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Monday, November 30, 2009

Robinson-Briggs administration plays Grinch to Council's Christmas

The Grinch team makes off with Whoville's gifts.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and City Administrator Marc Dashield are playing the Grinch (and sidekick) to City Council's Christmas.

While the Grinch and his dog Max stole Whoville's Christmas gifts, the present the duo is stealing here is the Council's holiday time with friends and family.

Once it became clear that Robinson-Briggs had avoided delivering a budget proposal -- including a layoff plan -- to the Council until (safely) after the November election, the Council's fate was sealed.

As Councilors pointed out to Dashield and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson last week, once handed over the budget becomes the Council's -- and amending it is entirely their prerogative.

Unfortunately for the Council, making meaningful changes and setting them in place in time to actually have any fiscal impact means getting under way immediately. Though they have set a compressed series of meetings (see Bernice here, and the calendar here), you can be sure that Council members have mulled both the issues involved and options they might take (see Councilor Mapp's detailed proposal here, and Councilor Storch on what other towns are doing about budget dilemmas here).

But as with all things Plainfield, this Grinchly tale has its own special twist.

In Seuss' story, the Grinch learns a valuable lesson about Christmas.

The only lesson it seems Mayor Robinson-Briggs is taking away from this budget crisis is that no matter how bad the difficulties the City faces, she can always order up some more eats to make it palatable (for example, Friday's annual tree lighting where she announces she is serving 'A LIGHT MEAL').

Meanwhile, the Council, on whom this wicked budget trick is being played may just have a few Grinchly surprises of its own for Mayor Robinson-Briggs.

One wonders what Robinson-Briggs will do if it turns out to be true that Marc Dashield's last day as city administrator will be December 31st.

Will there be a surprise for the red-costumed Grinch, too?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving is 'tinker' time

Improving the user experience?

Plainfield Today will take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to tinker with and spruce up the blog site.

There will be no posts on
Plainfield Today from Thanksgiving Day until Monday, November 30.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, and if you are visiting family away from the area, please travel safely.

See you Monday!

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Holiday gift ideas

With the Holiday shopping season upon us, Plainfield Today readers may be interested in two gift-giving opportunities.


Swain's is celebrating its 141st Anniversary with a special sale and Open House THANKSGIVING WEEKEND. Almost everything will be available at a discount of 20% -- Framing, gifts, Christmas cards, decorations, fine china, mirrors and selected paintings.

Friday | 9:30 AM - 6:00 PM
Saturday | 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Sunday | Noon - 4:00 PM

703 Watchung Avenue (corner of East 7th Street)
(908) 756-1707


"Village Life", one of four designs.

Former Plainfield resident, artist and educator Brenda Hillman (who has relocated to the Atlanta area) has for years felt the need to address a void in educational materials for African American youngsters and has just introduced a limited edition of four jigsaw puzzles featuring ethnic themes.

The puzzles, challenging enough for adults, but enjoyable to children are also recommended for therapeutic activity and with senior citizen groups. Each puzzle is composed of 513 pieces, measures 15"x22" and is s
uitable for framing.

Available for Christmas and Kwanzaa gift-giving or for Black History Month celebrations, the puzzles may be purchased online for $22.99 each.

Visit the artist's website at

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Budget: Council pushes back against recalcitrant administration

The Robinson-Briggs team a vaudeville act?.

With only three items on the Plainfield City Council's special meeting agenda Monday night, most of the meeting was devoted to just one of them: the Robinson-Briggs administration's proposed layoff plan.

Under close questioning by several Councilors, primarily Adrian Mapp, but also including Bill Reid, Linda Carter, and Council President Rashid Burney, the administration's claims to save money evaporated like morning dew under a rising sun.

Councilors and public alike scoffed at the idea that 10 hours per week put in by out-of-town consultants could possible equal the benefit of an in-house staff which not only knows Plainfield issues inside and out, but are also mostly local taxpayers.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs' point persons -- City Administrator Marc Dashield and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson - were however downright recalcitrant in the face of councilmanic and public pushback.

In fact, at several points Council President Burney had to tell Dashield that he would call upon him when he wanted to hear from him.

The closest questioning came around when and how the Robinson-Briggs administration decided to propose layoffs instead of other measures such as furloughs, wage freezes and other givebacks.

Dashield portrayed the process as one in which the Robinson-Briggs administration had consulted with the unions over the course of the year, a statement which drew whispers of 'Liar!' from several of the city workers sitting near me.

When PMEA president Cynthia Smith got up to the mike she refuted Dashield's claim, saying that the administration had never gotten back to them until after the November election, and then only with a layoff plan, and only for members of her union which she pointedly noted were the lowest paid among city workers.

Taking up the proposed gutting of the Planning Division by laying off two full-time and one half-time workers, Mapp asked Dashield several questions aimed at finding out just how the Robinson-Briggs administration arrived both its estimate of cost savings by the layoff and its estimate that replacing in-house staff by consultants would only cost the city $100,000.

Dashield's answers were not satisfying to Mapp or other council members.

Finally, Mapp announced that when the Council got to voting on the resolutions, he would propose an amendment taking the Planning Division layoffs out of the plan.

When voting got under way, the Robinson-Briggs administration's budget proposal was adopted by a 6-1 vote (Burney voted 'no'), and the application for extraordinary aid passed unanimously -- even though everyone concedes the proposed amount is not within the realm of realistic expectation.

Sure enough, when the time came for the layoff plan, Mapp proposed his amendment. After a moment of silence waiting for a second, Council President Burney said with a loud voice that HE was seconding the amendment.

In the discussion that preceded the vote on the amendment, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson asserted that the Council was out of bounds to amend the administration's proposed layoff plan, saying that the plan and the budget were inextricably linked, and that all the Council could do was either pass or reject the resolution.

Burney repeatedly asked Williamson if there was a 'legal' impediment to an amendment of the resolution, and each time Williamson backed off saying so outright.

Mapp lectured Williamson and Dashield on the proper role of the governing body as LEGISLATORS and that the Council was within its rights and responsibilities to amend ANY resolution that came before it by its lights.

Mapp also noted that there had been discussions prior to the presentation of the budget to the Council concerning the Planning Division employees, and that the administration's attitude was, 'No. Take it or leave it,' leaving as the only conclusion that the Robinson-Briggs administration was 'not interested in working with the Council'.

The amendment passed 4-2 with one abstention (Simmons). The amended resolution passed 4-3, meaning that a layoff plan will be submitted to Trenton, specifically excluding the Planning Division employees.

Dashield's and Williamson's performance seemed to me like the evil twins of the famous Abbott and Costello
'Who's on first?' routine.

Council members Reid, Mapp and Burney pointedly noted that the Robinson-Briggs administration's unwillingness to compromise left the job up to the Council, who now must make the final adjustments which will bind the administration for the balance of the fiscal year.

The Robinson-Briggs administration's recalcitrance casts the Council as the adult, responsible agents in the budget process, and the administration as the opposite.

The question for Plainfielders is this, 'Do we really need a vaudeville team running the city?'

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Budget situation more complicated than Robinson-Briggs understands?

Plainfield's budget struggle gets under way in earnest tonight with the Administration's formal offering (finally!) of its FY2010 proposal to the City Council.

Besides the budget itself, the Council will take up the Robinson-Briggs administration's proposed layoff plan and its extraordinary aid application to the State for FY2010.

Hopefully, City Council President Burney will take the opportunity to introduce the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) to the public and maybe ceremonially present them with their copies so they can also get down to business -- which they have been anxious to do since appointed earlier this Fall.

In fact, the CBAC has set up a blog to solicit citizen input and comment, as well as to update the public on the CBAC's work (see here).

While everyone's attention is focused on the issue of cost-cutting to minimize the pain of an expected tax increase, I have to wonder whether the Robinson-Briggs administration, which is not known for thinking very far ahead, has any plan at all for dealing with its budget problems in a longer-term perspective.

That means assessing situations over which the City has no control as well as those over which it does and shaping a plan that defends the integrity of necessary City services, maximizes revenue opportunities and reduces the pain to taxpayers as much as possible.

The Robinson-Briggs administration needs to show taxpayers that it understands the constraints of reality and stop looking to magical thinking --
  • Federal Stimulus money is designed to go away after 2010; monies already granted must be spent without the anticipation of any more help from the Feds -- whether for police staffing or infrastructure projects;

  • Gov.-elect Christie will be under tremendous pressure to keep state aid to cities under tight control, meaning we can only expect less, and it is a pure fiction to put out request numbers that have the same chances as a snowball in Hell;

  • The effects of the recession, especially on joblessness and small businesses, will be with us for at least another year, negatively impacting revenue streams for the City.

The Robinson-Briggs administration's proposed layoff plan has generated great anxiety both among employees and in the community, for two main reasons --
  • The GUTTING OF THE PLANNING DIVISION -- which is responsible for all planning, zoning and historic preservation matters citywide -- is widely seen as an effort to outsource these essential City functions to the politically juiced South Jersey engineering firm (Remington & Vernick) which suddenly appeared on the scene after tens of thousands of dollars were 'wheeled' to Mayor Robinson-Briggs' 2005 primary campaign, securing her election as mayor;

  • There is NO MENTION OF FURLOUGHS as an alternative to layoffs -- something which the Robinson-Briggs administration undertook discussions on last year but never effected. I have been told several unions, understanding furloughs shared the pain and saved jobs, were ready to move ahead but the Robinson-Briggs administration let the opportunity pass.

Reducing pain to taxpayers has got to be a long-term perspective of the Robinson-Briggs administration, and that means planning --
  • REVENUE PLANNING would include items such as how to shore up PARKING and TRAFFIC COURT revenues, as well as UNEXPLORED REVENUE SOURCES such as cell-tower fees, and increased user fees;

  • MAINTAINING ASSESSMENT INTEGRITY is a ticklish issue, but every tax appeal that is successful only pushes the burden onto the shoulders of the other taxpayers, so it is in the interest of ALL TAXPAYERS to defend against tax appeals -- especially in the non-residential sector, where they have a disproportionate impact on the tax base; and

  • DIVERSIFYING THE TAX BASE by correcting the imbalance between the residential and CIB (commercial, industrial and business) portions of the tax base. In the mid-1960s, CIB accounted for one third of the tax revenues; the last I checked the figure was down to 18%, all the rest of the balance being carried by residential property owners. To counteract this decline, the Robinson-Briggs administration needs to have a two-pronged strategy of preserving those components already in place and of attracting new businesses across the CIB spectrum to locate in Plainfield.
Lastly, and most painful for me personally -- since the appearance of the community is so important to people's perceptions of its overall attractiveness -- would be to declare a moratorium on road improvements. Not forever, but for the duration of the recession.

The current hard times will not last forever, and once the economic situation at the grassroots begins to improve, the question of the long-term roads plan can be put back on the active agenda.

The Robinson-Briggs administration has managed to dodge the budget bullet over the past four years, but time and circumstances have caught up with it. If we are going to be faced with four more years of a Robinson-Briggs administration, it is only fair to expect better planning and management of the tasks at hand.

And I haven't even mentioned the line item for catering and sweets.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Memo to Dr. Gallon: Wisdom from Mark Twain

Statue of Twain at Hannibal, Missouri.

Plainfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Gallon III has been much in the news in the past few days, and it hasn't been exactly edifying.

Like it or not, the public is going to have an opinion. Whether or not it is well-informed or less so is primarily the result of Dr. Gallon's ability to anticipate issues and explain his decisions. (For instance, walking a sensitive personnel matter onto the agenda AFTER the public comment section has been closed.)

Like it or not, the media is going to cover school district goings-on. It should come as no surprise that controversy sells newspapers.

Dissing the public or the press is never a good idea.

As Mark Twain is supposed to have said, 'Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel.'

Which can now be updated to include 'and uploads his files by the gigabyte'.

Cartoon by Steve Greenberg ©1996.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, November 20, 2009

What Corporation Counsel wanted Burney to take down from blog. But why?

Screenshot of Google cache for Burney post.

Plainfield's City Council President Rashid Burney posted his concerns about the Robinson-Briggs administration's proposed layoff plan to his blog last Sunday, November 15.

His original post was altered at 10:16 AM to remove a section at the request of Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson (note that this was on a SUNDAY; Williamson, it seems, is working on the Sabbath).

After outlining some of the plan, Burney takes exception to one element. Here is the section that was removed --
Let me explain. For one, the plan decimates our planning department to the amount of 50%. I guess the argument is that such functions can be taken over by our engineering firm (at "no cost" as was the argument presented two years ago). But here is the problem with that logic:
  • 1. They really do not know our town that well.

  • 2. While it makes sense to outsource repetitive tasks, tasks that require planning and tasks that affect the entire city cannot be outsourced readily. Further, the actual costs to us will be much more if not this year, then next year. And far more again, when the right planning is not done right. This is not the first time this department of so few has come under the axe. I fail to see the value of such cuts.
So, Councilor Burney is questioning the wisdom of gutting the Planning Division.

I know that a lot of people out at last Monday's Council meeting were there over the same issue.

The question here is WHY Mr. Williamson wanted these points taken down, in advance of the Council meeting and -- presumably -- before much of the public got to read them.

Fortunately -- or UNFORTUNATELY, it depends on your point of view -- documents posted to the Internet never die, they just go to live in Google's cache.

Hence you, dear reader, get a second chance to read this one in particular.

Why do you think Mr. Williamson wanted this section taken down ...

'For now'.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reader suggestion: Make League attendance a homework assignment

Lobby of the A.C. Convention Center.

A reader commenting on Plainfield officials' attendance at the League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City (see yesterday's story here) made the following suggestion --
I think that everyone who goes to the Conference should have to give the citizens a full 10-page report (including expense reports) on what they did, how they benefited from the trip, and how the taxpayers of Plainfield will be benefited.
I kind of like that.

It sort of reminds me of those 'How I spent my summer vacation' essays we were required to write each September back in my 3-room country schoolhouse.

Miss Cumro taught us it wasn't enough just to make a list, we had to tell a story, with a beginning, middle and end.
Contemporary educators would probably call it an exercise in developing critical thinking skills.

I happen to know that many of the staffers who go down to the annual event do attend worthwhile workshops and seminars and are not there for the schmoozing and boozing -- many of them, in fact, are earning continuing education units (CEUs) required to keep their certifications up-to-date.

The same cannot be said of department heads and elected officials.

It WOULD BE REFRESHING to have them tell us what they did and how they and Plainfield's taxpayers benefit.

Right on, anonymous reader!

Write on, Conference attendees!

(PS -- It goes without saying I will gladly post -- unedited -- any submissions by attendees that come my way. Maybe they could be put on the City website, too ... just dreamin'.)

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Census jobs available for Plainfielders

Taking Plainfield's 2010 Census will provide $13/hour jobs for full- and part-time workers, according to information distributed by local coordinator George Gore at Monday's council meeting.

Today's Star-Ledger notes that officials responsible for New Jersey's count are looking to hire up to 15,000 workers for the decennial count (see here).

Plainfield residents who land the jobs can look forward to good pay and flexible hours as well as a chance to help the community hit its 50,001 goal.

Applicants must be 18 or older, have a valid Social Security number and pass a multiple-choice basic skills test. Hours can range from 10 to 40 hours per week.

Call toll-free to schedule the qualifying test: (866) 861-2010; you will be prompted to enter a ZIP code for your area of interest. You can also check the jobs website at

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Swine Flu vaccinations Saturday

Per Plainfield's Health Division, FREE Swine Flu vaccinations are available Saturday --


Muhlenberg Campus School of Nursing
Park and Moffett Avenues

Saturday, November 21, 2009

9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

  • Pregnant Women
  • Caregivers of infants up to 6 months old
  • Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old

For more information, contact the City of Plainfield Health Division:
(908) 753-3092

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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The PMUA retreats ... to the Borgata

Legal notice of the PMUA's 'retreat'.
(Click to enlarge or print.)

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority had a 'retreat' yesterday at the Borgata in Atlantic City, according to the special notice in a local paper supplied by a reader (see scan above).

This would have been for the Board of Commissioners and executive staff, natch. The purpose stated in the ad is 'to discuss operational strategies and budget objectives in preparation for the coming CY2010'.

Why schedule a 'retreat' in Atlantic City for 9 AM on the day the NJ League of Municipalities 94th Annual Conference opens?

An opportunity for a twofer at the ratepayers' expense?

Those following the PMUA may want to OPRA the meeting's agenda and minutes.

The PMUA's 'retreat' center, The Borgata.

Not to mention the hotel and expense records for the 'retreat' (you will note it's at the upscale and expensive Borgata and not at a more recession-appropriate venue like the Super 8 Atlantic City, just as close to the Convention Center).

All the more interesting as today's Courier carries a story of the PMUA's threatening to pass along to ratepayers the approximately $400,000 in uncollected debts of Connolly Properties if the bankruptcy court won't let the PMUA sell liens on the properties (see here).

A more recession-appropriate venue?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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League Conference in A.C.: What should officials be boning up on?

Elected officials and administrators from Plainfield will be joining those from across New Jersey this week for the 94th Annual Conference of the NJ League of Municipalities (NJLM).

Traditionally, it has been a week of schmoozing, boozing and deal-making -- including some of the most egregious corruption in recent NJ history.

But there are also some excellent opportunities to bone up on a wide variety of issues and opportunities facing elected officials and local governments in the Garden State. (I remember a workshop on cable TV franchises being invaluable in preparation for my service as secretary to the Cable TV committee that negotiated the 1999 cable franchise agreement.)

The NJLM has posted this year's workshop list online (see here).

What do you think your local officials should be boning up on while they're in A.C. on the public dime?
  • Negotiation skills? Immigration issues? Technology? (yesterday at 3:45 PM)

  • Mortgage mediation? E-mail retention & document management policies? (today, 9 AM)

  • Finding grants? Reducing violence? Local telecommunication tax revenues? (today, 10:45 AM)

  • Transit-oriented development? The Census? Police chiefs vs. Public safety directors? Economic development strategies? (today, 2 PM)
This is just a sampling of the many worthwhile opportunities.

Which ones will PLAINFIELD'S elected officials take advantage of?

Which should they?

And how will you know?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mayor's Census show barges in ... and sinks

Some of the 150 or so who attended last night's Council meeting
-- though not there because of the Census presentation.

Plainfield City Council President Rashid Burney pressed the Robinson-Briggs administration pretty hard at last week's agenda-setting session, wanting to know what the administration's plan for the 2010 Census was. City Administrator Marc Dashield agreed to ask the Census folks in for last night's business meeting.

They came. We saw. They did not conquer.

In fact, the whole Census dog-and-pony show last night reminded me of the worst review actress Tallulah Bankhead ever received. Writing in the New York Post after her 1937 Broadway premier in Antony and Cleopatra, John Mason Brown's one-line zinger was, 'Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile as Cleopatra last night -- and sank' (see here).

While about a hundred and fifty residents and employees waited patiently for the 8:00 PM meeting to begin (we were finally let in about 8:45 PM), the Census crew arrived somewhat after 8:30 PM and literally barged their way in past those standing in line inside the door, lugging boxes and bags of materials with them.

Once the meeting got under way, the Census group's photographer tromped up and down the crowded side aisle to get footage of the crowd. If it shows up in a Census PSA (public service announcement), how much you wanna bet it will NOT be noted that the crowd was NOT there for a Census presentation?

Kevin Derricotte presented on behalf of the Census team, noting that Plainfield's effort kicked off on
June 4 and 'we have been working since that point with the mayor' -- mentioning specifically the two 'Music in the Plaza' concerts and 'various events'.

Derricotte also mentioned presentations to Shiloh Baptist Church and 'the Presbyterians'. Turns out the latter reference appears to concern El Centro Hispanoamericano, a troubled independent local nonprofit which happens to be housed at United Presbyterian Church on East Front Street. Later referring to both Shiloh and El Centro as 'partners', Derricotte said he 'hadn't spoken with Ms. Hernandez [of El Centro] in about a month'.

(No mention at all was made by Derricotte or Mayor Robinson-Briggs of the two-day Latin American Independence Festival in October, which had thousand of attendees but no Census presence whatsoever.)

The Council listened respectfully to the presentation, but when Derricotte had finished, Council President Burney pressed once again on what he -- and the rest of the Council -- consider the main issues, the crucial importance of engaging foreign-born residents and the necessity of having a plan.

Seeming somewhat flustered, Derricotte rattled off dates of upcoming events, at one point mistakenly referring to Plainfield as 'Linden', garnering a murmur from attendees.

Undeterred, individual councilors took up questioning
Derricotte, and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took the microphone at points to buttress his responses. At this point, Councilors shifted their questions to the mayor directly.

Councilor Mapp asked Mayor Robinson-Briggs whether the city's Census plan could be put up on the city's website for all to see. Mayor Robinson-Briggs replied, 'Absolutely ... in December there will be a PSA (public service announcement)'.

Councilor McWilliams asked the Mayor 'when can the Council see the list of Complete Count Committee members'? Mayor Robinson-Briggs gave no direct answer about sharing the list with the Council, instead attempting to finesse the situation by saying 'the Council was welcome to come to the meetings and take part'.

Council President Burney pressed once more on the question of foreign-born residents, asking Mayor Robinson-Briggs 'if we can have them [the Latino leaders and groups to whom she has reached out] come and talk to us'? Without giving Burney a direct answer, Robinson-Briggs ticked off the list of those she had spoken with: Alma Cruz (and her group, whose name Robinson-Briggs could not quite recall -- it is Latinas En Accion), Nelson Ortega and Carmen Salavarrieta.

Pretty thin stuff.

The Council is quite right to be concerned about whether at this late stage (the Census questionnaires arrive in March) the Robinson-Briggs administration has any plan at all and whether, if it does, it has any REALISTIC plan to engage foreign-born residents in participating.

What Mayor Robinson-Briggs and
Derricotte did last night was to list events.

Events, however, are not a plan.

And a plan is what is needed.

Having worked on the 2000 Census, I can testify that --
  • We began our preparations MORE THAN A YEAR IN ADVANCE of the actual Census;

  • Mayor Al McWilliams made the broadest outreach to the community, including public and private schools, nonprofits, churches, social agencies, and cultural and civic organizations;

  • The whole was headed up by Library Director Joe Da Rold and a sizeable complete count committee, which developed a plan of action;

  • We did net an increase of over 2,000 in Plainfield's count (to 47,829) -- short of the 50,001 goal, but a definite plus.
Nothing that was said last night or has been done so far gives evidence of any plan by the Robinson-Briggs administration to effectively get us to the goal of 50,001.

They barged through the meeting -- and sank.

Tomorrow, I will offer some modest suggestions on what can be done in the short time that remains.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Monarch condos occupied without certification?

Monarch condos.

Is someone living in the Monarch condos above Plainfield's new Senior Center without the building having been certified for occupancy?

Even as late as Veterans Day, when attendees were specifically told to park ELSEWHERE than the new Monarch complex's parking lot, it appeared issues with granting a certificate of occupany on the 62-unit complex were still unresolved.

Yet, driving by one evening last week, I noticed lights on in a unit facing East Front Street.

Thinking someone may have forgotten to outen the lights after showing a unit to a prospective buyer, I made a mental note.

Talking with a real estate professional later, I was told that indeed there IS an occupant in one of the units.

I'll be checking in with City Hall about the status later this morning.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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What the NY Post doesn't know about Jim McGreevey

The NY Post ran a story on McGreevey Sunday.

Plainfielders should never get their sports news from Dan ... or their religion news from the New York Post.

The Post ran a story Sunday about ex-Governor Jim McGreevey's preparation to enter the priesthood (see here).

When he entered General Theological Seminary in New York, he was assigned as a study partner my friend Susan Ironside, whose ordination as a deacon I attended on Saturday (and posted about here). In had every intention of asking Susan how her study buddy McGreevey was doing, but in the hubbub of ordinands, clergy, families and wellwishers, it slipped my mind.

Only to be jogged when the Courier posted an online link (see here) to the Post story.

My misgivings about the journalistic excellence of what was going on started with the Courier, which noted McGreevey had 'joined' the seminary in 2007.

Does one 'join' Rutgers or Kean?

He enrolled, unidentified staff person.

On to the Post, where we are told McGreevey --
  • 'isn't far enough along in his seminary studies to actually give sermons'

  • '...helped [the priest] bless the Eucharist' and

  • 'helped baptize a group of babies and young children'
Where to start?

He probably IS far enough along in his studies to give sermons. In fact, students are encouraged to get practice preaching, though often (since technically the bishop must license someone to preach) the supervising priest will present the student as 'making an address', a work-around that requires only the priest's permission and not the bishop's.

McGreevey would not, however, 'help' the priest 'bless the Eucharist'. If he was at the altar as a server (a role often filled in Catholic as well as Episcopal churches by teenaged girls and boys), he would have helped by giving the priest needed items (wine, water, wafers), perhaps in the ceremonial washing by the priest of his hands, and just perhaps have acted as a 'page-turner' for the priest as he recited the Eucharistic prayer. All of that he might do, but 'bless the Eucharist' he would not.

Ditto 'helping' baptize. There is much to do to assist a priest in baptisms, and lay persons and family members are often pressed into service. But the act of baptizing is done by the priest (or a deacon).

The problem with all of this is that journalists are assigned stories the backstory of which eludes them, and reportage -- while well-intentioned -- often misrepresents what is actually taking place before their eyes. The subject of the story is not well-served, nor is the reading public.

You would never want to get your sports news from Dan.

Nor your religion news from the Post.

Unless it wasn't religion news at all, but gossip under another heading (try hovering your cursor over the image of McGreevey holding the processional cross and see what the popup window says).

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

BREAKING: Burglary on Charlotte; DWI seriously injures man

Map showing locations of DWI incident and Charlotte Road.

Two breaking items Sunday morning --

Word received mid-morning Sunday that a male broke the glass of a rear door on a Charlotte Road home, entered and then fled when the alarm sounded, taking several items of jewelry with him, before police could arrive.

Also reported mid-morning Sunday -- a drunk driver appears to have been driving substantially over the speed limit and lost control on Richmond Street, crossing to the other side of the street and hitting a parked pickup truck near the interesction with Putnam Avenue, seriously injuring a man who was getting into it. A passenger in the truck as well as the drunk driver were also injured.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Where are they now? Plainfield's 'stalking horse' political blogs

During Plainfield's most recent political seasons there have been two 'stalking horse' blogs perhaps not known to the general blog-reading public. I thought to check up on them this weekend, to see what they're up to now that there is no political contest.

I call them 'stalking horse' blogs because, while pretending to be disinterested, they actually are were decoys promoting political candidacies.

Of course you know that Dan has endorsed political candidates, and you may ask yourself why he did not include these blogs in the daily CLIPS roundups during the campaign season.

Close readers of the blogs will note that Dan, Olddoc, Bernice and Maria have all commented at various times on 'anonymous' bloggers. Dan has made it very clear that if a blogger won't sign her or his real name, they won't be covered
in CLIPS. Fair enough, right?

Now, to the blogs.

The first is 'No Strings Attached', whose tagline defies compression, and which started appearing in January 2009, with an interesting spurt of activity during the fall general election season.

The 'author' of the blog claims to have 'a Bachelor of Arts wherein English, History, and British Literature are truffles of sweetness in my world'. (Take that, those of you who ever thought Dan could be highfalutin'!)

I say 'author' in quotes because if you read through the posts you will notice that as the fall political season approaches, the 'voice' of the writer undergoes a distinct transformation.

There are those who think that the blog had become at this point a mouthpiece for Assemblyman Jerry Green in his re-election bid, as it echoed his style and his themes.

Read and decide for yourself.

The second blog is "The Plain View", billed as 'A Commentary on People, Places Events and Life in Plainfield, NJ'.

This blog claims to be authored by Jazz Johnson, whom some will remember as Plainfield's (and before that, the PMUA's) public information officer. There are a total of nine posts from March through May.

I say 'claims' because as Plainfield's public information officer, I had years of experience with Jazz's writing style in numerous press releases and personal communications.

The writing style in these blog posts bears no resemblance at all to Jazz's as far as I can tell, and the blog was never noted on
CLIPS because I thought the posts were authored by someone other than Jazz.

Rumors eventually surfaced that suggested they were written by a high-ranking PMUA executive -- which might be inferred from both the attacks on Adrian Mapp and the extended defense of the PMUA (remember the PMUA was a hot topic during the primary).

While I have no proof, I do find it interesting that the posts ceased after May 20.

Was there nothing else to write about?

Meanwhile, back at the daily slog you will find Dan, Bernice, Olddoc, and Maria, now joined by Piv as a regular blogger.

And we have Councilors Mapp, Storch, McWilliams and Burney, as well as Assemblyman Jerry Green who chime in frequently, though not daily.

That, plus Plainfield Sports News, Plainfield Trees, and the three personal blogs by Rebecca, Renata and Jackie make Plainfield perhaps the liveliest blog scene in New Jersey.

Could even be livelier if 'stalking horses' want to sign their real names.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Three priests rise out of a modest congregation

The Blessed Virgin Mary,
stained glass window in Grace Church.

An abbreviated Plainfield Today today -- am off to the ordination of my friend Susan Ironside as a 'transitional' deacon at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton this morning. 'Transitional' because she will soon be ordained to the priesthood.

Susan is yet another candidate for the priesthood arising out of Grace Episcopal Church in recent years. She and her husband, Andrew Moore (who was Grace's organist for ten years) were deeply involved in parish life before Andrew was lured away by St. John's-on-the-Mountain in Bernardsville.

John Hartman, who lived in Plainfield many years, was recently ordained an Episcopal priest and is serving an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania.

Peter Manzo, now rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in Cherry Hill is the third priest out of Grace Church. Peter, a former Roman Catholic deacon, was drawn to Grace Church after stopping by a plant sale at which Lois Mattson and I were volunteering the Saturday before Mother's Day one year. He and his wife Joan started attending the next day and ultimately Peter, an attorney with a practice in immigration law, was ordained.

Quite a record for a modest urban parish that may have thought its glory days were past.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Speed humps? What are your suggested locations?

Today's Courier features a story (see here) on the new speed humps on Kensington Avenue, promoted by Councilors Cory Storch and Rashid Burney and noted previously on their blogs (see here and here).

Speed humps (see more here) are 'traffic-calming' devices designed to slow down speeding traffic. They are placed at intervals along stretches of city streets that have no stop signs or traffic lights for considerable distances, a condition that some argue encourages speeding.

For years, there have been complaints from various neighborhoods about speeding along various city streets.

Councilors Storch and Burney hope that Kensington Avenue is only the opening salvo in a war against speeding.

Some cities, such as Phoenix, Arizona, have speed hump programs that formalize a process in which citizens may petition to have the traffic-calming devices installed in their neighborhoods. The city's website also explains the positives and negatives of speed humps in helping citizens decide if they want to petition for them.

What do you think about speed humps, and having a speed hump program for Plainfield?

What are your suggestions of streets that might be considered?

Remember, they need to be --
  • Entirely within the city of Plainfield
  • Long stretches of road unimpeded by stop signs or traffic signals
  • Places you know that motorists speed
Just use the 'Comments' link below to offer your suggestions.

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Home invasion Thursday

The 800-block of George Street is a quiet residential neighborhood.

I have learned there was a home invasion in the 800-block of George Street Thursday
evening. UPDATE. I have since been told the incident happened around 3:00 PM, when three men with handguns stormed into the house.The victim is said to have escaped by jumping from a second-floor window.

This is a quiet residential neighborhood near the Stone Square Lodge and Seidler Field.

George Street starts at St. Mary's Cemetery and runs east past St. Bernard's Church to the city line at Terrill Road.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Holiday decorations ... not exactly a correction

A DPW worker (not Superintendent John Louise)
mounting holiday decorations outside the (original) Texas Weiner
near Watchung Avenue and East Front Street.
(Photo courtesy Cheri Bullock)

Consider it an amplification of yesterday's picture gallery of scenes around Plainfield.

The holiday decorations being put up downtown (and caught with her cellphone camera by Cheri Bullock) are being paid for by Plainfield's Special Improvement District (SID).

The SID, a geographically bounded area that includes both the downtown and South Avenue shopping districts, has as its mission the promotion of Plainfield's businesses.

In addition to street banners and beautification efforts, the SID sponsors events designed to draw shoppers to Plainfield's retail businesses.

Among those is its annual Horse and Wagon ride, the 4th of which is scheduled for Saturday, December 5, says SID president Lisa Cohen, owner of Suburban Jewelers
on East Front Street.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scene around town

Aarons Furniture store on Somerset Street
was attacked by an unidentified flying (or nearly so)
object, Saturday night October 24.

Is that DPW Superintendent John Louise
mounting holiday decorations
outside the (original) Texas Weiner
near Watchung Avenue and East Front Street?
(Photo courtesy Cheri Bullock)

Her Hillside Avenue family home displays
a proud and happy welcome home from Iraq
to Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes.

Bernice and I were struck by the same sign
in a Dollar store window -- showing even
dollar stores are subject to price escalation
and must adjust their marketing statements to match the facts.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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