The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Connolly Properties: No 'cheap grace' for public officials



Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has heard from the tenants of Connolly Properties about their many -- and justified -- complaints.

And here is what she proposes --
  1. Tenants should learn how to file complaints;

  2. If tenants would organize, she would offer City Hall Library for monthly meetings;

  3. Robinson-Briggs 'expects' to attend the July 17 hearing at which Connolly Properties is expected to appear in municipal court.
That's it.

Good, but not good enough.

When I studied for the ministry, I was deeply impressed by the teachings about 'cheap grace' by the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer, brutally executed by the Nazis after he was implicated in the failed 1944 assassination attempt against Hitler.

Bonhöffer got the term from a sermon by the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, where Bonhöffer taught Sunday School while a student at New York's Union Theological Seminary.

As
Bonhöffer put it, "cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross", in other words, getting off the hook scot free.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs needs to do more. This is no time for cheap grace, for the mayor or for Plainfield.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the Council need to address the root problem: failure to have ongoing, planned and purposeful inspections of multi-family rental properties as proposed by the ordinance she and the Council rescinded in 2006.

Inspections with teeth. Inspections that would go a long way to resolving issues with Connolly Properties and other neglectful landlords. Inspections that would help ensure the safety and well-being of Plainfield's 'other half' -- the tenants who make up half the city's residents, but are seldom thought of by elected officials.

Anything less would be settling for cheap grace.

Or, as President Obama would say, empathy is fine, but empathy demands more than this.



-- Dan Damon

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Connolly Properties: Something the Mayor and Burney could do



If Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs had not pressed in the opening months of her term in 2006 to dismantle the ordinance requiring annual city inspection of multi-family rental units, it is most likely the Connolly Properties residents would not be faced with the multitude of issues uncovered by Courier reporter Mark Spivey's dogged investigation (see links at end of story).

The ordinance also required the landlord to pay for an inspection every time an apartment turned over, as well as provide floor plans of bedrooms (important in case of a fire, but which might also indicate illegal partitioning of rooms -- including basements and attics), as well as emergency contacts (required by state law, but often honored in the breach), the property owners' actual addresses (often not on file), and fuel oil and trash collection contacts.

A special team was set up within the Inspections Division to handle the process and was even equipped with handheld devices to record conditions in the field and download reports back in the office.

Owners of large multi-family rental properties, of which Connolly Properties is the largest, lobbied against the program.

Ray Blanco, my neighbor and friend who was Council President in Mayor Robinson-Briggs' first year (2006), told me privately that he was acquiescing in the rescission of the ordinance as an 'olive branch' gesture to Assemblyman Jerry Green and Robinson-Briggs, who wanted the ordinance repealed and the inspections program dismantled.

I have no doubt Mayor Robinson-Briggs is genuinely upset over the conditions that have come to light on her watch. But, her pledge to launch comprehensive inspections of all the Connolly properties (see here) smacks of locking the barn door after the horse is out.

Even Councilor Burney, who went along with dismantling the inspections ordinance in 2006, is now calling for 'strong enforcement from the City and [the] state' (see here).

In the spirit of making helpful suggestions that Assemblyman Jerry Green is always advocating, I offer the following:
Undertaking the inspections the Mayor seems to have in mind is probably not realistic, given the magnitude of the task. Far better would be to reinstate a PLANNED inspection program -- annual, with additional inspections of units as they turn over -- and STICK TO IT, rather than a Keystone Kops-style crash program which will go away as soon as the headlines do.
Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the City Council, under the leadership of Council President Burney, would do the residents, tenants and taxpayers of Plainfield a REAL SERVICE if they would reinstate the rescinded ordinance.



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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Plainfield, Green Brook websites compared


Plainfield Today readers offered some comments on yesterday's post about the refreshed Green Brook website --
(5:50 AM) Unfortunately the links to forms on their site don't work. I guess work in progress or they hired someone from the Plainfield administration.

(8:24 AM)How Can you compare Green Brook to Plainfield pls dont be silly Plainfield is larger than Green Brook and has so much more to offer than Green Brook you see silly comments like this one makes us here in Plainfield look foolish and stupid....

(7:19 PM, responding to 8:24AM) Yeah - but Green Brook doesn't have a "Coming Soon = "Our Online Community Videos" on their website or a picture of their Mayor on the main page. Coming Soon??? My guess is that it's like one of those "Going Out of Business Sa;e" signes that you will see for a lont time to come.
I suggested Plainfield could learn from its little sibling how to have a usable, effective and inexpensive website.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let's compare the two sites with some screen shots.
The 'welcome' experience.
A community's home page gives visitors -- whether residents, homebuyers or businesses looking for help -- their first impression about the community. Think of it as taking a date home to meet your folks -- there is only ONE first impression.
Green Brook's home page is very simple. Tabs across the top clearly explain what to expect. The page itself contains two news items of interest to residents: Newly expanded hours at town hall include evening hours for offices and regular time to see the mayor; also prominently displayed is a link to the town's online budget document.





Contrast this with Plainfield's home page. First, if your browser blocks popup ads (as mine does), you will not get the menu tabs but an 'f' in a circle indicating you must give permission for the item(s) to load.

Once you do, you will see this totally useless 'crawler' headline announcing you are on the Plainfield website. Well, duh.
When you do get the menu bar up, this is what you see --

Want to find out about a Board or Commission meeting?
On Green Brook's site, it's simple -- just click the tab --


On Plainfield's website, you can click all the tabs you want, but you won't find a listing of Boards and Commissions or their meeting schedules. Why not?


Looking for departments?
On the Green Brook site, just click on 'municipal services' --
Over at the Plainfield site, clicking on 'departments' brings you these menu choices --
If you're familiar with Plainfield's charter, you will be surprised to find the public access cable channel and the Corporation Counsel listed here, since neither is a 'department' by the charter's definition. And if you're going to list Channel 74, why not Recreation or Plainfield Action Services? You get my drift.

The Mayor's page is even more interesting --
Probably nowhere else in the country do the mayor's confidential aide and administrative assistant get their own pages right up under their boss's. But then Plainfield IS DIFFERENT, no?
A 'site map' is a lifesaver.
But the easiest and best thing a website can do to show it cares about its viewers is to put up a 'site map' page -- in which the entire site is outlined in live links. Often this is the make-or-break page when a user has trouble finding information.

Do I need to point out Plainfield doesn't have a site map page?

Little Green Brook has done a great job for its residents. Like I said, a well-organized, useful site.

Plainfield has thrown a lot of money at a website that is clearly not well organized and far from as useful as it could be.

Why can't Plainfield do better?



-- Dan Damon

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On Plainfield's website, you can click all the tabs you want, but you won't find a listing of Boards and Commissions or their meeting schedules. Why not?
shrndhot

Looking for departments?
On the Green Brook site, just click on 'municipal services' --
shotmunsvs
Over at the Plainfield site, clicking on 'departments' brings you these menu choices --
plfdgpts
If you're familiar with Plainfield's charter, you will be surprised to find the public access cable channel and the Corporation Counsel listed here, since neither is a 'department' by the charter's definition. And if you're going to list Channel 74, why not Recreation or Plainfield Action Services? You get my drift.

The Mayor's page is even more interesting --
Probably nowhere else in the country do the mayor's confidential aide and administrative assistant get their own pages right up under their boss's. But then Plainfield IS DIFFERENT, no?
A 'site map' is a lifesaver.
But the easiest and best thing a website can do to show it cares about its viewers is to put up a 'site map' page -- in which the entire site is outlined in live links. Often this is the make-or-break page when a user has trouble finding information.
Do I need to point out Plainfield doesn't have a site map page?
Little Green Brook has done a great job for its residents. Like I said, a well-organized, useful site.

Plainfield has thrown a lot of money at a website that is clearly not well organized and far from as useful as it could be.

Why can't Plainfield do better?



-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Little Green Brook shows big sister Plainfield how to do it




Plainfield could learn a thing or two from its little sibling Green Brook.

Like how to have a usable, effective and inexpensive website.

Evidently believing steak is more important than sizzle, the little township (pop. 5,654) has mounted a no-frills website that is thoughtfully organized, easy to navigate and includes a handy site map (see here).

Contrast this straightforward, information-filled site with Plainfield's expensive, chaotically designed, Flash-freighted and confusing website (see here).

Sometimes, as they say, less is more.



-- Dan Damon

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Solaris sells bonds




Solaris Health System, corporate parent of Plainfield's Muhlenberg operation, sold $152M in bonds last week, according to a report issued by the NJ Healthcare Facilities Funding Authority (see Authority here, Solaris sale here [PDF]).

The bonds, approved for issuance last fall, just as the financial markets went into meltdown, cover the restructuring of Solaris' debt (including that of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center) and the addition of beds at JFK.

Finally going to market is an indication that conditions have improved -- word was that though authorization had been granted, Solaris never went out to the markets because interest rates and the amount Solaris would have to put up to float the bonds were both onerous.

The bonds are secured with a mortgage against 'the Medical Center and certain other properties' (read Muhlenberg?) and a gross revenue pledge.

Given the financial conditions of New Jersey hospitals, which is likely to get even worse with the budget passed last night by the Legislature, it is amazing that the ratings agencies are so kind to Solaris (Fitch: A+, Moody's: A1, S&P: AA-) with this bond offering.

But then you may recall it was these same ratings agencies who told us that the subprime mortgage securities that were so finely sliced and diced were all low-risk, too.

Looks like the markets are back at their old games.


-- Dan Damon

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City Council: The missing 'M' is not Michael Jackson



Council President as Lord High Executioner?


The missing 'M' at Plainfield's special City Council meeting last night was not Michael Jackson. It was Malcolm Dunn.

Once again, Plainfielders were treated to a bumbling presentation by the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, led by City Administrator and (still!) Acting Director of Administration and Finance Marc (I'll get back to you on that) Dashield.

Of six items on the special meeting's agenda, three were tabled or withdrawn after discussion -- much of it prompted by sharp questions from Councilor Adrian Mapp.

You will want to read Bernice (here) and Olddoc (here), who were also there.

Here are my questions and observations --
PILOT for 1272 Park Avenue
Why would Dashield show up for a serious presentation, asking for Council's commitment to a 30-year PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) proposal for this property without a complete dossier -- including notes on all the questions Council was likely to ask)? I get an Excedrin headache thinking that we will have four more years of this shabby style. Will take this up later in more depth.
PMUA, PARSA and City
The Robinson-Briggs administration has still not successfully explained the details around the easement proposed for the construction of a new pumping station for PARSA near the PMUA's Rock Avenue Transfer Station. Dashield promised to get back to the Council on their questions...later. No mention has been made of whether the proposed easement impacts the Green Brook Bike Trail project the City is currently engaged in.
Dudley House
The Robinson-Briggs administration proposed withdrawing a resolution awarding a contract for the provision of administrative and substance abuse counseling services at the troubled Dudley House program, but was trumped by Councilor Reid's insistence that the prerogative belonged to the Council. The Council did withdraw the resolution, but not until the public learned that (as I have reported earlier), Dudley House employees have been working in the Division of Public Works since the facility was shut down. Mind you, are we supposed to believe they are engaged in substance abuse counseling at the DPW? At any rate, that is what the grant money was supposed to be for that the Council agreed to transfer last night. But why be a stickler for protocol?
I was stunned that Council President Burney allowed discussion by Council members of items that were not listed in the legal notice calling the meeting. I have always been under the impression that only items published in the notice may be discussed or acted upon. But, of course, I am not a lawyer.

At any rate, there were a few items of interest that came out in the discussions --
  • Work on the Netherwood Avenue (and Kensington Avenue) road projects is in default, and the Robinson-Briggs administration is pursuing action through the performance bonding firm. Interesting that it was never made public during the Primary election campaign period, don't you think?

  • Councilor Mapp initiated a discussion of whether a switch from the current Fiscal Year budget to a Calendar Year (allowed now by the law) would be beneficial. I'm sure we'll hear more on this later.

  • If the PILOT for 1272 Park Avenue had previously expired, why didn't the Robinson-Briggs administration pursue the matter until new owners brought it to the fore?
Though I was saddened to learn before coming to the meeting of the passing of Michael Jackson, the 'M' that kept coming to mind during the Council meeting was Malcolm Dunn.

As Council President, Malcolm terrorized City Administrators and department heads, scathingly chewing them up and spitting them out when they came before the Council ill-prepared.

Though I do not miss the meetings that often dragged on toward -- and sometimes past -- the midnight hour, I do think that we could do with a firmer approach by the Council President toward the Robinson-Briggs administration, at least by demanding that Dashield come prepared and then by taking on the list-making role of Ko-Ko, the Mikado's Lord High Executioner.

Making a list and checking it.

Plainfield might be better for it.



-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Corzine, Obama and Plainfield



Despite marshaling support from the Obama administration -- and photo opps -- Gov. Jon Corzine still faces an uphill battle in November's election.

Plainfield could deliver many thousands of votes to the Corzine column, and local Dems -- both 'old' and 'new' -- want to see that happen.

Corzine's strategists believe he can get a boost from President Obama's support (see today's story on just that here), but there are questions about whether and how much that will help in a state where all politics ends up being local.

Plainfielders, where half the registered voters are unaffiliated with either major political party, have a lot of questions that need answers before they will press the 'X' next to Corzine's name.

Will the Governor answer them? Will he come to Plainfield to do it?

Only time will tell.




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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gangland-style triple shooting Tuesday evening



Despite recent press about how Plainfield's gang problems have been eased by numerous arrests (see here and here), the city was the scene of a gangland-style triple shooting in the 1000-block of East 2nd Street Tuesday night.

According to reports, three persons were wounded, with two so severely hurt they were medevaced to an area hospital.

Channel 4 news crews were on the scene and ran a segment in this AM's early news.






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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Comcast heals itself. A Plainfield miracle?




My Comcast email appears to have healed itself. Is this a Plainfield miracle, or something else?

As a child growing up not far from the Spiritualist community of Lily Dale, I recall the hubbub when one of the mediums reported an image of the Virgin Mary had miraculously appeared on the tile wall of a bathtub surround.

My mother, profoundly skeptical of such goings-on, was scathing towards her best girlfriend Ruth's gullibility. Ruth was Lily Dale's phone operator, with the switchboard located in her upstairs bedroom, and she was on call 24 hours a day. Mother thought Ruth, though no Spiritualist, was influenced by her medium neighbors, whom Mother regarded as crackpots.

I wonder what Mother would think of my recent experiences with Comcast and my emails.

On April 28, just as Plainfield's Democratic primary campaign was going into full swing, my daily outgoing CLIPS emails disappeared into the ether. Maybe it was into the ectoplasm. At any rate, they were gone.

Though I got no indication they weren't sent, I began to get inquiries from readers asking why they hadn't received their emails.

I have had problems with Comcast on and off over the daily volume, which bumped along near the max they allow for any one customer. Traffic was usually restored within 24 hours after I emailed their spam management center that I was not sending spam, but emails requested by subscribers.

Not so this time.

The emails were simply gone, though they showed up in my 'Sent' folder.

Comcast service people assured me that they were not blocking my emails, and suggested it must be my email program (Mozilla's Thunderbird).

This is an old customer service technique perfected by Microsoft (the problem is not with us, it's with you), but I wasn't buying it. The Mozilla software had run impeccably for years and there had been no recent updates or reason to believe anything had changed with the software.

The experience was a kick in the butt to finally get everything moved off Comcast, which I had threatened before to do but had always forgotten about once the issue eased.

Not so this time.

I moved to my Gmail account and began moving the subscriptions over to Google's automated email delivery. (Gentle nudge: Some of you need to complete the second step in the process.)

But at the same time (belt-and-suspenders guy that I am), I kept sending a daily email to myself in the hopes that Comcast would self-heal. Which is exactly what happened day before yesterday.

On Sunday, my email to myself went through and showed up in my Inbox.

Tempting the Fates, I tested by sending to some of the email groups manually yesterday and asking for confirmation of receipt. Nearly 50 readers confirmed -- thank you! -- and I believed I had witnessed a miracle.

Then I remembered my mother and the bathtub Madonna, and I could just hear her voice in my head: 'You dope! Your email is back because the election is over. Forget about this miracle stuff!'

Mother always was good with advice.



-- Dan Damon

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Plainfield as a Transit Village: The worst of times is the best of times



TOD focuses on areas near train stations.


Things probably couldn't be worse for Plainfield and other towns looking at 'transit-oriented development' (TOD) and that is precisely the reason NOW is the best time to plan for the recovery that is inevitable.

A story in Sunday's New York Times (see here) details the difficulties New Jersey developers are facing in this very down market -- in particular highlighting Somerville's woes in seeing two big projects planned for years fall through because financing cannot be found. (With a hint of New York chauvinism, the Times' editors insist on 'cities' instead of 'villages' in the headline. Sigh.)

Instead of waiting around for the cycle's upswing and then having to play catch-up, it would benefit Plainfield enormously if the Administration got its act together now and put plans in place that would benefit transit-oriented development in Plainfield.

What is to be done?

1. Get focused.
It would mean getting focused -- it's called TOD for a reason, it's supposed to be transit-oriented, within a quarter mile of a train station. Robinson-Briggs' first four years were wasted on pie-in-the-sky schemes like the East 2nd/Richmond concept (which blew up in her face and coincidentally prevented the PMUA from redeveloping the area) and plans for luxury housing behind the Neighborhood Health Center (wetlands, contamination, and close to WHAT train station?)
2. Get designated a 'Transit Village' community.
Mayor Robinson-Briggs should fire up efforts to get the state's Transit Village designation. This would have to involve some serious, hard work by DPUW Director Jennifer Wenson-Maier. That would be a good thing.
3. Get developers to develop.
So far, there are a multitude of plans but very little concrete action. (The only project to come to fruition is the new Senior Center/condos, which does not meet TOD criteria for distance from a train station.) Beware press release puffery that includes the phrase 'expected to get under way later this year'. And adhere to some sort of plan -- if the North Avenue redevelopment plan calls for new mid-rise condos facing East Second Street and behind the historic North Avenue facades, why is work proceeding on the old Miron's warehouse?
4. And plan.
Speaking of plans, the Robinson-Briggs administration should stop putting up roadblocks in the way of Councilor Storch's proposal to fund a joint study by Rutgers and NJIT to develop a transit-oriented plan for Plainfield's future. Which sort of brings us back to point 1, doesn't it.
As one of my detractors likes to say, in prefacing his/her anonymous comments, 'It's time to wake up, Plainfield!'

Couldn't have said it better mysel
f.


-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

DumpPMUA lawsuit update




Philip Charles has kindly updated all on the DumpPMUA lawsuit against the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (see here).

The original two-count suit has been expanded now to ten counts allegng various failures by the PMUA to comply with the law and challenging a number of fees and the way they are assessed.

DumpPMUA is also looking for documentation from ratepayers to help bolster its case, in particular charges for lids not being completely closed (see count 6). If you have wrangled with the PMUA over this matter and have records, please contact Philip Charles by email to info@dumppmua.com or call (908) 998-2751 to assist.

The update details the PMUA's response to various items, and it appears DumpPMUA has caught the authority out on a number of issues, including a meeting that violates the Open Public Meetings Act (Sunshine Law) and a retroactive rate increase.

As the suit enters the discovery phase, Charles will be collecting more documentation from the PMUA to support his charges.

Though lawsuits may be somewhat akin to watching paint dry, this one should command the attention of Plainfield ratepayers for as long as it takes.

Note: There is also an update on the cost of the Oakland, CA, trip (see here), the tally for which now exceeds $30,000, according to DumpPMUA.



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Saturday, June 20, 2009

CLIPS automated email delivery: A how-to in pictures


Some Plainfield Today readers have asked for a how-to on subscribing to the new automated email delivery of CLIPS. Here goes (just click on any image to enlarge) --

1. The automated email delivery subscription is at the top of the CLIPS home page.




2. Type your email address in the box -- double-check before you submit it -- no missing leters, no tpyos...




3. Google wants to know you're a real person, so type the letters you see on the screen. (Don't worry, if you don't get it right, Google will put up a fresh set.)




4. After typing in the letters, Google lets you know you were successful -- and to go look in your email Inbox for a confirmation email. The graphic says the email will be from 'Feedburner Email Subscriptions', but I got one from 'CLIPS' -- whatever. Look for both. The confirmation email should show up within a couple of minutes (if it doesn't, chances are the email address typed in was not correct -- go back to step 1.)




5. This is THE REALLY HARD PART -- you have to remind yourself to go look in your email Inbox for a confirmation email from 'CLIPS' or 'Feedburner Email Subscriptions' -- and CLICK ON THE LINK in the message. Why is this the 'hard part'? -- I don't know but it is.




6. Success! After clicking the link in the email message from 'CLIPS' you will be taken to this confirmation page on Google's website.




7. Can't find the email in your Inbox? Made a misteak typing in your email address? Just go back to the original subscription box on the CLIPS home page (see here), rinse and repeat.

8. Sit back and enjoy. The CLIPS email will be automatically delivered to your Inbox each morning, between 10:00 and 10:15 AM.


-- Dan Damon

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Courier too kind to Green, city over Connolly elevator flap


In an editorial on Plainfield's tribulations with its largest landlord, Connolly Properties, the Courier News is too kind to Assemblyman Jerry Green and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, whom it portrays as the victims of bureacratic red tape (see editorial here).

Wrong on two counts.

First, one has to wonder if Assemblyman Green did all he could do as expeditiously as he could.

The elevator broke down in February. The residents protested to officials in April. It is now mid-June.

Elevators are inspected by the state, through the Dept. of Community Affairs. Assemblyman Green has intimate connections with the department as he chairs the Assembly committee charged with oversight of the DCA. One would expect that when the Assemblyman calls the DCA and asks them to jump, the response is 'How high, sir?'. But we have no indication that the Assemblyman used his clout to get someone over here pronto and on the case.

Secondly, the editorial writer forgets that back in the early months of her administration, Mayor Robinson-Briggs dismantled the 'Safe Homes' initiative which was designed to address just such problems as this.

Although at the time, the media, the administration and the Council focused on the efforts of the program to combat overcrowding (known as 'stacking') by absentee landlords, the program called for ANNUAL CITY INSPECTION of multi-family residences (the state only inspects them every five years) to ensure proper conditions for tenants.

The 'Safe Homes' ordinance was rescinded by the City Council in May, 2006 (the story was reported by the Courier May 5, 2006).

Not only would the Pingry Arms have seen at least TWO INSPECTIONS by the city in the intervening period, the educational outreach to tenants envisioned in the original program would have armed them with some knowledge and an official pathway for redress of issues in their building or with the landlord.

As I pointed out at the time, Mayor Robinson-Briggs simply caved to pressure from owners of large rental properties who were unhappy with the requirements the ordinance imposed on them.

The broken elevator at the Pingry Arms is just one example of the results of the failure of Robinson-Briggs to boldly lead for the betterment of Plainfield.

Now we can look forward to another four years of this kind of 'leadership'.


-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Congratulations Councilor-elect Rivers!



Bridget Rivers congratulates Annie McWilliams on her primary win, June 2008,


Plainfield's Ward 4 Democratic Primary contest is finally over.

Word of the results quickly circulated through Plainfield's political grapevine, after an official recount resulted in these figures: Bridget Rivers, 245; Vera Greaves, 239.

Not the result Assemblyman Jerry Green, chair of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, wished for, but one with which he will have to live.

Congratulations, Bridget!

See the Courier's coverage here.



-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Council looking for a few good men...and women




Plainfield's City Council is looking for a few good volunteers -- to sit on three citizen advisory panels being set up by the Council to give them input in crucial areas (see details here).

The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, which debuted in its current incarnation last year, will once again be charged with going over the Administration's budget proposal and making recommendations. Hopefully, the Administration will not shilly-shally this year as it did last.

Thankfully, the Council is seeking input on the vexed IT (information technology) question. After Mayor Robinson-Briggs' administration blew $135,000 on IT without Council authorization early in her term and forfeited a $100,000 information technology grant from Cisco, many became alarmed when a full court press was made earlier this year to hire an unnamed IT person, which the Council managed to avoid doing. Hopefully, this committee will throw a bright light on the actual status, needs and costs of IT for Plainfield.



Council Citizen Committees


Click on 'More' above document window to print letter-size document.


Lastly, Councilor Storch has had a particular concern for business development and that is reflected in the third committee, whose responsibility will be developing an economic growth plan that spans the entire community.

If I have one quibble, it is that the Council should open participation in the Economic Growth Committee to some representation from the business community -- taxpayers who carry a lot of the city's tax burden but are often overlooked because many are not residents. Everyone should have a seat at the table.

Consider putting a shoulder to the wheel, it will be time well spent.

To contact your Council members by email to indicate your interest, simply click on the a name below to open an email message addressed to that Council member --



One thing you should NOT do:
Don't waste time clicking on the link in the online document, it is incorrectly formatted and will not take you to the city website.


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Will Comcast charge for Plainfield channel?




Comcast subscribers in the Plainfields are facing big changes come July 28.

Those who have survived this week's transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting may wonder why they are now facing losing 14 cable channels (see story here).

But wait! All is not lost!

The installation of ANOTHER set-top box will allow subscribers to view the channels from Comcast's 'basic' package that are being switched to Comcast's 'World of More' initiative (O Orwell, you died too soon!).

The set-top box is free (or $18 if you want it installed) says Comcast, according to the story in today's Ledger.

Two questions go unanswered --
  1. Will you continue getting the channels AT NO EXTRA CHARGE forever?
  2. Will you lose Plainfield's public access channel, PCTV 74?
According to a report aired on NPR earlier this week (see here), some cable companies are giving folks free access to their lost channels via the new set-top box FOR ONE YEAR, after which they will be asked to pony up $3 to $10 per month for the missing channels.

This might give the Cable TV Advisory Committee something to look into when they meet Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, what do you think of possibly paying $10 a month to see delayed tapes of Council meetings and photo opps for the Mayor?

Maybe you'd rather take in a movie?




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Monday, June 15, 2009

Dem Committee: Jerry's guy Owen's letter in Courier




Assemblyman Jerry Green's employee Owen Fletcher has a letter in today's Courier praising the conduct of the the City Committee's reorganization meeting last Monday evening (see here).

The thrust of Mr. Fletcher's letter is summed up as --
...[s]ecret ballots by elected officials are antithetical to transparency and democracy.
While this IS TRUE OF ELECTED OFFICIALS, county political party committee members (of which Plainfield's Democratic City Committee is a subset) ARE NOT ELECTED OFFICIALS.

People, evidently including Mr. Fletcher, get confused about this because party committee members (both Republican an Democrat) are voted for on public voting machines which are watched over by election officials -- all paid for by the taxpayers -- on the same ballots as public officials like Assemblyman, mayor and city council member.

But political party committees are private organizations; their members are not public officials per se. (If you need more evidence, consider that a judge ruled in the case of New Brunswick's recently contested Dem committee seats that petitioners did not need to meet the statutory length-of-residency requirement for elected officials because...you guessed it, they are
NOT elected officials.)

Not only this, Mr. Fletcher completely ignores the fact that a bill (full text here) is advancing in the Assembly (see reports here and here) to require just EXACTLY what he rails against: SECRET BALLOTS by county political party committees on contested matters.

I think everyone agrees there were contested matters at the PDCC reorg meeting, especially when one recalls Assemblyman Green's offering up of multiple renditions of a slate of officers when a motion concerning same was already on the floor (see my post here).

Whatever the fate of the bill in the Assembly, and I for one can certainly understand why Assemblyman Green would be opposed to this reform measure, let's not pretend the idea is not on the table, or that it is 'antithetical to transparency and democracy'.

And, when writing letters to the editor, let's not forget to tell people who signs our paycheck.

In the interest of transparency, if not democracy.




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Muhlenberg (2): Courier to Plainfield, fuggedaboutit...




Today's Courier editorial (see here) advises Plainfield should put its Muhlenberg anger aside.

Harumph!

The argument is that anger on the part of Plainfielders about Muhlenberg's closure is hampering 'crafting ongoing health and emergency services for the city'.

Where to begin?

First, anger is a great motivator. So, I would say 'Stay angry!', 'Mobilize!', it's the only way things really get done.

Secondly, it is not just Plainfielders who are angry over Muhlenberg's closure as a more careful reading by the Courier's editorial board would show. It is the 100,000 plus residents in the thirteen communities that depended on Muhlenberg who are angry.

As state officials themselves admitted, a full 40% of the beds lost last year came from the closure of Muhlenberg. That's not peanuts, folks. Folks are NOT upset about having an SED; they are upset at NOT HAVING a centrally located acute-care hospital facility for a sizeable and underserved population.

Thirdly, it is unwise of the Courier -- or anyone else for that matter -- to rely on statements by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs about whether or not the satellite emergency department (SED) is 'working out'. Time was when newspapers would do their homework on the issue before accepting a blanket statement like that, especially from an elected official!

I have been told that, in fact, the SED IS WORKING OUT: staff is functioning efficiently, visits are up -- the only dark spot is that emergency transport times to other facilities have crept up from 61 minutes to 67 minutes. That ain't good.

If Mayor Robinson-Briggs were doing her duty by participating on the Muhlenberg board of which she is a member by virtue of her office, she would have access to the metrics which Solaris must keep, and would know the true status of the SED.

If the Courier hasn't the resources to check the facts out, we all end up being the losers.



-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Muhlenberg (1): Mayor Sharon drops the ball, again.




Muhlenberg supporters


Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is legendary for arriving late for meetings and events, even those in which she is to play a role.

So, it came as no surprise to read in last Thursday's Courier (see here) that Her Honor had been late again, this time to a conference on hospital closures at which she was a presenter.

Her excuse? 'Meeting with a potential buyer'.

I'm sorry, I find that hard to buy.

Conferences take a lot of planning, and participants are asked quite a deal in advance. Having to be there by a given time means that the mayor's secretary (or would it be her confidential assistant?) puts the event and location on her calendar, taking care to block out the time necessary to get to the event's venue. And other appointments are scheduled so as not to interfere with her prior commitment.

In soap operas, a potential hospital buyer may rush in as the heroine is getting ready to leave for an appointment, but that in soap operas. We're in Plainfield, which is presumably NOT a soap opera.

But maybe I shouldn't be so hasty about that.

Turns out that at last Thursday's State Health Planning Board meeting, at which Muhlenberg was also discussed, attendees learned that the state the formation of the citizens advisory board (one of the conditions placed upon Solaris in granting the closure of Muhlenberg) a condition that has not been met.

No surprise there. But what IS surprising is that it has been Mayor Sharon's responsibility to get the advisory group appointed.

Turns out she has done nothing, and the state is considering taking the authority away from her if appointments aren't made before next month's SHPB meeting.

Can you say 'late again'?

Robinson-Briggs still won't take up her seat on the Muhlenberg board, where she could actually have an impact if she would assume the responsibility.

Meanwhile, even though 54% of the voters in the Primary did not choose Robinson-Briggs, Plainfielders must prepare themselves for another four years of this leadership style.




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