Friday, May 31, 2013

Visit Shakespeare Garden June 1

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday, June 1

For details, click here

Thursday, May 30, 2013

File Tuesday for November BOE Election

With the move of school board elections to November, those who want to serve must file with the county clerk in Elizabeth by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4. If you are interested in running for one of the three three-year terms and have not yet obtained petitions, read this link carefully.

There are three three-year terms up in Plainfield this year. Incumbents for 2013 are Wilma Campbell, Renata Hernandez and Frederick Moore Sr. If the last name doesn't ring a bell, it may be because he is the third person to hold the seat since Rasheed Abdul-Haqq was forced to step down in 2011.

After Rasheed Abdul-Haqq vacated his seat, the board appointed Susan Phifer. When she resigned, the board appointed Keisha Edwards, who did not seek the unexpired term in the 2012 school board election, but ran for a full three-year term. Delois Dameron won the unexpired seat, but resigned, and the board appointed Frederick D. Moore Sr.

Plaintalker will report on the school board filings as soon as the information is available. Independent candidates for mayor and the Fourth Ward City Council seat must also file Tuesday.

See Sharpton Video

Missed the appearance of Rev. Al Sharpton Friday?
Click here for the video.

Plaintalker was caught on video for a second in a sweep of the crowd, with head down, writing notes for the blog. Check out the other faces in the crowd.


Mayoral Contest A Longtime Saga

In 2009, six people were vying in the June Democratic primary for the line in the November general election.  Incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs beat Councilman Adrian Mapp by 7.77 percent, according to official results that showed challenger Martin Cox had garnered 8.40 percent of the vote. Many perceived Cox as a spoiler in the race. Only 4,324 of the 12,420 registered Democrats bothered to vote. See Plaintalker's post here.

Official 2009 results from County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi:

Personal Choice 2
Total 4,324

This time around, it's just Sharon and Adrian. The number of registered Democrats is about the same, at 12,817. Adrian won re-election in 2012 to another four-year term representing the Third Ward, so again it's the mayor vs. the councilman. The June 2009 results have colored the intervening years, with the mayor often reminding Mapp "the election is over" and Mapp continuing to point out mayoral faults. Allies of the mayor, notably one Roland Muhammad, have kept up a running battle with Mapp and the New Dems on the mayor's behalf. When the mayor welcomed Rev. Al Sharpton Friday to stick up for her, Muhammad was at her side.

One big difference in 2013 is that Mapp received the party line, denied to him in 2009 and to the incumbent mayor in 2005, Albert T. McWilliams. In a curious parallel, the same Democratic County Chairman that deflected McWilliams from the line as he sought a third term in 2005 rendered the same blow to Robinson-Briggs as she was in full campaign mode for a third term this year. Yet having wielded her formidable power to anoint Mapp, Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo found herself under state scrutiny for her position as executive director of the Union County Improvement Authority and declared she will both step down from the authority on Aug. 1 and vacate the county chairmanship in June.

The twists and turns of this election year also included Mapp not appearing at the NAACP candidates' forum due to a prior commitment and a few days later the mayor not appearing at a FOSH/LWV candidates' forum due to illness. While the former had an audience of about 15 people, the latter attracted more than 125 residents, and neither event yielded the chance for voters to hear from both candidates.

The mayor is now openly receiving support from past and present PMUA officials, who were much in evidence at the Sharpton event, presumably in reaction to Mapp's support of a study on whether the authority should be disbanded, with sewer and solid waste operations coming under municipal control.

Even before these recent developments, the attenuated tension between Mapp and Robinson-Briggs and their respective supporters has turned off some residents who see it as a clash of personalities that interferes with the workings of government. Others view it as no less than a battle between good and evil. It has played out at times in mayoral vetoes of council initiatives by the Mapp-led New Dems, with Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green adding fuel to the fire with attacks on Mapp and his allies.  The announcement of the Regular Dems' embrace of Mapp in March was a stunning turnaround, especially to the mayor. Instead of being on a slate with a full roster of running mates for Assembly, Senate and county freeholder board, she is now on a line with one Assembly candidate and three challengers for city committee seats. Her attempt to get NAACP forum attendees to chant, "Column E is meant to be" had somewhat of a hollow ring.

All this notwithstanding, it's not over until it's over. Democrats can vote in the June 4 primary between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., and if any of the city's 8,345 unaffiliated voters are so inclined, they can declare as Democrats at the polls and vote for either the mayor or Mapp.

Unofficial results will be announced on June 4. Official results usually are posted by the County Clerk on Monday following the election. The Democratic City Committee will reorganize on June 10 and the county committee will do so on June 11.

Those with political periscopes are already attempting to guess who will succeed DeFilippo in June as county chairman and Mapp as Third Ward councilperson in January if he becomes mayor.

But that's another story.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mantises Emerging!

This year we found five praying mantis egg cases around our back yard and then I spotted four more on the other side of our fence, on stubs of branches left after Public Works cleaned Lot 7. I cut them off and saved them, hence the string used to tie them to a branch on our side. The little white things are emerging mantises.
I have been waiting through this cool spring for the new crop of mantises to emerge. Today I saw many on some Evening Primroses. Click to enlarge this image of one. They are as endearing as any newborn creature. Even when tiny, they have a jaunty air and seem ready to conquer the world. Unfortunately, though several hundred may be emerging in our yard this year, they are at risk from larger creatures and even their hungry fellow mantises. But with nine egg cases this year, we expect to have many mantises to watch as they go through their life cycle this summer.

So far, we have no cicadas. I am hoping to make a field trip to Fanwood this week, as I hear they are out in profusion.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Technology Petting Zoo This Week

One of the cleverest and most helpful opportunities for residents is, in my opinion, a "Technology Petting Zoo" which offers hands-on experience and answers to questions regarding new devices, including iPad2, Nook Color Tablet, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy and Kindle Touch..

If you are not a digital native or a millenial and missed the first two sessions last week, you still have a chance to explore the new technology on Wednesday, May 29 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or on Thursday, May 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Room 5 at the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave.

Technology is changing our lives and expanding our horizons in unforeseen ways. See for yourself and ask questions!


Thanks To Readers

Thanks to everybody who followed my posts last week on all the meetings. Plaintalker had the only coverage of the NAACP meeting Sunday, which was followed by the Third Ward Town Meeting Monday, budget deliberations on Tuesday and Thursday and the FOSH/LWV candidates' forum Wednesday. I thought Friday would be free, but that was the night of the Sharpton visit, which took up several hours of my time, mostly waiting for the event to start.

Of course, then after each of these events it takes time to compose a blog post. It was an exhausting week!

I also discovered this week that a new outlet has been launched, The Alternative Press. On its web site I found an interesting article about hyperlocal news sources by Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis has set himself the task of teaching journalists how to launch such sites, with an emphasis on making them viable as revenue sources. Plaintalker has the advantage (or disadvantage) of not making much effort to monetize the blog (except for the "Donate" button at the bottom) because it is largely a personal interest of mine to get out some municipal government and economic development news that happens below the radar of other outlets.

My reward is mostly knowing that I have provided information to the residents of Plainfield that may inspire them to take action, whether it is to challenge their elected representatives to do a better job or to support local businesses and cultural activities. I also like to share what's going on in my back yard in the middle of this urban center.

I see by the numbers that a lot of you were paying attention to the blog last week and I hope you find it interesting in weeks to come as well.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Honor Those Who Served

Memorial Day
10 a.m.
City Hall
515 Watchung Ave.

Magicicada Sighting

I took a train to Westfield to visit Trader Joe's and while I was waiting for a bus back to Plainfield, something flew past. It landed on a gravel lot near a piece of yellow debris and I went over to investigate.
 My first Magicicada sighting! So far we haven't seen the numbers we recalled from 17 years ago. This one was looking for love in all the wrong places, apparently. Here's a close-up:
Look at those big red eyes aglow with romance after 17 years underground! (Click to enlarge.)

Have you seen any in your neighborhood in Plainfield?


Hellwig's Out-of-State Residency Confirmed

Several people have told me that Police Director Hellwig lives out of state now. He did receive a residency waiver when first appointed in Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' first term in 2006 and has served to present as director of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety since then. He was named Police Director in 2009  as well.

So today I came across a White Pages listing that showed Martin R. Hellwig and Huiling Liu living in Staten Island, N.Y.
Hellwig married Huiling Liu in September 2009 in a ceremony at City Hall.

The mayor might not have a problem with this residency, as she did not meet the City Charter's four-year residency requirement when elected. The matter went to court and a judge ruled that  even though Robinson-Briggs did not register to vote in Plainfield until Sept. 30, 2002, she was a “legal voter” in that she could have registered earlier.

Robinson-Briggs used addresses in Plainfield, North Plainfield and Piscataway before she bought her Pemberton Avenue home in 2002. She voted in Piscataway while living in North Plainfield and Plainfield, according to court documents.

Hellwig used to live in Nutley and later in Lake Hopatcong. His new address about 22 minutes from Plainfield Police Headquarters, compared to about 40 minutes for the Lake Hopatcong address.

Public officials in New Jersey are required to fill out annual statements disclosing sources of income. The forms also require an address. Plaintalker filed an OPRA request recently for Hellwig's statement, but the latest one available listed only "515 Watchung Ave." as an address.

So does the initial residency waiver cover any and all locations outside of Plainfield? The City Council must approve such waivers. Maybe we'll ask on June 11.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Commentary On Sharpton Visit

The "will he/won't he" speculation about whether and where Rev. Al Sharpton would appear went on all day Friday, turning this blogger into a one-person Continuous News Desk with updates. The tiresome day turned into a long night, starting with a cold, windy walk downtown. Sitting in the semi-dark with my notebook and pen at the Faraones night club, I was reminded of many a Courier News assignment where I sat on the sidelines through banquets and other events waiting for a glimmer of actual news.

While promising the imminent arrival of Sharpton, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs spent most of an hour giving various updates and acknowledging individuals in the audience. Some of the patter had clues to future news, such as an event to publicize plans for a home for 34 homeless veterans and the announcement of a Plainfield issue of The Alternative Press.

I stayed on as several estimated times of arrival passed and then ... Sharpton entered at 8: 20 p.m., only to be whisked up into a balcony for a confab with the mayor. Finally he descended and after a few more remarks from the mayor, took the microphone. In minutes the crowd was on its feet, cameras and tablets at the ready, calling out encouragement as Sharpton wielded his griot skills to tell a tale of mayoral heroics in the face of calumny.

It was no surprise to me to hear Sharpton label black naysayers as "Negroes." Having covered many of his past visits to Plainfield over 30 years, I became familiar with the use of  "Tom," handkerchief-head and such terms to label African-Americans who disagree with his estimation of a situation. So writing to him to plead for objectivity is futile.

Sharpton mentioned his past visits and ties with the late Mayor Richard L. "Rick" Taylor, another master of persuasion (or bombast) who never hesitated to sort people by his own scale of authenticity. Cross him and you were categorized as a vassal to the white man.

None of this devalues Sharpton's enviable ability to engage a crowd, whether by erudition or the smooth use of Southern locutions. What many whites mistake for bad grammar is nothing more than the way a lot of people speak in the South. Need to read you some Eudora Welty if you don't think so. It also serves to set apart people of color who grew up in the Caribbean and have a different speaking style.

All that aside, the enthusiasm voiced at Friday's gathering will not mean much on June 4 unless the mayor's campaign is able to get all her supporters out to the polls. The Mapp campaign has the double-barreled power of both the Regular Democratic Organization and the New Democrats, who scored multiple victories off the line in recent years. As much as I disagree with Dan sometimes (notably this week with his declaration from the Department of Whole Cloth), he made the same point today about getting out the vote. The corollary is that voters interested in how the city functions over the next four years need to find time between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on June 4 to go to the proper polling place (look at your sample ballot) and VOTE!


Jeffery Dunn Announces New Media Outlet

Saying it has been a long time since Plainfield had its own newspaper, entrepreneur Jeffery Dunn announced the launch of The Alternative Press in the Queen City Friday night.

Speaking at Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' event at Faraones night club, Dunn said the newspaper will "give exposure to all stuff in Plainfield." He instructed the crowd on how to access the newspaper at and urged people to advertise in it directly.

Click here to see The Alternative Press coverage of Rev. Al Sharpton's visit to Plainfield.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Sharpton Visits, Pledges Support For Mayor

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs welcomes Rev. Al Sharpton Friday.

A city nightclub became an amen corner Friday as supporters of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs shouted praise for Rev. Al Sharpton's defense of her 2010 stand against gangs and gun violence.

Sharpton appeared at the Sunday, Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting which was broadcast over radio stations WBLS and WLIB and later became the focus of a City Council investigation over a $20,000 fee.

"I didn't get a dime," Sharpton thundered. "Nobody gave me a dime."

Sharpton said the station lost money on the three-hour broadcast, but said, "Didn't nobody, especially me, come down for a fee. We lost money - you know, preachers make their money on Sunday."

He called criticism of the mayor a "shame and a disgrace" because she put the safety of the city first and deserved support. Throughout the investigation and at an NAACP meeting Sunday, Robinson-Briggs said the 2010 broadcast saved lives.

"I want to get those local Negroes straight," Sharpton said. I hope they don't like it, because I'm coming back.."

He said rather than give the mayor credit, critics tried to "hustle it."

"This woman did what they couldn't do and wouldn't do," he said. "Our children were being shot down. Women were afraid, and you were trying to make a scandal out of it."
Sharpton said he had received an email saying if he knew the facts, he wouldn't come to Plainfield. But he said, "I take it seriously when I see a woman stand up like her."

While it was the subject of an investigation in 2012 which led to a reprimand for the mayor, her challenger in the June 4 primary, Councilman Adrian Mapp, did not raise it specifically as a campaign issue. The mayor herself brought it up at the NAACP meeting, which was supposed to have been a candidates' forum but which Mapp did not attend due to a prior commitment. On Wednesday, the mayor did not attend another candidates' forum organized by the Friends of Sleepy Hollow and the Plainfield League of Women Voters, instead sending a note that she was ill.

The large crowd of supporters tonight at Faraones night club on Front Street included many present and former PMUA employees who are backing the mayor, perhaps in response to Mapp's support of a study on disbanding the authority, which provides sewer and solid waste services to the city. Though the Democratic Party backed the mayor for her first and second terms, this time the party line went to Mapp, who on Friday was about half a block away at a Democratic City Commitee meeting called by Chairman Jerry Green.

Sharpton recalled coming to Plainfield when the late Mayor Richard L. Taylor was in office 20 years ago.

"We know this community," he said. 'We need to have a summer of peace this year."

He said he wants to make Plainfield an example of cooperation and partnership and called for an end to bickering.
Robinson-Briggs said she hopes to establish a chapter here of Sharpton's National Action Network. Sharpton said he will be back and will bring the radio show, adding, "I got a television show now."

To those who got upset with the radio show, he said, "Well, maybe I will bring in the TV show and say, 'how you like me now?'"


Time Change For SRB Event

Night club owner Edison Garcia told Plaintalker the mayor's event featuring Rev. Al Sharpton will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at Faraones, 111 East Front Street.

It had been scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Community School before the venue change and Sharpton's web site placed his expected arrival at 8 p.m.

Asked whether the event would interfere with his Friday night schedule, Garcia said Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs told him her event would conclude at 8:30 p.m.

Garcia said he could provide seating for about 150 people tonight. A similar number attended a candidates' forum at which the mayor was to appear along with he Democratic Primary challenger, Councilman Adrian Mapp. But the forum had to close down after the mayor failed to appear. She later sent word by way of an aide that she was ill.

Sharpton's 2010 Visit

Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to appear at 8 p.m. tonight in Plainfield, though the location has been changed from a school to a nightclub at 111 East Front Street. In 2010 he visited as part of a WBLS broadcast that later became a source of controversy over a $20,000 fee for the event.

Click here to see a YouTube video of Sharpton's appearance in 2010.

Sharpton Event Moves To Night Club

Kim Montford, who is co-hosting with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs an event tonight featuring Rev. Al Sharpton, informed Plaintalker the new venue is Los Faraones, a night club at 111 East Front Street.

The event, billed as an opportunity to discuss "Partnerships, Priorities and Progress for Plainfield," had been scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Community School. It was announced last Sunday at an NAACP candidates' forum, but yesterday Plaintalker was told by Business Administrator Gary Ottmann the venue was moved "out of district."

Ottmann gave no reason, but the mayor and Councilman Adrian Mapp are contenders in the Democratic June 4 primary election and some perceived the event as part of the mayor's campaign to get re-elected to a third term. Campaign events are not permitted on school grounds.

The mayor and Mapp were rivals in 2009 and the rematch has created a buzz as the primary date looms. Mapp did not attend the NAACP candidates' forum Sunday due to a prior commitment and on Wednesday the mayor failed to appear at a candidates' forum co-sponsored by Friends of Sleepy Hollow and the Plainfield League of Women Voters. Mayoral aide Barbara James came by with a letter saying the mayor was ill, but the meeting had been closed after LWV Moderator Dawn Clarke and an audience of about 125 residents waited in vain for the mayor to show up.

Some alleged the no-show Wednesday was in retaliation for Mapp not appearing at the NAACP forum. Former PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson, who is backing the mayor, complained at the meeting Sunday that Mapp should have made the civil rights organization's event a priority. Much of the mayor's presentation Sunday was a refutation of a council investigation that found she had violated state law in using public funds to pay for a 2010 Town Meeting featuring Sharpton. On Wednesday, one of her supporters predicted Sharpton would definitively vindicate her tonight.

The event has had little publicity other than Plaintalker's blog coverage and a news article following the mayor's no-show Wednesday. It is unclear how the mayor's campaign can get the word out of the venue change on short notice. (Update - Dr. Yood reports it is in the Courier News. I saw the old version of the article online, a newer one has the changed location.)


New Fiscal Team Mending Operations

A new team is improving the city's fiscal operations, Finance Director Al Restaino said at Thursday's budget meeting, though hiring a full-time chief financial officer is still a challenge.

The City Council and the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee were reviewing budget requests from Administration & Finance divisions including Audit & Control, Tax Collector, Tax Assessor, Municipal Court and Purchasing. Restaino said Treasurer Diane Sherry-Buono came to the city in September 2012, Purchasing Agent Cindy Lea Weber in January and Tax Collector David Marshall just six weeks ago.

Budget Consultant David Kochel said CFOs are retiring faster than new ones are emerging. Each municipality is required by the state to have a CFO, but even increasing the pay range to a maximum of $125,000 has not helped the city to hire a permanent one and the administration is  still relying on South Plainfield Borough Administrator and CFO Glenn Cullen to give part-time assistance to Plainfield.

The new staff is working hard to address recommendations and findings of city auditors and Marshall is especially challenged to catch up with a backlog in his office, Restaino noted. Marshall called the current tax collection rate "embarrassing" at 94.07 percent and said it should be more like 96 or 97 percent.

The city holds tax lien sales to raise money on delinquent accounts, but Marshall said he wanted to foreclose on about 100 properties which also have PMUA charges.

"Don't we get paid eventually?' Councilman Cory Storch asked.

"Not if we own it," Marshall said.

Kochel said the city would have to be "very cautious" about closing and taking title, citing the example of a leaking underground tank as a possible liability. Once the city closes, it owns the problem, he warned.

Restaino also said the city does not want to be in the position of owning property.

CBAC member Jan Massey questioned why the city is advertising and selling PMUA liens, but Marshall said  the process is required by state law. The process is complicated by the fact that PMUA records are on a different system than city tax records, but Marshall said PMUA lends staff to help out with tax lien sale preparations and also contributes to the cost of advertising, which is about $20,000. Massey asked whether the list could be posted on the city web site and Marshall  said it could.

Longtime Tax Assessor Tracy Bennett said her job has been impacted by an increase in tax appeals. She said she is working evenings and weekends to catch up and needs another person in the office to help. The value of city property is decreasing due to the appeals, she said.

Judge Joan Robinson-Gross also asked for more help to perform Municipal Court operations. She advocated for a collection plan to recoup $780,000 in outstanding fines, saying the council tabled a resolution to hire an agency to collect the fines at no cost to the city.

The next budget deliberation session is 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Senior Center, 400 East Front Street, after which the council will develop amendments, aiming for final passage of the 2013 calendar year budget in June.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

No Venue, No Peace?

Columbine flowers resemble a flock of doves.
So I come in from some quiet time in the garden to find a response to my e-mail question about whether Washington School is being used for the mayor's event with Rev. Al Sharpton.

"I believe the venue has been moved out of district," says Business Administrator Gary Ottman.

So now what? The flyer passed out at the NAACP meeting has no contact number for updates. Rev. Al's web site still has the venue as Washington School. My peace is shattered by the prospect of trying to chase down an event I don't even want to cover after four night meetings already this week (and another one an hour from now).

This reminds me of the trouble I had to attend the NAACP meeting itself. Someone mentioned it to me, but when I checked the NAACP web site, it only had April listings.
 I had to e-mail Peter Briggs, who told me to look under "Meetings" to find the May 19 listing.

And now that I'm thoroughly cranky, why did the mayor sign her excuse letter with the same "SRobB" as was on the purchase order for the WBLS van to be in the 2010 July Fourth parade for $2,500? 
Why didn't she sign her whole name, as she did on the check for $20,000?

Grrr. Guess I just can't take the confusion any more. Give me peace!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

No Mayor, No Forum

Signature on letter regarding mayor's absence.

A capacity crowd at the Plainfield Public Library waited in vain for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to join Councilman Adrian Mapp Wednesday for a candidates' debate for the June 4 Democratic primary. Moderator Dawn Clarke of the League of Women Voters closed the meeting after the mayor failed to show up.

"I think it's a disgrace that she didn't come, knowing the public would be here," resident Jean Black said of the two-term mayor. As about 100 people milled around, the mayor's confidential aide, Barbara James, appeared and asked permission to read a statement from her, but Clarke said the meeting was over.

Plaintalker and Courier News reporter Mark Spivey obtained copies of the statement, in which the mayor says she was diagnosed with bronchitis and respiratory infection, adding, "and I have been light-headed for two days." She noted that Mapp was unavailable for an NAACP forum Sunday, "but I was there, and prepared and I did answer everyone's questions." (Click here for Plaintalker's post on that forum.)

In her statement the mayor said she would be available for a rescheduled debate, but Pat Turner Kavanaugh, president of forum co-sponsor Friends of Sleepy Hollow, said, "I can't do it."

Turner Kavanaugh said if the mayor or her husband, Peter Briggs, had called Wednesday to say she was ill, the forum would have been canceled.

"FOSH is not in the business of embarrassing anybody," she said.

As co-sponsors, the Plainfield League of Women Voters had prepared and printed informational flyers with biographies, statements and answers to two League questions from the candidates and made other preparations for the event.

Some in the audience perceived the mayor's absence as a kind of tit-for-tat response to Mapp's absence Sunday. Former PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson told the NAACP forum audience of about 15 people that Mapp's absence was a slight to the civil rights organization, but Mapp told Plaintalker he had only received the invitation on May 7 and had immediately informed Peter Briggs, who is president of the Plainfield NAACP branch, that he had a prior commitment.

At the meeting Sunday, the mayor announced a community meeting to be held Friday featuring Rev. Al Sharpton as a "special guest." The meeting is 6:30 p.m. at Washington Community School and Sharpton's National Action network has his appearance scheduled for 8 p.m.

Much of the mayor's presentation Sunday had to do with refuting results of an investigation by the governing body into an Aug. 1, 2010 community meeting that also featured Sharpton. Questions arose over funding for the event and the mayor showed enlarged documents Sunday that she said proved the $20,000 expense was legitimate. An individual who seemed close to the mayor but declined to give his name to Plaintalker predicted that Sharpton would address the same matter Friday and "blow it out of the water."

(See Plaintalker's post on the outcome of the investigation here.)
Photo credit: Barbara Todd Kerr
After the meeting closed Wednesday with no forum, Mapp stayed on the talk to residents. He said of the mayor's absence, "I am very disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to have an exchange of ideas with my opponent" so that the audience could "have a better sense of who is qualified." He said he would welcome an opportunity to have a forum again before the election.


Join CSA for Organic Food

I am passing along this information, read carefully and take action if you want to have organic food delivered in Plainfield.

Youth Group Tackles Budget Issues

Screen grab from Facebook page for Plainfield Youth-Summit
A routine budget meeting turned lively when members of a youth group got up to comment, chiding elders for  faults including not using social media to build interest in recreation programs.

It was the second public meeting this week for the group and members plan to be out in force for tonight's mayoral candidates' forum as well. The forum is 7 p.m. at the Plainfield Public Library.

Tuesday's budget meeting featured the Department of Public Works & Urban Development, which includes Public Works, Inspections, Economic Development and Recreation divisions. Department Director Eric Jackson and the division heads presented their 2013 budgets to the City Council and the Citizens Budget Advisory Board before the floor was opened for public comment and the youths had their say. Isaiah Thompson wanted to know why the Plainfield golf team can't use Milt Campbell Field, while another member said the Economic Development presentation didn't answer the committee's questions. To attract more participation in Recreation programs, youth group members advised use of Facebook and Twitter and were incredulous that outdated information on the city web site was not quickly corrected.

Jackson listened carefully to all their comments and invited further discussion after the meeting.

Public Works, Economic Development and Inspections all presented "flat budgets" with no major changes. Jackson asked for two new positions in Recreation, which he said now has a superintendent and secretarial assistant along with "a host of seasonal workers." He suggested adding a "recreation specialist" and a clerk, offsetting their salaries by reducing the number of seasonal workers.

The Recreation Division was embroiled for the past couple years in controversy over a volunteer-based baseball league that sought use of city fields. Former Superintendent Dave Wynn left the post last year and Jackson said this year the city baseball league and the other one are working cooperatively, but characterized the division as "fractured" in asking for the additional staff.

Budget committee members asked why only a few hundred city children were served by the program and Jackson said, "We have a problem in Plainfield getting information out."

Jackson said the department plans to increase contact with civic associations and churches to publicize the programs.

Among innovations for 2013, Public Works Superintendent John Louise said the city plans to use a "salt brine" method of snow and ice removal. By coating streets in advance of a storm, the division can save manpower. The division will also use a "pothole killer" truck that can be operated by one man.

Inspections may come in for increased fees in order to become self-sustaining and there will be a greater effort to share information with other city health and safety agencies. Economic Development is working on a business registration program and is exploring an innovative Wharton School approach to get new owners for foreclosed properties.

Budget deliberations continue at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Plainfield Public Library, with the Department of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services up for review.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mayoral Forum Tomorrow

Mayoral Candidates Forum
7 p.m. Wednesday
Plainfield Public Library

Sponsored by FOSH and Plainfield LWV
Park on street or in Ninth Street lot

Residents Speak Out At Third Ward Meeting

Young people clamored for jobs, householders deplored speeders, a neighborhood activist called for a crackdown on fire pits and a former councilman asked what became of the road repair plan at Monday's Third Ward Town Meeting.

Youth Organization for Unity members wearing bright green T-shirts took issue with the city's summer youth employment program, one saying its late start in July left only a few weeks' worth of pay checks. Another youth program stopped in 2007 or 2008, student Isaac Wilkins said. Council President Bridget Rivers pledged to bring his concerns back to the administration. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said people sometimes have the impression that city government can provide jobs, but she said it has a finite number of  jobs and the role of a municipality is to provide services.

Two commissions were established in 2006 to involve youth in government, but Williams said neither has had any appointments for years. (See Plaintalker post here on youth commissions.)

Resident Laura Glover spoke forcefully on the need for "quality of life" improvements in her Bellevue Avenue neighborhood, including curbs on speeding and upkeep of vacant homes. James Lee of West Eighth Street said his street is "like a little drag race" and with many more children now in the neighborhood, he favors speed humps like those in South Plainfield to slow drivers down. Councilman Adrian Mapp said he tried to get speed humps installed in Plainfield when they were installed in the neighboring municipality, but the administration rejected the idea.

Former Councilman Malcolm Dunn, now a PMUA commissioner, had a number of concerns including timely budget passage and a road repair program that was conceived in 2004 but was stalled for several years. He directed a lot of comments to Mapp, who like himself had served as council president. Mapp said 22 streets were repaired when he was president in 2004 and 33 were done when he held the seat last year. Dunn said there was once a chart online where residents could follow the road repair schedule.

Dunn also asked about a long-discussed application for the city to be designated as a transit village. Corporation Counsel David Minchello verified that the application was made this year. Dunn said such a  designation is why people come to other towns that have it. (See a 2006 Plaintalker post on the topic here.)

Dunn followed Wilkins at the microphone and shook his hand, telling the council and audience that Wilkins had received a Bill Gates scholarship that will pay for his education through the doctorate level.

Longtime community activist Nancy Piwowar brought copies of fire laws to the microphone, recounting how a neighbor had a new fire pit but was using it without a permit or proper safeguards. Concerned about flying embers, she called the Fire Division one night to get the fire put out.

"I kept my neighborhood from being burned down that night," she said.

Piwowar said she hoped the mayor would put fire code information in her newsletters to residents.

Other speakers raised a wide range of concerns during the two-hour meeting, which was taped for broadcast on the local community stations. Members of the youth group received instruction from community television board advisor Lamar Mackson on operating the camera. The 2013 Town Meeting schedule concludes with the Ward Four meeting 7 p.m. on June 19 at Jefferson School, 1750 West Front Street.


PMUA Moving Park Avenue Offices

Offices of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority now located in the Circa 1886 Marsh Building at 203 Park Avenue will soon be migrating to to the Union County Improvement Authority Park-Madison building at 215 West Front Street.

PMUA commissioners held a special meeting Monday to vote on the lease, which will have an annual base rent of $36,000, with $9,700 for maintenance and $6,500 for taxes. The new offices will occupy 2,443 square feet with a lease term of 120 months. The current office on Park Avenue has more than 5,000 square feet, but officials said less than half was in use for 15 employees. The new lease includes two exclusive parking spaces and five parking permits. PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson said the UCIA will not permit use of the parking deck on the site due to "liability issues."

The rent will increase every two years, but Commissioner Malcolm Dunn said it will take nine or 10 years for it to reach the rate currently being paid. The authority can opt out of the contract in three years with one-year notice. Offices moving from Park Avenue include Human Resources, Sales and Facilities & Maintenance. The lease there expires on June 30.

The authority owns its headquarters at 127 Roosevelt Avenue and ratepayers will continue to pay bills there. It also owns buildings on Cottage Place, but leases the Rock Avenue Transfer Station from the city. A plan to consolidate offices on Cottage Place in 2006 fell through (see Plaintalker post here).

Other occupants of the UCIA Park-Madison building include state and county offices that formerly leased spaces throughout the city. According to an audit on the UCIA web site, 2011 rental income on the building was $3.4 million, up from $2.9 million in 2010. The UCIA has a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city and according to the 2013 Municipal Data Sheet, $62,852.10 was paid in 2012 and $35,000 is anticipated for 2013.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Regarding 2012 Third Ward`Results

Plaintalker checked June 2012 primary results to verify whether Adrian Mapp won by only about 200 votes as alleged by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. The official count was 787 for Mapp, 534 for Abdul-Haqq, a 60-40 percent spread. No challenge was filed with the county clerk. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel reviewed the case and did not assess any penalty to Mapp, who stepped down from the job in question and now holds another position. See Plaintalker's initial post on the challenge here.


Mystery Solved!

Scott Belin
 is hereby recognized
 plant sleuth extraordinaire
 for identifying the Angelica
 that mysteriously grew in my garden. 

My neighbor and I were stumped by a plant that showed up out of nowhere last year and  wintered over successfully. In April, Scott Belin responded to this post and identified it as Angelica. As he predicted, this year it has grown very tall and is producing many flower heads.


Sharpton Returning Friday, Mayor Says At Forum

She's running for a third four-year term, but at a candidates' forum Sunday, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs leaned heavily on political touchstones of the past - the 2005 homicide rate of her predecessor, the 2010 Town Meeting featuring Rev. Al Sharpton and the ensuing flap over a $20,000 check to WBLS.

Her immediate future - as in Friday - will include welcoming Sharpton back for another visit and she also revealed a "five-star plan" for the city's future, which she will share with the press and post on the city's web site. The May 24 visit is 6:30 p.m. at Washington Community School, 427 Darrow Ave. and is to discuss "Partnerships, Priorities and Progress for Plainfield." The date is also on Sharpton's National Action Network calendar for 8 p.m. Friday.

Robinson-Briggs was on familiar turf Sunday at the NAACP forum. She served as branch president and is a lifetime member, she said. Her husband, Peter Briggs, is the current president and conducted the forum. Her opponent in the June 4 primary, Councilman Adrian Mapp, did not attend due to a prior commitment.

The mayor cited shared services and road repair among accomplishments of her administration, but with no questions at first from the audience of 15 people, she launched into a recounting of how her tenure saw a reduction in homicides from a 2005 high under former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams and how, when gang activity caused a spike in shootings, she organized the Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting with a panel of 22 speakers, including other mayors and Sharpton. Lives were saved through the three-hour radio broadcast over WBLS and WLIB, she said.

To disprove criticism over the $20,000 cost that led to an investigation by the governing body, she produced large poster board "visuals" showing, she said, that bids for the broadcast were sought and that there was nothing wrong in receiving a $15,000 check from Investors Savings to help pay for it. The check was earmarked for the July Fourth celebration, but the mayor said the bank agreed to change its use.

"It proved to be very successful," she said of the broadcast, noting a gang truce eventually took place.

A question came from the audience regarding the shuttered Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center and the mayor said she had urged former Gov. Jon Corzine to authorize a statewide lottery to fund hospitals, but never got a response. She said she is against a proposal to erect 600 apartments on the site but believes the parent company is "massaging another proposal" with less density. A satellite emergency that remains at the site is scheduled to close in August.

Her future plans include more beautification, such as was recently carried out at City Hall, and establishment of a downtown storefront location where day laborers who now stand on the street can congregate. The five-star plan calls for more shared services; a debt collection task force that may pursue payment of court fines as well as $1.3 million the mayor alleged is owed by the Union County Improvement Authority; a contest to recognize the cleanest blocks in the city; a youth center; and expansion of the Office of Emergency Management.

The mayor also wants to establish an African-Caribbean Commission along the lines of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Late in the forum, the mayor traced events that ended with her not receiving the Democratic Party line for the June primary and disparaged Mapp, who did get the line despite a rocky relationship with the party over several years. Acknowledging Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green as her mentor early on, she alleged he has been telling people she was not listening to him.

"I'm a grown woman," she said, alluding to reaching a point where mentoring was not needed.

She reminded the audience that Union County Democratic Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo, who gave Mapp the line, had recently been rebuked by state Local Government Services Director Tom Neff , and said Mapp "stole votes" in his Third Ward race which she said should have gone to his challenger, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq.

Calling herself "a woman who has given her all" to the community, Robinson-Briggs said of the primary, "This is an election that is going to change the face of Plainfield."


Get Engaged! (In Civic Life, That Is)

If you ever wanted to jump into civic life, next week is your chance.

Here's the lineup:

11 a.m. special meeting of PMUA, 127 Roosevelt Ave. on leasing space in the UCIA-owned Park-Madison building

7 p.m. Third Ward Town Meeting, Cedarbrook School, 1049 Central Ave. City Council members welcome any and all residents to voice their concerns.
7 p.m. City Council Budget Deliberations, Senior Center, 400 E. Front St. Topic: Department of Public Works & Urban Development.
7 p.m. Mayoral Forum, Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave. (park on street or Ninth Avenue lot). Incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Councilman Adrian Mapp, contenders in June 4 Democratic primary. Sponsored by FOSH and League of Women Voters. Audience may submit questions.
7 p.m. City Council Budget Deliberations, Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave. Topic: Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services

7:30 p.m. Charter Study Commission, City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. Dr. Ernest Reock is expected to visit.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Sale!

Plainfield Public Library
9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
May 17 & 18
of the 
Plainfield Public Library

You Are Invited

Notice on the city web site

Following The (Municipal) Money

Those who would like to see a forensic audit of city finances might be interested in this article from the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

Since 2006, the city has had a high turnover in directors of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services in addition to lengthy vacancies in the office of chief financial officer.

Former City Administrator Norton Bonaparte was the first fiance director in 2006, but left to become the first city manager of Topeka, Kans. City Administrator Carlton McGee tacitly covered the department until he left in November 2006. Raiford Daniels became head of AFH&SS in December 2006 but left in November 2007, leaving new City Administrator Marc Dashield to cover the department.

Douglas Peck was the next AFH&SS director, serving from April 2008 to December 2008. Dashield again had to do dual duty until Bibi Taylor was hired in July 2009. In January 2010, Taylor became city administrator in addition to being acting head of AFH&SS.

Since November 2010, Al Restaino has held the post, first in acting capacity and then as permanent department head. He also retains his original job as director of Community Development, a division of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development.

The city's longtime chief financial officer, Peter Sepelya, left at the end of 2007. The city was without a CFO for three years until state officials threatened daily fines for the mayor and council. The hiring of Ron Zilinski  in November 2010 warded off the fines, though Zilinski did not start work until January 2011 for 28 hours a week. He left after a year. In February 2012, the council approved hiring Glenn Cullen as a part-time CFO while a search was conducted for a permanent CFO. Cullen is still serving on a part-time basis.

With such a long list of people in charge of city finances and several periods of vacancy in key posts, a forensic audit might be hard to do unless very good records exist.


Update On September Celebrations

Plaintalker recently reported on Edison Garcia's two requests for council approval, one for a July weekend celebration of U.S.independence and another to celebrate Central American independence in September.

It turns out that once again Rodney Maree applied first for the September dates, so on May 13 Garcia got only the July approvals. See original post here. A resolution on Maree's request is expected in June.

I'm told Garcia will have to choose alternate dates in September, as city officials found two major events on the same day a bit much.

Last year, the dual event drew interest from politicians (click here to see post). Two separate events in September will probably prove just as enticing to campaigners as well as those just out to celebrate their heritage.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

City Hall A "Knockout"

 The new "Knockout" Rose bushes are now in bloom at City Hall.
 These Roses are bred to provide continuous bloom until frost.
 Last night on my way to the budget meeting, I saw a group of teenagers testing out the benches. Hopefully they will enjoy the upgrade responsibly.
 The handrails on the front steps are gone, making a lovely effect. Most people enter from the parking lot in the rear, where stairs have rails and there is even an elevator for wheelchairs.
The Yews are making new growth unobtrusively in the back row while the Roses and soon-to-bloom Coreopsis are front and center. Very nice! There is also a photo display in the rotunda detailing the work that was done. Take a look next time you visit.


Overtime A Budget Worry For Police, Fire

Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, L-R: Charles McRae, Jan Massey, Jeanette Criscione, Jaclynne Callands, Dee Dameron, Robert Darden.

Police and Fire salaries take up more than a third of the city budget, but both divisions are challenged by costs for overtime and acting pay, officials said Wednesday.

Budget deliberations for 2013 got underway with the City Council and the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee reviewing requests from the Department of Public Safety. Finance Director Al Restaino and budget consultant David Kochel were also on hand as Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig and Fire Chief Frank Tidwell presented their budgets.

Hellwig called the Police Division's schedule, four days on alternating with four days off, "a manager's nightmare" when factoring in sick and vacation days that require coverage and acting pay for officers filling in for those of higher rank. Police must cover four shifts a day, he said. While Hellwig and Tidwell both said there was better control than in the past, further improvement may only come through union negotiations.

Observers were at a disadvantage in some of the discussion Wednesday, as the council and committee were working from large budget binders and did not always give figures when challenging costs. Talks sometimes also veered off the 2013 operating budget into other subjects, such as foreclosures, loitering and job creation. Tidwell spoke about the need for a new firehouse to replace one on South Avenue that is historic but unsuitable for large, modern fire engines. The first step, he said, is a needs assessment that could cost about $70,000. Council members suggested researching state or even private funding for a new fire station.

The city is seeking FEMA funds to offset overtime and emergency costs incurred by the Oct. 29 storm dubbed "Sandy."  Tidwell said the Fire Division is applying for $80,000.

Other concerns included the status of promised raises for crossing guards and a proposal to hire civilian fire inspectors. The session was recorded for playback on local cable and fiber-optic channels.

The next budget meeting will be 7 p.m. Tuesday (May 21) at the Senior Center, 400 E. Front St., and will cover the Department of Public Works & Urban Development.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unaffiliated Voters Can Declare Party At Polls

Thirty-nine percent of registered voters in Plainfield are "unaffiliated," meaning they are not Democrats, Republicans, Greens or members of any other party recognized by the state. If you are unaffiliated but want to vote in the June 4 Democratic primary, you can declare yourself a Democrat when you go to vote.

You can verify your ward and district polling place with the City Clerk.

The only Primary contest is for mayor. Democrats Adrian Mapp, the Third Ward City Council representative, and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs are vying to be on the November ballot. On Nov. 5, the winning Democrat will face Republican Sandy Spector and any independent(s) who file on Primary Day. The  winner of the Nov.5 General Election will begin a four-year term on Jan. 1, 2014.


Good Luck On Events, Budget in 2013

Rhododendron, the State Flower of Washington

So my plane from Seattle was just about to touch down on the runway Tuesday at Newark Liberty when it went back up in the air again. A flight officer explained that another plane was in the way, so we had to do a "go-around" and try again.

A fitting analogy for the many times an anticipated outcome here has turned out to be still up in the air. One current example might be the request of nightclub owner Edison Garcia for use of city parking lots in July and September for fiestas celebrating independence of our nation (on July 5, 6 and 7) and several Central American nations (on Sept. 14 and 15). Based on information in the council packet for May 6, I posted this preview.

I was away for Monday's meeting, but saw a resolution online that only mentioned the July dates. Last year, as noted in the blog post, a conflict arose for the September dates and was resolved by allowing Garcia and another nightclub owner to hold events on the same weekend in city parking lots flanking Watchung Avenue. Both were successful, despite some questions (see post here).

I will have to check tomorrow on what the anticipated outcome is for the September event. It's kind of a minor thing among all the other city concerns on the table, but the dual events drew thousands of visitors and it would be good to have clarity on the plans.

Looking at new notices from the City Clerk's office, I see that budget hearings will be condensed into one each for three city departments, regardless of how many divisions involved, and a general one for the rest of city government and the six-year Capital Improvement Plan. Then it's on to amendments, a public hearing and possible adoption, all in less than a month for a process that in the past has allowed more time for deliberation. See Plaintalker's 2012 commentary here.

For whatever reason, time is short now and the budget must be finalized as soon as possible. The city changed to a calendar year budget last year in part to avoid operating for many months on temporary appropriations, but half of 2013 will be gone in June. Maybe by 2014 the anticipated outcome of early budget adoption will happen without things going up in the air again. At least this year we will once again have guidance from budget consultant David Kochel, who brought us in for a happy landing despite glitches in 2012.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bonds Need Review and Accounting

Did you know that $2,500 from a General Improvement Bond was used for a WBLS van appearance in a July Fourth parade? Or that funds from another bond were used for bubble wrap, drapes and pool tables when the Senior Center relocated to the Monarch building?

This is the kind of  free-handed approach to  public money that has a lot of people worried about city finances in the absence of the kind of checks and balances a full-time chief financial officer might provide.
Click here to read about the Senior Center bond issue. Once the moving and furnishing expenses were taken out, the balance of more than $3 million was canceled. Did that mean it went into the general fund where it was accessible for other administrative ploys?

Years ago, administrative consultant Robert Casey gave the council a lesson on bonding and debt service. Maybe the current council needs a catch-up course to guide their decision-making. There may not be anyone in City Hall who can give an accounting of all outstanding bonds, whether they were used for the purpose stated when issued and the total debt. It was stated at a council meeting that the $8 million in new bonds would only bring the city up to one-third of allowable debt. How about filling in the whole picture?

The 2013 election could bring a continuance of the current administration or introduce a new one. Either way, the council needs to know the fiscal state of the city, whether through an exit interview or an orientation to a new administration.

The current mayor called for a "forensic audit" of the prior administration and now resident Robert Darden is calling for a forensic audit of her administration. Auditors prepare statements every year for the city, but a forensic audit is more like an investigation and carries the implication of wrongdoing. Things may not have to go that far, but more information is definitely needed on city finances.

This dearth of information on fiscal policies and performance goes back a while, as Plaintalker reported here in 2009. Shouldn't we clear things up by the end of 2013?


A Bouquet of Images

Here's a Rhododendron snapped with my new birthday camera from Audrey and Peter.
Thanks to Audrey for being my firstborn and inaugurating me into motherhood!
Happy Mother's Day to all nurturers and caregivers of children and other beloved creatures.


Visiting the Seattle Chinese Garden

Seattle has a large and diverse Asian population whose cultures and traditions are reflected in food choices, public events and institutions across the city. On Saturday we visited the Seattle Chinese Garden, a work in progress that will eventually have many structures and natural features reflecting Chinese philosophy and spirituality.
A plaque details Seattle's partnership with a West China city to create the garden and donor walls hold names of benefactors in the U.S. and China. (Click any image to enlarge.)
The garden sections created so far blend water, stone and living plants that include evergreens of infinite shapes and textures as well as flowering shrubs, annuals and perennials that show the cycle of seasons in colors both subtle and bold.
Rhododendrons and azaleas are in profuse bloom all over Seattle right now.
Many of our familiar garden flowers were discovered in China by 19th century "plant hunters" who brought them to England to satisfy the Victorian enthusiasm for garden novelty.
Chinese gardening includes a high degree of reverence for plants as symbols of spiritual concepts.
Besides the portion already constructed, Audrey and Peter and I saw signs for many future elements, including a large reflecting pool and places to meditate and study. Click here for more information.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post visit and also hope you get to visit Seattle someday in person. I like all the gardens and arboretums best, but there is something for everyone out here.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Trip on the Water Taxi

Yesterday we took the King County Water Taxi from West Seattle to Pier 50 in downtown Seattle.
To board, we used our Orca cards, which are also good for bus rides or the new light rail.
Here is a reader in the West Seattle Junction that allows riders to pay before boarding the new RapidRide bus. Water Taxi staff used a hand-held reader to take our fare. In other modes of transportation, the passenger just taps the card on a reader while boarding. NJTransit, how about an upgrade from train tickets and exact change on buses?
Approaching, we see the Space Needle on the left and the giant Ferris Wheel in the center.
We walked to Pioneer Square. What a surprise to enter an enclosure and find a roaring waterfall!
Visitors can sit and enjoy the Waterfall Garden's leafy ambiance. I joked to Audrey and Peter that it would be a great place for secret conversations, as the cascading water makes it impossible to hear what people at the next table are saying.
Besides lots of shops and restaurants, Pioneer Square has public art like this sculpture in tribute to Seattle firefighters (click on image to enlarge).
The bright sunlight obscured this magnificent totem pole.
Here's a landmark building, although Pioneer Square in its entirety is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Seattle's oldest restaurant is here.
Another beautiful structure in Pioneer Square.
Audrey snapped a photo of me on the ride back.
Here's the downtown Seattle skyline as seen from the Water Taxi. The building with the pointed top at the right was once the tallest building west of the Rockies, Audrey tells me.

All in all, another great day in sunny Seattle!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jam Steppers Seek Support

Something came up at Monday's City Council meeting that will cause Plaintalker to deviate from the usual topics and make a further departure by suggesting support for a local group.

Several young children and a couple of adults came to the meeting and one of them, Jerome Cabble, made a pitch to the council for funds. Cabble is the new director of the Jam Steppers Drill Team, one of the first organizations I learned about when I first came to Plainfield. The director then was Jeanette Lacks, who impressed me with her determination to provide children with an activity that built teamwork, dedication, commitment and the competitive spirit while celebrating and excelling in an African-American tradition.

As I recall, over 30 years in Plainfield, I helped publicize the team's successes while I worked at both weekly and daily newspapers and I gained much respect for Ms.Lacks, who went on to become a teacher in Plainfield.ion

If you have attended the annual July Fourth parade or the PMUA Environmental Fair, you probably have seen the Jam Steppers. They also compete widely in drill team contests and, according to a press release handed out Monday, the team is now a member of the American Marching Association and holds the title of Multi-State Intermediate Division Champions. On June 7, they will take part in a championship competition in Ohio and that was the reason for the funding request.

Unfortunately, the governing body is prohibited from appropriating public funds for such a purpose, although elected officials can encourage their constituents to donate to a worthy cause. I was picky or mean enough to   raise this point myself in public comment, but after the meeting I went over to Cabble to ask about
 Ms. Lacks and to get more information.

Anyone who is so inclined can send a check made out to "Jam Steppers Drill Team" to Cabble at 532 West Fourth Street, Plainfield, NJ 07060 to defray costs including uniforms, boots, drums and travel.

Click here to see a video of the Jam Steppers at a competition in Connecticut. Their goal is to raise $8,000 and they welcome fundraisers such as candy/bake sales, dinner sales, raffles and other efforts for their cause.
Sponsors are also welcome.

I can't tell you how often I have heard people say there is nothing for youngsters to do in Plainfield, but there are sincere adults in the community who take time to coach and support children and teens in worthwhile activities that build character and provide positive camaraderie.

Here is what the Jam Steppers say: "Our purpose is to strive to establish a team foundation that not just focuses on the physical but also the social-emotional and spiritual well-being of all members."

Let the people say amen.


Off to the PNW (Pacific Northwest)

Wallflowers and Forget-Me-Nots

Leaving my gardens behind this morning to go visit Audrey and Peter in West Seattle ...


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PMUA Seeks FEMA Funds, Targets Recycling Violators

Like many householders and business owners affected by Hurricane Sandy, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority is still seeking reimbursement from FEMA for cleanup costs from the Oct. 29 storm. But building the authority's case is proving very complicated, due to its ties to the city and new contracts with neighboring municipalities.

The storm struck at a most inopportune time for the authority, which has provided solid waste and sewer services to the city for more than 15 years. The authority had just launched a drive to bring in outside revenue, a long-promised goal, by offering disposal of vegetative waste at very competitive rates. The storm produced many extra tons of tree debris and upset a deal the PMUA had for final disposal of the waste at a Lawrenceville site (see post here).

As discussion at a meeting Tuesday revealed, now the PMUA has to draw together all these elements - the city agreement, the new contracts with other municipalities and the change in final disposal rates - to prove that the authority is entitled to reimbursement.

Staff member Reno Wilkins said one issue is that FEMA is regarding the authority's interlocal services agreement with the city as all-inclusive, covering even all the debris from the storm. Executive Director Dan Williamson said the authority is still compiling all its claims and needs to substantiate them, such as with receipts from Britton Industries in Lawrenceville, which accepted most of the debris after it was dumped at the Rock Avenue transfer station.

Robert Kearney, assistant superintendent of the transfer station, said the authority aims to prove the differing disposal cost before and after the storm. Britton had been accepting vegetative waste at a flat monthly rate of $2,408.33, but when the storm debris began pouring in, the company first refused it, then accepted it at a negotiated rate of $15 per ton, Executive Director Dan Williamson said.

FEMA has also been checking separately with the municipalities who signed up to dump at the transfer station, Williamson said.

Besides the cost of final disposal, the authority also had costs for overtime, equipment and even damage to fences, he said.

"We very frankly have no clue where we are going to end up," Williamson said, but held out hope for partial payment by the end of the year.

In other news, the authority is nearing imposition of fines on property owners who have been found in audits to be disregarding recycling rules. The PMUA announced the audit last fall (see post here) and said violators would be subject to fines from $250 to $1,000 per incident. The goal is to keep recyclables out of the waste stream by separating out bottles, cans and paper from household garbage.

Inspectors have issued $16,000 worth of summonses and Williamson said although none have been paid yet, "Ultimately we will get paid."

He promised to bring the PMUA board of commissioners both the number of fines and the amount paid.

"So you are satisfied that residents are getting adequate notice?" Commissioner Harold Mitchell asked.

"We are not trying at all to penalize people," Williamson said. "We are trying to increase tonnage in recycling. It will take time for people to come on board."