds some details. A councilwoman attempts to clarify some points. The mayor adds a pitch for city acquisition of the building and indicates a deadline for action. Other council members raise questions.

What is the public or even a blogger to make of all this regarding a building that has been discussed over the years for use as a senior center or a youth center, now as a charter school?

Now Assemblyman Green, in a blog post which I did not see until after midnight, adds more details while chiding Councilwoman Williams and incidentally maligning her and her profession.

Green makes two points on his blog:
"1. The city is not going to be on the hook. 2. The city is not going to be financially responsible because the city has made its mind up that it is not going to support the children of Plainfield by not supporting a project that will help the children. "

The first one is clearcut, the second not so much or maybe not at all. "The city has made up its mind" suggests some sort of decision by the administration, although the triple negative clouds the meaning of this sentence. The governing body evidently has not made up its mind, because no action has come before the council in public session for a vote.

This situation reminds Plaintalker of the showcasing of a certain developer in the context of the mayor's first 100-day speech or the attempted frog-march conducted in connection with the East Third/Richmond proposal, featuring an emergency Saturday Planning Board meeting. In both of those cases, there proved to be reasons why marrying these developers in haste would have resulted in repentance at leisure.

Drumming up yet another Armory proposal in the way it was done on April 11 is unfair to the public and probably even to the entity that is trying to make its case, whatever that may be, for use of the Armory.

Green concludes: "It is obvious that Rebecca did not speak to anyone and she is clueless. The two parties involved – the developer and the State, make it very clear that there are ongoing discussions and the city is not involved. " So why the show of pressure on the council on April 11?

If Green is correct, there is nothing really to discuss about the Armory at a future council meeting. If the mayor has another viewpoint, may we please have more facts?

The next agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. May 2 in City Hall Library. The regular meeting is 8 p.m. on May 9 in Municipal Court. The June agenda fixing session is Tuesday, June 14 and the regular meeting is June 20.

Happy Passover

to all our

Jewish friends and neighbors

Monday, April 18, 2011

Proceed with Caution on Armory

A new scheme for use of the Plainfield Armory surfaced at the April 11 City Council meeting, with a stated June deadline for a decision.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Danielle Bush spoke of a meeting with state officials to discuss restoring the armory at no cost to the city, with a $1 lease. She asked the governing body whether members would consider such a plan, if an agency or company was willing to come in.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs then mentioned a multi-year lease for $1 and said a proposal had been brought to a City Council sub-committee regarding a tenant that would pay $6,000 in monthly expenses to use the armory. The mayor said the city could break the lease at any time.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said there had been a meeting with a group that builds charter schools and that the city would be "on the hook" as guarantor. The group needed a city buy-in in order to receive financing, she said.

Councilman Cory Storch noted the "dire financial straits" the city and other municipalities are facing and said the building would remain tax-exempt under such a plan, when it should be put back on the tax rolls. He said there is also a charter school half a block away.

Robinson-Briggs spoke in favor of the city's chance to get "a massive building" for $1 a year and said it could be used after 5 p.m. for other purposes. The charter school, she said, has already been in Plainfield for one year in a different location. The mayor alluded to a $5 million price tag if another entity wants the building and said the city can decide through June whether "to say yes or no" to the $1 deal.

Bush recently began attending council meetings and announced a run for the Second Ward council seat, but then declined to file. It was not clear how she got to be involved in talks with state officials over plans for the armory. In past discussions, Robinson-Briggs said in 2008 the city could purchase the armory for $650,000. Assemblyman Jerry Green said previously the city could purchase the building for $1.5 to $2 million with an interest-free loan, but it would have to be for a commercial use. The armory was also on a list of "stimulus" projects in 2009.

Plaintalker has attempted to get an update from the state on the status of the building, but most recently was referred back to the municipality for information.

Regarding the new proposal and use of the building after hours, Council President Annie McWilliams said the city already has the use of at least three community schools for such purposes.

"The city is not without cultural space," McWilliams said.

By way of commentary, Plaintalker would like to point out that the last "no cost to the city" project, the new senior center, is now the subject of binding arbitration over more than $250,000 in build-out costs, according to statements at the April 11 meeting. The governing body has also hired an attorney to probe use of city funds for a 2010 "town meeting" radio broadcast after the mayor's refusal to disclose details of the transactions. In addition, the city's new chief finance officer is only working 28 hours a week and is busy catching up on three years without a CFO, making it unlikely he can vouch for the soundness of this latest armory scheme.
Without full disclosure and an objective analysis of the risks and rewards in the current fiscal climate, the governing body would be remiss to agree to a city commitment on the armory.


Thanks to Library Volunteers

The next time you are at the Plainfield Public Library, take a look at the display on volunteers. It marks both National Library Week and National Volunteer Month 2011.

Volunteers are involved in everything from bookbinding to literacy. Those who serve on the library board are also volunteering their time and energy. As Councilwoman Rebecca Williams and others have pointed out, the public library is an invaluable resource to the community, especially in hard times.

Click here to see more about the Plainfield Public Library. And if you recognize anybody in the display, it would be nice to add your personal thanks for their volunteer service the next time you see them!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

LWV Forum is Thursday

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield has contacted all four candidates for school board and has posted their submitted bios as well as answers to three questions posed by the League for the 2011 election. Click here and scroll down the left-hand side for this information.

Five people filed for three three-year seats on the board; one subsequently dropped out. That leaves just four candidates. Members of the public will be able to submit questions in writing at the forum, which will have an impartial, trained moderator in charge as per LWV rules.

The forum begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21 at Washington Community School. The school's address is Darrow Avenue, however parking is available on the Spooner Avenue side of the building. If coming from the east, go on West Seventh Street and turn right when you see the Plainfield Rescue Squad building as a landmark. West End residents may access Spooner from West Fourth Street or West Seventh Street to get to the parking lot.

Candidates are incumbent Agurs Linward "Lenny" Cathcart Jr., Alex Edache, Dorien Hurtt and Jameelah Surgeon. As forum time is limited, questions should preferably pertain to the Plainfield Public Schools and not to general issues that will not be in the purview of those who get elected to the board.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

New PW&UD Director on Tap

The city may soon have a new director of Public Works & Urban Development, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said at last week's City Council meeting.

Williamson said eight or 10 people were being considered for the post and someone might be named within a week or 10 days.

The department, one of three mandated by the city's special charter, had the same person in charge throughout the four years of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' first term. But when the mayor won a second term, the director, Jennifer Wenson Maier, was not offered another four years. In a somewhat confusing set of announcements, David Brown II was named director on Jan. 1, but then Wenson Maier was appointed in acting capacity until April 1. But then in February she took a post in Hoboken and Brown came aboard.

Brown resigned in November 2010. On Jan. 3, Jacques Howard of the Office of Economic development was named acting director, but with a 90-day limit that expired at the end of March.

The city is also seeking an interim city administrator, as Williamson served 90 days since Jan. 3 as acting city administrator and then the mayor declared herself acting city administrator. A search is also on for a permanent city administrator to serve until the mayor's term ends on Dec. 31, 2013.


Marable Book at PPL

I was pleased to see that the Plainfield Public Library already has a copy of "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" by Manning Marable. I pre-ordered a copy as soon as I heard about it and am now going through its 594 pages. It has been called the magnum opus of Marable, described by Cornel West as "the exemplary black scholar of radical democracy and black freedom in our time."

The publication is not without controversy and there will no doubt be many years of intense discussion over its content, both in academic and political circles. The author tragically passed away just days before the book came out and so will not experience the ripples it makes in multiple communities over time.

I first heard Malcolm X speak on radio shows in the mid-20th century. It was evident that one way or another, he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. The reckoning he was dealt on Feb. 21, 1965 robbed the world of a thinker and doer with untold potential to effect change on society. This book deserves a close reading by Plainfielders.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Family Soul Spot Makes Milestone

Balloons, free cookies and cupcakes and a "Happy Anniversary" message chalked on the signboard outside marked the first year milestone for Family Soul Spot recently.

Business retention is raised every so often in Plainfield as a major issue that I was wishing somebody from City Hall would extend congratulations to owner Sandra Williamson and her family for getting through that crucial first year. The same week saw a longtime South Avenue business, Dairy Queen, launch its expansion, another cause for celebration.

To learn more about Family Soul Spot, click here or just stop in when you want something really tasty for lunch or dinner. This is truly a family venture and they make their customers feel like part of the family as well. The same goes for the Dairy Queen.


New Park Avenue Apartments Filling Up

Sixteen shiny new mailboxes, along with strollers in the hallway and a child playing at an upstairs window signal new occupants over the former lighting store on Park Avenue, now a dollar store.
The developer won first approvals for this project in November 2008. Click here to see Plaintalker's post with details. This is the first of several new apartment proposals for the downtown. It will be interesting to see how things work out, especially the parking aspect.


Signs of the Times

The school board election is April 27, with one slate of three candidates and incumbent Agurs Linward "Lenny" Cathcart seeking three three-year terms on the board. Signs for the Edache/Surgeon/Hurtt team have begun popping up around the city formerly known as Plainfield.

"Gatos gratis" are among the offerings on this post at the Twin City plaza. The stanchions have become impromptu signboards for babysitting, day labor, apartments, entertainment, event notices and more. This array is a bit weather-beaten.

Store windows are supposed to have only a certain percentage covered by signs, but obviously there is too much to offer here to be limited by rules. By the way, the A-plus is probably not for spelling.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Know Your Tenant Rights

With all the talk of new rental units proposed or under construction in Plainfield, perhaps it is time to remind tenants and landlords that there is a booklet outlining the rights and responsibilities of both parties. As described below, the booklet is supposed to be furnished to tenants by landlords. One would assume that includes the "lease-to-purchase" tenants now moving into The Monarch. New apartments are also under construction on Park Avenue and of course the West Second Street Commons development will have many new apartments.

Here is something tenants and landlords need to know:

The Truth-in-Renting Act (N.J.S.A. 46:8-43 et seq.) requires the Department of Community Affairs to prepare and publish a statement of the rights and responsibilities of residential tenants and landlords. The Act also requires residential landlords of dwellings with more than two units (or more than three units if the landlord occupies one of the units) to distribute the Truth-in-Renting Statement, now in Booklet format, to each of their tenants at or prior to the tenant’s occupancy. Violators of the Act shall be liable for a penalty of up to $100.00 for each violation.

A law was passed that gave landlords a break on the cost of distributing these booklets, but a casual inquiry at the midst of the Connolly situation revealed either tenants never got a booklet or didn't look at it. (The Connolly company acquired nearly all the large multi-families in Plainfield and then had problems that resulted in several big apartment buildings going into rent receivership. Presumably the receiver is giving out Truth in Renting booklets to new occupants.)

To see the booklet online, click here. To order a copy in English or Spanish for $2, hit the "end" button on your keyboard to view an order form at the end of the booklet. Copy and paste the form into Word or whatever other document-creation program you have, print out, fill in and send with a check to the address indicated.

Tenants in Plainfield have no organized representation. A tenants' group organized in the 1980s was the target of a property managers' association, which by various means broke it up and bragged about the accomplishment in the association's newsletter. Since then, tenants who don't know the law are at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. I'm sure some landlords are also plagued by bad tenants, but because I have been a tenant in Plainfield for over 25 years, I am on the side of the renters.


Simply Ranunculus!

A shopping trip to neighboring Westfield is not complete without a look at what's in the street planters. For the moment, it's purple and yellow pansies with white ranunculus in the middle, under the metal tuteurs. Later, expect to see flowering vines trained up the tuteurs.

Here at home, the Plainfield Garden Club is gearing up its schedule for care of the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park. The club will host "Shakespeare-in-Bloom" from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 11. For more information, click here.


Looking Up on a Gray Day

Waiting for the 59 bus by City Hall Wednesday afternoon, I looked up and saw this delicate spring tracery over my head. City trees are just starting to leaf out and those of us who go around on foot get to dwell on their lovely patterns in just such moments. It's not quite the same as craning one's neck to look through a windshield at the tree canopy - and anyway, in a car, you are supposed to keep your eyes on the road!


Advent of the Truth?

Nearly nine months have passed with mounting questions about how city funds came to spent on an Aug. 1 radio show. Click here for one of the early expressions of concern. With Monday's City Council vote, an investigation is now imminent.

If in fact an outside entity made a goodwill donation to the city for some cause or event, how was it solicited and how was it spent? Money that was taken out of city accounts had to be documented. By what process was any offset donation acknowledged and accounted for in city ledgers? These are some of the questions to be answered.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

WBLS Costs: Just the Facts, Please

Plaintalker's OPRA request on the Aug. 1, 2010 WBLS "town meeting" turned up not only proof of a $20,000 check for that event, but also $2,500 paid for a "street team" appearance on July 2, 2010 and another $2,500 for a "van appearance" in the July 3 parade (yes, folks, the July 4 parade was on July 3).

On Monday, speakers including the mayor characterized the $20,000 cost as really being just $5,700. First, mayoral advocate Roland Muhammad said so, then the mayor repeated the amount. Later, she said it was actually $5,791. There was a $15,000 donation that reduced the actual cost, the mayor said.

The point of repeating the $5,700 or so was to criticize the hiring of an attorney to investigate the process whereby the money was spent.

Plaintalker does not have a scanner, but according to the document pictured above, the first $2,500 came from "General Imp (sic) Ordinance 1237." The second $2,500 was chalked up to an account for "Outside Consulting Services." The $25,000 came, as Plaintalker has previously noted, from an account for "Hardware & Software Maintenance."

On the surface, it certainly looks like a bit of creative accounting. But then there was the donation to offset the Aug. 1 costs. The mayor was asked who donated the money, but did not identify a donor. After the meeting, this writer asked Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson how such donations are handled in the budget. The answer was they would go into the general fund. As I recall, Williamson was not able to say whether such a check would be specifically listed as an item of revenue.

Among other zingers tossed out about the impending investigation, Councilman William Reid speculated that the term "initial" in the resolution to hire the attorney meant there would be further costs. Reid said the attorney would have subpoena powers, but questioned the possibility of further expense if former city administrator Bibi Taylor or the mayor refused to respond.

"We need to investigate and get it out of the way," Reid said, "but let's do it right."

He did not explain what the right way would be.

Councilwoman Vera Greaves asked whether the mayor would also get an attorney , but Council President Annie McWilliams said the mayor had her own account and could decide how to spend her funds.

"But it's still the taxpayers' money," Reid said.

In other objections to the proposed investigation, Muhammad alluded to money spent on "piping" that was bought but not used and expenses for a "friendship train" on which participants "got drunk." Reid talked about a visioning study authorized by the council at a cost of $80,000, with an additional $16,000 approved later, characterizing both as "giving our money away."

Cryptic kitchen-sink arguments notwithstanding, the council voted 4-2 to hire attorney Ramon Rivera for what McWilliams characterized as "a first look to fact-find and fact-check."

McWilliams, Adrian Mapp, Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams voted "yes" and Reid and Greaves voted "no." Bridget Rivers was absent.

Plaintalker's OPRA request came about after a commenter on the blog challenged me to find out how much the event cost. I answered that the commenter could just as well file an OPRA request, but mine would include the following:

COST OF AUG. 1 TOWN MEETING, including school rental, speakers’ honorariums or fees, security, setup, including WBLS requirements, cost of videographing, food and supplies, plus any other incidentals

That was my request on Aug. 2. Several weeks later, I received a partial response which included documentation of the WBLS checks and accounts from which they were paid. The whys and wherefores, as well as any other possible expenses, remain to be explained.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, April 11, 2011

Candidates File for Primary, City Committee

City Clerk Abubakar "A.J" Jalloh with some of the 130 petitions filed Monday.

The June 7 primary will include Democratic contests for the line in the Second and First & Fourth at-large wards, as well as contests for 55 of 68 Democratic City Committee seats.

Those who met a 4 p.m. filing deadline Monday were incumbent Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch and First & Fourth Ward candidate Delois Dameron, running as New Democrats. James Anthony "Tony" Rucker, who was given the Regular Democratic Organization line last Thursday by Chairman Jerry Green, filed to run with incumbent appointee Vera Greaves.

Green's chairmanship is up this year and his team filed candidates for all 68 seats - one male and one female in each of 34 voting districts - on the committee that will vote on a chairman the Monday after the primary. The New Democrats fielded candidates for 55 of the seats. In the Second Ward, District 8, Jim Spear and Gloria Henriques filed as independents for the committee seats.

Republican Bill Michelson also filed for the Second Ward seat. He is unopposed in the primary and will automatically be on the November 8 general election ballot. Any independents who file for the two council seats June 7 will also be on the ballot.

Rev. Danielle Bush, who declared her candidacy earlier and spoke at Thursday's Democratic Committee meeting, did not meet the 4 p.m. filing deadline. Bush sent out a campaign mailing last week and was believed to be backed by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

--Bernice Paglia

The Whole Truth and Nothing But ...

Among items up for votes at tonight's regular City Council meeting is hiring a lawyer for the council to pursue its inquiry into use of $20,000 in public funds to pay WBLS for a so-called town meeting last August.

This writer filed an OPRA request the day after the meeting, seeking details of costs including compensation to the radio station, speakers, city staff who set it up, school rental and more. Eventually I received documentation of a $20,000 check drawn from a "hardware and software maintenance" account to buy ads on WBLS and for personal appearances by radio staff at the event. The entire question was never answered.

The governing body's inquiries have similarly gone unanswered and now an attorney is being hired to look into the matter.

The shortcut here would be for the mayor to own up. If this was a misstep, why not say so and be done with it? Certainly people in higher office have had to admit errors of judgment of a much higher scale than holding a town meeting with funds borrowed from an inappropriate account. And couldn't the story of the $15,000 "donor" be told in closed session if necessary?

This event came about before the city was put under the chastening Memorandum of Understanding with the state that tied $250,000 in special state aid to a set of limitations on spending. In the current climate of harsh fiscal realities, any undue expense stands out and most officials have accepted the constraints. In retrospect, the WBLS tab was probably an improper use of public money, so in the spirit of the times, why not say so, deal with it and move on?

The mayor's obdurate refusal to admit, explain, account for what actually happened just leads one to think there is more to hide or that it boils down to a power struggle in which she will not accede to any notion of stewardship while in office. This in effect forces the council to investigate.

Many have spoken of the harm done by the the public spectacle of dissension at televised meetings. The mayor's credo, "Growth by Unity," seems to have been replaced by "Stasis through Disunity" on many fronts. Not only are city residents watching, but so are developers, possible new residents and investors in new businesses. The cost of of stubborn silence may be more than the price of coming clean.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Look Back at PMUA

In 2005, Plainfield Plaintalker posted an interview with PMUA executives. Perhaps it is worth another look now that the authority has become such a focus of residents' concern. Click here to read the post on the authority's 10th anniversary.

The authority has had its troubles over the years, but now seems to be hitting an all-time low with the public. This is happening in a state context of suspicion over the utility (pardon the pun) of authorities in general, as several have been exposed lately for wasteful spending and nepotism. So it is not just a PR problem with PMUA, it is a general question about proper stewardship of certain vital services.

At last week's Town Meeting, Councilman Cory Storch and Councilman Adrian Mapp came up with contrasting views on what should be done about the PMUA. Plaintalker's post on the meeting generated many comments that show residents' increasing frustration over having to deal with the authority.

Plainfield is fortunate to be the home to many highly-qualified professionals with expertise in finance and even with authorities and how they should function. Whatever talent base exists within the the PMUA and its board of commissioners, the current impasse almost demands some outside help. The offers given Wednesday should be considered, because it is not evident that the administration or governing body currently has clarity on how to proceed. If things can't be sorted out locally, Gov. Chris Christie may take action.

More later on PMUA. As those monitoring the authority have noted, the PMUA meeting previously scheduled for Tuesday has been moved to Thursday, April 14, 6 p.m. at PMUA headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Ave. The web site as of this moment still has Tuesday's date. Even though the PMUA publishes an annual calendar, it seems to be revised each month. Coupled with the new 6 p.m. meeting time, the frequent date changes leave the impression of making it hard for the public to follow authority business.


A Tribute to Edna

When flowers bloom in our yard, my neighbor and I recall our former neighbor Edna, who brought many lovely plants back from her South Carolina hometown. This array of daffodils is a perfect reminder of her generosity, amiability and love of beauty.

Edna was refined without being snobby and always pleasant and charming in our encounters coming and going. She set a standard for neighborliness that we have seldom seen since. When we see these gifts she left behind when she moved back down south, we give thanks for the years that we had her in our lives.


Sick Day - With Musings

Friday found this writer laying low, trying to gauge whether stomach rumblings and chills meant I was coming down with the flu or just reacting to a couple of tumultuous days.

The facts are not in after most of a day in bed, but as of this hour I have only the vaguest notions of a blog post.

One thing that kind of jarred me out of my malaise briefly was a comment from someone who is waiting for a candidate's "Greatest Hits" before deciding how to vote in the primary. After being an observer of the Plainfield political scene for 25 years, I would suggest that being one of nine or seven elected officials does not yield "Greatest Hits" of accomplishment as much as a "Top Ten" roster of things a person stands for.

Of course, this does not prevent some politicians for taking singular credit for new roads, a downtown building or even a winning basketball team, conveniently forgetting the role of others in bringing these things about.

I just looked through some old campaign flyers and those in which candidates talk about things they "worked for," "supported" or "advocated" more accurately describe public service than claims of single-handed success.

After Monday's filing date, we are in for about eight weeks of campaigning until the June 7 primary. Common wisdom in Plainfield is that the Democratic primary winners will prevail in the November general election, so competition will be fierce. I for one will not be looking for "Greatest Hits," but for the qualities that a candidate will need to in his or her political tool kit to advance, together with colleagues, the city's most important goals.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Candidates Declare for Primary

Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green gave the line for the June primary to incumbent appointee Vera Greaves in the First & Fourth Ward at-large race and to Tony Rucker for the Second Ward at a party committee meeting Thursday.

Others who declared their candidacy were incumbent Councilman Cory Storch and newcomer Danielle Bush for the Second Ward and Delois Dameron for the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat.

Green said he acted as one of 21 trustees who decide who gets the line for the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County. Committee members had no role in the selection Thursday.

Green, who represents District 22 in the state Assembly, also permitted others to speak before naming his slate. Storch said he was planning to run in the primary, but not on the line. Storch said the city is facing many problems in a time of limited resources but said there are “serious disagreements” on how to use those resources.

“We have to learn how to come together and not fight,” he said. “We have to make government more effective than it is now.”

Storch said he wanted the primary to be about issues, not personalities, and notdivisions along lines such as race and class.

“I’m standing for honest competition,” he said. “I think the Democrats have to stand for new ideas, progress and change.

Storch cited a controversy over recreation programs as an example of the need for change.

“If you are satisfied with the number of children served, you probably don’t want to vote for me,” he said.

Noting past attacks on his family, he concluded by calling for a “clean campaign.”

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams asked whether there would be a vote after the presentations, but Green said thre would be no vote.

Next, Bush, a minister and health professional, named crime and safety as some of her major concerns, along with health care. She said funding that could have been channeled to Plainfield “left and went to another county.”

Bush said there was plenty of funding for mental health, which could help the city deal with gang violence. She cited the city’s HIV rate as “catching up with Newark.” She mentioned a city needle exchange program and also said she had talked to gang leaders in Plainfield.

On employment, Bush said there are corporations who guarantee employment to people with records.

“What I have done all my life is bring about change,” she said.

Rucker described how he came to Plainfield by way of Connecticut and Vallejo, Calif. and said his wife is a Plainfielder. He said he had heard of the city’s potential for many years and called council members “”all talented and all eager to make Plainfield a better place,” but said they are struggling with “group cohesiveness.”

Rucker said the city does have a master plan, but people have to get involved.

Having been a president of the Netherwood Neighborhood Association and been involved in church and youth work, he said, he wants to create an “exchange” for all those with good ideas, a place “like the New York Stock Exchange” where buyers and sellers come.

“Another thing I am passionate about is kids,” he said. “You can tell a lot about a community by its quality of life for children.”

But he said there is not a lot for children to do here and said he wants to create “a series of community centers.”

As the city competes with neighboring communities, he said, “We cannot fight with each other while they look at us in the rear view mirror.”

Citing what he learned from a recent visit to Oakland, Calif., Rucker said, “If we come together, it’s a beautiful city.”

“I am ready to work as hard as I can to make the city better,” he said.

Referring to Storch, Green told the audience, “I did not hear one thing he accomplished in eight years.” He said he was “very impressed” with Bush, but there is “more about Plainfield she needs to know.”

Green said he got offended when he did not hear candidates talk about “what happened last week,” alluding to a championship game.

“I’m so proud of the kids,” he said. “Nobody talked about this.”

Green said that’s why he decided to support Rucker, adding he did not make up his mind until that evening.

Two candidates for the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat spoke.

Greaves, appointed after Councilwoman Linda Carter vacated the seat in January to serve on the Union County Freeholder Board, said she has lived in Plainfield over 30 years. If elected, she said, she would serve both wards equally. Greaves said she wanted to start a program for young people “8 to 18” to channel them and said she is working with churches in her neighborhood to help youth.

“I cannot do it by myself,” she said. “I am asking everyone to pitch in.”

Greaves said on the drug problem, “We need desperately for something to happen.” She said she was hoping to work with police and “all those in charge” to “bring people back – not even back, but to a better place.”

Dameron also declared her candidacy for the First & Fourth Ward seat. Saying she came to Plainfield six years ago when her father became ill, she said seniors are faced with taxes that are too high. On a fixed income of $18,000, she said, her mother pays $12,000 in taxes.

As a member of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, she said she feels the budget is out of control and spending is out of control.

“I believe we can change Plainfield,” she said. “We cannot allow Plainfield to decline.”

Dameron said she had helped in campaigns for Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Congressman Frank Pallone and was “always available.”

She said she did not consider herself a politician, but was “merely a servant.”

“I believe we can work together,” she said, to help youth and “mostly our seniors.”

By helping the seniors, she said “that will in turn help our youth,” she said.

After Dameron spoke, Green called for a motion to adjourn the meeting, but then said Dameron she had not come to him about her candidacy.

“Not one person in this room is my enemy,” Green said. “My enemy is in Trenton.”

Green said Rucker had been a “New Democrat” and so was Greaves, whereupon longtime committee member Rosemarie Cathcart called out, “Why can’t we be one party?”

Green then said of Greaves, “I have never seen a woman work harder. A lot of people say she’s got a lot to learn.”

But Green called her “a good learner” and said, “I feel she is not going to be a disgrace to us.”

Greaves said, “When I am committed, I am committed 100 percent. I will work 110 percent for the benefit of Plainfield.”

Committee member Frank D’Aversa attempted to bring up the matter of a slur-filled flyer that turned up in employees’ mailboxes at City Hall this week, but Green shut him down.

After a slam at city bloggers, Green said, “That letter did not cross the line” (Clarification: Olive Lynch reports that Green based his comment on a review by the Union County Prosecutor's Office) and added a bank parking lot will be opened for day workers before adjourning the meeting.

After the meeting, Plaintalker asked Dameron whether she was running on a slate. She said she is running as a “New Democrat.”

The official deadline to file for the primary is 4 p.m. Monday. All 68 Democratic City Committee seats and all state legislative seats are up for re-election this year.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Attorney to Probe WBLS Event

The long-delayed investigation into costs of an Aug. 1, 2010 "town meeting" may resume with the expected hiring a new attorney on Monday.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said at last Monday's agenda session that a resolution to hire attorney Ramon Rivera of the law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck will be on the regular meeting's agenda. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

A city check for $20,000 was paid to WBLS for the event, which featured an appearance by Rev. Al Sharpton. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs later said $15,000 of the fee for the event was paid by an anonymous donor, reducing the city's cost to $5,000. Click here for Plaintalker's most recent post on the matter.

The need for an attorney points up a divide between the administration and the governing body that has persisted for many months and most recently surfaced this week when a harshly-worded flyer turned up in City Hall mailboxes. The anonymous author condemned certain council members for allegedly "attacking the mayor" and also heaped insults on bloggers, a city activist and a reporter. Robinson-Briggs denied any knowledge of how it happened, but some council members called for an investigation of the incident and whether any city copy machines or computers were used to create or disseminate the flyer.


Residents: Disband PMUA

Residents’ frustrations with the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority boiled over at the Second Ward Town Meeting Wednesday, with many calling for it to be disbanded.

For attorney Bill Michelson the tipping point was a calendar change that left him stuck with bottles and cans, while his paper recyclables carefully placed at the curb Wednesday went untouched.

“I was never an enemy of the PMUA,” he said, “then came the last 24 hours.”

For others, it was the fees, the board holdovers, the failure to produce outside revenues, the costly trips and lunches on the ratepayers’ dime.

The meeting was the one of four scheduled by the governing body to hear citizens’ concerns across the city, whether specific to a ward or general. The PMUA is an autonomous authority created by the City Council in 1995 to provide solid waste and sewer services to all households. Previously, property owners hired private carters for trash and paid sewer taxes to the city.

In 2009, PMUA rate increases of 20 percent for solid waste and 14 percent for sewer services sparked formation of Dump PMUA, a group that uncovered excesses in authority expenditures and protested charges. An additional 61 percent increase in shared services charges this year has prompted calls for Gov. Chris Christie to investigate the authority.

On Wednesday, some residents pledged their professional expertise in law and finance to help reform or dismantle the PMUA and many cited much lower rates in surrounding towns for trash disposal. Many wanted sewer services to be brought back under city control in order to take tax deductions. Speakers also questioned the number of holdovers on the PMUA’s board of commissioners and called for new appointments.

Resident Bill Amirault called PMUA the top issue among members of the Hillside Area Neighborhood Watch. When he called for a show of hands in favor of disbanding the PMUA, arms went up across the Cook School auditorium.

“Do it,” Amirault said, getting a burst of applause.

“Hillside is much too calm about this,” resident Thomas Crownover said a few minutes later, saying property owners are “being gouged.”

“You folks ought to know how easy it is to dissolve” an authority, said Crownover, the executive director of one in Metuchen who has seen another disbanded. “It isn’t that hard, it’s just a matter of desire.”

“You can rid us of this menace,” resident Tom Kaercher said. “We as residents hate this albatross around our necks.”

Councilman William Reid, a former PMUA commissioner and a council liaison to the authority, said state law would have to be changed to allow tax relief to ratepayers. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams noted the council’s subpoena powers to bring PMUA officers before the governing body and said,, “That might be the next step.”

Authority commissioners resisted requests to meet with the governing body last year, asking at one point to do so after the November election and then simply refusing to meet at all.

Councilman Cory Storch said dissolution would bring employees back to the city at undetermined cost and he was not convinced the city could do a better job. As for bringing in outside revenues, he said, “We hoped it (PMUA) would be more entrepreneurial and it hasn’t happened yet.”

Councilman Adrian Mapp drew applause when he said, “I have absolutely no objection to disbanding the PMUA and bringing it in house.”

Mapp said he believes the premise for creation of the authority was false. Besides getting rid of illegal dumping and replacing old sewer lines, he said, “It was also supposed to generate revenue – it will never generate revenue.”

He also dismissed the argument about the city falling heir to PMUA debt: “I don’t think the PMUA won the lottery. Who is paying the debt?”

The audience joined in the answer: “Us!”

By bringing it back to municipal control, Mapp said, the city could “get rid of some of the bloated bureaucracy” and more.

“The reasons for bringing the PMUA in house are tremendous,” he said. “All we are lacking is the will.”

Noting large crowds that came out to put pressure on the council over recreation issues, he called on people to “rise up” and do the same over the PMUA.

Reid demurred, saying “the city does a lousy job in servicing us” and the time was not right to bring PMUA under city control.

Councilwoman Vera Greaves found little fault with PMUA service, but said, “I am for whatever we can do to reduce the bill.”

As liaison to the PMUA, Councilwoman Bridget Rivers offered her phone number to listen to citizen concerns. Council President Annie McWilliams said she was disappointed at the attitude of the commissioners, saying their unwillingness to work with the council “leaves our hands tied.” Dissolving the authority now looms as an option, she said: “They don’t want to work with the people who created them.”

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Emergency Funding Passed, Transition Proposed

Notice posted on mail room door at City Hall.

At Monday's special meeting, the City Council passed a resolution authorizing an "emergency appropriation" of $58,000 aimed at supporting the Recreation and Purchasing Divisions through the June 30 end of the 2011 fiscal year.

The move averted an April 15 scheduled layoff of staff in the two divisions, but council members then questioned what will happen as FY 2012 begins July 1. Normally, the city would have the first three months of the new year to work on introduction of the 2012 budget while using funds equal to 25 percent of the 2011 budget to operate the city.

Speaking by phone, Chief Finance Officer Ron Zilinski mentioned a six-month "transition year" budget to bring the city back to a calendar year budget as it had before a 1991 change. Zilinski said in the short term people would be kept to the end of the fiscal year and through the six-month transition year.

Then it can be decided whether or not the city needs the Purchasing Division, he said. In answer to a question from Councilman Adrian Mapp, who first proposed that Purchasing could be folded into the CFO's office, Zilinski said after the calendar year it could become part of his office, but a qualified purchasing agent would be needed.

Zilinski was hired in 2010 after state officials threatened to fine both the mayor and each council member $25 daily for failing to appoint a chief finance officer after three entire years without one. The CFO post is one mandated by the state, but after former CFO Peter Sepelya retired at the end of 2007, no replacement was named.

Zilinski, retired last year from a finance post in Trenton, was only hired after the city passed a salary ordinance for the title of city treasurer and agreed to let him have that title with a 28-hour work week. When Mapp pressed for dissolving the Purchasing Division and adding the responsibility to Zilinski's office, the mayor gave the council a letter from Zilinski saying it would be a burden and she hinted that he might quit if the duties were added to his office. If so, she said, she would expect the council to pay her $25 a day penalty for not having a CFO.

On Monday, Councilman Cory Storch questioned how the city could change to a calendar year. Zilinski said he had some preliminary budget projections for the transition period and the calendar year and said, "It looks like it is a good idea for the City of Plainfield."

Storch asked what the city would have to do and Zilinski said a resolution and ordinance would be needed "probably very soon," prior to July.

Numerous fiscal year municipalities have recently changed back to a calendar year.

Before the vote on the emergency appropriations, Mapp said he could not support it because no statutory emergency existed. He had suggested transfers in May for the two divisions. Storch said he would support the resolution but believed the city could have provided the services "with or without these funds."

Storch noted that through past layoffs, other divisions have managed to operate and noted the financial struggles many taxpayers are suffering. To say that the city could not manage Recreation or Purchasing, he said, was "completely untrue."

"The timing will only make things worse next year," he said.

The city will enter the 2012 fiscal year with what Zilinski projects as a $3.5 million shortfall.

Storch once again called for cooperation between the administration and governing body, but said, "I don't see that cooperation coming from City Hall."

At the vote, the measure passed 5-1-1, with Vera Greaves, William Reid, Bridget Rivers, Storch and Council President Annie McWilliams voting "yes," Rebecca Williams voting "no" and Mapp declaring himself "present but not voting."

--Bernice Paglia

Interim City Administrator Sought

The city will consult with a Cranford management group this week for possible recruitment of an interim city administrator, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said at Monday's City Council meeting.

The firm, Jersey Professional Management, lists among its credits the placement of Bob Casey in Plainfield as temporary director of Administration & Finance in 2008-09.

Robinson-Briggs took on the role of acting city administrator as of March 30, when Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson's stint as acting city administrator expired. Williamson had served since Jan. 1 and had reached the city's 90-limit on an acting term. In assuming the role herself, the mayor cited a section of the city's Municipal Code that permit her to serve for 90 days as acting city administrator.

Former City Administrator Bibi Taylor was appointed Jan. 1, 2010, but was fired in December by the mayor for unstated reasons. The City Council voted to restore her to the position. She was expected to return from maternity leave at the end of March, but instead took a Union County post to succeed retiring Finance Director Lawrence Caroselli.