Saturday, March 31, 2012

Plainfielders Rally for Trayvon

Plainfield joined other municipalities across the nation in calling for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in Sanford, Fla. by George Zimmerman. City resident Tamara Taylor Schenk organized a "Million Hoodie March" from Library Park to City Hall.
She collected signatures on petitions for Zimmerman's arrest. The petitions will be sent to attorneys general in Florida and New Jersey, she said.

Taylor Schenk said she will also be going door to door to collect more signatures calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman.
People wearing hoodies began gathering at 9 a.m. Saturday and the march stepped off at 9:30 a.m. for City Hall.
Despite cold, rainy weather, about 150 people joined the march.
The Plainfield NAACP and People's Organization for Progress were represented at the rally.
The rally, real and virtual.
Marchers feel Trayvon Martin could have been anyone's son out on a simple errand.
  Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs wears a red hoodie at the rally.
Trayvon was carrying only Skittles and iced tea when he was shot to death.
Taylor Schenk plans to send all the petitions to the attorneys general at the end of the week.


Petitions Due Monday



4 p.m. Monday
City Clerk's Office
515 Watchung Ave.

Plainfield Politics: The "Strictly from Hunger" Games

Maybe Councilman William Reid said it best.

At Wednesday's special meeting, Reid said he had attended a conference of the National League of Cities where he met elected officials from all over the country. He was surprised to find that officials from as far away as Alabama and Tennessee had heard about Plainfield, but their question was, "What the heck is the problem with the mayor and council?"

Reid has managed to come down on both sides the current dispute, defending Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs while saying she should have apologized early on for using city funds to pay for a controversial radio broadcast in August 2010. After an investigation, the council unanimously voted to reprimand and fine the mayor. In a move to clear her name, she is now suing the council.

While still sticking up for her version of how the 2010 "town meeting" came about, Reid has volunteered to help get the mayor to back off the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, major city issues are taking a back seat to the infighting.

Though all the elected officials are Democrats, public meetings are often rife with dissension. Members of the public have been pleading for decorum, as the meetings can be widely viewed on local cable and fiber-optic stations. Part of the acrimony arises from past political battles, such as the 2009 contest between the mayor and Council President Adrian Mapp. The mayoral seat will be up for election in 2013 and lines are already being drawn among factions.

Mapp, the chairman of the New Democrats, recently accepted the party line for re-election to his Third Ward seat from Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green. He won the seat in 2008 after knocking out the party's choice in the June primary. Mapp has endured political and personal attacks from Green for years. But the rapprochement did not usher in a new era of collegiality. Instead, Mapp caught more hell from those who had seen him as the pure-hearted public servant in contrast to Green's mean "boss" image.

The mayor took office in 2006 and began carrying a basket of candy around on her official visits. Meet her in City Hall, more candy was on the table. Her second term campaign featured handouts of snacks at the Senior Center and other locations. But somewhere along the line, the Lady Bountiful ploy gave way to an alleged habit of proclaiming "I am the f***ing mayor!" when crossed. Her cabinet developed a revolving door and in a pinch, she even took a turn acting as city administrator in charge of day-to-day operations as well as being the part-time mayor. Just before Christmas in 2010, she fired a city administrator who was about to give birth. The council overturned her decision. A series of mayoral vetoes for legislation on governmental reform ensued.

The administration and governing body spent countless hours dealing with a contretemps between a volunteer-led baseball league and a city-sponsored one. Verbal barbs from the mayor became increasingly prevalent at council meetings, on camera. It seems a bandolier of poison darts had replaced the basket of candy.

Plainfielders love a good political scrap, but things have devolved to the point that many are deeply  concerned about the city's image to outsiders and its viability as a good place to live. One close observer calculates it will take a decade or so of new leadership before the Good Ship Plainfield rights itself and sails ahead. How many citizens will simply disembark before then and leave the city behind for their own mental, physical and emotional well-being?


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mapp Pitches Forgiveness

As promised, Council President Adrian Mapp has made a request to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs through her attorney to call off her lawsuit against the governing body. In return, the council will consider rescinding a $200 fine levied on her after a council investigation found she had acted improperly in paying $20,000 for an August 2010 radio broadcast.

The proposal to seek an apology surfaced at a special meeting Wednesday at which the governing body voted to hire a law firm for defense in the suit. Democratic Party Committee official Dottie Gutenkauf and Councilman William Reid agreed to join Mapp in asking the mayor to drop the lawsuit and avoid forcing a council defense at the taxpayers' expense.

In the letter addressed to attorney Richard J. Angowski, who defended the mayor in the investigation that led to a reprimand and the fine, Mapp says "This is a very bad situation that benefits no one: However it is a situation that can end very quickly if the mayor chooses to do the right thing, which is all the council and the people have ever asked."

Actually, partisans of the mayor, both in the community and on the council, have insisted she did nothing wrong and held the town meeting only to combat a wave of gang violence. Citing a truce that ensued while the elected officials battled on, Reid said Wednesday, "The gangs stopped - they stopped shooting each other."

Whether the mayor and council will call a truce remains to be seen. The mayor refused for months to answer questions about the $20,000 check paid to WBLS for the event at which Rev. Al Sharpton appeared briefly. Even after the council invoked its powers of investigation as permitted by the city's special charter, she declined to give information until subpoenaed public hearings took place and then denied any wrongdoing.

It was after the council's special counsel Ramon Rivera submitted his report on the investigation that the mayor was reprimanded and fined.

In his letter, Mapp asks for the mayor to "accept personal responsibility for her actions and those of her staff." He tells Angowski, "If your client, the mayor, accepts full and total responsibility, on the record; that is in writing to be read into the record; the council will consider rescinding its fine and reprimand. It never hurts to say I am sorry, and it's never too late."

If the mayor decides "to take the high road," Mapp says, "the Council will join her on that road that would, hopefully, lead to healing."

If not, Mapp points out, the council has retained the law firm of Genova, Burns & Giantomasi and is "prepared to present a vigorous defense against her lawsuit."


Mayoral Apology Could Stem Lawsuit

An apology from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs could halt an escalating and costly legal battle, a trio of political figures said Wednesday even as the City Council approved hiring defense to the mayor’s lawsuit against the governing body.

Council President Adrian Mapp, Councilman William Reid and Democratic Party stalwart Dottie Gutenkauf said they will make one last try to get the mayor to apologize for a 2010 incident which led to an official reprimand. The mayor is suing the council over a $200 fine imposed after a council investigation into funding of a radio broadcast aimed at stemming gang violence.

“This has burned up the city,” Gutenkauf said in asking the council not to spend more money on lawyers. “Let it go, and deal with the real problems the city faces.”

Mapp said if the mayor apologizes, the $200 fine would being rescinded.

There was only one resolution on the table Wednesday – to hire the firm of Genova, Burns and Giantomasi to defend the council at a rate of $250 per hour, not to exceed $10,000. Reid launched into a lengthy recap of the entire 19-month saga before asking the council to table the resolution in favor of trying to work things out with the mayor. But the council is facing a deadline to respond or be in default.

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams spoke in favor of trying to reach out to the mayor, although she said she understood why some council members saw it as a waste of time. As council president in 2010 and 2011, she said the mayor never responded to her phone calls or emails.

McWilliams said she had to file an Open Public Records Act request to get documents from the mayor. If the mayor declines a meeting now, McWilliams said, “It’s on her.”

But she said, “I think we have to continue to be the bigger people on this.”

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams did not want to table the resolution.

“I don’t expect that the mayor would apologize,” she said.

Mapp said he had asked City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh to discuss with attorney Angelo Genova the possibility of a special meeting Monday, but Jalloh said Genova indicated the timing would give him only one day to review the case. In answer to Reid, Jalloh said he had not asked Genova whether he could get more time.

Williams rejected seeking an extension.

“The reason we are here is because the mayor broke the law,” Williams said. “It was nothing the council did. The blame lies solely on her for her illegal use of public funds.”

Williams said she was not on the council in 2010, but for all of 2011, she said, the mayor never admitted any wrongdoing and went on to file suit against the council.

Storch disputed Reid’s contention that the city spent only $5,000 on the broadcast.

“It was a $20,000 city expense,” he said. Regarding the $15,000 Investors Savings donation that mayoral supporters say was used to offset the cost, Storch said he had spoken with an executive vice president and a regional vice president of the bank who both confirmed the money was donated for the July Fourth celebration.

Storch said the council was acting reasonably and he was ready to vote to retain the attorney.

Mapp said he was personally not in favor of rehashing the matter and agreed with Gutenkauf’s suggestion.

“I will stand with you,” he said to her.

Mapp said he would put the request to the mayor in writing and would reach out “first thing tomorrow morning.”

Reid said he would take the responsibility of  “setting the mayor down.”

Lacking a second to table the resolution, the vote was 4-1 in favor of hiring the law firm, with McWilliams, Storch, Williams and Mapp voting “yes” and Reid voting “no.”

Gutenkauf and Reid will share Mapp’s memo and join him in attempting to meet with the mayor.

“If she’s digging her heels into the ground, we can take her shoes off,” Reid said.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Owners, New Service at Park Hardware

L-R: Nestor Zavala, Alvaro Cardona, Christian Cardona, Jose Martinez, Jhon Cardona

Park Hardware’s new owners are preserving a business that has been a local favorite for more than 30 years. The added value is a bilingual staff that can serve a new Latino population as well as longtime customers.

Latinos made up a quarter of the city’s population in 2000, but saw a 65 percent increase to 40.4 percent by 2010. A hallmark of the increase was a noticeable uptick in home improvements, but there was a language barrier at the Park Avenue hardware store.

Maribel Gonzalez, owner of The Park Florist a few doors down, said she was often pressed into service to translate. Now that Alvaro Cardona has bought the business, she said, “I don’t have to go to the hardware store any more with people.”

“It’s like a bonus,” employee Nestor Zavala said of the bilingual service.

Workers were busy Tuesday laying tile in the front display window and painting shelves an eye-catching orange.

 Also new in the window was an array of rain pipe parts, to call attention to Cardona’s gutter installation service.
Another planned innovation is rental of equipment including jackhammers, generators, circular saws and power washing machines. The store will also begin opening earlier than before, at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, to better accommodate contractors.

But as always, even a handyman just looking for the right screw for a small project will be welcome.

Old customers are familiar with the imposing wall of drawers full of assorted screws and nails that former owners Rich and Doug Borchers would sift for matches. The brothers were well-known for their personal service and advice, something Cardona’s staff hopes to emulate.

The business went up for sale after Doug, 60, passed away on Christmas Day 2011. Rich was working on the transition when he died unexpectedly on March 16 at the age of 56. Cardona and his staff have had the sad task of informing customers who didn’t know of the brothers’ passing.

“It was heart-wrenching, sad,” Gonzalez said. “We lost a little Park Avenue history. They were both honest, good people.”

But Cardona and his staff, while also saddened, seem ready to write the next chapter for Park Hardware. On Tuesday, three generations of  the family, including his father, Jose Martinez and sons Christian and Jhon, were on hand at the store. They are keeping the name, the familiar inventory, the phone number (908 754-9137) and even the ancient rotary phone that the Borchers brothers liked. But now they can bridge the language gap that frustrated a whole group of potential customers.

"They'll be fine," Gonzalez said.

If you go: Park Hardware, 617 Park Ave. Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday


Blue Monday

Proof that yesterday was a crock of sh*t: My first journal entry was 10:21 p.m. (instead of at intervals all day). And it was a notation about possible shots fired in the driveway.And some junior thugs talking outside.

So today a police officer was here looking for shell casings or whatever you call them. Guess it wasn't firecrackers.

I hope it is true that the mad party crew next door is really going or gone.


Beware the Bagworm

This cleverly designed object is the home to the Bagworm, a curious creature that can devour Arbor Vitae or other shrubs unless these cases are removed before the larvae emerge.

I saw this one on a shrub behind the Park-Madison building. Others may differ in appearance, depending what the Bagworm uses to construct its case. It looks deceptively like something that might belong on a shrub, unless you know what you are looking at. To prevent depredation of your Arbor Vitae or other host plants, you should handpick the cases and submerge them in soapy water, according to several sources.

Look here for more information.


Taking a Day Off

Dan and Maria have great advice for Plainfielders today.

As for me, I am taking a Mental Health Day.

To PPC aka Member of PPC aka Fed Up With Plainfield aka Anonymous aka Davy Morales, go away.


Monday, March 26, 2012

BOE Incumbents Get Extra Eight Months

By voting to move the traditional April school board elections to November, the governing body gave all current incumbents an extra eight months - two-thirds of a year - in office. It will take three cycles before winners in November 2015 get regular three-year terms starting Jan. 1, 2016.

The first set of board members affected consists of Brenda Gilbert, Lisa Logan Leach and Keisha Edwards. If re-elected in November, their terms will begin Jan. 1, 2013. In November 2013, Renata Hernandez, Wilma Gilbert and Susan Phifer (if this year she gets the unexpired term of Rasheed Abdul-Haqq) will have to run. Next, the trio of Jameelah Surgeon, Dorian Hurtt and Alex Edache will have to seek re-election in November 2014.

For some reason, this strikes me as a case of unintended consequences, although maybe the Grand S.L.A.M. team had it all figured out that terms would be attenuated.

The legislation that permitted the change from April to November also allows for reversion to the old schedule after four years. In that case, will the first round of incumbents then find their terms shortened to less than three years? Yikes.

The Elections Division of the County Clerk's office has posted a revised schedule of 2012 election dates that includes the new BOE filing date of June 5 and all other important dates.

The new schedule also lengthens the time from election to swearing-in, from a matter of a couple of weeks to nearly two months. This could give lame ducks and their allies an opportunity for mischief, except we all know that sort of thing never happens in Plainfield.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Million Hoodies March" Saturday

Spotted this sign while on a walk Sunday (click to enlarge).



I spent most of Saturday sleeping.

From after lunch until dinner and from after dinner until bedtime, all I did was sleep. It could have been due in part to those back-to-back meetings early in the week that reminded me of Plainfield's seemingly intractable problems. After the second one, I had to take a break and blog later than usual. The experience of hearing so many heartfelt pleas for something better for Plainfield was quite wearing to the psyche.

The week ended with another, more particular situation that neighbors here had hoped would be solved, but it also is dragging on. A large group of young adults holds parties in a second-floor apartment next door, parties that start early in the evening and go on until the wee hours, on just about any day of the week. As luck would have it, my apartment and specifically the window by my bed get the brunt of the noise, but many neighbors are annoyed at the racket, the cars pulling up and leaving throughout the night, the stream of strangers (to longtime tenants) in and out of the building.

I was dozing over my Kindle just before midnight Friday and decided to turn off the lights and go to sleep. For once, the party was in abeyance next door. But then a strange noise woke me up and I had to get out of the covers and look. It was a young man who had climbed up the hanging fire escape ladder and was entering  the apartment through a window off the fire escape.

What to do? Call the police? Unfortunately, I had seen the same thing before and it just seemed like yet another  social rule that people in that apartment liked to break. Why go in through the front door when you could stand on someone's shoulders or on top of a car, grab the lowest rung and climb up to the window?

Forget sleeping, I was wide awake. Apparently some of the crowd had come back and the screeching, yelling, music and influx of cars pulling up under my window resumed. Now, readers know I often sit up blogging until way past midnight (that's how I know how long those parties last). So what's the difference? When one is older, sleep can become elusive. Feeling sleepy and then actually being able to fall asleep is like winning a lottery of some sort. I lost it on Friday.

Fatigue just overwhelmed me Saturday. I'm glad in a way it was cold and windy outside, so I didn't lose any of that recent spring balminess by snoozing away the day. As for Plainfield's problems, they won't come into sharp focus again until the special meeting Wednesday, which should be short, and the April 2 meeting, which will most likely keep me up late blogging afterwards.

Sleep is a necessity and many have mused on it. To see a compilation of quotes on sleep, click here.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Special Meeting, Filing Date Coming Up

It is Spring 2012 but the drama that began in Summer 2010 continues. The City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday with just one resolution on the agenda, to hire special counsel "in the matter of Sharon Robinson-Briggs vs. the Municipal Council of the City of Plainfield." Yes, the mayor is suing the governing body over the $200 fine imposed on her after an investigation concluded that she willfully broke state purchasing laws and directed her staff to violate the law in paying $20,000 to radio station WBLS.

The special meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

The next agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. April 2, also in City Hall Library. April 2 is also the filing date for the June primary, with a 4 p.m. deadline to file petitions in the City Clerk's office. The council seats up this year are for the Third Ward and Citywide at-large seats.

So far, no dates for budget deliberations have been announced. The budget was introduced March 12 after some scrambling by officials. The city reverted to a calendar year for 2012 and the state timetable called for introduction by March 9. The budget document submitted to the state Division of Local Government Services was signed by Glenn Cullen as acting chief financial officer while the city looks for a full-time CFO. Cullen is the CFO and borough administrator of South Plainfield and is helping the city out by working several hours a week serving Plainfield temporarily.

The council's Citizen Budget Advisory Committee was not activated for the six-month "transition year" budget that covered July 1 to Dec. 31 2011. It is expected to take part in the budget process for 2012. Given that the city also has a new city administrator since November, the committee's scrutiny of the budget could be especially important if members are carried over from past years when a full examination of the budget took place. Cullen and new City Administrator Eric Berry cannot be expected to spot anomalies that a seasoned committee and an alert governing body may register. Good luck to all on the 2012 budget process.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sanford City Manager is Former Plainfielder

Yes, Norton N. Bonaparte Jr. is the same person who was once Plainfield's city administrator in the cabinet of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. When Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took office in January 2006, he stayed on as director of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services until March 2006. He left Plainfield to become the first city manager in Topeka, Kans.

He kept that position for five years. When he left, this is how the editors at the Topeka Capital-Journal described his tenure:

"In good times and bad, Bonaparte maintained his composure and represented the city and its administration to the public in a respectful, courteous and professional manner. He has been described as unflappable, which may be the perfect term for him."

He came to Sanford, Fla. in September 2011. Today, due to reaction to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, he has been thrust into the glare of national and even international news.

I saw him on a news video today and I personally was impressed by his handling of the questions posed to him.  If you listen to him and are not yelling at the television for him to fire the police chief or arrest George Zimmerman, you will, in my opinion,  see the man described above. His stated goal is justice for Trayvon Martin, but he will not be pressured into a particular course of action. The term "grace under fire" comes to my mind.

I wish for the Martin family and all of Sanford the most just outcome possible in this horrific tragedy. Having covered Plainfield so long, I know the gut-wrenching fear that parents of color can feel for their young sons as they go out in a world that can inexplicably turn on them at any moment. Sanford residents grew up with a legacy of hurt over the usurpation of a fully-functioning black society by the larger community in 1911 and the taking of a son's life in 2012 must feel like just more of the same.

My thoughts are with the family, the city and the city manager throughout this sorrowful time.


A Brief Recap of the Town Meeting

Two dozen speakers at Tuesday's Third Ward town meeting rejected and even derided a real estate expert's assertion that a 600-unit luxury apartment project would be the best use of the shuttered Muhlenberg hospital campus.

Instead, residents and officials alike insisted that nothing less than restoration of full medical care will do for the site where Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in August 2008. A satellite emergency room at the site is due to close next year.

Appraiser Jeffrey Otteau's hour-long presentation was based on a report he prepared for  JFK Health System, which launched a "Moving Muhlenberg Forward" web site dealing with all aspects of the proposed development. Otteau's report includes a determination by the United Health Institute that there is "no viable future for a new hospital in Plainfield." Tracing trends in housing and employment, he offered rationales for the apartment proposal and a retail strip across Park Avenue.

The hospital site is surrounded by one- and two-family homes in the Third Ward and resistance to the proposal began as soon as it was unveiled with the web site. On Tuesday, residents came armed with their own data to counter Otteau's findings, such as a burgeoning Latino school enrollment in contrast to his claim that families are getting smaller. Many of the residents had lived in their homes for decades and did not want a projected 1,125 new neighbors in a four-story building on the former hospital site.

One resident said she had already collected 200 signatures on a petition against rental units on the site and she collected more at the meeting. (There is no development application filed with the city as yet, nor has any developer been named.)

Dr. Harold Yood called Otteau's report a "45-minute scam" and said JFK took advantage of its merger with Muhlenberg to get rid of competition and to acquire all its financial resources. Dottie Gutenkauf, a leader of the Save Muhlenberg movement, urged residents to get on the advocacy group's list serve to receive updates on efforts to restore a hospital at the site. Councilman William Reid called his health care at JFK Medical Center "horrible" and said he would only vote to restore Muhlenberg. Activist Nancy Piwowar deplored the distance to JFK in Edison, which she characterized as life-threatening for stroke or heart attack victims.

Council President Adrian Mapp called all the comments "very compelling" and spoke of veiled threats of litigation if officials did not go along with the proposal. A copy of his January 2011 letter had been passed out to attendees at the beginning of the meeting and as he did in the letter, he urged residents to reach out to elected officials at all levels to bring back a medical facility.

"I stand with you and what you want is what I want," he said.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Who Will Fix Park Avenue Sidewalk?

Way back in August, Hurricane Irene ripped a big tree out of the ground on Park Avenue.

Eventually the stump was removed, but now that it is seven months later, people are wondering why the sidewalk is still not repaired. This is a very busy stretch of Park Avenue, across from the public library and it is the route to school for many hundreds of students.

I don't know the answer and I don't even know whose problem it is, the property owner's or the city. It just seems that a long time has passed without repairs and thousands of drivers who pass through this main north-south corridor daily see the long-broken sidewalk.

Any thoughts, readers?


Garden Club Receives Heritage Marker

Members of the Plainfield Garden Club met Tuesday with graphic artist Wm. Roger Clark of the New Jersey Preservation Office to receive a Women's Heritage Trail marker created by Clark.

The Shakespeare Garden is Site # 54 on the statewide trail that tells the story of women's contributions to the agricultural, industrial, labor and domestic history of New Jersey. All 94 sites are described in a downloadable book complete with maps of the sites.

Click image to enlarge
The Plainfield Garden Club maintains the Shakespeare Garden in Union County's Cedar Brook Park at the city's southern border. Union County Parks and Recreation helps the club with large projects and will install the marker near the garden's new pergola. (Note the pergola and sign for the Shakespeare Garden at the top right of the book cover.)

The Plainfield Garden Club was established in 1915. Read about the Shakespeare Garden's history and more at the link above. Devoted gardeners and lovers of the Bard have established Shakespeare Gardens around the world, notably in Central Park , the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Golden Gate Park and of course, Stratford-on-Avon. Plainfield's Shakespeare Garden is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Thanks to the Plainfield Garden Club for the untiring work of its members. Not only have they created a special place of beauty in Plainfield, their efforts continue to bring pride and acclaim to the city.


Town Meeting Post Will Be Delayed

I attended the Third Ward meeting Tuesday but could not sit up late posting.

Check back later for that post and others.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Another Sign of Spring

Yellow forsythia, pink cherry blossoms, white pear trees in bloom - all are beloved signs of spring. But what caught my eye in recent walks around the city were the little mounds of mud on top of the soil - worm castings.

It is probably the mark of a true nature nut to be excited by these signs that earthworms are once again active. After all, castings are what passes through the worm's system. But believe it or not, these excretions are quite valuable to gardeners. On Amazon, there are 76 results when you key in "worm castings." You can buy them by the bag to use as soil amendments, a term that generally only comes up in the vocabulary of dedicated gardeners.

Soil Secret, Inc. tells all about the great worth of worm castings.Whether you just have some patio pots or a full-sized garden, worm castings may just make the difference in your results.

So admire the spring trees, listen to the birdsong, but don't forget to look down and take note of that humble yet significant sign of spring, worm castings.

P.S. Take a look at the Duke Farms Community Garden Handbook if you want to become a gardener or just a better one!


Dan is Back!

Who is that guy with the blue shirt at last night's meeting?

None other than blogger Dan Damon, now back in Plainfield at Norwood Terrace after about a month in the hospital. Dan blogged throughout his hospitalization, but this was his first visit to a meeting since mid-February.

Tonight (Tuesday) there is another big meeting, the Third Ward Town Meeting at 7 p.m. in Cedarbrook School, 1049 Central Avenue. The topic is redevelopment at the Muhlenberg Campus as described on "Muhlenberg Moving Forward."

Maybe we'll see Dan again!


PMUA Study Sparks Calls for Dissolution

A highly detailed presentation by a citizen task force Monday boiled down to three options: Fix the troubled Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, dissolve it or do nothing. Council President Adrian Mapp then urged the governing body to come up with a super-majority - five of seven possible votes - in favor of dissolution.

About 200 residents filled the Washington Community School cafetorium for the presentation, with more than two dozen speaking out on the findings. Research on the authority's workings ran to more than 10,000 pages on operations and costs of providing sewer and solid waste services to city households. Comparisons with similar municipalities found PMUA services to be more expensive and to require many more employees than others. But setting aside the option of doing nothing, the task force suggested fixing PMUA by finding $8 million in savings to bring authority costs in line with others, having fiscal and forensic audits and a managerial analysis and by being more selective in choosing commissioners. A suggestion to take back a recent $1 million settlement with former executives drew applause.

But so did the prospect of dissolution, although some residents warned of debt and job loss resulting from that option. Of five council members present, four - Annie McWilliams, Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Mapp - spoke in favor of dissolution, though with certain caveats. Vera Greaves called for fixing the problems uncovered by the task force and William Reid and Bridget Rivers were absent.

Among comments from the public, Tom Kaercher called dissolution "absolutely" the answer.

"You can't make them listen to you," he told the council. "You have to get rid of them."

Frank D'Aversa said the PMUA resembled other institutions that "start out like Robin Hood and end up like the  Mafia."

"The PMUA has to reform its upper management," he said. As for dissolution, he said, "The public needs to know what will it cost."

Murray Roberts, a 42-year city resident, deplored "cronyism" and questioned how many of the authority's 171 workers are "friends and family."

"This is a 'crony' kind of town," Roberts said, adding, "I hope you will make every effort to make sure the PMUA does not continue to exist."

But Rose Cabbagestalk said, "Let's fix the problem," expressing concern about the number of jobs that would be lost.

Mapp answered her concern by saying there would still be jobs.

"My vision for the PMUA is that it will come in-house." he said.

"You say you don't have the votes," resident Pat Van Slyke said to the council. "You work for us. Who's voting up or down on dissolution?"

Her question brought out the 4-1 split among those present, Mapp having already read a prepared statement earlier in favor of dissolution. But in concluding remarks, task force chairman Joseph Ruffin said he did not see any charge to the group "to look for dissolution" and said he saw a "preconceived notion" in Mapp's prepared remarks.

Asked to respond after the meeting, Mapp said the report contained "information in the public domain" which gave a factual basis for his conclusion.

The presentation was recorded for broadcast on local cable channels and the complete report can be obtained through an OPRA request in the City Clerk's office. it will also be posted on the city web site.

Besides Ruffin, members of the task force were  Thomas Crownover, Elizabeth D'Aversa, Marian Clemmons, Nan Anderson and Ann Mosley. Though established in May 2011, it did not meet until September 21 and did not receive requested information from the PMUA until November.

PMUA officials declined to take part in the meeting, although Commissioners Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and the Rev. Tracey Brown were in the audience.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Task Force Report Alone Not a Cure

Tonight residents and officials will hear the results of a 10-month inquiry into workings of the Plainfield Municipal Authority. The City Council's PMUA Task Force will give its report at a special joint meeting, 7 p.m. at Washington Community School.

Born into controversy, the authority that handles the city's sewerage and solid waste emerged from early litigation to become the city's fifth largest employer and part of the community's fabric, offering an Environmental Fair each fall. But at a meeting in 2009 with city officials, Executive Director Eric Watson was edgy, defensive. True, rate hikes earlier that year had brought an outcry from residents and caused formation of a ratepayers' watchdog group, but Watson's dramatic tone seemed to reflect a personal hurtthat didn't jibe with the reasoned presentation of PMUA attorney Leslie London to the governing body.

At this juncture, the leadership of the PMUA is in the hands of an interim director, Duane Young, who impressed the council last fall with his pledge of cooperation and transparency. But he may or may not have the post permanently. Watson and Assistant Executive Director David Ervin are gone, albeit it with a parting settlement so controversial that Gov. Chris Christie wants an investigation. The board of commissioners is split, as are the governing body and the mayor over appointments. And as the DumpPMUA group continues to uncover dubious use of the ratepayers' money, the drumbeat for dissolution of the authority has intensified.

But will tonight's report resolve anything?

Not likely. It is a report from a volunteer task force, not a mandate. The governing body will have to decide what action, if any, is warranted now that the state is looking at the authority. At the local level, the issue of the PMUA's future is almost too clouded by politics to permit any rational action. As an autonomous body, the authority is expected to solve its own problems, unless, as several close observers feel, they are so fundamental that only disbanding the PMUA will suffice.

The PMUA is undoubtedly the most-studied entity in the city's history, with volumes of data on the DumpPMUA web site and more emerging every day. What this report could do is put the main issues into sharp focus. The money wasted or misspent is gone and not likely to be recouped, unless the state somehow strikes down perhaps the most egregious example, the $1 million settlement. The issues of leadership in the organzation and on the board of commissioners will not be resolved by an external report. In and of itself, the report cannot make the PMUA go away.

The report does deserve close attention from all tonight and further study in days to come. No doubt a copy should go to the appropriate party at the state. But let us all remember that it is not likely to still the boiling cauldron of controversy over how basic services now in the hands of the authority should be delivered to the city's 16,000 households. Impatient as everyone is for closure, it will not come tonight, despite the hard work of the task force.

So listen well, ask questions, take notes - and  perhaps the PMUA web will be untangled sooner rather than later.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Special Meeting Monday


 AT 7:00 P.M. ON MONDAY,
 MARCH 19, 2012,







Saturday, March 17, 2012

Garden Club Recognized by State

In case you missed it, the Plainfield Garden Club received some very positive attention in the Star-Ledger regarding recognition of its members' work. Garden writer Valerie Sudol did a lovely job on this story.

The New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail marker will be installed at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park.


File in June for BOE Seats

Don't ask me why, with everything else going on around here, I was obsessing today over when school board candidates have to file in 2012.

Someone said they would have to follow the same schedule as municipal candidates. But, but ... those elections are partisan and school board elections are not, my inner fussbudget muttered. A look at the election dates on the county web site this morning shed no light, so I emailed the Board of Elections and found out that school board candidates will have to file on June 5, the day independents file for the general election. And instead of a hop, skip and jump to Myrtle Avenue, they must schlep to Elizabeth to the County Clerk's office.

The county election date list is now amended, although as of tonight the downloadable PDF file of election dates is not. I'm sure it will soon be updated as well. I did not see this information in some of the other likely places, but Hoboken has a comprehensive timeline. It is enough of a change to warrant frequent reminders to those wishing to run.

The former filing date was Feb. 27 for an April 17 election. Now that the election has been moved to Nov. 6, school board members whose terms would have been up in the spring will serve until Jan. 1. They are Lisa Logan Leach and Brenda Gilbert completing three-year terms and Keisha Edwards serving an unexpired term replacing Pat Barksdale. Appointee Susan Phifer replaced Rasheed Abdul-Haqq and will have to run for the balance of his term.

The new election calendar holds for four years, at which time the district can revert to an April election or stay with the November general election. Apparently that means all incumbents who formerly would have been up for April elections will get an extra eight months in office.

Meanwhile, on April 2, municipal candidates must file for the June primary. Two City Council seats are up, one representing the Third Ward and the other for all four wards, the Citywide at-large seat. The regular Democrats have already announced their candidates, Adrian Mapp for re-election to the Third Ward and The Rev. Tracey Brown for the Citywide at-large seat. Incumbent Annie McWilliams is not seeking re-election to the latter.

School Board President Renata Hernandez has publicly challenged Mapp for his seat, but the Grand S.L.A.M. team which now dominates the school board has not formally announced a slate.

Of course, there will also be three freeholder seats and a new District 12 seat up for election this year, not to mention a president, but being hyperlocal, this blog is focusing on the Plainfield contests. There is also a lot of talk already about 2013, when Plainfield voters will elect a mayor, Fourth Ward representative, Assembly people, freeholders, school board members and up to 68 members of the Democratic City Committee, who will in turn choose a party chairman for two years.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Comments: All or Just Some?

Candidates do not have to file until April 2, but the 2012 local election season is in full swing already. So is the 2013 season, by all accounts.

Expect to see campaign blogs by the candidates, but meanwhile partisans are attempting to score points for their choices through comments on the few blogs that are still publishing daily. Plaintalker so far has let nearly all comments appear, in part so that readers can see the spectrum of views. However, some posters seem to think the blog is their personal soapbox for thinly-disguised campaign talk.

The issue of whether or not to require posters to use their real names is one as old as blogs and online forums. Some bloggers only post signed comments. Some don't post any. The Courier News recently instituted a policy of posting through Facebook, after which comments dropped down to a trickle. A hot issue yesterday had only five comments, while the same story attracted more than 50 comments online in the Star-Ledger.

I have suggested that the more rabid commenters take their rhetoric over to the S-L's online forum, which was so busy during the Gallon controversy. Duke it out over there, folks, and leave blog comments to the issues, was my thought.

However, before I make my executive decision on commenting, I would like to hear from readers how they feel about imposing stricter rules on comments. Where should the line be drawn? Would you rather see the gamut of comments or only the polite, reasoned ones? Let me know.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

PMUA Board Mulls Exec Search, State Letter

The search for a new PMUA executive director has yielded four finalists who will be considered along with interim Executive Director Duane Young.

Commissioner Carol Ann Brokaw said Tuesday the PMUA board's search committee had narrowed the pool down to four candidates who have the appropriate qualifications for the job. The authority provides sewer, solid waste and recycling services to about 15,000 households in Plainfield and was recently approved to operate a materials recovery facility for Union County at the Rock Avenue transfer station.

According to a Spring 2011 PMUA newsletter, Executive Director Eric Watson and other top officials decided to "pass the torch" after long years of service.

About 25 people answered job ads for the post. PMUA attorney Leslie London said one in the Courier News Career Builders section is still running.

Commissioner Malcolm Dunn said all the resumes were provided to the board and suggested that each of the five commissioners submit names from the pool "and see who we agree on."

This job ad in the Star-Ledger for a PMUA executive director details the qualifications.

Meanwhile, a $1 million settlement with Watson and Assistant Executive Director David Ervin sparked residents' complaints to the state and Gov. Chris Christie has called for an investigation. In a letter to PMUA Chairman Harold Mitchell,  state Division of Local Services Director Thomas Neff questioned the settlement, saying it appeared to be based on "affinity" for Watson and Ervin. Neff also noted that two commissioners, Dunn and Cecil Sanders, admitted to meeting individually with  Watson and Ervin.

On Tuesday, Mitchell asked to have the letter put into the record and asked other commissioners to "pledge cooperation." But Dunn asked, "What is the (Department of Community Affairs) going to do? Where does it say they are going to do anything? I read they are going to pass it on to someone else."

Dunn said he had no problem with reading the letter into the record, but asked what cooperation was sought.

"Cooperation with whatever they want," Young said.

Dunn reiterated his question and noted the letter said steps will be taken "to prevent it from happening again." The good part, he said, was that the state will "monitor  our finances."

Brokaw said she didn't understand the issue.

"We have an obligation to cooperate anyway," she said.

Mitchell ended the discussion by saying, "I withdraw my request. Let the chips fall where they may."

Dunn asked to whom the letter was addressed and when told it was sent to the chairman, he told Mitchell, "Answer it."

Later, at the request of resident Charles Sporn in the meeting's public hearing portion, London read the entire letter into the record. Dunn briefly left the room while she was reading.

Among other issues, resident Alan Goldstein questioned why health benefits were not considered part of each commissioner's compensation. The commissioners receive a stipend of $4,500 as well as health benefits . London read a four-page opinion on why health benefits did not have to be considered compensation, based mainly on IRS rules that do not include such benefits in gross income. She said it was her legal opinion and others were free to offer theirs.

A PMUA Task Force created last year by the City Council to examine the workings of the authority will give its report Monday in a special meeting, 7 p.m. at Washington Community School, 427 Darrow Ave.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Officer is Attack Victim

Today's news brought the horrifying story of how three Good Samaritans had to save Police Officer Israel Valentin from an assault by a man with a criminal history.

The assailant, Andre Henderson, is in custody and faces charges of attempted murder while Officer Valentin is hospitalized with serious injuries.

Our thoughts are with Officer Valentin and we wish him a full recovery from this heinous attack, which took place Sunday afternoon, according to news reports. The citizens who saved and protected him deserve the highest accolades for interceding at their own risk.


On Pledging Allegiance

At Monday's City Council meeting, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs saw fit to point out that Councilwoman Rebecca Williams does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This happened in the context of Williams asking the mayor, who was making comments from the side, to be quiet while Williams as acting chairman of the whole was reading out the titles of resolutions.

Despite the fact that Williams' personal stance on the Pledge had nothing to do with Williams invoking decorum for the meeting, the mayor's comment caused the councilwoman to come in for criticism from veterans in the audience. Thinking about it later, Plaintalker looked into the subject and found a variety of viewpoints on reciting the Pledge.

Decades ago, the issue came up after some school districts mandated the Pledge of Allegiance as part of opening exercises. Jehovah's Witnesses won a 1943 Supreme Court case defending their right not to pledge for religious reasons. More recently, there were two well-known Plainfield school board members who never recited the Pledge.

Diverse groups such as Quakers and Muslims have reasons not to pledge allegiance to the flag. During the civil rights era, some people declined to pledge in protest, saying there was not yet "liberty and justice for all."

Interestingly, the U.S. Army's guidelines on saluting the flag call for soldiers to remain silent while in uniform, but to recite the pledge when in civilian attire.

There are many other informal takes on aspects of the Pledge of Allegiance, ranging from the radical views one might hear on radio station WBAI at times to Plainfield's own George Clinton's "One Nation Under a Groove."

The mayor's barb at Williams, in response to a request for her to be quiet, fell into a category of transactions known as "kitchen-sinking," in which a person tosses in a totally unrelated charge to score points in a dispute. As I recall, this gambit was identified by psychiatrist Eric Berne in his book on Transactional Analysis, "Games People Play." The mayor employed a similar tactic during the WBLS investigation when she gratuitously offered the allegation that former City Administrator Bibi Taylor liked to be called a certain epithet. (See post here.)

With all the city's problems, it is too bad a meeting has to be disrupted by such behavior. Enmity on camera perpetuates the notion that Plainfield is dysfunctional, as resident Dottie Gutenkauf pointed out. Let's hope a better tone will prevail in future meetings.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

PMUA Meeting Tonight

This month has too many meetings and budget deliberations are soon to be added!

I thought I could dawdle away the hours on yardwork today but a look at the calendar reminded me that by about 5:30 p.m., I better start walking over to 127 Roosevelt Avenue for the March PMUA meeting at 6 p.m. So I have to spend the afternoon doing household chores.

See the agenda here. Harold Mitchell retains his chairman's seat for now. There was a headline story in the Courier News today on PMUA issues (click here).


Council Roundup, More Later

A little light and more heat Monday

Where to start with Monday’s City Council meeting?

Appointments proposed by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs did not go forward. A resolution to give Housing Authority holdover Rickey Williams a five-year term was tabled after concerns were expressed about whether the expiration date, given as July 1, 2016, was correct. Five mayoral nominations for seats on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority were removed from the agenda following Council President Adrian Mapps statement of concern over a state investigation into a $1 million settlement for two former PMUA executives.

An ordinance on new ID regulations for anyone handling liquor in bars and restaurants was tabled. It was up for final passage after an initial vote last month, but representatives of bar owners said they only found out about it last week. They asked for another month to assess its impact. Robinson-Briggs also asked the council to table it. Police Sgt. Kevin O’Brien said the new rules would not go into effect until license renewal time in July and the new photo badges would help officers quickly identify legitimate employees, thus saving time on inspections. But the council agreed to allow the extra time.

A new item Monday was introduction of the 2012 budget, with a proposed municipal tax levy of $50,495,050. The document was only completed at 3 p.m. Monday, auditor Bob Swisher of Supplee, Clooney said. The council approved introduction and can now hold budget deliberations. A public hearing on the introduced budget will be held April 9. Mapp asked City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh to advertise dates for budget deliberations as soon as possible.

Midway through the meeting, the mayor began making comments off-mike while Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, pressed into service as temporary chairman of the whole, was reading out the resolutions for council votes. When Williams asked the mayor to be quiet, the mayor lashed back by saying, “You sit there every meeting and grunt and sigh, and you won’t even do the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The remark brought a ripple of reaction from audience members later identified as veterans. Mapp responded to the mayor’s outburst by saying, “People are supposed to ask to be recognized.”

Williams stood by her right not to pledge and said the mayor was wrong “to mock that.”

“Let’s move on,” Councilwoman Vera Greaves said, but Councilwoman Bridget Rivers, taking part by phone from a National League of Cities conference, chided her colleagues for “getting nothing done” and said they should get some training as she was doing at the conference.

“My light is shining here, but my stomach is hurting,” Rivers said in reaction to the dissension.

At the end of the meeting, longtime resident and Democratic Party stalwart Dottie Gutenkauf said the mayor and council were both being “unprofessional” and reminded them they were on camera for cable broadcast statewide.

“Every citizen in New Jersey can see what is going on in Plainfield,” Gutenkauf said. Addressing both Williams and the mayor, she said, “Shame on you.”

Plaintalker will amplify on some of these topics and others in future posts.


Monday, March 12, 2012


"the careful and responsible
of something
entrusted to one's care"

By putting someone in charge of resources through election or appointment, you are entrusting them with the obligation to take care of them.

In war, "to the victors belong the spoils" was the ancient rule. But in daily life, even our distant forebears expected leaders to "husband," or be "frugal managers" of resources.

These definitions remind us that the taxpayers' and ratepayers' money is to be used for the common good by trustworthy stewards. Let us remind those in office, or seeking office, of the same.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Deferred Pension Payment Now Due

On Saturday, I got a close look at the City Council packet at the Plainfield Public Library and one item on temporary budget appropriations for April was a shocker. Amounts ranged from $500 to a little over half a million, until the line for the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS), which is $5,199,585. That amount and $1,407,810 for the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) are the price of deferring payments in 2009 and now the state expects to be paid.

Then-Governor Corzine offered municipalities a pension deferral plan for tax relief in 2009, with repayment over 15 years beginning in 2012. See Plaintalker's post here. If I read the rules correctly, failure to pay the amount due by April 2012 will result in 10 percent interest being charged by the state.

Meanwhile, the city has had a high turnover of administrators and also went through a six-month budget "year" in which none of the usual budget deliberations took place. This year opened with a brand-new city administrator and within a month the chief financial officer left. The city is now employing a CFO who has the same position plus the full-time job of borough administrator in a neighboring municipality. He gives the city a few hours per week. The city is actively seeking a full-time CFO and is in the process of passing legislation to increase the maximum salary for a CFO to $125,000, but if approved Monday, it will not be final for another 20 days.

At last Monday's agenda fixing session, council members were displeased at the lack of budget information, but I did not hear this item mentioned specifically in the discussion.The council and the public need to know more about this situation.

The radio show "This American Life" devoted a recent program to an exploration of the costs of government. The first segment used Trenton as an example of a city in trouble, both fiscally and operationally. You can hear the program or download it at this link.The New York Times also just had an article on the pressures of governmental costs (click here).

Budget introduction is promised soon and then the council will have the unhappy task of reviewing and possibly amending the 2012 budget. Courage and fortitude will be needed.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mayor Offers PMUA Names Again

PMUA parking space.

For the third time this year, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is asking City Council confirmation of appointments to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority that would push aside two commissioners who voted against a $725,000 settlement for two former executives.

Nominations before the authority's annual reorganization would have eliminated Commissioner Carol Ann Brokaw and placed Chairman Harold Mitchell in an alternate's seat. But the move failed and Mitchell retained his chairmanship at the Feb. 14 reorganization. Brokaw, on holdover status, was again named secretary.

Monday's meeting precedes the authority's March meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. If the council approves the mayor's nominations, Mitchell would have to step down as chairman and Brokaw would be off the board of commissioners. The board would then have to choose a new chairman.

The board has five commissioners and two alternates. The Rev. Tracey Brown, whose term as commissioner expires in 2015, is not affected by the nominations.Alex Toliver is nominated to succeed himself for a five-year term ending Feb. 1, 2017, but meanwhile can stay on as a holdover under state authority law even if not reappointed. Malcolm Dunn, approved in November to fill a vacancy to Feb. 1, 2014, is not on the new list, but was previously nominated to switch to a longer term.

Cecil Sanders Jr., currently an alternate, is nominated for a full five-year term succeeding Brokaw. The mayor wants Mitchell to replace Sanders as Alternate No. 1 and Darcella Sessomes is named to be Alternate No. 2.

Sanders, Dunn and Toliver voted in January to approve the settlements for former Executive Director Eric Watson and Assistant Executive Director David Ervin. The settlements, which with earlier ones total $1 million for the pair, are now under scrutiny by the Department of Community Affairs. A March 1 letter states in part "... the Authority's settlement with Mr. Watson and Mr. Ervin has an aura of collusion and political payback clashing with the accountability and transparency the Governor demands from local authorities."

Nearly 300 residents signed an electronic petition to the state, asking for an investigation into the settlement. The DCA letter to Chairman Mitchell also includes a ratepayer complaint from resident Olive Lynch, which after investigation, caused state officials to be "disturbed" by the circumstances leading to the settlement.

The City Council meeting is 8 p.m. Monday (March 12) in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


New Look Delights City Hall Staff, Visitors

Public Works Superintendent John Louise calls it "the 'wow' factor."

It's the reaction of visitors to City Hall since restoration of the seal in the rotunda and new paint throughout have given the municipal building a whole new look. Gone are the dusty fake plants, the table full of flyers and the "greeter's desk" that was obscuring two memorial plaques.

The goal of the makeover was to present a "clean, uncluttered environment," Public Works Director Eric Jackson said.
Even necessities such as recycling containers have been integrated into the look by placing them in bins painted to blend in with the cream-colored walls and sand-toned  trim of the interior.
Artist Daniel Krovatin restored the seal in the rotunda, researching the colors and revising the background several times to get it just right, Louise said. The design was created by the Moravian Tile Company for the building, which was opened to the public on Jan. 1, 1919.
The old, scuffed floor and dull seal can be seen in this Feb. 6 photo of residents including bloggers Dan Damon and Dr. Harold Yood waiting to enter the council meeting.
The building's cornerstone was laid on Feb. 17, 1917, but labor troubles delayed construction. Mayor Leighton Calkins was the champion of the project, initially fending off critics who thought the plan was too expensive.

"We shall be criticized by generations hence if we fail now to erect a Municipal building which will, with its beautiful site, reflect credit on Plainfield when it numbers fifty instead of twenty-five thousand people within its borders," Calkins said.

Restoring a welcoming, dignified look projects a message that Plainfield is "really on the upswing," Jackson said.

Besides impressing visitors, the improvements are pleasing city employees.

"The staff reaction has been tremendous," Jackson said.

The World War (it wasn't called World War I until 1939) memorial can now be seen up close, with all the names of those who gave their lives for their country in the Great War.

Jackson called it "a great monument that needs to be viewed by folks."

Visitors are welcome to City Hall, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for regular business and at various evening hours for meetings.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Why I Am Waiting for Land Use Boards

I was given an opportunity to meet with the PR people from Muhlenberg and I declined, saying I preferred to wait until there was an application at the Zoning Board of Adjustment or the Planning Board.

That is also the reason why I am not going to try to attend all the various meetings set up by Muhlenberg Moving Forward. It is at these land use board meetings that the bottom line will come out. In my opinion, anything said before testimony at the land use boards is ... what? Hearsay?

The other reason, as many know, is that I decided not to get a new car when the old one died and I can't easily get around to all these meetings. I can walk to City Hall and Municipal Court for City Council meetings and the like.

I set forth my position in August 2008 on this post and it still holds today. The blog is not meant to be a total news outlet. Take it for what it is worth to you and also check the other blogs, newspapers, online information and back-fence gossip as we all try to puzzle out what is going on with the Muhlenberg campus.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

City Government a Train Wreck?

One of the basic functions of government is to allocate the taxpayers' money in the best way possible. But when  we hear Council President Adrian Mapp say he can't make heads nor tails of budget information from the administration, it is concerning. Mapp is a state-certified chief financial officer who is well conversant with how municipalities are supposed to order their finances and he is not seeing it in front of his eyes in Plainfield.

The auditors, with their many repeat recommendations to follow basic money-handling procedures, are also bearing witness to the need to shape up.

One reason the City Council started its own Finance Committee was to formally monitor fiscal matters. The governing body is not permitted to take part in day-to-day operations of the city, but it can draw back the veil on how things are being done and invoke the rules that must be followed.

On Monday, nine contracts that were held up last month were offered again for council consideration. The issue last month was that the council did not want to approve Purchasing Agent David Spaulding as the Public Agency Compliance Officer. On Monday, the administration danced around the topic of whether there is a PACO and declined at first to give a name. Chairman of the Whole William Reid alluded to a lack of "trust," but Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said, "I strongly object to my colleague saying we don't trust an employee."

Later, after City Administrator Eric Berry said the PACO is Spaulding and no resolution is needed to designate him, Mapp commented, "Who we don't trust is the administration."

Now the mayor is suing the governing body and attempting to overturn findings of a council investigation that resulted in a reprimand and a $200 fine over the handling of funds for an Aug. 1, 2010 town meeting on gang violence. Her supporters say the money was well-spent and gang violence decreased, a claim not borne out by crime statistics.

All the he-said, she-said behavior aside, the laws on municipal funding are as solid as City Hall itself. Break enough rules on spending and the state will send somebody to run your city instead of those the people elected and those the elected officials appointed to be in charge. Plainfeld is not at that point yet, but the longer these spats hit the headlines, the closer the city gets to outside intercession.

Addressing the 2012 budget process in a truthful, professional way could be a large step toward proving city finances are not the "train wreck" that observers increasingly think they are. What happens this month and next will show whether sound policy or political "sound bites" will prevail.