Saturday, October 31, 2015

No Vote for Jerry

Sometimes it just takes one thing to reveal a candidate's nature.

My experience in May 2014 convinced me that the next time there was an Assembly election, I would not give my vote to Jerry Green.

Meanwhile, he has transformed his blog from one of attacks on individuals to a cavalcade of endorsements. He recently won the endorsement of the Courier News for another term, though he might not post that one, as the editors also endorsed William "Bo" Vastine, a Republican, rather than choosing both Democrats.

Obviously, I am only one registered Democrat out of 12,959 eligible to vote on Nov. 3. There are also 801 Republicans in Plainfield, 8,012 unaffiliated voters and some from other parties, totaling 21,776 Plainfielders who can go to the polls Tuesday. Jerry is on the ballot with James Kennedy and Bo Vastine is on the ballot with William Michelson of Plainfield. Voters are not bound by parties in the general election and can choose any two Assembly candidates regardless of party affiliation.

Maybe I am taking "Remember in November" too much to heart in this case, but sometimes enough is enough.


El Dia de Los Muertos

It is time to remember those who have passed.

See more on Dia de Los Muertos in this prior post on Maria Pellum's display at the Plainfield Public Library.

Samhain Greetings

Blessed Samhain
to all our
Pagan friends

Friday, October 30, 2015

Another Non-Post on Plainfield

Well, I have been sitting here several hours waiting for the brain fog to lift and it hasn't happened.

A commenter just said (at 3:06 a.m.) what I have been thinking: The "Post Taken Down" has gotten hundreds of page views and many comments. Maybe I actually do better not posting.

But seriously folks, the only things that have come to my bummed-out mind have to do with the insularity expressed by some Plainfielders who seem to want the city to be self-contained. Create jobs in Plainfield, buy everything you need in Plainfield, Plainfield for Plainfielders.

At the same time, the camionetas leave the city every day and so do the trains and buses full of workers. The city has some supermarkets and a lot of bodegas and corner stores, but residents must cross its border to get everything on the shopping list. And Plainfielders will argue indefinitely over who are the real Plainfielders, starting with how long your family has lived here and then slicing and dicing the ethnicities.

I contend that there is a large core of individuals who have chosen to live here because of Plainfield's diversity, although a certain mayor once declared only a black reporter should cover the city. More recently, Latinos from a dozen countries have become the new entrepreneurs in Plainfield, while black enterprise is fading.

As for jobs in Plainfield, look at how many office buildings are vacant. The Urban Enterprise Zone program in part requires business owners to add employees, but a 2011 state report found only 107 of 731 eligible businesses were registered, likely in part to being unwilling or unable to meet the requirement.

I know I am rambling here. My point is that Plainfield is not the be-all and end-all entity that some desire and expect. There is no moat, no drawbridge to keep strangers out and Plainfielders in. New people are here, with more on the way. As for jobs, many nowadays require new skills that could be acquired here, but once trained, young Plainfielders may still strike out on their own. Shopping will not be confined to the city as long as there are older people or professionals who need more than urban gear.

That's it for now.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Some Details on PILOT Revenues

Plainfield received $1.6 million last year through "payment in lieu of taxes" or PILOT agreements.

Most of the PILOT plans involved apartment complexes. Here's the list from the 2015 Municipal Data Sheet, with last year's anticipated revenues and what was realized in cash.

Presbyterian Homes, $170.000 anticipated, $170,142.03 realized.
Cedarbrook Apartments, $227,380 anticipated, $247.023 realized.
Liberty Village, 87,000 anticipated, $111,754.74 realized.
Leland Gardens, $260,000 anticipated, $269,933.19 realized.
Covenant House, $30,000 anticipated, $32,585.40 realized.
Horizon at Plainfield, $105,000 anticipated, $105,619.30 realized.
Allen-Young Apartments, $150,000 anticipated, $105,619.30

There was a listing for "Netherwood," presumably Netherwood Gardens, with no figures.

On a separate page for revenues, there were two listings for Park-Madison, the UCIA-owned office and commercial complex at West Front Street and Park Avenue. One lists anticipated revenues for 2014 as $386,000, with $391,336.82 realized. The other Park-Madison PILOT was expected to bring in $61,000 and realized $71,107.83.

See a post with 2008 PILOT figures here.

The city had several issues with the developer of the Park-Madison building, as noted in this 2006 Plaintalker post. To date, some remain unresolved, such as the clock placement. In 2013, UCIA Director Dan Sullivan handed over a check for $1.09 million representing a settlement over disputed PILOT payments and other issues.

Of course, these figures alone don't tell the whole story of PILOTs. In a state publication, former Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer calls for transparency at the inception of a PILOT and follow-up by the municipality to make sure they are working as intended. His report also found state guidance lacking on tax abatements.

The report is well worth reading by anyone interested in the use of tax abatements. It is A Programmatic Examination of Municipal Tax Abatements from the Office of the State Comptroller, published in 2010.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Post Taken Down

I had a post based on the premise that Norman E. Ortega and John Campbell were running as a slate, but a commenter said they are not, so never mind.


Foreclosure Workshop, Homebuying Advice Thursday

Are you facing possible foreclosure? 

Want to own a home?

Click the links for details!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Child's Death in Collision Mourned

Maria Pellum and her neighbors asked officials for a 4-way stop at a dangerous intersection but, she said, the request was denied because no one had died on that corner.

"Well, today someone died," she said at Monday's First Ward Town Hall Meeting. "We stand here with blood on our hands."

A collision early Monday between a Ford Taurus and mini-van with a driver and six children resulted in the death of a girl, 10, and injuries to seven others. The crash occurred at Arlington Avenue and West Ninth Street, near Plainfield High School and the Plainfield Public Library. If it had been later in the day, there would have been students crossing the street, Pellum noted.

Pellum said she had raised her concern at city traffic committee meetings and urged the council members to take action.

"Today when you go to sleep, think of that lost child," she said.

Lt. Ken Reid came to the microphone to offer condolences and said if an officer had made such a statement, it was not a policy of the Police Division to act on a particular traffic area.

Freeholder Linda Carter also expressed sympathy for the family on loss of the 10-year-old child. She mentioned another dangerous intersection at Emerson and Sumner avenues and offered any help possible at the county level. Resident Alan Goldstein described other accidents at Arlington and West Ninth and said people are running stop signs.

Two four-way stops were established this year on Hillside Avenue at Prospect and Evergreen avenues because of numerous crashes and injuries. They had to be established by ordinances on two readings, with final passage in August.

Residents frequently complain at council meetings about speeding and disregard for stop signs and even red lights. Individuals have also requested speed humps or bumps and speed display signs. Possible reasons for Monday's collision are under investigation by the Plainfield Police Division Traffic Unit and the Union County Police Traffic Investigation Team, according to news reports.


Notes on First Ward Town Hall Meeting

Attendance was sparse but the issues were many at Monday's First Ward Town Hall Meeting. Council members Diane Toliver, Vera Greaves, Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers heard residents' concerns about development, dangerous intersections, a controversial bar, police handling of loitering and council bickering, among others.

As per guidelines for the town hall meetings, residents from any of the city's four wards could speak at any of the meetings.

Resident Alan Goldstein expressed concern about Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and council both hiring attorneys in a dispute over a nominee to the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority.

"I hate to see the either the mayor's office or the council spend money on this kind of bickering," he said.

The council approved spending up to $20,000 on legal representation, with the mayor presumably allocating a like amount. Goldstein also raised concerns about the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and costs of a North Avenue building demolition, among other topics.

Rivers said the mayor "launched the suit," although the action sought is seeking a judge's opinion on the rights of the parties in a dispute, not initiating a lawsuit.

Resident Sherice Koonce asked Toliver about her vote in favor of a liquor license for a controversial Richmond Street bar. Toliver said it had been a go-go bar but was now a sports bar.

"It's supposed to be a decent kind of place," she said. "If the city did not want it, they should have rezoned it."
Councilwomen Diane Toliver, Vera Greaves, Bridget Rivers, Tracey Brown
Toliver said her vote was based on fairness. Rivers also supported granting the liquor license renewal and said she spoke to every nearby resident, hearing no objections. Goldstein said police had recommended denial and said the council could have held a hearing, but rejected it. Rivers said the hearing was only discussed in closed session and challenged Goldstein on how he knew about it. (Actually, the hearing was discussed in public but was rejected.).

Norman X. Johnson raised the issue of police telling African-American men to move off a certain First Ward corner and asserted that police do not make men of different ethnicities disperse in other parts of the city. He questioned whether there is a "phantom law" on loitering. or one that should be enforced citywide.

Reid said Johnson was correct, there is no loitering law, but there is a "failure to disperse" law. He said police respond to residents' calls about people even sitting on porches where they don't reside.

But in another turn at the microphone, Johnson said although he respects the job the Police Division does, "quality of life enforcement is not being done fairly in the city of Plainfield."

Several speakers talked about Monday's tragic collision at Arlington Avenue and West Ninth Street that resulted in the death of a 10-year-old girl and injuries to several others. (See separate post.)

Speakers disapproved of using "payment in lieu of taxes" deals to entice developers, but resident Maria Pellum contrasted the adversarial behavior of city leaders with that of officials in other towns who work together to attract investors.

"People say, did you see what happened at the last council meeting? We need the council to take the lead - do the homework."

Pellum said, "We're stuck because we focus too much on race."

She warned that many large companies are moving out of the area and tax abatements can be the "hook" to bring investment.

Pellum also saw the city's "Abbott district" status as a detriment. The school district receives about 80 percent of its revenues from the state and around 20 percent from taxpayers, based on poverty levels. She said investors are not going to come to a poor district.

Though only about a dozen residents attended, the meeting was recorded for broadcast on local cable channels. The Third Ward Town Hall Meeting is the last and is scheduled for Nov. 12 at Hubbard School.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Downtown Sights & Commentary on Development

Work is in progress at the building next to the March 21 North Avenue demolition site. The crane is over on Gavett Place.
Paramount is experiencing turnover at some Park Avenue properties.

 Spotted this sign and learned that Appliance Arama was in business for 73 years!
Took a fast snapshot of the new equipment at the PSE&G station on West Second Street. It looks better than the old setup.This upgrade was mandated by the operators of the power grid. The old equipment was about 50 years old and had reached the end of its useful life.

This lot is next to the site known as West Second Street Commons, a mixed-use project that received approvals in 2010. See Plaintalker's post on West Second Street Commons. For all the ballyhoo at the time, nothing has happened yet. At last count, developer Frank Cretella had eleven projects in various stages. Two on Park Avenue are complete, as are some on North Avenue. The rehabilitation of the Mirons warehouse and the new construction replacing the Romonds Jeep building are underway. Will we be enjoying outdoor entertainment on Gavett Place by next summer?

Plaintalker posted an overview of Cretella's projects in 2013. Many have progressed since then, but West Second Street Commons is yet to be realized.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

West End Site Eyed for Redevelopment

Talk of possible development on a large West End site made me recall a previous plan for the block.

Planning Director William Nierstedt mentioned at the Oct 15 Planning Board meeting  that the South Second Street property between Grant and Plainfield avenues might be in line for development. The site is now city-owned, though Planning Director William Nierstedt said it is known as the "Oliver Brown" site.

When I first got to Plainfield in the 1980s, it was called the "Flexon" site. Brown owned it at the time of a massive fire that caused evacuation of neighboring streets. As I recall, he received a large insurance payment for the damage, but later lost the site.

Nierstedt did not give any details of plans for the site at the Planning Board meeting.

In 2005, plans for a new middle school on the site fell through, to the consternation of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. The proposed school was to be the centerpiece of a broad rehabilitation effort in the West End.

Nierstedt mentioned the site at the Oct. 15 Planning Board meeting as being part of the "197 Properties" redevelopment plan. Many of the city-owned properties were small parcels that were sold off to owners of contiguous properties, but Nierstedt said the plan also included the so-called "Oliver Brown" site.

The 197 Properties plan goes back a decade or so, but the city recently held an auction to sell off some more of the lots. About 67 of the sites had been conveyed to a Westfield developer during the McWilliams administration, but not all were developed.

A list of more than a dozen redevelopment projects from the McWilliams era was largely ignored during the two terms of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who introduced other redevelopment plans. In 2014, the administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, through the Planning Division, decided to re-examine seven of the inactive plans.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

District 22 Assembly Race

Some Assembly candidates asked me recently whether I would be writing about the District 22 race. I said no, my blog is hyperlocal and only concerned with Plainfield school board and City Council races. But then I was feeling somewhat remiss, since three of the four have blogs and I have to give them credit for being in the blogosphere. (Although as we have been told, nobody reads the blogs.)

I also realized I don't even know much about District 22. It contains parts of three counties and voters choose two representatives for two-year terms. The U.S. Census released 2014 population estimates in May, so you can get an idea of how many residents the Nov. 3 winners will represent in the Assembly.

District 22
(Middlesex, Somerset and Union)

Municipalities and U.S. Census Estimated 2014 Population

Clark - 15,460
Dunellen - 7,417
Fanwood - 7,657
Green Brook - 7,252
Linden - 41,651
Middlesex - 13,888
North Plainfield - 22,029
Plainfield - 50,955
Rahway - 28,528
Scotch Plains - 24,086
Winfield - 1,502

Total Population 220,425

As for registered voters, I could only find town-by-town affiliation statistics for Union County municipalities. They are all listed at the Union County Board of Elections website. The state Division of Elections has gross numbers by district, and lists 121,386 registered voters for District 22. There are 55,289 unaffiliated, 50,323 Democrats, 15,696 Republicans and a smattering of other parties listed.

Within Union County, the largest numbers in most municipalities are the unaffiliated voters. Plainfield and Linden are Democratic strongholds.

So that is some background.There are only four candidates for the two District 22 seats. Democrat Jerry Green has held his Assembly seat since 1992. His running mate James Kennedy is a former mayor of Rahway. Republican William "Bo" Vastine ran for an Assembly seat in 2009. His running mate, William Michelson, is making his first run for an Assembly seat.

The blogs:

William Michelson's blog

Bo Vastine's blog

Jerry Green's blog

Remember to vote on Nov. 3!


Friday, October 23, 2015

PMUA Updates

Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority Director Daniel Mejias announced several changes at the October meeting, including relocation of the Customer Service department to the authority's headquarters at 127 Roosevelt Avenue.

The authority has provided solid waste and sewer services to Plainfield since 1995. Mejias became director in July. At the October 13 meeting, he said customers were coming to the Roosevelt Avenue headquarters to pay bills, but previously had to go to the Rock Avenue transfer station for customer service. The services will now be consolidated at the Roosevelt Avenue headquarters.

In other reorganization moves, the Public Information office will be moved to the PMUA's Front Street location to pair up with Sales, Mejias said. Safety and Risk operations will also be moved from Rock Avenue to Front Street. The Front Street location, on the same block as Dunkin Donuts, also houses Security and Human Resources.

Mejias said the Safety & Risk Loss manager had resigned, but rather than have a full-time replacement he wanted to bring in a part-time consulting firm. An administrative assistant was being promoted to risk loss coordinator, he said.

(A comparison of recent management lists also show a vacancy in Health & Wellness. There is a new manager of Fleet Operations/Container Management and also a new Transfer Station manager.)

As previously reported, former Chief Financial Officer Duane Young is back. The authority is also seeking a labor counsel.

The PMUA's next regular meeting is 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 at 127 Roosevelt Ave. A rate hearing will be conducted in December. See the PMUA website for more information.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Double Council Meeting Next Time

The next City Council meeting is a double-header on Nov. 9, an agenda-fixing session immediately followed by a regular meeting.

Ordinarily the regular meeting would take place a week later, but for the past couple of years the double meeting has taken place so city officials can attend the annual League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City.

The conference had a reputation as party central several years ago. In his 2007 book, "The Confession," former Governor James McGreevey used the term "meat market" to describe the conference. But from what one hears, the focus now is more on professionalism and saving taxpayers dollars by limiting the number of staffers who can attend and by not staying over in fancy hotels.

The 2015 conference coincides with the 100th anniversary of the League of Municipalities, but though venerable, the League is far from old-fashioned. Conference workshops include topics such as social media, sustainability, the Affordable Care Act, mobile apps and electronic bidding.

Municipal officials and employees can also keep up their credentials by earning CEUs (continuing education units) in their fields at the conference. The League is also a year-round asset for municipalities, with information on new legislation and many other aspects of managing a city or town.

So even though a double meeting will be a test of citizens' endurance on those hard benches in Municipal Court, we can take heart in knowing that our municipal staffers will soon be behaving themselves and improving their skills in Atlantic City!


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Council Lawyers Up in Dispute with Mayor

Late last Tuesday, the City Council hired a law firm for defense against legal action by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp.

After the City Council meeting closed public comment on Oct. 13, the governing body went into executive session and apparently came back out to pass R 410-15, a resolution that was not on the printed agenda. It states that as the council was served with a "Complaint for Declaratory Judgment" from Mapp on or about Sept. 29, it was necessary for the governing body to "acquire professional legal services." The resolution provides for up to $20,000 to be paid to Weber Dowd Law, LLC of Woodland Park.

A Complaint for Declaratory Judgment is a legal action described as seeking a judge's opinion regarding the rights of the parties involved in a dispute. It does not require any action to be taken. Click link for more details.

The resolution states that "due to the urgency of this matter," advertisement was being waived. The docket number is UNN-L-3262-15. Plaintalker was unable to locate the case online over the weekend. Details will follow as available.


Days Dwindle Down for Mantises

Egg cases are starting to appear in odd places as the Praying Mantises reach the end of their life span.

I thought the cold weather finished them off, but this brown one was enjoying the sun Tuesday and a green one was trucking across the driveway. I relocated that one to the fading garden.
Some late-blooming Cosmos defied the frost and was a pretty sight in the sunshine.

My seed collection for 2016 is burgeoning, heavy in the Four O'Clocks and Cosmos in shades of pink as well as the prolific orange and golden yellow variety.

Many of the little garden spots got decimated as workers dragged ladders around and deployed a lift with huge wheels to scrape and paint the three-story building.
I was glad it was nearly the end of the growing season, because not much was left untrampled.
So the building looks very nice, but the grounds are quite unsightly. I am hoping to repair some of it before bad weather sets in.


LWV Forum Draws Crowd for BOE, Council Races

If the audience enthusiasm at Tuesday's candidates' forum is any indication, it will not look like an off-year election here on Nov. 3.

Four candidates each for the Board of Education and the City Council spoke at the forum held by the Plainfield League of Women Voters. The audience applauded repeatedly, despite a request to hold it until the end, and broke into applause and screams of delight when BOE candidate Richard Wyatt recited an inspirational poem.

Wyatt, John Campbell and Jackie Coley are all incumbents running as a slate. Coley is seeking a second three-year term and Campbell and Wyatt are recent appointees seeking full three-year terms. Emily Morgan is making her first run for a board seat. Voters must choose three to begin serving as of Jan. 1, 2016.

While some gave generic answers to questions from the audience, Campbell quipped that the answer to increasing parent involvement was "fry some nice chicken and fish." It was sort of a joke on himself, as he is well-known and sometimes criticized for his efficacious political fish fries.

"I have tried it, and it works," he said.

On what can be done for children struggling to get into college, Wyatt's answer was, "Put pressure on guidance counselors."

To get state officials to back full funding for Plainfield, Morgan said the district must organize and lobby legislators.

"They need to know we are going to hold to a standard in Plainfield," she said.

In her closing statement, Coley said serving on the board "is no longer new territory for me." She said the district has been taken off the Focus list and the graduation rate has increased.

"Families are coming back to Plainfield because they are hearing great things," she said.

Campbell also listed positive changes in closing, such as a new STEM school and a "home-grown" superintendent after several outsiders.

"I believe every child can be successful," Morgan said. "We can do better with the money we have."

Wyatt said he is the father of three and is not trying to get into politics. He said all can have a hand in making sure children succeed, and then launched into the recitation that brought down the house.

Organizers tried to clear the room for the next segment on the City Council, but the energized crowd took almost 10 minutes to stop congratulating the candidates and conversing about the forum.

The City Council candidates are incumbent Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch, a Democrat seeking a fourth term, and John Campbell, who ran for state Assembly as a Republican but is now an Independent challenging  Storch for a four-year term starting Jan. 1, 2016. (Campbell is the son of the BOE candidate John Campbell.) For the First & Fourth Ward at-large seat, former BOE candidate Norman E. Ortega is running as an Independent against Democrat Barry Goode, who is seeking elective office for the first time.

In his opening statement, Ortega said the role of the city is "to be a successful city for all residents."

Storch opened by saying Plainfield is "finally on the right track" for development, but said the missing ingredient is "a council that is cooperative with the mayor."

Goode pledged to fight hard for Plainfield and said he will seek sustainable solutions and an improved quality of life for all residents.

Campbell named impoverished seniors and "a business climate we can barely patronize' as among failures of the city and said the council "deserves a fighter who will fight for what's right."

The first question from the audience was "What are you going to do for the Latinos?" The city's Latino population shot up 67 percent between 2000 and 2010, counting in 2010 as 40.4 percent of its 49,808 residents.

Goode said he will treat each constituency the same.

"It's all one city," he said.

"A good question," Ortega said, "and that's why I'm here."

Storch said Latinos are not represented in city government, but are well-represented in the businesses downtown and in the population increase.He noted that the Economic Development director is Latino and the city has translators.

"This is your City Hall," he said, but added, "A lot of Latinos do not feel that way."

"I would argue that the Latino community is as much a part of our community as anyone else," Campbell said, complimenting their "sticktoitiveness and entrepreneurship."

On city budgets, Storch called for a council retreat where "measurable goals" would be set and then talking about what's right for the citizens instead of having a political struggle."

"I don't think we can settle for a tax increase," Campbell said, citing seniors who can't afford it.

Goode said it takes a great deal of experience to balance a budget.. Alluding to a "can't and won't" attitude, he said the issue is "How much goes where and why is it going there."

Ortega responded by listing several allegations against Mayor Adrian O. Mapp that were published on the Plainfieldlatino blog, regarding a North Avenue demolition, the Plainfield Bilingual Daycare Center and a liquor license. Alluding to recent Plainfield Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs events, he said,"Throwing little parties is not enough. He has to respect us."

Storch said people don't get development by just saying, "I want a Starbucks" or "I want a jazz club." He said there are many steps that must be understood, one being a tax abatement, or payment in lieu of taxes.

Ortega asked, "How many of you have seen or read the master plan?"
Someone in the audience yelled, "Have you?" Ortega said the city should publicize it.

"If you don't share,then you have resistance," he said."You've got to be careful - you can't give the house away."

In closing statements, Campbell deplored a Facebook post by a council member where he was shown at Republican functions and now labeled an Independent in sheep's clothing. He named several politicians who  had switched party labels

Goode said he has always been consistent. "I have not changed. In fact, I'm stronger than I have ever been."

Storch repeated his pitch for cooperation with the mayor, saying otherwise there will be no momentum.

Ortega traced his life in Plainfield and said his candidacy was a good thing, "not just for me but for all Latinos."

See more candidate information on the Plainfield LWV website and remember to vote on Nov. 3!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Meeting Changes and Updates

There have been so many mix-ups in public information lately that I recalled the late Pepsi Charles and looked to see whether Mercury was in retrograde.

Turns out it was, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 9, but believers will have to look elsewhere to explain the more recent glitches, such as town meeting dates and other calendar clashes.

Here's what we think is happening this week:

Tuesday, October 20 - Plainfield League of Women Voters Candidates Forum
It is 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave. and will have both Board of Education and City Council candidates. There is still one thing to be fixed on the website, but click to see candidates' information and League rules.

Forum organizers advise attendees to get there at least 15 minutes early. Parking lots are in the front and rear of the building and there is some street parking as well. The election is Nov. 3. If you cannot attend the forum, you can still read the candidates' information online.

Wednesday, October 21 - Plainfield Board of Education
This meeting was rescheduled from Tuesday. It is a business meeting in the Plainfield High School auditorium, 950 Park Ave. See the Oct. 21 agenda here.

Upcoming - Please note the location for the First Ward Town Meeting on Oct. 26 will now be Barlow School. The Third Ward Town meeting has been moved from Oct. 27 to Nov. 12.

Lillian Jamar, Conscience of Her Community

Lillian Jamar

Lillian Jamar spoke her mind and scolded many an official for not listening to the people. A mighty voice was stilled with her passing on Friday. She was a Democratic Party Committeewoman for many years, representing Ward 1, District 8. I'm told services will be Wednesday, with details to follow.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Taylor Requests Planning Division Updates

Saved from outsourcing, the Planning Division is now being called on to explain all development projects, the master plan and other aspects of its work.

As previously reported, a layoff plan affecting Planning Director William Nierstedt and three others was withdrawn Tuesday at the request of Mayor Adrian O.Mapp, to the relief of a large number of residents who did not want to see the Planning Division outsourced.

In remarks after City Administrator Rick Smiley read Mapp's statement, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said she was going to request that the Planning Division provide reports on all development, the master plan and more.

"I am going to be looking for more information," she said. "Too many of us are in the dark."

Actually, the Planning Division recently posted maps on the city's website showing all development projects, their scope and stage of progress. The council approved new zoning around the main train station and the Netherwood station reflecting goals of transit-oriented development, such as increased residential density around the stations. Links to the maps are on the Planning Division section of the city website, along with historic district maps, information on the four land use boards served by the division and a full explanation of the division's work and mission.

Taylor said she had not been in favor of outsourcing the division and would have voted against it.

Mapp's statement said responses to a request for proposals."left more questions than answers" and he was making a recommendation to challenge the planning director to improve service.

Councilwoman Tracey Brown spoke to that point after Smiley read the statement, citing her experience in getting approval for handicapped access at the church where she is pastor. She said many people had been hurt by the Planning Board and some had even moved out of the city. (The Planning Board members are nominated by the mayor and approved by the council, but as director, Nierstedt advises the board on requirements for applications.)

Taylor, a retired school principal, said as an administrator she would advise that if there is a problem with customer service, Nierstedt should "talk with other people" regarding "racial issues they perceive."

"We will not forget that," Taylor said.

At a Planning Board meeting Thursday, Nierstedt mentioned the request for a "town hall on development," but said no date has been set.

The public may attend any Planning Board meetings, which are held on the first and third Thursdays of the month in City Hall Library. The meeting schedules of Planning and Zoning board as well as the Historic Preservation and Shade Tree Commissions are all posted on the Planning Division link above.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Resident Seeks Brisbane Estates Signs

photo from Dan Damon's Plainfield Today blog, Aug. 20, 2012 

Ernest Reynolds came to Thursday's Planning Board on a mission.

He wants to post signs marking the Brisbane Estates neighborhood, an enclave of about 300 families where he has lived for 40 years. But he hasn't been able to find any record of it in the library, he said.

Reynolds reasoned that with no record of the neighborhood, he couldn't be proven wrong in his quest.

Unfortunately, the board has to go by the books on such matters and Chairman Ron Scott Bey said, "I need a little history."

He and the board also needed more details on the size and kind of signs desired, the proposed means of affixing them to existing poles, the exact locations, signoffs from the Police and Fire divisions and more.

Luckily for Reynolds and Rev. Princeton Holt, who accompanied him in presenting the request, board member William Toth said he had a map of Brisbane Estates and added, "Personally, I think it is a good idea to name that area."

Board member Siddeeq El-Amin, a retired Plainfield police captain, recalled being told in 1980 as a trainee that the neighborhood was called Brisbane Estates.

Without needed documentation, the matter could not proceed Thursday. Planning Director William Nierstedt asked the board exactly what information members wanted and also said he would ask Public Works Superintendent John Louise to meet with Holt and Reynolds at the site. The Public Works Division has assisted other groups with special signage. 

Blogger Dan Damon featured the neighborhood in a post on Aug. 20, 2012. Click the image above to enlarge for details.


YMCA Hearing Carried to Nov. 5

For lack of one notice, Thursday's Planning Board hearing on the conversion of the YMCA's upper floors had to be moved to the Nov. 5 meeting.

Applicants must notify all property owners within 200 feet of plans for development. Planning Board Attorney Michele Donato said in this case just the one missed property owner needs to receive notice of the Nov. 5 hearing. The applicant, listed as Plainfield Genesis Affordable Housing/Plainfield YMCA, is seeking preliminary and final site plan approval to convert the second and third floors of the building to 30 studio apartments for young people aging out of foster care.

For many years, the two floors held 60 rooms for single men. Occupants were relocated to make way for the conversion.

The hearing is of special interest because of a City Council item approved Monday, an escrow agreement with Plainfield Genesis Affordable Housing LLC as the project developer. The city is requiring a $25,000 escrow account to be established to cover negotiations with the developer for a "financial agreement," which on Monday was described as a "payment in lieu of taxes" plan, or PILOT.

Someone asked why the non-profit YMCA would need a PILOT, but Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez explained that Plainfield Genesis Affordable Housing LLC is a private company that will have to pay taxes.

The company filed with the state on July 1, 2015. Earlier announcements of the project only mentioned the YMCA as developer.Here is an excerpt from an April press release on the project from the YMCA:

"The Plainfield YMCA is the sponsor, developer and property manager for the project. Construction and
permanent funding for the project have been secured through state funds and will be supplemented by a
Declaration of Intent for 4% housing tax credits. The Plainfield YMCA has secured site control and is in the
process of finalizing all necessary municipal and funding approvals. Construction is estimated to begin Fall
2015 with a targeted opening of April 2016."

In June, the YMCA received a $500,000 federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Funds loan for the project.

The Nov. 5 meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Regarding "Best Practices"

Finance Director Ron West said Tuesday the city scored 41 of 50 on the state "Best Practices" questions, meaning Plainfield will receive all its state aid for 2015.

Had the city only been able to say "yes" to 39 or fewer questions, some aid would have been withheld. The Local Government Services division of the Department of Community Affairs issues the checklist. It is a download, but well worth the computer space of anyone who is running for City Council or who is interested in better government.

The current Best Practices checklist offers much food for thought about how the city is being run or should be run. I am a shameless fan of Ron West and Al Steinberg and must applaud their work in cleaning up fiscal operations. The Best Practices checklist sets the bar for municipalities. Take a look and see what you think.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Gateway Revisited? Maybe.

Those who attended the Second Ward Town Hall Meeting Wednesday heard hints that the South Avenue Gateway project may come back

The $50 million apartment project hinged on passage of a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement that failed to win City Council approval in September.  The project had received Planning Board approval, but needed the governing body to approve the PILOT. At Wednesday's meeting, resident Jim Spear asked City Council President Bridget Rivers, who voted against the 30-year PILOT, whether a shorter one would suffice.

"What would it take for this to be brought up again?" Spear asked.

Rivers indicated she would be interested in reviewing a shorter PILOT, but "could not in good grace" drop a 30-year PILOT on taxpayers. She also raised another objection, the possible strain on the school system if families with children moved in. She asked "how will we guarantee" who will occupy the apartments.

"That is my biggest concern, the taxpayers of Plainfield," she said."I cannot give a 30-year PILOT to just apartments."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said if it doesn't happen, the city will lose millions over what the current taxes are for the location. She also said she lives near the site and all the newcomers to her apartment complex have been millennials.

"That's who's moving in," Williams said.

Councilman Cory Storch said the residential development would be a "seed project" for commercial development in the area and will boost existing businesses.

"They're begging for this project," Storch said.

Storch said he has been hearing (talk of development) for 38 years.

"It's starting," he said. "It will happen."

Storch, Williams and Rivers were the only council members present at the meeting in Cook School Wednesday. A small but enthusiastic crowd applauded as speakers made their points about issues including abandoned properties, speeding, overcrowding, long-awaited flood maps, rail transit improvements and the need for greater decorum at City Council meetings.

The Town Hall Meeting schedule began with the Fourth Ward at Clinton School. The next one is the First Ward Town Hall Meeting, 7 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Barlow School and the last one is for the Third Ward, 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at Cedarbrook School Nov . 12 at Hubbard School (revised).

PMUA To Bring Back Former CFO

Duane Young, one of only two chief financial officers to serve the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority since its inception in 1995, will return on Nov. 1 for a one-year term with an option to renew his contract.

Young, who also served as interim executive director for a time, will receive $135,000 for the year. Commissioners Carol Ann Brokaw said Tuesday she was voting "yes" to support Executive Director Daniel Mejias' position. Commissioner Henry Robinson and Chairman Charles Tyndale also voted "yes." Commissioner Michelle Graham-Lyons voted "no" and Commissioner Jacinth Clayton-Hunt abstained.

Young left the PMUA last spring when the board announced a search for a new executive director and CFO. The board hired Interim Director Bryan Christiansen while the search was conducted. One new hire backed out. Daniel Mejias was hired as executive director in July and has since made several changes to the staffing. Christiansen stayed on to complete some projects, but Thursday will be his last day with the PMUA. He said staff could still call him "whenever they want."


Planner Layoff Plan Withdrawn Tuesday

Supporters of Planning Director William Nierstedt and retention of an in-house Planning Division thronged Tuesday's City Council meeting, but did not have to protest its proposed outsourcing after all. 
Nierstedt, white shirt, with April Stefel in blue blouse
Applause broke out after City Administrator Rick Smiley read a statement from Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, in which he said four proposals for outsourcing were inconclusive on services offered. The administration was "left with more questions than answers," Mapp wrote. Instead, he said, the administration would challenge Nierstedt and his staff to improve.
Stefel hugs Nierstedt
A resolution to submit a layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission was withdrawn, sparing Nierstedt, Principal Planner Scott Bauman, Senior Planner April Stefel and Assistant Zoning Officer Ronald Johnson. Many of the supporters present Tuesday were from land use boards that the Planning Division assists. Members of the city's six residential historic districts also came out in force.

Councilman Cory Storch, who gave reasons on his blog why the Planning Division should be retained, thanked the administration "for weighing the facts." But Councilwoman Tracey Brown, pastor of Ruth Fellowship Ministries, said Nierstedt had given her church a hard time over wheelchair access and insisted on the church planting "$2,000 worth of trees," an expense that she said "almost made us not make our mortgage."

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor put the onus for better performance on the administration itself, but said she was very happy that the layoff plan was being withdrawn.

"I did not believe that is the right thing to do," Taylor said of the layoff. "I was going to vote against it."

In public comments, Malcolm Dunn praised retention of the Planning Division because, he said, the city currently has "the most ambitious development program we have seen."

Richard Lear said an outsourced engineering department has been paid more than $2 million since January 2012, but residents are still waiting for a flood map. He said he was "very excited" that the city is retaining the Planning Division and suggested engineering should be brought back in-house.

Not everyone was happy. One Rahway Road resident lashed out at Nierstedt, saying he thinks he is "king of Plainfield" and also complained that she called Councilman Cory Storch about her problems with Planning and he did not reply.

"Oh yes I did," Storch said. But he said after he told the corporation counsel the resident was planning to sue the city, he said, he was advised not to say anything.

Rumors of outsourcing the Planning Division began circulating in late August. Those affected had let it be known that they had received Rice notices and were taking the option of having their employment status discussed publicly. Objectors to outsourcing the Planning Division waited an hour on Sept. 8 to attend the Rice hearing and spoke against it at the council meeting that followed. There were more protests at the Sept. 14 council meeting and Storch even blogged about why the division should be retained.

No sooner were outsourcing proposals received on Oct. 1 than residents began questioning them, saying they would not save money and outsiders would know nothing of Plainfield's unique history. In a reaction shared by many over Monday's outcome, resident Tom Kaercher said, "I'm thrilled." 


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

LVW Candidates Forum is Oct. 20

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield will hold a Candidates Forum on Tuesday, Oct. 20 in the Anne Louise Davis Room of the Plainfield Public Library, from 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. The moderator will be Marlene Sincaglia of the LWV of Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Summit.

Local contests include three three-year school board seats and two four-year City Council seats.

According to a flier just released by the League, the school board candidates' forum is canceled due to a scheduling conflict. The school district calendar lists a business meeting for that evening, and three of the four candidates are currently serving on the board.

The council seats are for the Second Ward and the First & Fourth Ward at-large, with a Democrat and an Independent vying for each seat.

The League will publish biographical information submitted by candidates, as well as responses to League questions. The publication will be available at the forum and also on the League website (

Members of the public are asked to arrive at least 15 minutes early for the forum. The Plainfield Public Library is located at 800 Park Avenue with parking available in lots at the front and rear of the building.

The League reminds people to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Regarding Public Comment

Members of the public have two opportunities to speak at tonight's City Council meeting. One period takes place before council votes and is limited to resolutions, motions and ordinances on the agenda. It is limited to one hour, with each speaker allowed three minutes. The second public comment session is a half-hour at the end of the meeting, on any topic, with a five-minute time limit for speakers..

Speakers often ask for more time and it is usually granted, but that cuts down the number of people who have time to voice their concerns.It would be nice, especially in the pre-election season, if speakers kept to the three- or five-minute limit so more people could have a turn to speak.

P.S. Will somebody please tell John that the Twin City plaza is private property and most likely can't be designated as a memorial site for a veteran?

Four Meetings This Week

After the holiday Monday, Plainfielders who want to keep up with city doings can attend all or any of four meetings this week.

The first one is the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Sept. 8 meeting clashed with a council meeting that required those interested in the proposed outsourcing of the Planning Division to show up at Municipal Court at 6 p.m. The Sept. 8 PMUA agenda had some interesting items, including status of the connection program and one simply titled "transfer station."

The connection program involved checking to see that sewer connection fees for all new construction projects were collected. Some development applications approved years ago are just now being constructed, and the authority collects a connection fee for each unit. The authority was working with the city to make sure all fees were being collected. Certainly that would affect the bottom line, and ratepayers always hope any new revenues will keep their PMUA bills in line.

The September meeting was only the second for new Executive Director Daniel Mejias, and several personnel changes have recently taken place, one being management of the Rock Avenue transfer station. I had wanted to hear more about the transfer station item.

Anyway, Tuesday's PMUA meeting is 6 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Avenue.

The City Council's regular meeting Tuesday is 8 p.m in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The agenda includes a resolution to submit a layoff plan to the state Civil Service Commission. It will affect Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and three other Planning Division staff members.

On Wednesday, the City Council Town Hall Meeting schedule continues with the Second Ward meeting, 7 p.m. at Cook School, 739 Leland Ave. Residents of any ward are welcome to attend and raise their concerns to the governing body.

On Thursday, a Planning Board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. The agenda has not.yet been posted, but it is one of the most important boards and always worth attending.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Layoff Plan on Tuesday's Agenda

If you want to speak on the layoff plan in the public comment portion on resolutions and ordinances, it is R 384-15, authorizing submission of a layoff plan to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. The meeting is 8 p.m. Tuesday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Tuesday's City Council agenda includes submission of a layoff plan for four employees in the Planning Division, which the administration proposes to replace by outsourcing. A letter to the director of the commission from Plainfield Personnel Director Karen Dabney is in the packet and includes the following information:

- The reason for the layoffs is for "efficiency and economy."

- Four employees are affected. They are Planning Director William Nierstedt, Principal Planner Scott Bauman, Senior Planner April Stefel and Assistant Zoning Officer Ronald Johnson.

- The current salary and fringe cost for planning and zoning is stated as "approximately $408,027.31" with an additional $75,000 for outside planning consultants. Based on bid results, annual savings would range from $220,877 to $376,107.31. Outsourcing will result in"increasing operational efficiencies and achieving significant savings in wage and benefits and in the areas of professional (specialized planning) services contracts."

-There are no "appropriate vacancies" in the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.

- Affected unions are the Plainfield Municipal Managers Association and the Plainfield Municipal Employess' Association. They were asked to submit alternatives by August 31, but none were recommended.

- Any "bumping rights" will be determined by the state Civil Service Commission.

If the council approves submission of the plan to the commission, it will take place Wednesday. The Civil Service Commission has 30 days to review/approve the plan. If approved, layoff notices will be issued on Nov. 16 and the effective layoff date will be Dec. 31.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Million Man March 20th Anniversary Today

Today many Plainfielders will be taking part in the Justice or Else Million Man March Anniversary in Washington, D.C..

Best wishes for a peaceful and memorable day.

See more here regarding live coverage.

C-Span will also have live coverage of the Millions for Justice March today starting at 10 a.m.

Last Day to Register








       OCTOBER 7, 2015. 

View Proposed Rates and Fees for Outsourcing

Here are some of the rates and fee schedules submitted by bidders to outsource the Planning Division. Click images to enlarge. I am just giving a look at rates without necessarily identifying bidders. The full documents are on file in the City Clerk's office.

Friday, October 9, 2015

RFP Analysis A Challenge

The reassurances offered Monday regarding the benefits of outsourcing the Planning Division have not been enough to allay fears of hidden costs that will only come out after the in-house staff is gone.

The RFP responses are in the form of detailed brochures for each of the four companies, I found out after filing an OPRA request. I took home copies of the fee schedules, but comparing them to get a bottom line is beyond my ability. There are add-ons such as travel expenses that make the costs open-ended, and the complex array of daily tasks in the Planning office does not neatly fit on a grid. The respondents can only set forth a projection and after that billing is extra.

As commenters have said, once the staff is dismissed and the shift to outsourcing takes place, the city will not easily be able to revert if things don't work out.

One of the city's chronic problems over recent decades has been a failure to honor the notion of stewardship. Each administration wants to make its mark, and there can be a tendency or sometimes an outright mission to dismiss what went before. Economic development took a big hit when a roster of projects in 2006 was ignored in favor of some dubious new ones, like the 93-parcel Netherwood scheme that was reduced to 16 properties before stalling altogether, and the idea that two existing plus two defunct train stations could result in Plainfield having four transit villages.

The worst legacy of the immediate past administration may have been the flipping-off of fiscal responsibilities that is now requiring major remediation. Based on comments from supporters of the current administration, the proposed outsourcing of Planning could tip the the Good Ship Plainfield into a maelstrom instead of guaranteeing smoother sailing on the seas of development.

The "nothing ventured, nothing gained" crowd may prove to be right in the end, but people are also puzzled by the council contrarians' embrace of this one change when so many others have been dismissed outright. It is being perceived as a negative marker by some.

Finally, the timing of the proposal - just before an election - is adding to the uneasiness of some observers. The administration only has a couple of loyalists on the council and both have expressed concern over the outcome. The reaction to the administration's soothing reassurances Monday echoes an old New Yorker cartoon in which a mother tells her child, "It's broccoli, dear," and the youngster responds, "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Storch: Retain Planning Division

Councilman Cory Storch has posted his reasons why he believes the Planning Division should not be outsourced. Click the link above to read his blog post.

Police Body Cameras Expected to Add Trust, Transparency

Ninety-two new police body cameras are expected to increase community trust in law enforcement here and save money in investigations, Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park and Plainfield Police Director Carl Riley told about 100 attendees at a program Wednesday that included a video simulating the camera's use in a motor vehicle stop.

Park cited a 40 to 90 percent reduction in citizen complaints in 10 communities that began using the cameras and said their use can reduce both the length and cost of investigations. Eight Union County police agencies have agreed to share $750,000 in forfeiture funds for cameras and one year of data storage. The municipalities will then fund future years, Plainfield's commitment being for five years as previously reported.

Riley called the body cameras "a great enhancement" to law enforcement and said he expects the program to be in place by January 2016, along with 30 citywide surveillance cameras and a new GPS system in patrol cars. The body cameras will add "evidentiary value" to investigations and help to bring about "positive engagement with citizens," he said.
Thomas Koundry, chief of staff in Park's office, demonstrated the use of the cameras and showed a video of  what the camera recorded in a simulated traffic stop. Back at the police station, docked cameras are automatically downloaded and images are stored in duplicate east and west coast clouds for security in case of disaster. The body cameras are activated for service calls but sensitive images such as those of children or prisoners in hospitals have restrictions on access.
A phalanx of police personnel looked on as presenters explained the program and answered residents' questions. Included were Captains Steve Soltys and Brian Newman, Lts. Kevin O'Brien, Ken Reid, Troy Edwards and Jeffrey Plum, Sgts. Christopher Sylvester, Scott Gwinn and Larry Brown, PBA President Andre Crawford.
Among questions from the audience, one person asked whether the camera would really be on and whether a willful violation of the procedure would go to the prosecutor's office. Riley said an officer will be polite and professional, but will not get engaged in a conversation about whether the camera is on or off. Another person asked how long the videos will be saved. Park said 90 days, or longer if a civil complaint is filed. In the case of a criminal investigation, videos will be saved through the duration to an appeal.

Videos taken at night will not include infrared imaging, but will be like what the human eye would see, Koundry said in answer to another question.
"OIS" is Officer-Involved Shooting and "SRT" is Shooting Response Team
The program included slides on the legal process, from investigations of incidents through grand jury findings and further action, emphasizing the roles and relationships of local, county and state law enforcement officials. Community outreach on use of force was mandated in a July directive from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

Part of the body camera program is a study of its effects over time in achieving the goals of greater community trust and transparency as well as its benefits for law enforcement. Assemblyman Jerry Green, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and Freeholder Linda Carter all expressed high hopes for the program. Speaking of trust, Green said, "As human beings, we owe it to each other," while Carter called the program "a positive step in a very challenging environment." Mapp called the program an opportunity to bring the community together in the face of recent incidents and "just another step" in enhancing trust.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Forum, Town Hall Conflict on Oct. 20

A possible clash of meetings on Oct. 20 could pose a dilemma for local candidates as well as the general public.
UPDATE:: First Ward Town Meeting is 7 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Barlow School, 2 Farragut Road.

The Plainfield League of Women Voters traditionally holds a Candidates' Forum on the Wednesday before the general election, but had to move it to Tuesday, Oct. 20 due to the Plainfield Public Library meeting room being unavailable. Candidates have been notified of the date, according to member Alice Logie.

Meanwhile, at the Fourth Ward Town Hall Meeting on Sept. 29, Council President Bridget Rivers announced tentative dates for other wards' Town Hall meetings, including one for the First Ward on Oct. 20 at Emerson School.see above

Those interested in either or both events will have to wait for further information.

The other tentative Town Hall dates are Oct. 14, Second Ward at Cook School and Oct. 27, Third Ward at Cedarbrook School.

Local candidates for the Nov. 3 general election include four vying for two City Council seats as well as four competing for three school board seats. Running for a four-year term representing the Second Ward are incumbent Councilman Cory Storch, a Democrat, and John Campbell running as an independent. In the First & Fourth Ward at-large race, Democrat Barry Goode is facing independent candidate Norman E. Ortega.

Four school board candidates for three three-year terms are incumbent appointees John Campbell and Richard Wyatt, along with incumbent Jackie Coley and first-time candidate Emily Morgan. (Campbell is the husband of school board president Wilma Campbell.)

The Campbells are father and son.

Winners in both council and school board races will take office on Jan.1, 2016.

Plaintalker will post updates as they become available.


Crossing Guards Get Pay Increase

School crossing guards who complained that a recent raise only amounted to 22 cents were told Monday they will now receive $1 more hourly.

The guards help children to cross streets safely before and after school.  The pay issue was on the City Council agenda Monday as a discussion item. City Administrator Rick Smiley told the council the guards had received a 1.5 percent pay raise. The rate matched settlements with all of the city's seven bargaining units late last year, covering all four years of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's term, through 2017.

Smiley said the crossing guards will now all receive increases of $1 per hour. Nine who receive $14.30 per hour will get $15.30. Seven who receive $12.10 hourly will get $13.10. Eighteen who receive $11 hourly will get $12. Pay for four new crossing guards will remain at $11 and they will be paid retroactively to the start of school on Sept. 3, Smiley said.

Council President Bridget Rivers asked Smiley to explain to the crossing guards that the City Council did not give them 22 cents, but that the administration said it gave them 22 cents.

The crossing guards had come out in force in May under the impression they were not getting any raise, but it was pointed out that they were included in a salary ordinance affecting seasonal, hourly and temporary workers that was on that night's agenda.

The new formula works out to increases of from 7 to 9 percent, though given the crossing guards' limited work hours, it will have only a minuscule effect on the city budget. The total salary and wage line for school crossing guards in 2014 was $215,000.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bill Nierstedt's Remarks on Outsourcing


Good evening Council members. For anyone who does not know, I am Bill Nierstedt;I have been the Planning Director for the City of Plainfield for 17 years. As you are aware, Planning Division employees were recently advised that our jobs might be outsourced to consultants. We strongly believe that the work of the Planning Division cannot be outsourced without loss of service to our city residents, nor will any significant savings be realized. In making the recommendation to outsource, the functions of the division have been significantly underestimated. Numerous successes have not been acknowledged. The ability to generate ‘economy and efficiency’ as a result of outsourcing is not adequately substantiated. Risks and erosion of services to Plainfield residents have not been considered in detail sufficient to propose such action. Finally, there are other actions that can be taken to address issues within the Division without jeopardizing service. I submit to you that this proposal is ill advised, badly timed, not well thought out, and insensitive to the needs of our community. The goal of my presentation tonight is to convince you that taking this action is not in the best interests of Plainfield, and to give you reasons why having an internal Planning Division is by far the best option.

Let’s dismiss the ‘economy’ argument immediately, and put faces on this nebulous proposal. This proposal would affect the jobs and lives of four real people. They are licensed professional planner Scott Bauman who has given Plainfield 16 years of his experience, April Stefel, a licensed landscape architect who has given 10 years, Ron Johnson who has worked for the city three years and me. 46 years of experience for the city; over 80 years of professional experience. Together we work 6,697 hours/year. Including salary and benefits, our services cost the city $356,949, or roughly $50.00/hour. What will a consultant charge for those same hours? Based on the most recent response to an RFP issued by the Planning Division, a consultant would charge a minimum of $140/hour. Calculations show that that comes to a total of $937,580/year. That’s almost 2.6 times what the city pays the Planning Division for the same services. Thus a consultant would limit Plainfield to 38% of the hours the Planning Division currently provides. A review of recent RFP responses shows that all of the consultants charge more per hour than the city pays the Planning Division, so the only way they can submit a competitive proposal is by using less qualified and experienced junior planners and reducing the hours they will serve the city to 8/week. There will be no savings for the city unless the number of consulting hours is less than 38% of the Planning Division hours, and the city cost will increase when the consultant exceeds 38%. So consultants will charge more per hour and provide fewer hours of service to city residents. There is no economy savings here.

So why do consultants submit a proposal when their basic numbers are so much greater than the city’s current costs? Because their goal is not to provide the day-day services that Scott, April, Ron and I provide.  They are after the escrow dollars that don’t show up in any RFP response. Let me explain. The law allows Scott, April and I to charge for our professional services. When we review site plans, attend board meetings and prepare planning reports, we charge the applicant, and the applicant pays the city for these services. So far this year we have billed over $50,000. A consultant wants these escrow dollars. They will charge every developer and resident who submits a board application more than we do, and they will charge for every minute. So, not only would this proposal cost the city more money, it would also cost developers and residents more money. At a time that we are encouraging development, this does not make economic sense.

Any efficiency argument must start with an understanding of what the Planning Division does. The RFP the city recently issued is sorely lacking in this regard. While it contains bullet points outlining responsibilities, they are so vague that they are open to individual and legal interpretation. Consultants had to make their own assumptions as to their level of effort required. The easy way to submit a low proposal was to reduce the number of hours proposed to work, reach the hourly limit of their contract and then return to the city for change orders. The only way to save money is to cut services. That is what they all propose to do.

So what does the Planning Division do? Planning has been an in-house Plainfield service since the 1960s. Through urban renewal, Model Cities, CDBG programs, the MLUL adoption, from Directors Elliot Weinstein, Gunthil Sondhi, John Szabo and me, the planning division has provided professional, unbiased, recommendations on housing, transportation, and land use to 12 administrations. Since my tenure began, the Planning Division has prepared the complex and innovative ‘197 Scattered Site’, Park Madison, Teppers, North Avenue, Marino’s, Elmwood Gardens, and South Avenue redevelopment plans, completed the 2009 Master plan reexamination, reviewed on average 40 Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment applications a year, coordinated the annual Six Year Capital Improvement Plan, prepared over 20 resolutions and ordinances for Council review annually, updated the land use ordinance on a bi-annual basis, maintained the city tax maps, updated and maintained the City Recreation and Open Space Plan, provided administrative services for the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Historic Preservation Commission, and Shade Tree Commission, and administered the Brownfield cleanups city wide. We drafted regulations- which city council adopted- that preserved residential properties and values by reducing permitted densities and increasing minimum lot sizes, prevented over crowding, the destruction of historic structures, and the introduction of non- residential uses in residential zones, kept rooming houses, Bayonne boxes, illegal residential conversions, juice bars, outdoor commercial storage operations, and cell towers in residential zones out of the city. We submitted and received grants for brownfield cleanups, shade tree plantings, historic preservation, trail, and city hall restoration grants. We wrote and advanced the transit oriented development standards for the Plainfield and Netherwood train stations, and are advancing the West End TOD. We submitted and received the NJDOT Transit Village designation. We conducted over 500 annual zoning reviews and advanced municipal court enforcement actions.

We also service over 1,500 in-person customer visits every year. That does not include the thousands of phone calls or e-mails. Residents are able to come to our office all day long to get answers. Where will they go after a consultant is hired? They will hear a phone message advising them to dial ‘1’ if they need zoning
information, ‘2’ for historic preservation information, ‘3’ for master plan questions, etc. They will be told that they will receive a phone call back, after the consultant turns on their clock, opens up the book and begins to research the question to which April, Scott, Ron and I know the answer off the top of our heads. Someone may be in the office between 10 and 2:00PM on alternate Thursdays, and maybe one night a
week. Efficiency perhaps; I prefer to call it loss of service for Plainfield residents.

Prior to being notified of our impending layoff, no one spoke to me about a sudden budget need. I ask if this Council is aware of a sudden budget crisis? Is there a larger plan to eliminate or outsource other employees or divisions? The administration advises they are proposing to eliminate our jobs because Plainfield is the last Union County town with an in-house planning division. That is not true, Elizabeth has a Planning Director; he performs different tasks than we do. So our jobs are being outsourced because the 1700 Winfield residents, or the 4,200 Garwood residents, or 7,600 Fanwood residents don’t have one? 18 of the 21 Union County municipalities are less populated than Plainfield, and we have to follow their lead? Plainfield is unique; we are a city; we are not like other Union County suburbs. The Planning Division has compared Plainfield to towns similar to us – the 53 other Urban Aid Communities. Towns like Asbury Park, Hackensack, Hoboken, Long Branch, Montclair, New Brunswick, Passaic, Paterson and Trenton. Communities with which
we share socio-economic and population similarities. Over half of these towns have in-house planning divisions. Plainfield is six square miles, has a population of over 50,000 people. Only two Union County towns have more residents. We have more historic districts than any Union County town, a state designated Transit Village, two transit oriented development areas, 10 redevelopment areas, two 100 acre county parks, the largest disparity of income, the greatest diversity of ethnic populations, more affordable housing than our fair share, more group homes. We have suffered the loss of our largest employer. Plainfield is not like other Union County towns. We have planning issues they have not yet conceived. There is no reason for us to follow their lead in regards to planning. We are also the only Union County town with two fully operating train stations; should we eliminate one?

Outsourcing government jobs has become standard operating procedure because private consultants say they can do the same job for less money. Many times it does not work because a consultant cannot cost less when they have to cover higher salaries, overhead, and professional liability insurance. The city currently outsources engineering; why can’t planning be out sourced? Because outsourcing engineering does not work. A city our size needs to have a full time in-house engineer. Our current 1 day/week consultant engineering simply does not provide engineering and infrastructure planning that our city requires. Updating flood maps and reducing flood insurance rates for our residents are two engineering tasks that have not yet been completed years after consultants started billing for them. Does this Council recall voting on increased engineering contracts for Remington Vernick? The same situation would exist in planning if this proposal were advanced.

Our city has a planning staff of dedicated, educated, experienced, certified and licensed individuals with a long institutional memory and vested interest that no consultant will be able to replace. We care about our city. Two of us live in Plainfield. With the unpaid hours that I put in, my wife thinks that I do also. We average over 140 hours/week – more than we get paid for; a consultant is going to charge for every minute. Four certified/licensed professionals with over 80 years of experience currently serve the people of Plainfield. We have an institutional memory that improves the development process because we have the ability to link
and take into account how various projects interrelate. We are able to meet with developers and provide historical context for their developments. Outsourcing means that the city will pay a consultant to learn the intellectual property that the current staff already knows.

The Administration wants a streamlined development process; so does the Planning Division. The Administration wants increased development in our city; so does the Planning Division. Is the Planning Division tough on developers? We consistently apply the code adopted by this City Council to all developments. We are unbiased, color-blind, and equal opportunity. We do not give away city assets. We fight for and protect neighborhood rights. The Planning Board recently implemented a Technical Review Committee in partnership with the administration. It is designed to help streamline the review process and save time for all involved by resolving issues before they come to the board. This process has been somewhat effective, but it has only been in practice for a short time. Nothing works perfectly overnight, and we have had some growing pains that need to be addressed. We can address them together. This proposal was sprung on the Planning Division and this Council without any discussion. I submit that an open discussion is needed to determine if ‘day to day’ Planning Division services should be altered or scaled back. Process improvement is something that the Planning Division welcomes. Discussion and review should be undertaken before radically seeking to eliminate the Division.

In closing, I state that this proposal will result in additional city costs, fewer services for our residents, and less work being undertaken or completed. If revenue needs to be increased, or expenses cut, I ask the administration to discuss the issues with me so that we can explore other solutions. Let’s sit down and discuss what needs to be done proactively and transparently, not antagonistically. In making your decision tonight, I ask Council members if an adequate plan has been put forth to enable you to confidently decide that the proposal will somehow save the city money, not cut resident’s services, and provide for all the tasks that the Planning Division provides. As it has not, I ask that you please do not support this proposal. I close with a quote from Susan Duerksen, director of communications for “In the Public Interest”. “Governments at all levels are just desperate to balance their budgets, and they’re grasping at privatization as a panacea. But there’s evidence that it often is a very bad idea with hidden costs and consequences when you turn over public service to a for-profit company”. I hope that I have clearly made the case that the city comes out
way ahead if it retains our planning division. Thank you.