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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Robinson-Briggs, Watson diss public, skip forums

Some say Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs disrespected the voters Tuesday evening by failing to show up for the candidate forum organized by Shiloh Baptist Church's pastor, the Rev. Dr. Gerald Lamont Thomas.

I beg to differ. I think Mayor Sharon's opting to dismiss the event is evidence of her disrespect for the democratic process, where those who seek to lead the community come before the voters to present -- and defend -- their platform, record and point of view on pressing issues.

It had been rumored for weeks that Robinson-Briggs might not attend the event. The reason given Tuesday evening was that she 'had an important meeting with the Governor'.

Unless she dined privately with Corzine after hours, I think not.

The Governor's published schedule for yesterday showed that he was booked for the annual Governor's Conference for Women in Atlantic City (see more here). If this is the 'meeting with the Governor' of which Robinson-Briggs speaks, it doesn't wash since the conference concluded at 3:45 PM, plenty of time for Her Honor to get back to Plainfield.

Was this a fatal mistake?

I'm not sure, but it certainly fits with her style of only wanting to appear in generally friendly circumstances and avoid being bruised by public questioning (sort of like events organized for George W. Bush?). She has been noticeably absent from recent Council meetings except for huggy-kissy opportunities.

In any event, ALL the other candidates were on hand, made their pitch to the voters and answered questions posed by attendees.

Courier News reporter Mark Spivey was present and you can expect a story online later and probably in print Thursday.

At the same time as the mayoral forum, angry residents packed the Library's meeting room to discuss their frustrations with the PMUA (Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority).

Though organizer Pat Turner Kavanaugh had originally expected that PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson would attend, he instead sent operations director Howard Smith and PR person Erin Donnelly. How unlike President Obama, who steps right up to the plate when the hot potatoes come his way.

As with the Mayor, this was a serious blunder.

The two were not up to the task, a fact that was exacerbated by Smith's chauvinism -- he seemed to think it was all about him and hardly acknowledged Donnelly's presence, let alone treating her like an equal member of a team.

It's been many years since I've seen anything so baldfaced as this. Maybe Watson should include some consciousness-raising and team-building training in future junkets.

The meeting was wild and woolly, in part because of the extremely loose hand with which it was guided by its organizers.

Assemblyman Jerry Green put in a cameo appearance and made brief remarks, saying 'I'm not here to be critical...but there need to be some changes', before he left for the candidate forum at Shiloh Baptist Church.

When Green assumed the podium and began speaking without either being introduced or introducing himself, a man in the back of the room interrupted him, calling out 'And who are you?', at which attendees guffawed. Somewhat flummoxed, Green identified himself as an Assemblyman. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Eventually most folks did get to ask their questions and get some sort of response from the PMUA staffers.

For the most part, however, Smith and Donnelly appeared tone deaf about ratepayer concerns and their 'answers' fell mostly into two categories: either not answering the question at all, or using the Dashield-like 'I'll have get back to you on that'.

A case of the former was the homeowner who is on a Monday-Thursday trash pickup schedule who asked what to do about extra garbage when Monday legal holidays meant that he had excess garbage for the Thursday putout? Answer: You must not fill the containers so much the lid cannot be pushed firmly closed. The answer simply did not address the question of what is essentially offering a whole class of residents (those with Monday pickups) less service than all others.

An example of the latter came when asked why the sewer charges are so much higher than water charges, and why they are calculated on the previous year's usage. Though you would think the hapless employees would have been ready to handle this common question, they were not, and Smith fell back on the 'we'll get back to you' shtick.

DumpPMUA founder Phillip Charles spoke at length about the frustrations he had dealing with the PMUA's rigid and defensive bureaucracy, citing the experiences as motivating him to start his website (see here) and monitor and publish his findings about the organization.

While the anger of the ratepayers may yet translate into action at the polls, Charles shone a spotlight on an issue that may have more direct repercussions for the PMUA's haughty methods.

One of the issues that led him to file a suit against the agency is the most recent rate increases -- which have gotten people plenty steamed.

Though the rate hearing was held on January 26, Charles stated that the new rates went into effect on January 1.

This appears to be a big no-no.

One has to wonder what kind of legal advice Watson and the PMUA commissioners were given that allowed them to arbitrarily jack the rates before the public got to speak out on the matter. And how much they are paying for it.

One last example of PMUA tone-deafness: the next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 2.

That would be Primary Election Day, in which PMUA chairperson Carol Ann Brokaw-Boles is a candidate and, presumably, would be busy.

Not to mention the ratepayer-voters.

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

I pray everynight that we all wake up to how horrible and grossly incompetent this administration is. For the Mayor NOT to show up to the forum is a disgrace. Ooops, I am sorry the mayor did show up because you mentioned that Assemblyman Green was there. Robinson-Briggs has to go. Vote her out.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Green is off his rocker. How can he try to link what happens in a school to Adrian Mapp and Cristian Estevez. He must be desperate and thinks the people of Plainfield are stupid.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think that the timing of the forums the same time the candidate forum was not planned. Can you image how many people would have come on another day. Unless we make some drastic changes to the administration things are not going to change.