The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bike racks full at train station



Bike racks at Plainfield's main train station.

I noticed the other day that the bike racks at the downtown train station were completely filled on a weekday.

Is it a reaction to the price of gas?

Will NJT be adding more? Looks like they could be used.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Plainfield storm of 1998 recalled

With Gustav taking aim at the Gulf coast just three years after Hurricane Katrina, here are a couple of reminders from 1999 1998 that Plainfield is not immune to these storms.



House at Stelle and Grant was hit by falling tree.




Minivan on West 8th Street near Hobert was crushed by a tree.

More than 125 city trees were downed in a storm that was declared a tornado after the fact. The city learned the importance of having an emergency management plan in place (the one at the time had not been updated for years and was basically useless).




Rahway's DPW helped Plainfield's Department of Public Works
crews cope with clearing up the downed trees.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mayor at Convention, leaves headache in Plainfield



Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs joined the mile-high club of politicians at the Democratic National Convention in Denver Wednesday.

Leaving on a 6:59 AM flight from Newark Liberty, Her Honor sat near a loyal reader on their way to Denver to visit family. In a friendly fashion, the reader gave the mayor tips on avoiding the high-altitude headaches visitors frequently get when visiting Denver.

Taxpayers fretting about the cost of the mayor's security detail (in evidence Tuesday evening at the Washington School forum) need not worry -- the mayor traveled solo.

She was also recently spotted shopping without bodyguards at the A&P on Oak Tree Road in South Plainfield.

Is the issue with the bodyguards that Her Honor only feels threatened while in Plainfield?

The point, to me, is EITHER YOU NEED THEM or YOU DO NOT.

Meanwhile, dear taxpayer, you're reading this, stuck in Plainfield, and the bodyguards are sort of a low-altitude headache of your own.

But wait, 2009 is coming.



-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cedar Brook Lake project moves along, at last




The newly installed aerator at Cedar Brook Lake.

One of Plainfield's most scenic spots -- Cedar Brook Lake, in the Union County park of the same name -- finally got its long-awaited aerator about a week ago.

Though it is quite spectacular and may at first look like a fountain, its purpose is to constantly aerate the water in the pond, helping to control the growth of algae and make the lake hospitable for fish. One surprise is the low rumble you hear the closer you get to the spary. (You may recall that a few years ago, the pond suffered a mass die-off of fish owing to high temperatures, stagnant water and an algae bloom -- much as Branch Brook Park in Newark suffered this summer.)

And this is not all!




The gazebo's beams are open to the sky, awaiting new shingles.


The roof of the gazebo, long in disrepair has been removed preparatory to a complete replacement.

Once that is complete, the landscaping along the water's edge is put in and the large pile of dirt at the East end of the lake is removed, the project will be complete.

The project, begun in April 2006, has proceeded at an agonizingly slow pace, often with work mysteriously stopping for months on end, but it is good to see the Parks Department is finally finishing it up.

While you're in the park, why not stroll by the Shakespeare Garden, where the bees and butterflies are gathering the last nectars of the summer. You will notice that the pergola supporting the enormous trumpet vines that graced the entry near the stone marker honoring the founding of the garden is gone
(there was serious rotting of several of the posts). One hopes that is only a temporary situation, as the attractiveness of the garden would be much altered by a lack of the pergola.



-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crime stats are what they say they are, aren't they?



Detail of a swastika image on an East Front Street wall.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' community forum, despite its short notice and disregard of a longstanding block associations meeting, got about a hundred people away from the Democratic convention coverage last evening, by my reckoning. (Today's Courier has a page-one story here.)

Even as police director Martin Hellwig detailed dramatic drops in violent crime though, word was sweeping through my neighborhood of the brutal beating and robbery of an 82-year-old man after his home on a leafy street less than two blocks from mine was invaded by an unknown number of men.

Hellwig, anticipating the release of the FBI's Uniform Crime Statistics, usually done in September, was getting in a few pre-emptive, and favorable, stats.

Which is not to say that violent crime has not diminished. It has. But that is not the whole story.

What I hear from the cops on the street is that violent crime is being replaced with crimes against property -- breaking into homes and cars for valuables. Tough luck for you if you're home when these guys decide to rob you.

But violent crimes and property crimes aren't the only items that are tracked.




The swastika is just a step from Plainfield's main drag, East Front Street.

They are also interested in bias crimes. Which brings me to the picture above.

Spotted the other day on a wall in an alleyway between East Front Street and a city parking lot, what you see is a swastika -- the odious Nazi and skinhead symbol -- which someone evidently tried to cover up with paint.

Despite guidelines from the Attorney General that incidents such as this are to be treated as bias incidents on their face, I doubt you will find that this little artwork has been reported as such.

Residents' confidence in crime statistics is based on trusting that the data are not being misreported or manipulated.

What is to be made of the swastika image?

I don't know, but I do know that a neighbor told me they may get a dog -- a 'serious dog' was the exact phrase -- since the old man's mugging.


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jerry Green: Hold off on Solaris bonds



Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22)

According to a page one story in today's Courier (see here), Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green wants the state to hold off on funding Solaris' planned expansion of JFK through publicly issued bonds until 'specific grievances' are addressed.

Some serious questions are raised ... and ducked.

More important that fussing over details which occupy the Assemblyman's mind (sort of like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic), the looming question lies elsehwere.

If what Solaris is asking for is similar to the bailout the state gave St. Michael's Hospital in Newark (and which is really predicated on an expected change in healthcare policies AND funding with a new administration in Washington next year), the ONLY real question is: Why didn't Assemblyman Green press for such a bailout for Muhlenberg when there was time?

A sweetheart deal like that would certainly have given Muhlenberg a much-needed breather and set the stage for its continued existence as the community's historic acute-care hospital.

But that wasn't a scenario that Solaris wanted.

So, Muhlenberg gets the axe and JFK gets the sweetheart deal.

All of which Assemblyman Green must have been well aware of as the bailout legislation was being crafted by his colleagues Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblymen Neil Cohen and Joe Cryan.

When my father married his second wife, she brought to the new home her little Pekingese. A thoroughly unpleasant little character that yapped constantly and nipped at everyone's toes, but was absolutely ineffectual as a guard against any threats or intruders.

How different from the farm up the road a piece, whose owners trained Dobermans as SERIOUS guard dogs.







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Unity by being a day late and a dollar short?



Always a day late and a dollar short?


Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs really stepped on some toes by scheduling her 'Community Forum' for tonight without consulting the city's Block Associations, which has a longstanding meeting of their liaisons on the fourth Tuesday of every month, as was pointed out by a reader's comment to my post of yesterday on three items the mayor might need to address (Muhlenberg, boarded-up houses, and parking meter receipts -- see more here).

The commenter's points are well worth reading --
  1. With one of the major topics of the Community Forum being “A Safer Plainfield initiative which includes an emphasis on continuity between city neighborhood watch programs and clearer street signs and traffic signal” why is Community Forum being held the same date and time as the monthly Block Association Liaison meeting. The Block Association meetings have always been the 4th Tuesday of the month. The Mayor is very much aware of the schedule since Barbara James, her Confidential Aide, is normally there representing the Mayor. When A.P. Tiffany Wilson, host of the Block Association Liaison Meetings, found out about the conflict, she sent an email to the Block Association Liaisons informing them of the situation and asking for their inputting as to best handle the issue. One of suggestions was to move the Liaison meeting to follow the Community Forum (very professional and consider for providing the Block Association Liaisons the opportunity to attend both events). Too bad the Mayor and City Administration did not have the foresight to work with the A.P. Wilson to come up with a join meeting. What happened to the City Administration’s motto…Growth Through Unity? (Maybe it we had a community calendar these types of conflicts could be avoided. An aside…it is August 25 and the calendar on the city website is still blank.)

  2. “A Safer Plainfield” initiative. - Based on the brief description given in the press release, it doesn’t sound much different than the efforts of the Block Association Liaison Meetings. In fact the topics mention in the press release are just some of the topics that have been discussed at various Liaison Meetings. So why the need for the “A Safer Plainfield” initiative? Also the paper stated that the initiative was kicked off last month. How and when was the kick off information provided to the residents? I am the liaison for my block association and was totally unaware [of the] "A Safer Plainfield" initiative.
So the mayor sets a meeting on neighborhood safety without consulting the very people who would be most interested in such a meeting.

To boot, she schedules it on the night of their regular meeting -- without letting them know.

Thirdly, the meeting was announced in the Courier last Friday (see here), catching even city employees by surprise.

When the Courier wrote up the mayor's forum, I checked both the calendar and the press releases on the city's website. Nada. No entries whatsoever on the monthly calendar (as the commenter above also notes -- in fact, there wasn't even a blank 'August' calendar up until the 14th) AND no press release posted either.

Suddenly this morning, I find a) the flyer (no press release at all) for the forum (see here in PDF), and b) the August calendar has been filled in -- with tonight's meeting in BLUE. Not only that, regularly scheduled meetings have also been plugged in for September! How's them apples?!

Had enough?

Not quite yet.




This morning's Courier carries an important story on Muhlenberg, with Assemblyman Green calling for the state to hold off on the bonds for Solaris (see more here).

Near the end, we learn that --
Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs ... said Muhlenberg would be a key topic of discussion for a community forum to be held at 6:30 tonight by the city at Washington Community School. (Emphasis added.)
You will note that Muhlenberg isn't even mentioned in the flyer shown above (only the seriously unkind would bring up that I mentioned it in my post of yesterday), though now it is suddenly 'a key topic'. You may also note that the adverbially-challenged notice, cited in the Courier story in quotation marks (meaning 'this is the way we received it'), has been doctored. For the money the taxpayers are paying to underwrite this stuff, you'd think more care would be taken before things are sent out.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs has already begun to gear up her re-election effort.

Keeping her communications skills in mind as evidenced by this most recent example, perhaps the campaign slogan should be "Unity by being a day late and a dollar short".


COMMUNITY FORUM
Tonight, August 26
6:30 - 8:00 PM
Washington Community School
427 Darrrow Avenue
(Parking in Spooner Avenue lot)


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Three more for the Mayor's Forum



Is Plainfield in a 'J - A - |¬ 7 ' ?

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is hosting a 'Community Forum' Tuesday, August 26. Bernice previously noted the forum and raised the issue of gun violence (see 'Nobody Cares') and Maria has already commented on issues she sees needing addressing (see 'Actions Speak Louder').

Three more issues that impact Plainfielders come to my mind:
  1. Her 'buyer' for Muhlenberg;
  2. The growing number of abandoned and boarded houses; and
  3. Budget issues -- especially receipts like parking.

1. MUHLENBERG BUYER



What has become of her 'buyer' for Muhlenberg, Dr. Reddy Dandolu? No mention has been made since the meeting of Commissioner Howard with the mayor and Assemblyman Green. What gives?


2. BOARDED HOUSES



As the mortgage crisis deepens, more and more Plainfielders are losing their homes. Abandoned, boarded up properties
are springing up all over town (like the freshly boarded up one on Central Avenue near 7th Street, above). These properties quickly become eyesores, making things more difficult for those already trying to sell their homes. In addition, they depress neighborhood property values. What is the mayor's plan for dealing with this deepening crisis?


3. CASH RECEIPTS



Broken and jammed parking meters, like that above alongside the YMCA (the message in the window is 'J-A-M') and others littering the downtown business district have remained unrepaired for months. The lack of revenues being collected will impact the upcoming budget -- read: more money from the taxpayers' pockets. What is the mayor's plan to shore up cash receipts such as parking meters and traffic violations?

It would be refreshing if the mayor addressed these serious issues facing the community and her administration as she enters her final year. But will she?

Come out and see.

COMMUNITY FORUM
Tuesday, August 26

6:30 - 8:00 PM
Washington Community School
427 Darrrow Avenue
(Parking in Spooner Avenue lot)



-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Company is comin'



June Marlowe as the teacher lectures 'Our Gang' on playing hooky.


Playing hooky today, company coming. See you tomorrow.



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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Muhlenberg: License surrendered, dismemberment next?



Solaris Health System surrendered the license for Plainfield's Muhlenberg hospital Friday afternoon, ending the 131-year history of service to Plainfield and the surrounding communities (see the Courier story here).

There has been no word from Assemblyman Jerry Green or Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs since a meeting with Commissioner Heather Howard at City Hall last week, the subject of which was keeping the license active even though the hospital would be closed.

Word in the street is that the potential buyer, Dr. Reddy Dandolu, a cardiac surgeon from Philadelphia, wanted to turn the hospital into a center for cardiac surgery. I am puzzled by this as cardiac surgery has lost its luster as a profit center for hospitals, being replaced largely by angioplasties.

Ironically, Muhlenberg was a top-ranked participant in a national study of stand-alone angioplasty centers (without backup cardiac surgery on site), a designation which Solaris quickly grubbed for JFK once the plan to close Muhlenberg had snapped into place.

Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports that patients are facing long waits for rooms at JFK, with some being bedded in hallways.

Solaris' plans for public bonding of its proposed expansion of JFK, needed with Muhlenberg's closure, do not appear on the agenda for the ** August 28 ** (corrected -- Dan) NJ Health Care Facilities Finance Authority, despite previous reports in the press that it would be.

My strong suspicion is that potential buyers for the hospital AS A HOSPITAL will now recede as the obstacles placed in their way by Solaris and the Commissioner prove to be insurmountable.

Next up: Disposition of the unused properties, for which Solaris denies there are any plans.

If you believe that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

Rumors persist that if -- or rather when -- Solaris begins to peddle off pieces of the Muhlenberg campus, a well-known local personality stands to get a piece of the action by way of the old 'finder's fee' gambit.

Please say it ain't so, Joe.



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Friday, August 22, 2008

Blogger faces defamation suit




Manalapan has a blog critical of the local government, called 'da TruthSquad'.

What?! You thought Plainfield Today was the only blog critical of local government shenanigans? Poor benighted you. (You might want to check out some of the blogs in my sidebar to the right, 'Blogs of Note'.)

Seems the blogger, who is anonymous, needled the local pols enough they tried by subpoena to discover the blogger's ID.

Not so fast! said Internet free speech freaks -- and the courts agreed, calling the request 'an unjustified infringement on the blogger's First Amendment rights', as the Ledger reports today in a story by blog beat reporter Kelly Heyboer, updating the case (read story here).

Not only can bloggers remain anonymous if they want to (though you all know who I am), the courts give them large latitude to criticize pols, who are regarded as 'public figures'.

But there is a new wrinkle in Manalapan, an ex-pol who hasn't held office in 24 years, is computer-illiterate, and is hopping mad that people talk about him on the nj.com forums.

He wants to know who are the people behind the anonymous posts that call him a crook, a bum, a liar -- and worse.

Maria recently commented on these forums, calling them a 'snake pit'. I agree, and I seldom visit them and even more rarely post on them (the handle is 'plaindan', which would be hard to figure out, right?). Besides, I'm not interested in ex-pols -- unless they can pick the public's pocket.

At any rate, my tactic is to use a subject's own words or actions to illustrate my points (see an example here).

Whatchagonnado in that case?



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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gas main leaks: How safe are you?



Fire engine stands ready as PSEG workers fix gas leak Wednesday.

It's a jungle out there, but most Plainfielders are probably not aware of it.

I mean the jungle of essential -- and potentially dangerous -- pipes, conduits and other paraphernalia that crisscross underneath the city's streets and supply us with the essentials of our daily lives.

From the water that comes out of our faucets to the gas for our stoves and furnaces, from the power lines that supply electricity to downtown stores to buried fiber optic cables that bring not only cable TV, but connect businesses to the Internet, Plainfield depends on the smooth operation of these disparate services.

Yesterday's gas leak (the second in two days in the same area) shut down East 2nd Street from Watchung to Roosevelt and Church Street from Front to past the Union County College buildings from about 10:30 AM (when I got the call) until after 5 PM, when I spotted one way traffic westbound on 2nd Street.

Though there was a strong odor of gas when I got to the area about 11:30 AM, the crew of ten or twelve PSEG workers were going about their jobs in a purposeful and apparently thorough, but unhurried manner. The impression was that they knew just what they were doing and had the situation under control.







Several workers were dealing with a narrow trench about 100 feet long in front of UCC's main building. Across the street, a solitary worker was digging in a hole in front of the gas station in what seemed like the main area of interest. Firefighters on alert lounged nearby and a female police officer stood guard in the area. 2nd Street was blocked at Watchung with a fire truck and two police vehicles.

How could a break like this happen?

Though New Jersey American Water vehicles were nowhere to be seen in the area yesterday, they have been working in that general area in the ongoing -- and huge -- project to upgrade the water mains throughout much of the city.

While working at City Hall, I learned (from the North Avenue reconstruction project) that the maps that the various utilities keep of the location of their underground services can vary greatly in quality.

Keeping in mind that underground services like water pipes and sanitary and storm sewer lines can be more than one hundred years old, it is not out of the ordinary to discover that things are not exactly where they are thought to be. And the only way that is discovered is by finding them where they are NOT expected. I'll leave it to the lawyers to figure out who is at 'fault', but suffice it to say that those who dig dig carefully.

The one business that really suffered was the gas station, Plainfield Auto Service, which lost more than 7 hours of its daily 15 hour schedule. I was told by an owner that the station gets a delivery of 33,000 gallons every two days. Doing the math, it looks to me like the station lost at least $27,000 in gasoline sales, not to mention work in the repair shop.

A CAUTIONARY TALE

While these most recent incidents appear to be relatively minor, and handled quickly and professionally, the whole experience raises questions about the general safety of Plainfielders should a disaster -- natural or man-made -- happen.

The Police Division's new mobile command center was nowhere in evidence, nor did I spot the city's Office of Emergency Management coordinator.

Which raises the question of the city's Disaster Preparedness Plan.

Where is it? Many cities have the public information component of their plans online. So, you can find Plainfield's online, right? Dream on.

The plan, which was massively updated during the simulated bioterrorist attack a few years ago, has as its major component a fully functioning and equipped acute-care hospital -- Muhlenberg.

Without Muhlenberg, the plan will need to be updated. Or maybe it already has been? With another hospital as the location to which the sick or wounded would be transported.

By the Plainfield Rescue Squad's only working ambulance.

Right past Muhlenberg for another 20 minutes or so to JFK. Or would it be over the highway and through the woods to Overlook? Or maybe a hop down traffic-clogged Rt 22 to Somerset MC. A zigzag through Piscataway's local streets to RWJ?

I'm sure it's all been planned out, and you can rest your little head without a worry.

I'm sure the Mayor has a plan.

It's probably called 'Unity through Disaster'.



-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Breaking: Gas main leak reported at 2nd and Church, 10:30 AM


Just got a call that a natural gas leak is being reported at the corner of East 2nd and Church Streets, where New Jersey Water contractors have recently been working on relining the water mains.

Union County College's Plainfield campus has been reportedly evacuated. Both East 2nd and Church Streets are barricaded, and word is that owners of vehicles parked in the lot behind Pete's Fish Market have been ordered out.

Will post more later, but let me leave you with this question:

Now that Muhlenberg is closed, what becomes of the disaster plan for Plainfield developed a number of years ago and predicated on a fully functional acute-care hospital being a part of any disaster response?

Makes you feel real safe, right?



-- Dan Damon

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If it sounds too good to be true, is it?




The postcard offer above recently arrived at my house.
(Click to enlarge.)


With many Plainfielders in trouble with their mortgages or home equity drawdowns, some people have been fishing in these troubled waters.

Have you received the postcard pictured above, which arrived at my house a few days ago?

It is a mass mailing, professionally done, and designed to get a response from people with property problems. Of which I am not one, which caused me to wonder more about the mailing.

Having once been in the direct mail business (anybody remember Victorian Accents?), I can spot the AIDA formula a mile away.

AIDA, a mnemonic, is mail-order-speak for: get the reader's ATTENTION, develop their INTEREST, motivate their DESIRE, and call for their ACTION on your offer.

Right away on the address side of the card the reader's attention is grabbed with 'important information about your property'. Who wouldn't turn it over and read on?




The 'message' side of the postcard. (Click to enlarge.)


The sentence at the top of the message page stirs interest by stating the offer succinctly -- buy your property...as is...for cash.

The longish paragraph expands the offer and works to stimulate your desire by 'making it easy'... 'condition not a problem' ... 'any tenants can be left in place' ... 'will pay your closing costs'. All of these are enticements to property owners who are in trouble and may not have the cash to either repair their property or close a deal.

Lastly, the call to action: 'Take a moment and listen to my message' ... 'as soon as possible' ... 'we can work something out', and the capper: 'I am very anxious to hear from you in the next couple of days'.

So much for the offer. Should a person who receives this mailing be wary?

Very.

People in trouble with their property finances often are in desperate need of finding a way out of the situation and the hope of actually coming out with some cash in hand can be well-nigh irresistible.

But the chances are very likely those who respond, if they are not sophisticated and if they do not have a lawyer or other professional help (remember, they are strapped for cash to begin with), will be taken to the cleaners -- with excessive 'fees' and 'closing costs' reducing or eliminating any possible cash benefit.

Who is Andiamo Investments? Go ahead, try and find them in the phone book.

The whole mailing itself sets off alarm bells to anyone with direct mail experience:
  • It is mailed FIRST CLASS
  • It is mailed from Columbus, Ohio
  • The 'Auto**5-digit 07060' indicates a large mailing
  • The code numbers 'BPF3752' and '05422' suggest it is a rented mailing list
Further, reading the message would raise other questions:
  • '...get a hold of you...' reminds me of the Midwestern-speak of where I grew up, not New Jersey
  • '...research in the public records department downtown...' is not the way it works in Plainfield or the way we speak about it
  • '...found out you did not live at the property...' is a shocker to me, since I DO LIVE AT THE PROPERTY, and indicates the sender hasn't really done any research
Lastly, the 800-number, with an extension, is suspicious.

Moral of the story: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Problem is those in property trouble may not be able to calmly assess whether it is too good to be true.



-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

DWI: A defense playbook?



Walking a straight line is one of several field sobriety tests.

'DWI', 'DUI', 'driving while impaired' -- whatever it's called, it's regarded as a serious offense and in New Jersey, a conviction typically involves the loss of driving privileges and a hefty fine.

Plainfielders may recall one DWI which finally played out in area courts.

Today's Bergen Record carries a story about a 'noted local attorney' from North Jersey who is contesting a DWI charge (see here). I found the outline of the case interesting.

When arrested, the attorney was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit. He failed several sobriety tests.

The arrest was made July 15, 2007 and the case has yet to go to trial.

Reasons?
  • Multiple transfers to other courts.
  • Rescheduled court dates.
  • Motion to suppress all evidence obtained.
  • Requests for extensive documentation on
    • a) the types of sobriety tests given, and
    • b) training and credentials of officers involved.
  • Request for documentation on testing history of Breathalyzer involved.
Is there a DWI defense playbook?

Next appearance scheduled for October 2.

Bets, anyone?


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Assemblyman Jerry Green: How I let you all down, again



Perhaps Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green should stop writing OpEds, considering that a close reading of them often does not advance his cause.

Take, for instance, the piece "Let's clear the air, post-Muhlenberg" which appeared in the August 15th Courier News (see here).

Setting aside the Assemblyman's propensity to deal with his responsibilities by looking around for someone to 'throw under the bus' (in this case, the late Mayor Al McWilliams), he DOES reveal something he has never said before --

The Muhlenberg situation became a major issue for the current administration as soon as it took office because the former administration chose not to do anything. In fact, during a meeting with the former administration and Solaris, I was advised that Muhlenberg Hospital was in danger. The former administration chose not to fight.

When the current administration and City Council came into office, we were told that, without a new buyer, the hospital would be closing within one year. This administration and the City Council have been working diligently to find a new buyer because the handwriting was on the wall ... (Emphasis added.)
Whether or not there was a meeting between Green, Solaris and the McWilliams administration (and I would want date, place and agenda from an independent source as verification), Green has tipped us off that -- as he himself says -- Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the Council knew FROM DAY ONE of her administration (that is, January, 2006) that the fate of the hospital was 1) A MAJOR ISSUE, and 2) that Muhlenberg might CLOSE WITHIN A YEAR WITHOUT A BUYER.

In an earlier OpEd from April, 2008 Green said --

I have been working with the leadership of Solaris Health Systems for years to make sure that Muhlenberg has received special funding from the state, and I am continuing to do that. (Emphasis added.)
In fact, questions around how Green 'worked' for Solaris surfaced last October at the time of the exposure of his previously undisclosed job as a VP for the Alllman Group of Westfield (see my post "As Green leaves, questions remain")

Given what Green says about what he, Robinson-Briggs and the Council knew and when they knew it, a few questions keep coming to mind --
MAYOR ROBINSON-BRIGGS: Since Muhlenberg's fate was an issue 'as soon as she took office', she needs to explain to the people of Plainfield and the Muhlenberg service area
  1. Why, as a board member, she only attended one Muhlenberg Board meeting between taking office in January, 2006, and the announcement of the closing this past February [and THAT was a cocktail sip!], and

  2. Why there is no prior evidence of an effort to find a buyer for the hospital if it was so high on her to-do list.
ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: It has been years indeed, since Jerry knew Muhlenberg's situation was troubled. As a matter of fact, he advocated for their cardiac surgery license application nearly ten years ago, and in 2003, he stunned those involved in planning new construction and upgrades for Plainfield's public schools by flying in from left field with a wild proposal to build a school on the Muhlenberg campus as a 'demonstration project' under the Abbott construction funding scheme, with -- as rumored at the time -- a sales price to Solaris of $100M for a slice of the Muhlenberg campus. Alas, that scheme came to naught. (See here and here for details.)
  1. The pertinent question to Assemblyman Green is -- Knowing what you knew and when you said you knew it: What did you do about Muhlenberg between 2003 and the announcement last November that it would be sold and/or closed?
So, as Assemblyman Green suggests, let's 'clear the air':

The real issue with regard to Muhlenberg is not what the previous administration did or did not do, it is the question of what kind of leadership Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs have exercised on their watch.

Not nearly good enough, by my lights.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Real Estate: Plainfield, Union County Update





Hotpads.com, offers free views of residential properties. Shown here
are some of the foreclosures in Plainfield. (Click to enlarge image.)



If Union County were a state, it would rank as having the second highest foreclosure rate per thousand subprime mortgages in the country.

With 5.2 foreclosures per thousand subprime mortgages, it comes in behind Florida (6.2) but well ahead of Calilfornia (4.6) and Nevada (3.7),
according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

You can read or print out the full Fed report here --


The National Association of Realtors (NAR) released its quarterly figures on Thursday for existing home sales in the country's metropolitan areas (see here -- PDF). The Newark/Union County area has registered a 6.9% decline in the median sales price over 2007's QII figure.

Experts say that prices may need to fall up to 30% from their 2006 highs, in addition to a reduction in the inventory of unsold homes in order to think the corner has been turned in the housing market.

According to the NAR, about a third of sales were either 'short sales' (where the bank accepts less than the amount owed on a mortgage) or outright foreclosures. The Ledger reports (see here) that banks are better off with short sales (where losses run around 19% of the loan amount) than outright foreclosures (at 40%).

Lastly, I have found a FREE mapping tool at hotpads.com (see the saved Plainfield map here), which looks to be more useful even than the for-pay RealtyTrac website. You can zoom the maps, choose among sales, rentals and foreclosures, and by clicking on 'list' instead of 'map' get a list of the subject properties with details. This is one site to bookmark if you are interested in real estate matters.

If you are a hard core real estate buff, you will also want to bookmark Jim Bednar's NJ Real Estate Report, a treasure trove of all things real estate. WARNING: It's addictive.

P.S. Note the discrepancy between the Hotpads map and the map in the Federal Reserve report. I suspect the Fed report is less than accurate because of the habit of many people of just using '07060' as the ZIP code for Plainfield and omitting the '07062' and '07063' ZIPs, which would give a result like the Fed's.



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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Courier, Ledger parent companies' woes continue



Newspapers owned by Advance, the Ledger's parent company.
For a complete list of the Courier's parent, Gannett, see here.


While driving with the radio on Thursday afternoon, I heard a report on Bloomberg that Gannett, the parent company of the
Courier (and the Home News, Asbury Park Press and Courier-Post, among others in NJ) was going to lay off 1,000 people -- in their advertising departments, it seemed. This comes on top of previous cuts and a forced buyout at the Courier, and rough news for the Ledger (which I previously covered here).

Then, yesterday, the good folks over at the Countywatchers blog forwarded a link to a story about New Jersey newspapers and their problems from this week's NY Observer (see here). You should know the Observer, published weekly, is owned by young Jersey-raised Jared Kushner, who also owns the PolitickerNJ website (which is now expanding its franchise to many other states, as you can see from links on its homepage). And that Kushner, should things come to that, is rumored as a potential buyer for the Ledger.

My old standby, Editor and Publisher magazine, confirmed the Gannett news (see here), and also posted an update on the Advance (parent of the Ledger) organization's Michigan situation (see here), where three of its papers are consolidating printing and ad production -- reminiscent of Gannett's moves with the
Courier.

But the real dirt comes from Jim Hopkins' Gannett Blog, where he posted the layoff memo (see here). Hopkins, former business editor of the Arkansas Gazette, has a hoppin' blog on all things Gannett. (As he notes, Frank Gannett would NOT be pleased.)

It all boils down to advertising moving away from print media. Classifieds, long a homely stepsister, but a cash cow, led the way, but now it has bled to national advertisers -- including cars most prominently. And, of course, the economic situation has not been helpful, especially as far as real estate advertising goes.

So, how long will you be able to pick a copy of the local paper out of your bushes every morning?

Or how long will you even want to?

Postscript: While print media flounder, their online presences do better, as can be seen from this exclusive report posted online this morning by E&P -- see here.



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Comments: Dan is caught up...for now



OK, so I'm not the swiftest at catching up on the comments...

Most are in the form of tips and gossip (Heaven forfend!), and I often get a few (awright, several) days behind, but this morning I ate my broccoli and posted the 'comment' comments before even my first cup of coffee.

How's that for being virtuous?

Anyway, if you thought I had neglected you, go back and check -- even the nasty ones are up.

But it probably doesn't mean the tiger has changed his stripes...

or whatever the metaphor is....;-)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Muhlenberg talks: Double-talk, excrement polishing the order of the day?




Film classic a decoder ring for Muhlenberg talks?

If things weren't so serious, I'd think we were watching a replay of the famous Abbott & Costello 'Who's on first' routine.

Today's Courier (see here) reports on one-half of the much-touted pair of meetings scheduled for yesterday between Assemblyman Jerry Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, three Councilors and players in the saga of saving Muhlenberg Hospital. The report covers the meeting with Commissioner 'Chainsaw Heather' Howard. For news of the other meeting, we must wait.

Parsing the story, it seems that double-talk and excrement polishing were the order of the day.
THE LICENSE
Keeping Muhlenberg's license active, a key face-saver for the Assemblyman and the Mayor, has been an issue for some time now, as the Assemblyman himself has made clear. As has also Dr. Reddy Dandolu and his investor group -- in fact, they have said failure to keep the license active would be 'a dealbreaker'.

The mishandling of the license matter by the Assemblyman could hardly have been more shabby. If it was important to keep the license active beyond Muhlenberg's closure, wasn't it important in the very beginning? If it was important, why didn't the Assemblyman ask his colleagues in the Legislature if any remembered a similar circumstance of a hospital closure where the license was kept active? Or why not ask the NJ Hospitals Association the same question?

No, it appears the Assemblyman asked no one, did no homework and only cited the embarrassing fact AFTER 'Chainsaw Heather' had issued her decision, and only after he learned of it through the sharp memory of Dr. Harold Yood (see Dr. Yood here, and the Assemblyman here).

Could the whole issue of canceling the license been headed off in advance if the Assemblyman had been more attentive or insightful? The outcome certainly couldn't have been worse.

Double-talk? How's this --
Howard and Green both said a key outcome of the discussion was a mutual agreement to work toward ensuring that the issue of licensing, a hot-button topic in recent days, not be allowed to jeopardize any prospective sale of the hospital ...

... The absence of an active license for the hospital is regarded as a major pitfall by two of three known investors' groups to have expressed recent interest in Muhlenberg, according to Green ...

... "We're talking about reducing the risk of a potential buyer making the sale contingent on the license," Howard said.

The Assemblyman said Howard 'reassured us' the license issue would not be a problem. Is this a retreat from the call to keep the license active? Is this a sign the Assemblyman's lack of mojo is letting the people down once again?
VIABLE BUYER(S)
'Viable buyer(s)', 'a viable plan', and 'a viable offer' seem to be the weasel-words behind which 'Chainsaw Heather' and Solaris are going to hide. I have the feeling that if Warren Buffett showed up and offered to write a check on the spot and in full for the purchase of Muhlenberg, he would be found to be 'not a viable buyer'. This smokescreen and the license issue can be seen as the strongest cudgels in the successful implementation by Solaris of any strategy of preventing competition in its service area.
JERRY THREATENS SOLARIS?
Is the idea that Muhlenberg's property would be put on the tax rolls (as a non-profit hospital, the property is currently tax-exempt), with a cost to Solaris of $3 million a year, a threat to them by the Assemblyman? You be the judge.
HEROES OF THE HOUR?
Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs, both of whom face re-election next year, garnered nice words from Commissioner Howard which will be useful in next year's campaign flyers, I am sure. You will note, however, that Assemblyman Green rather than the Mayor is quoted extensively in this story, which brings me back to my question of yesterday: Was she only going to be the hand-puppet of the Assemblyman?

Meanwhile, completely left out of the discussion -- by Commissioner Howard and the Assemblyman -- is the fact that if it had not been for the continuous and highly visible pressure from citizen activists like POP and 'Buy Muhlenberg', Muhlenberg would long ago have sunk beneath the waves without any of the concessions and conditions that were wrung from Solaris.

To pols and bureaucrats, the people are an inconvenience and not the real source of the power that they wield. (One regular attendee at the 'Save Muhlenberg' rallies told me that the Assemblyman confided at the very first rally that he thought it would be the only one that would ever be held.)

But that can be changed, can't it.



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Thursday, August 14, 2008

D-Day today for Robinson-Briggs and Green on Muhlenberg




D-Day , no turning back.

Today is
D-Day today for Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Jerry Green on the rescue of Muhlenberg Hospital.

In two meetings today -- one including Commissioner Heather Howard, one not -- the Plainfield duo must convince the state to keep Muhlenberg's license active, and the potential buyer to stay in the game.

The prospective buyer has said that not to have an active license in place would be a 'deal-breaker'.

The D-Day metaphor is quite appropriate: The Plainfield duo will have to make their way successfully across an 'Omaha Beach' under heavy artillery barrage and strafing mounted by Solaris to kill the Muhlenberg license.

Assemblyman Green and Solaris have worked hand-in-glove for many years in a mutually beneficial relationship, as both parties have often remarked.

Will the Assemblyman, to save Muhlenberg, today finally have to 'bite the hand that has fed him'?

Will the Mayor be a player or just a hand-puppet for the Assemblyman?

Will the mystery three Council members be active participants?

Will the deal move forward?

Or die?

Stay tuned.



-- Dan Damon

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3 Plainfield schools get money for emergency repairs

Three Plainfield schools are among 114 in special-needs school districts (they're not referred to as 'Abbott districts' any more) statewide that will receive $60M for emergency repairs, according to a story in today's Courier-Post of Cherry Hill.

Plainfield High School and Cook School will receive funding for emergency roof repairs; Stillman School gets money for window replacements.

Read the full story in the Courier-Post here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Muhlenberg: Will the hapless heroine be rescued from the wicked schemer?




Pauline's guardian schemed to get rid of her.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs is 'thrilled' with the possibility that Dr. Reddy Dandolu and DBR Healthcare may emerge as the saviors of Plainfield's Muhlenberg Hospital. (See reports in today's Ledger and Courier.)

Not, I think, if Solaris has anything to do with it.

Dr. Dandolu had reached out to me in April (see here), after I wrote about the interest of Pine Creek in Muhlenberg.

Discussing the need to work with local political officials to successfully conclude a deal (and that I could not be said to be on the friendliest terms with same), I suggested
Dr. Dandolu approach the political powers-that-be through Councilor Cory Storch. (I call your attention to the lack of any mention of Councilor Storch in the Mayor's showboating -- which is not the reporters' fault if the Mayor never clued them in.)

Because Solaris' financial consultants required a confidentiality agreement, Dr. Dandolu was not at liberty to discuss his proposal.

However, my research after that conversation showed that he has a family connection to a group that owns several hospitals in southern California, operating as Prime Healthcare Services.

I have to wonder if PHS is part of the deal that Dr. Dandolu is putting together. That would bring a team that has successfully managed hospitals back to financial health -- though not without criticism and crossing swords with California's healthcare monitors (see here).



Tension increased unbearably as the train
bore down on the hapless heroine.


The real obstacle I think is that Solaris will move heaven and earth to see that Muhlenberg's license is cancelled. I have felt all along that Solaris has a STRATEGIC goal of 1) eliminating any competition in its service area, and 2) driving charity care away from the JFK facility.

The maneuvering by Assemblyman Green, Mayor Robinson-Briggs, Dr. Dandolu and Solaris put me in mind of the grandaddy of all movie serials, The Perils of Pauline.

Pauline was always put in peril by the wicked Mr. Koerner who schemed to polish her off and keep control of her inheritance for himself. When I was a kid, the serials used to be run on TV and I always remember the one with Pauline tied in knots and stretched across a railroad track by Koerner in the path of an oncoming locomotive.

Pauline was saved in the nick of time.

Will Muhlenberg be?



Pauline's adventures gave us the word 'cliffhanger'.


-- Dan Damon

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