The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sale of Library painting will benefit building for future



Boy winding line, Winslow Homer, 1875.

After a good deal of soul-searching, the Plainfield Public Library's board of trustees has decided to sell one of its three Homer art works at auction this coming week.

The story is well-reported by Mark Spivey in the Friday print edition of the Courier, but it never made it online until later in the day.

Read the full story and explanation of how the decision was arrived at and how the proceeds will be guarded and spent here.



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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Muhlenberg Tree Lighting Friday Evening



Muhlenberg Hospital supporters from Plainfield and surrounding communities will join in a 'Muhlenberg Tree Lighting' ceremony on the lawn of the Snyder Schools of Nursing on Park Avenue at 6:00 PM, Friday, November 28.

Use parking in the lot across Park Avenue from the nursing school building.


-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City vehicle used without authorization now missing?



The vehicle said to be used by a high-ranking Plainfield official without a liability-covering resolution by the City Council now appears to be missing. (See previous Plainfield Today coverage here.)

Word in the street is that the vehicle was taken from the City vehicle lot on Monday or Tuesday of last week, supposedly for attendance at the League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City.

That convention began on Tuesday and finished with some Friday morning meetings of officials.

The vehicle has yet to be returned to the City lot as of November 26 (more than a week) and no one knows of its whereabouts -- or of the official who supposedly took it.

Use of the vehicle without proper authorization exposes you, the taxpayer, to troubling liability issues.

Shouldn't the Council be investigating these persistent rumors and settling this matter?



-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Budget Advisory Committee reports to Council



After weeks of hard work, Plainfield's Citizens Budget Advisory Committee finally got to make its report to the City Council at Monday evening's agenda session.

Sort of.

Chairperson Bill Amirault was put under considerable pressure to present the committee's extensive report in the 15 minutes he was allotted. (The presentation wasn't even on the Council's agenda, and the Committee received word the presentation would be 'on' only about an hour and a half before the meeting.)

Interestingly, Douglas Peck, the Director of Finance and Administration, whose responsibilities include the budget process, was not in attendance last evening.

The presentation, without any time limit being mentioned, had originally been scheduled for November 10th, though Council President Gibson said at that meeting that he expected the report to be made privately to the Council.

After clarification by Councilor Burney, Amirault was set up and ready to go when his presentation was bumped by Councilor Carter as chair of the committee-of-the-whole to give the Tsunami Track Club advocates time to present.

During that brief presentation, Amirault received word that his mother-in-law had died suddenly and had to leave. Hence the two week delay in the report's presentation.

I have put a copy of the CBAC report online here (to print a copy, click on the down arrow next to the 'iPaper' icon and select 'print' --


PlainfieldBudget-FY2009-CBAC-Report
Get your own at Scribd or explore others: budget Plainfield


You will find it thorough, with many interesting proposals. And don't miss the detail pages at the end.

Among the recommendations were that the City start its budget process earlier, and set the committee up earlier.

This makes good sense, but I can testify from personal experience -- the McWilliams administration once got its budget process fired up in late April -- that it is not as easy as it seems. To boot, the whole budget calendar is complicated by--
  • a) having to have the auditors close the previous year's books (it takes time), and

  • b) having to wait on the state to supply its annual aid figure before a budget can be struck by the Council.
The earliest I can remember a budget being enacted was September 21, and that year we were among the very first communities to do so.

The Council thanked the committee members for their work, and I hope you will too.

I would hope that next year the process could be a little more formalized, perhaps with the Committee members sworn in at a Council meeting, and a list of members appended to the report, as well as a more openly stated expectation that the report was not only for the Council, but for the public.

That being said, it's good to have the CBAC back.

Congratulations all around.

The final adoption has been set back owing to the Local Finance Board's expected -- but very late -- December 10 meeting to approve the City's request for waivers on the state's cap on both the expenses and levy sides of the ledger.

Councilor Burney obtained a consensus last evening that the Council would hold two special meetings to finish the budget process --
  • Tuesday, December 16, 7 PM: Introducing the amended budget;

  • Monday, December 22, 7 PM: Adoption of the FY2009 budget (also the first day of Hannukkah)
A public hearing will allow for citizen input before a final vote is taken.


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Seniors getting lump of coal instead of success at new Senior Center condos?



Progress on the new Senior Center condos has been spotty.


With the economy souring, Plainfield Seniors have to wonder if Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Jerry Green will be putting a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings this year.

Work on the new Senior Center condos has proceeded haltingly over the last several months, to the point that passersby have wondered what mode it was in: Go, Slow, or No.

Now word comes that another Glen Fishman/Dornoch project -- The Savoy in Rahway -- stopped construction after running into 'economic difficulties' as reported by Rahway Rising --
Dornoch Management has "run into economic difficulties and not produced any work as has been obvious," Redevelopment Director/City Administrator Peter Pelissier said at the last Redevelopment Agency meeting (Oct. 1). He declined to elaborate further and calls to Dornoch's Hillside offices seeking comment were not returned.
Upon hearing the news, I trotted by Plainfield's Senior Center project and actually saw more work going on than I had in recent days, though the building is a long ways from being done. The Council was expecting a Fall 2008 completion, which obviously won't happen.

The vacant city-owned lot across the corner, which the Council agreed this past March to lease to Dornoch for a sales trailer, is still bereft of same.

But there are worse prospects than simply being finished late.

The first is that Dornoch might run completely out of steam and not be able to finish the project at all, posing a dilemma for the City and the Union County Improvement Authority, which is the City's redevelopment agency (even though this is technically NOT a redevelopment project). The question then would be who picks up and finishes an unfinished project and where the funds will be found.

Secondly, the Seniors and the City would have to face the prospect that Dornoch may come hat-in-hand to ask that the project be converted to rentals instead of condos. This would be a severe setback just as Plainfield was about to test new market rate housing downtown, and could impact the chances of further projects which are on the drawing board.

Ironically, the situation mirrors that of the ambitious Meadowbrook Village condo conversion project further down East Front twenty years ago. Having completed the renovations, the market collapsed and left those who had bought in a dicey situation with more rentals than owners, which affected both the management and upkeep and the ability to get loans to purchase condo units.

The New York Times examined the whole issue of developers wanting to convert from condominiums to rentals in its Sunday edition (see here).

With the economy plunging ever further into a 1930s-like scenario, and an Obama presidency still nearly two months away (not to mention the time lag of getting his policies into play), the chances that Jerry and Sharon will be leaving lumps of coal in this year's Seniors' stockings seems inescapable.



-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gift cards: With possible Woodbridge, Bridgewater mall bankruptcies, be careful (corrected)



Bankruptcy for Bridgewater Commons may come Dec. 1.

With the news Sunday that the owner of the Bridgewater Commons and Woodbridge malls may declare bankruptcy as early as December 1st, Plainfielders will want to take special care with any gift card purchases for this holiday season.

Thanks to reader Sandy G. for pointing me toward a number of store closings, though the original list of retailers who have either gone bankrupt, closed significant numbers of stores this year, or have announced closings after the Holiday shopping season was partially outdated and/or incorrect.

(Apologies to the readers who shop Talbots for inciting panic attacks, though I'm sure Talbots will thank you for your orders!)

Here is a CORRECTED list from Snopes.com, with information about each chain, current as of 11/22/2008, which is more accurate than the list originally posted here --

Origins: During prolonged economic downturns (or when signs indicate such a phenomenon is looming on the horizon), retail chains often retrench by scaling back expansion plans, delaying the openings of planned new stores, and closing underperforming or redundant outlets. The long list of chain stores referenced above includes businesses currently in a variety of different financial states: Some have gone bankrupt and closed for good, some have sought bankruptcy protection but remained open, some have already been through bankruptcy proceedngs and have emerged in a reorganized state, some have closed a significant portion of their outlets, and some have closed a relatively small percentage of underperforming stores. (Note that filing for bankruptcy protection does not necessarily mean a company is going out of business — Chapter 11 provisions allow businesses to propose reorganization plans that will enable them to continue functioning as they pay their creditors over time.) Although federal law allows companies to stop honoring gift cards when they file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, not all businesses do so. Some companies may continue to redeem store gift cards while they reorganize, while others may temporarily suspend redemption of gift cards for some period of time and resume it later. That any particular retail business has recently filed for Chapter 11 protection does not automatically mean that any gift cards or gift certificates it has previously issued will "not be valid for much longer."

Business information of this nature tends to be volatile, especially in times of economic upheaval. As best we could determine according to various news accounts published so far in 2008, the chains named above are planning, or have made, the following cutbacks:
  • The Ann Taylor chain of women's clothing stores (which includes Ann Taylor, LOFT, Ann Taylor Factory and LOFT Outlet stores) said in Novermber 2008 they would expand the scope of a restructuring announced in January 2008 that included the closing of 117 stores (out of approximately 966 locations).

  • The Bombay Company chain of imported home furnishings stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2007. All 384 of its U.S.-based stores were closed and liquidated in January 2008 (but new ownership still operates approximately 48 Bombay & Co. stores in Canada).

  • The Caché chain of women's specialty apparel stores closed 14 underperforming outlets, but is still has 295 stores across the country and is still opening new stores.

  • The Charming Shoppes chain of plus-size women's apparel stores has closed 150 of its approximately 2,360 outlets.

  • The Circuit City chain of retail electronics stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2008 and is closing 155 stores across the U.S. (More information about Circuit City's business operations under Chapter 11 protection can be found here.)

  • The CompUSA chain of consumer electronics stores was sold to the Gordon Brothers Group restructuring firm in December 2007, and most of its 103 outlets were subsequently closed. In January 2008 many of the remaining assets and the CompUSA brand were sold to Systemax, Inc. which currently operates 23 CompUSA stores in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Puerto Rico, as well as an online store, CompUSA.com. (CompUSA continues to accept gift cards.)

  • The Dillard's department store chain closed 20 outlets in 2008 and said it expects more store closures in 2009.

  • The Disney Store chain was reacquired by the Walt Disney Co in March 2008; Disney has since closed 98 of its 322 North American stores.

  • The Eddie Bauer chain of casual apparels stores shut down 27 outlets in the first quarter of 2008 and planned to close a few more stores by the end of the year.

  • The Ethan Allen chain of home furnishings stores closed 12 retail design centers and two service centers in 2008.

  • The Foot Locker chain of shoe stores chain closed 274 outlets (out of more than 3,700) in 2007 and another 60 in the first quarter of 2008, with more such closures likely.

  • Whitehall Jewelers acquired the remnants of the Friedman's and Crescent chains in early 2008 after that combined company entered bankruptcy, then Whitehall itself filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2008 and began liquidating and closing all 373 of its remaining stores.

  • The Gap chain of clothiers (whose brands include Old Navy and Banana Republic) closed 17 stores while opening 37 more during the third quarter of 2008, ending with a total of 3,190 outlets. The company expects to close 115 stores while opening 100 more locations during the 2008 fiscal year.

  • The Movie Gallery/Hollywood Video video rental chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2007, just after announcing plans to close 520 stores. In February 2008 the chain announced closings of 400 more outlets, and in April 2008 Movie Gallery said they were shutting down another 160 underperforming stores. The chain emerged from bankruptcy reorganization in May 2008 and currently operates about 3,500 outlets.

  • The Home Depot chain of home improvements stores announced in May 2008 that it would be closing 15 underperforming outlets.

  • The KB Toys chain of retail toy stores entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2004 and at that time announced plans to close 375 of its outlets. It emerged from Chapter 11 reorganization in August 2005.

  • The Kirkland's chain of home decor stores is expecting to close 130 (of its approximately 335) outlets by the middle of 2009.

  • The Levitz Furniture chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (for the third time in ten years) in November 2007 and shortly afterwards began the process of closing its stores and liquidating its remaining inventory.

  • The Lowe's chain of home improvement stores announced that it was "scaling back" in the sense of opening fewer new outlets in 2008 and 2009 than originally planned, but the company still expects to complete the opening of between 115 to 120 new stores in 2008, with more new stores (and no closures) to follow in 2009.

  • The Macy's chain of department stores (which also includes Bloomingdale's) closed 11 (of its approximately 850) outlets in 2008.

  • Pacific Sunwear closed 74 underperforming stores in its d.e.m.o. line in 2007 and closed all 154 of its remaining d.e.m.o. stores in 2008. (The company has not so far announced plans to close any of its core Pacific Sunware outlets.)

  • The Pep Boys chain of auto supply and repair stores closed 31 low-return outlets (out of approximately 600 stores) at the end of 2007.

  • The Sharper Image chain of electronics and specialty gifts stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2008, then began closing and liquidating all 184 of its outlets in June 2008.

  • Sprint, a global provider of voice, data and Internet services, announced in January 2008 that it would be closing about 125 of its 1,400 retail outlets.

  • Talbots Inc. announced in November 2008 that it was seeking to sell off its chain of J. Jill casual clothier stores. (Talbots has already shed its Talbots Kids, Talbots Mens and U.K. businesses and has closed an additional 28 Talbots stores out of about 1,400 total outlets.) However, we have found no announcement that Talbots is planning to close any J. Jill outlets in the near future: The chain still operates 283 locations, is still opening new stores, and is still selling and redeeming gift cards.

  • The Wickes Furniture chain began liquidating merchandise and fixtures at locations nationwide in February 2008 as part of bankruptcy proceedings.

  • Wilsons Leather (the Leather Experts) shut down its mall-based locations in 2008, but in July 2008 the Wilsons Leather Outlet Stores (and e-commerce) business was acquired by G-III Apparel Group, which currently operates 119 Wilsons outlets in the U.S.

  • Zales Corp,, which operates Zales Jewelers, Zales Outlet, Gordon's Jewelers, Peoples Jewellers, Mappins Jewellers, and Piercing Pagoda, closed approximately 105 retail outlets (out of 2,130) in 2008, half of them kiosks and half of them stores. However, the company also opened approximately 100 new outlets in 2008, so the net change in the number of Zales-operated stores was relatively small.
Last updated: 22 November 2008
The URL for this page is http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/storeclosings.asp

Something to keep in mind as you think about possible gift card purchases, especially since bankruptcy law allows a retailer NOT TO MAKE GOOD ON GIFT CARDS, though some do, and some do after going through Chapter 11 reorganization.***

As always, when buying gift cards, be -- as Marci Sims says -- an educated consumer.

Make sure you understand whether there is an expiration date by which the card must be used up, if there are any fees the retailer will take out of the amount, and whether there are any exceptions to where or on what kind of merchandise the card may be used.

And, as always, save your receipts for the purchase of any gift card.

These are hard times, don't make it harder on yourself than it has to be.

***However, the story in Sunday's Courier says that 'mall gift cards will be honored if [General Growth Companies] declares bankruptcy'.




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Saturday, November 22, 2008

A hawkish mystery in Plainfield?




White feathers in my back yard, plucked from prey.


Plainfielders who scan the skies may have noticed in recent years what appear to be hawks riding thermals overhead as they scan the ground for a quick meal -- perhaps a field mouse, or an unlucky rabbit, or...

...or something else that isn't as easily identified.

Visiting friends (and Plainfield Today readers) on Hillside Avenue recently, we were startled to discover in the backyard, as I was leaving, a blanket of white feathers and down which had not been there a few minutes before when I arrived.

Looking high up into the tree, we saw more feathers and what looked to be some remains of an unidentifiable bird in the crook of two branches.

Then, this Thursday, a similar patch of feathers appeared in my back yard. I was told that a bird -- a hawk? -- was seen plucking the feathers from some poor creature in my yard and then flying away with the carcass firmly grasped in its talons.

I'm willing to believe the perp is a hawk-like bird like the one whose picture I caught in Green Brook Park this past summer.



This hawk was spotted in Green Brook Park this past summer.

What stumps me is what the prey bird was.

Snow white feathers and down. Not dirty grey like the pigeons that hang a round or ashes-of-roses like the mourning doves that try to eat from my feeder.

White, like the Leghorn chickens of my childhood.

Now, where would a hawk find Leghorn chickens in Plainfield?

That's the mystery.



As kids, we used to look in the barn's hayloft for eggs the Leghorns would lay.


-- Dan Damon

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Muhlenberg activists to be honored at Sunday afternoon service



Plainfielders and those from surrounding communities who have worked to rescue Muhlenberg Hospital from being closed, and to continue its presence in the community as a full-service hospital will be recognized and honored at a special communitywide Thanksgiving service Sunday afternoon.

Titled 'Muhlenberg And The Nation: A Community Celebration of Thanksgiving and Justice', the service is set for 5:00 PM at
Grace Episcopal Church.


The service will be led by four Plainfield clergy
: Rev. LaVerne Ball, Rose of Sharon Community Church; Rev. James Colvin, United Church of Christ-Congregational; Rev. Carolyn Eklund, Grace Episcopal Church; and Rev. Anthony Johnson, First Unitarian Society of Plainfield.

All are invited.





Muhlenberg And The Nation:
A Community Celebration of Thanksgiving and Justice

Sunday
- November 23
5:00 PM

Grace Episcopal Church
East 7th Street and Cleveland Avenue
(Parking in city lot on East 7th)

-- Dan Damon

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Boil-water advisory lifted


New Jersey American Water Company lifted its boil-water advisory for Plainfield and surrounding towns as of late Thursday.

You can check the updates at the following --

  • NJ American website (here)
  • City of Plainfield website (here) -- PDF file;
  • Star-Ledger article (here);
  • Courier News article (here).
Recorded updates are available at (732) 246-2311, or you can reach a customer service representative at (800) 272-1325.


-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Boil-water advisory still in effect Thursday


New Jersey American Water Company has not revoked its boil-water advisory for Plainfield and surrounding towns as of this morning (Thursday).

You can check for updates at the following --

  • NJ American website (here)
  • City of Plainfield website (here);
  • Star-Ledger article (here);
  • Courier News article (here) and (here).
Recorded updates are available at (732) 246-2311, or you can reach a customer service representative at (800) 232-1325.

In addition, the Courier News notes that City of Plainfield Public Information Officer Jazz Johnson states that updates are being carried on the city's public access channel PCTV-74 and by Harvest Radio (1070 AM).


-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Supreme Court rejects bid to end Abbott District case


The Star-Ledger is reporting that the NJ Supreme Court has rejected the state's bid to end the Abbott v. Burke case, under which spending on education in the 'special-needs' districts is monitored and prescribed by the court (see story here).

Corzine will now have to justify the state's proposed new school spending plan to a special master appointed by the Supreme Court.

Tuesday's ruling is an embarrassment for Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green, who angered many last January by voting to back Corzine's plan to dismantle the Abbott schools.



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Plainfield under 'boil water' advisory




NJ American workers repair broken main. (Star-Ledger)


Plainfielders and residents of other towns in the tri-county area are under a 'boil water' advisory after a 60-inch water main broke in Franklin Township on Tuesday. The Star-Ledger reported the incident Tuesday afternoon on its breaking news blog (see here).

The advisory press release notes that while there is no evidence of contamination as a result of the break, the advisory is required by the state.

View a copy of the advisory here or call (800) 272-1325 for more information.

Adjacent towns under the advisory include: Dunellen, Piscataway, South Plainfield, Edison, and Green Brook.


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Plainfield readies for a charter school focused on music and excellence





Plainfielders got a sneak peek Monday evening at a new charter school that will be opening here in September 2009.

The school's unique aspect is the tight correlation of music in every aspect of the school's proposed curriculum, programs and activities.

"We are not selecting for musical aptitude," said founder and board president Dr. Norman Pressman, "but are opening the school to all applicants and will use music and the appreciation of music to enrich the academic and life experience of the students."

Pressman noted that all students would participate in choral activities as part of entering the charter school, and noted that the school was avoiding preference for aptitude with any particular musical instrument as that often leaves lower socio-economic students at a disadvantage.

The school is named after Pressman's late sister, Dr. Ellen G. Pressman, who was an educator and principal in New Jersey who passed away in 2007 after battling pancreatic cancer.

With a ratio of one teacher to twenty students, the school will offer intensive contact on an instructional basis. Beginning with a projected 160 students evenly divided between grades 6 and 7 in the 2009-10 academic year, the school would expand to 240 students in the 2011-12 year as the 7th graders move up to 8th grade.

As part of the admission process, each student and his or her parents will craft an individualized educational plan, which will include metrics and development of a student portfolio.

In the arena of character development, students will learn about the roots of genocide and the Holocaust, as well as learning to deal with bullying, and with developing processes for making wise life decisions as a lifelong pattern.

At the moment, a fact sheet and application form are available at the Plainfield Public Library as well as on the school's website (here).

As the state requires with New Jersey charter schools, a blind lottery will be used, and a waiting list developed for those who don't make their first chance at enrolling (if anyone drops out during the year, the slot is offered to the next person on the waiting list).

With applications currently being accepted, Pressman was optimistic that parents who enroll a student in the next two weeks or so, before the first blind lottery, would have an excellent chance of being included in the opening classes.

Charter schools are publicly funded public schools in the state of New Jersey. Their funds are derived from the allocation formulas set up by the state for each school district. While they are public schools and work in close association with the County Superintendent of Schools and the NJ Department of Education, they are governed by an independent Board of Trustees.

While no firm decisions about a building have been made yet, Pressman said several promising sites had been located in the community and the process of narrowing down the choice would get under way shortly.

A second informational meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 24, at 7 PM at the Plainfield Public Library, where questions may be asked and registration forms picked up.

For more information visit the website (here) or call (908) 668-7770.


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Plainfield official using city vehicle without authorization?




Word in the street is that a top-ranking Plainfield official is tooling around town at all hours
in a city vehicle for which they have no authorization.

I haven't seen it, but if it's true it could be big trouble for the taxpayers, if not the official in question.

Why?

Some city officials are given vehicles on a 24-hour basis because their duties put them 'on call' at a moment's notice -- the fire chief and police chief (when we had one) for example. The Mayor gets a round-the-clock vehicle. And, at times, other have too.

The thing about these vehicle assignments is that they are made annually by a City Council resolution for the calendar year, which is the lifespan of a Council's authority.

And the reason is that the City is taking on the liability if something happens while the person who is assigned the vehicle is driving it.

Those who are not assigned a vehicle may still use one in the performance of an official duty -- the Inspections Division, for instance; or a group such as I was part of once that made a trip to Vineland to investigate a Medical Enterprise Zone setup.

But it is only for the performance of a specific duty, and in the case of the Vineland trip, the vehicle had to be signed out and in.

The whispers I am hearing are that none of these rules are adhered to, and the vehicle is being used at all hours of the day and night.

It would be in the Council's interest to inquire and make sure whether this is a baseless rumor or has some substance to it, and to take appropriate action.

Before something happens that puts Plainfield taxpayers on the hook for big bucks.

And, while we're at it, what about fill-ups at the City gas pump?

A Green Brook DPW employee recently lost his job for taking $16 worth of gas for personal use.

Would the Robinson-Briggs administration be more lenient?


-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Corzine blowing smoke Plainfield's way?




Roadwork on Kenyon Avenue, November 2005.

Plainfielders may well wonder what's up with the Governor's press machine, which was in overdrive in putting out the word about the most recent round of DOT grants.

'Corzine: Massive road projects will put people to work', the Bergen Record trumpeted yesterday, reporting on the Gov's Friday press conference in Metuchen.

That's a good thing. So I paid attention. Maybe a little too much attention.

$78.75 million. 372 towns.

Do the math. That's about $213,000 per town. Now anyone who's been paying attention knows that paves darn little, and puts a few people to work for not very long.

Not to mention that the workers most likely won't be from the communities in which the money is spent, but from the communities in which the contractors draw their pool of laborers.

The final touch came when looking up the governor's list (see here), where we learn Plainfield got a grant of $239,161 for work on South Second Street.

Which, if memory serves me, Mayor Robinson-Briggs celebrated the completion of months ago (see the City's press release here).

While we are truly facing hard times, and Corzine is on the right track in insisting that putting people to work on infrastructure projects is going to be key in getting us out of the hole we're in, blowing smoke is no way to begin.

Facing an election in 2009, Corzine has to do better than this to maximize his chances.



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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bierstadt on sale -- cheap!




Bierstadt's 1864 'Valley of the Yosemite'.

The most valuable pieces in Plainfield's art collection are the two Bierstadt paintings hanging in the Courthouse/Council Chambers.

While they are mostly taken for granted by Plainfielders except when attention is called to them -- as when they were lent to the Montclair Art Museum for an exhibition a few years ago -- they are important parts of American art history.

And you can have your very own Bierstadts, at a very reasonable price.

42¢ per.

The postal service issued a commemorative of Bierstadt's 'Valley of the Yosemite' this past August, with no fanfare (see more here). By the time it was realized by locals, the commemorative stamps were mostly gone.

But, thanks to Nancy Piwowar and Plainfield's postmaster, a limited number of the stamps is available at the main Post Office on Watchung Avenue, while supplies last.

Very distinctive on all your correspondence.




Plainfield's Bierstadts were loaned for an exhibit in 2002.



-- Dan Damon

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Will Verizon deliver Plainfield a painful budget surprise?




Declining landline use prompts Verizon move.

Plainfield taxpayers will be concerned to learn whether Verizon will be claiming to be exempt from 2009 local taxes for its telephone poles, lines and switching equipment, as it has already notified several North Jersey towns.

The hit in Plainfield could be substantial, since our six-square-mile community is crisscrossed everywhere with poles and wires (except for the central business district, where lines are underground) and we have a switching center at 4th and Park as well as other locations in both the eastern and western parts of the city.

For instance, Rochelle Park in Bergen County receives about $500,000 yearly for its switching station. A figure of that magnitude suggest Plainfield could be impacted even more than this.

Verizon is making the move because of the drastic drop in landline services, which is continuing to accelerate.

In a recent story in the Ledger by business writer (and Plainfield resident) Tom Johnson, a study by Nielsen suggests nearly 1 in 6 homes nationwide relies exclusively on cell phones.

The story goes on to note that in the year ending June 2008, Verizon had lost 6 million consumer landlines nationwide while adding 14 million cell phone customers.

A budget hit of the magnitude other New Jersey towns are facing would force the Robinson-Briggs administration to consider cutting services or raising taxes even more.

Stay on the line...



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Local photographers show their stuff at Library tomorrow




Sign for North Avenue attorneys, one of my submissions.

Plainfield photographers show their stuff tomorrow when the Library's Third Annual Photography Contest exhibit opens. The opening features a reception with light refreshments from 1:00 - 3:00 PM, with presentation of awards at 2:00 PM in the Library's Anne Louise Davis Gallery.

"We are thrilled with the number and quality of this year's submissions," says Library Director Joe Da Rold. "The contest is really catching on and this year we have submissions from 23 photographers, the most to date."

Da Rold notes the judges were also excited that this year's theme -- 'Storefronts and Shopping Scenes' -- inspired photographers to go off the beaten path and explore Plainfield's many neighborhood shopping and business experiences as well as those from the downtown shopping district. In all, nearly 90 photos were submitted this year.

The Plainfield Public Library is unusual among New Jersey libraries for its fine and extensive collection of photographs documenting the community and its everyday life from the chartering of the city in 1869 up to recent decades.

But Da Rold realized that times had changed and the best way to continue to build a collection that captures contemporary community life was to enlist the photographic talent of the entire community.

Hence an annual contest, in which cash prizes are awarded to outstanding entries in several categories. The project is underwritten by the Friends of the Library, and the photographs submitted become a part of the library's permanent Local History collection.

The exhibit will be on public view through the rest of November during regular library hours, but you won't want to miss the festivities tomorrow, where you can get to see the photos and meet the shutterbugs.





Exhibit Opening and Reception
Third Annual Photography Contest


Saturday, November 15
1 - 3 PM (Awards at 2 PM)

Anne Louise Davis Gallery
Plainfield Public Library
Park Avenue at West 8th Street
-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Down the rabbit hole with Plainfield's cable TV advisory committee



In Trenton, Gov. Corzine said New Jersey faces a $1.2B deficit because of the economy.

In Newark, several mayors gathered to sharpen President-elect Obama's focus on urban problems.

In Plainfield, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs put out a basket of snacks.

For the members of the Cable TV Advisory Committee.

It was another night down the rabbit hole in Plainfield, as I attended the
Cable TV Advisory Committee's meeting.

The committee -- which for a good portion of the meeting was outnumbered by visitors -- seemed dispirited and frustrated.

There did not appear to be an agenda. There is no current chairperson.

At some point after the meeting's desultory start, a door opened and Mayor Robinson-Briggs entered, wordlessly, placing a basket of cello-wrapped snacks on the table and then leaving.

The laptop presentation by the city's public information officer (PIO) was interrupted more than once by committee member Dottie Gutenkauf over errors --
  • a missing 'R' in the word 'PRESENT',
  • inconsistent spelling of the Mayor's last name (with or without a hyphen?),
  • was another person's last name spelt correctly ('I'm not sure.').
I was stunned by the PIO's attempt to brush it all off by saying that the presentation was meant for the committee only and was not being put up for public viewing.

That makes it better?

It wasn't hard to see why the committee feels frustrated --
  • the ball evidently was dropped by the person who said they would see that the committee got a list of its own members and none was forthcoming;
  • the list of grant monies for PCTV74 that the PIO was supposed to provide also was not gotten;
  • the members weren't even sure everyone had received a notice of the meeting.
Some kvetching was done about perennial issues with Comcast -- prices, channels. But I have been unable to find out whether the Robinson-Briggs administration ever gave the committee a charge to review the Comcast franchise, a process which was to be completed by this past July and seems not to have been done.

To have to have a discussion about lighting and sound issues with regard to prototyping taping Council meetings only revealed the technological abyss at our public access station.

I left the meeting during this discussion. It's no wonder the committee is dispirited.

Meanwhile, the snacks were untouched.



-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Winter Coat donations urgently needed by St. Mary's




Volunteers Sheila O'Malley and Pat Kelleher ready coats for Sunday.

Plainfield winters are hard on the people who turn to St. Mary's Church for help when down on their luck. This year they are especially in need of any good winter coats you can donate.

The historic church at West 6th and Liberty Streets has for years hosted a weekly Sunday feeding program that has served more than 50,000 meals at last count.

Each year, St. Mary's parishioners distribute donated winter coats to soup kitchen attendees, and this year's demand is expected to be heavy, just as the supply of coats is lower than in previous years.

"I think some people are looking at the hard time we are all facing and deciding to hold off buying a new coat this year," said volunteer Pat Kelleher, "but we are hopeful they will look through their closets carefully to see if there is some warm outerwear that can be passed along for those in need."

The coats will be distributed during the feeding program this Sunday, November 16. Donations may be made up to Saturday.

Coats (men's are needed the most) must be CLEAN, with WORKING ZIPPERS and NO RIPS OR TEARS.

Donations of caps, gloves and scarves are also welcome.

Call the volunteers listed below to make arrangements.



ST. MARY'S WINTER COAT DRIVE

To make arrangements to donate your warm winter coats, call

Pat Kelleher - (908) 755-5976
Sheila O'Malley - (908) 755-0417

Noreen Sitar (908) 757-7230
-- Dan Damon

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Exclusive Plainfield Obama Inauguration Trip




Construction has already begun on the Inauguration viewing stands
at the Capitol's west front. More than a million are expected
to gather on the Mall and along the route from the White House
to the Capitol. -- Photo, Washington Post.


Plainfield's pre-eminent event planner Pat Fields is scoring a coup again with a bus trip to Washington to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009.

The hardest part has been nailing the hotel rooms -- with up to 1.5 million visitors expected they are mostly gone according to the Washington Post (see here).

Gone, except for the rooms that Pat has locked in.

If you want to witness the historic moment of the swearing-in of America's first African-American president, here's your chance.

But you have to act fast. Pat has a limited number of rooms available, and it's first come, first saved!




OBAMA INAUGURATION TRIP

January 19 - 21, 2009

Two Nights and Three Days
Hotel: Days Inn - Silver Spring
(less than 6 miles from the Inauguration site)

Includes round-trip bus,
Continental Breakfast and Lunch January 19th
at Washington's famous Old Ebbitt Grill,
transfers in D.C. and to the Inauguration access points.

Costs per person:
$650/doubles | $590/triples | $550/quads

$200 non-refundable deposit due by November 22.
Balance due in full by December 15.
Cash, check or VISA.

To reserve your space or for more information, call

Pat Fields - (908)
369-1152
or
Marguerite (Midge) Ivey - (732) 699-1353

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Muhlenberg Foundation Gala Saturday




'Puttin' On The Ritz' is this year's theme.

The Muhlenberg Foundation hosts one of Plainfield's perennially favorite fundraising galas this Saturday.

The reduction of Muhlenberg's status to a minor outlying facility appears reflected in the new circumstances of the gala. Gone are the lavish venues, the major corporate sponsors and honorees. This year, the gala will be held in the spacious home of Rashid and Wendy Burney, right here in Plainfield.

This year's project will fund specialized equipment designed to enhance medication safety for clients of Muhlenberg's Home Care Department.

A golf outing at the Plainfield Country Club in September grossed $100,000, according to foundation president Oliver Anderson in a Courier News story at the time.

The foundation, which reported assets of about $14.5M in its 2006 filing with the IRS (see online here -- free, but registration required), has been the subject of much concern among Plainfielders and those concerned with healthcare services delivery in the Muhlenberg service area.

Guidestar, the online guide to the nation's nonprofits, shows that the Muhlenberg Foundation is a 'controlled...fundraising entity of Solaris Health System operated PRIMARILY for the benefit of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, Inc.' (Emphasis added).



The Muhlenberg Foundation's profile on guidestar.org/.

Plainfielders might feel better about the Foundation and its direction if Solaris were to set it free.

Is that too much to ask?



'Puttin' On The Ritz'
Muhlenberg Foundation Gala

Saturday, November 15, 2008
7:00 P.M.
1127 Watchung Avenue

$150/person
Info: (908) 668-2025

Dress: Black Tie Optional/Cocktail Chic
-- Dan Damon

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