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Monday, November 26, 2007

A resident's letter to Plainfield Council and Mayor on Planning Division concerns

Olive Lynch, Plainfield resident, taxpayer, and soon-to-be innkeeper of Plainfield's newest Bed-and-Breakfast The Coriell Mansion, penned a letter to Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the City Council expressing her concerns over Jenny Wenson Maier's stewardship of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development, in particular the Planning Division.

The letter addresses the concerns in the minds of many residents. Iam reprinting the letter in its entirety below. Please feel free to add your comments and any particular incidents known to you to help focus our elected officials on this matter. (NOTE: Bracketed matter is added by me for clarification) -- Dan

Dear Councilmembers and Mayor Robinson-Briggs:

I believe we are facing a serious issue with the [Department of Public Works and Urban Development's] Planning [Divison].

1. I totally disagree and find it irresponsible and an unfounded recommendation to give the role of city Planner, which is currently held by a extremely well-qualified Plainfield citizen employee, to an outside consulting firm.

a. Any time you get a consultant, they bill by the hour. I'm not sure of the hourly rate of the proposed firm, but even conservatively billing at $125/hr, the math does not work in a time when the city is facing cutbacks. 20 hrs x 125/hr = 2500. 52 weeks x 2500 = 130,000. Weigh this against the current expenditure for this position of $30,000 for a 20 hour a week position. It isn't a sound fiscal decision. Let's say the consulting company only works 10/hrs a week. 10 x 125/hr = 1250 x 52 weeks = 65,000
In essence, the city would paying more for getting less.

b. The claim that the remaining tasks would be "made up" by the Planning department staff. This is, again, appears to be a misguided recommendation.
Since I have served on the zoning board of adjustment for a period of time and actively been working on my own project, I am well aware that the Planning Office is understaffed. It has been understaffed for some time, and a real credit to the professionals working in the office that they handle such an immense workload. To take someone away, then demand more from an already overloaded staff is not good planning or leadership.

c. The Planning Department is a VERY important department to the health and growth of the city of Plainfield. I, and many other citizens in Plainfield are very concerned that outside, non-resident individuals do not necessary have the same agenda as would a citizen. The fact that the Planner position is currently held by an extremely qualified individual (overqualified in fact), it seems, again, a lack of planning and judgment on the part of the administration to cut this Plainfield citizen and replace the position with an outside firm that has no investment, no "skin" in the game.

d. We need redevelopment and development in Plainfield ... but not at any cost. Ms. Wenson Maier and the developers eager to make a buck will not have to live with some of the ill-conceived redevelopment plans. I, and other citizens LIVING here in Plainfield with have to live with it. Many are concerned that the Historic Commission is being left out of the decision-making process, especially for redevelopment in historic districts.

2. My other great concern is over the state of the lights for the Park and Ninth Ave historic district project. A grant was written and funds received from a grant, for the purchase and installation of these lights. The Historic Commission approved the work with 4 historic lights. Therefore, the 4 lights must be installed. It is now my understanding that the funds for these lights was spent on something else.
If this is the case, then we have an extremely serious problem with the [Director of Public Works and Urban Development's] decision-making as well as integrity.

a. I believe it is not correct to take funds derived from a grant for a specific project and spend the money on something else. I don't know the details of the grant award, but usually the funds must be used specifically for the purpose stated in the grant. To do something else could well be illegal.
If the funds were, indeed, spent on something else ... what was the other project? Was the granting organization notified?

b. Maria Pellum repeatedly has asked about the status of the light installation from the [Director of Public Works and Urban Development] ... and has been given the run-around.

As an aside, in my own experience, I have NEVER been able to reach the [Director of Public Works and Urban Development]. One week I called 4 times a day, at different times. I was told she was always at a meeting, or out. I never received a phone call back ... ever. This to my mind, is extremely poor customer service. Other citizens have had this experience as well. At this point, anyone you ask does not have a good impression and has serious doubts about our current [Director of Public Works and Urban Development]. Many people believe for one person to be responsible for many departments, being Rahway city council head, and having a private practice ..... is a recipe for something not to be done well, serious conflict of interest, or Plainfield business dealt with as well as the citizens of Plainfield deserve. Plainfield, frankly, deserves someone who is focused solely on PLAINFIELD ... not juggling private business phone calls constantly during Plainfield business hours.

It is very disturbing that the [Director of Public Works and Urban Development] would decide to spend funds allocated for a historic district project on something else. Enhancement and preservation of our historic districts is something I believe very important to the continued growth and appeal of the city to new property buyers and businesses. Why spend the funds on something else? This does not seem consistent with the city's best interests and the desires of many citizens in Plainfield, not to mention the possible malfeasance and legal ramifications.

I personally believe the time has come to evaluate the performance of this individual in all her roles in the city. I would be very interested to know the hours she is in the office (is this tracked?), the hours she has billed in her personal business and on what days, the hours she attends [to] Rahway city business ... and bottom line ... what has she accomplished for the city during her period of hire? Is morale good in all the departments? Are things more efficient (many of us find the shuffling of offices very inefficient)? From the reports I have heard, this individual does not have good people or managerial skills. This, I believe, is critical ... especially for someone leading so many important city departments. Given all the fraud and double-dipping that has been uncovered by the state by officeholders and city/state employees, I believe we citizens need to start demanding a REAL accounting for how city funds are spent and the expected city employee performance ... including that of our administrators.

Please address these concerns right away. I plan to investigate the matter of the [street lamps] thoroughly on my own. I will be following up with each of you.

I thank for your continued hard work and concern for our great city!

Olive Lynch

PS. This email is of my authorship and expressing my individual concerns. However, I am taking the liberty to copy various citizens of Plainfield who I believe would have an interest in the discussion of these issues, your response and the issue resolution.

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

Let's face it--the mayor is a puppet of Jerry Green who is a puppet of Charlotte Defillipo. She (Charlotte) is the reason we have Wenson-Maier. The conflict of interest was clear from the outset, but the city council has consistently refused to say or do anything about it. She is rude and lacks knowledge and Olive is right, she is never in the office since she is running her family's business and working for the Rahway council. The council is allowing these people to sell the city down the river. I would have thought better of Burney and Storch and Carter and VanBlake and Davis, since they came aboard as reformers under the administration of Al McWilliams. They have betrayed his legacy and the oaths they took when they got into office. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Unfortunately they probably aren't since they care only about themselves and their status and pensions. When Defillipo is indicted will they say anything? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

I wish each Dept/Div head had a time [every Tuesday evening 7 to 9 pm, etc] when any resident could walk in and get 15 minutes of their time. Booker does something similiar on a rotating basis I thinks