Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Youth Opportunities Mulled at Town Meeting

Though sparsely attended, Tuesday's First Ward Town Meeting covered a lot of topics, including the 2012 budget, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, the June primary, road repairs, senior concerns and the perennial question, raised Tuesday by resident Eric Graham, "What about the youth?"

Graham said there are a lot of young people who need to be involved in some activity, prompting First Ward Councilman William Reid to remind him of the many offerings of the Recreation Division. But Graham specified that he wanted the council to make a commitment to help youth acquire "leadership skills." Reid mentioned the annual summer employment program, funded this year at $91,000, that gives young people jobs in city offices and sites where they can learn the workings of municipal government. He also mentioned an ordinance aimed at having young people attend public meetings to learn more about government.

At that point Freeholder Linda Carter and I looked at each other. When she was a city councilwoman, Carter fostered passage of two ordinances aimed at developing the skills Graham had in mind. One was the student liaison program mentioned above and the other was to be a 15-member advisory committee on issues affecting young people. Carter asked the council members whether they had made any appointments to the two commissions and I was recalling blog posts I had made to encourage implementation of the two entities.

One was never activated. The other received four members several years ago but all terms have since expired, so all 15 seats are vacant. Is it time for a revisit to this legislation? Click here to read Plaintalker's post from 2008.

Another speaker, Rev. Wyatt of Church of the Living God, announced plans for a youth center in the former O'Connor's Meat Market building at 200 Garfield Avenue. He also advocated leadership training and said of city youth, "We want to let them know they are not just a group of people we will throw away."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams named a number of existing resources for youth, including the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club. Williams said many churches also have mentoring programs.

An interesting aside: Reid said he thinks "the baseball drama" is settled, referring to a three-year spat between a volunteer-run league and the Recreation Division, which developed a competing league with paid coaches and a lower sign-up fee. Officials of the volunteer-run league complained as recently as this month of being harassed in various ways over use of municipal ball fields. (Let us hope it is really resolved.)

Other hot topics Tuesday included the 2012 budget, which will be discussed Thursday (May 31) by the council after revelation of a $1.5 to $2 million shortfall on May 24. The council is hoping to formulate amendments in time for a hearing and final passage by June 18.

Reid gave details of an accelerated road repair program and assured residents that the cost will not come out of the operating budget, but will be covered through bonding for capital projects. In answer to carter's question on what First Ward roads will be included and Williams read the entire list out from a file on her iPad 2.

The PMUA came in for some heat over what residents called higher rates than people in other towns pay for  sewer and solid waste services. Resident Dee Dameron said the rates were "killing" her mother, 81, and vowed to take her complaint to Gov. Chris Christie if nothing is done locally.

"The PMUA is killing me financially," resident Andre Bailey chimed in. He also felt it was a deterrent to new businesses coming to the city.

Reid, who served seven years as a PMUA commissioner, also complained about the rates. He and Councilman Cory Storch also sparred verbally over the need for a study on possible dissolution of the authority. Storch said such a study, involving various experts,  is necessary for the state Local Finance Board to determine whether dissolution should take place. Reid wanted just a task force and a meeting of PMUA, administration and council representatives to work out the issues.

Storch said the mayor did not want to do the study required by the Local Finance Board, but wanted a "pre-study before the real study." He urged residents to call the mayor directly with their concerns about the PMUA.

Rev. Tracey Brown, a PMUA commissioner who is now running in the June primary for the citywide at-large council seat, came in for criticism over where she stood on a $1 million settlement with two former PMUA executives. Brown was present for most of the meeting, but left after resident Jean Black objected to a political flier for Brown, depicting her in a pulpit flanked by men including Sen. Robert Menendez with his head bowed, and an apparent likeness of President Barack Obama. The flier urges voters to re-elect Obama, Menendez, Rep. Rush Holt and to elect Brown.

The final Town Meeting is for the Fourth Ward and will be held at 7 p.m. June 26 in Jefferson School, 1700 West Front Street. It will be a joint meeting with the Housing Authority of Plainfield. Although it is primarily for the Fourth Ward, any city resident may attend and speak on specific concerns.

Williams reminded residents Thursday that although the governing body desires to hear from residents, the council cannot get involved in day-to-day operations of the city and so must convey concerns to the administration. She expressed hope that more representatives of the administration, including the mayor, will be on hand at the next meeting to answer questions.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tax Lien List Tells Tales

A 15-page list of delinquent payers of municipal taxes and PMUA bills included 42 items for Dornoch Plainfield LLC. It would appear that taxes are owed for 41 of the 63 condos in the East Front Street building known as "The Monarch."

The amount contrasts with Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson's statement at a May 1 budget meeting that he believes between 24 to 30 have been sold. Originally, a Veterans' Center on the ground floor of the building was to be turned over to veterans' groups only after all the condos were sold. But sales lagged in a slow market and the company began renting the units. A new agreement calls for hand-off of the center after two years or when the fiftieth unit is sold, Williamson said. If in fact only 22 have sold, the 50-unit mark may be a long way off.

As usual, the tax lien list contains quite a few prominent names. If not paid by June 14, the liens will be sold off, buyers will pay the amounts owed and the delinquents will then owe the buyers the arrears plus up to 18 percent interest. Lien holders can move to foreclose in two years if not paid.

The largest single amount owed appears to be $123,438.80 for Belle Gardens LLC at 733-47 East Front Street, for PMUA services. The total Dornoch tax bill is about $50,000. Plainfield Neighborhood Health Services owes more than $42,000 to PMUA and the Housing Authority of Plainfield owes more than $61,000, according to the list..

The reason the list runs to 15 pages at a cost of nearly $18,000 is that it is a single, large-print column per page instead of two per page as in the past. The list is due to run again on June 7, if you want to take a look. (Hmm. Wonder how the pay wall affects notification.)


Memorial Day 2012

The Rev. Robert Dixon, Chaplain of Johnson Jeter Post 219, American Legion

Veterans and residents gathered Monday morning to observe Memorial Day.
Wreaths were placed at the memorial on the grounds of City Hall. (See close-up views of the memorial here.)
Rev. Dixon approaches to say a prayer.
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs gives remarks.
Residents pay their respects.
Officials and residents moved to the War Memorial at Crescent Avenue and East Seventh Street for placement of wreaths there.

The vision of the day when people shall "learn war no more" has yet to come. On July 7, Plainfield plans to welcome home veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars with the annual parade for Independence Day.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Primary Election Notes

As other observers have noted, the 2012 Democratic Primary has four candidates vying for two City Council seats, but their alliances and support make this political season one of the most confusing in recent memory.

The local Democratic Party line went to Rev. Tracey Brown, the pastor and friend of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, for the citywide at-large seat, and to the mayor's political arch-enemy, Council President Adrian Mapp, for the Third Ward seat. Challengers are Veronica "Roni" Taylor for the citywide at-large seat and Rasheed Abdul-Haqq for the Third Ward. Taylor is backed by New Democrat council members Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch, while Abdul-Haqq has the support of political "kingmaker" John Campbell.

Brown formerly served on the school board and is a current commissioner on the board of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Mapp won his council seat in 2008 with Campbell's backing and is the longtime leader of the New Democrats, who often stand in opposition to the Regular Democratic Organization.. Taylor has held many roles in the community and is a teacher and coach with the Plainfield school district. Abdul-Haqq won a school board seat with Campbell's backing, but was forced off the board through legislation sponsored by Green, whom he has often criticized in letters to the editor.

In recent days, a social media campaign has appealed to voters to choose Taylor and Mapp in the June 5 primary. Earlier, observers noted the mayor was openly backing Abdul-Haqq along with Brown.

With such a mixed bag of affiliations, voters are perhaps better advised to look at the individuals rather than their political "brands." The role they seek is that of legislators, representing residents on the governing body. The citywide at-large seat, currently held by Annie McWilliams, represents all four wards, while the other one up this year is for the Third Ward, a largely residential area in the city's southwest section.

The audience at the Friends of Sleepy Hollow forum heard a lot of rhetoric on all sorts of topics, some very far afield from the City Council's purview. The forum was taped for viewing on local channels 34 and 96, so maybe you can see it there if you did not attend.

Brown stressed her pastoral work, including free funerals and repasts for families of youthful victims of violence; her accomplishments as a basketball star; and her community work. She pledged to lower property taxes, expand jobs and restore decorum at council meetings. Abdul-Haqq promoted his plan to create jobs by launching a flea market in the West End as an economic hub. He also detailed his many years of activism in the schools and for causes such as getting NJ Transit to refurbish rusty railroad overpasses.

Taylor noted her past community involvements and said now that her children are older, she is ready to commit to a council role. She named her strengths as the ability to collaborate and a "proven track record" of service. Mapp cited his record as a councilman and freeholder, promised "honest, ethical leadership" and said "I have a passion for public service."

The two sticky wickets in this campaign are where candidates stand on the Muhlenberg and PMUA issues. Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008, and since then, there has been only a satellite emergency room on the premises, itself due to close next year. Nothing much has changed since the linked article above was published in October 2008, except that now the parent company wants to build 660 apartments on the site, a proposition that, if possible, is even more controversial than the hospital's closing.

None of the candidates are in favor of a high-density rental project in the Third Ward neighborhood that now has mostly one- and two-family homes. All want a health care facility on the site. But the governing body will not be the absolute decider in either case.

As for the PMUA, officials are mulling its dissolution and putting solid waste and sewer services under the city's aegis, but again such action is not purely a City Council matter. Discussion at the forum ended up focusing on Brown's stated "conflict of interest" in talking about the PMUA while campaigning, despite which she was able to say she voted for arbitration before a controversial $1 million settlement with two former top PMUA executives. She was absent when the board of commissioners voted approval of the settlement.

At the FOSH forum, Taylor was quite clear on the role of a council member, both as a legislator and steward of public money. Mapp, a certified financial officer, has often called the administration to account on fiscal matters while recognizing the division of power between the executive and legislative branches. Neither Brown nor Abdul-Haqq seemed as clear on the role of a council member, the former pledging to "work very hard" and the latter promising to "do the right thing."

Voters - a possible 3,497 Third Ward Democrats and 11,992 city-wide, along with any unaffiliated who declare themselves Democrats at the polls - must sort all this information as well as their personal feelings about the candidates for the June 5 primary. In this heavily Democratic city, a win in June is considered to be tantamount to election in November. As always, no matter where candidates stand, the key factor is getting out the vote on Election Day. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Check your sample ballot to verify your polling place.

And don't forget, this year school board candidates must file by 4 p.m. June 5 in the County Clerk's office in Elizabeth to run in the November General Election. Three three-year seats and one one-year unexpired term are up this year.

Two Republicans have already filed to be on the November ballot. They are Bill Amirault for the Citywide at-large seat and Randy Bullock for the Third Ward seat. Independents must also file by 4 p.m. June 5 to be on the November ballot.

On this Memorial Day weekend, remember that people have fought and died for your freedom to vote. Honor them by exercising this hard-won right.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Personal Note

My work on a long post has been delayed by a severe need for sleep. There is a raccoon in the wall of the part of my apartment that passes as my bedroom (it is basically a 10-window enclosed porch, like the old "sleeping porches" of a past century). How this raccoon got in is a mystery, but its scrabblings and the chittering noise of its babies are somewhat terrifying to hear at close range in the wee hours. I have sometimes just avoided going to bed, other times pulled the covers over my head and assumed it can't break through to the other side. My lack of proper sleep finally caught up with me and no matter how many times I got up to blog, I couldn't do it. Back to bed and raccoons be damned.

Anyway, on my way to the library for books to read on the long weekend, I saw loads of honeysuckle along a fence leading from Lot 7 to Park Avenue. Just beautiful! and the scent was heavenly. Yes, I know it is probably counted as a noxious weed nowadays, but I like it.

Another thing on my mind besides raccoons is the impending paywall on our daily newspaper. My subscription runs out on May 31, but I have had access to the new system for the past week or so and everything I see is making me weigh the cost of renewing at a much higher rate. As people are complaining all over the nation, the news biz is not what it used to be, what with massive layoffs and regionalization of editing and other formerly local aspects of journalism. But to many, it has not yet become what it could be under the new demands for a multi-platform, 24-hour news cycle. I liked reading the E-Newspaper online, but I was disappointed at what is sometimes passing for news in the transition to the future. Witness the "story" above. (Click to enlarge.) Yikes!

Mau the formerly feral cat has been very attentive to the noises in the wall and if the raccoon gets in, I am hoping Mau will deal with it. He sits next to wall and listens to the scuffling, sometimes turning to me as if to say, "Let me handle this." Given that at four years, he has demonstrated in play-fighting a formidable degree of jaw-power, he could probably break the neck of any animal intruder in seconds. But then he pulls stunts like going to sleep on what's left in the bottom of a laundry basket, leaving me to fret alone.

My library selections included Joyce Carol Oates' "A Widow's Story." I was interested to learn that a friend who became a mainstay in her struggle with widowhood was the author Edmund White. He was one of the writers whose work I set out to read after enjoying "Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America." I read several of his books and was impressed by his urbanity and storytelling ability. Tennessee Williams was also cited in Christopher Bram's book and I picked up "Hard Candy" to add to the reading list generated by Bram's book.

While my program of reading and yard work may not seem in keeping with the usual beach-and-barbeque theme of the first long warm-weather weekend, it's enough for me. I will bring my camera to the ceremonies tomorrow at City Hall and the War Memorial to mark the real reason for the holiday.  See you there?


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Commentary on Fiscal Foibles

In November 2010, a seasoned chief finance officer got Plainfield out of a pickle. The mayor and individual council members were about to be charged daily fines for the city's lack of a CFO, a situation that had festered for three years. Officials' appeals to the state Local Finance Board for a CFO to be assigned were met with an admonition to go find one or face personal fines.

The deal was sealed in time to dodge the fines, but there were unspoken issues. The candidate would not come on board until January  2011, and then only under a title and salary the city passed by ordinance to allow him to avoid a conflict with the state pension law (see post here). In addition, he would work only 28 hours per week and would only be on site two days a week.

Anyone with the means to Google could discover another aspect of the situation, that the candidate was recuperating from major surgery. It was an accommodation all around, but it only lasted a year and the city is now in the same situation that precipitated the onerous threat of daily fines.

In February, the city made another tenuous arrangement, this time for a CFO to serve for five to seven hours a week (click here for details). The governing body agreed to increase the salary range for a full-time CFO in hopes of attracting one, but so far no "permanent" CFO has been named.

During the last time there was no permanent CFO, iffy practices such as the ones on the document below took place (click to enlarge).
The city paid $2,500 each for appearances by the "WBLS street team" and the "WBLS van," one paid out of a general improvement bond and another out of "outside consulting services." Then there was the infamous $20,000 tab for a "community event," ostensibly paid out of an account for "hardware and software maintenance." That expenditure resulted in a full-blown council investigation after the mayor refused to answer questions about it. She received a reprimand and a $200 fine, but she is now suing the City Council over alleged harm to her "good name" (see commentary here).

At Thursday's budget meeting where costly errors and omissions were revealed, Councilman William Reid allowed as how it might be hard for the city to attract a new CFO with all the leadership issues here.

This weekend traditionally is not only a time to remember those who gave their lives for their country, but is also informally the beginning of the summer vacation season, a time of expansiveness and relaxation. Not so for the governing body, which will now have to buckle down and try to straighten out the budget mess next week.

The word "mediocrity" got tossed around Thursday as the governing body and the Citizens Budget Advisory Budget Committee tried to grasp the situation. Until residents at large demand a higher level of competence from the administration, fiscal management is not likely to improve.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Budget Comes Up Short by $1.5 Million

Errors and omissions in the administration's 2012 budget will force the governing body to find ways to come up with an additional $1.5 million or more in revenues, a City Council discussion revealed Thursday.

A state review of the budget statement introduced in March revealed the flaws, consultant David Kochel said. Errors included $550,000 allocated for various kinds of insurance when the actual amount should have been $1.7 million, Kochel said. In addition, individuals were left out of the budget, including a prosecutor and Municipal Court staff as well as police personnel.

Adjustments must also be made for salary increases due to union settlements. Former CFO Ron Zilinski put less in the 2011 budget for retroactive pay than was adjusted, Kochel said. Even 2011 employees who have since left must receive the retroactive pay for that year, he said.

The budget had come in below two state-imposed caps, but now, he said, "When you add up all things, it is well over the spending cap."

Kochel also expressed concern about the tax rate, but he did not have the current one and so could not project the impact of the shortfall. Storch questioned whether layoffs might be needed, but Kochel said the personnel and civil service process was so long, perhaps 60 to 90 days, that savings would be minimal..

The revelation followed a calm start to the meeting. Council members Cory Storch, William Reid, Rebecca Williams and Council President Adrian Mapp were present and Annie McWilliams, Vera Greaves and Bridget Rivers were absent. Public Works & Urban Development Director  Eric Jackson was standing in for City Administrator Eric Berry, who is off until June 2.  Finance Director Al Restaino was absent due to his mother's surgery. Three members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee attended the meeting.

 Those present began by discussing the timetable for budget adoption, which had been projected for late May. But once the glitches were revealed, talks became more heated. Reid asked how the errors happened and questioned the roles of the chief finance officer and city administrator. He attempted to excuse the mayor, but Storch said, "Councilman Reid, you know better," and said the mayor has the ultimate responsibility for the budget.

"Nobody should run for mayor unless they know what they're doing," Storch said.

The CBAC began attending six budget sessions starting April 12, but when member Jan Massey found out the administration knew of the errors by April 5, she said the committee would have taken a different approach had they known.

"What a waste of time," Massey said.

With budget deliberations concluded, the CBAC was at the point of formulating its report to the council.

In light of the new information, the council's Finance Committee will now meet at 5 p.m. May 29 before the 7 p.m. Ward 1 Town meeting. Plans call for a special meeting on May 31 at which the Finance Committee will present its recommendations to the full council. At another special meeting on June 6, the council hopes to adopt amendments. The agenda-fixing session is June 12 and the council hopes to pass the budget on June 18.

Among choices to bridge the budget gap, the governing body may use surplus from the six-month transition year and Kochel said he will be looking to trim non-salary expenses. The mayor's proposed 40 percent cut in library funding may also come up again.

"Quite frankly, to me this budget is such a mess ... I can't make sense out of what we have in front of us until we put all the numbers together," Mapp said.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Council Contenders Meet the Public

L-R: Rev. Tracey Brown, Veronica "Roni" Taylor, moderator Dawne Clark, Pat Turner Kavanaugh of FOSH , Council President Adrian Mapp, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq.

Nearly 150 people turned out Wednesday for a Friends of Sleepy Hollow forum featuring contenders for two City Council seats in the June 5 Democratic primary.

Facing the crowd at Emerson School were Rev. Tracey Brown and Veronica "Roni" Taylor, candidates for the city-wide at-large seat, and incumbent Council President Adrian Mapp and Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, who are vying for the Third Ward seat.
After opening statements by each candidate, moderator Dawne Clarke of the Union County League of Women Voters read questions from the audience. Clarke first noted she had a dozen cards with questions about   "Muhlenberg," shorthand for a complex set of issues that arose after the 2008 closure of the acute care facility. 

Mapp said he was not in favor of keeping services "as is," meaning only an emergency room still open. He wanted to bring back "quality health care." He was also not in favor of a proposal by the shuttered hospital's owners to place 660 apartments on the site and wanted "bottom up approval" of whatever goes on the campus. He advocated a group called Community Residents Engaged About Muhlenberg, or CREAM, that would seek "better quality health care."

Abdul-Haqq called Mapp's wish for restoration of acute care "pie in the sky" and said a straegic planning task force is needed. He also wanted the hospital's owners to return the land to the city, saying it had been held tax-free for 100 years. Abdul-Haqq suggested uses such as a cancer center, Wegman's or Whole Foods on the site.

Taylor said people "do not want nor do we need"  660 apartments. Although she would like an acute care facility, Taylor said, she wants to make sure the emergency room stays. (It is due to close in 2013). 

"We need to keep that emergency room there," she said, noting the large number of uninsured people in the city.

Brown disputed what she called "mean-spirited" blog comments that alleged she was in favor of the 660 apartments and said she had stated at an NAACP forum Sunday that she had not yet "done her due diligence" on the issue. On Wednesday, she said she had now done her due diligence and she was not in favor of the apartments. She said she was in favor of a health facility that would provide adequate service.

Other topics included crime, economic development, relations between the mayor and council, roads, foreclosures, housing and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Brown is currently a PMUA commissioner and Clarke said she had six or seven cards with the same question, on why Brown said she would not answer any questions about the PMUA at the NAACP forum because it was a conflict of interest..

Brown said her attorney advised her not to answer any questions related to the PMUA. Clarke then asked Taylor what the conflict of interest might be. Taylor said she did not see one, and questioned how someone could run for public office and not answer questions.

The PMUA is currently under study for possible dissolution. Taylor said she supports "the front-line workers" at PMUA.

Mapp said he was not an employee of the PMUA, never served on it and had no relatives working there, so had no conflict. He said as a member of the governing body he is "constantly bombarded" by questions from the public. If he had a conflict, he said, he would not be in public office.

"The PMUA has been quite a problem," Abdul-Haqq said. "there definitely needs to be a plan."

He said when Dan Williamson, the current Plainfield corporation counsel, starts his new position as executive director of the PMUA, he expects him to economize. The authority's board of commissioners recently approved a $1 million settlement with the former executive director and assistant executive director. Abdul-Haqq said he believes the settlement should have been made through arbitration and criticized Mapp for allegedly flip-flopping on the issue.

Brown sought a rebuttal despite her attorney's advice not to talk, and said she had voted for arbitration.

The two-hour forum attracted 145 residents, who submitted 76 questions for the moderator, according to Jim Spear, one of the organizers. This writer came home with 26 pages of notes in very small script and so will not try to get it all into one blog post. The entire forum was videographed for viewing on local channels and Rev. Zechariah Jackson also taped it for YouTube segments.

Clarke urged all to get out and vote on June 5. Winners of the Democratic primary will be on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election along with Republicans Bill Amirault for the at-large seat and Randy Bullock for the Third Ward seat. Independents who file June 5 will also be on the Nov. 6 ballot.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Songs in My Head

When Audrey first proposed a birthday trip to Seattle centering on a Seattle Rock Orchestra Beatles concert, it sounded nice, but I had a passing thought that there has been so much other music in my life before and after the 1960s. In fact, if I had to pick a sound track to enliven my old age, it might be mostly composed of the Great American Songbook, those marvelous ballads whose lyrics I know by heart.

Well, was I wrong about the Beatles. Sitting in rapt attention in the Moore Theatre with a multi-generational band of fans, I relived the extreme delight "the lads" unleashed on the world fifty years ago. Musicians and singers young enough to be their grandchildren performed a heart-warming tribute that highlighted those now-iconic popular songs of the past half-century. Alternately brash, romantic and celebratory, they sum up life in the sea-change that was the 1960s. For a while, we all did live in a Yellow Submarine, whatever that meant.

The most affecting song for me at the concert was "In My Life." Its lyrics muse the passing of dear ones and enshrine the person most loved, surely enough to make even the most hard-boiled former reporter shed a tear or two.

Many of the Seattle Rock Orchestra  Beatles songs are now up on YouTube, and my musician son Michael has enjoyed viewing them. So have I. The two of us have been singing or humming those songs from Rubber Soul and Revolver a lot as we go about our daily chores at home. The songs in my head now span a very long time, but it was great fun to hear that particular music again and to recall those heady times.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Missed the Forum

A reader asks why I did not attend the forum Saturday for superintendent candidates.

Number one, I was participating at another event across town until after the forum began. Number two, I had a backlog of garden chores that needed to be addressed that afternoon.

Given the secrecy of the forum - no names announced ahead of time - it also seemed that a person might as well just wait for the news to come out however it might. The newspapers apparently did not send any reporters to the forum. Eventually the board will have to name the winner, as there is a stated July 1 starting date for the new superintendent.

My impatient reader submitted a comment about the forum on a totally unrelated post about the FOSH garage sale. Sorry to disappoint, but I am not going to write anything about a forum I did not attend.

Those who are displeased with the board can run for one of the four seats coming up in November or can make sure they vote for the candidates of their choice. The filing date to run for the school board is June 5 and petitions must be filed at the County Clerk's office in Elizabeth. The school board election will take place on Nov. 6 and the winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2013.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Special Meeting Lacks Quorum

The special meeting called Monday by the mayor for four insurance-related items fell through for lack of a quorum. Only council members Bridget Rivers, Vera Greaves and William Reid showed up. After about a 20-minute wait for any sign of Annie McWilliams, Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams or Council President Adrian Mapp, Reid as acting president adjourned the meeting. Each of the four had indicated they would not be attending the meeting.

As previously noted, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson attempted to add the four resolutions at the May 7 agenda-fixing session, but was rebuffed by Mapp. I was away on May 14, when Williamson sought to add the resolutions as walk-ons and again failed. Now that the mayor's unilateral call for the meeting has met with absence of the council majority, the issue may come up again in June.

Monday was my first chance to see the resolutions and it was surprising to me that two were retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012. One tagged R 209-12 was for an agreement with Inservco Insurance Services for a 12-month agreement to serve as a third-party administrator for $60,000. Another, R 210-12, was for an agreement between the city and two insurance companies, Brown & Brown Metro Inc. and Reliance Insurance Group, to provide risk management consultant services. The companies were to be paid an unspecified amount by the New Jersey Municipal Self-Insurer's Joint Insurance Fund, again for a term of 12 months beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

On May 14, the council was also asked to agree to payment of $75,000 to City Solicitor David Minchello, again retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012.

Before the meeting, Williamson said something about a notion that contracts were to be carried over for the first six months of 2012, which I did not understand. Some contracts were carried over for the six-month "transition year" between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2011, which paved the way for a new calendar year budget process.

The $60,000 contract Monday required certification of funds by the chief finance officer, but no such certification was attached to copies set out for the public. The city is in the process of hiring a full-time CFO and meanwhile is relying on one who works five to eight hours a week.

The other two resolutions authorized the use of competitive contracting for the aforementioned insurance services. All four resolutions were liberally sprinkled with references to state statutes that went over my head.

Despite the seemingly discouraging situation of an aborted meeting, the atmosphere in City Hall Library was rather jovial Monday. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs swooped down on this blogger to bestow a hug, then took the gavel and played council president for a while. She invited Mapp's Third Ward rival in the June primary, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, to wield the gavel, but he declined. Also present were "kingmaker" John Campbell and attorney Lucas Phillips of the Corporation Counsel's office, in addition to Minchello and Williamson. Lots of lawyer power! Director Eric Jackson of the Department of Public Works & Urban development stopped in briefly as well.

As corporation counsel, Williamson is supposed to represent both the administration and the governing body, but has found the role problematic as the two bodies have clashed in recent months. Scenarios such as the council approving measures which the mayor then vetoes have occurred. In some cases a super-majority has managed to over-ride the mayoral veto. The council also had to invoke its investigative powers in the city charter to elicit testimony from city officials regarding funding of a controversial town meeting called by the mayor in 2010. The mayor and council each hired special counsel and Williamson declined to testify in public in that matter.

Williamson has served throughout the mayor's two terms starting in 2006, but recently agreed to become executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority as of July 1. A new corporation counsel will then have to be named for the last 18 months of the mayor's current term.

The next agenda-fixing session of the City Council will be 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. and the next regular meeting will be 8 p.m. Monday, June 18 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


One More Glimpse of Seattle

The Rhododendron is Washington's state flower. Images of the flower are woven into carpet in the House Chamber of the State Capitol in Olympia and of course the real thing in bloom is everywhere throughout Seattle in Spring.
Audrey and Peter enjoy this view from their living room.
A much less loved flower is the dandelion. No visit to Seattle would be complete for me without some yard work. I used the Weed Hound to uproot a few dozen dandelions, which eventually went into a huge food and yard waste cart supplied by the City of Seattle.
Seattle's climate favors flowering plants. On a walk around the neighborhood, Audrey and I came across this overly ambitious ground cover that was taking over the sidewalk.
The ancient Romans had their Lares and Penates to guard the household. Audrey and Peter have this wooden statue of Frankenstein's creature. He's a big hit at Halloween, but mostly just stands by pensively.
He has been a fixture at apartments through all their moves before they settled in West Seattle.
All too soon my visit was over. I was lucky to see Mount Rainier one last time from the airplane!

Visit soon if you are able. Maybe this Seattle guide will entice you.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

FOSH Garage Sale Today

Can it really be 20 years since the Friends of Sleepy Hollow began inviting all of Central Jersey to Plainfield for super bargains?

This year, more than 100 homes will be stops on the garage sale circuit through city neighborhoods, including Sleepy Hollow's winding roads and the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District's stately rows of mansions. The sale is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and participating homes are marked with balloons. Maps and directions to special sale items are available at each house.

Visitors will take home not only treasures and trifles new to them, but also memories of the city's outstanding housing stock, well-tended gardens and pleasant neighborhoods, not to mention congenial and welcoming residents.

Credits for organizing this year's event go to Kathleen McDermott and Frank Colon, with assistance from
Sean McKenna, Cynthia Alexander, Shannon Pacheco, Larry Quirk and Jan Jasper. Any surplus from the registration fee goes to projects in Plainfield, such as an award for a graduating Plainfield High School senior and scholarships to send city public school  students to the du Cret School of the Arts in Plainfield.

Times are tough lately, but it has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping! Bring your biggest shopper bag and a sun hat and come on over!


Why A Special Meeting?

Why is there a special meeting on Monday?

The short answer is that it represents the ongoing battle of wills between the administration and the governing body. On May 7, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson asked to add four items to the agenda, in contravention of established deadlines for submitting routine items. Williamson often adds items related to litigation discussed in executive session, but apparently these matters, having to do with insurance, did not fall into that category.

"I have no interest in putting these items on the agenda," Council President Adrian Mapp told Williamson on May 7.

Councilwoman Vera Greaves suggested letting Williamson add the items "for the last time," but a majority of the council members disagreed.

I was away for the May 14 meeting, but was told Williamson sought to add the four items that night and was turned down.

Now the mayor is using her power under the city's charter to call a special meeting Monday to vote on just those four items. Click here to see the ad posted on the city's web site. As noted by Dr. Yood on his blog Doc's Potpourri, the wording in the charter appears to be ambiguous, as it says the mayor can call a special meeting "and shall be called by the City Clerk upon written request signed by a majority of the councilmen." So is that an either-or situation or must both things happen for a special meeting to take place?

I guess we will find out Monday if enough council members show up to make a quorum. That is the first hurdle: A vote must then still be taken.

If all this makes the reader yawn, it is understandable. After all, these stand-offs and power plays go back to the earliest days of the administration. In 2006, the late Ray Blanco was council president and he became livid with rage over repeated attempts by the mayor to add things at the last moment, even presenting "walk-on" items in the middle of a regular meeting. Blanco passed away that summer of a massive heart attack and his adamant insistence on following the rules of order died with him.

Since then, the council has fluctuated between leniency and strictness. When Councilwoman Annie McWilliams was council president for two years, she brooked no nonsense in obeying the rules of order and Mapp, the mayor's rival when she sought and won a second term, has taken an equally hard line for rectitude. The mayor has often flipped him off by labeling his stance as sour grapes with such remarks as "the election is over," but Mapp has stood his ground.

So whether one thinks it is a simple clash of wills or whether it is a matter of right versus wrong conduct of government, the beat goes on. Look for more of the same, as collegiality between the administrative and legislative branches has become as scarce as the proverbial hen's teeth. Too bad it is all being amplified by broadcasting on television, for all to see the enmity and dissension that is the city's unfortunate current hallmark.


Friday, May 18, 2012

LWV Offers Voter Education Saturday

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield invites the public to learn more about elections and voting in two sessions Saturday that will include hands-on voting machine demonstrations.

"Ready, Set, Vote!" is a voter education and registration event that upholds the mission, purpose and principles of the Plainfield League. It will take place Saturday (May 19) at Plainfield High School, 950 Park Ave., in two sessions: 10:00-11:30 a.m. and 12:00-1:30 p.m.

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi will be a special guest.

Topics include:

-Your rights as a voter
-Registering to vote
-Making an educated decision on candidates
-What you need to know on Election Day
-How to read the ballot

In addition, voting machines will be used for hands-on demonstrations and lunch will be served.

Both registered voters and those who wish to register can benefit from this program. Upcoming elections include the June 5 Primary and the November 6 General Election, which will for the first time also include the school board election. Ballot choices in 2012 will range from the President of the United States to City Council seats. Make sure you are an informed voter!


Revive PACHA Now

A commission that was created to look into the "needs, concerns, accomplishments and contributions" of the Hispanic community might have been a powerful partner in the effort to help prevent bias crimes against Latinos. Alas, after a five-year wait for members, the commission now seems to have faltered.

Established by ordinance in 2005, the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs had no members until 2010. Five members were named in June 2010. Since then, not much has been heard from the commission nor has it held any recent public meetings.

There are other groups that address some of the same needs, such as El Centro Hispanoamericano and Angels for Action.

The latter even had an overlap of members with the commission. But as an official commission of the City of Plainfield, PACHA could have had a direct link to the administration and governing body, as described in this section of the ordinance creating it:

Sec. 3:38-5. Duties.

(a) It shall be the duty of the Commission to advise the Mayor and City Council on the needs, concerns, accomplishments and contributions of the Hispanic community as well as the impact of legislation or the lack thereof and its effect on the Hispanic community.

(b) The Commission shall elicit input from the Hispanic community by visiting community centers, meeting with community leaders, attending and sponsoring community meetings and taking any other actions it deems necessary to carry out its purposes. The Commission shall report to the Mayor and City Council on its findings and recommendations a minimum of once a year.

(c) In addition, the Commission shall:

(1) Identify key departments within city government which interact with the Hispanic community and work with Administration officials through the City Administrator to explore ways to improve and expand services through greater participation of qualified Hispanics in policymaking positions;

(2) Foster improved communications between the Mayor, Administration, the City Council and the Hispanic community by utilizing available resources more effectively;

(3) Identify and analyze important issues and recommend strategies for responding to them in ways that encourages and support the continued development of Plainfield's Hispanic community.

(4) Educate Hispanic residents about opportunities to serve the community, recruit and support Hispanic residents to become actively involved in the City's boards, commissions and political bodies.

Many months have passed without any communication from or attention paid to PACHA. Meanwhile, the 2010 Census revealed that the Hispanic population in Plainfield has increased to 40 percent. Isn't that reason enough to try to revive the commission? The Spanish-speaking community is vibrant and productive across the city, as one can see by the many Latino-owned enterprises and the surge in home ownership. But where is the interface with other populations in the city and with City Hall?

As noted in this Plaintalker post, the Rutgers School of Business sees engagement of Latinos' "people power" as key to the long-desired economic resurgence of Plainfield. But one can also see in the comments on this post a range of emotions that needs to be addressed before true partnership can take place.

As much as Plainfielders vaunt our love of diversity, sometimes there is a casual dismissal of "the other"  in public discourse or on the streets. Lines drawn to distinguish one population from another can become a tangled web of misunderstanding and prejudice that leads to disdain or even hatred. If reviving PACHA could help prevent even one tragic story like that of Manuel Moscoso, it would be worth the effort.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

June 5 is Primary and Also Filing Day

While pondering the peculiarities of this year's City Council primary today, I recalled something else that is happening on June 5 - filing for the November school board elections.

Prospective candidates must file in the Union County Clerk's office by 4 p.m. on June 5. Petitions may be picked up from that office or from the Plainfield school district business office on Myrtle Avenue. There are three three-year terms and one one-year unexpired term. The County Clerk's website has information here, including a link to the New Jersey School Boards Association's Candidate Kit.

All school districts in Union County have opted for the November school board election. With a full day of primary election activities, it is unlikely that the County Clerk's Division of Elections can give out information on  those who filed for school board seats the same day. Plaintalker will follow up on June 6.

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.

Speaking of Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, he is now the Third Ward City Council candidate, running against incumbent and current Council President Adrian Mapp. Veronica (Roni) Taylor and The Rev. Tracey Brown are vying for the citywide at-large seat. Brown and Mapp are on the Democratic Party line.  Abdul-Haqq and Taylor are running separately, not as a slate. Given the level of intrigue in recent local politics, the outcome is anybody's guess. 

Back to school boards: Those who were elected on April 17 have until tomorrow (Thursday, May 17) to get the criminal background check now required through legislation passed earlier this year. Click here to see what is involved, as it will no doubt apply to November winners as well.

Good luck to all who are running for the City Council or the school board! Public service is (or can be) a noble thing.


Think Ahead on the Budget Process

While trying to find a mention of the SFY 2011 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee report, I came across
this post on Councilman Cory Storch's proposal for SFY 2012. As it turns out, there was no SFY 2012. Instead, we had a six-month "transition year" from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 to effectuate the change to a calendar year beginning Jan. 1, 2012 (thus called CY 2012).

For the transition year, there was no CBAC and most things were pretty much on hold, such as the $100 per hour contract for taping City Council meetings. Then just when a new city administrator was settling in, the chief finance officer quit and still has not been replaced by a permanent CFO. Cory's very solid ideas about the budget process sort of fell down a rabbit hole. The 2012 CBAC was officially appointed after nearly all the budget deliberations took place.

I got back from Seattle Tuesday night, a little too late to make the 7 p.m. extended budget session at City Hall Library. If that is the last one, I hope the CBAC will have a chance to give a report before the council formulates amendments.

It looks like amendment and final passage of the budget will happen at or past the half-year mark. The May 14 agenda included temporary funding for June. I hope Cory will take up the cudgels for a better budget process in 2013, but the continued turnover of key cabinet members and the administration's lack of cooperation with the governing body are likely to militate against it. Since the 28-hour CFO is gone, the city is relying on one who has two full-time titles elsewhere and can give the city only five to eight hours a week. The city administrator only has about six months on the job and two of the three department heads are relatively new and still finding their way with budget matters.

To complicate matters, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson will leave city government to become the executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority starting July 1. So there will be another important transition in the cabinet for the last 18 months of the mayor's term.

One of Cory's suggestions is for a five-year budget projection. It would make a lot of sense if the cabinet was not always churning. Now one can see why former CFO Peter Sepelya was so valuable before he retired in 2007. Through his many years of service, he had the long view of city fiscal needs as well as sound knowledge of the rules the state expects municipalities to follow. Would that we could be so lucky to get another CFO  like Peter Sepelya to keep things on an even keel in the Queen City!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Weekend Sights in Seattle

Saturday: Audrey choosing groundcover plants at McLendon's Hardware.
Back at the house: A very small flower ...
... on a very large house plant.

On Sunday, we went to the West Seattle Farmers Market, which has more than produce.
Here in the small brown boxes are fleur de sel caramels and other confections from Jonboy Caramels.
Flower vendors were doing a great business Sunday.
There were lots of moms in the crowd.
Honest Biscuits!
Tulips were plentiful and popular.
A mural depicts some Seattle history.
This is just one of many farmers' markets selling organic produce and meats. Peter selected some organic hot sausage to cook with campanelle and broccolini for dinner.
All the flower stalls had profusions of tulips.
Leaving the market, we passed a singer who was accompanying himself on a washboard played with thimbles.

So there you have it. More images from sunny Seattle!


City Hall: Not Detail-Oriented?

The city's new public information officer has arrived in the seventh year of the current administration, so one might think his hiring would be a fairly routine matter. But a comment at the May 7 agenda-fixing session makes  me wonder how much of a grip City Hall has on the details.

In a discussion on the city's residency rules, Personnel Director Karen Dabney said a request for a waiver will come before the council in June. The new public information officer is already on the job and lives in Trenton. Usually the only official waivers have been for employees who have been appointed by the mayor, with advice and consent of the governing body. I seemed to recall that the list of non-union employees, including cabinet members, was expanded when the last PIO was here in 2008-09 to include that title.

Just out of curiosity, I searched the Municipal Code for the title and found it under 2:5-6. The plot thickens after that. Some may recall that under the past administration, the job of deputy city administrator was changed from an ombudsman-like role to one in charge of economic development. However, the PIO title - which was granted by advice and consent - was not changed since 1970 and still has to do with the deputy administrator's office, at least on the books.

The title was vacated by way of de-funding the budget line for it many years ago. When Dan Damon was called the PIO, his official title was something else, but he was placed under the deputy city administrator.

The last PIO came from the PMUA to City Hall and worked with the local origination cable channel until she was let go in March 2009. The hiring of an IT director a couple of years ago led to creation of an IT & Media Division under the unwieldy and cumbersome Department of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. One of the division's tasks is "to regulate and supervise all media requirements of the city."

OK, so that would make the PIO a regular employee, still subject to residency rules, but not requiring advice and consent and therefore not a waiver by vote of the governmental body - I think.

Who cares?

Well, the very ad published to recruit a PIO gets the department wrong ("Administration, Finance, and Community Relations and Social Services"). Setting aside the apparent lapses of the previous administration in not cleaning up the code's provisions related to the deputy city administrator's office, the new one did not apparently follow through when creating the IT & Media Division.

There is no doubt that the city desperately needs better communication with the "press and public," as cited in the 1970 law. But if the new PIO is to succeed, the administration needs to meet him at least halfway, by getting basic facts straight, like whether he is an employee or cabinet-level staffer and where he is on the organizational chart. Those in City Hall need to help him initially to sort out the city's anomalies, such as its departments under the special charter and its system of east-west geography, for starters.

City Hall's clubby atmosphere over the past several years have sometimes led to a press-be-damned attitude that the PIO must mend, and he does not need to lose credibility over details such as where things are located, including his job. Give him a break, lend him a hand and soon the information gap will narrow from the gulf it has been for some time.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Images from Seattle

Here is the bad tire that delayed our flight to Seattle on Tuesday.
Workers soon came by with a new tire.
As soon as the log was filled out, we could start. But then the flight paths were changed for more delay.
Not to worry. Soon (about six hours later) I was getting off the Light Rail in Columbia City and admiring some of Seattle's great public art.

A nearby plaza was full of lion statues.
A couple more lions.
Here is a language chart that was on display at the Southwest Branch of the Seattle Public Library. Its 20 languages demonstrate the city's broad diversity.
We took a walk at Lincoln Park, where we saw this sign.
Going downtown on the bus Friday, we could see Mount Rainier in the distance.
The mermaid is peeking from the top of the Starbucks building.
The original destination for world-class shopping!
And underneath, a bargain-hunter's paradise! 
When one can see Mount Rainer, the saying is, "The mountain is out." Here it is, still out on a sunny, clear afternoon in Seattle.
The Space Needle, with its restored orange top, is ubiquitous in Seattle views.

The most precious sight of all is Ichiro, the master of the household to whom Audrey and Peter pay obeisance!


Greetings from Seattle!

My trip from Liberty International Airport to Sea-Tac confirmed for me once again how much I dislike air travel, but because I had earned a free ticket, I guess I should not complain too much. It was my first trip since United took over Continental and I must say. all the online arrangements went very smoothly as my account was intact except for the name change.

I saw the helicopter hovering over the East End while I was getting ready to leave and wondered whether police were dealing with one of the shootings Jackie noted on Facebook. Later I saw the news article.
The much-vaunted and long-anticipated ShotSpotter program is supposed to start June 1, assuming all sensors and cameras are in place and the monitoring facility is operational.

So initially everything went well when I got to the airport, but once my fellow travelers (so to speak) and I were all wedged into our seats, it became apparent something was wrong. Turns out a gash in one of the tires caused its removal and replacement, which took about 20 minutes. Then the pilot announced that the runways were being reassigned in a new pattern - another 20 minutes elapsed before we took off.

Amenities were sparse on the plane. Food for purchase and no movie. I had the new New Yorker with me and read a scary article about drones in the Innovators issue.

We landed in sunny Seattle, where even during the descent I could see masses bright yellow Scotch broom and the colorful rhododendrons for which the Northwest is famous. Audrey and Peter and I took the Light Rail to Columbia City, with me admiring the many public art pieces along the way (photos to follow). Lunch was a fabulous Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich from Seattle Deli in the International District. Peter, the family chef, made dinner after we took a walk at Lincoln Park, where underground creatures (clams? geoducks?) were spouting water out of the pebbly beach.

I only had time for passing thoughts of Plainfield and its many concerns. By now, people must be buzzing about the superintendent finalists and the "uptick" in crime. Now that the word about the parade is out, I hope plans are being made diligently and that all costs are being documented for later review. The plan as projected by various individuals, some with no official standing in municipal government, seem a bit open-ended and possibly subject to "mission creep."

More later and thanks to everyone who cheered me on my birthday trip!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Budget Talk: IT and Other AFH&SS Divisions

The last scheduled session for budget deliberations is 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, May 10) in City Hall Library and includes numerous fiscal divisions as well as Information Technology and the City Clerk's office.

Parts of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services have already been discussed. It is the largest of the three departments mandated in the city special charter, not in terms of personnel but in the number of functions assigned to it. As Plaintalker previously noted, it was once purely fiscal but had social services grafted on during the Fury administration to suit a director whom the mayor had in mind. It is now even more diverse with the addition of the Division of Information Technology and Media, which itself has a number of related but quite varied functions.

The list for Thursday's session is AFH&SS Department, Tax Assessor, Tax Collector, Audit & Control, Purchasing, Personnel, Information Technology and City Clerk. The department also includes the Senior Center, Plainfield Action Services, the WIC program, the Bilingual Day Care Center and the Health Division, which were discussed on May 1.

The department director is Al Restaino, who was the director of the Office of Community Development within the Department of Public Works & Urban Development and is still handling responsibilities for that division. Given the high turnover of AFH&SS directors over the past six years and the long-term  lack of a full-time chief finance officer, this department  may have lacked the oversight it really needed.

Information Technology got lumped in after it became apparent that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs wanted IT Director Chris Payne to report directly to her, in violation of the charter. Payne was formerly with the school district and came to city government about two years ago. Click here to read a post about his plans then for the new IT and media operations.

I hope the City Council and Citizens Budget Advisory Committee will be able to get some answers on the current functioning of fiscal operations and the IT and media aspects, enlarged a bit more now that the city has hired a new public information officer. City Administrator Eric Berry, to whom all three departments report, only came to the city on Nov. 28 and is still grappling with Plainfield's unique governmental structure under its special charter.In addition, his title itself was held by six individuals in the past six years, three in the last year alone, which means there may not been the kind of consistent management and oversight that keeps a municipality running smoothly.

I will miss the meeting due to my trip to Seattle, but I look forward to any comments from those who attend.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Images

Police Officer Craig Kennovin attracted attention at the Arbor Day ceremonies with his brand-new t3 police vehicle. The Police Division already has two  two-wheeled Segways that keep the rider in place through use of tilt sensors. The new vehicle with three wheels does not need that system. 
Here's what the driver sees. There are two batteries that can be switched out and energy costs are tallied in pennies. Read more here.
What a pretty sight! It made me proud because Maria and I and some helpers planted these irises a few years ago.
This lovely iris plant is yet another legacy of our former neighbor Edna, a gracious lady who moved back South but whose memory stays with us.
I was telling Scott Bauman about this architectural feature on a North Avenue building and getting off the train last week, I was able to capture an image. In just the right light, the bricks at the top seem to disappear and a plaque with a stylized cat face floats as if by magic. I worked in this 1885 building when the weekly Plainfield Today had offices there back in the early 1980s.
Early Thursday I will be on my way to Seattle for my birthday. For those who say, "But doesn't it always rain there?" just take a look at this weather forecast from the National Weather Service. Sunshine!
Here's what I will be leaving behind: Rain puddles edged in masses of pollen!