Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day Observance

Donald Van Blake
A special participant in Monday's Memorial Day observance was the city's only surviving Buffalo Soldier, Donald Van Blake, wearing his uniform from 70 years ago. (click images to enlarge)
To learn more, see this tribute to Donald Van Blake by his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.
The ceremony Monday included placing a wreath at the War Memorial on East Seventh Street.
Another wreath was placed at the memorial on the grounds of City Hall.
The Plainfield High School Air Force R.O.T.C. presented the colors.
Plainfield student Blessing Babayemi sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Our national anthem.
Elder Barry Goode, councilman for the First & Fourth Wards at-large, gives the invocation.
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp addresses the gathering and announces plans to convert Dudley House into housing for veterans with no place to stay. He asks veterans present to help the city identify those in need.
The gathering includes council members Goode, Rebecca Williams, Tracey Brown and Diane Toliver; Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles and School Board President Emily Morgan; Freeholder Linda Carter; members of the Police and Fire Divisions; members of American Legion Post 219 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7474; and Plainfield residents.
Cornell Hawkins Jr., Commander of American Legion Post 219, commented on the meaning of Memorial Day and suggested that attendees should set a place at their table in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
In conclusion, Plainfield student Mathew Branch played Taps.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Free Range in Fleet Week

Publicity for Fleet Week 2016 reminded me of a long-ago visit I made to New York City with my sister Jane. The purpose of the visit was for me to interview radio host Al "Jazzbo" Collins for my school newspaper. Jane agreed to go with me, and we two young teenagers found ourselves in a city thronged with sailors.

In retrospect, the trip was unusual because nowadays allowing two girls to travel to the city on their own would be tantamount to child neglect. It is so unusual for children nowadays to have such autonomy that they are labeled "free-range" and may be picked up by police for walking to school or to a park alone. Going to New York when the "fleet's in" was probably even more hazardous, though we didn't know until we got there that we would see sailors on leave all over the place.

Nobody bothered us and we did get to our destination and back to New Jersey without incident.

I can't pinpoint the year of this trip, but it was in the early 1950s. Collins did not begin broadcasting from the "purple grotto" on WNEW until 1950 and I was in the Class of 1956.
 In 1953, Collins recorded Steve Allen's versions of children's fables such as Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs in the lingo of bebop musicians. I was already an aficionado of cool jazz and liked the idea of musicians creating their own language. Even though I was pretty hip for a New Jersey teenager, I'm sure I came across as a little bridge-and-tunnel bumpkin to Al "Jazzbo" Collins, but he was very nice and humored me with an interview for my school newspaper.

Regarding Fleet Week, the practice of ships docking in New York for a celebratory visit dates back to 1898, although the modern history of Fleet Week is only in its 28th year. Today's events include tours of ships.

Bebop master Charlie Parker died in 1955 at the age of 34, a loss to the music world comparable to that of any contemporary genius such as David Bowie or Prince. Parker's music lives on in modern formats including YouTube videos. The custom of musicians creating their own language also lives on.

Collins died in September 1997, at the age of 78, after a long career in radio and television.

The most striking societal change from the 1950s may well be the way young people are kept close to home, although they still manage to go far afield (and sometimes get in trouble) on their smartphones and online.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

PMUA Schedules Special Meeting on Personnel

According to a legal notice today, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m.on Wednesday, June 1 at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. The agenda includes a closed session to discuss personnel matters and possible action in open session.

With talk of layoffs, and inquiries yielding only a "nothing to report" response, it might be worth attending the meeting to see if any light will be shed.

I had to hold some anonymous comments that included allegations against the management in addition to someone taking umbrage over the unconfirmed lay-offs. One anonymous person sputtered that 50 people had been laid off  "and the rates have not dropped one cent." No matter how many people get laid off, rates just don't drop overnight. There is a whole process for setting rates, including notice and a hearing, as I recall.

The news will out eventually, so stay tuned.


Roses, Seeds and Garden Tours

 A late neighbor planted this rosebush in memory of his wife about 30 years ago and despite many challenges to its growth, it came through again this year.
Ready for its close-up!. The velvety texture of the petals and the way they capture light cannot be rendered in a photo, or at least not with my tiny camera.

Rose petals can be gathered and made into beads that retain the scent. I made some once and enjoyed them for a long time. See one method of making rose beads here.

Seed-saving has begun, with the shiny, jet-black seeds of Forget-Me-Nots. I listened to some of my favorite radio shows on WNYC and WFMU while reducing a bunch of seed-bearing stalks to a neat small envelope of seeds. The easier way is to cut off the stalks and just throw the whole mess where you want a patch of Forget-Me-Nots. It all depends on your OCD needs and how much time you have to spare.

This is the weekend that traditionally launches the summer season, although the summer solstice does not occur until June 20. Happy growing season to all my fellow gardeners, and don't forget to visit the Shakespeare Garden on June 5 for Shakespeare-in-Bloom and the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library Garden Tour on June 12.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Remember Those Who Served and Sacrificed

Memorial Day will be observed with ceremonies at 10 a.m. Monday, May 30 at City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave. and at the War Memorial at Crescent and East Seventh.

Below are images from past posts about veterans.

Gun Violence Claims More Victims

Condolences to all the family and friends of shooting victims. This month three fatal shootings took place, including one of an innocent bystander.

The Union County Prosecutor's Office is asking the public for any information that might aid the investigations.

Here is the most recent press release, on the Wednesday evening shooting:

Plainfield homicide under investigation

A homicide that took place in Plainfield Wednesday evening is under investigation, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Thursday.

The victim has been identified as 37-year- old Willie Lee Major of Plainfield.

Plainfield Police Division patrol units responding to a report of gunshots being fired rushed to the 400 block of West 4 th Street shortly after 6:45 p.m. Wednesday and found Major, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

It appears at this time that Major was not the intended target of the shooting.

This matter remains under active joint investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force, the Plainfield Police Division, the Union County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit, and the Union County Police Department Ballistics Unit.

Anyone with information about Major’s death is being urged to contact Homicide Task Force Sgt. Johnny Ho at 908-403-8271 or Detective Danika Ramos at 908-451- 7739.

The Union County Crime Stoppers also are offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and indictment in this case; tips can be given anonymously by phone at 908-654- TIPS (8477), via text message by texting “UCTIP” plus a message to 274637 (CRIMES), or online at www.uctip.org.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

City Establishes Internet Purchase Exchange Zone

Plainfield launched an "Internet Purchase Exchange Zone" Wednesday, joining law enforcement  efforts nationwide to take potential danger out of transactions with strangers.

Buyers of items advertised online are encouraged to meet up with sellers in or in front of police stations where transactions can be monitored and help is at hand in case of illegal activity.

I could not attend the event, but here is a press statement:

"Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is pleased to announce the City of Plainfield ' s newest public safety initiative, an Internet Purchase Exchange Zone.

The City's initiative will afford Internet buyers and sellers to complete their Internet exchanges in front of Plainfield Police Division Headquarters, located at 200 East Fourth Street, Plainfield, NJ.

Two parking spots have been designated in front of headquarters for the initiative which will be monitored by police officers.

Mayor Mapp hopes the program will give residents who conduct transactions on the Internet a safe place to facilitate their Internet  purchases/sales."

In general, such programs urge participants to exercise caution in carrying cash or accepting checks. Police will not get involved in buyer-seller disputes over terms of transactions, but meeting at a police station is deemed safer than carrying out a deal in public places such as shopping center parking lots. A website called SafeTrade has more suggestions for ensuring personal safety in completing online deals.


BOE Special Meeting Tonight

In a special meeting tonight, the Plainfield Board of Education is expected to take action toward roof repairs at Evergreen Elementary School and others.

The board will open the meeting at 6:30 p.m. and then go into closed session. The special meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Amy Brown, an Evergreen teacher and head of a new School Health & Safety committee of the Plainfield Education Association, pressed for action at a May 17 school board meeting and had previously urged action in February. Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles said on May 17 it should be noted that the administration was "working closely with Evergreen" to address leaks and provide pest control.

Tonight's meeting was listed in a newspaper legal notice Tuesday, but was not on the district website until yesterday afternoon. See the May 26 BOE agenda here.

The resolution is to seek state funding for a new roof at Evergreen School as well as partial repairs at Cook School and Maxson Middle School. Repairs to the Plainfield High School roof will not require state funding but the project needs to be included in the district's Long Range Facilities Plan, if I read the resolution correctly.

A second resolution has to do with board members' out-of-district travel for conferences.

The board's next scheduled meetings are a work-and-study meeting on June 7 and a business meeting on June 21.

In other news, a district employee admitted Wednesday taking part in a plan to defraud the Plainfield Board of Education over an eight-year span beginning in 2007.See the U.S. Attorney's Office press release here.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Time Running Out for Dolbeer-Ware House

Options for saving the historic Dolbeer-Ware house on Terrill Road have dwindled to the point where demolition is likely.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission, preservationist Barton Ross and Scott Bauman of the Planning Division discussed the structure Tuesday and came to the conclusion that it may have passed the point of restoration. Ross said the house is falling down and the city is close to foreclosing on it. The commission is ready to drop the goal of getting it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Preservation New Jersey
The house was on Preservation New Jersey's 2009 "10 Most Endangered Historic Sites" and in 2011 was part of a proposal to create a historic museum/nature center at a projected cost of about $1 million. 

Attempts to find a non-profit group to take on the building's restoration have failed. On Tuesday, commission members discussed trying to interest an architectural school in saving the core of the structure, if only to dismantle it for forensic purposes. HPC member John Favazzo recalled such a case and said it would be "horrendous" to see the building bulldozed without at least yielding its architectural secrets. He called the prior forensic study "an autopsy."

About a year ago, preservation consultant Dennis Bertland said the house could  provide insight into early architectural styles and construction methods. He said the structure reflected Dutch and English building traditions and might be an example of an historic "East Jersey Cottage."

Ross said a porch and two wings were added to a core building that is the only part still intact. In response to a suggestion that the original structure could be moved for study, Bauman said to do so would mean never getting grant money. HPC member Gary Schneider suggested getting an investor to fund a forensic study and then being allowed to build a one-family home on the site.

Meanwhile, many just consider the building an eyesore and a hazardous attraction to trespassers.

The commission members also discussed the status of another historic structure, the pre-Civil War Titsworth-Sutphen house on West Second Street. It is supposed to be relocated when developer Frank Cretella builds 148 apartments on the site. Cretella won approvals in 2010 for the project, but has not yet begun work on it.

Due to the city's railroad bridges, the building cannot be moved south. HPC Chairman Bill Michelson said he favors a nearby vacant lot at Madison Avenue and West Second Street (lower right on block 247 in image) as the site for relocation. However, in January the entire block bounded by Madison, West Second, West Front Street and Central Avenue was recommended for an "in need of redevelopment" study. It remains to be seen whether the historic house can still be moved to the corner lot.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

BOE Special Meeting Thursday

Just getting around to reading the Courier News, online from back to front as usual to check the legal notices.

One is for the Plainfield Board of Education and states there will be an Executive Session at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 26 in the Plainfield High School Conference Room, followed by a Special Meeting at 7 p.m. in the PHS Auditorium.

Checked the district website and saw no agenda or mention of a meeting as of now. If you are one of the Plainfielders keeping an eye on the board since the election date was changed, you might want to check back on the district website later.


A Shooting Range in the City? What Do You Think?

Kids will make pretend guns with their hands, sticks, or even balloons.

Adult use of guns, whether civilians or police, leads to many a newspaper headline.

So how do grown-ups with real guns learn safe and responsible use of them? One way is to be trained at a shooting range. Police need to train at intervals to keep up their skills

Which brings me to a reader's question: How do residents feel about having a shooting range in Plainfield? More specifically, how do they feel about a shooting range in the 1500 block of West Front Street?

You can comment in the box below. After you write your comment, scroll down to the bottom where it says "Publish" and click. Please give reasons why you approve or disapprove. I am not on the computer every minute, but will check often and post comments as soon as possible.


Monday, May 23, 2016

BOE, Take a Clue From SEL

Some comments regarding the new school board and its president remind me of the past disputes among organizers of youth sports. The adults said they were all in it for the children, but then tore each other up worse than any combative kids on the playground.

How strongly this stands in contrast to tenets of "Social and Emotional Learning," something that school officials began touting more than a decade ago. The graphic below and the explanation by one of the agencies involved in this movement rather boldly point up the difference between what people say they want "for the children" and how they, the grown-ups in charge, behave among themselves.

Whatever the motive for switching to an April election, it happened and the makeup of the school board changed. Nine people are in charge as policy-makers for perhaps the city's largest employer and for the largest budget of any public entity in the city. Each member comes to the task with different skills and outlooks, but once they get in the same room, the voters who put them there no doubt expect to see them acting  from principles such as "responsible decision-making" and "self-management."

Image result for social and emotional learning
Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning stresses the five competencies above. See also CASEL's FAQ here.

The 2015-16 school year is winding down, but the new board is just starting. New members will be required to take training through the New Jersey School Boards Association and that should help to smooth things out. The NJSBA offers many other ways to attain or sharpen board skills.

Even though the April 19 election was also a contest between local political forces and some of the baiting in comments may represent sour grapes over the outcome, the board members among themselves have to build a working relationship. Otherwise, talk of being "for the children" is just for the birds.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

June 2016 Primary: The Deciders

Who can vote in the June 7 primary?

The last day to register to vote in the primary was May 17. The Board of Elections has posted affiliation statistics as of May 20 and there are 13,071 Democrats and 836 Republicans eligible to vote on June 7. Presidential candidates will be at the top of the ticket, but in keeping with our "hyperlocal" focus, we are looking at the two City Council races, one for the Citywide at-large seat and the other for the Third Ward seat.

Citywide at-large race
Only Democrats are running in this year's primary. In the Citywide at-large contest, incumbent Councilwoman Tracey Brown is seeking re-election and is facing a challenge from Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who currently holds the Second & Third Ward at-large seat. Williams was endorsed by the Plainfield Democratic City Committee and Brown is running off the line.

In contrast with 13,071 Democratic voters citywide eligible to vote in the 2016 June primary, the total in 2012 was 11,978. That year, Brown received 2,680 votes to 1,647 for Veronica Taylor. On the GOP side in 2012, William Amirault received 148 votes out of a possible 930.

In November 2012, when all 22,555 registered voters were eligible to take part, Brown received 11,625 votes. Amirault had dropped out. Independent candidate Gloria Henriques received 674 votes.

Third Ward race
In the Third Ward race, Charles McRae is running with Williams on the Democratic Party line. Alma Blanco is running with Brown off the line. The primary winners will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, along with any Independent candidates who file on June 7. There are 6,093 Democrats in the Third Ward eligible to vote in the primary.

In the 2012 primary, of 3,492 eligible Democrats in the Third Ward, 787 Democrats voted for Adrian Mapp and 534 voted for Rasheed Abdul-Haqq. Republican Randy Bullock received 41 votes out of a possible 237. In the November 2012 general election, Mapp received 3,139 votes out of a possible 6,260. Republican Randy Bullock received 241 and Independent Tom Turner got 108.

The Board of Elections will publish the number of eligible voters for the Nov. 8 general election after the last day to register, which is Oct. 18, 2016.

City Council winners will take office on Jan.1, 2017 for four-year terms.

(Figures are from Union County Board of Elections and Union County Clerk's Election Results)

Election information
The most important part of any election for any campaign is getting the voters to the polls. In the old days, that meant arranging rides, making reminder calls and anything else to facilitate those final steps into the voting booth. Vacationers and travelers were urged to fill out absentee ballots.

Now there is also a vote-by-mail option for anyone. See Vote-by-mail instructions in English and Spanish here.

Voters with mobile phones can now get information on a Union County election app.

Having President Obama at the top of the ticket was a tremendous draw for Plainfield voters in 2012, but national election analysts are finding 2016 to be a confusing and even disappointing year for voters. Being on the party line is an advantage for candidates, as the local turnout is magnified by interest in the whole slate or even by simple party loyalty.

Are you one of the deciders on June7? If you are not sure, check this voter information from the New Jersey Department of State or check with the Union County Clerk's Election Division.

If you are a decider, plan to get to your polling place (listed on the sample ballot you will soon receive) and vote any time between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Your right to vote is precious! Make sure you exercise it!

Remembering Marcus Garvey

One of my favorite radio shows is the overnight BBC news broadcast on WNYC. While looking over voter registrations statistics early this morning, I was very interested to hear a BBC World Service segment on Marcus Garvey. It's about nine minutes long and full of history that includes Garvey's introduction of the term "Negro" to replace the derogatory n-word. Even if you know about Garvey's vision for his race, it's a good reminder of the scope of his ambitions for his people.

Click here to link to the BBC audio segment.

When I first came to Plainfield in the 1980s, I learned that Rev. Frank Allen, then leader of the local NAACP branch, had been a Garveyite. Meeting him was a fascinating link to those historic times.

See more here on Marcus Garvey. 


Friday, May 20, 2016

On Patronage

PMUA critic Bill Kruse noted yesterday that the authority once had 173 employees:

For a number of years "someone" from "The Hall" would call then Director Eric Watson and say, "My brother-in-law needs a job, I am sending him over." This is how the number employed grew to 173. The fact that it is now 131 and the PMUA provides the same services evidences how out of control matters were.

Watson used to say the PMUA was the city's fifth largest employer. I don't know the exact rankings, but Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, the Plainfield School District and municipal government were probably the top three. Because the cry in Plainfield was and continues to be for jobs, providing so many made the authority appear to be downright benevolent.

Patronage is defined in The Free Dictionary as a "spoils" system.

This is the essence of the patronage system, also known as the spoils system ("To the victor go the spoils"): appointing persons to government positions on the basis of political support and work rather than on merit, as measured by objective criteria.

I know I have been surprised to see some names crop up on the PMUA job roster, such as a police officer or two who have fallen from grace. Questions have also been raised about the creation of a security post not long ago that was filled by a former Union County official with a long history of prior public service and the pensions to prove it.

In the annals of City Hall patronage, there was the case of a low-level employee who, several years ago, felt so entitled.that he took a car from the city's fleet for his own use. As I recall, that person was relieved of duty.

I used to annotate city committee lists with the job titles or appointments received by the politically loyal, though I am sure some involved merit or talent and not just fealty to those in power.

The trouble with patronage is that it ultimately creates tension, if not outright ill will, among staff members when a feeling of entitlement leads one person to slack off while another is doing an honest day's work. But there may also be a price on favoritism. I was in a city office a few years ago when a woman with a big purse came in. She was there to collect for the party. A staffer complained after the bag woman left that she had given a large chunk of her pay out in donations to various officials.

Concluding his comment, Kruse had kind words for PMUA Executive Director Daniel Mejias and also a bit of sympathy:

He is articulate, experienced in the Trade, and appears enthusiastic about doing his job. We can hope that he is not restrained in his efforts by political inertia.

We can hope, but patronage still seems to be the way of the world.



Thursday, May 19, 2016

District Addressing Leaks, Rodents at Evergreen School

An Evergreen School teacher who spoke in February about conditions at the school said Tuesday she is glad to hear it will get a new roof and a pest control program.

Amy Brown said the Plainfield Education Association has formed a new committee on health and safety. Findings at Evergreen included three rooms with high carbon dioxide levels, water damage and rodent infestation. She requested that ceiling tiles be replaced.

Board President Emily Morgan assured Brown that safety measures will be taken.

Schools Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles said, "It should be noted that the administration has been working closely with Evergreen."

She said bathroom tiles were being replaced and she had been working with the Health & Safety committee.

The meeting was just the third with three new board members - Carmencita Pile, Dorien Hurtt and Lynn Anderson - who were elected on April 19. They were sworn in at a May 3 organization meeting, held a work-and-study meeting on May 10 and the business meeting Tuesday.

Morgan only won a board seat in the Nov. 3 general election. On Nov. 10, a board majority approved a walk-on item to move elections back to April. Morgan was just sworn in on Jan. 5 and was chosen to serve as president on May 3. (See the board here.)

She said Tuesday, "We have experienced a major backlog of things that need to be discussed."

One item is where to hold meetings. Pile and others have deplored having the board sitting up on the lighted Plainfield High School stage while attendees sit in the dark auditorium. Morgan mentioned Tuesday some new possibilities, such as meeting at schools in each ward, at board headquarters on Myrtle Avenue or in the high school cafeteria or media center. She said decisions on meeting locations were "on the to-do list for June."

"We want to meet the constituents where they are, so we can serve them properly," she said.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PMUA Update

This week I asked for information on PMUA layoffs, but the answer was there is nothing to report at this time.

My questions were:
- The number of people laid off
- Whether the layoffs affected front-line workers or managers or both
- Estimated savings
- Whether there is any appeal process for those affected.

The next PMUA Committee Meeting is 6 p.m. June 9 at 127 Roosevelt Ave. and the next public board meeting is 6 p.m. June 14 at the same location.


Fits and Starts at Tuesday's BOE Meeting

Cook School students perform

Those who arrived by 8 p.m. for the new school board's first business meeting enjoyed songs from The Lion King Jr., performed by Cook School students while the board met in closed session. (See details here.) The announced delay of 20 to 30 minutes wore on quite a bit longer.

"We will not be late again," Board President Emily Morgan promised.

Once the meeting began, privilege of the floor went on until 10:10 p.m., with staff members, union officials and watchdog residents challenging the board and Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles. There were too many issues to cover in a blog post, but here are some:

- Terry Slaughter-Cabbell questioned why a resolution to hire an athletic supervisor listed no name, but said "TBA" or "To Be Announced" as it did when on an April agenda. She alleged the job had not been posted and asked how the candidate knew about it. Later, when another speaker asked about it, the answer was it had been pulled from the agenda.

- Plainfield Education Association President Eric Jones expressed dissatisfaction with Belin-Pyles' handling of his questions about the agenda, saying he was referred to Human Resources consultant Dan Williamson.
"I'm an advocate, a passionate one," Jones said, asking Belin-Pyles to "partner" with him.
Belin-Pyles said she had agreed to meet with Jones weekly and has held to that, but she also said the agreement was for Williamson to be a liaison to Jones. She said in a two-hour meeting Monday Jones had not raised the issues he had brought to the microphone.
Jones asked to speak again and said he thought the weekly meetings were established to discuss grievances, "not about why teachers didn't have books."
"I want an ongoing conversation with our leader," Jones said.

- A group of 14 substitute bus drivers said only two other individuals scored high on a test and were awarded assignments. They questioned how the test was administered and hinted at nepotism. The drivers said they had worked for six or more years and had done the same job as the two in question. One woman broke down in tears and repeated, "It's just sad." One of the two who passed the test defended his right to the job. Morgan said she had no information regarding the process but would look into it. Later, the two names were pulled from a resolution up for a vote Tuesday.

- The board faced questions on why the success of the Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies was not recognized by the district in the same way as Plainfield High School's recent accreditation. PAAAS won a bronze medal in U.S. News & World Report's 2016 National Ranking of High Schools but the honor was not recognized with a banner, nor was it noted on the district website. The only local mention was on Dan Damon's blog.
Belin-Pyles said it will be in the June district newsletter and the school will "absolutely" have a banner.

When the board went into committee reports, Finance Committee Chair Carmencita Pile said she had numerous questions about the agenda. The board passed other parts of the agenda and then went back into closed session at 10:35 p.m.to discuss the Finance portion. The meeting was to resume in public when they were done with the closed session, but I walked home at that point.


Monday, May 16, 2016

In the Catbird Seat on Block 832

My nature posts usually don't get very many page views, but I just have to share this anyway.

I was bemoaning the fact that we used to have a Mockingbird and a Catbird in our yard, but they were missing this year. So over the weekend I was entranced to hear the squeaky song of a Catbird coming from the huge Oak tree in front of our building!
Dumetella carolinensis -Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, New Jersey, USA-8.jpg
The Catbird is one of the mimic thrushes, along with the Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher. Its song reminds me of the lilting dawn music that Robins make, but the Catbird is like the choir member that has more enthusiasm than talent - rushing phrases, not quite hitting the notes, and veering off into weird improvisation. To a female Catbird, it's probably the equivalent of Sinatra crooning, but in the avian sound cloud it just sounds eccentric.

The Catbird does make sounds like a cat, a wistful "mew" that might make you search for a stray kitten in the shrubbery.

We get a lot of birds on Block 832, despite the urban hubbub from Park & Seventh. In early spring a big Raven appeared outside my window. I had to look in the Sibley's guide to verify, but the chunky beak distinguished it from a Crow.

We have flocks of Grackles, Crows, Blue Jays and Sparrows here, as well as pairs of Cardinals and Doves. They all face danger. Our feral cat population on the block is down currently, but we also have a Cooper's Hawk that kills birds (and squirrels) and a lightning-fast Sparrow Hawk that picks off the smaller birds. I figured these predators had done away with the Catbird and Mockingbird that came back every year.

My wish now is that we get another Mockingbird to sing us through the summer nights. These birds are real hams, always sitting at the highest place possible while regaling us with endless imitations of their feathered colleagues. They also like to make dramatic attacks on interlopers in their territory, including humans.

OK, enough about birds - back to compiling my Field Guide to Plainfield Politicians.


More on PMUA, Checking on Layoffs

Plaintalker will be checking today on reports of layoffs at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Meanwhile, here is more from the May 5 joint meeting:

Among many topics raised when the City Council met this month with officials of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor urged PMUA Executive Director Daniel Mejias to help workers become "upwardly mobile."

Taylor, a retired educator and administrator, told Mejias she was glad he was giving her former students "a chance," especially those coming out of prison.

The authority has made a point over its 20-year history of being one of the few employers that welcomes parolees.

Taylor said the PMUA needs to help the staff she called "garbage men" to become upwardly mobile "so they can become effective citizens."

Sixty-three percent of PMUA employees are from Plainfield, something of interest because members of the governing body frequently stress the need for companies doing business in Plainfield to hire city residents.

Taylor said PMUA workers "need career ladders."

Mejias said the authority had promoted four people from within to managerial positions and the thought that he would bring in his own people wasn't the case.

Reacting to Taylor's characterization of some workers, Mejias, who introduced himself as someone with 22 years of experience in the solid waste industry, said, "When you say 'garbage man,' I stand before you as a garbage man."

Taylor said she did not mean her remark to be demeaning and again cited the need for a career ladder.

But while advocating a career ladder, Taylor also called the authority "top-heavy."

The same has been said about the city's Public Works Division, but Public Works Superintendent John Louise has described his supervisors as employees who have earned titles, but are still hands-on to get work done. In all probability, PMUA managers do the same.

Mejias said the number of PMUA employees was 171 in 2012, but is now 133, including commissioners. There are five commissioners and two alternates who vote only when needed to make a quorum. Currently, one alternate seat is vacant.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Updates Needed on Muhlenberg RFP and Parking Study

Once the political dust (or donkey-dust, as Rick Taylor used to say) has settled, maybe we can get an update on two major items, downtown parking and Muhlenberg.

In February, the City Council approved a parking structure feasibility study for $60,750. It was a step toward creating a parking deck downtown. Talk of a parking deck goes back at least to 2007, when planning consultant George Stevenson of Remington & Vernick said he knows the city is planning a six-story parking deck off East Second Street between Watchung and Park avenues. That didn't happen, and the city is still relying on ground parking for the Central Business District.

The new study will include examination of funding options, such as asking developers to contribute to the cost. Another issue is whether the the Parking Authority should be revived. It was disbanded in favor of a Parking Bureau that monitors parking both in city lots and at meters

The Muhlenberg situation is more recent. While Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008, a satellite emergency department remained at the hospital site. It has since been relocated to another building on the campus, which was subdivided into three lots. The now-vacant hospital sits on the largest lot, which is 10 acres.

In March, the city issued a request for proposals for the site. Although it is still owned by the hospital, officials have been willing to let the city seek a redeveloper. The site would have to be purchased from the hospital owners and the city wants a "health care focus" for future uses.

A downtown parking facility and a new health care resource are crucial to city development, the first because of new apartments downtown in addition to stores, and the second because the hospital closing created a void that needs to be filled for the city and its neighbors.



click any image to enlarge

These photos are from May 2014. Unfortunately, none made it through the excavation for tank removal or the clear-cutting by landscapers in April.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Morning, Evening Hours Added for Primary Registration

The City Council will not meet again until June 14, which narrows down blog topics for about a month. The June 7 primary will of course be the big news in the interim. Locally, a primary win in council races usually confers success in the November general election.

The last day to register to vote in the primary is Tuesday, May 17. City Clerk AJ Jalloh has announced extra morning and evening hours that day to register.






No, Nameless Nudgers!

So some anonymouses - anonymice? - are demanding that critics of the PMUA show the credentials that entitle them to have opinions, such as degrees as CPAs, auditors, attorneys, etc. The last time I looked, the only piece of paper needed to voice an opinion was the First Amendment.

Someone also took my mention of the adage about saying something nice to mean I wanted to curb disagreement. That is not the case. I recognize there are at least two sides to everything in Plainfield. I would just like to see less vitriol, hyperbole and name-calling in expressing one's point of view.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Two Major Attractions to Plainfield on June 5

Two events are expected to draw lots of visitors to Plainfield on June 5.

One is the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District 2016 Spring House Tour, with the theme, "Brides of the Decades: Love Wins!" See details on the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District website.

The other is the annual Shakespeare-in-Bloom event at the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park. The garden was designed in 1927 by the renowned Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architecture firm and has been tended for 89 years by members of the Plainfield Garden Club. See details at the Plainfield Garden Club website.

These events provide a wonderful opportunity to introduce new neighbors, visiting relatives or out-of-town friends to two highlights of the Queen City. Plainfield's eclectic Victorian architecture is known among preservationists far and wide, and house tours sponsored by historic districts afford a close look at these marvelous homes. The Shakespeare Garden is Plainfield's link to gardens around the globe that feature flowers and plants mentioned in works of the Bard. In addition to the Shakespeare Garden being on the National Register of Historic Places, the Plainfield Garden Club has been recognized by the State of New Jersey and placed on the New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail. The Heritage Trail brings to life the vital role of women in New Jersey's past and present.

Make plans now to attend one or both of these special events!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

If You Can't Say Anything Nice ...

... you must be talking about the PMUA.

Geez, I thought I would convey some good news from Tuesday's PMUA meeting, but all it did was reawaken the wrath of objectors.

I am deleting a bunch of comments that were repetitive and/or mean

The saying, "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me," is attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, also sometimes to Dorothy Parker or Gertrude Stein. The opposite saying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" is widespread, some saying it came from the Bible. Click here to see a Disney take on the saying.

After Monday's outburst from Danny Dunn, maybe the rules for public comment at City Council meetings should include a Thumper codicil.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PAAAS Art Exhibit Thursday

This is a press release. 

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5 th Annual PAAAS Student Art Exhibit

Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies

One Day Only Show

Reception May 12 th 2016

Plainfield Public Library

6 – 8 PM

The Visual and Graphic arts students at PAAAS, grades 7 th to 12 th , are very excited for their 5 th Annual Art Exhibit. They have worked very hard all year and have pushed themselves outside of their comfort zones to experiment with new mediums and techniques.

Their first exhibit in June 2012 showcased 55 pieces in which 12 were sold. Since then the show has drastically thrived in all aspects, including an increasing amount of students pieces sold.

The artwork featured this year is a combination of many different mediums. There will be paintings, drawings, digital illustrations and collage, photography, glass and mixed media.

The opening reception will be in the Anne Louise Davis Gallery at the Plainfield Public Library; from 6 – 8 pm, featuring the PAAAS Jazz Project.

Refreshments will be served. Come join us and support the young artists.

For more information on individual artwork please visit the student website at www.paaasart.wix.com/paaasart. Or follow us on Instagram

The visual art students are under the direction of Ms. Paola Rached, and the  graphic arts by Ms. Angelica Munoz.

PMUA Director Hails Gains

Attendance at Tuesday's PMUA meeting was sparse, but the news was intense: Executive Director Daniel Mejias sees a new energy in authority management and announced several money-saving initiatives.

Just three of the five commissioners were on hand to hear Mejias describe what he sees as a team "buy-in" to honing operations.

"Everybody's buying in to the direction we want to take the authority," he said.

Since becoming director last July, Mejias has made several personnel changes, eliminating some titles and relocating offices for efficiency. Now, he says, managers are holding their own meetings and taking minutes, in addition to regular meetings..

"The buy-in is there," he said.

Early on, he identified the transfer station as a target for change. On Tuesday, Commissioners Carol Ann Brokaw, Michelle Graham-Lyons and Robin Bright approved purchase of a stationary compactor to be used at the Rock Avenue facility to compress cardboard for recycling. Currrently, materials go into open containers. The compactor will increase capacity by up to a 3 to 1 ratio, Mejias said, and will save on hauling costs.

The commissioners also approved a contract for onsite fuel service, meaning employees won't have to take time to drive to service stations and will find vehicles fueled up when they arrive for work.

Among many other contracts, commissioners approved purchase of material to do in-house sewer repair. The company, Perma-Liner, will train staff and provide technical assistance. Mejias contrasted a previous 4-foot spot repair cost of $9,500 with $1,000 anticipated by doing it in-house. The system will not require street openings, something Mayor Adrian O. Mapp stressed the need to avoid on newly-paved streets, Mejias said.

Mejias said former Commissioner Harold Mitchell had been expected Tuesday to discuss the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority, but had a conflict and could not attend. Mitchell was the last PMUA representative to PARSA. He was a holdover on the PMUA since 2011, unseated only in June 2015.

Naming of a new representative bogged down over an issue of appointive powers  Meanwhile, Commissioner Brokaw suggested reading the PARSA minutes and noted anyone can attend their public meetings.

Chairman Henry Robinson, Commissioner Charles Tyndale and Alternate No. 1 Commissioner Pedro Estevez were absent Tuesday. No City Council liaison was present and I was the only member of the public present.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Danny Dunn's Reckless Rants

Monday's City Council was sedate until Danny Dunn came to the microphone.

There was polite applause when animal activist Lilas Borsa Donahue thanked the governing for tightening up an anti-tethering ordinance and more when Siddeeq El-Amin spoke about New York City suspending alternate side of the street parking to accommodate observers of many diverse religious holidays.

Council business went quickly, with unanimous agreement on everything.

Danny Dunn no sooner came to the microphone in the second public comment segment than he began attacking Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who was the acting council president in the absence of Cory Storch. Williams stands for the Pledge of Allegiance but does not recite it, for which Dunn condemned her at length. Dunn's remarks clearly violated the guidelines for public comment that forbid "personally offensive, derogatory or abusive remarks" and as acting president she could have shut him down or had him removed. Instead, she smiled through his attack and he pivoted to another topic.

"I represent the least of these," he boomed, talking about children in the Fourth Ward at risk from speeding cars.

"Get those kids out of harm's way," he thundered, talking about temporary speed humps that had been removed.

Dunn claimed officials were only concerned about "the haves," and alleged discrimination against the "40 percent," presumably the have-nots. Alluding to a "Gestapo perspective," he said, "We don't want no part of Fergusons here."

As Dunn ranted on about other topics, someone shouted from the back, "Sit down!"

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers later explained that the $6,500 devices had been vandalized by neighborhood residents themselves and had to be removed for the safety of  drivers. She said she will be meeting with leaders of the Joanne Hollis Complex (named for her late sister, an activist and resident of the former West End Gardens complex ), to encourage them to speak up when people damage the speed humps.

Public Safety Director Carl Riley said there are no other speed humps available in the city. First & Fourth Ward at-large Councilman Barry Goode asked when the speed humps could be replaced, but Public Works Director Eric Watson said the budget had just been passed. He is looking for funds, he said.

Rivers said the city does not have $6,500 to replace the speed humps and she will be meeting with residents to discuss it. In the future, she said, she would like the city to get permanent speed humps.

El-Amin rose again to defend Williams' right to decline to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He reminded.everyone that there is no state religion, and everyone may believe as they see fit without being bullied about how they express their beliefs.He said some place their hand over their heart, but they are not obligated to do so. There are religions that do not pledge, he noted.

"When we hear people denigrate others for their beliefs, we should stand against that," he said.

The next City Council meeting is an agenda-fixing session on Tuesday, June 14, a week after the June 7 primary and on Tuesday to allow city Republicans to reorganize on June 13 by choosing officers to serve for two years. On April  4, Republicans could file for 68 committee seats, a male and female in each of the city's 34 voting districts. However, only eight Republicans filed for seats in four of the 34 districts.

The next regular meeting is at 8 p.m. Monday, June 20, in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Last Council Meeting Before Primary

Tonight's City Council meeting is the last before the June 7 primary, barring any special meetings that may come up, so expect to hear some campaign rhetoric in the portion for general public comment.

One highlight may be second reading and final passage of amendments to the anti-tethering ordinance that was passed in March 2015 Jay Jefferson Cooke of the Courier News wrote about the amendments last week, with special praise for Councilwoman Bridget Rivers. Last year the ordinance brought animal lovers from Plainfield and beyond to urge its passage, and there may be a similar turnout for the amendments.

A resolution regarding Ramadan stirred up some controversy when I posted about Alan Goldstein's objections to it. I took the post down after receiving an indication that attention from far away had developed. What is that saying about never bringing up religion or politics? So far, the local politics have not reverberated with the world at large, but I suspect a web crawler brought unexpected interest in the blog post from distant ideologues. I would rather keep things hyperlocal, if possible.

The most curious item to me on the agenda is an executive session for personnel matters. I hope it means maybe a new chief financial officer, but one never knows until these closed-session items come to a public vote. It was somewhat disconcerting to hear that there was an interim arrangement where a CFO was "letting us use his license," as City Administrator Rick Smiley explained the situation.

A CFO is one of the municipal officers required by statute. Either you have one or you don't. There is not supposed to be any middle ground, although for a time Plainfield relied on a CFO who helped out a few hours a week. That arrangement ended up lasting for many months. Meanwhile, the council passed an ordinance increasing the pay range for the title and in 2014 hired a full-time CFO, who recently left..

If you plan to attend, the council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day
to Moms
and all
who nurture
and care for 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Campaign Tomfoolery


After "Tracey Jones" posts on Facebook

As political trashing goes, this is fairly clumsy. If it is meant to give a boost to Councilwoman Tracey Brown and Alma Blanco, it is repellent enough to most people to have the opposite effect.

"Tracey Jones" also opines:

Do you realize that the 2nd and 3rd wards control Plainfield? We have no programs coming up for the kids and the lower class because of 2 reasons
1. Mapp doesnt care
2. Lower class and middle class folks dont vote...

Well, hey, isn't the cure for Reason No. 2 self-evident??

As "Tracey Jones" wrote on April 4, the deadline for filing to run in the June primary:

The candidates are in.... Get ready for the buffoonery Plainfield

Count to Four, Count to Five

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor likes to preach about "pragmatic politics," that is, being able to muster the necessary votes to get things done. On the seven-member City Council, that means being able to "count to four," as her late husband, Mayor Richard L. Taylor, so often said. On the nine-member school board, it means being able to count to five, as we saw in the 5-4 votes to choose leaders for the year ahead.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen pragmatic politics used to show power, to control outcomes, to punish the opposition and occasionally to advance heartfelt goals for the city. Whether in appointed or elected governmental seats, some individuals may be loyal simply to save patronage jobs. I call these folks "place-holders"  who don't contribute much except a sure  "yes" or "no" vote at the expected time.

Others who serve may vote only after careful consideration of the matter at hand and will often explain their decisions for the record.

A political leader therefore may take either a "who's your daddy" approach or may appeal to a shared vision of what's best for the city. When I talk with certain longtime observers of the Plainfield scene, they laugh at my naivety in even thinking the latter is a motivation. Maybe I should be more cynical, but I seem to have - what is that thing with the feathers? - um, hope that it's not always all about greed.

The current mayor seems to realize that hope without some degree of power is by and large a bird-brained concept. So far, he and his supporters have gained control of the Democratic City Committee and he can count to five like-minded individuals on the school board. It was amusing in February to see the reaction when Second & Third Ward at-large Councilwoman Rebecca Williams filed to run for the Citywide at-large seat. Speculation immediately arose that it augured a plot for the mayor to be able to count to four on the council by January 2017.

Williams is running on the Democratic Party line with Third Ward candidate Charles McRae. Incumbent Citywide at-large Councilwoman Tracey Brown is running for re-election on a ticket with Alma Blanco for Third Ward in the June 7 Democratic primary contest. No Republicans filed.

Now that the controversial school board election is over, the primary race is heating up. On Facebook, someone named Tracey Jones posted no less than six attacks on Williams and McRae Thursday.

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi has posted the candidate lists for president, House of Representatives, Union County freeholders and local races. In Plainfield, Republicans are outnumbered 13 to one by Democrats and even though this is the year for Republicans to reorganize, only eight filed to fill a possible 68 committee seats.

Winners of the Democratic primary contests for City Council will be on the November 8 ballot, along with any independents who file on June 7. Whatever your view of politics, make sure you vote on June 7 and mark your calendar for the Nov. 8 general election.


South Avenue Project Ownership Changed

A resolution that passed Thursday changes ownership of the company designated for the city's largest project, but alters nothing about its design, scope or promised contribution to the community.

Sleepy Hollow Developers Urban Renewal LLC plans to acquire and clear 11 properties to make way for 212 apartments on South Avenue with many amenities, including a fitness center, indoor and outdoor fireplaces and a meditation room. The project is expected to create jobs for city residents and work for minority tradespeople. In addition, Sleepy Hollow Developers promise $10,000 annually for events in nearby Plainwood Square Park, as well as year-round maintenance of the park.

The City Council passed the resolution in a one-item special meeting held at the Senior Center. The resolution changes ownership to 25 percent for JMF Plainfield LLC, controlled by Joseph Forgione; 25 percent for Gladstone Plainfield LLC, controlled by Steve Kalafer; and 50 percent for Sleepy Hollow Fidelco LLC, controlled by Marc Berson.

The approval is subject to conditions that include JMF Properties LLC remaining as redeveloper manager and guarantor of the redevelopment agreement. In addition, each new owner will be asked to submit additional documentation and financial details.

In public comment, blogger Dan Damon asked why the resolution required a special meeting when the council will meet on Monday. Carlos Sanchez, the city's deputy city administrator for economic development, said the redeveloper expects to be closing May 13 on  the 11 properties that make up the site. The item could not be added to Monday's meeting packet and the council will not meet again until mid-June.

Sanchez said the approval will allow the developer to begin closing on the properties and move on to the demolition stage to clear the site.

See details of the South Avenue project here. 

The special meeting Thursday had been advertised only on Tuesday. Initially the council was scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. for another special meeting to adopt the 2016 budget that had been amended in a special meeting Monday.

Chairwoman of the Whole Gloria Taylor was absent Thursday, which meant the council had to choose a temporary chair. Barry Goode was nominated, but the vote failed 3-1-1, with Goode, Rebecca Williams and Council President Cory Storch voting "yes," Bridget Rivers voting "no" on speakerphone and Diane Toliver abstaining. Next, Toliver was nominated to be temporary chair and Rivers quickly seconded the motion, but Toliver declined. Williams was then chosen 4-1, with Rivers voting "no." Tracey Brown arrived in time for the budget vote.

The $79.4 million budget  passed unanimously, with amendments that included increasing the seven-member council's salary line from $63,000, or $9,000 yearly per person, to $69,200. Each member formerly received $10,000 per year until the council voluntarily took a cut during hard times about eight years ago. (More later on the budget.)

The council had to wait about 20 minutes to start the special meeting on changing the redeveloper ownership, because that meeting had been advertised to start at 7:30 p.m. It was over in about 10 minutes.

The council next meets at 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The agenda includes second reading and final passage of amendments to the dog-tethering ordinance that was passed in March 2015.