The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Dem 'volunteers' are not actually volunteers


A Plainfield Today reader forwarded the following email they received from Plainfield's Democratic HQ --

Good day,

We only have seven days left until the 2009 Gubernatorial Election and we can still use your help! This is the last stretch of the campaign and we would like to have as much support as possible to ensure that our President gets the right people in office to carry out his mission. In order to make this happen we need you! Governor Corzine, Assembly members Linda Stender and Jerry Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, and Bridget Rivers need you.

We are asking for people to help with passing out literature on Monday, November 2nd from 3PM-7PM and on Tuesday, November 3rd from 7AM-8PM (1hr lunch). VOLUNTEERS WHO COME FOR THOSE DAYS/TIMES WILL RECEIVE PAY, $25 for Monday and $75 Tuesday. Spots are filling up quickly, so if you would like to help out please contact Geraldine Smith at 908.405.7620, Keri Baucum at 732.770.2244 or send an email to plfddemhq@gmail.com no later than Friday, October 30th by 5PM.

Thank you,
Plainfield Democratic HQ
So, if someone gets paid to 'volunteer', what is it called when they do it for nothing?



-- Dan Damon

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Are Mapp's Town Hall meetings worthwhile?


A Plainfield Today reader, with whom I was discussing Councilor Adrian Mapp's town hall meeting in advance of last night, expressed some scepticism as to whether this kind of forum was worthwhile, saying they saw no immediate benefit from Mapp's previous Town Hall in August, which focused on the then-proposed tax abatement for buyers of condos at the Monarch project (see report on that meeting here).

Let's review: Residents were both confused about what exactly the abatement was, and why it was restricted to Monarch condo buyers only. Councilor Mapp listened, took notes, and asnwered as well as he could.

Subsequently, when the Robinson-Briggs administration was REPEATEDLY unable to convincingly explain its case for the abatement to the Council, the whole proposal collapsed, with Council President Burney's comment sealing its fate, 'We will not be voting on the tax abatement ordinance.'

That seems to me to be a pretty direct outcome of the Town Hall meeting.

But even if there were no such direct impact, I think that Mapp's Town Hall meetings have great value.

Time and again, researchers point to the lack of trust in elected officials felt by ordinary folks.

In Plainfield, we often hear that lack of trust expressed along the lines of 'the only time we hear from a politician is when they are looking for our votes'.

Councilor Mapp is countering that broken trust in two ways -- first, by having the Town Hall meetings at all, and, secondly, by his style in conducting them, which is to make sure that they are primarily OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESIDENTS TO SOUND OFF, and not for showboating or windbagging by elected officials.

And I would say residents are responding warmly to the opportunity.

It also has an advantage which regular Council meetings (because they are now only held monthly and are weighted down with lengthy agendas) DO NOT HAVE: those wishing to speak do not have to wait until near the midnight hour to say what's on their mind.

One can sense the ease with which folks talk to Mapp, and I think that indicates the building up of a level of trust that those who do not reach out to their constituents should envy.

As I said to my reader, recalling my farm upbringing: 'It's like plowing a field. That's only the first step in a long process that leads to the harvest. But a necessary first step.'




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UPDATE: Mayor Sharon and 'lying bloggers challenge'


Plainfield Mayor Robinson-Briggs said bloggers "dont' always tell the truth".

On October 16, Plainfield Today challenged Mayor Robinson-Briggs to cite chapter and verse to back up her charge that "city bloggers don't always tell the truth" (quoting Bernice, see here).

It is now two weeks since the challenge was issued, and no response from the Mayor -- except to assert at the League of Women Voters forum that residents can't get the facts from the blogs.

Chapter and verse please, Mayor. Readers are waiting.



-- Dan Damon

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Town Hall Meeting: Quote of the Night


My nomination for Quote of the Night from Plainfield Councilor Adrian Mapp's town hall meeting at the Plainfield Public Library last evening would be this, from remarks made by Assemblyman Jerry Green to the 40-or so attendees --

"One of the things I have tried to do over the past few years is keep the city out of trouble."
Going on to speak of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) situation, in which the Robinson-Briggs administration has 90 days to find and appoint a CFO (with the possibility of a 90-day extension), Green added that --
"without a CFO in place, [Plainfield] will not qualify for [state] grants."
Just another day in the Robinson-Briggs administration, I guess.



-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Muhlenberg a big focus of races




Sign on a Watchung Avenue yard during Muhlenberg closure crisis.


Plainfield's Muhlenberg Hospital is the gift that keeps on giving -- headaches, that is -- for incumbent candidates Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Assembly incumbents Jerry Green and Linda Stender.

Though taxes, crime and development were among the issues focused on in the League of Women Voters' mayoral forum Wednesday evening, attendees were plenty vexed over the loss of Muhlenberg Hospital and the role of incumbent politicians in same.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs totally ducked a question asking what she had done BY WORKING THROUGH HER MEMBERSHIP ON THE MUHLENBEG BOARD to save or reopen the hospital. Avoiding any mention that she has NEVER TAKEN UP HER SEAT ON THE BOARD, she said she and Assemblyman Green had chosen instead to 'deal directly with Trenton'.

To what effect we can all see.

Assemblyman Green was at pains, as he has been throughout the campaign, to point out that he had done 'nothing illegal' in being a vice president with the Alman Group, which lobbies on behalf of hospitals throughout the state according to Green.

Green's relationship with Alman was previously undisclosed until an article appeared in the Courier in October, 2007 (see here), detailing how lawmakers can hide conflicts of interest.

The day after the story appeared, Green announced he had resigned from the lobbying firm (see here).

Ever since, Green has gone out of his way to point out that he did nothing illegal, a point with which his opponent 'Bo' Vastine agreed at Wednesday's League of Women Voters forum. Citing New Jersey's 'culture of corruption', Vastine was careful to say that he was not accusing Green of breaking the law, but that the exact point he was making was how the way ethics have been defined in New Jersey make profiting from abuses of the public trust perfectly acceptable.




Screenshot of Jerry Green's page on the Alman Group website, 10/1/2007.
(Click to enlarge or print.)


It's an old story, but will it make a difference to voters as the go to the polls on Tuesday?

That Muhlenberg is an important issue, on which incumbents Jerry Green and Linda Stender feel vulnerable, can be seen in the expensive, four-color mailer which hit District 22 mailboxes on Tuesday.

The piece, titled 'The TRUTH About Muhlenberg' simply repeats the laundry list of issues with Solaris, asking the reader to 'join [Green and Stender] so that together, we can re-open Muhlenberg hospital'.

The other side reprints a Courier editorial of March 20, 2009, lauding Jerry for saber-rattling against Solaris.

That editorial did Green no good at the LWV forum, where one of his opponents, Marty Marks, read the Courier's endorsement of the Marks-Vastine team over incumbents Green and Stender.

Meanwhile, both Vastine (see here) and independent mayoral candidate Deborah Dowe (see here) posted a letter from GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie promising a top-to-bottom review of the Muhlenberg closure is he is elected.

Muhlenberg is obviously on voters' minds. How much of a difference it will make in Tuesday's elections is an unknown.

But all parties seem to agree it will make some difference.

Why else spend so much time and money on the issue?



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Dan was wrong! Do you hear me -- wrong, wrong, wrong!




In my post on Monday that it was about time for Mayor Robinson-Briggs to pull a rabbit out of the hat in regard to Muhlenberg Hospital (see here), I was wrong.

Do you hear me?! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I predicted that Mayor Sharon would call a meeting of the Community Advisory Group (CAG), of which she is the convenor, to announce that she was in talks with buyers (note the plural 's') for Muhlenberg.

I was wrong.

There was indeed a meeting of the CAG on Tuesday evening.

But neither Mayor Robinson-Briggs nor Assemblyman Jerry Green made an appearance.

Was it perhaps because they might have faced questions about Muhlenberg's Adult Day Care program, which is being moved away from the Plainfield campus to Edison by corporate parent Solaris Health System?

The move, quietly scheduled for this past Saturday -- that's right, you never knew about it! -- was mysteriously cancelled, even though the vans had arrived to make the move, when Edison refused to give a Certificate of Occupancy for the new premises.

A government employee working overtime in Edison on a Saturday to deny a C/O that surely had been worked on for weeks, if not months?

Rumors immediately began circulating whether an unnamed Democratic Assemblyman had pulled strings to avoid a potentially embarrassing incident just days before he faces a voting public upset over the fate of Muhlenberg.

More man-behind-yellow-curtain stuff?

Put that rabbit back in that hat, Dan.



-- Dan Damon

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Town Hall on Plainfield finances, other issues tonight


Plainfielders have an important opportunity to discuss important community issues BEFORE next Tuesday's general election, at which we will vote for Mayor, Council and Assembly seats -- as well as Governor and, for the first time ever, Lt. Governor.

Councilor Adrian Mapp continues his series of Town Hall meetings, with an opportunity this evening for residents to sound off on the state of Plainfield's finances and financial management as well as other topics of interest, expected to include everything from tax increases to roads projects, from the Muhlenberg situation to the Senior Center condos, from a late budget to squelching voluntary sports activities (see Mapp's website here).



Councilor Adrian Mapp: Town Hall Meeting

Thursday, October 29
6:30 PM

Councilor Adrian Mapp is sponsoring a Town Hall Meeting
to discuss Plainfield finances and financial situation
and other topics of concern to residents.


Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room
Plainfield Public Library
Park Avenue and 8th Street


-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Somethin' funny with the (PAS) Stimulus money






You'd think with the mayoral election less than a week away, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs would not want another how-does-she-handle-the-city's-finances matter on her plate.

Yet, here we are.

I got rumbles yesterday that the Plainfield Action Services (PAS) board had forced a meeting with City Administrator Marc Dashield to get to the bottom of what has happened to approximately $93,000 of a $267,909 grant to the agency for a jobs-training program.

At the end of the day, Dashield was not able to tell the Board members exactly where the money has gone.

A little background, first on the agency, then on the grant.

Plainfield Action Services (PAS) is the successor of the original 1960s-era War on Poverty agency that came into existence under President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his 'Great Society' initiatives.

Those old enough to remember will recall that this was the first time in history that poor and minority people were actually going to have a chance for a direct say in how Federal money was going to be spent to improve their neighborhoods and their lives.

It was a period of intense community engagement, and the interest was reflected in balancing how the boards of the local agencies would be constructed, so as to ensure all stakeholders seats at the table. This meant large -- sometimes even huge -- boards, composed of community representatives as well as elected officials and members from nonprofits and social agencies.

(ASIDE: My SECOND job after college was funded through LBJ's anti-poverty agency, the Office of Economic Opportunity, or OEO, training welfare recipients to organize their own neighborhoods to participate in an agency like PAS; along with my friend Bill T., who later despaired of working within 'the establishment' and became head of the local Black Panther chapter.)

These boards exercised oversight over the agency's activities and expenditure of funds, while the municipality involved often became (as in Plainfield's case) the fiscal agent, since there was mistrust about how careful residents would be with the expenditure of monies.

How ironic in hindsight.

As for the grant Dashield can't explain, don't feel bad if it doesn't jog your memory.

It is meant to fund a job-training program with a start- and end-point, and included a line item for purchase of a van to transport the 'trained' workers to 'warehouses' where they would be employed.

It was never made explicit in any of the ARRA (Stimulus Plan) smoke-and-mirrors presentations by the Robinson-Briggs administration.

If you check the secret City web pages on the Stimulus (see here), you will see on Page 5 a 'Community Development Block Grant' for an unspecified amount on which the City was 'awaiting agency guidance'. Was that the grant in question? Could be, but since the City has never updated those web pages, you would be taking a shot in the dark.

(ANOTHER ASIDE: Would it be mean of me, while we're looking at these pages, to point out that on Page 2 of the Stimulus subsite, you will see a figure for road work for Somerset Street [never commenced], but NOT for Geraud Avenue [never listed, but undertaken as a Stimulus project, see here]? OK, I will NOT be mean.)

Maybe we'll have better luck checking the ARRA update posted by the Robinson-Briggs administration in early August (see here, in PDF). If you check slide 6 of the 9-slide show, you will find an item entitled 'Community Services Block Grant', which at $267,000 is the closest in any city documentation to the actual grant in question. The City does not list its purpose, only that it was a formula-based grant, and has been awarded. I'm guessing that this is the grant in question.

Who is to run the jobs-training program, PAS or another agency, or ... a 'consultant' picked in the slippery 'fair and open' manner so beloved by the Robinson-Briggs administration? Where are the monies kept and who monitors how they are spent?

Unfortunately, the PAS Board has not gotten straight answers to these questions.

Are the funds just missing? Misspent?

If checks were cut, to whom? For what services? Based on what vouchers? And, if contracts were involved, where are the necessary Council resolutions?

The PAS Board should be commended for having the guts to ask for answers to these and other questions.

Let's hope they get them.

Sooner rather than later.



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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Muhlenberg: The world according to Dottie G.




Protesters at first 'Save Muhlenberg' rally, March, 2008.


Plainfield's inimitable Dottie Gutenkauf has written an election piece attacking Republican candidates 'Bo' Vastine and Marty Marks, which was given prominent display under its 'Guest Commentary' section by the Courier in Sunday's print edition.

The piece was called to my attention by a reader in an email yesterday, which led me to look into how I missed it.

Turns out it was in the PRINT EDITION of the paper on Sunday, but NOT ONLINE. As I have pointed out before, I put the CLIPS blog together early in the AM from online sources (it is, after all, LINKS to online stories).

Since it was not online, I did not catch it, though I did pick up three Courier pieces, including an anti-Chris-Christie letter to the editor by Tiran Billlups.

It was evidently put up by the Courier staff later on Sunday, and can be found here.

Dottie makes a full-throated defense of the notion that only those who personed the barricades have a legitimate right to comment on the Muhlenberg situation.

While her portrayal of the involvement (heroic, she thinks) of Jerry Green and Linda Stender, as well as Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, may be open to other interpretations, she certainly has a right to hers. Just don't mistake it for what journalists like to call 'objective' reporting.

This incident just underscores one of my ongoing peeves with the Courier -- the inconsistent way the online version squares up with the print edition.

For instance, weekend before last there were two items on Parliament Funkadelic founders Ernie Worrell (who has a new group, SociaLybrium) and George Clinton (who has an upcoming gig at the War Memorial in Trenton) -- see the CLIPS page here.

My gridge? The Worrell story, lengthy and worthwhile, covering the less-famous Funkadelic founder and his migration to a new phase, was eminently worth sharing. Unfortunately, it was not online, and an email inquiry to the managing editor got a response that it would not be put up, period. The less noteworthy, and very brief, George Clinton item was, however, available for all online. Go figure.

I am not sure Gutenkauf's rant is anything more than pablum for the preconvinced, but it is your right to read it.

Go ahead.




The march looped along the Park Avenue sidewalk.




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Man accused of sexually assaulting 5-year-old boy


An alarming Ledger story concerning an alleged sexual assault against a 5-year old boy was posted yesterday (see here).

The headline caught my eye as there have been rumors for weeks that a Plainfield man was arrested on September 28 (a month ago) on a similar -- if not identical -- charge.

The difference here is that though it is rumored the local man was charged, removed from Plainfield's jail to the Union County jail, with bail set at $150,000, no information on the case seems to be publicly available;
whereas, the subject of the Ledger story was arrested on this past Saturday and the story appeared in Monday's editions.

Does anyone know anything further about this matter and/or why it has not been made public?



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Important meetings: LWV Forum Wednesday, Mapp Town Hall Thursday


Plainfielders have two important opportunities to discuss (and hear the candidates discuss) important community issues BEFORE next Tuesday's general election, at which we will vote for Mayor, Council and Assembly seats -- as well as Governor and, for the first time ever, Lt. Governor.

Plainfield's 89-year-old chapter of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters hosts its candidate forum on Wednesday (see the LWV website here).

Councilor Adrian Mapp continues his series of Town Hall meetings, with an opportunity on Thursday to sound off on the state of Plainfield's finances and financial management as well as other topics of interest, expect to include everything from tax increases to roads projects, from the Muhlenberg situation to the Senior Center condos, from a late budget to squelching voluntary sports activities (see Mapp's website here).

See below for event locations and times.



Leage of Women Voters Candidates' Forum

Wednesday, October 28
6:30 PM and 7:30 PM.

The Plainfield chapter of the League of Women Voters will present its candidates' forum
in two segments: at 6:30 PM, candidates for the 22nd District Assembly seats;
at 7:30 PM, candidates for Mayor and the Ward 4 Council seat.


At Emerson Community School, East Third Street at Emerson Avenue.



Councilor Adrian Mapp: Town Hall Meeting

Thursday, October 29
6:30 PM

Councilor Adrian Mapp is sponsoring a Town Hall Meeting
to discuss Plainfield finances and financial situation
and other topics of concern to residents.


Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room
Plainfield Public Library
Park Avenue and 8th Street


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, October 26, 2009

It's rabbit-out-of-hat time in Plainfield!




Pols are famous for pulling rabbits out of hats
as Election Day approaches.



As Plainfield's mayoral race comes down to the last week, it's time for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to start pulling rabbits out of hats, in the age-old incumbents' dodge.

My nomination for today?

MUHLENBERG.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs, who has never taken up her duties as a member of the Muhlenberg Board in her entire first term, cannot be oblivious to the sentiment among voters that the closure of Muhlenberg has been a disaster for Plainfield and the surrounding communities -- both with regard to the quality of healthcare delivery and the economic impact of the loss of 1,100 jobs (and their purchasing power) from the local economy.

What to do?

How about convening a meeting of the Community Advisory Group, set up to monitor Solaris Health System's compliance with the conditions set by the state in exchange for permission to shut down Muhlenberg?

And use the meeting to announce that Mayor Robinson-Briggs was working hard to find a buyer for Muhlenberg -- in fact, was (breathless gush!) IN TALKS AT THIS VERY MOMENT for a new (but unnamed) buyer for the hospital.

Never mind that the sale of Muhlenberg is NOT PART OF THE CHARTER of the
Community Advisory Group (CAG), or that in this economic climate, with financing hard to come by, there is not a likely candidate for PURCHASE. But, given the makeup of the CAG**, Mayor Sharon might be able to flummox them anyway.

And just think of how some voters, upset over the loss of Muhlenberg but not really attentive to Mayor Robinson-Briggs' role in that loss, may be swayed by having THIS RABBIT pulled out of the hat, especially if they read it in the Courier or Ledger.

Or will they?



**Community Advisory Group (CAG) Roster
1) Assemblyman Jerry Green
2) Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Mayor
3) Marc Dashield, City Administrator
4) Rashid Burney, Council President
5) Marc Collicchio, Municipal Health Officer
6) Jenny Purnell, Plainfield Rescue Squad
7) B.J. Fleming, Captain – Plainfield Fire Division (alt. Firefighter Sheldon Green)
8) Troy Edwards, Sgt. – Plainfield Police Division (alt. P.O. William Tyler)
9) Colleen Mahr, Mayor (Fanwood)
10) Carmen Salvarrietta, Community Activist
11) Dottie Gutenkauf, Community Activist
12) Jay Jimenez, St. Peters University Hospital
13) Lynn Kearny, Rahway Hospital
14) Dennis McGill, MD, Somerset Regional Medical Center
per Jerry Green's Page, 7/13/2009.


Leage of Women Voters Candidates' Forum

Wednesday, October 28 (Correct date!)
6:30 PM and 7:30 PM.

The Plainfield chapter of the League of Women Voters will present its candidates' forum
in two segments: at 6:30 PM, candidates for the 22nd District Assembly seats;
at 7:30 PM, candidates for Mayor and the Ward 4 Council seat.


At Emerson Community School, East Third Street at Emerson Avenue.



-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Botánica a window into a changing Plainfield




A Black Madonnia, but which one?


Those who never walk downtown Plainfield's shopping district are missing a ground-level window into the increasing pace of Latinization of the Queen City.

A case in point is the
Botánica San Miguel, just steps from Front Street on Somerset Street. I took these snaps the weekend of the Latin American Independence Festival, when I walked past the shop window crowded with interesting statuary.

To me it was interesting.


Take the Black Madonna. Is it a Cuban Virgin of Regla? The Brazilian Our Lady of Aparecida? The Costa Rican La Negrita? The Chilean La Virgen Morena?

And the pierced hand of Jesus, which I am told by some is useful in warding off the power of the Evil Eye.




The pierced hand of Jesus,
protecting from the Evil Eye?



To a Latino, the Botánica probably signals a welcoming place where cultural necessaries could be procured and ties to practices and beliefs from a home country be maintained.

Although there are plenty of Latino-owned businesses downtown, Latinization does not mean ONLY Latino-owned businesses.

Downtown Plainfield has turned out to be a place to make a decent living for a diverse group of merchants -- Asians, Jews, Portuguese and others -- who understand the needs and wants of Plainfield's mushrooming Latino population.

Maybe we should have tours to introduce older Plainfielders to their newer community.

La Ciudad Reina, anyone?



-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Monarch sales trailer site put to better use




Playground equipment being assembled on former sales trailer site.
(Yes, that's my finger in the picture.).



The vacant lot formerly housing the Monarch at Plainfield's sales trailer has a new -- and probably better -- use.

Stopping by the condos Thursday after new attention-getting sales signs spinning in the breeze caught my eye, I noticed a group of people assembling what appeared to be a giant plastic space ship on the former site of the sales trailer, at the corner of East Front Street and Westervelt Avenue.

The new playground equipment is for the little ones at the Neighborhood House East center across the corner. (This is especially nice, if you consider that many of the city's daycare/preschool facilities do not have decent -- or, in some cases, ANY -- outdoor play areas.)




Spinning 'Open House' signs in front of the Monarch condos caught my eye.


What had been thought by some to be a city-owned lot loaned to Dornoch Plainfield for the sales trailer was actually bought at auction by a private party who has made arrangements with Neighborhood House for the lot's use.

Seems likely to me the kids are going to have a happier time there than any of the sales agents for the Monarch condos ever did.




The Monarch sales trailer, which formerly occupied the corner site,
being disassembled this past summer.




-- Dan Damon

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Friday, October 23, 2009

What's with the unfinished roads?




Mayor Robinson-Briggs put President Obama's
Stimulus money to work on a road-to-nowhere.



While bumping down one of
Plainfield's begun-but-unfinished road projects Thursday evening, I came upon a reader out walking his dog.

'You know, the asphalt plants will be shutting down for the winter in a couple of weeks', he said, as he scuffled some of the gravel lying in the roadway (he knows about this stuff because of his job responsibilities), 'When do you think they're ever gonna finish this street?'

When, indeed.

After the embarrassing false starts on Kensington and Netherwood Avenues in 2008, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' administration tried to get things back on track in the 2009 roadwork season, with less-than-optimal results.

I noticed at the Drake House reopening last weekend that Geraud Avenue, on which I had to park because of the crowds, is STILL UNFINISHED. You may recall this as the road-to-nowhere project on which Robinson-Briggs used President Obama's stimulus money (see my story here), as opposed to say a truly worthwhile project like Somerset Street from Front to the North Plainfield line.

When covering the Vastine meet-and-greet the other night, I had to park in the rut along the new curbing on Kensington Avenue -- another
STILL UNFINISHED street.

Checking further, I noted that Cedarbrook Road and Brook Lane are also
STILL UNFINISHED, as they were weeks ago, when Gov. Jon Corzine came to campaign in Plainfield (an event for which Mayor Robinson-Briggs was, as they say, 'otherwise engaged'). See my story on the road situation then here.




Weeks after Gov. Corzine's visit,
Cedar Brook Road has yet to be paved.


Seems the ONLY projects to date that are actually finished are West 8th Street and Netherwood Avenue.

Now I know Mayor Sharon has a lot on her plate just now, what with the CFO personnel mess at City Hall and the Seniors unhappy with her over being overdue on moving into the new Senior Center, and Her Honor fretting over how to face the voters in the two upcoming candidate forums, but as far as I know, no one held a gun to her head to make her take this job.

With winter coming on and roadwork season coming to an end, you'd think Mayor Robinson-Briggs wouldn't want voters to be reminded just by driving down the street that she had let them down again.

You'd think, wouldn't you?


-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

DCA letter now online here, question of criminality remains




Detail of letter, showing it was addressed to both
the Mayor and the City Council.



Exactly two weeks after the state wrote
Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and the City Council concerning its concerns over Plainfield's CFO (Chief Financial Officer) situation, I am pleased to post a copy of the now-infamously missing letter online for the world to read (see end of post).

You will recall that the public only became aware that there REALLY was a letter after Councilor Mapp dragged the admission from City Administrator Marc Dashield and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson at Monday's special council meeting (on that meeting, see Dan here, Bernice here, and Olddoc here).

Though both acknowledged they were aware of the letter, neither was able to explain why the Council had not received a copy of the letter, nor why the Mayor had not forwarded same to the City Clerk.

Though the letter has since surfaced (amid suspicions the Robinson-Briggs administration wanted to keep it under wraps until after the election), the issues is raises are still with us.

The three questions that bother me most are --
  1. If having a certified Chief Financial Officer is one of a municipality's CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED OFFICERS (as with tax assessor, tax collector, municipal clerk, etc.), why has the Robinson-Briggs administration not filled the office with a permanent, certified appointment after a nearly two-year vacancy?

  2. What is the quality of the legal advice that the Robinson-Briggs administration is getting for $159,500 per year -- if it was getting ANY on this matter -- that Her Honor could offer the Council resolutions for 'ACTING' or 'INTERIM' appointments which contravene state regulations and cannot legally be made. (Sadly, the Council has to rely on the Administration's statements that what it is doing is legal and by-the-book, since the Corporation Counsel evidently feels no compulsion to protect the public's interest in this matter.)

  3. Lastly, there is the question of whether the MISUSE OF A PERSON'S SIGNATURE STAMP rises to the level of criminality. In the next to last paragraph on the first page, it comes to light that the Robinson-Briggs administration has been using an employee's signature stamp as co-signer on municipal checks even though the employee is NOT the CFO. The employee expressed her concern to the State, and rightly so -- her certification is put at risk by the reckless behavior of the Robinson-Briggs administration in using her signature stamp improperly. But more than that, the question arises in my mind whether the Robinson-Briggs administration's actions in this matter rise to the level of 'uttering a false instrument', knowing that the use of the signature stamp on municipal checks was in violation of DCA regulations. Should the Council call for an independent investigation of the matter, or turn over the entire affair to the Attorney General's office?
In any event, the Division of Local Government Services has put the Robinson-Briggs administration on notice that it must bring the City into compliance with its regulations.

Members of the public having questions about Robinson-Briggs' conduct in the matter may prefer to ask their questions at the League of Women Voters candidates' forum next Wednesday, rather than wait for the next City Council meeting, which will occur AFTER the November election.




Letter-DCA-On-Plainfield-CFO-situation-091008



Wednesday - October 28
. 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM. LWV Candidates' Forum. The Plainfield chapter of the League of Women Voters will present its candidates' forum in two segments: at 6:30 PM, candidates for the 22nd District Assembly seats; at 7:30 PM, candidates for Mayor and the Ward 4 Council seat. At Emerson Community School, East Third Street at Emerson Avenue.



-- Dan Damon

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Plainfield IT job is posted, get busy if you want it




Anyone interested in Plainfield's new IT position needs to get cracking.

The position has been posted (you can see the posting online at the League of Municipalities website here -- about three quarters of the way down the page). Here is the text of the post --

MANAGER 1 INFORMATION PROCESSING – PLAINFIELD CITY. The City of Plainfield is currently seeking applications for the position of Manager 1 Information Processing, responsible for organizing and directing the City’s information processing unit. Interested applicants must have a Bachelor’s Degree form an accredited college and five (5) years experience in work involving the development of application software and systems analysis and design in a multiplatform environment; two (2) years of which shall have been in a supervisory capacity. Applications with salary requirements may be submitted to the attention of Marc Dashield, City Administrator, City of Plainfield, 510 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060. Please note that the City of Plainfield has a residency ordinance which may require that the successful candidate establish residency. The City of Plainfield is an equal opportunity employer. Ad Posted October 13th, Ad Removed October 31, 2009

The job should also be posted now on the bulletin board in the hall outside the Personnel Division on the third floor of City Hall, as required by law.

Call the Personnel Division at (908) 753-3401 for current information.

I would be happy to hear from anyone who submits a resum
é (email me here, in confidence), as I am quite concerned that talented and experienced Plainfielders who are interested get a REAL crack at this opportunity.

But note the posting expires on October 31 -- you must ACT QUICKLY and STAY ON TOP OF THINGS.

If you suspect a run-around or double-dealing, let me know.

The initial appointment will no doubt be, in Civil Service parlance, as a 'provisional' until the State issues a call for an examination for the position. Provisional employees are responsible for seeing that they take and pass the Civil Service examination in order to get permanent appointment to the position.

Interested? The ball is in your court.

Get a move on!


-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dems Green, Robinson-Briggs energize GOP campaigns




Republican mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny with
Barbara Sandford, who hosted a meet-and-greet Sunday.



Entering the two-week home stretch to the November general election, missteps by Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Jerry Green have energized local GOP campaigns.

Over the past week, I have checked out events hosted for mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny and Assembly candidate 'Bo' Vastine, to find them packed wall-to-wall with folks who say they are fed up with 'business as usual' and sense a real opportunity to change the electoral landscape this time around.

To those who believe in a two-party system (and I certainly hope that includes Green, Robinson-Briggs and their supporters), these signs of life among Republicans can only come as a breath of fresh air after years of somnolence in Plainfield's Grand Old Party.

One of the problems of one-party dominance is that there is no incentive to
draw in new talent and groom successors. (Why should we? We're gonna ride this rollercoaster to the end of the line.)

Another is that ideas for solving new (and old) problems and issues suffocate for lack of oxygen in rooms that are filled with the blah-blah-blah of pols patting themselves on the back for their honors and titles.

Not to mention using governmental powers as if they belonged to the official personally and not to the public. Consider this --
  • Assemblyman Jerry Green used the cops to physically hustle a duly-elected City Committee member out of a June meeting at the YWCA, and

  • Mayor Sharon used the cops to physically oust Senior Center member Pivnichny when he tried to ask questions at her recent monthly Seniors meeting.
The way the pols see it the police are not there to de-escalate situations, but to do as the pols want as they make up their own interpretations of the law.

This -- and the fact that the pols involved have not apologized to their victims -- has gotten a lot of voters steamed.

Then there is the matter of Muhlenberg Hospital.

Try as they might, Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs have not been able to wriggle out of their complicity in the closing of Plainfield's 131-year-old hospital in 2008.

'Bo' Vastine gets roars of approval from attendees every time he says, 'If it was me and Corzine was proposing to close Muhlenberg, with its 1,100 jobs and history as a lifeline for 13 surrounding communities and a couple hundred thousand people, I WOULD CHAIN MYSELF TO THE FRONT DOOR'.

If such a dramatic sign of support for the hometown hospital ever occurred to Green, it was probably muffled by the money he was making through the Alman Group, for which he was a vice president, and which counted Solaris Health System, Muhlenberg's corporate parent, among its clients.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs earns her boos from the fact that she has NEVER IN HER ENTIRE FOUR-YEAR TERM taken up her responsibilities as a member of the Muhlenberg Hospital Board. In warming to Pivnichny, voters seem to be saying Sharon's alligator tears over Muhlenberg's demise are just that -- alligator tears, a sort of emotional 'cubic zircon', not at all the genuine article.

Voters are also upset at the thought that the Robinson-Briggs administration is not only INEPT, but may actually have engaged in POSSIBLE CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, knowledge of which Mayor Sharon may have attempted to suppress (see yesterday's post here, and the record number of comments -- 28 and counting -- along with it here).




Pivnichny signs can be seen everywhere,
here near City Hall.


What do pols like Green and Robinson-Briggs do when their 'negatives' are high and they are in a tough race?

Looks like they've adopted the 'lie low' approach.

Though I have offered to publicize ANYONE'S CAMPAIGN EVENT, no Democratic event has been offered (unless one counts the forum by WFPIP -- Women for Progress in Plainfield -- a Redshirt Sharon support group).

Green and Robinson-Briggs either do not have any grassroots folks inclined to open their homes to friends and neighbors to hear the candidate's pitch and ask questions, or they are afraid to do so for fear that voters will put them on the spot.

Ditto the kind of non-spin opportunities to put themselves before the voting public. Again, consider the facts --
  • Today's Courier print edition has the League of Women Voters informational ad. All candidates are invited to supply background information to this 80-year-old, highly respected nonpartisan group and answers to three questions posed by the League. Candidates get the questions weeks in advance. For Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs not to have an entry raises three possibilities -- either a) they have no answers, b) they are afraid to answer, or c) they want to show their disrespect of the organization.

  • Monday's Courier print edition had its 'Election Yearbook' in which candidates for Plainfield elected offices were invited to submit their accomplishments, affiliations and contact information. Pivnichny is there. Robinson-Briggs is not.
There will be other opportunities over the next two weeks, but one can only wonder what Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs will do, given the voting public's increasing frustration with things-as-they-are and the incumbents' defensiveness.

In any event, Pivnichny and Vastine seem energized.

And the voters are looking for their pitchforks and torches.



  • Tomorrow - October 22. 4 PM. Mayoral Candidates Discussion on Harvest Radio. Mayoral candidates have been invited to participate in Rev. Zechariah Jackson's Town Talker radio program. Harvest Radio, WKMB, is at 1070 AM on your radio dial.
  • Sunday - October 25. 5:15 PM. NAACP Candidates Forum. Sponsored by the Plainfield chapter. At the Whitney Allen Young community room, 300 Central Avenue .(Entrance to parking lot from New Street).

  • Wednesday - October 28. 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM. LWV Candidates' Forum. The Plainfield chapter of the League of Women Voters will present its candidates' forum in two segments: at 6:30 PM, candidates for the 22nd District Assembly seats; at 7:30 PM, candidates for Mayor and the Ward 4 Council seat. At Emerson Community School, East Third Street at Emerson Avenue.
-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plainfield mayor covering up criminal financial deception?


The unspoken question hanging over the Plainfield City Council's special meeting Monday evening was this: Are Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and her Administration engaging in a coverup of potentially criminal activity with regard to the city's finances?

And it all hinges on a letter from a DCA official to Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the City Council which the Council members have yet to see.

The special meeting, originally scheduled to discuss economic development, was expanded to include the appointment of a PART-TIME chief financial officer (CFO) and three resolutions that could not be acted on previously owing to the lack of a bona fide CFO.

The possibility of a coverup only came to light through a bizarre exchange between the Council and the Corporation Counsel.

When Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson asked to have the appointing resolution withdrawn at the beginning of the meeting, a line of questioning was opened that eventually led to the evening's shocker.

Saying he had spent the day on the phone with DCA Commissioner Susan Jacobucci and Dan Kaminski, the DCA official Williamson says is in charge of certifications, there had been some back-and-forth over Plainfield and its CFO situation.

Bottom line: 'Part-time' and 'acting' CFOs are not allowed by DCA regulations, hence the withdrawal of the evening's appointing resolution. Williamson added that he had drawn up an aide-mémoire of the conversations that he was willing to share with the Council later.

Further, though the DCA had offered a 90-day alternative of the appointment of an 'acting' CFO while the City conducted a search for a permanent appointee, Williamson said he was unable to provide the certification for the proposed appointee -- Sandra Cummings -- at last night's meeting.

Then came the first Ozian moment: Williamson asked the Council to adopt the three resolutions requiring a CFO's certification of funds availability, stating that the City would provide the appropriate certification Tuesday, or the resolutions would be rescinded.

Councilor Mapp took immediate objection, saying 'I will not vote to have a resolution adopted pending certification because that is not proper...if we have to take a break, so be it...the Council should not act on any resolution without the certification'.

Mapp then dropped his bombshell of the evening, asking Williamson about a letter supposedly sent by the DCA to the mayor and council, which the Council members still as of Monday evening did not have.

Mapp asked City Administrator Marc Dashield if he could explain why the letter, which should have been in Friday's Council packets, was not supplied.

Dashield admitted he was aware of the letter, but could not explain where it is and why the Council failed to receive copies of same. (No one asked Dashield if HE had a copy of the letter.)

Councilor Annie McWilliams then said that she would like to see the letter 'before we vote' so the Council could understand exactly what issues the state says there are.

At this point in the discussion the idea that the Mayor may have purposely withheld the letter from the Council was raised.

Corporation Counsel Williamson interjected that he was aware of the letter and its contents and that he 'cannot believe the Mayor would purposely withhold the letter from the Council'.

In verbally outlining the contents of the letter for the Council, Williamson included a reference to one of the so-called 'part-time' CFOs certificates being used in 'an inappropriate way' according to the DCA.

Williamson, perhaps without intending to, had supplied confirmation of a rumor that has been circulating for months that someone in the Robinson-Briggs administration had continued to use the certification of a former
'part-time' CFO after that person had submitted a letter of resignation and was no longer being paid by the City for professional services.

There are questions as to what has happened to that letter of resignation, and why copies of it are not on file with the City Clerk or in possession of the Personnel Division.

Further, we need to know exactly what the details of the 'inappropriate' use of the certification entailed --

  • Was it for certifying funds for various resolutions? If so which, how many, and when?

  • Was it for the purpose of providing needed countersignatures to checks issued by the City? If so, how many and for how much?

  • Lastly, of course, WHO EXACTLY misused the certification?
The DCA may not see itself in any role but that of enforcing its regulations, but that does not mean that a prosecutor might not have another point of view.

The misuse of the certification was certainly 'inappropriate' as Corporation Counsel Williamson said in his recap of the missing letter. It seems likely that it was also illegal, and perhaps even criminal.

Having Mayor Robinson-Briggs supply copies of the letter would help answer some question, but would doubtless raise others she would rather not discuss.

After a 10-minute recess for Williamson to try and reach Mayor Robinson-Briggs, he reported he met with no success and that she had not responded to repeated calls. (The mayor's confidential aide was in attendance and sat tight-lipped throughout the entire matter, never volunteering whether she could be of any assistance -- either in reaching the Mayor, or in resolving the issue of the letter's whereabouts.)

Upon resuming the Council meeting and hearing from Williamson that he had no success in reaching the Mayor, Council President Burney asked Councilor Reid to offer a motion withdrawing the three resolutions on the agenda. Reid did and the resolutions were withdrawn by unanimous voice vote.

Burney then dismissed Dashield, Williamson and the other administration officials in attendance.

The question, however, of whether there has been criminal activity in relation to the abuse of the CFO's certification has not been dismissed.

Once again, what Mayor Robinson-Briggs knew and when she knew it becomes important.

And, whether failing to share the DCA letter with the Council is an attempt -- if not to cover up the whole matter, at least to delay its exposure to daylight until after the November election.

Once again, residents and taxpayers owe Councilor Mapp thanks for keeping a sharp eye on this Administration's activities.




-- Dan Damon


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