Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lammas, Aug. 1

In the Wheel of the Year, Aug. 1 is called Lammas and marks the first of three harvest holidays. This U.K. postage stamp acknowledges the pagan origins of the holiday, also known as Lughnasadh.

Bread is a part of the Lammas holiday. Probably here in New Jersey, the main harvest item is zucchini right now, so why not make some zucchini bread?

The Wheel of the Year is marked with eight holidays, including the solstices and equinoxes. Anyone who spends a lot of time outside becomes aware of the changing seasons and can appreciate how holidays arose around planting and harvests in the old days. Those who are in air-conditioned offices all day are somewhat divorced from nature and may not have the same sense of the seasons turning to harvest time. But one can enjoy the bounty of nature on Lammas, even if it comes from Trader Joe's!


Remembering Lazaar's and Boise's

Cleaning out a desk yesterday yielded not one, but three Pink Pearl erasers - and some memories of going downtown to buy stationery supplies.

Plainfielders used to be able to shop at Lazaar's on Park Avenue or Boise's on Front Street (or both, if a true lover of paper, pens, pencils and such). You could get just one of whatever you fancied, in contrast to Staples, where things come only in multiples. Staples was widely blamed for the demise of the friendly neighborhood stationery store and indeed, after about 50 years serving Plainfielders, Lazaar's closed soon after the big store opened on Route 22.

I remember meeting a young artist while I was part of the Johnson family's "Plainfield Today" team. When I found out he had no proper supplies for his drawing, I told him to wait in our North Avenue office while I dashed to Boise's to get some good paper and a gum eraser.
Unlike the Pink Pearl, which has a bad rap in this article, the gum eraser can cleanly get rid of pencil lines after a cartoon or drawing has been inked. I still use one when I get a library book where some inconsiderate person has underlined words or phrases in pencil that I feel compelled to erase before reading. (Note to Charlie: I always called them soap erasers too.)

It took me a long while to get used to Staples after Boise's and Lazaar's were gone. I still wish I could get a single needed item instead of a pack. But I came to appreciate their ability to special-order my favorite extra-fine point pens and narrow-ruled pads. Thinking I was going to write a book in retirement, I ordered two dozen of the latter, but still have more than a dozen left after nine years. On the other hand, I have gone through dozens of Staples spiral-bound notebooks while taking notes at city meetings for the blog.

One of my favorite destinations in Seattle is a stationery store inside the great Uwajimaya store in the International District. Audrey and I both overindulge in pens and notebooks at Kinokuniya Book Store when I am visiting.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered JetPens online and used donations to my my blog's PayPal account to get my favorite Pilot Hi-Tec C pens to go with the Staples notebooks for meeting notes. But you can bet, if Lazaar's and Boise's were still open, I would just go downtown and get my supplies.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Pretty Sight

The new peninsula at Park and Ninth now has the finishing touch of lovely floral plantings.

Conceived by residents who worked with city and county officials, the peninsula had a difficult birth. For many months, it was only a promise. Work began  last year. 

Believe it or not, this process won Planning Board approval way back in 2007. But resident Maria Pellum, a champion of the project, had to keep up the pressure to make sure the original design was kept. A large sign crediting the mayor for the project was the only indication of its viability for years.

Kudos to those who held officials to their word! It is now the innovative, visually pleasing project that residents dreamed up so many years ago.


Problem Solved on Park Avenue

A gleaming white stretch of sidewalk on Park Avenue is the happy ending to a long story that began with a hurricane.

The highly destructive storm known as Hurricane Irene wreaked a lot of havoc, but one of the more noticeable effects was a huge tree falling across one of the city's busiest paths for drivers and walkers. The trunk of the tree was cleared from the street, but the stump and roots that lifted the sidewalk remained for a long time, causing schoolschildren and everyday pedestrians to walk out in the street to pass.

Over at City Hall, the post of director of Public Works & Urban Development had been vacant for several months. The last permanent director, David Brown III, had resignd in November 2010. From January through March 2011, Jacques Howard of the Office of Community Development served as acting director, but after his 90-day stint elapsed, no one held the title.

In late August, Hurricane Irene struck and went down in meteorological history as the fifth most costly hurricane on record in the United States, destroying homes and causing 47 deaths. A broken sidewalk on one street in Plainfield was maybe the least of the damage, but as weeks and months wore on, it became a symbol of the trouble it took to get things fixed in the city.

On Sept. 26, Eric Jackson became the third permanent PW&UD director in the tenure of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Jennifer Wenson-Maier had served the entire four years of the mayor's first term but was not reappointed for the second term. Brown came and went in 2010. Still, the department seemed almost stable compared to the turnover in the revolving-door offices of the city administrator and the finance director. Public Works tasks mostly got done even without a director.

Jackson immediately took steps to clean up City Hall, which had become cluttered and uninviting. He introduced needed training for division heads and just generally came across as a take-charge guy.

But the sidewalk situation eluded a quick resolution.

Questions of responsibility caused the repair process to be delayed even while Jackson made improvements in many other aspects of the department. In March 2012, Plaintalker brought it up again. Readers and Councilwoman Rebecca Williams offered comments.

At long last, the sidewalk is fixed. It looks great and one would never know it was such a thorny problem. Schoolchildren, seniors and residents in general can safely pass along this stretch of Park Avenue once again.
Thanks to Director Jackson and all those who kept on the case to get this very visible and embarassing problem resolved.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reader Wants Your Help

Carolyn Logan wants people to join her fight against the water company:

I've been ill and really not paid attention to the fact that the size of my monthly bill exceeds my old quarterly bills! Now that I live alone there is no way I have used 17,000 gallons in one month.  The water company claims they send someone to read the meter and that it was read and meter is operating fine.  They will send me a kit to determine if I have any leaks.

However, I have found they are a market driven company with stockholders and not responsive to their privilege of operating a public utility.  If they are operating legitimately, they we should have the right to go to the market and choose a company that best meets are needs.

I'm sending this to the PlainTalker to ask my neighbors in joining me in flooding the state and local authorities about our right to choose a company to be our public utility.

Ant/Aphid Mutualism

Once again my back yard near Park & Seventh reveals a nature story and maybe a lesson.

I noticed some deformed leaves on a plant, then saw some large black ants crawling around. Having studied the lives of insects since my childhood, I guessed there were aphids inside the leaves.
Ants and aphids can rely on each other in unique ways. The ants nurture the aphids in return for access to the honeydew they secrete. You can read about this "mutualism" here.
The curled-over leaves form chambers where the aphids stay. The carpenter ants live nearby in holes created by chewing the wood of the back stairs. We found big piles of sawdust earlier this summer whre the busy ants had been working.
Here you can see the tiny aphids on the underside of a leaf.
This plant is a weed in a patch of Cosmos. Obviously, we could disrupt this whole symbiotic system by pulling up the weed, but the ants and aphids would most likely regroup on some other plant.
Here some ants are tending aphids on the stem of a Cosmos plant. The aphids suck juice from the plant and excrete the honeydew. As described in the article linked above, the ants stroke the aphids and "farm" them for the honeydew. Click on any photo to enlarge or to start a slideshow.

To humans, both the ants and aphids are pests, but their little society is fascinating to observe. There are probably a lot of analogies in the human world for this mutual dependence and control. I leave it to you, the readers, to make your own analogies.


Friday, July 27, 2012

From Editor to Auditor: A CN Story

One thing I like about Facebook is being able to keep up with old colleagues from the Courier News. They post about weddings, new babies, job searches and somewhat surprisingly, a wide variety of athletic accomplishments. Recently a former editor announced his departure from journalism in favor of becoming an auditor, a transition that to many made a lot of sense in light of the much-reported decline of the newspaper industry.

This individual came to the Courier News as an intern in 1993 and stayed on for six years, rising through the ranks to assistant managing editor. He was the deputy managing editor at a Westchester newspaper when he left the news biz, having earned an MBA in Business Administration and headed for prestigious financial firm.

When he was at the Courier News, circulation was around 50,000. In March 2012, it was 15,533 Monday through Saturday and 20,165 on Sundays.

News, or what passes for it nowadays, is more likely to reach the consumer through a mobile phone or tablet than through television or the print media. The newspaper industry is still struggling to adapt to readers' new habits by developing "platforms" of information, but a lot of it is more lifestyle "content" than old-fashioned news. Things that used to make Page One - a new school superintendent or a big budget gap, for example - may not even get covered. Reader-generated content is fair game even for A-1 over the fold sometimes, and food and drink stories take up many column inches.

Former colleagues called the editor's decision a loss to journalism and wondered how such a talented and dedicated newsman could just leave it all behind. Older colleagues who knew the heady days of breaking big stories were especially saddened. But hard-hitting news is awash nowadays in a sea of what used to be called "community news," a spaghetti dinner at the firehouse or a marathon for charity. Maybe over the past 19 years the industry's direction made a change in profession a very logical move for someone needing to earn a living for another quarter-century or so.

The worrisome thing for some of us is who will keep the public informed of what decisions are being made that will fundamentally affect our hometowns? The experiments in hyperlocal coverage that were launched in the past few years are now suffering the same pressures as the so-called legacy media, trying to get more work out of smaller staffs and hoping to make up the difference with contribution from readers.

As always, Plaintalker welcomes your comments.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Free Pollo Campero Empanadas Friday!

Curious about Latin foods? Plainfield has filled up with restaurants featuring specialties of many South and Central American nations and one that began in Guatemala, Pollo Campero, will entice you with free empanadas Friday.

From a Pollo Campero press release:
“The three choices include a Spicy Chicken empanada filled with Campero’s famous juicy chicken, green tomatillo salsa, Monterrey Jack cheese and freshly chopped cilantro; the Citrus Chicken empanada made with Campero chicken, grilled onions, tamarindo sauce and shredded Monterrey Jack cheese; and a Black Bean and Cheese empanada filled with flavorful black beans, Monterrey Jack cheese, fresh cilantro, diced onion, and a touch of smoked chipotle.”

Crowds of fans jammed Pollo Campero when it opened at East Front Street and Roosevelt Avenue in late 2010.  It is one of more than 345 Pollo Campero restaurants in 14 countries, with 50 in the United States. 

I have stopped in to the Plainfield Pollo Campero after PMUA meetings to pick up some take-out yuca fries. There is also a large, bright dining room on the Roosevelt Avenue side, that I got to see when the Democratic City Committee welcomed Congressman Rush Holt to Plainfield, which is now in the 12th Congressional District.

Stop by on Friday and try an empanada at Pollo Campero.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Looking Back Again

The summer doldrums have combined with a dental emergency to cloud my mind, so here's another re-run for your amusement. The entire archive of Plainfield Plaintalker, going back to June 2005, is always ready and searchable if you want to see where we've been since then.

"Where Are The Snow Jobs Of Yesteryear?"

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Past Fiscal Overhaul: FAIL

As the administration continues to look for a chief financial officer, it might be interesting to look back at a former department head's view of fiscal matters in Plainfield. Douglas Peck came to the city in April 2008, but despite making a bold initial attempt at change, he left after nine months. Peck was one of  seven permanent or acting finance directors heading the department in the past six and a half years.

Read Plaintalker's post here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

See John Stewart Jr. On TV Monday!

I'm told a well-known Plainfielder will be featured on a television show Monday and may win $10,000.

I don't actually on a television set and am a TV illiterate, so I hope others will feel the excitement of the occasion and tune in. Click here for a preview.

Dan Damon wrote about John Stewart Jr., the homeowner, in December. See more here.

Read further in this Plaintalker post.

This show Monday could generate some positive publicity for Plainfield!


On Block 832, 15 Hours of Noise

Against a backdrop of a national tragedy and world turmoil, a noisy neighborhood event may not count for much. My spoiled day is nothing compared to the ruined or lost lives described in current news reports.

Still, if I may drop down to the hyperlocal level on this one, a daylong event on our block was perhaps emblematic of the kind of summer activity that sets neighbors' nerves on edge and can make one feel trapped in one's own home.

We had a harbinger of something big coming our way when a team of workers spent all day Friday in the rain sawing lumber and fitting it together to make a big stage in a parking lot across the city lot next to our building. The mystery was solved when I went to the corner drug store and found one of those gaudy postcard-like announcements of the event.

The image showed a large crowd gathered around a movie screen. The text was in Spanish, which I last studied in the 1950s, but I could make out the gist of the "Gran Dia de Familia" - a church group was inviting all to an event starting at 11 a.m., with a "movie under the stars" ("Cine Bajo las Estrellas") at 8:30 p.m. The event also included health checkups, live music, free food, gifts and surprises.

Well, the first surprise for us was a pair of generators that began banging away at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. The electrical cords were laid across the Park Avenue driveway to Municipal Lot 7, which, after a visit from public safety officials, was closed to the public. That meant, for instance, no shortcuts for pedestrians from East Seventh Street to Park Avenue to go to the library and the one Lot 7 parking permit holder, who walks in pain while awaiting a total hip replacement, would have to take many extra steps to get to her car.

The day began in earnest with speeches or prayers, a band and set-up of various tables along with a row or two of folding chairs. The noise level was apparent early on and my neighbor and I commiserated on how it was going to affect us. No peaceful time in the garden, no quiet time to read or listen to favorite radio shows. I spent an hour or so with the power blower cleaning our back lot, figuring that noise surely could not be bothersome with all the other racket taking place.

As gardeners know, the first sunny day after prolonged rains leaves one just itching to get out and pull all those weeds that seem to have sprouted overnight. But it was just too noisy even for that simple task. I got one break by walking to the store and took advantage of the trip to spy on the event. Most of those on the scene appeared to be event staff from the church, with a smattering of the local street people and a few families in attendance.

Around 9:30 p.m., I invented another errand and checked out the crowd at the movie. It was sparse. The movie was in Spanish with English sub-titles.

After the movie, there was more speechifying or prayer that went on until past 11:30 p.m.

My jangled nerves and I finally got a break near midnight.

Our neighborhood, for some reason, has had several noisy events this summer. One was a day-long health fair sponsored by another church. Another was an outdoor party for a local business. A quirk of our neighborhood is that the walls of apartment buildings create a canyon-like effect that bounces loud sounds back and forth so that one can't even tell where the noise is coming from. It can be louder in our yard than it is at Park & Seventh, with all the traffic. Our normal oasis from city noise, with our deep lot, changes dramatically with the reverberations from loudspeakers.

As I said, in the overall scheme of things, our tough luck for a day isn't much, but by late afternoon I was really on edge from the prolonged noise. I couldn't imagine how people at the event could even speak to each other.

This kind of noise goes on all summer in many neighborhoods as people hold parties and such. The organizers of public events do have to get permits and the church in question did so. My concern is with the decibel level and the duration of events like the one yesterday. One of my City Council representatives has promised to look into the requirements for those obtaining permits for events, with possible reminders of permissible noise levels. 

If you have similar concerns, it's a good idea to let your elected representatives know. Summer on the block should not be marred by hours of relentless noise from others. Speak up, if that what it takes to achieve a little balance.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ramadan Observance Begins

Ramadan - observed by millions across the world - got hardly a mention in the local press. It is important now more than ever perhaps that we have awareness of beliefs and religious practices of people in our community. To that end, Plaintalker is offering this link to a news article about Ramadan. Although it focuses on just one geographical location, it is pertinent to any place with a Muslim population. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ramadan Greetings

Ramadan Mubarak
to all our
friends and neighbors
of the 
Islamic faith.

Nature on Block 832

A juvenile Black Vulture turned up today at the garbage bins next door. Last year, a whole flock visited, giving us a lot of amusement with their funny, bobbing walk and their pale legs that one writer likened to white tube socks. Here is a clip from last year.
In contrast to the hulking vulture, a tiny bee visited this Black-Eyed Susan in our yard.

My neighbor's wildflower garden has passed its peak for Alyssum, Calendula and Sweet William Catchfly. The Bachelor Buttons are holding on, though many have gone to seed. Up next in the yard are the Sunflowers, Cosmos and Thunbergia. Summer is going fast.

You can click on any of the photos on the blog for a larger image.


Clerk Offers Charter Commission Petitions

Anyone interested in running for a seat on the proposed Charter Study Commission can download petition forms from the city's web site.

The form was a bit hard to locate, but here is a link. 

Meanwhile, the report produced by the Charter Study Committee in 1990 is proving elusive. City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh was stll hunting for it this afternoon. Officials are interested in seeing what the eight-member committee came up with 22 years ago, the last time there was a serious look at the special charter that took effect on Jan. 1, 1969.


Charter Change Question Coming Up

The City Council has approved placing a question on the November ballot asking voters whether they want to establish a commission to study the city's special charter.

The commission would have five members also chosen by voters. Names of those who successfully submit petitions to serve on the commission will also be on the ballot. Each petition must be signed by 100 voters.

Voters must approve both the question and the commissoners in order for the study to take place.
The current structure of three departments under which all divisions fall is one topic to be studied. A Charter Study Committee that conducted a study in 1990 targeted the Department of Public Affairs & Safety for replacement by a Department of Human Services. The department currently only includes the Police and Fire divisions, but formerly also included health and welfare as well as recreation.

The eight-member committee interviewed former mayors and council members as well as other officials for their report. It was presented to the City Council on June 30, 1990, but the governing body took no action on charter change through the state Legislature.
A recent concern over the special charter is that it contains language stating that the corporation counsel shall be the "chief legal advisor" both to the mayor and to the governing body. The administration and council have found themselves at loggerheads over several issues in the past couple of years and each entity has sought separate counsel.

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh has prepared petition forms for those interested in serving on the commission. The clerk's office is in City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave. The ballot on Nov. 6 will also include school board candidates for the first time, as well as two City Council slots, the Third Ward and Citywide at-large seats.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"I Before E"

Curious that a drive to collect purses for a sale to benefit Newspapers in Education should have an egregious violation of the "i before e" rule. It's a good cause - all six Gannett New Jersey newspapers are accepting handbags and wallets for the Mega Purse Sale.

Maybe the mnemonic poem about the spelling rule is no longer taught in school (or J-school), but you can read all about it at this link.


Weather Here and There

I sure hope those predicted thunderstorms come through this afternoon!
Meanwhile, here's the weather where Audrey lives ...


News Roundup

This oppressive heat is slowing me down. With the demise of the old Dell PC, I should be busy reconfiguring the computer set-up to make the Toshiba laptop the main resource and maybe acquiring something new as back-up. But I can't think! Anything above watering the plants seems to be too taxing for my brain. A lot of afternoons are being spent just dozing off in siesta mode.

Having made that disclaimer, I will offer some odds and ends of news and observations, none of which add up to a whole news story.

- On Monday, the City Council approved  the mayor's nomination of Diane Sherry-Buono as treasurer from Aug. 1, 2012 to July 31, 2013. No salary figure was stated in the resolution.

- A group of residents from Lawrence Gardens asked the City Council for help, claiming their landlord is not addressing problems including mold, roaches and mice. The former Netherwood Village site was once managed by the Housing Authority of Plainfield, but was later acquired by Connolly Properties and is now owned by a successor, Pentium Properties. Councilwoman Annie McWilliams, serving as acting president in the absence of Council President Adrian Mapp, directed Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Jackson to look into the matter.

- Former school board member Joseph Ruffin, who also served as chairman of the PMUA Task Force, was named a commissioner of the Housing Authority of Plainfield, succeeding Ken Scott in a direct appointment by the governing body.

- Alex Toliver was recognized for his work in organizing the "Returning Heroes" parade on July 7. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams read into the record a resolution of appreciation for Toliver's efforts. Councilman William Reid called the parade the best in years.

- A new item Monday was permitting a street encroachment for National Night Out on August 7. No details were available. The city's web site has a link, but it is to the National Night Out information page, not specific to Plainfield. 

On another topic, a sheriff's sale notice caught Plaintalker's eye, as it included the former Cozzoli site that was acquired by RTN LLC of Elizabeth. It was to have been part of a huge development that fell through in 2008. Now the portion owned by the investment firm is up for sale for $1.2 million. The sheriff's sale notice includes a number of liens on the property, for taxes, sewer and Special Improvement District charges plus penalties. The development was one of about 18 that were in the works in 2006, most of which never materialized.

Regarding the heat, I hope we get some relief soon. I will be very interested to read the state climatologist's report when this month is over. July 2012 is shaping up as an extremely hot month.

Please note, I cannot answer questions in the Comment section because this laptop is not recognized by Blogger. Anyway, Joseph Ruffin Sr. was a school board appointee who ran for a full term an unexpired two-year term in 2009, but did not win.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Club Owner Finds Event Date Taken

One of Edison Garcia's photos of crowds at his July 7&8 event.
Nightclub owner Edison Garcia brought photos of the crowds at his Independence Day celebration to share with City Council members Monday, but what he didn't realize was that the governing body had just approved another club owner's bid to use the dates for his September Central American Independence festival.

Garcia even invited the council to come out to the September event, not realizing that they had just voted to permit the owner of Chez Maree to hold a two-day multicultural festival on Sept. 15 and 16 on the next  block. Although he obtained permission in March for the July event, it turns out Garcia had failed to apply for use of city parking lots in September.

It would have been Garcia's third year for his September event. Maree was seeking his first major event.

The two club owners conferred with Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig after the meeting adjourned and later outside with each other over the mix-up.

Maree had asked the City Council in May to consider permitting an event with "mainstream acts" such as Chris Brown and Drake. He said he wanted many acts and genres to be part of the event. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams questioned whether a large crowd could be accommodated, but Maree said the parking lot behind his Watchung Avenue building was 100,000 square feet. Council President Adrian Mapp offered his support at the May meeting, but at the July 9 agenda-fixing session, Maree said Hellwig had not given police approval for the proposed event.

Maree then suggested having an event on July 21, but council members said the timing was too close. He took the council's advice to have it later and settled on Sept. 15 & 16.

The two owners seemed willing to keep options open after Monday's meeting, though Garcia looked a bit downcast by the mix-up. If they are able to hold both events, Garcia's would be in Lots 8 and 8a between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue. Maree's would be in Lot 1, between Watchung and Roosevelt avenues. Both sites are behind buildings on the north side of East Front Street.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Sticking It To The Man

What happens when a property owner fails to cut the grass until the yard becomes an eyesore? The city may step in and order an abatement, meaning the place gets cleaned up and the cost turns into a lien owed to the city when the property is eventually sold.

The sight of a familiar name on the list up for a City Council vote tonight prompted Plaintalker to ask about the process. Yes, all these owners got prior notice of a code violation. But while one council member shared my concern about what looked like a well-compensated city employee being on the list, another offered the notion that it was a fairly common ploy to let the city cut the grass at a cost to some future owner of the property.

His point? It's cheaper than paying someone now to do the job.

My point was that such logic meant an expenditure by the city might or might not ever get repaid the $443 cost of abatement for just that one yard. Overall, these liens add up to many thousands of dollars when, for whatever reason, the property owner declines to take responsibility.

Similarly, the recent tax lien sale list contained the names of several prominent city figures who should have been able to pay what they owed. In that case, if they don't pay, the city gets the money from lien buyers and the property owner then owes the buyer the money at up to 18 percent interest and with a threat of foreclosure if not paid. However, recouping the money comes at a cost to the city in terms of a delayed revenue flow and a lower collection rate than if people paid on time.

The last list had unpaid property taxes on 41 apparently unsold condos owned by a developer who is wrangling with the city over about a quarter-million dollars in costs for the "free" senior center.

Back in the day, political militants felt it was only fair to "stick it to the man," that is, defy the oppressor by refusing to pay taxes or honor other obligations imposed by the government. But who is being hurt by such an atttitude now that power is in the hands of the majority population in Plainfield? What example is being set when even top officials turn up on these lists? It looks more like a selfish disregard for the well-being of the city than a radical political statement.

Oh well. The council's regular meeting for July is 8 p.m. tonight in Municipal Court. Besides property abatements, there are a few items of interest. One is a resolution to appoint Diane Sherry-Buono as treasurer from Aug. 1, 2012 to July 31, 2013. Sherry-Buono was formerly nominated as chief financial officer, but no action was taken. In a discussion at the July 9 agenda-fixing session, officials said there will be both a fulltime treasurer and a fulltime CFO in the future to strengthen fiscal controls, but without a nomination for the latter, it looks like the city will continue dependence on five to eight hours of service a week from acting CFO Glenn Cullen.

Hired on an emergency basis in February, Cullen holds two fulltime titles in nearly South Plainfield and is giving whatever time he can spare to Plainfield. Given the state ultimatum in November 2010 that resulted in the hiring of Ron Zilinski as CFO, one wonders how long the state will allow the situation to continue before putting pressure again on the council and administration to fill the mandated CFO post.

The full agenda is posted on the city's new web site. View it here.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Community Feted by Fire Division Groups

 A thin layer of clouds and a stiff breeze kept the crowd cool Saturday while waiting for the goodies to come off the grill at the "community appreciation" event jointly sponsored by fire unions and the Vulcan Pioneers.
 The firefighters and officers set up their tents and tables on Church Street by Hugo's, giving attendees a glimpse of some well-known faces in the bar crowd.
 The wind created a challenge for the grillers of chicken and fish, but eventually food was served.
 Councilwoman Rebecca Williams stopped by, as did Dee Dameron and a young relative. I got to hang out with Jackie Schnoop again (we were all at the photo exhibit earlier).
 The line quickly formed once the food was ready.
Another fun day with friends and neighbors, thanks to the Fire Division's generosity and caring for the community!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tighten Up Fiscal Controls

Image: www.thepinkflamingosite.com
Way back in April, Councilman William Reid and resident Alex Toliver launched plans for an expanded parade to welcome returning veterans. Reid announced that he and Toliver had voluntarily purchased lawn sgns, bumper stickers and "badges" to publicize the event.

But at the July 8 agenda-fixing session, Reid mentioned the purchases again in the context of being under the bid threshhold, apparently meaning the pair will seek reimbursement from the city for the paraphernalia. So what's wrong with that? In Plaintalker's opinion, it is a prime example of the laissez-faire attitude toward spending that has come to the fore in the absence of normal fiscal controls.

The last city audit report had 40 recommendations, the first of which was that all city purchases should be made through the purchasing agent. The "corrective action" for the problem included receipt of a purchase order prior to delivery of goods. The report said the recommendations had been completed, "however it is acknowledged that consistent monitoring will ensure ongoing compliance." In other words, if somebody didn't remind folks of the rules, people would go out and spend money as they wished and then expect to be reimbursed.

As previously reported, the new all-Plainfield Independence Day Committee - established after other municipalities dropped out of sponsorship of the event - never received any members. An ad hoc group makes all the decisions on the event, which this year included a parade, car show, concert and fireworks. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams is now leading the charge to get details on the scope of spending for the event, including whether outside agencies or individuals collected unauthorized fees.

The issues made this writer think of a hypothetical example in which a citizen or group of citizens decides to "brand" the city and generate some publicity through the use of, say, pink flamingos. This could be based just on whimsy and fun or maybe on the city's gay-friendly atmosphere that, during the 1980s, attracted a large number of Manhattanites who fell in love with Plainfield's housing stock and played a large role in restoring many of its mansions. In some cities, a running joke is to fill somebody's yard with pink flamingos and to declare, "You've been flocked!" Sometimes it is celebratory, sometimes it is a fundraiser for some local charity.

At any rate, a yardful of pink flamingos creates a buzz and produces publicity and laughs.

So what if this became a successful Queen City phenomenon and after the fact these hypothetical citizens decided to bill the city for the purchase of 100 pink flamingos?

The point here is not to demean any other cause, such as welcoming veterans, but to say there is a right way and a wrong way to try to spend public money.

Unfortunately, when Audit & Control is lacking key staff, lapses may occur.

At the July 9 council meeting, there was a discussion of how to strengthen the fiscal team by having both a full-time chief financial officer and a full-time treasurer in that office. Currently, there is neither, nor is there a permanent purchasing agent. So the thought is there, it is just the execution that is lacking. The sooner the reality matches the intent, the better, when it comes to fiscal controls. As a taxpayer, do you agree?


Free Event Saturday

 If you want to experience Plainfield at its best as a community, stop by the 100 block of Church Street between 3 and 9 p.m. Saturday. That’s when three groups from the Fire Division will hold the “3rd Annual Citizens and Community Appreciation BBQ” with free food and entertainment for all.
The groups are the Plainfield Fire Officers Association No. 207, the Plainfield Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association No. 7 and the Plainfield Vulcan Pioneers of Union County, New Jersey.
The members of these groups are as warm-hearted and convivial a bunch as you will ever encounter and they genuinely enjoy spending social time with residents. If you are able to spend some time at the event, you will definitely enjoy it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Photography Exhibit Opens Saturday

The Plainfield Public Library will hold a reception from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday for the opening of its 2012 Summer Invitational Photography Exhibit. David Beverly, Elizabeth King and I are the featured photographers. If you can't make the opening stop by during regular library hours through Sept. 29 to view the exhibit.

Thanks to Library Director Joe Da Rold for this opportunity!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sighted in the City

The site of a former dry cleaning facility on Lee Place was cleaned up and now hosts a temporary community garden. Eventually new homes will be constructed on the site.
Over on Park Avenue, sprays of red Dogwood berries contrast with patterns of stained glass and stonework.
 All those signs for the July 7 parade will be picked up right away, Councilman William Reid said Monday.
 My, my. What won't those kids wear today! Seen downtown where more and more urban fashion shops are opening.
The plaque says City Federal Savings, but now it's Investors Bank. In eight years, we can see what's in the capsule from 1969. Click on the image to enlarge.


PMUA Wants "Clerk of the Works"

One of Malcolm Dunn's first concerns when he became a commissioner on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority was who looked out for the authority's interests on projects. Now the PMUA is responding by seeking a "clerk of the works," sometimes called an owner's representative, to do just that.

The PMUA issued a request for qualifications and proposals to be received at 11 a.m. at PMUA headquarters on July 31, with contract awards or rejection of bids to take place within 60 days.

Dunn brought up the concern at the authority's June meeting during a discussion of repairs needed at the Rock Avenue interceptor, part of the sewer system operated by the PMUA.

"We need somebody on our side," Dunn said.

The situation with the interceptor was described as an emergency, so it is unclear whether such services can be obtained in time for those repairs. But even before becoming a commissioner, Dunn had seen a role for the PMUA in building the proposed second tunnel under the Hudson River. PMUA Commissioner Cecil Sanders was also part of a team looking to participate in the work.

Gov. Chris Christie called off the project, but if an alternative, the Gateway Tunnel, comes into being, Dunn's well-known entrepreneurial spirit will most likely spur him to action to get PMUA in on the deal. And maybe a clerk of the works will be just what's needed to make sure the PMUA fully benefits from its share of the project.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

PMUA Seeks Taxpayer Relief

Former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson at his first PMUA meeting July 10 as executive director.

Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority attorney Leslie London said Tuesday the authority is proposing legislation that would allow taxpayers to deduct utilities costs.

London said "issues raised by residents" led to the proposal. The authority's resolution detailing the proposed legislation will be passed on to Assemblyman Jerry Green for his support, London said. Green has served in the State Assembly since 1992 and is currently Speaker Pro Tempore. He will be seeking another two-year term in 2013.

Residents lost the ability to deduct sewer costs from tax bills when the authority took over from the city's sewer utility. In recent discussions of possible dissolution of the PMUA, residents have cited reinstitution of the tax deduction as a benefit of turning sewer operations back to city control. The authority also provides solid waste removal, which residents formerly arranged with private haulers without any tax breaks.

Plaintalker did not obtain a copy of the resolution (R 71-2012) Tuesday. No residents commented on the proposal at Tuesday's meeting.

In other business, Chief Financial Officer James Perry said the authority sent a $1.6 million payment to the city Tuesday for use of the city-owned sewer lines. But new Executive Director Dan Williamson said he did not think the check had actually been delivered. PMUA Chairman Harold Mitchell then said he wanted to take the check to City Hall Wednesday and to "have a conversation with the mayor."

In nominations from the mayor this year, Mitchell was to receive a new term only as an alternate, which would prevent him from serving as chairman. But the governing body has not given advice and consent to the change, so Mitchell has retained his seat as a holdover and was re-elected chairman at the PMUA's February reorganization.

London also reported on a South Plainfield resident's call for the authority to have a commissioner from Middlesex County. The PMUA recently contracted with the borough for bulk waste removal. London said she does not agree with the resident's issue and she will be sending her legal opinion to South Plainfield Mayor Matthew P. Anesh and the Borough Council.


Administration Squelches Council's PMUA`Study

City Administrator Eric Berry derailed City Council plans Monday for a study on possible dissolution of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, calling instead for an alternate study by the administration.

The governing body was at the point of seeking "requests for qualification" from experts that would make the study and had already allocated up to $50,000 toward the cost. Once completed, the study would have to be submitted to the state Local Finance Board, which would rule on whether the authority should be dissolved.

Instead, Berry gave Council President Adrian Mapp a memo Monday saying "Although the City Council has allocated $50,000 to retain various professionals to conduct a study, the administration has exercised its authority to not spend the taxpayer's money in this fashion."

In the next 30 days, the administration will form a committee "to study this matter in a more cost-effective way," Berry said in his letter. The committee will include members of the administration, council members, two PMUA commissioners, the PMUA's executive director, Plainfield's counsel, PMUA legal counsel, an independent counsel, an independent financial analyst and an engineer.

"Once the committee has reached its conclusions, it will report back to the City Council with its recommendations," Berry's memo said.

Councilman Cory Storch called the memo "misleading" because the council has been advised that the study has to be done a certain way. An outcome where a committee meets and simply reports to the council would be, he said, "clearly a dead end." Storch urged the administration to "rethink the purpose here ... get all the experts together and move ahead."

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams asked about the adminstration's rights versus the governing body's, and City Solicitor David Minchello said the council could not seek requests for qualifications. McWilliams questioned how the council could make a budget decision and then the council could not use the money, saying it was "taking away from the checks and balances."

Minchello said he agreed, but that the adminsitration has the authority "not to use a certain budget line."

Mapp said, "The administration has decided to thumb its nose - the council has lost. The administration, for now, has won."

The PMUA provides sewer and solid waste services to city residents, but stiff rate increases in 2009 led to protests and formation of DumpPMUA, a group that uncovered excessive spending on travel and business lunches by authority officials. The outcry intensified after PMUA officials refused to meet jointly with the council, which then formed a task force to study authority practices. Meanwhile, the PMUA board of commissioners voted to give two former top executives a $1 million settlement, further incurring public wrath. The PMUA task force report in March led to calls for dissolution of the authority and a return to city control of its services.

But in order to dissolve an authority, a specific type of study by experts must be conducted and presented to the state Local Finance Board. The administration's move Monday deflects that possibility.

Although one of seats on the administration's committee is for the city corporation counsel, the post is currently vacant. As of July 1, former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson is the new executive director of the PMUA. The authority holds it first public meeting with Williamson at the helm at 6 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, July 10) at PMUA headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Ave. See agenda here.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Council Brief

If I get anything wrong in this report, blame it on the heat, not having my usual computer and unresolved household distractions. Maybe by the regular meeting date things will sort themselves out and I won't have to feel so out of it.

Regarding Monday's agenda fixing session, for one thing, I share Dr. Yood's curiosity about how the proposed chief financial officer is now the proposed treasurer. The agenda item up for discussion is a resolution to hire Diane Sherry-Buono and waive the residency requirement. One hopes there will be an explanation of the difference and whether that title will satisfy the state requirement for a CFO.

The agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

An important item is settlement of the Police Benevolent Association contract. The union has been without a contract since the end of 2009. For 2010, there is no increase. In 2011, the increase 2.25 percent, followed by 2.50 percent in 2012 and 1.25 percent for 2013. The superior officers will have the same schedule and will also have a prescription co-pay.

The city has seven bargaining units, according to my records. I believe the United Service Worker Union Local 255, the Firemens Mutual Benevolent Association and the Plainfield Municipal Managers Association have settled recently. In past years, after the unions settled, the unrepresented staff (cabinet members) got similar salary adjustments by ordinance, but recently it has not been done that way.

Maybe I have this wrong, but it appears that the $1,920,208.43 for the FY 2012 Road Improvement Program is coming from a bond ordinance listed on the certification of funds statement by CFO Glenn Cullen as being intended for "resurfacing of Park Avenue." The resolution covers 10 other streets. Maybe that will also be explained Monday.

There are several resolutions covering liens for cleanups. A couple of the names of property owners sound very familiar, but I will have to verify their identity by visiting the tax assessor's office.

The matter of the extra space behind the steel wall of the police firing range, also commented on by Dr. Yood, is intriguing. I hope the closed circuit television cameras are working and any further renovations in the basement of poice headquarters will not interfere with the long-awaited start of the ShotSpotter program.


Independence Day Parade 2012

I got to the parade Saturday a little late, having stopped at the Plainfield Public Library to read the City Council packet for Monday's meeting. Despite the heat, enthusiastic crowds lined the route.
A camera man was filming from high atop Front Street.
Elite Soccer Club of Plainfield.
 The black horsemen tradition.

Dollie Hamlin celebrates her father's veteran service.
Veterans for Jesus.
Waffles and ice cream, one of many treats on sale at the parade.
 Joker's Wild M.C.

Diamonds and Pearls Women's Motorcycle Club.

A Lady Liberty balloon.

Stone Square Lodge (the gray spot is due to a camera malfunction).
Uncle Sam on stilts, blowing bubbles.
Plainfield High School Marching band performed.
National Council of Negro Women, Plainfield-Scotch Plains section.
Cedarbrook Block Association.
There were some gaps but the crowd waited patiently.
BKS1 Radio.

Pleasantville High School band.
Mohawk Lodge.
Shaved ice with flavored syrup was popular. Between shavings, the ice block was covered with the green towel.
PMUA's float.
Queen City Thespian Society.
Military vehicle.
Caribbean groups are marking Jamaica's 50th anniversary.
Bob Marley Freedom flag.

The mayor's Veterans Barbecue at City Hall followed the parade.