The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

QuadTech: That extra page - sloppiness? or fraud?

Today, PT will look more closely at the ACTUAL DOCUMENTS submitted to the City for clues to sloppiness or, worse, fraud.

But first, let's review. What we have learned so far is that this project was the Mayor's initiative, and that QuadTech would provide a methodology and tools to implement the Mayor's vision.

Fair enough. To be thorough, PT slogged his way through both the City's RFP (47 pages) and QuadTech's proposal (52 pages). No, make that 53 pages.

Reaching the end of the proposal packet, PT thought he had gotten the pages out of order, as the page after page 52 (the last page) was page 47.

Going back, however, he found there ALREADY WAS A PAGE 47 in the packet. So, the copy machine just generated a second copy of the page? Happens sometimes. If so, why was it at the END of the packet and not RIGHT AFTER THE FIRST COPY?

Why indeed. Upon closer inspection, the signatures on the two page 47s DO NOT APPEAR TO BE THE SAME. Take a look for yourself --



This is a scan of the signature on page 47 in the packet.



This is a scan of the signature on the 'extra' page 47 at the end of the packet.

See what I mean? Now, the second, extra, page appears to be on the same stationery as all the others in the packet and is NOT a fax. Is it the signature of a City employee? A QuadTech employee? Was it the ORIGINAL SUBMISSION, and was the CORRECT SIGNATURE submitted to the City AFTER THE BID PACKAGE WAS OPENED?

If so, that would be a violation of the public bidding law. There is to be no 'FIXING' of the contents once they are submitted, sealed, in the bid process.

All of this caused PT to go over other pages with signatures more closely. ALL THE OTHER PAGES appear to bear a signature identical with that on the page 47 that is in sequence.


Scan of signature on the Non-Collusion Affidavit page.



Scan of signature on the Mandatory Affirmative Action Compliance statement.

But wait, SOMETHING ELSE caught PT's eye. The signature on page 46, the Non-Collusion Affidavit -- meant to prevent BID-RIGGING, requires NOTARIZATION.
Curiously, this item is dated as notarized on September 5th, the due date for the proposal, while other items in the packet attest a September 1st date.

Notaries public perform a valuable function in many legal processes, particularly in affirmations that the person signing the document is who she says she is. PT's personal experience includes hundreds of real estate transactions where contracts and mortgage applications had to be notarized, as well as petitions for public office, in which the individual petitions need to be notarized.


Scan of signature space of the "Notary" on the Non-Collusion Affidavit.

In no case did PT ever see a notary fail to include the JURAT, which identifies the jurisdiction granting the notary's commission and that the person who appeared before the notary affirmed the truth of their statement or identity.

Curiously, the notarization of the Non-Collusion Affidavit here contains no
JURAT, just an indication of an expiration date. Also, curiously, there is no signature for the notary, only a PRINTED name. So we CANNOT CONCLUDE from it by what authority the person who signed as Notary Public was allowed to do so, nor by what jurisdiction, nor even that they are a bona fide Notary Public. A fatal flaw? Evidently not in Plainfield.

So, are we witnessing sloppiness in violation of the statutes? Or fraud?

Let's hope the Prosecutor, to whom this matter evidently has been referred, got to see ALL the pages.


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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Roundup: Taxes, trees, clocks, guns, and more

Here's a roundup of issues, observations and opportunities --

CITY NOT READY TO RECEIVE TAX MONIES?

Reader TT reports that when he called to ask where the tax bill is for the quarter due February 1st, he was told -- again -- that the bills are not yet ready to be sent out. In the past, Directors of Finance have ESTIMATED AHEAD when a budget has not been in place, in order not to disrupt the needed cash flow. But with a brand-new Director and no Tax Collector on board, it seems like 'running the asylum has been left to the inmates.'

Though the Council did decide last night on the final budget cuts it will impose, it will be WEEKS before a new budget is in place and the tax rate finally formally set. By the way, did we forget to mention that the investigation into SEVERAL THOUSAND DOLLARS that went missing a year ago is still... What? Continuing? On hold? Dropped? Who knows.
(What IS the first anniversary gift? Paper? As in dollar bills?) Tip to taxpayers: Better not to pay in CASH?

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS SOUGHT

Westfield youngster Daniel Brotman is seeking donations of GENTLY USED MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS of all kinds (no pianos or organs, please). For his Bar Mitzvahh project he will be refurbishing them and donating them to children in area schools "who otherwise would not be able to learn to play an instrument or to participate in a school band because they cannot afford to buy or lease an instrument."

He is collecting the instruments through five drop boxes placed in county office buildings THROUGH FEBRUARY 9. In our area, you may drop an instrument off at the Park-Madison building, East Second Street and Park Avenue or the County Engineering Building, 2325 South Avenue, Scotch Plains.

COUNTING TO FIVE

Reviewing the matter of Boards and Commissions, which are in need of appointments, PT came across a mention by Bernice that TWO APPOINTMENTS were due for the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) this go-round. That piqued PT's interest. Set up by the City in 1995, the PMUA has a FIVE-MEMBER BOARD holding FIVE-YEAR TERMS, appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council. (Alternates are a separate matter.)

Under normal conditions, one would expect that would mean that A SINGLE COMMISSIONER would be appointed each year to keep up a rolling board membership. And if a Commissioner resigns, dies, moves or is removed, the fresh appointee fills out the BALANCE of that Commissioner's term. So how, then, do you ever get to appointing TWO in any given year? Another Plainfield mystery. Nancy Drew, where ARE you?

ONLY GOD CAN MAKE A TREE, BUT YOU CAN HELP
PT has been told that the City's TREE COMMITTEE is in need of fresh blood (block that metaphor!) now that member Fred Cone has decided to relocate to a warmer part of the country. With 121 miles of two-sided streets, there are quite a few trees needing monitoring, trimming, or removal and replacement. If you care about Plainfield's street trees, which not only beautify our city's neighborhoods but help to scrub and purify the polluted air constantly blowing over us, you know the drill: Brief resumé and cover letter to the Mayor. You may also want to speak to a current member. Or drop by the Planning Division and speak with April Steffel, who has served as staff liaison.

OF CLOCKS AND TREES
Speaking of trees, the STREET CLOCK on Park Avenue in front of the old Park Jewelers will be one hundred years old this year. That's a big deal, but it's really a BIGGER DEAL because this clock plays a cameo role in Betty Smith's classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a tale of turn-of-the-20th-century immigrant life that is the story behind the 1945 film classic of the same name. Perhaps the Cultural & Heritage Commission can arrange a screening in recognition of the role immigrants have played in Plainfield's history -- from the Irish and Germans of the 1840s through the early 20th century's Italian and Polish immigrants to today's newer arrivals from the Caribbean, Asia and Central and South America. It would be nice, too, if the clock were installed in the new Park-Madison plaza AS PROMISED by the UCIA and the developer.

GUNSHOTS, AGAIN
Reader LC reports gunshots heard in the Cook School area before midnight one recent evening. Where is that Operation Ceasefire we have been promised -- the program that will treat EVERY gun incident with the seriousness of a homicide? Plainfielders are waiting...

WHERE IS THAT NEWSLETTER?
Speaking of waiting... Longtime city employee Cynthia Crawford was relocated from Police Headquarters to the City Hall Annex MONTHS AGO with the new assignment to produce a City newsletter. PT had quite forgotten about the promised newsletter what with all the issues around the CABLE CHANNEL -- PCTV-74, about which there has recently been talk of running commercials, which is a DEFINITE NO-NO in public access TV -- and the City's WEBSITE, from which it has been effectively LOCKED OUT by problems around the VERY PROBLEMATIC QuadTech deal PT has been looking into (next instalment tomorrow). Ms. Crawford reported at a recent meeting of BLOCK ASSOCIATIONS hosted by the Prosecutor's CPU that she is the one to get event news to for inclusion in her newsletter. So when is it coming out? And will it be mailed to every city household as used to be the case?

¿PODRIA REPETIRLO, POR FAVOR?
Translation: Could you repeat that, please? Coitainly.

Several readers have noted that Ms. Carmen Salavarrieta -- the Piscataway resident who was so helpful in stirring up a media hysteria when it suited mayoral candidate Robinson-Briggs, but who has since fallen mysteriously silent -- can now be found sitting behind the information counter in the City Hall rotunda. While it's good to have someone bilingual on duty, are we supposed to believe that of the 16,000 or so Spanish-speaking RESIDENTS OF PLAINFIELD, there was NO ONE QUALIFIED to perform this job? Or maybe there was no open job posting? What are friends for if not to find friends jobs?
Keep sending your tips, questions and sightings -- just click here.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Overcrowding? What overcrowding?



Overcrowding? What overcrowding?

[After reading this post, you may want to mosey on over to this week's poll and cast your vote (the white box in the right-hand column).]

The Courier led with a front-page story Sunday ("Central Jersey towns consider tougher rules for overcrowding") surveying the concern among Central Jersey towns about overcrowding and the unsafe and unhealthy conditions it spawns. North Plainfield, Raritan Borough and Bound Brook, among others, are mentioned.

As is Plainfield. But our RESCINDED ordinance -- the heart of the abandoned Safe Homes initiative -- gets a backhanded slap ("When initially adopted, some residents felt it unfairly targeted the City's Hispanic population."). No backup to the statement, no quotation from former Mayor Al McWilliams, whose initiative it was, no citation of the 'residents' referred to.

Helpfully, the story includes an online reference to ordinances throughout the state addressing the matter of overcrowding. This is a real resource, citing the text of ordinances -- including Hillside (Dem chair deFilippos' stomping ground), East Orange and others from Allendale to West New York. PT has archived them here.

Under Mayor McWilliams, Plainfield adopted the 'Safe Homes' initiative aimed at inspecting rental units throughout the city and attempting to root out overcrowding -- conditions which pose a threat to the health and safety of tenants, although VERY HEALTHY to the landlord's bottom line. (PT is sure McWilliams would heartily agree with Raritan's Mayor Liptak that such measures are not anti-immigrant, they are 'anti-greedy landlord'.)

Inspection professionals refer to purposeful overcrowding as 'stacking', and if you read between the lines of the sales prices and neighborhoods in the Friday real estate section, you can begin to get an idea of what might be going on to make the presumptive mortgage payments. Stacking can generate MANY THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS PER WEEK TO LANDLORDS where running unchecked.

Though, of course, we're not likely to ever know -- as the Administration abandoned the Safe Homes initiative early in 2006, under pressure from real estate investors and the owners of multi-family properties subject to the scrutiny contemplated by the ordinance.

A fire on Johnston Avenue earlier this month (Courier, Plainfield Today) revealed an ILLEGAL BASEMENT APARTMENT -- a key indicator of overcrowding. We have heard nary a further word about it.

Days ago, a fire at 1003 Park Avenue left more than 30 people homeless(Courier, Plainfield Today, Ledger). Though overcrowding may or may not be an issue in this building, in PT's conversations with residents, he was told the landlord only provided heat for a few hours a day, and that the electrical and plumbing conditions in the building are substandard. These are conditions that often go hand in hand with overcrowding -- it's a greedy-landlord-attitude thing, you know. Would mandatory inspections have turned anything up? You mean as opposed to NO inspections?

Meanwhile, DPWUD Director Jenny Wenson-Maier proudly pointed out to a Chamber of Commerce meeting last week that inspectors were busy making external inspection assessments of every property in the city. (Read: sidewalks, paint condition, overgrown lawns, etc.) Nary a mention of overcrowding.

Maybe it's time to reconsider.

Not likely though, dear reader, without a push from the public.



FURTHER READING

Overcrowding - CN:
"Central Jersey towns consider tougher rules for overcrowding"
..... - Online reference: "Some occupancy ordinances from around the state"
Johnston Avenue Fire - CN: "House fire leaves 13 homeless in Plainfield"
..... - PT: "Illegal basement apartment fire raises questions"
Park Avenue Fire - CN: "Blaze uproots 10 city families, 37 homeless"
..... - PT: "Fire leaves 34 homeless"
..... - SL: "Fires rout 48 families in Elizabeth, Plainfield"

Plainfield Today:
April 28, 2006 - "An illegal rooming house?..."
Plaintalker:
September 13, 2005 - "Anti-Overcrowding Ordinance To Be Enforced"
May 2, 2006 - "City Council Seeks Repeal Of Anti-Overcrowding Ordinance"
January 26, 2007 - "Tenants Deserve Safe Housing"

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What was QuadTech to deliver?

So the Mayor's goal, stated in the City's RFP, is "to position the City of Plainfield for success to provide a means for measurable goals and projected success. To this end, the Project Management office will be charged with assisting the Mayor...in reaching this objective."

What did QuadTech say it would deliver? Let's see.

From QuadTech's Executive Summary --

The scope of this proposal is to assist the City of Plainfield with the develoment of a Project Management Office (PMO). QuadTech Systems understands the requirement and the necessity in developing a PMO, which will allow the City of Plainfield to establish Best Practices methodologies.

QuadTech Systems have** experiences in the development and refinement of a PMO. Our experiences are both board [sic] and deep in the areas of Overall Program Management, Secured Architecture networks, Application development methodologies and Six Sigma Quality Assurance practices.

QuadTech Systems have** managed and developed many PMO's on the city, county and state level. We have the ability to develop and trained [sic] the staff in the operations of developing, managing and enhancing " Best Practices" which will provide the City of Plainfield with a detailed Governance Model.

Like the City of Plainfield, QuadTech Systems is** a diversified Black owed [sic] firm that understands the importance of practicing diversity.

Our response to this RFP describes our methodology model known as the Center of Excellence. This methodology has been proven to be an effective tool in assisting organizations with implementing "Best Practices" into their day-to-day activities. It is the goal of QuadTech systems [sic] to provide the City of Plainfield with a "Best Practices" methodology that will provide the City of Plainfield with the necessary tools and training to establish and maintain a Project Management Office.
Had enough?

An Executive Summary is the high-level view of a proposal. It is called the EXECUTIVE summary because many executives responsible for making the decision do not read any further -- that is, they do not bother themselves with the nuts-and-bolts of a project and the deliverables expected. After all, they are EXECUTIVES, right?

The Executive Summary is the equivalent of what the porn industry so felicitously calls "the money shot" -- where the 'actors' are supposed to get when all is said and done.

So, you've read what our executives read. Are you ready to sign off to the tune of $408,000?


NEXT INSTALLMENT: WHAT'S THAT EXTRA PAGE ABOUT, ANYWAY?
**QuadTech Systems seems to be confused over whether it is a singular entity (the American construction) with verbs that agree or a plural entity using plural verb forms (the English construction). Foolish consistency, though, as we all know is "the hobgoblin of little minds."


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Sunday, January 28, 2007

This is luck!




Some people get lucky.

The driver of this pickup was traveling from the right toward the left in the picture.

The truck crossed over the median (behind the people standing in the upper right portion of the picture) toward the viewer, crashed through the guardrail, went down the embankment and FLIPPED over the concrete culvert to land on the other side, facing in the opposite direction from which it had been travelling.

Lucky? Hell, yeah.

But you must keep it in perspective (scroll down).



(Click on picture to enlarge.)

(Tip o' the tam to reader CB.)



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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Criminals help fight crime

Check this out -- it's brief, but effective.

Criminals helping fight crime. It's titled "Bad Attempt to Rob".
Adblock


With a shoutout to troopermack!


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Friday, January 26, 2007

How's that again? Behind today's headlines...

Suburban man's homicide in Newark raises questions

He was 23, from Montville. His girlfriend, 21, is from Mendham. What were they doing at 3 PM in Newark in a neighborhood where suburban kids come to buy drugs? Who knows?

At any rate, his mom says she did not know why he was in Newark at that time of day. The girlfriend, originally described as 'in critical condition' after the Wednesday afternoon shooting, was released from University Hospital on Thursday. She and the family are out of reach.

Today's story gives an agency to which those interested may make memorial gifts: The Caron Treatment Centers of Wernersville, PA. PT remembers Caron when it was called Chit-Chat Farms -- one of the country's pioneering addiction treatment centers. (PT's first 'professional' job was working for a man who became one of its first executive directors.) (Read more...)

Pike worker kin of Corzine's ex-girlfriend


So, the governor's office forwarded the resumé of his ex-galpal Karla Katz's sister's husband to the Turnpike Authority -- who hired the guy. Turns out he quit the Treasury department under something of a cloud. Now he's been asked to resign from the Turnpike. (Read more...)


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QuadTech: What was it the City wanted?

Now that we know what the Administration was WILLING TO PAY ($408,000) and ACTUALLY paid ($153,000+) WITHOUT A CONTRACT, for 'Project Management for Information Technology,' what was it the Administration WANTED?

Evidently, a lot, if you look closely at the Executive Summary in the City's RFP.




The EXECUTIVE SUMMARY outlines the who, what & why of the RFP

First off, this is THE MAYOR'S INITIATIVE -- "It is the goal of the Mayor to position the City of Plainfield for success to provide a means for measurable goals and projected success. To this end, the Project Management office will be charged with assisting the Mayor...in reaching this objective."

Secondly, it is part of A PROJECTED FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN. (Not that we're counting any chickens before they're hatched.)

Thirdly, the CREATION OF A NEW BUREAUCRACY -- a Project Management Office -- is contemplated. Cost? Not specified. Funding? Resources? "[T]o position the [city] with necessary funds to ensure the...organization is equip [sic] with the proper resources."

Fourthly, Mayor Robinson-Briggs has responded to 'citizen desires' with "A CONCEPT OF 'ONLINE GOVERNMENT'" -- allowing you, dear taxpayer, 24x7 access to government. Of course you remember expressing those desires, right?

It is not at all clear from the RFP what any of the proposed work by the vendor has to do with the goal of 'online government.' In fact, PT has been a student and advocate of this concept for years -- dog's years, actually.

What is usually meant by 'online government' is ONLINE ACCESS to the following --
  • Permit and license application forms
  • Zoning regulations
  • The Master Plan
  • Agendas and Minutes of the Council and Boards and Commissions
  • Resolutions and Ordinances of the Governing Body
  • Details about volunteering for Boards and Commissions
  • Emergency Notices (Road closings, Snow/Flooding alerts, Parade routes, etc.)
  • A Phone Directory (had one online up to this Administration, actually)
  • A Community Events Calendar
  • Constantly updated Department/Division news
  • Online payment of traffic fines (NJ has already instituted this statewide)
The interesting thing about all of these services is that they are already READILY, EASILY and CHEAPLY availabe as turnkey solutions from established New Jersey providers who exhibit annually at the municipalities' convention in Atlantic City.

Some of these items WERE ALREADY AVAILABLE ON THE CITY WEBSITE AND TAKEN DOWN. Some need only a COMMITMENT to use EXISTING TECHNOLOGY ALREADY IN PLACE. A few would involve CONTRACTING FOR A TURNKEY SERVICE. The entire kit and caboodle would fit on -- and could be run from -- the laptop on which I am writing this post.

No way would
all of this cost $400,000 to STUDY and SET UP.

MONDAY: WHAT WAS IT QUADTECH WAS GOING TO DELIVER?


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

QuadTech: 6-Figure Contract-less Deal

As PT noted earlier, an OPRA request netted considerable information about the ill-fated information technology deal that began outside the purview of the Council and expended considerable amounts of taxpayer dollars -- yours, dear reader -- before running off the rails upon the departure of the previous City Administrator, Carlton McGee. This is going to take several posts. Today: THE MONEY.

One phrase that entered the American consciousness as a result of the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation in disgrace of President Richard M. Nixon is 'follow the money'. Follow the money we will, indeed.

On August 23, 2006 the city ran a legal notice requesting proposals for 'Project Management for Information Technology'.

The city's 47-page RFP is dated August 24. Below are are scans of the Notice and the Executive Summary from the RFP. (Note: Click on any image to enlarge it for printing; documents have been set at 8 inches wide and will fit on one sheet of paper.)


The NOTICE constitutes the first page of the RFP



The EXECUTIVE SUMMARY outlines the who, what & why of the RFP

The due date for submission was September 5, 2006.

QuadTech Systems' 52-page submission is dated September 5th. For today, PT reproduces the COSTS of the project as proposed by QuadTech, by MILESTONE and by RESOURCE:


QuadTech Systems COST PROPOSAL -- By Milestone & Resource

To this point, all appears in order.

Until we compare things with the record of PAYMENTS made to QuadTech. PT reproduces below a scan of the printout of vendor activity for QuadTech, aka Vendor #55295.


Disbursements to QuadTech by the City of Plainfield

You will note that until the termination of the payments at the end of October, 2006, QuadTech received a total payment of $153,650 from the City -- $36,650 of that amount BEFORE the vendor was even BROUGHT TO THE ATTENTION OF THE COUNCIL.

PT's OPRA request had been for the City's RFP and for the vendor's CONTRACT. After lugging the documents home and starting to go through them, it was noticed that the materials contained the vendor's PROPOSAL, but no contract. Schlep to Clerk's office, point out the request had been for the contract. As a staff member was explaining to PT how the package was assembled, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson came into the Clerk's office. The staffer pointed out to him that PT was looking for the CONTRACT. Mr. Williamson said there was NO CONTRACT.

Hmmmmmm.

Tomorrow: WHAT WAS IT THE CITY WANTED?



Previous posts on PT about this topic:

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fire leaves 34 homeless


An early morning fire at 1003 Park Avenue at the corner of Martine Avenue turned out to be at the root of the report of helicopters that PT got on Wednesday morning. The very large red brick apartment building consists of ten apartments and 34 people were displaced, including one family of eight.

The fire hit before school opened, catching a large number of children still at home. PT is told that two women were taken to Muhlenberg suffering from smoke inhalation. PT also hears that the principal of Evergreen School generously offered breakfast to some of the children and a safe place to stay until more permanent arrangements could be made for them.

It appears the cause is related to a space heater that may have overtaxed the electric lines in the building. PT has received conflicting reports that either the heat was completely shut off or that the owner has it turned down so low at night that the tenants resort to space heaters because of the chill.

Tax records list the owner as 'Martine Realty, LLC,' with the owner's address the same as the building -- which evidently is NOT THE CASE, as the super doesn't even know the owner's last name and only has a 973 area code phone number.

Local agencies worked together to address the needs of the displaced residents. Plainfield Action Services, the city's social service unit, arranged for those displaced to be fed breakfast at the Senior Center until the Red Cross could arrange for housing and vouchers for food. The YMCA and the Salvation Army are also coordinating in offering assistance on an 'as needed' basis.

It is not clear at this time whether the Fire Department was able to make use of the list of emergency contact information that multi-families are supposed to keep on file with the Clerk's office and update yearly.

At 1:00 this afternoon, Plainfield Action Services was working on finding out whether the Fire Department would allow any of the families to return to their apartments, as the fire seemed to be contained to a relatively small portion of the premises.

Thanks to AM, MP, RT and RA for the leads and info.

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One mystery solved at Chamber meeting

PT learned some interesting things at the Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday morning.

One mystery was solved, but another stepped in to take its place.

The Mayor and two of her department heads, as well as representatives of the Courier News and Comcast talked about the state of affairs in the City as we enter 2007.

The Comcast presentation solved a mystery that some readers had set me: What is that Plainfield 'commercial' several have reported seeing on cable TV?

Turns out it was a spot produced for the Plainfield SID (Special Improvement District) by Comcast in both English and Spanish and run across several programs.

PT is working on getting a copy to post to the Web. You'll hear about it as soon as it is available.

Charlie Nutt, publisher of the Courier, is an old Plainfield hand -- he started with the paper in 1972 and his beat was business. He covered the -- sad -- closing of the Tepper's department store. But I think he is genuinely pleased to see how far Plainfield has come in those intervening years -- he remarked on how many new businesses there were up and down Front Street.

Jenny Wenson-Maier, the Director of Public Works and Urban Development touched briefly on some of the development activities that are getting under way or are planned. Some were of particular interest to the business community -- such as a proposal to knock down a building on the lot referred to as Tepper's II -- and build condos.

At least as interesting to PT was her announcement that the lot known as Arlington Heights II, on the corner of Arlington Avenue and Randolph Road would NOT see townhouse development, but rather two-family dwellings.

This could be very encouraging for the neighborhood. No one has ever been happy with the townhouses built on the first portion (catty-corner) -- with a difficult parking situation in the rear and steps in the front so steep that they threaten to pitch the residents headlong over the narrow sidewalk and into the middle of Arlington Avenue. What was built bore little resemblance to the beautiful renderings used to the pitch the project to the City. (Warning to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.)

Marty Hellwig, the Director of Public Safety, presented about public safety concerns as they affect businesses. He noted that 'security is a lot about perception' and that he will be delivering a strategic plan on public safety issues to the Mayor in February.

He highlighted plans to retool community-oriented policing program which has been so much welcomed by the business community over the last several years. He painted a picture of more cops being on the street in the business districts -- on foot, at fixed stations, on bikes, motorcycles and the famed and much-awaited Segways.

Hellwig noted that having extra officers on foot in the business districts for extended hours during the holidays had positively impacted the usual surge of robberies that ALL communities face at that time of year.

Redeployment seems to have to be the key, as the net increase in the total number of police officers as reported at the end of 2006 (152) and at the end of 2005 (151) is ONE. There was no discussion of the use of Auxiliary police -- volunteers who are trained and sworn, and are often used in traffic and crowd control -- to bolster any of the security experience in the business districts. PT finds that curious since so much effort had gone into recruiting and training them in the past -- and in working out a modus vivendi between them and the Police Division.

As I have said before, Marty Hellwig seems to be a standup guy, with a real grasp of what is needed. He is also an excellent presenter, with a nice light touch -- and he got a laugh out of the crowd when he evoked that Newark-kid-turned-New-York-Mayor Ed Koch with a "How'm I doin'" line.

Missing were Marc Dashield, the new City Administrator, and Raiford Daniels, the new Director of Finance and Administration. Hopefully, they'll be out and about in the business community shortly.

Oh. And the Council. Not a one was present. What's that about? Were they invited? Did they pass? Surely they care about the state of the business community? Another mystery.

In all my years at City Hall, there was never a public gathering at which at least one or two Councilors was not present. We need to work on that.



FOOTNOTE: There was one bit of lack of 'hand-eye coordination' on the part of the Administration. At a certain point, PT spotted a Parking Authority person writing tickets for attendees' cars out in the street. By the time one of the Mayor's security detail got the message and went outside, she had finished ticketing everyone who was overtime. Would it have been appropriate to alert the meter person BEFORE the meeting to cut the business people a little slack? (PT, who has been burnt before, parked on Depot Place and pumped his meter FULL of quarters.)


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Chamber meeting this AM

Short post this morning -- I'm off to the Chamber of Commerce 'State of the City's Business' meeting. Everyone's invited -- 8:30 AM (8:00 for coffee and mingle), The Incubator, 320 Park Avenue.

TEASER: Picked up my OPRA request materials yesterday. Among the items to digest -- related to the mess the city's website and email is in -- the documents surrounding Quad-Tech, the firm hired to do information technology work for the city: the City's Request for Proposals, Quad-Tech's submission, and a record of payments made to Quad-Tech.

More later.


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Throwing rocks at the schools superintendent



Like the rock which recently crashed into a Freehold homeowner's bathroom, the Speaking Out piece in the Courier on January 14 which attacked Plainfield schools superintendent Paula Howard struck without warning.

Unlike the Freehold meteorite, however, it did not fall from the heavens. It came from a much more earthly source -- someone who identifies himself as Scott Booker and as a Plainfield resident.

Enquiring Plainfielders want to know: Who is Mr. Booker?
Where is he coming from? Who is behind Mr. Booker?

WHO IS MR. BOOKER?

As Bernice notes in her Plaintalker piece, the letter garnered some reaction on the Ledger's Plainfield Forum ("1295. Scott Booker for School Board").

But who is the mysterious and well-spoken -- make that EXTREMELY well-spoken -- Mr. Booker?

No one seems to know, though an Internet search shows there appears to be an S. Booker who lives in Plainfield. Regular school board meeting attendees don't seem to know of him, nor do City Hall regulars. Is he a parent? An interested citizen? A cat's-paw?

WHERE IS HE COMING FROM?

PT must admit he didn't take a close look at the piece until urged by a school board member (who is NOT a supporter of Dr. Howard). So, where IS Mr. Booker coming from in this lengthy piece?

First of all, note that the piece is extremely well organized and well-written. Almost, it seems to PT -- who has made a living wordsmithing -- PROFESSIONALLY DONE. That in itself is curious, and if I were an editor, it would set off alarm bells.

The bulk of Mr. Booker's list of complaints reads like a broadside from the unions, which have been engaged in a bitter contract dispute with the Board of Ed. (Let's be clear, the union contract is struck with the Board, not the Superintendent, who is, so to speak, a 'hired hand'.) There is also inside poop -- the kind of stuff discussed in Executive Session -- which I will touch on below.

But Mr. Booker cleverly employs several techniques in the process:
  • Making unverified (lack of textbooks) or unverifiable ('massive exodus' of students) assertions;

  • Irrelevant asides (that Dr. Howard does not live in the district, the numbers of children in charter schools); and

  • Coloring the discussion with highly emotive language ('cronies,' 'irreversible damage,' 'fiasco,' etc.).
It is a very clever use of the classic IBM marketing technique known as FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

But two points deserve closer scrutiny: the unidentified 'audit' and the matter of the Personnel Director.

It is not clear what exactly the 'audit' referred to was or who performed it. But, it seems possible to PT that it was an internal matter, performed either by the State or at the request of the Board of Ed. As such, it would most likely have been an item covered by the state law that governs what can be discussed in EXECUTIVE SESSION. Items discussed thusly are CONFIDENTIAL until the matter of concern is resolved, and PARTICIPANTS IN THE DISCUSSION who divulge such matters violate proper policy and procedure.

So, some questions emerge: Was this audit a matter discussed in Executive Session? If so, how does it come that Mr. Booker has such detailed knowledge of same? If the matter was resolved and made public, when? And where is the record in the Board of Ed minutes? Did Mr. Booker use an OPRA request to obtain the information? Or was he 'fed' by a person or persons unknown with an axe to grind?

Secondly, the matter of the Personnel Director. The issues mentioned certainly are serious -- hints of incompetence and/or dereliction of duty.

But something else caught PT's attention: WHEN all this happened. Mr. Booker asserts that the personnel director has not been present since FEBRUARY 2006. PT hears through the grapevine that a tacit 'buyout' may have been arranged with the party in question -- though no formal agreement was ever inked (or indeed, may even have been allowed by the State).

The interesting thing about all this is that the current Mayor -- Sharon Robinson-Briggs -- would have been President of the Board of Ed when at least some of the alleged improprieties took place (she resigned to take the office of Mayor in January, 2006).**

Now, who would want to embarrass the Mayor? And why?

Word in the street also has it that Ms. Campbell is preparing to make the personnel director matter an issue in her upcoming campaign for re-election to the Board. Curious, since she was an ally of Robinson-Briggs in her mayoral campaign.


WHO IS BEHIND MR. BOOKER?

So, who is behind Mr. Booker? Assemblyman Green, as some assert? The unions, as others assert? Or no one? No one, that is, except the mysterious Mr. Booker himself.

Color me curious.


**This information updated 12:40 PM, 1/22/2007.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Should we give Plainfield away?



No good hooker gives it away, so why should we?

PT is referring, of course, to the outright gift of the property on which the new Senior Center and condos are to be built by Dornoch Holdings, the developer chosen by the County Democratic machine.

All right, all right, so they paid a dollar. Don't be so technical.

The point is that elsewhere, developers actually PAY REAL MONEY for the property on which they put their projects. Sometimes, even approximating fair market value.

What! you say? Preposterous! Maybe, but Plainfield actually negotiated a cool million smackeroos for the Park-Madison site.

Ah, but those were other times. We now live in MODERN TIMES, where the new day looks like it may be a GIVEAWAY DAY. And word in the street is there is more of the same coming down the pike.

Shouldn't we at least have the business sense of a good hooker?

If you have an opinion on the matter, share it -- there is a new poll up on the CLIPS homepage. It will be there all week. Mosey on over and cast YOUR vote.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

What's become of local news?

What's become of local news?

Times have changed dramatically from just a few years ago, when Plainfielders could count on having not just one, but two 'beat' reporters -- reporters whose entire time, full-time was spent writing up news about Plainfield.

Bernice Paglia, writing for the Courier, and Jennifer Golson, for the Ledger, pounded the pavements of Plainfield -- literally and figuratively -- day and night. They wrote up everything from ribbon-cuttings and grip-and-grins to purse-snatchings and dog-Frisbee contests.

Neither probably thought they were closing an era, though it turns out they were. And we have become the poorer for it in terms of understanding the rhythm of life in our community.

Driven by shrinking advertising revenue, plummeting readership and competition from the Internet, local media outlets have cut staffs, broadened job loads, consolidated operations and, in some cases, gone out of business (remember WERA?).

Yesterday, the Hall Institute of New Jersey released a preliminary study (PDF)
by Richard A. Lee on the impact of media consolidation on local news coverage in New Jersey.

It is truly preliminary. In fact, PT thought it read rather like a pitch letter to a foundation in search of grant funding to truly do the topic justice.
Nonetheless, it is well-worth reading if you feel something has gone awry.

All the studies by such as Pew, Annenberg and Columbia show that LOCAL READERS CRAVE LOCAL NEWS -- everything from school sports to community happenings, from town hall to 'the cops.' It's hard to see how shrinking local coverage helps the media in the long run, though it certainly does give blogs breathing space.

PT is reminded of the old joke about the parsimonious farmer who decided to train his old nag to get by on less and less feed. He reduced the horse's oats ration every day, hoping to get the poor thing down to nothing. Stopping in town one day, the blacksmith asked him how the project was going. "Just when I thought I 'bout had him trained, the critter up and died on me," the farmer replied.



For a look-see at who owns what, go here. For an excellent overview of the state of the media, see the
Project for Excellence in Journalism's 2006 report here.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

OPRA requests coming

PT used the state's Open Public Records Act (OPRA) last week to request some public documents from the City -- including Mayor Robinson-Briggs' 'State of the City' address, which was not available at the Clerk's office at the time of the request, unlike past years when it was immediately and widely available.

That is likely to be of less interest than some of the other material requested. Next week should be interesting.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

House sale - 669 West 7th St - Friday & Saturday


HOUSE SALE FRIDAY & SATURDAY
9 AM - 4 PM
669 WEST 7th STREET




This handsome Tudor was once home to one of the Tepper families.

Well, my neighbors of nearly a quarter century have gone and done it. They've decided to move to Florida. That is my bad fortune, as we were great pals and treated each other like family. I watched their three boys grow up, go to college, marry and settle down. Grandkids have started arriving.

But for you, dear reader, it is THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME. The house sale Friday and Saturday will be a one-of-a-kind event, I promise you. Doug DeFreitas, who is conducting the sale for Fred and Cindy Cone, was kind enough to let me take some snaps on the condition that they not go up on PLAINFIELD TODAY until shortly before the sale.

I judge it to be shortly, and here they are. There are literally thousands of items including furnishings, rugs and blankets; china, linens, silver, and crystal; antique hats, furs, and clothing; picture frames, lamps, knick knacks and books; housewares, utensils and tools -- and even a couple of what I would call 'mystery items.'

You'll kick yourself if you miss this one, it'll be better than a push-and-pull at Filene's Basement!

And no, my driveway is NOT available -- the sales staff already has it booked.

TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE, RIGHT-CLICK AND CHOOSE 'NEW WINDOW' OR 'NEW TAB'



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City Hall odds 'n ends




A Chevy Corvair compact car? Read on. All will be made clear.

WELCOME TO THE NEW CITY ADMINISTRATOR. Newly appointed City Administrator MARC DASHIELD is getting settled in at City Hall. PT hears one of the first things he did was get out of the office and introduce himself to some of the divisions. Management by walking around? Let's hope so. PT has hopes that an experienced hand -- which Dashield is, with in-depth experience in Franklin Township, a community of similar size if not exactly similar in issues -- will right the listing ship-of-city. PT also hopes that the mayor will develop a good working
RELATIONSHIP with this seasoned professional, give him the AUTHORITY he needs to be effective in his job, and allow him to IMPROVE the timeliness and effectiveness of the Administration's communications with the Council. That would go a long way to easing the public's concerns about the competency of the leadership as Plainfield moves into the great-giveaway phase of the Mayor and the Mayoral Mentor's program for Plainfield.

...AND DIRECTOR OF FINANCE & ADMINISTRATION. PT hopes that the new Director, RAIFORD DANIELS, is able to get a handle on the City's largest department...and soon. As of now, it appears he has a full plate -- finding a Tax Collector (tip 'o the hat to LES!) and a Health Officer, cleaning up behind the late, lamented Carlton McGee (a notes rollover is due in two months), and managing the budget process which is now SERIOUSLY OVERDUE. If it's true -- as PT is told -- that he has no prior government experience, he is going to have a steep hill to climb indeed.

CHECKING THE CHECK REGISTER. When PT was a student at Clerk University, we had it drilled into our heads that the governing body MUST publicly review the municipality's payments at its regular meetings, usually meaning they get a copy of the check register and an opportunity to have payments explained to themselves and the public. Just say it's part of exercising their FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITY. PT can certainly remember Councilors Malcolm Dunn and Bob Ferraro asking pointed questions of the Administration in these regular reviews. So, it is with a sense of relief that PT noted that the Council received the December check register in this past week's packet. PT cannot recall that the information had been previously provided by this Administration. By the way, those registers are PUBLIC RECORDS and the curious can either inspect them at City Hall or use an OPRA request to obtain copies.

STREET WORK. The Council is preparing to pass a $7M bond ordinance to fund CONTINUED road and street improvements. That's a relief, as the buzz had been that the Administration was considering abandoning the long-term plan to address Plainfield's seriously deteriorated streets. Here's a partial list, from the agenda --

  • Ward 1 - North Avenue, Gavett Place, Netherwood Avenue, Court Place.

  • Ward 2 - Kensington Avenue, Evergreen Avenue, Watchung Avenue, Stilford Avenue, Fayette Place, Brook Lane.

  • Ward 3 - Maplewood Terrace, West 8th Street.

  • Ward 4 - South Second Street.

Fair and balanced? PT finds it interesting that the bone-rattling, fillings-dislodging block of Somerset Street, from the North Plainfield line to Front Street (with its storm sewer inlets that flood every time it rains) is not on the list -- again. Let it not be said that visitors to the Queen City should have a smooth entrance.

MARTY HELLWIG GETS A NEW DESK. Public Safety Director MARTIN HELLWIG has new digs -- at Police Headquarters. One can hardly blame him for getting away from some of the noxious fumes at City Hall. Besides, PT could never understand the electric blue walls he inherited in his tiny City Hall digs. The best that could be said is that the color certainly wasn't INSTITUTIONAL.

McGEE SUV. What ever happened to the fancy-schmancy SUV that late City Administrator Carlton McGee finagled? Seems he was not content to have a plain-vanilla, white one -- which is what the Police Division had on order. He HAD to have black -- and all kinds of toys, including LEATHER INTERIORS. Word has it that the funds were squeezed out of the DPW budget. Your tax dollars at work. What ever happened?**

MLK MAILER. Speaking of your tax dollars at work, the MLK Week Schedule of Events was delivered in PT's neighborhood yesterday -- THE DAY AFTER THE LAST EVENT. The tab for the annual printing and mailing, when PT was producing it, was over $5,000. With all the communications professionals the Administration has on the payroll, you'd think it could have been done in A MORE TIMELY FASHION. This year, one suspects, the money might have been better spent on more eats and treats.



**
PT has to admit that his sense of propriety about vehicles for high mucky-mucks is informed by his youthful memories of Montreal's Cardinal Archbishop Paul-Émile Léger, who tooled around his diocese, sans driver, in a humble Chevrolet Corvair. (The picture above closely resembles the one driven by the Cardinal -- and the youthful PT.) The good Cardinal became a major player at Vatican II, among other things arguing for a married priesthood, and was an inspiration to many. Modesty, restraint, service. Ah, the public virtues!

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