Sunday, March 31, 2013

Skateboard Park Needs Explanations

Where barbed wire and rusting hulks of city vehicles now sit, someone is imagining a skateboard park, but you would never know it from two agenda items up for consideration Monday.

The titles just mention professional services contracts for soil testing at $6,595 and environmental "site investigation" services at $7,815. Checking documents in the council packet at the Plainfield Public Library Saturday revealed the ultimate goal for the site at 301-327 East Fourth Street.
The site has been used in the past for storage of abandoned vehicles and currently has obsolete city cars and equipment as well as construction material.
There are 43 resolutions and two ordinances on Monday's agenda and several discussion items, so it is unlikely that these two contracts will engender much talk, but they certainly set off a lot of questions in this writer's mind. For one, these contracts are only preliminaries to a project. Given the surprise trajectory of other recreation-related projects such as the Joe Black Field concession stand and the Bryant Park rest room, what kind of overall cost might be involved in clearing the site and building a skateboard park?

I don't recall ever hearing a comprehensive overview of recreation programs, although the City Council tried to get metrics on costs and usage. What state are the city's three pools in? How many residents, both children and adults take part in existing programs and are all fields ready for playing season? Maybe these questions should be answered before embarking on a new project.

And how was it determined that a skateboard park here is needed or desired? There are quite a few young skateboarders around, but what might they think of this location between the railroad tracks and homes where residents may not be enthralled with the sound of ollies and nosegrinds.? Did anyone ask skateboarders or residents about this project?

Perhaps all these questions have valid answers.  But at least some of them should be asked before things get too far along.


Happy Easter

Have a lovely day!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Branch Brook Park and Olmsted

I did not take notes at the Drake House talk on Branch Brook Park and the county park movement, but if you have time on this busy holiday weekend, take a look here. The information is basically the same as was presented by Kathleen P. Galop.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Jackson for Mayor?

...of Trenton, that is.

Click here to read a Star-Ledger story about the Trenton mayoral race.

Eric Jackson has a lot of fans here for his professionalism, responsiveness, knowledge of municipal government and generally pleasant demeanor. His term is concurrent with that of the mayor here, so would expire at the end of this year anyway.

At least we have seen a good example of an administrator after a very mixed bag of appointees who didn't measure up and/or fled the politics after a few months.


Commissioners: Save the Yew Hedge

Members of two city commissions are concerned about a plan to remove the yew hedge at City Hall.

Tim Kirby of the Shade Tree Commission said members learned of the plan this week. He forwarded this statement:

Tim Kirby and Jan Massey, both members of the Shade Tree Commission, have voiced their opposition to removing the yew hedge that lines both sides of the entrance way to City Hall. The Historic Preservation Commission also wants the yews to stay.

We don't know their age but they are old, venerable plants in good health. The design is a classic one and it gives the front facade of City Hall balance and structure appropriate for the Georgian Revival building. We don't object to some light trimming and shaping, but we do think they should be left intact. Yews are considered one of the finest hedge plants. In most parts of Plainfield, deer have decimated their ranks. We don't have a deer problem at City Hall, yet another reason to leave this established hedge as is.

Yews can live for many hundreds of years. City Hall dates back to the early 20th century and is part of the Civic Historic District.

Removal of the hedge would leave just a small wrought-iron fence bordering the plaza in front of City Hall. If you agree that the hedge should stay or that this decision needs further explanation to the public before any action, e-mail the mayor at and say so.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

CSC To Hear Wyatt, Williamson, West

Thursday's (March 28) Charter Study Commission meeting will include interviews with former City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, who retired in 2010 after 23 years of service; former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, now executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority; and former Finance Director Ron West.

Wyatt and Williamson will answer CSC questions in person. West's responses to the interview question were recorded by a sub-committee and may be played if time permits.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library and is open to the public.


Preservation: North Avenue Windows, Tree Plaques

This was the rear of a building on North Avenue up until recently, when developer Frank Cretella bought it.
This is a big improvement, right?
Well, it would be if the building was not in an historic district. A representative of Cretella's company came to an Historic Preservation Commission hearing on proposed renovations to the building and apologized for the fact that vinyl windows had already been installed, front and rear. The commissioners said the old wood windows had to replaced with new wood windows.

The hearing was continued to March 19, but I missed it due to another meeting. I found out today that the change will be made.

It is good news that Cretella bought this building and several others in the North Avenue Historic District. After another building was demolished, Plaintalker feared this one was so far gone that it would be next. (See post here.) But things seem to be taking a turn for the better now.

It's still a shame that one of the significant buildings facing the train station was lost. See post here
On Sunday I was surprised to see the block with the building's date on the grounds of Drake House. At the time of the demolition, it was supposed to be saved, but as the post above shows, it was a rough operation and the block was feared lost in the rubble. It's good to see that it was preserved.
When I was on the Shade Tree Commission, there was another slice of history that I had hoped would be preserved. Many trees were planted in a 1970s campaign with plaques honoring the donors. You can still see the plaques, even though many of the trees are now gone. I had hoped that before a planned streetscape project took place between on Park between Second and Fifth the plaques would be removed to a safe place, as many of the names of donors are of historic significance.
From a 2008 post with this image: In the 1970s, citizens and institutions donated funds for tree plantings along Park and Watchung avenues and some other streets downtown. As you can see here, it's time for some new trees. This plaque is in memory of Katherine and A. Lodewyk de Leeuw, "who loved trees."

The North Avenue district dates back to the late 19th century and these plaques are only from the mid-20th century, but maybe they can also be saved.


Heather on Park Avenue

When a chiropractor took over the old dentist office at Park & Sixth, he did some very nice landscaping in front. Right now his heather plants are blooming.
Heather always reminds me of a favorite Clancy Brothers song. Click and listen if you have time.


Parking Meter Restored

Given the reason why a parking meter on Watchung Avenue went missing, maybe I shouldn't even call attention to its restoration.

Way back in October 2010, someone ripped out a parking meter including its concrete base and dragged or tossed it, caber-style, into the shrubbery.

On my way to a meeting Friday night, I noticed it was fixed and later took this photo.
It's a small thing, but the parking meter will again be a revenue source and the hole that was trip-and-fall hazard is filled in. I'm told quite a few parking meters get vandalized each year, so restoring them is a necessary chore.


SRB & GOP - A Surmise

Somebody floated the notion that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, newly rejected by the Regular Democratic Organization for the party line in the June 4 primary, could make her third-term run as a Republican.

Consider the possibilities: Plainfield Republicans seldom have a primary contest, so she would be guaranteed a place on the November 5 ballot if unopposed in the primary. She would be part of a slate with a popular governor at the top and a local young notable, John Campbell Jr., running for Assembly. The scion of “Kingmaker” John Campbell would enjoy all his father’s political wile in getting out the vote and maybe some “athletic  fit”  coattails for the mayor to ride in addition to Christie’s mega-threads.  She would also be returning to her GOP roots, with maybe some aid from her old NAACP /Republican running buddy George Gore.

Of course, if a GOP mayoral challenger emerged on April 1, her supporters would have to change parties by April 10 in order to vote for her in the primary. If not, they could remain Democrats, abstain from the primary and vote for her in the general election. And instead of maybe being a lame duck from June 4 on, she would have five more months to marshal her troops and fill her coffers for the big match on Nov. 5.

Drawbacks for a GOP run include the city’s 12-to-1 ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans and the RDO determination to back a slate from Sen. Barbara Buono on down the line. This is also the year for Democrats to reorganize, with 68 committee seats on the ballot and a party chairmanship to decide. Would even her most loyal supporters want to go to the dark side and give up all those RDO perks such as county jobs, contracts, appointments and other political privileges?

A successful switch also assumes a welcome from GOP party leaders on local, county and state levels. But if  the possibility exists, what will the mayor choose, fight or flight?

We’ll see on Monday.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy Pesach!

Chag Sameach
to all
celebrating Passover

A Note on the School Budget

It seems long ago that the school budget was a matter of community interest or notice in the newspapers. I am also guilty of not paying attention any more and not reporting on salient points of the budget. One thing to keep in mind is that after 15 years of a fixed tax levy, in 2008 Plainfield and other "Abbott" districts were called on to contribute more locally. The Plainfield district was getting about 20 percent from local property owners and 80 percent in state funding, the reverse of most suburban districts. The plan to level the balance began with modest increases at the local level, which voters rejected but the state was mandated to restore.

Click here to read a 2010 Plaintalker post on the subject.

Before deeming it too much of a burden to try to blog comprehensively on the school board as well as municipal government and land use boards, Plaintalker tried to track trends in charter school funding, enrollment patterns and other major changes. Maria also followed district actions closely for a long time, and for a while there was a flurry of new blogs on education..

Plaintalker's last big effort.was following the Gallon saga. The new superintendent has received very little press notice, although the district web site makes up in part for the lack of outside attention. Is there anyone out there who wants to try to cover the school district?


Walkability? Not Just Yet

My walk from Park & Seventh to Drake House Sunday made me wonder how far the city has progressed in "walkability," or being friendly to pedestrians.

The first challenge was negotiating Park Avenue's 600 block, where many people congregate and block the entire sidewalk as they socialize. I got through and decided to cut over to Central Avenue by way of West Fifth Street. While taking note of some spring flowers in yards (lots of Vernal Whitlow Grass), I saw quite a bit of trash and graffiti. Actually the graffiti was interesting, if only to see what gangs were representing. But I'm sure the desired middle-class downtown population for TOD-D housing would not take as much interest as a former reporter who had to keep track of crime trends.

I was trying to avoid going up Plainfield Avenue past the dangerous blocks near the train tracks, so I walked up Central Avenue past the main fire station to West Front Street. The challenge there was not to be mistaken for a female on the loose (from what I used to read in the cop news, guys are not picky and will try to accost any woman or girl), so I was ostentatiously listening to my Walkman radio and carrying a dorky L.L. Bean tote and walking really fast.

I was almost there when I saw a group of young men with a pit bull. I tried to pass without freaking over the pit bull. As I approached with my head down, one of the young men asked, "Wanna buy?" but assuming he was not talking about bouquets of daffodils, I marched on.

My walk home was considerably improved by having some nice cookies from Drake House to munch on. The pit bull kiddies were gone, but after a block or so of  men leering at any female, I cut down New Street to West Second and then back down Park on the west side to Twin City to pick up some vegetables for dinner.

So optimum walkability is not yet here in these Queen City streets. As a pedestrian, I had to think ahead and be overly cautious on my route. Not having a ton or more of metal vehicle around me, I felt somewhat vulnerable to hazard. But then again, I didn't have to find a parking space and the talk at Drake House was really good! More on that later.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Those "Phenomenal Women" Awards

By way of explanation, those "Phenomenal Women" awards given by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs were supposed to be for Women's History Month on behalf of the the Democratic City Committee and "on behalf of the City of Plainfield," according to the mayor, who said she wanted to honor four women "in a special way."

Awardees were widows and one daughter of City Committee members, with recognition also given to each "beloved man."  They were Geraldine Smith, whose husband Hugh passed away in 2011; Dottie Gutenkauf, whose husband Josef passed away in December; and Pat and Karen Brown, wife and daughter of the late Charles D. "Pete" Brown, who passed away in September 2012. In her mother's absence, Karen Brown accepted their awards.


Mau's New Toy

Cats will make toys out of the weirdest things, as their humans soon discover.

Mau began playing with my ribbon book markers, which vaguely resemble snakes. He sometimes brings me one as a trophy, singing his special triumphant hunter song and depositing it next to my bed (as he does with stuffed toy mice).

He also likes to drown "snakies" in his water bowl before batting them around and making up chase-and-destroy scenarios.
Somehow his cache of one or two snakies has grown to four or five. I don't know where he is stealing them from, but as long as he is amused, it's fine with me if I can't find my place in my books.


The Bootsy Collins Effect?

A telltale sign that the mail has been delivered to our building is a rubber band on the hallway floor. We also see rubber bands in the driveway or on the porch. It makes us wonder how many rubber bands get dropped  across the city as mail is delivered daily to thousands of properties, six days a week. It's a small thing in the overall scheme of things, but these rubber bands can add to debris that goes into city storm sewers and the annual tab must add to the USPS operating burden. Do you see them near your mailbox?


Telephone Building Rehab Underway

Work has begun on the Telephone Building at 109 East Fourth Street. It is being rehabilitated from office use to residential use, with eight apartments proposed.
The massive front door that was hanging open recently now appears to have suffered damage. We hope it can be preserved.

The property is adjacent to the main train station and will be ideal for commuters when ready for occupancy.


Plaza Pretties Up

The Twin City plaza at Park & Seventh just got spruced up for Spring with trimming and mulching of its evergreen border. I believe the plaza owner is still the Somerville-based Moorehouse Seventh Corp., which should get thanks for keeping this busy corner looking good.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Mapp, Rivers Get Dems' Backing

Plainfield City Hall
There was no vote for the party's mayoral choice at Friday's Democratic City Committee meeting, but no mystery either - Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo announced earlier this month that the line would go to Councilman Adrian Mapp.

Plainfield Democratic Party Chairman and Assemblyman Jerry Green briefly explained the process led to the decision as two-term incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs sat in the front row facing him, with her ally Roland Muhammad sitting next to her sporting a red "Sharon!" button. When Green gave her a chance to speak, she first made four "Phenomenal Women" awards, then announced "as mayor and CEO" several city news items before calling the party's endorsement of Mapp  "a little bit disappointing." She said her campaign had been "rolling on" since October and took issue with Green's statements in a March 18 video regarding the party's choice of Mapp, invoking Shirley Chisholm's "unbossed and unbought" slogan..

Green defended his comments on the video, saying, "No one can say I've been bought or told what to do," but responded to the mayor's reaction by cautioning her not to "grunt all night long."

"If you're disrespectful, you will be asked to leave," Green said.

"You should leave," the mayor retorted, noting she is second vice-chairman of the committee.

After a few more tart exchanges with the mayor, Green moved on to introducing 2013 freeholder candidates before announcing he would be supporting Council President Bridget Rivers for re-election to the Fourth Ward seat. His announcement settled speculation about where Rivers would land on the ballot, as she had appeared to be aligned with the mayor late last year. Rivers called for an end to bickering which she said has stalled city progress.

When it was his turn, Mapp used his 33-year marriage to his wife, Amelia, as an example of give-and-take without negativity and mentioned his past differences with Green.

"We can disagree without being disagreeable, and  can have unity without uniformity," he said.

Mapp said the city has been on a "treadmill" for the past eight years and said the mayor "has led people to a cliff." where they could either "go over or pull back."

"We can't go along the same path," he said. "Plainfield needs change."

In a gibe at the mayor's passing out copies of a news article on her 2006 inauguration, Mapp said, "I don't have anything to pass out to you, I can only offer myself as a vehicle for change," adding "I will provide the leadership that the city needs so badly."

 Mapp called for support of the entire 2013 Regular Democratic line, saying "This election is not just about me."

Green also called for support of the Regular Democratic ticket, including Sen. Barbara Buono at the top challenging Gov. Chris Christie; Sen. Nick Scutari, Assemblywoman Linda Stender and himself for re-election; Union County Freeholder Chairman Linda Carter and Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski  for re-election with new running mate Sergio Granados; and at the local level, Mapp and Rivers as well as candidates for 68 committee seats..

Before the meeting broke up, the mayor's confidential aide, Barbara James, asked whether the party endorsement meant the New Democrats were no more.

"I'm curious to know, what happens to the New Dems - will that title disappear?"

Mapp had retained chairmanship of the New Democrats throughout his term as a freeholder, when he returned to the City Council in 2008 and when he challenged Robinson-Briggs for the mayoralty in 2009.

Green said there was only one party title and he was "not interested in that issue." James asked, "No more New Dems?" and Green dismissed the question.

After a few more exchanges, the meeting was adjourned and residents came up to talk to Green.

Plaintalker asked the mayor when she would announce her slate and she said it would be closer to the April 1 primary filing date.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Small Signs of Spring

Some folks wait eagerly for crocuses and daffodils to bloom, but wild flower fans also like to see less flashy harbingers of spring.
One of these sure signs of the season is Vernal Whitlow Grass, which can now be seen on the front lawn of Grace Episcopal Church and in many other locations if you look closely.

While waiting in Fanwood for a train back to Plainfield, I spotted a patch of Dead Nettle. (Click to enlarge any image.)
 The structure of its small flowers show it is in the Mint family.

Speedwell flowers are a heavenly blue and may soon be seen in the grass at Cedar Brook Park.

This clump of Wild Onions looks like grass, but pull one up and you will see the white bulb that looks like a scallion. Some say they are one and the same.

Still at the Fanwood station - here are some buds of Leatherleaf Viburnum waiting for warmer weather to bloom.

Back on Block 832 in Plainfield, the humble but (to me) cheerful Chickweed. I can't say I have ever eaten any, but I like its starry flowers.

Take a look at the links for more about these plants. I hope you enjoy this break from politics and municipal meeting notes.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bing's Birds-Eye

When traffic planner John McDonough used an aerial shot of the Armory in his presentation to the Zoning Board of Adjustment Tuesday, he said he preferred Bing's "bird's-eye" view to Google's overhead images. The angled view of the Armory and environs was very pleasing, in my opinion, more so than looking straight down on its roof.

So after I got home, I called up the image but was afraid to do a screen shot lest Microsoft sue me. But I ended up tracing on Bing my Google path to haunts of my childhood. It was exciting to see the building where I lived as a child and my nearby elementary school, with the very lawn where I had sat anxiously on the grass during some ceremony, hoping there were no crawly bugs around. I could trace my path to a park where I spent many happy hours literally smelling the roses and playing with my siblings.

A few more flights, to Seattle and to Plymouth, Penna., where I visited relatives in summer, convinced me that Bing bird's-eye was big fun.

It did not have other features that I like very much on Google, so I decided it would be an adjunct and not a replacement. But in fairness, I have not sampled all the options. If you have not tried it, pick a destination and give it a spin. Here is a link.

Happy Vernal Equinox!

My Green Man

Happy First Day of Spring! I know all my fellow gardeners are glad we have reached this day.

One of the symbols of the season, especially for those who celebrate The Wheel of the Year, is the Green Man. Click here for more information on the Green Man in many cultures.


HOPES Wins Armory Approval

A Head Start program for 270 young children will occupy the Plainfield Armory by September 2014, after renovations and changes required by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The board approved the application Tuesday with numerous conditions regarding traffic, parking, landscaping and other specifications aimed at helping it fit in with adjoining residential neighborhoods. The historic Armory is just off the South Avenue commercial corridor at the corner of Leland Avenue and East Seventh Street, near the Netherwood Heights Historic District.

Tuesday's special meeting at Emerson School was a continuation of a hearing that began on March 6 (see post here). The applicant, HOPES CAP Inc., made numerous changes in the meantime to address board concerns and agreed to several more Tuesday. Board Chairman Scott Belin and Planning Director Bill Nierstedt also urged HOPES President Ora Welch to work closely with city Police and Fire divisions on their safety requirements for the school.

A key issue was traffic related to student drop-off and pickup, as there are three other schools nearby. Traffic expert Craig Peregoy said his study of the location showed the anticipated increase in traffic would not tax the capacity of the roads. The organization will be busing in 100 children and because many parents in the program do not have cars, HOPES Finance and Human Resources Director Simona Ovanezian said she expected only about 50 parents to be driving to the school. Many of the 76 staff members will also be taking public transportation to the school, she said, which will further lessen traffic.

Besides seeking zoning approvals, HOPES was facing funding and grant deadlines and asked for a letter confirming the board's decision, which Belin and Nierstedt agreed to provide.

In contrast to the large crowd on March 6 in City Hall Library, only a handful of residents and a dozen or so HOPES staffers attended the meeting at Emerson School. at the new location. The only public comment came from Jim Spear, a resident and former president of Netherwood Heights. Spear asked the board to consider requiring a wrought iron fence instead of the proposed chain link fence for the rear of the property. The applicant quickly agreed.

Spear also asked the board to keep in mind that a road project called for special crosswalks on Leland Avenue to match new ones on South Avenue, and he did not want them to be painted over when curbs were marked for no parking. Nierstedt said the contractor would be informed.

The new location will serve to consolidate Head Start programs now operating in three other parts of the city. It will have 20 classrooms as well as a gym and a kitchen, allowing for exercise and nutrition options not available in the other locations. When the board granted approval in a roll call vote, HOPES staffers broke into applause. Ovanezian told Plaintalker HOPES expected to be ready to open at the Armory for the 2014 school year.

"Maybe sooner," she said as staffers rejoiced.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Piece of My Heart

Mau ingests too much catnip, channels Janis Joplin ...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Story of My Life

I finally lined up about 30 years' worth of journals in chronological order and have started to read them. I have to decide whether I would take them to Seattle if I ever get to move there, or toss them out.

Many long years of struggle are documented in these notebooks. Reading them is a big distraction from what's going on nowadays. They are mostly written in very small script with an extra-fine pen.

While they provided a place to vent, muse, and plan when I had no other outlet, I can't tell whether or not they are worth saving. Memory Lane is a very strange place.


Armory Plan Review Resumes Tuesday

A Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on the proposed use of the Plainfield Armory for a Head Start program will continue Tuesday (March 19) at a special meeting.

The meeting will be 7 p.m. at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave.

Read Plaintalker's previous post on the application here.

Some Budget Notes

Among the temporary budget appropriations  for April was one really big amount, $5,314,398.12. Don't worry, it is not a recurring monthly expense. It is the contribution due April 1 for the Police and Firemens' Retirement System. Another $1,283,398.12 contribution must be made for the Public Employees' Retirement System.

These hefty payments are the result of a deferral the council approved in 2009. See Plaintalker's post here.

A look at this chart shows the fluctuations over recent years, including times when no payment was required.

Contrary to what some officials would have you believe, the city can't just do whatever it wants with tax money, whenever it feels like taking action. The value of having a chief financial officer is that he or she knows how to interact with the Local Finance Board, a division of Local Government Services within the Department of Community Affairs. Local Finance Board Notices are sent to the CFO and are heavily detailed (click here to see an example). Municipalities are expected to follow state guidelines on budgets and according to the item linked, Plainfield is already a bit behind.

Finance Director Al Restaino said on March 4 the budget will go to the City Council "for action" in April, perhaps meaning it will be introduced. The 2013 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee members must also be named and the council will have to set a schedule for budget hearings. The budget may then be amended and a public hearing and final passage can take place.

One might conclude that by letting budget passage straggle past state guidelines, sometimes even to the fourth quarter, the city is doing its own thing. But the price of late budget passage is that most of the funds have then been expended in salaries and wages, and there is little leeway for cuts.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Expand Your Horizons

Looking for some end-of-winter diversion? Want to investigate at new topics? The Plainfield Public Library has magazines on  all subjects and lots of tables and chairs for reading,
News, fashion, culture, entertainment, sports, business, special interests ... take a look!

Windows on North Avenue

Developer Frank Cretella is busy on North Avenue by the main train station, acquiring and rehabbing buildings, as these permits in one window attest.
This ornate building is one of his projects. Years ago it housed Jan and Henry Johnson's weekly, Plainfield Today. The Johnsons also had an art gallery there.
In one of the windows, a "Landmark City Living" for-lease sign is juxtaposed with the reflection of a building on the north side of the block (click any image to enlarge).
Note the heavily damaged rear of the building. This building suffered a mysterious fire on Dec. 17, 2011 and although its facade is largely intact, the rear is in shambles (click here for an earlier post and photos on it). The building was slated for demolition until the owner called it off.
Speaking of windows, this Cretella project became the object of consternation when it was revealed at a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission that vinyl windows had been installed instead of wood-framed windows. The issue will be taken up again at the HPC meeting on March 19.

Cretella's plans to redevelop the North Avenue Historic District date back to 2006, but hey, better late than never.

Next time you are downtown, take a look at North Avenue between Park and Watchung avenues. Apparently a long-shuttered "window of opportunity" has finally opened and changes are taking place.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Burney, Fury Give Charter Views

Plaintalker is tempted to advise readers to wait for the minutes of Thursday's Charter Study Commission meeting, at which former Mayor Mark Fury gave a bravura performance, blending history, personal anecdotes and allusions to secret opinions in his answers to 22 questions. But maybe some aspects can be reported.

Fury called Plainfield "a unique place" and "the center of the universe" even as he recounted the many shifts in its demographics and fortunes since he grew up here. He wove in tales of African-Americans' and other ethnicities' migrations to the city for jobs at Mack Trucks and linked the plant closing to dissatisfaction and economic loss that set the stage for the 1967 upheaval, calling Plainfield "the smallest city to have a race riot before it was cool."

As mayor, he said, "I quit a $100,000 job to take a $10,000 job," but said he had a responsive council and nothing in the charter hindered him from "reshaping government," referring to his reallocation of several divisions under the three mandated departments.

Fury led an earlier Charter Study Review Committee that he said he "used as a platform to become mayor." He said he met with former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson on Wednesday, telling him he owed Williamson and former Mayor Harold Mitchell an apology, because he thought they "were the problem," but he did not explain the comment further.

At one point, he raised his voice and growled a complaint that he wasn't allowed to take control of the school system while he was here.

Fury did answer the commission's questions in his own way, but said, "The problems in Plainfield are not in the charter."

Former Councilman Rashid Burney was the first interviewee Thursday and called the study "an exercise that is well due." He said the charter's authors were aiming for "a balance of power," but likened the checks and balances to an anchor that could cause things to "get stuck."

Burney approved of the ward system, saying there must be "representation from all geographical neighborhoods." If all council members were elected at large, he said, they might just come from a single neighborhood.

Saying the role of the council is to make laws, he said it would help to have staff to research legislation, noting his own struggle to look up other municipalities' tree commission ordinances to put one together for Plainfield.

Regarding public safety, he said the city's Fire Division came in number one in comparisons with other municipalities, but it was the opposite for the Police Division. Burney alluded to issues with the role of the police chief, a title that was abolished in 2008.

Burney said he found that the corporation counsel "works for the mayor" and could not also serve the governing body, as stated in the charter. He said there should be separate legal representation for the council.

He also found fault with the charter and municipal code in that he feels the budget process starts too late. He suggested it should be introduced at the end of the previous year, rather than in the first quarter of the budget year.

Burney also said government planning should be outsourced to citizen groups and there should be a full-time mayor whose role would be "to sell the agenda."

The commission will meet next on March 28 and expects to interview former City Clerk Laddie Wyatt and former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson. On April 11, scheduled interviewees are former Corporation Counsel Rowand Clark, Republican Party Chairwoman Sandy Spector and former City Administrator Hank Kita.

Read minutes and see other details on the Charter Study Commission blog (click here). The answers of previous interviewees are posted in the minutes.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gutenkauf Memorial Sunday

The family of the late Josef Gutenkauf will hold a memorial gathering from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 17, at Knickle Hall in Grace Episcopal Church, 600 Cleveland Ave.

Pre-Primary Party Ponderings

Two night meetings back to back, scant sleep and a morning of manual labor aka housework have left me with a blank mind. I crashed after dinner and got up a little after midnight to go online, but no blog thoughts have bubbled up. I had some random ponderings - for one, what will the off-the-line candidates' slogans be when they file on April 1? Any guesses? Past slogans have included "Real Democrat" and "Democrats for Positive Change."

Click the links above to read Plaintalker posts on the slogans and click here for an old post on party loyalty, perhaps relevant in a time when some Democratic officials are openly backing Republican Gov. Chris Christie for re-election.


Fury, Burney on CSC Agenda Tonight

Former Mayor Mark Fury and former Councilman Rashid Burney will be the interviewees tonight (March 14) at the Charter Study Commission meeting, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. All meetings of the Charter Study Commission are open to the public and have a portion for public comment.

Fury was responsible for a major restructuring of city divisions within the three departments mandated by the current charter. Burney advocated for change in the council's meeting structure, which used to include two agenda-fixing sessions and two regular meetings per month but now has just one of each.

Follow the Charter Study Commission's activities on its blog (click here).


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ward 1 Topics: Dornoch, Quality of Life

Emmett Swan didn’t have to go far to attend the City Council’s Ward 1 Town Meeting in the Senior Center Tuesday - he lives upstairs in one of the 63 residential condos that were supposed to be the trade-off for a center developed at no cost to the city.

But the center itself is a condo under the master deed with the developer and officials are now questioning the $33,000 annual maintenance fee for occupying 13.93 percent of the building.

Swan serves on the condo board along with one other owner and three representatives of Dornoch, the development firm that is now offering lease-to-purchase deals for more than 30 unsold condos. He urged the council to send a representative to the next board meeting, to examine the public offering for the condos and make Dornoch abide by it.

Swan also said residents are upset with conditions next door, where a large trash bin sits in front of two restaurants, a liquor store and a laundry. He called the storefronts and the parking lot “dilapidated” and said people loiter in front of the liquor store and in nearby shrubbery.

Councilman William Reid, who represents Ward 1, and Councilwoman Vera Greaves, the at-large representative for Wards 1 & 4, both promised help from Public Works and the Police Division.

Swan also asked about ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection system, and whether it has been a crime deterrent. Corporation Counsel David Minchello said the city has twice been able to move back the contract start date for ShotSpotter, as the company has worked to resolve glitches. (Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs announced at a recent neighborhood meeting that city officials met with the company’s president and the contract was to commence now that problems have been resolved.) Minchello also said the city was not satisfied with ShotSpotter’s stated 80 percent accuracy rate and wanted to see a higher percentage.

On the condo fees, Councilman Adrian Mapp said he wanted to see audited fees rather than just hearing a figure from Dornoch.

Reid hit a nerve when he talked about people who do not have “constructive criticism” about the city and suggested that they move if they don’t like it. Ward 4 resident Charlotte Timberlake said she had a “quality of life” issue with loitering and public urination in her neighborhood.

“I’d like to be able to walk around. I’d like to walk to a mailbox, and I can’t do it in the Fourth Ward,” she said. But she added, “I don’t like it when someone says, if you don’t like it, leave.”

Mapp also objected to Reid’s comment, saying, “All of us don’t share this point of view.”

Mapp also answered resident Gloria Williams’ concern about having to apply every year for senior tax deductions by suggesting she look into the state’s Senior Freeze program.

Ward 1 resident Barbara James expressed surprise at the low turnout for the meeting, which attracted only about a dozen residents. James also congratulated Mapp on being named the Union County Democrats’ party line choice for mayor, but as the Ward 1 City Committee leader said she was disappointed that the local party did not have a chance to meet, “that the county usurped our authority and made the decision for us.”

James is also confidential aide to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who is seeking a third term as mayor.

PMUA Clearing Storm Debris For New Business

Just as the city’s solid waste utility finally struck revenue-producing deals to accept brush and tree parts from other towns,  Hurricane Sandy tore through and created tons of municipal debris that swallowed up all the available space at the Rock Avenue transfer station. On Tuesday,  Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioners approved an emergency contract to remove 70,000 cubic yards of “vegetative waste” with hopes that FEMA will offset the anticipated costs – up to $250,000 for removal to Britton Industries in Lawrenceville and another $500,000 for disposal.

Coincidentally, the PMUA board also approved a new contract to accept vegetative waste from Scotch Plains, adding it to a roster that includes South Plainfield, North Plainfield, Green Brook and Garwood. The contracts also include drop-off of bulky waste such as household castoffs.

The emergency contract will clear about 50 percent of the debris at the Rock Avenue site so the authority can honor the outside municipal contracts, Executive Director Dan Williamson said.

But the next hurdle will be to secure a new contract with Britton or another company for final disposal. Britton’s contract was to have run to February 2013 at a flat rate of $2,408.33 per month for an unlimited amount of vegetative waste, which the company turns into mulch. But after tons  of Hurricane Sandy debris began arriving, Britton could not accept it on the same terms, Williamson said. Litigation produced a new rate of $15 per ton, but the authority will have to negotiate a new contract for disposal soon.

In public comment, resident Bill Kruse questioned how the authority will be able to make a profit on the new municipal contracts this year without knowing the disposal rate. Williamson said one problem, heavy logs mixed in with brush and such, will be alleviated by using companies such as City Logs of Newark, which takes away large tree segments at no cost.

“We have analyzed every way possible to look at this,” Williamson said. “We understand we have to make sure we don’t bleed.”

He also assured Kruse that the issue will not be passed on to the rate payer and noted rate reductions set for 2013.

Freehold Carting will take away debris for disposal and Williamson mentioned Rufus Demolition and Oveter's Construction as other possible firms for the task.

Outside revenues have been a goal of the authority since its inception about 18 years ago as the provider of solid waste and sewer services to the city. The contracts with other municipalities represent the first success toward that goal after a period of increased dissatisfaction with the authority, including a ratepayer revolt urging property owners to “opt out” of using the PMUA for trash removal. City officials also became frustrated with the authority and formed a panel to study whether the authority should be dissolved.

Williamson, formerly the city’s corporation counsel, became executive director as of July 1, 2012, succeeding Eric Watson, who along with Assistant Executive Director David Ervin received a settlement totaling $1 million, further inflaming the ratepayers. Although a "shared services" cost assessed on all property owners is still a sore point, Williamson's tenure so far is marked by an aggressive search for new business in addition to rate reductions.

PMUA, Ward 1 Meetings Tonight

Tonight (March 12) there is a Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority meeting at 6 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, no agenda posted as of 12:15 a.m.

The City Council's Ward 1 Town meeting is 7 p.m. tonight at the Senior Center, 400 East Front Street. Residents from any of the city's four wards may attend. The format of the Town Meetings has been to hear concerns of residents, especially in the featured ward. See the full schedule here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Parks and Gardens Celebrated

From the Historical Society of Plainfield:

The Historical Society of Plainfield announces their spring exhibit, “Parks and Gardens
in Plainfield History,” which will run through the months of March, April, and May in the
second floor ballroom.

“Parks and Gardens in Plainfield History,” will focus on the contributions of the many
female residents of Plainfield who have beautified the City through the years. The
exhibit will feature the 1924 Olmsted plan and the 1961 Plainfield Garden Club plan
for the landscaping of the Drake House grounds, as well as information about the
Union County Park System, Green Brook Park and Cedar Brook Park, both located in
Plainfield. Photos and illustrations from the Local History Collection of the Plainfield
Public Library, NJ, Historical Society of Plainfield, Plainfield Garden Club, and private
collections of Plainfield parks and gardens both current and lost will be displayed.
Biographies of some of the women who championed parks and gardens in Plainfield will
be included.

A gallery talk by Kathleen Galop, Historic Preservation Consultant, will be held on
Sunday, March 24, 2013, at 2:30 PM entitled “The Olmsted Historic Landscape Legacy
in New Jersey.” This program is funded by the Horizons Speakers Bureau of the New
Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for
the Humanities. This gallery talk is free and open to the public and includes time for
audience discussion.

All are welcome. Regular tour hours are 2-4 PM on Sundays or by appointment.

Party Spurns Mayor, Taps Mapp

Thanks to an extremely short City Council meeting Monday, Democratic political rivals Adrian Mapp and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs did not have to be in each other's company very long. Earlier in the day, news broke that the mayor, who won on the party line in 2005 and 2009, will not enjoy that advantage this year, as party officials are backing Mapp.

The meeting ended with the mayor in dialogue with her pastor, Councilwoman Tracey Brown, and a latecomer with a red "Sharon!" campaign button on his dark jacket wandering around the courtroom. Plaintalker decided not to press either candidate for a comment, even though it was the last meeting before the April 1 filing date for the June primary.

Ever since she beat Mapp in 2009, the mayor has made the victory a leit-motif of her second term, verbally slapping him down with reminders that she won. During Mapp's tenure last year as council president, he used his power not to move certain mayoral initiatives to the agenda. But he was more gentlemanly overall in the rivalry than the mayor was ladylike, and as Mark Spivey pointed out in his Courier News article on the party decision, the mayor's affinity for giving hugs could not offset disfavor over her reported expletive-laced dealings with staff in the WBLS controversy.

Both Mapp and Robinson-Briggs announced 2013 mayoral campaigns last year, and the mayor snagged Mapp's former campaign headquarters in early December in yet another fillip of rivalry.
The decision of Union County Regular Democratic Organization Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo to back Mapp leaves the mayor needing to put together a slate with just days to spare before the filing date. It might seem like a bit of irony to those who recall 2005, when Mayor Albert T. McWilliams got a last-minute surprise at the hands of DeFilippo and had to scramble for a slate, ending up losing the primary to Robinson-Briggs.

The official filing deadline for the June 4 primary is 4 p.m. on April 1. Locally, four-year terms for mayor and the Fourth Ward City Council seat are up for election, as well as 68 seats on the Democratic City Committee (34 male and 34 female seats). Other seats include three for Union County freeholder, two for State Assembly, one for State Senate and of course one for governor.

Independent candidates for any of these seats and school board candidates must file on June 4 in order to be on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election.

The Plainfield Public Library has copies of Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi's bright yellow brochure with all 2013 election dates, or you may click here to see them.


About the 2013 Budget

Tonight the City Council will vote on temporary budget appropriations for the month of April, meaning the budget process will take longer than the ideal first three months of the calendar year. No budget hearings have been scheduled and the 2013 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee has not yet been convened.

Finance Director Al Restaino made reassuring promises last week and maybe all will be well. One wonders, however, how thorough the process may be while the city is still relying on between five and seven hours per week of services from a part-time chief finance officer.

The city had a full-time, in-house CFO until Peter Sepelya left at the end of 2007. Three years then elapsed with no CFO. Dickering between the branches of government led to no outcome until the state Division of Local Government Services threatened daily fines for each council member and the mayor until a CFO was hired.

The November 2010 deadline was technically met with the hiring of Ron Zilinski, but he did not start until January 2011 and then was allowed to put in just 28 hours per week, with two days' actual presence in Plainfield. The SFY Fiscal Year 2011 budget passed in December, six months into the year that began July 1, 2010. Zilinski then served through TY 2011, a six-month "transition year" to put the city back on a calendar fiscal year.

But he and the city parted ways in January 2012 and in February 2012, the solution was to hire South Plainfield Borough Administrator and CFO Glenn Cullen to serve Plainfield on a part-time basis, five to seven hours per week, which is still the situation.

The CY 2012 budget process benefited by the presence of consultant David Kochel, who found and fixed many glitches. There was also the odd matter of City Administrator Eric Berry sending letters to the state attacking the governing body's amendments (read Plaintalker's commentary here). This writer expressed hope that the 2013 budget process would go better.

Will it? So far there has been no mention of the council having a consultant to help out. The CY 2012 budget passed in June 2012, closing a strange chapter in the city's fiscal history. City officials later could not provide various details, such as the tax impact on the owner of an average home or, at times, the tax rate itself.

Citizens need to be on high alert for budget shenanigans this year especially, as several key elections will take place in 2013. The process should be a straightforward accounting of revenues and costs and decisions based on the city's current and future fiscal health. May it be so.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mau Speaks

"Print journalism has its place. It's also fun to shred."

Mousie the cat, known lately as Mau, gets a mention in the Courier News today. Here's some history on Mousie/Mau.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Communication With Latinos Needs Improvement

When Fire Chief Frank Tidwell told the City Council last Monday that part of a federal grant would go toward Spanish lessons for firefighters, it reminded me of a survey taken in 2008 of Spanish-speaking staff in city offices.

You can read Plaintalker's entire post here. The conclusion at the time was that the city was short on bilingual staff, considering the high proportion of Spanish-speaking residents. Of course, since then the results of the 2010 Census have confirmed a large increase of Latino population in Plainfield, from 25.2 percent in 2000 to 40.4 percent in 2010.

Assimilation is taking place, but there are still many residents who have not learned English, and especially in fires or other public safety situations, basic communication is paramount.

In a related matter, it is unfortunate that the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs apparently disbanded or fell apart. The governing body approved legislation establishing the commission in 2005, but no members were appointed until June 2010. Nothing much has been heard from the commission since then and a council liaison reported being unable to get a meeting schedule for the commission.

I believe I heard Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs mention reactivating the commission when she gave her 2013 State of the City address in January, but so far no appointments have been proposed.

Certainly Plainfield can go along with parallel communities in its borders, each going its own way. But how much better would it be to find common ground, engage newcomers in civic affairs and share responsibility for what kind of city we have? Communication in crises is just a rudimentary step.


Print vs. Digital: A Tough Choice

Even though I have been reading the Courier News as an online subscriber for many months now, I sometimes wake up and start for the door to go get the paper off the porch. Instead, I have to sit down in front of a device that cost several hundred dollars to read it. And when the device fails, as it did last week, I have to pay more than $100 to get it going again.

Reading the newspaper is just one of my habits that has changed since print media folks started vaunting "digital platforms" or, as in the case of Newsweek, gave up print altogether.
I was given the balance of my subscription in online editions, but I can't get the password to work and anyway I was not happy with the magazine's snarky tone after the management changed.

The New Yorker is a different matter. I have relied on it for quite a few decades as a cultural guide and curator, going back to the days when it cost well below a dollar per issue. When my renewal notice arrived and asked me either to choose between print or digital, or pay a whopping fee for both, I began weighing the options. Print editions tend to pile up, but they are supremely portable. A digital subscription would cut the clutter of half-read copies, but would not have the tactile appeal of print. I caved and got the dual option, mainly just to put off making a choice.

Now the Kindle is a digital godsend, especially when a book has 600- to 800-plus pages and tries the capacity of my arthritic fingers to hold it. I recently read "Far From the Tree" on the Kindle, but took it out of the library to see how the chapters were arranged on paper. A big chunky book, it would have been very unwieldy for me to read in bed, with its tendency to slip out of my grip and make me lose my place.

So even though I am further along the continuum of digital acceptance than many people my age, I still have nowhere near the nimbleness of early adopters in younger generations. It's true that papers nowadays don't make that solid "thunk" on the porch that means it's time to brew some coffee and see what's new in the world, but I miss the routine. A keyboard and a screen are just not the same as ink on paper. Come to think of it, if I hadn't had to cancel due to someone continually swiping my paper off said porch, I would probably still be a print subscriber.

Well, thanks anyway for reading the blog online. It beats hell out of having to hand out one story at a time on paper. If you are facing a choice between print and digital versions of your longtime favorite reading matter, maybe the blogs are the "gateway" to digital habits. What do you think?


Friday, March 8, 2013


 Women's Day

Park & Seventh: Still Dangerous

Traffic enhancements at one of the city's busiest intersection continue to fall to accidents, pointing up the ongoing danger.

Sometime overnight both of these signs got knocked down on the northeast corner of Park & Seventh. The base of a stanchion near the crosswalk is all that remains from a previous accident. The corner was designated for  major signal improvements in 2008 after being deemed one of the most dangerous intersections investigated by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. The corner had 12 accidents in 2005 and 2006.

The Park Avenue corridor joins Middlesex, Union and Somerset counties and has high pedestrian traffic from nearby schools and businesses. When improvements took place in 2009, the road was striped over the lumpy remains of water company repairs because of the high volume of traffic. The surface was later repaired and re-striped.

The broken stanchion has yet to be fixed. There was also a big accident that took out a light pole on the northwest corner in August. In that case, city Signal Bureau workers restored the light.

Looking at the corner Thursday, it appeared a vehicle climbed the sidewalk and clipped one sign, then veered back into the street after taking down the second sign. Miraculously, the storefront of Park News was spared this time, but has been hit in the past.

As a senior, I have often waited through changing traffic lights to cross the street safely. Drivers seem to put their own needs above the rules at this intersection, and even though pedestrians have the right of way, I never want to challenge a hurtling Escalade or somesuch whose driver is in a big hurry.

Let's hope repairs are timely for the sake of all traffic, but especially for students, seniors and all others on foot.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Armory Conversion Talks Begin

A capacity crowd filled City Hall Library Wednesday for a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on the proposed conversion of the Plainfield Armory to a Head Start preschool child care facility.

HOPES CAP Inc. purchased the Armory from the state last year. The organization wants to consolidate its programs in three other locations to the Armory, which would permit use of an existing gymnasium and construction of a kitchen. Children would also have an outdoor playground and classrooms would be fitted with smart boards and other state-of-the-art classroom features, presenters said.

The preschool program would serve 270 children, with a staff of 76. Attorney Daniel Bernstein cited numerous laws that define such a program as an "inherently beneficial use."

HOPES President and CEO Ora Welch said the program has been in Plainfield since 2009 and is mandated to provide services "to overcome the causes of poverty" and to help children of low-income families "reach a level of competency to compete or be prepared for kindergarten."

She and other program officials stressed the need for board approval before March 31 in order to meet deadlines for funding the renovations, but the hearing could not be completed Wednesday and a special meeting was set for March 19. The board agreed to meet at 7 p.m. on that date, but the location will be posted on the back door of City Hall that night in a ploy to avoid having to give new public notice of the meeting.

Board members expressed concern about increased traffic and Chairman Scott Belin pointedly asked whether the proposal was for a school, which is not a permitted use. Told it was a preschool, Belin said, "So it's a school."

But Evelyn Motley, Director of early Childhood Programs for the Plainfield school district, said it was licensed as a child care facility. Funding from the district goes to Head Start as a provider of services.

HOPES staffers said use of a 50-passenger bus and nearby public transportation would cut down on traffic to the site. Hours of operation would begin at 7:30 a.m. and close at 5:30 p.m., except for parent-teacher conferences or children's programs at night.

Motley praised the Head Start operation as a very collaborative and productive partner of the public schools. She cited its certified teachers and high standards for nutrition, safety and parental involvement as reasons why the program helps "close the achievement gap."

At the special meeting, the board expects to hear from a traffic expert. City staff said a report from the Police Division suggested a one-way pattern of parent drop-offs. Parents will have to park, escort their children into the school, sign in and leave, a process that Head Start staff said would take five or ten minutes.

After the meeting, HOPES board member Corey Brown said he was confident the group would be "victorious," calling the application "a good and solid plan" and "a necessity for the community."

Plaintalker will try to alert readers to a new location for the special meeting as soon as possible.


"Telephone Building" Gets Approvals

A Landmark Developers project at 109 East Fourth Street received a use variance and preliminary site plan approval Wednesday after Zoning Board of Adjustment members queried arrangements for parking and handicapped access.

The building takes up its entire lot next to the main train station. Demolishing a one-story structure at the rear will allow for one handicapped parking space and some private open space for the tenants of the proposed eight apartments. Architect Jose Carballo explained that the board's desire for mixed use, with commercial space on the ground floor, was not feasible due to safety concerns, because there is only one entrance at the front.

The board wanted the developer to purchase parking slots in nearby municipal lots, but Carballo said there may be tenants without cars and suggested having tenants purchase parking slots rather than have costs passed on to some who did not need parking.

The parking accommodation has been requested for other downtown projects, even though parking is not required in the downtown.

There will not be any affordable housing in the building, Carballo said in answer to a board member's question.

Landmark, headed by developer Frank Cretella, has nearly a dozen projects in Plainfield in various stages. Each is under a separate limited liability corporation.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Campbell Jr. Seeks Assembly Seat

All those who have been speculating where John Campbell Jr. will land on the political charts can now cross him off the potential mayoral list - he is mounting an Assembly campaign, according to PolitickerNJ. Click here to read the article.

The article states he is targeting Democrat Linda Stender, but actually there are two Assembly representatives in District 22, the other incumbent being Jerry Green. The top two winners get the seats, so even if he campaigns against one, he could displace the other if he gets enough votes.

These Republican forays against entrenched Democrats tend to be sacrificial rather than fair fights, but one never knows.

If this is old news, I apologize. I was without a computer for most of Tuesday and probably missed a lot.


Hear Renowned Professor on Learning Tonight

Educators, parents and others interested in learning should take advantage of an opportunity tonight to hear an expert in a program dedicated to the memory of the late Herb Green, a tireless advocate for education.

The program is sponsored by the Plainfield League of Women Voters, which Green headed as its first male president and then again for a second term in recent years.

See details here:

On Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:30 pm, the League of Women Voters of Plainfield will present its First Annual Herbert Green Forum on Education, with guest speaker Dr. Arnold L. Glass, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Rutgers University. The talk will take place in the Anne Louise Davis Room at the Plainfield Public Library, located at 800 Park Avenue in Plainfield.

Dr. Glass, whose research focuses on cognitive learning, heads the Learning and Memory Laboratory of the Department of Psychology at Rutgers, and he has published widely in the American Journal of Psychology, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Memory and Cognition, and other professional journals.
The Herbert Green Forum on Education is named in memory of our beloved colleague, who died recently at the age of 87 after a brave battle with cancer. This event is free and open to the public, and the League especially encourages educators to attend to hear Dr. Glass's presentation. Refreshments will be served after the talk.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Visit the website at

(Plaintalker will be monitoring the Zoning Board of Adjustment, where the applicants include the new owners of the Armory and developer Frank Cretella, who hopes to convert a former telephone company building next to the main train station to apartments. The meeting is 7 p.m. in City Hall Library.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

City Owes Condo Fees, Council Not Ready To Approve

The city must pay condo fees for the Senior Center, but Corporation Counsel David Minchello said the question of other costs is moot.

In a discussion Monday, Finance Director Al Restaino said he provided the City Council with excerpts from the master deed for the Senior Center that spell out the city's obligation to pay for maintenance of common areas. When Councilman William Reid questioned whether there was a contract, Minchello said the master deed "acts as a contract."

"We in essence agreed to pay our condo fees," he said.

Councilman Cory Storch recalled some disputed matters in the building's construction, including solar panels and a rooftop garden, and asked whether that affected the fee payment.

"Are we in litigation?" he asked.

Minchello's predecessor, former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, had alluded to talks with the developer on other costs before Williamson left in 2012 to become executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. But Minchello said Monday, "My position is that we do not owe anything above and beyond, but that we are obligated to pay the condo fees."

The city has occupied the center since late 2009 and a prior bill from the developer included back payments of condo fees as well as fit-out costs, but the proposed resolution Monday was just for condo fees in 2013 at the rate of $2,750 monthly. The $33,000 annual fee was proposed for payment earlier this year, but the item was not moved to the agenda for a vote.

Council members questioned the formula Monday for the fee. The center is counted as 13.94 percent of the building, which has three floors of residential condos above and also a small ground-floor portion reserved for a veterans' center. The city will also be liable for condo fees when it takes possession of the veterans' center, which is currently being used by the developer as a sales office for the condos.

Restaino said he would contact the developer regarding the formula for assessment of maintenance costs.

Minchello repeated, there is no pending litigation and no arbitration. His position, he said, is that the city will not arbitrate.

With failure to get a consensus of four members to move the item to the March 11 agenda, it was dropped, at least for March.


Blogging Will be Spotty

Dear readers,

I came home last night to find my son had gone on a site that let a virus take over the laptop. I will be using alternate means to blog for a while, so please have patience.

I will be trying to post later about the council meeting. The Dornoch condo fee resolution will not be moved to Monday's regular meeting for a vote. There was also a discussion item regarding issuance of a new club license to serve liquor, but many questions arose. The action needed first is to amend the liquor license ordinance to allow a new club license. Corporation Counsel David Minchello and City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh will research the matter and bring their fndings back to the council. Applicant Dawud Hicks cited his long involvement with youth and sports and said he needs revenues from the club to continue his work.

More later on these topics and other items of interest.

Sorry for the inconvenience.


Monday, March 4, 2013

On Answering Citizens' Questions

A new feature of City Council meetings this year is that questions from the public are taken down, researched and answered at a subsequent meeting. Plaintalker has a few comments on that process.

First of all, the interval between meetings now that there is only one agenda-fixing and one regular meeting can vary from a week to three weeks. And while there are a few regulars who attend every meeting,  research meeting documents at the public library in advance and may even preview topics on blogs, many people come with specific neighborhood issues such as speeding on their block or road conditions. Another segment includes individuals who have longstanding grievances against certain public employees and bring them to the council venue for airing in public and on local television.

So the first group is usually around at subsequent meetings. One hopes the next type of questioner may get contacted after the meeting for more specifics and a phone number for follow-up. The last group may never be satisfied with whatever answer the administration comes up with, short of a public flogging or worse, so we will leave them out of the commentary.

How likely is it that the middle group will return to a subsequent meeting at some time remove from the one where they asked the question? Possible, but not too likely. Those citizens really need a one-on-one response if at all feasible, so they can share it with their neighbors who also suffer the same problem.

The first group, the regulars, probably will be in attendance and perhaps the answers they get will be of general interest. They may be raising policy questions, though sometimes, as in the case of one individual, the goal is mainly to keep up public interest and concern about a single issue, i.e., the lack of a full-service hospital in Plainfield.

At the Feb. 11 regular meeting, Rev. Jason Greer voiced concerns on two topics. One was the proposed concession stand at Joe Black Field, which has been a bone of contention ever since it became known that the $71,000 pre-fab concrete structure would require additional preparation and installation costs that would drive up the total to nearly $200,000. Greer was objecting to Councilman William Reid's notion that a lunch truck could have served just as well. Reid is a tenacious arguer when he wants to contradict something and voted "no" on the resolution after speaking at length about alternatives.

Greer was not exactly tilting at windmills, but at this late juncture, no matter how the purchase of the stand came about, the city was apparently obligated to concede on the ancillary costs, as witnessed by the "yes" votes of the other six council members.

Greer was also perturbed by the hiring of a new, non-resident tax collector who was also given the title of tax search officer.

His concern was such that Plaintalker sought to reassure him after the meeting that the person named knew the city well and had previously served here in the same role. The second title was not a whole extra job, but a statutory title for a specific function.

Greer had worried that the candidate might not be "pro-city" and would have "too much power" with two titles and as a non-resident would not show enough interest in the city.

The issue of non-residency had been a hot one up until 2006, when top posts all went to individuals who were granted waivers of residency. The requirement for a non-resident city employee to move here within a specified time, with exceptions for public safety staff, is still on the books, but waivers have been granted to those with highest salaries and greatest responsibilities ever since it became a non-issue in 2006.

This explanation was not meant to condone the practice, but simply to point out it had become the rule rather than the exception and the new guy was not getting any speical advantage.

Anyway, I hoped a few words of explanation from my long view of city government might prevent Rev. Greer from going away thinking somebody was pulling a fast one on the citizens in this case.

Tonight, three weeks later, if Rev. Greer is present, he can hear the official response.