Thursday, July 31, 2014

Remembering Margot Adler

It was with great sadness that I heard of Margot Adler's passing at age 68 on Monday.

As the author of "Drawing Down the Moon," she did a lot, in my opinion, to explain and document the interest in pagan spirituality that emerged in the late 20th century. She was a mainstay at WBAI before becoming a reporter for NPR.

Her outlook on life was one of curiosity. She embraced the cycles of nature and seemed to retain the delight in discovery that too many of us lose as adults.

If you don't know of her and her work, see more here.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Google and Ye Shall Find - Netherwood Pointe

I have been sticking close to home while recovering from surgery, but people have been asking what is going on down on South Avenue with the new construction. I planned to get over there and take some photos, but meanwhile I looked online and found some timely and interesting information.

Number one, there is an open house at Netherwood Pointe on Aug. 3.

Number two, there is a nice brochure online. See the Netherwood Pointe brochure here.

These are rental units and occupancy is expected this fall.

Now as for the deconstruction right across from the train station, I am still in the dark and will have to find out more.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seven Seek Three BOE Seats in November

Candidates for the Nov. 4 school board election include one incumbent seeking re-election, a 2013 contender trying again and five first-time participants.

The seven candidates are vying for three three-year seats. Winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2015.

Incumbent Dorien Hurtt is completing an extended term caused by the switch from April to November elections in 2012. He and fellow 2011 winners Jameelah Surgeon and Alex Edache are the last group to have an extra eight months added to their three-year terms. Surgeon and Edache are not seeking re-election.

David Rutherford came in fifth out of six candidates last year, though his running mates Wilma Campbell and Frederick Moore both won. Since then, Rutherford has gained visibility with his blog, Plainfield View, where on Monday he announced his reasons for running again. He is on a slate with Terrence S. Bellamy Sr. and Carletta B. Jeffers.

Other candidates are Norman E. Ortega, an original member of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs; Michael Horn, who served on the 2014 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee; and Tania Center, who is listed on the Stillman School roster as a teacher.


Remembering Shirley Rutherford

In lieu of a Plaintalker post today, I suggest you read David Rutherford's post on why he blogs.

It is a very touching piece having to do with mentorship and encouragement by his grandmother to write. It made me think of the unconditional support I received as a young person from my Aunt Kay, who subscribed to my high school newspaper even though she lived far away in Pennsylvania. I had a column in the paper that one year was recognized by the Scholastic Press Association as best in the state.

My own recollection of David's grandmother, Shirley Rutherford, was that she engineered a near-coup of Plainfield political leadership many years ago. As I recall, the Democratic City Committee at the time had 84 seats, a male and female for each of the 42 voting districts. (Through lack of voter turnout, the number has since dwindled to 34 districts and 68 members).

Party leader Jerry Green did not normally fill every seat, possibly because a smaller committee was easier to control. With Shirley Rutherford's organizing skills, Harold Mitchell filed a full slate. The value of having all committee seats filled was that the committee chose the party chairman at the reorganization.

Mitchell had enough votes to take the chairmanship, but made up with Green, who seldom thereafter filed less than a full slate of committee nominees.

If I have any points wrong in this story, please feel free to correct me, but that's the way I remember it. Green seemed surprised if not stunned by this political bolt from the blue and, I think, learned a lesson not to take power for granted.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Eid Mubarak

Greetings to all our friends and neighbors
who are celebrating Eid al-Fitr!

Eid Mubarak!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mayor Holds Town Meeting Thursday

Given the fiscal situation he inherited upon taking office on Jan. 1, I hope Mayor Adrian O. Mapp will devote part of his "Mid-Year Update" to describe some of the ways his administration has improved the city's bottom line, including special tax lien sales and re-purposing unused .bond funds for road repairs.

If you plan to attend the Town Meeting (7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Senior Center, 400 E. Front St.), you may also want to get an update on the Muhlenberg study or learn more about the status of  negotiations with the city's numerous bargaining units.

Maybe your issue is holdovers on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority or whether the ShotSpotter program is still in effect.

Development seems to be on the rise - perhaps the public can have a quick summary on that topic. And what's going on with the Comcast franchise renewal process?

If your issue is more particular to your neighborhood, you can also sign up to meet with the mayor at one of his regular Wednesday sessions, 6 to 8 p.m. in his City Hall Office. 


Rivers Voices Support for Economic Development

Mayor Adrian Mapp, Council President Bridget Rivers
At Friday's groundbreaking for Landmark's Art Lofts project, City Council President Bridget Rivers was among the speakers. 

Standing with Councilwomen Gloria Taylor and Vera Greaves, Rivers said, "We like the groundbreaking, but we are looking forward to the ribbon-cutting."

The project on the site where Romond's Garage formerly stood will bring 20 apartments, retail space and an outdoor dining and entertainment venue to Gavett Place and East Second Street, across from the main train station.
Rivers and others hailed the new construction as proof that the city is on the move with development.

"Plainfield can and will be a successful model," Rivers said.

Development in the city is "based on an economic plan that is feasible for all residents," she said.
The event was taped for later viewing on PCTV Channels 74 and 96. Other speakers included developer Frank Cretella, Mayor Adrian Mapp and Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez.

Rivers said the governing body "will give strong consideration to every economic development project in the city of Plainfield."

While most approvals come through the various land use boards, the council is called on to show support when a developer is seeking certain forms of funding and also is involved when a project includes conveyance of city-owned land. A past example is The Monarch on East Front Street, where a senior center and veteran's center were constructed along with 63 condos on a city plot. At present, the council is involved in deciding on conveyance of two city-owned parcels to the Housing Authority for residential development.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Ground Broken for New, Five-Story Building

Frank Cretella
Plainfield's most ambitious developer says his enthusiasm for the Queen City is starting to be shared by an important faction - lenders.

"Two years ago, you could not get a construction loan," he said as officials gathered on Gavett Place to break ground for his five-story Art Lofts project.

Receiving financing for new, ground-up construction "says a lot," Cretella said.
The building will have 20 apartments on three upper floors and retail space below, with a courtyard and amphitheater for outdoor events, just across the street from the main train station.
Cretella's company, Jersey City-based Landmark Developers, has nearly a dozen Plainfield projects in its pipeline, some of which were pictured at the groundbreaking. The largest envisions 148 apartments on West Front Street and will also be new construction.

Meanwhile, Cretella has rehabilitated several downtown properties on North Avenue and Park Avenue, garnering approvals not only from Planning and Zoning boards but also from the Historic Preservation Commission, as several are in the city's original downtown, the North Avenue Historic District.

Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez, who is now in charge of economic development in the city, recognized several land use board members who attended and praised their work.

"Board members are the key to getting projects moved," he said.

Sanchez also had kind words for Cretella's tenacity through past years. Besides the economic ups and downs, Plainfield had developed a reputation as a tough town to get things done. Having known Cretella in those days and hearing of his interest in the city, he recalled asking Cretella, "Are you sure?"

The answer was clear.
Carlos Sanchez, Frank Cretella
"He came here and he made a commitment not only to invest, " but to stay, Sanchez said. "He's here for us for the long haul."

Mayor Adrian Mapp, who took office on Jan. 1, said of the groundbreaking, "This is what we have been working for. This is what Plainfield needs."

Mapp envisioned people getting off the train and stopping to eat at one of Cretella's proposed restaurants with outdoor seating, and maybe shopping as well..

"We want to encourage people in our downtown," Mapp said.

He also acknowledged developer Mario Camino, who purchased the nearby former First Atlantic Bank and is renovating it to be headquarters for his company, Arkad Group.
 A banner that could be seen from the groundbreaking site promotes Plainfield and Camino's enthusiastic web site.

Mapp also hailed the expansion of Union County College to the former Thul site as another good omen.
Councilwoman Vera Greaves, Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott-Bey, Council President Bridget Rivers, Mayor Mapp, Frank Cretella, Planning Director William Nierstedt.
Officials including Mapp, Planning Director William Nierstedt and others lined up for the obligatory photo op with ceremonial shovels in dirt.

Cretella's company has developed its own promotional blog, named for "Plainfield Downtown." Besides information on the company, the blog has features on local eateries, personalities, cultural highlights and Plainfield history. Take a look!

(Click on any image above to enlarge and see a slide show)


Telling Plainfield's Story

While I was in the hospital last month, my daughter Audrey decided to tidy up my small apartment. The process unearthed some long-forgotten items, one being a green folder with receipts for my free-lance work 30 years ago for a local weekly newspaper.

The obvious next step was to get rid of such old stuff and yesterday I went through the folder and shredded most of the contents. Among my thoughts: Did I really do all that on top of my day job? I covered council meetings, interviewed local merchants and personalities, highlighted cultural events and overall just tried to reflect the liveliness of Plainfield in the early 1980s.

Eventually, working at the weekly became my day-and-night job. It took many long hours each week to produce the newspaper. The owners were able to attract an eclectic bunch of contributors, including a well-known financial analyst and a writer who later became an expert on everything Apple. The work was hard, but it was exciting and, to hear the amount of laughter going on, you would think we were having the time of our lives.

Things broke down later, in part because of a situation that left me missing a whole year of earnings on my Social Security statement. It took me four years to get it straightened out and the necessary confrontation with the owners poisoned our relationship. I left, the newspaper's format changed to a regional one, but by then I had begun free-lancing for the Courier News.

The green folder also contained some old checks that added to the impression of lively times. At least three independent bookstores and an art gallery were represented in those checks, along with a venture that became part of many celebrations - does anyone remember Culinary Hearts and its exceptional cakes? The store was on Somerset Street in North Plainfield, but it was the creation of a Plainfield woman.

The green folder is now empty, but my mind is full of thoughts about those days. Did I really get to interview Pegeen Fitzgerald at Questover? Jon Bramnick was on the Plainfield City Council then and now there is speculation that he might run for governor. The way we had to make a newspaper - pasting up copy and taking the pages down Route 22 to a printer - sounds antiquated in these digital times.

Plainfield still has stories to tell, except now the griots tend to be bloggers. I'm glad to be one of them.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Passing Time Until Better Days

Chinese Forget-me-not

I got home from the hospital on June 24, but have yet to attend any meetings since then. So far I have missed two council meetings, a PMUA meeting, Planning Board and Historic Preservation Commission meetings and several events.

My month-long prohibition on lifting or carrying things is up, but I still ask my son to pull up the garage door. On a lot of days, I don't get any further than the yard and I have yet to take the bus to Westfield to go shopping.

This is all very frustrating to me, but I guess I have to put up with it until I get stronger.

The upside is that I had time to read a very good (and lengthy) biography of John Updike by Adam Begley, and several other books. I have been able to indulge my interest in collecting seeds, even though the garden is a rank mess from lack of care. I took note of the first fireflies and the first cicada. 

Audrey recommends binge-watching "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix to pass the time. Meanwhile, I just bought a 1,000-yard ball of No. 10 crochet thread and a new size 7 steel hook for the purpose of crocheting snowflakes. Hmmm. On second thought, maybe the snowflakes can wait. Bingeing sounds better.

Note: In light of what is going on around the world, I know this all sounds trivial. Believe me, I know.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

File Monday for School Board

 Candidates must file by 4 p.m. Monday for Plainfield's third November school board election.

Formerly held in April, the annual school board election was moved by a City Council vote in 2012 over objections of school board members who felt the board should have decided whether to make the decision. Legislation establishing the four-year trial gave either body the right to move the election. The move had the effect of adding eight months to the three-year terms of incumbents, ending in December instead of May. If, as the legislation allows, the elections are moved back to April after four years, those in office will serve less than the traditional three years.

 The change took place in a presidential election year and did garner many more votes for school board candidates than in April elections. Because of Superstorm Sandy, many voters opted for alternate means of voting and results, though delayed, reflected the difference. The top BOE vote-getter in 2012 received over 4,400 votes, but by 2013 the highest tally was just 2,500.

Each year, three three-year seats are up, plus any unexpired terms caused by a member resigning or otherwise vacating his or her term. Last year, Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green announced his school board slate in June as  ”a black female, a Latino (sic), and a white male gay.” They were named as Deborah Clarke, Anabella Melgar and Richard Lear. A competing slate included Board President Wilma Campbell, Frederick Moore Sr. and David Rutherford. Campbell, Clarke and Moore won.

So far, no public announcements of slates or individual candidacies have been made.

Interest in school board elections has varied widely since the city changed from an appointed to an elected board. In 2010, 10 candidates filed for three seats and four more filed for an unexpired term. In 2011, only four people filed for three seats. It has happened that the roster fell short of three candidates and the county superintendent had to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. On Monday, candidates must file at the Union County Clerk's Office. Information for candidates is posted here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Birthday to George Clinton!

 Audrey sends greetings to Plainfield on the occasion of George Clinton's 73rd birthday, noted in Seattle by Kevin Cole of radio station KEXP. Here is a video she sent.

HAP Board Meets on Disputed Ordinance

So the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners will meet in closed session tonight to discuss the ordinance passed by the City Council last week despite Executive Director Randall Wood's plea to withdraw it. Wouldn't I like to be a fly on the wall at that meeting!



This is the latest twist in the tangled web of intrigue around two city-owned lots on the block currently dominated by the Pueblo Viejo nightclub.
Click image to enlarge

The small lot at lower right was once destined to have 12 condos built on it, but the plan never materialized.
The fenced-in lot has a view to the east of the Park-Madison parking deck.
The other lot is a little-used municipal parking lot that occupies the corner of West Second Street and Central Avenue, spreading north to West Front Street. Last winter, it was mostly bare except for a Pueblo Viejo trailer.
The two lots appear to be a tight squeeze for the 86 apartments the Housing Authority projected at an October conceptual hearing before the Planning Board.
A discussion on conveying the lots to the Housing Authority was on the City Council's agenda in March, but was dropped. The matter appeared again as a discussion item this month, but somehow a full-fledged ordinance had been prepared for council approval. The ordinance was moved to the regular council meeting on July 14 and passed, 4-2, despite a letter from Wood requesting that it be withdrawn. In his letter, Wood states, "My intention was to introduce a draft Ordinance to the Council Members for consideration, advice and consent only."

Well, consideration is one thing and "advice and consent" implies action. There is more confusing language in the letter, which no doubt was part of a July 11 discussion involving Wood, Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez and City Administrator Rick Smiley. Sanchez spoke at the July 14 meeting to corroborate Wood's desire to withdraw the ordinance, but Councilman William Reid alleged he had spoken to Wood just prior to the meeting and Wood wanted the ordinance to go forward.

Council President Bridget Rivers took the stance that the ordinance, having been moved to the regular meeting agenda, was now out of the Housing Authority's purview. The moral of the story for Wood might be to be sure of what the Housing Authority intends before putting it on the hook for action in the first place.

The next regular City Council meeting is on Aug. 18 and a notice has already been published announcing a public hearing and vote for final passage on second reading for the ordinance, MC 2014-16. Can this juggernaut be stopped? Stay tuned.


Monday, July 21, 2014

A Different World Today for News

It will be 11 years on Aug. 1 since I retired from the Courier News. Since then, the delivery of news has been completely transformed, whether for better or worse is debatable.

The thump of the print newspaper on the front porch used to be the signal event for finding out what was new in the world. No more - the "news" comes at us now from many directions, more immediate than ever, so that what appears in print has already been heard and viewed many times over.

Curiously, as the capacity to deliver news has expanded with digital devices, some might say the content has shriveled, especially locally. Routine coverage of school and governmental news is a thing of the past. News with a "staff report" attribution is usually not gathered by news staff, but is a press release or reader-submitted item. Waves of buyouts and layoffs have thinned actual newsroom staff to skeletal proportions. Reporters now must also be photographers and videographers to feed the "digital platform" as newspapers continually try to reinvent themselves.

The array of news gatherers now includes bloggers and many small online operations that compete with the so-called "legacy media" for advertising revenue. Meanwhile, the personal news of one's family and friends on social media is often of higher interest than what is happening in the larger world.

I have no particular point to make in offering these observations. I don't even see any trends in the chaotic world of news delivery. It is simply amazing to me to see these changes in just a decade or so. Any comments?


Sunday, July 20, 2014

HAP-py, the City Council Rendition

A quirk in the City Council calendar leaves nearly a month's hiatus until the next meeting, an agenda-fixing session on Aug. 11. Council watchers will have plenty of time to ponder or recover from the somewhat bizarre events of July, including passage of an ordinance conveying city-owned property to the Housing Authority.

The ordinance, MC 2014-16, passed on first reading at the July 14 regular meeting despite Housing Authority Executive Director Randall Wood's expressed desire to have it withdrawn. Council President Bridget Rivers reasoned that the ordinance, having been moved to the agenda, belonged to the governing body and that Wood had no more right to seek its withdrawal than the council would have to affect items on the Housing Authority's agenda for any of its meetings.

To further complicate matters, while Wood had asked in writing for its removal and Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez confirmed Wood's stand as per a July 11 meeting with the administration, Councilman William Reid said he had spoken to Wood just before the July 14 council meeting and had been assured that Wood wanted the ordinance to go forward. Reid noted Wood's absence at the regular meeting and opined that if Wood objected, he would be present to say so.

I could not attend the meeting, but thanks to David Rutherford, the segment on MC 2014-16 was posted on Plainfield View for all to see. Reid said it could be amended before coming up for a public hearing and final passage on Aug. 18, so not to worry about the council pushing it through on first reading.

The text of the ordinance as passed on July 14 includes several conditions, mainly having to do with the Housing Authority proving it can swing the deal financially. There must be a "memorandum of understanding," or MOU, in place showing the Housing Authority and/or the Plainfield Community Development Corporation's commitment to secure financing for the acquisition of the city-owned property. Failure to secure financing in effect kills the deal.

In addition, the ordinance gives the mayor authorization to execute the necessary "Purchase and Sale Agreement, Deed or Lease" to convey the property. The ordinance may be vetoed by the mayor, though the council can override the veto.

In the midst of all this, the city is seeing a change in the office of Corporation Counsel. The individual now representing both the council and administration in legal matters is Vernita Sias-Hill. Former Corporation Counsel David Minchello is staying on as city solicitor, while also serving as the new acting city attorney for Trenton under Mayor Eric Jackson.

The Charter Study Commission has confirmed the difficulties of having one legal representative serving both the governing body and the administration, but change will come only through action by the state Legislature, so Sias-Hill will have to deal with both branches on this issue.

Among other mysteries associated with conveyance of the city-owned properties known as Block 247, Lots 7 and 9, the ordinance mentions only HAP and the PCDC, but other entities were named at a conceptual hearing on the proposal for use of the land in OctoberHow do they fit in currently? In addition, another developer floated plans for the site.  Should that group be given any consideration?

The July 14 council meeting was nearly four hours long, another reason to be glad for a break before the next one. Must these meetings be so long? For the viewing public, it's the equivalent of binge-watching four episodes of a favorite show, but probably not as much fun. Recent commenters on the blogs have pleaded for the council to stick to business and leave off the extraneous speeches on other matters. Can it happen? Will it happen in 2014? We shall see.


Friday, July 18, 2014

A New Chance for Park & Seventh?

Mario Camino's news that he had acquired this building at Park & Seventh brought on a wave of nostalgia for me.

I remembered the days when people worked there and would cross the street to have lunch at the Pickwick Deli. A mother and daughter ran the deli when I first encountered it. Later Lamar Mackson Sr. owned it. I don't have the timeline straight, but the bustle at Park & Seventh then is wrapped up in my mind with the days when Macy's was still open downtown and the Plainfield Public Library was open on Sundays. A person could go to church, do a bit of shopping downtown and still have time to browse for books at the library.

There were art galleries downtown, along with hat shop windows full of millinery marvels. The radio station WERA was in the Atlas Building at 120 West Seventh Street and so was the "little bank," a branch of United Trust on Arlington Avenue.

Those days are gone, but the acquisition of the office building by the ambitious Mr. Camino brings hope of some kind of new life for Park & Seventh. The building has been vacant for at least 10 years, except for squatters and scavengers who stripped out all the metal, as one can see by peering into the ground floor windows. It will take a mighty effort to restore the building to usefulness, but the current tide of developer interest in Plainfield may lift all boats, as the saying goes.


Art Lofts Groundbreaking Next Week

Landmark Development is holding a groundbreaking ceremony next week on Gavett Place for a project combining apartments, commercial space and an entertainment venue across from the main train station.

The building will rise on the former site of Romond's Garage. Developer Frank Cretella received approvals in 2011 for the project, which he expected to pair with redevelopment of 12 apartments in the former Miron's warehouse across the street on Gavett Place. By last year, Cretella's roster of projects totaled eleven, in various stages of progress.

Art Lofts I will have 20 apartments. Originally Cretella proposed adding three stories to the garage, but since then the structure has been leveled for all-new construction.
May 6, 2014
May 21, 2014
Walking to the bank last week, I happened upon a rendering in the front window of the Courier News building. Of all Cretella's proposals, this one was perhaps the most exotic - a French bistro right on Park Avenue.
Maybe we'll get an update on that one soon.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Break" Was Over on June 23

Someone took my June 18 "Time for a Break" post seriously enough to stop reading the blog!

Let it be known that I resumed posting on June 23 and have put up 31 posts since then. Please, take a look at the June and July listings and see what you may have missed, if you also thought my break was indefinite.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Council Passes Ordinance Despite HAP Withdrawal Request

"The only thing that's transit-oriented about this proposal is that it is being railroaded."
--Councilman Cory Storch

In an unprecedented action last week, a council majority decided to move to the July 14 agenda an ordinance submitted by the Housing Authority of Plainfield that had been listed as only a discussion item. The ordinance had to do with conveyance of city-owned land to HAP "either by sale or long-term lease," the site having been the topic of a conceptual Planning Board hearing last year regarding development of 86 apartments. At last night's regular meeting, the ordinance was passed on first reading, despite a request from HAP Director  Randall Wood that it be withdrawn. The rationale given by Council President Bridget Rivers was that Wood had no authority to tell the council what to do with its agenda, just as the council has no say over HAP agendas.. 

Councilman William Reid said the ordinance could be amended before final passage to resolve whatever issues were outstanding. But Wood himself, in his letter asking for withdrawal, said he had only expected the "draft ordinance" to be reviewed by Corporation Counsel David Minchello. That would be the more normal process than just accepting out of the blue a prepared document from an outside entity.

In the discussion as recorded by Plainfield View's David Rutherford, one can see Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez backing up Wood's request to withdraw the ordinance until such time as his concept for a project on city-owned property can be discussed with the administration, as per a Friday meeting.

Once it was clear that action was about to take place despite Wood's request, Councilman Cory Storch made a motion for it to be tabled. Rivers seconded the motion, but when the roll was called and Councilwoman Vera Greaves was clearly unsure of what was going on, Rivers told her erroneously that the vote was to "take it off the table." Greaves abstained, Storch and Rebecca Williams voted "yes," Reid, Gloria Taylor and Rivers voted "no." Short of the necessary four votes, the motion to table failed.

The motion to pass the ordinance passed 4-2, with Williams and Storch saying "no" and Reid, Greaves, Taylor and Rivers voting "yes."  The next regular meeting is Aug. 18, at which time it could be passed on second reading and final passage.

Storch pointed out that the proposal for residential housing only was not in keeping with the mixed-use format for downtown development that can be seen all along the Raritan Valley Line. While construction may yield jobs for a time, commercial use is the key to adding permanent jobs, he noted.

Other points were made during this discussion. I urge the public to take 20 minutes and view the entire excerpt at the link above.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Muhlenberg Closing Marked Aug. 16

From Dottie Gutenkauf:

As you know, Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center was closed by JFK/Solaris in August, 2008.  Since then we have held annual commemorations of its closure.  Muhlenberg served Plainfield and the surrounding communities for more than 130 years—so we longer have a full-service acute-care hospital in our community, something that is sorely needed.

This year’s commemoration will be held on Saturday, August 16, at 3 pm at Park Avenue and Randolph Road, across from the Muhlenberg campus, and I hope you will be able to attend and that you will invite your pastors, friends, relatives, and neighbors to join us.

This is not a demonstration or a rally—it is a commemoration of what we have lost and an expression of hope for the future.  I hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Is Open Space Tax Needed?

Among new items on Monday's agenda is an ordinance proposing that an Open Space Trust Fund should be established through a ballot question in the November general election.

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

The suggested rate is two cents per $100 of assessed value, which would be $20 per year on a home valued at $100,000.

There is no special reason given for proposing the open space fund at this time. One hopes there will be an explanation at the meeting. I most likely cannot attend the meeting, but among questions that arose in my mind were how this relates to the Union County Open Space Trust Fund, what amount of open space now exists, how this fund might benefit the Green Brook Trail or the proposed parkland linked to the Lampkin House and whether activating the Environmental Commission might be a better first step.

The Environmental Commission was established by ordinance in 2001 but no members were ever named. Its duties were described in this section of the ordinance:

Sec. 3:36-7.  Powers and duties of Commission.

    Subject to the availability of duly appropriated funds by the Governing Body, the Commission shall have the following powers and duties:
    (a)     To conduct research into the use and possible use of the open land areas of the municipality and may coordinate the activities of unofficial bodies organized for similar purposes.
    (b)     To study and make recommendations concerning open space preservation, water resources management, air pollution control, solid waste management, noise control, soil and landscape protection, environmental appearance, marine resources and protection of flora and fauna.
    (c)     To advertise, prepare, print and distribute books, maps, charts, plans and pamphlets which in its judgment it deems necessary for its purposes.
    (d)     To keep an index of all open areas, publicly or privately owned, including open marsh lands, swamps and other wetlands, in order to obtain information on the proper use of such areas and, may from time to time, recommend to the Planning Board plans and programs for inclusion in the City Master Plan and the development and use of such areas.
    (e)     Subject to the approval and appropriation of funds of the Governing Body, to acquire property, both real and personal, in the name of the City of Plainfield, by gift, purchase, grant, bequest, devise or lease, for any of its purposes and to administer the same for such purposes subject to the terms of the conveyance or gift. Such acquisition may be to acquire the fee or any lesser interest, development right, easement (including conservation easement), covenant or other contractual right (including a conveyance on conditions or with limitations or reversions) as may be necessary to acquire, maintain, improve, protect, limit the future use of, or otherwise conserve and properly utilize open spaces and other land and water areas in the City.
    (f)      To appoint such clerks and other employees or consultants as it may from time to time require, provided that the cost of such appointments are within the limits of funds appropriated to it by the Governing Body.
(MC 2001-42, December 3, 2001.)

In recent years, a small budget has been allotted to pave the way for the commission's activation (as I understand it - Bill Nierstedt can explain the particulars).

Open space has to be designated and accounted for according to certain rules. In 2008, a so-called "pocket park" on West Front Street didn't quite meet all the criteria, reminding people of a similar snafu that held up development of the Park-Madison lot for a while.

I came across an excellent report for West Orange on open space. It is long and very comprehensive but well worth a look if this is an issue that interests you.


Garden Pix

These flowers are just so cheery! Click image to enlarge for a slide show.
Lilies are so reliable. When I look at catalogs, I just want to order them in dozens.
Pale peach with green throats - pretty lilies.
Neglect has allowed the berry canes to run rampant, producing a treat for the birds.
Triple-flowered lilies, a legacy from our dear former neighbor Edna.
We have yellow Cosmos and orange Cosmos and a few that look hand-painted.
Along with the first cicada song and sighting of goldfinches this week, we had the first purple spires on the Butterfly Bush.

Hope your garden is providing you with enough enjoyment to make up for all the work of tending it!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Jerry's Piety Party

I was surprised this week when Assemblyman Jerry Green deviated from posting canned press releases to reacting to my post on the Union County Improvement Authority. I read it over and even printed it out, but found his post to be such a stew of platitudes and non sequiturs that I just didn't know what to say in response.

Meanwhile, blogger Dan Damon took a try at deciphering it and concluded it was just "Jerryspeak," the assemblyman/head of housing/ party chairman's own argot. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams found it to be "stunningly hypocritical" when she read it, offering seven of her own past posts documenting examples of Green's smarmy tactics.

Perhaps the most puzzling part of Green's post was this:  "If you cannot say anything positive about any elected officials, such as the Mayor, Council members and myself personally, please place that negativity somewhere else, but not in Plainfield. We do not need that here." Could this be the same Jerry Green who condemned Mayor Adrian O. Mapp as "every bit as bad for Plainfield as I feared" even though he supported him in the 2013 primary and general election?

My point about time passing without a complete resolution of the August 2013 UCIA settlement kind of got lost in the rhetoric. "It has taken ten years to get to the point that we are at now with this issue," Green admits. Why so long? According to this 2006 Plaintalker post, the issues date back to 2001. The city finally has a document and a check, but not full compliance with terms of the settlement. Green heads the local Democratic Party and the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County. Surely he could use his power to speed the process. I think it is a fair question to ask why it is not happening.

Recent events have left Green with a public image of his own doing. Browbeating bloggers as negative will not get him the new political clothes he needs for re-election in 2015. I must agree when he says, "We need to hold our community in high regard and not lower it to gutter-style politics." Let's see whether he can live up to his own advice.


Friday, July 11, 2014

BOE Filing Coming Up

The filing date for November school board elections has been changed from Primary Day to July 28. Candidates must submit petitions to the Union County Clerk's Office by 4 p.m. on July 28.

For more information, including a link to the Candidates' Kit from the New Jersey School Board Association, see the 2014 Instructions for Annual School Election Petitions.

There are three three-year terms up for election each year. Incumbents holding seats expiring this year are Dorien Hurtt, Jameelah Surgeon and Alex O. Edache. The winners on Nov. 4 will take office on Jan. 1, 2015.

Park Hardware Opens Larger Store

Park Hardware has a new location, a new logo and a special offer to welcome customers.

As previously reported in Plaintalker II, the Cardona family took over the longtime business after it was put up for sale three years ago. Brothers Rich and Doug Borchers both passed away after 30 years of serving customers.

The new owners added equipment rentals and were also bilingual, a plus as the city's Latino population had increased 67 percent from 2000 to 2010. But the store itself became cramped as many new items were added. When another longtime family business, Williams Surgical, vacated its store on the same block, the Cardonas decided to take the larger space.
Contractors and home handypersons alike will find what they need at the store. Local customers say they appreciate having a hometown hardware store right in the Park & Seventh shopping district.
Business retention is key for any community, but operations manager Jhon Cardona said staying in Plainfield was an easy decision for the family.

"This is where we come from," he said, explaining that he and his father, Luis Cardona, made Plainfield their home after moving from Colombia.
To welcome customers to the new location at 623-627 Park Avenue, the owners are offering a one-time 20 percent discount to those who give an email address. They will receive a coupon which can be printed out and submitted to receive the discount. Jhon Cardona promises "no spyware, no promotions," just a discount.
Jhon Cardona
"We have a set group of customers who are very loyal," he said. "We're starting to see a lot of new faces, which is good."

Park Hardware
623-627 Park Ave., Plainfield
Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Phone: (908) 754-9137

Thursday, July 10, 2014


My goal in summer is to have a pretty garden, but I am finding the neighbor children's soccer practice to be a menace. At first, I couldn't figure out how my Hosta was getting smashed. But then I saw a soccer ball come sailing over a garage roof and forcefully bouncing onto the plants.

As much as I tried to get excited about the World Cup, I took a dimmer and dimmer view of soccer practice by these aspiring young players. In a "Hey, you kids!" moment, I asked them please to be more careful, but they denied any culpability. I thought of seizing the ball the next time it landed on a plant, but I was never outside at the right moment.

So here's how I like the Hosta to look:
and here's how some of it looks now:
Defeat! Neighbor kids 1, me nil.

Oh well, it will grow back next year, I suppose.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Hazards of Finger-Pointing

Dr. Yood's account of an exchange at Monday's council meeting reminded me of a cultural lesson learned many years ago.

As related on Doc's Potpourri, Housing Authority Director Randall Wood and Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez got a "time out" ordered by Council President Bridget Rivers because Sanchez allegedly pointed his finger at Wood.

It brought to mind the reaction of one of my charges at a special needs school where I worked in the 1970s. No matter what was going on, everything had to stop if a finger was pointed.

"Don't point at me, my momma ain't dead!" my student exclaimed.

I never learned the origin of this perceived offense and in recalling it last night, I found I am not alone in being mystified. Writing in The`Dallas Weekly, Vincent Hall says he knew the consequences of the act, but not the exact basis for it. He raised the cultural significance of the act in relation to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's finger-wagging in the face of President Barack Obama in 2012.

"Brewer is lucky she didn't get her 'skirt dusted' for such a despicable and tasteless display of political incivility," he remarks.

In a city that values diversity as much as we do here, the corollary is to learn the cultural do's and don'ts so that civility does not take an unnecessary hit during important discussions.


Dispatcher Training Offered

Plaintalker is posting this information as a public service.

Dispatcher Training Made Available to Job Seekers

The John H. Stamler Police Academy is pleased to announce a special Alternate Route course option for individuals with no prior experience who are interested in becoming trained as 9-1-1 dispatchers.  The required nine days of training, which includes the five-day Emergency Communications Operator (ECO) Certification and four-day Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) Certification courses, are open to individuals who currently are not employed by a law enforcement agency.  The courses will run consecutively from Monday through Friday, August 25-29, 2014 and Tuesday through Friday, September 2-5, 2014, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“The courses will provide the basic level of certification required by the state for personnel working for a police department or other dispatch agency where 9-1-1 calls are answered,” said Eric G. Mason, the John H. Stamler Police Academy Director.  “Students who successfully complete this training will possess the fundamental skills required to begin working as a 9-1-1 call taker and will be eligible to be certified by N.E.C.I., a national 9-1-1 training agency, and the New Jersey Office of Emergency Telecommunications.”   

The five-day ECO course content includes an overview of dispatch procedures, legal and liability issues, techniques for handling 9-1-1 calls, handling a caller with special needs, and the history of the New Jersey 9-1-1 System. This course includes a full day of role-playing involving simulated 9-1-1 calls.

The four-day EMD course provides the next level of certification for personnel who are already certified as an Emergency Communications Operator (ECO).  This course is required for anyone working for a police department or other agency that receives 9-1-1 medical calls. Topics covered include responsibilities of the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD), legal/liability issues, giving medical instructions by telephone, and the use of emergency medical dispatch guide cards. The course includes more than a day and a half of role-playing involving simulated 9-1-1 medical calls.  

To attend the EMD certification course, students must already hold a valid CPR card from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. The course tuition, which includes payment for the manual and certification fees, must be paid in full prior to the first day of each class. Tuition for civilian job-seekers is $475 for the ECO course and $450 for the EMD course.

Course registration forms are available online at, or call 908-889-6112.

A Cat Tale

Mau at ease

Mau, the feral cat who joined our household in 2008, put on quite a dramatic show when my daughter arrived to help me out with my hospital visit. The minute Audrey entered the apartment, Mau began yowling as if his world was ending on the spot. He ran to to deepest corner of a hall closet and began literally to climb the wall.

No amount of cajoling or chiding could make him stop. Finally I dragged him out and put him on the enclosed porch, where he managed to disappear. We put his food and water out there in hopes that he would feel safe enough to eat and drink. Oh, and the litter box went out there, too.

We were all mystified. People say Audrey and I sound alike when we speak, so it wasn't her voice that set him off. It's true that I have visited Audrey in Seattle more often than she has visited us since Mau arrived, and when she and Peter arrived the last time, Mau was also inhospitable, but still, such drama seemed excessive. When someone spent time in the apartment to install a wireless system recently, Mau looked on with interest and did not disgrace himself with such bad manners.

After Audrey left, Mau emerged by degrees, warily peeking into the front room and skulking away at the slightest noise. Eventually he sat down and relaxed, though with much tail-twitching to show he was still on high alert.

I knew it was the old Mau when he went from being excessively demonstrative and lovey-dovey to coming up behind me and attacking while I was trying to blog. A cat expert explained this play-fighting (which feels like actual fighting) by saying Mau thinks of me as a litter-mate.
Mau using the netbook as a pillow.
Unlike Audrey's beloved cat, Ichiro, Mau does not sit on laps or otherwise act as a companion, though he has one endearing trick, meowing a little song while bringing me a trophy such as a toy mouse or bird.
  Ichiro became ill and died recently after 13 years of loving companionship with Audrey and Peter. They miss him very much.


Arlington Heights Remediation on Monday's Agenda

A vacant lot at Randolph Road and Arlington Avenue may be nearing the end of a long environmental remediation project.

The City Council will be asked to approve a final payment of $1,811.97 to Brownfield Redevelopment Solutions Monday to close out the Arlington Heights project, bringing the total to $97,714.11.

Some may recall that the lot once was the site of a gas station and remediation plans date back decades to when Gunthild Sondhi was in the Planning Division. The parcel is catty-corner to a lot where twelve condos were built. Six more were planned for the 0.4 acre vacant lot. The developer withdrew in 2007 and according to my notes, the site needs a redevelopment plan as well as a developer.

The site is among eleven project areas that the Union County Improvement Authority was supposed to guide through redevelopment. However, little progress took place during the past eight years and now the administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is revisiting some of the project plans.

The regular council meeting is 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More`Summer Events Awaiting Council Approval

Groups are seeking permission for another batch of summer events, ranging from the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's annual Environmental Fair to processions honoring an Ecuadoran saint, Our Lady of Cisne.

Approvals may be granted at Monday's regular City Council meeting, 8 p.m. July 14 in Municipal Court.

Events include:

- A Community Concert on from 4 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 6 in Plainwood Square Park on South Avenue.

- Processions from 5 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 29 and 30 conducted by St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in honor of Our Lady of Cisne.

- A Customer Appreciation Day outside Hugo's Lounge from 3 to 11 p.m. Aug. 9 on Church Street.

- Also a Community Health Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 9 on Church Street, sponsored by Iris House Inc.

- The Plainfield Fire Division's Annual Community Appreciation Day, from noon to 8 p.m. on Sept. 1 (Labor Day). Location not indicated on agenda.

- Fourteenth Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival sponsored by the Latin American Coalition, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 6 on North Avenue between Park and Watchung. Flor Gonzalez, president of the Latin American Coalition, describes it as an alcohol-free cultural event.

- PMUA's 15th Annual Environmental Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 6 in Library Park.

- Community Expo sponsored by Chosen Generation Community Center, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 20 in Library Park. According to background material in the council packet, the program is a "youth job readiness initiative."

Several of the groups requested waivers of the daily fees. I did not attend the council meeting Monday, so cannot say whether those requests were granted.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Year Later, UCIA Settlement Terms Unresolved

Being only halfway through my mandated four weeks of restricted activity, I was reduced to simple tasks such as filing papers and came across the much-vaunted settlement with the Union County Improvement Authority.

The City Council approved the settlement last August, clearing up some issues dating back to 2001.

UCIA Chairman Daniel Sullivan, the former freeholder who replaced Charlotte DeFilippo as head of the authority, presented the $1.09 million check to the council in December, in a supposed show of a new age of cooperation between Plainfield and the UCIA.

However, conditions of the agreement, such as installation of a street clock and city use of the UCIA parking deck, are still unresolved as the one-year anniversary of the settlement approaches.

Has Sullivan, now also head of the Union County Utilities Authority, become as inimical toward the Queen City as his predecessor, who was also chairman of the Union County Regular Democratic Organization? Or is the current chairman, Assemblyman Jerry Green, dissing the city as part of his campaign against Mayor Adrian O. Mapp? If so, the rest of the population just becomes collateral damage in the political wars.

And that is too bad.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Minchello Adds Trenton Title

Plainfield Corporation Counsel David Minchello was named acting director of Trenton's Law Department Tuesday, according to reports.

Formerly the city solicitor, Minchello began serving as Plainfield's corporation counsel following the departure of Dan Williamson in 2012 to become executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. His firm, Antonelli Minchello, received three payments of $75,000 in 2012. In January, he was appointed corporation counsel by incoming Mayor Adrian O. Mapp.
His LinkedIn page now lists both the Trenton and Plainfield titles. 

Jackson served as Plainfield's director of Public Works & Urban Development since September 2011. He took an unpaid leave of absence in March and ran for mayor of Trenton. He was the top vote-getter in the May primary and won a June run-off against Paul Perez to take the mayoralty. He was sworn in Tuesday and made several cabinet appointments. According to, Minchello attended the inauguration, but declined to comment about his appointment

According to Trenton's Municipal Code, the head of the Law Department is not a director but is the City Attorney, with duties similar to those of Plainfield's in-house corporation counsel. Plainfield's code describes the corporation counsel as a salaried employee, though Minchello's firm has been paid for his services here. 

From Plainfield's Municipal Code:

Sec. 2:4-2.    Corporation Counsel; powers and duties.

    The Corporation Counsel shall be the chief legal advisor to the Mayor and to the Council. He/she shall be compensated with a fixed annual salary as established by ordinance. He/she shall be, subject to the provisions of Sections 2:4-3, 2:4-4 and 2:4-5, prosecute and defend all legal or equitable actions or proceedings in any court in which the City or any office thereof may be a party. He/she shall draft ordinance, resolutions, legislative bills and other documents and agreements required by the Mayor or a member of the Council. He/she shall advise the administrative departments, boards and commissions of the City other than the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment (which are authorized and required to appoint separate counsel) as to all legal matters within their jurisdiction.
(A.C. 1969, 4.2, as amended by MC 1998-01, § 1, January 28, 1998.)


Friday, July 4, 2014

What's in a (Nick)Name?

Hearing someone on the radio refer to "Los Ticos" made me recall a quiz I intended to post on national nicknames.

Can you identify the homeland of a Catracho? A Boriqueno? A Quisqueyano? Or a Bajan?

Here is a colorful compendium of World Cup team nicknames.

Meanwhile, hum a few bars of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" for the U.S. on the Fourth!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Council to Discuss City Lots Coveted for Development

Monday's agenda includes discussion of possible conveyance of two city-owned lots targeted last year for very diverse development proposals.

The agenda-fixing session is 7:30 Monday in Municipal Court.

The Housing Authority of Plainfield and related entities proposed 86 apartments on the two lots, on a block bounded by Madison Avenue, West Second Street, Central Avenue and West Front Street. Developer Frank Cretella outlined plans for a "green market center comprising of a food incubator, a brew pub and artisanal distillery."

Neither plan got as far as applying to any land use boards, most likely because the city owns the lots.

See Plaintalker's October post on the Housing Authority proposal here

Read about Cretella's concept here

The Housing Authority request for the lots was up for discussion in March, but then dropped from the agenda. Monday's agenda does not state a proposed recipient for the lots.


Scientist is Parade Grand Marshal

It may well be that Plainfield picked the better day for a parade, if the weather reports are to be trusted. Heavy rain is forecast for Friday, July 4 but the sun will shine on Saturday, July 5 when Plainfield's parade steps off at 10 a.m. on East Front Street.

The Grand Marshal is Dr. James West.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pool Report

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who serves on the council's Recreation and Public Safety committees, passes along an update on the status of city pools:

The following Municipal Pools have passed the required Health Inspection and will open at 12:30pm today Saturday, June 28, 2014.
1.        Rushmore Pool:  Kiddie Wading Pool only.  The main pool pvc liner is unrepairable, the liners will be removed and pool restored to concrete.
2.       Seidler Field Pool will open main and Kiddie Wading Pool.
Failed Inspection
3.       Hannah Atkins:  Both pools failed due to the drain covers not meeting code.
Pools will be drained Monday and repaired. 

Sign up for Free “ Learn to Swim” lessons are scheduled 12:30pm – 2:30pm  today at Hannah Atkins for the week of July 7th – 18th and Seidler Field for July 28th – August 8th.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

First Festival Opens Friday

Friday may prove to be a test of whether large festivals can do better this year with noise and crowd management.

Nightclub owner Edison Garcia received city approval to use lots 8 and 8A for his festival celebrating the Independence of the United States. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m..Since the festivals began about six years ago, the city has increased daily fees to $2,500 and this year requires organizers to hire six police officers in addition to whatever private security may be used.

Residents requested tighter controls around the beer stations this year to prevent young people from being too close and to manage cases of public intoxication. But despite a lot of talk about noise, no specific guidelines on volume were imposed. The sound carried a mile, according to some who complained. The music is to cease at 10 p.m.

Garcia will also hold a three-day festival in September, celebrating Central American Independence. Another nightclub group will hold one the same weekend in September, in addition to a parade from Rock Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue. The events attract thousands of visitors to Plainfield and both organizers say they create good will and get people to know the welcoming side of the city.


Jackson Assumes Mayoralty

Eric Jackson's Inauguration is today.