The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Plainfield's 'Stimulus Tracking' website debuts?

A Stimulus-tracking website for Plainfield?

The devil is in the details.

Hedged about with disclaimers like 'potential', 'may qualify', 'just a list...not an application for funding', Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs administration has launched a section on the City's website that is supposed to track ARRA (Stimulus Plan) money requested and received.

The Ledger covers the story in today's edition (see here).

City Administrator Marc Dashield told the Ledger that --
A futile search [by residents] caused some citizens to assume that Plainfield was not actively seeking financial assistance...
Should a distinction be made between monies funneled to Plainfield and those ACTUALLY APPLIED for by the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs? I think so.

For instance, the Ledger says that more than $1.5 million has already been given to Plainfield.

True enough, EXCEPT THAT more than $1 million of that amount was to the Housing Authority, funded directly by the federal government. The City of Plainfield played no role in asking for or receiving those monies.

So now we're down to a little over a half million dollars.

Digging through the hokey navigation system for the Stimulus Plan subsite, it is possible to learn that the $341,635 for law enforcement was a formula grant that filtered down to the city from allocations made by Washington to states and counties. No hustle involved, just wait for grant, then spend the money.

Ditto the $186,300 for 'energy efficiency and conservation'.

Netting it out, the bottom line on monies received through grant applications made by the administration of Mayor Robinson-Briggs: Zero, nada, zilch.

Though the subsite is hokey (did Robinson-Briggs REALLY approve the unflattering graphic?), filled with enough wishlist smoke-blowing that you will need a top-grade gas mask, and organized bizarrely (why have to dig down several pages to find Plainfield stuff?), it is still of some use.

Should I mention that it was thrown together only after Plainfield Today had needled the Mayor in three previous posts (January, February and March)? Nah, that would be self-serving.

Of what use is Robinson-Briggs' new Stimulus subsite?
  1. The way it is organized (not to mention spell-checked) illustrates the forethought this administration brings to bear on problems;
  2. The order in which projects are presented betrays its sense of priorities;
  3. It allows the reader to see that jobs for unemployed Plainfielders are not on the Robinson-Briggs radar; and
  4. The quotation marks around 'shovel ready' are entirely appropriate -- some of these items are pure wishlist and the time to be 'shovel ready' is dubious at best (for instance, improving Somerset Street).
What more could be done to 'make information relevant to Plainfield easy to find online' (Dashield's words)?
  • First, why not put Plainfield's grant applications online for residents to read?

  • Second, why not get Plainfield listed on
StimulusWatch has become the de facto national go-to website for ordinary folks to track -- and comment on -- ARRA monies being spent at the local level. Many eyes watching makes for more transparency and accountability.

Isn't that a good thing?

And wouldn't it solve the problem that Dashield poses of Plainfielders turning up 'a futile search'?

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

I don't understand, Dan. Does this mean that the projects listed under "90 days" will be completed within 90 days?

Dan said...

To 2:19 PM -- You aren't the only one scratching your head. My guess was that the days designated meant the number of days needed to get the shovel into the ground, and the project would run out from there.