Monday, September 30, 2013

A Small Question

I was at a meeting recently where those present discussed attendance at the League of Municipalities conference. One person who wanted to go is an appointee who, given that the conference is Nov. 19 to 21, will only have six weeks to serve before leaving office. I thought there was a rule a while back that those leaving office should yield to others who will continue in office, given that city funds are used for registration.
Should it be first come, first served, or should preference be given to those who will share what they learn at the conference as they continue in office through 2014 and beyond?


Heat Season Reminder

Tenants won't need this right away with the current forecast, but just to open the official heating season, here are the requirements:

Heating Requirements. Except as hereinafter stated, from October 1 of each year to the next succeeding May 1, the interior of every dwelling unit or rooming unit, bathroom and water closet compartment shall be maintained at least at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (68°F) whenever the outside temperature falls below fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit (55°F) during the daytime hours from six (6:00) a.m. in the morning and eleven (11:00) p.m. in the evening. At times other than those specified, interiors of units of dwelling space shall be maintained at least at sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (65°F) whenever the outside temperature falls below forty degrees Fahrenheit (40°F).

Except as hereinafter stated, from May 1 to October 1, every dwelling unit, rooming unit, bathroom and water closet compartment shall be maintained at a temperature of sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (68°F) during the daytime hours from six (6:00) a.m. in the morning and eleven (11:00) p.m. in the evening whenever the outside temperature falls below fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit (55°F). At times other than those specified, interiors of units of dwelling space shall be maintained at least at sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (65°F) whenever the outside temperature falls below forty degrees Fahrenheit (40°F).
In meeting the aforesaid standards, the owner shall not be responsible for heat loss and the consequent drop in the interior temperature arising out of action by the occupant in leaving windows or doors open to the exterior of the building.

Commentary On Acting Pay For Mayor

Councilman and Democratic Mayoral Primary winner Adrian Mapp reports that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs wants to be paid extra for a stint as acting city administrator. The mayor receives $35,000 annually, but reportedly seeks compensation for filling the vacancy created by the Sept. 23 departure of City Administrator Eric Berry, who was paid.$155,000 annually

The good news, if I read Councilman Mapp's blog correctly, is that she is asking to get paid for just 10 working days. The bad news is that Mapp, a certified chief financial officer, says it is a violation of the city's special charter, which forbids any increase in compensation for a sitting mayor. He advises the payroll clerk not to go along with this request.

Whatever happens with the alleged fiscal mischief, I am hoping that the last 90 days of the administration will be administered by a professional administrator (redundancy intended). If David Kochel is free and would agree to take charge of day-to-day operations as he did in May 2011, that would be my best hope. He also agreed to consult for a period of time that overlapped Berry's advent in November 2011 (see post here).

Kochel knows both Plainfield and municipal administration well and could conceivably keep the city on an even keel through the end of the year. There is a transition process that needs to take place after the Nov. 5 general election and it would serve the city well to have a person in charge who could help facilitate it without political influences at play.

The mayor's proposed interim handling of day-to-day operations would end on Oct 6. She served as acting city administrator from March 1 through May 11, 2011 for no extra pay, as far as we know. It would be gracious of her to serve 10 days without pay to bridge the gap, if in fact there is someone available to take over by Oct. 7.

The City Council holds an agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 and the next regular meeting is 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15, both in Municipal Court. If unresolved, the issue is sure to be a hot topic in public comment on those occasions.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Camino: Real?

Down on North Avenue Saturday, a contractor named Carlos beamed as he pointed out buildings he said would soon be acquired by the Arkad Group. He was working on one already owned by Mario Camino's firm and he knew that its location in the North Avenue Historic District would require replacing its wooden windows with the same.

That might have been one up on Landmark, Frank Cretella's development company. Even though Cretella has been involved with the historic district since 2006, in February a representative of the company apologized to the HPC commissioners after the fact for installing vinyl windows in a building next door. The commissioners were hearing four Cretella applications that night and all had to be carried to future meetings for lack of needed details..

That's perhaps why the Courier News article published today on Arkad's big plans for the downtown came like a bolt from the blue. Camino's vision parallels the same blocks for which Cretella has been the city's main hope for most of the past decade.

"Dueling developers," a North Avenue merchant quipped Saturday.

A duel or a race?

While Cretella's city projects appear to be dragging, Camino seems intent on seizing the baton.

As someone who tries to follow the land use boards closely, I was unfamiliar with Arkad Group and will now have to pay all the more attention.
As described in the news article, Arkad has acquired the former bank building at 107-117 Park Avenue and plans offices and a restaurant in the existing space, plus a rooftop addition for apartments. It's half a block from the PNC Bank building, where Cretella dropped plans for a rooftop lounge with a shallow pool.

Cretella's plan in 2006 was to acquire buildings in the North Avenue Historic District, preserve the facades, and build higher behind them, something Camino is similarly proposing now. Many will be watching to see how it goes, now that the city is emphasizing downtown transit-oriented development. Zoning changes will permit more intensive housing by the main train station on North Avenue, and the city is seeking a transit village designation.

While wending his way through Plainfield's sometimes onerous gamut of approvals, Cretella has not been sitting on his hands. Maybe there is not yet a French bistro on the ground floor of the refurbished "Courier News" building on Park Avenue, but Cretella, owner of the prestigious Stone House restaurant in Warren, has also acquired the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station and Hotel du Village in New Hope. One of his frustrations in Plainfield has been the need for a liquor license or two for his hospitality projects here.

With a new mayor and administration anticipated in January, residents are hopeful that the Queen City will have another chance for a renaissance. When Mayor Albert T. McWilliams left office in December 2005, there was a full roster of development projects. Over the past eight years, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs brought forward several others.So far, only The Monarch, a 63-unit condo development, has been built and now it is largely rental units. Cretella's projects have yielded 12 apartments and Paramount Assets, which owns 45 downtown storefronts, has also developed apartments on Park Avenue.

Now that we have been introduced to Mario Camino by the Courier News, he's likely to get a royal welcome from Plainfielders who agree with his vision of success for the city. Maybe a 2014 "Year in Review" will come off better than what we can report for 2013.

Links: "Queen City Revival"
          Arkad Group


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Here's Looking at Yews!

The Yew hedge that was severely trimmed back in April is unobtrusively coming back to life behind the Roses and Coreopsis planted to beautify City Hall Plaza.

Click here to see how the site looked in April. By May, the new plantings had taken hold and the plaza had a whole new look.

The old image, with overgrown Yew hedge.
The new look, with restored historic lamps, new benches, plantings including Hawthorn trees. Click to enlarge.


Friday, September 27, 2013

That Sinking Feeling Again

Who is in charge of day-to-day operations of the city?

A call to the mayor's office Monday is still unanswered. Checks with the city clerk's office have yielded no information on naming of an acting city administrator.

Past vacancies in the office have led to nomination of one of the city's three department heads to fill in. The mayor, corporation counsel or a hired consultant have held the seat in the absence of a permanent city administrator.

Now what if the mayor is also unable to serve for whatever reason, like, say, chicken pox. The city's special charter says the city administrator or a department head can serve. If the mayor is out and neither a city administrator nor a department head can serve, the next in line is a council member. If one is not designated by the mayor, a council majority can appoint one.

Will any of these possibilities happen anytime soon? Who is at the helm of the Good Ship Plainfield?

From the City Charter:

3.3 Vacancies.

Whenever the mayor shall be unable to attend to the duties of his office, due to his absence, disability or other cause, for a period of less than 48 hours, the city administrator or, in the event of his inability to serve, a department head designated by the mayor in writing filed with the city clerk, shall serve as acting mayor. Whenever the mayor shall be unable to attend to the duties of his office:

(a) For a period of less than 48 hours and at a time when neither the city administrator, nor a duly designated department head can serve; or

(b) For a period of more than 48 consecutive hours; or
(c) At any time during an emergency declared by the council; a councilman designated under this section shall serve as acting mayor. The mayor may at any time designate in writing filed with the city clerk a councilman to serve as acting mayor under the provisions of this section. Whenever the provisions of this section require a councilman to serve as acting mayor and the mayor has failed to make such a designation or the councilman so designated by the mayor is unable to serve, the council shall by a majority vote of its whole number appoint an acting mayor from among its membership. Any person appointed pursuant to this section shall succeed to all of the rights, powers and duties of the mayor, until the mayor returns, the disability or other cause ceases. In the event of the death, resignation or disqualification of the mayor, there shall be a vacancy in the office which shall be filled by election for the remainder of the unexpired term at the next general election occurring not less than 60 days after the occurrence of the vacancy. The office shall be filled by the acting mayor until the qualification of the person so elected.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Violence and Vengeance Detailed in Indictment

Today brought shocking news about alleged gang violence in Plainfield. If you want to see the official document on the indictments, click here. Look at the chart with victims' names and click at the bottom to see the entire indictment.

I wondered where in Plainfield these gangs met, but the indictment did not say specifically. One can see the graffiti all over. The most chilling aspect is the randomness of a couple of the incidents, though much of the alleged violence was directed at rival gang members.

If you want to learn more about gangs, read this New Jersey State Police report for 2010. Here is the Star-Ledger news story on the indictments.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Last Day To Register For Special Election

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh reminds us:


Solar Panels, Much More on HPC Agenda

Solar panels, those things on poles that ruined Thanksgiving 2009 for many a preservation-minded Plainfielder, will be discussed at tonight's Historic Preservation Commission meeting.

The sudden appearance of the panels in 2009 drew numerous comments on this Plaintalker post.

Among wide-ranging topics on tonight's HPC agenda, the Ordinance Review Committee will discuss both solar panels and security grilles/roll-up doors. The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library and the full agenda can be seen at this link (scroll down).

The solar panel project was publicized before installation began, PSE&G representative Eileen Leahey explained at a December 2009 HPC meeting. ASouth Plainfield company, Petra Solar, was involved in the project's launch.

The city web site has comprehensive information on the Historic Preservation Commission. Click here to access the page. With its unique housing stock a prime ratable since the decline of industry in the city, the historic preservation movement became the front line in protecting such properties. Educating the public on its work has been a significant challenge for the commission. Issues include making sure owners know they are in historic districts and publicizing design guidelines for exterior changes. The commission is in the process of making information available in Spanish as well as English.

Plainfield receives positive attention from historic house tours that attract visitors from near and far. The Van Wyck Brooks Historic District is planning one for Dec. 8. Learn more here.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fall is Here

It's official!
Autumn Equinox 
4:44 p.m. September 22

Deadbeat Reveal? DIY

To those who want Plaintalker to expose elected officials who owe back taxes, let me say there is another option. You, the outraged taxpayer, can always do it yourself at any council meeting, with the added advantage of a potential television audience. Just make sure you have all your facts straight, then go for it.

The next City Council meetings are 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 and 8 p.m. Oct. 15 (Tuesday), both in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Is Dudley House Rent Too Low?

Of all the many figures on the newly-released 2012 audit report, the one that caught my eye was $14,544 in rent for Dudley House. Considering that I am paying more rent for a very small apartment than the operator of Dudley House is paying for a 15-bed facility, maybe it's time for the city as landlord to review the rental agreement.

For those who don't know about Dudley House, also formerly known as Project Alert, it was a city-operated residential program for male recovering substance abusers, serving Union and Middlesex counties. It  developed problems with state licensing and phased out in 2008, despite public testimony of many men who successfully turned their lives around through the program. The Putnam Avenue residence was extensively renovated just before the program closed. In 2010, Sunrise House of Lafayette became the program operator, leasing the building from the city.

Besides having operational issues before the program closed, Dudley House became the subject of an increasing concern that the city should get out of the social services sphere. Members of the governing body and the public questioned the need for the Bilingual Day Care Center and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program to be under city auspices. Most of the costs for these programs are covered by grants or federal funding, but staff members are city employees entitled to benefits.

Some wanted the WIC program, now in the City Hall Annex, to be relocated to the county building at Park & Front. The Bilingual Day Care Center is in a city-owned building and was once the primary means of assimilating Latino families, but now that the Latino population is over 40 percent, there are many early child education or day care programs that serve the community. Although the issue has come up every year during budget deliberations, no action has been taken to shift the programs from city control.

Regarding the Dudley House rental, heaven knows nobody wants a rent increase. My rent shot up when a new landlord in 2000 demanded a 17 percent increase. For various reasons, mainly the location, I decided to stay on, even after subsequent annual increases. In the case of Dudley House, there may be a long-term lease for all I know. It just seems comparatively low for a whole house to go for that amount.

The city recently looked into condo fees it pays for the Senior Center at 400 East Front Street and got a lower rate, as I recall, after asking for actual costs of common area maintenance as opposed to a flat percentage. It pays to ask, apparently, and even though the Dudley House rent is a tiny fraction of the budget, every bit counts. If the fair market rate is higher than the current rent and there are no other factors, the city as landlord might at least look into an increase.

A lot of the audit report is too dense for the average person to analyze, and as the auditor states, the figures are provided by the city. A summary of the report was published last week, with recommendations that were mostly repeats of past recommendations. The auditor can only point these things out; it is up to the city administration to resolve them.


*That all City purchases be made through the Purchasing Agent.
*That the encumbrance accounting system required by the Division of Local Government services be adequately maintained.
*That open purchase orders be reviewed periodically and cancelled if no longer valid.

Tax Collector:
*That all tax receipts be deposited within 48 hours of receipt.
*That a detailed analysis of outside lien redemption balances at year end be maintained.
*That third party lien redemptions be remitted to the outside lienholders in a timely manner.
*That the Tax Collector's monthly reports be filed with the Finance Office on a timely basis.
*That the detailed billing ledger be reconciled with the actual tax requirements.
*That the tax collector maintain adequate bond coverage.

*That the Current Fund General Ledger be accurately maintained.
*That the City obtain the necessary actuarial information required to report the long-term liabilities related to its Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Programs.
*That grants receivable and appropriated grant reserves from prior year be reviewed and cleared of record where appropriate; the grant appropriation ledger should then be reviewed for proper disposition.
*That Dedication by Rider approval be requested from the State of New Jersey for Trust reserves and that Trust reserves not eligible for rider approval be cancelled of record.
*That interfund balances be cleared of record.
*That unsupported balance sheet items in the sewer utility fund be cancelled of record.
*That efforts be made to collect delinquent Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) receivables.
*That all the County portion of PILOT payments be remitted to the County of Union.
That the City's fixed asset ledger me maintained on a current basis.

*That monthly animal control State reports be reconciled with license fees collected.
*That all City Departments maintain accurate records of monies collected.
*That receipts collected by the City's Departments be reconciled with the amounts recorded by the Finance Office.
*Unresolved prior year recommendations

Friday, September 20, 2013

Another Mantis Tale

Walking home from a PMUA meeting last week, I heard Katydids calling near the Quaker Meeting House. We have lots of crickets singing right now on Block 832, but no Katydids - or so I thought.
I was looking for mantises in the Butterfly Bush when I realized what appeared to be a leaf was in fact a big Katydid.
Unfortunately, a Mantis saw the Katydid and attacked it. Mantises are indiscriminate predators and will catch anything they can, including bees and butterflies.

This is a female who is eating not for two, but for a couple hundred, so maybe we can understand her voracious appetite. I still would have liked a chance to hear "Katy did, katy didn't" on Block 832.


Planners Ponder Festival Noise

In a discussion of festival noise Thursday, Planning Board members and staff said the racket disrupted a funeral and a block association meeting, both several streets away. When a block association member called police headquarters to lodge a complaint, officers at the festival could not be reached by cell phone due to the volume of amplified sound.

Almost all the board members reported being able to hear the noise in their homes over the weekend, some more than a mile away from the East Front Street festival site. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said the City Council has expressed concerns over festival noise and even though it is not strictly a land use issue, the board will send a letter to the governing body on the matter.

The board reviewed a  section of the Municipal Code (reported by Plaintalker here) on noise and found it outdated and ambiguous. Among suggestions to improve it, Nierstedt suggested use of a decibel meter to measure the sound level. Board member Ron Scott Bey said event permits might need noise rules attached and those who enforce the rules need to know what they are.

Board member Horace Baldwin said people at the funeral first thought there was a vehicle outside with loud music. He said this summer was the first time he was hearing music from the downtown festivals in his home, near the Scotch Plains border.

"Live entertainment is getting out of hand,"' he said, calling for restrictions.

Others said music does not seem to carry the same way from events in Cedar Brook Park, but sound from the downtown festivals may be reverberating off buildings. Board member William Toth said the downtown might not be the right place for such festivals.

The downtown festivals began in 2009, with nightclub owner Edison Garcia's two-day September celebration of Central American Independence from noon to 7 p.m. in parking lots 8 and 8A. In 2010, he added a two-day celebration for July Fourth. By 2011, festival hours expanded to close at 11 p.m..

Another nightclub owner signed up for the September weekend in 2012 before Garcia did. The conflict culminated in a dual festival in city parking lots on both sides of Watchung Avenue. This year, Garcia had his July festival and got bumped in September to the first weekend plus the preceding Friday night. The Maree Group got city permission for an El Salvadoran festival in August and for the Central American Independence on Sept. 13, 14 and 15, though the group's proposed rodeo did not get approval.

The next test of residents' patience with amplified sound will come this weekend with a "Latin Rides" car show downtown.

The New Jersey DEP has a model noise ordinance that covers everything from snow blowers to boom boxes, with specific decibel measurements verified by "noise control officers." Considerations here might be the cost of decibel meters and whether a municipality wants to deploy officers for such enforcement.

Offensive noise can be anything from a "talking" bus that announces every turn, to a squawking bird such as a macaw (example here - we have one on Block 832). Scott Bey said a developer wants to have an outdoor amphitheater downtown, so it is a good idea to rewrite the current ordinance.

Noise complaints have already led the council to demand sound system cutoffs at 9 p.m. and festival closings by 10 p.m., instead of 11 p.m. for both. To let your City Council representatives know your concerns about festival noise, see contact information here.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Odd Bits on the Tax Lien Sale

The debtor list for the Oct.10 tax lien sale is now posted on the city web site, albeit sideways and 23 pages long. If you are curious and not in a hurry, you can see it in the newspaper on Sept. 26.

Among the items is $24,130.73 in taxes owed by "Muhlenberg Medical c/o TSEMBER" at 1356-60 Randolph Road; $23,618.50 in taxes owed by JFK International Bedding on Madison Avenue; $33.223.10 in taxes owed by New Jersey Hardwoods Prop LLC on West Front Street; $52,447.76 in sewer fees owed by Certified Green Property 1 LLC at 214-24 Park Avenue; $20,335.43 owed by Yates Real Estate Inc. for taxes and sewer at 808-14 West Eighth St.

Giant Realty LLC owes $58,944.88 for taxes at 115-33 Waynewood Park and another $8,529.91 for taxes at 611-19 West Front St. This site was once slated for development, but it fizzled out in 2007.

Owners of a property at 430-32 West Second Street are on the list for taxes and other costs totaling $54,944.88. This is where a fire broke out in February 2012 and the building was bulldozed. The Hannah family is disputing a past lien and claimed in 20102 to have paid back taxes. See clip here
Plaintalker previously wrote about another property in the clip, where a fire happened in December 2011.

In the tax lien sale, investors may purchase the liens, pay the money owed to the city and then receive up to 18 percent interest on the lien. Prospective bidders must register by Oct. 3 and must pay the city in cash, money order or certified check prior to the conclusion of the sale.

Any city taxes collected through the sale help the municipality's bottom line, while sewer lien sale receipts go to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Tax Collector David Marshall will conduct the sale.


Fire Scene Cleaned Up

A trash-strewn fire scene on East Sixth Street was cleaned up this week and the structure was marked with symbols warning firefighters that it was in danger of collapse. All the debris was removed and the overgrown grass was cut.
The vacant building next door was similarly marked as in danger of collapse.

The fire broke out late on Aug. 16. To see Plaintalker's post on the fire, click here.

Both houses were known to be frequented by squatters. When I went to take the update photos, a man was just going down the driveway of the first house. As he stood concealed behind some boards at the side, someone called out of the house to ask what was going on. The man explained he was just urinating.

"What is she doing?" the person in the house asked.

"Taking pictures," the other guy said.

I decided it was time to get out of there and as I was leaving, I saw a curtain on the second floor open briefly so someone could peek out. I guess the warning symbols and red sticker were not enough to deter a squatter.

It was sad to think of someone trying to live there, but also sad to see a family outside the home just east of the gray house. A man, woman and children were going about their business as dinnertime approached, trying to lead a normal life next to two squatter buildings.

The micturationist (pisser) and I had a brief chat about how the derelict buildings probably bring down the property values on the block. He claimed not to know whether anybody was inside.


Stop the Noise!

Weary of festival noise? Don't relax just yet, there are a couple more events in the calendar that may have you going for the ear plugs.

The music from the last few events could be heard for many blocks and must have been deafening to immediate neighbors. As it happens, there is a section of the Municipal Code that addresses loud sound and sets 100 feet as the outer limit beyond which it constitutes a disturbance of the peace.

Sec. 10:18-3 (d) of the Municipal Code, Morals and Conduct:

"No person shall play, use, operate or permit to be played, used or operated a radio receiving set, vehicle radio, musical instrument, phonograph or other machine or device for the production or the reproduction of sound with louder volume than is necessary for convenient hearing of the person so playing, using or operating such instrument or device and such persons who are voluntary listeners thereto, or in such manner as to disturb the peace, quiet and comfort of neighboring inhabitants or the public. The use or operation of any such instrument, radio, phonograph, machine or device in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of one hundred (100) feet from the building, structure, vehicle or place in which it is used or operated, shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this Article. Nothing herein contained shall be construed to prohibit playing by a band or orchestra in a hall, building or in the open air."

This noise rule could be invoked if the public demanded it. On a smaller scale, I'm sure a lot of us have those neighbors who can't clean their cars without blasting out their favorite music. As someone who likes to listen to the radio on earphones outside, I really hate it when somebody turns up their trunk sound system so high that I can't hear my radio at all.

It's too bad when people put personal indulgence over civility and when entrepreneurs disregard noise regulations to the point where all the windows shake in nearby homes. Maybe the summer of 2014 will be less nerve-wracking if these noise rules are enforced.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Berry Going to Mount Holly

City Administrator Eric Berry is leaving Plainfield to become manager of Mount Holly, according to a report in the Burlington County Times. The Courier News reported Berry's resignation today, effective Sept. 23.

Berry was the seventh business administrator under Trenton Mayor Tony Mack before becoming the eighth city administrator under Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in November 2011. His tenure would have ended Dec. 31, as Robinson-Briggs will leave office on that date after serving two terms.

The mayoralty for a four-year term beginning Jan. 1 will be decided on Nov. 5. Contenders are Councilman Adrian Mapp, who defeated Robinson-Briggs in the June Democratic Primary; Republican Sandy Spector; and independents Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin.

Mapp and Berry clashed in June 2012 after Berry sent three letters to state authorities protesting the governing body's decisions. Mapp was council president at the time and called Berry's action "appalling."
See Plaintalker's post here.

It is now up to Robinson-Briggs to name an interim city administrator, with the possibility that she could name herself, as she did in March 2011.

In 2006, Robinson-Briggs named all her cabinet members in acting capacity, including Carlton McGee as city administrator. because there is a 90-day limit on acting positions, she named him to the post permanently on March 2006. He left in November 2006. Marc Dashield became city administrator in January 2007 and served through 2009, when he become township manager of Montclair. In January 2010, Finance Director Bibi Taylor was named city administrator, but left after a tumultuous year.

In January 2011, the mayor named Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson as acting city administrator, and when his 90-day term expired, she named herself. In May 2011, David Kochel of Jersey Professional Management came aboard as acting city administrator and the council extended his term by ordinance to November, then kept him on as a consultant to Dec. 21, 2011.

Al Restaino, director of the Office of Community Development, was then named acting city administrator for two weeks before Berry took office on Nov. 28, 2011.


Monday, September 16, 2013

New Blogger in Town!

Plainfield's blogosphere burgeoned for a while, getting up to thirty links at one point, but then thinned down to just a handful or fewer of daily posters. Last week David Rutherford let me know about his new blog, which I recommend. The topics are varied and his perspective is interesting.

Besides being Plainfield's newest blogger, David is running for a seat on the Board of Education, but he mentions it only peripherally. I hope he will keep blogging and broaden out what has become a field of elders with his views as a young man.

Just to be politically correct, I will now note all the other candidates. David is on a slate with Board President Wilma Campbell and incumbent appointee Frederick Moore Sr., while another slate includes Richard Lear, Deborah Clarke and Anabella Melgar. Technically the school board election is nonpartisan, so as a voter you can choose any three candidates. Besides the Plainfield League of Women Voters candidates' forum on Oct. 30 (6 p.m. at Emerson School), there will be others, so go hear what they have to say and may the best three win.


Weekend Celebrations

A 500-member church marked Central American Independence with a celebration Sunday featuring traditional foods of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Some participants wore colorful garments of their homelands.
Central Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets was blocked off for the event.
Many church members wore T-shirts with the church logo for Mision Evangelica del Esperitu Santo and its web site.
All the food and freshly-prepared fruit drinks were free to attendees.
These young people wore traditional garb.
Blue and white are the colors of Guatemala, the homeland of a majority of Latinos in Plainfield.

Over on North Avenue between Berckman and Richmond, a motorcycle club was also holding a celebration Sunday. Prime Xample Motorcycle Club received city permission to close the block for a "grand opening."
While the motorcyclists set up their grill, a group of young bicyclists did tricks including going airborne to clear elevated tracks.
Music was part of the event.
Club members prepared burgers and hot dogs for the celebrants.

Meanwhile, a downtown festival celebrating Central American Independence went on for the third day.

Hispanic Heritage Month events will continue with a celebration on North Avenue by the main train station on Oct. 5 and 6, sponsored by  the Latin American Coalition.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

PMUA Sees Uptick in Recycling

New decor at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority office on Roosevelt Avenue

At the rescheduled meeting on Sept. 11, PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson said the authority has seen a 200-ton increase in recyclables, which he attributed to enforcement that started in April.

The need for stricter rules was announced in late 2012 (see Plaintalker post here). By May, inspectors had cited violaters with fines of $12,000, though at that point none had been collected. Williamson said Wednesday the authority has collected $75,000 to $80,000 in fines.
"It's starting to work," he said.

Williamson said authority staff is working to educate both landlords and tenants on recycling rules.

Receptacles are being painted blue, with both words and images to indicate items that should be separated and recycled. Containers for cardboard will be painted brown.

In other news, PMUA Attorney Leslie London said she will be meeting with the Association of Environmental Authorities to discuss proposed legislation that would allow a tax write-off for sewer fees. She will be seeking the association's support.


Visit Green Waste Technologies Today

Visitors are welcome today (Saturday, Sept. 14) at a new company that will begin picking up food waste for recycling next week. The open house is from 2 to 4 p.m. at 1355 West Front Street.

Olive Lynch, president of  Green Waste Technologies, Inc., has received various approvals for the operation  in which black soldier flies digest food scraps and produce larvae that can be processed to feed fish or chickens, or to become biofuel. Lynch will explain the collection system for the food waste, which involves use of containers that will be transported by a horse-drawn wagon in a further move to improve the environment.

Those who attend can sign up for the food waste recycling service and receive a container.*see comment Rides on the wagon drawn by horses Abbie and Katie will be available, along with children's rides on a small wagon drawn by miniature horses Ben and Jerry.

The food waste recycling service will be available in Plainfield, Dunellen and other Central Jersey towns. To learn more, see Lynch's blog here or her web site here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

More on Muhlenberg

My position regarding the Muhlenberg closing and future of the campus has been that it involves complex issues that Plaintalker is not equipped to address. In the past, I have left the heavy coverage to the daily newspapers, thinking they have resources that a one-person, hyperlocal blog cannot match.

Plaintalker has, however, tried to follow the land use boards and I believe that is where future uses of the campus will most likely be decided. One of my questions on the "Muhlenberg Followup" post was whether any applications had been filed or were anticipated. The answer was that "JFK has submitted a letter to the Mayor and Council requesting that the City rezone portions of the Muhlenberg campus to allow for it to be redeveloped into a mixed use healthcare, residential, educational and retail campus."

*Correction: A re-zoning would take place through the Planning Board, as in the recent TOD-D and TOD-N changes. The process below would take place only if the applicant wished a variance from current zoning.

From my point of view, this is not the same as submitting an application to the Zoning Board of Adjustment with all necessary information and having expert witnesses testify on the merits of the proposal, while the board and members of the public can ask questions in a quasi-judicial setting.

Of course, any applicant is free to lobby elected officials and the community for support. It's just that doing so is not a substitute for the process outlined above. It would also provide the basis for some factual reporting on exactly what is proposed and whether it meets goals of the master plan and zoning ordinance.

Journalists are notoriously bad at math, but if the development envisioned by JFK would produce annual property tax revenue of $2.5 million, it appears that its assessed value would have to be around $35 million if the total tax rate is around 7 percent. (Feel free to correct me.) If so, surely there must be close examination of any proposed project that large, and the land use boards are where that must take place.


Tax Liens Published

Today's Courier News had a six-and-a-quarter page list of property owners who are behind on taxes, sewer or other costs for 2012 or earlier. If the amounts owed are not paid before a lien sale scheduled for Oct. 10, the liens may be sold to buyers who may then charge up to 18 percent interest. The buyers will pay the amounts to the city, or to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority if owed for sewer bills. Unsold liens will go to the city.

As always, the list has some familiar names on it. If you are the kind of person who grew up reading the back of cereal boxes or other tedious stuff, you may want to take a look. The list will be published again on Sept. 26. I had to fork over a dollar for a print copy as the e-newspaper version was too hard to read when printed.

The largest amount owed was $80,696.41 for taxes, Special Improvement District assessment and other municipal costs at 117-125 North Avenue. Readers may recall a Dec. 17, 2011 fire that caused the block to be closed off with a 24-hour police watch for weeks, shuttering businesses in the North Avenue Historic District.

Although the owner told city authorities he wanted to save the building, it remains boarded up and the rear has been open to the elements.

 More later on the tax lien list ...


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Muhlenberg Follow-up

On Monday, Rev Gerald Lamont Thomas addressed the City Council during public comment regarding the future of the Muhlenberg campus. Adam Beder, JFK Health System's vice president for governmental affairs, attended the meeting but declined comment Monday when asked by Plaintalker. He has now provided answers to three questions posed by Plaintalker, which we are posting here. 
Please note this post is informational only and Plaintalker will not take comments on this one.

Has JFK been meeting with clergy at large or only Rev. Thomas, and what is the goal?

 JFK has met with dozens of community leaders, including the clergy and hundreds of community members over the last 18 months to solicit feedback from the community on the future of the Muhlenberg Campus.  Through that process, we have confirmed that the Community’s top priority for the campus is to preserve access to healthcare and enhance the emergency and outpatients healthcare services offered.  18,000 residents use the emergency department on the campus for their emergency needs and we would like not only to continue this access but enhance the facilities to provide it.    I am pleased to tell you that JFK shares that value, and our plan for the Muhlenberg campus features the construction of a new Satellite Emergency Department and Outpatient healthcare facility.  The Community’s second priority is creating new jobs and economic development that will help Plainfield grow.  Our plan would create over 700 temporary jobs, 100 permanent jobs and attract over $100 million of private investment in the city.  This investment would generate nearly $2.5 million in annual property tax revenue and help to support the growth of the community at large.  These new resources will help to support our public schools, expand the property tax base, enable the city to hire new police and firefighters, and address other priorities that are so needed in Plainfield.

Community members have helped us to develop our plans for the campus.  Many of their leaders have committed to join us to support the redevelopment of the Muhlenberg Campus because they recognize the great benefit that redevelopment can provide to the community. 

Has any land use application for the Muhlenberg campus been filed with the city, or is one anticipated soon?

JFK has submitted a letter to the Mayor and Council requesting that the City rezone portions of the Muhlenberg campus to allow for it to be redeveloped into a mixed use healthcare, residential, educational and retail campus.

Do you have any comment on Adrian Mapp's proposal to seek taxes on the property or on the city study of possible uses for the campus?

JFK does not object to the City hiring experts to help them in this process, but will not support added delays to this process.  The focus should remain on thoughtful redevelopment of the campus into a mixed use healthcare, residential, educational and retail campus that would generate almost $2.5 million in annual taxes to support the City, County and public school system. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alrick Brown Seeks Funding

Sundance award-winning film maker Alrick Brown addressed the City Council Monday about his latest project, "My Manz and 'Em," which will be filmed here and will offer internships in addition to bringing income to local businesses.

Brown sought city support, though not funding, and will be launching a $60,000 Kickstarter campaign to get the project rolling.

"I'm invested in this town - we're invested in this town," he said, indicating author J.M. Benjamin, on whose book the film is based.

Brown traced Benjamin's life, from running the streets to twelve years in state and federal prison and eventually to becoming a writer with twelve urban fiction books to his credit. The main character in "My Manz and 'Em" lives a career of crime with bravado, but once behind bars finds his life a sham as his street brothers desert him.

The message for young people, Brown said, is "There is no loyalty in the streets."

Speaking about choices, Brown advised, "Choose your hustle." With his Kickstarter campaign for his film adaptation of Benjamin's novel, he said, "I've chosen mine."

(To see an example of Kickstarter campaigns, see a successful one by Spike Lee here. To learn more about Alrick Brown, click here. Here is a New York Times article about J.M. Benjamin and his writing.

PMUA Update

Click here to see the draft agenda for the Sept. 11 PMUA meeting.

A Whimper and Some Bangs

Plans for a rodeo fizzled out Monday when the resolution to approve it failed to get a second. But if that was the whimper, the bang followed, with an "acquiesce or else" message on the 600-condo Muhlenberg proposal and revelations of the mayor's last-minute $4,000 tab for an anti-gang event.

Intrigue lovers in the audience were licking their chops over the juicy revelations, but there was more. Council President Bridget Rivers asked whether the $1.1 million UCIA settlement, approved by the council last month but needing the mayor's signature, had been signed. Upon hearing it had not, Rivers ordered Corporation Counsel David Minchello to sign it "by noon tomorrow."

On the Rodeo
The resolution for the controversial proposed rodeo on Sept. 29 was a new item and needed to be moved to the agenda, but because there was no second, it was simply not added and approval was moot.
In public comment later, rodeo promoter Jeffrey Maree said, " I don't even know what happened before."

Speakers earlier in the meeting had condemned the plan to use an asphalt parking lot for the rodeo, but Maree said sand would be brought in to cover it. He pitched it as a cultural event, though members of the public including Dr. Harold Yood called it a commercial event.

"We need to set clear guidelines as to events in our town," resident and Republican mayoral candidate Sandy Spector said.

On Muhlenberg
In public comment at the end of the meeting, Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas spoke about working for the last 14 months with JFK Health Systems "to keep a hospital presence as well as developing the land."

The Edison hospital maintains a satellite emergency room on the campus where Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed five years ago. It has also presented a proposal to redevelop the campus with 600 luxury rental condos.

Thomas said there will be a "great impact" if JFK leaves and asked whether the council had received a letter that he wanted to be read at the meeting. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said she received an email that described the same 600-condo development proposal the council rejected.

Thomas warned that if the development proposal was not accepted, JFK would leave. Minchello intervened, advising the council not to "engage in a back-and-forth" with Thomas. Councilwoman Tracey Brown, who is pastor of Ruth Fellowship Ministries, urged the council to pay attention to the letter.

Adam Beder, vice president for government affairs with JFK Health Systems, was in the audience but declined immediate comment to Plaintalker, offering to accept a call Tuesday.

On the Gang Workshop
The issue of mayoral spending arose when former Councilwoman Joanne Hollis spoke about an Aug. 24 event sponsored by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, which displaced another event planned and publicized for the same day by Rivers and Councilwoman Vera Greaves at Hannah Atkins Playground. Rivers referred to bills for "gang awareness" activities that were paid with Community Development Block Grant funds and called for an explanation from the administration.

City Administrator Eric Berry said he was away at the time and tried to call on Finance Director Al Restaino to explain, but Restaino had left the meeting. Rivers ordered Berry to reach Restaino by phone and have him return to the meeting.

When Restaino came back, he said he was not involved in the planning for the event, just in applying for "potential funding." The event had two components, a basketball game and an anti-gang program. He said the funding application had been submitted to Union County and he was "awaiting final approval."

If so, Williams asked, where did the funds come from for Aug. 24? Restaino said they came from a fund for "CDBG-eligible projects." Rivers asked what budget line item the money came from and Restaino said he didn't know specifically but thought it was the Recreation Division line.

After more discussion of the CDBG process, the questions turned to how purchase orders got signed just hours before the event.Williams said the transaction seemed "really unethical" and resembled a "bait and switch." She said it would have made more sense to reschedule the event so the paperwork could be "properly vetted."

Councilman Adrian Mapp said the governing body had only some illegible documents and asked for copies of checks and names of vendors. Brown agreed, saying before any accusations "we need at least documents we can read."

Copies obtained by Plaintalker were barely legible, but on close examination revealed payment of $4,000 to "The Soul of Dawn" for basketball games and a gang workshop, paid by check No. 12556 and signed by "S. Rob B, Acting CA." on Aug. 23.

"S Rob B" on purchase order for WBLS 2010 Town Meeting
The abbreviation echoes one from a 2010 purchase order that led to a council investigation in 2011. The mayor signed as a department head. On the Aug. 23 purchase order, she signed as acting city administrator.

In the current situation, there was also a purchase order signed the same way for 140 T-shirts with the city seal, with payment by check 12553 for $1,120 to Jesus Embroidery, dated Aug. 23.

On both purchase orders, the "Ship to" address is the Division of Community Development at 510 Watchung Avenue. Restaino is the head of the division, a title he held before being named finance director and which he continues to hold, even though it is in a different city department.

Having lost the June primary and therefore her bid for a third term, the mayor is a "lame duck" who will leave office on Dec. 31. The expenditures and circumstances of the Aug. 24 event are likely to draw attention similar to that of the WBLS investigation, which ended in a reprimand from the governing body.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Council To Vote On Rodeo

A pitch last week for a rodeo in Plainfield has resulted in a new item on Monday's City Council agenda.

Despite a rule requiring 45 days' advance application for events, the Maree Group's rodeo proposal will be up for a vote at the Sept. 9 regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The date requested is Sunday, Sept 29 and the venue is Municipal Parking Lot 1, behind Chez Maree on Watchung Avenue.
The group intends to charge $40 admission and take out a one-day liquor license. Hours will be from 12 noon to 10 p.m.
There is a city-owned lot off East Front Street which has been used in the past in conjunction with events in the adjacent Lot 1, but it is not known whether it is included in the request.

Anyone wishing to comment on the resolution will have a chance before the council votes.


Art Festival Coming Up

Marigolds make a pretty display around this plot by the War Memorial in the Civic Historic District.
Here's a closer look at that sign:
Save the date - Sept. 21!

PMUA Meeting Rescheduled

If you are planning to attend the PMUA meeting this week, please be aware that the date has changed. The information on the PMUA web site as of Sunday night is incorrect. The link to the agenda is also incorrect, as it for the Aug. 6 meeting.

Here is a legal notice with the new date:


PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (the "Authority") has rescheduled its Regular Board Meeting from Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. to Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. at the Authority's office located at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey.

Daniel A. Williamson


Images From PMUA Fair

Fittingly for an environmental fair, a green carpet was rolled out for dignitaries.
 Attendees got free balloons, food and lots of information.
 Had a nice chat with Dana Y. Wilson, who is working with the YWCA on development and public relations.
 Look for the Plainfield League of Women Voters' forum next month.
 Regina Bagley Gray is also president of the LWV for 2013.
 Talked about the Green Brook Trail with the bicycle folks.
 Admired nearby Oaks and Ginkgos with the tree advocates.
 CERT was signing up volunteers for emergency response training.
 Empanadas, taquitos and pupusas rounded out the menu at the food tent.
 Of course, hot dogs and hamburgers were on the grill.
 Friends of the Plainfield Public Library were recruiting. Don't you want to be a Friend?
 Shiloh Baptist Church was giving away free books.
Gayle Lewis and Cynthia Slade presided over the book giveaway.

A lovely day in Library Park. See more about PMUA here.