The needler in the haystack.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Take-home City vehicles on Council agenda tonight

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 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?
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.)

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

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Anonymous said...

I find the issue of the Director being a non-resident of Plainfield even more disturbing. To focus on the issue, if there is an emergency which would require the Director to be present, I would think that he could drive his own personal vehicle to Police Headquarters and then respond from there. Yes, this could cause a delay of 2 or 3 minutes but that would be no different than his waiting at a traffic light one or two times while enroute from his out of town residence.

If City vehicles are provided to employees on a 24/7 basis, in most cases, this personal use is a taxable fringe benefit, and employers are responsible for withholding taxes on this benefit. Does this occur???

Anonymous said...

Fire the lot of them. Enough with wasting my hard earned money. I can't take it anymore - waste, waste, waste and it seems okay with the Mayor to be surrounded by losers and waste thrifts. Send her and them packing. The last thing Plainfield needs during a recession is a hostess, we need intelligence, not an unemployable paralegal.

Anonymous said...

Your not givivg the The Director's position the respect nor weight it deserves.This is the top Public safety post in the city.You advocate giving vehicles to his subordinates niether of whom responds to every emergency in the city. The states two largest cities provide their police directors take home vehicles.This smacks of petty politics.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous comment. However, I don't see why anybody should get a "take home" car. When a person with a regular job commutes back and forth to their home, it's on them to pay for and maintain their car. When they use their own car on a business trip, they get a tax deduction on mileage, gas, tolls etc.

I say NO take home cars for anyone, and if he or she uses their own car on city business, tax deductions should apply.

Further, WHY is Hellwig not living in Plainfield? His statements show an ignorance and insensitivity that is appaling. Martin, if you don't like the commute do what the rest of us unsubsidezed commuters do. MOVE CLOSER TO YOUR JOB OR GET ANOTHER ONE!

Anonymous said...

Helwig should get a car to use when he is working in Plainfield.When he goes home 100 miles round trip he should use his own car and pay for his own GAS !The tax payers are already paying far too much for extra Mayor favors. The charter says the director should live here not 100 miles away!

Dan said...

To Anonmynous 7:48 --

Not only do I respect Director Hellwig, I actually like him.

But the fact is that when the Robinson-Briggs administration went down this road, it said certain things would be the case -- that the Director would be a civilian and that the 'Executive Officer' would be a Captain. Now, if that changed, who told us?

And how is a Director's effectiveness affected if they drive their own car, as Jennifer Wenson Maier and Dan Williamson do?

In any event, it will be the Council that decides, not any of the rest of us.

olddoc said...

The mayor is right that restricting use of city vehicles would save only a small amount. I am of the old school who believe that "a penny saved is a penny earned". Also those pennies add up, and every bit of fat trimmed from the budget is important.

Anonymous said...


I find it really quite interesting actually, that Mr. Hellwig deems his car as a necessity, rather than a privilege. Wow! And that Mr. Burney would actually think that not having a car might deter someone from public office. Another Wow! Such intelligence!

I find myself quite surprised and amused that with the economy in the shape that it is in, our city officials are not the first in line to set better examples of fiscal constraint. We are not talking about emergency services, but an automobile. But instead our appointed and elected official are determined to justify an outrageous expense that smacks of entitlement of the worst kind.

Have they seen the people at the food banks in town? Have they talked to the local bankers about the number of foreclosures in Plainfield? Have they spoken to any pastors about the high level of anxiety and fear in their parishoners?

Shame on all of them. Shame on all of them.

GB said...

This whole thing started in the days of one car families. An "Important" staff member was allowed to take a vehicle [car, pickup, van] so they would have NO excuse as to why they could not be called in on a moments notice. Then the Fire Chief took his down to Florida [with its special hitch to pull his boat] and things got out of control. PS All City cars were to have DECALS on them [except undercover Police & Health Div confidential inquiries]

Anonymous said...

From the comments so far, do you think the Mayor and Council would pay attention.

Wake up! The people have spoken

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that the Director really doesn't need to live in the city. He doesn't respond to emergencies at all, for that matter the captains don't repond either! He can have a car parked in at the police station just like the captains do. The detectives, who actually are on call and frequently get called in, go and pick up their car and go to wherever they are needed. If anyone should have take home cars, it should be them.The delay of the detectives going there first and then to the scene results in uniformed officers being kept from patrolling the neighborhoods. On a single incident this may not be long but consider several incidents or a large scene, which is often the case. The time adds up!
The mayor's staff don't need cars and the same for most other people who have them. They can drive to work like the rest of us, on their dime. As for the topic of a captain being in charge of the day to day, this has apparently changed with notice because the Director is handling that. There has not been a designated executive officer.

Anonymous said...

It seems to concern many of us that the Director lives so far away. I think it speaks volumes to his connection to what is going on in the City and some of the bandaid remedies he touts e.g. giving out tickets. That's really helping. His "community policing" unit is not true community policing. Yet, in these tough economic times, instead of thinking about how they can give back, City officials are wondering how they can take, take, take. It's shameful.

Anonymous said...

keep up on this issue. this is HUGE for Plainfield and shows clearly why the current administration is wasteful and incompetent.

one look at the organization chart slide shows all you need to know. this organization is bloated and irrational.

mr hellwig NEEDS to be a resident of plainfield if his job requires him to be here at a moments notice.

mr hellwig NEEDS to give up his taxpayer subsidized vehicle. in this economy and in this time of significant strife and sacrifice among us, he NEEDS to understand that his role is as a LEADER and LEADERS lead by example.

thanks for giving SOME transparency to this green/briggs-robinson administration. if it weren't for people like you we would be pissing into the wind with our tax dollars.

it's time for a change!

Rob said...

The fact that anyone of such a "HIGH" position in the city isn't required to live here is an issue. In a want to work for the City of Plainfield..start looking for a home. AND.. in these financially troubling times for anyone in the City government to imply that only "saving a little" isn't important doesn't belong in office. If every department were able to "only" find 1% savings across the board is that a reason NOT to do it? The mayor is blinded by her mentor whispering in her ear at what a fantastic job she is doing. Both she and Jerry know that all they have to do is ride out ANY storm long enough and upon election day the sheep will march off to the slaughter and pull the one party lever and put them back in office. WAKE UP PLAINFIELD

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. The mayor and her husband should be woted out!!!!!!!!! She is a disgrace to all of the women that laid the ground work with their blood generations ago so that bobblehead can ruin our great city. Out with the mayor, out with Hellwig, out with all of them.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard that the damage to Hellwig's city vehicle is from hitting a deer?

Anonymous said...

Dashfield said the cost per vehicle assigned for 24/7 use is $1,200 a year. Shoot - let me use a city vehicle 24/7 and I'd pay the City Back double that. Imagine what I would save on car insurance each year (a minimum of $1,000 a year) Imagine what I would save on gas back and fourth to work if I lived 40 miles away. (that's 400 miles a week at 15 mpg @ $4/gal) That's over $5,000/yr. for gas. Plus I would never have to pay for oil changes, tires and other vehicle maintenance or even a mechanic. And I could even get my car washed anytime I wanted to without paying for it.

Hey - could I "Pimp My Ride" at taxpayer expense too???

Anonymous said...

The reason that the "Executive Captain" never took place is because Lt. Turner who runs Internal Affairs doesn't want a captain over him so he can run that bureau like his own little phifedom with no direct "boss" who is actually a police officer and not a civilian! That's the real reason. Hellwig has been commented as saying "he has the utmost confidence in Turner." Someone should have a large photo of Turner made and carried through the streets of the west end of town with the question "what do you remember about this officer when he was on the streets?" Watch the old-timers come out of the woodworks and you will see what type of individual Hellwig puts full confidence in! Which will say alot about Hellwig.