Delivered to 15,000 Plainfield "doorsteps" Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Friend of Ras Baraka's found shot to death in his car

Mid-morning Sunday, the Ledger posted a story on its breaking news blog about the shooting death of a friend of former Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka's, saying the slain man was found in Baraka's car. When I went to refresh the screen about 7:00 PM, the story had been taken down. Below is a copy of the initial filing found in Google's cache. The one taken down had additional material.

Checking again at 10:30 PM, the second version below was found on the Ledger site. Note that all references to Ras Baraka and the car belonging to him have been scrubbed from the story.

The Monday print versions in both the Ledger (here) and the NY Times (here) point out the victim's responsibilities as a city employee and his popularity.

Besides the disappearance of Ras Baraka from the story, there is another coincidence that strike me as odd.

In Sunday's column, The Auditor remarks (see here) on spying Keith Reid, the indicted former chief of staff to Newark's council president, having a cup of coffee in the cafeteria in City Hall's basement. Reid was caught up in Chris Christie's corruption sting this fall and connected others to the investigation -- including Irvington mayor Wayne Smith, whose confidential assistant is the murder victim's sister.

The City Hall complex was part of the stomping grounds of the murder victim.

Watch carefully as this one unfolds.

Friend of former Newark deputy mayor shot and killed

by Kevin Dilworth/The Star-Ledger
Sunday December 30, 2007, 9:40 AM

A friend of former Newark Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka was shot and killed in Baraka's luxury sports car early today in front of an Eckert Street residence, apparently after dropping Baraka off at the airport and returning to that location, according to a law enforcement official.

The victim, identified as Khari Orr, a man in his 30s and the brother of Mayor Cory Booker's confidential assistant, Dawn Martinez, was found shot and lifeless, in the front driver's seat of the car about 4 a.m., in front of 10 Eckert St., the official said. He had just returned from Newark Liberty International Airport.

Orr was sitting behind the wheel of a late model gold Mercedes 300 SL500, and the vehicle was parked in front of the house of the victim's mother, the official said.

Newark police, members of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office homicide squad, and other law enforcement investigators responded to the scene -between Seymour Avenue and Osbourne Terrace, two blocks south of Route 78.
Google cached copy of story here.

Newark grapples with killing of city employee

by Ralph Ortega and Sharon Adarlo/The Star-Ledger
Sunday December 30, 2007, 6:43 PM

Khary Orr, a lifelong Newark resident, wanted to make a difference in his hometown. He interned at City Hall as a teen, set up block parties on his street, and helped plan a parade this summer denouncing the shootings that plague the city.

But the violence the 29-year-old fought against claimed his life early this morning.
Jennifer Brown/The Star-LedgerFriends and relatives gather outside the home of Khary Orr.

Orr, a city employee, was found slain by a single bullet to the head as he sat in a car near his home, leaving friends and family stunned.

He was found by police slumped in the drivers seat of a gold Mercedes-Benz at 4:30 a.m. after he dropped a friend off at Newark Liberty International Airport, said Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the Essex County Prosecutors Office.

When police arrived, the car was still running, Loriquet said. Orr was taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 6 a.m.

Authorities said they neither had information on the person Orr dropped off nor the car owner who loaned the vehicle to Orr. Detective Todd McClendon, a Newark police spokesman, said authorities believe Orr stopped at the Ideal Bar & Restaurant in Newark before he went home.

The death is the city's 98th homicide this year, but that is down from 106 for the same time period last year, McClendon said.
Ledger's rewritten breaking news post of story here.

Monday's Ledger: "City employee found shot to death in a car"
NY Times: "Newark Man Found Fatally Shot in Car Outside His Home"
-- Dan Damon

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


Bob Ferraro in Muhlenberg

Former 2nd Ward councilor Bob Ferraro was hospitalized at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center on Friday evening with a stroke, according to word just received from Brian Schoenberger of Queen City Diner. Brian gives his phone number as (908) 412-6754.

Those wishing to send cards may address them to Bob at Room 2015, Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, Park Avenue and Randolph Road, Plainfield, NJ 07060.

-- Dan Damon

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Council reorg date mysteriously reset

If you thought you heard the Plainfield City Council members at their December 17 meeting unanimously change their reorganization date from that recommended by the City Clerk (January 10) to a date of their own choosing (January 7), you evidently misheard.

The date is now set as January 1, 11 AM, City Council chambers/Courthouse.

How did they get from one date to another? Good question.

Rumor has it a ukase came down from on high instructing the Clerk's office the date and time had been changed.

Was it discussed at a Sunshine Act-violating meeting of Dem officials including four (or five, depending on the rumor) Council members, as some allege?

Who knows?

But it may portend more interesting turns of mishearing in 2008, as we approach the New Year of 4705 in the Chinese calendar -- the year of the Earth Rat.

-- Dan Damon

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


Friday, December 28, 2007

Plainfield landlord cited in East Orange violations

The article below features a property in East Orange owned by Plainfield's largest landlord, Connolly Properties, Inc. It appeared in Thursday's Ledger, print edition only.

Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, December 27, 2007

East Orange orders action to fix Connolly building


Citing continuing code violations and safety concerns at 150 S. Harrison St. in East Orange, city officials ordered the owners of the residential building to take immediate corrective action yesterday.

A team of inspectors from the city fire department, office of emergency management and division of property maintenance visited the building several times yesterday and gave its owners until 4 p.m. to take care of problems, said Regina Perry, city spokeswoman.

By the time the deadline approached, the officials found that some of the remedial work had started, she said. They intend to return today to see if anything else needs to be done.

"The inspectors are actively working with management" to resolve the difficulties, Perry said.

Raw sewage that backed up into the building caused some tenants to be evacuated from the building on Christmas, as well as water to be turned off. Inspectors also found the fire alarm wasn't working.

Water service was restored yesterday, allowing for the return of the tenants, city officials said.

According to East Orange, the owner of the building is Mayfair Hall LLC - D. Connolly of Plainfield. The company's phone number was not working yesterday.

Tenants said about half of the apartments in the 47-unit, five-story building are occupied. Perry said the city has taken the owners to court on numerous occasions over poor living conditions at the building and that the company had been fined for violations.

"It hasn't gotten to the point of evacuation, but we're going to monitor things and see what happens," Perry added.

This story not posted online; transcribed by DD. Archived here.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

-- Dan Damon

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


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Free Nets tix available for Wizards game

Sports enthusiast, youth coach, and Plainfield Board of Ed member Lenny Cathcart tells me that he has a limited number of FREE tickets available to the Nets v. Washington Wizards game at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands, FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28. Game time: 7:30 PM.

To get your tickets, call Lenny at (908) 822-7249 -- leave your number if he is away from the phone.

The offer is for tickets alone; those wishing to go must arrange their own transportation.

While Lenny is graciously offering the tickets at no charge, he would be deeply grateful if you wanted to make a donation toward the city's youth basketball program. Discuss it with him when you call.

Do it now, while it's on your mind!

-- Dan Damon

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


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Wishes

-- Dan Damon

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Riddle

I received the above image as a Christmas card a number of years ago, and have felt a mysterious pull to it ever since.

What does it mean?

At first, I simply thought it was a sugary 19th-century representation, probably French, of Mary and the infant Jesus resting on the flight to Egypt recorded in Matthew (2:13-23).

Sphinxes = Egypt. Right?

Free associating, I thought of the 'riddle of the Sphinx': "What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?"

But that riddle turns out not to have been Egyptian at all.

It had to do rather with the GREEK sphinx, which was an omen of destruction and bad luck. And that riddle was solved by Oedipus, according to Sophocles. (For a more detailed discussion, see 'The Classics Pages' here.)

Besides, the picture does not project a sense of destruction. Rather, it seems to project an exhausted Mary, asleep in the crook of the Sphinx's leg, with the infant Jesus resting on her lap.

The French were totally fascinated by things Egyptian from the early part of the 19th century on, and the presumed French artist may have known something which has been lost to those of us from a later age, something about Egyptian iconography.

The Egyptian sphinx -- there were three varieties, this being an 'androsphinx', with the head of a man and the body of a lion -- was viewed beneficently as a GUARDIAN of the paths to important or sacred premises.

So the artist may have intended to convey the thought that the ancient culture of Egypt provided not only refuge, but guardianship, to the infant Jesus.

And perhaps that is the explanation of the image's mysterious pull.

-- Dan Damon

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Plainfield dog brings light to Illinois campus Christmas

Golden Retrievers seem born to make friends, and Polly (pictured above) was no exception.

When Plainfielder John Hartman left the cozy charm of his home on Colonial Circle for a small apartment at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, located adjacent to the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Polly went along.

Polly, who enlivened her Plainfield neighborhood on her frequent walks with John, never seemed to see a person she did not want to immediately make friends with -- hoping perhaps for a good belly rub or a little frisky play.

Polly's personality was just as infectious at the seminary, where John had enrolled in the fall of 2005 as a student, looking forward to ordination as an Episcopal priest. She and John were familiar figures on the wide sidewalks of the famed Illinois campus.

It was common during their walks was for Polly to be greeted by, or to greet students, faculty, and staff. Often students would approach saying, “Oh, I had to leave my dog back home, and I miss her so much. Thanks Polly, you made my day.”

During one such walk, Polly and John met Tom Rochow of the Ford Engineering Design Center of Northwestern University, located directly across the street from Seabury.

The Ford Engineering Design Center, which opened in 2005, is a focus of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern, and has earned a silver LEED certification for its green design. The building is especially noteworthy for having 75% of its interior space flooded with natural light -- even though two of its six stories are below ground.

Part of the Ford Center's curriculum involves students fabricating solutions to design problems that they will face in the real world.

Tom, who is the Ford Center's
facility manager, and his wife love Golden Retrievers. They themselves had two at one time, but over the past few years both had died. During the next several weeks, Polly, Tom and John became friends. Whenever Polly saw Tom, she would turn over expecting and getting a big belly rub.

It was during such a visit that Polly and John got a grand tour of the Ford Center, which has one of the largest and most comprehensive fabricating workshops of its kind. Tom explained that engineering design students used the workshop to complete various class assignment projects from design to production.

It was during the walk back to Seabury after visiting the facility that John came up with an idea that would involve both Seabury and the Ford Center students.

During the Advent season, one of whose themes is waiting for light amid darkness, the services at the seminary's chapel utilize pew candles on tall staffs to softly light the worship space. These candle staffs were at the end of their life span. The wooden staffs upon which the lighted candles perched were known throughout the entire seminary community as being delicate.

After seeing the workshop, meeting the engineering design students and reviewing a sampling of their fabrications, John knew they could produce an entirely new pew candleholder for the Seabury chapel that would be beautiful as well as functional.

John approached Tom with the idea of involving the Ford Center in solving the problem.

Tom liked it, but he had one condition, that the joint undertaking be called Polly’s Project. Tom was quick in pointing out that had it not been for Polly, they probably would never have met. In a way, the project became a memorial to Polly, who had died unexpectedly in March, 2007.

A small committee was appointed by the seminary's dean to coordinate the project with a four-student design team from the Ford Center. The team came up with two prototype designs. The Seabury committee selected the design that utilized a metal pole, which was simple, and elegant with the poles fitting into a wood mounted holder at the ends of each front row pew.

The new candleholders in place in the seminary chapel.

The candleholders were installed in early December 2007, in time for the seminary's traditional Advent Service of Lessons and Carols. Several members of the Northwestern community attended this beautiful Advent service.

In her infectious way, Polly had laid the foundation for this cooperative project between the two schools and can be said to have brought some new light into the grey, wintry days of Advent.

Which may be what the Lord had in mind when he created Golden Retrievers in the first place.

NOTE TO JOHN'S FRIENDS: This is John's third, and final, year at Seabury-Western Seminary. He graduates this spring, and is looking forward to ordination as a deacon at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton on Saturday, June 7th (mark your calendars!). Ordination to the priesthood usually follows about six months later. I will keep everyone informed.

-- Dan Damon

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


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Puzzled by Plainfield's Mayor

Plainfielders may be just as puzzled as I am at Mayor Robinson-Briggs' suggestion at this past Monday's budget hearing that the school district could aid the city's tax situation if it would only stop charging for use of its facilities.

The Ledger framed it nicely (see more here) --
"Speaking at Monday's meeting, the mayor said everyone should share in the cost of educating the children.

The Plainfield Board of Education, Robinson-Briggs said, should stop charging the city to use its fields and facilities for youth programs. "We are in a terrible, horrific tax situation," she told the crowd. "Now, we are servicing the same group of youths and are being charged twice."

An idea that was seconded by Councilor Burney on his blog, As I See It (see more here). And was the subject of a back-and-forth with Maria in the Crescent Times (see more here).

Now this all sounds like a no-brainer, until you give it a moment's thought.

When I worked for the City and had to book venues, the only time there was a 'free ride' was if the school district and the city JOINTLY put an event together.

The City's Recreation Division has been using the school district's fields and facilities for dog's years, and I cannot remember this idea ever being broached.

For starters, fees are not a money-maker for the district. They cover maintenance costs and mandated personnel coverage for buildings when being used by non-district organizations.

So the Mayor's proposal would simply shift the cost from the City's taxpayer base to the school district's taxpayer base.

As in robbing Peter to pay Paul.


Has the Mayor forgotten utterly that when she was on the Board of Ed, and was its president, she never offered to stop charging the city these fees?

Guess the shoe was on the other foot.

Color me [still] puzzled in Plainfield.

-- Dan Damon

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


Friday, December 21, 2007

Is this Muhlenberg's solution?

I have heard rumors that Plainfield's Muhlenberg Hospital may have a buyer, and I'm wondering what shape the solution might take. The one shaping up for Paterson's Barnert Hospital may give a clue.

When I reported last month on the decision by Solaris to sell the hospital (see more here), it seemed to me that there might be a silver lining, as a JFK-Muhlenberg marriage had so obviously been a top-to-bottom mismatch.

Not long after, the Bergen Record ran an analytical compare-and-contrast piece on two hospitals in their readership area: Pascack Valley in affluent Westwood, a Bergen County suburb; and Paterson's Barnert in urban Passaic County (see story here).

By the Record's lights, the state was willing to guarantee a monthly cash advance on charity care costs to Barnert because of its tremendous charity care burden -- 'a lifeline for the indigent', as the story put it -- while hoping the hospital could work out a rescue plan. The story's headline said the rest: "Lack of charity care doomed Pascack Valley hospital".

Seems to me there are some similarities between the Barnert and Muhlenberg situations, and that the answer is finding a buyer who understands providing hospital services IN AN URBAN SETTING.

I pointed out that Montclair had found such a buyer for its Mountainside Hospital in the
Lousville-based Merit Health Systems LLC which closed that deal this past June.

Today's Herald News reveals that Barnert has reported to the bankruptcy court that a best-of-three offer has come from Hospital Associates, LLC (see story here). The group, about which no details were disclosed (go ahead, try to Google them!), seems to be Philadelphia-based, and offered an undisclosed sum.

But they intend to run Barnert as a for-profit, acute care hospital.

There are differences -- Barnert is in bankruptcy, Muhlenberg is not.

And Muhlenberg has a number of assets that should make it attractive to a buyer --
  • An up-to-date facility with modern equipment and systems;
  • The new Harold B. and Dorothy A. Snyder School of Nursing;
  • A nationally top-rated Coronary Intervention program (which beat out Overlook, Mountainside and Somerset Medical in HealthGrades® recent national rankings);
  • A nationally commended Cancer Care program;
  • Bariatric Surgery and Wound Care specialties; and
  • Community goodwill -- which has enabled the hospital to raise hundreds of millions of dollars over the years through the Muhlenberg Foundation and the activities of the Muhlenberg Auxiliary.
Nevertheless, might an outcome similar to Barnert's be the best Muhlenberg could hope for?

Stay tuned.

-- Dan Damon

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


Thursday, December 20, 2007

48 Woodland students letters in today's Courier

Plainfield's Woodland School students are featured in today's Courier's special four-section pullout entitled 'My Holiday Traditions', which is filled with poems and brief essays submitted by Central Jersey students.

In the Plainfield section (fourth of the four pullouts), 48 students in grades 4 and 5 from Woodland School have their submissions published.

Can't find it online, but if you're a parent or know a parent or student from Woodland, you might want to run out right now and pick up a copy. The student you know will be thrilled.

Congrats to the Courier's Managing Editor Paul Grzella for pulling it all off!

Paul, you always have the BEST ideas! May you prosper forever!

-- Dan Damon

State commissioner at special BOE meeting tonight on school problems

State Department of Education commissioner Lucille Davy will be at a special Board of Ed meeting this evening to 'discuss how the state intends to help district leaders improve education', according to a front-page story in today's Courier. Sadly, the long story is NOT online and I do not have the time today to retype it.

Residents, taxpayers, parents and other interested parties may have an opportunity to ask questions of the Commissioner.

Pullquotes from the Courier story include --
"The district is in a crisis and the board is making decisions that the state might not be able to support, [and Davy] felt she needs to come in and talk to the board about it."
-- Assemblyman Jerry Green

"The education of our youth is extremely important. The community should be afforded the opportunity to attend this session and ask any questions that they may have."
-- from a statement by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs

The public portion of the Board of Ed meeting begins at 6:30 PM at the Plainfield High School Library, 950 Park Avenue.

-- Dan Damon

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ottman, Reid good news

The return of Gary Ottman to the Plainfield schools as business administrator and board secretary is nothing but good news.

With both the district and city hall (where the Chief Financial Officer serves, by law, as the treasurer of the school district) in turmoil, a steady, practiced hand will certainly be most welcome. The Board of Ed should certainly appreciate Ottman's knowledge and skills at negotiating the intricacies of dealing with the state, managing the business side of the operations, and years of experience at understanding the local players and their favorite plays. Consider the Board a winner on this one!

Having Mr. Reid on the Council can only tidy up a somewhat lackadaisical approach to Council matters, as Reid has a reputation as a stickler for competence and diligence. A case in point is the 'koshering' of Reid himself, where the Council felt the need to memorialize his appointment to Council -- which they did without a resolution or roll call vote -- by a non-consent resolution at Monday's special meeting (meaning they rendered a roll call vote, which is what should have happened in the first place).

The Administration should take note of Reid's reputation in this area. Repeated walk-on items and vague responses to Council queries may elicit reactions that might make them think the late Ray Blanco is being channeled.

Though some people fear Assemblyman Green's designation of Reid as Rayland Van Blake's replacement will consolidate Green's sway over the Council even further, my bet is that Mr. Reid will play with the team when it doesn't seem to harm the interests of Plainfield residents and taxpayers greatly -- but will be his own man if any shenanigans are proposed.

It's nice to have reasons for hope in the Christmas season, in which hope and expectation for a better future are traditional themes of those who honor the holiday.

-- Dan Damon

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


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A note about kids and gangs

Respect Each and Every Blood OK

One Plainfield youngster at Monday evening's budget hearing was brought nearly to tears at the thought of what feared recreation program cuts would mean in terms of his neighborhood, where he said kids must face gangs and shootings as a regular part of their lives.

A parent repeated those concerns, adding that Plainfield's gangs reach down to the elementary school grades -- even to third- and fourth-graders, he said, saying also that many parents were simply unaware, but that the kids know.

Know the signs. Know the colors. Know the codes.

Put me in mind of a story I put up last year with illustrations of all the coded gang signals in clothing and sports gear for the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings (see the goods here).

Plainfield Today: "It's Spring, and thoughts turn to...gangs?"

Here are a few websites with more information about gangs, gang colors, and intervening or preventing youngsters' involvement with gangs:
-- Dan Damon

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


Dirty tricks at budget hearing?

From the throngs of Plainfield youngsters and parents at Monday's budget hearing, it became apparent at once that more than the Planning Division's fate was going to be commented on.

When time came for the public hearing, first up were representatives of Dudley House, the city's drug rehab program, who are justly worried about the fate of their program, their staff and themselves. The Administration's answer? 'We don't know yet.' And this after I blew the whistle three months ago (see more here), that the program was in danger of being scuttled by the Administration.

Then came the deluge.

In the form of pained, angry and earnest pleas from parents, coaches and youngsters for the Council not to cut the Recreation Division's programs by $75,000 as they were given to understand the Council was about to do.

As I said, pained, angry and extremely earnest.

Except, perhaps, that they had been tricked.

After eight or ten speakers had delivered their pleas to the Council, Council President pro-tem Don Davis took the mike in response.

No programs were going to be cut, he informed the petitioners.

The Council intended to fund the Recreation Division to carry on the programs just as it had this past year. There is no intent to cut programming, and it will not happen. Period.

So, you ask, what about the $75,000?

Turns out that the Recreation Division, as Councilor Davis pointed out, had had unspent monies at the end of the fiscal year -- $75,000 this year, and $125,000 previously, Davis said.

What the Council was doing was reducing the budget requested by the Recreation Division to the amount it actually spends.

If I were a parent, coach or youth participant, would I feel tricked?

And by whom?

-- Dan Damon

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


Council's maddening meeting deliberations

Plainfield's City Council reminded us once again Monday evening why these bodies are called 'deliberative assemblies'.

Because they deliberate, that's why.

And sometimes without coming to any satisfactory conclusion.

Take, for instance, a meeting schedule for calendar year 2008.

Bear in mind that the Councilors have had since spring of 2006 to decide whether they like their new Monday-Wednesday schedule -- which upset 80 years or more of Monday-only meetings (I tripped across a 1925 newspaper article that cited Monday meetings) -- or want to go back to the traditional schedule, or try something else.

Listening to the conversation around the Council table, it seemed not much thought had gone on in the nearly two years of the 'new' schedule.

Only Councilor Storch remembered and called to his fellow members' attention that the ORIGINAL
intent of the meeting-day changes was to REDUCE the number of meetings in a calendar year.

No one seemed to be prepared to jump on that bandwagon, however, for reasons that are not clear.

I made a somewhat facetious suggestion last January (see story here), when the Council was trying to decide what to do about the 2007 schedule, that they could just go to ONE AGENDA-SETTING AND ONE BUSINESS MEETING PER MONTH, which the City Charter allows.

Maybe I should suggest again -- this time in all seriousness -- that the Council consider an ALL-MONDAY, TWO MEETINGS PER MONTH schedule.

Then, if there is more business to conduct, they can just call a SPECIAL MEETING like they did last night to deal with the budget and the police contract salary ordinances.

Unless, of course, that would be too simple.

And cause deliberation to cease.

Plainfield Today: "Breaking news from the City Charter"
-- Dan Damon

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


Plainfield smacked down over Health Officer firing

Dr. Jadwiga Warwas, Health Officer, during the May 2005 'Top Off 3'
Counterterrorism exercise at Muhlenberg Hospital.

Santa knows who's naughty and who's nice, as Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson learned to their chagrin last Wednesday.

And as I learned when I returned home from Monday's City Council budget hearing (no, not from the subject of this item; there are other folks interested in transparency of government EVERYWHERE in New Jersey who forwarded me a copy of the document).

On December 12, administrative law judge James A. Geraghty handed down his decision in the appeal of Plainfield Health Officer Jadwiga Warwas, MD, over her termination by Mayor Robinson-Briggs in September 2006, allegedly for 'insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public official'. I have posted a copy of the decision online (see it here).

In a crushing blow for the City, Geraghty's findings of fact were that Dr. Warwas was 'neither insubordinate nor guilty of conduct unbecoming a public official', and further 'that appellant committed no misconduct'.

The city alleged Dr. Warwas was working for the City of Paterson without the express permission of the City of Plainfield, hence the 'insubordination' and 'conduct unbecoming' charges. The decision says that the City was made aware of the Paterson employment by way of an 'anonymous message'.

Dr. Warwas held that her resumé, submitted in the normal course of seeking employment, fully disclosed her part-time, at-home, off-hours position performing Quality Assurance Control for the City of Paterson in gathering and reporting HIV/AIDS information, by way of her home computer, to Paterson officials and residents.

As Geraghty finds, '[t]he City officials who conducted the interview offered [Warwas] the Health Officer position without requiring her to abandon work [for Paterson]'.

What raised my eyebrows was that Dr. Warwas'
resumé could not be produced by the City from her personnel file, nor could it be found during her attorney's discovery process.

What happened to the missing

I would never think that Karen Dabney, the City's Personnel Director, could misfile or would remove such an important document.

Which leads one to ask just how it came to go missing. Was the personnel file ever out of her control and safekeeping? And if it was, who had it? Would the removal of the
resumé, which the tribunal judge avers supported Warwas' contentions, constitute some form of obstruction? And if two or more parties were involved in its removal, is there conspiracy?

Could someone who had access to or was aware of the contents of Dr. Warwas'
resumé have been behind the 'anonymous message'?

As I said, I cannot for a moment think that Ms. Dabney would involve herself in such shenanigans. But it would certainly be helpful to know the chain of possession of that personnel file, wouldn't it?

Curiously, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson represented the City at the September 30, 2006 disciplinary hearing which led to her dismissal. It is curious only because Mr. Williamson was also the 'private prosecutor' (as the decision states) in a harassment proceeding initiated by an employee against Dr. Warwas. Those charges were dismissed by a Municipal Court, as the decision states.

But one wonders if there was not a conflict in Mr. Williamson being party to both matters.

The City also alleged that Dr. Warwas had failed to designate an acting health officer while she was on vacation from June 19 to July 7, 2006. On July 6, one day before her return from vacation, City Administrator Carlton McGee (he of blessed memory!) issued a Notice of Disciplinary Action, charging her with neglect of duty.

(It would be unkind of me to mention that McGee's authority as acting head of Administration and Finance, to whom Warwas reported, had expired prior to July 6 -- see Bernice's post from 2006 here -- so I won't. At the time, Assemblyman Jerry Green, in a 'what, me worry?' response opined to Bernice that McGee's timing out was no problem, 'noting that it wasn't costing the city any money'. Wonder what he's thinking about it costing the city money this morning.)

The 'neglect of duty' canard was trumped in the hearings before Geraghty when Dr. Warwas authenticated a memo she sent to McGee on May 15, 2006, advising that Randy Mascaritolo, Senior Registered Environmental Health Specialist, would replace her during her vacation as he had in 2005.

After all this, Judge Geraghty concluded that Dr. Warwas 'was neither insubordinate nor guilty of conduct unbecoming a public official' in this matter, and further that she 'committed no misconduct'.

Geraghty's decision is in favor of Dr. Warwas and orders the charges be dismissed, and that she be reinstated as Health Officer with full back pay, pension rights, benefits and attorney's fees.

How's that for a smackdown!

Geraghty's decision is labeled 'initial' because the process allows either side to file written exceptions with Merit System Board within thirteen days of the mailing of the decision, and further, it can be adopted, modified or rejected by the Merit System Board. If the Board does nothing within 45 days, and unless the matter is extended, the initial decision will become final.

Quick, now! How much will all this cost the taxpayers?

SIDEBAR THOUGHT: If the City is going to be so scrupulous about 'outside employment', one wonders if Corporation Counsel will start pursuing the matter of the many licensed Realtors® sprinkled copiously throughout City government. And whether they perform any of their real estate duties on city time, or use city supplies (paper, copiers) or city phones in the conduct of their sideline business affairs. And whether they have filed written requests for permission to work other than for the City.


In any event, a Merry Christmas to all!

Office of Administrative Law: "Warwas v. City of Plainfield, Initial Decision"
-- Dan Damon

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


Monday, December 17, 2007

Plainfielders vie for Dem convention seats

Plainfielders will be among those vying to be delegates to the Democratic national convention pledged to their respective candidates.

Local Democrats will join other Jerseyans on February 5th in New Jersey's first stand-alone presidential primary.

Aspiring convention delegates' names have been submitted to the Division of Elections, and they will appear beneath the candidate to whom they are pledged.

The complete statewide list appears on NJPoliticker this morning (see more here).

Here are the relevant Union County candidates --

Twelfth Democratic District (parts of Essex, Morris, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties) --
  • Obama: Rashid A. Burney of Plainfield, Rebecca Florence Widdick of Clark, and Anthony K. Ogawa of Mountainside;

  • Kucinich: Laurie E. Thomas of Madison and Geoffrey S. Thomas;

  • Clinton: David Morales of Plainfield, Tom Barrett of Short Hills, and Anna Sutton of Plainfield;

  • Edwards: Nathan Rudy of North Plainfield, Abby Kalan of Millburn, and Nicholas Scutari of Linden.

Eleventh District (parts of Middlesex and Union counties) --
  • Obama: Neil M. Cohen of Roselle, Julie Diaz of Perth Amboy, and Kim Nesbitt Good of Elizabeth;

  • Clinton: Joe Vas of Perth Amboy, Joanne Rajoppi of Union, and Rosa Diaz of Carteret;

  • Edwards: Joe Vitale.
Delegates names will appear beneath those of the candidate to whom they are pledged. While a voter may think they are voting for Hillary or Barack or whomever, in reality the voter is voting for these candidates.

PolitickerNJ: "Democrats compete for delegate seats"
-- Dan Damon

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


Dottie G. on importance of tonight's budget hearing

In an email late last evening to her Plainfield readers, activist Dottie Gutenkauf urged concerned residents and taxpayers to come out to this evening's City Council budget hearing and voice their support for full funding of the DPWUD's Planning Division.

I am reprinting the email below --

The U.S. Bill of Rights took effect on the 15th day of December in 1791. ... Many of us will exercise our rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the City Hall Library beginning at 7:30 pm on Monday, December 17, when the City Council has scheduled a special meeting which will include its public hearing on the administration's proposed budget.

The most pressing problem in the budget proposal lies in the Department of Public Works and Urban Development, where the director, Jennifer Wenson Maier, wants to lay off the part-time Principal Planner, a Plainfield resident and a certified Landscape Architect with experience and expertise in many other areas relating to planning, historic preservation, and urban development. This would be a serious blow to Plainfield, and I hope you will join me in urging the City Council to amend the proposed budget to restore that position and to provide additional professional staff for the Planning Division as well.

Ms. Wenson Maier told the Council at a recent budget meeting that she wanted many of the functions now being performed by the staffer she wants to get rid of to be done by Remington & Vernick, the South Jersey engineering firm, and that there would be no extra cost to the City--a claim I found totally absurd. She also stated that the rest of that staffer's functions would be distributed among other City employees. More recently, City administrator Mark Dashield stated both privately and publicly that none of those functions would be outsourced, with the possible exception of matters involving landscape architecture--that instead, they would be "redistributed," presumably within the PW&UD Department. Although I would very much like to take this option seriously, in my opinion it is simply not realistic. None of the divisions within PW&UD are overstaffed, and piling additional responsibilities on people with an already demanding workload will simply make matters more difficult and create unnecessary and unproductive delays.

Effective city planning requires not only competence and professionalism, but also knowledge of and dedication to the community being served. The current Planning Division staff exemplifies all of those necessary characteristics, and its workload is continuing to increase--especially now, as more areas are being considered for redevelopment. Reducing staff at the same time that the demand for services is increasing is a formula for disaster. The Planning Division's need for adequate staffing has been recognized by our Planning Board and by the Historic Preservation Commission, both of which recently went on record unanimously opposing the proposed layoff.

I agree with them completely: cutting the Planning Division staff would be absolutely the wrong decision, and it's a proposal the Council should unanimously reject for the good of our City.

I urge you to attend the Council meeting on Monday in the City Hall Library and join me in making our voices heard. I hope to see you there.

Dottie joins myself, Bernice and Maria in underscoring the importance of this meeting and of the city keeping an independent, responsive and cost-efficient planning capacity.

See you tonight at the City Hall Library, 7: 30 PM!

-- Dan Damon

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


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Courier News losing traction?

There were no Courier News papers at the newsstand this morning. At 7:00 AM, after waiting from 6:30 AM.

There were no Couriers in the streetside newspaper vending boxes either.

This is the fourth time since Gannett moved the Courier's printing away from its Bridgewater facility (where it has been printed and distributed for 35 years) to its printing plant in Middlesex County.

Problem is readers expect their paper in the morning. The other instances of failure of timely delivery were on weekdays -- when commuters either get the paper before going to work or skip it altogether.

So we had a little snow on the road. Do you suppose the Buffalo News didn't get delivered? Or the Minneapolis Star-Tribune?

With all we hear about how much trouble newspaper circulation is in, you would think publishers would bend over backwards to get the damn thing in peoples' hands.

Wouldn't you?

-- Dan Damon

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


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dottie G. reports on Death Penalty repeal

From Blue Jersey video posted to YouTube.

Plainfielders who have followed and/or participated in the death sentence repeal campaign in New Jersey know that Plainfield's own Dottie and Joe Gutenkauf have played an important role in marshaling citizen support and input in the long-drawn-out process. Dottie reported on the final vote with an email which is reprinted in full below --
It is my great joy to report that the NJ State Assembly passed the death penalty abolition bill yesterday. The vote was 44 to 36. On Monday, the State Senate passed it by a vote of 21 to 16, and Governor Corzine is expected to sign it very soon. This makes New Jersey the first state to abolish the death penalty through legislation. A broad coalition of citizens and organizations has spent many years working toward this goal, under the leadership of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and Joe and I are proud to have been involved in their efforts.

You can see a clip from the post-vote press conference [on YouTube here].

Our 22nd Legislative District Assembly representatives, Jerry Green and Linda Stender, supported abolition. We were especially proud of Assemblyman Green, who spoke eloquently in favor of the bill and who chaired part of the Assembly session while Speaker Joe Roberts addressed the body about the importance of the legislation. Outgoing Democratic Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, who cosponsored the bill with Republican Kip Bateman, has earned our everlasting gratitude and leaves a magnificent legacy. In the Senate, Ray Lesniak (D) and Robert Martin (R) led the repeal effort. The legislation could not have passed without bipartisan support.

It saddens me to have to add that our 22nd District State Senator, Democrat Nick Scutari, voted against the bill, as did former Plainfield City Councilman, Republican Jon Bramnick, now an Assemblyman from Westfield. Given the fact that Plainfielder Byron Halsey, convicted of the brutal murder of two Plainfield children, was recently exonerated after spending nearly twenty years in prison, I had hoped that those two legislators would have been particularly sensitive to the problems inherent in capital punishment and the possibility of executing innocent people. Fortunately for all of us, one courageous juror in Mr. Halsey's case refused to agree to the death penalty--and we are grateful to him for preventing the execution of an innocent man.

I can't adequately express our thanks to all of you who helped in this effort throughout this long and arduous process. Joe and I were proud to represent Plainfield in the legislative chambers as this historic legislation was passed by the State Senate and the Assembly. Our thanks to you for your continued support, encouragement, and action--this is one more example of the importance of citizen involvement in the making of public policy.

Dottie Gutenkauf

Well done, Dottie and Joe!

-- Dan Damon

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


Free Holiday parking


Once again, shoppers in Plainfield's downtown business district will have free Holiday parking, courtesy of the Mayor and the City Council.

The policy takes effect Monday, December 17, and runs through January 2, 2008. You may even see the plastic bags announcing the policy appearing on city parking meters over the weekend.

Happy Holidays!

-- Dan Damon

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Council needs your input Monday on Planning Division funding

Plainfielders should make no mistake about it: the Robinson-Briggs administration is out to gut the Planning Division.

Though the Council has indicated it intends to fund the Division as it stands, City Administrator Mark Dashield insisted -- as Bernice reported in the Plaintalker yesterday (see more here) -- that the administration still wants to cut staff and outsource planning responsibilities.

Citizens have a last chance to speak out against this dangerous idea at Monday evening's City Council budget hearing by voicing support for the Council's funding proposal. (The meeting is 7:30 PM, in the City Hall Library.)

The attempt by the Administration is a further extension of the warfare it has waged unabatedly since DPWUD Director Jenny Wenson Maier took up her position in January 2006.

What is at stake is having an independent, professional staff whose only interest is serving the PLANNING NEEDS AND INTERESTS of the community, its taxpayers and residents.

Planning Board member (and former city councilor) Donna Vose has written persuasively (see here) of the inability of even the best-intentioned outsourced planning consultant to understand and be responsive to the CULTURE OF THE COMMUNITY. And the danger that such ill-considered planning advice would set future agendas in stone.

I wrote in early November of two other concerns: the COSTS associated with outsourcing, and the potential for CONFLICTS OF INTEREST (read more here).

In considering costs, reflect on this: George Stevenson, the Remington & Vernick engineer foisted on the Planning Board as its 'consultant', drives up from south Jersey twice monthly for the board's meetings. On one of those trips, he stays overnight at a hotel -- courtesy of you the taxpayer -- so that he can be here for a morning top-level staff meeting.

You didn't know? And why is HE involved in top-level staff meetings? After all, he's just a consultant, right?

Which leads to my second point, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.

How can the community be best served if it cannot guarantee that conflicts of interest are avoided?

Case in point: last week's Planning Board meeting.

Mr. Stevenson, the consultant, was to take the Planning Board over the reduced 'Netherwood' redevelopment plan and point out -- for the record -- all the reasons that the area qualified as 'in need of redevelopment'.

Mr. Stevenson has stubbed his toe in this department before. Repeatedly.

(This is the same consultant who prepared Paulsboro's waterfront redevelopment plan, which was overturned by the New Jersey Supreme Court with some pretty sharp language -- see more here and here.)

Evidently not wishing to leave anything to chance, the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA) sent along one of its attorneys, Ed Boccher, to manage the presentation.

Mr. Boccher is much more skilled at this -- even doing a bit of 'warm and fuzzy' by dragging the late urban planning guru Jane Jacobs into the conversation. (I am not sure she would have appreciated it if she knew what the proposal was all about.)

Mr. Boccher is an agent for the UCIA, with which the city has an interlocal services agreement for redevelopment.

Since the agency and the city are in a contractual relationship and the UCIA is involved in other matters and with other principals whose interests may not coincide with those of the city of Plainfield, a potential for conflict of interest results.

Now, THERE IS A PLACE FOR OUTSOURCING -- under the CONTROL of the Planning Division. When the Planning Division, in its considered, professional opinion, feels that an outside professional hired under the direction and supervision of the Planning Division could assist the Division in executing its responsibilities faithfully, it should be free to do so. Or not, as it sees fit.

This attempt by the Administration to reduce the Planning Division's staff is just another try by the camel to get its nose under the tent.

It is the Council, the Administration has been reminded, that sets the budget. And councilors are particularly sensitive to public input as it is the public who elects them (Councilors Gibson and Davis are up for election next year).

You can help by coming out Monday evening and voicing support for the Council's intent to leave the Division fully funded.

-- Dan Damon

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


Thursday, December 13, 2007

How Plainfield fares under new school funding plan

How area districts will fare under new plan. (NY Times graphic.)

Plainfielders are finally getting a peek at what's in store for school funding, after Gov. Jon Corzine's presentation at a south Jersey school yesterday.

Abbott Districts have been worried that the governor's proposal for rejiggering school funding would put them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis wealthier districts. Meanwhile, other districts in which numbers of at-risk students have dramatically increased over recent years, yet who are neither Abbotts nor well-to-do, have been hopeful of funding changes to benefit them.

In a Solomonic move, Corzine has attempted to address everyone's concerns with a proposal that gives most districts increases in a range from 2% to 20% -- though even some of the wealthiest will see also see increases.

Both the Ledger and the Times give the story extensive coverage this morning, with lots of details, while the Courier gives scant mention, cutting the Gannett story in half and putting in on page 3.

How Plainfield ranks with other NJ districts. (NY Times graphic.)

To me, one of the most interesting features today is the Times' interactive map, where you can drill down to info on any single school district in the state -- and see how it ranks among the state's 526 total districts in each of twelve categories.

For instance, our average spending per pupil ($13,961) ranks us as 62nd out of 526 districts, while our average teacher salary ($51,795) stands near the middle of the pack at 246 out of 526 districts. Our teacher/student ratio of 10.4 puts us in the high middle range of 302 out of 526 districts.

Taxpayers will especially note that the percentage of the cost of the school system borne locally -- 13% -- places us in the high end of state support, along with the other Abbott Districts.

Does the new formula signal that Abbott districts will be held to lower annual increases in ensuing years? And does that prospect mean that Plainfield taxpayers will ultimately have to look at funding more of the school budget?

These are questions which should rivet taxpayers.

But will such attention, if given, lead to more intense scrutiny of school matters -- especially as measured by attendance at school board meetings?

Only time will tell.

-- Dan Damon

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