Thursday, January 31, 2013

Check Back on Muhlenberg Proposal

Dr. Yood's commentary on Asm. Green's legislation led me to review the "Muhlenberg Moving Forward" report that is still online.

Click here to see an image from the report. Is something like this envisioned in the legislation?

This is the year when the emergency room is supposed to close. Pay close attention, as they say on WBAI.

See the full report here.


Comment on PMUA Situation

My neighbor and I got to see and hear close up the cleanup operation after Hurricane Sandy, as Lot 7 next to our building was used as a staging area. Trucks dumped storm debris on the lot and it was then dumped into 30-yard containers for transport to the Rock Avenue transfer station.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that the final destination for storm debris, a disposal company in Lawrenceville, had stopped accepting the waste in November. The PMUA had lowered its rate for dumping vegetative waste on Sept. 11, before the storm, and had contracted with other municipalities to drop off such waste at the Rock Avenue facility. The disposal company was bound by a contract to accept all the waste for a flat rate.

Going back over the information, Plaintalker found that in the Sept. 11 discussion preceding the PMUA commisioners' vote to lower the rate charged at Rock Avenue to garner more business, several errors were made. Two were minor - the name of the disposal firm was wrong and numbers were slightly transposed in the stated disposal charge per month - but the third one misstated the term of the disposal firm's contract. It was not three years, but one year. So instead of having a locked-in rate for another year and a half, just a few months were left in the one-year contract approved in February 2012.

Executive Director Dan Williamson only came to the post on July 1, 2012. But others, including staff, legal counsel and commissioners, were there when the disposal contract was approved. Too bad the rate change was proposed and approved on what appears to have been an incorrect premise.

Ironically, during the same discussion Williamson had projected a more aggressive stance going forward on analyzing factors affecting PMUA rates and costs.

Things may work out once the unanticipated volume of storm debris is processed and the flow of waste takes on a normal pattern. One hopes so, for the sake of the ratepayers. The situation simply points up the need for that which Williamson had in mind - a firm grip on the facts before action.


A Pretty Plant

I haven't had the inclination to go out shooting photos for a while, but here is a shot of one variety of Coleus from my indoor garden. The plants all have different color combinations, mainly maroon and green, but I especially like this one with cream and pink details.

Plant propagation is so much fun for me. I grew up in an urban setting where the only wild flowers were weeds that grew in a vacant lot. We never had plants in the house. As an adult I discovered the joys of nature study and passed a lot of it on to my children, who still know the names of many flowers and birds. A large part of it was learning how plants grow and reproduce.

Over the years I have populated my gardens with lots of plants grown from cuttings or divisions rather than expensive nursery plants. I recommend it both as a way to save money and also to enjoy "plant parenthood" by growing your own.


Crazy Weather

The temperature got up to 65 degrees outside on Wednesday afternoon.

The big storm arrived much later than initially predicted. It is raining hard at this hour (nearly 1 a.m.) but the high winds have not started.

If it's 65 degrees in January, what will it be in July? I shudder to think.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sandy Slams PMUA Plans

"Hurricane Sandy changed the scenario."

It's something a lot of people across the state might have said about their plans after the Oct. 29 storm struck. On Tuesday, PMUA officials cited the tree-toppling event as the cause of a legal battle with a disposal company that balked when the normal flow of "vegetative waste" - brush, branches, and such - became tons of storm debris.

Just weeks before the storm, the authority changed its rate to drop off Type 23 vegetative waste  to $6.50 per cubic yard, down from $28.54, in a bid to increase business from other municipalities, landscapers and contractors. From the PMUA facility on Rock Avenue, the waste went to Britton Industries in Lawrenceville for final disposal under a February 2012 contract that set a flat rate of $2,408.33 per month  for the service.

The new rate was hailed in the authority's Winter newsletter as "a successful catalyst for new business" and the authority welcomed Garwood, North Plainfield and Green Brook as customers for drop-off of vegetative waste. But the same newsletter also said the facility had been "inundated" with 104,100 tons of trees, brush, branches and leaves from the storm.

As PMUA officials recounted Tuesday, Britton Industries stopped accepting such waste on Nov. 28, causing the PMUA to use another outlet, Generated Ltd., at a higher rate after a judge refused to grant immediate relief. Britton proposed a new rate of $20 per ton, which the PMUA countered with an offer of $15 per ton. No settlement has been reached and the PMUA board of commissioners authorized attorney Leslie London and Executive Director Dan Williamson to ask for a rate of $12 per ton, but empowered them to settle for the higher rate if necessary.

The proposal also includes extending Britton's contract for 45 days.

The commissioners present Tuesday - Alex Toliver, Carol Brokaw, Cecil Sanders and Malcolm Dunn by speakerphone - held an executive session before emerging to answer questions from the public.The proposed rate will generate about $2 less per cubic yard than the authority had been charging. Dunn expressed concern that the change could affect what the authority can "give back" to residents and also urged a tough stance in the negotiations. Williamson said there is always some give and take in negotiations, but Dunn said with a deep laugh, "I'm more interested in the 'take.' "

The contract with Britton Industries would have expired in February, not months later as mentioned at the Sept. 12 meeting. After the proposed 45-day adjustment, the contract for disposal of vegetative waste will be put out to bid.

Meanwhile, plans outlined in the PMUA newsletter include outreach to all nearby municipalities for drop-off of vegetative waste and another category known as bulk waste that includes household castoffs.

The PMUA will meet next at 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 at 127 Roosevelt Avenue for the annual reorganization, when officers including a chairman will be selected.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Cicadas Are Coming in 2013

Don't ask me why the 17-year cicada was on my mind today when there are so many other things to think about, but guess what? This year, 2013, is when Brood II is due to emerge in New Jersey. They were here last in 1996. Remember the noise? The piles of shells when they molted?

Click here for more information.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Baseball Plan Needs Budget, Management

Heaven knows I hope the new baseball plan works out for the 2013 season, but the registration announcement does raise a few questions.

For those who haven't heard the story so far, an all-volunteer youth baseball league claimed in 2009 to be facing problems with the city Recreation Division regarding use of municipal fields and other arrangements. The controversy continued in 2010.

Although city administrative staff changed, the issues persisted into 2012. As the season approaches in 2013, the public has been assured that an answer has been found in a single league under the city's aegis.

The first and most obvious concern for 2013 is that there is no superintendent in charge of Recreation, as former Superintendent Dave Wynn left the post last year. The registration flyer notes a $25 fee that includes a uniform and use of equipment. Looking over past Plaintalker posts on the subject, one in April 2011 notes that $3,000 was spent on baseball uniforms for the city league without prior authorization and funds had to be found after the fact. If that's how things went with a superintendent in place, how will fiscal matters be handled without one? The purchasing agent at the time noted that such lapses occurred despite reminders of fiscal rules. There is a new purchasing agent as of this month, but still no full-time chief financial officer to guide the budget process for 2013.

In another post, the volunteer group, Queen City Baseball League, noted a large enrollment. How big can the merged league be? There are nine  14 city teams listed on the flyer. How many uniforms will be needed by April and how will they be procured?

It certainly was reassuring after all the fuss since 2009 to hear of the 2013 merger. Both Karen Glencamp-Daniel of the Queen City Baseball League and former city league organizer Roland Muhammad expressed somewhat guarded hope at the Jan. 22 meeting. Glencamp-Daniel said she hoped there would be "no power play" and Muhammad said he hoped "that can be true."

Plaintalker just hopes the new plan's fiscal and managerial aspects will be addressed properly, so the young players will not have to witness adult squabbles as in the past.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

PMUA Sets Special Meeting

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 29) on a matter related to the company that provides disposal of vegetative waste.

The legal notice states the topic as "Settlement Agreement in the Matter of Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority vs. Britton Industries, Inc."

This company was discussed at the Sept. 12 meeting as being significant to the expansion of PMUA services to other municipalities. The authority had begun to attract outside contracts for drop-off of vegetative waste (leaves, grass, tree debris) and had changed its rate to make its services more competitive. Instead of charging $94.20 per ton, the new rate would reduce the cost per cubic yard from $28.54 to $6.50. The change did not require a rate hearing and would take effect immediately, attorney Leslie London said.

Commissioner Malcolm Dunn asked where the debris would be taken ofter being dropped off at the Rock Avenue transfer station and was told it would be disposed of by "Brighton Industries" in Lawrenceville. To read further details, click here for the Sept. 12 minutes.

Although the contract was described on Sept. 12 as being for three years with another year or year and a half to go, a legal notice from the the Feb. 14, 2012 reorganization characterizes the contract with Britton Industries for disposal of vegetative waste as being for one year, which would put it near expiration.

Given that the drop-off service was expected to attract more outside municipal business and possibly lead to rate reductions, any new arrangements will be of interest to those who try to keep track of PMUA doings.

The authority normally reorganizes in February, selecting a chairman and other officers and making other decisions for the year. The meeting date is listed as Feb. 12. Both the special meeting and regular meeting will be held at PMUA headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Ave.


Watch "Splinters & Sand"

The Star-Ledger has produced a stunning video on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy down the shore and how homeowners and business owners are coping with the destruction.

Growing up, I spent more time at lakes than at the shore, but anyone living in New Jersey must think about the fate of this iconic part of the state after the storm. Take a look. It is worth your time, in my opinion, to view this "mini-documentary."

Click here to see it. Congratulations to all who took part in putting it together, especially to former Courier News colleague Andre Malok.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Those Unruly Rules of Order

The City Council's Rules of Order somehow surfaced this week from the Bermuda Triangle that is my household. I had been looking for them since they were approved for 2013 at the Jan. 3 reorganization.

They were impressive when first launched in 2006, perhaps because of the passion with which Council President Ray Blanco put them forth. Just a few months later, Blanco died of a heart attack and his passion was lost to the city.

Rashid Burney revived the rules when he became council president in 2009, and in 2010 Annie McWilliams added a requirement for written reports from the many committees established in the rules.

The rules came to the fore recently when David Minchello, the city's newly-named corporation counsel, alluded to sections while advising the council on procedures. On Jan. 14, he referenced section 3.4 when reminding Councilman William Reid that the rules limit debate to the question before the body. (In the older version, that rule was 3.3) Reid had been acting as chairman of the committee of the whole when he branched off into a speeech about vacancies in key administrative posts.

It turns out that the version of Rules of Order approved on Jan. 3 differs quite a bit from earlier ones and Plaintalker wondered how these changes came about without any public discussion. The Rules of Order may be perceived as an internal document of the governing body, but some of the changes affect the public, such as when and how long public comment is permitted. For example,there was no public comment before council deliberations on Jan. 14, but it had previously been allowed.

One section questioned by Dr. Yood states that council members must be present in the chambers to vote, but last year a number of votes were taken over a speakerphone. Minchello said state law permits voting by telephone.

Part of the problem may be that the 2009 version referred to the City Charter, the Municipal Code and Robert's Rules of Order, but also included a number of items specific to that year, such as a new Monday-Wednesday meeting schedule. The council has since changed back to Mondays only. Another innovation, "working conferences," has faded away in recent years. (See Plaintalker's post on the first one in 2006 here.)

Soon after the Rules of Order were proposed by Blanco in March 2006, Joe and Dottie Gutenkauf reviewed them and identified a number of problems, including redundancies to the charter and Robert's Rules and confusing limits on public participation. If there are still problems with the rules now, what should be done? They were adopted on Jan. 3, warts and all. Should revisions be attempted? Maybe minimally the 2011 version on the city's web site could be updated to reflect what the council approved for 2013. Then at least the public will have a handy reference to what rules the governing body has agreed to abide by this year.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Charter Study Commission Starting Interviews

Dr. Harold Yood served as the Charter Study Commission's first interviewee Thursday, responding to 16 questions on the city's special charter and aspects of municipal government.

As a lifelong resident, close observer of the City Council and frequent commenter on city government on his blog, Dr. Yood had well-informed opinions to share. Among them: There should be separate legal counsel for the governing body and administration, more wards and council members might make for better representation of demographic groups, the Police Division should be headed by a chief, and an "illogical and inefficient" department structure needs to be changed.

Plaintalker is hoping Dr. Yood will say more about his views on his blog, Doc's Potpourri.

The commission is preparing to interview numerous past and present city officials as well as others involved in municipal government. Part of its work on Thursday was to refine questions and to devise ways for input beyond in-person interviews. The commission plans to schedule interviews for its next meetings, 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 and Feb. 28. in City Hall Library.

Keep up with the Charter Study Commission on its blog, which has agendas, minutes and resources on forms of government in New Jersey.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Media Update, Crime Unit Announced

In answers to citizen inquiries from the Jan. 14 agenda fixing sessions, City Administrator Eric Berry said the cable television schedule had been updated and council meetings were being shown every night. residents had complained that meetings were being videotaped but not broadcast. The new schedule replaces one dating back to December 2011 and can be viewed on the city web site under Media (go to Departments, then Administration & Finance, then drop down to Media under IT). The stale press releases, the most recent dating back to November 2011 and welcoming Berry, are gone.

The council meetings listed are from December. One wonders what became of the many meetings in the interim from when broadcasting halted to this resumption. Another head-scratcher is the status of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board. After a strong resurgence in 2010, it seems to have fizzled out. can it be revitalized? Plaintalker hopes it will re-emerge as truly an advisory body, without a blurring of responsibilities to the point where those with oversight end up in hands-on roles.

In other news, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig will initiate a "high impact crime prevention unit" with five officers and a supervisor. No further details were given, such as where it will be deployed.

Berry also said a resident's request for an accounting of all costs related to the 2012 July Fourth celebration has been fulfilled. Resident Jeanette Criscione said she finally received the information that night.

The next City Council agenda-fixing session is 7:30 on Feb. 4 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The regular meeting will be 8 p.m. Feb. 11 in the same location.


Some Jan. 22 Council Notes

The mayor's personal attorney will receive $22,126 for representing her in the WBLS case, Charles Eke and Cecil Sanders will get their seats on the PMUA, the formerly warring youth baseball leagues will join under the city's aegis and crossing guards will get a raise.

The first two are due to 4-3 votes Tuesday, the third came about through offstage talks and the last one will happen apparently by fiat.

Regarding compensation for the mayor's attorney, Councilman Adrian Mapp said he wanted to state on the record that public funds should never be used for the personal benefit of anyone. Councilman Cory Storch said the law firm was engaged prior to the findings of a council investigation.

"Those are improper fees," Storch said. "The city should not pay for those."

Storch said paying the legal bills "sets a really bad precedent."

But Council President Bridget Rivers said, "We know that services was rendered," and asked City Solicitor David Minchello whether it was likely that if not paid, the attorney "would come after us and sue us."

"Absolutely," Minchello said.

"I think we would be better letting them come after us," Storch said.

But the resolution passed 4-3, with Storch, Mapp and Rebecca  Williams voting "no" and Rivers, Bill Reid, Vera Greaves and Tracey Brown voting "yes."

Sanders and Eke were interviewed Tuesday before the council vote. Williams questioned Sanders extensively on his role in voting to approve a $1 million settlement with two former PMUA executives soon after he was named to the board of commissioners. Sanders said arbitration on the settlement had been postponed and he had decided the arbitration was a mistake.

"Why waste money on legal fees - just grant these people the money they were due," Sanders said he concluded.

The settlements would not raise rates or cause layoffs, he said in response to another question from Williams.  She asked why Sanders said the two directors, Eric Watson and David Ervin "suffered" and Sanders alluded to them having been "under pressure" before they "ended up leaving by mutual agreement."

At the time, Sanders was an alternate and only got to vote because Brown, then a PMUA commissioner, was absent. The vote Tuesday was to give him Brown's unexpired term as a full commissioner.

Eke received fewer questions. Asked for his qualifications to serve as an alternate on the PMUA board, he cited his past service on several other boards and said he would bring "leadership and pro-activeness" to the PMUA board.

Their nominations were in a single resolution that passed 4-3, with Storch, Mapp and Williams voting "no" and Brown, Greaves, Reid and Rivers voting "yes." Brown received assurance from Minchello that she could vote without conflict.

The agenda included a request from Rivers for a "brief update" on the youth baseball leagues. Plaintalker had feared a rehash of the standoff between a volunteer-run league and a city-based one, but the update turned out to be that they would merge in 2013 under city sponsorship. At present, there is no superintendent of Recreation to oversee the program, but  Plaintalker was told the search is on.

In public comment, resident Melvin Cody said crossing guards deserve a raise and crossing guard William Shaw said he had served 10 years with only "one decent raise." Shaw said crossing guards in Westfield get $19 per hour and vigorously argued for an increase here, citing the guards' service in all weather and an instance where a guard took on a fatherly role in dissuading a young girl from using bad language. Mapp, Storch, Brown and Williams spoke in favor of considering a raise during the budget process. But City Administrator Eric Berry said, "Consider it done," and the audience, including several crossing guards,  broke into applause.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Funny Money?

Tonight's agenda includes a resolution to pay the mayor's law firm $22,126.34 for representing her in the City Council investigation of the WBLS payment. There are a number of issues that led to the investigation, including the mayor's initial refusal to respond to the governing body, but now that the matter is up for a vote,    another question arises.

According to a certification attached to the resolution, funds to pay the legal costs are available from an account captioned "CY 2011 2-01-04-155-001-219." The certification is signed by the city's part-time CFO, followed by the initials "L.M."

"CY" stands for "Calendar Year," but as council observers know, the first calendar year budget was in 2012.  Prior to that, there was a State Fiscal Year budget (SFY 2011) spanning July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011 and a six-month Transitional Year budget (TY 2011) that set the stage for the city to revert to a calendar year budget in 2012.

Maybe it is just a typo, but before the vote takes place, the funding source should be properly identified.

A resolution to pay the bill was tabled in 2012, but passage may be likely now that the council has four members perceived to be more favorable to the mayor.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Attendees should be mindful of weather reports predicting a drop to about 13 degrees tonight.


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Day for Reflection

Whatever your focus today, please spare a few moments to think about local governance. Many have died in the struggle to gain civil rights for all. Citizen participation in government, from voting to standing up for causes, is a hard-won legacy. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will again be heard today, echoing for those who can almost recite them from decades of hearing and perhaps revelatory for our youngest generation. What are our dreams today?

The second Inaugural of President Barack Obama today is an occasion for celebration as well as reflection. What do we want from our elected leaders? In Plainfield there has been an emphasis on the links of Democratic leadership from national to local levels. Is there also a shared sense of purpose and accountability? In my opinion, President Obama brings high qualities of leadership to his office. I appreciate his intelligence, thoughtfulness and effort in dealing with the difficult issues of our time. The more we see a similar strain of leadership in the Queen City, the better off we will be.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Youth Baseball Up For Discussion Tuesday

It was with a pang that your humble blogger read there will be a discussion Tuesday of "unresolved Youth Baseball League matters."

It was listed under "unfinished business" and gave Plaintalker the pip, remembering the many hours and endless recriminations and accusations of years past. If you put "baseball league" in the search box at the top of the blog, 20 posts devoted all or in part to the controversy come up. Take a look here for a post from 2012. Several city administrators and Public Works & Urban Development directors spent hours of their professional time dealing with this matter, apparently without resolution.

Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn stepped down in 2012 and no new superintendent has been hired. A Recreation Commission was created but never activated. There is now a council Recreation Committee, but its role remains to be explained. One hopes this issue, whatever it is currently, will be resolved so that it does not end dominating council meeting time as in the past. It surfaced back in 2009 and sometimes brought large numbers of young players out to council meetings.

Now that the council only holds one agenda session and one regular meeting per month, it would be a shame if this limited time becomes taken up again by a battle among grownups over where, when and how young people can play baseball.


Mayor's Legal Bills

Dr. Yood has already been to the Plainfield Public Library and back to look at the packet and post comments while I am still looking for coffee after getting up late. One of his comments is regarding the proposed payment of the mayor's legal bills for representation in the council investigation of the WBLS matter.

I will be going to the library myself today (I hope), but meanwhile it might be of interest to read this link and the links within the post that are highlighted in gold.

As the late Mayor Rick Taylor often said, you only have to count to four on the council. Four votes and the mayoral bill will be paid.

If you want to comment on it before the council votes Tuesday, the reference is R-032-13.


Committee Members and Liaisons Named

Among votes on Tuesday, the City Council will adopt Rules of Order that contain numerous committee assignments and council liaisons to various boards and agencies.

Committee chairs and members are:
Administration and Finance, Adrian Mapp, chair; William Reid, Cory Storch.
Economic Development, Cory Storch, chair; Bridget Rivers, William Reid.
City and Neighborhood Services, Vera Greaves, chair; Tracey Brown, Bridget Rivers.
Public Safety, Rebecca Williams, chair; Bridget Rivers, Vera Greaves.
Information Technology, Bridget Rivers, chair; Rebecca Williams.
Recreation, Bridget Rivers, chair; Rebecca Williams.

Committee chairs are expected to give reports at agenda fixing sessions. The last two committees are new for 2013.

Liaisons are:
Mayor's Citizens Advisory Board, Adrian Mapp, alternate Bridget Rivers.
Planning Board, William Reid.
Board of Education, Bridget Rivers, alternate Tracey Brown.
Green Brook Flood Commission, Vera Greaves, alternate Adrian Mapp.
Union County Community Development Revenue Sharing, Cory Storch, alternate Bridget Rivers.
Cable TV, Adrian Mapp, alternate Rebecca Williams.
Housing Authority of Plainfield, Bridget Rivers, alternate William Reid.
Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, Bridget Rivers, alternate Tracey Brown.
Special Improvement District, Cory Storch, Vera Greaves, alternate Adrian Mapp.
Shade Tree Commission, Rebecca Williams, alternate Cory Storch.
Muhlenberg, Adrian Mapp, Vera Greaves, alternate Rebecca Williams.
*Senior Center, Adrian Mapp, Vera Greaves, William Reid.

Plaintalker's understanding of liaisons is that they are to attend meetings of the entities to which they are assigned and then bring back to the council at large any pertinent information or concerns. However, some liaisons in the past acted as apologists for the entity rather than as envoys from the governing body.

Given that there are only seven council members, these assignments add a layer of duty that has often ended up being honored in the breach as most council members have jobs and are elected to serve part-time. Assignments have shifted over time with no public discussion of why they have changed. Take a look at a past roster here. What do you think?
*left off list by mistake

Friday, January 18, 2013

Say What?

Plaintalker has been taking comments since March 2008, but lately some commenters have devolved into just using derogatory terms and making allegations of illegal activity or improprieties that border on slander. If you submitted a comment but didn't see it on the blog, maybe that's why.

Almost any online entity that allows comments has run into such issues. Some have decreed that commenters can only post with Facebook names or have simply banned anonymous comments. Others have tried various means of screening them.

In the print world, a letter to the editor must be accompanied by a real name and phone number for verification. Swear words and slurs are not allowed. The idea is to give one's viewpoint on an issue, not to attack an individual.

I am asking readers to imagine you are writing a short letter to the editor when you comment, and leave off the characterizations. It's easy to toss out a catchy epithet rather than explain why you had a reaction to something you read on the blog or that you observed at a public meeting. This is a year when lots will happen locally and strong reactions may ensue. Keep on commenting, just keep it civil, please.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

On Rules of Order and Committees

On Monday night, I was trying to advise someone on his chances to speak at the City Council meeting. I thought there were two opportunities, one before council deliberations restricted to resolutions and motions and a general comment period at the end. I could only find the latter on the printed agenda, but thanks to Dan I now know I didn't imagine two public comment segments, one has been removed.

The conduct of council meetings is guided by a document developed in 2006 by then-Council President Ray Blanco. From a 2006 Plaintalker post: "The 28-page document covers council organization, meetings, role of the council president, handling of legislation, decorum, and many other aspects of council activity."

It has been approved each year since, but seldom with any public discussion of changes, which is why I missed the deletion of the first public comment period. I will have to review the document for other changes and if possible, locate the original in my vast pile of paper files.

Probably only the most dedicated council watchers know or care about these rules. Dottie Gutenkauf studied them and gave a critique when they first came out. On some flash  drive or another I have that document.

I did look in the Rules Monday for 2013 committee assignments and liaisons to various city entities, which I copied down. I will post them at another time. Over 2012, the committee system faded a bit and chairs often answered, "No report at this time." I wondered why or whether the system would continue in 2013, but it is there at least on paper.

It has been many years since there was a parliamentarian on board at council meetings. Perhaps a higher consciousness of Robert's Rules of Order would help the council stay on track.

If this post is rambling, I offer the excuse that I was sick all day with a bad stomach ache and only felt better when I got up at 1:30 a.m. These stomach aches appear to be stress-related, so I will be trying to calm down in time for the next council meeting on Tuesday. I hope these meetings are being broadcast on the local channels so those who do not attend can see for themselves how their elected officials comport themselves.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Comments on Monday's Meeting

As Dr. Yood noted on his blog, the new order for council meetings includes dumping one's possessions in a plastic bin and submitting one's person to a scan under the direction of two police officers. No exemption for elderly bloggers - we do carry sharp objects known as pens.

Once inside the Municipal Court, we saw a new setup for the council members, namely a table in front of the dais with nameplates and microphones, giving a simulation of the cozy atmosphere in City Hall Library, where agenda-fixing sessions previously took place.

The meeting was mostly routine, except for Councilman William Reid's deviation into a speech about vacancies in the administration and on the PMUA board. Reid said there was no tax collector ("I have a problem with that"), no purchasing agent (whereupon the new purchasing agent stood up in the back of the room), no Recreation superintendent and no Health Officer. He didn't mention the fact that there is also no chief finance officer except for a part-time person from a neighboring municipality.

As for the PMUA, it is due to reorganize next month and still has two commissioners in holdover status (Carol Ann Brokaw and Harold Mitchell). Mitchell managed to hang on as chairman for 2012, despite the mayor's attempts to replace him or put him in an alternate's seat. The board allows for five voting members and two alternates who may vote if needed to make a quorum. If on next Tuesday Cecil Sanders is moved from alternate to Tracey Brown's vacated seat and Charles Eke replaces Sanders as an alternate, there will still be two commissioners in holdover mode since February 2011 and one vacant alternate's seat. Plaintalker  is unsure of the status of Commissioner Alex Toliver, whose term expired in February 2012.

The end of the meeting was marred somewhat by a clash between Council President Bridget Rivers and other council members who felt she was preventing them from getting answers from the administration on constituents' questions.

"You're not going to campaign and grandstand up here," Rivers said. "It is the role of the council to get answers, but it is not the role of the council to put (the administration) on the spot."

Rivers told the three New Democrats on the seven-member council to "give the administration a chance - you had your chance. We don't need to sit up and prolong and grandstand and campaign."

The leader of the New Democrats, Councilman Adrian Mapp, is running for mayor, as is the incumbent, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Rivers is running for re-election to the Fourth Ward seat. The filing date is not until April 1, but Robinson-Briggs and Rivers are perceived as running mates.

Mapp, who was council president last year, called Rivers' comments about campaigning "ludicrous" and said it is not her role to be a spokesman for the administration.

"You are misrepresenting the office you hold," Mapp said. "I urge you to be mindful of the role you play. This is not about politics. This is about conducting the business of the people that we represent."

Council members Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams also commented on the need to have questions answered, but Rivers said, "If we're not going to sit up here and have a circus, we're not going to sit up here and have a circus."

She alluded to "$20,000," the amount paid to a radio station for a 2010 mayoral town forum that later sparked a council investigation.

"We're not going to play games up here any longer," Rivers said.

"We haven't seen a circus here," Williams said. "Folks just want to get a response."

The meeting ended with Rivers again calling on the council to "allow the administration to do their job" and one last warning that she will not allow council members to "grandstand." Mapp asked, "Which of your council members did you hear grandstand?"

The regular council meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 22) in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sanders, Eke Face New Interviews

City Council members agreed Monday that two mayoral nominees for PMUA seats must have new interviews before the governing body votes on them.

Both Cecil Sanders and Charles Eke were interviewed previously to serve as PMUA commissioners. Sanders was approved as an alternate on the PMUA board in December 2011, but Councilman Cory Storch said it was before he took part in a vote that led to an "outrageous settlement" with former PMUA executives. As an alternate, Sanders was able to vote on the matter because one of the five voting commissioners, Tracey Brown, was absent that night.

The mayor has now nominated Sanders to fill the vacancy caused by Brown's election as as the citywide at-large council representative. Brown took office on Jan. 3 and will be eligible to vote on her successor.

Eke and Sanders were both previously rejected for PMUA seats in January 2011. Read Plaintalker's post here. Eke subsequently returned to lash out at the "New Democrats" who voted against him, callling their votes "very shameful" and labeling them as "obstructionist" and "unfit for public office." In December 2012, he ended up sitting among those he condemned when he became a temporary appointee for the citywide at-large seat following the resignation of Councilwoman Annie McWilliams. At an interview preceding the vote, Councilwoman Rebecca Williams reminded Eke of his past behavior. The vote failed and the choice of an appointee fell to the Democratic City Committee, which had offered the names of Eke and two other candidates. The committee chose Eke to serve through December.

Eke reveled in the role and a group of his supporters photographed and taped him and also came to the microphone on Dec. 17 to praise him.

"No doubt he's going to be a big asset not only to the City Council, but to the city of Plainfield," one suppporter said.

It was unclear whether the group knew Eke was only serving as an appointee for a month. Another supporter said he expected Eke to be of great service to the city, calling him "humble, yet confident and assertive" and saying all were happy "to see him on his first day in office."

Eke himself gave thanks on Dec. 17 for what he called "a test run" and made a speech about leadership qualities and "the way people carry themselves." He said the city needs leadership, "but it must not be a strident leadership."

The mayor has proposed Eke for a vacant alternate's seat on the PMUA board. Sanders, if approved, would move to Brown's former seat as a full voting comissioner. 

On Monday, Councilman William Reid, acting as chairman of the committee of the whole, interrupted the discussion of interviews for Sanders and Eke by listing a large number of cabinet vacancies as well as on the PMUA. He said the council needs "'comfort" to know "that we are dealing with a whole deck." City Solicitor David Minchello halted the speech by reminding Reid that the council's own rules of order "limit debate to the question before the body."

Reid insisted he had the right to bring "anything up" that he deemed important to council business.

The council agreed to interview Eke and Sanders again at next Tuesday's regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Avenue.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Primary Election Dates Posted

Political wisdom in this mostly Democratic city tells us that the June Primary Election is where local things get settled and the November General Election is just a formality.

This year, the primary filing date falls on April Fools' Day. (Click here for the entire list from the state Division of Elections.) The Democratic Party's choice and Democratic challengers must declare themselves on that day. But Primary Day, June 4 in 2013,  is also when Independents file to be on the November ballot. So once the Democratic field is known, anybody from left field can join the fray. A Republican primary contest is possible, but unlikely, though the city GOP will probably put somebody up to run for the municipal seats.

The Plainfield municipal elections follow a pattern: Ward 1 plus 2&3 at-large, Ward 2 and 1&4 at-large, Ward 3 and citywide at-large, and this year Ward 4 and Mayor. Incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs  is running for a third term in 2013 and Third Ward Councilman Adrian Mapp is making his second try to defeat her.

Read about the 2005 primary here and the 2009 primary here.

The 2009 official primary vote was 2,017 for Robinson-Briggs, 1,681 for Mapp, 363 for Martin Cox, 152 for Carol Brokaw Boles, 72 for Robert Ferraro and 37 for Tom Turner.

This year will be the second one where Board of Education candidates must file on Primary Day to be on the November ballot. There are always three three-year seats up and there may be others for unexpired terms should incumbents leave office in time for others to meet the filing date.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Senior Center, PMUA on Monday's Agenda

Among items on Monday's City Council agenda, the governing body will consider rescinding a 2012 resolution designating the Senior Citizens Center in honor of Charles Louis Nelson.

Nelson worked tirelessly on plans for a new senior center at 400 East Front Street, constructed as part of a development with 63 condos on three floors above the center and a space dedicated to veterans' use. He passed away just before the new center opened. Former Council President Adrian Mapp pledged in 2012 to recognize a "Senior of the Year" and subsequently proposed naming the center for Nelson, but a group of seniors protested the move. Mapp proposed a plaque in Nelson's honor instead and the resolution passed.

Now that the issue has been reopened with a new council makeup, I call to your attention this post.

Regarding the center in general, it was vaunted as costing the city nothing, but later the developer submitted a rather large bill for fitting it out and for condo fees. An anticipated vote in 2010 never took place, and as of mid-2012 the matter was supposed to have been in arbitration. The city as a condo owner appears to be an anomaly for municipal government, but it is a contractual matter that has to be honored at the rate of $2,750 per month.

Monday's agenda also includes correspondence from the mayor requesting appointments of Cecil Sanders and Charles Eke to the PMUA and City Solicitor David Minchello to the post of corporation counsel. Sanders is an alternate who only gets to vote when one of the five full commisioners is absent. No resolution is attached, but most likely Sanders will replace former Commissioner Tracey Brown, who just vacated her PMUA seat to take office as the citywide at-large council representative. Eke is nominated for an alternate's seat.

Minchello has been acting as corporation counsel since last spring in the absence of former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, who was named the new PMUA executive director in April. Williamson left City Hall permanently as of July 1, 2012 and Minchello has been the temporary corporation counsel ever since. If confirmed as corporation counsel, he will serve through 2013, when the mayor's current term ends, and then must be reappointed in 2014

The agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Gun Violence Strikes Again

The sound of police sirens in the afternoon and later a helicopter made me think something bad had happened, but I fell asleep early after a busy day and only awoke in the middle of the night to read about the 5-year-old who was struck by a stray bullet. Mark's article had a lot more details than the one in the Star-Ledger, and they were just horrifying.

Gun violence is in the news every day, along with the many other kinds of violence humans perpetrate on each other. After the expressions of outrage, what next?  The seeds of violence can be detected in video games, movies, song lyrics blasting out of cars and real-life fights among teens at Park & Seventh as also happened Thursday. Recently someone sprayed graffiti, including death threats, on buildings on my block.

How do we get from a culture of violence to one of peace? Must violence among peers, between men and women or ideological factions, always be with us?

My thoughts are with this child and his family and all of  us as his larger family in Plainfield.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Campbell, Edwards Lead BOE

Wilma Campbell is president of the Plainfield Board of Education and Keisha Edwards is vice president for 2013, the first year of a new pattern for service.

School board elections moved from April to November in 2012. Candidates filed on June 5, the day of the primary election. November winners Edwards, an incumbent, and Jackie Coley took office immediately, as both were filling vacancies. Their new three-year terms and that of November winner Mahogany Hendricks began this month. Delois Dameron won a one-year unexpired term and will serve through 2013. Her term and those of Campbell and former president Renata Hendricks will expire on Dec. 31. Those wishing re-election and any challengers will have to file this year on June 4.

Routine news coverage of the school board is a thing of the past. The only story about new school leadership  last week was one on Perth Amboy, although numerous districts held January reorganizations. Tuesday's Plainfield meeting at 7 p.m. clashed with a 6 p.m. PMUA meeting and a 7:30 p.m. Charter Study Commission meeting. Those who want to follow the action at the Plainfield school board will have to consult the district web site and attend board meetings, although as Dan Damon pointed out the initial information on the reorganization meeting date was wrong on the web site.

Plaintalker regrets not being able to cover school board meetings in addition to City Council and other governmental meetings. Anyone willing to take on the assignment can get guidance from The Citizens Campaign on how to start.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mayors, More Sought For Charter Views

The Charter Study Commission set a budget Tuesday and made plans to begin interviewing past officials by its next meeting on Jan. 24.

The commission is on a tight schedule to review the current special charter and make recommendations to the governing body by August. Its five members were elected in November, but election results were delayed by Hurricane Sandy, putting the commission a bit behind its normal course.

The largest anticipated cost for the commission is disseminating its findings to the citizenry, who must endorse any proposed changes in the charter or form of government. By donating their professional skills for many of the tasks ahead, commissioners expect major savings compared to other municipalities' charter study budgets, but will need to spend about $24,000 to print and mail approximately 19,000 copies of their final report to city residents. The commission will seek City Council approval for the budget.

The immediate task ahead is to interview numerous past officeholders on their views of city government under the special charter. Plainfield's charter calls for a city administrator in charge of day-to-day operations, three department heads under whom all divisions fall, seven council members representing four wards and an elected mayor with a four-year term. The commission may recommend changes in the 1968 charter or conversion to a new form of government.

At Thursday's meeting, commissioners compiled a list of names of potential interviewees, including past mayors, city administrators, department heads, corporation counsels and political party leaders. Some overlapped those interviewed for a 1990 study by a charter review committee. The commission hopes to begin the interviews with the two surviving mayors of the past 44 years at the Jan. 24 meeting and may also call on Dr. Harold Yood, nonagenarian blogger and close observer of city government.

The commission will both conduct all its meetings in public and perform outreach to neighborhood associations and other community groups to ensure maximum engagement by citizens. Study materials, minutes and agendas are posted on the commission's blog, set up and maintained by Commissioner John Stewart at no cost to the public. Commissioner Mary Burgwinkle is serving as secretary as an in-kind donation to the commission's work and will be making outreach as well as writing reports.

Click here to access the Charter Study Commission's blog. The next meeting is 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

PMUA:Not Yet "In the Zone"

In the zone: Expression used to describe a state of consciousness where actual skills match the perceived performance requirements perfectly.

So yesterday (Monday) a PMUA truck arrives in our driveway and goes all 300 feet  down to the trash bin. What's wrong with this picture? We are in Zone 8 and our pickup days are Tuesday and Friday, I rip the PMUA calendar off the refrigerator, throw on a jacket and go out to ask. I have my calendar, they have a clipboard. Something doesn't add up, even though they acknowledge the clipboard indicates Zone 8.

The locations on their paperwork are not street numbers, but tax lot addresses with sets of numbers. First one guy points out what he thinks is our location, but actually it is the street on the south side of our block. Ooops. He turns the page and finds another a location starting with 117. That must be it, he suggests.

By now, I realize he has never seen this calendar nor does he know that pickup had settled into Tuesdays and Fridays after a spate of mixups. Now it is back to random appearances of PMUA trucks, sometimes two in a row.

These workers are faithfully doing their jobs. So were the people who designed the calendar to inform the public. The mismatch between the two is preventing these workers from being "in the zone."

Maybe if they saw the same thing residents see regarding pickups, if the clipboard matched the calendar, there would be a better match. If indeed PMUA is helping individuals return to the workforce and learn job skills, it's only fair to align their performance with what PMUA tells residents they will be doing.

Just a suggestion ...


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Digitize Memories on Jan. 12

The Friends of the Plainfield Public Library will offer an opportunity for conversion of VHS tapes, movies, slides and photographs on Jan. 12, with 20 percent of revenues to benefit the library.

Digital Memory Media, a division of Innovative Document Imaging LLP of East Brunswick, will conduct the session. Fees range from $12 per video tape to 29 cents per foot of 8mm and 16mm film. For advice on conversion to DVDs, call (732) 613-7170. A complete price list is available at the library.

The conversion session will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan 12 in Room 4 of the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave.

Celebration Will Honor Herb Green

Plaintalker has been asked to publish this press release:


Everyone is invited to a Celebration of the Life of Herbert T. Green, who died in the home where
his wife grew up on Evergreen Avenue in Plainfield, Saturday, January 12, at 2 pm at Emerson
Community School in the City.

Green, 87, a World War II veteran and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, lived in Plainfield since
1957. He died Nov. 9.

Among other tributes, his widow Marjorie Braverman Green will read excerpts from letters children in
Plainfield Public Schools who had known her husband as a Resident Reader at Clinton and Evergreen
Schools wrote to send their condolences.

Paul L. Tractenberg, the Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor and the Alfred C. Clapp
Distinguished Service Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School – Newark, will conduct the ceremony.
Tractenberg founded the Education Law Center at the law school in 1973, and is considered the most
important figure in school funding equalization in the state, representing 350,000 urban students,
including those in Plainfield.

Although he started his career as sports director of Channel 13, then located in New Jersey, and went
on to be general manager there and at Channel 47, Green was most passionate about urban education.
He served as president of the PTA at several Plainfield public schools, two terms on the Board of
Education, was a Resident Reader, and was founder and director of the Public Education Institute at
Rutgers University, from which he retired in 2011.

Among other distinctions, Green, in 1978, became the first man to head a local League of Women
Voters chapter in New Jersey, in 1978, Plainfield's, then took on that role again 30 years later. He was
first vice-president of the group when he died.

During the ceremony, visitors will be asked to write recollections in notebooks placed around the room.
Emerson School is located on Emerson Avenue, at East Third Street, one block east of Leland Avenue.

In addition to his widow, Green is survived by two sons, Charles M. and Joseph B., a daughter-in-law
Janice, five grandchildren and a nephew.

The family asks that memorial gifts be made to the Plainfield Area Humane Society, 75 Rock Ave.,
Plainfield, N.J. 07063.

Further information is available on the blog spot of the Plainfield League of Women Voters.
There, too, will be an opportunity for people to leave comments. The Internet address is http://

Saturday, January 5, 2013

IT In Focus For 2013

At the annual reorganization Thursday, both Council President Bridget Rivers and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs held up the administration's Information Technology and Media division for special attention in 2013.

"I believe IT is the key," Rivers said as she announced plans for an Information Technology Committee.

The council developed a committee system in 2010, with three members each assigned to four committees, Administration & Finance, Economic & Community Development, Public Safety and City & Neighborhood Services. The former two consistently reported back to the governing body, while the latter two were more spotty in reporting. The council also had a system of liaisons to nine other entities, including the Cable TV Advisory Board, which is linked to the Media division. Assignments for 2013 have not yet been announced.

The mayor said IT and Media will have "press releases and updates" in 2013 and she also announced the possibility of a blog "to provide some factual city news."

The IT division is headed by Chris Payne, formerly of the Plainfield school district. He accomplished the long-awaited overhaul of the city web site, including a ".gov" designation. When hired, he was assigned to the mayor's office, but the council created by ordinance an IT division under the Department of Administration & Finance in order to conform to the city's special charter, which calls for all operations to fall under three departments. There is now a separate Media division, also under Administration & Finance, to cover the local cable channels, but schedules are out of date and recent council meetings were taped but not broadcast.

When he came to City Hall in 2010, Payne dubbed the new operation "DoIT," but not all promised has been done as yet. It became apparent that the broad range of technical, creative and administrative tasks could not all be done with the initial staff and equipment, and a consultant was brought aboard. The Media side got a boost when Lamar David Mackson became head of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board, but its blog has not been updated since last June and the status of its membership is unclear. The last press release on the Media site dates back to November 2011.

So if there really is to be a focus on IT and Media as suggested Thursday, it appears some housekeeping is in order first - that is, if the divisions are to function as intended and not just to become PR arms for the mayor and council president, both of whom are seeking re-election this year. The board needs members, the TV schedule must be updated, Payne must state his present goals and budget needs and most of all, the purpose and chain of command needs clarification. And the IT Committee needs objective members who will act first as elected representatives to serve the people's interest. Anything less will perpetuate the current malfunction.


Tiffany Tour Today at Grace

If you have never seen the Tiffany windows at Grace Episcopal Church, today is your chance.

At 3 p.m., the church at 600 Cleveland Avenue will welcome visitors for a lecture and tour by an expert on the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, in conjunction with an exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York (click here for information on the exhibit).

Patricia C. Pongracz, the museum’s acting director and director of curatorial affairs, will give the lecture today. The church is at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and East Seventh Street.

I can personally attest to the remarkable beauty of these windows, which are made with the opalescent glass developed by Tiffany. It lends an ethereal quality to the depictions of Biblical figures. These windows are part of Plainfield's historic and cultural legacy. Go see them today.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rivers Named President As Council Reorganizes

Council President Bridget Rivers

Officials preached togetherness and putting Plainfield first as the governing body reorganized Thursday for 2013.

Council members welcomed Rev. Tracey Brown to the citywide at-large seat and Adrian Mapp to another term representing the Third Ward. The council chose Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers to serve as president for 2013 and gave Councilman William Reid another year as chairman of the committee of the whole.

"We must set aside our differences," Rivers said.

In her State of the City address, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs hailed the efforts of public safety and emergency personnel to help residents hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter that followed. While the city has begun to receive reimbursement for storm damage, she advised residents to prepare an "emergency bag" with necessities in case of a new storm.

As in the past, the mayor recounted accomplishments of all city departments, which she said will be posted online. Some innovations for 2013 include proposed formation of several new committees or commissions, including an African-Caribbean one led by resident Charles Eke, who is also a Nigerian chief. The mayor invited all to a "Meet and Greet" on Jan.26 with Chief Eke. She also proposed a women's committee, which she dubbed the "mayor's kitchen cabinet," and a grandparents "nurturing" committee.

She will seek new members for the Human Relations Committee and the Plainfield Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs as well in 2013, she said.

The council approved numerous appointments of legal staff and reappointments to boards and commissions in addition to setting a meeting schedule and selecting official newspapers for the New Year.

The large turnout included many members of Brown's church congregation, of which the mayor is also a member.

The next council meeting is an agenda-fixing session at 7:30 Jan.14 in Municipal Court. The regular meeting will follow at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan.22, also in Municipal Court.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

One Council Venue In 2013

The City Council will reorganize at 7 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 3) in Municipal Court, which will be the new location for agenda-fixing sessions as well as regular meetings in 2013.

The council traditionally met in City Hall Library for agenda-fixing sessions, but both officials and residents have complained that location is too small and has poor lighting. In a discussion at the Dec. 17 meeting, the idea of using Municipal Court for all council meetings was broached, as it is brightly lit, larger and possibly safer, because the court shares the building at Watchung Avenue and East Fourth Street with the Police Division. The only drawback is a perceived lack of parking compared to City Hall Library, but because the locations are just two blocks apart, attendees can park behind City Hall and walk to the court.

The reorganization meeting will include swearing-in of Rev. Tracey Brown for the citywide at-large council seat and Adrian Mapp for re-election to the Third Ward seat. The council will choose a president for the year, expected to be Councilwoman Bridget Rivers, and a chairman of the committee of the whole. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs will give her State of the City address.

Council business includes naming official newspapers, adopting a calendar, approving numerous appointments and setting a three-month temporary budget. Click here to view the entire agenda.


Want Change? Start at Grassroots

"Days after his favored candidates lost an intense primary fight, Assemblyman Jerry Green said he no longer wants to be chairman of the city's Democratic Party and will not seek re-election at Monday's reorganization meeting."

So read the opening sentence of an article I wrote nearly ten years ago before retiring as a reporter. Green's hiatus did not last long, and in 2013 he faces not only re-election to his Assembly seat but also the biennial election of the 68-member Democratic City Committee and his re-election as chairman of the party.

Over his long tenure, Green has only faced two serious challenges to his chairmanship. Former Mayor Harold Mitchell fielded a slate of committee candidates in 1989 and won enough seats to take the chairmanship, but chose not to do so. Mayor Albert T. McWilliams got a majority of supporters on the committee in 2003 and did take the chairmanship, but was dumped by Democratic higher-ups in 2005.
(Correct me if senescence made me get the dates wrong.)

With all the grumbling about control of the party, no one has since attempted a coup. So what would it take?

Of the 68 seats, only 14 have been held by the same Regular Democrats in 2007, 2009 and 2011. The only serious challengers, the New Democrats, had just seven candidates who won the same seats in all three years. The "churn," or turnover in the majority of seats, may indicate an opening for newcomers who want to attain these most grass-roots elective offices.

Candidates, a male and female for each of the city's 34 voting districts in four wards, must file in April and winners in the June primary theoretically pick the chairman at the party reorganization on the Monday following the primary. Those in charge tend to keep an eye on who picks up petitions to file for the primary and also take into account the past voting history of districts in forming a strategy to retain power. New Democrats have traditionally done better in the Second and Third wards than in the First and Fourth wards, so their challenge is to pick up more support in the latter if they want to prevail.

There is talk of a new population in the city that wants to invest in its future with a progressive outlook, in contrast to what is perceived as traditional party control through patronage and mediocrity in government. This faction may choose to align itself with the New Dems or could attempt an independent movement, but if serious about change, they will have to start aligning voters to their cause immediately. Within each district, like-minded individuals would have to be identified and persuaded not just to grumble, but to rumble - talk up the desire for change to neighbors, garner support and get out the vote on June 4.

One of the arguments for incumbents is stability and retention of positive links to party power on all higher levels. An argument against entrenched local power is almost the same - there can be no new blood without party permission, which leads to co-option and stasis.

Whatever people say they want, there is no substitute for organizing. Politicians here tend to keep the population divided by harping on class and race divisions. Those who envision one Plainfield based on a desire for growth across the city will have to inspire fellow residents to see the same thing and work toward it, or else be resigned to the status quo in 2013.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Is Here!

Happy New Year
Feliz año nuevo
Bonne année
Heri za Mwaka Mpya
and as my neighbor would say,