Friday, October 31, 2014

A Roundabout Plea for Park & Seventh

Street planter in Fanwood

I took my first train trip Thursday since having major surgery in June. Mostly I have been sticking close to home, but I was desperate for a haircut at Fanwood Clipper and decided to take my chances. Thanks to Esther for welcoming me back and creating a nice " 'do."

So then I decided to walk to Fanwood Animal Hospital to pick up the special food Mau needs since he developed digestive troubles. I got the big eight-pound bag and stowed it in my L.L. Bean tote. It was too close to 2:34 p.m. to catch the train back in Fanwood, so I started walking toward the Netherwood station.

It was also my first chance to see South Avenue since hearing that C-Town moved out.
Plainfield Beauty Supply

Yes, half the old Foodtown site is now occupied by Plainfield Beauty Supply. These signs struck me as rather garish and maybe a bit too large, but I guess it's hard to catch the eye of drivers on South Avenue. 
A Fine Fare supermarket is now in the east end of the building.
 I think both of these businesses had been located elsewhere in Plainfield, so it is a shift rather than a gain of new enterprise in the city.
This was one of several "for sale" signs along the South Avenue corridor, where new residential development is expected.
At a recent Planning Board meeting, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt emphasized that the park between South Avenue and the Old South Avenue right-of-way will not be affected by the proposed redevelopment.
As someone mentioned at the candidates' forum Tuesday, this building across from the Netherwood train station is being renovated without any room for parking. I could not recall this application and will have to visit the Planning Division to find out the details.

Well, my plan to catch the 2:37 train at Netherwood did not work out. It went by as I was passing Walgreen's, so I went back there for a bit of shopping. Then back to the train station to wait for a taxi.

Back at Park & Seventh, I was wondering how things will work out for the new owner of the big former office building on the southwest corner. The South Avenue corridor, Park & Seventh and the downtown are all part of the Special Improvement District, in which property owners pay an extra tax which supports amenities in the SID. Things are happening in all three parts, but Park & Seventh has certain conditions that could have a negative effect on redevelopment. There is a large number of so-called "street" people who are out at all hours, often yelling and arguing. Last week, I was out in the yard one afternoon when a police car came up the driveway with lights flashing. The officer at the wheel asked me whether I had seen someone running down our driveway.

I had been sort of thinking about the garden, which suffered a lot of damage from the severe winter and then neglect while I was recuperating from my surgery. No, I had my back to the driveway and did not see anyone. The officer said there had been a stabbing nearby and one person ran toward East Sixth while the other ran in our direction.

I suddenly remembered my garage with all my garden equipment was open, but before I could ask the officer to check it, she took off. I hailed another officer, luckily one I knew, and he checked both the driveway and our hallway, which was accessible because workers had left the front door propped wide open. He found no one, but I cut my ruminations on gardening short and went inside for the rest of the afternoon. 

Whenever I mention Park & Seventh issues, the first response is that the Park Hotel must be involved. But from what I see, it is the large number of street people, including drug dealers, homeless, petty criminals, squatters and substance abusers who are affecting the quality of life at Park & Seventh. The first thing the new owner had to do after acquiring the former office building was to roust the squatters out. Next was dealing with the totally trashed interior, where all valuable metal had been removed.

Having lived on Block 832 for 22 years now, I hope the new owner can revive the building. I remember when there was a nice place to have lunch right across from that building. The Masonic building on the opposite corner had professional offices and is still a meeting place for Mason groups. In fact, there was a large meeting the day of all the cop action last week.

My hope is that while welcoming new development, city officials will address some of the chronic quality of life problems that seem to be more evident around Park & Seventh than in the downtown or on South Avenue. For example, vagrants have been sleeping on a lawyer's porch and using the premises to relieve themselves. The bench on the northwest corner had to be removed due to people drinking, cursing and fighting, so bus patrons have no place to sit. Ask any merchant what they would like to see improved at Park & Seventh. 

South Avenue and the downtown are showing the beginnings of major change. Why not Park & Seventh as well?


Happy Samhain

Samhain Greetings
 to all our 
Pagan, Druid and Wiccan

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wards 2&3 Continued

William Michelson, Rebecca Williams
Republican William Michelson and incumbent Democrat Rebecca Williams, candidates for the Second & Third Ward at-large City Council seat, took part in the League of Women Voters forum Tuesday. Plaintalker posted some of their responses to audience questions yesterday and here are more:

- On how they will work with other council members to resolve issues, Michelson said "pretty much the same" as he has done in his 30-year law practice. He said he thinks he can be "more dignified and professional" than the current council and will rely on "give and take" methods.

Williams said if a measure was "truly in the interest of the city," she would support it and do her best to convince her colleagues to support it.

- Regarding how to deal with communications in case of another disaster (such as Superstorm Sandy), Williams recounted how she went during that emergency to a Dunkin Donuts to use wi-fi and her smartphone for constituent service, calling in downed wires and such. She said an emergency communications systems advocated by some council members was never put in place until the administration changed and put in a Nixle system.

Michelson said he was not going to pretend there would have been a solution to that emergency, when the phones went out. He said PMUA and city Public`Works staff  performed beyond their ability in the storm, which he said had no precedent.

- On how to make the PMUA more accountable, Michelson said he was not opposed to the PMUA in its early days but later on objected to such things as the "golden parachute" for executives. He said he wants to get rid of the PMUA's law firm of 20 years, for what he believes is "legal malpractice." He mentioned the council's failure to appoint commissioners and said the PMUA used to be pretty good and there's no reason it can't be again.

Williams called PMUA costs "incredibly expensive" and saw waste in contracts. She said the authority could probably get rid of an "entire layer of middle managers" to help get rates down to comparable operations. 

- To reduce taxes, Williams suggested the city needs a wider variety of businesses, including light manufacturing in the light industrial corridor and in the West End. Michelson said high taxes are "systemic" throughout New Jersey.

"The problem is what we are getting for it," he said.

Michelson said there are too many people in certain departments and he feels the city should leave the civil service system. Also, the city needs "not just development, but redevelopment" and must improve its image.

- In response to a question on blog comments "denigrating" the East Second Street neighborhood, Michelson said the Neighborhood Commercial district was "not viable."

He said when compared to a map where crime occurs, "the correlation is frightening."

Williamson said she has spoken to a number of residents in the district and looked at sidewalks and lighting. Though named as an area in need of development, it will "take more than the city has."

- On revitalization of the Netherwood area, Williams noted a proposal for residential development and said she understands many of the homeowners in the Transit-Oriented Development area are in favor of selling their property to a developer. Michelson said no one wants apartments by the train station as they would be too noisy. Criticizing what he called a "willy-nilly" approach to development, he said one building is being demolished and will not have any parking. 

- Regarding road repair, Michelson said it is really a budgetary issue, but the problem is that when people complain about a particular street, "nothing happens." He said he thinks he could "pester" Public Works into making repairs. Williams said road repairs depend on weather and the budget, but she said some "significant roads" have been repaired. An original assessment of road conditions might be subject to "changing conditions" and the city has to depend on its engineers, she said.

- On what precludes giving contracts to local businesses, Williams said she didn't think anything precluded it if they comply with state regulations. Michelson said nothing precludes use of local contractors but cited "cronyism" as an issue.

In closing statements, Williams, who is seeking re-election to a second term, said she didn't go into politics to be a politician but hoped to make a change. She named constituent service as a strength, saying, "People reach out to me and I reach back." In addition, she said she has been a fiscal watchdog and fostered a pay-to-play ordinance. As someone with an independent job, she said, she will not be beholden to anyone. Williams urged voters to support three public questions that are on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Michelson said he agreed with Williams about supporting the three public questions. He said he "probably comes across as a technocrat."

"Maybe I lose people sometimes," he said, but added "I think I have a lot to offer."

"Vociferousness is a bit dangerous and may not be constructive," he said.

Michelson said he loses his temper "about every two years" and thinks he can add a dignity and professionalism to the council.

"I deserve a try," he said, reminding people they can split their ticket in the Nov. 4 election.

Two other council seats are on the ballot. Democrat Diane Toliver is unopposed in the First Ward. Democratic appointee Gloria Taylor is running for the unexpired Third Ward term and is opposed by Republican Randy Bullock.

Any registered voter may take part in the general election. The only restriction for council elections is that you must live in the ward(s) up for council seats. Polls are open on Nov. 4 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sample ballots should have been received and voters should familiarize themselves with the choices, including the three public questions and candidates for school board at the bottom. Polling places and voting instructions are included. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Spammer in the Works

Someone sent this blog eleven dopey, repetitive comments after the forum last night. They were all written between 10:28 p.m. and 12:03 a.m. by a person with little grasp of punctuation or sentence structure. Maybe it was more than one person, but the tropes and typos made me think otherwise. This morning there were a few more. So until the election is over, you can send whatever you want, but only cogent, signed comments will be considered for publication.


Candidates Speak at LWV Forum

When Dorien Hurtt won a seat on the school board in April 2011, he expected to see a lot of people at the first board meeting after the election.

Barely a dozen turned up, he said, pointing up one of the issues discussed at the League of Women Voters candidates' forum Tuesday.

"No one comes out," Hurtt said in his opening statement. "You can't expect transparency if there's no eyes."

The issues of transparency and involvement came up again among questions from the audience at Emerson Community School. Candidate Tania Center said those who have questions at board meetings must ask them all at once "and that's it."

"It's not a very inviting forum," she said, and her running mate Michael Horn agreed that questions don't get answered.

The third member of their slate, Norman Ortega, called the meeting venue "dark" and characterized the board as "queens and kings" acting "draconian."

Terrance Bellamy, a candidate who leads the Woodland School PTO, said he found the secret to getting parents out there was to "feed them." He said he has seen large numbers of angry parents turn out for board meetings, but not lately, maybe because "things are running a little better."

David Rutherford, who is running on a slate with Bellamy and Carletta Jeffers, disputed the notion of board sessions being "parent meetings." Jeffers noted the district has a lot of single parents who can't easily attend meetings and suggested using a newsletter to 'ask them what they need."

Hurtt modified his initial comment on involvement by saying he was not just talking about board meetings and mentioned an educational film series that drew interest.

The seven candidates, who are vying for three three-year seats, are on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Plainfield City Council voted in 2012 to move the school board election from April to November.

Among other topics, the candidates responded to a question on what the district has done well and what it has done poorly

Ortega said the district has done well with "port of entry" students, QSAC scores and a new science lab.But he said much more must be done for low-performing students and the district should hire the "best and brightest" teachers.

Jeffers said the best thing was the hiring of Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles, which has created stability, but communication was "not working."

Hurtt said district accomplishments were "mostly facility-related," but felt the main focus should be on education. He cited a higher graduation rate for the high school, though with "low proficiency" that would hinder students in college.

Horn named a number of sports achievements, such as state champions in basketball and a winning soccer team, but said education was most important. He said as soon as students get to eighth grade, many leave the district.

Center found success in the robotics team, the core curriculum and the science lab, but said the district is "not engaged in clear, open, honest communication with the community."

Bellamy said security has improved "drastically" and the superintendent has brought stability, but communication was not done well.

Rutherford said teachers could use a new contract.

"It's been two years now," he said.

The best things, he said, were increases in state Department of Education scores from 8 percent for government and 11 for fiscal operations to 100 percent and 95 percent respectively.

In closing remarks, Horn said the district needs to bring back instruction in the trades. Jeffers said she intends to be "the squeaky wheel and a thorn in the side." Bellamy said he wants to bring "a parental perspective to the board." Rutherford said he wanted to "take a big picture view" of the school board..

"A lot has changed, but there is a long way to go," he said.

Center said, "This is a failing district" and said the board was backing the slate opposing hers.

"We have to close the achievement gap," Ortega said, claiming all schools were performing below average.

Hurtt had the last word. He said he decided to run again, but not on a slate, "to give this board back to you."

The audience burst into applause for Hurtt, drawing a quick admonition on fairness from moderator Dawn Clarke, LWVNJ vice president for voter services.

What she may not have known was that the supposedly nonpartisan school board race this year had become practically a proxy war between political rivals Jerry Green and John Campbell. Green is an Assemblyman and the Democratic Party chairman of Plainfield and also of Union County. He is backing Horn, Ortega and Center. Campbell, whose wife Wilma is the school board president, is backing Rutherford, Jeffers and Bellamy. The rivalry has become intense in recent weeks.
After a short break, the forum resumed with City Council candidates. Although there are three contests, only
the candidates for the Second & Third Wards at-large seat were present. First Ward candidate Diane Toliver is running unopposed. Third Ward Democratic candidate Gloria Taylor did not submit a bio or responses to League questions and was not present, nor was her Republican opponent, Randy Bullock.

Republican William Michelson is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, a Democrat, for a four-year term. Michelson, an attorney, described himself as "a guy that loves Plainfield." He cited his service on the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission as well as his role in rewriting the city's master plan. Williams is a college professor who served on the Cultural & Heritage Commission and was educational director for the Historical Society of Plainfield

Among their answers to questions from the audience:

On municipal checks and balances, Williams said the council provides them to the executive branch. The council reviews the bills list and check register "to make sure the administration stays on the straight and narrow." She said many oversight issues that recurred year after year arenow being addressed by the new administration.

Michelson said he often sees checks and balances used in a negative way, alluding to quid pro quo practices among council members. But he said as an attorney he is used to bringing people together.

"I try to knock their heads together and get things settled," he said.

On youth centers, Michelson agreed with Williams that there are many resources for young people and it might not be necessary to build another one. Williams named the Boys & Girls Club, Shiloh Cultural Center and community schools as existing resources.

(Plaintalker will post more on this part of the forum tomorrow.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nature Note

Bare on one side, this Maple tree on Block 832 still has colorful foliage on the other side.

The deceptively still-green middle is actually a Wisteria vine that has survived several attempts to kill it. The property owner over on Crescent cut the vines back, but as anyone familiar with Wisteria knows, it enjoys a challenge. Cut it back and it will flourish all the more.

In 2010, the vines on another tree in this yard were cut down, but as this Plaintalker post recounts, Wisteria ensures its future by dropping "zillions" - well, at least hundreds - of seed pods. (Click on the image to see the flower clusters.)

The vines that climbed the Maple tree are heavily laden with these pods and at the proper time they will split and shoot out the seeds.

One year when the pods were bursting, I thought there were kids outside with cap guns. That's how much noise they make. The shiny brown seeds are about the size of a dime. Each one is capable of growing into a massive, climbing vine that can drag the gutters right off a house in time. The Wisteria on the fence between our yard and Municipal Lot 7 comes back with a vengeance each year. My neighbor and I used to patrol our side with double-tooth saws and a machete, but as noted above, Wisteria always wins a fight to get rid of it.

In Sierra Madre, California, residents have made the most of having the largest wisteria vine on record by throwing an annual festival for visitors to view the vine, which weighs 250 tons and covers more than one acre. It started out as a 75-cent nursery plant in 1894, but by the 1930s it was so large that it caused collapse of a home it covered. Now thousands come to see the vine and enjoy an Art and Craft Faire and other activities when it is in bloom. Is this like the lemons/lemonade maxim or what?


LWV Forum Tomorrow Night

The League of Women Voters Candidates' Forum is tomorrow night, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 6:30 p.m. at Emerson School. See more LWV Forum information here.

Voters: You Are In Charge

The reason for the June primary is to let voters decide among Democratic or Republican candidates which ones should be on the party line in November. It has been many a long year since there was a primary contest among GOP candidates, but there have been Democratic primary contests often.

The primary winner may not be a party darling, but if it was solely up to the party chairman to anoint a candidate for November, there would be no need for a primary. At this time , the primary system is the law in Plainfield, so whether the chairman embraces the primary winner is not as important as the fact that the people - aka voters - legally have the right to choose who wins. The voters then have their say in the November general election where party primary winners and independents are on the ballot.

Soon voters will receive their sample ballots. The actual choices will be on that ballot. If a voter receives an image of a ballot in the mail, it may be altered for political reasons. The sample ballot from the county clerk is the real list of candidates.

Apparently in Plainfield and Linden Democratic primary winners are being rejected by the party chairman. If you are a Democrat, you can verify the official candidate here or look at your sample ballot when it comes in the mail.

Until such time as voters decide that Plainfield should hold nonpartisan elections, there will be June primaries and the winners as chosen by the voters will be on the November ballot.

Now, in the general election voters can select their choices from anyone on the row for a particular seat. A Democrat could vote for a Libertarian or a Green Party candidate or even write in "Mickey Mouse," as has happened in the past. Voters can skip a row if they don't like any choices, or if there are two or three seats to be filled as in Freeholder candidates every year and Assembly candidates next year, voters can just pick the ones they really like and skip the others.

It must be a strain for a chairman who doesn't agree with his own party's voters on primary winners. To what lengths might he go to avoid endorsing the voters' choice for the November party line? Would he hook up with the GOP behind the scenes to try to thwart the legitimate primary winner?

This is a confusing year for Democratic voters who are getting mixed messages from leadership. Voters need to be on the alert for gimmicks and shell games. If a party chairman tells you some primary winners are more equal than others, watch out. Inform yourself and then vote as you will - you are in charge at the polls.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Taxi Company Vows Improvements

Two days after Soria Taxi representatives asked the City Council to reconsider hefty fines for out-of-town taxis picking up city passengers, the company hit the local headlines Oct. 16 when a Soria driver struck a pedestrian.

That driver no longer works for the North Plainfield company, Soria said in a press release that also detailed steps being taken to improve customer service. Calling the accident "an unfortunate and isolated incident," the company announced a five-point plan to ensure customer safety, improve service and "ensure the professionalism of our drivers."

1. All of our current and potential drivers will be required to take a defensive driving course by a New Jersey  State-approved defensive driving course provider and online refresher courses every six months.

2. Potential and current drivers’ credentials will be verified with the Motor Vehicle Commission of the State of New Jersey to ensure that our employees are properly licensed to drive our taxis.

3. Soria Taxi will provide customer services training to all staff and re-evaluate our employees' customer service relations on a consistent basis.

4. Soria Taxi will establish a dedicated Customer Service Website for our customers to report issues related to our services, appearance of our taxis, professional behavior of our drivers, and any other matter customers feel the company should address to improve services.

5. Soria Taxi will commission an independent review of current company policies and follow its recommendations.

The press release ended by stating Soria Taxi has "strong values in work ethics and safety."

"However, as our customers have shown us, there is always room for improvements. Soria Taxi is taking steps to improve our services and the experience of our customers."

The company's good intentions may not sway Plainfield Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill, who on Oct. 14 upheld the city's right to bar outside taxis from picking up customers in Plainfield, though passengers may be dropped off. Company owner Fabian Soria said he wanted to get a license in Plainfield but could not, as the city has exceeded the state ratio of one taxi per 1,000 residents. At a previous council meeting, Plainfield taxi owners and drivers applauded the increase in fines to a maximum of $2,000 per incident for outside companies picking up passengers.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Commenter Has Bad Aim

If using all caps wasn't a clue, the "WOW" tells me exactly who is shilling for the Republican. Too bad you posted on the wrong blog, the old one from May 2010. I don't think many people are going to see that comment.

Election Okey-Doke?

Dear "Concerned Citizen,"

Before you try to put me in a trick bag, remember that there is such a thing as Google where folks can look things up.

The MP3 you sent is obviously from a closed session on personnel and whoever decided to send it to bloggers does not mind breaking the law. Besides, it is about something that happened over a year ago and was apparently resolved, because the person was not fired.

If that is your hole card, it has been peeped.

Friday, October 24, 2014

No Paper, No Plastic - Try Furoshiki

I learned a new word today and a new concept (to me) for carrying things - furoshiki.

All you need is a square of fabric to employ this ancient Japanese technique. It takes shape as you tie knots. See here how furoshiki works.

Maybe on a slow shopping day I will try this at Twin City. I try to bring my own bag and have successfully foiled the bag-surrender rule by having a rolled-up Envirosax bag in my pocket. Sometimes if I am not quick enough, the cashier still stows my stuff in plastic bags. With double-bagging, I can end up with four plastic bags for just two items.

I am already regarded as an eccentric old lady over there for using my own bag. How much more could I shock them by whipping out a flat square and knotting it up into a carry-bag? Of course, this would not work if there was a line. I would hear as much grumbling behind me as when another old person opens a change purse and ever so slowly counts out the exact change.

Plastic bags have been banned in Seattle, You must bring your own or purchase a reusable one. I sent Audrey and Peter some Envirosax and also gave Audrey a clever little bag from JetPens.

Living near Park & Seventh, I have spent a lot of time plucking errant plastic bags out of my garden and the shrubbery. They get stuck in trees and the wind makes them do eerie dances down the driveway. I would love to see them banned in New Jersey.


Be the Change ...

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
--Mahatma Gandhi

Those who say they don't like the local politics have a chance every year to try for change.

In 2015 and beyond, there will be at least three school board seats up for election every year. City Council seats follow a pattern, with Ward 1 paired with the 2&3 at-large seat, Ward 2 with the 1&4 at-large seat, Ward 3 with the Citywide at-large seat and Ward 4 with the Mayoral seat Unexpired terms may also be on the ballot. 

Democrats and Republicans choose committee members and chairs on alternate years. Plainfield has 34 voting districts, each with a male and female seat for a total of 68 committee seats. This year, Republicans filled only 15 and George Gore was elected chairman. Democrats usually fill all 68 seats and in 2015 will choose a chairperson on the Monday after the June primary.

Anyone who wants to run for a local elected office in 2015 would be well advised to start right about now to line up campaign funds and supporters. In January, the Union County Clerk's office publishes a brochure with all relevant milestones, such as candidate filing and election dates and deadlines for voter registration and making changes. Campaign organizers should also become familiar with the state Division of Elections and the Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Generally, party candidates for the June primary must file by late March or early April. For council seats, a Democratic primary win is regarded as tantamount to success in the November general election, given the highly disproportionate number of Democrats to Republicans. Nine times since 2002, New Democrats have won June primaries and once won enough committee seats to choose the chairman.

Independent candidates for council or mayor may file on the date of the June primary. School board candidates used to file the same day, but this year the filing was moved to the end of July.

Politics in Plainfield can be daunting. Candidates must have thick skins and a strong belief in themselves as well as a commitment to serve for the full term they seek. The New Jersey School Board Association offers a candidates' packet that informs those who seek office of what they will be getting into. Council and mayoral candidates may need a mentor who knows local political history to advise them of the obligations and pitfalls of public service.

Good luck to anyone who is willing to try for elective office and to "be the change you wish to see" in Plainfield.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali
to all our
Hindu friends and neighbors

Two New Charter Schools, District Projects Need Update

If two newly-approved charter schools open next year, they will bring the city's total to six and expand a budget line that began at $1.5 million in 2004-05 and is now $17.2 million.

Click on highlighted links for more information.

Gov. Chris Christie approved the two charter school applications Tuesday. Final state Department of Education approval will not come until July 2015 after a review of the applicants' readiness to open.

Details of the proposals were posted in a Courier News article online Wednesday. Cresthaven Academy Charter School anticipates a final K-3 enrollment of 300 students and College Achieve Central Charter School aims to have 1,013 students, though each will start out with fewer..

The city's four current charter schools are the only ones in Union County (scroll down).

Meanwhile, district school construction projects at Cook and Woodland schools appear to have been on hold since 2010. The School Development Authority web site says the projects are in "scope development" with the state Department of Education and the district. Woodland Elementary School is slated for renovations costing $95,200. Frederic W. Cook Elementary School has a project cost of $14.3 million and the SDA site lists a $1.5 fee awarded to Johnson Jones Architects in December 2004. Plaintalker posted a recap of the facilities issues in 2010. Time for an update?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Read the Public Questions

Public questions on the ballot may be overlooked if voters don't read them ahead of time. The Plainfield League of Women Voters has posted the questions, including one specific to Plainfield, so voters can gain some understanding before going to the polls. Read the full text of public questions here.

County Posts Voter Statistics

Plainfield Democrats now outnumber Republicans more than 15 to 1, according to voter statistics released Friday by the Union County Board of Elections.

The ratio was about 8 to 1 here before the 2008 election that gave the nation its first African-American president, Barack Obama. Whether voters will go to the polls for the 2014 mid-term elections is another question.

Locally, there are three council seats and three school board seats up for election. To see a breakdown of registered voters by ward and district, see "affiliation statistics" here and scroll down to Plainfield. First Ward City Council candidate Diane Toliver is running unopposed, so barring an unlikely write-in campaign, she will win no matter what the turnout. There is no council race in the Fourth Ward this year. That leaves the focus on contests for the unexpired Third Ward term and the Second & Third Ward at-large seat.

Voters in all four wards will have a say in choosing the three school board winners out of a field of seven. This race is supposed to be non-partisan, but has generated more Democratic campaigning than in the past.

Party affiliations do not matter in the general elections. Voters in any category can pick and choose across party lines as they wish. Besides 13,177 Democrats and 865 Republicans, Plainfield has 8,087 unaffiliated, or independent, voters who could not take part in the June primary but can vote in the general election.

The next step for voters is to take a good look at their sample ballots, which should arrive soon by mail. Look for your polling place and hours for voting in addition to reviewing the candidates and questions. And please make sure you vote on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

LWV Posts Candidate Info, Forum Date

The Plainfield League of Women Voters has published candidate information as submitted by the school board and City Council candidates themselves (two declined).

Read bios and responses to LWV questions here.

This is a service of the organization in anticipation of the Nov. 4 general election. The League will also hold a Candidates' Forum on Tuesday, Oct. 28. It is 6:30 p.m. at Emerson Community School, 305 Emerson Ave.The public is invited and written questions may be submitted at the forum. A LWV moderator will conduct the forum and it will comply with LWV rules.

JG and the GOP

"We've got the Republican party on the ropes," Green said, "and let me tell you something -- I'm ready to take them out."

So said Union County Democratic Chairman Jerry Green at a Sept. 4 screening for the Union County Sheriff seat.

"Republican" has long been one of Green's pejoratives for Democrats who do not show sufficient fealty to him as chairman of Plainfield's Democratic City Committee, and now as county chairman he obviously expects the same.

However, observers of the local races this year can't help but notice hints of a political bromance with his Republican counterpart, Republican Chairman George Gore. In August, two Republicans who filed on June 3 for City Council seats withdrew. The vacancies were then filled by Gore in what appeared to be an alignment more favorable to the Third Ward Democrat and theoretically more challenging to the Second & Third Ward at-large primary winner.

The windows at Democratic headquarters on Park Avenue are jammed with signs for school board, Congressional and Senate candidates, but none for council candidates. Is it Column A all the way, or just part of the way? Are there certain Republicans JG would take out ... just for brunch?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Stabbing, Shooting Raise Questions

Maybe the NJ Advance Media report on a stabbing early Sunday explains the trail of what looked like spattered blood along Park Avenue.

I was walking to the PNC Bank and kept seeing big, dark red spatters along Park Avenue. The stabbing victim was found early Sunday in the 100 block of West Front Street. There were several large spatters every so often and then some drops at intervals. It was not a pleasant sight and I tried to convince myself it was paint or some other liquid and not the result of someone bleeding onto the pavement.

The article also mentioned a shooting that was picked up by ShotSpotter. By chance, the top item on my "whatever happened to ..." list was ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection system that was first proposed in 2010 and last heard of in 2013, when the company president came to Plainfield to discuss "tweaks" in the system. Instead of a $1 million purchase, the city had agreed to a $169,000 grant-funded lease. So is there still a lease and is it still grant-funded? I guess I have to find out.


Oh Deer!

Lacking any other topics, I am posting a reminder from the DEP by way of Union County to start watching out for deer on roadways, as the rutting (mating) season has begun. The most dangerous times for a car vs. deer encounter are the morning and evening commuting hours.

Even though Plainfield is called an "urban center," it is home to plenty of wildlife, including herds of deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, opossums, skunks, groundhogs and rabbits. We have had incursions of deer even at Park & Seventh and they don't look both ways when crossing the road.

Please read the advisory and note the time change on Nov. 2.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is It Deja Vu All Over Again?

It was nearly six years ago that I wrote a
and drew
In lieu of a new post today,
these links give a look back at the past.

Is the Queen City the place where time stands still?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Library Board Seeks Budget Help

City officials assured Plainfield Public Library board members Thursday of the administration's budget support in 2015, though not offering a way to offset 2014 costs that led to curtailed hours as of this week.

The library board of trustees held a special meeting in City Hall Library with City Administrator Rick Smiley and Finance Director Ron West. Board President Anne Robinson said a $220,000 charge for health benefits plus unforeseen emergency expenses forced the reduction of hours and could cause staff layoffs.

"The library has hit a significant wall," Robinson said.

West said Mayor Adrian O. Mapp intends to reverse in 2015 a five-year policy of charging back health benefit costs to the Plainfield Public Library.

"Our plan is to fully fund the library," West said.

As for the remaining months of this budget year, West made no promises. Budget transfers may be made in November, but West told the board, "The transfer piece is tight."

Smiley called a transfer of funds to the library "highly unlikely."

"Let me make a small plea," Robinson said, noting grants and other funds were not enough to offset the "extraordinary expenses" this year caused by a "contaminated environment" at the library. West suggested that library officials contact the Health Division for help.

Library Director Joe Da Rold said the library has to close and address such problems immediately as they occur. He said the library used to be able to keep a "sinking fund" for emergencies, but that is no longer allowed in the budget.

Robinson said the library has raised fines for overdue books and fees charged for meeting rooms. The next cost-cutting step would be layoffs.

The coming year will start off with a temporary budget, West said, and then the City Council will be reviewing the administration's proposed figures. In 2014, the governing body did not review all divisions, but the administration will soon be holding departmental meetings on 2015 budget requests. West advised the board to state its needs, but said he already knows there will be a tax increase due to the number of abandoned buildings in the city.

The governing body has the power to amend the introduced budget before final passage.

In public comment, resident Alan Goldstein suggested that because the library  building is city-owned, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority should provide trash removal at no cost as with other public buildings. Robtinson said she would pursue his suggestion "with gusto."

Goldstein also inquired about having the library open on Sundays. Robinson agreed on the need for seven-day access, especially to library computers for job searches and communication with distant family members. She said library officials are researching ways to open a portion of the library to permit computer access without having to staff both floors of the building. The library's computers have become more needed, she said, as job postings now are mostly online.

In other business at the special meeting, the board elected Donna Sandorse to serve as secretary and Pat Fleming for secretary for 2014-2015. The board's next regular meeting is 11 a.m. on Nov. 20.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Commentary on Taxi Rules

Random image: Black-eyed Susan Vine

The crackdown on out-of town taxis drew praise last month from a city group of owners and drivers, but on Tuesday a North Plainfield group protested the move as unfair.

To Plainfielders with cars, the topic may be of little interest, but as one who decided in 2008 not to get a new car, I feel some solidarity with the many people who rely on taxis to get to stores, medical offices or other locations not served by buses or trains.

The issue now is an increase in fines to as much as $2,000 per incident for taxis not licensed in Plainfield to pick up fares. I live near Twin City supermarket and it was not uncommon to see a North Plainfield taxi pull up to take someone home with a load of groceries. The owner of those big yellow vans told the council Tuesday he couldn't get a license in Plainfield if he wanted to, because Plainfield has more than the number of taxis allowable under a state law permitting just one per 1,000 residents.

Since 2008, I have been able to do most of my traveling on public transportation, but the taxi debate hit home for me regarding medical and dental appointments. There was a time when I could walk down Park Avenue to go to the doctor or dentist, but gradually they all moved out. They are still on Park Avenue, just in South Plainfield, North Edison or Edison. It can cost me $8, $10 or $15 one-way to reach a practitioner. My endocrinologist, formerly at Muhlenberg, is now at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, a trip that is in a whole other category of expense.

So say I go to the dentist in North Edison and need to get home after some expensive crown work. I call the same Plainfield taxi company that dropped me off and they come and get me. I would not know how to get a local taxi or even if there is such a company in North Edison. The same goes for South Plainfield.

I do think there is a different situation when it comes to Plainfield and North Plainfield. I'm guessing there are many more people in both the city and the borough without cars than in surrounding towns. There is a lot of back-and-forth to Twin City, the train station and the Plainfield Health Center, among other draws.

Of course, there is a rationale for the taxi rules.

Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill explained Tuesday that the state delegates police powers to municipalities, which have the responsibility to regulate the taxi cab industry. She said the city-issued licenses are actually franchises and the city does not allow unlicensed taxis to pick up fares here.

"You can be dropped off, but not picked up," she said. "I encourage compliance with this."

While that is the law, I believe most people think in terms of a round trip. If Soria Taxi brought them to Twin City, they are likely to call Soria to take them home (unless they take the store's van) But now they may be ordered out of the taxi by a Plainfield police officer, so they better have the phone number of a city taxi company and a couple extra dollars for the fare across the Plainfield border.

This is a legal situation, but also a human situation. It warrants further discussion.

And by the way, if we are going to go by the letter of the law, it might be interesting to look into how well our city taxi operators obey Plainfield's rules for fares and extra passengers. In 2008 I wrote about my experience with fares.  There is also this rule:  Unless the person first employing the taxicab shall consent, no additional passengers shall be picked up or permitted to ride in a taxicab on the same trip. I have never been asked whether I minded having a few other people jammed in or trundled around to other locations on the way (or out of the way) to my destination.

It could be educational for an elected official or even a candidate to experience a taxi trip occasionally and see how the other (carless) half lives, especially now that developers insist that people in transit villages don't need parking spaces, because many won't have cars.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Special Library Meeting Thursday

Library funding will be discussed at a special meeting of the Plainfield Public Library board of trustees Thursday (Oct. 16).

The meeting is 11 a.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. and is open to the public. The board expects to be meeting with City Administrator Rick Smiley and Finance Director Ron West, library director Joe Da Rold said.

At the Oct. 6 City Council meeting, several residents expressed concern about shorter hours imposed at the library starting Oct. 14 "due to budget cuts."

Asked about library budget cuts, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said by email Monday that Da Rold raised concerns in late August about the amount charged back to the Library by the City for library employees’ health benefits contribution.

"Although this method of charge back goes back to 2009, it was the first time any concerns were expressed to me. It is my view that those concerns should have been expressed during the budget process, not after the horse had been out of the barn with the doors closed. The situation could not be remedied at that point. Nevertheless, the news of reduced hours comes as a surprise to me." Mapp said..

He added, "Although I have an appreciation for the concerns expressed by the Library, I should point out that the budget cuts that were made by the governing body have created a shortage of almost $400,000 that must be found in order to avoid an over expenditure in violation of the budget statute. This gap is one of the effects of budget cuts that should not have been made.

"However, there are certain expenses that are the responsibility of the Library and must be borne by the Library. With that said, my Administration remains firmly committed to supporting our Library at the appropriate level of funding."

The administration presented the 2014 budget to the governing body in March. The council held deliberations in April and amended and passed the budget in May.

Da Rold said the library has made staff cuts three times and may have to close one evening without a budget increase.


(Disclaimer: My son has a part-time job at the library.)

NP Taxi Owner Wants Ban Reconsidered

The owner of a North Plainfield taxi company asked the City Council Tuesday to rethink a crack-down on out-of-town taxis here.

Plainfield has stringent rules for taxi owners and drivers, along with various fees to be paid. Members of a city taxi group complained that unlicensed drivers were poaching on their territory and in 2009 the council approved fines for outside taxis found to be operating in Plainfield. In August, fines for taxis without city licenses were increased, from $300 to $500 for a first offense, from $500 to $1,000 for a second offense and from $800 to $2,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

On Tuesday, the owner of Soria Taxi and his supporters said Plainfield police were forcing people to get out of  the taxis. Fabian Soria said he started out in Plainfield but now can't get a license, a situation City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh corroborated, as the city is only permitted a certain number of licenses and they are all in use. In fact, he said, the city has exceeded the number.

Although Soria and his supporters felt their rights were being violated, Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill explained that the state delegates police powers to municipalities, which have the responsibility to regulate the taxi cab industry. She said the city-issued licenses are actually franchises and the city does not allow unlicensed taxis to pick up fares here.

"You can be dropped off, but not picked up," she said. "I encourage compliance with this."

An advocate for Soria said the company offers 24-hour service but some Plainfield cab companies close at midnight and open at 6 a.m. In addition, a passenger must pay $5 to take a Plainfield taxi to North Plainfield, but Soria only charges $4. He asked for the ordinance to be reconsidered.

Resident Tamar Pritchard said 20 years ago, Plainfield had very few taxis. With apparently a greater demand now, she suggested there might be "reciprocal agreements" with North Plainfield.

The increase in taxis paralleled an influx of Latinos in Plainfield and environs. Plaintalker wrote about the taxi expansion in 2008. Many are Latino-owned and serve a population that does not own cars. All regulations and fees are on the city web site in the Municipal Code.


Seniors Support Center, Director Against Critics

Image from a slide show on senior activities 
An outpouring of support for the Senior Center at Tuesday's council meeting was marred by an outburst from a member who alleged unresolved issues of sexual harassment.

Both the effusive praise and the pleas of the self-described victim were caught on tape in yet another chapter of controversy dating back three years or more over what goes on at the center. On the positive side, center official George Gore gave an overview of activities and events that he said made the Plainfield program "second to none" in the state. Member Suzy Koonce praised the "warmth and acceptance" she found there after relocating from Portland, Ore.

"I was accepted," she said. "I was made prom queen and was president for four years."
George Gore at the microphone
Member Mazie Wormley said she always found center director Sharron Brown to be "extremely fair" and volunteer Roz Bradshaw said, "I found a place where it's heaven."

But then a woman who previously complained of being sexually harassed launched into an emotional speech alleging a cover-up of her complaints. As she became more and more agitated, a police officer escorted her from the courtroom.
Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill then explained an outside law firm had been hired to perform "a thorough investigation" of the complaints. After interviewing witnesses and examining "voluminous" documents, including a 32-page single-spaced email, Sias-Hill said, the firm found the complaint was unsubstantiated.

Resident Sandra Taylor Williams, a critic of the center for more than three years, had brought the woman forward a couple of months ago and on Tuesday called out, "Tell it, tell it," as the woman spoke.
Sandra Taylor Williams
The testimony in favor of Brown and the center echoed a 2011 council meeting where seniors came out in force to counter Taylor Williams' constant criticisms. In 2011, she vowed on camera to go to Trenton or Washington if she could not get satisfaction locally and called the center a "Nazi boot camp." Each council meeting contains a portion for public comment and Taylor Williams has unrelentingly complained at nearly every one.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Last Council Meeting Before Election

'tis Autumn
Twenty-two of 34 resolutions on Tuesday's agenda are slated to be passed in one vote, which makes one think the City Council meeting will be short. Not so fast - it's the last council meeting before the Nov. 4 election, so it may be more of a slugfest than a snoozefest.

Expect some zingers from the council members and then some more in public comment. The camera will be rolling and the chance to be seen and heard on local television channels seem to bring out the bombast.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court at 325 Watchung Avenue, but if you need to register to vote in the general election, you can stop in at the City Clerk's office at City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave., any time between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 14).

Most of the council topics have been covered in previous posts, but there are a few odds and ends of interest. For example, the city is foreclosing on several properties and some of the numbers are amazing. The owner of a North Avenue property owed $22,011.59 when a tax lien sale was held in 1998. The liens kept accruing, including costs for demolition when the building was deemed unsafe, and the total now owed is $464,958.70.

Two properties owned by a well-known church are on the list. One can be redeemed for only $8,901.57 and the other for just $21,179.75. The latter was also on a list of properties that had to be cleaned up at public expense, resulting in a lien of $236.65 for cutting the grass. It seems odd that a church would just let things go like that.

Another property on West Front Street that was touted for redevelopment in 2009, but by December 2011, the owner owed $13,683.59 in back taxes. Liens totaling $73,299.77 accrued over the years and now it will take $86,982.86 to redeem the property.

The city will benefit from the special tax lien sale and maybe the properties will be put to better use.

The once-a-year regular tax lien sale was held on Oct. 9. For that one, most of the liens were for charges owed to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. There were some large amounts owed in taxes to the city, including more than $40,000 by "Muhlenberg Medical" for Randolph Road property. Investors buy the liens at up to 18 percent interest and can move to foreclose after two years.


World War I Commemoration

Nancy Piwowar sends links to her article on the World War I Commemoration web site and two others, the Drake House and the World War I Centennial Commission.

Please read and congratulate Nancy on her accomplishment.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Plainfield's Columbus Link

File:Bierstadt Albert The Landing of Columbus.jpg
During my time as a reporter, I wrote about both the prestige and the controversy connected to Plainfield's ownership of Albert Bierstadt's 1893 painting, "The Landing of Columbus at San Salvador."

The prestige came partly in having the painting on loan at major museums. The controversy came from its depiction of indigenous people kneeling to Columbus and his men. As reported in this 2001 New York Times article, the image once became so objectionable as to be covered during meetings in the Plainfield courthouse, where it still hangs today.

For several years, the painting brought forth paeans from the late Kay Cotignola and pans from Rasheed Abdul-Haqq. To Kay, it represented Italian pride. Rasheed deplored it and wanted it sold to finance a youth center.
Although it was moved to a side wall after one museum loan, the painting regained prominence when the city began televising meetings. It was behind the table where City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh sat during council meetings, but since the seating was changed recently, it is now the backdrop for Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and City Administrator Rick Smiley.

As Columbus Day, it is a federal holiday, but if you want to celebrate Indigenous People's Day instead, go for it.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

El Centro Marks 30 Years

(Plaintalker is publishing this news release from El Centro. The anniversary event will be at Spain Inn and tickets are $40. Call (908) 753-8730 for reservations.)

El Centro Hispanoamericano, a nonprofit 501c3 organization located in Plainfield, NJ, will mark the 30th anniversary of its founding at a dinner on October 24, 2014.

Created in 1984, El Centro provides legal and humanitarian assistance to needy immigrant families and individuals. While El Centro’s clients come from throughout New Jersey as well as Eastern Pennsylvania and New York City, the majority of those served reside in Union, Somerset and Middlesex Counties.

In the past year, nearly 1,800 recent immigrants came to El Centro seeking legal assistance in securing immigration status and relief for which they are eligible under USCIS policies resulting in 1460 cases before federal immigration authorities. Of these cases, more than 40 involved domestic violence and 30 represented individuals seeking asylum.

El Centro was created to provide relief to those fleeing the violence and human rights abuses taking place in Central America in the 1980s. “Civilians were caught in the middle of the killing waged by governments against their own civilians,” recalls Ivan Flores, a student in El Salvador at the time. “The worst case was the killing of Bishop Oscar Romero, while he was saying mass.” Flores, after arriving in the Plainfield area, was one of the original founders of El Centro.” Flores adds, “It was terrible. Parents were terrified about their kids being killed or disappeared.

Founded in 1984 originally as the Plainfield Area Committee on El Salvador and Central America, the organization was created as an alliance of local church leaders, community activists, and refugees. A number of these founders will be in attendance at the October 24th celebration. The group opened its doors as the Center for Central American Refugees, moving to its current location on Front Street in 1988. The name was changed to El Centro Hispanoamericano in 1998.

“Hundreds, then thousands of people were fleeing the Central American wars in the early eighties and coming to the Plainfield area,” explains Rev. Brooks Smith, an El Centro founder and, at the time, pastor at the Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church.

“Families were showing up on our doorstep. A humane and compassionate welcome was our only considered response to the plight of those seeking our help,” Smith adds.

EL Centro Hispanoamericano has been an organization recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) of the United States Department of Justice since 1993. BIA accreditation of its staff enables El Centro to represent aliens in immigration proceedings before the immigration courts of the US Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) or its appellate component, the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“The efforts of El Centro Hispanoamericano and the other fine organizations assisting immigrants in Plainfield, are very important to the quality of life here in our community” stated Adrian O. Mapp, Mayor of the City Plainfield. “In Plainfield we celebrate our diversity and extend a hand to those in need who seek opportunity for themselves and their families.” The Mayor will be attending the October 24th celebration and offering welcoming remarks.

El Centro also provides an educational program including English as a Second Language, Adult Spanish Literacy, and Citizenship classes. Needy individuals and families are also able to receive food assistance through the organization’s Emergency Food Pantry and used clothing though its boutique. El Centro is a member of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

“Violence, extreme poverty, out of control gangs, violence against women, dispossession of small farmers at the hands of multinational corporate agra-businesses, and many other factors still drive emigration north,” explains Silvia Hernandez, El Centro’s executive director. “Every day,” she adds, “we receive new people at our door who simply want the opportunity to provide for their families.”

Those seeking assistance should call (908) 753 8730.

Some Political Curiosities

Lawn signs for school board candidates may be seen in abundance, but with less than a month to go before the Nov. 4 general election, council signs are less in evidence.

I asked someone why he thought the emphasis appeared to be on the school board race and his answer was, "Money." The school district's budget of $179 million dwarfs the city budget of $75 million and the PMUA budget of $9.9 million. In all three, most of the funding goes for salaries, but there are many lucrative contracts to be awarded as well. So maybe money is a factor in trying for political control, even though the race is supposed to be non-partisan.

On the other hand, the school board race includes some intriguing back stories, which close observers know or can figure out without Plaintalker's help. The maxim "revenge is a dish best served cold" comes to mind.

Another curiosity is on Tuesday's City Council agenda. Council President Bridget Rivers is allowing George Gore time to speak as vice president of the "Plainfield Senior Services Committee" regarding ongoing services and upcoming activities and events. Gore wears many hats and the title was not immediately clear. Was this a committee of the NAACP? A brief check of the NAACP site ruled that out. On the Senior Center link at the city's web site, a downloadable handbook lists the Senior Citizens Services Center Advisory Committee.Maybe that's it. One resident has been very vocal in her criticisms of the center at council meetings and perhaps an explanation is needed. But why not send the president of the committee, if there is one?

Another of Gore's hats is being the 2014-2016 chairman of the Plainfield Republican Committee. Two Republicans filed to run in the general election, but then one withdrew and Gore as chairman had to file a replacement. Curiously, the candidate who filed to run in the Second and Third Ward at-large race got switched to the Third Ward race and the newcomer took his place running against the Second and Third Ward incumbent. After some missteps by Gore in filing the names, the deed was done, switching out a mild-mannered opponent to JG's least favorite New Democrat for one known to be scrappy.

The change set off a flurry of declarations by a few registered Democrats that they would rather vote for a Republican on Nov. 4 than either of the incumbents. But the mild-mannered one has yet to be seen on the campaign trail, while the scrappy one's recent remarks backfired on him to some degree. It's anyone's guess whether the switch will prove to be clever or catastrophic for the two chairmen, JG and Gore. We shall see on Nov. 4. Meanwhile on Tuesday we shall see whether Gore sticks to the subject of senior services or indulges in a bit of politicking.

The council meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Also on Tuesday, anyone who hasn't registered to vote can do so between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the City Clerk's office at City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave. It is the last day to register to vote in the 2014 general election.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Think Before Voting on Nov. 4

Autumn leaves in wax paper

There is only one more City Council meeting before the Nov. 4 election and if history is any example, the rhetoric will fly even more than it did last Monday.

The final days before an election tend to bring out the worst in human nature, or at least the worst in some who have a stake in the outcome. A lot of registered voters stay home on Election Day, and who can blame them when the air becomes filled with a miasma of accusations that can't be verified, and name-calling worse than one might hear when the bullies take over a school yard.

On the local level, there are three City Council seats and three school board seats on the ballot. Two of the council contests are for full four-year terms and one is for an unexpired term. Voters can choose three school board candidates for three-year terms.

The last day to register to vote is Oct. 14 and the City Clerk's office will be open for extended hours. Complete election information is available at the Union County Clerk's Office.Your sample ballot will also arrive soon and will have your polling place on it as well as all the candidates. There will be some candidate forums as well.

It only takes a little close attention and common sense to sort the pre-election histrionics from the actual reasons to vote for someone. Don't let the antics keep you from exercising your hard-won right to vote on Nov. 4.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Storch: Development Revving Up

Art Lofts I project, viewed from Lot 6

Councilman Cory Storch, the governing body's liaison to the Planning Board, said in an update Monday the board is seeing "a lot of development action in Plainfield."

He mentioned the Landmark Developers project on East Second Street and Gavett Place, the new Dunkin Donuts on West Front Street and Clinton Avenue, the expansion of Union County College on Roosevelt Avenue and the townhouse development that will replace Elmwood Gardens.
Facade cleaning at the former Mirons warehouse

Landmark is also rehabilitating a building east of the Arts Loft I site. 

"We've been talking about this for a long time," Storch said. "It's very exciting for Plainfield."

In addition, the Capital Improvement Plan includes $2 million for road paving, he said. The board voted to introduce the 2015-2020 CIP on Oct. 2 and it will later come to the council for approval.


"Rape" Gibe Outrages Councilwomen

L-R: Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, City Administrator Rick Smiley, acting Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Watson

Eric Watson's first City Council meeting as acting director of Public Works & Urban Development brought a couple of barbs regarding his PMUA role.

Watson headed the department previously under Mayor Mark Fury before leaving in 1995 to become executive director of the newly-formed Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. He served 15 years as PMUA director before leaving with a large settlement.

On Monday, resident William Michelson said in public comment he had no problem acknowledging Watson was completely qualified for the city post, but noted Watson is the same person who retired from the PMUA "with $760,000 of the people's money."

"When I found out about it, I felt like I had been raped," Michelson said. "Mr. Mayor, what were you thinking to bring this man into City Hall?"

Michelson offered "possible solutions" including legal malpractice charges for the PMUA law firm regarding the "golden parachute" or, he said, "Let Mr. Watson do his job but just don't pay him."

"I don't understand how this administration could rub this in our face," Michelson said.

Whatever his point about Watson, Michelson's allusion to rape provoked an outraged response from two councilwomen.

"To compare one's dismay or disgust at a city hire to rape is probably the single most disgusting comment I have heard," Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said, drawing applause from the public.

Councilwoman Tracey Brown, who is also the pastor of Ruth Fellowship Ministries, called Michelson's comment "appalling."

"I counsel women who have been raped," she said, calling the comment "morally incorrect."

Michelson, an attorney who is running as a Republican for the Second & Third Ward City Council seat, left the courtroom abruptly after the councilwomen spoke.

But Watson later came in for a quip from Councilman William Reid, who asked him as Public Works director to look into security for playgrounds where vandals have broken into bathrooms to steal metal.

"If you solve that problem, you can keep the 1 million dollars," Reid said to Watson.

Mapp named Watson as acting director as of Sept. 15. Watson can serve 90 days before Mapp must obtain advice and consent of the City Council to make the appointment permanent through Mapp's term ending December 31, 2018.


Audit Uncovers Fiscal Disarray

Meeting 41 of 50 fiscal "best practices"means the city will receive all its state aid this year, Chief Financial Officer Al Steinberg told the City Council Monday.

Steinberg led with that good news before he and Bob Swisher of the auditing firm Supplee, Clooney went on to paint a picture of financial disarray uncovered in the 2013 audit.

Among answers to the state best practices checklist, when it came to whether all prior audit findings had been addressed so they would not appear again, Steinberg said, "The answer is a resounding "no."

After Mayor Adrian O. Mapp took office in January, Steinberg became the first permanent chief financial officer since 2007. At times there was no one holding the state-mandated position. Most recently, the business administrator/CFO of a neighboring town spared the city five to seven hours a week from February 2012 through December 2013.

The 2013 audit revealed lapses such as the general ledger, which Swisher called "the most important document," not being maintained. Swisher said it has been a problem for years in Plainfield due to lack of a CFO. At one point, it was off by $55 million.

Money handling was another problem. The city sometimes failed to deposit cash within 48 hours as required. Employees bypassed the purchasing office. Purchases were made without CFO certification that funds were available. People were getting paid without documentation of Social Security numbers for tax forms.

Cash collected for fees in Recreation was then used for purchases. "Obviously that's wrong," Steinberg said.

With financial record-keeping out of whack, Steinberg said, "It takes us weeks to do stuff that should take us days to do."

The audit report is online at the city web site. Although some including Councilwoman Gloria Taylor and Councilman William Reid tried to cast blame on Mapp, the audit was for the final year of the prior administration, as Councilwoman Rebecca Williams and Councilman Cory Storch pointed out.

"I'm glad the house is getting cleaned," Williams said.

Storch said he has heard  the findings for many years and noted it is not the auditor's job to fix them.

"What I see here is something different," he said, namely a CFO "willing to dig deep."

"I have confidence for the first time in eight years," he said.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Have to Crash, More Tomorrow

Monday's City Council meeting was heavy on drama, but also included a detailed presentation by Chief Financial Officer Al Steinberg and Auditor Bob Swisher that needs more explanation than I can muster at this hour. Check back tomorrow for that post.

Sports Disputes Erupt Again

Rev. Jason Greer, center front, in tan suit, addresses City Council
A large number of parents, some with their children, turned out in support of Rev. Jason Greer, who called the 2014 youth baseball season "a catastrophe" and questioned the leadership of Recreation Superintendent Veronica Taylor.

When he took office in January, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp had announced resolution of the acrimony between a volunteer-led league and a city league. There would be one unified league in 2014, he said. Greer said Monday all the registration money went to Karen Glencamp-Daniel, head of the Queen City Baseball League. Resident Faye Clark gave the council members a 150-page report on the finances to bolster Greer's assertion.

Greer also said Seidler Field "has always been our football field," apparently referring to a proposal to create a soccer field there. Speakers at the Aug. 18 council meeting perceived the expansion of soccer as catering to Latinos at the expense of sports favored by African-Americans.

Greer claimed Monday the administration was "cutting back programs," which he said would lead to an increase in crime.

"We really need some answers," Greer said. "If Veronica Taylor is not willing to work with all youth, she needs to be removed."

Greer voiced other complaints before raising his voice and saying, "I need to know where our money went. If this problem is not corrected, we will fill this house and turn it inside out."

Mapp said at the beginning of the year one league was formed and for the transition monies were still going to Queen City "to complete the merger."

The Plainfield Recreation Division did not run the baseball program this year, he said.
As Mapp and Greer traded views, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor opined that there were some disagreements and the groups did not really merge.

"It's a takeover, that's what I am hearing," Taylor said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said she is on the Recreation Committee and the council had only heard from one group. Since Greer's allotted 10 minutes had grown to 29, she asked for five minutes for Glencamp-Daniel to speak. But as the topic shifted from baseball to football, Council President Bridget Rivers said, "We are not having that discussion."

Banging her gavel, she ordered a police officer to remove Glencamp-Daniel from the courtroom.

Greer got the last word, saying he did not want Seidler Field to be converted to a soccer/football field.