The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Plainfield Today breaks the 4,000 mark

Just the kind of gizmo blogger can use?

Just noticed the Plainfield Today blog has broken the 4,000 mark in the past couple of days. Maybe bloggers could use a toy like that above to remind them just how far down the road they've gone?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.

Depressed at Sears

What's missing from Sears? The everything? The excellence?

What a depressing place the Sears store on Route 22 has become. When the Plainfield Sears at West Front and Grove Streets was closed after WWII, the new location reflected the trend to the suburbanization of shopping that drove retail in the third quarter of the 20th century.

The luster is long gone, as my foray on Tuesday confirmed.

My first experience of Sears was being taken as a youngster of 5 or so to the store in downtown Buffalo by an aunt and having my first -- tearful -- experience of an old-fashioned wooden escalator.

While my mother and her friends would window shop the upscale fashions at the Adam, Meldrum & Anderson department store, purchases were more likely to be made at Sears -- if not from the genormous Sears catalogs that came in the mail to our home several times a year.

My parents were the generation that was pleased to satisfy its needs from Sears' "good-better-best" selections of ranges, refrigerators and washers in the days before SubZero and home-sized restaurant ranges.

Sears always had everything, and the quality was excellent in its reliability if not in its style.

But I was astonished at how much shopping at Sears has changed in just the past few years.

Coming in off the lot near the menswear department, I walked past rack after rack and table after table of merchandise along the main aisle all marked "Clearance" or "50% - 60% Off".

Checking the tag of a cotton polo shirt, it was marked 50% off a $44.00 SRP -- at $22.00 just about what one would expect as a normal retail price. The pricing gimmickry wears thin after a while.

It was actually hard to find goods that were simply put out at full price.

When I did take my couple of pairs of Everlast sweat pants to the counter -- already marked down -- the sales clerk offered me a further $15.00 off if I would apply for a Sears credit card. (I had also needed to find galoshes, but was told the store doesn't carry them.)

After the Plainfield store moved to the vastly spacious Watchung location, the new store is said to have been the highest-grossing store by square footage in the Sears empire. Hard to believe now.

But Sears faces steep competition from chains that have grown fat off nibbling at its market through niche targeting -- just think of Sports Authority, Old Navy and P.C. Richards, to name a few.

As Sears struggles along and times change, a fair question is "Did Sears change, or did we?"

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Special Council Meeting: A lesson in compromise?

Plainfield's special Council meeting went ahead as planned Monday evening, with little snow falling and no fireworks.

It was a model of what government can be about -- compromises in which all sides get something, but none gets everything they want.

For instance, Mayor Adrian Mapp was finally able to replace Malcolm Dunn and Cecil Sanders (they of the $1 million giveaway) as PMUA commissioners. It is not clear if both the candidates approved were Mapp picks or whether one was a compromise candidate.

One person whom Mapp had repeatedly put forward on several occasions was not mentioned, indicating there was some backroom back-and-forth to get a resolution. In any event, the stage has been set for possible reform of the PMUA. The vote was 4-1-1, with councilors Storch, Toliver, Williams and Rivers in the affirmative; Taylor voted no and Brown abstained. (Councilor Vera Greaves was not present at the meeting; Taylor and Williams participated by phone.)

Some saw significance in the arrangement of the items on the agenda -- with the PMUA nominations coming first, then the confirmation of Eric Watson as Director of Public Works and Urban Development. In the event, Watson was confirmed by a 4-2 vote, with only councilors Storch and Williams voting no -- as they had said they would when he was first appointed as acting director back in September 2014.

Readers will recall that Council President Bridget Rivers led Council opposition to previously suggested DPWUD directors. Some have thought there was some horse-trading here. Well, hello!

Personnel Director Karen Dabney did a much better job of explaining the Mapp administration's rationale for proposing a manager for the city's motor vehicle pool than when the proposal was originally brought up.

She explained that a police lieutenant and a fire lieutenant each had responsibility for managing those divisions' vehicles and that Superintendent of Public Works John Louise was responsible for the rest of the city's vehicles. According to Dabney, the city is currently spending over $300,000 on salaries for this jerry-rigged management situation and having a single person responsible would ensure better management of procurement, maintenance, insurance and disposition of used vehicles.

Public Safety Director Carl Riley spoke to the issue, saying that creating the new position would allow him to re-assign the public safety officers to more pertinent functions within their divisions; he also noted that under his leadership the Police Division has implemented a planned maintenance schedule as opposed to simply waiting to fix something when it's broken, which was past policy.

Councilor Storch was not convinced, however, remarking that the Mapp administration hadn't even given the Council a number for the total of vehicles in the city pool.

When finally brought to a vote, the proposed ordinance passed 4-2 on first reading, with Council President Rivers and Storch opposed, and Brown, Taylor, Toliver and Williams voting yes.

A lighter moment came during the passage of the accompanying salary ordinance, in which Councilor Toliver -- who had voted for the creation of the job -- abstained. When City Administrator Rick Smiley pointed out that one ordinance was connected to the other, Toliver asked to switch her vote to a 'yes', which was duly recorded.

The final piece of business was an ordinance renewing the Comcast cable franchise. Director of Administration and Finance Ron West summarized highlights including an increase in the franchise fee from 2% of the basic cable subscriber rate to 3.5% (amounting to about $100,000 per year); an additional $5,000 grant per year for equipment and training; plus new lines for the school district and all city-owned buildings.

Councilor Storch pressed West for clarification on street openings -- pretty much a non-issue since all the Comcast lines in the residential portions of the city are aerial, and the City provided conduits under the sidewlaks downtown under the McWilliams administration.

The Comcast ordinance was passed unanimously on first reading and the meeting adjourned without further comment.

The compromises may not have been pretty, nor totally satisfying to either the Council or the Mayor, but the only questions to be answered are "Did the city move ahead?"
and "Can we do this again?"

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tonight's special Council meeting still on

Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night stays us
from the quest for just and capable government...

As of 10:00 AM this morning, the Plainfield City Clerk's office reported that tonight's special Council meeting, called by Mayor Adrian Mapp for 6:00 PM, is still on.

The agenda includes only five items (and nothing more may be discussed or acted on, since it is a special meeting) --
  • Appointment of an (unspecified) slate of nominees to the PMUA;

  • Advice and consent to the appointment of Eric Watson as permanent director of DPWUD;

  • Salary ordinance amendment to include a Motors Manager;

  • Ordinance creating the position of Motors Manager; and

  • Comcast cable franchise renewal ordinance.
The special meeting is set for 6:00 PM in the City Hall Library at 515 Watchung Avenue. Parking available in the lot behind city hall.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The UCA and the whore's lesson

The usefulness of the Union County Directions magazine
was lampooned in this 2009 photo by the CountyWatchers website
(see here) captioned "Please don't squeeze the UC Directions".

Plainfield households are among 200,000 in Union County to receive free copies of a newsmagazine called Union County Directions twice a year, usually just days before the primary or general election.

The magazine is published by the Union County Alliance (UCA) -- see their website here -- a nonprofit that is now in the spotlight thanks to an investigation by the New Jersey Comprtoller's office.

The Comptroller's report, issued this past week (see here), cataloged issues with the organization from it support through no-bid contracts from Union County (to the tune of $1.5 million) to a failure to keep receipts or financial records to potential abuse involving meals, travel, liquor and hotels.

The report further details that the primary "advertisers" have been the County itself and Kean University, and that the Alliance's salaried president -- initially a former Union County official -- also got a 15% commission on the ads placed with the magazine.

The mission of the magazine was originally supposed to be promoting economic development for Union County, but it is hard to see how that goal is met by telling county residents about Sen. Lesniak's successful knee surgery or the joys of summer in Union County's parks.

The county could certainly grind out the contents on its own, within its own budget and using its own personnel and for free. So, why not?

Several reasons come to mind.

One is that the issues always seem to promote individuals who are candidates in the upcoming election -- how convenient!

And state law frowns on elected officials using their office to promote their candidacy immediately before an election.

A second reason is that taxpayer monies can be funneled off to support "friends" -- such as former county employees who now work for the nonprofit in question.

Which brings me to the point of the whore's lesson.

While in college, I wrangled baggage at the Trailways bus terminal. Across the street was a bar frequented by the local hookers.

One of them was different, however. She was a knockout and very businesslike -- she never drank, never got in fights with the other girls, and was very independent.

She stopped by the Trailways station on a daily basis, making her rounds. After getting to know her, I asked her once about how she got into hooking. She told me she had run a beauty parlor for some time but found the hours demanding and the work grueling, and she was always being hit on by her customer's husbands.

Her solution? "Why give it away when you can sell it," she told me.

Seems to me like Union County poobahs came to the same conclusion.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.