The issue of take-home City vehicles, raised at the Plainfield City Council's reorganization meeting will be discussed in more depth at tonight's City Council agenda-setting session.
In a story in Sunday's Courier by Plainfield beat reporter Mark Spivey (see here), Police/Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig is quoted in defense of his getting a take-home City vehicle. Those comments led reader Chris Grzesik to write this email (reproduced with his permission) --
When I read something like this:I wrote previously on the matter ("City vehicles: Who should get wheels and why?"). In addition to supporting take-home vehicles for the Mayor, Fire Chief and Superintendent of Public Works, I suggested that one vehicle that should NOT be given out was to the Police/Public Safety Director, a CIVILIAN, ADMINISTRATIVE position Robinson-Briggs created to replace the 130-year old Police Chief slot. (The last I knew, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson and Public Works and Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier drive their own vehicles to work.)"I don't take it personally, but professionally, I feel that it's a slap in the face," said city Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, who commutes about 40 miles from Sussex County to Plainfield almost daily, often at a moment's notice in the event of emergencies. "Hopefully, a reasonable person would say that this is not the thing to do. But if that's not even the case, I'm telling you that operationally, it benefits the city of Plainfield that I'm able to get around and about, to get back and forth to do the things I do, in a city-supplied car."it makes me frustrated and angry.
If in the event of emergency, Mr. Hellwig needed to be in Plainfield "at a moments notice" he would not be. How long does his 40 mile drive take him to get to Plainfield. Why are we subsidizing his commute in living that far away in another county? Why did we hire someone who does not live in the area and needs to be here "at a moments notice"? In quoting Mr Hellwig again, "Hopefully, a reasonable person would say that this is not the thing to do." What is this town thinking?
In his public presentation to the Council on reorganizing the Police Division, Director Hellwig included the following slide showing where the day-to-day executive function of the reorganized Division would rest --
The Division's OPERATIONS were to be handled by a SWORN OFFICER, a CAPTAIN. Writing in the Plaintalker, Bernice Paglia cited chapter and verse --
Here is the exact quote from Hellwig's presentation on the reorganization he proposed last year: "Eliminate the Rank of Chief of Police. An Executive Officer from the rank of Captain is identified to run the day-to-day operations of the Police Division. He/she reports to the Director of Public Safety. Current Chief has option to revert to rank of Captain."Seems to me a legitimate question to ask is whether that person is 'on call' 24/7 and if so, why they shouldn't be the one to get the take-home city vehicle.
Some question whether not giving the Police/Public Safety Director a take-home vehicle impacts the public safety. Let's answer that with another question: Does having a city vehicle mean the Director gets here any faster from his Sussex County residence? (An aside: when Director Hellwig was first appointed, there was some stir about his living in Plainfield, and he pulled me aside at a Council meeting to tell me that he was planning to move to Plainfield, on Watchung Avenue, steps away from City Hall. That's the last I ever heard of living in Plainfield.)
Some, including Mayor Robinson-Briggs, are saying that not much money would be saved in this matter, considering the size of the budget gap. That may be true, but the principle is an important one to clarify.
As to whether 'qualified' candidates would not want to work for Plainfield without this perk, that strikes me as the same argument Wall Street uses to defend outrageous salaries and bonuses to the very people who got the country in its current pickle, 'so they won't be lured away by other Wall Street institutions'.
With Plainfield taxpayers losing their jobs, with Plainfield taxpayers facing foreclosure and being thrown into the street, with Plainfield taxpayers facing yet another property tax increase (of nearly 10%), isn't it just common sense to tell the Robinson-Briggs administration that take-home City vehicles are not like cellophane-wrapped candy to be handed out willy-nilly?
Whatever the Council decides, what's wrong with at least asking to consider a little restraint in these difficult times?
- Plainfield Today: "City vehicles: Who should get wheels and why?"
- Courier News: "Officials, residents eye take-home vehicles as cost savings"