The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reception for Annie McWilliams cancelled

The reception for Plainfield's new City Council president, Annie McWilliams, set for New Year's day afternoon has been canceled, owing to an illness in the family.

Councilor McWilliams will be sworn in as Council President at the reorganization meeting, which will take place in the Council Chambers/Courthouse at 1 PM.

-- Dan

RESOLUTIONS FOR PLAINFIELD Day





Today is
RESOLUTIONS FOR PLAINFIELD Day.

How about instead of making a resolution for YOURSELF for the New Year, which you know will be broken by the end of January (if not sooner), you propose a RESOLUTION FOR PLAINFIELD TO MAKE for the New Year? Something that could be done (or stop being done) that would benefit Plainfield in 2010.

Could be something for the Council to do. Or the Mayor or administration. Or the school district. Or the business community. Or some other organization that could positively impact the community.

Be creative. Be ingenious. Be outrageous. But above all, be posting your comment today.

There will be a $10 gift certificate for Dairy Queen awarded for the most intriguing RESOLUTION FOR PLAINFIELD (my pick). You may make your comments anonymous or sign them, but in order to collect the DQ award, you will need to make yourself known to me somehow with a moniker of some kind. I will post the winning items on New Year's Day, after which the winner can contact me by email (I'll put a link up then).

Go!



-- Dan Damon
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wind topples tree in Library Park



Winds toppled this large tree.


Windy conditions in Plainfield Wednesday led to the toppling of a large tree in Library Park. Got a coupls of snaps.

Yellow warning tape had been placed around the tree, but no DPW workers were in evidence yet at 2:30 PM.





-- Dan

Today is GOOD RIDDANCE Day




The logo for Times Square Alliance's
'Good Riddance Day'.



Plainfielders, today is GOOD RIDDANCE Day.

You are invited to post a comment describing something
-- community, political or personal -- you will be happy to bid GOOD RIDDANCE to as 2009 comes to a close.

Note the 'distasteful, depressing or downright embarrassing' moments of 2009 to which you wish to say GOOD RIDDANCE.

There will be a $10 gift certificate for Dairy Queen awarded to the most original entry (my pick). You may make your comments anonymous or sign them, but in order to collect the DQ award, you will need to make yourself known to me somehow with a moniker of some kind. I will post the winning items on New Year's Day, after which the winner can contact me by email (I'll put a link up then).

On your mark.....

Go!


NOTE:
The Times Square Alliance, which promotes a GOOD RIDDANCE day in New York City, puts up a paper shredder and a dumpster (for larger items, with a sledgehammer for breaking up objects) for folks to purge themselves of bad memories, experiences or relationIships. My thanks to the good folks at TSA, who I hope will take this imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, which it is.



-- Dan Damon
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

PolitickerNJ: Zero to 1800 overnight!




The new PolitickerNJ logo, 12/29/2009.


UPDATE, 12:30 PM: PolitickerNJ seems to have relented -- at least for now -- to a firestorm of critical comment on this morning's move to a for-pay site.

Plainfielders who check the PolitickerNJ website (see here) for the latest political stories will get a rude shock today.

Much of the site's content appears to have been put behind a paywall overnight, and access to the full offerings -- including bloggers such as 'Wally Edge', Bob Torricelli, Carla Katz and the site's archives, will now have to pony up $1,800 for an annual subscription. This even includes the 'Morning News Digest' -- a roundup of links to political stories from Garden State media sources (just like my CLIPS blog -- see here, only statewide).




The Morning Wake Up Call logo.


I was shocked as I was on the site late last evening and there was no indication of the change. When I refreshed a page this AM, the article was 'gone', replaced by a spiffy update of the layout and graphics -- and the paywall.

I can understand the site's owner (Jared Kushner, of the Kushner Kushners, who also owns the New York Observer -- see here) wanting to make it pay its way, but I wonder if they have shot themselves in the foot.

This poor blogger, now living on what is euphemistically referred to as 'a fixed income', makes no money from his efforts. Am I going to shill out $1,800 for access, good as the site is?

Will I be found eating cat food in Aisle 9? I don't think so.

My guess is that the number of pols prepared to shill out this kind of moolah is finite, and growing more so by the day, as political giving goes down, and pay-to-play (which would fund this kind of largesse) is under increasing pressure and scrutiny.

What is an entrepreneur to do?

Will PolitickerNJ go from being a plump and juicy source of Garden State political news to just another media raisin shriveling in the sun?





The old PolitickerNJ logo.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Dan shamelessly rips off two ideas




The logo for Times Square Alliance's
'Good Riddance Day'.



Plainfield Today readers know that I am constantly drawing inspiration from the news for ideas pertinent to Plainfield -- whether something our leaders should be doing to better our community, or ideas that could possibly be of benefit if looked into.

Today, I am shamelessly ripping off two such ideas: 'Good Riddance Day' borrowed from the organization that promotes New Year's Eve in Times Square (see here) and New Year's Resolutions FOR Plainfield, a riff on an idea I heard on WNYC.

GOOD RIDDANCE DAY
I am inviting all readers to consider something -- community, political or personal -- they will be happy to bid GOOD RIDDANCE to at the end of 2009.

The Times Square Alliance, which promotes such a day in New York City, puts up a paper shredder and a dumpster (for larger items, with a sledgehammer for breaking up objects) for folks to purge themselves of bad memories, experiences or relationIships. My thanks to the good folks at TSA, who I hope will take this imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, which it is.

Tomorrow, December 30, will be GOOD RIDDANCE DAY on Plainfield Today, and you are invited to post the 'distasteful, depressing or downright embarrassing' moments of 2009 to which you wish to say GOOD RIDDANCE. There will be a prize (see end of post).
RESOLUTIONS FOR PLAINFIELD
How about instead of making a resolution for YOURSELF for the New Year, which you know will be broken by the end of January (if not sooner), you propose a RESOLUTION FOR PLAINFIELD TO MAKE for the New Year? Something that could be done (or stop doing) that would benefit Plainfield in 2010.

Could be something for the Council to do. Or the Mayor or administration. Or the school district. Or the business community. Or some other organization that could positively impact the community.

Be creative. Be ingenious. Be outrageous. But above all, be there posting your comment on Thursday, December 30. There will be a prize for the most intriguing RESOLUTION FOR PLAINFIELD.
There will be a $10 gift certificate for Dairy Queen awarded to the most original for each day (my pick). You may make your comments anonymous or sign them, but in order to collect the DQ award, you will need to make yourself known to me somehow with a moniker of some kind. I will post the winning items on New Year's Day, after which the winner can contact me by email (I'll put a link up then).

Ready. Set. Go!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Death at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center?




Attendees at hearing on Muhlenberg closure, May 2008.


The obituary of a Plainfield resident who passed away at a tragically young age on December 20 (see here), stated that she died at 'Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center'. Our condolences go out to the family and friends of the young woman, but her passing at Muhlenberg raises questions.

An email from Muhlenberg activist and former mayoral candidate Deborah Dowe noted the obituary and questioned why this young woman died at the SED (Satellite Emergency Department), how she got there, and whether enough has been done by Solaris to inform the Plainfield community of the current limits of treatment provided at the Muhlenberg campus.

According to the new world order established by Solaris' closing of Muhlenberg, no one is supposed to be born or die at Muhlenberg in Plainfield any more.

I'll be taking a further look in the New Year at Solaris' self-reporting to the state on care, outcomes and patient satisfaction, as well as the Citizens Advisory Group assembled by Assemblyman Jerry Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs from which we have yet to hear anything substantive.




-- Dan Damon
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Monday, December 28, 2009

An untried budget tactic?





As Plainfield's City Council struggles with the budget mess bequeathed it by the
cunningly calculated cowardice of the Robinson-Briggs administration, my eye was caught by a tactic used elsewhere I have never heard mentioned in Plainfield.

Over the holidays, the Ledger reported on a move by Linden's council to sweeten the amount an employee would be given to opt out of the city's health plan (see story here).

I have never heard opting out discussed in Plainfield, and now wonder why we might not consider it; or, if we do have an option in place, sweetening it to encourage more participation as Linden is trying to do.

Linden, which had been giving $2,500 to those who had other health plan options, will be sweetening that amount to a one-time payment of $4,000.

With benefits that can cost the municipality up to $14,000 per year, a one-time payment for a lifetime savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars strikes me as the kind of thinking that needs to go into budget considerations, which are often focused on layoffs or reduction of services.

It would at least be worth looking into, though the time is probably past for this fiscal year.

Which leds to another thought: Budget planning should be a year-round activity.

Why should the Council wait for the Administration's (always late) proposal before getting its thinking in order? And why can't the CBAC work on a year-round basis to look into how other communities try to control budgets? There is something flawed about going through this same scenario year after year without trying to get a better hold on things.

The only thing crazy about it would be NOT trying.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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UPDATE: Front Street barricaded

UPDATE: The barricades were taken down at 1:00 PM on Sunday (I tweeted it).

PSE&G made emergency repairs to the gas main that runs under Front Street, and there was a large T-shaped fresh macadam patch covering the opening made in the street.

Within minutes, Front Street and Park Avenue were flooded with traffic.

I noticed that a vacant prowl car parked to block Park Avenue at Second Street had a dented rear door, but failed to take a pic.

Turns out it had been hit by a drunken driver, as I was told later, and that the driver had head and neck injuries.

Think they'll sue the city?

-- Dan

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Front Street barricaded




PSE&G crew working at Front and Park, 6 AM Sunday.


Barricades were up and prowl cars blocked the roadways on Front Street in Plainfield early Sunday morning from Watchung Avenue to Madison Avenue and on Park Avenue at Second Street and the Somerset Street entrance to the municipal parking lots.

I had seen PSE&G crews on West Front Street yesterday afternoon, in front of the first of the Park-Madison retail buildings. Shops west of the Dunkin' Donuts were in darkness as the crews worked, so I thought it might be electrical.

However, going out for the Sunday papers, I found the downtown barricaded. Parking in one of lots and trudging over to the corner, I came upon a PSE&G crew at a large excavation smack in the middle of the intersection of Park Avenue and Front Street. No one knew how soon the work would be finished.

If you plan to go out to Route 22, use Watchung Avenue or plan an alternate route.

You have been forewarned.





-- Dan Damon
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The First Day of Christmas?




On the First Day of Christmas,
a Partridge in a Pear Tree.



For Plainfielders who come from the liturgical Christian traditions (primarily Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran), today is the First Day of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The marketing buzz of the consumer Moloch will spend the next few days on end-of-year closeout sales and then shift at once into Valentine's Day marketing.

For many, Christmas is already a thing of the past, a mess left behind by family and kids to be cleaned up and then move on.

But for those who embrace the ancient calendar, it is the first of the twelve days of Christmastide that will culminate in the Feast of the Epiphany, which tradition holds is when the Three Magi from the East arrive at the stable in Bethlehem to present their gifts to the infant Jesus.

The Twelve Days are celebrated in a Christmas song (of which many grow tired long before the eponymous days arrive!), whose origins are shrouded in the mists but may go back to the murderous religious atmosphere in 1500s England in the tussle over whether it would become Anglican or revert to its ancient Catholic allegiance. Some consider the song (see here) a catechetical device, designed to secretly teach the elements of the Catholic confession without drawing the attention of Anglican authorities.

Whether or not this is so, the visit of the Three Kings which concludes the Twelve Days is both a solemn festival in the churches and -- in Hispanic cultures worldwide -- a day of merrymaking and gift-giving.

The fact that gifts are traditionally exchanged on 'El Dia de Reyes' (see here) may help explain the circumstance that while Anglo stores in the area were shut tight yesterday, Plainfield was abuzz with shopping activity downtown, looking very much like a regular Saturday with crowds on the street and scarcely a parking space in sight.

Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night (see here), was intended to portray the festival atmosphere on the last night of the Christmas celebrations, the evening before the Twelfth Day and the twelfth night after Christmas Eve.

Those spoilsports, the Puritans, railed against all this while in England and, when they had the chance to set up their paradise on earth in New England in the new world, saw to it that the 'naughty' merriment and games, tippling and gift-giving of the traditional English celebrations were not observed in the New Eden -- by making the observances a crime and hauling celebrants before the magistrates.

The lingering effects of this Puritan ethic help account for the loss of the Three Kings tradition among Anglos.

More's the pity, I say.




On the Twelfth Day,
the gifts of the Three Kings.




-- Dan Damon
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!



MERRY

CHRISTM
AS!






¡FELIZ

NA
VIDAD!



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Plainfield Today ponders Christmas(es) on the cusp





The family matriarch, Effie Mae Starr Damon,
direct descendant of Puritan settlers of Scituate, Mass.
and
Dr. Comfort Starr (a founder of Harvard University),
with her surviving children, Christmas 1946. My dad, 'Bus' is on the left.



A (somewhat) snowy Christmas in Plainfield puts me in mind of another Christmas, the cusp on which it stood and the cusp on which Plainfield stands at this Christmas holiday of 2009.

That Christmas was 1946 in Laona, a hamlet in western New York's Chautauqua County.

It was the annual gathering of my father's mother's children and their children for a family Christmas in the tiny home of one of the daughters.

World War II was over, but families were still converting to a postwar existence (women being driven from the workplace back into the kitchen), and the long postwar boom had yet to really get under way.

The flood of cars, refrigerators, TVs and new homes was still off in the future. In a way, this was one of the last of the Depression-era Christmases -- the youngest grandchildren all got gifts of clothing as well as a small toy or game; the older ones got neckties and sweater vests for the boys, sweaters, scarves and gloves for the girls. Every stocking contained an orange, an apple and some walnuts in the shell as well as a trinket or little game.

The women squeezed into the little kitchen and finished preparing the feast, while Norris, Grandma Damon's oldest son, tended to the turkey and its carving.

The men played pinochle around the dining room table, taking a discreet nip of whisky now and then (Grandma Damon was a teetotaling Methodist) or stepped out to the shed where Irene's husband Ben, who worked in the local sawmill, had stashed a couple of cases of beer.

The smaller kids entertained themselves in the living room with what we now call age-appropriate card and board games.

My dad (the baby in the family) and mother had recently bought the old Moon farmstead and the four of us (including my younger brother Billy) were roughing it -- coal stove, well water, kerosene lamps and chemical toilet (the changing of which was one of my chores). Baths were in a galvanized wash tub filled with water heated on the stove.




The grandchildren, except for three yet to arrive.
That's me on the couch with my 'Keep America Strong' sweatshirt.



Living less than a mile from Irene and Ben's, we were among the first to arrive soon after noon. Marjorie and Clarence would come from Buffalo. Blanche and Jack would drive up from Jamestown. Howard and Helen had the farthest to come, from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where Howard had gone to start a business paving driveways (some thought him crazy, but not when he eventually became one of the largest paving contractors in the Cleveland area). Norris, Grandma Damon's eldest and Dunkirk's postmaster, and his wife Ellen, a schoolteacher, only had a few miles to come. Always the last to arrive was Deward, with his wife Aldine and their seven kids (my favorite cousins) -- dairy and Concord grape farming were demanding on a daily basis, even in the dead of winter.

To a wide-eyed little boy who had just turned 7, it was a scene of warmth, fun, feasting and family. It seemed perfect and permanent.

But it was a world on the cusp.

Within a few short years, it would scarcely seem recognizable.

The family's roots were in farming, but the pressures of the Depression had already started to change that. Marjorie had become the cook to a wealthy family in Buffalo. Norris had a career in the Post Office. Howard started a business in another state. Irene made a good, but busy, living as a paperhanger in great demand. My dad, known to all as 'Bus', was a welder at the American Locomotive plant.

Blanche was the only child to become a housewife not working outside the home -- her husband took pride in his good job with the electric company. (Theirs was a true romance; he had met her when he came to her parent's farmstead to tell her that her fiancé, a lineman, had been electrocuted. His kindness during her grieving led to their falling in love, a match which lasted the rest of their lives.)

Deward was the only child to keep on farming, with his 50 or so cows and perhaps 30 acres of Concord grapes, which he was under contract to sell to the Welch's factory in Westfield. In those days, one could make a living doing it. Today, hardly.

But the opportunities unleashed after the war would take the next generation -- that of my older cousins and myself -- far, far from the tiny hamlet of Laona in the rural township of Pomfret, in the still mostly agricultural county of Chautauqua.

College -- everywhere from the Normal School at Fredonia to Columbia University to Georgia Tech to my alma mater Albright -- would disperse our generation to the far reaches of the country and beyond.

We would become city and suburban dwellers, farm life would recede to a distant and nostalgic memory (though I was most thankful for getting city water and indoor plumbing, and getting rid of the hated chemical toilet chore).

Cars would allow us to get everywhere, quickly and in style. Soon, having more than one vehicle in the family would seem almost a necessity.

The solid WASP Protestant facade was also rent -- first, actually, by Grandma Damon's daughter Blanche, whose romance led her to marry an Irish Roman Catholic; their 'solution' being that neither practiced any religion.

But in the next generation, it was almost common -- my brother Bill marrying a beauty of Portuguese descent; my cousin George falling in love with a Puerto Rican woman and moving to the Commonwealth, where he lives to this day. Bill would convert to Catholicism, Ana would become a Protestant.

There were other, less welcome, changes too -- within a few short years, my folks divorced, as did two of dad's siblings; and one of his siblings was caught in flagrante delicto in the back seat of the Game Warden's car.

Grandma Damon would have been more than dismayed if she had lived to see the changes in her Ladies Aid Society world!

By the time I graduated from high school a less than a decade later, the family had grown so large and was so dispersed that an annual reunion was started on July 4th weekend. Summer had the advantage that the weather was more pleasant (understatement!), we could use an outdoor pavilion at Lake Erie State Park, and the most dramatic change of all, folks could use their newly-minted 'vacation' time to set aside a few days for the get-together. (Thanks to the labor unions, vacations became a general phenomenon, as did the 40-hour work week, which had replaced the five-and-a-half or six day work week.)

Within ten years of the end of World War II, America -- and the tight-knit Damon clan -- was becoming college-educated, urbanized, and dispersed to the four winds. The stresses of these changes also took a negative toll with divorce, infidelity and brushes with the law (don't ask about my cousin Neil and his escapades!).

Some of my generation became involved in the great social movement of the postwar years -- civil rights -- leading to even more changes and diversity in the family, mirroring those in the country as a whole (my first experience was street corner fundraising in support of the Montgomery bus boycott).

Looking at those old family photos reminds me of all that appeared, but was not, solid and unchanging.

And looking at Plainfield today through that lens lets me know that what appears so solid and unchanging about Plainfield is illusory. Plainfield also stands on a cusp.

Changes of a previously unknown magnitude are on our doorstep.

My nose-to-the-grindstone focus on Plainfield's (often petty) politics means it is possible to overlook the changes on her horizon.

But their advance is relentless.

What good will they bring us in 2010?

And what ill?

And what will be the balance?




-- Dan Damon
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Plainfield gets state's second lowest extraordinary aid amount. Whazzup with that?




Plainfield's extraordinary aid from the state this year came in at the second lowest amount doled out, a mere $250,000 (see here). Only tiny Union Beach borough in Monmouth County (pop. 6,649) received less than Plainfield. (See the complete state list here.)

But it is even more shocking when compared to Perth Amboy, this year's big winner, which received $3.5 million in extraordinary aid (see here).

One must ask: What has happened?

Certainly Plainfield has needs as great as those outlined for Perth Amboy. And we also have a woman mayor, as does Perth Amboy. And we have
a powerful, long-serving Assemblyman in Jerry Green.

So, what gives?

Plainfield's extraordinary aid has consistently dropped since Robinson-Briggs took over as mayor in January 2006. The FY2007 (her first budget year) amount was $900,000. In FY2008 it was $800,000.

This year's $250,000 amount represents a more-than-300%-reduction from that amount.**

Is it because the Assemblyman no longer has the mojo to deliver the goods for Plainfield?

Or because of the shambles of the Robinson-Briggs administration's record (remember the million-dollar error in last year's budget; and the submission of this year's budget to the state without going through the proper procedures, including a Council resolution and the Clerk's signature)?

Either way, Plainfield taxpayers take the hit.

And Perth Amboy takes the haul.


**Sorry, you and I both know the math is flawed, but I just couldn't resist echoing Her Honor's claim of a 300% reduction in the murder rate.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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School Board takes lead in cleaning up personnel issues





Plainfielders can hope we are beginning to pull the car out of the ditch with regard to personnel issues in the Plainfield school district.

Coming back from Christmas shopping yesterday, I discovered an emailed press release from the Board of Ed announcing a Policy Committee meeting on January 5 to 'review policies and procedures related to District human resources'.

Chaired by BOE member Christian Estevez, the aim is to review all current procedures in HR with an eye to ensuring they are being carried out 'at all levels'.

While attention has almost exclusively been focused on the trials and travails of
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2', commenters on this blog and elsewhere have raised the issue of other employees filling slots for which they do not have certification.

As I suggested in my most recent post on the schools mess (see here), the flap over the handling of the
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' situation gives a perfect opening to the District to address other personnel certification issues that have been alleged.

A thorough review -- and corrective actions where necessary -- with a public report on findings and actions taken would go a long way to reassure the taxpayers (the 'public' in public education, in case anyone has forgotten), that the Board of Ed is not simply a rubber stamp for the Superintendent, but takes its responsibilities to the public seriously.

If there do turn out to be issues needing resolution, I hope that the Board of Ed will take up the necessary actions 'without fear or favor' with regard to stakeholders'
vying interests.

Satisfying the public that personnel matters are being handled in accordance with policies and procedures, and that all are treated fairly but that all must comply, should help the Board of Ed and Dr. Gallon get back to the REAL business of education, from which these last weeks have been a distraction.

That would be a good thing.

Along with drawing necessary lessons from this experience so as not to have to repeat it in the future.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Council-watching: What impressed the fly on the wall





Readers beware! Plainfield Today is filching from Olddoc today, sort of.

Chatting at the Council meeting last night, after I remarked that Bernice was a reporter and I was a partisan (perhaps more accurately, a meliorist), Dr. Yood said that he saw himself as an impressionist.

That was definitely a good thing to be at Monday's Council meeting.

Besides scheduling a budget hearing, the Council held an agenda-setting session to set up the reorganization meeting slated for New Year's Day.

(The Council, which is the City's corporate entity, exists as an annual creature, expiring on December 31st of each year, hence a reorganization meeting, at which new members are sworn in, the calendar for the year adopted and appointments and other housekeeping items taken care of.)

But back to the impressions of a fly-on-the-wall.

Of interest was item 'VI. Discussion Items', which indicated the Council President would entertain comments from Council members during this segment.

Right away, it got interesting, as Councilor Annie McWilliams seemed to take the lead in the discussions, first raising a point, with Burney then asking others to chime in.

It was unusual because McWilliams is not usually the first one to speak.

It became more unusual after an item or two more were discussed in the same fashion, with Council President Burney deferring to Councilor McWilliams and then pitching the ball to the others.

Hmmmmm...

Were we witnessing the 'soft launch' of next year's Council President?

Just an impression made upon a fly-on-the-wall.




-- Dan Damon
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Congrats to Plainfield Sports News, movin' on up





Congratulations to Plainfield Sports News (PSN) for its new partnership with the growing nationwide communications company, Resolution Sports!

Founded by Plainfielder Augustine Dashiell in 2008 while he was a journalism student at Rutgers (yes, I know I still owe you answers to those questions for a paper!), PSN has filled an important niche in sports coverage that is overlooked by the -- sadly dwindling -- sports staffs of the mainstream media.

PSN's dedicated crew has covered the local sports scene from youth leagues to school sports and also reaches out to cover adult sports in football, soccer, and basketball, including women's teams as well as men's.

The new partnership plugs PSN in to a growing national network of sports news that is able to do better justice to Americans' interest in sports than just the major league and big university programs.

Check out Plainfield Sports News (here) and Resolution Sports (here).

You can also follow PSN on its FaceBook page (here) and live Tweets during games (here).

Way to go, PSN!






-- Dan Damon
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Schools, again: Must Gallon go?




Has Dr. Gallon touched the Third Rail?


Plainfield Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon came under direct attack from the Courier Sunday, which demanded in its editorial that he be sacked by the Board of Ed (see here).

In a separate item, associate editor and columnist Jay Jefferson Cooke took on a complaint by Plainfield BOE president Lenny Cathcart that the Courier was publishing information '...designed to cast a negative light upon the district' (see here).

With all these sparks, has the Third Rail been touched?

The controversy was sparked by revelations that two administrators,
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2', were not certified at the time for the positions (and salaries) to which they were appointed in July 2008 after Dr. Gallon had assumed leadership of the District.

The information appears to have been leaked and led both to intensive coverage by the Courier as well as a ruling by County Superintendent of Schools Carmen Centuolo that the contracts for
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' should be rescinded.

Just about everyone with a soapbox has since chimed in, including moi (here and here), Maria Pellum (who pays special attention to the school district -- see here), Bernice Paglia (here), Dr. Yood (here) and Renata Hernandez (former president of PEP -- see here).

Dr. Gallon's difficulties are somewhat of his own making, to be sure. The rules of crisis communications are to IMMEDIATELY get out ahead of the story, address critical concerns demanding attention, put out all the facts necessary, and outline points to resolve the situation and move forward. On every single one of these, Dr. Gallon could have done better.

While it is true that personnel matters are confidential (not only in the schools, but in government in general), this does NOT mean that communications about personnel issues are stymied altogether.

Personnel QUALIFICATIONS, CERTIFICATIONS, SALARY and NAME are matters of public record. Just like other public records, they can be accessed by ASKING FOR THEM, using the OPRA process. Officials are not required to abrogate privacy concerns with regard to personnel issues.

Much of the distraction here could have been mitigated, I believe, if Dr. Gallon had laid out a simple, direct, unemotional OVERVIEW of the certification process immediately and not in dribs and drabs.

No one who comes from another state to New Jersey's schools will have the needed certification simply upon arriving. Turns out that one must APPLY for certification, and then wait for a review by the state's educational bureacracy. These bureaucrats can deem an individual ELIGIBLE for the certification or NOT, as the case may be. But even if deemed Eligible, an applicant is not home free. One waits for a TEMPORARY CERTIFICATION, which may require further steps to be taken (exams, mentoring) before a PERMANENT CERTIFICATION is issued. Since this is a New Jersey bureaucracy, I hardly need remind readers that the process will take time. Lots of time.

Coming up short at any point in the process DOES NOT MEAN that one is NOT GOING TO BE CERTIFIED. Rather, it means that in the bureaucratic game of chutes-and-ladders, more must be done.

I understand that
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' now have been certified. You could use OPRA to verify that.

If an OVERVIEW had been put forward of all the steps and stutters in the process at once, and Dr. Gallon had referred folks to where in that process things stood, or how to get the information they wanted, his life could have been much simpler.

What has me stymied is why
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' were put forward for high-level administrative slots instead of the less objectionable 'coordinator' positions in the first place, with the understanding that once certified, Dr. Gallon would want the Board of Ed to approve higher titles for them, with the commensurate (and then proper) salaries.

The machinations at the November 17 meeting, where a walk-on item resulted in the rescission of
the contracts of 'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' and their subsequently immediate rehiring (minus ONE board member's vote) as 'Coordinators' at considerably lower salaries, left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

There is just not enough lipstick to make this pig look like anything but an embarrassing volte-face. But is this sufficient to demand Gallon's head?

Sunday's Courier editorial (here) is a point-by-point bill of particulars, topped off as the Courier sees it, by Gallon's memorandum of last week warning employees about conduct (see here, PDF).

While the Courier's citations are FACTUAL, I do not think they are BALANCED. There is no on'-the-one-hand' and 'on-the-other-hand' that one expects of journalists. And the story about one of the Jane Does' scrape with the law is not relevant to her qualifications or certification. Nor does it play well in Plainfield, where some well-respected members of the community have lived down youthful lapses, and the community as a whole is supportive of 'second chances'. It certainly makes the Courier look less than 'objective'.

To be fair, Dr. Gallon has made a number of good moves since coming to the District: site inspections, trying to cut the Gordian knot of the middle school, establishing a new arts-and-technology-driven, competitve-entry school within the system, to name a few.

The Courier editorial comes off too much like the Red Queen demanding 'Off with their heads!'

Then there is the matter of Jay Jefferson Cooke's column taking on BOE president Lenny Cathcart's criticism of the Courier (see here). While he does list ten 'GOOD NEWS' stories about the District from 2009, if I were Dr. Gallon I would not draw much comfort from the list.

Eight of the ten are really about INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENTS (one is actually a class activity). One of the ten is of the district-wide achievement of having been taken off the 'persistently dangerous' list by the state, and the other is on the establishment of the new school mentioned above.

That there were not more stories reflecting district-wide initiatives, struggles and achievements point to something lacking in the District's communications strategy. Dr. Gallon and his staff would be well-advised to take up the Courier's managing editor, Paul Grzella, on the opportunity to post its own items directly to the Courier's online edition.

[ASIDE: If the Courier is ever invited to participate in a charity fundraiser, it probably could generate loads of cash for the designated charity by persuading Cooke to be a sport and sit on the seat in the booth where you throw balls at a lever that, when hit, dunks the volunteer in a tank of water.]

One of the reasons editorial writers' advice is so seldom followed is that it often lacks the depth of understanding of those intimately involved in the situation being prescribed for.

As plenty of folks may be asking: 'If Gallon goes, what then?'

What then, indeed.

Plainfield has experience of having to buy out a Superintendent's contract. It cost a lot. Plus there is no guarantee there is anyone out there who will do better than the Superintendent already in place.

So, if Gallon is not to be ousted, what is to be done?

There are things that both Dr. Gallon and the Board of Ed can do that will help the community to move forward.

Dr. Gallon can be charming and loquacious. What the District needs at this point, though, is simple, direct, unemotional communications concerning the District and its initiatives.

It would be well for Dr. Gallon to entrust someone to blue-pencil his statements to help separate the strands of fact and feeling in his communications. This could have the advantage of making Dr. Gallon appear less defensive, which he needs to do. (This is not a put-down, everyone from Obama to my old boss Mayor McWilliams, gets someone to 'look over their shoulder'.)

Secondly, he must have a pro-active communications strategy. If much of the heat and smoke developed around this certifications issue has to do with a guerrilla war waged by one of the unions as part of its negotiations strategy, Gallon has been outfoxed. To date. But he can fix that.

Besides a better communications strategy, Dr. Gallon should relentlessly pursue the one piece of good luck he has gotten out of this whole mess -- the question of PERSONNEL and CERTIFICATIONS ACROSS THE BOARD.

As Maria Pellum wrote on her blog Sunday (see here, ... and as others have commented on my posts) --
... If we are ready to judge Dr. Gallon for what some think it is the truth, then let's go and judge all those who have brought their "personal cabinet" to the table, from friends to relatives and from the top to the bottom, let's be fair and do examine one and each employee's background and see where they came from and with whom, and if they had, or have, the correct certifications and, please, let's make sure to check for title modifications on each and all employees, after all, this is one of the main complains we have. Let's also call for past administrators and past BOE members that have contributed to the many ills that have been affecting the school district. If we are not going to this, then, sorry, but we are holding double standards here and contributing to the ill state of the district for don't believe that everyone that works in the school district is doing what they were hired for, and this pre-dates Dr. Gallon.
Someone has pointed out that 'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' were hardly the only ones performing jobs without certifications. Time to go after this mess, from top to bottom and let the chips fall where they may. (Hint: first publicly outline the process; then announce starting the review; and finally, let it be known findings have been presented and actions recommended to the Board.)

With an effective communications plan in place and the pursuit of a thorough review of certifications, Dr. Gallon would be poised to move ahead.

Can he get a handle on his propensity for gold-plating his language and demanding unconditional respect for his positions? Only he can answer that question, but more fact-based, direct and less emotionally vested language can dial back the heat, and be the key to his success.

Dr. Gallon should be aware that in Plainfield, no one's voice is regarded as coming from within a Burning Bush, and no one is prepared to remove their sandals in fear and awe.

As for the Board of Education, saddled as it is with the many demands of the state's educational bureaucracy, its own stupefying agendas, and the push-and-pull of parents, unions, politicians and taxpayers, it could certainly do worse than to adopt an attitude of CRITICAL SUPPORT of the Superintendent. Supportive yes, but with eyes wide open and challenging as necessary.

There are a lot of things to be done
to move Plainfield's educational enterprise forward, but throwing the baby out with the bath water is not among them.

For my money, Gallon stays.

For now.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Aaargh! Victorians and snow.




Dan's digs include digging out from the snow.


Plainfield's Victorian homes are wonders -- eye-catching curb appeal, high ceilings, wide frontages, long driveways.

Sometimes, though, you wonder why you live in one.

Especially after a snow storm.

I'll be shoveling this morning -- the long driveway and the wide frontage, and the long walk to the front steps.

But then, they are picturesque. Even in the snow.




-- Dan Damon
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

UPDATE: New Dems Holiday Potluck tonight CANCELLED




UPDATE: 10:00 AM -- The Holiday Party has been canceled owing to the expected record-breaking snowfall. Sorry!

Snow or no, Plainfield's New Democrats will host their annual Holiday Potluck and Food Drive this evening at the home of Amelia and Councilor Adrian Mapp.

Plainfield residents are invited to come out and mix and mingle with new friends and old, celebrating the Holiday season.

Bring something to share and one or two canned goods or other nonperishable food items (which will be donated to Plainfield's local feeding programs).

There will be plenty of food, fun and maybe even caroling
.



New Dems Holiday Potluck and Canned Food Drive
At the home of Adrian and Amelia Mapp
535 West 8th Street



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Swine Flu clinic today





Plainfield's second Swine Flu clinic will be held today at the Snyder Schools of Nursing at Muhlenberg.

Per a news release from the State, as of this week H1N1 vaccinations have been opened to the general public. (See the story in Thursday's Star-Ledger (see here.)

This means that the general population not included in the previous guidelines concerning high-risk groups may now go to the clinics. The story also notes that Walgreen's is making the shots available at many of its locations (it has already been available at the Plainfield location).

No word has been given by Plainfield authorities as to whether they will comply with the state's directive, and the flyers on the City's website remain unchanged
, indicating only the previously targeted 'high risk' groups.



H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccination Clinic

Saturday, December 19

9 AM - 4 PM
Snyder School of Nursing
Muhlenberg Campus
Park Avenue at Moffatt Avenue

Flyer: English | Spanish
Info: (908) 753-3092




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Friday, December 18, 2009

Robinson-Briggs nominated for 'Most Laid Back Public Official of 2009'




Are they putting Zanax in Mayor Robinson-Briggs' water coolers at City Hall? Plainfielders may well wonder when they discover the Mayor (or whoever is making the decision) has yet to begin an official search for a replacement for departing City Administrator Marc Dashield.

I mean, why rush? -- the departure has only been rumored for months, publicly talked about in November (see here), and confirmed in the mainstream media over a week ago (see here).

Robinson-Briggs told the Ledger in a story running today (see here) she 'has not started an official search' as she had yet to receive Dashield's official letter of recognition -- which the story goes on to say he delivered later in the day.

Such sticklers for detail!

Meanwhile, other items on Mayor Robinson-Briggs' plate include: the state-mandated hunt for a CERTIFIED Chief Financial Officer and the need for a
CERTIFIED Purchasing Agent, the FY2010 budget, the looming 2010 Census for which she seems ill-prepared, and the perennially nagging question of some staffers 'acting' tenures.

Quite enough worries for 2010.

Given the Mayor's unruffled mien, I am compelled to nominate her for
'Most Laid Back Public Official of 2009'.

Perhaps she can capture the 2010 nomination also. Time will tell.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Time running out on opportunities to brighten local families' holidays





Plainfielders have a tradition of opening their hearts and their pocketbooks to the community's neediest during the Christmas holidays. Religious and social service organizations throughout the city solicit toys and other gifts to brighten the holidays for as many families as possible. In addition, feeding and clothing programs -- which are being heavily stressed by the current economic recession -- look to the kindness of strangers to help stock and replenish food pantries and clothes-closets.

If you have not already made a gift through your religious organization or other connection -- or even if you have -- please consider among the following additional opportunities.

Thank you! and know that any gift will fill an urgent need. -- Dan


  • (OPPORTUNITY EXTENDED) DQ Drive for Daybreak Kids: Dairy Queen's Donna Albanese is spearheading a drive for 329 children of incarcerated parents. For its holiday party, Plainfield's Daybreak Community Center needs new or gently used toys, sports gear, clothing, shoes, books and bikes. Items may be dropped off at the Dairy Queen (1367 South Avenue) before 3 PM, Sunday, December 20. Donna reports the #1 request from kids is for bikes. Bike donations may be dropped off at her house no later than Sunday (8 Pitching Way, Scotch Plains, leave in drive if no one home), where her husband will make necessary repairs and deliver them. Those wishing to bake for the party should call Donna for dropoff information (the party for the kids is Monday, December 21, at Rose of Sharon Church, 825 West 7th Street, 6 - 9 PM). Info: (908) 755-5994.

  • Food Donations Needed: Consider donating to your local religious organization's feeding program or food pantry, or give to the COMMUNITY FOOD BANK OF NJ: Accepts dry, refrigerated or frozen food. Distributes food to charities throughout the state. Location: 31 Evans Terminal Road, Hillside, N.J. Info: (908) 355-3663; or visit njfoodbank.org/.

  • Ends Today. Holiday Toy Drive by Sleepy Hollow Realtors. Once again, Joe Burris, John Nash and the Sleepy Hollow Realtors team are collecting toys for area charities. Bring your donation of a new, unwrapped toy for a boy or girl BY FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18, to Sleepy Hollow Realtors, 1304 South Avenue. Info: (908) 822-0550.

  • Ends Today. Holiday Toy Drive by King's Temple. The church seeks new, unwrapped toys to distribute to Plainfield children at the holidays. Donations may be dropped off at Harvest Radio, 120 West 7th Street, Ste 202, Monday thru Friday, 8 AM - 4 PM. Info: Toya Kirkwood, (908) 757-6700 or (908) 753-5825. The toys will be distributed at the 7th Annual Candle Lighting service on Saturday at 7 PM at the church, 1020 West 7th Street. A light dinner follows the service. More info here.

  • Today through Thursday - December 24. Together AsOne Adopt-a-Family Holiday Celebration. This network of Black Entrepreneurs Who Care has adopted two families from Plainfield Action Services, for whom they are gathering gifts to make a very special Christmas. Gifts or donations via PayPal are needed. For full details, check AsOne's website here. Info: (908) 755-8220 or email staff@asoneonline.com.

  • Today thru Sunday - Dec 20. All Day. BORDERS Gift Wrap Benefiting Plainfield Area Humane Society. Shop at Borders in Watchung Square Mall and have your book or other item gift-wrapped by volunteers from PAHS. Proceeds benefit the Rock Avenue facility.

  • Saturday - December 19. 7 PM. New Dems Holiday Potluck and Canned Food Drive. Mix and mingle with new friends and old and celebrate the winter holiday season! Bring a dish to share and one or two nonperishable food items for donation to Plainfield's local feeding programs. Food, fun, music -- maybe even carolling. At the home of Adrian and Amelia Mapp, 535 West 8th Street.



-- Dan Damon
[follow]


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