The needler in the haystack.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Princeton dog taking a bite out of Assemblyman Green's dog law?


A number of years ago, after several maulings of Plainfielders by vicious dogs, Assemblyman Jerry Green proposed -- and got passed -- legislation toughening the laws regarding vicious dogs and penalties their owners face.

Now comes a story from Princeton -- picked up today by the NY Times -- of an incident in which a landscaper, an undocumented laborer from Honduras, was severely bitten by a German shepherd named 'Congo' and four other dogs belonging to the owner of a property where he was working.

The gardener underwent three hours of surgery and endured 65 painful rabies shots as a result.



Giovanni Rivera after being attacked.

Photo by Kevin Riechelson.


A judge has ordered the German shepherd put down.

Animal lovers are rallying around the owner, and the victim's legal status has become a major part of the public discussion.

Even Union County Assemblyman Neil Cohen has gotten into the act, proposing legislation -- nicknamed 'Congo's Law' -- to give judges more latitude in declaring a dog vicious.

Thus putting the bite on the law previously championed by his Union County colleague Jerry Green.

The AP story was previously run by both the Courier and Newsday. Curiously, the Courier cut the mention of Cohen's legislative maneuver when it ran the story.


NY Times: "Landscaper mauled, and sympathy goes to dog"
Newsday: "Immigration debate ignited after gardener mauled by dog in N.J."
Courier: "Princeton dog attack sparks immigration debate"

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Assemblyman Jerry Green between a rock and a hard place

Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green did not return calls from the Ledger concerning proposed changes to the state's county tax boards, I learned from a story that was tucked out of the way on the Ledger's website yesterday. (You can read it here.)

County Tax Boards, you say?

Each county has a tax board that hears appeals on property tax assessments. Appointees are mostly political apparatchiks. In Union County, they receive a modest (?) stipend of $21,000 for their efforts -- a monthly meeting -- and state health and pension benefits.

Camden County Sen. John Adler in 2005 sponsored legislation that expanded the size of the boards. He now thinks they should be cut back -- AND that the benefits should be eliminated, estimating a savings of $1 million.

Where does Jerry Green fit in? Well, as chair of the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee, it would be his job to schedule hearings of the bill before his committee and then report the bill on to the Assembly floor.

The Ledger says Green previously said he would schedule hearings, but has yet to do so.

That's the rock.

The hard place?

Former First Ward councilor and Democratic City Committee member Liz Urquhart sits on the Union County Tax Board.

Courtesy of the Assemblyman.


Ledger: "Lawmaker proposes to scrap tax board benefits"
-- Dan Damon

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Clinton School gun incident: Superintendent's, Principal's letters

Letters from Interim Superintendent Peter Carter and Clinton School Principal Christy Oliver-Hawley were distributed after the gun incident Tuesday morning at the Clinton Avenue school. The superintendent's letter is on the district's website (here, PDF format). I do not find the principal's letter on the district website.

Since both are referenced in news reports, I am reprinting them in full below, along with links at the bottom of the page to the media stories.


SUPERINTENDENT'S LETTER
November 28, 2007

My dear Plainfield Community,

Little did I know that you will be reading a letter of mine twice within five days, but the reality of yesterday has forced an early letter. Worry not! Monday’s letter shall still appear.

So to yesterday! A young boy, about nine years of age, a fourth grader, made a mistake. Indeed it was a most serious and grave mistake, and we shall be dealing with it as such. As of the writing of this letter what motivated this young lad to place a loaded 9mm handgun in his backpack and bring it to school is unclear and unknown to me, but we shall certainly know soon. What is certain is that a quick acting grandma, upon hearing of the situation from a classmate of the student, took the best action she knew how to take. She removed the weapon from her grandson’s backpack, left the Clinton School and went directly to Plainfield Police Headquarters. We have since learned that there was a single bullet in the chamber. “Grandma” had come to the school to check on her grandson’s academic progress, and was told by a classmate that the child had a revolver in his backpack. DIVINE PROVIDENCE at work!

No school official was informed of this serious infraction of school security and safety by the grandparent. It was the Plainfield Police Department who notified our Director of Security, and in turn notified our Interim Assistant Superintendent who then notified me. Both the Assistant Superintendent, Mr. Walter Rusak, as well as the Interim Supervisor of Special Programs, Mr. Robert Burkhardt responded to the scene, assessed the situation, afforded the grandparent, parent, and child DUE PROCESS, and the Principal suspended the student for the maximum 9 to 10 days, pending further investigation and a hearing before the Superintendent and/or the Board of Education.

AT NO TIME WAS THE WEAPON DISPLAYED OPENLY BY THE STUDENT, NOR WAS ANY CHILD OR ADULT EVER IN DANGER. The Principal sent a letter home yesterday, the 27th to all the parents of the children who attend the Clinton School. Since the weapon was removed from the building even before of our learning about the infraction, and this was clearly an isolated incident, there was never a need to “lock down” the building nor search the elementary students and their possessions. School continued as usual, since very few people even knew of the incident until we informed the parents and guardians by letter that very afternoon. Plans are in the making for addressing this unavoidable incident directly with the parents of the Clinton School and other district schools in the immediate future.

Sincerely yours,
Peter E. Carter
Interim Superintendent of Schools




PRINCIPAL'S LETTER
November 27, 2007

Dear Parents/Guardians:

This letter is to inform you that during the school day, a weapon was discovered which had been brought to school by a student. This was discovered by the student’s guardian during a visit to the classroom. The guardian immediately notified the police department, who in turn contacted our director of security and through their combined efforts, promptly addressed the situation. Please know that all students in the school were safe AT ALL TIMES, and at no time was anyone at risk. Furthermore, all disciplinary action, as per the Plainfield Board of Education policy, has been fully implemented.

In order to further emphasize the dangers of weapons, we will be holding one or more special assembly programs here at Clinton School as well as in all schools to highlight and discuss this very important topic. The importance of having a safe school environment is one that we take very seriously, and will continue to emphasize to all of our pupils.

Your continued support of our school and all of our programs is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Christy Oliver-Hawley
Principal


"District suspends boy accused of taking gun to school" -- Courier | Ledger | NY Times |
-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thin-skinned pols seek blogger's ID

Should Plainfield bloggers beware?

The intrepid Kelly Heyboer, the Ledger's point person on all things blogish in Jersey, landed a front page story this morning on the maneuvers by Manalapan's township attorney to force Google to divulge the identity of the blogger behind
the 'daTruthSquad' blog.

Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a national organization dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights on the Internet, has involved itself in the case. EFF is taking up the case of former mayor and township attorney Stuart Moskovitz, whom Manalapan officials suspect is behind the blog.

Moskovitz is also embroiled in a nasty court case with the township over a land deal gone bad. But it seems likely that the pols are interested because the unnamed writer seems to know a lot of inside dirt about Manalapan politics.

Who ever thought pols had thin skins?

A reader emailed me with concerns about whether Manalapan's tactic would spread northward to Plainfield.

Should Plainfield bloggers beware?

Nah! None of us is a 'venomous blogger'.

Besides, everyone knows who we are.


Ledger: "Shielding face of N.J. blogger"
Blog: "daTruthSquad"
The Transcript (local paper): "Manalapan case draws Google into the mix"
EFF: "Electronic Frontier Foundation"
EFF: "Manalapan vs. Moskowitz"
-- Dan Damon

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Verizon Wireless setting users free?



Plainfield users of Verizon Wireless can take heart! Tom
Johnson's front page story in today's Ledger reports that the big V is readying plans to open its network to any compatible device. Can you say 'spooked by the Google phone announcement'?

Big changes are on the way. Too bad not before my contract rolls over next month.

How about you?


Ledger: "Verizon to open network to any compatible device"
NY Times: "Verizon Plans Wider Options for Cellphone Users"
-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Library to be honored by state agency this morning

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, November 27, 2007

City library honored by Humanities Council

By BRANDON LAUSCH
STAFF WRITER


PLAINFIELD -- The New Jersey Council for the Humanities is set to present a bundle of 36 books to the Plainfield Public Library in recognition of the facility's programming, growing collection of diversity studies material and wide selection of local history texts.

The library is one of only five in the state to receive the council's full 2007 collection, which consists of recent nonfiction humanities works either written by New Jersey authors or written about state-related topics.

The council chose Newsweek columnist and Montclair resident Jonathan Alter's 'The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope' as its featured work.

The other award-winning libraries are Gloucester City Library, the Library Company of Burlington, Middletown Township Public Library and West Orange Public Library.

"This is clearly a library that's energetic and accomplishing a great deal with -- as we know -- limited resources, because that's simply the case with libraries," Jane Brailove Rutkoff, the council's executive director, said of the Plainfield Public Library. Rutkoff is scheduled to present the book collection to library directors and city officials at an 11 a.m. gathering at the library.

Library Director Joseph Dr Rold said in the 13 years he's worked at the facility, staff members never applied for the award. But this year, as the library's diversity studies collection continues to build, Da Rold said the time was right to pen a nomination letter.

"Despite the other fine aspects of our library, the book collection remains a proud cornerstone of our institution," Da Rold wrote in his award application. "Plainfield Public Library has been the research library of choice for students and writers in this are of Central Jersey. Our collection of New Jersey materials has great historical depth, and our local history collection is the largest in Union County."

Da Rold said the library has pushed for a more diverse selection of material -- which has grown to include about 500 items -- to reflect the range of people it serves. That means emphasizing works by gay, black and Hispanic authors, among others, Da Rold said.

Adding the council's books to the library's shelves will save the cash-strapped facility money and allow it to offer mor scholarly texts to is patrons, Da Rold said. Texts in the council's 2007 collection include, 'Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Later Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond,' and 'Oliver Wendell Holmes in Paris: Medicine, Theology, and the Autocrat.'

"Funds are tight these days, and they're obviously well-considered books," Da Rold said.


Transcribed from print edition by DD; there is no online story.

(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.)

FUSP, Historical Society get grants

Among the $11M in grants distributed by the New Jersey Historic Trust for historic preservation projects, two local organizations are listed --

  • First Unitarian Society of Plainfield (FUSP) - $41,033
  • Plainfield Historical Society (Drake House) - $177,985
Read more in this morning's Ledger here.

Ledger: "$13 million to fund preservation, trails"
-- Dan Damon

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Monday, November 26, 2007

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

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

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


Dear Councilmembers and Mayor Robinson-Briggs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olive Lynch

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



-- Dan Damon

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Plainfield Today changes set for...today



It's finally happened. CLIPS, the daily email of central NJ news, has outgrown Comcast's ability to cope and will be moving on.

Coincidentally, I had been planning for some down time over the long weekend to migrate to an online email delivery service. Turns out Comcast broke over the weekend, too. And Murphy invoked his law, meaning the transfer was not glitch-free.

I'm not tinkering with Comcast more. There are better ways.

If you haven't bookmarked CLIPS or Plainfield Today before and missed Saturday and Sunday, here are some highlights from the weekend CLIPS--
Saturday
Sunday
The online service should be up later today.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The times, they are a-changin' - 1


Comcast's outbound email servers have been unavailable since yesterday, though there are posts to PT and CLIPS. Sorry.


Changes are comin'.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

The times, they are a-changin' - 2


Changes are comin'.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The times, they are a-changin' - 3



Changes are comin'.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Help for turkeys

*


The cook or the bird? I'm not going there.

But here are some helpful links, just in case you don't have thirty people helping, advising and critiquing you today --

"Butterball® Help and Hotline"

"USDA 'Ask Karen' Page" and Hotline at 888-674-6854

If the help you need is managing guests and avoiding landmines, check out "Pass a Drumstick, and an Olive Branch".

Or maybe you're curious about that curious custom, the Presidential turkey pardon. If so, check out today's WashPost's
"Turkey Pardons, The Stuffing of Historic Legend".

And for your good humor dose, there's always Art Buchwald, "A Turkey With French Dressing".

Plastic turkeys, like the one President George W. Bush was pictured with while making a surprise visit to the troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, are not recommended.








With a little bit of help from your friends, you ought to be able to get from the top picture to this --

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Van Blake resignation (Ledger)

Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Council president submits resignation


PLAINFIELD: City Council President Rayland Van Blake, who was elected Union County freeholder earlier this month, announced his resignation from the council in a letter to the city clerk.

Van Blake's resignation took effect Friday, according to the letter dated Nov. 13, which City Clerk Laddie Wyatt announced at Monday night's council meeting. Wyatt said she had received the letter earlier that day.

Elected in 2002, Van Blake became council president in August 2006 after Ray Blanco's death.

The city Democratic committee, led by Assemblyman Jerry Green, has nominated three candidates to succeed Van Blake, who represented the 1st Ward. They are: Bill Reid, Alex Toliver and Hattie Williams. The council will interview the candidates before its Dec. 3 meeting and name a successor at its Dec. 5 meeting.

The winner must run in the next election to serve ot the remainder of Van Blake's term, which ends Dec. 31, 2010.

The council will also choose its next president in the new year.

Van Blake was the choice of Assemblyman Green and the Union County Democratic Committee for freeholder, and he defeated incumbent Adrian Mapp in the Nov. 6 election. Mapp, elected freeholder as a Democrat, ran as an independent after getting passed over by the party.

In his resignation letter, Van Blake, 31, wrote, "Plainfield will always have a very special place in my heart and mind." Now, as freeholder, the city "will always be able to count on my support in its continuing efforts to improve and grow," he continued.


Transcribed by DD, from print edition -- no online story.

(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.)

Randle shooting: Fundraiser, investigation and an elephant in the room

The media coverage of the accidental shooting of Plainfield police officer Khisha Bethea's son Marquise Randle coninues today in both the Ledger and the Courier with a conflation of several angles to the investigation.

While Randle, whose left leg is paralyzed -- whether permanently is not known -- from bullet fragments lodged near his spine, continues to make progress at University Hospital in Newark, the Plainfield PBA is organizing a fundraiser this evening in support of the family's needs (see more below).

There appear to be several strands calling for investigation, which is currently being undertaken by Union County Prosecutor Ted Romankow's office --

  • The circumstances under which Randle was in the building where police were called because of drug activity;
  • The circumstances surrounding his shooting and subsequent treatment; and
  • The circumstances surrounding how Randle's family learned of the shooting and the interaction between the Roselle PD and Randle's family once they became aware he was shot.
The New York Times ran the story on Sunday, identifying Plainfield police officer Ken Reid as the boy's uncle, something not noted in other media reports.

The handcuffing of the wounded teen cited in today's Ledger is apparently standard police practice -- however inflammatory it may appear. Coincidentally, a story on handcuffing wounded suspects also ran in Sunday's New York Times -- and is explained as a way of keeping the cuffed person from further harm. (It's an interesting story -- check it out here.)

The elephant in the room?

It is well-known and widely reported that Roselle's mayor Garrett Smith is on the outs with the Union County Democratic machine, in which many of those involved in the incident one way or another are also interested parties.

It is to be hoped that Romankow's office resists any pressure to use the incident to embarrass Roselle's mayor and sticks to the straight and narrow in the investigation.

"Just the facts, m'am," as Sgt. Joe Friday used to say.



How you can help --
Fundraiser Tonight at 8:00 PM
Los Faraones
111 E. Front Street, Plainfield
Tickets: $10 at the door

or

Send checks payable to Plainfield PBA Local 19/Officer Khisha Bethea
Plainfield PBA Local 19
PO Box 6208
Plainfield, NJ 07062



In the media --
-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Coyotes: Managing NJ's wily 'song dogs'



Plainfield Today readers have reported a number of coyote sightings over the past few months, and both the Plaintalker and Crescent Times have commented on them also. I myself spotted one sauntering across Prospect Avenue late one summer afternoon in the neighborhood of former governor Jim McGreevey's home.

Today's Ledger runs a lengthy piece (see more here) about America's native wild dog, which has been spotted in New Jersey since at least the 1940s.

But the Jersey 'song dogs' differ markedly from those you might hear (and much more rarely, see) on a visit to Arizona. The Ledger story goes into those differences and the attempts to thin the New Jersey population.
New Jersey has both hunting and trapping seasons for the wily critters.

In the meantime, if you have spotted coyotes or are concerned about what to do, you may want to check out the resources at the end of this post. The Eastern Coyote Research website is particularly helpful.

Basic common sense helps most:
  • Secure garbage cans and do not leave food outdoors;
  • Do not leave pets or small children unattended in the yard;
  • Do not approach or attempt to pet or feed any wild animal.


On the Web --
-- Dan Damon

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Breaking: Ferguson retiring from Congress



4:50 PM -- Congressman Mike Ferguson announced today he is retiring from Congress and will not seek a fifth term next year.

This is excellent news for Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood), who nearly beat Ferguson in the last election and is tooling up for next fall's run.

No doubt the GOP found the challenge daunting. Ferguson has been closely allied with Bush policies throughout both terms -- at one point polling a 97% support rate for Bush policies.

With every indication that he understood this would not be the election to campaign in as a 'good Bushie', Ferguson has recently attempted to re-invent himself as a more moderate, old-fashioned center-right Republican, but without much success it seems.

If the GOP can't pull a rabbit out of the hat, the next important question is who the Union County Dem machine will put up to replace Linda in Trenton.


On the Web --
-- Dan Damon

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Angela Perun dies

Plainfield has lost one of its unique treasures with the passing of Angela Perun, former City Councilor and State Assemblywoman.

Angela was outspoken -- to put it mildly -- about Plainfield's political classes and their shenanigans, and ever ready to take the mike at Council meetings to berate hapless Councilors about the issue du jour.

I got to know Angela through my friend and neighbor, the late Council president Ray Blanco.

Ray had been Angela's campaign manager for her successful run for an Assembly seat in 1982 and served as her legislative aide.

At a time when people were misinformed and gripped with fear over treating people with AIDS, Angela sponsored the Assembly's first legislation intended to insure their fair and adequate treatment by hospitals and social service agencies.

Angela was a fixture at Ray and Ken's legendary New Year's day receptions, and could always be found at the center of a hubbub occasioned by her provoking an intense discussion over an issue in the public eye. Whatever else people may have thought, they knew they had not been to a boring old ho-hum party.

Even in her final year, when health issues forced her withdrawal from public activity, she was eager to keep tabs on the world by way of the Internet and would occasionally email me about her difficulties understanding just how things worked.

While an email or a phone call would often clear up the problem, I was amazed at her tenacity and eagerness to master the new technology and stay abreast of all that was going on.

Angela, we shall miss you, and the sparkle you brought to Plainfield's public life.

Memorial Service for Angela Perun
Saturday, December 1, 2007
11:00 AM

First Unitarian Society of Plainfield
724 Park Avenue



On the Web --
-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Courier News: Less for more coming soon to you?


Plainfielders will soon wake up to higher prices for the Courier News.

But will there be less Courier coming to you?

My eye was caught early this morning by the following 'note' on the
Courier's online front page --
Note to readers

On Thanksgiving Day, the Courier News will be stuffed with more than 30 advertising circulars highlighting holiday-shopping savings around the region. To reflect this added value, the cost of the Thanksgiving Day paper will be $1 at single-copy outlets.

My first thought was -- 'Wait a minute! Those advertisers are PAYING to be inserted into the paper. And I'm being asked to pay more, too?'

That was before I trundled off on the 'dawn patrol' to my local newsstand to pick up the dead-tree versions of the morning papers.

"So, Mike," I said, "the
Courier is going to charge a dollar for the Thanksgiving Day paper?"

"That's not all," he said, "the daily price is going up to 50¢. And they're changing the distribution for the Sunday papers, so that we will have to stuff the advertising inserts into the papers, which is a real pain. AND we only get 10
¢ for each paper sold. I'm thinking of telling them we just won't carry the Sunday papers."

I appreciated his dilemma, but asked him what he thought customers like me would do if they had to find another outlet for their
Courier. Would they stay faithful to him for their other papers and just go to another store for their Sunday Courier?

"Hmmmm," he said.

"Hmmmm," is what I've been saying to myself for some time now.

Years ago, I looked at the Home News Tribune as an alternate outlet for City press releases. Plainfield used to be in a sort of 'grey' area -- the
Home News covered South Plainfield and Piscataway and other Union County towns to the east of us, but kinda sorta NOT Plainfield.

After checking the paper out, it seemed that pursuing that line of press communication was not likely to be fruitful -- and partly because the 'look and feel' of the paper was so different from the Courier's.

When Gannett decided to lump the
Courier and the Home News under a single publisher, many of us suspected there would be some unhappy changes coming down the pike -- despite assurances from Gannett and the new publisher.

You may not have my wonkish taste for eyeballing how the news is presented, but you just might have noticed that the interior pages of the
Courier look more and more like those of the Home News. Sometimes, the layout and stories are exactly the same (check out the 'State' pages in both papers a few times and see for yourself).

By and large, the
Courier has lost the crispness and airy presentation that always made it a pleasure to read, physically, whether or not you agreed with what was there.

That pleasure has gone by the boards.

As have a lot of by-lined stories, replaced by the more generic AP feed.

And so has a lot of local reportage, replaced by blogs
(of widely varying quality) tethered to the newspaper. Not to mention the 'cartoon' cruelty inflicted on the paying public.

So, I guess it's no surprise, given the way things are going in the newspaper business, that we should be asked to pony up more for less.

But more for more dead-tree advertising circulars?



-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Plainfield Habitat benefit concert tonight


Plainfield's Habitat for Humanity chapter will benefit from this evening's "Coffee with Conscience" concert at Westfield's First United Methodist Church.

Tonight's concert features Catie Curtis, whose
song 'People Look Around,' written in response to the hurricane Katrina disaster won her and Mark Erelli the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition.



Here's a little more about Catie --
Catie Curtis (www.catiecurtis.com) grew up in Saco, Maine. She first became a drummer, but then converted to acoustic guitar. After leaving Saco, she went to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. While at college, she became involved in the local coffeehouse circuit. At the same time, Catie worked as a waitress and social worker while continuing to write and perform. She moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1990s, after deciding to make a career out of music. She made a big splash on the Boston music scene and has been going strong ever since.

Catie has yet to break nationally -- but that just means her beautifully delivered songs haven't been watered down by some A&R executives. With a clear, deceptively gentle voice, she can turn on a dime and thrill the listener with unforeseen power and emotion. Intricate acoustic picking sometimes slants its way into jazz territory, recalling Joan Armatrading, and her staunchly feminist messages further the comparison. But Curtis is very much an original, and a refreshing departure from the stale formula offered by many of today's singer/songwriters.

Catie has toured extensively in North America and has been featured at many of the notable festivals – such as Newport, Philadelphia and Kerrville). She has also shared the stage with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dar Williams, Girlyman and Bonnie Raitt – among others – and played on the final Lilith Fair tour. She won the Best Album Award from the Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards for her self-titled 1997 album.

Catie has just released her tenth Album! Over the years, her songs have been featured in Alias, Dawson's Creek, Felicity and Chicago Hope, as well as in several independent films.
Tickets, at $26, are available at the door.

Coffee With Conscience
First United Methodist Church of Westfield
North Avenue & East Broad Street
Doors open at 7:15 PM, Concert at 8:00 PM.



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Friday, November 16, 2007

Muhlenberg Hospital Sale: A Blessing in Disguise?


Plainfield crackled with the news Thursday afternoon that Solaris Health Systems was putting Muhlenburg Hospital on the block.

While the news shocked many and dismayed some, it may actually be a blessing in disguise.

When Solaris was formed in 1997 by joining Plainfield's Muhlenberg and JFK of Edison, it was seen by many observers as a shotgun marriage. Hospitals had been going through a period of change from the 1980s, leading to many consolidations as an effort to pool resources and manage ever-increasing costs.

From the outset, Solaris was dominated by the larger JFK enterprise, and Plainfield nerves frayed as it became clear that Solaris seemed clueless as to the realities of running an urban hospital.

In addition, Plainfielders' resentment has simmered beneath the surface at perceptions that --
  • Muhlenberg was stripped of resources to bolster JKF (which has its own financial problems);
  • Strengthening the physician base was skewed toward JFK and away from Muhlenberg; and
  • Marketing Muhlenberg in an increasingly competitive healthcare scenario was not a high priority in Solaris' public relations mix.
Missteps have included the brouhaha over relocating the Mercy 6 Cardiac response ambulances away from Muhlenberg and, most recently, moving the heart rehab unit from Muhlenberg to JFK -- both of which moves were eventually rescinded after sharp reactions from the Plainfield community.




The new Snyder School of Nursing under construction.


A BLESSING IN DISGUISE?

Coming, as it does, just as Gov. Corzine's 'rationalization' panel
(what an unintended irony in the name!) is about to make recommendations on hospital closings throughout the state, the news does not set Solaris an easy course. Especially since the national crisis over charity care reimbursement does not look likely to ease until there is a change in the White House.

But an opportunity is presented to find a candidate that actually understands urban hospitals and has a track record at running them successfully.

Rumor has it that an appraisal commissioned by Solaris has set a value in the $40M range. Muhlenberg would not be a bride without a dowry.

Among the hospital's valuable assets are --
  • 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.
The trick will be finding the right buyer.

One that comes to mind is Lousville-based Merit Health Systems LLC which this past June bought Mountainside Hospital in Montclair. As a for-profit healthcare corporation, such a purchase would signal the end of Muhlenberg's non-profit community hospital status. This is seen as an increasingly inevitable outcome nationwide, given the financial constraints on hospitals, and it is part of the seismic shift in health care.




A ward in Muhlenberg's original building in the 4th Ward.

A TO-DO LIST

This new situation puts a to-do list in front of several players beyond the Solaris board.

MUHLENBERG'S OWN BOARD has an opportunity to play a strong role, both in pushing Solaris to mind its fiduciary obligations to Muhlenberg and in insisting on developing an intensive physician and staff retention program to ensure that Muhlenberg does not hemorrhage its talent pool in the time it takes to sell the hospital.

ASSEMBLYMAN JERRY GREEN can show his mojo by batting down any suggestion by the governor's 'rationalization' commission that Muhlenberg should be on the 'shutdown' list.

THE GREEN/ROBINSON-BRIGGS ADMINISTRATION can get off its behind and do something about establishing the Medical Enterprise Zone (MEZ) that was proposed by the McWilliams administration a few years ago. Despite the obviously critical situation for Muhlenberg, nothing whatsoever has been done by the current administration to implement this important economic development and marketing tool.

Firmly establishing such a zone by further extending the Urban Enterprise Zone boundary down both sides of Park Avenue past Muhlenberg to the South Plainfield line would be a significant first step.

Developing a highly targeted outreach to physician practices -- especially those whose specialties, such as imaging, involve expensive medical equipment -- could turn Park Avenue once again into a Doctor's Row that draws on and feeds into Muhlenberg. One advantage for medical practices to locate in such MEZs is that capital purchases (such as large, expensive equipment) would be exempt from the NJ sales tax. That would come to $70,000 on a $1M piece of equipment. Starts to sound like real money, doesn't it?

Finally, THE PLAINFIELD COMMUNITY and the residents and patient base of MUHLENBERG's SERVICE AREA, which includes such surrounding communities as North Plainfield, South Plainfield, Fanwood, Scotch Plains, Watchung, Warren, Dunellen and Piscataway, need to press their elected officials to see that everything possible is done to ensure a positive outcome to the situation.

Is the sale of Muhlenberg a blessing in disguise?

It can be, but only if all the players get to work on their to-do lists.


-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Foreclosed NJ homeowners may be helped by Ohio ruling

Plainfield homeowners facing foreclosure in the spreading subprime mortgage crisis might take hope from an Ohio federal judge's ruling.


Federal judge Christopher Boyko, sitting in Cleveland, dismissed foreclosure proceedings against 14 homeowners, ruling the mortgage investors failed to prove they owned the properties they were trying to seize.

The story is reported in this morning's NY Times.

Since homeowners usually do not fight foreclosure proceedings, holders of mortgage securities have not been challenged to produce proof they owned the physical property prior to foreclosing.

Consumer advocates are cheered by the judge's ruling.





-- Dan Damon


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Parents group sets community forum on schools

Plainfield's Parents Empowering Parents, a public schools advocacy group, will hold a community forum on November 30.

The group is interested in getting questions from community members -- those with children currently in the public schools, those whose children have already passed through the schools, and those resident and taxpayers who have no children in the school system -- SPECIFIC TO THE CURRENT CONDITION OF THE PLAINFIELD SCHOOL SYSTEM.

Organizers plan a panel to answer questions at the forum to include representatives of government and school officials, teachers, clergy and local business owners.

You may send a question by email by clicking THIS LINK.



Parents Empowering Parents

A Community Forum
on Our Children, Our Schools and Our Community

Friday, November 30, 2007
7:00 - 10:00 PM

Washington Community School
427 Darrow Avenue
(Parking in lot on Spooner Avenue)


-- Dan Damon


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