Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Empowerment Program for Girls

I don't normally post press releases, but I am making an exception for this one:

Six-Week Empowerment Program Coming in October for Plainfield Girls

‘Stepping In and Stepping Up’ Sponsored by Housing of Authority of Plainfield will Mentor Young Women in the Area

PLAINFIELD, NJ – September 30, 2015 – On October 7, Yes Girl, Inc., in conjunction with the Housing Authority of Plainfield, will host a six-week empowerment program for girls ages 13-21 in the Plainfield area.

The program, titled “Stepping In and Stepping Up”, will be held at the HAP Technical Center, 543 West 3rd Street, from 5-7 p.m., and will cover topics such as self-empowerment, financial stability, reproductive health, and career advice. 

Yes Girl, Inc. is a nonprofit organization geared towards empowering women and girls to become leaders and change agents in their communities by building self-esteem, embracing inner creativity, and developing positive social capital. Since its inception in 2014, Yes Girl, Inc. has conducted programs with the Durham Housing Authority and Global Scholars Academy both in North Carolina, and even mentored some female youth in Monrovia, Liberia. 

“I believe it is important to invest in our youth,” said Nia Baskerville, CEO of Yes Girl, Inc. and Plainfield native. “I am especially excited about this project because I have the opportunity to give back to my hometown.” 

The “Stepping In and Stepping Up” program is a part of the Housing Authority of Plainfield’s Family Self Sufficiency initiative. Participating alongside Yes Girl Inc. in the initiative is C.U.R.E., a youth mentoring group for young men. C.U.R.E. will also host programs next month.

“For some time now, the Family Self Sufficiency program has been waiting for the right, grass roots organizations to partner with to bring our vision to light. Yes Girl Inc. and C.U.R.E. did just that,” said Nydiadra Rivers, FSS Coordinator at the Housing Authority of Plainfield. “With Yes Girl Inc. cultivating our young women and C.U.R.E. maintaining the same direction with our young men, our mission of promoting self sufficiency among the youth and building future leaders will be achieved.”

Yes Girl, Inc. will hold a meet and greet event on Saturday, October 3 from 1-3 p.m. at the HAP Technical Center to kick off the six-week program. For more information, please email Nia Baskervile at or Nydiadra Rivers at

The mission of Yes Girl, Inc. is to empower women and girls to become leaders and change agents in their communities’ by building self-esteem, embracing inner creativity, and developing positive social capital. Yes Girl offers a series of models and interventions that contribute to the mental, physical and social health of the active participant. Interventions are designed to serve communities, faith based organizations, middle and high schools, post-educational academic settings, and other nonprofits. 

Williamson Gets BOE Consultancy

A rather scurrilous and unprintable comment led me to check on the allegation made. Well, a check of the Sept. 22 Board of Education (not Broad of Education as the writer styled it) turned up this interesting item:

Consultant – Human Resources Department 
The Superintendent of Schools, recommends and I so move, adoption of the following: RESOLUTION WHEREAS, the Plainfield Public Schools has identified a need for a consultant in the Human Resources Department, and WHEREAS, the Plainfield Public Schools approves payment to Daniel Williamson to oversee the Human Resources Department beginning September 21, 2015 until December 31, 2015, now therefore be it RESOLVED, the Board of Education approves payment to Daniel Williamson in the amount of $78.80 per hour not exceed $35,000. 

Williamson has previously served as corporation counsel to the City of Plainfield and executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. During the great churn in the Robinson-Briggs administration, he also served a brief stint as city administrator, as did the former mayor.


Fourth Ward Meeting Raises Citywide Issues

Keeping the next generation here, reducing political dissension and educating residents on city rules were topics that emerged at Tuesday's Fourth Ward Town Hall Meeting.

"I raised two children and I can't get them to come back," Barry Goode said, but added, "I believe we can get the city back to where it was."

Recent college graduate Isaiah Thompson said others his age are saying they are not coming back to the city, and asked what he could say to convince them to return.

"That's a good question, that's a great question," City Council President Bridget Rivers said. "We need to ask ourselves what we can do to get more young people to come back to Plainfield."

Mary Ann Anderson, a 63-year resident, said, "I have never seen Plainfield in such a state," and told the governing body to put dissension aside.

"The politics is sickening," she said. "It's just in a sad state."

A Myrtle Avenue resident complained that a neighbor has filled his driveway with cars under repair, with work going on "at all hours of the day and night." She said when she came to the city, she received a handbook of guidelines for upkeep of her property. Another problem is a trailer with no lights parked on her street.

"Something needs to be done about it," she said.

Among suggestions to improve the city, John Campbell said the city should "be more business-friendly" and invite industry to create jobs. Norman Ortega echoed that idea and called for investment across the city, not just certain wards.

Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey pointed out the board's recent approval of an industrial expansion in the Fourth Ward, but Councilwoman Vera Greaves said the council didn't know about it and complained of a "lack of information."

With only about 25 residents in attendance, some took more than one turn at the microphone.Faye Clark spoke at length about her concerns for youth recreation and later called for better dissemination of information on recreation programs. Alan Goldstein called the proposed outsourcing of planning and zoning operations "a fairly hare-brained idea" and suggested a meeting of the council with officials of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority to re-examine the service agreement for solid waste and sewer services.

Goldstein also asked about a proposed investigation into the March 21 demolition that destroyed a Latino restaurant next door, but Public Works Director Eric Watson said the building owner had been compensated and the city had helped the restaurant owner to relocate.

Richard Hunt called for more jobs and advocated youth mentoring, invoking the "each one, teach one" adage. He also said the governing body has to "look at more ways to help the citizenry."

Although the meeting was.non-political, Goode, Campbell and Ortega are all on the November 3 ballot for City Council seats. Goode and Ortega are vying for the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat and Campbell is running against incumbent Councilman Cory Storch for the Second Ward seat.

The two-hour meeting was recorded for broadcast on local channels 34 and 96. Check the city web site for broadcast times.

Rivers announced tentative dates for three other ward meetings. The First Ward Town Hall Meeting is Oct. 20 at Emerson School, the Second Ward is Oct. 14 at Cook School and the Third Ward is Oct 27 at Cedarbrook School. Confirmed dates will be announced on the city web site.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Three Meetings Tonight



FROM 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.




Not only is the Fourth Ward Town Hall Meeting tonight, there are two more choices for the public to attend!

Just saw this one on Facebook:

Also the Local Organizing Committee for the Oct. 10 20th Anniversary Million Man March is holding a meeting

Photo Roundup

Fall means seed-saving time for me. On the left, some seeds and chaff from a small form of Black-Eyed Susan. On the right, the tiny seeds with some chaff above. The pin is for reference to the size of the seeds. My garden yields a wide variety of seeds in all shapes and sizes and gives me something to look forward to during winter.
On a walk downtown Monday, I saw new chairs and tables inside the relocated Mi Buenaventura Restaurant. The sign predicted a May opening, but it took a lot longer to get to this point. The restaurant's original North Avenue location was damaged on March 21 during a demolition of an adjacent building. This is also on North Avenue, across from the main train station on the side closest to the post office.
One of the most nerve-wracking parts of being a pedestrian is dodging bike riders on the sidewalk. If I see them coming, I stand still at one side until they pass so as not to get knocked down. At my age, a fall can lead to a broken hip! But when they come from behind, the most I can do is vent with a few unprintable words as they zoom by. Two single riders had passed me before this pair came from behind. Whatever happened to bicycle bells?
This passageway from East Front Street to Municipal parking Lot 6 was damaged in Hurricane Sandy, but has now been restored and beautified with landscaping. The City Council approved a contract to create a mural at the site and I went to see whether any work had been done.
Oops! No mural yet, but one of the city's taggers has already defaced one wall. The Special Improvement District association has a graffiti-removal program, so maybe they can deal with this one.


Consultant Search Related to Muhlenberg

The city is seeking a real estate and redevelopment consultant specifically for future uses of the Muhlenberg site, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said Monday.

A request for proposals was published in Sunday's Courier News, seeking  ""professional real estate and redevelopment consulting services" with a bid opening date of Oct. 15. In answer to Plaintalker's query, Mapp replied, "The RFP for Professional Real Estate and Redevelopment Consulting Services is aimed at identifying a consultant with a high level of expertise who will focus primarily on the Muhlenberg campus. Our goal is to aggressively market the Muhlenberg Campus so as to attract the right healthcare related uses back to our City. Now that the Planning Board has made its declaration, this is a critical step in a process that, we believe, will result in the restoration of healthcare services on the Campus."

Earlier this month, the Planning Board agreed on a "non-condemnation" route for redevelopment of the site where Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008. JFK Health, formerly Solaris, maintained a satellite emergency department at the site and is in the process of relocating it to another building on the Muhlenberg campus. The board's choice to avoid condemnation by eminent domain was supported at the Sept. 3 meeting by land use attorney Steven J. Tripp, who said Muhlenberg was opposed to condemnation and recommended non-condemnation.

The board's finding that the site is in need of redevelopment was recommended to the governing body. The next step is for the City Council to ask the board  for a redevelopment plan.

The next agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The regular meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13 in Municipal Court.


Monday, September 28, 2015

City Seeks Real Estate & Redevelopment Consultant

Just a couple of weeks after the administration posted a request for proposals to outsource Planning and Zoning, a new notice has been published seeking proposals for "professional real estate and redevelopment consulting services."

The first one would replace the city's in-house Planning Division staff, ostensibly to save $200,000. Bids will be opened at 11 a.m. on - whoops, this must be a typo - Wednesday, Oct. 1. (My calendar has Oct. 1 down as a Thursday.) Hmm. I was going to say Thursday would be too late to meet the City Council's strict deadline of noon Wednesday for resolutions and ordinances, in this case for the Monday, Oct. 5 agenda-fixing session.

Wait a minute, that was what the RFP on the city web site said, but checking the legal notice published in the Courier News, there it says Thursday, Oct. 1. Unless it is added as a new item at the Oct. 13 regular meeting, it would have to wait until November, when the council has a combined agenda-fixing and regular session on Nov. 9. We shall have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the new RFP for professional real estate and redevelopment consulting services has a bid opening date of Thursday, Oct. 15. Maybe we can find out whether this impacts the Economic Development office headed by Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez. The legal notice ran Sunday in the Courier News.

Another legal notice was published Friday memorializing preliminary and final site plan approval for a 125-unit apartment complex at East Third and Richmond streets. The property is the former Cozzoli Machine Company site. In 2003, the company moved to a new 100,000 square-foot location in Somerset. Crown Real Estate Holdings, Inc. received Planning Board approvals for the apartment project, but according to a notice on the Crown Bank web site, the property is for sale, as-is, for $5,625,000. The notice states that the city has approved it for 125 units.

All these notices are interesting, but the impact on the city remains to be seen. Certainly the outsourcing of Planning & Zoning has raised many concerns, from the loss of institutional knowledge to worries about accessibility of outsourced land use staff. The City Council will have to approve any contracts with outside consultants and a majority has blocked the administration's initiatives at times. Stay tuned.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Town Meetings - A Medley

Residents are invited to come out Tuesday for the Fourth Ward Town Meeting, a chance to let City Council members hear your concerns. Although the location is in the Fourth Ward and residents there are especially encouraged to attend, the meeting is open to all.



FROM 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.




Here's a report on the 2013 Fourth Ward Town Meeting.

The only Town Meeting I recall in 2014 was the "emergency"one on Liberty Village. Besides my report at the preceding link, you can also see David Rutherford's Liberty Village video that he posted on YouTube.

Earlier this year, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp held a Town Meeting that featured awards to community leaders and remarks from his cabinet members.

Years ago, the City Council also scheduled meetings called "working conferences" with emphasis on one topic such as public safety. Here is a blog post from 2006 on a working conference on public safety.

The concept was dropped for a time, but emerged in 2009 as a "working session" on the PMUA. And here is a report on that meeting.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Blogs to Watch Out For

While the Plainfield Democrats are inviting folks to their picnic, PlainfieldLatino is aiming to eat their lunch.

The blog that claims to be the true voice of Latinos came out swinging against Flor Gonzalez, Carlos Ponton and Maritza Martinez, calling them "sell-outs."

The three are members of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, once led by Norman E. Ortega, who is now running for City Council as an Independent against Democrat Barry Goode. Ortega's campaign ad looms large beside the blast at PACHA, whose alleged "sell-out" in part consists of holding "cheap parties" and allowing Goode to attend.

The blog has been highly critical of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp since its inception, putting anti-Latino words in his mouth with speech bubbles like this:

Subtle, eh? Especially when Mapp's Deputy City Administrator, Carlos Sanchez, explains economic development and other topics to audiences in English and Spanish and Mapp's own motto is "One Plainfield - One Future." Mapp also revived PACHA after Ortega let it sink into oblivion.

PlainfieldLatino has a big notice for the Fourth Ward meeting next week, which Council President Bridget Rivers said on Sept. 8 was for herself and Vera Greaves, the current First & Fourth Ward at-large council representative. It has since been clarified that the meeting is open to all residents and the entire council may be present. Greaves will not be on the Nov. 3 ballot; the candidates are Goode and Ortega.

As a blog, PlainfieldLatino began in 2014 with some unfortunate episodes of plagiarism and also swiped a photo of Latino homeland flags from Plaintalker. It soon moved on to a steady stream of mayor-bashing. Mapp apparently decided to heed the old adage never to get into a micturation contest with a Mephitis mephitis and has not reacted to the blog's barrage of misinformation.

Ortega ran for the school board in 2014 and blamed his loss on the failure of Latinos to vote for him. His very faulty analysis of the election led Plaintalker to respond with some better math.

The PlainfieldLatino blog moved to.a different format in April 2015, though the tone remained the same. Most recently, it has become a campaign vehicle for Ortega.

A blog can be whatever the blogger(s) in charge want it to be. So far, it's a free country for bloggers, though some council members want blogs to be abolished. As with any form of communication, be it a radio show or a newspaper or a blog, the audience/reader needs to decide whether the content is based on fact, fiction or fulmination. Watch out for those that think you will go for the okey-doke.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eid Mubarak

Eid Mubarak
to all
who are celebrating
Eid al-Adha

Body Camera Plan Has Five-Year Tab

City police officers will soon be wearing body cameras which can be activated in situations including traffic stops, vehicle searches and arrests, among other encounters.

The resolution passed by the City Council on Sept. 14 includes a funding agreement that starts with assistance totaling $141,486 in county and state forfeiture funds, but then commits the city to an annual expenditure of $92,868 for four more years.

As described in a press release from the Union County Prosecutor's Office, eight of the county's 21 municipalities will take part in the pilot program.

The recorded data must be downloaded at the end of an officer's shift and will be saved in cloud storage.

The goal is a reduction in citizen complaints in light of a "broad rift" in police-civilian relations.

Overall costs for the eight-municipality pilot program fall under "a unique cost-sharing framework" as described in the press release:The program is being funded by a unique cost-sharing framework – for each participating department, the first-year average cost of approximately $1,350 per officer (approximately $750,000 total) is being covered by Prosecutor’s Office forfeiture funds, supplemented by $125,000 in forfeiture funds from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, while the departments’ municipalities then are agreeing to multi-year contracts costing an average of $670 per officer, per year thereafter.

The present need to increase trust and transparency in police-civilian interactions was also noted in Monday's press release from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding a commitment of more than $23 million "to expand the use of body-worn cameras and explore their impact." 

In December, Dr. Cedric Alexander, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, endorsed the use of body cameras and explained other trust-building initiatives in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

The city's 5-year contract is with Taser, the company that has also produced electric weapons since 1993.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fourth Ward Town Hall Update



FROM 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.




Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fourth Ward Town Hall Meeting Set








What's unusual about this Town Hall Meeting?

Past Town Hall Meetings in each of the city's four wards usually took place in Spring - in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.  Meetings for 2015 only came up at the Sept. 8 City Council meeting as a discussion item:

Ward Meetings - Rivers said the council used to hold meetings in each ward in past years and will resume with one on Sept. 29 for herself and Greaves. Rivers represents the Fourth Ward and Greaves holds the First and Fourth Ward at-large seat.
Greaves' term ends on Dec. 31 and one of the contests in the November 3 general election is for her seat, with Democrat Barry Goode and Independent Norman E. Ortega vying for a four-year term. No time or location for the meeting was announced.

The legal notice above was missing a time. An inquiry revealed it will be from 7 to 9 p.m.

No other ward meetings have been announced, although past custom was that any resident could speak at any of the ward meetings.

Now just for argument's sake, suppose the two Second Ward (2nd and 2&3 at-large) representatives announced a Town Meeting so late in the year, with an election upcoming. Would it set off suspicions of politicking? Would the "smell test" be invoked by the council's resident olfactory arbiter?  Or would it only be fair?

Questions, questions ...


A`Week of Observances

This week holds a remarkable confluence of observances important to people of diverse faiths. Click the links for more information.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins tonight at sundown and is the most solemn day for Jews. It is a day of fasting and prayer as the faithful atone for the sins of the past year'

Millions of Muslims this week are making the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that each follower of Islam is obligated to make once in a lifetime and is based in part on seeking forgiveness of sins.

For Catholics, the visit of Pope Francis to the United States is an occasion to hear his message to all people.

Lastly, those who observe the turning of the Wheel of the Year will mark the Autumn Equinox. While dear to Pagans, the Auutmn Equinox can have broad spiritual meaning for all.


Monday, September 21, 2015

NJ Assembly District 22

Please note there are two Democrats and two Republicans running for the District 22 Assembly seats. The Republicans are William "Bo" Vastine of Scotch Plains and William H. Michelson of Plainfield. The Democrats are Gerald Green of Plainfield and James J. Kennedy of Rahway. There are two two-year terms up for election. Winners will take office on Jan. 1, 2016. 

Voters may pick any two in the Nov. 3 general election.

Being hyperlocal and all, I did not include all state and county candidates in my recent post on voting. My apologies.


Know Your 2015 City Council Candidates

Heading into the general election, City Council candidates are looking at voter numbers in Wards 1, 2 and 4 this year.

The two races are for the Second Ward seat and the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat. In the Second Ward, the Board of Elections recorded a total of 6,484 registered voters as of September 1. The First Ward had 5,132 and the Fourth Ward had 4,111, for a total of 9,243.. Voters may still register to vote in the general election up until Tuesday, Oct. 13, so the numbers may change somewhat. The Board of Elections will publish the final numbers after Oct. 13.

In 2011, Vera Greaves won the June primary and was unopposed in November. She won with 1,235 out of a possible 8,840 votes. In the Second Ward, Cory Storch won over Republican William Michelson with 1,053 votes out of a possible 6,095. Michelson received 271 votes. The winners' four-year terms began on Jan. 1, 2012.

This year, the candidates for the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat are Democrat Barry Goode and Independent Norman E. Ortega, who formerly ran for the school board. The Second Ward candidates are Storch on the Democratic line and Independent John Campbell, who formerly ran for a state Assembly seat.

Regardless of affiliation, voters in the general election can choose among the candidates as they wish. Whether one is a Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, unaffiliated or whatever, a voter on November 3 can split votes any which way, though for council races the voter must live in the relevant ward.

Third Ward voters will get to vote for a City Council representative in 2016 and any registered voter can vote in 2016 for the Citywide at-large representative.



The next City Council meeting is not until October 5, so maybe we can all enjoy a break from the drama. Wishing everyone a pleasant start to Autumn on Wednesday. Learn more about the Autumn Equinox here.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Uninvited Guest

Lurking in a flowerbed, this Praying Mantis captured a big bumblebee in attack from below.
Here she firmly grips the hapless bumblebee in her powerful forelegs (click to enlarge image).
Just as she starts gnawing on a bee leg, a wasp shows up to join in the meal.
She starts back, as if to say, "Waiter, there's a wasp in my bumblebee!"

A second later, she managed to chase the wasp away. The days are dwindling down to a precious few for these mantises. Between now and the first frost, the females will create their egg cases and all the mantises will die.


West on CIP Requests: Bond Only $3 Million Annually

The purse strings for big-ticket city necessities are tight, so much so that Finance Director Ron West has advised bonding no more than $3.5 million annually for capital improvements.

Planning Board members pored over West's color-coded charts of capital requests Thursday night. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said West's recommendation was for bonding no more than $2 million in general requests and $1.5 million for roads. Capital improvements and acquisitions can preferably be funded with grants

Ideally, the board reviews and approves capital improvement requests and refers a six-year capital improvement program to the governing body for action. However, in recent years, the process has faltered. According to then-Chairman Ken Robertson in August 2013, there were no capital expenditures from 2009 through 2012, and to avoid a huge expenditure and give the City Council some breathing room, the board wanted to "zero out" 2014. Earlier that year, the former administration proposed issuing $8 million in bonds to catch up, but some council members questioned the amount. Plaintalker also called for an overall accounting of bonding and debt in 2013.

Two capital requests were reviewed Thursday. The Plainfield Public Library is seeking $500,000 to repair the deteriorating steps on the Park Avenue side. Library Director Mary Ellen Rogan said the project was approved but not bonded, so it was being put forward again. Peter Rajcevic, the library's chief technology officer, said the steps are one phase of exterior repairs and are a safety issue. The steps on that side have not been touched since the library was built in 1968, except to have some planters removed.

Because the plans are now a year and a half old, the library is having an architect review estimated costs. Another consideration is that the building extends 10 feet under the steps, essentially forming the roof of lower-level rooms.

Robertson asked whether costs could be broken up over two years. Rogan mentioned $77,000 that the library paid for another project, and asked whether it could be repaid and applied to the proposed step repairs.

Chairman Ron Scott Bey said one reason for suggesting the two-year span was that the project would use up one-quarter of the recommended $2 million. The discussion ended with a promise to look into it, and also the possibility of getting back the $77,000.

Next, Captain Steven Soltys of the Police Division presented information on capital projects, some of which are underway. One large expected expense is an engineering study for $2.4 million. Soltys said there are 13 different systems in the police building that need to be studied. There are five major rooftop installations, he said. As an example of needed upgrades, he said the jail has heat, but no air conditioning. Also ductwork with interior insulation needs to be replaced, as it cannot be cleaned.

Soltys also mentioned the need to replace patrol cars with Explorers, noting Ford now makes a specialized police vehicle that is becoming the standard. The vehicle cost is about $31,000, rising to $54,000 when police equipment is added.

In addition, the impending use of body cameras will create the need for video storage equipment. (I did not hear any promises from the board on these requests.)

The Fire Division did not present a capital request as expected Thursday.

Commentary: Hearing about just these two aspects of capital improvement plans made me wonder how things will work out in light of the proposed outsourcing of the Planning Division. If some city divisions lack the internal skills to put together capital improvement requests, how will the interface with an outside planning firm work? At what juncture will the outsourced entity meet with the Planning Board and/or the governing body regarding the CIP? Just wondering.


Disclosure: My son works part-time at the Plainfield Public Library.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Vote, Vote, Vote!

It is now less than seven weeks to the Nov. 3 general election. Voters will choose two City Council members, three school board members, three freeholders, a county clerk and two state Assembly representatives.

If you are a registered voter, you will soon receive a sample ballot that indicates your polling place as well as the list of candidates. If you are not registered, check the Union County web site for more information on filing and voting.

Some commenters on the blog have called for the removal of elected officials, singly or across the board. It doesn't work like that, unless an officeholder drops dead or goes to jail. And in case of a vacancy, it is initially the party, not the public, that fills it.

Your only chance to get rid of an official you don't like is by voting for and persuading enough others to vote for your choice. But all these candidates have terms. For Assembly, it's two years; for school board three, and for City Council and mayor, four years.

So you can holler all you want, but you may have to wait years for a chance to vote your particular rascal out.

The council's terms are spelled out on the city web site. Diane Toliver just took office this year, so she has three years to go. Rebecca Williams won re-election  and also will be in office until Dec. 31, 2018. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and Council President Bridget Rivers have terms to Dec. 31, 2017. The terms of Gloria Taylor and Tracey Brown expire at the end of 2016, so they will have to run next year to stay in office. And of course if you were paying attention, you know the Democratic Primary winners this year were Barry Goode and incumbent Cory Storch, who will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. As the law allows, candidates John Campbell and Norman E. Ortega filed as Independents in June and will be on the November ballot.

This year's council races are for the Second Ward (Storch, Campbell) and the First & Fourth Wards at-large (Goode and Ortega). Vera Greaves did not run for re-election, so she will definitely be off the council by Jan. 1, 2016.

Assemblyman Jerry Green has held his office since 1992 and is running for re-election with former Rahway Mayor James Kennedy. See your ballot for all the Assembly and freeholder candidate choices.

On the nine-member school board, three seats come up each year. Incumbent Jackie Coley is running for re-election. Among others who filed, John Campbell (the elder) and Richard Wyatt are now both appointees in unexpired terms who are seeking full three-year terms. The fourth candidate who filed is Emily Morgan.

Why should you think ahead and vote for those whom you believe will do the best job? On the school board, five of nine board members may control decision-making on spending about $180 million and affecting the lives of about 7,500 students. Four of seven City Council members have the sway over a $78 million budget and legislation affecting about 50,000 residents. These responsibilities require wisdom and a sense of stewardship if veniality and pettiness are to be avoided.

Get to know all the candidates and vote on Nov. 3 for the ones you find most promising. And on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November next year and in the years after that, do the same.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Blessing of the Animals

Habitat for Humanity Home for Disabled Vet Approved

Habitat's newest home in Plainfield, lower left

Marking 36 years in Plainfield with 37 homes completed, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter is now launching a "Habitat for Heroes" project that will provide housing for a disabled veteran.
Rev. Jeremy Montgomery, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plainfield and Middlesex County, appeared before the Planning Board Thursday with an attorney and engineer to present the proposal to subdivide a lot at the corner of East Fifth Street and Franklin Place. The lot already contains one single-family home built by the group. The board agreed unanimously to approve the application for a barrier-free home suitable for a disabled vet and his or her family.

In an update on the group's activities, Montgomery described five recent housing projects, including one on West Third Street where the owner had received the keys that day.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mau's Trip to the Vet

In anticipation of having to take Mau to the vet for a checkup and immunizations, we set out the mesh carrier so he would get used to it. He last traveled in it a while ago and it seemed prudent to reacquaint him with the carrier. Sprinkling catnip inside proved to be a good inducement.

I tried zipping him in and hoisted the bag on my shoulder like some kind of exotic cat purse. I was surprised how heavy it was, and realizing how powerful the once-runty kitty had become, I began having second  thoughts about the soft carrier. What if he decided to break out while en route to the vet's office? The last time, we had door-to-door service with Rasheed Abdul-Haqq at the wheel, but this time we would have to go back and forth by taxi. We miss Rasheed a lot for many reasons, ease of travel being just one.

In the end, for safety's sake, we put Mau in the big dog crate that was his original indoor home until he got acclimated. Luckily for me, my son was available to lug it down the stairs and into the taxi. Mau howled the whole time and hissed at the vet, then at me for submitting him to this experience.

Mau got good marks for everything except weighing 17.7 pounds. The vet suggested a diet, no surprise. We have to get him to shed four pounds or more by the next vet visit.

Here is another tale about Mau, the cat formerly known as Mousie. He still has his feral ways and refuses to be a lap kitty for more than 30 seconds at a time, but he can also be very endearing when he feels like it.


DPW Honored for Service

 Councilwoman Diane Toliver presented a resolution honoring Public Works Superintendent John Louise and his staff Monday.


WHEREAS, The Plainfield Division of Public Works under the leadership of Superintendent John Louise play a vital importance to the everyday health, safety, and well-being of the people of this Plainfield Community;
AND WHEREAS, the efficiency of the qualified and dedicated personnel who staff the Public Works Division is materially influenced by the attitude and understanding of the importance of the work they perform;
AND WHEREAS, Superintendent John Louise and his staff, should be commended for going above and beyond, time and time again, to ensure that the needs of residents and elected officials are met on a daily basis;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Plainfield City Council, in the County of Union, State of New Jersey, does hereby recognize John Louise & the Plainfield Public Works Division for their continued devotion to exemplary public-service to the Plainfield Community;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Plainfield City Council does hereby call upon all citizens and civic organizations to acquaint themselves to functions of the Public Works Division and to recognize the contributions, which public works employees make every day to our health, safety, comfort, and quality of life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Blogs in the Crosshairs

Among many less-than-quotable quotes at Monday's City Council meeting, there was this one: "We have to come up with legislation to stop these blogs."

The first negative mention of blogs was from the unsoaped mouth of Alex Toliver, who, after making homophobic and demeaning remarks to Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, went on to complain about her blog. (See Sergio Bichao's report on Toliver's verbal attack on Williams)

Later, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor spoke of the "situation with blogs" and said they should be held "accountable."

There used to be as many as 30 blogs in Plainfield on subjects ranging from politics to trees. Currently fewer than a dozen are left, and only a handful publish daily. Taylor did not name any blogs specifically.

"I think the blogs have to be responsible," said Taylor, who has pointedly noted on several occasions that she does not read the blogs. "I hope we can do something as a community," she added.

Council President Bridget Rivers, after offering an apology for the attack on Williams, said she gets attacked all the time and blogs unfortunately contain information "attacking other individuals."

"You have to be able to take criticism," she said, but then added, "We have to come up with legislation to stop these blogs from what they are saying."

Rivers said she gets "beat up on the blogs" all the time.

In retrospect, it was hard to decipher whether her message was that public officials are subject to criticism and have to get used to it, or that "the blogs" should cease existing.

You are currently reading a blog about Plainfield. What do you think?


Council Report: Meshugenah Monday

The controversial paid sick leave ordinance was tabled indefinitely Monday, but a night club license for which police recommended denial was approved instead in a 4-3 vote.

The surprise topic of the night turned out to be changes at the Senior Center, about which more later.

Though it has been in the works since February, opponents of the paid sick leave plan said not all businesses have been made aware of it. Proponents said it has been discussed with business owners and a meeting is scheduled for today to continue talks. The legislation would allow workers to earn one sick day for every 30 days worked, among other provisions. In response to business owners, it had already been modified to lower fines for noncompliance and to do away with public naming of violators.

Both issues got a boost before Monday's meeting from social media, paid sick leave with a Facebook link to an online Courier News story about a poll that found 80 percent of Plainfielders favored the legislation. The poll was commissioned by the activist group New Jersey Working Families Alliance. But Nimrod Webb, president of the Special Improvement District association representing 400 businesses, dismissed the results in the article, saying any poll can be skewed.

If in fact the sticking point is informing all business owners, it is a tall order. The SID includes the central business district and a portion of South Avenue, but across the city there are more than 2,000 businesses, according to Census figures from 2007. City officials have long talked of creating a business registry, which would have made electronic outreach in English and Spanish easy.

The blog Plainfield Latino also made a Facebook pitch, for people to come out in support of the owner of the Richmond Street night club. A police investigation led to a recommendation for denial of his 2015-2016 liquor license, but a council majority declined to hold a hearing and agreed last week to vote on renewal of the license, along with numerous others. The Express Night Club was the only one receiving a police recommendation for denial. Police had also opposed a license transfer to owner Luis Penaloza for the 2014-2015 year ending in June. Plainfield Latino cast the situation as a plot by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp to shut down Latino businesses.

Before the vote on the license renewal, Councilman Cory Storch urged his colleagues to hold a hearing on the police reports and the "serious violations" that were uncovered. He said it was "a real disservice to this discussion to say we are trying to shut this establishment down."

Storch described the hearing process and said, "Then you make a decision."

In past hearings, the council in its role as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has imposed conditions on liquor establishments in violation, such as requiring security guards or training for employees on ABC rules. Storch said the state ABC would likely reject a denial, as it prefers "progressive discipline" for license holders.

When the renewal passed, audience members including other bar owners broke into applause.

The Senior Center issue began as a discussion item for the council. Rivers said there were rumors of it "phasing out" or merging with Recreation. City Administrator Rick Smiley said the change was only a "health and wellness expansion" led by Recreation Superintendent Veronica Taylor. He said the longtime center supervisor, Sharron Brown, and center staff would remain in place.

Council objections included doubt that Recreation could serve both youth and seniors, and concerns that Brown would lose her job. Rivers said although it was the prerogative of the administration to make changes, the council should have been informed. Gloria Taylor sparred with Smiley over Veronica Taylor's ability to handle the expanded program.

"The administration does not share your opinion," Smiley said, to which Gloria Taylor retorted, "Well, we handle the budget, so keep playing with us."

In public comment, a stream of seniors questioned the change and expressed great love for Brown. Some argued her title is director, not supervisor, and said that is how she is identified on the city web site.

Regarding the twists and turns of the paid sick leave law, the decision-making process for legislation involves several junctures. Council President Bridget Rivers can decide not to put resolutions or ordinances on the agenda in the first place. Items must receive at least a four-member council consensus at the agenda-fixing session to be up for a vote at the regular meeting. Ordinances must pass on two readings, so even if the council agrees one month to pass an ordinance on first reading, it still has the hurdles of getting on the agenda and passing on second reading. If the mayor vetoes the ordinance, it then takes five council votes to override it.

The paid sick leave ordinance received unanimous approval on first reading in February, but an outcry from business owners in March led to postponement until April. It then failed, 3-3, with "yes" votes from Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Tracey Brown and "no" votes from Gloria Taylor, Diane Toliver and Rivers. Vera Greaves was absent. Despite dissension, it was moved to Monday's agenda in a 6-1 consensus, with only Taylor objecting.

The meeting Monday went downhill fast when former PMUA Commissioner Alex Toliver came to the microphone in general public comment and made homophobic remarks to Williams, the only openly gay council member. He began by saying a harassment charge brought by Williams last year was dismissed in court. Toliver, whose wife Diane is now a council member, had suggested that Williams should be beheaded for not saluting the flag. Next he denied flirting on Facebook with her, saying he would not flirt with "a woman who dress like a man, walk like a man."

Toliver's conduct set off a round of apologies and expressions of sympathy from Williams' colleagues for having suffered his remarks.. Williams said a Westfield judge had found the remarks did not meet the strict interpretation of harassment and so dismissed the charges.

Barring any special meetings, the next City Council agenda-fixing session meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Oct 5. The regular meeting will be at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct.13.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Express Night Club License Up for Renewal Tonight

Despite a police recommendation for denial, a liquor license for Express Night Club is up for renewal tonight.

Residents may speak on the resolution, R 325-15, before the City Council votes. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The club is located in the former Richmond Beer garden building at 301 Richmond Avenue.

Owner Luis Penaloza faced the possibility of denial earlier this year when he sought transfer of a license for 301 Richmond Street before the June 30 deadline for liquor license renewals. He agreed to several conditions, including dropping a plan to convert a DJ booth to a lap dance parlor, but neighbors complained of noise until 2 a.m., sex in cars, blocked driveways and litter including condoms, broken beer bottles and crack vials on their property. Since the go-go club closed a few years ago, the neighborhood had been quiet, residents said.

That testimony came out at a hearing in April at which the council acted as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Last week, Corporation Counsel David Minchello said the council could hold a hearing on the renewal for 2015-2016, but a majority declined and put the matter on the agenda for renewal without a hearing.

Among reasons to recommend denial, Police Sgt. Christopher Sylvester said a police visit to the premises on July 2 found unregistered employees, an incomplete list of employees, improper storage and live entertainment  "with women dressed in hardly anything."

An undercover detective visited on July 24 and found a woman performing lap dances and taking currency in her bra. The woman allegedly said she didn't work there, but was a go-go dancer from New York who needed to make extra money. In addition, an intoxicated woman re-entered the club.

Despite the police findings, some council members dismissed them and sided with the owner.

See more on the issue in this post on the Sept. 8 meeting.

Also on the agenda are renewals for three social club licenses, 13 bars or restaurants and nine liquor stores. Three additional licenses are being held for clearance and in one case, no renewal application was filed, leaving that license in danger of being eliminated.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Audit Recommendations Down to Four

Over the years, City Council members have fretted over the number of audit findings that reflect less than optimum fiscal practices. The governing body is required to certify that each member has read the report.

The current audit report, covering Mayor Adrian Mapp's first year in office and the first time in a while that the city has had a full-time, permanent chief financial officer, lists only four recommendations for improvement.

As reported in the mayors weekly newsletter:

  • The City has reduced its audit findings by 75% from 16 to 4. This accomplishment can be attributed to the leadership of Chief Financial Officer, Al Steinberg, who assumed the position in 2014.
The previous report covered fiscal practices in 2013. Even that was an improvement over 2011, when the city racked up 28 findings, 19 of which were repeats, meaning the auditors brought them to the administration's attention in the prior year and the practices were not remedied.

Congratulations to the Finance staff for achieving this level of fiscal control!

Happy New Year

L'Shanah Tovah
to all our
Jewish friends

Regarding Recent Comments

Someone commented recently on the proposed expansion of an industrial plant on West Front Street. I must admit, although I attended the Planning Board meeting at which the application was heard, I spent most of the time outside in the rotunda waiting for another topic that did not come up until after 10:30 p.m.

Anyway, this expansion is news in the industry and good news for Plainfield. Read about Montrose Molders Corp. in this Plastics News article.

Look at the Montrose Molders Corp. web site and Facebook page, if you want to learn more about the company. The Planning Board application was for a new 19,825 square foot building in addition to the existing 78,163 square foot building.

A new building means new ratables, and anything that enlivens the West Front Street industrial corridor is good news.

The commenter chided Carlos Sanchez for not attending the meeting, but he has attended many land use board meetings and community meetings after being on the job all day and if he skipped this one, I would give him a pass. Since joining the administration in early 2014, Sanchez has retained a positive demeanor despite insults from Assemblyman Jerry Green and others. Having observed cabinet members for 30 years, I find Sanchez to be putting in his best effort for Plainfield.

There is a current spike of criticism in comments on the blog, no doubt caused by upset feelings over recent events, with blame being cast on various officials including Sanchez. Part of it may also be pre-election rhetoric, which can get  pretty harsh in Plainfield. I had to hold several comments that just went too far.

Another longtime observer of the scene was laughing at me for being dismayed by the tumult, as if it hasn't already become a city hallmark to upset its own apple cart from time to time. It is difficult right now to see how or whether some current decisions make sense, but if they don't, the old adage, "This too shall pass" will undoubtedly apply not just to the turbulence, but also to the decision makers.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Regarding Sept. 8 Discussion Items

Regarding the four discussion items on the Sept. 8 agenda:

City Council Newsletter - Council President Bridget Rivers asked Corporation Counsel David Minchello about it and Minchello said it will obviously depend on budget constraints. No further discussion took place.
Rivers previously brought it up in August and Plaintalker posted some details on the council's budget line.

Outside Counsel - Minchello said there is no separate counsel, only one corporation counsel (himself). The governing body can only have an outside counsel for a specific investigation or if the council is being sued. Councilwoman Gloria Taylor questioned the status of a request for proposals for special counsel, and Minchello asked, "What is the purpose?" Taylor said it was for an investigation of the March 21 North Avenue demolition, which she said was ongoing.
(Minchello was formerly Plainfield's corporation counsel in 2014, but left to become law director in Trenton in mid-year. He returned in July of this year after Mayor Adrian O. Mapp removed Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill.)

Crossing Guards - Rivers said crossing guards told her they only got a 22-cent raise.City Administrator Rick Smiley said the guards were included in a recent salary ordinance, but Rivers said the guards said they had not gotten a raise. Councilwoman Vera Greaves said if they only got 22 cents, it was an insult. Councilwoman Tracey Brown said they provide a vital service  Rivers again insisted the raise was 22 cents.
No one was present from the crossing guards to clarify the matter. In May, a large number of crossing guards came to a council meeting to protest not having a raise, but were informed of the salary ordinance that increased their maximum pay from $14.30 hourly to $19.

Ward Meetings - Rivers said the council used to hold meetings in each ward in past years and will resume with one on Sept. 29 for herself and Greaves. Rivers represents the Fourth Ward and Greaves holds the First and Fourth Ward at-large seat.
Greaves' term ends on Dec. 31 and one of the contests in the November 3 general election is for her seat, with Democrat Barry Goode and Independent Norman E. Ortega vying for a four-year term. No time or location for the meeting was announced.

So overall, the items were not conclusive and we must wait for further developments.


Stink Bug Alert

The unofficial start of Fall brought to our place a sighting of the first stink bug looking for a winter home.

These brown, shield-shaped bugs may swarm a house in early fall and are hard to control. The "stink" in their name refers to a noxious odor that results from stepping on them or squashing them.

They came to the U.S. by accident and are not a native species here. Their full name is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and they have the distinction of belonging to the family of True Bugs, which also includes the Assassin Bug and Bedbug.

While they are mainly just a nuisance to humans, they are a serious pest to fruit and vegetable crops.

Click the link to see more than you ever wanted to know about the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug courtesy of the EPA.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Planning & Zoning Outsourcing RFP Posted

Click on link below to see the document on the city's web site:

RFP for Outsourcing of Planning and Zoning 

Update: the notice is in the Courier News 9/11/2015

Despite Suspicion, Paid Sick Leave Law Moved to Monday's Agenda

A paid sick leave ordinance will be up for first reading Monday, but the lines drawn in Spring between supporters and opponents remain the same.

The ordinance, which calls for one sick day earned per 30 days of employment, passed unanimously on first reading in February, but after business owners thronged a March meeting with objections, the ordinance was held for further discussion. The business contingent included many Spanish speakers, who said no translation had been provided. The ordinance was amended to be less burdensome to business owners, but in April it failed to pass.

Its reappearance Monday was rumored, although it was not on the printed agenda. Members of the public were already reacting to another rumor about the proposed outsourcing of the entire Planning Division Monday, and the climate of suspicion colored comments from the public and some council members.

"Someone is trying to sneak something in," Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said in asking why the matter was on the agenda.

Council President Bridget Rivers tried to make a motion to table the matter, but Corporation Counsel David Minchello reminded the governing body that at the agenda-fixing session the council could only seek a consensus to move it to the Sept. 14 agenda.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams traced the history of the ordinance, noting there had been five months for discussion. She said she and council members Cory Storch and Vera Greaves were co-sponsoring the legislation and hoped to get a total of five votes, drawing applause from supporters.

But Taylor objected, saying it was being done "undercover at the last minute." She said of Greaves, "Now my colleague is going to jump to the other side."

Though saying she wanted a "win-win," Taylor said, "Now you're going to sneak this in."

Taylor stressed her involvement with the Special Improvement District board and Rivers asked organizer Craig Garcia of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance whether his group had reached out to the business community, but two business owners criticized the group's methods. One, Jeffery Dunn, said the group was "making 7th grade moves." Garcia cited a community group, Families for Plainfield, but digital marketing expert Lenin Aguirre criticized their outreach.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp joined the discussion by recalling the origins of Labor Day and said if the labor movement had to gain the support of every corporation first, workers would not be enjoying the fruits of its efforts. Saying it was a strategy of some businesses in Plainfield to "delay and deny" the need for paid sick leave, he called it a "progressive, much-needed piece of legislation."

Taylor said the council had never met with the business community "to come to a win-win" and added, "I realize people who put this on the agenda had no intention of meeting with the business community."

Complaining about "pontificating from the mayor," she again charged that people were "playing games."

"I don't like shenanigans and games being played," she said.

Actually, Deputy Municipal Clerk Sherri Golden said the ordinance had inadvertently been left off the agenda during preparation.

As the discussion wore on, Councilwoman Diane Toliver suggested a meeting with all the business owners and the council present.

"You notify everybody, then when it comes back to the governing body it will be done right," Toliver said.

Councilman Cory Storch agreed there should be another meeting, but said, "Please do your best to take emotions out of this."

With that, Storch, Greaves, Toliver, Williams, Rivers and Councilwoman Tracey Brown (on speakerphone) agreed to put the legislation up for first reading, with Taylor the only one saying "no."

In public comment sessions before and after the consensus was achieved, speakers on both sides rehashed the issues. SID President Nimrod Webb called the rules harsh and said an estimated $6.25 additional cost to employers was "fuzzy math." He told Mapp, "I represent 400 businesses."

Carlos Ponton, a member of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, urged passage of the legislation, as did residents Richard Lear, Terri Slaughter-Cabbell, PACHA president Flor Gonzalez, Pastor Saafir Jenkins and Margarita Guillermo, who said her 18 years in human resources made her realize businesses lose money when employees come in sick, as they are not productive.

Besides Dunn, Aguirre and Webb, objectors included Donna Albanese of the SID board and Plainwood Square Merchants Association, SID Manager David Biagini and real estate broker John Campbell.

The regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. If the ordinance passes on first reading, it could be up for second reading and final passage on Tuesday, Oct. 13.