Saturday, August 31, 2013

Labor Day Parade

If you're home Monday, you might want to take a look at the Labor Day Parade that our neighbors to the south put on every year. Click here for details.

I find it impressive that their parade committee raised $19,475 in donations to support the event.

Plainfield is supposed to have an Independence Day Committee to work on the July 4th events, but no one has ever been appointed to it. It took many months of inquiry before the Recreation Division answered Councilwoman Rebecca Williams with details of the costs for Plainfield's largest celebration.

South Plainfield's business administrator/CFO is still helping Plainfield muddle through since February 2012 without our own chief financial officer. Maybe he can get the city a tip sheet on how to organize a parade and account for costs, before he is replaced in 2014.

If you can't get to the parade, at least you can sing a few verses of "Solidarity Forever," especially if you have this CD by a group that features two Plainfielders.

Activist Seeks Cultural Hispanic Festival

What looks like yet another request for a Hispanic festival on the Sept. 3 City Council agenda is actually for one that predates all the others.

Flor Gonzalez of the Latin American Coalition is asking council approval to close North Avenue between Park and Watchung avenues from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 and 29 for a Hispanic Heritage Month Festival. By then, the city will have had four Hispanic festivals downtown, but as Gonzalez said at the Aug. 19 council meeting, hers will not include sales of alcohol.

Gonzalez said her organization has held Hispanic heritage festivals since 1995 and the were "never about selling liquor." Instead of displacing business as other festivals have been accused of doing, she said hers have always included businesses.

The current spate of weekend festivals has caused a backlash due to the noise of amplified music and the presence of beer tents in proximity to kiddie rides, as well as the sheer number of days on which city parking lots have been closed to shoppers. Nightclub owner Edison Garcia has been using Lots 8 and 8A for five years now for July 4th celebrations as well as Central American Independence in September. Rodney Maree, associated with another nightclub, received permission last year to use Lot 1 for a similar festival in September and this year for an additional event in August celebrating El Salvadoran heritage. Both parking lots are behind stores on East Front Street.

In the Plaintalker archives, which go back to 2005, there are several posts about past celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month with festivals and other cultural events. See examples here and here.

Gonzalez was emotional, even distraught on Aug. 19 over the shift from purely cultural festivals to the new, more commercial ones that feature beer sales. She expressed concern that her group might not be able to hold its own, traditional festival for Hispanic Heritage Month.

The council will consider her request at a meeting 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Municipal Court.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Reporter Launches Online Newspaper

A veteran reporter who was recently laid off just launched his own news gathering venture, an online publication covering Franklin Township.

Bill Bowman's byline is familiar to readers of both the Courier News and the Asbury Park Press. In the introduction to the Franklin Reporter & Advocate, Bowman claims 30 years' experience as a journalist. He has also lived in Franklin Township for more than 25 years. These two credentials are the basis of his decision to become publisher and editor of the online news source.

In substituting "pixels for paper," Bowman acknowledges the changing means of news delivery and readers' preferences for easy access anywhere to information. But he also wants to go back to the local coverage that was the model for newspapers for generations before outlets began consolidating and broadening coverage areas to an unwieldy expanse.

From his inaugural message to readers: "There once was a notion that newspapers, in addition to providing a day-by-day chronicle of life within a specific area, also served as the public record, a place to where someone could turn in five, 10 or 50 years to find out what life was like at a certain time. Today’s corporate-owned media – beholden to investors rather than readers – has largely forgotten that compact, ignoring what they consider mundane topics in favor of chasing trends."

Bowman's news outlet will cover meetings where elected and appointed officials make decisions about taxpayers' money, as well as many other aspects of community life. He also plans to make it a dialogue with readers rather than just a one-way presentation.

I am writing about this because I think Bill has indeed made lemonade out of the sour experience of being laid off at midlife, and also to talk about different styles of hyperlocal coverage. His news outlet will parallel many of the classic functions of a newspaper, offering not only professional coverage but also a place for community groups to announce their events through press releases. There will be advertising and readers will be asked to subscribe at some point.

Plaintalker has a different outlook. I am about a quarter-century older than Bill and not interested in trying to replicate a newspaper with ads and submitted material that has to be processed. It's just me, writing about what I can, given my status as a pedestrian and solo practitioner of news gathering. In another world and time, with more energy and resources, I would have loved to do what Bill is doing. As it is, I often have to decline invitations to cover this or that or to make a brief article out of a flier.

So as printed newspapers continue in what seems to be an inexorable decline, the hometown reader can rest assured that individuals are exploring ways to convey news and information in innovative ways, not all the same. Plainfield has its bloggers and a fledgling online newspaper and now Franklin Township has an online news outlet led by someone of the highest journalistic caliber. All the best to Bill. I often admired his skills when we both sat in the newsroom in Bridgewater. The newsroom is gone, but the spirit of journalism lives on in ways unforeseen just a decade ago.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

East Second Street Project Needs Update

Now that the City Council has approved submission of a layoff plan affecting the Office of Economic Development, it is imperative that the office gives a summary of pending projects.

A major project talked about in recent years is development of the East Second Street Neighborhood Commercial District. In 2010, Plaintalker posted this article about it. I don't think we ever heard whether the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority approved the use of $1.13 million from the city's account to carry out the streetscape program. Now that the program has closed and the fund balance has been returned to the city, what is the financial commitment to this three-block project?

Councilman William Reid and Councilwoman Vera Greaves have both supported the plan. Perhaps they can give their council colleagues an update. There is also some clergy support. If in fact the staff is laid off, there must be another liaison in City Hall to monitor progress.

I recall that there was a building-by-building assessment with recommendations for repairs or enhancements to stable properties, along with concerns about a couple that did not appear viable. The current physical status of buildings in the target area is another thing that needs to be known.

City projects seem to take a very long time to come to fruition. The closed circuit television cameras for public safety, discussed as far back as 2006 or earlier, are still not operating. A business  registry never got off the ground, despite the intentions of several administrations. The second phase of a downtown streetscape project never happened. Things tend to drift and when there is constant turnover of top officials as there has been since 2006, the newcomers don't seem to catch up.

There will be a new administration in 2014. As the president of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Association pointed out, the layoff of economic development staff will mean the loss of information in that office. If at all possible, some of it should be gleaned before the office shuts down by the end of November.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Country Breakfast Now at FSS

If you're a fan of Family Soul Spot on East Seventh Street, check out their newest offering: Country Breakfast!

The family-operated restaurant has been open at 108 East Seventh Street, just off Park Avenue, for more than three years now and has a dedicated following. It also happens to be on Block 832, just steps from my home, and being able to pick up a delicious dinner has been a tremendous treat for me on busy days. I have been a fan from the beginning!

Stop in and check it out or view the web site.


Questions Remain on North Avenue Site, Lampkin House

The Historic Preservation Commission's review of plans for a North Avenue site remains incomplete after a commissioner discovered cast-iron columns dating back to 1865.

Gabe Bailer, speaking for 175-177 North Avenue LLC, could not say what the owner will do to preserve the columns, which HPC Commissioner David Westlake said are holding up the facade. A review committee of the commission will meet with the company's architect to discuss the matter before it continues to the Sept. 24 meeting.

The application hearing began in February and has been continued ever since, as commissioners have raised questions about inconsistencies in drawings and asked Bailer other questions he can't answer without going back to superiors in the company. The side-by-side buildings are among several that have been acquired by subsidiaries of Frank Cretella's Landmark Developers on North Avenue for rehabilitation. But instead of having a full complement of experts at the hearings for them, the company  most recently has sent only Bailer.

Bailer asked Westlake for advice on how to clean the columns and Westlake said, "Ask your architect."

When Westlake said the applicant would have to find out what was behind panels on the facade, Bailer asked, "What do we have to do?"

"Explore," Westlake said.

At another building on North Avenue, the company installed vinyl windows instead of wood and Bailer apologized after the fact, but the commission held fast on the requirements. See  Plaintalker's post here

Landmark's approach to compliance with historic preservation rules this year appears to reflect a lack of interest in getting the North Avenue projects completed, as others have been carried from month to month without resolution.

In another frustrating aspect .of Tuesday's meeting, Commission Secretary Scott Bauman said he received an "underwhelming" response to a letter seeking local support for a 501-C 3 foundation to look after the historic Lampkin House on Terrill Road. See Plaintalker's post here for background. Bauman said if there is no response, the effort might be taken over by an outside group, which he said could be "embarrassing." He said interest has been expressed by the Daughters of the Revolution and by an out-of-state member of the Detwiller family. Charles Detwiller Jr. was responsible for saving a collection of local architectural records which are now held at the Plainfield Public Library.

Another issue is that a grant application to Union County now hinges on the building having status on state and national historic registers. Bauman called it a "curveball" that may require preparation of an application for inclusion on the registers. Commissioner Jim Galvin expressed concern that a delay might leave the pre-Civil War structure, which is already in disrepair, unprotected in winter weather.

The city is in the process of arranging a land swap for the site and does  not as yet own it.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Farewell to Mark

Mark Spivey

Starting in June 2008, Mark Spivey became Plainfield's storyteller, recounting the happy and sad news, the successes and scandals, while perfectly capturing the unique spirit of the Queen City.

Mark is moving on after giving us five of his best years and a small group gathered Monday to wish him well and say thanks.
He assured us he'll still be within hailing distance in his new job.
And he'll still be keeping an eye on the Queen City, just through a different lens.
Mark lived up to the motto, "Keepin' it real in Da Field" (though he never got that promised T-shirt, JM). He gained street cred along with professional recognition, and many, many Plainfielders across the city will miss him.

Someone said he was the best Plainfield reporter the Courier News ever had, and I must concur. 

All the best, Mark, and don't be a stranger!

Layoff Plan Approved

The City Council approved a layoff plan Monday that will eliminate the Office of Economic Development staff that was formerly paid with Urban Enterprise Zone funds.

The 5-1 vote at a special meeting resolves a situation which Corporation Counsel David Minchello said was "not in compliance with law." By denying use of UEZ funds for salaries of the two staff members, the council then had to follow through with submission of a layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission. On Aug. 19, two council members were absent and another, Vera Greaves, said Monday she did not understand that there was no other funding source for the jobs.

"That's where I misunderstood," Greaves said, though she called it "ridiculous " that after many years of UEZ funding, the salaries were cut.

Gov. Chris Christie shut down the UEZ program and ordered funds turned back to municipalities after state Comptroller Matthew Boxer issued a report that found the program was not effective. It had allowed participating retailers to charge only half the state sales tax, which accumulated in an account that a city could use for special expenses within the zone. Plainfield used its fund to purchase benches, refuse cans, street cleaning equipment and other enhancements in addition to paying for special police, projects and administrative costs.

Now that no more money is coming in, council members decided to focus on projects and not spend $92,000 or more annually on staff salaries.

The layoff plan passed 5-1, with Greaves voting "no" and Tracey Brown, Adrian Mapp, Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Council President Bridget Rivers voting "yes." William Reid was absent.

The plan will be reviewed by the Civil Service Commission and the employees affected must receive notice that will bring the timing of the layoffs to mid-November.


Garcia Gets Festival Approval Despite Objections

Fairness was an elusive goal Monday as the City Council tried to balance festival approvals with merchants' needs.

In a special meeting, the governing body granted approval to Edison Garcia for use of city parking lots for a September festival celebrating Central American independence, but  imposed a 10 p.m. closing for the three-day event and ordered the sound system shut off at 9 p.m.  In public comment after the meeting, Garcia said a rival festival received approval to close at 11 p.m. with no sound system restriction.

The 4-2 vote overturned a 3-2 failed vote on Aug. 19. Two council members who were absent on Aug. 19 voted "yes" Monday after saying they had investigated a business owner's petition against Garcia and found some signers did not exist, while others said they didn't know what they were signing.

Before the vote, Special Improvement District Manager David Biagini said he had 30 names of objectors on another petition. Councilman Cory Storch said he attended a SID meeting where eight merchants voted to recommend denial of Garcia's request.

Business owner and SID board member Maritza Martinez said merchants want the festival to be held somewhere else than the parking lot behind their stores, perhaps in Cedar Brook Park. She said Hispanic festivals in other towns are held in parks. Elizabeth only has one, she said, adding, "Plainfield is getting out of control."

Garcia began the festival tradition five years ago with one two-day event, later expanding to three-day events in July and September. Last year, a rival request resulted in two three-day festivals on the same September weekend. This year, the requests expanded again to events in July and August and two in September, for a total of twelve days' use of downtown parking lots for festivals.

Councilman Adrian Mapp, who won the June mayoral primary, called for a better approach in 2014 to balance the needs and concerns of all. He praised the Hispanic heritage festival concept as one that can bring visitors and new business to the city.

"We've made some mistakes, but I want my colleagues to look at ways to promote arts and culture in the city," he said, adding, "We want businesses to flourish and make money."

Mapp said the city needs a calendar of events  "spelled out way in advance."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams objected vigorously to Garcia's request and to the council's calling a special meeting to reconsider it. She said the applicant for such events is supposed to have approval from surrounding retail merchants and the request must be made 45 days in advance.

"We are violating our own rules here," she said.

A proposed amendment to ban alcohol sales at the festival failed. Both Garcia and rival Rodney Maree have beer tents at their events and objectors on Aug. 19 said drinkers mingle with children. The amendment to limit hours and amplified sound passed with Council President Bridget Rivers, Vera Greaves and Mapp voting "yes" and Williams and Cory Storch voting "no." William Reid was absent.
In public comment after the vote, Garcia came to the council table to say he felt he had been treated unfairly. He traced the history of his festivals, starting in 2009, and said the competition is now trying to stop his event. Garcia said he is only trying to change the city's image from one of killings reported on Univision to three-day festivals free of problems.

With Monday's approval, Garcia will now be holding his celebration on Sept. 6, 7 and 8. Maree has permission to hold his event on the traditional weekend to celebrate Central American independence, Sept. 13, 14 and 15. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all mark their independence from Spain on Sept. 15.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Special Meeting Tonight


Don't forget, there is a special City Council meeting tonight, 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, with just two items: Submission of a layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission and granting permission to Edison Garcia for a festival in Lots 8/8A on Sept. 6, 7 and 8.

See background on the festival issue here.

For more on the layoff issue, click here.

The next agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 in Municipal Court. The regular meeting is 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, also in Municipal Court.

Quite a large crowd turned out for the Aug. 19 council meeting. Seventeen people spoke in the first public comment portion on matters up for a vote, and thirteen people spoke in the second general-comment session.

The interesting thing for me was that neither of the two main issues was covered in advance by media other than city bloggers. It proves that there is an audience for hyperlocal bloggers who are willing to sit through long meetings and spend more hours writing up what happened. 

None other than Rachel Maddow stuck up for the importance of local newspapers last week, as noted here

However, depending on who's in charge at a newspaper, municipal government may or may not be a priority. If reporters are told to skip public meetings in favor of other coverage, you will not know about what your elected officials are up to unless you yourself attend the meetings (or read the blogs).

To borrow a phrase from Dan, "rumor has it" that Gannett's New Jersey newspapers are headed this week for consolidation into one publication with some localization. If that happens, the news hole, or space for local coverage, will shrink even more and you will see more generic news or features. Even now, readers of some newspapers get four-line news stories that boil down to "something happened somewhere, no details available."

I don't have a smart phone yet, but I have several intelligent radios that keep me in touch with BBC news, both in the U.S. and worldwide. They don't get down to what people call the granular level of news, though. For that, you may still need bloggers.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Dan's post today reminds me that I mentioned flamingo-flocking in a post on fiscal controls. I know, I know, it's a stretch, but take a look here.

Ottmann Marking 20 Years in District

For his twentieth year in the district, School Business Administrator Gary Ottmann will be receiving $181,825, according to the Aug. 20 Board of Education agenda.

Ottmann served 13 years in Plainfield, then briefly in Wayne before returning to Plainfield in 2007. The 2013-14 school year will mark two decades of service.

Plaintalker is no longer able to cover the school board, but readers may be interested in this post on Ottman's return to the district in 2007.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Peach Festival at Grace Church

Peach Festival
Carillon Concert
Noon Sunday
Grace Episcopal Church
Bring your own lawn chair to Cleveland Avenue off East Seventh Street to enjoy this special event. See more details here.

Council Inconsistency Mars Its Power

The current hassle over festivals has its origins in new rules passed last year for carnivals and other events.

As noted in this blog post, the council took measures to tighten up on carnivals and other events after several residents complained about a "carnival" the mayor held on her own authority on short notice. The new rules call for application 45 days in advance for carnivals and other events, council approval in addition to mayoral approval and an increase in fees from $500 per day to $2,500 per day for carnivals.

It may be that the council forgot its own rules in excusing night club owner Edison Garcia from paying the full fee for a three-day event in July. Because there is now a full-blown rivalry between Garcia and Rodney Maree of Chez Maree, controversy over fees and dates is overshadowing the stated goals of celebrating Central American independence and fostering community togetherness for September events.

Garcia started out with one September event five years ago. He later added a July weekend celebration of American independence and expanded the September event to three days. Last year, Maree applied early for the September weekend traditionally associated with Central American independence. In a compromise, the council approved Maree's use of the city parking lot behind the former Strand Theater and granted Garcia use of Lots 8 and 8A between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue.The double-header event attracted thousands of people, but the amplified music, open-air beer consumption and crowds milling between the two venues rubbed some people the wrong way and the council decided not to allow two on the same weekend in the future.

This year, Garcia applied in May for the July and September dates, but unbeknownst to him, Maree had also asked for the second weekend in September (see here). In June, the council approved the applications of Voluntad Productions, Maree's organizer, for the 2nd Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival on Sept. 14, 15 and 16, as well as Voluntad's application for its "1st Annual El Salvadorian Heritage Festival" on Aug. 9, 10 and 11.

While these weekend events no doubt garnered fee revenues for the city, they also multiplied the impact of noise and crowds on nearby residents. In addition, the application for the August event fell short of the 45-day rule.

Garcia applied this month for use of Lots 8 and 8A on Sept. 6, 7 and 8, but at the Aug. 12 agenda-fixing session, a business owner complained that he had to shut down for several days due to Garcia's July use of the venue and said his workers had to clean up trash and human waste after the event. The council also received a petition from other business owners objecting to the proposed event. On Aug. 19, Garcia's application was rejected.

But on Wednesday (Aug. 21), a special City Council meeting was called with only two topics: A layoff plan and Garcia's application. The layoff plan had also failed to get council approval on Aug. 19. The special meeting is 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall Library.

The 45-day  rule seemed to have faded away, as two council members also received approval on Aug. 19 for a "Community Appreciation Day" today (Aug. 24, since postponed).

Garcia will also be short of the rule, if his application is approved. The proposed do-over is also raising cries of political machinations, as Garcia has been a contributor to local office-holders.

What began in 2009 with two days of celebrating Hispanic heritage is now a tangled web of intrigue and possibly twelve days this summer of downtown festivals. Garcia, the innovator in 2009, is now accused by Maree of trying to spoil his September celebration by holding one a week earlier. Speakers on Aug 19 deplored the shift from a celebration of Latino heritage to sprawling, commercial events featuring beer-drinking around young children.

Amidst all this, blogger Dan Damon alleges the mayor has again signed off on an event she wants to hold today, disregarding the council.

It may be too late for this season, but perhaps a review of procedures for council approval of events is in order. On Monday, Dr. Harold Yood objected to having two approvals on the consent agenda, while others required a voice vote. Inconsistency again!

If the legislators pay no mind to legislation they themselves passed, what does it say about the city? Either enforce the rules or just admit what one of my old City Hall tipsters used to say: "This is a lawless city."


UCIA's Unfinished Projects

The city's proposed settlement agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority included a list of projects the authority was working on several years ago. Plaintalker wrote about most of them. The majority failed or are in abeyance. Below are links to Plaintalker posts or comments on these projects.

North Avenue Expanded Area Project

Block 318 Redevelopment (Macy's site) Project
October 2008: In Need Study adopted; No Redevelopment Plan adopted; No Developer has been designated yet.

Tepper's Tract Infill Project
Plaintalker has no file with this title. This could be something regarding the vacant lot on Somerset Street next to Tepper's or the project at this link.

Arlington Heights Project.
2007: The council recently approved the withdrawal of the Arlington Avenue developer. 


Friday, August 23, 2013

CIP Advice: Look for Grants, Not Bonds

There's a bit of a back story on the library closing from today through Sept. 3.

Library Director Joe Da Rold met with the Planning Board on Aug. 1 to discuss the capital improvement plan  for 2013 through 2018. Things were looking bleak, as Chairman Ken Robertson said there had been no capital expenditures in 2009, 2010, 2011 or 2012. To avoid a huge expenditure and give the City Council some breathing room, Robertson said, the board wanted to "zero out" 2014. Among other changes, would Da Rold mind moving a $300,000 item for carpet replacement and bookstack relocation from 2016 to 2017?

Actually, Da Rold said, the project was going to be done in a couple of weeks - funded by the Plainfield Foundation. See the library's advisory on the closing here.

Grants will save the day while the city irons out the CIP, which generally involves bonding for big-ticket items such as roads, building repairs, vehicles and heavy equipment. Federal, state and county grants as well as funding from foundations may be the only means of paying for major projects in the short term.

Eloise Tinley, president of the Historical Society of Plainfield, was also discussing capital needs for Drake House with the Planning Board at the same meeting. Tinley said two Preserve New Jersey grants from Union County  require matching amounts, but said she has been told there will be no more matching grants. So that is a further caveat on grants, although on Monday the council approved submission of a grant application to the county's 2013 Kids Recreation Trust Fund that required a 50 percent match. The resolution summary on the agenda did not include a dollar amount.

Proposed Drake House capital projects discussed on Aug. 1 include a perimeter fence and sensors, interior renovations and an archeological study.

The library's future projects include plans to relocate the main entry of the library and construct a "central core" where the pool now stands. Da Rold also said the library needs a standby emergency generator at a cost of  $430,000. It was closed for 10 days during Hurricane Sandy, nine days without power and one day to bring systems back up. He said he had asked the city to apply to PSE&G to have the library declared a "resource center" so it could get power back quicker. Meanwhile, he will be looking for grants or other funding to get needed projects going.

The Planning Board hears from department and division heads on capital needs and adjusts the multi-year plan for projects. On a chart for 2014 through 2018, capital needs include traffic signal repairs citywide in the Police Division. The Fire Division list includes $1.3 million for plumbing upgrades at the historic main fire house. The Planning Division has multiple yearly requests for $200,000 as it chips away at creating the Green Brook Trail. Roadway projects totaling $25 million are on the Engineering Division's five-year list.

The Recreation Division wants to do a skateboard park study. Public Works projects include improvements to two major parking lots, with installation of pay stations, and vehicle replacement for $3.2 million in 2013-2018. the IT Division needs computer/scanner/printer replacements.

The document with all 2013-2018 capital proposals notes that the following divisions made no requests: Audit & Control, Health, Community Development, Purchasing, Senior center, Tax Assessor, Tax Collector, WIC Office, Personnel and Economic Development. The chart is available in the Planning Office.

Robertson said the Planning Board had done its job in the capital planning process, but others had not. Plaintalker surmises the situation will pose yet another challenge for the next administration.

(Disclaimer: my son has a 15-hour per week job at the library.)


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Garden Images

 My garden is largely grown from saved seed or cuttings, partly for thrift and partly because I love to propagate plants. This year I still miss my double pink Impatiens that I grew for more than a decade from a half-dead plant that workers threw away in Lot 6. I grew cuttings over the winter, planted them in spring, took more in autumn and so on every year. The last crop succumbed to downy mildew that became widespread in the Northeast.
So I planted a lot of Balsam seeds, forgetting it is also in the Impatiens family. They grew tall and produced the lovely blooms above in pink, scarlet, salmon, magenta and rose. But wet weather let the downy mildew take hold and now they have yellow bands on the leaves with the mildew underneath. I can still save the seeds but will have to get rid of the plants soon.
 My Portulaca came through as usual in many colors. I plant the seeds in a window box so they don't get lost and then transplant them into the garden.
 They are so delicate! I find them entrancing.
 Here's one of our Praying Mantises on patrol. By now they have shed multiple exoskeletons and will soon be ready to breed. This one is sitting on a sprig of Purple Queen, in the Tradescantia family.
 These winsome flowers are Thunbergia, also called Black-Eyed Susan Vine. We only have a few vines this year, due to being late planting seeds. Summer is fading fast and I still have lots of seeds that were collected last year.
This Praying Mantis has translucent green wings which look brand new. It is now an adult. Click to enlarge and see its strong forelegs for catching prey. Watching these fascinating creatures is my favorite part of yard work.

If  you don't have a garden of your own, you can always visit the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park for enjoyment and relaxation. You won't even have to do yard work, unless you join the Saturday volunteer weeding group. See more here.


Special Meeting Monday for Layoffs, Festival

Special City Council Meeting
7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26
City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

The City Council will hold a special meeting Monday with just two topics: Submission of a layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission and granting use of city parking lots 8 and 8A to Edison Garcia for the 5th Annual  Outdoor Fiesta Days celebrating Central American independence. 

As readers know, a resolution to submit a layoff plan failed on Aug. 19, despite various votes to approve it or to restore funds to pay the two employees affected. See Plaintalker's post here

The September fiesta, which Edison Garcia originated.five years ago, ran into complications after Rodney Maree began holding a rival event to celebrate Central American Independence. Last year, both events were held on the same day, Garcia's in Lots 8 and 8A and Maree's in Lot 1, on opposite sides of Watchung Avenue. This year, Maree secured the desired weekend - Sept. 13, 14 and 15 - before Garcia applied. Garcia's application to hold his event on Sept. 6, 7 and 8 was turned down on Aug. 19 in a 3-2 vote. Four votes were needed for passage, but Council President Bridget Rivers and Cory Storch were absent. Adrian Mapp, William Reid and Vera Greaves voted "yes" and Tracey Brown and Rebecca Williams voted "no."

More later on this topic.


Layoff A Standoff

In July, the City Council rejected a $92,000 allocation of Urban Enterprise Zone funds to pay for staff to run the Office of Economic Development. But on Monday, a vote to authorize a layoff plan failed. A standoff ensued as the administration and governing body dickered fruitlessly over what to do next, as the employees cannot stay on without pay.

Only five of seven council members were present Monday. An initial vote to submit the layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission failed, 3-2, with Tracey Brown, William Reid and Vera Greaves voting "no" and Rebecca Williams and Adrian Mapp voting "yes." Four votes were needed to pass.

"By not adopting the layoff plan, you are not in compliance with law," Corporation Counsel David Minchello said. "The council now has to decide which way to go."

Either the funds had to be reinserted as revenues or the layoff plan had to go forward, he said.

Greaves asked how much was in the UEZ fund. When told it was $3 million, she said $92,000 was "a pittance."

But then a motion to restore the UEZ funds failed, with Mapp and Williams voting "no" and Brown, Reid and Greaves voting "yes."

"So that leaves us in the same position," Reid said.

"If the positions are not funded, there is no other recourse but to submit the layoff plan," Minchello said

But a motion to reconsider the layoff plan failed, with Mapp and Williams voting "yes" and the others voting "no."

Given the need for state review of a layoff plan and for the affected employees to receive notice, a layoff would not happen until sometime in November, Minchello said.

"The problem is, there is no direction."

"Come up with some direction," Reid said.

Brown said, "Find some funds."

"That cannot happen," Minchello said.

The 2013 budget was finalized and passed in June. The layoff issue remained unresolved Monday.

The Urban Enterprise Zone program dates back to 1985 and for at least 10 years funds for the program were used to pay administrative costs. See Plaintalker's July post here. Gov. Chris Christie disbanded the program in 2011 and turned fund balances back to municipalities. As noted, Plainfield has a balance of about $3 million.

At the Aug. 12 agenda-fixing session, Plainfield Municipal Employees Association President Cynthia Smith asked the council to reconsider the layoff plan, saying it would only save a couple of months in the salary and wage line. She reminded the council that the city was about to have a change in administrations and would "lose people with information" in a layoff.

"You may do yourself a disservice,"she said.


Mark Moves On

Now here is some news I take no joy in reporting.

Mark Spivey, who covered Plainfield since June 2008, is leaving journalism for a new venture, as yet unannounced.

He broke the news on Facebook with this post:

It's official. A week from tomorrow will mark probably my final day of ever again working as a journalist. I was humbled and honored by the experience of doing just that over the last decade, because it showed me the world for what it really is and stripped away so many misconceptions and flawed presumptions I once had about the way things actually work. But it's time to move on.

Mark was the fourth person to cover Plainfield after I retired in 2003. Chad Weihrauch was the first, for about three years. Christa Segalini had a brief tenure and then Brandon Lausch took over. Mark very quickly got to know Plainfield and its various communities, and many regarded him as a friend as well as a journalist. He racked up awards as fast as compliments from readers. When the Courier News appeared to shift from beat coverage to a more general approach to news gathering, people missed him at meetings.

Now, as Chad, Christa, Brandon and many others have done, he is leaving journalism. To his credit, it is on his own terms. Other colleagues, as recently as this month, were just shown the door after many years of service.

Perhaps his biggest story out of Plainfield was one he pursued over years, the Connolly Properties saga that began with complaints about a broken elevator in one of the company's 26 apartment buildings and ended with David Connolly facing nine years in prison for a $20 million Ponzi scheme affecting more than 100 investors. Mark has also become known as an expert on beer, but when I ran into him recently in Plainfield, we talked about birds. He is an ornithologist at heart, I think, but hey, you can drink beer while bird-watching, so it all works out.

Let's wish Mark all the best and say au revoir, not farewell, just in case he will be working somewhere close by ...



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Liquor License Denied, Festivals Questioned Monday

The biggest story out of Monday's City Council meeting may have been the passion of citizens who spoke out on issues ranging from a liquor license denial to a burgeoning number of outdoor festivals.

"Finally!" resident Nancy Piwowar called out after the council voted unanimously to deny renewal of Vadrajan Naicken's liquor license. Before the vote, resident Ora Bailey Hill said sales of liquor to underage youth at Naicken's former location led to the early death of eight young men and problems did not cease after Arlington Liquors relocated to become Clinton Deli on West Front Street. Resident D. Scott Belin, also an independent candidate for mayor, urged council members who wanted to drop the matter to join the others in denying the license renewal.

On Aug. 12, the matter lacked a consensus to move it to the agenda until Councilwoman Tracey Brown changed her mind. Brown had sided with council members Vera Greaves and William Reid and Council President Bridget Rivers, who defended Naicken. But after Councilman Adrian Mapp  and Councilwoman Rebecca Williams recalled police findings of underage alcohol and drug sales at the store and argued for denial, Brown, who had not attended the hearing where police testified, joined them and Cory Storch for a consensus.

Jeanette Criscione, who had attended the hearing, thanked Brown Monday for changing her view, saying otherwise the council "would not be at this point."

Only one resident, Dawud Hicks, downplayed Naicken's record, saying, "We know this guy ... this is a small, small matter."

Hicks deplored Williams' depiction of Naicken as a "menace," but said he might be a "nuisance." He said the council should let the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control settle the matter.

While a majority of speakers clearly favored the liquor license denial, opinions on a proliferation of festivals were split. Besides the increasing number of festivals, the sale of alcoholic beverages was also an issue, especially in proximity to children attending the events. Flor Gonzalez of the Latin American Coalition said past festivals were cultural in nature and did not include alcohol consumption. She said business owners were always part of the planning, in contrast to recent comments that the closing of city parking lots for use by festival organizers was harming business.

Resident Norman X. Johnson said in the festival discussion, "Nobody represents the people who want to stay in their own home."

His point was that people who stay home from the three-day festivals should not have to be bothered by the noise they generate.

Rodney Maree, who launched a competing festival last year to nightclub owner Edison Garcia's fourth celebration of Central American independence, said he was spending $17,000 this year to bring musical groups from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, among other costs for a three-day event. Last year, the city allowed Garcia and Maree to have events on the same weekend in September, but this year Maree secured the favored weekend and the city suggested that Garcia pick another one. But possibly due to complaints from business owners near the lot Garcia wanted to use, a council vote on granting Garcia permission failed Monday. Brown and Williams voted "no"  and Greaves, Reid and Mapp voted "yes," falling short of the four votes needed to pass. Rivers and Storch were absent.

Garcia had already held a three-day festival on July 5, 6 and 7 and Maree held another on Aug. 9, 10 and 11. The council also approved five street closings Monday for outdoor events, but agreed to formulate a policy for future  festivals and also to have police and a city traffic committee review requests for street closings before the requests come to the governing body.


Monday, August 19, 2013

City Nets $1 Million in UCIA Settlement

A settlement between the city and the Union County Improvement Authority will end a longstanding dispute with $342,366 for the UCIA and $1.09 million for the city.

In addition, the UCIA agreed to purchase and install a tower clock on the Park-Madison plaza and open its parking deck to public use on evenings and weekends, providing the city shows proof of liability insurance and a "hold harmless" agreement. The two parties will also establish a committee to look into possible paid parking in the deck.

The tax issue dates back to June 2001, when the two entities agreed that the UCIA could make payments in lieu of taxes to the city on the Park-Madison building at Park Avenue and West Front Street. The building has offices on upper floors and commercial space at ground level The project also included.a parking deck. The resolution up for a vote tonight also refers to a dispute rising from the UCIA's role as development entity for the city, in which it negotiated with developers for nearly a dozen projects including the Park-Madison office itself. In the settlement, the UCIA is reimbursed for costs that redevelopers failed to pay the authority.

The total amount owed to the city for PILOT payments was $1,433,968.17. The UCIA claimed $342,366.18 in unreimbursed redevelopment costs. The settlement will give that amount to the UCIA and $1,091,601.99 to the city. The money is due to the city within 30 days of the execution of the agreement, which the UCIA passed on Aug. 7 and the city is expected to pass tonight.approved tonight.

The clock issue refers to a condition imposed by the Planning Board when the Park-Madison building was approved.

This historic clock was supposed to be refurbished and relocated to the Park-Madison plaza. The new agreement calls for a "free-standing tower clock" to be installed on the Park-Madison plaza at a cost not to exceed $35,000 for the UCIA's contribution.

Once the city gives the UCIA evidence of general liability insurance and signs a "hold harmless" agreement, any available space in the deck may be used by the public on weekdays from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. and for weekend and holiday hours, starting at 6 p.m.of the evening preceding the weekend or holiday through 3 a.m. of the morning following the end of the weekend or holiday (i.e., 6 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Monday). The city is obligated to provide security and/or police presence during public use hours.

Public use of the deck during off-hours has long been sought, as downtown parking is limited. The only quasi-public use has apparently been by skateboarders who love the ramps, as noted in a PCTV video.

As for the redevelopment projects for which costs were owed, the status of many is murky. The UCIA promised early on to keep the City Council in the decision-making loop on all its projects, but in recent years not much has been heard from the UCIA. Besides the Park-Madison project, the agreement lists the North Avenue Redevelopment Area Project, the North Avenue Expanded Area Project, the Richmond and Third Street Project, the Madison Avenue/West 2nd Street Project, the Marino's Tract/West Front Street Project, the Tepper's Tract (Phase II) Project, the Netherwood Station Redevelopment Area Project, the Block 318 Redevelopment (Macy's site) Project, the Tepper's Tract Infill Project and the Arlington Heights Project.


A Four-Poster (Blog, Not Bed)

In case you haven't checked the blog over the weekend, please note there are four posts you may want to read from Aug. 17 and 18.

African Caribbean Commission Proposed

The City Council will vote tonight on establishment of a nine-member African Caribbean Commission whose mission is "to foster diversity and promote African Caribbean events and awareness within the city of Plainfield."

Dressed in a traditional gown and headwrap, Fatou Njie explained the group's goals and answered council questions at the Aug. 12 agenda-fixing session. The proposed commission would provide information to members on legal, health and immigration matters and will support its activities mainly through grants, she said.

In answer to Councilman Adrian Mapp's question on whether the group was already active, Njie said it has been meeting for a year. Mapp asked who was on the current committee and five people stood. In answer to his question on membership, Njie said it was "not confined to residents of those areas."

At a candidates' forum in May, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs mentioned her desire to establish an African-Caribbean commission as part of her "five-star plan" for the city. Robinson-Briggs was seeking a third term, running against Councilman Adrian Mapp, who emerged as the winner of the June mayoral primary. Mapp supported a Caribbean American Heritage Day held at the end of June.

Councilman Cory Storch noted a Hispanic advisory commission was not functioning.The Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs was established by ordinance in 2005, but the mayor never nominated any members until 2010. For whatever reason, it soon dropped out of sight.

"Hopefully, you won't suffer the same fate," Storch said.

Plainfield has a visible Nigerian presence, including a store on East Seventh Street, Precious International Food, that sells African specialties along with movies and traditional clothing. Charles Eke, a former councilman and now a Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioner, is a Nigerian chief.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

East Sixth Street Fire Damages Squatter House

Police, fire and rescue vehicles and personnel filled East Sixth Street off Park Avenue late Friday to respond to a fire in a building known to be used by squatters.

I did not see any reports in the newspapers Saturday.
Firefighters tossed numerous items out of the windows Friday night. The building was unsecured Saturday. A young woman came down the front steps just as I arrived and hurried over to Park Avenue.
Toys and household furnishings littered the front lawn Saturday.
 The house next door is also unsecured, but was not affected by the fire.
The house that caught fire was boarded at some point, but squatters around Park & Seventh appear to play a cat-and-mouse game with authorities.

The next house east of these two ramshackle buildings is well-kept, as are most other homes on the block and the chiropractor's office just west of the fire scene. What can be done to help the homeless squatters so that these dangerous eyesores can be cleaned up and reclaimed as legitimate housing?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bloggers Pursuing UCIA Settlement Details

Details of an agreement between the city and the Union County Improvement Authority were not spelled out in a resolution up for a vote Monday. Inquisitive bloggers will have to get hold of the settlement agreement on file in the City Clerk's office.

The resolution gives the background of a dispute that arose over payments in lieu of taxes that the UCIA agreed to pay the city for the Park-Madison Office Project and says a settlement has been reached, but no dollar amounts are given on what is owed to the city. The dispute over the amount and timing of PILOT payments arose after the city and an "Urban Renewal Entity" formed by the UCIA entered into a financial agreement in June 2001.

The notion that the UCIA owed payments in lieu of taxes surfaced in comments to an April news article on UCIA Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo. See Plaintalker's post here.

In a blog post on the PMUA renting new offices in the Park-Madison building, Plaintalker noted recent PILOT amounts:

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.

You can bet some bloggers will be filing OPRA requests to look at the settlement agreement on Monday.


Bumping Rights

Some readers may recall the July discussion on whether Urban Enterprise Zone funds should be used to pay the salaries of those who administer the program locally. Now that the state has essentially shut down the program and turned remaining funds back to the cities involved, Councilman Adrian Mapp and others objected to use of $92,000 for administrative salaries. (See post here.) Public Works Director Eric Jackson reminded the council in July that eliminating that funding would lead to the layoffs of the two individuals employed in the Office of Economic Development.

At the Aug. 12 agenda-fixing session, Plainfield Municipal Employees Association President Cynthia Smith asked the council to reconsider the proposal, noting the city will only save a couple of months' worth of salaries by laying off the employees. She said the city was about to go through a change of administrations and would lose people with institutional knowledge in the layoffs.

"You may do yourselves a disservice," Smith said.

Smith said previous layoffs had taken place as part of the budget process, but this time the budget has already been approved. She cautioned that due to "bumping rights" the cuts may not fall where expected.

According to state statutes, employees must receive 45 days' notice of a layoff and then may "bump" a provisional or less senior employee, among other options to remain employed.

Monday's agenda includes a resolution for submission of a layoff plan to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Given the requirements for notice and provision for appeals, the net savings for the 2013 calendar year will most likely be minimal.

Besides the issue of using UEZ funds for salaries, Mapp and others have expressed dissatisfaction with the office affected. As noted in the link above, Mapp asked in May 2012 for an accounting of all pending UEZ projects. The council only recently received a spreadsheet of figures with no narrative on specific projects.
Plaintalker called for an analysis of the local UEZ program when the state report came out in 2011. Whether the staff goes or stays, the program still needs a comprehensive analysis in plain English, or the next administration will be flying blind in use of the remaining UEZ funds.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Council: No Contract, No UEZ Funds for Biz Advice

The City Council rejected a second try Monday to get $30,000 in rental fees for a small business program based in a privately-owned Park Avenue building.

In May, Jacques Howard of the Office of Economic Development and Jeffery Dunn of The Incubator said the money was owed to Kean University, but no one from Kean was present to answer questions about any contractual arrangement. On Monday, Nathaniel Sims, director of the New Jersey Small Business Center at Kean, said the program had been at the Park Avenue location for 10 years and rent was paid with Urban Enterprise Zone funds. The UEZ fund is based on sales tax collected from certified retailers and was formerly applied to uses in the zone with approval of the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority, until the Christie administration disbanded the state UEZ office and turned remaining funds back to participating municipalities.

Plainfield received a balance of about $4 million, but has no review process comparable to the UEZA for use of funds. Dunn and Howard pitched the rental issue directly to the council at the May 6 agenda session, but council members said they wanted to hear a Kean representative explain it. When Council President Bridget Rivers asked, "Do the city owe you money?" Dunn turned the question back to Howard, who said it "depends."

On Monday, when Rivers asked why the item was back before the council, City Administrator Eric Berry said, "This is a request by the mayor."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said all other such programs are located on college campuses and asked why a private business should be paid. She suggested locating the program in the Plainfield Public Library's new job center, calling the Park Avenue location an "ill fit" aimed at lining someone's pocket.

Sims said the program wants to serve Plainfield and has extended its services to include disaster assisstance after hurricanes Irene and Sandy. He said a new grant for post-storm assistance and readiness for future storms had just come out four days ago.  But when Williams asked why the city had to pay if there was a new grant, Sims said it was for consulting services.

After more discussion, Councilman Cory Storch said the proposal has come to the city previously and he has voted "no" because according to the statistics presented, of 480 clients counseled on starting a business, only  nine new business starts resulted.

"We have to invest funds where we see results," he said. "This has been given a chance for ten years."

Councilman Adrian Mapp, a chief financial officer in another municipality, said the city is not procuring services from Kean and the city can only spend money on entities with which it has some kind of contract. With that, the council declined to move the item to the Aug. 19 agenda.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Council Votes Aug. 19 on Clinton Deli Liquor License

A liquor store owner's fate may be decided Aug. 19 when the City Council votes on whether to deny renewal of his license, but he had a defender Monday in Council President Bridget Rivers.

At a hearing last month with the council acting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control board, police presented evidence that Vadrajan Naicken admitted selling alcohol to a minor and that his daughter was arrested twice at his Clinton Deli liquor store on West Front Street. She first allegedly sold drugs in the store and was arrested a second time for returning to the premises after being barred for the drug offense. Corporation Counsel David Minchello began the hearing by telling council members they would be shocked by  the evidence to be presented. (See post here.)

But on Monday a council majority first agreed not to move the resolution to the Aug. 19 agenda, effectively allowing the matter to drop.

Councilman Adrian Mapp asked his colleagues to reconsider, citing Naicken's admission and his daughter's arrests. Taking no action, he said, "means we are OK with behavior that has been exhibited out of this establishment."

"These people are a menace to our city," Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said, reminding the council members they tried to take action in 2012 by imposing strict conditions on renewal of Naicken's license. He ignored the conditions, she said.

But Rivers said another establishment had similar offenses and was given a chance to clean them up. She said Naicken owns eleven properties in Plainfield.

"He pays a lot of taxes in the city. Let's give him a chance," Rivers said, urging the council not to "take his livelihood away from him."

But Williams said in 2011 Naicken had hundreds of violations and it was the same last year.

"He's been given a chance," she said. "He's been given many chances."

Rivers said the daughter was barred from the premises for selling her prescription drugs.

"With all due respect to my colleagues who see things differently," Mapp said, based on the findings, "what we are saying to police officers is 'we don't care how well you are doing your job.' "

Mapp said Naicken was given a chance, which he ignored. Police said they found no exterior security cameras or dusk-to-closing guards as required in the conditional renewal of the Clinton Deli license last year.

"Are we going to wait for another murder to be committed?" Mapp asked.

Councilwoman Tracey Brown said she was not at the hearing and decided to change her position in favor of having the matter on the Aug. 19 agenda. With Brown joining Mapp, Williams and Cory Storch, there was a consensus to do so. Rivers, William Reid and Vera Greaves did not want it on the agenda.

The regular meeting is 8 p.m. Aug. 19 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Fairy Ring Downtown

Walking on Gavett Place today, I was interested to come upon a fairy ring, or most of one. These rings of mushrooms have generated a lot of folklore. Do fairies dance here or sit on these toadstools? Is it allowed in the TODD?

I like to see a bit of magic now and then, it was just funny to see a fairy ring across from the main train station in downtown Plainfield. Some say if you step into a fairy ring, you can't get out again. Picture a commuter calling the boss on a cell phone to explain missing the train to work because of a fairy spell!

Save the Date: Oct. 16

A supporter seeks relief from the heat at the Aug. 12 Booker rally.

 The special primary election is over and it's Booker vs. Lonegan in the election for U.S. Senate.

Mark your calendar now for Wednesday, Oct. 16 and be sure to vote!

Businessman, Council Voice Festival Concerns

Google image, Lot 8A

A Somerset Street business owner told the City Council he had to close up for days while a July festival took place in a city parking lot and called such events "very dangerous."

In public comment, Arturo Torres said his workers at Acme Windows on Somerset Street had to deal with the aftermath, including human waste and food mess in Lot 8A. He deplored drunks "bothering other people" and questioned the safety of rides set up in the parking lot.

His concerns came as the governing body itself called for tighter controls on three-day fiestas that are proliferating downtown. Since nightclub owner Edison Garcia began the tradition five years ago with celebrations of American and Central American independence, another nightclub owner has begun rivaling them. Voluntad Productions held the most recent one this past weekend to celebrate El Salvadoran heritage and has council permission to hold its second annual Hispanic heritage festival in Municipal Lot 1 on Sept. 13, 14 and 15.

Garcia, who previously secured the second weekend in September for the Central American Independence celebration, is now seeking city permission to hold his event on Sept. 6, 7 and 8 this year in Lots 8 and 8A. See Plaintalker's earlier post here.

The city changed rules for carnivals and other events in 2012, increasing fees to $2,500 per day and imposing other requirements, but partially waived Garcia's fee in July. In a discussion before public comment Monday, Councilman William Reid said he opposed any future fee waivers and called for organizers to hire "proper police" for events.

Councilman Adrian Mapp said he supported events that bring "thousands of people" to Plainfield, but called for early permit applications. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams noted an event in July and said she didn't think it necessary to have events "every other weekend."

Besides Garcia's request for his event on Sept. 6, 7 and 8, there were several other requests for council approval Monday. Evangelical Mission of the Holy Spirit Inc. asked for closure of Central Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets on Sept. 15 for an outdoor religious celebration; First Presbyterian Church wants to use Municipal Lot 9 at Central Avenue and West Second Street for "religious praising activities" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 7; G-Wiz Auto Entertainment asks to close East Front Street between Park & Watchung on Sept. 22 for the 5th Annual Latin Rides Car, Truck & Bike Show; Prime Xample Motorcycle Club wants to close North Avenue between Berckman and Richmond streets for a grand opening celebration from 1 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 15; and Council President Bridget Rivers and Councilwoman Vera Greaves want to close West Third Street between Plainfield Avenue and Liberty Street for a Community Appreciation Day on Aug. 24.

All these requests will be up for approval at the regular meeting at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Booker Wins Democratic Line For Oct. 16

Cory Booker is the Democratic winner of the special primary election for U.S. Senator.
He will face Republican Steve Lonegan on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Booker received 3,372 of 4,000 votes cast in Plainfield. Click to enlarge image.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Have your say in who should succeed the late Sen, Frank Lautenberg representing New Jersey. Four Democrats and two Republicans are on the special primary election ballot. Polls are open until 8 p.m.

If you are a registered Democrat or declare at the polls, your choices for U.S. Senator in today's primary are:
Rush Holt
Cory Booker
Sheila Oliver
Frank Pallone

If you are a Republican or declare at  the polls, your choices are:
Steve Lonegan
Alieta Eck


Monday, August 12, 2013

PMUA Term Switches A No-Go

A mayoral request to change terms on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will not be moved to the Aug. 19 agenda for a vote, a City Council majority decided Monday. A poll for consensus on moving the nominations found Vera Greaves and Tracey Brown saying "yes," while Adrian Mapp, Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams, William Reid and Bridget Rivers said "no."

The proposed changes would have replaced longtime Commissioner Harold Mitchell with the mayor's former confidential aide, Barbara James, and given the longest terms to Commissioners Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and James. Only three votes are needed on the five-member board to pass resolutions, such as one to give two former executives $725,000 in addition to $275,000 in severance pay. See post here.

The PMUA reorganizes in February and terms normally begin and end then. Given that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs lost her June primary bid for a third term and will leave office Dec. 31, the changes appear designed to extend her influence past her departure.

The chart below shows the current roster and when their terms expire (or would expire, in the case of holdovers). The third column lists the proposed changes.

Alex Toliver (holdover)
Malcolm Dunn
Carol Ann Brokaw (holdover)
Cecil Sanders
Harold Mitchell (holdover)
Barbara James
Cecil Sanders
Carol Ann Brokaw
Malcolm Dunn
Alex Toliver
Charles Eke
Alt 1 2015
Charles Eke
Alt 2 2015
Jeffrey R. Burke
The council also declined to move to the agenda the nomination of Rickey Williams to the Housing Authority of Plainfield. Reid questioned the validity of a proposed term to 2018 for Williams and said other nominations need to be made. Two commissioners' terms were up July 1 and there is a vacancy due to the resignation of former Chairman Owen Fletcher.

"I would prefer to do it all at once," Reid said. 

The mayor also put forward two names for seats on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

"I'm not sure what's going on at the PMUA or the Zoning Board either," Reid said before all the nominations were rejected.