Friday, June 29, 2012

City Attorney Named Purchasing Agent

In the course of discussing a bidding mixup Thursday, Council president Adrian Mapp said he had been informed that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has named special counsel Lucas Phillips to serve as purchasing agent.

The office is vacant due to the departure of David Spaulding, who was drawn into an investigation last year of how the city came to pay $20,000 to radio station WBLS for an Aug. 1, 2010 "Town Meeting" with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Spaulding faced no consequences, but was visibly uncomfortable at being questioned by an attorney in a public setting.

The bid problem was blamed in part to the absence of a purchasing agent. Two sets of bids for road construction were prepared for opening on June 21, but one was placed in the wrong pile and was opened at 11 a.m. instead of at 12 p.m. All those present heard the bid read aloud. To avoid any potential objections or legal issues, the city's engineers, Remington & Vernick, advised rejection of all bids for that contract. It will now have to be re-advertised and re-bid.

Phillips has been serving as special counsel in the office of Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson. It is not known whether he has the background for the job of purchasing agent. 

The mayor can make an acting appointment for 90 days without council approval. In 2011, she appointed Williamson as city administrator for three months and then appointed herself for another three months.

Spaulding's departure adds another chapter to the city's troubles with fiscal management. The city has had no chief financial officer since January except for a part-time one who gives the city five to eight hours per week. Council members blamed problems with the 2012 budget on the lack of internal fiscal oversight and controls. An outside consultant was able to resolve a shortfall of nearly $2 million due to errors and omissions uncovered by state officials in the budget introduced in March. The council passed the corrected budget this month.

Williamson himself is leaving the city at the end of the month to become the executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. No successor has been named. City Solicitor David Minchello has been serving as acting corporation counsel in recent weeks.


One Liquor License Denied, 18 Passed, Hearings on More

Thursday's special meeting for liquor license renewals brought out the usual calls for reduction in the number of licenses as well as stricter conditions on license holders, with Councilman William Reid leading the charge.

Reid had many complaints about the annual process in which the City Council acts as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control board. He asked why the governing body had not received monthly police reports promised last year and puzzled out loud about one group of licenses for which the council was asked to "take no action" to grant or deny renewal. He also complained that the council received just that night a bulky police report dated June 1.

Only one license renewal was denied outright. The denial for Latin Bar at 665 South Avenue was based on 26 police responses to the site and an acting manager's alleged defiance toward police who were conducting the annual inspection.

The council approved four social club licenses, four for bars or restaurants and 10 for liquor stores, with Reid emphatically voting "no" on most to show his displeasure at the large number of licenses. Votes on others failed and will generate hearings to be held at a later date. Meanwhile, both those affected by failed votes and those with infractions that prevented renewal Thursday will be able to take out daily interim licenses after the June 30 deadline until the issues are resolved.

A couple of licenses that are not attached to any site will require special rulings from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board. City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh explained that a license can only be held without a location for two years unless state officials give special permission.

The number of licenses in the city is now 32, down from 38 about 10 years ago. But Reid wants even fewer, and suggested that the city purchase any that come up or sale. No mention was made Thursday of developer Frank Cretella's desire to acquire one or more licenses for new restaurants he is building. The number of licenses exceeds a state formula based on population, as existing licenses were "grandfathered" in when the state set the limits.

The council will hold hearings next month on the licenses that failed to get approval Thursday and will vote on renewal again at the July 16 regular meeting.

In public comment, Darryl Dawud Hicks asked that his social club be issued a license, despite an ordinance that cut off new club licenses. Hicks noted there had been five such licenses until recently, and asked to be considered for the fifth slot or for the ordinance to be rescinded. He said the MDM Sports Club supports youth sports and helps a lot of children. No action took place Thursday on his request.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Computer Glitches May Affect Blogging

The old Dell tower is in the shop once again. Luckily, I have the laptop Audrey gave me as backup. I am probably forgetting something here but I think I can muddle through until either the Dell is fixed or I get another computer to replace it.

Thanks to everyone who takes time to read the blog and post comments. The blog is now seven years old this month. The term "long, strange trip" comes to mind.


Special Meeting Tonight

Liquor license renewals dominate the agenda for tonight's special meeting.

The city has more than 30 liquor license holders, in three categories: Social clubs, consumption (bars, restaurants and nightclubs) and liquor stores. One bar, Latino's on South Avenue, is facing denial of its renewal due to 26 incidents over the past year, failure to display its license, having unregistered employees and not having a complete employee list. According to a police inspection report, a manager stated he was not adhering to any city liquor license ordinances "as it negatively affects his business."

Three bars have violations uncovered by the city's Inspections Division and one has violations cited by the Fire Division. The council will take no action on five liquor stores renewals due to problems including non-payment of fees, lack of state tax clearance or not being attached to any location.

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


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Mystery Continues

So today the agenda for tomorrow's special Board of Education meeting is posted, but anyone looking for the big news will be frustrated. Scroll down through 25 pages of personnel matters and you finally come upon one for appointment of the superintendent of schools - but there is no resolution. It will be presented at the meeting.

Be there at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Plainfield High School auditorium if you want the scoop. Or maybe it will be in the newspaper Friday. Or maybe not.



City's Future a Hot Topic at Town Meeting

Economic development emerged as a key topic at the City Council's final Town Meeting for 2012, with a Rutgers student offering suggestions and council members calling for more effort from the administration.

The Town Meeting Tuesday was held at Jefferson School in the Fourth Ward, but residents from across the city were welcome to speak at any of the four ward meetings. Resident Jeanette Criscione kicked off the discussion by asking, "What is happening with economic development? You don't hear anything about it."

Her question led to an earful for the dozen attendees, starting with Council President Adrian Mapp's assertion that the administration is not being helpful to the one individual who is leading development currently in the city. Though he did not name the developer, Mapp was alluding to Frank Cretella, who has seven projects in the works downtown. Mapp said he has asked new Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Jackson to ease "challenges" the developer is facing.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams cited the appearance of city storefronts as a possible deterrent to development and called for more education for owners on property maintenance codes, while Councilman William Reid said the city needs a director to focus on economic development.

Williams faulted a former PW&UD director who served during the first four-year term of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs as being ineffective, but said "I am confident that Mr. Jackson has what it takes."

Criscione asked whether Jackson could provide periodic reports on economic development at council meetings, but Mapp said the mayor has rebuffed efforts to get reports from economic development committees or from Jackson.

Councilwoman Vera Greaves said before anything can be done to get developers to come to Plainfield, "We need to clean it up."

Criscione said everything needed for property code maintenance was already "on the books," but needs enforcement. Williams saw  hope for that in Jackson, who came to the city in September, and noted the "high premium he placed on training."

Reid, normally a staunch supporter of the mayor, said, "We haven't had anything that I'm impressed with over the last seven years."

Reid and Mapp both pointed to 2013, when the mayor's second term is up, as an opportunity for change.

That's when Rutgers student Ronald Johnson Jr. said it was "not really being fair in a way" to say it was too late for the current administration to get anything done, but Reid stuck to his guns, saying the person at the top has to lead development.

"You have to show them that they can come here and make money," he said.

Mapp made the analogy of buying a car that turns out to be a "lemon" with an expired warranty.

"The people of Plainfield may have purchased a lemon and it's too late," he said.

But Johnson said, "Planning and economic development go hand in hand," and praised Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and Economic Development Director Jacques Howard. The deterrents, he said, included crime levels and the city's  appearance, with steel gates downtown that cause safety fears.

Encouraged by Reid and Mapp to share his views, Johnson suggested conversion of the city's former industrial corridor to loft housing inviting to a "creative class" that would reinvigorate the city. Mapp asked whether Johnson would like to be part of a new economic development committee and Johnson said, "That would be a dream come true."

(Plaintalker has invited Johnson to submit a guest column to expand on his views.)

 Other topics at the Town Meeting included another chapter in the ongoing baseball league saga. Resident Inez Durham said she was shocked while watching her nephew play in the Queen City Baseball League Tuesday when a "representative" of the Recreation Division demanded that the team get off the field. Durham said coaches continued the game anyway, but the incident left a poor impression on visitors from Livingston.

"My question is, can anything be done about this issue?" Durham asked.

The person who interfered with the game was "Mr. Muhammad," she said.

Council members Reid and Mapp said the governing body's efforts to resolve the problem have failed.

"The mayor has done absolutely nothing to address the underlying (issues)," Mapp said.

The situation will not change, he said, "until the mayor does the right thing or voters do the right thing."

On another topic, the council was supposed to be meeting the public jointly with the Housing Authority of Plainfield Tuesday, but Mapp said he received a phone call at 5:30 p.m. saying the Housing Authority was not participating. He said the executive director and chairman wanted to attend but a majority of commissioners decided against it.

Mapp said he was "very insulted" that a body appointed by the council had opted not to participate. He said he had been asked what the format would be and had described it as "free-flowing."

The council will now check on whether commissioners have met their statutory training requirements and will exercise the governing body's powers of removal for those who have not, he said.

Reid said the chairman and one commissioner agreed to participate, but five commissioners said "no." He did not identify the commissioners by name. He also backed the need to meet statutory training requirements and said the state would remove any commissioners who failed to meet them.

One other concern at the meeting was raised by resident Melvin Cody, who asked who was in charge of the roadways at Rock Avenue and West Front Street. Cody expressed concern both about the poor condition of the intersection as well as street markings where children cross from Myrtle Avenue. Mapp and Reid agreed with his concerns, but Mapp said leadership was not coming from City Hall.

At the close of the meeting, Reid used the occasion to make a pitch for the July 7 parade and related events to "showcase Plainfield."
(See details here.)


Monday, June 25, 2012

IRS Strikes Again

Liberty of London piggy bank.
Now that I am thoroughly cranky and sleep-deprived, I get a letter from the IRS saying I did not pay my 2011 taxes. I was expecting a notice saying they had received my copy of the check they cashed in March 2011 and never mind all the talk about penalties and seizing my property. No, it was the same message I got before.

So I call the toll-free number and let the robot lady wrangle me through the choices. I obey her commands: "Press 1 NOW!" - to no avail. At the very end of a long exchange, her final advice is that they can't deal with me now, call back Wednesday or Thursday. Or I could go to

After some fulminating, I take her advice to go online. Whoops! Another merry-go-round. But, if I really want to get somewhere, the online advice is to GET ON THE PHONE!

Nooo! They have my money, now they want what's left of my mind!

I weigh my choices. I could pay up again and then when they find out they are wrong, I will have a credit for 2012. And they won't go around telling my banks and credit card companies that I am a deadbeat. Or I could send another copy of the cashed check to prove they got my money.

I get copies but can't choose a course of action due to my brain being fried by trying to cope with recent stupidities of life on Block 832.

Maybe tomorrow. They are giving me until July 12 to pay up or face the consequences. Again.


A Waiting Game

Let's see, by the end of the week Plainfield may have a new school superintendent. Someone different will be in the corporation counsel's seat. There might be a new chief financial officer on the horizon. The PMUA will have a new executive director.

Other changes may be in the offing. Councilwoman Annie McWilliams has announced her intention to move on to graduate studies and probably will not finish out her term, which ends Dec. 31. That means the Democratic Party will be able to offer three names for an appointee to fill her seat.

At this time of year, the public at large has many other things to think about - weddings, graduations, vacation, outdoor gatherings, camping and more. The few blogs that are left standing in the local blogosphere   must compete with all that for your attention.

For those still interested, Plaintalker will carry on with news gathering at the local level. There is a Town Meeting Tuesday and two fairly important meetings Thursday. Meanwhile, even your intrepid blogger will encounter lulls. Today seems like one of them.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Agenda for Thursday Meeting Announced

Thursday's special City Council meeting will include not only up to 33 liquor license renewals, but also some other items, according a notice from City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh. Item 4 is cryptic but may be another union settlement. I will check next week and report back.


Please be advised that a Special Meeting has been called
 by the Plainfield Municipal Council
for Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
to be held in the City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue,
City of Plainfield, for the purpose of considering and acting upon the following:





Formal action may be taken.

When Officials Hit the Headlines

I was saddened by the news of Chief Tidwell's alleged DWI and hesitated to say anything about it, but now that Dr. Yood has commented, I will add a comment as well.

The thing that came to my mind was the case of former Councilman Don Davis. Specifically, he challenged the charge and hired an attorney who specializes in such cases. The matter was moved to the Scotch Plains court and I followed some of the proceedings. Davis managed to win the case, but it took a political toll.
You can read my post on the outcome here

By way of contrast, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig was given a three-day suspension in 2010 for infractions that were the object of much gossip but no official charges. See Plaintalker's post here.

I took some heat for not publishing the gossip attached to this incident, but it was out elsewhere and I could not get any official corroboration of the allegations. The alleged incident happened in July 2009 and details are still available via Google for those who are curious, but no legitimate news organizations published them.

So it remains to be seen how the Tidwell story will unfold.  There is much at stake here. The matter could be argued in court or maybe it could be handled internally. A disturbing element to me was an online comment at the Star-Ledger that appeared to threaten a slowed mutual aid response from Plainfield to South Plainfield in retribution for embarrassing the chief. But then again, although it cannot be proven, some officers in the Hellwig case seemed to catch hell.

It is just sad whenever a figure of public trust hits the headlines. Worse yet is when and if the allegations turn out to be true.


SID Block Party Today

SID President Nimrod Webb Jr. and Freeholder Linda Carter at the 2011 Block Party

The Special Improvement District's 4th Annual Block Party is today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on East Front Street, with lots of food, music and entertainment for all. Check the "Positively Plainfield" magazine that came in the mail this month for details. The weather is fine, so go downtown and have some fun!


Feeling A Bit On Edge

Things seem a bit unsettling to me lately.

It is now three weeks since the noisy raccoons in the wall of my sleeping quarters convinced me to relocate to the ancient futon in the front room. The change has disrupted a lot of my routines. I liked to write in my journal, read, and take breaks as well as sleep in my little bed. It is also 10 degrees cooler at night out there, definitely a loss in the heat wave. So far, no remedy in sight.

Another thing that is discomfiting is the changing nature of newspapers. James Flachsenhaar, former editor at the Courier News and now general manager/editor at the Daily Record, wrote last Sunday about a transformation at Gannett's six New Jersey newspapers "in which content is becoming as much about our audiences as for them."  "Low-impact 'official' news" is being dialed down in favor of what readers have to say. And as some may observe, all the better if readers actually write the content and submit it ready-made for publication.

So I am wondering, what is news? What is content? Do newspapers want readers now to pay for the privilege of reading what readers wrote?

Flachsenhaar does acknowledge readers' "desire for watchdog journalism," holding elected officials accountable (though apparently without having reporters go to City Hall to check up on them).

Content has become so generic that most papers now offer links to stories that once were news - maybe weeks or even months ago. Old news is still content, it seems.

Speaking of City Hall, the blog is largely dedicated to letting readers know what is going on with the administration and governing body. The main thing happening lately seems to be some fundamental disagreements over fiscal policies, i.e., what to do with your tax money. Plaintalker can report that there is a rift over spending priorities, but only you, the citizens, can put pressure on your elected officials to do what you consider the right thing. All of their phone numbers and e-mail addresses can be found on the city web site. Even if you do not want to sit through council meetings, you can let them know what you think.

The city still lacks a chief financial officer. The mayor nominated one this month, but the council did not put the nomination on the agenda for a vote. The 2012 budget process was pretty much of a mess. A new CFO will need time to get a grip on the city's fiscal state, so one hopes there will be an appointment sooner rather than later, if the 2013 budget is not to go the same way.

These diverse distractions are making me edgy when I suppose I should just be enjoying the pleasures of summer. I guess it could be worse. I don't have a house under water, a gas-guzzling vehicle or a daily grind to deal with. I just wish things were better on the home front, in the news biz and around City Hall right now.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More Special Meetings Next Week

The amount of attention I have paid to Board of Education doings is minimal, but the impending July 1 deadline to name a permanent superintendent has piqued my interest. I did not see any indication on Tuesday's agenda that the appointment was up for a vote and because I didn't feel well, I saw no point in attending the meeting on the off-chance of a walk-on resolution.

Today Business Administrator Gary Ottmann confirmed for me that there was no vote Tuesday, but an appointment will be on the agenda of a special meeting on June 28. Check the district web page for details to come. Curiously, the web site now has all the questions that were posed to the two finalists, Interim Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles and Carolyn Gibson, but not any of their answers.

Also on June 28 there will be a special City Council meeting to deal with the 33 liquor licenses currently held in Plainfield. Check the city web site for details. All the licenses are up for renewal by June 30.

On Tuesday the City Council will hold the last of four Town Meetings. The Ward 4 meeting on June 26 is billed as a joint meeting with the Housing Authority of Plainfield. The meeting is 7 p.m. at Jefferson School, 1700 W. Front St. Normally the format of the ward meetings is that of a "listening post" for concerns of citizens and any resident may attend and speak at any of the meetings. Not sure what the format might be if the Housing Authority is included.


Summer Solstice Greetings

My neighbor's 2012 flower garden.

Happy first day of summer to all!


Tree Plaques Tell History

City workers were busy Tuesday morning removing dead trees on Park Avenue. These trees were planted about 40 years ago and each one has a plaque naming a donor or a person in whose memory the tree was planted.
When I was on the Ten Cities Tree Committee, I did rubbings of a number of these plaques for inclusion in a display at the Plainfield Public Library. The range of donors and honorees was quite interesting.
I believe the tree removal was related to a Union County street improvement project, but I did not verify it Tuesday.
 DeWitt Barlow was a former mayor of Plainfield for whom the Barlow Elementary School was named.
This plaque is partially embedded in a new sidewalk.
It is in front of the former Thomas Furniture building, recently renovated as the Courier News building.
"Compliments of Queen City Savings" is the legend on this plaque. Plainfield's downtown business district once had many banks. This bank became First Atlantic Savings in January 1986 according to this list and then that bank closed, though the sign remains on the facade of the building.

These plaques have some historical value. After I began looking closely at them (easy to do if you are a pedestrian), I wished they could be preserved somewhere as changes take place downtown. They also represent a community effort reflective of a different era. Take a look the next time you are walking around the central business district.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mayor Escapes Fine, Still Reprimanded for WBLS Payment

A judge's ruling that the governing body can reprimand but not fine Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs over handling of a 2010 town meeting set off a lengthy rehashing of the controversy Monday.

The mayor insists the meeting, broadcast over WBLS on Aug. 1, 2010, saved lives by deflecting gang violence. The meeting featured an appearance by the Rev. Al Sharpton and cost $20,000 for the two-hour radio show. Questions on the financing arose immediately afterward and continued through a 2011 City Council investigation launched after the mayor declined to discuss the matter. City records indicate the $20,000 payment came from a budget line for "hardware and software maintenance," but the mayor said a $15,000 donation from Investors Savings Bank for the 2010 July 4th celebration was used to offset the cost.

The investigation in 2011 drew former City Administrator Bibi Taylor, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson and Purchasing Agent David Spaulding into the controversy. At its conclusion, the governing body assessed a $200 fine, reprimanded the mayor and sent the findings on to the Attorney General, the Department of Community Affairs and the Union County Prosecutors Office. Robinson-Briggs then launched a lawsuit in protest.

Based on the unnamed judge's ruling, the City Council moved Monday to rescind the fine, but to retain the reprimand and forwarding the matter to other authorities. Before and after the vote, Councilman William Reid spoke at length on the matter, including the cost of the investigation and the mayor's lawsuit, the negative publicity arising from the controversy and how an apology early on from the mayor could have avoided the whole issue.

The vote to rescind the January resolution was initially 6-1, with Vera Greaves voting "no," but then she changed her vote to "yes." The council then voted 4-3 to replace it with one deleting the fine. Council members Cory Storch, Annie McWilliams, Rebecca Williams and Council President Adrian Mapp voted "yes" and Reid and Councilwomen Vera Greaves and Bridget Rivers voted "no."

Mapp was adamant that the governing body would prevail against the mayor's lawsuit.

"The council will never roll over," he said, later stating, "At the end of the day, the lawsuit brought against the governing body will be thrown out of court."

Robinson-Briggs said the Union County Prosecutors Office found "nothing criminal or indictable" in her action and repeated her claim that the town meeting led to a gang truce that saved lives.


Calendar Year Budget Passes, 6-1

One of the city's most ill-starred fiscal chapters ended Monday when the City Council approved a $72.3 million budget for the 2012 calendar year.

Even on Monday, officials could not state the tax rate reflected in the budget, which will require $50.2 million in local taxes, largely to support public safety costs. It was the $40 million police and fire expense that Councilman William Reid singled out in casting the only "no" vote, along with a claim that a council majority "eased"  $50,000 into the budget for a dissolution study on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

Council members Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams, Bridget Rivers, Annie McWilliams, Vera Greaves and Council President Adrian Mapp cast "yes" votes, deflecting both a move by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to cut library funding by 40 percent and City Administrator Eric Berry's last-minute try to get the state Department of Community Affairs to overturn the budget.

The savior of the process was budget consultant David Kochel, who was able to turn an introduced budget with a potential $2 million shortfall into one that came in narrowly in favor of the taxpayer. Mapp read out Kochel's figures Monday that showed a small decrease in the tax rate, to $4.106 per $100 of assessed valuation to $4.102. Again, officials could not state the impact on the average homeowner with a $125,000 house.

Mapp also warned that because property values overall have dropped, the slight decrease in municipal taxes may be illusory.

So ended the the 2012 budget process as it began, with a lack of basic information from administration. The  governing body and a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee toiled for weeks over a document riddled with errors and omissions and even when the state uncovered them, the administration did not inform the council of the findings for more than a month. Kochel managed to overcome issues including individuals left out of the budget, a $1.2 million error in insurance costs and failure to provide for union settlements.

Then Berry sent three letters to the state Department of Community Affairs on June 12, asking the state to intercede, but Mapp said the state upheld the governing body's actions, allowing Monday's final passage of the budget. No resident spoke at a public hearing before the vote.

Kochel, hired through Jersey Professional Management as a consultant, received $12,000 for his expertise. He had previously served as acting city city administrator in 2011 and was familiar with the city's unique departmental structure through its special charter. Some of the fiscal problems arose through the departure of  Chief Financial Officer Ron Zilinski, who also served in 2011 but quit in January 2012 . Zilinski had managed the six-month "transition year" budget that allowed for conversion to a calendar year.

The city is again without a permanent CFO, as it was for three years previous to Zilinski's tenure. The mayor has nominated Diane Sherry-Buono to succeed Zilinski, but the council took no action on the appointment Monday.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Masonic Lodge Members Volunteered Saturday

The curb painting downtown Saturday was being done by volunteers from the Christopher Joseph Lodge 264, a new Masonic lodge in Plainfield, member Harold Malone told Plaintalker.

Members volunteer every other Saturday for community work, he said. Six members took part Saturday, but as many as 20 to 30 people may take part in projects.

The lodge just opened two years ago on West Fourth Street, Malone said.

It's always good news to hear about community-minded groups that want to improve Plainfield! Thanks to all those who volunteer to help the city.


Regular Council Meeting Tonight

East Front Street was getting spiffed up Saturday for the parade on July 7.

At tonight's City Council meeting, the governing body will vote on paying $8,068 for the use of Cedar Brook Park for the concert and fireworks. The contract with Garden State Fireworks for $13,500 is also up for a vote.

The business about rescinding a January resolution reprimanding the mayor and adopting a new one was quite unclear Saturday as Dr. Yood and I looked at the packet in the Plainfield Public Library. The new resolution did not seem to be any different than the old one. Turns out R 036-12 was not in the January packet for comparison, but was presented at the Jan 17 meeting. Maybe someone will explain why they need R 222-12 now.

At last Tuesday's agenda-fixing session, City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh explained that there will be a special meeting for liquor license renewals. He removed from the agenda three resolutions that would have covered renewal of all the licenses by category, whether for distribution, consumption or club use of alcoholic beverages.

Three resolutions authorizing events are up for passage tonight. One is for the summer concert series and the Plainwood Idol competition at Plainwood Square. Another would permit "Bike Nights" for the motorcycle community at Hugo's Lounge every Sunday from 3 to 9 p.m. June 24 through Sept. 30. The last would allow an after-party at Hugo's following the parade on July 7 from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Church Street.

A resolution introduced by Councilwoman Rebecca William would recognize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month in Plainfield. According to a "gay index" at based on the 2000 Census, Plainfield's gay population is more than double the national average.

Other agenda items have been previously reported on my blog and Dr. Yood's blog, Doc's Potpourri. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

City resident Jason was downtown Saturday with a huge balloon he intended to present to his brother Kenny, whom he regards as an "All Star Dad" as the balloon inscription states. Jason said their father has passed on.

If your father is deceased as mine is (he was born on July 13 100 years ago), treasure your memories.

If he is living and a part of your life, tell him now how much you love him.

If he is not a part of your life, he's still your Dad and he may be as sad as you are today not to be able to celebrate. Forgive him for not being there and forgive yourself for what your anger and pain make you do sometimes.

If you have been like a Dad to someone, you are both blessed.

Happy Father's Day.


Vigil Held for Manuel Moscoso

Downtown Plainfield was bustling with Father's Day shoppers Saturday, but marchers reminded all of one father who was lost to his children through what Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow called "a senseless act of violence."

Manuel Moscoso was waiting for his ride to work early on May 10 when he was shot to death by outside the Supremo supermarket at Front Street and Roosevelt Avenue. He had been a client of El Centro Hispanoamericano since 2000, said Randy Schaeffer, chairman of the agency's board of trustees. The board voted unanimously to hold a peaceful vigil Saturday  in memory of Mr. Moscoso, who is survived by his wife and five children.
The walkers gathered at United Presbyterian Church at 525 East Front Street. They paused at the corner where Mr. Moscoso was killed. The Rev. Victor Aloyo offered prayers.

"In all things, we have to place the value of human life first," he said, urging everyone to take on the responsibility to "stop the violence here in Plainfield." The city has seen several unprovoked attacks on Hispanic working men, causing Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to revive a "take back the streets" initiative and to offer personal safety counseling.
The walk Saturday continued through the downtown and back to the church.

El Centro Hispanoamericano is located on the lower level of the church at 525 East Front Street. It has a 27-year history of helping immigrants become productive members of the community. The agency is always in need of volunteers. Click here to learn of volunteering opportunities.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Less is More for Park & Seventh

What's missing at this corner?

1. The extremely vandalized NJ Transit bus shelter.

2. The City of Plainfield wooden bench.

3. The bunch of folks who sat there and cursed and otherwise misbehaved  all day and night.

Legitimate bus patrons didn't stand a chance of sitting here. Over time, the bus shelter had the seats removed and all the glass broken. The bench was always full of people who had lots of time on their hands and who turned the air blue with their language.

The small business district at Park & Seventh suffered from their presence, which was annoying and embarrassing to people in the neighborhood and intimidating to out-of-towners visiting the district's stores and restaurants. Besides being obstreperous, the loiterers indulged in petty crime of various kinds.

I don't know how it came about that there is no longer any negative gathering place at the site, but it must be a godsend for the merchants. Thanks to whatever powers brought about this change at Park & Seventh.


Friday, June 15, 2012

WBLS Saga To End Monday?

Monday's City Council agenda is of interest both for items that are on it and others that are not.

Most interesting are two resolutions regarding the August 2010 WBLS matter that led to an investigation into handling of public funds. Anyone who hasn't heard all too much about the WBLS issue can go to the box at the top left of the blog and search for WBLS for all 20 Plaintalker posts on the topic. One of the resolutions up for a vote Monday would rescind the January reprimand to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs as well as the referral of the matter to the Department of Community Affairs, the Attorney General and the Union County Prosecutor. The second resolution would reprimand the mayor and "accept the findings of special counsel" regarding the WBLS expenditure investigation.

The fact that it wasn't discussed in open session on Tuesday suggests that it was hashed out in closed session and therefore a majority will vote approval. But one never knows until roll call.

While those two resolutions hint at some kind of new understanding between the mayor and council, the missing items show there is still more to do before officials hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Six items were listed under communications from the mayor Tuesday and City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh informed Council President Adrian Mapp that corresponding resolutions had been prepared, but Mapp declined to put them on the agenda. Among them were mayoral nominations for the appointment of Diane Sherry-Buono as chief financial officer, four PMUA appointments and two for the Plainfield Public Library Board of Trustees.

A public hearing on the amended 2012 budget is listed under "unfinished business" and there is also a resolution to adopt the budget.

There are two resolutions related to the use of Cedar Brook Park and the fireworks display to take place there on July 7. The city must pay $8,068 for use of the county park and coverage by county park police. The fireworks will cost $13,500.

Two union settlements are up for final passage. The Firemen Mutual Benevolent Association settlement reflects no salary increase in 2010, 2.25 percent in 2011 and 2.50 percent in 2012. The Plainfield Municipal Management Association salary ordinance shows a zero increase in 2011, 1.5 percent in 2012 and 2.0 percent in 2013.

The meeting Monday is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court. The full agenda is posted on the city's web site under City Council on the left-hand side.


Commentary on 2012 Budget

The more one ponders the budget situation, the more questions come to mind.

For example, if City Administrator Eric Berry spent two months working for the state Department of Community Affairs between the time he left Trenton and when he came to Plainfield, shouldn't he be well aware of budget reporting requirements for municipalities? He got here at the end of November, which means he was on hand for the 2012 budget process from the beginning of  the year. One of the duties of a city administrator as listed in the city charter is to "assist the mayor to prepare an annual current expense budget and an annual capital budget for consideration by the Council."

Then again, could the very warm welcome of DCA Director Thomas Neff make him think he might enjoy some special largesse? It was already rumored in September 2011 that he was on his way to Plainfield, but Neff is quoted as saying, "We'll keep him as long as he wants to stay."

So one question is whether Berry embraced the budgetary duties or left it to others, figuring he had a friend at the DCA.

Anyone who has seen the introduced budget document that the city sends the state for approval can tell you that the front page of the Municipal Data Sheet contains names of numerous officials who have presumably looked over the document. Plainfield does not have its Municipal Data Sheet online, but here is what South Plainfield's document looks like. Note that the chief financial officer, Glenn Cullen, is the same person who was hired by the city in February to serve as part-time CFO while the city searched for a permanent one.

At the time, Councilman William Reid questioned Finance Director Al Restaino whether the state approved of having someone as part-time CFO who held that title plus another one full-time in South Plainfield. Restaino indicated that state officials had OK'd the plan through Berry. See post here.

Budget introduction took place on March 12. The document was completed just that afternoon, according to auditor Bob Swisher. But at least introduction meant the governing body could then begin deliberations.

It was not until May 24 that the council was informed that the state uncovered numerous errors and omissions in the budget - something the state told the administration more than a month earlier. With the help of budget consultant David Kochel, the governing body fixed the errors and amendments were passed on June 6. It was not until the day of the agenda-fixing session for the meeting at which budget passage was expected that Berry sent three letters to the DCA blasting the council's amendments.

Council President Mapp says he has a state go-ahead to hold the required public hearing and vote on final passage Monday.

Meanwhile, given Berry's taciturn demeanor since November, the barrage of verbiage in the three letters has some observers questioning who authored them. Berry claims ownership.

Regardless of the outcome Monday, Berry's call for the state to intercede in the city's budget process at this point bodes ill for future collegiality between the council and administration. Kochel, as a consultant with no political baggage, has been a leavening agent in the budget process, but what will happen when he leaves? A new CFO has been nominated, but will she be able to navigate the choppy waters here if hired?

Those who pay attention to city government desperately want to see an increase in stability and accountability, not another wave of finger-pointing and casting blame. If the state is satisfied that the 2012 budget process can conclude, it will be up to all to ensure a much better approach in 2013, not just on getting the numbers right but also on cooperating from the very start.


City Hall Has New Flag Pole

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs led a Flag Day ceremony Wednesday to mark installation of the refurbished flag pole at City Hall. See the press release here.

Parts of the old flag pole were on display. Here is the old ball from the top of the original flag pole.
Public Works Superintendent John Louise shows off the old pulley.
.Another part dating back to 1918 or 1919.
"Annin & Co., Verona NJ"

Take a look at the restored flag pole and the new flag the next time you are on Watchung Avenue.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's Lightning Bug Time

Nothing takes me back to the wonder of childhood like the sight of fireflies rising out of the grass on a summer night.

This week I saw the first ones of 2012 and felt that same sense of delight that I had as a youngster aspiring to be a naturalist. Growing up in East Orange on an urban block, my only "lab" was a nearby vacant lot. I studied the lives of the insects there and in junior science books from the public library.

No matter where I have lived since then, I always have an eye out for what's happening in the bug world. I was equally fond of expanding my vocabulary and the phrase in this Wikipedia entry on fireflies, "conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence," reminds me of how I loved learning the Latin roots of English words.

The American Museum of Natural History has an ongoing exhibit on bioluminescence that sounds fascinating for anyone, old or young, who appreciates and wants to learn more about the mysteries of the natural world. Meanwhile, step outside at twilight and take a look at those lightning bugs!


Farm Stand is Back!

Once again fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers are available on Mondays and Thursdays on Watchung Avenue near City Hall.

Bonus - while you are selecting your choices today, you will be enchanted by the delicious scent of a Linden tree in bloom! The tree's exquisite perfume is wafting all over the immediate vicinity of the farm stand.

Read more about the Linden tree at the Urban Wildlife Guide.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Abdul-Haqq Challenges Mapp Win

In public comment at Tuesday's City Council meeting, Third Ward primary candidate Rasheed Abdul-Haqq claimed that Council President Adrian Mapp's win on June 5 was not legal, alleging that Mapp is in violation of the Hatch Act.

City Solicitor David Minchello, serving as acting corporation counsel, immediately advised Mapp not to respond to Abdul-Haqq.

The issue is whether Mapp's employment by a public housing authority puts him in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity by federal employees. Click here for more information.

Mapp ran with the backing of the Democratic Party in the primary. Abdul-Haqq ran with the backing of political kingmaker John Campbell. Mapp's running mate was the mayor's pastor and friend, the Rev. Tracey Brown, who also won. Supporters of Mapp openly endorsed Brown's challenger, Veronica Taylor, who ran with the backing of the New Democrats.

Mapp did not respond Tuesday night. Outside the meeting, Abdul-Haqq showed Plaintalker a reference to a complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Plaintalker had previously heard that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who openly backed Abdul-Haqq  against Mapp in the primary campaign, filed the complaint. The mayor won her seat in 2009 largely by defeating Mapp in June primary that year. In Plainfield, winning a Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the November general election due to the political makeup of the city.

A call to the mayor's office Monday was not returned.

The process for filing a complaint and the OSC  response is outlined on the link above.

Should a complaint prove valid, the next steps for Mapp and the Democratic Party remain to be seen. A call to the Division of Elections in the Union County Clerk's Office revealed that no challenge to Mapp's win had been filed there. The deadline for a challenge to a primary candidate's win is June 20.


Mapp, Berry Square Off Over Budget

A rift between the City Council and the administration widened Tuesday when City Administrator Eric Berry sent three letters to the state Department of Community Affairs protesting council budget decisions and calling on the state to intercede. Council President Adrian Mapp called the letters "appalling" and said one "misrepresented" what happened at one council meeting.

One letter objected to reductions in funds for the corporation counsel's office and to inclusion of $50,000 in the council's budget for legal representation a dissolution study on the PMUA. Another repeated objections to the $50,000 and alleged an improper vote for its inclusion in the budget. The third alluded to problems in the budget that the administration presented to the governing body, blaming the former chief financial officer for the errors and omissions, and honing n especially on library funding. The introduced budget allocated $1.6 million for support of the Plainfield Public Library, but during budget talks, the administration sought to cut the amount to the state minimum of $926,516.76. The council not only approved the $1.6 million, but rounded off a library request for an additional $66,000 to $70,000 for a total of $1,706,577. Berry protested in his letter that the library has nearly $2 million in assets and made other arguments for the minimum allocation.

Mapp said Tuesday the state has agreed to permit the $50,000 addition to the council's "other expense"  line and that the budget as amended may go on to final passage.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams objected to Berry's characterization of a council majority attempting "to mortgage the future of the city," but Berry said based on some of the council decisions, "That's the way I feel."

Mapp questioned whether Berry wrote the letters himself and Berry said he did.

The council has already passed amendments and a public hearing and final passage of the budget are expected on June 18.

Although not named in Berry's correspondence with the state, the "former CFO" is Ron Zilinski, who served through the end of the budget year that ended on June 30, 2011, and throughout a six-month "transition year" from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2011. Zilinski quit in January just as the city was starting a new calendar year budget. The city hired a part-time CFO in February and is just now on the verge of appointing a new full-time CFO. Meanwhile, budget consultant David Kochel uncovered the errors and omissions and also came up with strategies to fix them, reflected in a long list of amendments passed at a June 6 special meeting.


Williamson's PMUA Contract Approved

As head of the city's in-house legal system, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson is the highest paid cabinet member, earning $134,000 in 2011. When he becomes executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority on July 1, he will see his compensation rise by about 15 percent.

Details of his contract were revealed Tuesday at the PMUA's business meeting. His salary will be $154,613. But while his three-year contract includes a number of handsome perks, they will be far less than what his predecessor, Eric Watson, enjoyed.

Williamson will be allowed 15 sick days, down from Watson's 28; three personal days, down from 8; and 20 vacation days, down from 30. At retirement, compensation for accumulated sick days will be capped at $15,000. He will receive neither a car nor a car allowance and he will have to follow a new travel and reimbursement policy which requires documentation.

Unlike Watson and his assistant, David Ervin, Williamson will receive no severance pay. The pair received a settlement totaling $1 million since their departure last year, to be paid out over four years.

The new stringency is almost certainly the result of a ratepayer backlash that started in 2009 when the authority's board of commissioners voted to raise sewer rates by 14 percent and solid waste rates by 20 percent. Using Open Public Records Act requests, a group called Dump PMUA uncovered examples of lavish spending by PMUA officials and encouraged residents to opt out of PMUA services. The final outrage was the $1 milllion settlement approved in January, which resulted in a petition drive asking Gov. Chris Christie to look into the workings of the authority.

Williamson has served six and a half years in the two-term administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs  and previously served the city in other legal roles. The City Council now favors having a part-time corporation counsel and has reduced funding for the office accordingly for the balance of 2012, a stance challenged by the administration. No successor has yet been named for Williamson.

The council and mayor are also clashing over a proposed study for possible dissolution of the PMUA, a suggestion that came out of a citizen task force that looked into the operations of the authority. To return its functions to city control,  a cadre of experts including engineers and attorneys would have to make a case for  dissolution and present it to the state Local Finance Board for approval. Opponents of the dissolution say it would put PMUA employees, including otherwise hard-to-employ parolees, out of work and possibly incur a large amount of bonding debt for the city.

But while the fate of the authority is being argued, Williamson will take charge in about three weeks. Commissioners Carol Ann Brokaw, Malcolm Dunn, Alex Toliver and Cecil Sanders approved his contract Tuesday. Chairman Harold Mitchell was absent for medical reasons and Commissioner Tracey Brown left the meeting before the vote.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mayor Seeks PMUA Appointments

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has proposed appointments to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority that would eliminate one commissioner and remove its current chairman.

Commissioner Carol Brokaw, currently a holdover whose term ended in February, would be replaced by newcomer Darcella Sessomes. Chairman Harold Mitchell, a holdover since February 2011, would receive a two-year alternate's term to February 2014 and would have to relinquish the chair. Brokaw and Mitchell were the dissenting votes in a lucrative settlement with former executives Eric Watson and David Ervin in January.

The mayor also proposed replacing Mitchell with current alternate Cecil Sanders in an unexpired term to February 2016 and renewing Commissioner Alex Toliver's term to 2017. Toliver, Malcolm Dunn and Sanders gave the three votes to approve the settlement in January, with Sanders able to vote in the absence of Commissioner Tracey Brown.

The proposed appointments are noted in correspondence from the mayor for tonight's agenda-fixing session, but there is no resolution prepared for council consideration.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. Meanwhile, the PMUA's June meeting is 6 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. Click here to see the PMUA agenda.


Flagpole Readied for Flag Day

On the grounds of City Hall Monday, workers were completing installation of a wooden flag pole that failed in September 2010. Restoring the historic flagpole instead of replacing it with a modern one most likely saved the city thousands of dollars.
A worker in a bucket was painting the flagpole, which received a new gold ball and pulleys. The pole had lain on the grounds for the better part of a year before being removed.
Flag Day ceremonies will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. Public Information Officer Terry West is preparing a news release about the refurbished flagpole, which was originally erected in the early 20th Century.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Council Previews Coming

The June agenda-fixing session for the City Council falls on Tuesday, June 12 due to the Republican city committee reorganization, so Plaintalker will have Monday to research some of the topics up for consideration by the governing body.

One item of interest is Council President Adrian Mapp's call for a charter study. The last one was in 1989 and the Charter Study Commission's report was released in 1990. The commission members included past mayors and officials, some of whom have since passed on. The report laid out areas of concern and gave pros and cons for various recommendations, as I recall. However, the City Council at the time took no action toward starting the process to implement any changes. Because the special charter was passed by the state Legislature, it would have to be revised by the same body. Estimates at the time were that it would take about two years to achieve charter change. But nothing happened, so people continue to fuss over the charter's ambiguities and limitations.

As previously noted, the mayor is once again putting up names for the PMUA board of commissioners. It is important to see the terms involved, so that will be another thing to look up.

City liquor license renewals are listed under three resolutions. There are more than 30 licenses held under various categories. It appears that the three resolutions must therefore each cover a large number of .license holders, something else to check.

Two union contracts are referenced and settlement terms must be spelled out.

There are many other items, including the proposed appointment of a new chief finance official. The meeting is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. All items that are moved to the agenda will be acted upon at the June 18 regular meeting.

Since the local newspapers have just about dropped municipal meeting coverage, bloggers seem to be the only ones reporting on actions of the governing body. Few residents come out to observe the meetings and there are no statistics on how many people watch the proceedings on the local cable channel. Is city government irrelevant to the lives of residents? Is it possible that people don't really care what happens to the $50 million in residents' taxes or the $70 million overall budget that covers city programs and services? Some say one can happily live in Plainfield (or maybe any city) without thinking or caring about municipal government. What do you think?


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mayor Offers PMUA Names Again

Tuesday's City Council agenda contains yet another bid by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to make appointments to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, but no corresponding resolution for council action.

By Plaintalker's count, this is the fourth time in 2012 that the mayor has proposed PMUA appointments. The names are Cecil Sanders, currently an alternate; Alex Toliver, a holdover who needs reappointment; Harold Mitchell, who survived previous attempts to alter his status and who emerged as chairman again at the February reorganization; and Darcella Sessomes, whose name has been offered previously but who has yet to receive council confirmation. Details of the terms were not spelled out on the agenda posted on the city web site and this writer was doing yard work yesterday past the 1 p.m. closing time at the Plainfield Public Library, so was unable to see whether the council packet was on hand there for review.

The notation for Tuesday's meeting did include the fact that the mayor was offering Mitchell's name as an alternate, which if passed by the governing body would effectively cause Mitchell to step down as chairman.

The PMUA board of commissioners has five five-year regular seats and two two-year alternates. The battle over appointments goes back a long time. The Rev. Tracey Brown was appointed to succeed herself for a five-year term ending in 2015 and in November former Councilman Malcolm Dunn and entrepreneur Cecil Sanders were approved, Dunn for a full term and Sanders as an alternate. The pair, along with Toliver, gave the three votes necessary in December to approve a $1 million settlement for former Executive Director Eric Watson and former Assistant Executive Director David Ervin. Sanders was able to vote because Commissioner Brown was absent. Mitchell and Commissioner Carol Brokaw voted "no."

Click here to read Plaintalker's post on the last time the mayor offered names for the PMUA board.

Unfortunately, the PMUA's June meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 127 Roosevelt Avenue and the council meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library at 515 Watchung Avenue. It may not be possible for Plaintalker to cover both in full. The council has quite a few other  items that need coverage and if forced to choose, Plaintalker would prefer to cover the council meeting in its entirety. Often the agenda-fixing sessions start late due to the council's need to meet in closed session on certain items, but it would be a gamble to think one could stay to the end of the PMUA meeting and make it to City Hall in time for the start of the council meeting.

Obviously, the mayor wants to remove Mitchell from the PMUA chairmanship by way of changing his status on the board of commissioners. An irony in all this is that Brown won the June primary for the citywide at-large council seat and is considered likely to win in the November general election. If the drama continues through 2012 or if Brown is named as an appointee to replace Councilwoman Annie McWilliams if she steps down before her term ends on Dec. 31, the mayor may have her fourth vote to take Mitchell out. Brown's departure from the PMUA will also open another slot for a new commissioner to be named to the unexpired balance of her term.

The saga continues ...


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Random Thoughts

Lack of sleep over the past week has made me quite bleary. Two young men from a pest control firm arrived about an hour after the three-hour window promised Thursday. They took a quick look at the building and declared themselves unable to deal with the raccoons that are scrabbling around inside the outer wall of my apartment. So I am still displaced from my normal sleeping quarters due to my fear of them breaking in during the night. Somebody else may take a look next week to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, the mayor's announcement of Flag Day ceremonies on the grounds of City Hall at 2 p.m. on June 14 reminded me of the late Anne Louise Davis. She was one of Plainfield's major activists and benefactors in the late 20th Century and the meeting room and gallery on the lower level of the Plainfield Public Library is named in her honor. As befits a true patriot, her favorite holiday was Flag Day. Her enthusiasm and support for the betterment of life in Plainfield will long be remembered by those who knew her. The library has a portrait of Miss Davis as a young woman - click on the link and scroll down. She retained her air of elegance through the end of her years. I hope she gets at least a mention at the ceremonies as a token to her memory.

Last month I heard about an intriguing scenario that could potentially disrupt primary election results. Now that the primary is over, I hear that steps have been taken to carry out that scenario, but I do not have enough information yet to verify it. Maybe next week. Stay tuned. Or maybe someone else will break the story while I am still rubbing my sleepy eyes and cursing all members of the Procyon lotor  family.

The word is out that Deputy City Clerk India Cole is leaving her job. As noted in this post from May 2011, she was a welcome addition to the clerk's office during its transition from the longtime tenure of former City Clerk Laddie Wyatt. City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh has been sidelined by a foot injury and surgery this year, putting Ms. Cole in the front lines during a hectic time that included many extra meetings for budget deliberations. We are very sorry to see her go and we wish her well.

The search for a new chief finance official has no announced outcome as yet. The somewhat bungled 2012 budget process points to the need for a full-time person in this role. There has not been a full-time, in-house CFO since the end of 2007, a long time to be without the oversight that only  a such a CFO can provide. It is now about four months since the city began relying on a CFO who can serve only five to seven hours a week.

Well anyway, Plaintalker wishes all a nice weekend. Visit the Shakespeare Garden if you get a chance. It should be at peak bloom just about now.


Friday, June 8, 2012

How Does Our Political Garden Grow?

How much more rewarding it is right now to watch things unfold in the garden instead of trying to follow the action at City Hall!

Every day brings a new and pleasant surprise in the garden. Tulips and daffodils let us know the chill of winter was gone. The celestial blue of forget-me-nots mirrored the clear skies of spring and now the bold colors of blooming lilies tell us summer is almost here.

Of course, flowers are ephemeral and many have gone to seed. But even collecting and harvesting the seeds of alyssum and love-in-a-mist link us to the timeless cycles of nature.

In contrast, the political sowing and reaping at City Hall lately does not feel so uplifting. The cabinet still lacks that energy that one sees even in something as small but vital as a growing plant. The budget process revealed to close observers that some top officials who should be demonstrating a kind of vibrancy in their work are actually kind of dull and unresponsive. The fact that a whole host of past cabinet members have been tossed onto the compost heap of politics does not ameliorate our ongoing need for new and real vitality to address the city's issues.

We have had a taste of  "green fuse" power in our budget consultant and in at least one department head, but we need it in more of our directors and managers if the city is to flourish.

OK, end of flowery analysis from this writer. What do you want from those in City Hall who decide how to cultivate your tax money for the best return? Let us know.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Boe Candidates, Council Independents File

The Division of Elections in the County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi's office has released names of Plainfield Board of Education candidates and those who filed as independents to compete in November for City Council seats.

There are four seats up for election on the school board, three three-year terms and one one expired one-year term. Those who filed for the three-year seats include incumbents Keisha Edwards and Susan Phifer and challengers Jackie D. Coley, Mahogany A. Hendricks, Catherine Crittendon and Dollie S. Hamlin. Vying for the unexpired term are Delois Dameron and Frederick D. Moore Sr.

 Two city residents filed to run as independents in the November 6 general election for City Council seats. Gloria Henriques is running for the citywide at-large seat and Tom Turner is seeking the Third Ward seat. Henriques will face Democratic primary winner Rev. Tracey Brown and Republican William Amirault. Turner's opponents will be Democratic primary winner Adrian Mapp, currently the council president, and Republican Randy Bullock.

This is the first year the school board election will be held at the same time as the general election.


Council Passes Budget Amendments

New Children's Room, Plainfield Public Library

The Plainfield Public Library, targeted for a 40 percent budget cut by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, will get its full funding request and then some in an amendment approved Wednesday by the City Council.

The administration had included the requested $1.6 million in the 2012 budget, but the mayor later wanted it knocked down to the state minimum of $926,517. (See the story here.) Library officials had come to a budget session to ask for an additional $66,000 and were taken aback to learn of the proposed cut. But the amendment Wednesday added $70,000 for a total of $1,626,338. Council members Cory Storch, Annie McWilliams, Rebecca Williams, Vera Greaves and Bridget Rivers voted "yes" and William Reid voted "no."

The amendment was one of many in what can only be described as a tortuous process requiring a separate vote on each change on four pages of fine print. The process left the overall budget increased from the $70.8 million spending plan introduced in March to $72,348,196, but the amount raised by taxes for support of the municipal budget dropped slightly from $50,495,050.58 to $50,228,582.75. Officials could not say Wednesday what tax rate the final number reflects.

Given that the council only found out about a nearly $2 million shortfall on May 24, the recovery to a lower tax burden seemed like wizardry. If so, the "wizard" was budget consultant David Kochel, who scoured the figures for possible cuts or adjustments. Kochel had to overcome errors and omissions that came out in a state review of budget data submitted by the administration, among them failure to include a prosecutor and other staff, miscalculating insurance costs and not including enough to cover deferred pension payments.

The amendments will be published in the Courier News and a hearing and final passage will take place on June 18.

The lengthy session bogged down a couple of times, once when McWilliams asked whether the Recreation Division had provided requested information on budget needs. The answer was no, but attempts to get answers by phone fell through. The council approved the budget request with the proviso that the information would be as given as soon as possible.

Another issue had to do with how Reid voted on amendments at the April 9 meeting. The council needs five votes to increase a budget line and it was unclear whether the vote that night on adding $50,000 to the council's "other expense" line had passed 5-2 or 4-3. Reid did not recall changing his vote that night and the council took a recess to check the vote, but tapes of the meeting were not available. A heated exchange broke out between Mapp and Reid over the issue, but Mapp later apologized to viewers who might see the meeting on local television channels.

The $50,000 was earmarked for a study of the PMUA by various experts for submission to the Local Finance Board, which would have to approve dissolution of the authority. Reid wanted all parties involved in the dissolution proposal to meet and hash it out. Mapp explained several times that the study was part of a state-mandated process for dissolution.

An amendment to the Media Division did away with funding for the recently hired public information officer and also for an assistant PIO and a $10,000 expense line. The PIO only started work in April and is currently working on plans for the July 7 parade and related events for Returning Heroes Day.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Larger Challenge for Rev. Brown?

The people have spoken.

The Rev. Tracey Brown's decisive primary win means most likely she will emerge in November as the person who represents not only the 2,545 people who voted for her, but also the 1,561 city residents who voted for her opponent, Roni Taylor; not only the 11,978 registered Democrats, but also the 928 registered Republicans and 8,158 unaffiliated  voters and even the one Green Party member, two Libertarians and one Conservative Party member; not only the three wards where she prevailed but also the one where she did not; and ultimately as the citywide at-large representative, all those who live within the Queen City's borders.

Can she do it? Some already see her as a person whose world view leans toward seeing things as good or evil. Indeed, upon her victory Tuesday, she said, "What the devil tried to do, God turned it around."

This God-on-our-side belief, when inserted into the very secular matters of municipal government, can thwart the fiscal objectivity that the state demands of elected officials. If one is the mayor's pastor and dear friend, "our side" takes on a meaning that could extinguish discourse on the governing body.

Well, today is only Wednesday. There are many days, weeks and months ahead in which Rev. Brown can observe the workings of municipal government in Plainfield and take into account the worldly imperatives of the state Local Finance Board and Division of Local Government Services when it comes to passing a budget and setting policy for a city. In city government, they are the "higher power" which elected officials must honor while in office.

It has been said that "the devil is in the details." That certainly was true as the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and the City Council unpacked the 2012 budget and found some very devilish details. If as expected Rev. Brown prevails in November, will she preach fiscal stewardship of the taxpayers' money in 2013 or look to the heavens for justification?

There are still 14 City Council meetings to go this year. From the perspective of a nonagenarian who has attended and commented on these meetings for many years, Rev. Brown's political anointment is tantamount to a death knell for the city's future. Can or will she prove him wrong? One is tempted to say God only knows, but Rev. Brown can demonstrate her ability to serve all the residents of the Queen City by attending  these meetings and sharing her perceptions of what takes place. Ten of these meetings will precede the November elections and by then she can show the public her mettle as a prospective member of the governing body.

The divisions in Plainfield are real and do need to be healed, not just to impress a new Congressional representative, but for the purpose of getting the city out of the snare of power plays and personal animosity among its decision-makers. Can it happen? We'll see.


Mapp, Brown Win Democratic Primary

"Bitterness consumes the vessel that contains it."

So said City Council President Adrian Mapp as officials preached togetherness following one of the oddest primary campaigns in recent memory. Mapp and the Rev. Tracey Brown ran on the Democratic Party line, but supporters of Brown's opponent for the citywide at-large council seat also asked voters to choose Mapp . Brown is the pastor and close friend of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who openly supported Mapp's opponent for the Third Ward seat, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq. Mapp and the mayor faced off in the 2009 election and seem headed for a rematch in 2013.

But all were one big family after the primary Tuesday and may be at least through November, when all hands will be on deck to get President Barack Obama re-elected.
Unofficial vote tallies from the Union County Clerk's office showed Brown winning the primary with 2,545 votes to Taylor's 1,561. Mapp garnered 713 in the Third Ward to Abdul-Haqq's 486.

At Taylor's headquarters Tuesday after the returns showed she lost, Taylor and campaign manager Rebecca Williams were philosophical.

"We were not triumphant this time around," Williams said.

Under the "New Democrats" banner, Williams has led campaigns in the past that knocked out candidates on the party line.

"We ran off the line, it's a presidential year ... it's a wonder we got any votes," Taylor said.

In automated phone calls before the election, Taylor urged voters to vote 1A for Obama and 7B for herself  Williams, Councilwoman Annie McWilliams, Councilman Cory Storch and bloggers Dan Damon and Dr. Harold Yood urged voters to support both Taylor and Mapp.

If Brown prevails in November, as is almost certain, she will likely be the fourth vote favoring the mayor as Robinson-Briggs seeks re-election. Had Taylor won, succeeding McWilliams, the current 4-3 weight in favor of the New Democrats would probably have prevailed.

"We tried to run a clean campaign," Brown said, adding  she and Taylor have been friends "for a very long time."

She said she and Taylor had made a pact that they would still work together to show they need not be "arch-enemies."

"What the devil tried to do, God turned around," Brown said.

Mapp, who held on to his New Democrat chairmanship even after winning a Union County freeholder seat on the party line, returned to the council in 2008 by defeating party choice Don Davis for the Third Ward seat. But then he confounded some when he accepted the party line for re-election this year from Green, chairman of the Regular Democratic Committee.

With party choices taking both council slots on the November ballot, Green asked all to "show love for each other, because this city needs help in the worst way."

The Democratic Party gathering Tuesday was in the same Roosevelt Avenue venue where Green assembled his city committee members in February to impress Rep. Rush Holt, who is seeking re-election to the 12th District, which now includes Plainfield through post-census redistricting. Green said Tuesday he will leave it up to the mayor and council to "please make my life easier by working together."

In a sidelight to the primary, Mapp spoke of his interest in the school system and his interest in who filed for four school board seats Tuesday. He said he will "be behind candidates that are not a part of the district right now."

Green just happened to have the list in his pocket and said there were eight candidates, two slates which he characterized  as "Obama versus Christie." Mapp said the group he supports includes Mahogany Hendricks, Catherine Crittendon, Dollie Hamlin and Delois Dameron. The others were named as Jackie Coley, Susan Phifer, Keisha Edwards and Frederick Moore Sr. The three three-year terms and one one-year unexpired term will be voted on Nov. 6 and the winners will take office in January.

Besides school board filings, Tuesday was also the day for independent candidates to file in order to appear on the November ballot. Plaintalker will check with the County Clerk's office for any filings by independents.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vote Today!

By this time tomorrow we shall know two things: Who won the Democratic Primary and how much interest there was in this election.

Sometimes I get the impression that only a very few people really care about the workings of government and who is in charge. There is a lot of talk, but when it comes to doing what you as an individual can do (vote your choice), participation is not what it could be.

Those who have made up their minds have all day to convince friends and relatives to get to the polls and exercise their franchise. Do you really want to leave it up to others to decide who will be running your city in 2013?

It is hard to write about anything else today when the primary outcome is likely to influence city politics for years to come. There is passion on both sides. Choose your side and vote. Polls are open until 8 p.m.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Get Ready to Vote!

Candidates have done their best (or worst) to impress voters and the primary is now just a day away. Plaintalker does not make endorsements, but on the local level fellow blogger Dr. Yood has made his choices known and Dan Damon has links to all the endorsements on his CLIPS blog. As many have noted, the Democratic June primary in Plainfield pretty much settles the November election as well, though surprises are possible.

In case you just got in from Fiji or the Lesser Antilles, the two local races are for the citywide at-large seat and the Third Ward on the City Council. Vying for the citywide at-large seat are Veronica "Roni" Taylor and the Rev. Tracey Brown. In the Third Ward, incumbent and current Council President Adrian Mapp hopes to best challenger Rasheed Abdul-Haqq.

Of course President Barack Obama is at the top of the ticket and it is almost an obligation for Democrats to show support for him. The new name on the ballot is Rep. Rush Holt, who inherited Plainfield as a constituency  in redistricting after the 2010 Census. The city is now in District 12, which also includes Princeton and Trenton. At a February event here, Holt pledged to learn more about the city and its needs. If elected, he will be serving Plainfield as of Jan. 1, 2013.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5. Please take the time to vote.

Tuesday is now also the day for school board candidates to file for election in November. The City Council voted to move the election to November over the objections of current school board members. The district web site has made no mention of the change. Petitions must be filed by 4 p.m. Tuesday in the County Clerk's office in Elizabeth. There are three three-year seats and one one-year unexpired term up for election this year.

Independents may also file for the City Council seats on Tuesday. If any do so, they will be on the November ballot with the winners of the Democratic primaries and with two Republicans who have filed. The Republicans are Randy Bullock for the Third Ward and Bill Amirault for the citywide at-large seat.

Please vote on Tuesday. Voting is a precious, hard-won right. And if you want to help others learn about their rights as voters, consider joining the Plainfield League of Women Voters. The group will be conducting voter education in October. More later on that topic.