Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ramadan Begins July 9

You know the world is changing when The Old Farmer's Almanac has information about Ramadan.

It still has all the familiar lore about planting and cycles of the sun and moon, but I was surprised to see a concise explanation of Ramadan in the almanac online while looking up the dates for Ramadan. The start of the annual fast is determined by a sighting of the new moon and in 2013 it will begin on July 9.

In Plainfield, the feast day at the end of Ramadan, Eid al Fitr, was a school holiday for the first time in 2008-09. In the next school year, the holiday did not fall on a school day and so was not observed by the district. Because it is based on a lunar calendar, Ramadan does not occur at the same time each year. The issue of whether to include Eid al Fitr as a school holiday may not come up again until 2017 or 2018.

For more information on Ramadan and the feast day at the end of the fast, click here. An estimated 2.04 billion Muslims worldwide will be observing Ramadan.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Backyard Scenes

The Butterfly Bush no sooner bloomed than this creature (moth or butterfly?) showed up to sip nectar from 
the blossoms.
A pair of robins abandoned this nest, perhaps because it was in a bush next to the driveway and people were parking too close for comfort. I cut the branch to show my neighbor the intricate construction - twigs on the outside, a bowl-shaped layer of mud and soft grass inside. An alternate theory is that one of the feral cats got the robins. One egg was open, but there was no sign of a hatchling.
The Evening Primrose took over last year's wildflower patch and the Yarrow that was only fronds last year finally bloomed . I had to snap a photo at midnight to see the Evening Primrose flowering. By day, the flowers fade and fall off.
The Black-Eyed Susans are the remnants of a huge population grown from seeds collected with permission from Schmiede's Nursery on South Avenue a long time ago. 
It's Purple Coneflower time again. I have given away many of them grown from seed that I collected. There might have been more had Mau as a rambunctious young cat not knocked over a whole saucer of seedlings on the sun porch.

Forget-Me-Nots and Love-In-A-Mist have already gone to seed and I have plenty stored for next year. Portulaca has sprouted and been transplanted and we are looking forward to seeing Sunflowers and Black-Eyed Susan Vine coming up, along with lots of colorful Balsam.

Thanks to the rain, there is a bumper crop of weeds as well, including Artemisia, Bedstraw, Burdock, Sorrel and Jack-By-The-Hedge. Maybe I will wield my Hori-hori gardening knife this weekend and do battle with the weeds.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Caribbean American Heritage Day Celebration Sunday

The Caribbean American Heritage Foundation will celebrate Caribbean American Heritage Day from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday in Cedar Brook Park, Councilman Adrian Mapp said.

"There will be a flag raising, music and lots of fun," Mapp said in a press release.

Canon Leroy Lyons and Trevor Barrow will be recognized for their contributions to the Caribbean American community and and to the USA, Mapp said. Canon Lyons was pastor of St. Mark's Episcopal Church for 42 years, increasing it to one of the 20 largest parishes in the Diocese of New Jersey with a membership of over 500 communicants, a large Sunday School, and a vibrant Youth Program. Barrow came to Plainfield from Barbados in 1973 and became a resource to many people in the Caribbean immigrant community, helping people with immigrant and citizenship paperwork, taxes and computer problems. He was a founding member of Garden State Cricket League and served as treasurer for Mapp's political campaigns.

National Caribbean-American Heritage Month has been celebrated in June for eight years. Click here to learn more.

City's Main Developer Refocusing Elsewhere?

Developer Frank Cretella has dropped plans to add a fifth story "lounge" to the PNC Bank building and appears to have slowed down on other projects in Plainfield while moving ahead on renovations of a country estate near New Hope.

In May, Cretella withdrew two applications that had been pending before the Historic Preservation Commission since February. One was to put awnings on the Courier News building that has been converted to eight apartments, with a restaurant planned for the first floor. The other was to make exterior improvements to the PNC Bank building and add the fifth story, as reported here. The bank project was first unveiled in 2009, with the promise of a Trader Joe's, but in February architect Jose Carballo said that was no longer viable. Commissioners had questions regarding the fifth story lounge and a proposed shallow pool on the roof and the matter was carried to April, then to May.

As reported by Plaintalker, all four applications discussed in February were carried. The two North Avenue projects not withdrawn in May were discussed again at the June 25 meeting, with only assistant planner Gabe Bailer representing Cretella. Bailer as unable to give definitive answers to commissioners' questions on some aspects of the plans and the two applications were carried to July.

Meanwhile, Frank and Jeanne Cretella are bringing their more than 25 years of success in hospitality ventures to renovating Hotel du Village in Bucks County. See details here. The new venture follows their renovation of the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station.

Hospitality and real estate development are the two streams of Landmark Developers, Cretella's Jersey City-based firm, but the former seems to be favored. Cretella began his real estate involvement in Plainfield in 2006 with ambitious plans for North Avenue and eventually had nearly a dozen projects on the books. So far, only the eight apartments in the Courier News building and four apartments and a medical office in another Park Avenue building have been completed. In the same time frame, Landmark converted the former Chanticler Chateau in Warren to Stone House Restaurant.

Cretella's Plainfield plans include some hospitality venues, but he needs one or more liquor licenses and so far none have been acquired. The city has more liquor licenses than permitted under a state formula, but older ones were "grandfathered" when the formula was adopted. Official sentiment has been that there should be no expansion of licenses and any defunct ones should not be revived.

Cretella's most ambitious project for Plainfield, 148 residential apartments and commercial space on West Second Street, received approvals in 2010, but ground has not been broken. Conversion of the former Mirons Furniture warehouse and the Romonds Jeep building have also stalled. Still, of numerous development proposals floated since 2006, Cretella's have emerged as the most viable.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Special PMUA Meeting Monday

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m.on Monday, July 1, at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. Agenda items are a summer intern program and possible award of a contract for vegetative waste services.

The PMUA rejected three bids in May for vegetative waste disposal. It is an important part of the authority's operation now that it has contracts with neighboring municipalities to accept brush, leaves and plant debris at the Rock Avenue transfer station. The contract up for discussion would cover removal to a final disposal site.

According to minutes from the May meeting, PMUA staff rejected all bids at that time in order to refine specifications and rates for various kinds of vegetative waste.

The PMUA previously had a contract with a vender that took all vegetative waste at a flat rate per month. The vender balked when tonnage increased dramatically after the Oct. 29 storm that downed many trees. The storm coincided with the launching of the authority's first program to attract outside revenue by offering to accept vegetative waste at the transfer station, and the increased volume taxed the station's capacity.

To see more background on the issue, see minutes of a Jan. 29 special PMUA meeting here.

Let Out the Watchdogs

Call it scrutiny, oversight, checks and balances - every public entity needs some. The current spotlight is on legal costs at the Plainfield school district now that state Comptroller Matthew Boxer has released his report.
Over at the PMUA, a citizen group used the Open Public Records Act to uncover high costs for commissioners' food and travel, leading to reforms.

Dr. Harold Yood studies each City Council agenda and questions unusual costs at public meetings.

The late Bob Ferraro, both as a citizen and a City Council member, reveled in his "watchdog" role. Newspapers have long had a watchdog role when it comes to public funds.
Alas, DumpPMUA appears to be in abeyance and BOE watchers are few nowadays. Yesterday brought the shocking news that the Star-Ledger, considered the state's paper of record, may close down if a union/management standoff cannot be resolved. Even Plainfield's blogs, once numbered in dozens, have dwindled to a bare handful.
Feeding at the public trough is a longtime Jersey tradition, explored both in a book and a documentary titled "The Soprano State."  Reporter Bob Ingle co-authored the book with Sandy McClure and Ingle continues to monitor corruption in his column.

When fiscal missteps go on to reach the level of crime, you can read about it here.More often, once a situation is exposed, officials take steps to correct it. That is likely to be the outcome with the school district's oversight of legal fees, as it was with PMUA's food and travel policies. The city is still at a disadvantage in not having a chief financial officer, except for the part-time services of one serving full-time as CFO and business administrator in a neighboring municipality.

Who will be the next generation of watchdogs?  Anyone who is willing to attend public meetings, read documents, check the law, ask questions and challenge authority. You don't even need a cape or a lightsaber, just a notebook and a pen.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Plainfield District Faulted For Legal Fees

Take a look at this report from Comptroller Matthew Boxer (Plainfield section starts on page 33 of text).

Mark Spivey's report is in today's Courier News.

Keep Jackson in 2014

Eric Jackson

Since coming to Plainfield in September 2011, Eric Jackson has gained a lot of fans here.

As director of Public Works& Urban Development, he guides some of the most important divisions to the city's "quality of life."  He comes across as a consummate professional, taking compliments and criticism with equal aplomb, and conveys a genuine interest in citizens' concerns.

His term runs concurrently with the mayor's, and so will end Dec. 31. It is no secret that he is running for mayor of Trenton. He was one of three finalists for the Trenton mayoralty in 2010. The winner, Tony Mack, is now facing a trial on federal corruption charges. It is not surprising that Jackson would want to pursue an attempt to lead Trenton out of a disastrous era. 

Trenton has non-partisan elections, so Jackson would not have to file officially until March 2014. There would be an election in May and a runoff in June if no contender got more than 50 percent of the vote. The winner would not take office until July 1.

If Jackson wins, Plainfield would at least have had the benefit of his expertise through what may be a tough transition after eight years of turnover in the cabinet.

There is a precedent for keeping on a cabinet member through a mayoral transition. In 2006, former City Administrator Norton Bonaparte remained as acting director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services. He left in March 2006 to become the first city manager of Topeka, Kans., a position he held for five years. He then became city manager of Sanford, Fla., where his official role came to include dealing with worldwide attention following the killing of Trayvon Martin.

It will be up to the next mayor to choose cabinet members and up to Jackson whether he wants to stay on past December if asked, but it could help smooth the transition to have him here for the launch of a new administration. It's just something to think about.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

East Third/Richmond, A Broken Dream

Painted-over graffiti, broken windows and general disrepair mark this once-proud site on East Third Street.

The former Cozzoli Machine Company moved out of the 40,000-square-foot building to a 100,000-square-foot facility in Somerset. The property and other lots on Richmond Street were sold to RTN LLC of Elizabeth for $925,000 and the location was targeted for development in 2006. Capodagli Property Company of Pompton Plains proposed 352 luxury condos and received conditional approval, but was excused in 2008.

The site was declared contaminated and has an EPA identification number, but Plaintalker could find no evidence of remediation. In 2012, Crown Real Estate Holdings Inc. acquired the East Third and Richmond Street properties,with six lots now merged into two, in 2012. The price, according to tax records, was $39,713.22.
 A man who saw me taking photos Sunday said the building at one point was taken over by a gang. He pointed out what he said were gang tags and alleged that two bodies were taken out of the building after a gang rivalry incident.
East Third Street is very quiet nowadays, except for cars speeding from Watchung Avenue to Richmond Street. from Richmond Street to Watchung Avenue.The Cozzoli company was founded in Plainfield in 1919 and another longtime family business at the west end of the block, Thul Machine Works, was founded in 1913, but left the city in 2011.
The buildings are vacant and only some signs reflect the once-bustling business.

The East Third/Richmond redevelopment plan covers most of the block bounded by East Third Street, Roosevelt Avenue, East Second Street and Richmond Street. It is one of many aspects of redevelopment that the next mayor may have to address.


Scenes From Watchung and Downtown

The red Roses have faded momentarily and now the yellow Coreopsis is starring at City Hall.
A sunny sight!
Someone pointed out this leftover holiday banner at Watchung & Front, suggesting it might not go with the flag display for the upcoming July Fourth parade (which is on July 6).
The planters are all spiffed up for summer and the parade. Hooray for the red, white and ... purple?
Merchandise on the sidewalk? Not allowed, unless it's Sidewalk Sales Day.
Text while walking and you are likely to bump into one of the many advertising signs dotting the sidewalk.
Look up and you will see proof that Plainfield's downtown has been open for business for 128 years and counting.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

2010: Beginning of the End?

I was looking something up and came across a review of 2010, the first year of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' second term. If you are new to Plainfield or just wondering about local politics, this post may provide some background on why the mayor did not prevail in her bid for a third term.


Visit the Shakespeare Garden

You can take a virtual visit to the Shakespeare Garden and see all the lovely plants, along with gracious volunteers helping to maintain the garden. Just click here.

Saturday in the Yard

Saturday was one of those days where I don't get any further in the world than the back yard. Got up late, planned to have a go at cleaning the garage, drifted into yard work - the day was over before I knew it.

There is no car in my garage, just a bunch of garden tools and equipment. Over the years I have successfully composted many cubic yards of what the PMUA calls "vegetative waste," which involves a wheelbarrow in which to empty the compost bins and wire contraptions to sift out rocks, twigs and urban debris such as those ubiquitous "blunt" wrappers. Shovels and scoops are needed, as well as containers for the sifted compost.

Last year, when Audrey tried to hasten my departure for Seattle, I got rid of some tools, such as my trusty de-thatcher and oscillating hoe (aka "Action Hoe"), but there are many left. On Saturday, I dragged a rack of rakes and such out of the garage in order to sweep the floor and realized somebody would probably like to have that rack in their garage or shed. It's now on the list for the grand giveaway when and if the day comes that I buy my one-way ticket to the PNW (Pacific Northwest - say, isn't that a new baby name?).
Speaking of offspring, this mother cat has been extraordinarily patient with her kitten. She had hidden two kittens inside a locked garage by climbing through a hole in the roof. We could see them inside as they grew too large for the mother to carry back outside. Or so we thought - when someone finally used a master key to unlock the garage, they were gone. She then hid them under an abandoned car. One was adopted by a neighbor family. The mother and remaining kitten now hang out in the yard, observing the humans. Unlike most mother cats, this one still lets her semi-grown kitten nurse. On Saturday, they were snoozing under the topiary basket and supervising the yard work.
My late brother Robert and I used to disagree about traveling. He lived and worked in Europe, the Middle East and Asia at various times and urged me to get out and see the world. My theory has been that staying in one place can be rewarding in its own way. On Block 832 in Plainfield for 21 years, I have seen quite few natural wonders, if not man-made wonders of the world. Saturday brought the visitor above. Thanks to Google Images, I soon found out it was an Eastern Eyed Click Beetle. It is much bigger than the black Click Beetles I have seen before, but it shares the trait of making a loud "click" when it jumps up in the air. The false eyes are meant to scare off predators. Its real eyes are just behind the antennae.

OK, so seeing a Click Beetle in the yard is not the same as viewing the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids, but for some of us it is a thrill. For a lazy summer day in the Queen City, it was just the ticket.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Money, The Root of Inconvenience

Interesting scene in the supermarket Friday: A guy buys a pack of gum for 31 cents and pays for it with a paycheck for $347. The cashier gives him the amount of the paycheck less 31 cents. He tries to hand her a $5, which she refuses, but then she accepts $2.

Kind of a neat trick if your only alternative is a check-cashing facility, which might charge 3 percent, or $10.41 for a $347 paycheck, plus maybe a fee. I mentioned this transaction to a police officer I knew who was on duty in the store, and he thought the man might have been an employee who got his check cashed as a courtesy.

Whatever the situation, I was a bit jealous, because unlike many other stores, this one does not have a "cash-back" option for those who use debit cards. All my pension and Social Security money goes into the bank via direct deposit and I never see cash unless I go to the bank or go shopping where I can use my nice orange PNC bank card and get some extra dollars back.

There used to be a PNC ATM right in this store. In fact, there used to be a small bank branch on the same block. Alas, both are gone and now a foreign ATM will cough up some dough in the store, for a fee that works out to 2 percent for $100 or 10 percent for a quick $20.

It doesn't take very long to walk downtown to the big PNC bank to use its ATM free, but depending on the weather and my degree of energy at any given time, it can be a nuisance. And that paltry pile of $20s will disappear all too soon.

A while back, the federal government tried to require all Social Security recipients to use direct deposit. The idea was to do away with the cost of mailing checks and the danger of check theft from a senior's mailbox. But a hard core of seniors rejected the idea, to the extent that the feds dropped the plan. I can imagine that the safety of direct deposit meant little if you were miles from a bank and had no car. The main reason, though, was that many seniors wanted to have cash only and would even patronize the check-cashing joints for the privilege of having cash in hand, despite confiscatory fees.

Starting in March 2013, all new Social Security recipients were required to have electronic deposit and older ones were strongly urged to convert. It turns out that many employers nowadays require electronic deposit as well, so the scenario I witnessed at the supermarket is less likely. I wish the young man well with his pocket full of cash, a danger in itself for those targeted by predators or greedy roommates.

Meanwhile, I must get to the bank. My cash reserves have dwindled and I forgot to get cash back at either the Stop and Shop or Trader Joe's in Westfield, where I went on the bus to get stuff you can't buy in Plainfield. Maybe when that developer who promised a Trader Joe's in downtown Plainfield comes across, I can get goodies and cash back right here in the city ...


Friday, June 21, 2013

How To Get On Boards And Commissions

Among the many topics raised at the Fourth Ward Town Meeting, some people asked about how to  appointed to one of the city's boards or commissions.

All the boards and commissions are described on the city web site. From the home page, click on Downloads and then on Municipal Code. Find Boards and Commissions and then click on one to see the description and current membership. If you see one that interests you, download the application form and submit your information. Keep a copy and follow up in a few weeks.

A resident at the meeting commented on how some boards have the same members for many years. Plaintalker was surprised to see that there is a limit, though perhaps not honored:

Board or committee members will serve a maximum of two consecutive terms when the 
length of the term is three years or more. Individuals serving terms less than three years 
will be limited to a total of six consecutive years of service. 

Besides reading the description of a board or committee, an interested person should ideally attend a few meetings of the desired one to see how it functions. Some require more than just attendance at monthly meetings. For example, Shade Tree Commission members often go out into the field to examine trees or locations due for new plantings. Members of land use boards may visit locations of applications to see how they fit in with the surroundings.

The Civic Responsibility Act of 2005 calls for postings of vacancies on a bulletin board:

The City Clerk shall maintain a current updated listing of all existing vacancies for each appointed municipal position within the municipality. Such list shall be made available in accordance with the City's fee schedule at the City Clerk's office and shall, in addition, be posted by the City Clerk on a bulletin board maintained for public announcements in the Municipal Building.

A list is compiled every Fall for the mayor's information, as most appointments are made by the mayor with advice and consent of the City Council. Plaintalker has not yet seen it posted on a bulletin board.

One person mentioned at Wednesday's meeting that several neighbors had applied for boards and commissions, with mixed results. Talking with like-minded people about getting involved in city activities is a good idea. Not only can they share their experiences in attempting to get appointed, they can encourage each other to keep trying.

Plaintalker has seen a lot of new faces at meetings lately. It is good to have seasoned board members, but new ones may bring a fresh perspective on serving the city.  If this is something you have been considering, check out the possibilities and go for it.


Keep Calm And ...

... Obey the rules of Managed Open Access if you are at Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice 2013.
The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and has been a holiday for centuries. In the old days, it was marked by bonfires and all-night revelry. These are modern times, so maybe you want to consult Pinterest on the subject.

In the Fremont section of Seattle, a Summer Solstice event features nude, painted cyclists.

In Times Square, there will be an all-day yoga festival to mark the Summer Solstice.

It's a good time anywhere to get out and enjoy the natural world. The first lightning bugs are out, roses and lilies are blooming, the weather is fine.
Midsummer is a time to celebrate the power and beauty of nature. Happy Litha to all!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Town Meeting; Worries and Hopes

The prospect of a new mayor and administration enlivened the Fourth Ward Town Meeting Wednesday as a diverse group of residents expressed hopes that their concerns will be heard in 2014.

Drug activity, neighborhood noise and debris pickup were among issues that speakers said were not receiving adequate response currently across the wards. Resident Wendell Woods said the schedule for pickup of leaves and brush was not being followed. Kim Jones Mathis said she saw little police presence in the neighborhood near Jefferson School. Nancy Piwowar described loud parties with excessive drinking and said she worried about people driving after partying. She suggested requiring permits for parties.

Council members Rebecca Williams, Cory Storch, Vera Greaves and Council President Bridget Rivers were on hand to hear what residents had to say. Resident Melvin Cody urged residents to bring their concerns also to a community block association meeting at 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday at the Senior Center, 400 East Front Street.

Several speakers brought ideas to improve the city. Author Adrian Collins said he grew up in the streets of Plainfield and at age 21 had the reading level of a third grader, but found inspiration in prison to change his life. Having gone "from a suspect to a prospect," he said, his mission is to improve literacy and fight obesity among young people with his books and programs. Community activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq promoted his vision of a flea market with solar panels and a hydroponic greenhouse, while Dawud Hicks pledged to help young people enter the trades and earn union wages.
Analis Rivera of the Youth Organization for Unity said she is the group's newly appointed chair of its political action committee, in addition to being an intern at The Alternative Press and PCTV. She told the council members how the Plainfield High School promenade, besides being a fashion event, became a scene for interviews on students' goals.

"You're a great spokesperson for the group," Storch said.

Another YOU member, Rushelle Peterkin, talked up an arts and crafts fair to showcase local talent and produce income, a concept that resident Alan Goldstein endorsed. Goldstein also suggested converting an unused city building into a community center.

Councilman Adrian Mapp, who just won the mayoral primary, was absent, but Hicks talked about his win and said "the spotlight is on him." Storch reminded him that Mapp is still one of four mayoral candidates for the November election.

Although the winner of a Democratic primary in Plainfield usually has a lock on the general election, Storch said, "He's not the mayor yet."
The meeting was adjourned at about 8:30 p.m., but residents lingered on in small groups, still talking about Plainfield and its future.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

PMUA: Mostly Holdovers?

Random image: Yarrow

While attempting to throw away paperwork Tuesday, I came across a chart I made for myself to trace the many nominations to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. I realized I had not updated it and actually had no idea any more who the holdovers were.

According to the City Clerk's latest roster, only Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and Charles Eke are members with current terms. Harold Mitchell, Carol Brokaw and Alex Toliver are holdovers. There is one vacancy. The chart traces five failed attempts to make appointments in recent years.

While state law permits holdovers on authorities, it does not seem like the ideal situation to have commissioners serving in that capacity. The PMUA reorganizes in February; Dunn's term expires in February 2014 and Sanders' in February 2015. Eke, as Alternate No. 1, has a term to February 2015. Mitchell's term expired in February 2011 and Brokaw's and Toliver's  in February 2012 (one of these should be 2013, but the sequence of staggered terms got messed up somewhere along the way). The Alternate No. 2 seat is vacant.

The PMUA board is just one of many boards and commissions that need attention in coming months. Each year, a list of upcoming vacancies is prepared in the City Clerk's office. With a new administration on the horizon, special attention should be paid this year to making sure all seats are properly filled. This used to be done at the Jan. 1 annual reorganization for most boards and commissions, except those with different reorganization times, such as PMUA in February and the Plainfield Public Library Board of Trustees, which has terms starting in September.

The Civic Responsibility Act of 2005 called for this list and a description of the requirements for each board and commission to be made public. All are listed here. Anyone wishing to serve should check this list and submit a letter of interest to both the mayor and City Clerk.

One of the problems in recent years was that correspondence from applicants was lost in City Hall and had to be re-submitted, sometimes several times. The mayor's staff did not seem to understand the sequence of terms and nominees were often submitted to the council with incorrect terms or successions. I saw this personally with the Shade Tree Commission, which was no sooner established than terms began getting mixed up. Older, established boards and commissions have suffered the same fate, as well as instances of prolonged vacancies to the point where some lacked a quorum.

One of Plaintalker's earliest efforts in 2005 was to advocate for timely and proper appointments to the city's many boards and commissions. Since then, City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh has instituted a modern, searchable data base of all the boards and commissions, as noted above. Under the city's advice and consent system, it only remains for the mayor's office to submit nominations to the City Council for confirmation.

The winner of the Nov. 5 mayoral election will also have to submit cabinet nominations for City Council advice and consent in January 2014. But that's a story for another day.


Town Meeting Tonight

The Fourth Ward Town Meeting
will be held at 7 p.m. tonight
(Wednesday, June 19)
in Jefferson School, 1750 West Front St.
Town Meetings are hosted by the City Council to provide an opportunity for residents to speak directly to the governing body on topics of concern. Residents from any ward may attend and speak. This is the final Town Meeting for 2013.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BOE To Name Brown PHS Principal

The Plainfield Board of Education will vote tonight on naming Otis Brown Jr. the principal of Plainfield High School at a salary of $153,930.

Brown's appointment is among more than a thousand job confirmations and staff assignments for the 2013-14 school year that are up for approval tonight. The business meeting is 8 p.m. in the Plainfield High School auditorium, 950 Park Ave. To see the agenda, click here

Mystery of the Brownfields

Questions have come up recently about brownfields and a committee that is supposed to be involved in oversight of a brownfields program.

Like several other initiatives that began over the past seven years, the brownfields program sunk out of sight. This could be due in part to a turnover in Public Works administrators after Jennifer Wenson Maier left the city. She was director of Public Works & Urban Development for the entire four-year first term of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, but was not reappointed. She stayed on briefly before taking a similar post in Hoboken.

After that, David Brown III was director for less than a year and then the post was vacant except for an acting appointment of Jacques Howard in 2010. It was not until Eric Jackson became director in September 2011 that the department had a full-time director again.

Plaintalker posted several articles about brownfields in Plainfield, one of which sums up some of the information needed now. Click here to read it. Anyone interested in other posts in the Plainfield Plaintalker archive can put "brownfields" in the search box and see them.

The Plaintalker archive of 2,400-plus posts spans the period from June 2005 to May 2010, after which there are currently 1,738 more in the Plaintalker II archive. I urge readers with questions about city topics to check these archives. I don't know how much longer I will be able to blog, but these archives themselves stand as a contribution to understanding Plainfield.


City Hall, Before and After

Here is a "before" photo of City Hall with the overgrown Yew hedges in March.

Since then, the grounds have been transformed with severe pruning of the Yew hedge and plantings of Knockout  Roses and two shades of yellow Coreopsis. The original lamps were restored and the handrails on the front steps were relocated. New benches and urns were installed. The whole process is documented on displays in the rotunda at City Hall. Take a look the next time you visit!


Reid Chastised, Apologizes

Councilman William Reid came in for a scolding Monday for what resident Delois Dameron called "unprofessional conduct" at last Wednesday's council meeting, where she said he made a personal attack on Councilman Adrian Mapp and cut short Battalion Chief Carlton Crawley of the Fire Division as he was explaining his volunteer work with firefighters in La Vega, Dominican Republic.

Dameron called Reid's behavior "abhorrent" and said "constituents should never feel that they don't count."

Reid apologized "for any actual or perceived discourtesy" during council comments before the meeting ended and said he would conform to "any censure my colleagues deem necessary."

It was not the first time Reid had to apologize.

In May 2010, he snapped at Council President Annie McWilliams. From Plaintalker's post:

--Councilman William Reid apologized to Council President Annie McWilliams for an outburst at the May 3 agenda session where he accused her of disrespecting him and being unethical over something that happened at the April 12 business meeting. Reid had claimed he was not given information on a last-minute item passed out to council members.

On Monday, he said he is very passionate about city affairs, but in the May 3 instance, “My negative passion came out.”

“I will attempt to repress that negative passion in the future.”

In 2012, Reid came in for criticism for using barnyard imagery in criticizing engineering costs.

In addition to Dameron's comments Monday, other speakers alleged the First Ward is slighted when it comes to services.

"Sometimes I wonder if the First Ward is part of Plainfield," said 56-year city resident Lillian Jamar, who said she was pleading with the council to "come to the First Ward and fix our streets."

Reid was an appointee to the council in December 2007 when First Ward Councilman Rayland Van Blake resigned after being elected to the Union County Freeholder Board. He ran unopposed in November 2008 for the balance of Van Bake's term and in 2010 won a full four-year term, which expires at the end of 2014.


Welcome, New Officers!

What a surprise Monday to encounter a group of new police officers out on a walk to get acquainted with different sections of the city. The orientation was being conducted by Capt. Michael Gilliam, right, and Sgt. Wayne Williams, left. The new officers, l-r in center, are P.O. Danyelle Blocker, P.O. Theo Abney, P.O. Stephen Bailey and P.O. Stephon Knox. They were checking out Watchung Avenue near the YMCA and across the street from City Hall.

All the best to these newest members of our finest!


Council Passes 2013 Budget

Random image: Daylilies.

The City Council approved the 2013 municipal budget Monday with a tax increase of slightly more than 3 percent, or $160.46 on a home valued at $113,000.

The municipal tax levy, including support of the Plainfield Public Library, is $52,472,671, according to figures from City Hall. The net valuation of all city property for 2013 was $1,235,934,146, down by $10,989,118 from 2012, due largely to tax appeals.

Councilman William Reid voted "no" on the budget, without giving any reason. Council members Vera Greaves, Rebecca Williams, Tracey Brown, Cory Storch and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "yes." Adrian Mapp was absent.

No residents came forward to speak at a public hearing before the vote on final passage.

The total budget amount, including municipal, library, county and school taxes, is $73,982,542.

Meanwhile, the council also approved a $3,757,200 temporary budget appropriation to operate the city in July.

The change from a fiscal year, July 1 to June 30, to a calendar year was intended in part to aid in timely budget passage. But as in years before the change, nearly half the year has passed before budget adoption. Maybe next year it will happen.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Budget, Study Up For Approval Tonight

Random image: Young Praying Mantis

A proper budget story should contain the following:
- Total budget amount
- Municipal tax levy
- Proposed municipal tax rate
- Last year's tax rate
- Net valuation of city property
- Increase/decrease from prior year
- Any reasons for increase/decrease
- Tax on an average home
- Up/down from prior year

I am hoping to get all these figures before tonight's City Council meeting, at which the 2013 budget will most likely be approved. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.

This administration has not been the easiest to get answers from. Besides the massive turnover in cabinet members, there has been a non-responsiveness at times that has led those who would report to the public to conclude that it would take asking questions at public meetings or submitting Open Public Records Act requests to get answers. Some of the information listed above is in the big budget book or the Municipal Data Sheet that is prepared by the auditors, so it just needs to be looked up. The rest - well, we'll see.

One amendment approved only last Wednesday was an increase in the City Council's budget to cover a study of administrative operations. Why should the legislative branch have to get in the administration's business, so to speak? One reason is that the council has the fiduciary power over expenses. The other reason might be that in the years since 2006, the council has had the same problem as bloggers and reporters  in getting answers out of the administration. A study might uncover how operations can be made more efficient; the first trick, though, if it is to take place during the last six months of 2013, will be to get the current administration to cooperate in identifying problem areas.

When I was about to get married in 1958, my future spouse and I had to take classes required by the denomination in which we planned to take our vows. The marriage unfortunately didn't last past 19 years, but I still remember the lesson of those classes, that the marriage was an entity larger than each of us and had to be supported and upheld. The same goes for branches of government, as we can see both locally and in Washington. The union needs to be honored in a cooperative way or it stagnates and fails. I think the aim of the study is to find the current sticking points and smooth them out for the betterment of the city.

Time will tell.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Monday Meetings

Meeting mavens will have a choice on Monday, June 17.

The City Council meets at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court and will be holding a public hearing prior to final passage of the 2013 budget in addition to the June regular meeting. As of this writing, I do not see an agenda online. Check here on Monday.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment has a special meeting at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library. See agenda here.
One application is for a drive-through at the Dunkin' Donuts on East Front Street and Terrill Road.

There is also a Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority meeting at 6 p.m .4 p.m. in the headquarters at 127 Roosevelt Ave. This meeting was rescheduled from June 12, when it clashed with the Union County Democratic Party reorganization (all five commissioners are Democratic City Committee members and were expected to attend when Plainfield Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green also became county chairman on that date). See agenda here.

Happy weekend to all, Happy Pride, Happy Father's Day!


Put Politics Aside, Enjoy Summer

After all candidates have filed and any June primary contests are over, Plainfield normally turns to summer activities and political activity recedes into the background until Fall.

This year we have four mayoral candidates and two for the Fourth Ward City Council seat. The mayoral contest includes Republican Sandy Spector, Democrat Adrian Mapp and two independents, Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin.

I am currently holding four anonymous comments from people who want to link Belin to one of our city power brokers. Belin has stated publicly that he is his own man. I am deleting these comments and I am also considering requiring that all comments on the mayoral race from here on out be signed with the commenter's name.

Meanwhile, summer is a time for outdoor fun, family gatherings, the July Fourth celebration and festivals of all kinds. My favorite summer activity is gardening and monitoring the progress of our praying mantis population in our back yard on Block 832. Some plants, such as Forget-Me-Not, have already produced seed for me to collect, clean and save for the next crop. I am also hoping to get around as much of the city as I can access on foot and public transit, to take photos.

So if possible let's lay off the political second-guessing and enjoy the season. If you must comment on the mayoral race, how about signing your name? Or at least sticking to issues and not personalities? What do you want to happen in 2014 through 2017 under a new mayor?
The City Council votes approval Monday for the July Fourth fireworks and concert. Don't forget, the parade and the concert and fireworks will all take place on July 6 this year. Mark the date and enjoy the holiday!


Friday, June 14, 2013

Jerry's Domain

Not only is Jerry Green the king of Plainfield's four political wards as chairman of the Democratic City Committee, he represents the Queen City and 10 other municipalities in three counties in the state Assembly:

District 22 - (Middlesex, Somerset and Union) Clark, Dunellen, Fanwood, Green Brook, Linden, Middlesex, North Plainfield, Plainfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains, Winfield

As of Tuesday, he is also the Union County Democratic Party chairman over Plainfield and 20 other municipalities:

Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Elizabeth, Fanwood, Garwood, Hillside, KenilworthLinden, MountainsideNew ProvidencePlainfieldRahwayRoselleRoselle ParkScotch PlainsSpringfield, SummitUnionWestfieldWinfield

Union County has 299,400 registered voters as of May 2013, including 123,092 Democrats. In addition, there are 42,992 Republicans, 133,166 unaffiliated, 23 Conservative Party, 40 Green Party, 78 Libertarian Party, one Reform Party and eight U.S. Constitution Party members.

Quite a constituency!

More On 2013 Budget Amendments

Budget increases passed Wednesday will add more summer jobs for young people and fuel a study of how City Hall functions as the mayoral baton is about to be passed.

The City Council passed a slew of amendments with an eye to final passage of the 2013 budget on Monday. An increase of $405,327 in expected revenues included $320,000 more in tax lien sales.

A $62,500 increase in the governing body's expense line will cover the study of administrative operations. The five-week City Summer Youth program will increase by $10,000. The council approved a $45,000 increase in salaries and wages for seasonal Recreation employees and $24,000 for workers in the summer pool program.

Police pay jumped by $270,000 for overtime and insurance costs increased by $490,360, in comparison to the budget introduced in April. The Plainfield Public Library also received an increase of $80,360..

Budget lines that were cut included crossing guards, despite a recent plea for a raise. The $15,000 decrease in salaries and wages and $3,000 cut in other expenses matched what was actually spent last year, officials said. What appeared to be a $500,000 decrease in the Fire Division budget was in fact an increase over last year's actual cost, budget consultant David Kochel explained. The division had sought a $1.25 million increase, which exceeded the 10 percent allowable range. Staffing will not be affected.

Other cuts included $64,000 in Health & Human Services salaries, due in part to a change from a full-time health officer to a contractual service agreement with the city of Elizabeth and a $10,000 reduction in TB services.

The full list of amendments will be published before Monday's meeting. The public may speak at a hearing before a vote on final passage, but further changes are unlikely, as they would trigger the need for new state approvals, advertisement and a hearing. Monday's meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Wednesday's special meeting on amendments was prolonged and at times contentious. Councilman William Reid objected to the study of administrative operations, even though Kochel said it would be more than paid back in savings in 2014 and beyond. Reid challenged Councilman Adrian Mapp, winner of the Democratic mayoral primary and the putative winner in November, saying any transition funding could come out of the 2014 budget. Mapp said the amendments had already been approved by the state Department of Community Affairs and any changes would have to go back to the agency for review.

Councilman Cory Storch said he did not want to "waste a whole year trying to figure out how to improve operations" and said the expertise would have to be paid for.

"We don't want to waste any time going through that process," he said.

Reid still disagreed, saying, "We will have enough time with a very smart mayor."

Councilwoman Tracey Brown also opposed the initial proposed council expense increase from $12,5s00 to $85,000, but on reconsideration at $75,000 it passed 5-1, with Reid the lone opponent.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Belin:" I Am No One's Candidate"

Plaintalker is receiving (and holding) comments from anonymous pundits who are speculating about independent candidates. In response to Plaintalker's question, Do you want to respond to people who are already surmising you are John Campbell's candidate? I started hearing this as soon as the filings were confirmed., D. Scott Belin replied:

Thank you for posting the release. In regards to questions asking whose candidate I am; Plainfields'. I hope for and will appreciate the vote of any Plainfield resident that is truly in favor of a real change to the way we have unsuccessfully attempted to progress this city in the past. After analyzing the trending numbers, one can argue, the voters did not perceive much of a choice in the primary. If you take away a 25% bump from the party line the two democrats were fairly close in vote percentage. It seems the real winner was the party, not necessarily one candidate.
As I have listened to, and will continue to do so in the coming months, residents are tired of the lack of forward motion and choices. We are victim to party fighting, lack of new choices and polarization. I am no ones' candidate. I truly have Plainfields' interest at heart. I do not wish to win to be re-elected or aspire for higher office or a payday. I wish the best Plainfield we can have and it is necessary to have a Mayor not managed by party politics to achieve that goal. A Mayor who can negotiate from a position of strength rather one who must deal with party priorities and mandate. I suspect I will receive votes from voters throughout the city, from all parties. Once voters go behind the curtain their vote is theirs. No one need know they cast their vote for a better Plainfield by voting for D. Scott Belin. I encourage those who wish to label me, to get to know me before they make up their minds. I believe those who want a better Plainfield will be pleasantly surprised to find a candidate who Puts Plainfield First.

Budget Amendments for 2013 Passed

Plaintalker concurs with Dr. Yood that the special City Council meeting Wednesday was too confusing to blog about right now. Maybe later on Thursday.

There were nearly 50 amendments to the 2013 budget. Each one had to be read aloud for a separate vote. The action included a couple of reconsidered votes, one of which required telephone outreach to Council President Bridget Rivers after she had gone home.

Budget consultant David Kochel shepherded the council through the whys and wherefores of the changes, but said the bottom line was the same as the budget introduced in April. The next step is to publish the amendments and then on June 17 there will be a public hearing and final adoption.

The city is six months into the calendar year budget, meaning salaries and expenses have already been paid out for that period in temporary appropriations. The agenda for June 17 contains another $3,757,000 temporary appropriation for July.

Due to last-minute changes and one addition of $10,000 more for the summer youth employment program, the final numbers will not match the handout from the meeting. Bloggers will have until next Monday to sort things out for the readers.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Independent Mustapha Muhammad Launches Web Site

In fairness, I am publishing a link to Mustapha Muhammad's web site. He and D. Scott Belin met the June 4 deadline to file for mayor of Plainfield. They will face Democrat Adrian Mapp, winner of the June 4 primary, and Sandy Spector, who is unopposed as the Republican candidate for mayor.

Click here to view Mustapha Muhammad's web site

D. Scott Belin Announces Mayoral Candidacy

Independent candidate for Mayor D. Scott Belin has issued a press release regarding why he is running:

D. Scott Belin Announces Mayoral Candidacy
Put Plainfield First!
Plainfield, N.J. — June 12, 2013D. Scott Belin announces his candidacy to be the next mayor of the City of Plainfield, NJ.
“Many citizens have asked for a choice in the general election and are seeking a true change in Plainfield’s leadership,” said D. Scott Belin. “Today, I announce my candidacy for the position of Mayor of Plainfield, NJ. Like many of Plainfield’s citizens, I have patiently waited for our city to be put on the right path; only to see it continue to be second to party politics with little progress. Once again, we are being promised a new party hopeful, a scenario that seems very much like what we saw two terms ago. When a decision is made by the party leaders before the primary, Plainfield’s citizens are being provided little choice. My candidacy changes this and reflects the democratic process, by giving the voters a choice come November. We, in Plainfield, now have a choice from a future looking very much like the past. We hear promises to unite, move Plainfield in a new direction and vague plans for success.  History has shown us these promises are followed by a short honeymoon, political party discord and plans that do not benefit Plainfield; leading to resident disappointment. We in Plainfield deserve better. We can do better, we must be better. We can start by showing we are ready to be the best Plainfield we can – and Put Plainfield First! We need a Mayor who prioritizes the needs of Plainfield first. A candidate that knows Plainfield’s history its’ significance to the region, who remembers what it once was, where it is today and what it must be in the future to be successful. I am that candidate. My administration will be all inclusive, not driven by party affiliation, economic status, race or creed. My administration will seek the best and brightest. Plainfield must have a city government that draws on all to be its best. We must include all in the city, not just a select few. We must bring in new ideas and talent, not recycle the same candidates. Plainfield has a choice, vote for a true change, D. Scott Belin and move forward or choose to continue as we have done in the past, expecting different results.”

June 12, 2013

D. Scott Belin is a lifelong Plainfield resident, a graduate of Plainfield High School, Rutgers University, and is a certified Project Management Professional.  Mr. Belin has served on the city’s Zoning Board for many years and presently is Chairman. Mr. Belin has over 30 years of business experience, is a business consultant and CEO of DSB Professional Services, LLC. 

Liquor Licenses Up For Consideration Tonight

The City Council's June agenda-fixing session is tonight, at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

The date and place deviate from the usual 2013 schedule

Dr. Yood has covered many of the topics up for consideration and Plaintalker may write more between now and the June 17 regular meeting  At 8:30 tonight, the council will hold a special meeting on budget amendments.

Meanwhile, here is another topic:
It is the time of year for liquor license renewals, which annually brings concerns that the city has too many and that these establishments tend to contribute to crime (robberies and assaults of patrons in the wee hours) and quality of life (panhandling, public intoxication and urination, loitering). Lately though, the issue of developer Frank Cretella's need for liquor licenses to advance his plans for restaurants has come up, but that is between holders of active or non-active licenses and Cretella.. The licenses are valuable and made more so by the presence of somebody who really wants and needs a couple. It is unclear, given the fact that Plainfield exceeds the number of licenses per population set by the state, whether the city itself could create and sell a new license or two to the only viable developer on the scene.

Given the value of a license, it is somewhat surprising how many license holders fail to meet the requirements for annual renewal, either by failing to get state tax clearance or not paying required fees. One of the four club licenses is in this category and there is also a very vocal citizen who wants the fifth license, now defunct, restored in order to support youth activity that club members mentor. So far, the council has rebuffed the notion that this mentorship will suffer for lack of a liquor license.

Nine bars, restaurants and night clubs have met the renewal requirements, while eight have not. Ten liquor stores are ready for renewal, but the holder of one "pocket license" failed to meet deadlines for fees and tax clearance. One license, for the liquor store at Clinton & West Front, was recommended for non-renewal by the Police Division. In past years, the owner has pleaded for renewal despite police and neighborhood objections over conditions there.

One night club owner who has not met requirements for renewal is also on the agenda seeking city permission to hold a three-day outdoor event in September. One would think he would want to put his best foot forward at this juncture, though he may be expecting to achieve renewal in coming weeks.

Another interesting sidelight to Plaintalker is the increase of hookah use in night clubs, as evidenced in advertisements. The Planning Board voiced many concerns to an applicant for a hookah lounge a few years ago, but popularity of the trend has apparently led clubs to provide hookahs for patrons despite possibly similar issues as those raised by the board (click here for post). Because the city has no rules on hookah use in clubs, there is nothing to enforce at this point.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Keep Storm Sewers Clear

Why was this corner flooded? Because stupid people think stuffing trash down the storm sewer grate is being neat and tidy!
Splash! Passing cars give pedestrians a shower!

I was better prepared for the heavy rain this evening, with waterproof boots. This afternoon my espadrilles just got totally soaked in Westfield. But Mindowaskin Lake was very picturesque, much more so than flooded corners on Park Avenue.


Politicians and Church Ladies

Who has more hats, politicians or church ladies?

In Plainfield, church ladies no doubt have the edge, but Assemblyman Jerry Green kept his hat Monday as chairman of the Democratic City Committee and expects to don another Tuesday as chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee.

"I don't want to keep you all night, because tomorrow is the big night," Green told the committee members before they voted him chairman for another two-year term

At the reorganization meeting, Green preached solidarity now through November and will keep the Dems' Front Street campaign headquarters open to deal with the August primary and October election for a successor to the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Green said he is asking all Democrats to put their differences on the side and prepare to "start healing the city." In the June 4 Democratic primary, Councilman Adrian Mapp defeated two-term Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in a repeat match of the 2009 primary that she won with party support. This time, Mapp had the line and his New Democrats club members toiled alongside the Regular Democrats to achieve a decisive win.

Across the state, many Democrats in elected office are declaring support for Gov. Chris Christie's re-election in November, but Green said Monday, "There's no room for Republicans in our house."

Green called his 68-member committee a "smooth machine" as he looks forward to Democratic Party leadership of all 21 municipalities in Union County.

In other business Monday, the committee elected officers and ward leaders. The officers are:
- First vice-chair, Freeholder Linda Carter
- Second vice-chair, Jamar Cherry
-Third vice-chair, Councilwoman Rebecca Williams
- Fourth vice-chair, Harold Gibson
- Recording secretary, Gloria Parker
- Corresponding secretary, Marie Davis
- Treasurer, Mary Burgwinkle
- Sergeant-at-arms, Linward Cathcart

Ward leaders are:
Ward 1, Norman Johnson
Ward 2, Jeanette Criscione
Ward 3 , John Stewart
Ward 4, Vera Greaves

Green made it clear he will brook no dissension in the party.

"I can accept Democrats disagreeing, but when you cross the line there's no coming back," he warned. "When you make a decision, think about how it will affect everybody else in the room."

"That has been the problem in Plainfield," he said. "Don't come here and get our blessing, and go out and do what you want to do," he said.


Early Plans Confound Plaintalker

The very thought of getting up early tomorrow to be somewhere by 8:30 a.m. was so worrisome that I had to make an escape to Purseblog to settle my nerves. Their motto is "shallow obsessing strongly encouraged" and I did so with alacrity, swooning over a flower-embroidered raffia purse that I neither need nor can afford.

I had hoped to write a post about the June 12 agenda, but the items that interest me most are also unclear to me and, I would guess, any other layperson unfamiliar with fiscal terminology. For example, the $1.5 million in grant balances up for cancellation - does that mean the money goes back to the general fund? That might be a good offset for taxes if so. Some of the money in the Urban Enterprise Zone program has been sitting idle since 2002, including $600,000 tagged for "Senior Citizen Construction" and $300,000 for "Park Madison." Another six-figure item on the list is $125,000 for a "Community Retail Analysis" that dates back to 2005, but was never done. There is also $94,189 for a 2005 "North Avenue Storm Drain" project.

There are other UEZ grant balances, but I could not correlate them with the analysis of the UEZ grant account that was given out last month. Other unused grant money includes $60,000 for "Safe & Secure" from last year and two grants totaling $71,000 for the Special Improvement District. 

Ooops! It is now past midnight! Gotta go! As a reporter I usually started late and stayed late, putting in many a 12-hour day. Catching a bus to Westfield at 7:55 a.m. Monday and later covering a 7 p.m. Democratic City Committee meeting is maybe even worse than the old days in the newsroom.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

July 4th Costs On Council Agenda

Among 58 resolutions up for consideration Wednesday, four have to do with plans for the July 4th Celebration, two specifically related to a concert.

The cost for use of Cedar Brook Park is $8,800, payable to the County of Union. Fireworks by Garden State Fireworks will cost $12,000. And then things get a bit murky. A proposed resolution allocates $4,700 to HSP Event Planning for a concert, but correspondence from the company indicates a $6,500 option if the city agrees to let HSP provide staff and services. Otherwise, the city is to provide a stage manager, two or three stage hands, a production assistant, two crew members for "artist/rep coordinators" and additional staff if required.

According to background documents in the council packet, the city's budget was initially $3,200. But HSP recommended a $5,000 production cost instead of $3,200, with another $1,500 for "pre-production and site logistic visit." A schedule calls for payment of $1,500 by May 28 for the preliminary visit; $1,600 payable on June 7; and $1,600 on show day "before site breakdown." HSP recommends $2,500 each for the last two items.

If this all sounds confusing, it is. The city is only authorizing $4,700, but then will have to pay for required staff separately, according to HSP's scenario.

Then there is another set of costs to Infinite Events & Marketing for "the talent." The total allocated by the city is not to exceed $10,800. Six performers have agreed to fees totaling $5,300 and presumably the company as producer gets the balance. However, the "client" - City of Plainfield Recreation Division - must provide insurance, advertising, security, a stage and stage lighting, sound and power and stagehands to set up and take down the performance venue.

For several years, City Council members have sought a full accounting of all costs associated with the July 4th Celebration. The documents cited above lead one to believe there are costs associated with this concert that are not spelled out. The timetable for payments appears to have elapsed in part. At any rate, the June 17 meeting is when the council will vote on these expenditures, so advance payments do not seem possible.

The issue of planning ahead for this annual event dates back at least to 2006, when former Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn sought $55,000 for a July 4 concert on short notice. The council denied his request for a budget transfer to fund the event and had previously denied using $100,000 in Urban Enterprise Zone funds for a concert. Click here for Plaintalker's report.

Please note that all July 4th events will take place in Plainfield this year on Saturday, July 6. 


Friday, June 7, 2013

What Happens in La Vega ...

Random image: Angelica

According to Blogger Dashboard, I made five posts between 1:43 a.m. and 10:48 p.m. on June 6. So I feel justified in taking a day off today, June 7. I will, however, take note of an oddity on the agenda for the City Council's June 12 meeting. The sole item under Public Affairs & Safety is a resolution to donate a 1972 Mack fire truck to the La Vega Fire Department in the Dominican Republic. Aside from the question of why our Fire Division still has a 41-year-old piece of equipment, I did find some answers online as to why La Vega? It seems their volunteer fire department collects donations from others around the world. One story mentions a 1976 pumper truck from Germany. Another tells of a 1989 E-One Hush Pumper from Twinsville, Ohio. The firefighters wear gear with names of fire companies from all over. They are housed in an old fort built in 1813. So Plainfield will become part of this tradition of generosity to needy bomberos with the 1972 truck if the council agrees. I hope somebody with deep pockets is planning to defray the cost of transporting it to La Vega.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

CBAC Offers Budget Amendment Recommendations

Social services and overtime costs were among targets for cutting 2013 budget costs as the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee made its recommendations for amendments Thursday.

CBAC Chairman Chairman Charles McRae said Plainfield is the only city that has a Bilingual Day Care program. The committee recommended shifting it to a non-profit and also outsourcing the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program for possible savings of $1.1 million, but budget consultant David Kochel said   the programs are largely grant-funded and the city only spends $48,000 on the Bilingual Day Care program. The only savings might be on pension and benefit costs, he said, but Finance Director Al Restaino said because grants exceed salary lines, the excess covers those costs.

Police overtime stems in part from a 4-day on, 4-day off schedule, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig explained at a previous budget session. Relief may not come until 2014 after a new union contract is negotiated, Councilman William Reid said.

Reid, Cory Storch and Adrian Mapp heard the CBAC recommendations in their role as members of the City Council's Administration & Finance Committee. McRae described the recommendations as preliminary and expected further discussion at another joint meeting, but the council has just set a special meeting for next Wednesday to approve possible amendments, with an eye to final passage this month.

Among other CBAC recommendations:
- Replace the Recreation Division with a volunteer commission. McRae said information on the Recreation web site was outdated and might be part of the reason for low enrollment in its programs, which he said amounted to "262 kids, with a $1 million budget."
- Make the Inspections Division self-sustaining. A recommendation to have workers out on weekends ran afoul of contractual issues, officials said.
- Reinstate the position of public information officer to help "re-brand the city." McRae said the Office of Economic Development "has little to show for is department," bringing in only about $3 million over four or five years while its director is paid $85,000.
- Do not ask the Plainfield Public Library for givebacks. McRae called it "the only real department that is giving back to the citizens" with its programs.

Reid made frequent allusions throughout the meeting to a "new mayor" who will bring a different approach in 2014, indicating Mapp, who just won the Democratic primary. Mapp still has to face Republican Sandy Spector and independents Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin in November, but historically a Democratic primary winner has prevailed in November.

Reid told the CBAC members he felt they had learned a lot about how the city works, if sometimes how inefficiently. McRae said a lot of CBAC members are professionals who "take a corporate view." CBAC member Lisa Cright-Bryant questioned a lack of data, such as the number of seasonal workers hired.

"Record-keeping is everything," she said. "I don't think we're doing it very well."

The Administration & Finance Committee charged Kochel with formulating budget amendments, taking into account the CBAC suggestions. The special meeting for possible action on amendments is 8:30 p.m. Wednesday (June 12) in City Hall Library, with an agenda-fixing session beginning at 7:30 p.m.


Belin, Muhammad Seek Mayoralty

The field of mayoral candidates has doubled from two to four with the filing of two independent candidates.

Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin filed Tuesday and will be on the November ballot along with Democratic primary winner Adrian Mapp and Republican Sandy Spector.
Muhammad made his intentions known months ago on his Facebook page. He describes himself as a "student of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan." In 2000, he was joined by local community leaders in support of the Million Family March, a sequel to the historic Million Man March.

Belin has served for many years as chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and was board chairman of the city's first charter high school, Barack Obama Green Charter High School, when it opened in 2010. See correction in comments. One of 11 children of the late Annie Mae Belin, he is the brother of Plainfield Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles.

Mapp was endorsed by the Democratic Party in March and won the June 4 primary, defeating incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Spector has served for many years as chairman of the Republican city committee in Plainfield.

The general election is Nov. 5 and the mayoral winner will take office on Jan. 1, 2014 for a four-year term.


Council Reschedules June 11 Meeting

The June 11 City Council agenda-fixing session has been re-scheduled to 7:30 p.m. June 12 in City Hall Library, City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh said today. A special meeting for the purpose of considering and acting upon possible amendments to the 2013 budget will be held at 8:30 p.m. June 12 in the same location.