Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rain Lacking In Seattle

Every time I say I am going to Seattle, someone says, "But doesn't it rain all the time out there?"

Actually, on most trips I have enjoyed lots of sunny days.

This time, the browned landscape I saw as the plane landed showed the effects of a prolonged dry spell out here. Of course, I had to get out and do some yard work at Audrey's home (even brought my special handmade denim apron) and the soil was almost powdery in spots.

Click here to read more about this nearly record-breaking phenomenon.

Some are invoking the departure of baseball player Ichiro as the karmic reason for the drought. By chance, Ichiro is the name of the household kitty out here. He was given the name at a shelter and Audrey and Peter kept it when they adopted him.

He was moping quite a bit after his cat parents left for San Francisco, but as all in thrall to cats will testify, they soon warm up to humans who offer food, especially "kitty crack" such as dried shrimp treats.


UEZ Money, More On Tap Monday

Monday's City Council agenda has many interesting aspects, but alas, I am on the other side of the U.S. and can't look up the background on resolutions and ordinances up for consideration. No doubt Dr. Yood will provide a rundown if the packet is available at the Plainfield Public Library, but meanwhile I will try to provide context on a few items.

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

Regarding the request to authorize $87,978 "to complete the salary and wages adopted in calendar year 2012," this appears to be the funding to operate the Urban Enterprise Zone program since the state returned funding to the local level. For the background on that decision, read about the state report here.

Formerly, the city had to apply to the state Urban Enterprise Zone Authority for use of the sales tax collected in the local zone. Administrative costs were an allowable expense. Now it seems the Office of Economic Development is asking the governing body for the money. One hopes the council will tie the request to getting a long-awaited report on how UEZ funds are being used. In April, Council President Adrian Mapp requested a full report on the program. More recently, Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Jackson said he expected to update the council on UEZ projects after some residents who attended meetings on an East Second Street UEZ proposal asked what happened to it.

Besides the question of how things are going with the local UEZ management, the request harks back to problems with the 2012 budget that initially indicated a $1.5 shortfall, due in part to salaries being left out. At the time, UEZ administration was not mentioned. Could this be another lapse caused by lack of a chief financial officer?

Speaking of which, another resolution is for "temporary appointment of an acting chief financial officer." The city hired the last one in November 2010 under state threat of daily fines for the mayor and all seven council members. Ron Zilinski served as CFO and treasurer through 2011, but left in January 2012. The phrasing of the resolution up for consideration Monday is a bit nebulous. Another resolution notes the need for a CFO to sign off on a 2012 "best practices inventory."

Sorry, guys, but getting a temporary acting person to testify that the city is adhering to best fiscal practices may sound like that football umpire situation to some Plainfielders.

Then there is the "Transitions International" request to hold a Veterans Awareness Day in "Plainfield Square." Certainly a few more details are needed here. Did they mean Plainwood Square? What is Transitions International?

There is a discussion item regarding "naming of the Plainfield senior center." If it is being named for a person, many would nominate Charles Nelson.

Last but not least, the Municipal Court debt collection question will come up again.

And I will miss it all. But I will be back for the votes at the regular meeting on Oct. 9.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Off to the PNW

PNW? No, it is not a new texting term, it is shorthand for the Pacific Northwest.

I will not be hiking Mount Rainer or visiting the Olympic Rain Forest, just hanging out in West Seattle with former Plainfielders Audrey and Peter.

Blogging will be variable for the next week. I will miss my chance to look up Oct. 1 agenda items at the library, but Dr. Yood will be on the case. And thank heavens Maria is back in the blogosphere, with lots of news and ideas.

If PNW was a texting term, what would it stand for in Plainfield?

Please, Now What?


Presidential Debate Schedule

Whatever else is going on locally, Plainfielders will likely want to make sure to follow the Presidential Debate schedule.

The web site of the Commission on Presidential Debates has the schedule, as well as related information.

An unofficial site created by "Nate" as a hobby also has the schedule, plus news and much more (including ads). Click here to view that site.

Save the date of Oct. 27 for local council, school board and charter change commission candidates' forums. The Plainfield League of Women Voters plans to hold its second "Ready, Set, Vote" event as well as the forums at Plainfield High School. More details to follow.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Cat To Watch Out For

Cleaning out a desk recently yielded some long-forgotten objects, including the item pictured above.

Can you guess, or do you know, what it is?

Back in the days of feminism, self-defense was a very big issue. The Watch Cat keychain was meant to be used as a weapon to stick in the eyes or tender parts of an attacker. Women drilled on its use in an effort to overcome any nurturing instincts about hurting someone, even when in danger. It was hurt or be hurt!

Women still learn self-defense and believe it or not, similar items are available on Amazon today. Search for "Safety Cat" and you even have a choice of colors.

Right around the time my daughter was moving to Seattle in 1993, there was a horrendous crime wave in our neighborhood caused by a man who had escaped a halfway house in Connecticut. He made his way to Plainfield, where he had relatives, and committed several rapes and a murder. Audrey and I both began carrying pepper spray and frequently checking on each other. It took a long time for the fear to wear off and settle into just an increased awareness of possible danger.

Nowadays I don't venture out at night very much, except for public meetings. City Hall is quite close by and I can get home on foot very quickly. Instead of a pointy cat device or pepper spray, I may keep my cell phone at the ready to call police headquarters.

Women always need to be aware of their surroundings and to take action to avoid harm. Many have taken martial arts classes that give self-confidence. Personal protection is a must when out among strangers. Take a look at some of the many women's safety tips online - they will give you food for thought.


Note: As Rebecca points out, feminism is not over. I guess I meant the groundbreaking wave of feminism in the 20th Century. The struggle continues! (Add your own ululations.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Repairman Cometh

Events of the day Monday displaced the time I might have had to write a blog post.

I scheduled an appointment Wednesday to get my land line phone fixed, only to have a repairman call me soon after to say he would be here in 15 minutes. He checked upstairs and in the basement and was about to climb up a utility pole when two phone company bucket trucks arrived on another call at our building. Eventually, both my neighbor and I had service restored. It was a better deal than waiting around in the time window from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday that was initially offered.

The shorter wait for repairs to be completed still delayed my errands and chores, not to mention my daily dose of lollygagging and daydreaming, so time just elapsed until I found myself nodding off at the keyboard.

Maybe I will get it together later today. It is National Voter Registration Day, so look for volunteers who will help you get registered, or stop in at City Hall and sign up. Don't you want to have your say on who should be president in 2013?


Monday, September 24, 2012

Seeing Red?

At Thursday's Planning Board meeting, an apparently new flag caught my eye.

It had the blue-and-gold city seal on a field of bright red.

The usual flags one sees in City Hall are those of the United States and the State of New Jersey.

Two questions came to mind: Where did this flag come from and why isn't it blue, in keeping with the city's colors?

A red flag is traditionally a warning or sign of danger. Red is also the mayor's favorite color. Whatever the meaning, shouldn't a new flag design for the city have the approval of the governing body? Why don't we run it up the flagpole and see who salutes?


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Echoing Dr. Yood

Dr. Yood's Saturday blog post had three points that I would like to second.

I also signed up for the "Do Not Call" list and since then have been plagued by many repetitive calls from telemarketers. I neither own a home nor is JCP&L my energy provider, yet I am receiving numerous calls directed to these categories. I know "cold calling" is a marketing staple, but it only causes ill will to a land line telephone owner who becomes subject to these annoying interruptions.

I also agree with Dr. Yood on the dubious use of anonymous allegations about local public figures. Peccadillos will out on some level without the help of bloggers. If folks are already buzzing about some gossip, putting it on a blog only redounds to the blogger's reputation as a gossipmonger. If one doesn't want to be known as the local Michael Musto, it is better to leave the tittle-tattle to others.

Regarding the local newspaper, beer and pizza both A-1 over the fold do make one wonder what else is happening in Central Jersey. However, in his column Friday, Jay Jefferson Cooke says one thing he has learned over 25 years as a journalist is that "you have to give the people what they want." He cites a "journalism prude" he once knew who insisted that readers must be fed "spinach" whether they like it or not, because it is good for them.

Jefferson Cooke concludes that forcing spinach on people when they want pizza is "an attitude that has wrecked many a business."

Well, the news biz is foundering, by most accounts, so if readers are really echoing the 1928 E.B. White line, "I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it," maybe devoting many column inches to reviews of purveyors of  plain cheese pizza is the way to save the industry.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

HPC Post Draws Comments

My post Wednesday on the Historic Preservation Meeting drew many comments, some of which were replies to what others had to say. I invite readers to take a look (click here) and see what you think.

Meanwhile, historic preservation was celebrated in a Star-Ledger and photo gallery this past week. The home of the president of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, John Stewart, was featured. A  lot of Plainfielders shared it on Facebook. Here is a link.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Planners Ponder Road Repair Costs

Concerned over projected road repair costs, the Planning Board agreed Thursday to suggest a $4 million per year cap  for 2014 through 2018, but will leave next year's capital improvement tab for roads at $5,776,650.

The board expects to bring the six-year capital improvement plan before the City Council next month. Among requests from the city's three divisions, road repairs alone account for $33 million. The city is now in the midst of a multimillion dollar push to catch up on delayed repairs, but the topic dates back to 2005, when officials sought to allocate $5 million annually for 15 years. See Plaintalker's post here.

Since 2005, the city changed administrations and outsourced engineering, among other changes. This Plaintalker post notes the road repair saga and how the administration hopes to get on track again.

The six-year plan discussed Thursday projected an average of $5.5 million per year for road repair from 2014 through 2018. Planners first talked about cutting it to $4.5 per year, then settled on $4 million.

Capital projects, which are expected to be useful for many years, are financed by a combination of grants and bonding. The city has a limit on how much bond debt it should carry overall, for past and current projects, so the more grant funding, the better. Planning Division Director Bill Nierstedt said Thursday he will provide the board with a breakdown of proposed funding for the capital improvement plan.

The City Council's agenda-fixing session is Monday, Oct. 1 and the regular meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 9. I will   be in Seattle on Oct. 1 but hope to report on the regular meeting. Meanwhile, information on the capital improvement plan is available in the Planning Division office during normal office hours. Besides the road repair requests, the plan includes capital requests from Police and Fire divisions, Public Works, the Plainfield Public Library, the Bilingual Day Center and the Drake House Museum.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer's Almost Gone

Our garden mascots are reminding us that the season is winding down, or as The Doors would say, "Summer's Almost Gone."
The Butterfly Bush has been one of their favorite haunts. We have been taking note of the females' swollen, egg-laden abdomens. The males are much smaller and may not make it through the mating process without losing their heads (literally).
These creatures have their own take on "eat, pray, love." They like to eat bugs that are still alive and kicking. Then they hold their formidable forelegs together as if in prayer. But as J. Geils notes, "Love Stinks"
sometimes, as the male praying mantis finds out when being devoured by the female.
Here's a reminder from the Luna Press calendar. To all who commented on my Facebook photo from an Autumn Equinox long ago, thanks for your interest. It was fun in those days to put on a gauzy gown and a wreath of flowers and go barefoot to mark the turning of the seasons!


Check HPC Web Site

Can you name all six residential historic districts in Plainfield?

Have you ever looked at the Design Guidelines for historic districts?

The Historic Preservation Commission web site is a great place to learn more about the preservation movement in Plainfield or to refresh your memory about it. Take a look!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

HPC Approves Abbott Manor Roof Repair

A property owner's costly plight cut no ice with members of the Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday when they approved a new roof and other repairs only if they met strict standards.

Andre Yates, the new owner of Abbott Manor, spent most of the evening giving examples of his previous reconstruction of city homes and detailing the extensive costs he faces in restoring the former nursing home at 810 Central Avenue. After citing his "fabulous work" on the other buildings, he said he had gone up on the roof of the Central Avenue home with contractors who, after examining the slate roof, deemed it at the end of its useful life and "beyond repair."

The city's Historic Preservation ordinance, which the commission upholds, calls for replacing "like with like" in exterior repairs to buildings in historic districts. Yates urged commissioners to accept a kind of asphalt shingles instead of slate, calling the cost of slate prohibitive and noting use of such roofing in several nearby buildings.

Glancing around the table at commissioners and at several residents in attendance, Yates said, "I need everyone in here to help me get it right, and I know you will."

But the commissioners held out for slate or a shingle that closely resembles slate, although Commissioner Bill Michelson said he might consider a shingled roof if Yates told what he plans to do with the building. That question went unanswered as the discussion wore on, with Yates continuing to stress cost factors.

"I have a huge project here," he said.

Commissioner Pat Turner Kavanaugh said, "I want that building to come back as you clearly do, but it will not return to anything like its former status if you put a roof on there that's totally inappropriate."

After more back-and-forth between Yates and other commissioners, Turner Kavanaugh said, "This roof is not right for that building - end of story."

Still, Yates persevered, saying the total renovation was going to be an "enormous financial undertaking" and asking for "understanding."

But Commissioner John Favazzo said he saw a compromise on the roof as a gateway to further compromises.

"You have to get off to the right foot," he said, calling the roof "most important."

If the work has to be phased, Favazzo said, then Yates might have to do so. A wrong change, he said, "compromises every other building in Plainfield."

"You are asking us to alter the whole city of Plainfield," Favazzo said.

Although he said he understood Favazzo's point, Yates noted the ongoing recession and decline in property values.

"To spend $45,000 on a roof, that's a lot of money," he said.

Michelson told Yates, "You have done us a great service by getting Dr. and Mrs. Lapid to sign a deed," referring to the former owners, but adding, "You bought a house for $100,000 knowing it would need repairs," and calling Yates' concerns "crocodile tears."

In public comment before the vote, several residents agreed with commissioners on the negative effect of using lesser materials for repairs. Rowand Clark asked the board not to "summarily dismiss the idea of putting on real slate" and others pushed for copper metalwork exclusively.

The board finally approved the project with architectual slate-like tiles and copperwork, with all materials to be reviewed before construction.

Outside the meeting, Yates declined to say what he had in mind for the building once it is rehabilitated and would not confirm a rumor that he planned a veterans' home.

Abbott Manor was once a 35-bed nursing home, but drew intense opposition to a planned expansion. Read the history of litigation on the matter here. 


Monday, September 17, 2012

Two Nov. 6 Slates Thin

 As the local election season began in earnest over the weekend, two of the rosters have thinned.

Advance preparation for the League of Women Voters candidates' forum revealed that the City Council at-large race and the school board contest have each lost one candidate.

Republican William Amirault has dropped out of competition with Democratic candidate, Rev. Tracey Brown, and Independent Gloria Henriques for the four-year citywide at-large council seat. The Third Ward race still has three candidates - Democrat Adrian Mapp, Independent Tom Turner and Republican Randy Bullock - vying for a four-year term.

Incumbent appointee Susan Phifer has withdrawn as a candidate for a three-year term on the Board of Education. That leaves five people running for three three-year seats in the first-ever November contest for school board seats. The City Council approved the move from an April election over objections in February. Those remaining on the ballot for full three-year terms are Jackie D. Coley, incumbent Keisha Edwards, and a slate including Mahogany Hendricks, Catherine Crittendon and Dollie S. Hamlin that was announced at Democratic Party headquarters on Primary Day (see post). The ballot will also have a one-year unexpired term on the school board for which Delois Dameron and Frederick D. Moore Sr. are competing.

Voters will also be asked whether or not a Charter Study Commission should be seated. Seven candidates filed to fill five seats on the commission, but will not serve if the establishment of such a commission fails to win approval. The candidates are Ricky Allen Smiley, Jeanette Criscione, John Stewart, Mary Burgwinkle, John R. Davis III Marie L. Davis and Carrell E. Martin. Plaintalker will post more about the Charter Study question later.

Tuesday, Oct. 16 is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 general election. It is a presidential election year, in case you haven't noticed. Click here for presidential and vice-presidential debate dates and formats.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Greetings

L'Shanah Tovah
to all our 
friends and neighbors
of the
Jewish faith

Politics and Latino Heritage Mingle

The sight of Assemblyman Jerry Green in a dazzling white shirt with sparkly writing distracted me from realizing that the man speaking volubly in Spanish to the fiesta crowd Saturday was none other than Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Booker gave a rousing pre-election speech and appeared to be well-received by the crowd. Green also urged voters to come out for the Nov. 6 general election and to support national, state and local Democratic candidates.
Green's shirt had his name and "Speaker Pro Tempore" in glittery script on the back. His re-election bid comes next year, but he is leading the local effort to re-elect President Barack Obama and the Democratic slate.

I got a very late start Saturday and missed nearly all the events, including Booker's appearance at Democratic headquarters, but ventured out in late afternoon to check out the two downtown fiestas. It was by sheer chance that I got to see Booker in action. He was impressive, not in the least for his ability to engage Latinos in their own language. Plainfield now has about a 40 percent Latino population.

Both downtown events turned out to be celebrations for Central American independence and heritage. The one organized by Edison Garcia is in its fourth year, but as Plaintalker reported, Rodney Maree won city approval to hold his first-ever event on the same weekend.
Both events featured beer sales, numerous food vendors and carnival rides on city parking lots flanking Watchung Avenue. The crowd, almost entirely Latino, moved back and forth between the two venues.
Food offerings were largely traditional Latino specialties, with some usual carnival fare thrown in.
I ran into blogger Jackie Schnoop, who was on the prowl for photos suitable for the Plainfield Public Library's 2012 photo contest, whose theme is "Eating Out/Eating In."
The events continue today, for those who wants to delight the kiddies with a carnival experience or for anyone looking for food, music and conviviality.
One of the gimmicks used by emcees at the events was to call out names of countries and get reactions from the crowd. El Salvador and Ecuador were two that got a big response. I was hoping for a shout-out for Plainfield, but as the many flags and trinkets indicated, the hearts of most attendees were with their homelands.
Maybe that's the real challenge for local politicians.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Late Summer Images

According to the Autumn Crocus, it's just about Autumn.
Our resident Praying Mantises are nearing the end of their life span.
As always, it has ben fascinating to watch them in the garden.
We have Black-Eyed Susan Vine in several locations and it just delights the eye.
Colorful Coleus grown from seed is in the topiary basket this year.
A lot of this summer was spent using up or throwing out stuff. Found some old stamps and put this pair together.

Now it's time to bring out those sweaters and jackets all of a sudden. Goodbye, Summer 2012.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Four Events This Weekend

City parking lots behind stores on East Front Street filled up with amusement rides as workers prepared for two large weekend events.
 Nightclub owner Edison Garcia is putting on his fourth annual fiesta to celebrate Central American independence. His event will take place on Municipal Lots 8 and 8A, between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue.

On the next block east, Rodney Maree won city permission to hold his first outdoor event in Municipal Lot 1, behind his Watchung Avenue club, Chez Maree.
Garcia's events have featured a Heineken's beer tent, among many other attractions. This Corona banner in Lot 1 makes us wonder whether that will be the featured beer there.
At Wednesday's PMUA meeting, Executive Director Dan Williamson passed an image of this banner to the commissioners and explained that it had not been authorized by the PMUA. In answer to our question regarding another banner naming PMUA as a sponsor of Garcia's event, Williamson said that was also erroneous.

PMUA will have an extra cleanup task at the side-by-side events, however. Both will run throughout the day and evening on Saturday and Sunday,

 As if that was not enough excitement at the city's northern border, another event is expected to draw crowds to Democratic Party headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue, on the next block to the east. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to head a roster of dignitaries at a gathering from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

All this means that attendees may be vying for parking spaces, especially when all three events are taking place at once. There will be no parking in Lots 8, 8A or 1. The next closest lots are the one behind Bill's Luncheonette on East Second Street, Lot 5 across from Police headquarters and Lot 4 off West Fourth Street. Fortunately, there is likely to be a lot of foot traffic to the sites from nearby neighborhoods, but the events are being advertised widely and will attract out-of-towners as well.

In addition, the Plainfield Public Library will mark Hispanic Heritage Month Saturday with a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. for an exhibition featuring paintings of Julio Ortiz and photographs of Paola Rached. The library is also featuring Volunteer Day on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., where opportunities to volunteer in various departments will be explained. The library is located at 800 Park Avenue.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

PMUA Cuts Rate, Seeks New Business

Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioners approved a steep rate change Wednesday in hopes of grabbing new business from landscapers and contractors.

The authority currently charges $94.20 per ton to drop off  "Type 23" vegetative waste - defined as grass, leaves, logs and leaves - at the Rock Avenue Transfer Station. That works out to $28.54 per cubic yard, officials explained, which is higher than rates charged in surrounding communities. The change to $6.50 per cubic yard did not require a rate hearing, authority attorney Leslie London said, so the new rate will kick in by Monday.

After some probing of the change, Commissioner Dunn said of the competition, "We blew by them."

One of Dunn's concerns was where the debris would be taken after being dumped at the transfer station. Officials said the authority is only 13 months into a three-year deal with Brighton Industries to accept vegetative waste  by the cubic yard, which is more favorable than tonnage when items such as heavy tree stumps are involved.

The authority also hopes to expand its bulky waste disposal service to municipalities throughout Somerset and Middlesex counties at a contracted rate of $84 per ton, down from $110. Currently South Plainfield is the only outside user of the transfer station for Type 13 waste, which consists of household castoffs.

Sales manager Darius Griffin said he plans to contact administrators of  nearby Middlesex and Somerset county towns starting Monday, to apprise them of the new rates.

In other matters, the authority will pursue a $1 million repair of the century-old Rock Avenue Interceptor, through which two million gallons of sewage pass daily. The project would place a new sewer line under an undeveloped street, thus avoiding complications of two other options due to the sewer line's proximity to the Green Brook. Unless a break in the line causes an emergency, the project will proceed on a schedule through 2014.

A notice distributed at the meeting Wednesday gave a heads-up on new fines proposed for not sorting recyclables out of household trash. A decline in compliance with state recycling laws spurred the imposition of fines from $250 to $1,000 per incident. Although the PMUA notice cites a significant jump in Plainfield recycling, it says separation of glass, plastic, aluminum, bottle, cans and paper must be increased.

The meeting began with a round of kudos for the 2012 Environmental Fair, which took place on Sept. 8. PMUA Commissioner Carol Brokaw congratulated employees for putting together a "very successful" event and Chairman Harold Mitchell called it "the best ever." Commissioner Malcolm Dunn called it "a very welcoming and positive event for Plainfield." New Executive Director Dan Williamson said, "We too believe it was the best in recent history."


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Collection Issue May Resurface Next Month

City Council President Adrian Mapp promised to bring back a controversial traffic ticket collection issue next month after some residents complained at Monday's council meeting.

A proposal to seek a collection firm to recoup about $750,000 in unpaid tickets failed to get a four-member consensus on Sept. 4 to be put on Monday's agenda. Five council members took part in the agenda-fixing session on that date and two objected to the idea, saying collection agencies harass people. Councilman William Reid harangued against the plan and Councilwoman Vera Greaves also objected, while Councilwoman Rebecca Williams spoke forcefully of the need to collect the money from "people who broke the law."

Dr. Harold Yood urged reconsideration on Sept. 4, but neither Greaves nor Reid backed down and the item was not on Monday's agenda. The issue came up in public comment Monday when resident Maria Pellum spoke about parked cars in her neighborhood interfering with street sweeping. She spoke in favor of alternate side parking, but said, "From what I understand, tickets are not getting paid. It's just a joke."

Mapp agreed, noting the same problem in his neighborhood.

"I think it comes from a lack of enforcement," he said.

Williams said Monday, "This has come up time and again, because officers are not writing tickets."

She said people know police will not come after them, so they disregard traffic rules.

At that juncture, Greaves blurted out that she had gotten a ticket downtown on Saturday evening and asked why people should be discouraged from shopping.

Resident Oscar Riba also spoke in favor of alternate side of the street parking for cleaner streets and said he expected the collection issue to be on the agenda, although he said he was doubtful it would have passed.

Mapp said the matter did not get four votes to be placed on the agenda, and it would have required a two-thirds vote, from five of seven council members, to place it on as a new item Monday.

"You can imagine what a task that would be," Mapp said, but added he wanted the resolution on the October agenda.

Resident Jeanette Criscione also spoke in favor of seeking a collection company, saying, "I don't see why we are protecting people who are not lawful."

Mapp also clarified the process, saying the city could receive the entire outstanding amount of more than $700,000, as the fee of up to 22 percent would be paid separately to a collection agency. He held out hope that council objectors would "change their minds somehow" by October.

The October meetings are Monday, Oct. 1 at City Hall Library and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9 at Municipal Court. All the council members' contact information is here on the city web site, if constituents wish to express their concerns and opinions on the matter.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stefel Deserves Design Credit

As Dottie Gutenkauf points out, April Stefel played a significant role in bringing about the peninsula at Park and Ninth. Read Plaintalker's post here.

She also designed a roof garden for The Monarch condominium complex that was more in keeping with city expectations than the bare deck with potted shrubs that the developer had substituted for an earlier plan. Read about it at this link.

April also made many other valuable contributions before she and several other city employees were laid off in 2010.

From a Plaintalker post: in March 2010:

Several residents spoke in favor of retaining April Stefel, a certified landscape architect in the Planning Division who is staff liaison to the Shade Tree Commission and manages several other programs, including brownfields studies.

Shade Tree Commission Chairman Gregory Palermo praised Stefel for her “marvelous success” in coming up with grants for tree planting and maintenance.

“The grant money should be thought of as found money,” he said, “but it is not going to be found unless someone is looking for it.”

Stefel herself explained that she is responsible for more than $5.6 million in grants and that she had suggested her pay could be given back from various grants, but an analysis she made in December was lost or never given to the administration. She detailed the work she puts in to report to state agencies on grant-funded programs, saying the brownfields work alone takes up half her 63 part-time hours per month.

Those who worked with April miss her energy and passion for the Queen City.


Advocates Lauded for Peninsula Project

L-R: Maria Pellum, Barbara Todd Kerr

Residents Maria Pellum and Barbara Kerr won recognition by the governing body and a round of applause from all present at Monday's City Council meeting for creating an oasis of beauty at a key intersection where a plain, bare concrete structure had been planned.

The peninsula, as it is called, links traffic from Park Avenue, Prospect Avenue and East Ninth Street and gives pedestrians, including hundreds of students, safe passage across the wide intersection. Pellum and Kerr, both neighbors to the site in its planning stage, decided it could also be an esthetic location as well. They met with city and Union County officials to come up with a design that incorporated plantings and historic lighting, as the peninsula abuts the Crescent Area Historic District.

Years passed, often with little visible progress, but the pair kept up the heat to make sure the project was completed as promised.

Today it is a glorious burst of colorful flowers under handsome, historic-design lamps and the dream of "El Parquecito," as the pair came to nickname it. is a reality.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams read aloud the resolution that hailed the finished project as a shining example of public-private partnerhips to achieve a goal.

Pellum said her family and neighbors maintain the flowers and shrubbery at the site, which is a stand-out on Park Avenue, a main north-south route linking Middlesex, Union and Somerset counties.

Plaintalker adds congratulations to Maria Pellum and Barbara Kerr!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Read Mack Complaint

The details in the FBI complaint regarding Tony Mack are fascinating.

Click here to take a look.


PMUA Fair A Hit

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority put on perhaps its largest Environmental Fair ever on Saturday, featuring a special VIP tent for seniors and newly diverse food offerings.

Saturday's fair was the first since former Plainfield Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson left City Hall to become executive director of the PMUA. Williamson wore a 2012 Environmental Fair commemorative T-shirt as he made the rounds at Library Park, where several tents, rides and food stands were set up under the towering oak trees.
Seniors played bingo and card games in their VIP tent. Another VIP tent was sponsored by Reliance Insurance and was for dignitaries who spoke at the event.
Among groups that set up in other tents, the Plainfield Area NAACP conducted voter registration.
The Friends of the Plainfield Public Library gave away children's books.
Besides the customary hot dogs and hamburgers, the free food included empanadas and cheese cassava. PMUA sales manager Darius V. Griffin said the latter items went fast. (I like empanadas but had to look up cheese cassava online when I got home. There was an array of recipes, so I don't know which one was offered, but all sounded interesting.)
Face painting was very popular. Children could also get designs on their arms, as you can see.
 The balloon animal guy was busy making all sorts of things, including ...
... balloon assault rifles or somesuch. How times change. That sight sent me online and I found out this balloon gun fad dates back several years now.

The fair nearly got rained out, with a downpour around 10 a.m. But the environmental deities had everything cleared up and sunny by the 11 a.m. start. By the look of things, a good time was had by all.

(The PMUA meets monthly, if you want to see Dan Williamson and the commissioners in action. The September meeting was rescheduled to 6 p.m. Wednesday at PMUA headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Ave. Click here for additional information.)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pellum, Kerr To Be Honored

Maria Pellum and Barbara Kerr will be honored at Monday's City Council meeting with a resolution in recognition of their work in bringing the Park Avenue peninsula project to fruition.

The council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Plaintalker called attention to their advocacy in this post, which drew many favorable comments on their persistence in bringing to reality "el parquecito" instead of the plain concrete reconfiguration of the intersection of Prospect Avenue, East Ninth Street and Park Avenue. The "little park" has flowers and  historic light fixtures in addition to the basics required by traffic experts.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Seven Seek Charter Commission Seats

Seven people met a 4 p.m. deadline today to run for five seats on the proposed Charter Study Commission.

They are Mary E. Burgwinkle, Jeanette Criscione, John Stewart, Ricky Allen Smiley, John R. Davis III, Marie L.Davis and Carrell E. Martin. The five who are elected on Nov. 6 will serve only if voters also agree to establish the commission.

The city's 1968 special charter was last studied by a committee that submitted a report in 1990. The City Council took no action on their findings and recommendations. See Plaintalker's post here.

The charter study question and the names of those seeking to serve on the commission will be added to an already lengthy ballot that for the first time will include candidates for the Board of Education, in addition to  City Council, Union County freeholder, Congressional District 12 and presidential candidates.

Locally, the City Council candidates are Democrat Tracey Brown and Independent Gloria Henriques for the citywide at-large seat, and Democratic incumbent Adrian Mapp, Republican Randy Bullock and Independent Tom Turner for the Third Ward. William Amirault has withdrawn as the Republican candidate for the citywide at-large seat.

School board candidates for three three-year terms are incumbents Keisha Edwards and Susan Phifer, as well as Jackie D. Coley, Mahogany Hendricks, Catherine Crittendon and Dollie S. Hamlin. Delois Dameron and Frederick D. Moore Sr. are vying for a one-year unexpired term.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Note On Wynn

It appears that Dave Wynn has left his post as superintendent of Recreation. The whys and wherefores may never be officially known, although they should be, if only as a caution to any successor not to do the same.

I remembered writing a commentary about Wynn a while back and was somewhat shocked to see that it was two years ago. Wynn had quite a tenure for someone with such a long record of controversy.

For those who missed or would like to review it, click here for my commentary.

There is also this post from 2005 regarding pool repairs. Plaintalker had been hoping that the end of this year's pool season would engender a thorough analysis of pool use and management for 2013.

The question of how to run the Recreation Division in general is another matter. About 16 months remain in this administration, time enough to establish a good footing for the future of Recreation.


Watchwords from Cory Booker

Some of the words from this year's political dialogue are good to remember here as Plainfielders look ahead to 2013. Here is a quote from Newark Mayor Cory Booker:

“The real test of leadership and character is your ability to bring people together, not divide people, not demonize people, not meaning that you push some people down to raise people up. The idea that all of us can succeed together, the idea that we’re stronger when we stand together, it’s an idea in the heart and spirit of every culture that makes up New Jersey.” 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Job Seekers Get Help From Library

I really can't improve on this summary of the Plainfield Public Library's new initiative, so here it is:

Did you know that unemployment in Plainfield has been in double digits since January of 2009, and as high as 14.3% early in 2012?  The Library is acutely aware of it, because for years our librarians have been helping job seekers learn how to use computers for their job searching. In comparison to the 2,900 computer user sessions in June of 2011, computer-use soared to 4,500 user sessions in June of 2012. 
With a significant digital divide in Plainfield, there has been a pressing need for the unemployed to learn job-related computer skills.  Although the library has had 19 public-access computers, lines would form at peak periods, many wanting to send out resumes or waiting to see if they had an email response from an application.
This summer the library finally had a chance to create a permanent computer lab, thanks to a HUD grant of $10,000 and private donations of $20,000.  A 14-foot glass wall was erected to create a room with 18 wired computer stations, an instructor station, and a built-in digital projector.
Completed in August, the Job Assistance Computer Center will focus on training the unemployed and under-employed, providing instruction on developing résumés, conducting online jobsite searches, and submitting applications online.  The new space is large enough to hold thirty people for presentations on employment issues and training workshops.  The library is working with community and county agencies to bring in speakers and advisors on job re-training and re-entry services.

Blogger Tricked Me

Well! I posted my council report last night, but Blogger had flipped the sequence so the old blog, Plainfield Plaintalker, was on top and the new one, Plaintalker II, was below. So the post landed in the old one. I just fixed it.

For some reason, Plaintalker II is now on top again. Sorry about the error.


Collection Plan Rejected Again

Note: This post was inadvertently placed on the old blog last night.

Council William Reid dislikes debt collectors so much that he would rather see the city lose up to half a million dollars in court fines rather than seek an agency to recoup the money. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams says letting the fines slide is a slap in the face to officers who wrote the tickets and "makes a mockery of the court."

So went the latest standoff over the administration's proposal to seek a collection firm for $750,000 in fines owed to the Plainfield Municipal Court. The council was asked Tuesday to authorize a "request for proposals" with a proviso that the selected company could keep up to 22 percent of what is collected.
Only four council members were present Tuesday and there was no consensus to move the resolution to the agenda at the Sept. 10 regular meeting.

In public comment, resident and blogger Dr. Harold Yood urged the objectors to reconsider, saying the offenders likely had multiple fines. He acknowledged Reid's concerns about debt collectors, but said,"You are dealing with people who broke the law."

Yood said, "Compassion is great - it's wonderful. But you are not dealing with the average citizen. You are dealing with people who constantly (flaunt) the law."

His words did not sway Reid, even though the councilman had just cited an instance of trying to help someone who could not get out of jail until he paid off numerous traffic tickets in half a dozen towns.

Public Works Director Eric Jackson, sitting in Tuesday for City Administrator Eric Berry, said Municipal Court officials had asked the administration to bring back the collection measure, which had been rejected last month.

Jackson said the administration would be sensitive to Reid's concerns and noted many fines were owed by people outside the city.

"We're not intending to beat down residents," Jackson said, urging reconsideration.

Note: Whatever past experience may have soured Reid on debt collection, debtors now have new safeguards against harassment in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 2011. The Federal Trade Commission enforces its provisions. Debt collectors may no longer call people at odd hours or at work and may not tell others why they are trying to track down the debtor. The legislation was not mentioned at the council meeting, but Plaintalker encourages a look at it and also urges reconsideration of the proposed legislation sought by court officials.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Council Meets Tonight

Only twelve resolutions and six ordinances are on Tuesday's City Council agenda. It might be a quick meeting, but don't bank on it. Agenda sessions tend to engender a lot of discussion and then there are those two "public comment" segments.

The year is wearing on with little information on a couple of initiatives. One is the economic development study that was supposed to be broadly inclusive of stakeholders in the city's future. But Councilman Cory Storch, who championed the study, reported recently that he had no new information from the administration on its progress. A group was supposed to be convened in April, but Storch said on July 9, "I'm still waiting for the first meeting."

Another study is supposed to be made on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, but the two branches of government have differing views on how to proceed.

There is actually quite a long list of unfinished business, such as an update and accounting of Urban Enterprise Zone funds that Council President Adrian Mapp requested in May; a follow-up on the matter of money allegedly owed to the developer of the senior center; status of various cabinet vacancies; the future of the Plainfield Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs; the outcome of Fire Chief Frank Tidwell's DWI charge; status of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Committee; and the status of the city's Transit Village application.

Plaintalker is not hinting around for news on all these fronts tonight, but someday soon the public should be able to learn more on these topics.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Garden Sights

Sunflowers from our garden on Block 832 have produced seedheads ranging from white to red to black and striped. Bounty for the birds and a sign that the growing season is closing down for 2012.

My neighbor's tomato plants in a container were lush until a week of scorching heat and a sirocco-like wind browned some leaves. The plants have since recovered and on the long, branching new growth, small tomatoes are forming.
Balsam, a Victorian favorite, has delightful pastel flowers. Bees and ants like this plant very much.
The individual flowers invite the bees to crawl right in.
After blooming, the plant produces copious amounts of round, brown seeds in "touch-me-not" pods that explode when ripe.

Click on any image to enlarge.

I will miss the garden when all the flowers are gone. Every day brings a pleasant surprise.


Labor Day Notes

Work and the lack of it are a central theme of politics in this presidential election year. Locally, the issue of day laborers, primarily Latino, is still unresolved, despite various political promises to both the job seekers and those who object to them congregating on corners.

Labor Day used to be largely a celebration of unions. For a look at membership in 2011, take a look at  information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

South Plainfield will be holding its annual Labor Day parade and fireworks today,starting at 10 a.m. The linked newspaper article notes that the borough is funding the fireworks with corporate sponsorships. Now there's an idea!

In Plainfield, unions that have been working without contracts since the end of 2009 have now pretty much settled. A couple of contracts are on the Sept. 4 City Council agenda.

Whatever you do today to mark Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer, have a great time! If you are grilling, try spiral-cut hot dogs!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

A September Story

I am far from fashionable, but fashion holds a certain fascination for me. After remembering that September brings Vogue's Fall Fashion issue and chatting with Audrey and Peter about it, I wanted to have a copy. Downtown newsstands didn't have it. But on a bus trip to Stop & Shop in Westfield for Stuff You Can't Get in Plainfield, I also found one lone Vogue. It added a few pounds to my shopping bag, but I didn't mind the extra exertion of lugging it home.

To understand my interest, you have to know that I sewed many dresses for my daughter Audrey when she was young and later made her wedding dress. When I was part of a very creative group of colleagues in the 1970s, many of us created garments for special occasions. My favorite was one I designed and made for a Halloween party where I went dressed as an elf, with a pink satin blossom hat, a tunic made of green velvet leaves all stitched together and pink satin slippers with turned-up toes. I loved using trapunto, reverse applique or hand embroidery for my creations.

Audrey and Peter are such fashion mavens that they came from Seattle for the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and we all enjoyed the documentary on fashion chronicler Bill Cunningham on one of my Seattle visits.

I also worked for about eight years at a company that sold fabric and sewing supplies by mail order. The company offered complete packets for replicating high fashion garments in comparable fabrics. The bolts of silk charmeuse and wool challis, Harris Tweed and Moygashel linen entranced me with their textures. Our customers ordered from all over the world. I used to wonder why someone would need fancy clothes in places like Yellow Knife, Canada or some tiny town in the U.S.

It took me a while to plow through all 916 pages of the September Vogue. Besides gasping at the price of designer clothes in the magazine, I was also exclaiming over the beautiful cuts and draping and intricate details, especially the use of lace, beads and braid known in the trade as  "passementerie."

Fall 2012 will most likely find me still wearing jeans and black turtle necks as usual, but it was a nice escape to page through Vogue and see what clever designers have come up with for the fashionistas of the world. And don't forget the editor, Anna Wintour. Audrey and Peter and I avidly watched "The September Issue" and if you want a glimpse into the world of Vogue, that's the film to see.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Stop Gun Violence

Once again we are trying to comprehend why an individual with personal issues decided to shoot innocent people. Foremost among the many questions following the Pathmark tragedy is how and why this person was able to acquire guns.

Plainfield probably has both cached weapons and people willing to use them, but how to ward off a local tragedy before we see another funeral or R.I.P. T-shirt?

Police can't reveal what they are doing behind the scenes to stem the tide of weapons from illegal sources to the hands and even backpacks of local young people. We can only ask for assurance that law enforcement is doing the utmost to ward off another incomprehensible incident.

In the wake of gun violence two summers ago, the mayor declared a state of emergency in Plainfield and urged parents to find out what weapons might be concealed in their family members' rooms or bags. Since then, crime has decreased here, but vigilance must not. Individuals with unresolved emotional issues or gang ties need help before they turn to weapons, but meanwhile weapons must be taken out of the equation.


Planet PMUA

Black Vulture on trash bin, Block 832

This is not a COMPLAINT, just a statement of fact, so hold the epithets, PMUA fans.

On Thursday at 9 a.m., a PMUA worker dragged recycling containers all the way down our 300-feet-plus driveway instead of having the truck pull in as usual. Of course, it was not the normal recycling day (Wednesday) so maybe some creative license was in play.

A couple hours later, a PMUA truck pulled in and workers emptied the big trash bins at the large apartment building next door and then at our building.

Then at 12:45 p.m., a PMUA pickup truck showed up and the driver got out by a bin that was piled high with cartons and such on top of the closed lid. He picked up the items, including pizza boxes and one bag of trash, and threw them into the bed of the truck.

Well, that was pretty comprehensive, one would think. But at 4:11 a.m. Friday, the noise of a big garbage truck woke me up. Workers found no trash, of course, so they just drove off.

The PMUA is holding its annual Environmental Fair next Saturday. I am wondering what it does to the environment to have these big trucks needlessly out for pickups that were already done. I hope someone is looking at the scheduling with an eye toward efficiency and environmental impact.