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Monday, April 30, 2007

Development: Condo price checkup

Though none of the hundreds of proposed condos have yet been built, the Seniors project on East Front Street seems likely to be the first.

When Faith Bricks & Mortar put the condos in its 209 East 7th Street makeover on the market last October ("Faith Bricks & Mortar condos a tour de force"), I suggested keeping an eye on the sales prices as a likely indicator of prices for proposed condo development elsewhere in town.

Offered at $350,00 each, the four bedroom, two and a half bath units are the match of anything a developer will put up.

In the current market, it should come as no surprise that the first sale took a while. Or that the sales price of $300,000, posted in the Courier in April 20, represented a 14% discount over the asking price.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Ledger had a story ("
Revamped luxury site looks to August opening") about the makeover of the once-glamorous Mayfair in East Orange.

The $20M makeover is turning the 15-story landmark into a gated luxury community with 183 condos. With sizes ranging studios to one- and two-bedroom units, prices will start at $99,000 and max out at $300,00 for the eight two-bedroom penthouse units.

Owners from the 9th floor up will have spectacular views of either the New York City skyline or the South Mountain Reservation.

The building, to be rechristened '60', will feature, according to the Ledger --

...24/7 security featuring 36 on-site cameras; a fancy lobby with a chandelier and beige, brown and charcoal gray marble floors; an upper lounge area with a working fireplace; a concierge desk service; 230 on-site parking spaces; a state-of-the-art indoor health club/gym; a ground level laundry facility; a beige brick-paver circular driveway; three elevators, a ground-level meeting room and lounge area, and a bus stop, right in front, where NJ Transit's No. 77 bus takes commuters to and from the Port Authority in Manhattan, Moses said.

Inside the individual condo residences -- 155 of which will offer balconies -- there are oak hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, walk-in closets, individual room air conditioning and heating units and walk-in closets.
To my mind, Plainfielders wanting to make sure their redevelopment meets the standards being set elsewhere would do well to visit and check out the East Orange condos.

If our developers don't match the East Orange project's amenities and quality, we should know there is something rotten in Denmark.

My big fear still is that we'll get a 'bait-and-switch' outcome, with a lowering of the quality of the project overall in line with a softening market and an attempt to keep profit margins up. The worst-case scenario would be having the units become mostly -- or entirely -- rental.

Semper vigilans!

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

What Jerry Green pays his staff

The Courier runs a story today ("Legislative aides' pay not as good as benefits") on the pay practices -- and perks -- regarding legislative aides.

The chief benefit pointed out in the story is how even a $1,500 annual stipend boosts the pension for legislative aides.

The Courier should be praised for putting the entire database of legislative aides and their job histories on the Internet.

Here is how Assemblyman Green spreads his staff allocation --

(Click on image to enlarge or print.)

For comparative purposes, you may want to check out how Assemblywoman Linda Stender does it --

(Click on image to enlarge or print.)

If you're curious, here are direct links to the historical figures for legislative aides for Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22 --

Go ahead. You look in the closets at realtor open houses, don't you?

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Of steopmodors

Over the hill and through the woods
to steopmodor's house we go...

Off to Connecticut to celebrate my stepmother's birthday today.

Did you ever wonder where we get the step- relationship from?

It's interesting, and connected to bereavement, not -- as I had assumed from my limited personal experience -- to divorce and remarriage, except very recently.

As with much of our language and legal custom, the roots go back to the Angles and Saxons and the importance of kinship and kin groups.

The step- prefix referred to a child who had been orphaned by the death of EITHER parent.

Someone who married the surviving parent became parent to the steopcild -- the child who was bereft of a parent -- and, by extension, a steopmodor or steopfæder.

Within the last century or two the step- relationship has been further extended in common parlance to include remarriage after divorce, complicating even further our already tangled skein of relationships.

More information --
-- Dan Damon

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Friday, April 27, 2007

¡Brava Maria!

Blogging is both fun and work. Those of us who do it day in and day out are passionate about it -- whether reporting goings-on about town, cultivating our neighborhoods or discussing "such considerable things as have come to [our] attention" as Benjamin Harris, publisher of America's first newspaper put it in his first 'post' in 1690.

Yesterday I posted a link to the inaugural post of Plainfield's newest blog -- Plainfield Trees -- maintained by Greg Palermo, a member of Plainfield's 10 Cities Tree Committee. Greg is passionate about trees, both as objects of beauty and as necessities in providing shade, cleaning our air and sheltering our homes. We will all be better-informed and better able to support Plainfield's tree needs with his informative words and pictures.

Today, I am pleased to highlight the efforts of Maria Pellum.

Those of you who know Maria personally will wonder how she has time to do all the things she does -- from trying to whip up the Crescent Avenue neighborhood association to Library Park cleanups, to matters affecting our Hispanic population, to showing up -- and participating -- at almost any public meeting.

And she is blogging too!

Maria began The Crescent Times late last year, and I have added her as a permanent link in the daily CLIPS pages.

The Plainfield Plaintalker's Bernice Paglia and I were somewhat puzzled by Maria's cryptic post on Tuesday ("Reinvention in process").

By yesterday she had put up an enlightening post -- that she has been mulling how to do both commentary that is about the NEIGHBORHOOD and expressing opinions that are PERSONAL. And she has made a very sensible decision. Check it out for yourself here.

But Maria deserves a special bouquet today for her newest innovation -- creating a SPANISH version of her English blog as "El tiempo de Crescent".

¡Brava Maria!

¡Y muchas gracias!

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

SCC decision bitter pill for Plainfield

Can you do bitter?

I can, and you may well feel bitter by the time you reach the end of this post.

The papers today are full of news the Schools Construction Corporation has drawn up the final list to allocate its last cash for projects. (Here are links to the Ledger, Courier, New York Times, and AP coverage.)

Just ONE Plainfield school is on the list -- Emerson Elementary School. (I have scanned the list from the Ledger and posted it here.)

I had a chance to chat with this project's architect, George Jones of Johnson Jones Architects, at Mayor Al McWilliams' funeral. We commiserated over the difficulties of the SCC situation, but were both relieved that it seemed the Emerson project would be completed. So the news that it made the final cut is welcome if anticlimactic.

Sadly, no other Plainfield project is even on the list. The Courier reports today that Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs met with SCC officials yesterday to plump for keeping a new high school and a new middle school in the running if the state funds a new round of construction.

Where is our political muscle, our mojo?

When the SCC was first established, Plainfield went through an intense period of public reflection on the community's needs, guided by an expensive and politically well-connected consultant.

The determination was that, in addition to the projects which are now already completed or nearing completion (Cedarbrook and Stillman expansions, Clinton Avenue major makeover, and a new Emerson school), the community needed a NEW middle school, a major makeover of the high school, and a teardown and replacement of the Evergreen and Jefferson schools.

Priority for the
NEW middle school, slated for the site at South Second Street and Grant Avenue, was switched in July, 2003 to a proposal by Assemblyman Green for a $150M project including a new middle school on the grounds of Muhlenberg Hospital (see archived story), only to be turned by the Assemblyman in December of that year into a $60M proposal for a new grade school on the same site that was advanced by the Assemblyman in July (see archived story).

Alas, none of this ever came to pass. And my guess is that we'll be lucky to see even one of the middle and high school projects Green and Robinson-Briggs are now talking about.

The bitterness?

Left out of the discussion completely is the fate of the 'swing school' on West Front Street.

Currently it houses the displaced students from the Jefferson and Emerson schools. Emerson will be finished and those students will be in their new building soon.

Jefferson? Fuhgeddaboudit!

The building has been turned into offices for the school district and no one hears anything of a new Jefferson school building.

Does that mean they'll be in the temporary 'swing school' building permanently? You tell me.

Here's what makes me bitter: Back when the SCC was looking for a site for the swing school needed to rotate student populations on a temporary basis while new or renovated space was being constructed, there were a couple of options on the table.

One was the National Starch office building on West Front Street -- prime, 'class A' offices with easy access to trains and routes 287, 22 and 78. And paying tens of thousands of dollars yearly in property taxes.

The other was the former Wardlaw-Hartridge campus on Plainfield Avenue, which had been recently taken over by a religious school that was in financial difficulties. This was a spacious, handsomely landscaped nine-acre lot with the distinct advantage that it was completely equipped as a school and was ALREADY OFF THE TAX ROLLS. It could be used as a 'swing' school as long as needed and then turned into the new middle school -- or returned to the tax rolls with residential development.

For whatever reason, the SCC bullied the city into acceding to the 'temporary' loss of the taxpaying West Front Street property as the 'better' option. With a solemn promise it would be returned to the tax rolls in a 'few short years'.

And thus a successful -- and prestigious -- business, employing Plainfield residents, was forced out of the community.

So now, dear taxpayer, you are looking not only at a failure of the state to deliver on promised school construction and its positively harming the business and employment climate of the city, it seems you may very well be looking at the total loss of tax ratables from the West Front Street property as the state welches on its promise.

In short, we wuz robbed.

Are you bitter yet?

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Plainfield Gazette - In support of Sharon!

Candidate Robinson-Briggs and supporters on steps of City Hall.
The original Plainfield Gazette flyer supporting her candidacy
was circulated at City Hall during her 2005 primary campaign.

Let's not overlook the fact that the purpose of the now-infamous 'Plainfield Gazette' leaflet (link is to printable copy) was to support Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, her administration and its policies. Just as the Plainfield Gazette flyer distributed at City Hall during the 2005 mayoral primary was in support of her candidacy.

Her friend Joan Hervey, in a post to Plainfield Today (
"Plainfield Gazette: Hervey raises more questions") only raised more questions.

One wonders if the Mayor is not asking herself by this time whether with friends like this she needs enemies.

Her Honor says to the Courier News (
"Mayor probing document slurring former city spokesman") that she is investigating.

The leaflet, put out for the public in the City Hall rotunda exactly one week after the funeral of the late Mayor Al McWilliams, dishonors the man who finally got Plainfield moving after decades of being mired in backbiting politics --
"[Damon] heaped constant praise upon a mayor who he said could do no wrong and ha ha, ha, ha!...

"We also know that McWilliams during his forced departure placed his 'loyal' employees in cushy positions with increases but of course, there is no mention of that..."

"Ha ha, ha, ha"?

And let's name names, anonymous leafleter. Who exactly are the 'loyal' employees placed in cushy positions with increases?

The rap, if there is one on Al McWilliams, is that he DIDN'T pad the payroll for hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries for cronies and political paybacks.

Never mind. The man has been slurred. Freshly in the grave.

By a faceless coward or cowards afraid to put their name to their words.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs should offer an apology to the McWilliams family if she has not already done so, letting the world know in no uncertain terms that she doesn't need or tolerate this kind of 'support'.

Unless, of course, she does.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Raritan Valley comedy of errors not a complete loss

Plainfield blogerati were taken in by the news item last week ( "Plainfield mayor to discuss redevelopment") that Mayor Robinson-Briggs was to present on Plainfield's transit-oriented development plans at a meeting of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition on April 23.

Bernice and Dan wrote anticipatory posts (Bernice:
"Mayor, Wenson Maier to Speak on Transit Villages", Dan: "Mayor putting PT out of business?").

On Monday morning we three set off like the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, if not in search of parts unknown, at least in hopes of fabled treasure -- NEWS about Plainfield's rosy new transit-oriented future.

Garbled last-minute communications about whether or not there was going to be a meeting turned it into something of a comedy of errors. Would anyone show? Who would show? Who would be in charge? Would there be a program?

As it turns out, the Mayor was not there (we don't know if she ever knew she was supposed to be, as the papers had reported). Jacques Howard, the city's economic development point person, did an admirable job of giving attendees an overview of current ideas about development focused around the city's rail transit hubs.

But the news is there was no NEWS -- at least on the development front.

Dan enjoyed chatting with old acquaintances from the Raritan Valley initiative -- Freeholder Peter Palmer from Somerset County, Sally Morris of NJT, and Harry McNally, engineer, transportation buff and former Plainfield resident. And I got to meet and find out more about Councilman Storch's
neighbor, acquaintance and primary election challenger, Tony Rucker. Councilors Cory Storch and Rashid Burney were also in attendance.

Of most interest to me was the rather technical discussion of the problems holding up getting dual-engine locomotives on the Raritan Valley Line. It involves the differences between 3rd-rail and catenary electric engines and how New Jersey cannot use the type of engines used by the LIRR and MetroNorth in New York State. And why that is likely to cost New Jersey a bundle.

It would be nice if Plainfield invited the RVRC to hold an occasional meeting here in town as the group has done in the past. The issues the coalition struggles with are important for the long-range vitality of the towns along the Raritan Valley Line. It would be good for the Queen City to make itself a choice pearl in that strand.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Everybody belongs -- except Plainfield?


Gwen Faison belongs. So does Cory Booker. And Robert Bowser.

Wayne Smith of Irvington.

Chris Bollwage, Elizabeth.

Jerramiah Healy, Jersey City.

Meryl Frank of Highland Park.

Don Cresitello of Morristown.

Jose Torres of Paterson.

Samuel Rivera, Passaic.

Mohamed Khairullah, Prospect Park.

John 'Mac' McCormac of Woodbridge and Shin-Fu Hsueh of West Windsor, and that's just New Jersey.

Belong to what?

A year-old bipartisan coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns begun by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and endorsed by the US Conference of Mayors and the National Conference of Black Mayors.

With 214 mayors in over 40 states, the group was in the news this past week for a meeting in Jersey City where a media campaign was announced against the renewal of the Tiarht Amendment, which prevents local governments from accessing data on illegal sales of guns.

The website sums it up --
The 'Tiahrt Amendment' is a provision members of Congress have tucked into federal spending bills that restricts cities and police from accessing and using ATF trace data from guns recovered in crimes.

Gun trace data helps police figure out where illegal guns are coming from, who buys them and how they get trafficked into their communities.

The Tiahrt Amendment restricts a city’s access to:
  • its own crime gun trace data;
  • crime gun trace data from other cities and states;
  • crime gun trace data as evidence in trying to hold dealers accountable for violating the law; and,
  • annual ATF reports on nationwide illegal gun trafficking patterns that were once valuable tools for local police.
At the gathering, Mayor Cory Booker stated that 85% of the murders committed in Newark involved illegal guns.

What percentage of those in Plainfield?

Shouldn't we know?

Wouldn't it be a good thing for Plainfield to belong to the coalition?

More information --
Star-Ledger: "Mayors demand access to sources of illegal guns"
Organization: "Mayors Against Illegal Guns"
Organization: "Protect Police"
-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mayor putting PT out of business?

In a manner of speaking.

No one -- myself included -- wants to miss Her Honor's presentation on transit-oriented development proposed for downtown Plainfield and the areas surrounding two long-abandoned rail stations in the West End. For me, that will mean a curtailed publishing schedule tomorrow.

Here are the details --

Monday, April 23
8:15 AM -- don't dawdle!
Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Meeting
Westfield Town Council Chambers
Municipal Building
425 East Broad Street
(Parking available in Mindowaskin Park)
Read more in the Courier article here.

About a decade ago, the late Phyllis Mason was one of the founding influences in the RVRC, and several rousing meetings were held in Plainfield over the years.

The group has consistently lobbied NJT for improvements to stations and services along the Raritan Valley Line as well as maintaining steady pressure for another trans-Hudson tunnel and other improvements that would eventually give commuters a one-seat ride into New York's Penn Station.

You are sure to find the presentation informative and will also meet a good number of people from neighboring communities interested in NJT's contribution to the vitality of the Raritan Valley.

See you there!

(Click on image to enlarge.)

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Plainfield Gazette: Hervey raises more questions

"Life is what happens while you're planning something else." Whether or not John Lennon said it, it's true.

Today, PT was planning on taking up the slurs on Al McWilliams in the by-now-infamous Plainfield Gazette flyer.

Instead, some other questions have pushed to the front of the line.

Here is a comment on my previous post (
"Plainfield Gazette attacks Damon, McWilliams, Saturdays and Truth") submitted by Joan Hervey of Plainfield Area Equality, which I think is worth citing here both for what it says and for the questions it raises:

This "Gazette" was an anonymous flyer which someone put on the front table in the open, public rotunda of City Hall. To suggest that the city, or the Mayor or any other specific person was behind it is irresponsible, until there are some facts to back up the accusation.

As soon as these flyers were noticed, about 1 pm Thursday, they were removed from both City Hall and the Annex.

Of course there is no place for hate speech in the public discourse in Plainfield or anywhere else. Mayor Robinson-Briggs has gone out of her way to make sure that everyone in this city knows she, and her administration, support equal rights for lgbti citizens and has done everything from providing access to domestic partner benefits to publically (sic) announcing her eagerness to perform civil union services.

There is no shortage of hateful rhetoric whirling around the Plainfield rumor mill, and Dan, you must admit, you are often somewhere in the middle of it, stirring that pot. So let's tone down the umbrage for the moment and see if any actual facts come to light.

And Dan, you know perfectly well that anonymous diatribes are not worth the paper, or electrons, they're printed on.

Joan E. Hervey
Sounds pretty spokesperson-y for someone who is NOT a city spokesperson, doesn't it? But who knows, maybe she is a city spokesperson. No one else seems to be.

That aside, let's go over some of Ms. Hervey's themes.

'Umbrage'? Many commentors on the post expressed umbrage. If PT expressed umbrage, it was over what allowing this flyer to be distributed means in creating a hostile work environment for the many dedicated gays and lesbians who are City employees and must stare at this kind of language if they displease the anonymous pamphleteer. Unjustified?

(Aside to Joan -- If you're going to be a wordsmith, get and use a good dictionary. Or use one of the online ones, like the Free Dictionary or Merriam-Webster, which by the way defines 'umbrage' as "pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult". As self-appointed high-profile representative of Plainfield's gay and lesbian community, do you REALLY want to mean that using the "F" word is a FANCIED slight?)

"To suggest that the Mayor...or any specific person was behind it is irresponsible..." PT never suggested the Mayor was behind it. However, unless Joan subscribes to the Roberto Gonzales theory of authorship (as in the fired attorneys list), SOME PERSON or PERSONS must have written it. And who that is ought to interest everyone.

But wait, "UNTIL there are some facts to back up the accusation"? Is Joan telling us somebody is looking into it? But why wouldn't the Mayor's office or the new public information officer convey that thought?

Here's the clincher, though: "
AS SOON AS these flyers were noticed, about 1 pm Thursday, they were removed from both City Hall and the Annex."

As soon as they were noticed? 1 PM?

Mayor Robinson-Briggs made a great fuss during her campaign and after her swearing-in about the installation of a staffed information desk in the rotunda.

Surely, she caused a policy to be written up addressing what kinds of information could be placed in the area, by whom, for how long, and WHO DECIDES that they are allowable, etc. You know, the kind of 'policy and procedures' thingie that well-managed enterprises always seem to have.

Is there one for City Hall and the Annex?

Are we to suppose that the information desk employees did not go over the table first thing in the morning? Even to tidy it up? Or that they did not ask someone attempting to leave materials who they were and what the materials were? Strange, since NO ONE gets by the desk without the insistence on signing in. No one, that is, except EMPLOYEES.

Which ought to be reason enough to want to get to the bottom of who wrote the leaflet and who put it out.

Additionally, per Joan, once the offending leaflets were spotted, they were removed.

Removed and saved? Or removed and trashed?

What's the difference? Well, if they weren't saved and the flyer is deemed the matter of a bias incident, is that destruction of evidence?

But why should PT even raise the question, Joan probably told them to watch out for this wrinkle already.

Joan's parting shot: "Anonymous diatribes are not worth the paper, or electrons, they are printed on."

Now, PT has to admit he has never tried actually PRINTING on an electron, but is IS an interesting thought. I suppose maybe you could call it nanotechnology. If there were such a word.

As to whether anonymous diatribes ought to be reacted to by decent people, my mind turns to the anonymous harassments German Jews endured in the early days of the Third Reich. And we all know where that led.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Plainfield Gazette attacks Damon, McWilliams, Saturdays and Truth

(Click HERE to see full-size, printable version of flyer)

PT wants to thank the anonymous author(s) of the scurrilous flyer circulated as the Plainfield Gazette yesterday throughout City Hall and City Hall Annex and placed on the public literature table in the City Hall rotunda. (For a complete, printable version, click here.) The leaflet helps me organize some thoughts and observations.

Aside from misstatements about myself (which I will deal with below), and mischaracterizations of what I am doing in publishing this blog, the diatribe bashes the late Mayor Al McWilliams -- and this just a week after his funeral.

That is unconscionable. The Mayor should apologize to the McWilliams family immediately.

Further, the
anonymous author(s) use the derogatory "F" word, which I consider hate speech. I have written Mayor Robinson-Briggs about the matter (see here), citing both the language and the chill its use must cast over the city's many gay and lesbian employees.

As well, there is the question of whether the leaflet was composed on a city computer and copied on a city copier.

For today, I will address the misstatements about myself personally. A second post will deal with the attack on Mayor McWilliams, and a third this blogger's approach to the current administration and the flyer's (mis)conceptions of what blogging is about.

I know that many of you will chide me for posting the flyer and giving the "Plainfield Gazette" an audience of thousands more than it could reach through its own efforts, but hey, isn't it about letting the sun shine in?

I invite PT's many blue-pencil readers to sharpen their pencils -- and wits -- and have a go at the grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. of the flyer and to submit a critique. Feel free to assign a grade (A+ to F).

  • TENURE: I began working for the City as an employee at the Plainfield Public Library in April 1996, going to City Hall in March 1998 and retiring effective June 1, 2006. That's 11 years-plus by my records.

  • SALARY: $85,000? Would that it were so. Sounds like the writer was smoking the same no-name product as former Councilor Bob Ferraro, who made similar statements. Salaries of city employees are public record and it is easy for anyone to find out what I made. For those who don't want to get exercised about it, the correct amount is RRNTT (for those of you who have ever worked in the old-fashioned wholesale trade, you will recognize the code at once -- if you don't, drop me a line and I'll share it).

  • VACATION: When I was at City Hall, the administration had a 'use it or lose it' policy -- we all used up our vacation time, some in large chunks, some in occasional days off. Since I was 'on call' 24/7 as public information officer (no overtime, please note), I only got to take an occasional day or two usually -- and then would often have to deal with the media when 'on vacation'.

  • VOLUME OF WORK: Besides filing thousands of press releases and organizing hundreds of media events for the Mayor and the City, I coordinated all the printed materials produced by the city, including the acclaimed PLAINFIELD LIFE, a full-color brochure used by the real estate community to introduce the city to prospective buyers. Readers will recall that it was the FAILURE to get press notice on a City activity that led to the beginning of Plainfield Today in the first place.

  • PROFESSIONALISM: What can I say? I conducted myself as a professional and held my output to the highest professional standards. In addition, I had the toughest copy editor and spell-checker of all: Mayor Al McWilliams himself.
LASTLY, A CHALLENGE: I will gladly acknowledge any grammatical errors and mistakes from publications or press releases. Find and submit. And I'm willing to go mano a mano in a spelling bee with the author(s) in a contest to be hosted by the mayor or perhaps former Gov. Jim McGreevey as a fundraiser for the Plainfield Public Library's literacy program. But be forewarned, I was Western New York spelling bee champ in grade school.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

School Budgets: A concluding unscientific postscript

In a concluding unscientific postscript, PT takes a look at the school budget approval process (with apologies to Søren Kierkegaard).

School budgets are typically the largest tax-funded expenditure in any community, Union County not excepted.

Plainfield's total school expenditures are approximately double the city's budget, coming in at about $117M, of which $17M is raised by the city school levy.

Taking a look at all the Union County communities, as reported in the Star-Ledger, the first thing one notices is the small number of people who exercise the right to decide on the annual school budgets. The table below shows the votes for this year by community, ranked from largest (Elizabeth) to smallest (Winfield).

Since voter registration figures were not readily available, percentages are calculated on the total population (hence the 'unscientific' in the title). Even so, the results should be roughly indicative.

Berkely Heights, at 16.3%, and Scotch Plains/Fanwood, at 14%, had the highest voter participation relative to total population.

Elizabeth and Plainfield brought up the rear, with Plainfield dead last at 1.9%.

But there is another story inside the story of the low turnouts.

That is how many of those who turn out to vote DO NOT VOTE FOR A SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE.

Comparing the highest vote-getter among the candidates and the total number of votes cast for and against the budget question, one can get an idea of the number of people who voted on the budget question ONLY.

In Rahway, where the highest vote-getter received 531 votes and the total budget vote was 1,037, the difference -- 506 votes -- indicates that 48.8% of Rahway voters did not vote for a school board candidate at all.

In Plainfield, the highest vote-getter received 765 votes. Subtracted from the 883 budget vote total, there were 118 votes cast on the budget question only -- or 13.4% -- which placed Plainfielders as the community MOST concerned about school board candidates versus the budget question.

Union County School Budget Votes, 2007
(Ranked by population)
Scotch Plains /Fanwood*
Berkeley Heights
Roselle Park
New Providence
*Scotch Plains population is 22,732; Fanwood's is 7,174.

School Budgets in the news:
Courier: "Voters OK budgets in most polls"
Ledger: "Voters OK 15 of 19 school tabs"

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dan is voting 1-3-5

Today is School Board election day. The polls are open from 2 PM to 9 PM.

This is the day when a historically small number of voters will elect three members of the Board and vote up or down on the LOCAL portion of the school district's budget.

I have been involved with and an observer of the Plainfield public schools since my appointment in 1988 by then-Superintendent Dr. Annette Kearney to a task force charged with outlining a plan for Plainfield's recertification by the state. (Yes, we are STILL waiting to be recertified.) Over the years, I have served on any number of task forces, study committees and a scholarship review committee.

For years, I worked with Dottie Gutenkauf in running campaigns -- nonpartisan and without partisan funding -- for unified slates of candidates, where the goal was getting a board that was focused on improving students' and the district's performance.

Serving on the School Board is an important, time-consuming and, unfortunately, thankless job.

In the next three years, as the state goes through a period of contracting resources, Plainfield and other Abbott districts are going to experience increasing pressure from wealthier communities to undercut Abbott funding, thereby forcing us to face the possibility of significant school tax increases (our school taxes have been stable for over a decade).

Additionally, the district has had long-term problems attracting and retaining excellent leadership at the middle and high schools.

Add to this the issue of providing a safe teaching and learning environment in all the schools and you have a full plate.

Anyone who wants to serve is to be commended.

That being said, we still must choose among more candidates than there are seats.

I will be voting for Christian Estevez, Martin Cox and David Graves.

I have known and worked with them in the community for years. Martin and David have had children in the schools and Christian will have in a few short years.

They are thoughtful and experienced in matters of public policy -- which is REALLY what school boards are supposed to be focused on.

I believe they will bring new energy and integrity to the challenges facing the Plainfield public schools, which is why I willl be voting --

1 - Christian ESTEVEZ
3 - David GRAVES
5 - Martin COX
Whatever YOUR opinion, it will not count unless you vote. Please do so.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Candidate Campbell's coyness causes questions..

Wilma Campbell, candidate in tomorrow's Board of Ed election, took me to task at Mayor Al McWilliams' funeral at Shiloh Baptist Church last Thursday.


She is of the opinion that I said she is being financially backed by Assemblyman Jerry Green, which she says is not so. Fair enough.

But candidate Campbell's coyness only raises questions in PT's mind.

What did PT actually say?

On April 2 ("Sign faeries on the loose"), PT tagged the team as the Assemblyman's --
"Like those fable faerie rings that spring up overnight, signs for Jerry Green's school board candidates Jeanette Criscione and Wilma Campbell sprang up around the community overnight Saturday."

In the post of Tuesday, April 10 ("Board of Ed candidate forum tomorrow"), PT said --
"Incumbent Campbell and newcomer Criscione are running as a team, backed by Assemblyman Jerry Green."
There is no mention of FINANCIAL backing. But PT does still maintain that the Assemblyman is supporting Ms. Campbell as he did when she first ran three years ago. Whether or not financially.

Matter of fact, Assemblyman Green was at work soliciting in the community to put together a three-member team including Campbell for a united run for all three vacant seats.

The Assemblyman personally recruited Ms. Campbell's partner, Ms. Criscione -- who picked up her petitions, PT is told, at lunchtime on deadline day and submitted them completed with signatures before the deadline. Oh! that all candidates could be so fortunate in signature-gathering!

If Assemblyman Green was for Ms. Campbell three years ago, why be COY about whether or not he is supportive of her candidacy this time around? Either he's fer you or agin' you, but no such clear statement is forthcoming.

However, for those who understand how to read between the lines, Dottie and Joe Gutenkauf's letter in support of Campbell and Criscione which appeared in the Courier on Wednesday, April 11, only serves to confirm the Gutenkauf's bellwether** role and the Assemblyman's support.


As curious as the candidate's coyness about the Assemblyman's support has been, her relationship to the League of Women Voters is more troubling.

Seems someone called the state LWV office on candidate Campbell's behalf -- complaining about Herb Green's letter in the Courier on April 8th in support of candidates Cox, Estevez and Graves -- and asking that the forum be cancelled.

The League's guidelines are that there are only TWO people who may NOT publicly endorse a candidate: the president of a chapter and the voter services chairperson, who is in charge of the forum.

Herb Green, while a member of the League, holds neither of those positions and is not bound by that restriction.

The League of Women Voters has an 87-year record of bipartisan involvement in support of building an informed electorate and encouraging voter participation at the polls. These are at the heart of the democratic enterprise and attempting to shut the League down strikes PT as a very dangerous move indeed.

(In fact, it is the second recent attempt to undermine the League's historic role -- the first being during the general election of 2005 in which Mayor Robinson-Briggs won office. In that instance, the League's forum was subverted by another, spurious forum organized by a made-for-the-moment group called 'Women Across The City'. See Bernice's three posts at that time, "Second Forum Splits Voter, Candidate Choice", "Two Candidate Forums Tonight" and "Clashing Forums Mark Finale of 2005 Campaign".)

It strikes PT as unseemly at the least to try to subvert this venerable organization. I hope it doesn't happen in the future.


Meanwhile, who says people can't learn from their mistakes?

Especially if it might cost them thousands of dollars.

That first PT post on signage pointed out that ELEC takes a dim view of not following the rules regarding disclosure requirements.

There are solo signs for Campbell out there with no committee identification. There are signs for Campbell and Criscione that do not identify a joint committee or any committee for Criscione.

Treasurer? Who needs to show there's a treasurer?

Both of these signs could cause dyspepsia for the team if anyone were to complain to ELEC. (Don't worry, team, PT is not going to turn you in.)

But, in a sign that SOMEONE is at least paying attention, if not actually reading the ELEC manual, which is downloadable, the mailing piece which arrived over the weekend at least included Campbell's treasurer's name.

So far, so good. But we still don't know if Criscione has NO committee and has raised
NO money and is merely riding on Campbell's financial coattails, or whether she has a committee and is just not in compliance.

And we're expected to turn over a budget TWICE the size of the city's -- as well as the welfare of our 7000+ students -- to people who stumble out of the gate on such simple things as RTFM?

Why would I? Why would you?

**Bellwether: "The wether, a ram or sheep that walks at the head of a shepherd's flock. The distinctive tone of the bell around the wether's neck signals the flock's position."

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

McDonalds remembers Al

McDonalds on South Avenue remembers Al McWilliams. Thank you, Mrs. Adderley and the South Avenue McDonalds staff. And thanks to reader VG, who called PT's attention to the display.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Should CLIPS be restrictive?

Several readers have written questioning how selections are made for CLIPS -- including local news and blogs.

CLIPS owes its origins to my providing links to online stories about Plainfield to City Council members by email, beginning in May 2005.

Over time, others became aware of the daily listing and asked if they could be included. The rest is history.

But HOW do I select what goes in?

First, note the ORDER: Everything works outward from Plainfield to the wider world. My first effort is to get links to online items of interest to Plainfielders out there. Initially, that meant the Courier and the Ledger.

From the time that Bernice Paglia and Barbara Kerr started up the Plainfield Plaintalker, it has also meant including links to their daily posts (Bernice now runs the blog solo).

Recently, I added the Crescent Times because it is a frequently updated commentary on news and issues concerning the Crescent Avenue neighborhood and the larger community, as viewed by resident and neighborhood activist Maria Pellum.

And, of course, there is my commentary on Plainfield at Plainfield Today.

Would it surprise you that we all have somewhat different takes on the issues? Would it surprise you that you don't always agree with all or any of us?

I really view blogging as partly about conveying news and information and partly as provoking conversation about our community and what we want for it and how to achieve that.

In that context, I think that MORE is better than less.

And that MORE should include MORE COMMENT on each of the blogs. I encourage the Crescent Times to enable the 'comments' function and for all readers to consider adding comments on Plaintalker, where the option IS enabled.

Think of the blogs as a way of engaging in an extended and documented conversation about our community and how to improve it. With the advantage that you don't have to shout to be heard, and you can take the time to think through what you want to say about the issues.

Lastly, I would love to see MORE BLOGS by those interested in their neighborhoods or the community as a whole. And if new blogs are published on a reasonably frequent basis and address specific neighborhoods' news and concerns, I would be happy to consider linking to them on a regular basis.

Anyone interested in getting started is welcome to DROP ME AN EMAIL for more info on blogging.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Taking a day off

Taking a day off, folks. It's been a tough week.

See you tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Board of Ed candidate forum tomorrow

Mark your calendar for the League of Women Voters' Board of Ed candidate forum tomorrow evening: 7:00 PM at the Plainfield Public Library's meeting room.

Five candidates are running for the three 3-year seats that are up: Wilma Campbell, Martin Cox, Jeanette Criscione, Christian Estevez and David Graves.

Incumbent Campbell and newcomer Criscione are running as a team, backed by Assemblyman Jerry Green.

Christian Estevez and incumbent Martin Cox are also running as a team, without any political party backing.

David Graves, a parent activist and longtime Zoning Board chairperson is running independently. He previously served briefly on the Board as an appointee.

PT is having a problem understanding how Criscione, who told me last sumer that she works out of the area five days a week and is only home on weekends, can possibly fulfill the duties of an elected office that requires being physically present for meetings that occur on Tuesdays.

-- Dan Damon

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Plainfield Council candidates, 2007 primary

Candidates filing for the 2007 City Council primary election are --

Wards 1 & 4 at-large

Linda Carter (incumbent), 369 Sumner Avenue
Sean T. Alfred, 1281 East 2nd Street
Ward 2
Cory Storch (incumbent), 705 Ravine Road
James Anthony Rucker, 825 Berkeley Avenue (NOT 'Terrace' as earlier reported)
Deborah Dowe, 812 Central Street

-- Dan Damon

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