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Monday, July 20, 2009

Key appointees tonight come with question marks

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is asking the Plainfield City Council's consent to the appointment of two key officials at this evening's business meeting -- a new Director of Administration and Finance and a new Chief Financial Officer.

The Mayor certainly has the right to appoint department heads with whom she feels she can work well and who will advance the interests of the city and its residents. However, she has stumbled previously and past Councils have not delved seriously into nominees,
with subsequent embarrassment to the city, the Council and the administration.

Councilors I have spoken with say they were impressed by
Bibi Stewart Garvin, the Mayor's nominee for Administration and Finance.

A resident of East Orange who serves on that city's Board of Ed (with a stint as president), Garvin has a master's degree in public administration from Rutgers. She has been an administrator in both River Vale and Dover Township in Morris County. She also worked on a Recycling Coordinators handbook put out by Rutgers, which is a nice plus.

Within a few short months of being hired by Dover, her salary was bumped $25,000 to $139,000 to ward off a poaching attempt by Morristown. This would indicate she is a desirable and competent administrator.

Dover has had some fractiousness over adjusting to its growing Latino population, and in early 2008 Garvin found herself caught in the middle of a tussle over developing Spanish-language information for the municipal website. On the face of it, it looks like the mayor tried to make her take the fall for his position on the issue
(see story here).

Not long after the website flap, she was terminated by the town with a settlement that sealed the reasons for the termination, which was effective immediately (last June, six months before the end of her contract). You can read stories in the Neighbor News (here), and the Gannett archives from the Daily Record (here).

It should be noted that there was a change of administrations during the course of Garvin's tenure in Dover, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that she eventually left. However, Plainfield's City Council would probably do well to parse Dover mayor Dodd's parting shot with some care --

“We’re a tightly knit community so we need someone who will be able to work equally well with employees and residents. So we’ll be doing much more extensive research than the last administration did regarding detailed background checks and references,” said Dodd. “We need to find the right person for the job. Someone who can make tough decisions but also someone who is a team player.”
If the reference to being a 'team player' is code for not lining up behind the mayor on the bilingual website question, Garvin should get marks for doing the right thing.

On the other hand, the Councilors have a responsibility to satisfy themselves as to any questions. Mine would be that we are certainly not contemplating a $139,000 salary, are we?

Mayor Robinson-Briggs' second major appointment up this evening is to name James Mangin of Kearny as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a slot which has not had a full-time person since Pete Sepelya's retirement last year. As of last week, Mangin had not met with the Council, though they were promised he would be presented to them before tonight's meeting.

Leaving Long Hill Township in Morris County to go to the Borough of Oakland, Mangin has been its CFO just over a year. Why he is leaving after just a year is a question the Council may want to have clarified. Money, of course, could be an answer.

Mangin, who has served as a Councilor (and ran for Mayor) in Kearny will probably find Plainfield's politics tame compared with those of Hudson County, where he has locked horns in the past with the famed political machine.

My question is whether he will be a standup guy or will find himself having to go along with the games that the Robinson-Briggs administration likes to play with the public purse.

In any event, Assemblyman Green will probably want to wear latex gloves tonight if he comes to congratulate the new appointees, as both are coming from environments where they have had to work well with Republicans and even -- God forbid! -- shake their hands.

If problems ensue, Green can always lay them on the doorstep of George W. Bush.

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

Regarding Ms Stewart Garvin, what prompted Dover Mayor Dodd, in his remarks regarding the settlement, to say: "So we’ll be doing much more extensive research than the last administration did regarding detailed background checks and references"?

Does the Plainfield administration know why this was said, and if so, why are they confident of a better outcome?

Anonymous said...

Garvin: "detailed background checks and references"

The rumor is that she had a DUI a few years ago that was bumped down to a faulty registration. It should be easy to check, don't forget Zulima Farber.

olddoc said...

Rubber gloves? nasty-nasty! Thanks for the bio on appointees.