Friday, January 31, 2014

Long-awaited Woodland, Cook Improvements Approved

Word has come that projects at Woodland and/or Cook School were approved by the Schools Development Authority this month. The concept sounded familiar, and a look at Assemblyman Jerry Green's blog made me realize why - they have been under discussion since 2008.

Apparently the "and/or" means officials still haven't decided on priorities. So who has the final word? The district? Jerry Green?

This attenuated process does not exactly inspire one to jump for joy at an announced approval. I wasn't sure the SDA was still viable after such a long time with no action, although I did post a notice about opportunities for minority firms to take part in construction projects. .

 Check this update (last updated in 2009) on Woodland School. Here is the Cook project description.out of date

Here is the text of the news release (emphasis added by Plaintalker):.
Christie Administration Announces the Approval of Five Additional School Construction
Projects Throughout New Jersey

Trenton, NJ – The Christie Administration today announced the approval of five projects to be added to the New Jersey Schools Development Authority’s (SDA) Capital Portfolio that will remedy the needs of students in some of the state’s neediest districts. The projects, approved at the January 2, SDA Board of Directors Meeting, became part of the portfolio following expiration of the gubernatorial veto period on January 21, 2014.

“The significant reforms instituted at the SDA by the Christie Administration over the past four years, especially in terms of the efficient, cost-effective advancement of Capital projects, have positioned this agency to positively impact the educational opportunities afforded thousands of New Jersey students,” said SDA CEO Charles McKenna. “The facilities projects announced today, combined with those previously approved, bring us one step closer to fulfilling our mission ofproviding all the children of New Jersey with appropriate learning facilities.”

These five projects, with a preliminary estimated value of at approximately $200 to $250 million, alleviate facility deficiencies and in one instance alleviate an overcrowding problem. The projects include:

Projects Addressing Overcrowding Needs
  1. Vineland New Middle School

Projects Addressing Facilities Efficiency Standards (FES) Compliance Needs
  1. East Orange George Washington Carver Elementary School
  2. Irvington Madison Avenue Elementary School
  3. Pemberton Denbo Elementary School
  4. Plainfield Woodland and/or Cook Elementary School
“Proper educational facilities are a vital component to improving the academic achievement of our students,” said Irvington Superintendent Dr. Neely Hackett. “The SDA’s commitment to address the conditions at the Madison Avenue Elementary School will help us to deliver our educational program.”
“We are extremely excited the SDA has advanced this project to address overcrowding and facility upgrades in our district,” said Plainfield Public Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles. “We are happy this project will provide Plainfield Public Schools with the opportunity to enhance the education programs in the Plainfield community.”
With the inclusion of these projects, SDA’s Capital Project portfolio stands at nearly 40 projects statewide with total project cost estimates of more than $1 billion. As a result of the significant reforms implemented, construction activities have already advanced on nearly half of these projects.

The projects announced today were evaluated using the same factors established in 2011, including high educational need, facilities needs and efficient construction factors. In addition, the SDA reviewed the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) 2013 Educational Facilities Needs Assessment (EFNA) to ensure the utilization of the most relevant up-to-date information.

The SDA’s current portfolio of active projects is valued at more than $2 billion – including the Capital Project Portfolio (approximately $1.5 billion), emergent projects ($100 million) and Regular Operating District grants ($450 million state share).

HAP Plans Senior Housing, Land Use Boards Get Busy

The troubled Elmwood Gardens housing complex, now slated for demolition, will be reborn as senior housing, according to a legal notice.

The Housing Authority of Plainfield is soliciting proposals for redevelopment of the site on West Second Street with one-bedroom, age-restricted Section 8 apartments. The proposals are due on Feb. 14 at HAP offices on East Front Street.

Next week the city's land use boards will hear applications for other proposed projects, including a new restaurant on South Avenue and 20 apartments on West Front Street.

Alicia Lam of Westfield is proposing a 17-seat takeout restaurant at 638-44South Avenue, along with a warehouse and two apartments.(I'm told  the owner received approval for the 1st floor restaurant a few months ago- she is before the Planning Board because she is requesting to add a second residential apartment to the second floor. The building presently has the restaurant and 1 apartment, if approved by the Board, the building will contain the restaurant and 2 apartments.) She is seeking relief from numerous land use regulations in her application to the Planning Board, which meets at 7 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 6)  in City Hall Library. (Note the time change, which was ordered by new Chairman Ron Scott-Bey at the board's Jan. 16 reorganization.)

Spark Properties LLC is proposing to demolish a building at 719-731 West Front Street to make way for a three-story structure with seven commercial units an the first floor and 20 apartments on two upper floors. The applicant is seeking preliminary site plan approval and various waivers. According to a legal notice, the hearing will be at the Planning Board's  Feb. 6 meeting.

Documents related to these applications will be on file in the Planning Division office for public inspection.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment also meets next week, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Feb. 5). Legal notices cite two applications, one seeking "certification of a pre-existing non-conforming status" for a building at 130-32 North Avenue which has a restaurant on the ground floor and apartments on upper floors.

Another application is from Keystone Enterprises LLC/Dawn to Dusk Preschool to construct an additional classroom on the second level of an existing building, making a total of eight classrooms to accommodate the previously-approved capacity of 120 children at the daycare. it is located at 1500-1512 West Third Street.
(I'm told this one will not be heard in February- the Applicant did not provide notice to the newspaper in time- most likely it will be rescheduled for March 6.)

Documents for the Zoning Board applications are also on file in the Planning Division office on the second floor of City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.

Note: Legal notices are a handy tool for tracking redevelopment. Besides being published in the newspaper, they can also be searched for on the New Jersey Press Association web site.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy Lunar New Year

Happy New Year
to all who are celebrating
the Year of the Horse!

In the spirit of diversity, here is an Latin Times article on greetings for the New Year.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Is the Human Relations Commission?

So just as nominees were up for approval to serve on the Human Relations Commission Monday, it turned out no one could state the purpose of the commission. I must admit, even after covering city government for 30 years, I myself could not have named its duties. I do remember being at a Human Relations Commission hearing on alleged police brutality many years ago and recall the commission's purpose as having to do with race relations. Of course, the thing to do nowadays is look it up online, so here is the purpose as stated in the Municipal Code:

The Human Relations Commission shall:

A.        Advise and consult with the City Council, Mayor, City Administrator, Deputy City Administrator, and Department Directors concerning proposed and existing municipal ordinances or resolutions, administrative directives and departmental or divisional policies and when requested by appointing authority render advice as to the appointments to Boards, Commissions and public bodies and for appointments of administrative employees.

B.        Exercises such powers as are allocated to a Human Relations Commission under State Statute NJSA 10:5-10 in such capacity shall attempt to foster through community effort or otherwise, good will, cooperation and conciliation among groups and elements of the inhabitants of the City as well as to make recommendations to the City Council for the development of policies and procedures in general and for programs of formal and informal education that will aid in eliminating all types of discrimination based upon race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status or sex.

C.        When requested by the Mayor, City Administrator, or Deputy Administrator, may hear and render advisory opinions on any complaint brought before the Office of Information and Complaints and may request of the Mayor, City Administrator or Deputy City Administrator permission to review any such complaint.

OK, I get Part B, but Part A sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare and Part C refers to an office I never heard of. I do know that before the role of Deputy City Administrator was changed to leading economic development, the charge was that of an ombudsman for the people. That would explain the part about dealing with complaints.

But here's another little-remembered fact about the commission. In the Municipal Code it was empowered to have a director and staff. Shhh, don't tell - we don't need any more new positions.

From the Municipal Code:
Sec. 2:5-5. Human Relations Commission Director; staff.

(a) The Mayor, with the advice and consent of the Council, and after prior consultation with the Human Relations Commission, shall appoint a Director of the Human Relations Commission.

(b) The Director of the Human Relations Commission shall provide staff and research assistance to the Human Relations Commission and shall be responsible to the Deputy City Administrator to provide staff services in the field of human relations, including but not limited to educational programs, liaison activities with private community agencies and individual citizen groups.

(R.O. 1957, 2:21-1 through 4, as amended Oct. 5, 1970 and A.C. 1969, 3.5.)

Sorry this doesn't clear things up entirely, but the revisions to the office of Deputy City Administrator made other parts of the code murky. If you ever saw the two huge binders containing the Code, you could see how changes in one part might accidentally make other parts wrong.

For now, Part B sounds like plenty of work for the commission and we wish all the new members well in addressing that charge.


Showtime for Bill Reid

Councilman William Reid wants you to know he is in an art show.He wanted you to know so much that he left the dais near the end of Monday's meeting, while a citizen was speaking in public comment, to come over to where I was sitting with pen and notebook. He handed me the postcard pictured above, explained he was in the show and suggested I might like to go to Morristown to see it. Upon returning to his seat, he spoke to Councilwomen Gloria Taylor and Vera Greaves about the show, while the hapless resident was still speaking.

Reid had already been chided by Council President Bridget Rivers for speaking out of order earlier. Rivers banged the gavel and threatened to adjourn the meeting, but Reid was not fazed. His disregard for the decorum of the meeting later by intruding his personal business was an insult to the public.

Regarding the postcard, anyone who regularly reads the blogs knows that I do not usually do event publicity, while Dan welcomes it. I prefer to use my time reporting rather than trying to convert posters and such into blog posts when there are other outlets for publicity.

Nonetheless, let it be noted that Mr. Reid is in an art show. You can click on the image to enlarge it for details, and/or look at


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Riley Now Holds Two Public Safety Titles

Carl Riley, the city's acting police director since Jan. 1, was confirmed for a four-year term in the role Monday and will additionally serve as acting director of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety.

The City Council first voted 5-2 Monday to amend the resolution giving advice and consent to the appointment, with Tracey Brown, Vera Greaves, Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Council President Bridget Rivers voting "yes" and Gloria Taylor and William Reid voting "no." Once the additional title was added, the resolution passed 5-2, with Taylor and Reid again dissenting.

The department is one of three required by the city's special charter and includes the Police and Fire divisions. Each division had a chief until the council abolished the title of police chief in March 2008 in favor of a civilian police director. Department head Martin R. Hellwig then took on the additional title of police director, in effect reporting to himself. No salary band for police director was established until January 2010..

Riley will draw only one salary for doing both jobs, as did Hellwig. As described Monday, the director of Public Affairs & Safety sets policy for the department, while the police director is in charge of day-to-day operations for the Police Division.

The question of Public Safety leadership became thorny earlier this month when numerous people urged the council to make Police Captain Michael Gilliam a director. Siddeeq El-Amin, a retired captain, also sought to be the department head and read a statement at the Jan. 13 meeting asking council members to make public any objections they had to giving him the title.

Two related ordinances were adopted on first reading Monday, one to establish the title of deputy police director and one to set a salary for the title. The first ordinance cites a need for two deputies to assist the police director, while the second gives a salary range of $80,000 to $140,000.

Reid objected to creation of two new positions and said the title was not "on the civil service charts."

Corporation Counsel David Minchello said the state allows the title only for municipalities of 150,000 or more, but said city officials will be holding a conference call with state representatives to see whether it could be permitted for Plainfield. (The city's population is only a third of that allowed for the title.) Minchello suggested the ordinances could be passed on first reading and dropped before second reading and final passage if not permitted by the state.

Reid wanted to table the ordinance, but the move to table failed 4-3, with only Taylor and Williams agreeing with him. The ordinance to establish the title for two deputies passed on first reading 4-3, with Brown, Storch, Taylor and Rivers voting "yes" and Greaves, Reid and Williams voting "no."

The salary ordinance passed on first reading with the same voting pattern.

If the state allows, the two ordinances could be up for final passage at the Feb. 10 regular meeting.

Next City Council meeting: Agenda-fixing session, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Residents Applaud New CFO

Ulrich "Al" Steinberg, Plainfield's new chief financial officer

Residents burst into applause Monday after the City Council unanimously approved hiring Ulrich H. Steinberg as chief financial officer.

The resolution authorizing the mayor to "execute an Employment Agreement" also included a residency waiver for Steinberg, who lives in Frenchtown.

A look around the interwebs turned up the fact that Steinberg once headed the state Division of Local Government Services, the agency to which all municipalities must answer for their fiscal practices. He is listed as CFO for both Marlboro Township and Bethlehem Township and Plaintalker is currently inquiring whether he will now be full-time in Plainfield or not. Update: Mayor Adrian O. Mapp says Steinberg will be full-time beginning in mid-April.

The city has relied for nearly two years on Glenn Cullen, the CFO and business administrator of South Plainfield, to spare the city a few hours per week of his expertise. Until Peter Sepelya retired in 2007, the city always had a full-time, in-house CFO. For long periods of time during the administration of former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, the city had no CFO at all (see post here). The mayor and council dodged the state threat of daily personal fines in 2010 by hiring Ron Zilinski as CFO (story here).

After Zilinski left at the beginning of 2012, the city hired Cullen at $800 for five to seven hours per week. (post here).

The new agreement appears to assure the presence of a CFO through Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's four-year term, a degree of stability the city has lacked since Sepelya retired in 2007.


PMUA Changes Shot Down

Residents waiting for the special meeting to start Monday

A near-sweep of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's board of commissioners fell through Monday when the City Council rejected four mayoral nominees.

In public comment before the vote, several PMUA staffers pointed out the authority's recent accomplishments and said the current commissioners should be kept. But after the council grilled nominees on their intentions and views regarding the PMUA and then voted them down, resident Dottie Gutenkauf deplored a $1 million settlement that commissioners approved for two former executives.

"It makes what's left of my blood boil," Gutenkauf said, noting employees were then forced to take furloughs and layoffs.

"I think it is past time that you got those people who made the settlement off the board," she said.

Nominees Nan Anderson-Bennett, Thomas J. Crownover, Charles Tyndale and Thomas A. Kaercher were quizzed by Council President Bridget Rivers on whether they had taken part in any "anti-PMUA activities," how long they had lived in the city and whether they remembered how the city looked before the PMUA was established, alluding to the level of trash often cited as the reason for the authority's inception.

Councilman William Reid alleged that Mayor Adrian O. Mapp had vowed to dismantle the PMUA in 2005 and asked each nominee whether Mapp had to spoken to them about doing so. Nominees were also asked whether they agreed with the PMUA practice of employing former prisoners.

"I believe in second chances," Anderson-Bennett said.

Crownover called the authority "one of the most important agencies in the city, "such a substantial body that it ought to be handled with great consideration."

Asked what he would do the make the agency better, Crownover said he would get rid of a recently-imposed wage freeze by perhaps making the authority more efficient.

Speaking after the interviews, Mapp said, "We must bring transformational change to the PMUA," but all four nominees were rejected 5-2, with Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams voting "yes" and Reid, Rivers, Tracey Brown, Gloria Taylor and Vera Greaves voting "no."

In a separate vote earlier, the council did agree to give PMUA Commissioner Carol Ann Brokaw another term, with only Greaves objecting.

Anderson-Bennett would have replaced Commissioner Harold Mitchell. Crownover was to succeed Commissioner Malcolm Dunn, while Tyndale was named to succeed Commissioner Alex Toliver and Kaercher was to succeed Cecil Sanders as Alternate No. 2. Mitchell and Toliver are holdovers and Dunn's term expires Feb. 1, after which he will be a holdover.

Dunn, Toliver and Sanders voted to approve the $1 million settlement for former executive Director Eric Watson and Assistant Executive Director David Ervin. Sanders was an alternate at the time, but was later given a full term, causing the vacancy in the alternate seat. Had all the nominees been approved, Sanders would still be on the board as a full commissioner.
Watching the action at the special meeting
The special meeting also included nominations to other boards and commissions. Linden Barrat, Carrel Martin and Robert Bolmer were appointed to the Human Relations Commission. Charles L. McRae, Rich Sudol, Jim Spear and Mary E. Burgwinkle were named to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

On the Planning Board. Police Lt. James Abney was reappointed and the council also approved Emmett Swan and Sean McKenna. New appointees to the Plainfield Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs are Flor Gonzalez, Maritza Martinez, Carlos Ponton and Libia Saavedra Price. Mari Bonini and Victoria Rappold were reappointed to the board of the Plainfield Public Library and new members areDonna Sandorse and Lamont Blowe.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Feeling Mighty Low About Monday

Random image: Amaryllis

Taking a Mental Health Day didn't do much for my disposition. My stomach has been tied up in knots for weeks now and I am just wondering how much agita I can deal with from trying to cover council meetings. Monday night sounds like a trial, what with single-digit temperatures, ice underfoot and two meetings crammed into one evening. If you don't see me, I will be home reading Henry James novels and contemplating late 19th century and early 20th century problems.

There could be six to eight separate news stories coming out of Monday's meetings. The top one might be the long-awaited appointment of a permanent, full-time chief financial officer.

A possibly significant one might be the reconstitution of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Established in 2005, this commission had no members until 2010 (see post here) and then promptly fell apart. The embedded link to a prior post that generated 22 comments makes one think not enough thought went into member selection to launch this potentially crucial body in a city where the Hispanic population grew 67 percent between 2000 and 2010.

A surge in land use applications makes it especially important that the Planning and Zoning boards be fully prepared to hear cases. New member training could not take place at the Jan. 15 Zoning Board reorganization, for lack of appointments.

Given the lack of action on appointments that has left three of five Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioners in holdover position (with another term due to expire Feb. 1), certainly it will be of interest who may be named Monday. Litigation, the authority's bugaboo since its inception, now includes a lawsuit by former Chief Financial Officer James Perry over allegations of racial discrimination as well as contractual issues.

The dreaded (by some) tax lien penalty resolution is on the special meeting agenda. Will Plainfield accept the rules set by nearly all other municipalities, or insist on favoring tax delinquents over those who pay on time?

And then there is the proposed new position of deputy police director. Adding a person and a salary may just thicken the plot in the ongoing saga of public safety leadership.

Whether bloggers can get to Municipal Court by 6 p.m. or at all, the news will out eventually - maybe on YouTube in a few weeks.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Comcast Franchise Renewal Approaching

Got Comcast? Got opinions? The cable television provider's franchise is up for renewal and there will be a public hearing on March 10 as part of the renewal process. The hearing, at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, coincides with a City Council meeting, but Plaintalker hopes it will not be just a perfunctory exercise.

Times have changed since Comcast won its franchise in 1999 and then received a five-year automatic renewal. Verizon joined the field with FiOS and got a statewide franchise instead of dealing with municipalities. Many newcomers from other countries opted for satellite television that kept them in touch with sports teams of their homelands. Digital innovations allowed cable customers to cut loose from contracts.

One of the most prized concessions in the 1999 franchise renewal was provision for a local origination channel, but programming was uneven. Click here for a 2008 blog post on the subject. Some good news was the doubling of the franchise fee from 2 percent to 4 percent.

I do not have television in my household. When the old television set died, I found the new models confusing and too expensive. My son had a basic Comcast account, but was mainly using the old set to view DVDs, and I prefer the radio to television because I can do other things while listening. We are probably in the extreme minority, even if cable interest has fallen off somewhat. Several years ago, the Board of Public Utilities posted the percentage of households with cable and it was very high in Plainfield.

Now that the franchise renewal process has apparently started, unfortunately the advisory board that is supposed to oversee cable operations is defunct. It was very active for a while, then faded away. It is unclear how comprehensive the franchise process will be, but in light of all the changes since 1999, there should be more than a cursory review, especially if another long-term franchise is contemplated. In 2006, Comcast officials offered their expertise to improve the local channel, if the council and administration could only say what they wanted.


Friday, January 24, 2014

News Expected Monday - At a Cost

The addition of a special meeting with 14 important items to Monday's rescheduled regular meeting portends a long night for the City Council and any bloggers or members of the public who aim to brave the single-digit temperature that is forecast.

The agenda includes about 30 appointments to six boards and commissions; possible passage of the vital tax lien penalty rules; naming of a chief financial officer at long last; confirmation of Carl Riley as police director and creation of the title and salary band for a deputy police director; confirmation of Police Lt. James Abney as Emergency Management Coordinator; and two resolutions to amend judges' salaries.

Regarding the appointments, in the past candidates were interviewed and some may well be interviewed in the announced closed session for personnel matters. But the sheer numbers are daunting: Nine citizens possibly for the Human Relations Commission, five residents and a mayoral appointee for the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, a city employee and a citizen for the Planning Board, four residents for the Zoning Board, six people for the Plainfield Public Library Board, and not least, possible action on appointments to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, which as of February will otherwise have four of five commissioners in holdover status.

The special meeting notice says the council will immediately go into closed session after opening the meeting at 6 p.m. At some point, the council will reconvene in public session and action may be taken on the special agenda before the regular meeting begins at 8 p.m., or as soon as possible after the special meeting.

Besides the wear and tear on council members and the public, the cost may include short shrift to decisions that would otherwise be made in a more deliberate fashion. But if it gets things in gear in this new administration, I suppose the marathon meeting schedule will be worth it.


Thursday, January 23, 2014


Just looking at all these icicles made me feel colder when I ventured out this afternoon. I was having a minor case of cabin fever and decided to brave the cold for a short trip to Family Dollar. Walking was not easy, but I enjoyed the fresh air.

Given the forecast of continued cold weather and even more snow, I guess we will see lots more icicles over the next week.


A Puzzlement

When I saw this notice on the city web site, I felt like one of those cartoon characters with a bunch of question marks over the head. Did Social Services move downtown? How could a spot be located on both sides of Park Avenue at once? How is this different from another announcement that the Senior Center at 400 East Front Street and Washington School on Darrow Avenue are warming centers?

This garbled message is confusing and worthless to someone who needs to stay at a warming center.


Special Meeting Plus Regular Meeting Monday























                   JANUARY 23, 2014.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Elections - Think Ahead

From the state Division of Elections

It's never too early to think about elections. Indeed, Plainfielders are often thinking about a given election months or even a year or two ahead. So what's on the calendar for 2014?

Plainfield's schedule goes like this: Ward 1 and the Second & Third Ward at-large seat; Ward 2 and the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat; Ward 3 and the Citywide at-large seat; Ward 4 and the Mayor's seat. So for 2014 we are at the Ward 1 and Second & Third Ward at-large seat, meaning incumbents William Reid and Rebecca Williams will have to campaign for re-election if they choose, and others who are interested will have to file by March 31 to run in the June 3 primary.

Because Mayor Adrian O. Mapp had to vacate the Third Ward seat he held, there will be a third council seat on the ballot, for the unexpired balance of his term. Appointee Gloria Taylor will have to run to keep the seat and others may file by March 31.

To see the full election timeline as posted by the state Division of Elections, click here.

The public can see all the incumbents in action and, once any others file, consider their campaign claims. Names of contenders are already out there and alliances are being forged.

Plaintalker hopes all will take an interest in this year's election. While voters in the First, Second and Third wards can take part in the primary and general election for council seats this year, any city resident can assist in campaigns. If you see a candidate whose views you feel will help Plainfield advance in coming years, contribute, help out, write letters on their behalf. To borrow a phrase, Plainfield needs elected officials who are "capable of mission," who understand their roles as legislators and representatives of the people.

Good luck to all who toss their hats in the ring!


Perry Lawsuit Detailed in CN

Allegations of racial discrimination by former PMUA Chief Financial Officer James Perry are detailed in a Courier News article today by reporter Sergio Bichao. The full lawsuit and answer from PMUA attorney Leslie London are online accompanying the article.

Authority commissioners who are being sued approved hiring two law firms for their defense, each at the rate of $190 hourly, at the Jan. 14 meeting.

See page 21 of the Jan. 10, 2012 minutes for remarks by Cecil Sanders on why former Executive Director Eric Watson and Assistant Director David Ervin deserved large settlements.

Sanders was an alternate on the board when he gave the third vote necessary to approve the settlements. He was subsequently given a full term and named chairman of the PMUA board. The board will reorganize next month, choosing officers for 2014.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It Begins

January 21, before noon.

Repost for a Snow Day

It's possible that readers who normally have to be at work today will instead be home due to the snowstorm.

For your reading pleasure, I am reposting here an item from 2009 on development and which touches on the question of whether renters are good or bad for the city.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Home Sick

Sorry I missed the Frontiers program today, but once again I was not up to attending.
I hope there will be some coverage in the media.
I did watch the reorganization meeting that I missed. It was on YouTube and I had to watch in two segments, as it was three and a half hours long. There were some disturbing aspects that I had heard about but now comprehend better, having seen the interaction for myself.

The police leadership standoff is disconcerting and I hope it will be resolved soon. On last Wednesday I had an encounter with a stranger in my own front yard that left me quite shaken. The police officers were very nice and helpful, but after it was over, I felt the lack of permanent leadership at the top in a personal way.

It is my hope to attend Tuesday's regular council meeting, unless it is called off for weather. Bulletin: The meeting has been rescheduled for 8 p.m. Monday, Jan.27 in Municipal Court. I can make it on foot from my house to Municipal Court in heavy snow. If ice was involved, it would be a different story. The meeting is 8 p.m. in the court, 325 Watchung Ave. One item of interest was added last Monday, that being approval of $!08,000 for one year to David Minchello's law firm. Minchello became the acting corporation counsel after former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson left in the spring of 2012 to become executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. The city is supposed to have an in-house counsel, but Minchello's firm will receive a $9,000 per month stipend, which to this writer recalls the old days of having that title on retainer. As long as he is serving the city well, I guess it doesn't matter.

Bloggers who attend Tuesday's meeting will be looking for action on the tax lien penalty resolution that was so roundly denounced by some council members as punitive to seniors and struggling homeowners. As a renter, if I don't pay what I owe each month, I have broken the first rule of landlord-tenant law: You must pay the rent or you will be evicted. I guess some city dwellers are more equal than others, if they feel they can skip paying taxes with impunity.


Of Renters and Landlords

During the administration of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, two hundred residents took part in an examination of the city and developed a strategic plan for its future. One of the stated goals for betterment was to reduce the number of renters in Plainfield.

How times change. Almost all the new development proposals over the past eight years were for apartments. Among them were 148 on West Second Street, 80 behind the old senior center, 12 on Park Avenue, 32 in two projects off Gavett Place, 85 on Lot 9 and the most controversial of all, 600 on the Muhlenberg campus. Perhaps the harbinger was the conversion of the former Tepper's department store to 75 rental units.

The highly-touted condo complex dubbed "The Monarch" failed to attract sufficient buyers for its 63 residential units over the new Senior Center, and about two-thirds are now rentals.

Where there are rentals, there must be landlords. While many are well-intentioned, the city learned a lesson when the city's formerly most prominent landlord, David Connolly, was found guilty of defrauding investors in 2009. Connolly had acquired more than 20 multi-family apartment buildings in the city, and the collapse of his empire affected hundreds of renters as well as the investors.

The Connolly story broke after residents complained about a nonworking elevator in a five-story building a stone's-throw from City Hall. For a brief time, the plight of renters was front-and-center, with promises of assistance from then-Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and others.

About half of all housing units in Plainfield are rentals. Without knowing their rights under the state Tenant-Landlord law, renters may be told they must provide their own refrigerators and stoves. They are supposed to be told where their security money is banked. If a landlord fails to provide heat or make repairs, tenants should not fear retaliation if they seek help from the city's Inspections Division.

As more apartments are developed in Plainfield, elected officials must be willing to serve the needs of renters as well as homeowners. Landlords may not live here, but the renters do, and they vote. If they were once considered an undesirable element, the quantity of proposed rental units indicates they are now wanted, especially for TOD (Transit-Oriented Development) projects near the city's two train stations. When planners talk about "critical mass" to rejuvenate the downtown and blocks around the Netherwood station, they are talking about renters.

Even if city officials still want to disregard this population, 2014 may well be the year when renters - the 49.8 percent - demand attention. Stay tuned.


Saturday, January 18, 2014


A flock of robins showed up Saturday in Library Park.
Robins have been known to stay through winter in New Jersey for several years now, instead of migrating south. I saw some very large flocks in Cranford while on assignment there as a reporter. I must say, they were sometimes more interesting to watch than the event I was assigned to cover for the newspaper.
These robins had their feathers puffed up for warmth. I hope they found some early worms emerging for the early birds.
Spring may still be nine weeks away, but it was nice to see robins and imagine the season approaching.


Address Race Relations in 2014

Mustapha Muhammad, who ran for mayor last year , spoke at the Jan. 13 City Council meeting about the decline in African-Americans in Plainfield and expressed concern about them being "disenfranchised and gentrified."

I have some rapport with him and respect his opinions, but while the numbers of African-Americans have declined 16 percent from 2000 to 2010, I must point out some facts about who is leading the city. (Click on the highlighted words for images.)

All the PMUA commissioners are African-American.

All the Board of Education members in 2013 were African-American and so are the new members as of Jan. 1.

All but one member of the City Council is African-American.

In addition, six past mayors - Everett Lattimore, Rick Taylor, Harold Mitchell, Mark Fury, Albert T. McWilliams, Sharon Robinson-Briggs - were African-American and so is the new one, Adrian O. Mapp.

If this demographic is being "pushed out," it is not from the seats of power.

But racial tension has come up more and more often recently in public meetings. I do believe some individuals lean on issues of race and class for the sake of dramatic rhetoric, but others are genuinely concerned about relations among the city's diverse populations. My suggestion is that perhaps the Human Relations Commission can be reactivated and take the lead in holding some forums or town meetings on increasing understanding among Plainfielders of all races and backgrounds.

From his perspective, Mustapha Muhammad sees, without some change, "a community that is going to erupt."

And nobody wants that.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Planners Reorganize with New Chairman

Ken Robertson, a Planning Board member since 1985 and chairman for the past 16 years, suggested veteran board member Ron Scott-Bey to serve as his successor and the board concurred Thursday.

One of Scott-Bey's first actions as chairman was to change the meeting time from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. Meetings will still be held on first and third Thursdays in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. The board will follow up by formally changing its bylaws later.

Among other appointments, William Toth was named vice-chairman, Rosalind Miller will continue as secretary and Peter Vignuolo will be the board attorney. Councilman Cory Storch will be the liaison from the governing body for 2014. Chief of Staff John Stewart was on board as the mayor's designee, but the Class II membership, municipal official, remains vacant after the nomination of Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez was withdrawn at the Jan. 13 agenda-fixing session.

Past member Horace Baldwin attended the meeting, but could not take part, as his nomination for another term has not yet been confirmed. The terms of Sidney Jackson and alternate Willie Faulks expired at the end of 2013, but neither has been nominated for renewal so far.


New Dunkin' Donuts Coming to West End

A new Dunkin' Donuts store is expected to rise soon on a long-vacant lot at West Front Street and Clinton Avenue after receiving preliminary site plan approval from the Planning Board.

At the end of the lengthy hearing, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt called it "the first project in the West End in some time."

The 1,850-square foot store will take up just a small part of the nearly half-acre site on the northwest corner of the intersection. Applicant Mo Khalid will have to satisfy certain board concerns, including traffic circulation on the site, before final approval is granted.
Attorney Jason Tuvel (sitting) and Planner and Site Engineer Harry Tuvel present the case.
The store will have 11 parking spaces and will be open 24 hours, though from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. purchases may only be made at a drive-up window. Khalid, who owns 14 stores, said the site will be monitored by security cameras that he can view on his phone and which will also be recorded by a security firm. He expects to have about five employees.

The store will have one major delivery per week and daily deliveries of fresh-baked goods in smaller trucks. Much of the application reflected Dunkin' Donuts standards for designing and operating stores, but the board won concessions on signage and logo display, saying other chains such as McDonald's and White Castle agreed to Plainfield's requirements.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

He's Baack!

SRB mouthpiece Roland Muhammad ("I say what the mayor can't say") turned up at the first agenda-fixing session of 2014, making more of the sinister innuendos that were his hallmark in the past.

He started out congenially.

"Mr. Reid, stay strong," he began. "We got some rough days ahead."

Turning sentimental, he adressed Councilwoman Gloria Taylor with reminiscences of being her student at Hubbard School.

"I like to talk about our youth," he said. "When I was coming up, we had places to go."

Now, he said, there is only one center that's free, which is Hannah Atkins. But he recalled the Neighborhood House, Second Street Youth Center, a facility on Plainfield Avenue and Grant Avenue Community Center.

Next, he turned to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp.

"I say, Mr. Mayor, invest in our youth. We will be your conscience. We got work to do."

Warming up, he said, "It really feels good to be up here."

But he warned, "Do you want what happened in the sixties? Youth today don't fear death."

Speaking louder, he said, "They want a job!"

He said the name "Muhammad" means war and added, "We are going to war with those who are not with us."

My Commentary

First of all, the name Muhammad and its variations means "praiseworthy," according to various sources.

Secondly, while sticking up for Dave Wynn and recreation during the past administration, Muhammad frequently used "we" to indicate a base but did not define who "we" are, except to berate council members for not going to the Fourth Ward as often as he felt they should.

Muhammad often harks back to the old Plainfield, but it is no longer a black and white community. Census figures show a 67 percent increase in Hispanics since 2000. The Latino voice is one that is largely missing from public comment at council and Town Hall meetings, but if there is to be one Plainfield someday, the "we" must include all the city's ethnic and racial groups.

Muhammad has every  right to his time at the microphone during public meetings and no doubt he intends to make himself heard. But what's with the constant "we" stuff? He lives in the First Ward but claims to represent the Fourth Ward. I for one would like to hear more from everybody about the city's future, and I don't think preaching war is going to get it.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

ZBOA Reorganizes, Needs Appointments

The Zoning Board of Adjustment reorganized Wednesday, reappointing D. Scott Belin chairman and Alejandro Ruiz vice chairman for 2014. A planned training session for new members was postponed, as no names have been confirmed for four vacancies.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said the board will have a "full calendar" of applications for the Feb. 5 meeting. Belin said the board is "in a concerning position" without a full board.He expressed hope that the administration would fill the vacancies soon.

Current members in addition to Belin and Ruiz are Melvin Cody, Frank Johnson and alternate Robert K. Graham. Belin said he felt Graham should be considered for a full membership before any other appointments. The terms of two members, Elizabeth Urquhart and alternate Robert Scott, expired Jan. 1. The other two in question are Christopher Awobue and Geraldine Smith. City records do not reflect whether they have resigned.

The board agreed to continue meeting at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library on the first Wednesday of each month  for the rest of 2014. Peter Vignuolo of Clarkin & Vignuolo will be the board attorney and Rosalind Miller will continue as secretary. Nierstedt said the city received seven responses to a request for proposals for board engineer and a committee will review them.

Nierstedt said a large number of applications came in at the end of 2013, indicating a potentially very busy year for the board.

"We did experience an increase, and we hope it continues," he said in answer to Plaintalker's inquiry in public comment.


PMUA Commissioners Sued

Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioners are being sued by the authority's former chief financial officer.

On Tuesday, two law firms were approved to continue working on the case. Commissioners Carol Ann Brokaw and Harold Mitchell will be represented at $190 per hour by the firm of Javerbaum, Wurgaft, Hicks, Kahn, Wilkstrom & Simins, P.C., while attorney John Motta will represent Commissioners Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and Alex Toliver at the same rate. The nature of the litigation was not discussed.

All employees of the authority, including management, will be under a wage freeze for 2014, Executive Director Dan Williamson said. Previously, the authority had imposed furloughs and layoffs. There will be no cost-of-living increases or merit pay this year, Williamson said, noting "2014 could have some challenges for us." However, if the outlook improves, the freeze could be lifted, he said.

Despite the freeze, expanding services may require hiring a new "chief of operations" in 2014. The authority approved contracts with three other municipalities to accept "Type 23" vegetative waste at the Rock Avenue transfer station this year and may try for some "Type 10" contracts (see waste definitions here).

Another reason stated for the need of a COO is that about 45 employees, mostly at the transfer station are in negotiations to form a union. The employees aim to join Teamsters Local 97.

The authority will hold rates for the first quarter of 2014 at the same rate as the last quarter of 2013. Although Williamson said the possibility of an increase will be discussed, he said depending on revenues generated, there could be a decrease.

Commissioners made several comments about the authority's unique range of services and called on Jeff Bliss of Lerch, Vinci & Higgins to explain. The comments appeared to be in defense of statements comparing costs in Union to Plainfield. Of 45 municipalities and eight authorities, Bliss said, "There is no authority that does all the services that you do."

Bliss cited the transfer station, shared services and the fact that the authority provides both solid waste and sewer services as evidence of its uniqueness.

Only four members of the public were present, so it is unclear what prompted the somewhat defensive explanations. But Toliver claimed not many residents read the PMUA newsletter and its message is not getting out. Later in the meeting, he alleged the city of Plainfield is "taking credit" for things the authority does. He referred to "propaganda" and said, "We need to blast the city of Plainfield."

Next month the PMUA will hold its annual reorganization. At present, three of its five commissioners - Mitchell, Brokaw, Toliver - are holdovers whose terms have expired. In February, Dunn's term expires, according to city records, and he will also become a holdover.

Vicious Animal At Large, Resident Seeks City Help

A distraught East Sixth Street resident sought help Monday from the City Council after allegedly being told she would have to catch a marauding animal in the neighborhood before the city's animal control agency would pick it up.

The woman said she had take pity on feral cats on her block and began her own program to have them neutered and fed. The large colony had been reduced to about eight cats, she said, and neighbors were assisting in their care. But recently she came outside to find a scene of carnage, with cats and an opossum torn limb from limb by an animal she identified as a raccoon.

She said the animal control agency wanted to charge her $60 plus $4 a day to rent a cage and told her she would have to trap the possibly rabid animal before they would take it away.

Still nursing one wounded cat back to health, she said she sees the aggressive animal outside but has no way to catch it herself. She now fears for children in the neighborhood, she said.

Animal control was formerly handled by city employees in the Health Division, but has been contracted out to a Newark agency for several years. At present, the city has a contract with Elizabeth to provide the services of a health officer. Residents must call police regarding animal emergencies (see here).

The situation that the resident describes appears to be one of imminent danger to the neighborhood. Plaintalker will attempt to find out what response the city is making.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cretella Projects Advancing

The former Romond's Garage is being gutted to make way for 20 apartments.
A chart of Cretella projects says the second floor was to be renovated and three floors added above, but a permit states the second floor will be removed, along with the roof.
The project is known as Art Lofts I and will form part of an entertainment complex on Gavett Place.
Across the street, work is ongoing at Gavett Place Properties, formerly known as "Luxury Condominiums." Twelve apartments are planned over retail space on the ground floor.


SDA Offers Opportunity

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Taxes, Public Safety Hot Issues

A City Council meeting that might have been over in half an hour soon became a marathon of special pleas for causes ranging from tax breaks for seniors to the unsettled question of who should lead public safety.

Councilman William Reid stirred the pot first when he questioned what Tax Collector David Marshall presented as a standard set of penalties for tax delinquencies. Reid questioned why the city had to conform; Marshall said 99 percent of municipalities did so. But Reid traced his own home ownership in Plainfield to the days "when the gag was released from us in the sixties" and said taxes had now got out of hand for seniors, "especially citizens that made this city."

"Now you are penalizing people," Reid said.

He said Marshall should come back in February with lower penalty rates.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams disagreed, saying the penalties were on people who already owed back taxes and those who paid on time "will have to bear the burden of those who are delinquent."

But Councilwoman Tracey Brown said most people who were delinquent didn't want to be, and Councilwomen Gloria Taylor and Vera Greaves joined in expressing sympathy for their plight.

"Seniors should be given a break from this," Greaves said.

"I think we need a balance," Taylor said, advocating a reduction in the penalties.

Marshall explained that investors who purchase tax liens and pay the taxes might be deterred by lower rates. In addition, he has been able to increase the tax collection rate from 93 percent to 96.42 percent and said the penalties are a deterrent to delinquency.

As the council decided not to move the resolution to the Jan. 21 agenda, Marshall, City Administrator Rick Smiley, Mayor Adrian Mapp and Corporation Counsel David Minchello all stressed the importance of passing the resolution.

"This puts us in a situation that we were not prepared for," Minchello said.

Mapp said the resolution was "common and standard practice for very good reasons," and not adopting it was "not in the best interest of the city."

Marshall appeared flabbergasted and said he had just sent out 780 delinquent notices. If people come in to pay, he asked, "What do I do?"

Reid's solution was to take the money and refund it later, if necessary.

Minchello had suggested a recess to discuss the resolution, but Council President Bridget Rivers said the resolution could be brought back as a new item next week.

Once public comment opened, the public safety leadership question emerged. 

During the past administration, the council abolished the title of police chief in favor of "police director" and Martin Hellwig, who was already the director of the Department of Public Affaiars & Safety, assumed the other title as well. When Hellwig went out on final leave at the end of 2013, Police Captain Michael Gilliam was named acting public safety director. On Dec. 16, retired Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin was among interviewees for cabinet posts but did not emerge as a nominee. On Jan. 1, retired Union County Prosecutor's Office Captain Carl Riley was named acting police director. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp asserted his support for Riley as police director and El-Amin as director of PA&S, but at the Jan. 6 reorganization, the council declined to confirm either.
At left, Siddeeq E-Amin and Faheemah El-Amin. Center, John Metz and Omega Psi Phi members.
On Monday, a row of men wearing purple and gold Omega Psi Phi jackets looked on as fraternity representative John Metz detailed the group's good works in Plainfield, including blood drives, mentoring, Martin Luther King Jr. programs and involvement with the Boys & Girls Club. Members were at the meeting in support of Gilliam, he said, calling him the "apppointed and approved director of Public Safety."

"We ask that you give him your consideration for a permanent appointment," Metz said to the council.

El.-Amin came to the microphone with a prepared statement:
Members of the City Council, Mayor Mapp, friends and community members. I hadn’t planned on attending this meeting but circumstances have caused me to change my mind.

At your last council reorganization meeting at the high school auditorium, there were many things said about me to you in executive session and in other private meetings, which I was not invited.

At the conclusion of the Reorganization Meeting, councilmembers made comments about my being
nominated for Director of Public Affairs and Safety to effect that you received disparaging information about my character and leadership. And it was stated that these issues needed to be investigated before any action could be taken regarding giving advice and consent to the Mayor’s appointment of me.

Well, I don’t know what this was about but I began making calls to schedule appointments with those councilmember that I did not have an opportunity to meet before that meeting. Let me digress a moment to say that during the Executive Session of the City Council on Dec. 16, no council member ever asked me any questions regarding my character or leadership. Nor were any “issues” raised before I was excused from my “interview.”

Let me take a moment to address a couple of items already stated in the public.

First, it has been said that Siddeeq El-Amin is not connected with the community. My community
involvement is documented.

I serve as a Trustee at my place of worship (Masjidullah Plainfield) which is located in the heart of the Fourth Ward; I serve as Board Chairman for the Neighborhood Health Services Corp. (formerly the Plainfield Health Center) also in the Fourth Ward; my wife and I are the Administrators for the Muslim Community Soup Kitchen in Plainfield (in the Fourth Ward) that serves over 60 free meals every Saturday from 1-2 PM; and my wife and I have a Pre-School Child Care Center in the First Ward that serves 30 3 & 4-year olds since 2010. Before all of this, I served on the Educational Support Team of Dr. Ron Lewis, former schools superintendent in the 1970’s; for two years before I joined Plainfield’s Finest Police Division, I coached the eighth and ninth grade football teams. Some of those players are adults in Plainfield and still refer to me as “Coach.”
Second, it is said about Siddeeq El-Amin that he’s disconnect from the rank and file police officers and has been out of policing for three years. I will address this from two aspects. The first is that since about 1994-5, I have been an Instructor at the Union County Police Academy, known as the John H. Stamler Police Academy. Twice a year I spend two days at the police academy teaching ALL the new recruits, not just those from Plainfield. So from that time on, every Plainfield Police Officer that has attended this academy has had me for an Instructor. Connected.

Now when you reach the level of Lieutenant, Captain and above, yes you do become more distant from the front line officer. That is because now your job responsibilities demand that you deal with more policies, reports, and the supervision of fewer direct reports to you, such as the Sergeants and Lieutenants. But depending on your command assignment, your unit may small enough that you have direct contact with first line officers in your unit.

The second aspect is about being disconnected from policing. Since about 1988, I have been attending law enforcement executive training conferences, initially at my own expense. Further, I have at my own initiative, sought out other advanced training course and workshops to increase my knowledge to enhance my career. I became a national board member to two major law enforcement organizations. Even after my retirement, I continued to attend law enforcement executive training conferences with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at my own expense. I have continued to stay engaged in the most current issues of law enforcement. What can my detractors say about their careers?

I’ve been told that the Fire Division has an issue with me but in speaking with some of their Union Officers, I was told by them that in a meeting with the Mayor, they told him they would support whoever he picks for Director of Public Affairs & Safety. If that has changed, it has not been brought to my attention to address.

I was successful in meeting with Councilmember Gloria Taylor and I addressed every questions and concern that she raised to, I believe, her satisfaction, clearing up any and all misconceptions she may have had or be told regarding me being the Director of PA&S. I continued and called Councilwoman Tracey Brown on Jan. 10 at 9:48 AM to schedule a meeting and left a voice message on her cell phone. I called again on Jan. 11 at 2:32 and left a message. This, after she said to me on Monday the 6th that “We need to talk.” However, this afternoon Councilwoman Brown called me back and we had the start of a good conversation, but more needs to be covered.

On Jan 10 at 8:13 PM I called Council President Rivers and we schedule a meeting for Saturday afternoon, the next day, for 2:00 PM. She told me that she didn’t have any other plans for Saturday. As background, this was the fourth (4th, after the Reorganization Meeting, ) scheduled meeting we both agreed to have, and President Rivers cancelled each shortly before we were to meet.

Councilmembers, if as you have publicly stated, you are aware of serious issues regarding my appointment that need to be investigated, and I have willingly tried to make myself available to you for a face-to-face interview to give you an opportunity to question me about those “issues,” why then have you not followed through with meeting with me? You have apparently been told certain things, and alluded to them in public as being very serious, yet some of you have taken no initiative to get to the truth.

You, and others, have called my reputation into question; others have made egregious statements, and not given me the opportunity to clear it with you and the public. So now I stand before you this evening and ask you to publicly state the issues you’ve been told about me so that I can clear them up in public, where I have been accused in public.

I am a professional law enforcement executive and as such deserve to be treated in a professional manner.

If leadership qualities are being called into question about me, what does the behavior of some of you
demonstrate? Each of you, with the exception of Councilwoman Taylor, received a letter from me in
November while you were attending the Municipal League of Cities in Atlantic City. I included in the
envelope my professional resume and a two-page listing of professional references of law enforcement executive form across the country. Not one of them has been contacted by any of you.

Yet the citizens of Plainfield are under the impression that you are conducting an investigation of the “issues.”

Someone asked by this question, “Siddeeq, why does the PBA union feel about you the way they do?” I could only answer that you will have to ask them to tell a reason. I continued by saying that if it is just their feelings, then trying to answer the questions would be like trying to grab piece of a cloud. You can see it, and describe it, but when you reach for it and close your hand, there is nothing there. The same goes for fog. Everyone has an interpretation of what a cloud may look like but not one has yet been able to touch it, weigh it, or describe its texture.

So where does that leave us . . . . Leave you? I stand here before you as a physical being, a professional being, not a cloud, not a fog, and not a feeling. I can be examined, weighed, and my texture can be felt. I am asking you to begin your investigation here and now in an open forum, since you have insinuated that there are “major issues to be resolved,” or call for an Executive Session tonight and conduct your interview of me in closed doors. Either way is fine with me. After all, the public too would like answers. 

Thank you.

Siddeeq W. El-Amin - BS, MPA.

The council made no reply and several others spoke before adjournment.

Plaintalker expects to have a commentary on the public safety question later and will also report on several serious issues raised by citizens.