The needler in the haystack.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Is fighting corruption worth it?




This Plainfielder was struck by a comment on a recent Ledger story concerning Middlesex Borough's contemplation of tougher pay-to-play restrictions (see story here).

Commenting on the proposal to be tougher than the state by limiting the contributions of any firm doing business with the borough to $300, 'obiwanisback' says --
... [a] nice idea but it won't work. Just give the cash to your friend, neighbor or relative with a different last name and have them send the donation in...
In Plainfield, the Council didn't even try to trump the state's weak pay-to-play rules.

What's worse, Plainfielders must face the charade of the 'fair and open process' of awarding contracts, where they are given -- without bidding -- to those on a list the administration has previously prepared and submitted to the Council for ratification.

Yet even where there are supposedly open public bidding procedures, bid-rigging goes on.

Someone, it seems, will always find a way to bend or break the rules.

Writing in NJ Newsroom, Jim Goodman points out that Alexis de Toqueville cast a sharp eye on American political corruption in his 1830s book and decided that it was a 'life-giving element of the system' (see article here).

Sisyphean though the task seems, my small-town heartland-of-America values demand keeping pushing the 'reform' ball uphill.

Is it worth it?

Albert Camus, reflecting on the myth of Sisyphus, condemned to eternally repeating the task of pushing a rock up a hill only to have to repeat the process when it rolls back, suggested that we should learn to 'love our rock', whatever it is.

What do you think?

Vote in the poll
HERE (top of right-hand column).



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Thursday, July 30, 2009

North Plainfield Sunshine Act would leave Plainfield in the dust





If adopted, a citizen-driven initiative in Plainfield's sister community North Plainfield would leave the Queen City in the dust when it comes to access to public records.

Led by a committee of six residents and needing to collect 300 signatures by the end of this month (tomorrow), the effort is an outgrowth of North Plainfield Citizens for Community Rights (NPCCR), a grassroots community organization formed two years ago. See their website here.

Provided enough signatures are gathered, the petition would place a fully formed ordinance (The North Plainfield Sunshine Act) on the November ballot, where ratification by the voters would make the ordinance a public law in the borough.

Plainfielders interested in access to public records would do well to study the proposed ordinance -- see the petition and ordinance here (PDF) -- which sets out a clear and comprehensive public meetings and public records policy.

Among items of interest are the following --
PUBLIC COMMENTS

Not only the Council, but every board and committee would be required to establish a period of public comment near the beginning and end of EACH PUBLIC MEETING (section 6). As things stand now in Plainfield, the public can only comment at the end of the Council's agenda session, and there are no established overall rules for public comment at various boards and committees.

RECORDINGS

An explicit policy is set that sound recordings be made of ALL meetings -- including closed (executive) sessions, and that they be made available in a prompt manner in both printed and electronic format(section 8). Procedures for redacting minutes of closed meetings are outlined as well as a process for guaranteeing these minutes eventually become open public records to the extent allowed by law. Aside: As I learned in 'Clerk University', municipalities which sound record their public meetings but not their executive sessions put the town at risk in case of lawsuits over what was discussed at those closed meetings. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that executive sessions of Plainfield's City Council have had improper conversations in the past, a situation which the North Plainfield proposal would discourage its Council from indulging in.

ACCESS

The proposed ordinance would make access to public records (including financial records) easy by posting them to the borough's website or making them available electronically, or both. This would allow residents to download minutes or financial spreadsheets and perform their own analyses of payments made or budget allocations, etc. -- something to delight open government advocates anywhere.

FEES

Lastly, the proposal establishes a common-sense and up-to-date fee structure that includes not only photocopying fees (as state law currently specifies, but at a lower rate that reflects recent adjudications on the matter), and outlines fees for providing records in other formats, such as DVD, etc.

All in all, this is a very forward-looking effort and one that Plainfielders and the City Council should keep an eye on.


-- Dan Damon

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On-street parking permits for Plainfield?





Is it time for Plainfield to adopt overnight on-street parking permits?

One of the less pleasant consequences of the management of Connolly Properties has been the mushrooming parking of cars overnight on city streets near Connolly Properties buildings. This is no doubt a consequence of their policy of charging renters -- who, under previous owner Fred Tedesco, got a parking space included with the rent -- a monthly parking fee.

But besides the influx of onstreet cars in Connolly neighborhoods, I have noticed many streets which formerly were lightly parked now lined block after block by cars jammed bumper to bumper even as the neighborhood driveways are full of vehicles.

Whatever the reasons for the burgeoning on-street presence is -- and it can range from more cars per household to more cars because of illegal apartments and rooming house arrangements -- it provides both dangers and opportunities for the city.

Danger?

Crowding the streets with cars can lead to more traffic accidents, as in my block of West 7th Street, which seems particularly prone to them on account of the jog in the road between Plainfield and Spooner Avenues.

Opportunity?

Other towns take a proactive stance toward on-street parking, allowing it with permits, and turning it into an income opportunity where funds are increasingly tight.

Take Montclair, for example.

Montclair has long had overnight parking rules, and revised them effective this past July 1st (see Ledger story here and Baristanet blog's background here).

Residents can get overnight permits two ways -- on an single-use, as-needed basis, for $5; and a six-month permit for $240. Currently, the six-month permits are for use in town lots, but the Council plans to roll the permits out to neighborhood streets.

If there are 16,000 vehicles in Plainfield (a conservative estimate of one per household), and even a quarter park on the streets (again, I think, a conservative estimate), that could mean approximately 4,000 permits at $240 for a six-month tag, or approximately $1.9 million in receipts on an annualized basis.

Montclair also got a one-time extra dollop: Enforcement of the new rules began after a six-month moratorium. In the first two weeks, about 1,000 tickets were issued for parking without a permit -- netting the town another $30,000 or so.

As one Council member said --
"It's a complicated issue, trying to come up with something that works, that pleases the largest number and infuriates the smallest number" of people...
Maybe the time to please and infuriate has come for Plainfield.


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Council-PMUA Meeting: Two teensy weensy footnotes




Two teensy weensy footnotes from Monday evening's City Council and Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority working session.

As the meeting was getting under way, Council President Burney read aloud a list of several items he said would be covered in the evening's meeting.

Councilor Mapp then asked if there was an agenda for the meeting (the one-page sheet prepared by the Clerk only noted this was a joint meeting and the public would be allowed to speak).

Council President Burney replied that that was what he had just read aloud, that he had emailed it to Mapp (and presumably the other Councilors) 'a week ago', and the only copy he had was the one he had printed out for himself.

Mapp then asked the Clerk if she had an agenda for the evening for the Council. She did not, other than what had been handed out.

I am concerned at the casual manner with which this was treated. Whether or not it is proper for the Council President to communicate the agenda to the Councilors by email, I am perplexed as to why it evidently was not communicated to the Clerk and ordered to be printed up as the agenda for the evening's meeting.

Whether or not the Open Public Meetings Act (the 'Sunshine Law') requires it, wouldn't it just make good sense, considering all the blather about 'transparency' that goes on around here?

My second teensy weensy footnote concerns the (sizable) 'black binder' to which PMUA counsel Leslie London referred in her remarks. It obviously contains tons of useful information about the PMUA. Information that is public record. Wouldn't it be nice if that were made available by the PMUA on its website? Without the public having to go to the effort of forcing the issue through OPRA requests.

What a great sign the PMUA had amended its high-and-mighty ways that would make!



-- Dan Damon

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Man shot multiple times Monday evening




Plainfield police officers responding to a shooting call at Berckman and East 2nd Streets administered emergency aid to the victim, an unidentified Hispanic male, who was subsequently flown out by medevac alive, thanks to their intervention.

I wonder if there is any connection to the MS-13 gang tag that I spotted a few days ago on a factory building on Berckman Street near the NJT overpass.






-- Dan Damon

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Council tackles PMUA tonight





City Council will take up the matter of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority at a special working session this evening at 8 PM in the Council Chambers/Municipal Court, Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street.

While no action will be taken, it will provide an opportunity for the public to hear a dialogue between elected officials and the PMUA's leadership team around issues that have arisen with regard to the agency.

The PMUA has arguably the most sensitive mission with regard to the public health of Plainfielders -- management of solid waste disposition and the sanitary sewer system (the storm sewers are not part of the PMUA mandate).

A retroactive rate increase in January turns out in hindsight to have been a serious misstep on the Authority's part, giving rise to DumpPMUA (see the website here), a grassroots movement questioning the agency's methods, fees and customer service.

A suit against the Authority by Philip Charles raises serious issues about the agency; you can read more about the lawsuit here, as well as reviews of the dramatic growth in its budget and number of employees and other matters.

Councilor Adrian Mapp made the PMUA a focus of his mayoral campaign this past spring, arguing that there is a great deal of fat in the administrative overhead of the agency which could be eliminated -- to the advantage of Plainfield taxpayers -- by reintegrating the PMUA into the city (read Mapp's proposal here, on protecting front line workers here and a review after the election here).

Assemblyman Jerry Green, w
riting on his blog (see here), asked the State Comptroller to 'examine the entire operation of the PMUA', saying --
...It is important because of the high rate of dissatisfaction with this agency. By asking the State Comptroller for a thorough deduction of the PMUA, this asks a neutral entity to deduce its operation, allowing us to make decisions on facts...
Agreeing with Assemblyman Green that a review would be helpful, I suggested there are some things he could do to show that his stand was not just election-season grandstanding -- you may want to review them (here) and see where things stand as of this date.

Stung by the criticisms and the intense public scrutiny, the PMUA made nice after the election, promising to address some of the concerns around fees and customer service (see my post here, with links to media coverage).

Where will tonight's discussion take us? Will we get an update on the State Comptroller's review? Will there be a discussion of reintegrating the agency into the City? How much input will the public be allowed to have, and at what point in the meeting?

You'll have to be there to find out.




City Council
Working Session on the PMUA

Tonight | 8 PM

City Council Chambers/Courthouse
Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Snoopy puts the 'IF' in Plainfield





Famed ace fighter pilot Snoopy was spotted putting the 'IF' in life above Plainfield on Wednesday......


-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stuck in Plainfield


Sometimes the things that get stuck in Plainfield have nothing to do with Mayor Robinson-Briggs, Assemblyman Green, the Council or any other official. Or even politics, the schools, crime, corruption or code enforcement.

Sometimes the things that get stuck in Plainfield have to do with simply not paying attention.

As in............






















As in the driver who didn't pay attention to the height warning on the NJT underpass on Clinton Avenue this past week.



-- Dan Damon

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Corruption Thursday: No joy in Plainfield



Plainfielders convinced that Union County is part and parcel of the corrupt practices highlighted in yesterday's massive 'Corruption Thursday' bust of mayors, Assemblymen and assorted government officials got no joy yesterday as the lengthening list of names published throughout the day failed to feature any Union County pols or operatives.

I was continually bombarded by email and cell yesterday -- 'Any Union County names'?

One caller said, 'I just want to hear two names' and then rattled off the name of a well-known county figure whose last name is composed of two words.

Sorry, folks.

No joy in Mudville just yet.

But PolitickerNJ's columnist Wally Edge recently noted that AG Anne Milgram is going after Democratic pols -- including Union County Dem chairperson Charlotte De Filippo (see here). The same day the Ledger ran a story about Milgram's expanding investigation into vote fraud in Essex County (see here), and another story noting that Senators Ray Lesniak and Nick Scutari were pushing back against Milgram's choice for civil rights chief (see here).

That would be the same Sen. Lesniak who set up a defense fund for De Filippo last May, which included as a co-founder Monmouth County Dem chair Nick Scudiery.

Wait a minute!

Monmouth County -- isn't that where Deal is located? One of the foci of the Corruption Thursday bust?

As environmentalist John Muir once said, 'everything is connected to everything'.

Ain't it so.



-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Should Plainfield bail out the Senior Center condos? Question ignites firestorm.




Plainfield's new Senior Center condos ('The Monarch at Plainfield'), which Assemblyman Jerry Green swore were going to be 'as good as Cranford Crossing' and not cost Plainfield taxpayers one red cent may be putting the Assemblyman's reputation on the line on both counts.

I'll come back to the Cranford Crossing comparison later, but for now the burning question is whether Plainfield should bail out the Senior Center condos.

The Monarch is looking to cost Plainfield taxpayers big time, for a long time. And that's not counting the 'sale' of the property to the developer for ONE MEASLY DOLLAR, which fact had to be pried out of the Robinson-Briggs administration at the time.

Robinson-Briggs, Assemblyman Green and City Council members would do well to check out the reactions of Plainfield VOTERS & TAXPAYERS to the proposed tax break for condo buyers as reflected in the numerous comments posted to the various blogs.

Here's a score card so far (and don't forget the old rule of thumb -- each comment represents at least ten folks who feel the same way). Numbers of comments is as of time of this posting --
PLAINFIELD TODAY (Dan)
"Protect Plainfield's interest in condo tax breaks"
| Comments (10)

PLAINTALKER (Bernice)
"Developer seeks major tax abatement"
| Comments (16)


"Assessing the Monarch situation"
| Comments (13)

DOC'S POTPOURRI (Olddoc)
"Who pays taxes?"
| Comments (6)


"Taxes or a Free Ride?"
| Comments (0)

MARIA'S BLOG (Maria)
"Tax abatements for condo future owners?"
| Comments (12)


"Tax abates: What's in it for the Council?"
| Comments (3)
Elected officials who blog should also take note of Olddoc's CHALLENGE TO THEM to post their points of view on PILOTs to their blogs.


-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Protect Plainfield's interests in condo tax breaks



City Council needs to protect Plainfield's interest in the proposed tax breaks for the Senior Center condos, especially given the sketchy nature of the Robinson-Briggs administration's proposal.

After nearly four years, it has become clear the Robinson-Briggs administration is averse to doing real homework in advance of floating proposals (dare I say IN WRITING?) that would anticipate the issues involved and questions Councilors might ask.

The proposed tax break for the condo buyers is just another example, beginning with the apparent 'walk-on' of the proposed ordinance.

Saying that condo buyers needed an incentive in this market, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson fielded questions raised by the Council. Eventually the public learned that the tax break was proposed for actual condo owners, not the developer; that the abatement was for five years and would require the payment of only 40% of the assessed valuation of the condo properties; and that the Council would be able to tinker with the conditions.

As I heard Council President Burney talking about how important the proposal was while waving the 'bloody shirt' prospect of the units becoming rentals, my Realtor® brain kicked in.

What about the importance of protecting Plainfield's interests?

Here is some tinkering the Council should consider that would protect the rest of us from being scammed --
  • Require that buyers be qualified for their mortgages BASED ON THE FULL TAX ASSESSMENT, not the rebated amount. Why? We don't need to have buyers whose viability would be at risk were they required to pay the full tax freight. (Mortgages use a formula called PITI -- Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance -- to calculate how much an applicant is qualified to borrow.) If it's to be an ENTICEMENT, make sure it's for FULLY-QUALIFIED BUYERS ONLY, and not a gimmick for lowering the quality of buyers.

  • Second, NO TAX BREAKS FOR NON-RESIDENT OWNERS. Let's not subsidize speculators who buy and then rent out the unit. And put some teeth in it: Require certification of residency, with both revocation of the privilege and criminal perjury charges facing cheaters.

  • Third, PUT PENALTIES IN PLACE FOR PREMATURE SALES of the abated units. In other words, the tax break should be for legitimate buyers who plan to stay in the unit at least five years. That means NO FLIPPING. Sale of the unit before the five-year marker could be penalized by requiring the FULL TAXES ON THE UNIT TO THE DATE OF CLOSING to be paid to the City at the closing table out of the sales proceeds. An even stricter proposal would be to require payment of the FULL FIVE YEARS' WORTH OF TAXES for any premature sale.
In other words, SCAMSTERS NEED NOT APPLY.

There is no reason Plainfield should play the 'foolish virgin' in any development schemes.






-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Should Muhlenberg advisory group take up ambulance issue?




Now that Plainfielders finally have an advisory group to monitor Solaris' compliance with the terms allowing it to shut down Muhlenberg as a critical-care hospital, the question arises whether one of the first items it should take up is the 'ambulance issue'.

After Sunday's fatal accident in front of his house involving a motorcycle stolen in New York City and driven by a Plainfield man, Councilor Rashid Burney circulated an email (addressed to 'the political leaders of Plainfield') describing the length of time it took to get ambulances for the fatally injured rider and three passengers in the car which the motorcycle struck.

Burney reports the North Plainfield Rescue Squad responded first within minutes of the accident and tried to resuscitate the rider; they took him away toward Muhlenberg.

The Fire Division extricated two of the car's occupants and put them on stretchers. According to Burney, the Watchung Rescue Squad arrived about 40 minutes after the accident and took the driver, while a Somerset MC ambulance came along minutes later and took the minor away (Burney seems not to account for the third occupant of the car).

This whole scene underscores one of the problems that was pointed out when Solaris first proposed closing Muhlenberg -- that the extra distance involved in transporting by ambulance to JFK or other hospitals would impair the quality of emergency response services in Plainfield.

Not to worry, we were told. All the bases will be covered, it was said. Other ambulances will pitch in and service will not suffer.

Unfortunately, Burney does not address the probability that the Plainfield Rescue Squad was simply already occupied and could not be in two places at once.
Keep in mind that mutual aid between rescue squads is a long-established, highly reliable tactic given the limited resources available to any one community.

The most recent metrics on the Muhlenberg SED indicate that ambulance times from the SED to another hospital have crept up from 60 minutes to 67 minutes. That would mean that if the Plainfield Rescue Squad were transporting a patient to JFK when the motorcycle fatality happened it could be 'out of the water' for up to two hours -- more if the hospital were further away than JFK. Whose fault is that?

What ever happened to the second ambulance that Muhlenberg supporters believe was promised as part of the closure terms?

The issue has not be resolved, as far as I know, with Solaris claiming that no ambulance was ever promised to be provided to the Plainfield Rescue Squad.

Burney is looking for the Robinson-Briggs administration to bring forth a proposal to the Council on the EMT situation in Plainfield since, he says, the Rescue Squad is in a shaky financial position.

He is right that something should be done.

Volunteer rescue squads everywhere are always scrambling for money (recall that North Plainfield's was actually shut down briefly this past spring). Getting insurers to reimburse is one of the chief sources of funding, but as anyone knows, nothing is easy or automatic about reimbursements in the healthcare system.

Volunteer rescue squads generally have a high level of enthusiasm and dedication to providing EMT services (why would anyone volunteer otherwise?), but a low level of administrative, management and marketing savvy. That's one extreme positive trait and one negative.

If the city were to propose abolishing the Rescue Squad and instituting paid services provided by city employees, everyone would do well to take a deep breath and think that one through.

That would mean replacing ONE POSITIVE (volunteer enthusiasm and dedication) and
ONE NEGATIVE (thin administrative and marketing skills) with THREE NEGATIVES:
the cost of city employees (and their benefits and pensions), the loss of that volunteer enthusiasm and no improvement in management or marketing savvy.

I am not convinced this administration, which has yet to discover the value of detailed memoranda (as opposed to glitzy PowerPoint presentations), is up to the task of inventorying the positives and negatives of the Rescue Squad, prioritizing the issues and proposing reasonable and effective means for dealing with the issues.

Instead of looking to the Robinson-Briggs administration to simply tear down what is here, why not look to the new Muhlenberg advisory committee for pointers on what to do, keeping in mind
President Obama's mantra when he spoke to the AMA recently about his healthcare proposals (see here): "Fix what is broken; build on what works".


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Key appointees tonight come with question marks


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fatal traffic accident Saturday



Wreckage of a motorcycle lies in the roadway
after Saturday's fatal accident..



Plainfield Today reader (and roving reporter) B.C. phone while on the road Saturday afternoon to report a serious accident at Watchung and Kensington Avenues, involving a motorcycle and a sedan with three occupants.

I arrived about 30 minutes later to find the intersection blocked by yellow police tape all four ways as the County Police's accident investigation crew measured and photographed the scene.









The unidentified motorcyclist, said by bystanders to be a Plainfield resident, was fatally injured when his motorcycle -- traveling at a high speed -- hit the sedan as it was crossing Watchung Avenue traveling toward Putnam on Kensington.

Several bystanders, as well as my source, report the motorcycle was being pursued by police, but an officer at the scene was unable to confirm this.






From the damage to the sedan, it seems the rider was thrown from the motorcycle onto the car's upper driver door and windshield, while the motorcycle struck the driver's door directly. The door was removed in order to free the sedan's driver. He and two passengers were transported to JFK, according to bystanders.

In one shot taken from a distance, I discovered Councilor Rashid Burney standing behind the yellow tape at the far side of Watchung Avenue when I processed the photo. Not too long ago, one of the two stone pillars marking his driveway entrance was knocked down by a car which somehow managed to avoid a tree by just inches.






This is one of Plainfield's most dangerous intersections.


-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Something odd about Mayor's upcoming Muhlenberg forum




NOTE: The State Health Planning Board's July meeting, originally set for July 23, has been canceled. (Update, Sunday, 7/19/2009.)

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has called a community forum for Tuesday at which the new Community Advisory Group for Muhlenberg will be 'formalized'.

There is something odd going on here.

Actually several odd things.

In case you haven't heard about the forum, you should toodle on by the city website and check out the forum notice (see here).

Odd thing #1 is the press release put up on Thursday afternoon (see here -- PDF).

Press releases posted on the website are composed in MS Word in a template that includes an image of the city seal, like this --


Oddly, the 'press release' for the forum features a PHOTOGRAPH of a plaque of the city seal, propped against a wall on top of a cabinet or bookcase of some sort. Here is a screen shot of the 'press release' --



-- and a closeup of the 'seal' image.





Kinda makes you wonder if the press release came from some place other than the Mayor's office. Some folks might think it was NOT news that the news doesn't actually come from the Mayor's office. Call me naïve.

At any rate, Mayor Robinson-Briggs' forum will address the advisory group for Muhlenberg (and also ongoing road work).

Odd thing #2: Some people were confused when the announcement of the advisory group came from Assemblyman Jerry Green instead of Mayor Robinson-Briggs (see here), leading Maria Pellum to comment on same on her blog (see here), causing Jerry to respond (see here).

Get out your Excedrin.

As I pointed out earlier (see here), the Robinson-Briggs administration was publicly upbraided at the June State Health Planning Board meeting for not having put this advisory group together to that point, and Heather Howard's representative said if the matter was not addressed before the July meeting, it would be taken out of the Robinson-Briggs' hands. (Mayor Robinson-Briggs had promised Commissioner Howard last September that she would name the group by the end of THAT MONTH -- see here.)

You'll be pleased to know that that '2x4 upside the head' seems to have gotten someone's attention.

But was a group actually appointed? You may want to reread the list and Assemblyman Green's blog on the matter (here) a couple of times and see if you can figure it out -- but remember that Excedrin I told you about? Get it out. Take it.

What on earth took so long? Except for the hospital representatives, the others are no-brainers and shouldn't have taken more than five minutes to list and recruit. (Well, maybe except for Salavarrieta, but that's another matter.)

At any rate, Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs have come in under the deadline laid down last month -- by a whisker, the State Health Planning Board's July meeting is Thursday, the 23rd.

Which leads us to oddity #3, the venue for the meeting: Washington Community School. Using the school is not that unusual; in fact, Robinson-Briggs seems to find it almost the only place she likes to use besides City Hall.

What is odd is that she didn't think to hold the community forum at Muhlenberg's Centennial Hall.

Centennial Hall is still available for community use, at no cost, so why wouldn't she go THERE to make her big deal announcement that she has not only organized an advisory group, but that she made sure NO Solaris representation was on it. (Though I don't think that excluding Solaris is such a smart move.)

But maybe that's not so odd after all, since she has yet to take up her seat on the Muhlenberg Board and here we are staring her second term in the eye.

Amazing, isn't it?



COMMUNITY FORUM

Tuesday, July 21

7:30 PM

Washington Community School
427 Darrow Avenue
(Parking available in the Spooner Avenue lot)



-- Dan Damon

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Wave of car breakins, GPS thefts






While Plainfield crime stats are down as reported by Director Hellwig to the Council this past Monday (covered by the Courier here), a wave of car breakins has erupted as if to taunt the Director.

Residents reported to the Hillside Area Neighborhood Watch on Wednesday as many as six car breakins on Tuesday evening, with windows being smashed and items grabbed, including GPS units (and in one case, the holder WITHOUT the unit).

Car breakins were reported on Wednesday evening in the Oak Lane neighborhood, according to one reader. Once again, GPS units. And a possible home invasion.

Seems like GPS units are a hot item.

Hide it or take it in the house, if you have one.

Do we need to add 'lock your car'?




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Thursday, July 16, 2009

What happens if Connolly goes under?




With Plainfield equally divided between homeowners and renters and with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs backing more rental development for the city, residents may well wonder what will happen to Plainfield if troubled Connolly Properties goes bust.

Under the glare of public scrutiny over living conditions in its hundreds of units throughout the city, with vacancies increasing, and facing numerous citations in housing court, Connolly Properties is also the subject of persistent rumors that the property management firm is in severe financial distress and possibly facing bankruptcy.

Whether or not that turns out to be the case, the Robinson-Briggs administration would be wise to have a 'plan B' in place (assuming the recently announced and much-touted inspections task force is 'plan A').

In Elizabeth, where the once highly desirable Oakwood Plaza has long been plagued by drugs and violence (see most recent story here), Mayor Chris Bollwege is said to have found a new owner that will redevelop the troubled rental complex, at the same time reducing its density.

Is there someone to step into the breech in Plainfield if Connolly defaults on its mortgages?

Mayor Robinson-Briggs may want to consider making a phone call to Tim Fournier.

Tim is familiar with Plainfield, already has a large property investment here, and could possibly be of great assistance.

Who is Tim Fournier?

He is the president and CEO of Conifer Realty, formerly American Home Properties, which owns and manages Leland Gardens which, with hundreds of units, is Plainfield's largest rental complex.




Leland Gardens, satellite view.




Leland Gardens, map view.


Tucked away out of sight in a large complex behind the tidy cape cods which face East Front Street and Leland Avenue, Fournier oversaw the investment of millions of dollars in upgrading the complex when AHP bought it a decade ago -- including new roofs, windows and doors, and renovated kitchens and bathrooms throughout. One of the conditions of the takeover/makeover was the provision of a new, state-of-the art community center for residents, which includes lounge areas, a meeting room and laundry facilities.

The city was to repave the two city streets that bisect the development, Leland Court and Cole Place. That has never happened, even though the two streets are arguably in the worst condition of any in the entire city.

Besides investing in and maintaining its buildings, Conifer manages the properties with a keen eye to the well-being and safety of all the residents.

In contrast to other large rental properties, you will find no news stories of drug busts or gunplay here.

With a history of providing affordable housing -- including partnering with nonprofits to do so (see a story about its latest project in South Jersey here) -- Conifer is well-positioned to turn a Connolly failure into a win-win situation for Plainfield.

That is, if anyone thinks to approach them.

That would be planning ahead, wouldn't it?



-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mr. Christie goes to Plainfield



Republican candidate Chris Christie in Plainfield Tuesday,
with District 22 candidates 'Bo' Vastine and Martin Marks.


Downtown Plainfield got a political jolt on Tuesday with a visit by Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, who spent an hour walking and talking with business owners and customers in the Special Improvement District.

Christie, who spoke with reporters on his ideas to address urban issues, was joined for the walk by District 22 Assembly candidates 'Bo' Vastine and Martin Marks.

The gaggle of newspaper and TV reporters and camera folk who pressed around the candidate to catch every word and handshake didn't make it easy for locals like yours truly and Bernice to get in the mix, but we did get a few good shots. I am posting a slide show below and you can catch Bernice's photos HERE.





Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Plainfield), who in a normal year hardly needs to fog a mirror to be re-elected, chose to take on Christie. Perhaps to his surprise, it meant also taking on Vastine and Marks in an impromptu jibjab. You can read the Assemblyman's take on the visit on his blog today (see here) as well as Marks (here) and Vastine (here) on same.

When can Plainfield expect a visit from Gov. Corzine?



Candidate Christie chats with Chamber of Commerce president
Lisa Cohen
in her store, Suburban Jewelers.



  • Read/View more on the Christie visit --

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Green, Vastine, Marks heat up 22nd District campaign



Republicans Marks and Vastine (l) are running against incumbent Jerry Green (r).


Plainfield is not getting any summer break from political campaigning.

Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Plainfield) and his Republican challengers ex-Scotch Plains mayor Marty Marks and newcomer 'Bo' Vastine are already mixing it up online.

Though candidates don't usually get down to business until after Labor Day, web-based platforms mean that candidates must campaign constantly.

Accordingly, I am putting links up on the CLIPS blog (see here) for your daily perusal of the word-wars.

It promises to be lively, as Jerry Green faces some real competition in the November general election for the 22nd District Assembly seats (see the PolitickerNJ story 'GOP thinks Stender and Green are beatable').

Assemblywoman Stender has no online presence I can find as of this moment, but if she puts one up, I will post links to it.

Not to overlook the Plainfield mayoral race, Republican candidate Jim Pivnichny continues to blog at his campaign site (see here).

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, about whose communication skills Courier News columnist Jay Jefferson Cooke has some incisive things to say (see here) still has the website that was put up during the primary campaign, which is still 'UNDER CONSTRUCTION'.

Any surprises there?



-- Dan Damon

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Affordable housing grant up for vote tonight




The proposed affordable housing would replace
Appliance-a-Rama and PNC parking lot.



Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has called a SPECIAL MEETING of the City Council for 8:00 PM this evening to vote on the proposed application for federal stimulus monies (ARRA) to develop affordable housing on the space currently occupied by Appliance-a-Rama and PNC's parking lot on West 2nd Street, just off Park Avenue.

There are two issues here: one of
SUBSTANCE, one of PROCESS.

As to SUBSTANCE, I posted last Wednesday on the questions this funding avenue raises for the future of market rate development of condos in Plainfield (see here).

This is serious business and presents the Council with quite a challenge. How do we encourage transit-oriented residential-retail projects in a challenging economic climate? What will putting another affordable housing rental project a stone's throw from the train station do to the prospects of any market-rate condo development downtown? Are there any other viable strategies? How is Mayor Robinson-Briggs justifying THIS Census Tract, which is the LEAST-IMPACTED by foreclosures in the entire City (see my analysis here)?

Additionally, comments by readers have raised other serious questions (see links at the end of this post).

Will the Council back President Burney's stance in support of balanced development for the downtown that would put Plainfield on a par with national averages of rental v. condos? How the Council handles this difficult decision will be a window into the possibilities of serious policy making and transparency in regard to other upcoming redevelopment proposals.

The
PROCESS issue is just plain annoying. Nearing the end of her first term and with the prospect of another four years staring Plainfielders in the face, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs still cannot -- or is it will not -- get the public notice thingie right.

The notice about the $15M grant application was put up on the City's website last Tuesday evening, as I noted the next morning. Yet the notice for the Special Meeting Mayor Robinson-Briggs called is dated Friday, July 10, as you an see from the scan Councilor Burney put up on Scribd (see here). So, what was Robinson-Briggs & Co. doing between Tuesday and Friday?

Is the Robinson-Briggs administration still just bumbling or is this a conscious technique of giving the public the finger?

The notice is correct on a technicality (if it's posted on the Clerk's bulletin board 48 hours before a meeting, it is 'publicly noticed'), but certainly does not meet what common folks would consider fair notice by publication in the papers. Imagine what the Robinson-Briggs administration could do if there just weren't all these pesky blogs keeping an eye on things.

Oh, and did I say that the regular agenda session was jam-packed with important items? See Bernice's post today outlining important personnel proposals and more from the Robinson-Briggs administration (here) as well as links to Councilor Burney's scans of the agenda items (here).

What was that about the 'lazy, hazy days of summer'?

Hazy, maybe. Lazy? Fuggedaboutit.

Come on out tonight!



City Council
Tonight
7:30 - Agenda Meeting
8:00 - Special Meeting
At City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue
(Parking and entry at the rear of the building)


-- Dan Damon

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