Thanks to Plainfield Councilor Cory Storch, there was public discussion of conflict-of-interest matters, environmentally sustainable development, and questionable bidding practices at last night's business meeting.
If it weren't for Councilor Storch, there would hardly ever be any substantive discussion at City Council business sessions.
As the Council casually voted approvals for hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts by 'consent' resolution -- where one vote passes a string of resolutions -- Storch exercised a Councilor's prerogative to pull three items off the consent agenda and put them up for discussion before voting.
That made the evening interesting.
First up, R 386-07, was a $100,000 contract with Remington & Vernick of East Orange to provide planning services for FY2008. The firm has been on board since the beginning of the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration.
Storch's concern was that the firm works both for the City -- providing planning services to the Planning Division in regard to redrawing the Master Plan -- and the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA), the city's designated redevelopment agency.
The Councilor raised the question of conflict of interest, saying that he was speaking the mind of several on the Planning Board. The Administration parried that this was the first it had heard of such questions, which prompted Storch to say that Planning Board chair Ken Robertson has assured him he raised it with the Administration several times and that Storch himself has raised it with the Administration on several occasions.
It hardly makes the Administration look good to be caught in such an apparent fib -- and you must remember it ONLY came out in the open because Storch had the guts to raise the issue publicly.
Storch's motion to table the resolution, however, failed 6-1. That means the contract goes forward, but the public (and the Administration) has notice that there are potential -- and maybe actual -- conflicts of interest here.
The second item Storch flagged, R 390-07, concerned executing a redevelopment agreement for the next piece of the Tepper's redevelopment plan, which involves developing condos where two properties currently stand.
Here, his issue was that LEED language (concerning environmentally-sensitive development practices and materials) in this agreement had simply been lifted from that in the North Avenue redevelopment plan.
And THAT language, as Storch pointed out, was a watered-down version of an original proposal, essentially asking the developer to try his best. Scout's honor.
As Storch reminded his fellow Councilors, that was compromise language, with which the Council was not really happy, and that they had promised themselves they would insist on tougher language in the next development project.
Well, Storch pointed out, this IS that NEXT project.
The Administration countered on this one,too: 'Trust us'.
Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson basically said to the Council: 'We hear you. Trust the Administration to redraw the contract language, in consultation with the developer, and then let Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the Clerk execute it.'
Williamson didn't think there would be a need to bother the Council by coming before it again with revisions before execution.
My heart stopped. Corporation Counsel was asking the Councilors to abandon their due diligence?
Perhaps having second thoughts (visions of lawsuits perhaps?) over the enormity of his proposal, Mr. Williamson asked to confer with Jennifer Wenson-Maier, Director of Public Works and Urban Development.
After a few whispered exchanges, Williamson announced that the Administration was withdrawing the matter and would present a revised resolution at the Council's first September session.
Lastly, Storch wanted a discussion on R 392-07, which is the award of a bid contract for $459,000 to Solid Rock Construction, a Plainfield firm headed by George Lattimore, for fitting out the basement of the Tepper's building, which is city-owned space by terms of the redevelopment agreement.
Storch's concern is that there was only one bid submitted. Oh, pooh! Spoilsport!
He urged the Administration to improve the way it gets the word out so we avoid single-bid contracts in the future.
Dream on, Councilor Storch.
At least, Plainfield didn't just have to return the money to the Feds, unspent. For which I think the City owes Pat Ballard Fox and me at least a nod.
There isn't a jot of evidence the Robinson-Briggs Administration paid the least bit of attention to Ballard Fox's transition memo or was even aware of the money or the need to spend it by a date certain -- going so far as to say there wasn't even a memo -- until Plainfield Today brought it up. Even then, they had to wangle an extension because they were up against the original June 30 deadline.
Plainfield taxpayers should be thankful that Cory Storch is asking the difficult questions.
Otherwise, we would only be learning that Councilors think feeding pigeons is not a good thing.
-- Dan Damon
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