Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Everything's Coming Up Roses At City Hall Plaza

Can you see the Yews? The hedge at City Hall that was severely pruned for rejuvenation is now taking a back seat to Knockout Roses and Coreopsis. Both promise lots of color through summer and early fall while the Yews develop new growth.

Click here for the "before" photo. It will take about 18 months for the Yews to fill out. Meanwhile, stop by and smell the roses!


Blogs - Check Them Out

If you haven't already read it, take a look at Councilman Cory Storch's blog post on his interview with the Charter Study Commission. He sums up his points well, and it is always better to have an elected official's own words than to have them recounted by someone else.

 It is not easy to keep up a blog, as the 25 or so former city bloggers might attest. Few posted on a daily basis, but former Councilwoman Annie McWilliams used her blog well to amplify her views on pending legislation and on city government, as did former Councilman Rashid Burney. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams does the same with her blog and also has other blogs of interest. See Councilman Adrian Mapp's blog here as well.

Some say blogs are already old-fashioned, and Twitter now rules online communication. Could be, if everything you need to say fits within 140 characters. I for one appreciate the longer form when it comes to hearing from city officials and wish more would use it.

Unlike a web site, which generally needs a web master to keep it going, a blog can be set up easily through Blogger or other providers. Citizens or groups can set one up easily. Maria and Dr. Yood blog often, and of course Dan has Plainfield Today in addition to aggregating others on CLIPS.

If you have views on city government or other Plainfield topics, give blogging a try. It can be a way to become engaged and engage others in helping to make the city the best it can be. And by the way, Plaintalker II and its predecessor, Plainfield Plaintalker, both have searchable archives where you can look up topics by using the box in the upper left corner. Pick a topic and try it sometime!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shakespeare Garden Welcomes Helpers, Visitors

The Plainfield Garden Club launched its new Saturdays in the Shakespeare Garden schedule today, welcoming anyone interested in helping to pull weeds and maintain the renowned garden in Cedar Brook Park.
Each of the garden's 10 sections had a guide prepared for visitors.
Club member Marty Dyke admired tulips and violas that are new this spring. These plants and daffodils have been made safe from deer depredation this year with Plantskydd repellent.
These daffodils amplified the April sunshine for the garden's opening.
Click here to read about these very special daffodils.
Co-chair Susan Fraser said the club is working on restoring the original Olmsted design for the garden.
Members are working with this guide to original plantings. Co-chair Mandy Zachariades said the group has a  "fantastic relationship" with Union County Parks staff on garden projects.
"They do anything I want," she said.
County workers replaced the old pergola in the garden using grant funds raised by the club (story here). Roses and honeysuckle are now climbing over it.
Mark your calendar now for the next Saturday session, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 11, and for the June 1 "Shakespeare-in-Bloom" event. To learn more about the Plainfield Garden Club, click here.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hellwig: Police and Fire Need Civilian Directors

Thursday's meeting of the Charter Study Commission had many interesting aspects, but perhaps none so intriguing as Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig's suggestion that there should be civilian directors over each of the department's two divisions, Police and Fire.

Hellwig's views came out in responses to the question, "Does Plainfield need the Department of Public Affairs & Safety in its current form?" as well as to additional questions by CSC Commissioner Mary Burgwinkle. Up until the current administration, this department had a civilian director over Police and Fire chiefs. The position of Police Chief was abolished in 2008, leaving captain as the highest rank attainable. The department had also included Health, Inspections, Recreation and other social service divisions until a reorganization in the 1990s.

Hellwig, who held previous law enforcement titles in Essex  County, said he stopped going to police chief meetings there because "the chiefs did not have the best interest of the community at heart" and instead had a "me, me, me" attitude. Coming to Plainfield, he said he had no idea he would become police director and  alluded to a "culture" in the each division that led him to believe they have to have "someone outside to take charge."

Hellwig said when he turned back $20,000 in unexpended budget funds, the former police chief and captains challenged him. He alluded to "hiding money" and feelings of "self-interest and self-preservation" in the Police Division and suggested Police and Fire need civilian directors to run each on a day-to-day basis.

After Hellwig answered the 22 interview questions, Burgwinkle said she had read his resume and found it very impressive. She asked him how many municipalities have civilian police directors and he said "between six and eight." Asked whether they were large or small, he mentioned Hillside, Newark and Elizabeth as examples. Saying a "strong individual" is needed to deal with police divisions, he said they tend to push oversight away and "civilian oversight is definitely needed."

 The title of police director was established in 2008 after the office of police chief was abolished. Hellwig was allowed to hold the title in acting capacity for one year in addition to being Public Safety director and was named permanent police director in March 2009. His term was to be concurrent with that of the mayor, ending on Dec. 31, 2009. The mayor won re-election for a second term beginning Jan. 1, 2010. Hellwig was reappointed to both titles, but no salary ordinance for police director was passed until early 2010. As police director under the department head title he also holds, in effect he reports to himself. He only draws one salary.

Burgwinkle asked Thursday which title he preferred and Hellwig said although the position of police director was "extremely rewarding," he would simply rather be the Public Safety director.

Asked which way was the best organization for Plainfield, Hellwig suggested a civilian director for the Police Division and one for the Fire Division, both reporting to the city administrator. One advantage, he said, was that a civilian director could be discharged, while a chief cannot.

Unlike the Police Division, the Fire Division is still headed by a chief. Frank Tidwell was named to the post in 2011. See posts here and here.

Thursday's meeting also included interesting interviews with City Council members Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams. Their responses, as well as Hellwig's, will be posted on the CSC blog. Recordings of the interviews are also available.


Thursday, April 25, 2013


Flower clusters loaded with pollen are falling off the huge Ash tree at the rear of our building and more will be falling soon from the towering Oak tree in the front yard. Windborne tree pollen is in the air and those of us who are allergic to it are having reactions: Sneezing, itchy eyes, drippy nose and general malaise. To all my fellow sufferers, have courage, this too shall pass. Meanwhile, rest quietly, take allergy pills if you can and stay indoors as much as possible.


Condolences To The Mapp Family

Our condolences to Councilman Adrian Mapp and Amelia Mapp on the loss of Mrs. Mapp's mother, Gloria Morris.

Services will be held Friday. See details here.

May fond memories be with you always.


CSC Meets Tonight

The Charter Study Commission meets tonight (Thursday, April 25) at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Interviewees scheduled for tonight are Martin Hellwig, director of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety since January 2006; Councilman Cory Storch, now serving his third term representing the Second Ward; and Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who holds the Second and Third Wards at-large seat.

Click here for tonight's agenda.

The CSC blog also has summaries of past interviews with numerous officials, as well as links to background material on charters and the charter change process.

Each meeting of the Commission has a portion for public comment.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Doing the Math in District 22

Being hyperlocal and all, Plaintalker normally sticks to municipal election coverage, but a quote on District 22 has aroused our curiosity.

Fellow blogger Dr. Harold Yood noted Assemblyman Jerry Green's quote that District 22 has "47,000 registered Democrats compared to 15,200 Republicans," this in rebuffing Assemblyman Jon Bramnick's estimation that Republican political newcomer John Campbell Jr. has a chance of winning an Assembly seat
this year.

The quote came from an April 17 Politicker NJ article which did not verify the actual distribution of registered voters in the district, so Plaintalker decided to look into it. After poking around for a while, Plaintalker turned up the District 22 results from 2011, posted in the state Division of Elections. The total number of registered voters in the district then was 116,646. Could the number have declined to 62,200 or so since the last Assembly race? What about unaffiliated voters?

Click here to see the entire chart. First of all, it shows that barely a quarter of those registered actually voted. In addition, Republican Joan Van Pelt garnered 10,846 votes to Green's 14,057, rather a respectable showing for what Green tries to portray as a feeble GOP minority in the district. Further, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, the theoretical target of the young GOP contender, did better than Green at the polls, a trend Plaintalker has seen in the past as well. So between the two Democrats, Green may be at more of a risk of being beaten by a GOP candidate than Stender.

This chart shows that portions of the district favored GOP candidates. With Gov. Chris Christie at the top of the ticket, GOP turnout could be greater in 2013 than it was in 2011. And then there were those Democrats who voted for Christie the last time and may be voting across party lines in other races, as is their choice in a November general election.

In 2011, 2,808 of registered voters out of a possible 20,736 in Plainfield voted for Green, contrasted to  3,913 for Stender. Van Pelt outpolled Green in the Middlesex and Somerset portions of the district and in two of the seven municipalities in Union County. Of course, Green and Stender won after all, so maybe the Dems have no worries. But Green needs to keep an eye on the numbers, and better yet, get a grip on them. This may be a year where political math really counts.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Church Tour, Library Exhibit Show City's Faith

Grace Episcopal Church
Early on in my days as a reporter, I worked a Tuesday-Sunday week and often had assignments in city churches. It gave me a sense of Plainfield as a place of strong faith, with congregations that created some magnificent church homes.

Property records at City Hall showed about 100 houses of worship and in my travels I came across maybe as many as another 100 more small religious groups meeting in storefronts, church basements or even schools while they worked toward achieving an edifice of their own. I learned of revivals in tents or in the old Strand Theater, processions through the streets and witnessing in public.

On Saturday, visitors can get a glimpse of the institutions that have sustained the city through decades and centuries. The simple Friends Meeting House that dates back to 1788 and some richly decorated churches  built in the 19th Century are among nine sites on a tour. Mark Spivey gives all the details in this article.

The Plainfield Public Library has a related exhibit, Building Faith in Plainfield: Exploring the City’s History Through its Houses of Worship, presented by the Local History Department. From Sarah Hull of that department:
Over 150 photographs, vintage postcards, original blueprints, artifacts, and ephemera representing 36 local houses of worship will be on public display throughout the Library. Original photographs, as well as prints made from glass plate and 8” x 10” film negatives, are from the Library’s vast Historical Photograph Collection. Materials date from the 1790s to the 1970s. The exhibition will run through June 2013.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Does UCIA Owe "PILOT" Money?

Among the 99 comments posted so far on a Star-Ledger article about Charlotte DeFilippo, one alleges that the authority she heads has dodged paying money owed on the downtown Park-Madison building:

"The Union County Improvement Authority, under her direction, screwed the City of Plainfield in a big downtown development deal. They never completed all of the requirements in the developer agreement nor what was required by the Planning Board. The City is too scared of her to get this resolved. Until these things are finished the UCIA IS NOT paying the $200,000+ due annually to Plainfield for the payment in lieu of tax. Umm since 2006 - till now =$1,400,000 through 2012! Any other developer would have been in court and had their project closed down."

 Besides being executive director of the Union County Improvement Authority, DeFilippo is also the formidable chairman of the Union County Democratic Party. If in fact a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement is not being honored, will any local Democrats dare ask why?

DeFilippo last month decreed that incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs would not get the party line in the 2013 June primary, echoing a similar last-minute dumping in 2005 of the two-term  incumbent's predecessor, the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. Blogger Dan Damon,writing about the recent opening of 2013 Democratic Party headquarters across from the Park-Madison building, suggested this: "You may want to speak to Assemblyman Green about getting UCIA approval for use of the parking deck by the public during the primary campaign season." In other words, Green, also the Plainfield Democratic Party chairman, should ask his county political superior for this favor. DeFilippo is probably too astute to fall for that particular okey-doke, i.e., giving access to a public building for political purposes, but even the suggestion confirms who has the power.

In the early days of the Robinson-Briggs administration, the UCIA was entrusted with responsibility for major economic development in Plainfield. But questions lingered over the Park-Madison site, which was occupied despite failure to fulfill numerous conditions imposed by the Planning Board. In addition, although the governing body was promised full review and approval of other UCIA projects, some faded into oblivion without any public accounting. See Plaintalker posts here and here. 

DeFilippo flipped off Local Finance Board Chairman Tom Neff's concerns about her role as "election year nonsense." Neff is a Republican appointee and Gov. Chris Christie is running for re-election, so that dart was an easy one for DeFilippo to throw in her role as county Democratic Party chairman. But given her seemingly absolute power over local politics, would she also skewer anyone in her own party who dared to raise embarrassing questions about the UCIA? The last audit report for the city contained the repeat recommendation "That efforts be made to collect delinquent Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) receivables." If UCIA is indeed among the delinquent payers, will the city make that effort?


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Commentary on Danger and Terror

Horrific events in Boston and West, Texas dominated the news this week and left a nation hurting. How could young men plot and carry out a scheme intended to kill and maim many at what would otherwise be a celebratory occasion with participants from around the world? How could a small community nestle next to a facility that contained such potential to destroy lives and property?

These questions and many more related to those events will take years to unravel and explain. But while listening to the interminable offering up of incidental details and speculation in radio news coverage, my mind wandered to some local examples of danger and outcomes.

What do you think when you hear the name of Picatinny Arsenal? Years ago, it was a scary place to think about. I found the source of those lingering fears in this Department of Defense article online. Twenty-one killed, 53 injured - a Congressional investigation and establishment of a safety board ensued. The Arsenal is still there and except for a 2008 incident that led to further safeguards, it is a job-producing good neighbor to Skylands communities. See its web site here.

My other thoughts had to do with what goes on in the mind of a young person that leads to violent behavior. The person I was thinking about was a student in a special school where I once worked. Handsome, with a winning smile, he was already warring with demons inside that made his personality turn on a dime. The upshot was a fascination with power and control. A sheet of math problems could turn him to jelly and he often deflected his fears by running away, knowing he could force adults to stop what they were doing to focus on getting him back inside the school.

It was almost touching when this very recalcitrant student asked for help with spelling one day, given his bravado in the classroom. But his question turned out to be "How do you spell 'armed and dangerous'?"

He told several of us that when he grew up, he intended to find us and kill us. Tough talk from a kid, even one with big issues. No matter how he tried to turn everything into a power play, we assured him we stood ready to help him learn and grow as a person.

The school employed a behavior modification system that was in effect a contract between the student and staff aimed at increasing a child's sense of responsibility for his or her actions. One day this person decided to destroy the chart that documented his iffy quest toward these goals. When I tried to preserve the chart, he bit me on my upper arm so hard that it was bruised for weeks. At a conference with his mother present, he couldn't help smiling slyly when this choice was discussed.

He won whatever battle that represented to him, because I decided I was no match for his demons, not even close. I left the school for safer employment while raising my own two children. Years later, it still made me shiver to think of this child as a young man loose in the world with such rage in his heart. I hoped and prayed he found relief and had gone on to have a happier life.

This child wore his anger on his sleeve, so to speak, but now authorities must probe the lives of two seemingly well-adjusted young men to find the seed of hate that led them to plot the killing of others in a way intended to crush the spirits of many more. One is dead, one lies grievously wounded. But what killed or wounded their humanity in the first place?

Churches will be full of calls for peace and love this weekend and certainly Bostonians have already rejoiced at being loosed from fear of two who would terrify their city. The weeks ahead will bring many explorations of good and evil in human behavior and whether we as individuals or nations should, in the face of evil, hunker down or extend a hand for amity. On this particular planet, the question remains unanswered.


Friday, April 19, 2013


As most of us go about our business in Plainfield, we pass others whose only business is survival. They may get their clothes from metal collection boxes, their food from church kitchens, their shelter from abandoned buildings. Often we only notice them when they turn up in the news as bodies found after fires or, as in Mark Spivey's article today, the object of police response.

The two men who apparently got in a knife fight over squatting rights are not unusual, even though they are described as living practically next door to police headquarters. Just steps from City Hall there are others in abandoned or boarded buildings on East Sixth Street and Park & Seventh.. Officials at City Hall have instituted use of a key to the men's room to keep them out, and other public places such as the library have had damage to their sinks and toilets by homeless people.

The most extreme example I have seen was a man who lived in a bicycle box on Municipal Lot 7 before police removed him and the box a few years ago. There were squatters in the "Telephone Building" next to the main train station that is now being converted to apartments. The former office building on the southwest corner of Park & Seventh has been stripped of salable metal by squatters who keep finding ways to get in.

I can just imagine that other neighborhoods across the city have the same problem with homeless people in their midst. There is just not enough cheap, single-room or congregate housing for this population. Shelters either have too many rules to suit some or may even be risky places to stay. At present, homeless people are mainly left to themselves to get by as best they can, alerting each other to resources and trying to be "family" for each other.

Plainfield politicians often rail against the city's perceived use as a "dumping ground" for people with various needs, but most urban centers (as Plainfield is designated by the state) have a spectrum of population that includes temporarily or chronically homeless people. They get public attention at intervals, such as when a count is conducted, but day to day they are largely invisible.

If you know of a homeless person and want to help, here is a starting point.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Follow Improvements In City Hall

Visitors to City Hall can now view a large display detailing improvements to the plaza in front of the building.
It includes a key to the plantings as well as photos of the roses and coreopsis and information on Yews.
Construction is moving along and the steps are being re-grouted and cleaned. Take a look when you go by!


Town Meeting Topics Run Gamut

Besides raising the issue of taxes on the Muhlenberg campus (reported here), residents counted Sandy storm cleanup, loitering, gang influence on youth, dog owners' dereliction, Planning Division overload and skateboarding among their concerns at Wednesday's City Council Second Ward Town Meeting.

Resident Cathy Battle said she lost "three cars with one tree" in the Oct. 29 storm and she believes a city Public Works vehicle hit her rental car. She said trees are still down and her household income can't cover the high cost of removal. If roots had not been cut by the city, she said, "the trees would never had a domino effect."

Shade Tree Commission Chairman Peter Simone was in the audience and assured her that the 80-mile-per-hour winds of the storm more likely caused the trees to fall. Noting residents' worries about planting new trees, Simone said the commission was recommending smaller street trees as replacements and offered to come talk to Battles' neighbors about their concerns.

Thornton Avenue resident Dawud Hicks complained that dog owners are permitting pets to defecate on school grounds and playing fields.

"I just don't think that's right," he said, noting his four daughters can hardly get in his vehicle after school without stepping in dog droppings.

(Note to Mr. Hicks: There is an ordinance, Sec. 5:7-1 (c) of the Municipal Code, holding owners responsible to clean up after their dogs. Maybe enforcement is the problem.)

Hicks also said boys as young as 11 can be seen giving "gang" handshakes and called for greater gang awareness and prevention.

Resident Bob Bolmer and two others talked about loitering and panhandling around Park & Seventh. Bolmer called for more walking patrols and Bob Darden said a longtime business there is leaving June 1 due to "hoods" hanging around. Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig said police were taking notice and were working with some of the merchants there.

Darden called for a forensic audit of city finances, alleging "money going under the table and out the door" and chided the council for not yet having a 2013 budget.

Bolmer also said skateboarders now using library grounds and the downtown Park-Madison plaza need a place of their own.

Resident Maria Pellum urged the council to consider the burdens on the Planning Division when passing the budget. She gave a lengthy list of duties that the division's two planners, one part-time intern and one secretary have to carry out and asked the governing body not to shortchange the Planning Division.

On the bright side, Spear remarked on new street signs that Netherwood Heights neighbors purchased and also on new bollards that light up to help residents cross South Avenue. A crosswalk will also be installed to enhance pedestrian safety.

The Third Ward Town Meeting is 7 p.m. May 22 at Cedarbrook School and the Fourth Ward Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. June19 at Jefferson School. Residents of any ward may attend the meetings and share their concerns with the City Council.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Move Afoot To Seek Taxes on Muhlenberg Campus

Nearly five years after Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed its doors, city officials are examining whether property taxes can be imposed on the property at Park Avenue and Randolph Road.

At a City Council town meeting Wednesday night, resident Jim Spear reminded the council that Muhlenberg had asked to have its license withdrawn in 2008 and said the city should be asking for taxes on the property. City Administrator Eric Berry  declined to talk about it in the absence of legal counsel, but Councilman Adrian Mapp said he had asked the tax assessor last fall for an update on the need for the city to assess the property. Mapp said at this time it is a "work in progress."

Councilman Cory Storch said although some elected officials believed citizens would come after them "with flaming torches" if they proposed anything but a full medical use, the city was not going to get Muhlenberg back the way it was.

Mapp said the city needs a "reasonable assessed valuation" soon and he wanted to have the tax assessor come before the governing body, but Spear said he was "not sure that is the right thing" to put pressure on  (the owners, now known as JFK Health System).

"It is my view that we have to do it," Mapp said. "We have the right to tax any property not being used for a public purpose."

A proposal to put 600 luxury apartments on the Muhlenberg site was floated in March 2012, with a publicity campaign including a "Muhlenberg Moving Forward" web site and public meetings. Residents in the neighborhoods around the site roundly criticized the idea and JFK Health System has made no application to land use boards for project approvals.

The council recently approved $60,000 for a Planning Division study of possible uses for the property. An emergency room on the Muhlenberg campus is scheduled to close in August. Other uses at the site include a nursing school and a dialysis center, which Dr. Harold Yood described Wednesday as for-profit uses.


Urban Robin

A pair of robins is building a nest in a Pieris Japonica bush near our front porch. Robins are skilled nest builders and at first I thought this was a very sketchy effort for their kind. Turns out this is a work in progress, but the robins are scrounging for materials.
Instead of just twigs and plant fiber, they are using bits of trash, including this piece from the kind of government mail with perforated tear-off strips. (Click on photo to enlarge.)  I left out some yarn strands for their use.

Click here for an overview of how robins build a nest. My neighbor and I are hoping to see baby robins someday soon!


Second Ward A Mixed Bag

As a resident of the Second Ward for some time now, I wonder why it is characterized so often as a haven for "rich, white liberals."

My block is dominated by apartment buildings where many people of moderate means are just getting by in these times. Behind City Hall there are several blocks of small, modest homes. The historic district just north of my street has some distinctive homes, but they tend to be conversions to multi-family dwellings owned by absentee landlords.

The point is, Second Ward residents represent just as much a spectrum as any other ward. It is not all tea parties and gala soirees over here, believe me. My neighbors have the same hopes and struggles as any other Plainfielders.

What will it take before the lingering artificial barriers among the wards and the West End/East End dichotomy fade in favor of working on issues that affect us all? If you do not live in the Second Ward but come to the Town Meeting tonight, you will not see society matrons and top-hatted millionaires. You will see people whose hearts are in the same place as yours, people who want a better city for all: A safer, cleaner, more economically viable place to live, where all have access to outstanding parks and a wide range of cultural events, and elected officials who are responsive to residents' concerns.

To start with the last, come out tonight and meet your City Council, 7 p.m. at Cook School. They all want to hear from all of you.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Town Hall Meeting

City Council
Second Ward Town Meeting
7 p.m. Wednesday April 17
Cook School
739 Leland Ave.
All residents are welcome

Seven Weeks To Primary

Sharon vs. Adrian: The Rematch will take place on June 4. Meanwhile, expect to see and hear a lot of campaign stuff, not all of it true or nice. The best thing a voter can do is to look at each candidate's record and decide which might be more capable of being mayor for the next four years.

The Democratic primary winner will still face a challenge from Republican Sandy Spector and any independents who file on June 4. But in this city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to 1, folk wisdom says winning a Democratic primary usually means taking the seat in November.

Past campaigns have been marred by mean, anonymous tactics. One always hopes supporters and detractors of candidates will focus on issues of governance and not stoop to spite or slander. We'll soon find out what backers of these two want to tell us, and more importantly what the candidates have to say for themselves.


The Nation Mourns Again

Anything local is dwarfed right now by the attack in Boston. Horror met valor in the response. Now the stories of victims are emerging while authorities investigate the cause. Many lives were changed forever. We on the periphery must hold them all in our thoughts.

Monday, April 15, 2013

When Old Becomes New - and Confusing

So I went to Twin City to pick up some bleach and ran into one of those modern-day quirks where a staple product has morphed into choices I never heard of before.

The shelf had concentrated bleach, presumably based on the theory that reducing the volume of water in the product also cut down on transportation and other costs. And then it had the "New!" Ready-Use Bleach, billed as "Pre-Diluted" - apparently with the water added back.

If there was no mixing, no measuring, wasn't it the same as good old Regular Bleach? The value-added part  turned out to be a clever, pull-up spray cap, so one could just squirt bleach in a sink or tub.

Interestingly, the Ready-Use Bleach section was nearly empty, while the Concentrated Bleach was not moving off the shelf, so maybe the "New!" product was just the century-old one revisited after consumers shunned the concentrate.

Much has been written about the proliferation of sub-categories of common products today. It is sort of a mind-bleep to an older consumer or someone from another country to see half an aisle of the same product done up this way and that way when all you want is Regular or Standard.

The Clorox web site lists 27 kinds of cleaning and disinfecting products, including scented, foaming, germicidal, splash-less and of course regular, concentrated and pre-diluted bleach. Despite being mind-boggling to this septuagenarian, the web site is also quite clever and funny, especially regarding the kind of bodily mishaps that require bleach for cleanup (under Laugh, check out the Ick-tionary).

I could also tell you about my quest for plain old Bayer aspirin at Scott Drugs - suffice to say I could not understand the current choices and all their ramifications and cautions, so I left empty-handed.


Creature Feature!

Something about this tree on Park Avenue caught my eye Sunday.
The roots looked to me like a weird gator-like creature with a long snout and over-sized arms, creeping out of the base of the tree. Can you see the bulbous eyes and knobby head in the middle?


A New Take On Horse and Buggy Days

There may be nothing so nostalgic to Americans as the clip-clop of horses, harking back to the days of the milkman leaving cream-topped bottles on the doorstep.

Entrepreneur Olive Lynch plans to use two Percheron mares and a custom-made wagon that will bring the sound back to city streets, but with a 21st Century mission. In service of her Green Waste Technology venture, the horses and wagon will be used to pick up commercial and household food leftovers. The "buggy" part here is the use of Black Soldier Flies to process the food waste, yielding bio-fuel oil and agricultural protein meal.

Lynch is obtaining approvals from various state, county and city authorities for her business located in a former industrial site on West Front Street and anticipates starting up by June. She expects to grow produce and raise fish as another aspect of her business and believes the horses can also be used for tourism/promotional events in Plainfield.

To learn more, click here.

Lynch is also creating interest in her venture through quarterly e-mail updates. The latest one announces success in getting a certificate of occupancy for the premises at 1355 West Front St., Building 8; progress in getting a recycling license; building out the plant with structures and equipment for the operations; and meeting with the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority regarding a "strategic alliance."

Expect to hear more about this plan for novel re-use of a site in the city's long-fallow West End industrial corridor.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

More on Rowand Clark's Charter View

Rowand Clark, who served as city prosecutor in 1982-85, city solicitor for part of 1990 and corporation counsel in 1990-93, told the Charter Study Commission Thursday that the 1968 special charter was the then-controlling interests in Plainfield, Republicans and downtown businessmen, "to suppress the black vote." He cited a portion of the charter that set forth the sequence of terms starting in 1970 and said it took 12 years for change to take place. He advocated an election system in which all terms would be up at one time.

I was not here until 1983, but I looked up the section on terms and welcome comments from anyone who recalls who was on the council between 1970 and 1982. There certainly was a shift after that to a mainly Democrat, African-American council. The system of staggered terms also tends to keep a focus on the next election and the balance of power rather than governance, he suggested. We certainly see this in the struggle among Democratic factions to "count to four" on the council.

Below is the language of the special charter followed by a summary of the terms to 1982. Plaintalker welcomes comments on possible effects of the staggered term sequence versus a system where all seats are up at the same time.

2.3 Qualification; term.

(a) Each councilman shall be a legal voter of the city and a resident of the ward or wards from which he is elected, in the case of a ward councilman, or of any ward in the city in the case of an at-large councilman, for at least 1 year prior to his election.

(b) Each councilman shall serve for a term of 4 years beginning on January 1 next following his election except that of those first elected the first ward councilman shall be elected for a term of 1 year; second ward, 2 years; third ward, 3 years; fourth ward, 4 years; and councilman-at-large, 3 years; councilman-at-large from first and fourth wards, 2 years; and councilman-at-large from second and third wards, 1 year.

1970: First Ward and 2&3

71-74, 75-78

1970-71: Second Ward and 1&4

72-75, 76-79

1970-72: Third Ward and citywide

73-76, 77-80

1970-73: Fourth Ward and mayor

74-77, 78-81

Do you think political power struggles have taken away from attention to governance?


Friday, April 12, 2013

Clark, Kita Give Views on Charter

In remarks to the Charter Study Commission Thursday, two former city officials pressed the point that no document can prevent or cure animosity between a mayor and council, if the parties involved choose infighting over governing.

The Commission is several weeks into interviews of past officials on aspects of the city's special charter. Commissioners are posing the same 22 questions to each interviewee and responses are being posted on the CSC blog. One question is whether the charter could be improved in any way to enhance the working relationship between the mayor and City Council.

Rowand Clark, who served as city solicitor and prosecutor before becoming corporation counsel in Mayor Harold Mitchell's administration, said the present election system, a seven-member council with staggered terms, leaves mayors "trying to get their hands around four necks" for votes. If there was one cycle every four years instead of officials always looking to the next year's election, officials might "break from constant politicking to do some governing."

Former City Administrator Hank Kita answered the question by saying, "Short of making it a felony that they don't get along, I don't know how to do it."

He noted clashes in 1978 and a decade or so later, adding he hears that there is still fighting.

Another question was whether the corporation counsel could represent both the mayor and council. Clark said it couldn't happen "if the council is at war with the mayor." But Kita said "in the best of worlds" it was possible.

Clark said the main problem with the charter is that it was "fabricated" by a group that controlled the city at the time, mainly Republicans and downtown businessmen, "to suppress the black vote." In 1970, the mayor and all council members took office, but then every year some council members were elected and in four years there was a mayoral election. The sequence of elections was such that once that group got in, they never got out for 12 years, he said.

On replacing the system with non-partisan elections, Clark said, "My opinion is if you don't do it, you're nuts."

Kita generally took a more sanguine view of the charter, saying it is "a pretty straightforward document" that doesn't leave a lot to the imagination.

"Simplicity is one of the beauties of the document," he said comparing it to the U.S. Constitution.

It did not hinder him from carrying out his role, he said, though adding, "if you want to get into personalities and political tussles, that's another matter."

Dr. Yood and Dan were also present Thursday. Check their blogs for other observations.

A full transcript of the interviews will be posted on the CSC blog. The next meeting will be 7:30 p.m. on April 25 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. Check the CSC blog for more details.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

RISK Rolls By

Could this graffiti be by the famous tagger RISK?

Or maybe an homage by someone who "hearts" graffiti?

Either way, an interesting sight on Front Street for a moment.


Holt Staff At Library Today

Representative Rush Holt
Community Office Hours
Today, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Plainfield Public Library
800 Park Ave.
Problems with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA, U.S. Citizenship, Immigration Services or other federal agency? Rep. Rush Holt may be able to help. Staff will be holding office hours for all interested constituents.

Budget Introduction Raises Questions

A summary of the 2013 municipal budget introduced Monday has some numbers that stand out even to the eye of a math-challenged reporter, including a 19 percent drop in anticipated revenues for 2013 and a 32 percent increase in anticipated receipts from delinquent taxes.

Say it isn't so. But if it is, explanations are in order. In these hard times, will the well-squeezed turnip known as the property owner really bleed so much in back taxes? What are the specific reasons why the administration expects such a drop in revenues?

Mind you, this is the budget that the governing body accepts from the administration before being able to amend it through deliberations. The process starts with budget requests from division and department heads, which the administrations reviews first and may change. Following introduction, the City Council reviews it along with the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and holds its own departmental hearings. The council will also have the expertise of budget consultant David Kochel to weed out errors or omissions in the document offered by the administration.

As introduced, the budget anticipates a 2.5 percent increase in municipal taxes. But if tax lien sales can't recoup the anticipated $3.8 million in 2013 back taxes - up $927,208 from 2012 - it could be more.

The notice that includes the summary of the introduced budget also states a hearing will be held at 8 p.m. on May 6 at which "objections to the Budget and Tax resolution for the year 2013 may be presented by taxpayers or other interested persons." If there is no explanation before that, the questions above may be asked.

Once the council reviews and amends the budget, there will be another hearing before adoption and final passage.Given the present schedule, passage may not take place until June or later. The CBAC will not even be appointed until May 13, but budget materials are expected to be available Monday in City Hall for an early look at the numbers.

As always, Plaintalker welcomes corrections or clarifications from readers or city officials on budget matters noted here. The 2013 Municipal Budget notice will be published and is available in the City Clerk's office for anyone who wants to take a look.


A Work In Progress At City Hall

The City Hall Yew hedge has received the severe pruning recommended to rejuvenate it over the coming year and a half.

The decision was jointly reached by city Public Works officials in consultation with the Shade Tree Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Plainfield Garden Club. Yews live for hundreds of years and can tolerate hard cutback.

To soften the look and provide color during the transition, Shade Tree Commissioner Tim Kirby told Plaintalker, a low hedge of Knockout Roses paired with Coreopsis will be planted. Knockout Roses as described here do not need a lot of maintenance and have a long flowering season.

The trimming revealed the wrought iron fence that was hidden by the ungainly, old hedge. Bluestone will be installed along the sides of the brick plaza as part of the renovation.


Mystery Plant

This plant showed up last year in one of our garden plots. It produced no flowers that might have helped identify it. After staying green for most of the winter, it is flourishing again. While we await some flowers, we welcome any clues as to what it might be. Click on the image to enlarge.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 8 Council Roundup

Applause broke out when the City Council passed resolutions Monday in support of "ban the box" legislation improving the chances of people with criminal records to get jobs, and the "DREAMer" law that could help undocumented children of immigrants afford college costs.

In public comment before the votes, Cookie Rivera of Integrated Justice Alliance said she was very pleased to see the city join numerous other municipalities and groups across the state that are supporting proposed "ban the box" legislation. Formally labeled The Opportunity to Compete Act, the proposed law would revise hiring practices that currently require people with criminal records to check a box on job applications.

Other proposed legislation would permit in-state tuition and possible college financial aid for certain undocumented students.

City resident and Latino activist Christian Estevez thanked the council members for supporting both bills, saying they are important for all municipalities, "especially Plainfield." He said the "ban the box" legislation means employers can't just dismiss applicants with criminal records, but have to give them a chance.

Regarding the "Dreamers" education issue, Estevez said there are young people at Plainfield High School who get great grades and are model students but have to pay double the cost of attending state colleges and universities because they were brought here as children and lack documentation. The students, not just Latino but of many family nationalities, are considered "out of state" applicants even though they may have lived here since infancy.

Among other actions:

- The City Council authorized introduction of the 2013 budget Monday and also approved hiring David Kochel as budget consultant, but put off naming members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee until May 13, signaling a late start for deliberations.

- The city will be operating through May with temporary funding pending budget adoption, and the governing body has yet to announce dates for budget hearings with department and division heads.

- The council approved closure of South Second Street between Clinton Avenue and Morris Street on May 4 to permit a motorcycle club to hold a gathering in recognition of autism awareness. Click link for details. Two club members who spoke Monday night told the council that youngsters in attendance will be kept separate from an area where alcohol will be served.

- The council also passed a resolution in recognition of autism awareness.

- A settlement was approved for former Police Captain Michael Gilliam, who will receive back pay and pension credit for a period of demotion during which he filed suit against the city and Police Director Martin Hellwig.

Among responses from City Administrator Eric Berry on questions raised at the April 1 meeting, a report on all Urban Enterprise Zone-funded programs will be given to the governing body "shortly."

"That was the response last time," Councilman Cory Storch said.

Council members have been asking for a report on use of UEZ funds since the state dissolved the program and turned fund balances over to municipalities for administration It is almost a year since Councilman Adrian Mapp sought a full accounting of how Plainfield's $4 million balance is being handled.

These are some of the topics from last night, more may follow.. The next.agenda fixing session is 7:30 p.m. May 6 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave., followed by a regular meeting at 8 p.m. May 13 in the same location. Anyone wishing to see background documentation on the April meetings can ask at the Plainfield Public Library's reference desk for the April 1 and 8 packets.


More Later on Council

Mau has interrupted me so many times with demands to play that my mind is a blank at this hour. I probably should have locked him up in his big carrier, but it's too late now. Maybe Dan and Dr. Yood will share their reports on the meeting while I get my wits together.


Yews Will Be Saved, Trimmed

Public Works Director Eric Jackson confirmed Monday plans to cut back the yew hedges at City Hall for a regeneration that will take about 18 months.

Jackson said input from the Historic Preservation Commission, Shade Tree Commission and Plainfield Garden Club led to a consensus that the yews should be saved.

'I'm delighted to get folks involved in the process," he said.

The hedge trimming is just one of several improvements for the grounds in front of City Hall, a key feature of the Civic Historic District.

"The entire project will be really, really nice," Jackson said. While the hedges grow back, he said, "I'm asking residents to be patient with us."


Monday, April 8, 2013

Pruning the Yews

An alternative to removing the yew hedges in front of City Hall would be to prune them back severely to allow new growth that can be properly shaped. Apparently the question is whether city residents will recoil in horror or understand the horticultural need if this option is chosen.

Yews can live for hundreds of years and it is likely that the hedges at City Hall have not had a hard cutback since the early 20th Century, when City Hall and its grounds were designed and constructed.  I'm told the Shade Tree Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission both support saving the hedges rather than removing them.Work has begun and the decision is at hand.

Plaintalker will attempt to get more information on this issue. Meanwhile, anyone with an informed opinion on  this topic can contact Public Works Director Eric Jackson at (908) 753-3375 or eric.jackson@plainfieldnj.gov


Council To Vote On Budget Consultant

Is it worth $7,500 to get the 2013 city budget done right? The governing body will decide tonight whether to hire consultant David Kochel, who fixed a raft of errors in the 2012 budget.

Kochel applied knowledge honed over 33 years in municipal government to untangle mistakes and omissions in last year's budget and brought it in with no tax increase. The city is currently in its second year with no full-time chief financial officer to guide the process and is already on a path to late passage. See Plaintalker's 2012 post here.

Kochel, who knows Plainfield well from many months as acting city administrator in 2011, could bring a degree of objectivity and professionalism that might otherwise be lacking in this highly politically-charged year. It is up to the seven council members tonight to decide.

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


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Family Soul Spot Celebrates Anniversary

Sandra Williamson has literally cooked up success for a family venture that grew out of adversity.

Williamson opened Family Soul Spot on East Seventh Street after her job as a legal assistant in Manhattan was phased out. (Courier News reporter Mark Spivey told her story in an article that she keeps framed on her wall.) The restaurant business was new to her when she opened her doors on April 7, 2010.

“It was something that I knew nothing about. I just knew about cooking,” she said.

Early customers drawn in by her welcoming signage found a menu featuring classic soul food favorites including barbecued ribs and fried whiting with an array of sides such as yams, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and potato salad, and daily specials for take-out or dining in.  Home-style cakes and fruit cobblers round out the offerings. See Plaintalker's April 2010 post here.

As word got out and her customer base increased, Williamson made it past the crucial one-year mark for new businesses and currently has outlived three soul food competitors in Plainfield that have closed their doors.

Her main challenge, she says, was “trying to please everybody,” but she counts as her main success the other side of that coin, “seeing everybody satisfied with the food.”
Some customers come in as often as five times a week, she said.

“It’s really a boost to my ego.”
Her macaroni and cheese is a big favorite, she said.

"Sometimes we just point-blank run out."

Her adult children, Terry, Semaj, Miya, Shiana and sometimes James, help out and are by now familiar faces to patrons.

Williamson envisions a future with a larger place with more seating, but she intends to stay in Plainfield to keep her customer base. To celebrate her third anniversary today, "loyal customers” will receive a 10 percent discount on orders and everyone will get a treat.

“Stop in and get a surprise,” she says.

Friday, April 5, 2013

On Primary Filings

Primary filing day was once a busy time in newsrooms. Each reporter had to call several municipal clerks to get the results and write up any significant contests that emerged. Apparently this is no longer so, as a check of online media after the April 1 primary filing deadline turned up no report on Plainfield.

The Asbury Park Press had a traditional town-by-town accounting of filers and the weekly Westfield Leader had the kind of roundup that used to be the norm (see here).

So what does it mean? Plainfield voters who didn't read Plaintalker's report will find out who is on the ballot eventually and those who filed for mayor and Fourth Ward will be campaigning between now and June 4. It just seems like a loss for the public not to have this information in the dailies as in the past. Voter turnout here tends to be low anyway, even for primaries that are considered to be tantamount to victory in the November general election.

The winner of the Democratic primary will have a Republican contender along with any independents who file June 4. The increasing lack of interest in covering municipal government will present a challenge to candidates and will make forums such as those held by the Plainfield League of Women Voters even more important both to candidates and voters.

June 4 is also the filing date for school board candidates, now that the election has moved from April to November. Candidates must file with Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi. Incumbents whose terms are up this year are Wilma Campbell, Renata Hernandez and appointee Frederick D. Moore Sr.

Moore is the fifth person to hold the seat won three years ago by Rasheed Abdul-Haqq. Abdul-Haqq had to vacate his seat following passage of legislation barring those with criminal records from serving on school boards, even though after his 1968 offense he became a community activist and advocate for education.

After he left, the board appointed Susan Phifer to fill the vacancy. When she resigned, the board appointed Keisha Edwards, who did not seek the unexpired term in the next school board election, but ran for and won a full three-year term. Delois Dameron won the unexpired seat, but soon resigned, and the board appointed Moore.



Falls Endanger Older Adults

Joan Paglia, Aug. 9, 1938-April 3, 2013
I learned early Thursday that my former sister-in-law, Joan Paglia, died in Florida after a fall at a nursing home where she lived. Although I had little contact with my ex-husband's family after my divorce, my children and I had fond memories of Joan from happier days. She is pictured above in the gown she wore at my wedding in 1958.

Joan was ill for many years and was cared for by her parents until they died and she had to move to a nursing facility. My ex-husband, who lives in California, told Audrey that Joan fell and suffered a concussion from which she did not recover.

In December, he reported that the wife of the best man at our wedding had died after a fall. In 1992, my mother was at Runnells Specialized Hospital after breaking a hip and broke the other one in a fall from a wheelchair, dying soon after.

These examples and others I have heard about recently make me very much aware of the danger posed to older people by falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in three adults 65 and over will fall and incur injuries that can lead to early death. In memory of Joan, Mary and my mother, I would like to urge older people and their families to learn more about falls and their prevention. Click here for CDC information on this topic.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Journals Tell the Truth

Maple flowers

Reading my old journals takes a lot of time. So far I have read 1980 through 1997, covering some moves, job transitions, changing relationships and various states of mind. Memory is never as accurate as a journal, I am finding. Some of the entries are extremely evocative of my emotions at the time and of course the long view reveals patterns of behavior, good or bad, that I must acknowledge.

I still have more than 14 years to go, not counting scraps from the 1970s.

One striking thing reflected in these journals is the change in how news is gathered and disseminated. Even what counts as news has changed drastically. Once I get through all these journals I will have some commentary on that topic.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Past Budget Woes Show Need For Expertise

The hazards of not having a full-time chief financial officer may include the possibility of budget errors such as  the $1.7 million typo that went unnoticed in 2009 until a blogger pointed it out.

You can read about it here.

The budget statement prepared by auditors for submission to the state contained the error, despite sign-off by nearly a dozen officials including a part-time CFO from Bridgewater. Plaintalker invites readers to review this October 2009 post on the CFO situation carefully and think about how things stand now. Is the city really in any better shape in 2013? Can the governing body do without a budget consultant at this time?


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Will Kochel Aid City Budget Process?

With budget introduction imminent, the City Council split Monday on whether to hire David Kochel again as its consultant for the 2013 process.

Initially the council failed to get a consensus to put the matter up for a vote at the April 8 regular meeting, with Cory Storch, Adrian Mapp and Rebecca Williams in favor and William Reid, Vera Greaves, Tracey Brown and Council President Rivers against the idea. But later, after Storch asked later to add a resolution to hire Kochel, Reid broke ranks with the dissenters and said he would support the move if his concerns were addressed before the regular meeting. He had questioned why a "pre-selected" person was being considered and also felt enough expertise existed among the council members to review the budget without a consultant.

Kochel, who served as acting city administrator for most of 2011, was the council's budget consultant in 2012 and resolved a potential debacle, reversing a $2 million shortfall to a slight decrease in the tax rate. He served while the city lacked a permanent chief finance officer following the departure of CFO Ron Zilinski. The city is still without a CFO, except for the five to eight hours a week that South Plainfield Borough Administrator and CFO Glenn Cullen can spare for Plainfield.

The council also still needs to name its 2013 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and set a schedule for budget deliberations. Meanwhile, the governing body is expected to pass another temporary budget for May next Monday, lessening its ability to make cuts as the city approaches the half-year mark without a budget in place.


Council Rejects Club Liquor License Expansion

Monitoring the city's 32 liquor license holders already takes too much police time to add a new social club license, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig told the City Council Monday.

At issue was the request of MDM Sports Club official Dawud Hicks to add the license so the club could earn money to fund its activities for young people. Hicks first sought a license in June 2012, saying city club licenses had gone from five to four and his group wanted a fifth one. The council took no action and Hicks came back last month to ask again for amendment of an ordinance limiting club licenses to four.

In March, Hicks said the club at 129 West Fourth Street had 76 members in a place of "happiness and togetherness," though it was once a troubled after-hours club. He credited the Police Division with the positive change, but said the club was currently operating with once-a-month temporary licenses for events that benefited youth sports programs.

Hicks said the club began supporting sports activities for children aged 8 or 9 and now had young men 20 to 21 involved in basketball, football, track and other activities. He said through mentoring, "I personally got 10 in college."

On Monday Hicks came to the microphone during public comment to object to Hellwig's rationale, saying, "Let it be known we pay for the police to surveille our building."

He insisted there were no "incidents" at the club and added, "I lived here 47 years, I pay three taxes - can I have some services here?"

Hicks said most of the police don't even live in the city.

After saying the city could take away the club's license if it didn't work, he said, "This club is for us all!"

But when Council President Bridget called on Hellwig to respond, he said social clubs were one of the most difficult license holders to regulate.

As the exchange heated up, Corporation Counsel David Minchello reminded all that the issue was whether or not to amend the liquor license ordinance and that Hicks had no application before the council.

The city once had 38 liquor licenses and is now down to 32 for stores, bars, restaurants and clubs, but the amount exceeds a state formula for the number of licenses based on population. Those holding licenses before the state limit was imposed were "grandfathered in" and allowed to stay in business.

Meanwhile, redeveloper Frank Cretella has been trying to acquire one or two of the existing licenses for restaurants he is planning to open downtown. Cretella owns the Stone House restaurant in Warren and Liberty House Restaurant in Jersey City and recently acquired the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station. Councilman Cory Storch said Monday he is opposed to adding a license except for redevelopment.

Councilman William Reid, the council's most fervent opponent of liquor licenses, said the last police report on liquor establishments was 37 pages long and added, " I do have a problem in combining liquor with a youth program."


Monday, April 1, 2013

Mapp, SRB, Contenders Once More

Democrats Adrian Mapp and Sharon Robinson-Briggs, mayoral primary foes in 2009, will have a rematch on June 4.

Both met the 4 p.m. primary filing deadline Monday. Mapp currently represents the Third Ward on the City Council and Robinson-Briggs is the incumbent mayor, seeking her third term. The difference in this primary contest is that Mapp has the Democratic Party line, denied to the mayor last month by Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo.

Mapp also has a Fourth Ward running mate, incumbent Councilwoman Bridget Rivers. The mayor did not have a running mate on her "Progress for Plainfield" ticket, but should Mapp lose the primary, the mayor and Rivers will be together on the Democratic line in the Nov. 5 general election.

Republican filers are Sandy Spector for mayor and Barbara Johnson for Fourth Ward. Spector chairs the GOP city committee.

Sixty-eight Democratic City Committee seats are up this year and the Regular Democratic Organization filed a full slate. Democrats Barbara James, Eugene Dudley and Kim Montford are running off the line in their respective wards and districts. The mayor did not file a competing slate.