The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kensington Avenue: Dear world, America is back!!!




Well put thoughts on our new President and America's role in the world, caught at the corner of Kensington and Thornton Avenues.



-- Dan Damon

Friday, January 30, 2009

CNN's 'Plainfield's 'Devil's Cave' story raises questions




In the 'Devil's Cave'. Image: CNN.

Yesterday evening, CNN ran a heart-rending story on a group of homeless immigrants living under the porch of an abandoned Plainfield house which they had dubbed 'the Devil's Cave' (see here).

After describing the horrendous conditions into which the men were forced as the result of the economy's downturn, and how they 'propped up their dignity' as a group, the story turns to how their situation was discovered and alleviated.

Carmen Salavarrieta, planning a Christmas party at El Centro, learned from some of those wanting to attend that they were living under the porch.

The rest of the story is how this latter-day Lady Bountiful worked her magic to rescue the men and how Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs chipped in to help.

And that is where the questions start to come up.

As CNN puts it --
"'I came to take them out of the cave and put them in a shelter. They were allowed to stay there only for three days. So we gave them clean clothes, food and they looked like honorable people. But the three days were over and I did not know what to do, I can not let them out in the street again,' [Salavarrieta] said.

"She was able to put some of the men in a small apartment she owned. Others found places with friends. Plainfield's mayor even chipped in, Salavarrieta said, footing the bill for some hotel rooms."

Those familiar with the provision of emergency housing services will recognize the 'three days' as what is offered to those in obviously emergent need, pending their enrollment in one of the existing, government-funded, assistance programs.

Standing silently behind
Salavarrieta's consternation is the possibility that the reason these men could not be further accommodated is that they are undocumented persons and hence not eligible for these services.

[The matter of undocumented persons in this country is a vexed question, one that we all can hope President Obama will take up with more success than Bush was able to muster. In the meantime, I consider this a story of a HUMANITARIAN response to persons in dire need. Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions ALL lay a burden on their adherents to care for 'strangers among you'. Be forewarned: I will not post comments that contain any anti-immigrant rants. Period.]

Salavarrieta found creative solutions for the men (for at least long enough to get media attention) and even involved Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who '[footed] the bill for some hotel rooms'.

But getting a one-time, heart-tugging story in the media has a troubling aspect: it leaves those who have been charged with doing something about the matter out of the picture and off the hook.

Plainfield probably has hundreds of daylaborers in similar circumstances as the men in this story. Who knows how many of them are living in similar situations? (I have been told that some are in a vacant building on North Avenue directly across from the train station.)

Who is watching out for these people?

Assemblyman Green and Mayor
Robinson-Briggs set up a task force to address immigrant issues with great fanfare a year or so ago. Two meetings and that was the last we heard of it.

What is that task force doing about the problems daylaborers are facing?

Assemblyman Green also noted on his blog (see here) that two Plainfielders had been appointed to Gov. Corzine's 'Task Force on Day-Laborers' -- one by the governor, and one at the request of the Assemblyman. Since then, we have heard nothing from the Assemblyman on the matter.

Do we have to wait until what is found under the porch of an abandoned Plainfield house are not disheveled men but frozen bodies?



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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Robinson-Briggs on Plainfield and Stimulus Plan: Stimulus? What stimulus?




Will Plainfield benefit from President Obama's economic stimulus package, which is on a fast track to final passage?

Probably not, given the lack of leadership by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who has evidently fluffed a major opportunity to get in line for help. This, despite her unique position to benefit from the stimulus bill.

Expecting the passage of the bill and a scramble to get some of the funding, the NJ League of Municipalities launched a campaign IN DECEMBER (see here) to get municipalities to submit proposals by January 6 to get in line for funding.

Mayors were sent a letter and details on submitting a proposal as well as having the information put on the League's website.

Can you guess where this is going? Check the list of 132 towns and their submissions here (PDF). What you will NOT FIND is a submission from Plainfield.

What is particularly painful is that Assemblyman Jerry Green recently crowed about Mayor Robinson-Briggs' election in November to the EXECUTIVE BOARD of the
NJ League of Municipalities (see here).

Speaking of the impact of the national crisis on local governments, Assemblyman Green says --
What touched me particularly was the fact that the conversations regarding these [national] issues revolved around the truth that we ALL have to work TOGETHER to progressively conquer and overcome the crises that was birthed on the federal level, and has poured down to the state and local governments. These blunders, as we all can see, are negatively affecting our ability on the state and local level, to deliver services to our communities.

Further, Assemblyman Green notes how important Mayor Robinson-Briggs will be in representing the interests of New Jersey's 566 municipalities (including her own) to all levels of government --
I would like to take this time out now to share with you a portion of the press release announcing Mayor Robinson-Briggs’ nomination:

On Friday, November 21, 2008, New Jersey’s mayors elected Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Mayor of Plainfield in Union County to serve on the Executive Board of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

As a member of the League’s Executive Board, Mayor Robinson-Briggs will help lead the Association of New Jersey’s 566 municipal governments. Mayor Robinson-Briggs will represent the interests and needs of New Jersey’s local elected officials to county, state, and federal governments.

When asked at Monday's City Council agenda session about a submission for the stimulus funds, Mr. Dashield said there was no submission by Plainfield to his knowledge.

With the passage of the bill by the House on Wednesday (without a single Republican vote), the stimulus package will now be debated by the Senate (see story here).

Across the country, the rush by state and local governments and other institutions in preparing submissions for consideration in allocating the precious resources once the bill is finalized is in full swing.

The Press of Atlantic City headlines its story: "Early towns may get check from Obama stimulus funds". The Bergen Record headlined its story: "Municipalities angle for Obama stimulus funds".

Time is of the essence.

Except, it seems, in Plainfield, where
Mayor Robinson-Briggs evidently doesn't find this stimulating enough to get on board.

Report Card on Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Like the report cards we used to take home for our parents' review and signature, Mayor Robinson-Briggs will be earning grades ranging from A to F (plus E for effort) --

ITEM

GRADE
LINK
COMMENT
01/29/09: Stimulus Program? What stimulus?
F
See story HERE.
Failed to submit proposal.







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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Council calendar changes: Looking before leaping always a wise policy





Plainfield City Council President Rashid Burney has put a revision of the Council's 2009 calendar on the front burner, as noted in today's Courier (see here).

One has to sympathize with his stated wishes for more public participation and more transparency on the Council's part.

But, as with all things in life, looking before leaping is highly recommended.

This is especially the case if it is true, as I was told, that one of the proposed new meeting dates would land on the date prescribed for the bi-annual reorganization of the Democratic City Committee (the two parties elect and reorganize their committees in alternate years; 2009 is the Dems' turn).

One agenda and one business meeting per month makes sense to me (haven't we had this conversation before?).

As for increasing the public's participation, a little history review should be helpful.

We should remind ourselves that Council sessions -- agenda and business -- were VERY WELL ATTENDED before the last, and unfortunate, rejiggering of the Council calendar.

Under that misbegotten policy, the all-Mondays schedule which had been in place for at least 80 years was abandoned for a higgledy-piggledy Monday-Wednesday schedule that 1) ignored the fact that many residents would have a conflict with Wednesday Bible study groups, and 2) left the City Clerk and Council in an exhausted heap on the week that had both Monday and Wednesday meetings.

We should also remind ourselves that the public has ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM FINDING TIME TO COME OUT WHEN ISSUES OF PERCEIVED IMPORTANCE ARISE. Just recall the turnout for the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee report and the take-home car policy discussions
as recent instances, not to mention Dudley House and the Tsunami Track Club.

Implicit in this history are two points, it seems to me: 1) the less jiggering the better, 2) the public's idea of what's important may differ from the Council's.

As for hopscotching around town to hold meetings in various school buildings, my question is: How is the public at large going to know what's going on? (Not an issue when meetings are always held in the same places.)

Legal notices? We all know those are 'lightly' read, to say the least.

The city's official website? Even Mayor Robinson-Briggs' ardent supporters find it frustrating to use and generally behind the curve on public information (a recent example was the posting ON THE MORNING OF CHRISTMAS EVE that offices would close at 12:30 PM THAT DAY).

Channel 74, Plainfield's public access channel? How about the people that don't have cable? Or who use satellite or FIOS?

One must consider the possibility that using public schools for Council meetings may have exactly the opposite effect from that intended -- that attendance and participation would be driven DOWN.

Are there things that could be done to encourage greater public attendance and participation, other than those already proposed?

I have TWO MODEST PROPOSALS that address the two complaints I hear the most from attendees:
1) FOCUS ON COUNCIL BUSINESS, NOT EXTRANEOUS MATTERS. Often, presentations made to Council on topics concerning upcoming business are over-long, ill-prepared and poorly delivered. Additionally, the public is often shut out with regard to handouts, charts and maps. When this business is necessary, require that presenters keep to strict time limits and provide materials for the public as well as the Council. Banish huffery and puffery and cutesy bits and the public will praise you for it.

2) AMEND THE RULES TO ALLOW PUBLIC COMMENT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE AGENDA-SETTING SESSION. Allowing the public to have input on items on the proposed agendas AT THE BEGINNING of the meeting would do more than almost any other measure to reassure the public of the Council's desire for transparency. There is plenty of evidence the public is not stupid and can raise important and valid questions the Council should take into consideration as it sets the agendas for its business meetings. The general procedure for comments used at the business meeting could be applied, and might actually SHORTEN the meetings and reduce the level of frustration among the public in attendance.
As Council President Burney has said, "Why not give it a try?"


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mapp announces run for Mayor




Adrian Mapp with his mother, Mother's Day, 2008.

Adrian Mapp, Councilman for Plainfield's Ward 3, announced on Monday that he will run for the Democratic nomination for mayor in this year's primary election.

Mapp, who previously served two terms as a member of the Plainfield City Council and a term as Union County Freeholder, won re-election to the Council this past November, having wrested the line from the regular Democratic organization's candidate in last year's June primary upset, where organization candidates were defeated by the grassroots Mapp-McWilliams ticket by a 3-2 margin. In heavily Democratic Plainfield, a primary victory is tantamount to election to the office.

"I had planned as far back as 2007 on running for Mayor," says Mapp, "but put that thought on the back burner after I was approached by residents about running for the Ward 3 seat. Folks were concerned that with the issues the country and the City were facing, a more experienced and pro-active presence was needed from the Third Ward."

Mapp is one of the original group of grassroots elected officials which resulted from the leadership of the late Mayor Al McWillliams and includes a majority of the sitting Council as well as a current member of the Freeholder board.

"I have become increasingly concerned as I prepared to rejoin the Council and as we begin our terms that the current administration is run in a shoddy and secretive manner that is not respectful of residents' needs or concerns, and Plainfield is thus ill-served. Like the rest of the country, Plainfield is facing an extremely difficult future for at least the next two years. People are losing their jobs and their homes, the likelihood that our tax receipts will be negatively impacted is very high, and we MUST come to grips with the realities of the situation. Plainfield simply cannot afford four more years of a mayor who rushes to hug people but seems incapable of actually helping them.

"People are angry and dismayed about the closing of Muhlenberg Hospital and cannot understand why -- to this date -- Robinson-Briggs has not tried to exert any influence through her position as a board member. In fact, she does not even participate in the Board.

"Taxpayers are properly upset at the abysmal condition of the City's roadways and the utter incompetence of the current administration in addressing the issue in a timely fashion.

"The City's fiscal situation needs to be addressed by someone who, like myself, understands the complexity of the issues we face and has the experience to deal in a thorough and timely manner with the issues.

"Mayor Robinson-Briggs has made much of her efforts at shared services -- as though the few thousands of dollars involved in sharing an animal control officer with Dunellen really amounts to something. I believe the taxpayers of Plainfield can be better served by real shared services that have significant fiscal impacts and are not just window-dressing, and I pledge to make the search for meaningful savings through shared services a mandate to which my administration will adhere.

"Lastly, I believe that the only way the community can be unified is by actively engaging all the residents and taxpayers in a search for excellence in government, responsiveness to residents' needs and concerns and encouraging all to commit themselves to community service and improvement as President Obama has called upon us to do."



-- Dan Damon

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tonight's Council: Should the Administration bring its Pepto-Bismol?




Tonight's Plainfield City Council's agenda-setting session could leave Mayor Robinson-Briggs and her top administrators reaching for their Pepto-Bismol®.

The tummy-settling tablets may be needed when the Council takes up tonight's discussion items: the still-unborn FY2009 budget, the East 6th Street (Bryant Park) playground proposal, and take-home City vehicles.

(That last point I will not take up again, as it has been thoroughly discussed on Plainfield Today, with a poll on the matter in which 182 readers took part -- see here.)

But there are plenty of unanswered questions on the other two matters --

THE BUDGET
  • What is the status of the State aid figure? When is it coming? How much will it be?

  • Is the Division of Local Government Services writing the City and demanding to know when the budget will be passed?

  • Why hasn't the Robinson-Briggs Administration submitted a complete revision of the budget to the Council yet? What is taking so long?

  • With taxpayers facing hard times -- including job losses and foreclosure -- how can the Administration bring forth a layoff plan for A SINGLE POSITION? And is that layoff plan punitive, since it seems to target an employee who will be eligible to retire with 25 years of service next year? And what are the facts in relation to the rumor that the job title being laid off will be replaced with another title, with a hiree waiting in the wings?

  • Does the proposal for an emergency appropriation through the end of April, as allowed by law, mean that the Administration is planning to 'let the clock run out' on the whole budget process, since there would be only two months left in the fiscal year at that point?
THE EAST 6TH STREET PLAYGROUND
  • What is the truth of the matter about the grants for this project? Are there THREE grants, as the Remington & Vernick personnel explained at the January 12 agenda session ($100,000 and TWO for $85,000) or are there only TWO grants ($100,000 and ONE for $85,000) with an $85,000 MATCH required of the City, which is what Parks & Recreation Director Dave Wynn said in a voice mail left on my cellphone after that meeting?

  • City Administrator Dashield ticked off the steps in the planning process at the January 12 agenda session, making NO MENTION AT ALL of consulting with the neighborhood in the design or siting of the proposed structures. Why were they not consulted originally? And why would DPW Director Wenson Maier tell the Block Association at its January 16th meeting that 'if the grant is lost, it would be their fault'? (Let's not even go into why the Mayor would send her along to the meeting with a letter asking to give Wenson Maier a hearing.)

  • At the January 12 agenda session, it was stated that the grant in danger of expiring was ON ITS SECOND EXTENSION. Why not get to the bottom of this? When was the original grant made, what was it for, and what was its expiration date? And why wasn't that date met? What were the terms of the FIRST EXTENSION, including its expiration date -- and why wasn't that met? Ditto the SECOND EXTENSION.

  • Why can't the Administration consolidate the two proposed structures into one as the Block Association has requested? And why is the proposed construction of the second structure 'several years off' if the pressure is because of some threatened grant cancellation? Something doesn't add up here.
Taxpayers should be alarmed as well as annoyed that the Robinson-Briggs administration seems to be terminally uninformed as well as uninformative, and this in its fourth and final year as Mayor Robinson-Briggs, with the full support of Assemblyman Jerry Green, prepares to face the electorate for another chance at the brass ring.

Time for some straight talk and straight answers, don't you think?


City Council Agenda Session
Tonight, January 26
7:30 PM
City Hall Library


-- Dan Damon


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Secrets of Council Agendas: Rock - Paper - Scissors?




Now that Councilor Cory Storch has been joined by Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp, the Plainfield City Council's agenda-setting sessions are taking on a new persona, more like that of the days of Council President Ray Blanco, when the Council was ANYTHING BUT A RUBBER STAMP for the Robinson-Briggs administration.

Take tomorrow's agenda as an example --

The Council has some initiatives OF ITS OWN:
  • Mortgage foreclosure moratorium request
  • Designation of a memorial for the late Mayor Al McWilliams
  • Continuing discussions on --
    • FY2009 Budget
    • East 6th Street (Bryant Park) Playground
    • Take-home use of City-owned vehicles
And Mayor Robinson-Briggs brings DEBATABLE ITEMS to the table:
  • An $11.876M 'emergency' budget appropriation for March and April (which would leave TWO MONTHS in the budget year for a new budget)
  • A (one-person-only?) layoff plan
  • More pork for pay-to-play engineering firm Remington & Vernick
  • And a no-bid designation of the Scirocco Group as the City's risk-management consultant
Will the Council raise questions and maybe even refuse approval of some Administration items?

Rock beats scissors.


City Council Agenda Session
Monday, January 26
7:30 PM
City Hall Library

-- Dan Damon

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Year of the Ox: Prosperity through hard work and fortitude




Ceramic Ox from Pier 1, sold out when I checked on it Friday.

Monday begins the lunar New Year, 4706 in the Chinese calendar. This year is the Year of the Ox, in which the notion of prosperity through hard work and fortitude is celebrated.

Fitting, as Plainfielders and the nation face the toughest economic climate since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And fitting also in light of President Obama's call to all of us to join in the task of recapturing America's greatness.

The Lunar New Year, the highlight of the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars, is a fifteen day period of feasting and celebrations.

Links below give some background on the lunar calendar and feast as well as special foods, games and craft projects.


-- Dan Damon

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poll Results: Should top Plainfield officials live in Plainfield?




In the dust-up over whether the Council should agree to give Plainfield's City Administrator and Public Safety/Police Director take-home city vehicles (not finally decided yet, by the way), Mr. Dashield raised the argument they should be given the vehicles because they are two of the five officials who would be needed on hand immediately in case of a citywide emergency.

Fair enough, but since they don't live close enough to be on hand 'at a moment's notice' regardless of whether they drive their own or city-owned vehicles, Mr. Dashield inadvertently raised the issue of WHETHER PLAINFIELDERS WOULD FEEL SAFER IF DEPARTMENT HEADS HAD TO LIVE IN THE CITY as required by law.

Though not the most serious issue facing the Council as it attempts to wrestle the Administration into submitting a trimmed-down budget proposal, it certainly has struck a nerve with voters/taxpayers/residents. The series of posts garnered a whopping 46 comments, and the poll itself brought in a total of 182 votes.


The results? By a margin of more than three-to-one, readers say they would FEEL SAFER if the City Administrator and Public Safety/Police Director lived in Plainfield. (Eight people were 'not sure'.)

Unscientific it may be, but the Council has a history of paying attention to public sentiment.

Too bad the same cannot be said of the Robinson-Briggs administration.


-- Dan Damon

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Public Prayer and President Obama: A Kerfuffle?




This Plainfielder wonders sometimes whether Roger Williams, the Baptist preacher and co-founder of Rhode Island, is not right after all.

As every school child used to know, he was a staunch defender of religious toleration and the separation of church and state. Perhaps less well known is that he left the congregation he founded shortly afterwards, saying 'God is too big to be housed under one roof'.

Roger Williams is always in the back of my mind when public prayer is offered in a civic setting -- whether it is at Plainfield's City Council meetings or at the inauguration of America's first African American president.

As a Christian, I have no problem addressing prayers to God through Jesus Christ. But I know that having it done in official settings leaves many of my friends and fellow-Plainfielders who are not Christian excluded.

On the other hand, to-Whom-it-may-concern prayers can seem limp and lifeless.

As President Obama's inauguration approached, the matter was put on the front burner by the media (an example here). Was Rick Warren an offensive choice? Why was there only one pray-er? Was it a conspiracy that gay Bishop Robinson's prayer at a pre-inaugural event was dropped from the NPR feed?

Oh, my! Oh, my!

The day came. Rick Warren acquitted himself reasonably well (see the full text of his prayer here), though some religious conservatives were upset by his reference to Jesus not only by his Jewish and Christian names, but by his Islamic name, 'Isa' and others critiqued his sermonizing tendencies.

My kind of prayer service came the NEXT day, at the National Cathedral.

First, you were there because you counted yourself among believers and wanted to offer prayers for the new President.

Second, it was TRULY ecumenical -- and more, it was interfaith -- including Jewish, Muslim and Hindu officiants. (An aside: Richard Nixon's 1973 swearing-in had a Baptist, a Catholic and a Greek Orthodox; Ronald Reagan's 1985 ceremony included a Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew, as did Harry S. Truman's 1949 inaugural. A tradition that was lost after Reagan. See more here and here.)

Third, did you notice how prominent WOMEN were? Including the preacher, the head of the Islamic Society of America and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church? Many have noted that only men were picked by the inaugural officials for the civic ceremonies.

Lastly, it was a sensitively INCLUSIVE, JOYOUS and SPIRIT-FILLED service. Read the service leaflet carefully to see what I mean (see here -- PDF).

Roger Williams had an opinion. He thought these sorts of things blasphemous.

I think not.

Perhaps we should conclude instead that God is too big to be housed under the roof of Roger Williams' opinions.


-- Dan Damon

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Address: Video and Text




Barack Obama takes the oath of office. Picture via BNN.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, Plainfielders can revisit the historic address by President Barack Obama at his Inauguration Tuesday...or, for word-lovers, savor the full text here.

The video is in two parts, due to the length of the Address.














-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Your view of Obama's Inauguration




The Lincoln Bible Obama will use at today's swearing-in.

Please view today's post as an opportunity to share your thoughts about the significance of this moment of hope and opportunity as Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States.

Your comments will appear below, in the order in which they are posted by you...


Councilor Burney Sends a Photo from the Inauguration...



from his iPhone at 11:30 AM...



(The entry below is from Steve Caputo, a Plainfield attorney whom I have known for many years. He and his daughter Libby were at the Inauguration and this is his report, with some pix. I have put links to the writers and poets he mentions for those who work with young people, as resources. -- Dan)

Here are some of my favorite photos. My daughter Ibby is photographed with her mentor, A. J. Verdelle, author of The Good Negress. We sat with A.J. and her friend, acclaimed poet Nikki Finney, one of the founders of the Affrilachian Poets. Nikki's dad was the first African American Supreme Court justice in South Carolina since Reconstruction and his endorsement for Obama was quite important. We bumped into Cornel West, formerly of Princeton and now at Harvard. He was in the most jovial mood, posing for pictures with children, celebrating with a gleefulness that I have never witnessed. Some people summoned memories of "black power" and "power to the people." Others, like Nikki, wept as they played back in their minds the struggles that their own family members had overcome over the past 45 years. My daughter Ibby cried tears of joy over being alive to witness one of the most important moments in history, having survived Leukemia and the 14 months recovering from a stem cell transplant, now strong enough to celebrate this moment.



Cornel West with kids.


Libby with A.J.



'Power to the people'!


I looked around and noted the fact that the crowd I was in looked very much like Plainfield. Young, old, black, white, Asian, Muslim, Jew, Christian. The diversity that now makes up the people's army that supports Barack Obama is a reflection of the microcosm that we have had in Plainfield for the 27 years that I have been in town. I have great hope for this country under Pres. Obama and pray that we in Plainfield can embrace the "Yes We Can" attitude in our local community. I feel fortunate to have witnessed history (and to have done it from a seat rather than having to stand with the 1.8 million people in the Washington Mall!).

Now, let the work begin in our City, in our community, and all across America.

Steve Caputo, 1:25 PM, January 21, 2009




(The entry below is from Margaret A. Lewis, a Plainfielder and retired educator. She and her niece, who is from Nashville and is associated with Meharry Medical College, left for Washington by train at the crack of dawn after attending Plainfield's pre-Inaugural pot-luck party. -- Dan)



Plainfielder Margaret A. Lewis poses with the new President in Washington.
Like 1.8 million others, she says this is as close as she was able to get (smile).

Three days before we were scheduled to leave for Washington, my niece got a call from her undergraduate roommate, a judge in Illinois who had been a very active volunteer in the campaign who informed her that she had procured tickets for us! The tears flowed.

Boarding the metro at about 5:00 A. M. on Tuesday and getting to our standing area with our silver tickets in hand, the tears flowed. We were next to the “handicapped” area and as I looked around to view some of the faces so full of happiness and excitement, this crush of humanity, where everyday day life for them is far more of a challenge than my life is, the tears flowed.

A barrier where we were standing was knocked down and as people pushed forward, I ended right at the edge of the Reflection Pool with a clear view of a Jumbotron, tears flowed. Engulfed by people who shared their hand and foot warmers, who spontaneously led chants and exercise warming routines, the tears flowed.

I was back to another time, as I thought about my participation in The March On Washington and my involvement in preparing the students who integrated Central High School and the “connectiveness” of these and so many other events of my life, the tears flowed.

During the ceremony, knowing that I represented my ancestors, my current relatives and future generations of my blood line, I cried in silence and took it all in.

Margaret A. Lewis

January 22, 2009, 8:20 AMs


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, January 19, 2009

G. W. Bush: Bookends


Two images from the eight years of President George W. Bush I shall never forget.




2003




2008



-- Dan Damon

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Obama's victory fathered by MLK's dream




Image from GOATMILK.

Barack Obama’s election as president had a thousand fathers in the long history of the struggle against American racism. But three events stand out as decisive in creating the possibility of an African-American president.

The first, in 1863, was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which promised freedom but was followed by a century of harsh discrimination. The second was the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, signaling the end of legal tolerance for discrimination. The third was the speech the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the March on Washington in 1963, 100 years after Lincoln’s proclamation.
So begins Anthony Lewis' review of a new book which examines in depth both Dr. King's 'I have a dream' speech and the context in which it was delivered.

From that day to this, I do not think I had known that the last, the most famous, third of the speech was delivered ex tempore, as King departed from his prepared remarks.

And it was that departure which has given us, as Eric Sundquist, the book's author notes 'a new national scripture'.

Read the review here.
Find the book here --
KING’S DREAM
By Eric J. Sundquist
Illustrated. 295 pp. Yale University Press. $26

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama era welcomed in Plainfield, early and with a surprise




More than a hundred Plainfielders gathered Saturday evening to share a pot-luck party and welcome an era of hope for America's -- and Plainfield's -- future.

It was a celebration of those who first had faith in Obama and his message of change, even as the 'official' political leadership was holding on to the old way of doing business. It was a celebration by those who believe in small-d democracy, and that mighty things can grow from beginnings as small as a mustard seed.

But it was also a celebration that was muted by the difficulties facing the new President.

Councilor Adrian Mapp noted that President Obama faces many challenges both at home and in the world, and that though Tuesday's swearing-in will be momentous, there will be no instantaneous solutions to our problems and he hoped all would stick with the new President through the hard choices he will have to make.

In introducing Adrian, longtime activist Rebecca Williams referred to a widespread movement to draft him as a candidate for Mayor, referring to the emails, phone calls and personal encouragements as a 'Run, Adrian, Run' movement.

Mapp responded by thanking all those who were encouraging his candidacy and stating he was giving serious thought to reinstating the plan he originally laid out in 2007 to run when the current Mayor's term is up.

To me, it sounded like a hat landed in the ring.

The Mapp home was thronged in every room with those gathering in small groups to enjoy the food and catch up with old friends and new. One new friend we welcomed is an energetic woman named Faith (you can't make this stuff up), who moved to Plainfield just weeks ago from Chicago, where she had worked on the Obama campaign and was at the joyful celebration in Grant Park on election night. Welcome, Faith!

I am always struck by the loaves-and-fishes quality of pot-lucks. As each new guest arrives, the table begins to groan with delicacies putting the many tastes and cultural diversity of Plainfield on full display.

The kitchen buzzed as food was warmed and shuttled to the food table. A dessert table was richly laden with homemade cakes, pies, cookies and other sweet treats. The bar overflowed with bottles of donated wine, beer and sparkling waters. And the whole was lightened with music by Plainfield's inimitable Joe Bonini.

How different from those sterile, vendor-driven political events one is usually exposed to, with their store-bought frozen pigs-in-a-blanket and mass-produced rubber chicken.

Many at the Plainfield celebration were set to leave early Sunday by train for Washington. Several, among them Councilors Annie McWilliams and Rashid Burney, were on their way or already in Washington for the Inaugural weekend.

As the evening drew to a close
and the new day began, a fine snow sifted over the city, wrapping all in stillness.

Plainfield was at peace.

For now.


-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dan corrects a mistake regarding Assemblyman Green




A Plainfield Today reader pointed out that I inadvertently gave Assemblyman Green's LEGISLATIVE OFFICE PHONE NUMBER in yesterday's post regarding the dinner dance the Assemblyman is hosting on Inauguration Day.

That is a mistake and I have removed it from the original post. One could hardly expect the Assemblyman to use his office or phone for anything except legitimate Assembly business.

Those who wish to attend that event (details here) will have to contact the Assemblyman directly, as the only phone number and email I have are his governmental ones.

Meanwhile, all are welcome at this evening's
FREE 'Potluck Party' Obama celebration at Councilor & Mrs. Adrian Mapp's, 535 West 8th Street. Starts at 7 PM. Music by Joe Bonini. Bring party food and beverage to share.


-- Dan Damon

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Local opportunities to celebrate the Inauguration of President Obama




Plainfielders will have a number of opportunities to celebrate the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the country's first African American president.

Here is a rundown --
SATURDAY, January 17 - 7:00 PM

All are invited to a 'Potluck Party' sponsored by the New Democrats and graciously hosted by Councilor Adrian Mapp and his wife Amelia. Bring party food and beverage to share. Music by Joe Bonini. At the Mapps, 535 West 8th Street. FREE.

TUESDAY, January 20 (Inauguration Day)

10:00 AM - Noon
The Plainfield Public Library invites the community to watch the Inauguration ceremonies on the 12-foot screen in the Anne Louise Davis Community Room at the Plainfield Public Library, 8th Street at Park Avenue. Coffee will be available. FREE.
6:00 - 11:00 PM
Assemblyman Jerry Green will host an evening of dinner and dancing at Pantagis in Scotch Plains. Cocktail hour is from 6-7, followed by a sit-down dinner and dancing. Tickets: $100/person; free for City Committee members. Proceeds go to 'Jerry Green for Assembly'. (Corrected by withdrawing the Assemblyman's office telephone number, 1/16/2007.)
7:00 - 11:00 PM
The Democratic State Committee is holding an inaugural ball at the Holiday Inn at Raritan Center in Edison. $50/person includes buffet dinner and open bar; formal attire optional. The event will benefit Elijah's Promise feeding program in New Brunswick, the Highland Park Food Pantry and the Community Foodbank of NJ. Tickets to the event can be purchased by calling 609-751-4844 or via e-mail at njinaugcelebration@gmail.com.



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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Are Plainfielders safe with officials living so far away?



Questions over take-home City vehicles have generated unprecedented reader comments, and the City Administrator has raised the question of senior staff needing these cars to respond to EMERGENCIES IN THE CITY.

With the City Administrator and the Public Safety/Police Director being two of the five for whom cars are requested and who live at considerable distances from Plainfield, the question arises about how safe Plainfielders are in this circumstance should an emergency actually arise that needed their immediate presence.

I have put a poll at the top of the right-hand column on this page posing the following question --
Would you feel safer if the City Administrator and Public Safety/Police Director lived in Plainfield instead of at a great distance?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Not Sure
Any reader may vote and may check the current status of the poll (note that the poll only allows one vote apiece, so there can be no ballot-stuffing). Once you've voted, the tally view stays open. Reload the page to see a fresh tally.

The poll will stay open until January 22.

You may also want to read today's Courier editorial:
"Editorial: Don't insult public with car quest"



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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Take-home City cars rile readers; City raises 'emergency' specter




The issue of take-home City vehicles has really raised readers hackles as witness the comments to the previous post on the matter (see here). More on that later, but first an update on the issue.

At Monday's City Council agenda-setting session, the Robinson-Briggs administration raised a new issue: the specter of EMERGENCY SITUATIONS.

City Administrator Dashield said the five people for whom take-home cars are proposed (the Mayor, City Administrator, Fire Chief, Superintendent of Public Works and Public Safety/Police Director) are the key personnel needed on hand AT A MOMENT'S NOTICE if an emergency situation arises in the city.

This is all well and good (does this mean Robinson-Briggs has an emergency plan?), but it completely sidesteps the question of WHY those individuals should be given TAKE-HOME CITY VEHICLES.

Perhaps it would be helpful to understand the HISTORY of getting take-home vehicles. A comment by 'GB' on the recent post (see here) offers an insight into the matter --
This whole thing started in the days of one car families. An "Important" staff member was allowed to take a vehicle [car, pickup, van] so they would have NO excuse as to why they could not be called in on a moments notice. Then the Fire Chief took his down to Florida [with its special hitch to pull his boat] and things got out of control. PS: All City cars were to have DECALS on them [except undercover Police & Health Div confidential inquiries]
So, if the official in question has his/her OWN VEHICLE, there wouldn't be a reason to give them a take-home City vehicle under this line of reasoning. Also, identifying decals would be on these vehicles.

Secondly, Mr. Dashield has now raised an issue that COMPLICATES the Robinson-Briggs administration's case: If there are officials who need to be here at A MOMENT'S NOTICE, then shouldn't they be required to live in the City of Plainfield, as the charter requires? It is also curious that in following this line of reasoning the Robinson-Briggs administration DOES NOT MAKE ANY MENTION of the city's Emergency Management Coordinator, into whose bailiwick this falls. It does, doesn't it?

Living at a great distance from the community means, ipso facto, that REGARDLESS OF WHOSE VEHICLE THEY DRIVE, those officials CANNOT POSSIBLY get here on A MOMENT'S NOTICE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY.

Dashield's argument (actually, it is the Mayor's, he is only expressing it) does nothing to further the notion of giving officials take-home cars, but it does make a good case for ENFORCING THE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT, something the Council has the power to compel.

Mr. Dashield also stated that take-home cars are part of the employment agreements of these officials. The Council should investigate that statement and not take it at face value. Meanwhile, as Dr. Yood has pointed out, if it's COMPENSATION, it needs to be COUNTED as such, STATED as such on the payroll records, and TAXES PAID on the value thereof by the official in question.

Another reader did some calculations in commenting on the previous post (see here) --
Dashield said the cost per vehicle assigned for 24/7 use is $1,200 a year. Shoot - let me use a city vehicle 24/7 and I'd pay the City Back double that. Imagine what I would save on car insurance each year (a minimum of $1,000 a year) Imagine what I would save on gas back and fourth to work if I lived 40 miles away. (that's 400 miles a week at 15 mpg @ $4/gal) That's over $5,000/yr. for gas. Plus I would never have to pay for oil changes, tires and other vehicle maintenance or even a mechanic. And I could even get my car washed anytime I wanted to without paying for it.

Hey - could I "Pimp My Ride" at taxpayer expense too???
Let's see: Gas, insurance, maintenance -- that could certainly add up. Have the officials getting this perk been paying taxes for it as compensation? Good question, and let's thank Mr. Dashield for putting it on the table.

RILING THE READERS/TAXPAYERS/VOTERS

Wrapping the whole discussion up, let's look at how it has riled Plainfield Today readers, who are also TAXPAYERS and VOTERS.

My first job out of college was as a community organizer, and I was trained by people from Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) -- the famous Chicago institution to which President-elect Obama traces his community organizing credentials.

When we planned events that we hoped would highlight issues and mobilize neighborhoods, we followed what was called the '10x10 rule'.

Simply put, it meant that if 50 people came out to a rally, there tens times that many (500) who were committed but either couldn't make it or were afraid to attend, and that those people (500) each positively influenced 10 others (= 5,000) with their point of view on the matter at hand.

I don't know if anyone from the Robinson-Briggs administration bothers to read Plainfield Today, but if they do they might want to keep this principle in mind when they count the number of comments on the post (which is sort of like coming out to a rally, if you think about it).

With 17 comments and running -- one of which is a chat-back by me and one of which is in support of the Police Director getting a car -- we are left with 15 comments. Applying the '10x10 rule' would suggest there are at least 1,500 taxpayer/voters out there who are mightily riled by the Robinson-Briggs administration's proposals at hand.

In an election year such as this, 1,500 votes might give a reasonable candidate pause.

But then again, this IS Plainfield.



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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Entering 4th year, Robinson-Briggs administration still not ready for prime time




A regular smorgasbord of issues uncovered by sharp Council questioning at Monday's agenda-setting session showed that, even as it enters the fourth and final year of Robinson-Briggs' term, this administration is still not ready for prime time.

Here's the bill of particulars --

WITHDRAWN FROM AGENDA
  • Nomination of former Councilor Don Davis to PMUA board. (Widely regarded as a problematic nomination in light of Davis' issues with abuse of travel and reimbursement expenses brought to light last year.)
  • Submission of Layoff Plan to the State. (With a budget gap that may mean staff reductions, Robinson-Briggs was rumored to have crafted a one-person layoff plan, covering a staffer slated for full retirement benefits in another year. Punitive?)
SLOPPY PREPARATION
  • Board Nominations (1): When asked about a conflict in an appointee's address, showing both a Plainfield and a North Plainfield address, Mr. Dashield said he 'didn't know' the person's correct address.
  • Board Nominations (2): Two nominees to a board were listed for four-year appointments, which Dashield corrected at the table to TWO-YEAR appointments.
  • Surveillance Camera Contract: A lengthy explanation of why it was a no-bid contract that revealed the original memo given to the Council misstated the reasons for the exemption. Nobody screened the memo before the Council got it?
In the old days, every resolution and ordinance used to have TWO sign-offs on the bottom before the document got to the Council: one by the Corporation Counsel attesting that a legal review had been done, and one by the City Administrator that the item had been reviewed for correctness and completeness from a business perspective. In other words, real people really reviewed documents before shoveling them at the Council. Of course, that would mean ADVANCE preparation, which seems to be an habitual issue with the Robinson-Briggs administration.

THREE I WILL ADDRESS IN FURTHER POSTS
  • Take-home City vehicles. To which the Emergency Management argument has been added.
  • Big-ticket contracts. And why the Administration keeps dodging the Council's displeasure with 'fair and open' contracts.
  • East 6th Street Playground. In listing how the design was arrived at, the Administration never mentions citizen input.
As for the Council's discussion and conduct of the meeting, there were a couple of items that deserve attention --

CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY ACT
Though enacted several years ago in an effort to ensure an open and transparent process to citizens to volunteer for board and commission service, it has never come to fruition. The Council discussion made this seem more difficult than I think it really is. It's a very straightforward process (though a little time-consuming in setting up): 1) List every board and commission and its mission and membership requirements per the Charter; 2) List all seats, who holds them, and when their terms expire; 3) Provide an online form for submitting a request to be considered and a resumè. The concern that the information is private when submitted is easily addressed by having the submission form designed to be read only by authorized personnel in the Clerk's office. (Note though that once nominated, the information becomes part of the public record.) Time needed to create lists? Couple of work days by an existing City staffer at the most. Time to create web page? An hour or two once data has been set up. Cost? Data prep by in-house staff; web page consultant should cost less than $300. What is so frigging hard about all this?
COUNCIL COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS
Council President Burney assigned various members to eighteen different committees. In an effort to focus on the most important assignments, he asked that the Board of Ed and PMUA liaisons and the Finance, Economic Growth and Code Enforcement Committees meet and prepare 2009 goals for presentation to the full body. Given the dire economic straits the country is in and the impact on the Plainfield business environment, I was struck that the SID liaisons were not included in this task, especially since this is a partnership between the merchants and the City in which the merchants have voluntarily assumed an extra tax burden to promote Plainfield's businesses.
CONDUCT OF THE MEETING
Time was when any input was needed from staff or consultants at agenda sessions, the relevant people were summoned to the Council table at the commencement of that item on the agenda. This had several advantages: a) all of their remarks were clearly and properly recorded by the microphone placed on the Council table, b) they were formally introduced at the beginning of their testimony so everyone knew who they were, and c) they had all the documentation at hand that would be necessary to answer Councilors' questions until discussion of the item was concluded.

All in all, it was a much more professional and dignified method than the one on display where, as last evening, the Administrator and the engineer call to each other from across the room and over the heads of the Council.
Tomorrow, I will begin taking up the three items (open bidding on contracts, citizen input on projects, and take-home City vehicles) that deserve separate attention.

GRADING THE MAYOR:

ITEM

GRADE
COMMENT
Preparation of documents for Council
C There is no excuse for not checking before submitting.
Withdrawing Resolutions
C Half-fast is not the way to go.

Robinson-Briggs will be graded on an item-by-item basis, and a permanent 'Report Card' will be available for all to see here.


-- Dan Damon

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