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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Outsourcing Plainfield's planning: Here there be dragons

Hic sunt dracones (Here be dragons).

The subject of outsourcing planning activities -- rumored almost since the outset of the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration -- finally surfaced at this week's City Council budget hearing (see more here).

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and there are two things to keep in mind: COST and CONFLICTS.


While the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration is arguing that the city's Haddonfield-based engineering firm, Remington & Vernick, can do the work AT NO EXTRA COST, one would be a fool to believe it.

First, hours will NOT be billed at the firm's lowest rate -- you can bet on it. Second, there will be SURPRISE PADDING you won't know about until you've been zinged. For instance: Do you know that R&V's staffer assigned to the Plainfield planning process, George Stevenson, has to stay overnight on one of his two monthly schleps to Plainfield, for a meeting with Administration biggies the next morning? At a hotel? At taxpayer expense?

And then, there's the lawyers. Those hourly rates will include R&V's overhead for counsel related to their planning and engineering activities. 'Cost of doing business', you know.

Another example: Plainfield's corporation counsel work was outsourced under Mayor Mark Fury to the Wiener Lesniak firm. When Al McWilliams came into office in January, 1998, the city was involved in a messy dispute with the firm over $800,000 in billings the city was disputing. And that was only the money they were claiming, not the money they had been paid in the course of four years.

No wonder McWilliams brought the corporation counsel's work in-house, where it has remaind -- except for special expertise -- to this day.


The potential conflicts of interest with R&V working both for the city and its redevelopment agency, the Union County Improvement Authority, have already been raised elsewhere, especially by Councilor Storch back in August.

Not only are there potential conflicts, there is the potential for double-billing for the same work.

The Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority is currently coming under increasing scrutiny for planning to outsource its operations -- with a lot of arrows pointing toward questions of how the Wiener-Lesniak firm benefits.

As the old mapmakers used to say when marking out areas about which little was known: 'Hic sunt dracones' -- 'Here there be dragons'.

Except that, in Plainfield's case, we KNOW what lurks in these outlying areas.

Danger! Costs! Conflicts!

Previous Plainfield Today posts --
-- Dan Damon