Monday, March 31, 2014

By Their Slogans Ye Shall Know Them: Candidates File, Form Slates

Ten City Council candidates met a 4 p.m. filing deadline today for the June 3 primary election.

Those seeking a four-year term in the First Ward are Democrats Diane Toliver, Emmett L. Swan and Siddeeq El-Amin. No Republicans filed for the seat.

Candidates for the at-large Second & Third Ward four-year term are Republican Randy Bullock and Democrats Charles Eke and incumbent Rebecca Williams. For an unexpired Third Ward term, candidates are Republican Charles A. Jones Jr. and Democrats  Charles L. McRae, incumbent appointee Gloria Taylor and Rasheed Abdul-Haqq.

Among the Democrats, Toliver, Eke and Taylor are on the party line with the slogan, "Regular Democratic Organization of Union County." Swan, Williams and McRae are running under the slogan, "New Democrats for Plainfield." El-Amin's slogan is "Plainfield First - Plainfield Forward!" and Abdul-Haqq's slogan is "Let's Get Rid of Jerry Green."

Republicans Bullock and Jones are running on their party line, "Regular Organization Republican of Union County." With no opponents, each will be on the November 4 general election ballot along with winners of the Democratic primary contests.

Independent candidates who file on June 3 will also be on the November ballot, and school board candidates must also file on June 3 to be on the ballot. The school board elections were held in April until the City Council approved the move to November in 2012.
Brochures with all the important election dates are available in the City Clerk's office at City Hall. The brochure is issued annually by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi and election dates and information are also posted on her web site.


Keep Transit Village Goals on Track

Now that Plainfield has become the 28th Transit Village, someone asked what the impact of the designation has been on the 27 other ones.

The agency that has looked into outcomes in transit villages is the Alan. M. Voorhees Transportation Center within the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. There is no bottom line, as each municipality has its own situation, but there are reports online that say what helped or hindered success in transit villages.

The center's Transit Village Initiative page has reports on the first two "generations" of transit villages. The first group was Morristown, Pleasantville, Rahway, Riverside, Rutherford, South Amboy and South Orange. The second was Belmar, Bloomfield, Bound Brook, Collingswood, Cranford, Journal Square, Matawan, Metuchen and New Brunswick.

When the program began in 1999, municipalities had no reporting requirement. In 2005, the center developed an assessment form to monitor changes in investment, construction and other indicators of success. As the newest transit village, Plainfield will benefit by all the work that has gone before and should be able to track progress in attaining goals for transit-oriented development.

The designation, like that of Urban Enterprise Zone way back in 1986, represents an opportunity, but one whose success will depend on many factors. Among them are the commitment of the administration and political will of the governing body to support the initiative. Residents and business owners need information about what the designation means for them. The city in general has to engage all the state support available.

Luckily for everybody, the timing seems right to move ahead. The city now has a cabinet-level person in charge of economic development and new Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has his eyes on the future. There are two transit-oriented development zones and interest appears to be picking up on construction around the train stations.

I mention the Urban Enterprise Zone program only as a cautionary example of the need for monitoring how things are going. The program was meant to increase employment, mitigate blight and restore prosperity. Retailers could charge only half the state sales tax and the revenues could be drawn down for approved projects in the zone. But Plainfield suffered a setback with the loss of Macy's as a downtown retail anchor in 1992. Many small retailers could not add employees, a requirement to be certified for the program. For that and other reasons, less than 15 percent of eligible businesses were certified. In recent years, city officials could not get internal information on the program and some applications to draw down money from the city's account were rejected. The promise was fading.

Plainfield's drift was mirrored in other UEZ cities. A state analysis of the UEZ program in 2011 found only an eight-cent return for every dollar expended on running it. The program was closed and unspent funds turned back to municipalities.

By contrast, the Transit Village Initiative appears healthy and robust in general. Plainfield is fortunate to be designated. My point is that ongoing analysis will help ensure progress toward the goals of transit-oriented development. There are no guarantees of success, but taking stock will keep the effort strong.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Celebrate the Transit Village Designation!

A story Plaintalker has been tracking since 2006 hit the headlines today - Plainfield has won designation as a transit village.

The designation is prized because it opens the door to special attention from state agencies, but since 1999 only 27 municipalities have earned it. Plainfield is now the 28th transit village and credit is due to the city's Planning Division and Planning Board, which have worked hard on Transit Oriented Development zoning designations centered on its two train stations.

Some background from Plaintalker and Plaintalker II:

In April 2006, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and her director of Public Works & Urban Development Jennifer Wenson Maier announced that Plainfield would seek four transit village designations, for its two existing train stations and two defunct ones that the administration hoped to revive.

In August 2006, transit-oriented development and "New Urbanism" were discussed at the Zoning Board meeting.

In November 2007, planners probed issues of density and uses around the Netherwood train station.

In July 2008, the City Council debated a transit-oriented development ordinance for the Netherwood area.

In January 2010, talk of transit villages had given way to more emphasis on transit-oriented development.

In January 2011, a transit expert urged Plainfield to get more involved in the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition.

Transit-Oriented Development-Downtown map

A press release from the NJ Department of Transportation includes praise from NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson for all the work that went into the successful application. Plainfielders all will benefit from the designation. Drink a toast this weekend with your favorite libation for this great news!


Temporary Budget Approval Averts Shutdown

A threatened city shutdown was averted Friday evening when the City Council approved temporary appropriations.

A council majority - Vera Greaves, William Reid, Gloria Taylor and Council President Bridget Rivers - had declined to move a temporary budget resolution to the March 20 agenda as a new item, so no action was taken on funding city operations for April. Rivers said the council needed to review the temporary budget with a consultant first.

At a 6 p.m. special meeting Friday, the council approved a resolution allotting $27,216,095 for city operations from Jan. 1 through April 30, representing one-third of the total budget for 2013 as allowed by state law.

Although most budget lines were 33 percent of 2013 expenditures, salary and wages for the mayor's office were $57,000, or 55.77 percent of last year's tab. Reid sought to amend the amount to $33,600, but the motion failed, with Reid, Greaves and Taylor voting "yes" and Rivers, Tracey Brown, Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams voting "no."

The resolution then passed as presented, with only Reid voting "no."

The salary for the new post of chief of staff is included in the budget for the mayor's office. Even though the council approved establishment of the title and a salary range, funding for the post has been in dispute since January.

Other categories exceeding the one-third level of funding included 100 percent for snow removal expenses at $49,500 and 57.25 percent for Independence Day expenses. The city also had to pay $4.7 million for the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PERS) and $1.2 million for the Public Employees Retirement System, at 88.44 percent and 94.70 percent respectively.

Other resolutions passed at the special meeting were one authorizing religious processions on April 12 and 18 for St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church and one rescinding the cancellation of unexpended balances in the capital fund. The latter item was passed on March 20 but had to be redone due to a typo. Finance Director Ron West said the recaptured funds will be used for solely for road repairs.


Friday, March 28, 2014

No More Snow (We Hope)

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's administration had to deal with sixteen snowstorms in a row since Jan. 1, one less than what former Mayor Mark Fury encountered when he took office 20 years ago.

Asked about the challenge, Fury said weather forecasting technology has improved, but dealing with the snow still comes down to use of shovels and plows.

The Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist has posted statistics for the 20 storms of the winter of 2013-2014. The number of storms exceeds those of many previous years. Snowfall totals just for Plainfield are not always recorded, as the city no longer has a volunteer weather observer. There are totals for other Union County towns.
File:2011 Halloween nor'easter Oct 29 2011 1805Z.jpg
  For 2011, the statistics include the Hallowe'en storm shown in this NASA photo.

Maybe now that we are a week into Spring, it's safe to put those snow shovels away and line up the garden tools.


Study Team Takes Muhlenberg Comments

Whatever else may become of the 17-acre Muhlenberg site, city residents were clear on what it must not become - a 600-unit luxury apartment building proposed by the property owner, JFK Health System.

Activist Dottie Gutenkauf led the crowd in the Plainfield High School cafeteria in voicing a loud "No!" to 600 apartments, but speakers varied on what should occupy the site of the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, which closed in 2008.

"The only thing we really need in Plainfield is an inpatient hospital," Dr. Harold Yood said.

Saying non-profit hospitals are a thing of the past, he called for a commercial facility with specialty practices and short-term inpatient care.

Other suggestions included an acute-care emergency room, a birthing facility and a medical mall.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams raised the issue of competition among medical facilities and pointed to legislation backed by Assemblyman Jerry Green that would offer tax breaks to a developer who would "repurpose a former health care facility" but would not "destabilize the supply and delivery of acute health care services in its market." JFK Health System operates JFK Medical Center in nearby Edison.

Williams recalled that Green said recently he has a developer for the site.

The comments pointed up the swirl of possibilities floated for the site since the hospital closed. JFK Health System presented the governing body with a proposed ordinance to rezone the site and all other documents needed to proceed with its plan, which was based on its study showing a demand for rental housing. Two prominent clergymen claimed broad community support for the JFK proposal. The legislation and Green's talk of a developer does not indicate a specific plan, but Green did suggest new uses on his blog in 2012.

Meanwhile, the city-sponsored six-month study now underway is supposed to yield the best use for the site as envisioned by residents and the planning firm's findings. The firm, Heyer, Gruel & Associates of Red Bank, will hold two more community sessions in April.

The shuttered hospital used to serve many communities besides Plainfield, and speakers urged the firm to publicize the upcoming session to include all of them. Gutenkauf, who has been campaigning since August 2008 for the hospital to be restored, called for  "standing-room only" crowds at the April sessions.

Regarding the 600 apartments, residents said the high number of foreclosures and the inability of a downtown condo development to sell units proved the fallacy of adding more housing.

Several who called for a full-service hospital noted the travel time and expense to reach hospitals in Edison or Somerville. One longtime resident said she had to move her ill mother to Baltimore for quick access to the care she needed. Now back in Plainfield, she said she feels insecure for herself without a hospital in the city.
The discussion was taped for local cable viewing. The next sessions are Thursday, April 24 at Washington Clinton School and Tuesday, April 29 at Emerson School, both at 7 p.m.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Muhlenberg Meeting Tonight

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.52.32 PM
The community meetings are part of a planning study approved by the City Council in October 2013. JFK Health System had proposed 600 apartments for the 17-acre site where Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008. Residents largely rejected that idea, though JFK said a community group led by clergy endorsed it. The concept of a city study drew high interest on the blog when it was proposed, and residents applauded when the council approved it.

From an October 2013 post:

The planning firm up for consideration Monday for the Muhlenberg study projects a six-month process that includes four community meetings, two of which will broadly involve the public and stakeholders in a visioning process.

Public outreach is named as "Task 1" in the scope of services proposed by Heyer Gruel & Associates. A kickoff meeting with city planning staff will have three goals, according to documents in the packet for Monday's meeting: "to refine and confirm the work program and schedule; to define the community participation including preliminary identification of stakeholders; and to preliminarily identify key issues as the city and community sees them."

The early work will also include "a tour of the site and surrounding area with city officials and key project personnel to get a sense of the issues in the field."


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Friday's Meeting: Hijinks* or Harmony?

*Note: I wanted to use "hijinks" but various references that I consulted in the wee hours had it as "high jinks." Since Dan picked my favored spelling, I am changing it.
Friday's special meeting initially was called to deal with a disputed resolution to appropriate funds to operate the city past March 31. But in a legal notice for the meeting, another resolution - giving permission for a religious procession - was added.

Now there is another change. The governing body will also vote on a resolution rescinding one just passed on March 20, namely:

During a budget presentation preceding the council meeting Thursday, Finance Director Ron West mentioned $655,000 in unspent capital funds as part of a strategy to increase revenues. Other strategies included a review of all "payment in lieu of taxes" or PILOT agreements, enhancing the tax collection rate and increasing the number of grants. The grants alone brought in $2.8 million last year to help the bottom line.

If the capital balances had been intended to revert to the general fund and now they will not, it would take a significant chunk out of the budget. Somebody needs to explain Friday night exactly what the proposed action means to the budget.

The city now has three financial minds at work in the administration. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp attained state certification as a chief financial officer and serves in that capacity in another municipality. Ron West previously served as the city's finance director and knows the city's fiscal issues well. The administration is phasing out the part-time chief financial officer that the city has relied on for five to seven hours per week and will have a full-time CFO for the first time since 2007 in the person of Ulrich "Al" Steinberg, whom Mapp praised highly for his experience. At the Jan. 27 meeting where Steinberg's hiring was approved unanimously, the audience broke into applause.

So the 2014 budget as presented by the administration should be well thought out. The council voted Thursday to introduce the budget, meaning it has passed from the administration to the governing body for review and amendment before final passage. The council now has a budget consultant from a firm hired Thursday as well.

With all this talent on the case, one hopes the city will not see anything like the 2012 budget fiasco in which a state review of the figures revealed a $1.5 million shortfall. There was more intrigue later when Eric Berry, the city administrator at the time, tried to get the state to wrest away the council's powers over the introduced budget. After the budget passed in June and the dust settled, the murkiness remained when the former finance director was unable to state the tax rate when asked at a council meeting.

Can there be a new model of collegiality between the two branches in the new administration? The focus has to be on the good of the city at large and its fiscal health. Friday's meeting may set a tone for the rest of the budget process and even for the future of the city. Resident Jean Black summed it up Thursday with her comment, "When are you all gonna agree and get the town working?"


Monday, March 24, 2014

On Recreation and the Special Meeting

On Recreation

Last  week, the City Council approved hanging of a banner across East Sixth Street to advertise the Recreation Division's seasonal programs. Unless the division's page on city web site gets updated, residents will have to eyeball the banner to learn more.

Former Superintendent of Recreation Dave Wynn left city employment in September 2012, or thereabouts. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said recently he intends to fill the position, but no name has yet been announced. By now, ball fields should be getting prepared for games and soon it will be time to check city pools to make sure they will be ready to open this summer.

Preparations should soon be underway for the July 4th celebration and the city's eleven parks must be readied for activities.

The person who becomes the next superintendent of Recreation must be willing to be more open with the council about the workings of the division, especially regarding the costs associated with major items such as the July 4th events. Wynn's tenure was marred with a lack of timely response to council inquiries on expenses as well as complaints about field management dating back to 2009. The new administration has a chance to do better with the next superintendent.

Special Meeting

The special meeting promised by City Council President Bridget Rivers to act on a temporary budget will take place at 6 p.m. Friday in City Hall Library.

There are two items on the agenda, according to the notice sent out by City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh:



Plaintalker will pursue details on these two resolutions and will post on them as soon as possible.

The first resolution failed to get enough votes Thursday to move it to the agenda. Council Finance Committee members said they wanted to review the temporary budget appropriations with a consulting firm that was approved Thursday. The appropriations must be passed by Monday, or the city will be unable to operate or pay employees, Corporation Council David Minchello told the governing body Thursday.


Commentary on Budget Dispute

So sometime this week the City Council may hold a special meeting on temporary emergency budget appropriations, an item that did not make it to last Thursday’s agenda because a majority of council members said they wanted a review with a budget consultant first.

A three-month temporary budget expires March 31. Until budget passage, the city relies on temporary emergency appropriations month to month after the initial three-month period. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp offered the governing body a resolution for appropriations through June, representing half a year’s budget. But he wants more for certain line items, including 68 percent in salaries for his office. That line includes pay for the chief of staff, a title the council approved, along with a salary range, after Mapp won the November general election.

Mapp did not need council confirmation to hire a chief of staff once he took office, but apparently a council majority does not like his choice. It appears that he is including the extra funds for his office in order to secure the job for the person he chose, someone whom he considers essential to his team. He also included 77 percent in salaries for the Recreation Division, which needs a new superintendent.

Council President Bridget Rivers said the governing body needs to meet with the budget consultant over the appropriations in order to assure "a sound temporary budget,' but three-term Councilman Cory Storch said Thursday he never heard of a consultant dealing with the temporary budget. Historically, a consultant assists the governing body in its deliberations after budget introduction. The council unanimously agreed to introduce the budget Thursday, but has not scheduled any budget deliberations nor has it named anyone to the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.

What is this all about? Is it a case of the executive branch messing with the legislative branch, or vice versa? Will a newly-hired budget consultant want to get in the middle of a politically-charged situation over temporary appropriations before budget deliberations on the introduced budget begin? 

Action on appropriations for the coming month or months must take place by March 31, or the city will not be able to operate. Employees, even those with Legal Shield payroll deductions, will not get paid. Rivers vowed  Thursday that the council will not allow the city to shut down, but when and how will this issue be resolved? There are important community meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, leaving only four possible dates for a special meeting if the matter goes all the way to the last minute.

Whatever the reason may be for the temporary budget stand-off, it must be resolved, even if the parties don't want to state publicly why it came to this juncture. In fact, if a rumored prejudice is involved, better to resolve it without letting the world know how low things have sunk around here.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Council Approves Police Accreditation Contract

The City Council unanimously approved hiring an Island Heights firm at $86,342 Thursday to help the Plainfield Police Division attain accreditation as a law enforcement agency.

The contract includes a $6,000 registration fee with the accrediting body, the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police; $47,000 for a one-year consulting fee with The Rodgers Group; $22,016 for the Rodgers Group Online Training Program; $2,826 for the Guardian Tracking LLC's software program fee and $8,500 to Innovative Data Solutions, Inc. for its Power DMS software fee. The last three are annual costs that will have to be factored into future budgets.

All costs will be paid out of a fund of more than $400,000 in forfeiture money and the drawdown was approved by the Union County Prosecutor's Office.

Former Police Director Martin Hellwig advocated the plan in December 2012, but by coincidence the Star-Ledger was publishing a series of articles about the troubled police department in Edison, which had been one of the company's clients. Its testimonial was among many on the group's web site.

On Thursday, Dr. Harold Yood questioned the efficacy of the accreditation process in light of Edison's reported dysfunction.

But Carl Riley, police director in the new administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, vouched for the need to have the Plainfield Police Division accredited, "so we don't end up in the paper." Riley said the division's policies and procedures were out of date and the division "was going through some things now" that wouldn't have happened if policies were in place.

Yood also noted the accreditation will need to be renewed after three years, but Riley said the cost was not recurring and will be much less.

The $86,342 cost will not be paid by taxpayers. Riley said of the city's asset forfeiture account, "Nobody can tell us how to use it."


Friday, March 21, 2014

Comcast Franchise Renewal Underway

Only two residents spoke at a public hearing Thursday on Comcast's cable franchise renewal.

Comcast's Director of Government Affairs Charles Smith III briefly described the franchise renewal process, noting Plainfield had the option during a three-year "ascertainment period" to look into the cable operations and produce a report, but he said the city did not do so. The report would have been due by August 3 of last year.

The company's franchise renewal application is on file in the city clerk's office. Comcast must answer four basic questions, he said, regarding renewal. From the state Guide to Franchise Renewal, the four aspects are:

- Whether the cable operator has substantially complied with the franchise.
- The quality of the cable operator's service. 
- The cable operator's ability to meet its financial, legal and technical obligations under the franchise.
- Whether the cable operator's proposal is reasonable to meet the future cable needs of a municipality.

Smith said two areas the municipality may not consider are rates, which are governed by state statutes, and programs.

Councilman Cory Storch asked Smith to outline the steps in franchise renewal. Smith said after the hearing, Comcast would be meeting with city officials to discuss conditions under which the the city would renew the franchise. After those negotiations were concluded, he said, an ordinance would be drafted. According to the franchise renewal guide, the Office of Cable Television within the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities reviews it and if it is complete, the process moves into a "Certificate of Approval" phase. Smith said it takes about six months.

The city's last franchise with Comcast of the Plainfields dates back to 1999. According to a BPU timetable, it was due to expire in August of 2009, but Comcast invoked a five-year automatic renewal. The three-year ascertainment process should have begun in 2011. The new expiration date is August 3, 2014.

Only two people spoke at the hearing, which along with the council's regular meeting had been rescheduled from March 10 to March 20.

Resident Alan Goldstein expressed concern about numerous fallen and tangled cables caused by Hurricane Sandy, saying they are wrapped around trees and poles. He said he hoped Comcast "would be a little more responsive to customers."

The second speaker was Lamar Mackson, former chairman of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board and now managing director of the city's Media Division, according to LinkedIn. Mackson said the board members' terms were not renewed, so the board was unable to conduct the ascertainment. His term ended at the end of 2011, according to city records.

The board was revived with appointments of Mackson and others in February. It is unclear how negotiations on a franchise will be handled. The city's other cable provider, FiOS, is carrying out its franchise renewal directly with the state. The city receives more than $400,000 in franchise fees from the two providers.


Budget Issues Span Two Meetings

Finance Director Ron West
With residential property still the city's mainstay for income, taxes will continue to increase until economic development takes hold, officials said Thursday in a budget presentation.

"The homeowner bears the burden," Finance Director Ron West told a roomful of residents at the Senior Center.

Taxes will increase by $129.37 on the average home valued at $113,000, West said as he gave a slide show of fiscal realities for 2014. Last year, the increase was $166.06.
"We couldn't deliver a decrease, but the increase is a bit smaller than it might have been," Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said.

Mapp and West outlined strategies to stabilize the tax rate going forward, such as increasing the collection rate, auctioning off foreclosed properties and selling city-owned tax lien titles. Settlement of union contracts and addressing repeated audit recommendations could also help. The full presentation is posted on the city web site, along with the Municipal Data Sheet, which compares revenues and expenditures for 2013 and 2014.

The total budget is $75,028,647, with the largest portion going for public safety costs. The budget includes new positions including chief of staff at $80,000 and a media director at $85,000. The position of recreation superintendent will be restored at $80,000.

Mapp said the city needs to "re-brand" itself in order to attract developers and new businesses that will improve the economy.

Although the presentation was labeled as the "introduced" budget, the meeting at the Senior Center preceded a regular council meeting where the governing body voted to introduce the budget. The administration's budget is now in the hands of the council, which can review and amend it before final passage. Mapp said he had invited the council to move their meeting to the Senior Center in order to hear the presentation, but the offer was declined.

At the council meeting in Municipal Court, a majority of the governing body balked at putting Mapp's six-month temporary appropriations on the agenda as a new item. William Reid, Gloria Taylor, Vera Greaves and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "no" and Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch voted "yes."

Storch asked Corporation Counsel David Minchello to explain the results of not making temporary appropriations by March 31 and Minchello said the city would not be able to run the city or pay employees. But Rivers said the council's Finance Committee wanted to meet with a budget consultant first and then hold a special meeting next week to deal with appropriations to run the city.

The budget consulting firm was only approved at the Thursday meeting and Rivers did not know which member of the firm would actually serve as the council's consultant. Storch said he never recalled a consultant dealing with a temporary budget, only with deliberations on the introduced budget. But Rivers, having called for a "sound temporary budget", said it was "not fair" the way the temporary budget was presented on Jan. 6 and on Thursday.

Storch wanted all members to agree on a date for the special meeting, as five votes would be needed to approve the appropriations, but Reid said he wanted to get a date when the consultant could be there. A further complication is that there are two meetings already scheduled next week, one Wednesday on the Affordable Care Act and one Thursday on a city-sponsored study of the Muhlenberg site.

Storch, who serves with Reid and Taylor on the council's Finance Committee, said he was surprised at the turn of events and added, "We have to do better."


Thursday, March 20, 2014

News, Really Fast

Call it the power of the press ...packet.

By the time I got home from the 7 p.m. budget presentation and the 8 p.m. City Council meeting, a story on Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's first budget had already been online since 6:30 p.m.

The secret was a professionally written press release by new Director of Communications Rebecca Perkins with all relevant details of the 2014 budget and some quotes from the mayor. Readers knew even before I set foot in the Senior Center that taxes will increase by about $129 on the average home valued at $113,000 and that the mayor's major goals include increasing revenues and re-branding the city.

Perkins was present for both meetings Thursday night and got a whiff of the sulfurous discord that sometimes wafts in the atmosphere between the administration and governing body.

From the point of view of someone covering the council for about 30 years, the budget presentation by Finance Director Ron West was tip-top, but at the second meeting the council found gristle in the temporary emergency appropriations and will hold a special meeting next week to chew it over once more.

I am tempted to put the laptop to sleep without imparting my account of events, but I have to do something to make up for the time and energy spent hustling to two meetings on foot and taking my own notes on the action. It's good to know, though, that news from City Hall will henceforth turn up in the digital and print media and that the city web site will become a news source as well. (Pardon the style - can you tell I am reading Middlemarch?)


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Muhlenberg Future Up for Discussion at Three Meetings

City officials have announced three community meetings for public discussion of the future of the Muhlenberg site.

The meetings, all at 7 p.m., will take place on March 27 in the Plainfield High School cafeteria, April 24 at Washington Community School and April 29 at Emerson School.

The sessions were promised as part of a city-sponsored planning study that was approved last October. The timetable called for three community meetings in the second, third and fourth months of the project, with an outcome anticipated by six months.

JFK Health System, owners of the campus where Muhlenberg was shuttered in August 2008, had proposed 600 luxury apartments for the site in March 2012 and last year gained the backing of certain clergy in Plainfield. No sooner did the council approve the city study than JFK shut down the "Muhlenberg Moving Forward" web site describing the proposal for apartments and an enhanced emergency care facility. Blog commenters feared retaliation, JFK spokesman Adam Beder had no comment and not much more was heard on the subject.

Most recently, Assemblyman Jerry Green mentioned at a Democratic City Committee meeting that he knew of a developer who was interested in the campus. Green said he wants a medical facility there.

"That's my dream before I move on," Green said at the Friday meeting.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Two Meetings Thursday, Back-to-Back

Surprise! There are two meetings Thursday night.

I clicked on the city web site just now and saw there is a 7 p.m. budget presentation in addition to the 8 p.m. rescheduled City Council meeting. And they are in two different locations, several blocks apart, namely 400 East Front Street and 325 Watchung Avenue.

As a pedestrian, I wondered how long it would take to get from the first meeting to the second on foot, so I used Google maps and got this result:
Well, that was wrong. It points up why North Plainfield wants its own ZIP code or else why Google needs a tune-up. 

So then I tried the address of the Plainfield Police headquarters, which is part of the same building complex.
 Hmm... still a 10-minute walk. Too bad I don't own a Zippy or a Zappy.

This is one of those times that I wish teleportation or bi-location was one of my skills. It would not matter so much, except that budget matters are on the council agenda, so it would be good to know the administration's plans. 

(Hey, no smart remarks about brooms, please! )

Monday, March 17, 2014

ACA Help Here Wednesday and Next Week

Just because this information can be cut and pasted and is not some blankety-blank flier, I am posting it. I don't know why the city is not posting the dates on the city web site, if that's where they want people to get used to looking for important information, but whatever.


Plainfield, NJ – March 17, 2014 – Mayor Adrian Mapp has announced two information sessions on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for Plainfield residents in partnership with the Urban League of Union County. The sessions will provide information and offer on-site enrollment.

“This partnership with the Urban League of Union County provides a valuable service for Plainfielders without health insurance,” said Mapp. “With the registration deadline of March 31 rapidly approaching, we are reaching out to provide answers to questions about ACA and help those who would like to enroll.” The two sessions will be held at the Plainfield Public Library on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 
and Wednesday, March 26, 2014 from 6:00 pm – 8:45 pm. The session on the 19th  will offer an overview of ACA and a question and answer session with Clifton Alexander of the Urban League of Union County. Mr. Alexander is a Certified Marketplace Navigator. The second session on the 26th will offer on-site enrollment assistance.

“Over 120,000 New Jerseyans now have health care coverage through ACA, with many of those enrolled qualifying for federal assistance,” said Mapp. “These sessions are designed to help our residents answer the questions they may have about their options and to take advantage of the assistance that is available to them. Ultimately, ACA will help us achieve our goal of a healthier Plainfield.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What is the Budget Timetable?

Among nine new items on the agenda for Thursday's City Council meeting, three relate to the budget process.

One resolution is for a budget consultant, Government Strategy Group of New Providence, to assist the City Council at a cost not to exceed $7,500. Another is for introduction of the 2014 budget, a step that puts the administration's budget in the governing body's hands for review and amendment before a public hearing and final passage.

From the City Charter:
The council may increase, decrease, or eliminate any item in the executive budget for current operating expenses, except that it may not increase any item unless, upon separate motion as to each increase, 2/3 of the members of the council shall vote in favor thereof.

However, as noted in a previous post, there is also a resolution for budget appropriations that would supersede the one passed on Jan. 6 and provide for six months of city operations.

The question that may come to the minds of those who have observed the budget process in the past is whether the administration expects the budget process to go on until June, and if so, will a council review affect only the last six months of 2014?

The council in recent years has selected citizens to serve on a budget review committee, which takes part when the council calls on department and division heads to explain their budget requests and how they support goals for 2014. The committee also makes recommendations in a report to the council. I do not recall any names being confirmed so far to serve this year.

Now, I am at an age where some things escape me. I was trying to remember the four cardinal virtues earlier and at first only "fortitude" came to mind. Eventually I could recall all four: justice, temperance, prudence and fortitude. I also drew a blank yesterday on the name of the man who owned Archie's Resale Shop, a very quirky antique shop in Meyersville. From the murky depths the name of Archie Stiles floated up eventually. My point is, maybe I am missing something here in how all the cogs of the budget process will engage. I hope the council meeting Thursday will be enlightening

Last year, the budget was not passed until mid-June and the city required an emergency appropriation to operate the city in July. The 2011 change to a calendar year was supposed to aid in early budget passage, but it has been an elusive goal.


Police Accreditation: $6,000 or $86,342?

Once again, the City Council will be asked to approve spending more than $80,000 on an accreditation process for the Police Division. It appears that the accreditation is done by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police for $6,000 and the rest goes for consultant fees and software.

The money will come from a $405,946 forfeiture fund and the Union County Prosecutor's Office has approved the disbursement, but it still seems odd to me that the city would pay 14 times what other police departments have paid for accreditation. Silly me.

As noted on the resolution for Thursday's meeting, three of the costs will recur every year and must be accounted for in subsequent budgets. The total is $33,342 for those costs. In addition, accreditation is good for just three years, so will there be another $80,000 needed then to do it again? Also, the process alone does not guarantee a positive outcome, as noted in Edison's situation.

I could not find a list of allowable draw-downs from the forfeiture fund, but if more than $400,000 is in Plainfield's account, surely there should be some discussion of how other public safety needs might be met with those funds.

Forfeiture itself has gotten a bad rap at times. Law enforcement agencies can seize currency, vehicles and property connected to criminal activity. One prosecutor who excelled at such seizures was found to be abusing his power and committed suicide rather than face the consequences.

But when properly done, asset forfeiture serves both as a deterrent to criminal activity and a benefit to law enforcement agencies, as noted in an excerpt from the 2010 Union County Prosecutor's Office report:
Forfeiture actions promote major public policy objectives by encouraging property
owners to be more responsible with their property and deter them from using or allowing their
property to be used for, or in furtherance of, illegal activity. A corollary benefit is that the
forfeited property is distributed to the law enforcement agency or agencies that participated in
the investigation and seizure of the property. The forfeited property is to be utilized by the
seizing agency or agencies, solely, in furtherance of law enforcement purposes.
 In the calendar year 2010, the Seized Asset Forfeiture Unit opened 441 files, forfeited
$926,737.62 in United States currency, and 43 motor vehicles valued at $242,202.00, and other  26
forfeited property valued at $94,620.00 totaling $1,263,559.62 in total value of property

Administration Seeks Half-Year Budget

A bid for a temporary emergency budget that equals 50 percent of the last year's appropriations will be up for City Council approval Thursday.
Council receives budget resolution on Jan. 6
Typically, the city makes an initial three-month temporary appropriation to start the year and then may request monthly emergency appropriations until the budget is passed. The resolution to launch the budget for 2014 was presented to the council two hours and eleven minutes into the Jan. 6 reorganization and included a full year's cost for the mayor's office. (I was unable to attend the reorganization, but it is on YouTube under "Plainfield City Council Reorganization 2014" if you want to view it.)

 Despite the administration's explanation that it was allowable as long as the three-month appropriation overall did not exceed 26.5 percent of the previous year's budget, council members objected to the mayor's amount. Only after officials said failure to pass the measure would result in a shutdown of city operations and no payroll for employees did the council pass it, with a reduction from $188,000 to $94,000 for the mayor's office and a similar reduction for economic development.

The resolution for emergency temporary appropriations up for passage Thursday supersedes the Jan. 6 resolution and has 68.49 percent of the mayor's 2013 budget, or $70,000, for salary and wages and 77.27 percent, or $8,500, for other expenses. Most other categories are at 50 percent. The item is nearly last on the agenda and might provoke another discussion, although this time the resolution was in the packet provided to council members. On Jan. 6, the resolution was handed out on the spot, causing Council President Bridget Rivers to call for a recess so the governing body could look it over.

A possible complication of the 2014 budget process is the creation of new positions, such as "chief of staff." The council authorized the title and a salary range of up to $140,000 for 2014, but there is no specific line in the budget for the title. Several other titles that did not exist in 2013 will also have to be accommodated in the 2014 budget.

Overall, the agenda for Thursday has 50 resolutions, almost double the number on the March 10 agenda, due to new items and the addition of resolutions from the corporation counsel's office that had been discussed in closed session on March 3. The council meeting was rescheduled from March 10 to Thursday due to three council members and other officials being out of state at the National League of Cities conference. The meeting Thursday is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Avenue.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Dem Primary Slate: Toliver, Taylor, Eke

The Regular Democratic Organization's City Council ticket for the June 3 primary is Diane Brown Toliver for the First Ward, Gloria Taylor for the unexpired Third Ward term and Charles Eke for the Second & Third Ward at-large seat.

Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green announced the choices Friday at a city committee meeting in the YWCA. The RDO candidates and all others must file by 4 p.m. March 31 for the primary.

Toliver is running for the seat held by William Reid since December 2007. Reid announced Tuesday that he is not seeking re-election. She described herself as a wife, mother and businessperson for the past 27 years. Her goal, she said, is "to get Plainfield moving again."

"The past always brings the future," she said. "I say to you tonight that we have to get going."

Toliver said the city needs new ratables and economic development, affordable housing and crime prevention.

"I want to bring crime down in every ward, not just the First Ward," she said. "If we stand together and work together, we can be together."

Taylor is a retired educator and widow of the late Mayor Richard L. Taylor. She described herself as a "loyal Democrat" for the past 30 or 40 years.

"I feel I am in a position to give back," she said, adding she has known Green for 30 years.

"I'm loyal to Jerry Green, but guess what? Jerry Green is loyal to me," she said."If we disagree, it will be behind closed doors. That's what good Democrats do."

She said health care is a major issue in the Third Ward and gave Mayor Adrian O. Mapp credit for "attempting to do something."

Since 2008 when Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed, officials have been seeking a medical use for the 17-acre hospital campus that is in the Third Ward.

She also said she would address problems arising from use of the Kenyon Avenue soccer field, which attracts large numbers of players who affect the neighborhood. As a widow and single parent, she wants to stabilize taxes and she called for a close examination of the budget to "make sure we are not having too many people doing the same thing."

But she said, "The real issue is that we've got to re-brand Plainfield." an idea she said she "stole" from Newark politician Ras Baraka.

"No one's going to change our image but us," she said.

Taylor said the city has to get beyond an "us and them" mentality, which is bringing it down.

Charles Eke will have the party line for the Second & Third Ward at-large seat held now by incumbent Councilwoman Rebecca Williams. Eke has served on the Planning Board and briefly on the City Council as an appointee. He is currently an alternate on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority board of commissioners.

Eke said he would bring unity to the council.

"The interests of the citizens of Plainfield has to be number one," he said.

He pledged to work on more recreation and training for youth to deter crime and advocated a "mock council" for young people.

"I will stick to issues that benefit Plainfield," he said. "I will do my best."

Green also invited Williams to speak. She traced her long political involvement, organizing campaigns for numerous council members. On the Muhlenberg issue, she said, "The people have spoken - they do not want 600 apartments."

She said she felt the current investigation of the PMUA should go through and there should be some reforms. Citing a $1 million settlement for former officials, she called it a "backroom deal" and said she was upset that workers are being impacted by it.

On crime, she said she has served as chair of the council's public safety committee and now works with the new chair, Councilwoman Tracey Brown.

"I always truly do put Plainfield first," she said.

Williams recently announced a Third Ward running mate, Charles McRae. Though they will not be on the party line on June 3, she said, "That's what primaries are for - for the people to make a choice."

On Your Mark, Political Prognosticators!

The filing date for the June primary is still more than two weeks away, but meanwhile there is nothing so delicious to Plainfielders as indulging in political speculation.

Will the Regular Dems see a challenge from some irregular Dems? Will SRB run for council? Will Jerry sing G-L-O-R-I-A or some other tune?

Part of the mystery will be cleared up Friday when the Democratic City Committee meets to endorse a slate. All will be known by 4 p.m. on March 31, the deadline for petitions to be handed in to the city clerk.

What we know so far:

Third Ward Councilwoman Gloria Taylor announced her candidacy at the Cedarbrook Block Association meeting on March 6. Appointed after former Third Ward Councilman won the mayoralty, Taylor is running for the unexpired balance of Mapp's term.

Incumbent Councilwoman Rebecca Williams also announced her candidacy for re-election to the Second & Third Ward at-large seat at the same meeting, and introduced the group's vice-president, Charles McRae, as her Third Ward running mate. She has promised an "excellent candidate" on her team to run in the First Ward, but has not yet disclosed a name.

Diane Toliver, wife of former PMUA Commissioner Alex Toliver, announced her candidacy for the First Ward seat on Feb. 10, before a council vote that replaced her husband on the PMUA board with Charles Tyndale.

On Tuesday, incumbent First Ward Councilman William Reid announced at a PMUA meeting that he was not seeking re-election. Reid was there to present Toliver with a resolution thanking him for his service on the PMUA, but then made a rambling speech about numerous other topics. He reminded all present that the Democratic City Committee was meeting on Friday, which may have been redundant, as PMUA Commissioners Harold Mitchell, Malcolm Dunn, Carol Ann Brokaw and Cecil Sanders are all on the committee and probably had been notified by then.

Democrats now outnumber Republicans more than 14 to 1, so all eyes are on the June primary where a Democratic win is historically tantamount to success in the November general election. Independents can file on June 3 to be on the November ballot and can hope for support from the city's more than 8,000 unaffiliated registered voters and any party members they can attract.

Yikes! It's already Friday now! The RDO meeting is 7 p.m. at the YWCA tonight.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Zoners Hear Mixed Bag of Cases

Four new members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment got a crash course in land use rules when the board heard several unusual applications on March 5.

Jim Spear, Mary Burgwinkle, Rich Sudol and Charles McRae were named to the board  in January, joining Chairman D. Scott Belin, Vice Chairman Alex Ruiz and members Melvin Cody, Robert K. Graham and Frank Johnson. All but Graham and Johnson were present on March 5.

The Queen City Charter School was up first, ostensibly to seek permission to remove an eight-foot chain link fence and replace a banner on the school, but the application unraveled when director Danielle West made an impassioned speech about not wanting to pay the cost of a new fence and sign. She said the estimated $30,000 tab was "too much" and she didn't want to take the money from "students' mouths."

The chain link fence had been cited  by Zoning Officer Bill Nierstedt as not a permitted use and the banner did not conform to city codes. The charter school at West Eighth Street and Grant Avenue had agreed to replace the chain link fence with a six-foot ornamental fence and the banner with a sign that exceeded size regulations.

But as the board and an attorney for the applicant discussed how to settle the case, West continued to protest the cost and her desire keep the eight-foot fence, which was in place when the school acquired the former Temple Sholom about 10 years ago. The banner, which Belin called "a big red eyesore," was needed to cover up religious symbols carved into the side of the building. The school's business administrator, Michael Derderian, said filling in the carved symbols and lettering would not work and they had to be covered up. The proposed new sign would be aluminum with vinyl lettering but exceeded the permitted size.

West said she previously agreed to the changes, but told the board that when she saw how much the school would have to expend, "I advocated for my students."

With no agreement in sight that evening, Nierstedt said the school could come back with an amended application in April or May and the Queen City representatives decided to withdraw the one before the board.

Next up, Dawn to Dusk Christian Child Care & Learning Center sought approval to expand the existing day care center with one additional classroom for 15 children. In zoning parlance, they were asking for a use variance, relief from parking requirements and preliminary and final site plan approval. The center had received a use variance in 2007 for accommodating 120 children, but was only using space for 105. Now that funding for the additional classroom was in place, the center was able to expand.

As an Abbott district, Plainfield receives funding for pre-school education. Director Kemi Keyede explained that the district was losing two providers, which freed up funding for her center. In addition, she said the school board gets cited if it does not have enough classrooms to serve mandated students.

The board discussed how the building at 1500-1512 would be altered to add the new classroom. Burgwinkle said she had driven by the school several times to observe the parking situation and noted there were no markings where parents pull up. The board agreed to approve the new classroom and to require  the markings.

Besides the zoning issues, it came out in testimony that the presence of the center had changed the neighborhood for the better by driving away drug activity in and around Rushmore Park. (The presence of a school brings additional legal penalties to anyone dealing or using drugs.) Operating from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the center also benefits working parents.

Cody, a longtime member and official of the Rushmore Avenue Block Association, said the center had brought "a large improvement" to the neighborhood and was "really a blessing to the city of Plainfield."

Belin said he grew up in the neighborhood and had seen it change over the years.

"Now it's changing for the better," he said.

Parent Mahmoud Assaf said his three children attended the school and it had "cleaned the neighborhood" with its presence. He also applauded the center's goal of retaining the early childhood funding.

The third application on March 5 was for a "certificate of nonconformity" for retail/commercial use at a building in the North Avenue Historic District. Daniel Rivera and Mario Camino and their attorney, Jay Bohn, were able to use architectural documents from the city and Plainfield Public Library's archive to prove that the building at 130-32 North Avenue had a commercial use on the first floor and six apartments on three upper floors. Bohn used permits from 1939, 1940, 1977, 2002 and 2004 to prove the point.

It turned out the Belin had been inside the building in the 1980s and knew about the apartments. After testimony on the continued use, Spear said, "I think the man's made his case."

After that relatively easy approval, the board ended  up with a real puzzler in a "zoning interpretation" for 430-432 West Second Street. As zoning officer, Nierstedt had issued a violation notice for outdoor storage when there was no main structure. Outdoor storage without a building is not a permitted use, Nierstedt told the board.

But attorney Robert Ferb, representing Venus and Al Hannah, said the building they bought in 1974 was destroyed and not restored. The outdoor storage consists of a tow truck, a garage and a container. The Hannahs are in litigation with the city over ownership, as they said they paid back taxes, but the city had not returned the title. Ferb said the Hannahs intend to rebuild but have to wait for the dispute with the city to be settled.

Board attorney Peter Vignuolo cautioned against making a ruling based on an individual case.

"If the board makes an interpretation, it will apply globally to the city," he said.

"We need to find a remedy, but not an interpretation," Belin said as the hearing wore on.

Ferb suggested the garage had an auto shop that might be considered a principal use, but Nierstedt said it had to be based on ownership.

"Should I actually be issuing a violation to the city?" Nierstedt asked.

"A city is not subject to its own zoning," Vignuolo said.

After more discussion, Belin said, "The client needs to do research. We need to do research. I really don't think it's an interpretation."

With no clarity on how to proceed, the matter was carried to the April 2 meeting.

Both new and old members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment will be able to bone up further on land use regulations and issues at a joint meeting of Zoning and Planning boards, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Shade Tree Commission. The meeting is 9 a.m. Saturday in City Hall Library and is open to the public as well.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Joint Board Meeting Saturday

This is a good thing:

PLEASE TAKE NOTE that the City of Plainfield Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Historic Preservation Commission and Shade Tree Commission will hold a special joint meeting on Saturday March 15, 2014 at 9:00 a.m., in the City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ at which time they will review the city master plan, land use regulations, and the roles of the boards. No formal action is expected to be taken.

All documents pertaining to these matters are available for public inspection at the Division of Planning and Community Development, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. For further assistance please call (908) 753-3391.

Camino's Quest for Plainfield

When developer Mario Camino asked downtown merchants what they need most to succeed, the answer from many was "parking."

With plans to convert a former Park Avenue bank building to residential and office use, Camino foresaw the same problem for himself. His proposed solution? A six-story deck on what is now a city lot, yielding nearly six times the number of parking spaces. The 150,000-square foot structure would cost about $52 per square foot for Lego-like prefabricated construction and could be funded partially through a parking authority that would have the power to issue bonds for the project.
Parking deck as viewed from North Avenue train station
Since deciding to focus on development in Plainfield, Camino has delved into reasons why it has stalled in recent years and is schooling himself and his team on how to navigate the land use boards that will govern his plans. He and partner Daniel Rivera have their sights on a bright future for the city and are taking the new Raritan Valley Line "one-seat" ride to Manhattan as a positive sign.

"The timing is right," Rivera said Tuesday as he and Camino discussed their plans with Plaintalker.

The conversation slipped from an interview to a general chat about Plainfield and Camino's many innovative ideas. For one, he would like to buy up the whole block where his building stands at 107 Park Avenue, in order to bring about a coherent approach to revitalizing the downtown. The East Front Street side, between Park and Watchung  avenues, is the core of the downtown business district. He expects to attract investors and create a broad-based buy-in of his plans through a web site,

Camino will use all aspects of social media to advance his goals, including crowd-funding.

Camino said he will use gofundme to raise a match for his personal outlay to restore "The Queen's Courtyard" behind the former bank building. An amenity created by Queen City Savings, the landscaped passageway from Municipal Parking Lot 6 to East Front Street that was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy.

Up until recently, Camino's Arkad Group Real Estate Corporation has focused on residential property, but its Facebook page now includes his commercial plans for Plainfield. He invites investors through and also has a personal Facebook page replete with motivational sayings and cheery messages from his supporters.

Camino and Rivera have met with city planning staff and are well aware of the municipal land use and transit-oriented development rules they will have to meet for their new ventures.

"Is it a challenge? Yes," Camino said, but added, "Doors are opening. People who care about the town see what we are trying to do."

Soon to become a Plainfield himself with purchase of a home on West Eighth Street, Camino said, "We're ambitious, we're young and we're here to stay."


Monday, March 10, 2014

Jackson Files for Mayor in Trenton

Eric Jackson

Plainfield's director of Public Works & Urban Development was among candidates who met a filing deadline today in Trenton to run for mayor in the May 13 election.

It was no secret to many here, as Jackson has been campaigning for several months in Trenton.

Jackson narrowly missed becoming mayor in 2010. The winner, Tony Mack, was found guilty last month of bribery, fraud and extortion.

Since becoming a department head in Plainfield in October 2011, Jackson oversaw a transformation of City Hall and its grounds and gained the regard of many residents for his leadership of the department. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who took office Jan. 1, named Jackson to serve in his administration in the same role and the City Council approved the nomination.

Asked last week whether it was true that Jackson was stepping down on Friday as department head, Mapp said Jackson was taking an unpaid leave for personal reasons that had nothing to do with Trenton politically. Mapp said City Administrator Rick Smiley would be acting department head, in addition to being in charge of day-to-day operations of the city, until Jackson returns.


PMUA Meets Tuesday

Hey PMUA fans! Your favorite solid waste and sewer authority meets tomorrow with budgets for both operations up for passage!

I thought I was having a slow week, but then through the miasma in my brain caused by multiple snowstorms came the thought - if this is the second week of the month, there must be a PMUA meeting. At least this month I won't have to deal with arctic air or frozen precip (weather slang).

The meeting is 6 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Avenue and here is the agenda for your perusal. If I am remembering rightly, budget passage may bring news about rates, which were held at 2013 levels for the first quarter of this year. See you there!


About the Beautification Committee

To the person who wants to see a new effort to keep the city beautiful and clean, here's how it might start:

Sec. 3:2-1.    Beautification Committee, functions.

    (a)     Within the Department of Public Works there shall be established a Beautification Committee, the functions of which shall be:
        (1)     To render advice to the Mayor,  City Administrator, the Council, and Director of the Department of Public Works concerning the regulation, planting, care and control of shade and ornamental trees, shrubbery and other landscaping upon and in the streets, highways, public places, parks and parkways within the City;
        (2)     To recruit and direct organizational and individual interest in and support for the esthetic improvement of the City;
        (3)     To provide a vehicle for continuity of the beautification and anti-litter effort in the City; and
        (4)     To provide a coordinating agency for successful organizational corporate and individual beautification efforts within the City.
    (b)     The Beautification Committee shall consist of not more than forty (40) members to be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council.  They shall serve for terms concurrent with that of the Mayor appointing them.  From the membership, the Mayor shall annually designate a chairman and four (4) additional members to serve on  an executive sub-committee of the Beautification Committee.  The executive subcommittee alone shall have the power to authorize the expenditure of budgeted funds, the requisition for which shall be signed by the chairman.  Each project shall be approved by the Director of the Department of Public Works after authorization by the Beautification Committee.
    (c)     The Beautification Committee may receive, turn over to the City Comptroller for administration and  investment by  the  City  as  provided by Chapter 2, and disburse for stipulated purposes such funds as may be donated to the City for the advancement of specific projects or the general purposes of the Committee.

(A.C. 1969, 7.9, as amended May 5, 1969 and Jan. 19, 1970)

Women's History: Barbara Sandford

Women's History Month
Barbara Sandford as Aunty Litter
Barbara Tracy Sandford devoted much of her life to the beautification of Plainfield. She portrayed "Aunty Litter" in parades to promote anti-litter campaigns and guided innumerable plantings of flowers and shrubs around the city, both as a member of the Plainfield Garden Club and the city's Beautification Committee. She also fought against billboards that marred the beauty of local roads. The club now has an extensive archive on her life and work which all may view (click here). She was an inspiration to all of us on the newly-formed Shade Tree Commission in recent years and serves as an example to all who want to keep the Queen City clean and beautiful.

Life Can Be So Sweet ...

I have been trying to post a report on interesting items from Wednesday's Board of Adjustment meeting, but every day brings some distraction and I just haven't got it together.

Meanwhile, may I suggest another topic?

Walking home from PNC Bank Sunday, I encountered one of the lingering effects of the snowstorms - a section of sidewalk near the Park Avenue railroad overpass that was still a sheet of ice. I chose to step into the street rather than risk (and fail) an impromptu bone density test.

It points up the need for special attention to shady spots where ice resists melting. We have a stretch of our driveway that only gets brief sun in the morning and late afternoon, so ice simply remains long after the rest of the driveway is clear. I chipped ice several times, but had to salt it every time a plow or cars left slush that froze.
The image above is the Park Avenue ice patch. I was not the only one who decided it was better to dodge traffic in the street than slip on the sidewalk.
 This image shows why the ice isn't melting - no sunshine.

Take some musical advice and "just direct your feet" to the Sunny Side of the Street.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reader Says City Photos Flout Flag Rules

A reader suggests that without the need for a council preview, I could fill the space with a blog post on proper flag display.

Specifically, the reader refers to portraits of officials on the city web site.

"How about doing a column on display of the American Flag. The Mayors picture on the City website has the flags improperly displayed as do the Council pictures.

The American Flag should be on the Mayors right audience left and the State flag should be on the Mayors left audience right.

Usually the Vets see this right away."

Councilman William Reid
This photo was done last year and was credited to DuCret School of Art. The flag is properly displayed.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor
This photo and others done this year show the U.S. flag on the viewer's right, which according to the federal code is incorrect. The other flag in the City Hall Library is one with the city seal and it is incorrectly positioned on the viewer's left. I don't know who took the photos of the mayor and council to which the reader refers.

Here is a proper photo of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp that is posted on the "Mayor's Corner" link on the city web site:

The one on the home page is incorrect:

For a full summary of flag display rules with instructive images, click here 
The rules uphold the commenter's point that the flag should be on the viewer's left and any other flag should be seen on the right. Whoever took the incorrect photos should do them over properly, as violation of flag rules is offensive to veterans and citizens at large..


Bloggers' Holiday

Monday's City Council meeting will be rescheduled to March 20 due to council members' attendance at a National League of Cities conference in Washington, D.C. from March 8 to 12. Bloggers will neither have to pester the Reference librarian at Plainfield Public Library for the packet nor to hear one more thing about Legal Shield Monday.

Considering that the council members agreed to attendance at the conference on Jan. 27, it seems to me they could have planned accordingly and not rescheduled so late. People who have an interest in business that was to be conducted Monday, or who wanted to comment on items from the March 3 agenda-fixing session before they come up for a vote, may not see a last-minute legal notice over the weekend.

When asked on Jan. 27 who wanted to go, several of the seven council members raised their hands, prompting this writer to ask during public comment whether the speakerphone could handle it. The use of the speakerphone for participation of members not present has become increasingly common, but not for more than two at a time.

The council will also reschedule to March 20 an advertised public hearing on the Comcast franchise renewal.

Those who will be attending the conference are Councilwomen Vera Greaves and Gloria Taylor and Council President Bridget Rivers.





       MARCH 7, 2014.