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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mayor Sharon: What about that theft in the Tax Collector's office?

Word of an indictment for theft of cash may stir Plainfielders' memories that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has yet to publicly acknowledge or resolve the matter of the $41,000 that went missing from the Tax Collector's officer early in her term.

A former clerk in the Perth Amboy tax collector's office has been indicted for stealing money from the till (Ledger here, Courier here). The amount involved is $714, and the miscreant faces 10 years in prison.

Meanwhile, in Plainfield, NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE by Mayor Sharon to RESOLVE the money that went missing on her watch, about $4,000 of which was in cash.

Far from it. In a Courier story of June 10, 2006
(see here), Councilor Burney downplayed the cash aspect of the theft, referring to it as a 'comparatively small amount'.

Evidently 'small' is taken more seriously some places than others.

Here's a little history --
Back on June 9, 2006, I brought up...moolah that went missing, this from the Tax Collector's office --
...[A]t City Hall talk is going around about the $41,000 or so missing from the Tax Collector's office. What! You didn't know?! Yep. And get this -- the loss was discovered months ago. Is the administration trying to cover it up? When funds went missing in a similar situation in Highland Park, the Ledger covered the story from start to finish, including the indictment of an employee in the matter. Not only have we not heard about the matter publicly, we don't know whether Prosecutor Romankow is looking into it or whether the responsible party will face charges... Maybe those surveillance cams planned for City Hall should be put in the Tax Collector's office first.
That post in Plainfield Today led to a Courier story on the missing money, which I reported the following Monday (see here) --
Dan's scoop of the week was the revelation on Friday that $41,000 or so had gone missing from the Tax Collector's office. The Courier picked the story up with a front-page piece on Saturday (June 10, 2006). Seems it happened months ago and has never been publicly discussed. Councilman Burney told the Courier that the Council had been briefed. My inquiries got the response that the administration had asked the Council to consider it a confidential presentation, that the matter was being investigated and that the administration would "get back to them" on it. When? How hard is it to track down what happened?
And on June 16, 2006, it came to light that $3,000-$4,000 of the missing money was in CASH --
MISSING $$$ AT CITY HALL-- Seems the investigation proceeds. Is desultory a word? The grapevine has it that the locks have been changed. And that the $3,000 or so in cash -- which was part of the $40,000 that went missing -- is only part of the picture of missing money in the Tax Collector's office. Seems that it may have been going on for some undetermined length of time. Add to this the rumor that the employee was/is a 'special friend' of a politically well-connected person and we have the beginnings of an HBO series... Who is going to be the casting director? Meanwhile, still unknown is whether the Prosecutor's Office will get involved. That was NOT a question in Middlesex County, where a similar offender in Highland Park is going to the slammer for same...
So, in 2009, three years later after the theft became public, we still have nagging questions about the missing moolah from the Tax Collector's office --
  • Why was no one ever named or charged over the missing $41,000?
  • Did the Mayor keep the Prosecutor in the dark?
  • Did Robinson-Briggs pull the plug on the investigation?
This is an election year, Mayor Sharon, and the voters are watching.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Solaris takes a slap at Mayor Sharon

Solaris Health System, tired of waiting on Plainfield Mayor Sharon (I'll-Get-Back-To-You) Robinson-Briggs to actually get back to them, and alarmed that misinformation about the provision of an ambulance for the Plainfield Rescue Squad might be spread, wrote to the Council, the Mayor and Assemblyman Green on February 19.

I have put a PDF copy of the letter online (see here), and it is embedded below. To print a copy, click on the 'iPAPER' icon above the letterhead and select 'print'.

Solaris: Letter to Council, Mayor, Assemblyman

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The reason for the season: Tax Appeals

As thoughts turn to Spring, yards and gardening, some Plainfielders will find another reason in the season: property tax appeals.

Appeals on property tax assessment are due by April 1st, and those who are thinking of it need to get cracking.

Property owners need to beware though that the burden of proof is on them. That is, they will need to provide accurate comparable sales as of October 2008 in order to challenge their property tax assessment.

There is some feeling that even in these challenging times -- where fewer sales mean there are fewer comparables to draw upon -- homeowners may be drawn into the process owing to the successful appeals by commercial property owners.

When commercial property owners win reduced assessment -- and thereby lower taxes -- the burden of meeting the taxes needed to run the municipality shifts incrementally toward the residential property owners.

If you are considering a tax appeal, do yourself a favor: Inform yourself and consider professional assistance.

The NJ Law Blog has a useful article (see here), and the state has a brochure available online (see here, PDF), which those who consider an appeal should read carefully first.

Secondly, chances of a successful appeal are increased by using professional help -- read: an attorney.

To find a whole passle, just Google "tax appeals"+"new jersey".

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Straight talk on the IT 'poisoned apple'

Have an apple, dearie?

Plainfielders deserve some straight talk from the Robinson-Briggs administration on its Information Technology proposal.

Why is it that every time Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs comes forward with a proposal like this I am reminded of the scene from Disney's Snow White where the witch offers the innocent girl a poisoned apple, an apple that looks too good to be true? And, as the tale unfolds, IS too good to be true.

Councilors McWilliams, Storch and Mapp are quite right to demand the Administration justify the proposal with more hard data -- or should I drop the 'more', as it seems all the Council has been given so far is the old the-sky-is-falling malarkey.

I visited City Hall on Monday and chatted up a few of the folks whose productivity depends on using the networked computer system and accessing their emails.

Problems? My questions were met with stares.

Fearing the Mayor's legendary wrath (one staffer was punished by being forced to work in the basement of the Annex with the mildew and vermin for months), no one would go on record.

However, all said they had no particular problems with either accessing the computer network or their email accounts.

So, what IS the big deal?

It is particularly irksome to anyone who knows anything about the history of this business to hear City Administrator Marc Dashield blow the mayor's smoke.

To wit --
NETWORKS: City Hall was doing just fine at networking computers and had a plan in place which is was executing before Mayor Robinson-Briggs hired her infamous first City Administrator, Carlton McGee, who should probably face charges for malfeasance. It was McGee who dispensed with a local IT professional who was providing perfectly adequate services, and who the Mayor subsequently stiffed to the tune of some $40,000.

EMAIL: Give me a break. The City had begun switching emails to Verizon DSL. For a while Robinson-Briggs continued this practice (remember the notorious 'pfld' abbrevation for Plainfield in her email address?), until the poorly planned and ill-considered switch to VOIP.

WEBSITE: Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs inherited a fully functional website when she took office. Folks may remember that she insisted on a redesign which involved hiring highly paid consultants and trashing the existing website. Consequently, Plainfield was without a functional official website for a year and a half.

PCTV74: Ditto the city's Public Access Cable TV Channel. Not only was the pre-existing programming format trashed, the Administration has never given an accounting of the thousands of dollars of equipment that was on hand when it took over. And though it finally has rudimentary programming, it still fumbles with the concept of taping and broadcasting Council meetings (capturing everything the Mayor does is evidently NOT a problem). Worse yet, Mr. Dashield stated at a recent Council agenda session that the delay in getting programming submitted by the public online is due to the staff's editing the content of supplied materials -- an outrageous violation of Public Access Channel protocols.
In short, the Council should stand its ground and not give in to the Robinson-Briggs administration on this one.

While an IT director's position may well be desirable over the long haul, there is no need to rush blindly and there are plenty of consultants out there -- including the one Robinson-Briggs stiffed -- who can do the job on an as-needed basis until a reasoned decision can be made.

No need to take that too-perfect-looking poisoned apple.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

City Council: Wednesday night location change



City Council Working Meeting
On Public Safety


To the Ann Louise Davis Meeting Room

Plainfield Public Library

8:00 - 10:00 PM

Wednesday, February 25

Per Municipal Clerk Laddie Wyatt

Not at Washington Community School

-- Dan Damon

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The Daily-Ledgord News-Times?

Coming soon to Plainfield newsstands: All the latest from Buffalo?

Under increasing financial pressure from rising costs and declining ad sales and readership, mainstream news media are fighting back.

Five large newspapers in the NY-NJ area have formed the Northeast Consortium to share news stories and photos: The Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, the NY Daily News, the Albany Times-Union and the Buffalo News.

All the news that's fit to print from Buffalo?

Actually, it could work out fairly well for news junkies who live in New Jersey.

The real news here is that the Ledger and Record are merging their statehouse operations. This will give New Jersey the largest statehouse press corps in the country and, hopefully, restore the in-depth coverage of Trenton that New Jerseyans cannot get from either the New York or Philly press (especially since the NYTimes virtually shut down its New Jersey operations).

Additionally, Jerseyans will get ace coverage of New York State's legislature -- whose activities impact us in many ways, from shared quasi-governmental agencies like the Port Authority to laws and regulations affecting New York City, where many NJ residents work.

And Buffalo?

Well, we can get all the latest on the Buffalo Bills and chicken wing recipes.

And watch the live cams of the ice melting in Buffalo Harbor, which usually disappears by the end of May.

Yes, May.

I grew up in the area and know whereof I speak.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Why was Mayor Sharon missing?

Plainfielders may have noted that several area mayors were in attendance at a meeting with President Obama on cities and the stimulus plan last Friday.

While Edison mayor Jun Choi and Piscataway mayor Brian Wahler were both present, it seems Plainfield's Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs wasn't even invited.

This while Plainfield was the one community that put Union County in the Obama column in the presidential primary.

Was it because Plainfield pols just don't have the right juice?

Or maybe they have no stimulus plan and aren't getting any stimulus money and therefore the President won't have to keep a watchful eye?

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gang graffiti = Gang warfare?

Fresh gang graffiti on Madison Avenue

Gang graffiti has been on the rise all over Plainfield. The MS13 graffiti above was recently painted on a wall on Madison Avenue near the NJT overpass that is under reconstruction.

Maria recently noted an outbreak by a different group in the Evergreen School area (see here).

What is troubling about this particular instance above is that the street wall forms the retaining wall for the Bilingual Day Care Center's parking lot and playground area around the corner.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

What are kids saying in text messaging?

Plainfielders puzzled by their kids' texting -- and what they might be saying in those cryptic messages -- may want to check out a workshop being offered at the Dunellen Public Library.

Literacy Programs of NJ is hosting a free workshop on text messaging on March 30. Space, however, is limited and anyone interested in the program should call (732) 432-8000 to reserve a seat on a first-come, first-served basis. The Dunellen Public Library is at 100 New Market Road, Dunellen. Visit the library's website here.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, February 20, 2009

City to Solaris: We'll get back to a week. Hah!

I usually think of the Solaris people as no fools when it comes to business matters.

Which is why I find it hard to believe they could possibly have fallen for Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' 'we'll get back to you in a week' maneuver over the Muhlenberg closure dispute, especially given her record for timeliness.

Read all about the matter in today's Courier (here). Reporter Mark Spivey relates how Robinson-Briggs asked for a week to 'fine tune' an agreement the Solaris board was prepared to sign. A week that stretched into nearly three months.

Perhaps the Solaris folks were unaware that state officials had to DISPATCH A HELICOPTER for Mayor Robinson-Briggs when something was needed from her in a timely fashion (see here).

Just like the Rescue Squad proposal that was delivered to Her Honor and no one in her administration knows the whereabouts of.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ambulance: Solaris ready and willing, ball has been in City's court

The Plainfield Rescue Squad's appearance before the City Council Tuesday has certainly stirred the pot, with coverage in today's Courier (see here) and Assemblyman Jerry Green's blog (see note at end of post).

Turns out, I am told, that Solaris Health System has ALREADY responded in the matter of the AMBULANCE FOR THE RESCUE SQUAD that it would in fact supply one...

...and that Commissioner Heather Howard is WAITING FOR THE ROBINSON-BRIGGS ADMINISTRATION to respond before she signs off.

Like the reader I cited yesterday says,
'What DO they DO over there at City Hall?'
P.S. Assemblyman Green puts his inimitable spin on the situation in his post today (see here), in which he omits telling his readers that HE PERSONALLY SIGNED OFF ON THE MUHLENBERG CLOSURE.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Case: Plainfield Rescue Squad and Mayor Sharon's culpability

The Plainfield Rescue Squad came before the City Council Tuesday evening to underscore the dire straits it is in as a result of the closing of Muhlenberg.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was not present during the presentation, but all of her talk about concern and helping hung over the proceedings.

Jennie Pernell, the squad's spokesperson, told of submitting a proposal for help to the Robinson-Briggs administration 'four or five months ago' and having heard nothing back. (Sound familiar?)

City Administrator Marc Dashield, after asking if she was referring to a CDBG grant proposal (she was not), said that he was not aware of the document to which she referred and came over to the railing to pass one of his business cards back to Pernell.

Having only ONE WORKING AMBULANCE and needing to transport patients to hospitals that range from five to twelve miles away has caused the squad's RESPONSE TIME TO LAG (some have had to wait up to an hour for transportation),
the squad's FUEL COSTS TO SKYROCKET (fuel ran $19,800 for 2008), and at least ONE FATALITY to be traceable to the squad being on another call and unavailable.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson did not seem to have the exact status of the City's suit against Solaris at his fingertips, though he did say that a 'document' would be submitted 'next week' and that there was 'a continuing effort on our part'. Additionally, Williamson stated that action depended on the state enforcing the terms of the closure document that are NOT in dispute.

These issues are not new or unknown. In fact, they are supposed to be among the items that the Task Force Assemblyman Jerry Green and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs head up.

I brought up exactly THESE TWO ISSUES (FUEL and A 2nd AMBULANCE) in a post last July (see here), suggesting the City put an item in its budget to SUPPLY FUEL for the squad, and cover the cost of a SECOND AMBULANCE.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs NEVER STEPPED UP to the matter of the fuel, to me the simplest of the issues she could have helped with.

The Mayor PUNTED TO SOLARIS on the ambulance question, with which I have no problem.

Except one: Follow-through.

The issues were widely discussed at almost every meeting of Muhlenberg supporters, noted in the mainstream media and on the blogs.

And Mayor Sharon and Assemblyman Green said they were on the case.

Except that now we find they have not been.

As one reader said, 'What do they DO over there at City Hall?'

What, indeed.

Munch goodies while some poor Plainfielder dies for lack of an ambulance?

For that we should hold Mayor Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Green culpable.

How many Plainfielders' lives have to be lost before Mayor Sharon and Assemblyman Green DO something?


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Find Plainfield's 'Stimulus Plan' plan. I dare you.

You may recall that back in January, I pointed out Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs apparently had not participated in the NJ League of Municipalities effort to prepare proposals for the expected Stimulus Plan (see here) -- despite the Mayor being a member of the organization's Executive Board.

Now comes further evidence the Robinson-Briggs administration may be asleep at the switch. But first, a little infill.

Assemblyman Jerry Green took great offense (see here) --
Regarding the stimulus package, New Jersey is in a good position in the realm of awareness when it comes to the outlines and guidelines of the financial aid we will receive. I have to agree with Doc in that he is right in some of his comments regarding the package moving from the House to the Senate, and there being a hold up in the Senate. With that being said, how could anyone say that Plainfield missed their deadline when the package is still in negotiation? To those who spread misinformation: when you do not have a clue as to what you are talking about, and stand behind it like it is a bonded word, you end up looking very foolish.
-- utterly disregarding that the 'deadline' I mentioned was only that of the statewide organization of which Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is a board member.

Assemblyman Green goes on to enlighten us on how 'plugged in' HE is going to be on the process of distributing New Jersey's share --
To ensure the fact that the funding from the stimulus appropriated fairly and out of necessity throughout the State of New Jersey, Governor Corzine has constructed two committees to monitor such actions. He has asked me to work directly with the new director who will monitor these two committees. One committee will provide the function of monitoring allotted funds that can be used in this year’s budget, while the second committee will oversee the balance of such funding. This is precisely the sort of initiatives our President is communicating that he wants to see; a unified front statewide that aims to foster and sustain efficiency and effectiveness.
-- which implies that the Assemblyman expects Stimulus Plan money to help Plainfield out in the CURRENT BUDGET YEAR.

Lastly, Assemblyman Green lets us know --
I look forward to sharing this information with the Mayor and Council President so that we can institute projects that will meet the criteria outlined by the federal government. Some of the recommendations of projects to jumpstart would be the roads here in Plainfield, and any infrastructural projects that we have on paper, but have not been able to act on due to the lack of financial backing, such as our IT System. From the Governor’s standpoint of building up infrastructure and sustaining it, these sorts of projects are of TOP priority.
Let's see now. With Plainfield's jobless rate reported in today's Courier to be at 10% (second highest in the newspaper's service area -- see here), Assemblyman Green is proposing to use the Stimulus Plan money to hire ONE FAT CAT AT CITY HALL FOR $130,000 and leave everyone else starving on the sidelines? And his proposed road projects WOULD NOT PUT A SINGLE UNEMPLOYED PLAINFIELDER to work.

Nice guy, this Assemblyman Green. Thoughtful.

Which brings us to the NEW news, thanks to reader SM.

The New Jersey page on Stimulus Watch.

A new website, called STIMULUS WATCH (see here), is monitoring 'shovel-ready' programs proposed by cities across the country for Stimulus Plan money.

Here is the New Jersey entry --

Below are the 'shovel-ready' projects for which the mayors of this state have requested federal stimulus funding. You can click on a project to read (and add to) its description. You can also discuss the project and vote on whether you believe it is critical or not. For a more local view, you can drill down to projects in a particular city. Just choose a city from the following list:
Clifton • East Orange • Edison • Elizabeth • Hamilton • Irvington • Newark • Orange • Piscataway • Trenton
The total of cost of all the projects submitted by New Jersey is $2,685,299,405.
Note Elizabeth is included, as are Irvington, Orange and Newark. As well as Plainfield's next-door neighbor, Piscataway.

But no Plainfield. Does that mean Plainfield has no 'shovel-ready' projects for Stimulus Plan money?

Not to worry, Assemblyman Green has it covered. In his February 2 post, he notes -- of my first phone calls this morning was to the Mayor and Administration to ensure ‘i’s and ‘t’s are dotted and crossed when the funding from the stimulus package is available for our State.
So, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and her administration are on top of everything.

Quick! Cross those i's! Dot those t's!

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Black Freedom Fighters and the Underground Railroad on Wednesday

Vii Sanders talking about Black inventors.

Plainfielders will have an opportunity Wednesday evening for an outstanding Black History Month program.

Vii Sanders, formerly of Piscataway and now living in the Columbia, S.C. area, will be in town to present a program on Black Freedom Fighters and the Underground Railroad in the community room of Richmond Towers.

I have known Vii for years as she used to be a regular for Black History programs when I worked for the Plainfield Public Library (and NOT just during Black History Month, thank you!).

One well-remembered program is on Black inventors, for which Vii brings along a vast table of samples, explaining each and giving a thumbnail biography of its inventor as she goes along.

She also gives guided African-American tea ceremonies, another popular talk in her repertoire.

Vii also does guided African-American Tea Ceremonies.

You will not be disappointed if you come out on Wednesday, and if you are responsible for developing programs for your school, club or other organization, you will want to keep Vii's contact information on hand.

African-American Freedom Fighters and the Underground Railroad
Wednesday, February 18
6:00 P.M.
Richmond Towers Community Room
510 East Front Street
-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Obama, Dan and the Ledger's recycled SPAM

SPAM: Miracle in a can.

True confession: Dan still thinks SPAM is a real food, and stories featuring the eye-catching blue and yellow can stop him in his tracks. As on the front page of last Wednesday's Savor section of the Ledger.

Can he be the only Plainfielder of whom this is true?

My taste for the famous meat product goes back to my childhood, while my father, one of the 'greatest generation', was in the Navy. He was a SeaBee, the unit famed for quickly building the airstrips on far-flung Pacific islands that allowed the U.S. Navy to hopscotch across the thousands of miles that brought it to within striking distance of Japan's home islands.

SPAM was one of the meals my mother prepared for me and my brother while he was in the service. She always gave us the impression we were getting a special treat, and the knowledge that it was a budget-stretcher was gained much later in life.

SPAM became one of several 'comfort foods' which bring back those childhood memories of a world at war and a home front with a considerably tightened belt. Along with steaming boiled rice served in a soup bowl with milk and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, or the no-egg chocolate cake she would whip up with mayonnaise as a substitute.

Anyway, back to the Ledger. The story was credited to McClatchy's wire service.

Thinking to put a link on CLIPS (you know my twisted sense of humor), I scouted the Ledger's website and its internal search, failing to turn up the article.

Then I Googled a few words of the text, which usually turns up several newspapers that have carried an article, and would provide me with a link.

It did.

But, lo and behold, the article originally appeared in July 2008 (see here). And with different recipes entirely.

I set the whole idea aside for later, when I read the Ledger story again, carefully, and found that it has two threads -- SPAM is inexpensive (who knew?), and has been eaten by President Obama in a Hawaiian incarnation called 'SPAM Musubi'.

Obama snack: SPAM Musubi.

So, the Ledger shows us that on the Internet nothing every really disappears, no matter how many times it is recycled, AND that it can chop up the parts and blend two old stories (last summer's SPAM story and last December's story on Obami and his musubi) into a completely NEW news product.

Sort of like the way real SPAM is made.

Me? I'm going to whip up some SPAM Musubi.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Plainfield Health Center grant: More here than meets the eye?

News that Plainfield's Neighborhood Health Center was getting the largest grant of 16 awarded yesterday by the state's Division of Health and Senior Services began ciculating by email shortly before 1:00 PM.

According to the state's press release, the $644,000 to Plainfield's NHC is --
to ensure access to a medically underserved population affected by the closing of their community hospital
Note that the name of the hospital is unspecified. Such nice people.

NHC CEO Rudine Smith is quoted in the Courier story saying the Center will --
...use the funding announced yesterday to add two physicians and a certified nurse midwife to its staff, Smith said, as well as upgrade its electronic health records system to improve efficiency...
Longtime readers of Plainfield Today will recall previous stories that have focused on the Center's deteriorating fiscal situation (see here).

While I have no recent news on that front, a quick check for the Center's latest 990 (required of nonprofits to be filed with the IRS annually, and available online), finds that the most recent filing showing up online is that for 2005, filed in April, 2007 (see PDF file here).

It would sure be helpful to have more current information on the Center's fiscal status, including sources of funding and salaries being paid.

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U.S. Attorney Pick: Something fishy here?

Plainfielders who, along with many other New Jerseyans, feel that POLITICAL CORRUPTION is a BIG DEAL in the state, may want to ponder the recommendation by Senators Lautenberg and Menendez of former Federal prosecutor and Clinton DOJ official Paul Fishman as U.S. Attorney, to replace Chris Christie.

Menendez is quoted in the PolitickerNJ story as saying --
"New Jersey families deserve a U.S. Attorney who makes protecting them from economic crimes, the spreading gang activity, as well as gun and drug trafficking a priority of the office."
Isn't it odd that pursuing corruption in the Garden State doesn't even get a mention?

But wait! There's more!

Fishman has a specialty in white-collar crime and represented several public officials prosecuted by Christie.

The stories make no mention of the outcomes of those individuals' trials.

Though he is eminently qualified, I find this particular omission disturbing.

The last thing Plainfielders and New Jerseyans need is the thought that the state's pols will be safe in selling their votes and influence in the Obama years.

Somebody, please reassure us!

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Hellwig on Hellwig still leaves Dan with a question or two

From a slide in Director Hellwig's police reorganization presentation.

It took a couple of days of nudging, but I was able to get the Courier to post Acting Police Director Martin Hellwig's long letter in this past Sunday's Courier online (see here).

In the letter, Director Hellwig takes the Courier to task as not giving him credit enough for his professionalism and dedication to the job. Some points are well made, and you will want to read Hellwig's letter completely through for yourself.

The piece does, however, leave this reader with a couple of questions.

Regarding an 'executive police captain', Director Hellwig says --
Contrary to some popular, purposeful distortion of the truth, I do not have an executive police captain handling day-to-day responsibilities in the police division. [Emphasis added.]
This may be the case, but when Hellwig pitched the Green/Robinson-Briggs police reorganization plan to the City Council, he used a slide from which the detail above is taken, clearly and explicitly showing that a Captain would function as the 'Executive Officer'. The story in which this is discussed, with a visual of the COMPLETE slide in question, is here.

My question was, and still is, WHEN DID THIS CHANGE? When was the Council or the public told that this proposed organization would NOT be implemented and that another one would be?

And does the current organization of the Police Division represent a 'bait and switch' from the plan originally presented to the Council?
On the matter of benefits, Director Hellwig writes --
I did not receive medical benefits. That is an approximate $14,000 in savings to the citizens of Plainfield.
Well, yes. And,

Unless I am mistaken, Director Hellwig is a retired sworn police officer with more than 25 years experience. Under the rules of the State's pension system, within which police officers have a special setup, I believe Director Hellwig ALREADY HAS FULL MEDICAL BENEFITS.

Medical benefits may never have been a real issue with the job. Why would one want to give that up for a job that goes away when the boss goes away? A little special pleading that really doesn't advance his truly legitimate points.

Director Hellwig speaks to the matter of receipts to the City from traffic enforcement thusly ---
Revenues to the city via motor-vehicle enforcement has increased significantly.
True enough, though it leaves out the fact that -- as Director Hellwig himself has publicly pointed out -- those very receipts fell precipitously in his first year in the job, and are only now beginning to approach the levels seen under the McWilliams administration.
With regard to his salary and its relation to those of 'his' Police Division Captains and the Fire Division salaries, the real question is not WHY ISN'T HELLWIG'S PAY MORE EQUITABLE? It is WHY HASN'T THE ROBINSON-BRIGGS ADMINISTRATION ADDRESSED THIS SALARY INEQUITY?
As has been pointed out elsewhere, Hellwig is still currently the 'ACTING POLICE DIRECTOR', an assignment which was made last April.

There are two conflicting positions on how long a person can hold an 'ACTING' designation. In one instance the number is 45 days, in another one year.

I think we can safely assume the shorter is not going to be applied in this case. That leaves the ONE YEAR limit, which is rapidly approaching.

Will the Robinson-Briggs administration make a timely move? Let's hope.
And if they learn it's needed from reading one of the blogs, what better justification is there for bloggers' benefits to the community?

-- Dan Damon

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Wind topples tree near new Senior Center

Thursday's high winds toppled at least one tree in Plainfield and brought down large branches throughout the community.

The house above, just off the corner of Sandford Avenue and East Front Street and across from the new Senior Center/condo construction, is the most serious victim that I spotted in a jaunt around town Thursday afternoon.

A large branch broke away from a tree and fell lengthwise on the sidewalk on West Front Street between Melrose and Compton Avenues and was cordoned off with yellow Fire Division incident tape.

Overall, though, Plainfielders may consider themselves lucky this time around with no injuries or power outages reported.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Council should resist Mayor Sharon's IT flim-flam

Why is it that proposals from Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs always remind of the three-card-monte con games one used to witness along 42nd Street in the old days?

The 'inside man' or con, works with the 'outside man' to fleece the mark, the person with the money. Supply your own labels.

The latest, greatest from the Robinson-Briggs administration is the proposal to create a 'cabinet-level' Director of Information Technology, using the old sky-is-falling gambit on the Council and public.

My post yesterday on the Pension Payment Deferral Plan (see here) garnered some thoughtful comments on the IT proposal. Here is a sampling --
Anonymous said...
I do need to disagree with you about the IT Director position. Investing in IT, and making sure the employees use it is an investment, not an expense. We are losing money as we speak because of lack of efficieny in processes and productivity of workers.
Plainfield City is not in the business of babysitting. All those programs should be outsourced to a non-profit and monies used to fund IT.
If you don't think IT is needed, just look at the budget mess. If you had efficient tracking, processes and trained personnel on the applications, determining where the money is spent is much easier.
February 11, 2009 9:02 AM

Dan said...
To Anonymous 9:02 AM --
I didn't say IT wasn't important. I just think the administration has some nerve trying to bring it up NOW, when it won't even seriously consider a budget adjustment.
Were you there when the administration sold the Council on all the IT investment they wanted approval for? I was.
Where was the administration's concern for an IT person then? I can't recall any.
There are other ways to fix this than drink the Sharon/Dashield Kool-Aid. Stay tuned.
February 11, 2009 9:15 AM

Anonymous said...
The City definetly needs an IT management, but if the Mayor and Administrator want to hire in-house why can't it wait until the next budget year which begins July 1? Another possibility is to hire a consultant to assess, structure and manage the IT system(s) for the City. A neighboring municipality actually uses Rutgers for their IT management. Has anyone looked into that? A reliable, knowledgable consultant can save tax if the contract is structures correctly because there will be no expense for benefits (health, pension, etc) incurred by the City.
February 11, 2009 9:43 AM

Anonymous said...
In response to Anonymous who said "If you don't think IT is needed, just look at the budget mess. If you had efficient tracking, processes and trained personnel on the applications, determining where the money is spent is much easier".....
There's no IT person in the world that can resolve the City's budget mess. The financial software used by the Comptroller's Office does provide for efficient tracking of where the money is spent. The City is in more of a need of a Comptroller than an IT person.
Overseeing the finicial applications is the responsibility of the Comptroller/CFO. Once a budget is struck and entered into the system, the software simply does not allow you to make a purchase within a division buget that exceeds the budgeted amount for a specific budget category. What causes the problem is that the Comptroller can simply transfer funds between lines to accomodate a purchase. Then as you get to the end of the fiscal year, money from other division budgets can be transferred to another budget to meet the anticipated shortfall.
And too many times we have heard that the budget is just a guide. It is definitely not a budget that is followed.
February 11, 2009 9:51 AM
As I responded to one of the commenters, I remember being there when the Council was asked to approve spending enormous sums of money on IT infrastructure. I do not remember ANY moaning or groaning by the Robinson-Briggs administration about high-cost IT personnel.

The Courier is quite right to editorialize today (see here) that the Council should 'not spend money you don't have'.

I have a modest three-point proposal for the Council's consideration --
  1. Get the Robinson-Briggs proposal and its justification in writing. These people are notorious for being unwilling to put pencil to paper. Make them work for it. Maybe even sweat a little.

  2. Slow down! Is the sky really falling? Make them justify every single contention.

  3. Why a full-time job? Why now? Elsewhere today, we learn that job losses in New Jersey are expected to hit 265,000 in the current recession. Might that not mean there are well-qualified people out there other than whoever the Mayor seems to have in mind? What about a short-term consulting contract? There's plenty of talent around, willing to work on a short-term or consulting basis.
The Council should be mindful of not being the 'mark' in the Robinson-Briggs' administration's little three-card-monte game.

Or of letting you, dear taxpayer, become the 'mark'.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Pension Deferral Plan Mayor Sharon's Hail Mary Pass?

Is Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs trying to put Plainfield taxpayers on the hook for 30 years worth of payback for a one-time budget gimmick?

Writing in today's Courier (see here), reporter Mark Spivey quotes Robinson-Briggs front man Marc Dashield as saying --
...[E]mbracing the state's three-year [deferral] plan would result in the city paying approximately $600,000 more per year over a 30-year period, although he warned that figure would likely increase as the cost of the pension payments themselves rise...

Dashield added that the deferral could be limited to one year in a best-case scenario.

"We definitely need to take it this year," he said, "but next year, our goal is to fund 100 percent."
Increasingly, this whole budget fiasco, with the Robinson-Briggs administration resolutely refusing to bring a seriously modified budget proposal to the table and instead shooting for a one-time gimmick that saddles any future administration with the onus of paying off the current Mayor's bill (shades of Christie Whitman!), looks like a 'Hail Mary' pass.

Not only that, Robinson-Briggs has the nerve to ask the Council to ADD NEW EXPENSES by hiring an IT director AND A 'SMALL' SUPPORT STAFF -- to the tune of what, a quarter of a million dollars or so? -- in this current budget.

Not to worry, it's only taxpayers' money.

More on that later.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mayor Sharon: Another promise made. Another promise broken?

From the Mayor's press release of 2/2/09 (click to enlarge).

For Plainfielder's wondering about Mayor Robinson-Briggs' support of the proposed pension deferral plan, a mystery emerges.

Has the Mayor broken her promise to Plainfielders that 'the community will be fully apprised about this proposal and recommendation'?

After Robinson-Briggs gave effusive verbal remarks in support of the plan at the Council's February 2 agenda session, Her Honor's ace staff posted a press release on the City's website (see here, PDF), telling the whole world that the Mayor would provide a document 'to address any questions' at the Council's next meeting.

That would have been February 9. Yesterday's Council session at Washington Community School.

No document I could spot.

Meanwhile, checking back at the City's online calendar -- where Her Honor had her already publicly announced February 25 Community Forum hastily posted after I noted it was NOT on the calendar -- I discover that is has now been 'RESCHEDULED' (see here) -- I will refrain from saying CANCELLED.

From the City's online calendar 2/10/09.

What gives, promiser-in-chief?

-- Dan Damon

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