The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Public hearing on JFK's new Plainfield ER proposal tonight

The proposal is to move the Emergency Room to Kenyon House.

A proposal to relocate JFK's Satellite Emergency Department (SED) at Plainfield's former Muhlenberg hospital campus will be heard tonight at 7:00 PM at a meeting of the Planning Board at the Plainfield Public Library's Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room.

Though the SED is an operation of JFK Health System, the application is in the name of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, Inc. Doubtless, this little distinction will become important later on as things develop.

The proposal essentially involves improvements to the first floor of Kenyon House, the two-story building at the corner of Park Avenue and Randolph Road. The new ER would be located on the first floor, along with diagnostic and other services. The second floor would continue to be used by the DaVita Dialysis Center.

In the years before Muhlenberg's closure, then-parent corporation Solaris Health System had subdivided the original campus, establishing the Snyder School of Nursing and the Kenyon House on separately deeded parcels of land.

Tonight's proposal would open the way for JFK to move forward on its proposal to demolish the existing hospital structure and replace it with a complex of more than 600 rental apartments.

Members of the public will be allowed to ask questions and make comments as part of the hearing. The plans for the proposed changes are on file at the Planning Division on the second floor of City Hall and are available for inspection until 4:30 PM today.

The Plainfield Public Library is at Park Avenue and West 8th Street and is an accessible facility. Parking is available in the 8th and 9th Street lots.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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New Dems kick off primary campaign with Saturday HQ rally


Plainfield's New Democrats political club will kick of the 2014 primary campaign with a rally and grand opening of its headquarters on Saturday from Noon to 2:00 PM. The campaign headquarters is at 508 Watchung Avenue, next door to the former Blackberry's and across the street from City Hall.

Visitor will have an opportunity to meet the New Democrats candidates for City Council, enjoy some refreshments and volunteer and/or contribute to the campaign.

Parking available on the street or in nearby parking lots.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Liberty Village PILOT: Liar's Poker?

Liar's Poker is a popular bar game based on the serial numbers of
dollar bills, plus skill at bluffing.

A great deal of time was spent wrangling over the proposed amendments to the 50-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) on Liberty Village at last night's Council meeting. The proposal ultimately failed even to be put on the agenda, but as the evening progressed, I began to suspect some folks were not being upfront about what they knew and when they knew it.

While details of the PILOT have been discussed previously elsewhere (see my post here, and Bernice's here), my attention is attracted to the question of why the Council has dug its heels in so hard, so quickly and with so little discussion.

On the surface, several Councilors have complained of being rushed. Last night they also expressed concerns that granting the PILOT before the sale would leave no leverage against the new owners to perform the improvements that are being promised.

Council President Rivers also insisted that $1.5 million had supposedly been set aside previously under the current owners for improvements to the property and there is no accounting for what happened to the funds. Both the Mapp administration and the attorney for the purchaser were unaware of any such assertion, but Rivers persisted.

While Councilors and several speakers from the audience were blaming the Mapp administration for time constraints -- 'last minute politics being thrown at you' is the way resident Mustapha Muhammad put it -- my ears caught several references to the PILOT negotiations having gone on for more than a year.

Both the buyer's attorney, William Eaton, and Mapp's economic development director Carlos Sanchez made mention of the time frame, which places the origins of the proposed sale and PILOT amendment firmly in the administration of former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Sanchez said he couldn't tell the Council why the Robinson-Briggs administration had not followed through on the matter and politely reminded them that he had only come on board on February 1.

But what really caught my attention was Councilor Storch's statement that he recalled getting a phone call from Assemblyman Jerry Green's office over a year ago inviting him to vet the proposal. Storch then went on to add that he and 'two colleagues' went to the Assemblyman's office and went over the proposal, but that that was his only prior participation. He said he never knew anything else until it was brought up at last week's Council agenda-setting session.

If the 'two colleagues' Storch mentioned so discreetly were fellow Council members, then we have the puzzle of how some folks at the Council table could have been surprised at the proposal. Not only that, Councilor Rivers was council president last year> Is it possible she would not have known if members of the governing body had been invited to review the proposal at the Assemblyman's office?

Then there is the matter of the condition of the Liberty Village complex, which many -- Councilors, Mapp administration and residents alike -- deplored. The Housing Authority no longer manages the complex, though it once did. Did conditions deteriorate on its watch? And if they did, why has no public outcry been made before this?

Former councilor Malcolm R. Dunn, a current Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) commissioner offered some historical context. He had been a Housing Authority commissioner along with current PMUA executive director Dan Williamson when the original PILOT agreement was crafted.

If the current Council has questions about why the PILOT was granted a 50-year term and never generated more than 6.28% on the gross shelter rents until the current proposal to raise it to 10%, perhaps they should quiz Mr. Dunn more closely.

From my point of view, it's ironic that Dunn, the man who engineered the $1.2 million giveaway to retiring PMUA executives Watson and Ervin, also managed to help engineer another giveaway from the public purse to the owners of Liberty Village. And how much was that worth over the past 32 years? Councilor Reid has a point in raising the question, though I doubt he will pursue it to its logical conclusion.

Lastly, there is burden that all of this has meant to the rest of Plainfield's property tax payers over the past 32 years.

Hundreds of children, if not more, have been accommodated by the Plainfield Public Schools though the district has never received a dime in school taxes from Liberty Village since its inception. This means that the cost of educating all these children has been shouldered by the remaining taxpayers.

It we take into account all the apartment complexes in the city which are subject to PILOTs and which are open to families (and not age restricted like the Senior residences) and which do not contribute to the support of the public schools, it is not hard to understand why ordinary folks have questions about the value of PILOTs.

The buyer's attorney offered to meet with members of the Council to answer their questions in an effort to reach some agreement to forestall the deal's falling apart. I am hopeful that the buyers, the Mapp administration and the Council can work this out.

Even though that will mean another special Council meeting -- O, the drama! -- which will probably be necessary anyway, since the City will most likely run out of money before the 2014 budget is finally adopted.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Funeral arrangements for Mel Cody

Longtime Plainfield resident Melvin (Mel) Cody passed away unexpectedly this past Sunday at home. Visitation will be tomorrow, April 17, from 9:00 - 11:00 AM at Liberty Baptist Church, 515-517 Court Street in Elizabeth, followed by a funeral service at 11:00 AM.

A native of Augusta, Georgia, Mel had made his home in Plainfield for more than 36 years. He was a longtime member of the Planning Board, to which he was originally appointed by Mayor Al McWilliams.

Mel also led the Rushmore Avenue Block Association and was president of the citywide block association.

An obituary is on the Star-Ledger website here, where you can leave messages of condolence. Entombment will be at Lake Nelson Memorial Park in Piscataway. Services are being handled by Higgins Home for Funerals on West 8th Street.

(If anyone has a photo of Mel, I would be glad to post it here. Email it to:

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Liberty Village PILOT a question of bakshish?

In former Soviet-bloc countries, 'bakshish' was commonly demanded to get things done.

If the modification of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for Liberty Village is to proceed this evening, it will have to be added to the agenda as a new item with the assent of five members of the City Council after failing to be added at last week's agenda-setting session. If the PILOT fails to move forward, I wonder whether it's because of bakshish.

On its face, the matter seems simple enough.

A buyer for Liberty Village, whose owner died over a year ago, is ready, willing and able to step in to make improvements that will dramatically improve the HUD inspection score -- among them, having an on-site superintendent, adding a community room with computer stations for use by residents, as well as a laundry room and improvements to plumbing, electric and sidewalks. The feather in the Mapp administration's cap would be the increase in the PILOT payments from 6.28% of the gross rent roll to 10%.

While no one would probably argue for a 50-year PILOT agreement in this day and age, that is the term that was granted by the Plainfield City Council in 1982. The term is not being abrogated by the proposed changes.

The question on everyone's mind is why there is any difficulty in accepting the (much) improved deal.

But then, this is Plainfield -- or OZ, as Olddoc would say.

When I moved here in 1983, the rap among potential developers was that Plainfield was a place to avoid because of the shakedowns alleged to get the needed votes for projects to move ahead.

During Mayor Mapp's Transition Team's work, the Economic Development subcommittee got an earful of the same sort of reports from those with memories of past Plainfield experience.

The subcommittee's push was to 'rebrand' the City, convincing those with money to invest in projects that Plainfield had turned the corner, that development would be welcomed and the city's stance, while it might be tough, would be fair and honest.

But old habits may die hard.

With $9 million proposed to change hands, the question arises whether some are looking to 'monetize' the transaction in some of the old ways -- whether through 'finder's fees' or 'referrals' or whatever the term du jour is.

In other words, bakshish. Grease. Something to make the wheels go round.

In the 1970s, I worked for a rare-book seller in New York City who had a worldwide network of clients, including many university libraries in what were then countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Very early on, I learned from my boss Sam, who as a teenager had led his mother and sister in escaping the Warsaw Ghetto to safety behind the Russian lines, about bakshish in the rarefied world of historic and rare books.

Sam regularly engaged in duplicitous billings to university libraries in the Soviet Union, Poland and the DDR -- enclosing fake invoices showing lower values in the packages of books themselves and settling the actual purchases through letters of credit at the correct prices.

The reason was not to cheat the governments of 'douane' (duties) as the libraries were exempted, but to thwart the corrupt custom officials who would hold up delivery of any package suspected to contain items of value until the recipient had coughed up 'bakshish' -- cash for the release of the goods.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, I had quite forgotten about bakshish.

Perhaps I shouldn't have?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Mayor Mapp's 'First 100 Days' report cancelled

Mayor Mapp was sworn in in January by his daughter Shermona
as his wife Amelia held the Bible.

An email from the city's press office received at 7:50 AM today advises that the presentation on Mayor Mapp's 'First 100 Days' scheduled for Wednesday evening has been cancelled, 'because of the many meetings scheduled for the remainder of April'.

The email advised the 100 Day report will be issued on Wednesday, as planned, and Mayor Mapp will tape a roundtable with his cabinet discussing the progress on his agenda for the city in the first 100 days of his term. The tape will presumably air on PCTV as soon as it is ready. Check the city's website and the PCTV schedule for more information.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Plainfield Recreation gets super new Super

Time to update things at the Rec Division. This detail from the sign
at Milt Campbell Field, photographed on 4/13/2014.
After a year and a half without a Superintendent, Plainfield's Division of Parks and Recreation gets a new one starting today.

Veronica Taylor, known to all as 'Roni', assumes the responsibilities for overseeing the city's recreation programs and facilities as Mayor Adrian Mapp's newest hire.

Roni comes to the city from the Plainfield Public Schools, where she was a  teacher in the high school and coached several athletic activities, including swimming and track and field.

Prior to working for the school district, Roni served for fifteen years as the Director of Housing Services for the Plainfield Area YMCA and was a founder of The Plainfield Coalition, an organization of social service agencies serving Plainfield residents.

Roni served three terms as an elected Board of Education member, as well as a term as a Commissioner of the Housing Authority of Plainfield. She is a past president of the Plainfield chapter of the League of Women Voters, founded in 1920 and one of the oldest chapters in the country. She is a 1982 graduate of Plainfield High School and an alumna of Douglass College.

Roni served on the Recreation subcommittee of Mayor Mapp's Transition Team and helped author its report, which she says will be used as a guide to getting the Division up and running again.

The Division has been without a leader since September 2012, when former Superintendent David Wynn resigned abruptly amid allegations of financial and other improprieties in the administration of the the Division.

Besides managing recreation activities and opportunities for residents of all ages, the Division is responsible for the Fourth of July Parade and the annual Outdoor Festival of Art.

Wellwishers can give Roni a shoutout at her new office telephone number, (908) 753-3097.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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