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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Corzine on hospitals: More mush from the wimp

The Boston Globe's famous 1980 headline.

Plainfielders of a certain age will remember the 1980 gaffe in a headline by the
Boston Globe over a story on a talk by President Jimmy Carter on the economy.

I was put in mind of it today while reading the stories in both the Ledger and the Courier about Gov. Corzine telling New Jersey's hospital administrators yesterday why he was cutting aid for charity care -- yet again -- in his proposed FY2009 budget.

The problem with New Jersey's hospitals as with Muhlenberg, as everyone seems to agree, is unfunded charity care -- for which even less is proposed from year to year. It seems to me a cynical assault on those least organized, least vocal, and least able to fight back effectively. It is a gutlessness that will cost lives.

It didn't have to be this way.

The state commissioned a study on the rationalization of hospitals and state support of same. The problem with the study is that of almost all studies where elected officials are expected to pick from among unpalatable alternative policy proposals -- there is no prioritized list naming names of who should be closed and who should be kept open.

While Plainfielders might draw comfort from noting that the criteria for keeping a hospital open would seem to indicate Muhlenberg is a poster child for same, the gutlessness of the politicians leads to another outcome: the State has apparently already made up its mind that Muhlenberg will close.

Commissioner Heather Howard's public assertion that Muhlenberg's closing would allow JFK to die another day was simply shameful, though not labeled as such by any of the media, and evidence that the decision has been made in a smoke-filled room, and is being palmed off as 'transparency' by a rigged 'Certificate of Need' process.

All that letting the hospital situation unfold Corzine's way does is ensure NOT that there is some rationalization of hospital numbers, location and support in New Jersey, but that the politically connected and powerful will prevail and the rest will close their doors.

Muhlenberg being a case in point.

As a result, we have a governor's gutlessness turning into heartlessness and, ultimately, costing lives.

No wonder I recalled the Boston Globe headline: "More mush from the wimp".

-- Dan Damon
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New data and a new buyer for Muhlenberg

Financials included in Certificate of Need Application.


My post from yesterday drew an inquiry from an out-of-state doctor connected with a group of hospitals in another state.

Sounded like a serious buyer. Referred him to a local elected official. We will see where this goes.

Would be really interesting if there turned out to be a bidding war for the hospital Solaris told us nobody wants to buy, wouldn't it?


Also, a Muhlenberg supporter kindly scanned the (humongous) Certificate of Need Application, and I have posted it online in three Big Bites. You can read it online, print it out, email the links to others or save the file to your hard drive. That should cover the bases. Here are your links --


Also note that the 'Buy Muhlenberg' campaign has launched its website, which you can check out here.

You will also find a number of fresh posts on the 'Save Muhlenberg' blog here.


And lastly, don't forget tonight's rally -- rain or shine -- featuring NY Giants' Shaun O'Hara. At Hub-Stine Field, 6 PM. Be nice -- do NOT block anyone's driveway!

-- Dan Damon

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The Courier is no more. Long live the Courier!

That's, actually, the former Courier News online presence.

You may have noticed an online beta site for a new web presence to be operated jointly by
the Courier News and The Home News Tribune, Gannett's central Jersey newspapers.

The official launch is today, announced in the print editions of both papers, and -- sort of -- online, when my page left open to the beta site last night came up this morning with a '404 - Page not found' error.

You will want to check it out.

The site seems pretty well thought out, but you will have to get used to where things are placed, as well as the 'carousel', the revolving top stories gizmo that seems to be all the rage with online newspapers now.

I'll go into that more later, but for today just note that if you click on the 'Union County' section you will be whisked to Hunterdon County.

It's a shakedown cruise -- I'm sure all will get straightened out in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the new site fuels the gossip that has been making the rounds for months: that Gannett will eventually cashier the print editions of both the
Courier News and The Home News Tribune, replacing them with a joint online edition and reducing the print editions to a Sunday version only.

I checked around in the media network and consistently drew blanks, but this may be the first shoe dropping.

If you think the gossip is far-fetched, check out what is going on in Madison, Wisconsin, where the 90-year old Capital Times, founded during the days of the Progressive Movement, shuttered its print edition and went online (see more here). For The Capital Times, its entertainment section and a weekly news guide will be printed as inserts in the Sunday editions of its cross-town competitor The Wisconsin State Journal.

Does ths mean the Courier may eventually be an insert in the Sunday Star-Ledger?


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Monday, April 28, 2008

Solaris rushing to head off buyer?

Plainfielders following the attempt by Solaris Health System to close its Muhlenberg hospital operation may be aware that there is a buyer in the wings.

However, I am hearing that in the rush by both Solaris and the State to close the hospital, the potential buyer -- Pine Creek Healthcare Capital, of Nashville, TN (more about them here) -- is not being allowed the time necessary to do due diligence.

The more I hear, the more unseemly the rush by Solaris appears.

I hope the possible buyers are willing to do what is necessary to get to an offer on the table -- including going to court for an injunction to stop the clock so they can do their due diligence.

And the City Council, the Mayor and our legislative delegation ought to support this effort.

"Buying a hospital," as the old saying goes, "is not a tea party."

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

A little humor from an overbusy blogger

This recently forwarded by a reader who knows a blogger needs a jolt of humor now and then, and frequently supplies same.

Always keep several
get well cards on the mantle...
So if unexpected guests arrive,
They will think you've been sick
and unable to clean!
Works well for overbusy bloggers, too!

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tips on Hiring Women: A Guide

Plainfield women looking to enter the job market may want to check out this '1943 Guide to Hiring Women' (see here).

A reader recently forwarded me a scan of a page from the July 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine.

Rosie the Riveter this may not be, but you will certainly want to check out the requirements expected of women and the tips for managing them.

And, in spite of this, the United States and its allies won World War II!

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Muhlenberg: Certificate of Need App at Library

As part of the state's process for closing Muhlenberg, a copy of the 'Certificate of Need Application' by Solaris to the state has been deposited at the Plainfield Public Library by the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services.

The document is available for public perusal, and is available at the Reference Desk on the main floor. Those wishing to view it may do so upon leaving ID or library card with the reference librarian.

(I have been told it is on the 'ready reference' shelf and is in a white binder labeled 'Certificate of Need Application - Closure of Acute Care Hospital'.)

The Plainfield Public Library is at 8th Street and Park Avenue. For further information, call (908) 757-1111 or visit the library's website at

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time to lay down the law on Channel 74?

Plainfield residents have not been well-served by their Public Access Channel in recent years.

That could begin to change tonight at the Cable TV Advisory Commission's meeting -- especially if members of the public come out. The meeting is at 6:30 PM this evening, in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue.

Much of the programming has been recycling of old -- and sometimes VERY OLD -- material.

The only recent material appears to be a promo piece for the new boxing gym at East 5th and Roosevelt. Otherwise, the freshest programming is supplied by outsiders like the Union County Freeholders Forum.

When the Administration proposed an ILSA (interlocal services agreement) between the City and the PMUA recently for editorial and other help with getting the City's message out, City Administrator Dashield told the Council the agreement was necessary because of all the time it took the public information staff to edit tape for Channel 74 -- 12 hours of editing for one hour of tape, he said.

Well, if the staff was complying with the law (the Federal Cable and Telecommunications Acts of 1984, 1992 and 1996, to be exact), this wouldn't even be an issue. Which leads one to wonder if the staff even knows the law regarding Public Access Channels.


In the 1960s, as cable access was sweeping the country, cable companies strung their wires (coaxial cabling) literally everywhere -- using telephone and streetlight poles and draping them across streets, parking lots and other public spaces.

Eventually, communities wrung from the cable companies the right to have free access channels of three sorts -- Public Access, Educational, and Government, hence 'PEG' -- in exchange for running all that wire along the public right-of-way.

The laws cited above enshrine the responsibility of the cable operators to provide local communities with equipment and sometimes training to enable residents of the communities to produce their own programming and show it on their own local cable channel(s). And the local government is SPECIFICALLY BARRED FROM CONTROLLING OR EDITING THE CONTENT OF PUBLIC ACCESS PROGRAMMING. (The ONLY exception is that it can refuse to broadcast material deemed pornographic or slanderous.)

Plainfield has two channels granted in the current franchise agreement -- an Educational and a Public Access channel.

So, you might ask, why isn't Channel 74 being RUN as a Public Access Channel? And isn't it about time that it was?

When PCTV-74 was set up as a result of the most recent franchise agreement, Comcast provided grants for the purchase of thousands upon thousands of dollars of equipment for the station. This was of two sorts: equipment needed for the operation of the station, and equipment to be used by the public to produce content.

That included such items as videocameras, lighting equipment, editing software and copying facilities. All of which should be readily available to the public for its use. One problem is that we don't even know where the equipment is or whether all of the original equipment is still in place (there were rumors in the early days of the Robinson-Briggs administration that a good deal of the movable equipment had simply vanished).


I have heard rumors for months now that the Cable TV Advisory Commission feels hamstrung about getting anything going with Channel 74 for a couple of reasons --
  • that the Administration wants to control all decisions relating to management, production and broadcast scheduling; and
  • the staff complains of how long it takes to edit submitted tapes.
The truth of the matter is that the Administration should certainly not involve itself in matters the law reserves to the public -- specifically, what can be produced and the editing of community-produced material.

The Cable TV Advisory Commission is in the perfect spot to assert the public's rights and to begin to ensure that they are honored by the Administration.

How to get started?

  • Inventory the existing equipment and compare to the original equipment list, replacing anything needed;
  • Join the NJ public access channels user group (no need to re-invent the wheel when others have already don it);
  • Follow best practices in setting up a membership and training program (see links at end of post) so the public can begin to exercise its rights under the law;
  • Since the City's website is so unwieldy, the Cable TV Advisory Commission could set up its own BLOG (free and easy) and keep the public informed on a regularly-updated basis, without waiting for someone else to update the City website, and lastly
  • Once a membership and training procedure is in place, set up a public forum for all interested individuals and groups to let them know how things are moving forward and what THEY need to do.
A final word: The Cable TV Advisory Commission is, like ALL municipal boards and commissions, subject to both the 'Sunshine' law (Open Public Meetings Act) and OPRA (Open Public Records Act), meaning its meetings must be regularly scheduled and noticed and its records must be available to the public.

It can begin to establish that necessary bond of trust between the Public Access Channel and the community by --
  • Publishing its legally-required schedule of regular meetings;
  • Putting out its contact information so the public can make inquiries, and
  • Publishing its minutes (here is where a blog is perfect), so the public can see what progress is being made.
With these few simple steps, Plainfield could be on its way to having a truly world-class Public Access Channel and everyone could begin to take real pride in PCTV-74.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On the campaign season and Plainfield Today

Dan dons his Rough Rider gear for the campaign season.
Just a word about Dan's blogs and the political campaign season which is getting under way.

PLAINFIELD TODAY is, and has been since I retired from the City in 2006, a personal blog of my opinions and views of all things Plainfield.

Those of you who know me well will know that I am passionate about Plainfield and, if I may say so, inclined to be slightly partisan.

In the Democratic primary on June 3, there are multiple candidates on the Dem slot: the New Democrats for Plainfield club (McWilliams, Mapp), an independent Democrat running for the 3rd Ward seat, Olive Lynch, and
the local Democratic machine (Gibson, Davis, Reid).

I have agreed to serve as Annie McWilliams' campaign treasurer, so there should be no mistaking that I will be supporting the team put forward by the New Democrats, and not the machine team or Ms. Lynch.

They are perfectly free to promote their candidacies any way they see fit, but it won't be through PLAINFIELD TODAY.

As to CLIPS, my AGGREGATOR blog of essential news for local readers, it is offered as a community service and I try to keep it neutral -- though of course I can't resist giving little informational comments or editorial asides on occasion, all easily spotted because they are in GREEN type.

As for the HAPPENINGS section of CLIPS, which is a calendar of events open to the community, I am extending to all candidates an invitation to have their campaign events listed in the calendar.

Campaign event listings in the calendar will be standard basic: Time, date, place, type of event and subject matter if there is any, and sponsor.

Now, candidates go to opposite corners and wait for the bell to ring!

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Muhlenberg: A lesson from the mighty Saguaro?

Whether or not Solaris CEO John McGee feels Plainfielders' pain at the proposed closing of Muhlenberg (and he is certainly handsomely remunerated to do so -- see here for his 2006 package), the plain fact of the matter is that he is so handsomely paid not to feel our pain, but to run Solaris like a business.

In that regard, perhaps we can learn a lesson from the mighty Saguaro cactus -- symbol of the Southwest.

On my first visit to Arizona, I noticed these stately, slow-growing sentries appeared almost regularly placed in the rugged desert landscape around my parents' Tucson home.

I was puzzled because the juicy and tasty fruits contain thousands of seeds apiece and, with perhaps 200 blooms per mature plant that might lead to fruits, the mighty Saguaro is plenty prolific, so whence the scarcity?

I was told by locals that mature Saguaros defend themselves against the encroachment of upstart baby plants by sending out a toxin in the soil that kills off the little ones, leaving a fairly regularly dotting of the landscape by the mature plants.

Is this a lens for understanding Solaris' take on the Muhlenberg situation?

Word in the street for months has been that there was ANOTHER BUYER and ANOTHER OFFER out there -- that is, other than reported by Solaris as a result of its 'search' for potential buyers.

After portraying the results as that there were 'no buyers' (marketingspeak; there was interest), we finally learn that there has been
ANOTHER BUYER indeed (Pine Creek Capital, read more here).

Word has circulated in the street for weeks that Pine Creek Capital -- which specializes in distressed hospitals -- was interested in seriously engaging Solaris over the sale of Muhlenberg.

The rumors even include that Assemblyman Jerry Green was approached and asked to used his good offices to get a sit-down with Solaris officials -- and that Green never pulled a meeting together.

Not only would Pine Creek want to look at the books as part of their due diligence, there would no doubt be discussions about how to pry Muhlenberg lose from the leech-like clutches of Solaris. (I believe the currently preferred Wall Street term is 'unwind' -- as in 'unwind the subprime mortgage mess'.)

Perhaps Solaris is not really interested in 'coming to the phone' -- that is, in selling Muhlenberg -- at all.

Does Solaris have in mind becoming the New Jersey version of a Saguaro -- making sure to poison the ground so that nothing competitive survives in its neighborhood?

And hoping that the traffic forwarded by the satellite Emergency Room and/or the ambulance services would go mostly elsewhere?

(Which a commentator pointed out yesterday [see here] could be sent to yet a third location just by JFK putting themselves on 'divert' status -- in effect declaring they were too busy, whether or not that was actually the case).

This would be bitter fruit indeed.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Editorial on Muhlenberg misses 'elephant in room'

The Courier has a good editorial in today's edition (see here), and I think they have hit on a good point: It's not exactly that the state WANTS Muhlenberg to close...but they're OK WITH IT.

We all know the state set up a process by which all the state's hospitals would be evaluated.

As with all processes in which stakeholders have an intense interest and elected officials may find themselves on the spot (think Congress and military base closures), the process was designed so that only RECOMMENDATIONS OF CRITERIA were made -- no actual names were used.

The Plainfield market area is SPECIFICALLY NOT INCLUDED in the overbedded category (see more here).

Further, the report --
...lays out criteria officials should use in determining which are "essential" and "viable" and deserving of financial support.

Those factors include whether the hospital serves a "vulnerable" population -- such as uninsured and poor patients -- and whether critical services such as trauma care are offered, the report said.

A hospital's overall financial health -- including its profitability, cash on hand and long-term debt to capitalization ratio -- should also be a consideration, the commission said.

So, while "overall financial health...should be a consideration", it does not seem that it is meant to trump "whether the hospital serves a 'vulnerable' population -- such as uninsured and poor patients."

Which leaves us to ponder exactly WHY the state seems to think it's OK TO CLOSE Muhlenberg.

Uncomfortably for the state, there is an unstated 'elephant in the room': We have an overwhelmingly white state bureaucracy supporting an overwhelmingly white hospital bureaucracy (Solaris) in shutting down an acute-care hospital which clearly serves a 'vulnerable' population of 'uninsured and poor patients' -- PRIMARILY PEOPLE OF COLOR.

And one suspects that the divvying up of patient care that is contemplated in the Courier's front-page story on the satellite emergency room today (see more here) gives Solaris reason to hope that ALL the Plainfield charity-care cases will not end up on JFK's doorstep in Edison.

Can you say 'callous'?

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Your disappearing emails from Dan

A reader's curiosity was piqued at finding her regular CLIPS emails failed to reach her inbox and sent the following message --
I've noticed over the past month or so that CLIPS comes into my gmail spam filter despite having the address in my address 'book'. A bit of further reading seems to indicate that Google often marks email with the same sender and recipient as spam. You may already know this, but since the rules for getting black-boxed keep changing (at my office we had to stop sending large mailings with people in the bcc field, as this is now a trigger), I thought I'd go ahead and mention it. At some point, you may have better luck with a low-cost mailing service, though low-cost isn't free, and maybe that would depend upon reader support. I've gotten used to CLIPS coming into the spam filter instead of the Plainfield filter every day, but some folks don't look in their spam filters.
She is not the first to mention that these daily emails sometimes go amiss, and I think she has a good point.

I have a good news/bad news story. I am currently moving the email list over to an online service. That's the good news. The bad news is that I have to do it by hand, one name and address at a time. So, it's taking a while.

For now, if your CLIPS goes missing from your inbox, I think a good clue would be to check in your 'spam' or 'junk' (or whatever you call it) folder and see if your email program has a mind of its own. The first step would be to make sure and put me in your email address book (just right-click on my email address on one of the CLIPS emails -- as in the image above -- and select 'add to address book').

In the meantime, I will try to tinker and see if there is a workaround.

Again, thanks to all for the supportive comments -- I ran into several people at both the candidate brunch and the Muhlenberg rally on Saturday who said they are regular readers and how much they enjoy the blogs. Compliments are good pay!

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Candidate Meet-and-Greet Brunch this morning

All are invited to come out and meet City Council candidates Annie McWilliams (Citywide at-large) and Adrian Mapp (Ward 3) this morning. A continental breakfast will be served.

Candidate Meet-and-Greet
10 AM
YWCA Terrace Room
East Front & Church Streets

We'll be out in time to go to the 'Save Muhlenberg' Rally at Noon at Park Avenue & Randolph Road.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Assemblyman Green attacks Muhlenberg board prez -- again.

With his political career at stake and desperate not to be blamed for the closing of Plainfield's Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, the increasingly unpopular Assemblyman Jerry Green goes to great pains in a dissembling OpEd in today's Courier as to why the president of Muhlenberg's (advisory) Board should take the fall and resign (see more here).

As has been noted before, Assemblyman Green has been deeply involved with the fortunes of Muhlenberg and Solaris for years. In fact, it would be nice to know just HOW DEEPLY involved -- including how much he was remunerated on their behalf when he was with the Alman Group as a vice president, AND whether or not he lobbied on behalf of Muhlenberg or Solaris in his official capacity as a legislator.

That would be interesting on
TWO fronts: (1) it would show just how long the Assemblyman has been aware of -- and not spoken out publicly on -- the difficulties facing Muhlenberg and Solaris; and (2) because U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has an abiding interest in legislators who appear to benefit financially from arranging for others to benefit from their legislative activities.

But, to return to the topic at hand.

So, once again we have the long-involved Assemblyman writing a screed blaming the board president who has served less than a year on the job.

Secondly, as Solaris CEO John McGee has made abundantly clear, HE and HE ALONE, is running the show on the closure process. That means that the Muhlenberg Board has been gagged, pure and simple, a fact which the Assemblyman is at pains to avoid discussing.

The questions on many people's minds in reflecting on the close collaboration between Solaris CEO John McGee and Assemblyman Green over the years are --
  • Just how long has the Assemblyman has been aware of the closure plans?

  • Why HAS THE ASSEMBLYMAN NOT SPOKEN OUT PUBLICLY before the November announcement of putting Muhlenberg up for sale? and

  • Is there going to be some sort of a 'payday' out of the closure by which Solaris and the Assemblyman may both eventually benefit?
As the Bard had Hamlet say of his mother Queen Gertrude, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

N.B.: Who knew the Assemblyman had such a polished writing style? Bravo! Bravissimo!

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Volunteers to plant trees Saturday

Tamping the soil around the rootball (DK Images)

Plainfield's Shade Tree Commission is joining with the New Jersey Tree Foundation to 'reforest' Leland Avenue by planting fifty new trees this spring.

The campaign kicks off on Saturday morning, when volunteers will plant the first group of 25 young trees along Leland Avenue in the First Ward.

Volunteers will be taught proper methods for preparing the soil and planting a tree.
In addition, says Commission chairperson Greg Palermo, there will be a demonstration on how to plant safely -- with an emphasis on avoiding strain injuries in lifting and moving trees with root balls.

Volunteers will meet at Leland Gardens Circle, Coles Place and Leland Avenue (just before the bridge to North Plainfield). Participants should wear work sneakers or boots and clothes that they do not mind getting dirty.

The project gets under way at 9 AM this Saturday -- rain or shine.

For more information, contact Shannon Buckley of the NJ Tree Foundation at (609) 439-1755 or by email at

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Board of Ed Election Results

Bridget Rivers and Lenny Cathcart were re-elected, as was Vickey Sheppard.

The winners in Plainfield's Board of Education race celebrated with friends and supporters Tuesday evening, promising to a united board when the new Superintendent, Steve Gallon, arrives this summer.

Lenny Cathcart and Bridget Rivers, who both won re-election, thanked supporters for their efforts. Board member Vickey Sheppard, also re-elected, was unable to attend due to illness but thanked one and all over a cellphone on speakerphone mode.

Dr. Garnell Bailey, Interim Superintendent, also took the floor for a few moments to congratulate the winners and pledge to work with the Board to turn over the reins to the new Superintendent with the District united and ready to move forward under his leadership.

Also present at the victory celebration were outgoing Board President Pat Barksdale; members Wilma Campbell, Martin Cox and Christian Estevez; and Interim Superintendent Dr. Garnell Bailey.

Current and re-elected board members and Dr. Garnell Bailey at victory celebration.

Here are the unofficial tallies, in the order they appeared on the ballot --
  1. Yolanda Van Fleet - 328
  2. Jaclynne Callands - 427
  3. Bridget Rivers - 713
  4. Vickey Sheppard - 639
  5. Lenny Cathcart - 669
Though the total number of votes cast was not known Tuesday evening, it appears to be fewer than 1,150 out of 18,000+ total registered voters in the city.

Traditionally, new (and re-elected) members are sworn in and the Board reorganized at its next regular meeting, which will be Tuesday, April 22.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You are invited to a brunch for candidates McWilliams & Mapp


Candidate for Citywide at-large


Candidate for Ward 3

Plainfield residents and business people are invited to join friends and well-wishers in a free meet-and-greet brunch event for City Council candidates Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp this Saturday, April 19.

Annie, eldest daughter of the late Mayor Al McWilliams, is making her initial foray into electoral politics by running for the Democratic nomination for the citywide at-large seat. McWilliams literally grew up soaking up Plainfield's political and business atmosphere from the time of her father's leadership of the Plainfield Business Development Corporation in the early 1990s through his two terms as mayor (first ever two-term Democrat and first-ever two-term Black mayor). McWilliams is running for the citywide at-large seat, facing off against incumbent Harold Gibson.

Many already know Adrian Mapp, who has been active in Plainfield's political life for over a decade -- first as City Councilor and then as Union County Freeholder. Mapp brings a wealth of experience of the details of city government as well as municipal finance (he is chief financial officer for the Borough of Roselle) to the table. Mapp is running for the 3rd Ward seat currently held by incumbent Don Davis.

Both McWilliams and Mapp are active in church and civic organizations. Annie McWilliams is a member of Shiloh Baptist church and active in the Deltas sorority. Adrian Mapp is a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church and for years helped coordinate participation of several organizations in the annual July 4th Parade.

'Meet and Greet' Brunch for Candidates McWilliams and Mapp
YWCA Terrace Room
East Front and Church Streets

10 AM - Noon
(Out by Noon for those attending the 'Save Muhlenberg' event.)

-- Dan Damon

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NJT Overpasses: New Traffic Patterns

As NJT continues the repairs and reconstruction of the rail overpasses in Plainfield, here's an update on new traffic patterns --

  • Madison Avenue (southbound, one way) -- NOW CLOSED, as of 4/14/2008.
  • Central Avenue (two-way) -- OPEN.
  • New Street (southbound, one way) -- CLOSED.
  • Liberty Street (northbound, one way) -- OPEN.
Work on the overpasses is scheduled for completion in 20009.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Muhlenberg Hospital Property: Solaris subdividing the spoils?

Curiously, the large plot of land on which Plainfield's Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center stands was quietly subdivided a year ago. But why?

Here's what happened.

At Solaris's request, the city granted a subdivision of the large parcel on which Muhlenberg sits. It was divided into three parts: the new nursing school, the dialysis center building at the corner of Park and Randolph, and the hospital property proper.

At the same time, the corporation executed easements granting the use of the parking lots that lie along Park Avenue between the newly subdivided properties to each of the subdivisions.

Why all this maneuvering, you ask? Bothered me, too.

I was told that it was done so quietly because all the parcels met or exceeded zoning requirements and since no use or zoning change was proposed the changes were made without fanfare -- though all was done publicly.

It has been portrayed as a sort of hospital housekeeping matter.

But I wonder if the whole thing wasn't by way of positioning Solaris for a closing of the hospital (expected and planned-for by them more than a year ago, if you take into account how long it took to get the subdivision planned and adopted) AND EVENTUAL SALE OF THE PROPERTIES.

As things stand now, the nursing school can remain a Solaris property, the dialysis center could be sold off or leased, and the main hospital property...?

What do you think?

My Christians heritage offers an image: Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross, rolling dice to divide Jesus' garments.

Except, of course, no dice were involved here.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bd of Ed: Cathcart, Rivers and Shephard

Plainfielders will go to the polls on Tuesday to elect members of the Board of Education.

Of the five persons running for the Board, I will be voting for all three incumbents: Lenny Cathcart, Bridget Rivers and Vickey Shephard.

They have served the families and taxpayers faithfully over the past three difficult years, in which we have seen turmoil and turnover in the top ranks of the District, as well as a crucial vote by Assemblyman Jerry Green to dismantle the Abbott districts and put in place a new funding pattern for the schools will mean tax increases for local taxpayers.

I have confidence their experience and commitment will enable them to help lead the District into a new -- and hopefully more stable and productive -- era when Mr. Steve Gallon assumes the superintendency this summer.

Voters vote in their regular polling places. The polls are open from 2:00 - 9:00 PM for school board elections.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Muhlenberg could close as early as Father's Day

In another sign that Solaris Health System is hell-bent on rushing through the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical System, word in the street is that CEO John McGee is prepared to issue the mandatory WARN letter to employees as early as today. That is based on an estimate that the earliest closing date can be June 15, 2008.

WARN letters are required by Federal law and must give employees at least 60 days notice of pending mass layoffs.

This cannot be good news for the 1,100 employees -- especially after the unfriendly terms of the severance package were made public earlier. Essentially, all hands must stay on deck until the ship goes down or lose all severance payments. Nice reward for years of faithful service, right?

Oh, lest I forget: June 15th is Father's Day. What a nice present from Solaris.

Meanwhile, a really interesting comment was posted to yesterday's item about Heather Howard's testimony to the Senate budget committee (see original here) --
"I watched the entirety of the NJ Senate Budget Hearing last night. Kudos to Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R), who really took the Commissioner to task for the lack of a cohesive approach to healthcare in NJ. Most surprising in watching the Hearing was the callous metrics used to determine charity care distribution/ranking and the failure of the Commissioner, Ms. Heather Howard, to think outside the box to keep hospitals from closing. As to tipping the State's hand, Ms. Howard spoke of the closure of Muhlenberg as a fait accompli. In fact, as if she was an advocate for Solaris, she said yesterday, "Muhlenberg Hospital is losing so much money, I think it's a failing hospital and its dragging down JFK. The reason Solaris wants to close Muhlenberg is to strengthen JFK...” Of course, the questions one asks include, what defines a "failing hospital", have the financials been reviewed to determine how and why it is losing "so much money", why are the financial not public, have they been properly audited, and why is the Commissioner giving priority to the objectives of Solaris over those of the community." -- April 10, 2008 9:04 AM
Many thanks to 'Queen City Serf'.

I have a continuing gnawing feeling that the process is being rushed, that there is more to all of this than meets the eye, and that several of the players -- including McGee and Assemblyman Green -- may have agendas which have not yet seen the light of day.

Is that why I wake up at 3 AM with Muhlenberg on my mind?

-- Dan Damon

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Obama fundraiser tomorrow afternoon

Plainfielders and Obama supporters from the area will get a chance to check out the candidate's legendary fundraising dynamic at a local event Saturday afternoon.

Plainfielder Carmencita Pile is opening her home at 1414 Highland Avenue from 2:00 - 6:00 PM for the fundraiser, which will feature an opportunity to buy works of the renowned artist and Harlem native Frank Frazier, as well as works by emerging artist André Mayeaux.

The event is hosted by Obama's Plainfield-area coordinator, Councilor Rashid Burney.

Entrance to the event is $30/person.

For full details and RSVP/donation opportunities, see here. A profile of artist Frank Frazier is here.

-- Dan Damon

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New Finance Director's first week a freebie?

Image from Mr. Peck's website,

For him, not for us.

Word is that Plainfield's new Acting Director of Administration and Finance, Douglas Peck, not only got a $12,000 moving allowance (no bills need be submitted, thank you very much!), he appears to have gotten his first week on the payroll as a freebie, with the taxpayers footing the week's salary though Mr. Peck is still in Ohio.

Mr. Peck was nowhere in evidence at City Hall throughout this past week, though the Mayor's appointment took effect immediately upon her letter of appointment, dated April 4th.

Residents are hoping to get a gander of the new department head at Monday's City Council agenda-setting session, 7:30 PM, City Hall Library -- the first meeting in the resumption of the Council's 80+-year-old tradition of alternating Monday meetings.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Republicans can vote in Dem Primary

Plainfield is such a heavily Democratic community that Republicans often feel they don't get much say in how things turn out election-wise.

And that is particularly true of primary elections, where the victor in the Democratic primary is pretty much guaranteed to be the victor in the November election.

This year could be different.

With a contested Democratic primary, registered Republicans have an opportunity to vote for one of the two candidates in the Democratic citywide at-large contest (Annie McWilliams or Harold Gibson) or one of three candidates for the 3rd Ward nomination (Adrian Mapp, Olive Lynch or Don Davis).

To do so, however, one would have to change one's party affiliation -- which can be changed back the day after the Primary Election (June 3).

For those who consider Plainfield's future important, it's an opportunity to be given great thought.

Call the City Clerk's office at (908) 753-3222, or stop by City Hall.

-- Dan Damon

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City Council: Dept. of Jots and Tittles

Plainfield resident Dr. Harold Yood rose at the comments section of Wednesday's City Council meeting to question the inclusion of resolution R203-08 as a consent item.

The item was the award of a professional services contract in the amount of $103,800 to the engineering firm of Remington & Vernick for engineering services for the West 4th Street reconstruction.

Consent items are those considered unobjectionable or pro forma and are voted on as a group, without discussion.

The Council seemed to concur that it was a legitimate question, but seemed unsure what to do until Dottie Gutenkauf read them chapter and verse from their own Rules: should a Councilor OR A CITIZEN object to an item being on the consent resolution, it is to be removed and considered as a non-consent item in its regular order.

Time was when it was quite customary for Councilors to use this procedure.

For some reason, the current Council seems not to be overly familiar with the jots and tittles of its own Rules.

Ray Blanco and Phyllis Mason must be spinning in their graves!

-- Dan Damon

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Muhlenberg: Heather Howard tips state's hand

The charade that state authorities are playing over the proposed closing of Plainfield's Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center was revealed in testimony that Heather Howard, commissioner of Health & Senior Services, gave to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.

In a story from Gannett's state bureau in today's Courier (see here), Howard is cited as saying the impending closure of Muhlenberg may ultimately help other nearby sites, such as JFK in Edison.

The fact that she would even mention Muhlenberg -- and apparently as a DONE DEAL -- gives the lie to the notions that --
  1. she was not going to make any public comment while the process was ongoing, and
  2. that the process really is a fair one and will make a decision based on a needs assessment of the community.
There are several elephants in the room here, but only one NEVER gets talked about.

Everyone is willing to acknowledge that the shrinking of federal and state payments is key. Everyone acknowledges charity care -- which New Jersey hospitals cannot, by law, refuse -- is putting many hospitals in jeopardy.

But the one elephant in the room that no one ever wants to talk about is the POLITICS of how these decisions are being made.

It was quite clear years ago in the way the cardiac surgery licenses were doled out that the whole process was political. Some hospitals got licenses and simply 'banked' them. Muhlenberg, with admittedly the BEST PROPOSAL, was shut out completely. Our political heavyweight, Assemblyman Jerry Green, couldn't pull it off.

Same thing happened when the Assemblyman attempted to get a school built on the Muhlenberg campus and shift millions toward the hospital.
Our political heavyweight, Assemblyman Jerry Green, couldn't pull it off.

And here we are now, with the Assemblyman working full speed to cooperate with Solaris in shutting Muhlenberg down -- all the while claiming to be 'supporting' the community.

I believe that a fair and impartial needs assessment would show that Muhlenberg is indeed 'most critical' (as Gov. Corzine likes to say) to Plainfield and the surrounding communities.

I have heard rumors that originally it was JFK that would have been slated for closure, and that Muhlenberg served a more critical need. If that is true, Plainfield and the surrounding communities are being given the short end of the stick and politics once again trumps reality or necessity. In war, they call it 'collateral damage'.

As Ms. Howard is cited in the story as saying, Muhlenberg's closing may ultimately help JFK.

But here's a thought for Heather Howard and JFK: What will you do when all the problems that have burdened Muhlenberg simply show up on JFK's doorstep?

How long will it take before JFK sinks beneath the waves?

Three years? Five years?

And for this, 131 years of service to Plainfield should be sacrificed?

For shame!

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Courier to Green: Don't waste time on blame

In an editorial today, the Courier News takes on Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green's demand for the ouster of Muhlenberg board president Ron West (see more here and more on the original story here).

Nobody seems to want to get to the bottom of the question.

Word is that the Muhlenberg board, and its president, have been asked (some say TOLD) by the Solaris Health System board and CEO John McGee NOT to participate in the citizen efforts around saving the hospital.

Assemblyman Green is fully aware of this.

His shadowboxing is an attempt to portray himself as acting IN SUPPORT OF KEEPING MUHLENBERG OPEN, which is about as far from the facts as you can get -- given his setting up a task force to make preparations for shutting down the hospital.

Further, Assemblyman Green appears to be desperately trying to find a role for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who seems never to have given Muhlenberg a thought until the threat of closing was made.

The Courier is dead-on right when it says that the state has waffled on the matter of deciding what hospitals to close --

Statewide health experts concede that some New Jersey hospitals probably should close, but there is no plan to help guide and manage those closures, to assure that the right hospitals are shut down. Instead, facilities such as Muhlenberg that should stay open become casualties.
Supporters of Muhlenberg HAVE a right and ARE right to remonstrate with whoever will listen.

The question the Assemblyman raises in people's minds is whether he is really interested in helping, as the Courier puts it, 'the city's cause'.

-- Dan Damon

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Councilor Storch asks a stumper question

The topic was information technology and Plainfield City Administrator Marc Dashield was presenting.

Councilor Cory Storch's question was simplicity itself: Does this mean that we'll be able to get our information packets by email?

The answer is that even when the $1.1 million IT project is completed in July or August, it won't make a difference to the Councilor's question, since the packets could be emailed NOW, even without the fancy bells and whistles that are coming.

The truth is that the weekly packets, already prepared in digital format (using MS Word) could easily be converted to PDF file (also using MS Word) and emailed to Councilors on Friday evening. So what's the holdup?

The good news on the information technology front is that the $1.1M project to network City Hall and the Annex is expected to be complete by July/August. With a data center in the Annex which will house all the city's servers, workers will be completely networked, with no more standalone computers.

The aged Centrex phone system will be replaced by a VOIP (internet-based) telephone system. (This is a good thing.) Unspecified were plans/expenses for including outlying facilities such as the DPW Yard and the east and west end fire station (read: more expenses).

The bad news is that this project only addresses connectivity, not productivity.

It was productivity that Councilor Storch had in mind with his questions. Another one he raised was whether the $1.1M project meant that residents would now be able to file permit applications online. The answer is no.

There has not even been a discussion yet of what is referred to as 'e-government', making it possible for residents, businesses and taxpayers to do everything from apply for permits to paying taxes and other bills online. And when that is eventually discussed, you can be sure there will be more money needing to be spent.

One item that was NOT mentioned, either by Mr. Dashield or Council members, was whether the new network would include having a dedicated email server for elected officials and employees. It is a matter of continuing concern, especially given how important email has become as a part of the normal course of conducting business, that City employees have a jumble of email options (some even using free webmail accounts) and there is no attempt to preserve this correspondence, which is in fact a part of the public record. Not to mention that elected officials all used private emails.

Finally, Mr. Dashield did not address whether the ever-popular government productivity tool, Solitaire, would be hosted on the network or reside on individual computers.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Assemblyman Green attacks Muhlenberg board president

In a page one story in Tuesday's Courier, Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green attacked the president of Muhlenberg's board of trustees, Ron West, calling for his replacement.

You need to read the story. Carefully.

Here we have a player (the Assemblyman) who has been intimately involved with Muhlenberg and Solaris Health Systems over many, many years. And a board president, Ron West, who has yet to serve his first full year.

The financial difficulties that threaten to overwhelm the hospital are not news to careful observers, and certainly not news to Assemblyman Jerry Green.

After all, when he was a vice president for the Alman Group, one of his clients was Solaris Health Systems. (Was he lobbying? Is he a registered lobbyist? Interesting questions.) He is intimately aware of Solaris' and Muhlenberg's needs.

Years ago, hopes were placed in Muhlenberg's getting a 'certificate of need' for cardiac surgery. That process which, in spite of having a medical gloss to it, was political from beginning to end -- the end being that the Assemblyman's mojo failed to deliver the hoped-for outcome to Muhlenberg and the application was denied. Even though -- and I was told this by a participant -- Muhlenberg was held to have made the best and most compelling presentation by all the hospitals vying for the limited number of licenses.

This meant the handwriting was on the wall as much as seven or eight years ago, and Assemblyman Jerry Green was deeply involved -- not Ron West, who has been chair of Muhlenberg's board for less than a year.

Next, the Assemblyman swooped in from left field with a proposal to use Schools Construction Corporation funding set aside for the Abbott schools to build a new school on the Muhlenberg campus. (This, in spite of the fact that a community task force organized by the state and with the Assemblyman's blessing, recommended a new school needed to be sited in the West End.)

Sweeping aside the task force's conclusion, Assemblyman Green conducted a strenuous public relations effort to bring a $100M school project (his figure) to the hospital site. The scheme ultimately collapsed, when the monies available shrank to the point Muhlenberg would not be significantly helped and a more realistic assessment of the site did not favor the placement of a school there.

Now that the crisis has come to a head, the Assemblyman is attempting to throw the blame on Ron West, accusing him of not supporting the effort to keep the hospital open.

You may be forgiven if you are a little confused by Assemblyman Green's effort to portray himself as both a leader in the struggle to keep the hospital open and chief embalmer of the still-living body in setting up his 'community task force' -- which, after all, is only about CLOSING, not SAVING, the hospital.

There is something the Assemblyman could do, though. Something that no one else can do. Assemblyman Jerry Green, who will have to sign off on closing Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, could stand up tall and say he simply will not do it. That he will not put his John Hancock to anything to do with closing Muhlenberg, and that the state would have to close it over his objection.

Or, as people often say, 'over my dead body'.

Now, that would be a man of courage, a man to admire.

-- Dan Damon

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